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Time-consuming odds and ends

January 27th, 2006 at 08:05 am

Well, here goes with the new system!

JC Penney never put through a credit they were supposed to, when they ran short of an item I ordered at Christmas, even though it showed as in stock. Called about it this morning; will have to watch for it for 1-2 more billing cycles.

Gas company sent two bills, the second one saying I owed twice the amount as usual. It was because I called in the meter reading, and then the meter reader put in the reading also. Another phone call this morning, to get the 2nd bill cancelled out.

DH's paycheck was even lower than the last one, so I had to gather and copy all the pertinent paperwork at 7:15 this morning, so he could show his immediate supervisor what his new health deduction was supposed to be. It turned out last paycheck was short because he took a day off at the end of the year, when he was actually out of vacation time. But this time it was the insurance that was the problem. They took out the old amount PLUS the new amount, and will have to refund $123 in his next check. Thank goodness we have enough cash on hand to carry us through til then.

Yesterday got a call from the stockbroker who handles my account with some income-generating investments. A bond was called in, and he wanted the ok to reinvest the money in something else. I felt like I had to research it a little to make sure the new company was ok. I'd rather take a little less interest than get a higher rate on a junk bond.

Wednesday, my weekly paperwork day, I wasn't really in the mood for it and tried to make a game out of it by counting how many piece of paper I handled. I lost track at 100. It took several hours, and there are still more things I ought to do.

I feel very lucky to be working part-time, and have the time to take care of this stuff!

Annual file cleanout

December 31st, 2005 at 11:37 am

Somehow I got into the habit of clearing out our files right at the end of the year. It started when I used to be off early on New Year's Eve, and DH was still at work. I wanted something to keep me occupied til he got home.

Except, it looks like I didn't do it last year--and what a lot of junk in there! At least I found a recipe I'd been looking for (in the file for my civil service pension.)

It's kind of interesting to see how things in my life have changed in the past year or two, and it's also helpful for planning financial tasks for next year. I hadn't thought about it for awhile, but I really do need to get some stuff into our safe deposit box, and I keep forgetting to request new credit reports for both of us. Lots of stuff going on my to-do list.

I tossed several year's worth of natural gas bills, but put the info I wanted all onto one piece of ledger paper. Now I can see that it's normal to build up to owing them $500 in February; I'm on budget billing and it all evens out by summer. But if next February it shows we owe $800, I'll know to expect a $300 hit when we're "rebalanced" in September.

This project also points up how the internet keeps changing how I do things. Normally I'd keep the current year's worth of statements from our regular (non-IRA) brokerage account until our 1099's come, in case the numbers don't look right. I learned that from my mother, and it does make sense. But now I have online access to the account, and could look things up online if necessary. So although it feels strange to toss them, I guess there's no reason to keep them anymore.

Will be doing lots of shredding this afternoon--if we were going to a party tonight, we could have taken it for confetti! (We will be home with a bottle of champagne and Dick Clark. Wink )

Making use of time off

December 26th, 2005 at 06:47 am

Hope everyone had a nice holiday, or day off, or some nice overtime pay if you had to work.

It was our usual quiet holiday--at least as quiet it can be, when DH gets to the point where he can't take visiting much longer and starts getting grumpy. Wink

Since we don't do that much for the holidays, and I'm off work whether I want to be or not, it gives me some extra time to catch up on things, as well as just relax with a pile of movies and books. There are still plenty of things I could do, but I can't help feeling frustrated about not being able to get some businessy things done because, after all, it's the holiday season.

Two frustrating things I haven't been able to get done because of the holidays:

I tried to apply online for an HSBC credit card offer I'd gotten in the mail, 0% for 15 months, a much longer stretch than what I have now. It would let me consolidate and close out at least one other account, and give us some predictability for a good period of time. Something went wrong, though, and I'm afraid now they might think I was trying to put in two applications. I tried to call them today to find out, but that office is closed today.

I tried to top-up DH's Virgin Mobile phone, with a top-up card I'd bought at Best Buy. But the PIN number wouldn't take. The guy at Virgin Mobile said it showed as never being activated for use, so I have to take it back to Best Buy. If you think I'm venturing there the day after Xmas...

I did manage to get my car worked on last Friday, and am accomplishing things around the house. I'm even getting around to things like clearing out old emails. Will I be glad after we get through New Year's and life starts getting back to "normal." (Whatever that is!)

Spending like crazy

December 12th, 2005 at 07:26 am

I guess that's why I haven't been posting--it's kind of embarrassing to have to post about doing so much discretionary spending, when everyone else seems to have their spending under good control.

There's something about this season that makes me spend on things I've been putting off. Something about facing the fact that if I need or want something, I'd better get it for myself because no one else is apt to get it for me. DH isn't much of a shopper, and DMom just can't do much shopping anymore. Also something about the year ending, a new one about to start, and what I'm just not willing to put up with or do without for another year. I think it also has to do with reading All Your Worth. Yes, I want to reduce our Must Haves, but a big reason you are supposed to do this is so you have more money left for Wants. It kind of makes me feel justified in spending a bit.

I'm not giving in to ads and displays for things I never wanted before. It's basically things that will make life easier, or more efficient, or less shabby, that I've come up with on my own. I'm trying to get the best prices I can, and use the gift cards I already have on hand.

Here's some of the stuff I've bought recently:

--Pajamas for both DH and I (to support our goal of keeping the heat at 66 at all times) - about $32

--Commuter mugs for both DH and I (to preserve our clothes and car upholstery, now that it's hot coffee season again) $23.98

--Sheets (The fabric of the bottom sheet in the one set we have has started to split. I'll try to repair it, but I'm only going to count on it as a spare) $24.99 and extra pillowcases $7.34 before I knew I'd need a whole new set of sheets.

--A fax/copier machine (Something that would have come in handy several times in the past. The clincher was that our car insurance agent merged and moved to an office about 45 minutes away. Getting something there in a hurry would now be a big problem, and the closest public fax machine is at a liquor store. Something weird about handing personal info over to a liquor store clerk!) $30 after rebate

--New coupon organizer (I was trying to cram too much into my $1 paper one, and it tore pretty badly. I couldn't find another one for $1. In fact the exact same paper one would have been over $6 shipped on Ebay. So I went for a fancier thing called a Coup-O-Dex for just a little more. More about this in another post.) $8.54

--Dixie cup dispenser for kitchen (Dishes are always a problem around here.) $4.76

--Space heater. $21.17

--Bubble shipping envelopes in bulk. (Got tired of trying to get to Walgreens when they are on sale, finding them out of stock, or having to run to several stores to get enough) $16.85

--Red velvet-looking lint removers (a replacement for one I had before, that was great on dog hair. Saves pulling out the vacuum to get hairs off living room furniture). About $6 at Target for a combo pack of mitt and thing with handle.

Gotta go....

2006 Cash Flow Planning

December 4th, 2005 at 08:10 am

While DH slept in this morning, I got the urge to work on our budget while I was fresh and the house was still quiet.

I usually have our usual income and expenses entered a month or so ahead of time in Quicken, just to make sure we aren't going to run short. It was time to do at least January, but since I was in the mood I just kept going. April is going to be our next really tight month--only 2 paychecks each, no interest income, and property taxes due on May 1. So I plotted everything out through the beginning of May.

The main thing I saw was that I wouldn't be able to put as much against our cc debt as I'd hoped. At the end of April, when I transfer the remaining balance on the Discover card over to the Sony, it's still going to leave us with a balance of about $3000. That's still a big improvement, though, and I'll just have to be satisfied with it.

The way paychecks and bills fall, between now and May 1, our checking account balance will range from about $2.50 to $2027.00. So if I pay ahead too much on the cc's when the checking balance looks healthy, I'll end up having to charge things later on, or go into savings. (I've allocated $977 between now and May 1 to go into savings for emergencies.)

The other thing I decided was, starting in 2006 I'm going to stop using the Citi card for groceries and such, just to earn the rewards. It's been a hassle trying to keep track of how much in checking has to be reserved to pay the Citi bill off each month. And the bill often turns out to be higher than I'd planned. I've kept doing it because it was the only rewards option I had. But now I have the PNC account with Visa debit card rewards. I might as well use it. Starting this week, 2 weeks at a time of grocery/gas/pet food money is getting put into PNC, leaving the Commerce account for bill-paying. I feel like I've worked myself free from a trap. Smile

Some efforts paying off

November 4th, 2005 at 07:20 am

Good things in the mail this week--

* Got a letter saying my long distance was switched to Pioneer.
* The checks for my new personal checking account arrived.
* Got a package from Sanford, the people who make Sharpie markers, with several nice things in it. I'd mailed in two white-out pens I could never get to work, which turned out to be discontinued. For good reason, I think! They sent two new ones, a red Sharpie and a click-type ballpoint pen, plus stamps for what it cost me to mail in the bad ones.
* Free magazines, which continue to amaze me. Right now we are getting US News, Family Circle, Psychology Today, Antiques, and Budget Living.
*More gift cards I ordered from Passport To Fun. Got quite a few for Amazon, because I'm planning ahead for Virgin Mobile. I finally figured out that I could add minutes at a discount if I bought top-up cards with a discounted gift card instead of doing it with a credit card. I did get one with a gc at Target, but noticed they charged sales tax. Someone over on Fatwallet mentioned getting them on Amazon, where hopefully I won't be charged tax. So now the money is already sitting in my Amazon account, when it's time to get them.

I also got what looks to be my first chance for a test drive offer. I don't even remember how long ago I signed up for it, but I finally got the chance to do a Mazda one for a $25 SuperCertificate. Hope I have the guts to go and do it! I have til December 18 to build up my courage.

On the down side, I discovered yesterday that I'd paid $75 to Citibank twice. Good for our debt levels, not so good for our checking account balance.

Disorganization taking its toll here too

November 2nd, 2005 at 08:36 am

Philoscript, I know how you feel.

It's been about 2 weeks I've really fallen behind on the paperwork/recordkeeping front. I thought it was just last week, with the car repair, long distance switching, extra/different hours at work, and so forth. (The latest repair turned out to be a wiper motor for another $450, by the way.) But now that I went back and tried to reconstruct things, I can see it was about 2 weeks ago I stopped entering my spending in Quicken. After going through all the receipts I could find, I still can't account for $46.55 in cash spending. How can you spend that much in 2 weeks and not know where it went?

I also hadn't reconciled the checking account, although I'd gotten a statement 2 weeks ago. Usually I do it as soon as the statement period ends. Sometimes I can't wait to get the statement in the mail, and print it out from the website. So this really isn't like me. My current balance in Quicken wasn't accurate, and I'm very lucky there was a good cushion in there or I might have bounced a check.

I remembered various bills coming in recently, but had to dig around in my paper piles to find them. Luckily, nothing was due yet. I got them all scheduled online this morning.

I'm trying to do a thing all this week where I take care of 10 pieces of paper a day. It could just be tossing a piece of junk mail, or paying bill, or filing something. Just basically moving it on to it's next place. 10 pieces is the minimum; usually when I get started I get a lot more done than that. At least now I can see the top of my desk. And it's only Wednesday. Wink

Keeping my fingers crossed that I don't find anything so old and neglected that it's going to cost us money. So far, so good.

Allowance refinements

November 1st, 2005 at 04:02 pm

I started out this morning thinking it would be nice to have a special bright-colored checkbook cover for the separate checking account, so it would be obvious which account it was for, and easy to find in my purse. I figured the debit card for the account could be tucked inside too.

I surfed around on Ebay for awhile, and as often happens, ideas start occuring to me. Kind of like when you're very relaxed in the shower, or driving smoothly along a highway. Smile Ideas like, I also need to have part of my allowance in cash, which means two different types of items, bills and coins. Then there are gift cards that are specifically for me, like for Dress Barn. I started wondering whether I wanted a whole separate wallet for "me" things, but two wallets in my purse would be awfully thick and bulky.

I finally settled on getting an oblong cosmetics type bag, not too thick, long enough for the checkbook, with a zipper on top. It finally occured to me that I already had an old one I could try out. It's a little worn and I'm no longer wild about the color, but it will do the job til I can find something cute for a reasonable price. I used it today, and found it's also a good place for corralling receipts. I think this just might work!

I've also decided on $100 a month, $25 in cash and $75 to the new account. I don't know whether that sounds like a lot, or not much. I can say it's 6.5% of my take-home pay, and much less than what DH gets to play with per month.

So far, what I've spent on me:

$1.25 for paperbacks off the booksale rack at work, that I can trade for ones I want through frugalreader.com and paperbackswap.com
$.20 for some photocopies
$4.13 mailing books out for swaps, also a CD that sold on Amazon
$9.90 checks for the new account

I've got to get things switched at Amazon so sale proceeds will go into the new account. It didn't work when I tried, they couldn't confirm the account number or something. So I have to fax some info to a toll-free number. Have to remember to do it before my next payment is due to come through.

For the first time in months, I drove by a Joann's store today and felt like I'd be able to go in and actually buy something there soon. It was a nice feeling.

Getting ready for a new week

October 30th, 2005 at 04:21 pm

Even beyond the latest car problem, last week was a rough one. By the time the weekend rolled around, I knew I had to keep things simple and just try to catch up with myself. I did one big shopping trip at Pathmark, didn't use one coupon, and spent $76. Usually I match coupons to sales and go to 2 or 3 stores. But I just didn't want to spend the time or energy.

DH and I both have gas in our cars, and some cash. There's enough food in the house. The laundry is caught up. Tonight I'm dealing with those stacks of paper that build up so fast, and doing a little actual cleaning. We got some extra sleep, and got out on walks. We have movies to watch and books to read.

I don't even know how much money I spent over the past week--I probably overspent, what with the Pathmark shopping and $15 for Chinese food. But I think I'll be able to start the work week feeling caught up, and calmer. And that's the most important thing to me right at this moment.

Little bits and pieces

October 18th, 2005 at 05:21 am

Yesterday went well, especially considering it was a Monday. It's my longest day out of the house, and the morning is usually spent trying to catch up on the weekend mess. Usually I run out of the house late, having left things undone and feeling behind. This week I actually got to work early, and had lots of stuff ready to take to the post office on my dinner hour. I got a lot done at work, too. So I treated myself to a caramel-flavored coffee for $1.05 on the way back from dinner--positive reinforcement. Smile

What I got into the mail were: 2 rebate offers, 1 prescription reimbursement form, 1 package of awful correction pens (they're supposed to send me a new, better product), and a book that sold on Amazon. All little bits and pieces that will help us keep in the black.

I wonder if anyone else has had this experience--on the prescription reimbursement form, they asked for the prescribing doctor's DEA number. All the other info they wanted was on my receipt, except this. I called my doctor's office and they wouldn't give it to me--they put me on hold a long time, and passed me from person to person. What it came down to was, they said don't give that information out to patients because it could be used fraudulently. They kind of made me feel like a drug-addicted criminal, just for asking! And I'm sure the number is on the prescription forms they hand out every day, anyway. All this hassle just to get $7 back from Blue Cross for blood pressure medicine. What I ended up doing was putting on the form, doctor's office will not provide, please call them at xxx-xxx-xxxx. We'll see what happens.

There were booksales at two libraries this past weekend, but DH and I each had our own reasons for skipping them. DH ran short of cash last week, when he overdid it at the last booksale we went to. I felt very behind after spending so much time on the car repairs last week, and just wanted to stay home and catch up. I'm sure we won't have long to wait for another sale to go to, though. Like they stay about streetcars and men, another one is always just around the corner. Wink

I was supposed to be cutting back on groceries and such this month and next, to catch up on overspending in September. But now it's turkey time at all the supermarkets, where if you spend a certain amount you get the free turkey or ham or a % off your next shopping trip. And, there are a lot of sales going on at Pathmark for things we'll need over the next few months anyway. So I'm continuing to spend, and stocking up. Beyond getting a deal, it just feels good to see a full pantry and know that in the next snowstorm all I'll need to do is walk up to Eckerd's on the corner for milk. One thing I'm trying to do is make one rebate purchase a week at Pathmark. The purchase goes toward the free whatever, but it's not actually money spent because of the rebate.

Am almost caught up on watching all the Monarch of the Glen episodes that are on DVD. They play it on public tv around here, but I'd missed some episodes so I've been borrowing it from the library. There is something very satisfying about watching upper-crusty people, living in a castle, having to learn to cut down and pinch pennies...

Free PIM software--a nice surprise

October 4th, 2005 at 06:17 am

I checked back to when I last felt overwhelmed with loose ends and unfinished stuff--it's been a little over a month. It got me thinking to how I should just schedule a catch-up day once a month, and keep a running list of things I'll handle then. It's just a matter of what method to use to schedule it and keep the running list. It's hard to find a system I can stick with and won't forget to keep up with.

The most organized I've been was when I was using some software called Time and Chaos. I've had two different versions of it on two computers--as far back as when they sent you diskettes in the mail! After my last computer died, I got very leery of depending on a computer to run my life. Even with files backed up, it was a hassle to get things going again. So I never got a new version of T&C for this computer.

Yesterday, though, I got to feeling so desperate I checked their website to see how much it costs now. Their newest version is $45, and from past experience it would be worth every penny--even though I don't want to spend it right now. But the great news is, the previous version is now available completely free!!! And although it's an older version, it still works for Windows XP.

I can highly recommend it, if you need something for appointments, a to-do list, telephone book, etc. It's great for setting up repeating tasks like "clean out the fridge" once a month, in addition to dr. appointments and such. Here's a link. Scroll down the page to the Legacy section to get to the free version 5 download.


Good news--I've been sick

September 26th, 2005 at 07:07 am

I had the beginnings of a cold or allergies last week, and Friday it finally hit me hard. The cold symptoms weren't so bad, but the tiredness has been overwhelming. I didn't even sit at the computer for almost 3 full days. Basically, I watched TV or listened to the radio, either in bed or in a living room chair with my feet up. 3 no-spend days, no trouble at all. Wink Also, I've lost 4 pounds. It's just a good thing I was so tired, otherwise I might have given in and ordered one of those Magic Bullet blenders (after seeing parts of the infomercial at least a dozen times).

I was glad to have a stockpile of easy frozen dinners so I could get something on the table without ordering take-out. But we had practically no cold medicine in the house, and no chicken soup. DH wasn't anxious to go out and get anything for me, and I was to tired to really bug him about it. So I think maybe it would be worthwhile to have a "sick shelf" ready at all times, not just containing medicine but other supplies you might not want to run out for when you don't feel well. A project for later in the week, when I'm caught up on other things.

Balancing life a little better

September 21st, 2005 at 06:17 pm

I've been focusing on money now for almost 5 months straight. I wouldn't change what I've been doing--it had to be done. But on top of not building enough fun into my life, I haven't been exercising like I'm supposed to, and the house isn't looking very good. It takes a lot of time to play with the budget, make changes to things like cable service, and track rebates and bonus offers from banks, so other things just haven't gotten done.

There aren't a whole lot of big decisions or projects I can do right now; I'm kind of moving into maintenance mode for awhile. I don't have the extra cash to invest in more than the rebates I've already started, or more discounted gift cards, or new bank accounts. It seems like a good time to try and juggle life generally a little better, until some bills get paid off and I have more financial options.

So. This week I've exercised twice so far. I'm starting to go around the house, decluttering and reorganizing. I need to do some plain old cleaning, which frankly I hate. I like the results, but doing it--yuck!

On an email list I subscribe to, about working on goals, they suggest thinking of something to reward ourselves with as we accomplish various things. I know it might help me slog through the cleaning if I had a reward waiting at the end, but it's hard to think of rewards that are 1) free or cheap and 2) low in calories. Maybe looking for freebies and coupons online should be my reward--no internet on cleaning day until I'm done. Wink

Eliminating annoyances

August 30th, 2005 at 06:16 am

(Thanks for the tip on the housing bubble blog. Just what I need, another blog to read! But it looks really interesting. I've subscribed to their feed.)

I think it was in a book by Cheryl Richardson where I read how useful it can be to tackle small annoyances. The idea is, they are small but they stay in the back of your mind, sapping your energy, and wasting your time in little bits every day. So it's more worthwhile to handle them than it might seem. Well, I seem to be in a mode of getting rid of those annoyances. And so far it's saving me money, too.

--I spent $7 at Target a few weeks ago, on what turned out to be a sorry excuse for a lamp. It was all plastic, and you were supposed to attach the shades by pushing them up and then turning. No screws to secure them. DH and I went through the procedure several times, and each time they fell out after a few hours or at most a day. I doubted Target would take it back, since we'd thrown the box away. But they did! $7 back into our pockets.

--I had a Crest spinbrush where a little plastic collar on the base broke. There was nothing for the new brush head to attach to. I called their 800 number, and they're sending a coupon for a whole replacement. About $6 back into our pockets, since I would have bought a replacement regardless. (I feel like I can stretch out dental appointments when I use it, because it keeps my teeth feeling like I just saw the hygienist. Nope, I don't work for Crest. Wink

--We had some Mountain Dew cans that were leaky where the lids attached, 5 cans from 2 different cartons. I called the 800 number, and I already got coupons for 2 12-packs. Worth about $8 because I'll save them for when we need them and they're not on sale.

--Did some research about our DVD player, which seemed to be on the fritz. Found out it just might need a cleaning, which you do with a special cleaning disk. Found one for $12, ran it through twice, and it was playing perfect again. Savings about $20, over having to replace it. And I can use the same disk to clean the CD drives in the computer, too.

--This one is costing money, but not very much. I had a cheap little upright vacuum that I loved, and it stopped working several months ago. I have a canister one, but it's a hassle to get out so I don't vacuum as much as I should. I finally took the upright in to be looked at, for $10. They said the parts were no longer available; the vacuum is designed to be disposable. Frown So I found one that looks even nicer (cordless) on Target's website which is on its way to me. It was $53 with tax, minus $5 from a link on http://www.naughtycodes.com, and I paid for it with some 20% off Target gift cards. And they were offering free shipping.

Oddly enough, on our local Craig's List website, someone was seeking people for a survey about vacuum cleaners. I emailed about it, and did the survey yesterday. They're supposed to mail a check for $20. So, after this serendipity, for about $28 net the vacuum cleaner problem is solved.

My year now has 13 months

August 6th, 2005 at 05:24 am

Hi, back again. I've taken some time off from thinking about money (and other things) so much. I've read lots of books, watched lots of videos, got to a park by a river, and planted some flowers. Our budget situation is still in limbo, but I'm not so tied up in knots about it now. Keeping busy to keep my mind occupied seems to be working, just like you might try to keep busy while waiting for news about a job or medical test results. I just wish I could remember that and start in sooner each time a situation like this comes up, before my mood starts to slip. Thanks for your kind comments last week.

Now about my 13 month year. I'm tired of situations like last weekend. It was the end of July, and I had enough grocery money left in the budget to pick up a few things like bread and milk. I would have succeeded in making it through the end of July on budget, but to keep strictly to it I'd have to wait til August 1, a Monday, to do a normal weekly shopping. But that would have been darned inconvenient because of my work schedule on Mondays.

It felt like a lose-lose situation. If I did a week's worth of shopping on Saturday, I'd have done something wrong because I went over budget for July. But if I didn't, I'd have done something wrong because I messed up my schedule and menus for the coming week.

I'm tired of trying to stretch the same amount of money during 31-day months as 28-day months. I'm tired of having to refigure my gas money because I have to buy it 5 times instead of 4. I'm tired of having to figure out if it's a month I need to go to Petsmart 3 times instead of 2. Then there's our take-out budget. We get pizzas on Tuesdays because they're only $6 that day. What if there are 5 Tuesdays in a month? It's driving me bonkers!

So from now on, I'm going to figure my Everyday Expenses budget for a 4-week "month" no matter what the calendar says. It will always start on a Sunday and end on a Saturday. So my "August" is running from July 31 to August 27. 52 weeks in a year, divided into 4-week segments--and Voila! there are 13 "months." That way I'll be able to do my main shopping on the same day each week, and have the same amount to spend each and every week and "month." I really want more predictability and routine in my financial life, and I think this will help.

What's wrong with this picture? - Part II

June 30th, 2005 at 08:24 am

Giving things away and throwing them out IS fast and easy. It can be a good quick fix for a crisis situation. But quick fixes aren't necessarily what work in the long term, and they often cause other problems. And they don't teach you good skills for the future.

If you have a bad day at work, drinking a beer when you get home might calm you down for the moment. Stick with that as your main tool for dealing with stress, you've got a drinking problem.

If you keep buying more and then just throwing or giving things away as your main tool for controlling clutter, it's a money problem waiting to happen--especially if you're carrying credit card debt. It's possible someone could be giving away things that haven't even been paid for yet. Wouldn't it be better to try and sell them and recoup at least a little money?

I came across a story about Suze Orman, who supposedly suggested this: Get a dollar bill and hold it in your hand. Are you able to tear it up and throw it away? For most people, the answer is no. So, when you're tempted to buy something that you might end up throwing/giving away, imagine it is a dollar bill and remember how you wouldn't want to throw IT away.

I'm not a big Suze Orman fan, but that's great advice for preventing clutter in the first place.

Some of the organizing folks suggest clutter prevention tactics like "one new item purchased, one old item out." A workable idea, but they are still saying to give or throw away the "one old item out." To me, that just reinforces the habit of wasting money. Easy come, easy go. I don't want to be that way anymore. If I'm ever going to feel like a "grown-up," I've got to stop taking the easy way out.

On the other hand, I know someone who's taken 18 years (so far) to try and deal with a houseful of stuff she inherited. Because she's so fixated on getting every penny out of it, it's taking WAY too long. I don't want to live that way, either.

There's got to be a happy medium--and that's what I'm trying to find.

I can see where yard sales aren't ideal. We don't have the storage space to hold enough for a really good sale. We also don't live on a street that gets much traffic.

I'm not crazy about Ebay, either. I've tried it a few times, and had one $125 success story. But mostly it seems like more work than it's worth.

Amazon's been great because it's quick to list things and then you can forget about them until a sale comes through. I did get aggravated about it this past week, but it was because I was, as usual, trying to do too much at once. I ended up having to make two trips to the PO in one day, there was so much to take. But, I can control the flow of sales by not listing everything at once. I can wait to list more until I have more mailing supplies on hand. And if life gets really busy I can put all my listings "on vacation."

Two more ideas sound good to me right now. Consignment stores, and craigslist.org.

The consignment store near me has you make appointments to bring things in, and you can go as often as once a month. It should be just as easy to do that as make a trip to Goodwill, and there's the possibility of getting a little money out of it.

http://www.craigslist.org is kind of a huge, free, online classified ad section. (You wouldn't believe what some of the ads are for!) There are different craigslist web pages for different areas. I like the idea a lot better than freecycle.org. If I decide to take the risk of having a stranger come get something at our house, at least we'd be getting some money out of it.

And since both of these deal with people in the local area, they overcome a major Ebay problem--how to sell things that are too expensive to ship.

I want to look into some local, real auction houses. And there are always the used book and CD stores where we can turn things in for credit.

There so many other options besides giving and throwing things away, that just take a little more time and effort and can also help the budget a little. I only wish someone had suggested them to me when I was in that major decluttering phase.

What's wrong with this picture? - Part I

June 28th, 2005 at 06:43 am

I just keep shaking my head lately over all the stuff I've thrown away and given away in the name of "decluttering." Things I could have sold and probably gotten hundreds of dollars for.

I'm not a naturally organized person. So I've been reading housekeeping and organizing advice for years, trying to get on top of things in our house. A couple of years ago things had gotten really bad, and I started decluttering big time, following advice in books and on websites like Flylady.net.

There was something strange about all that advice that never occurred to me. But now that I'm looking high and low for ways to generate extra cash, it's pretty obvious. Virtually all of those organizing gurus seem to discourage you from actually selling things and would rather have you throw or give things away.

In The Messies Manual, by Sandra Felton, "As you move from one spot to another, take with you three boxes: a give-away box, a throw-away box, and a storage box." (No box for things to sell.)

In Conquering Chronic Disorganization, by Judith Kolberg you divide your belongings into Friends, Acquaintances and Strangers, then--"Identify the Strangers and throw them away immediately. Determine a very personal charity, and donate your Acquaintances." Regarding an overabundance of books, "He can buy as many books as we wants, but for each one he buys, one must be donated, given to friends, or discarded." (Again, no suggestion that anything could or should be sold--not even something relatively easy to sell like books.)

In the Organizing Sourcebook, by Kathy Waddill, "Once you decide to let go of things, get them out of your way as soon as possible...Take items to your nearest charity, get a receipt, and deduct the value of your donation from your tax return." (What if you don't itemize your deductions?)

She gives an example given of how to clear out a basement that not only didn't generate any cash, it actually cost money!

"They rented a dumpster, bought some pizza and a few cases of beer, and invited friends and family to help them out. In less than a day, they had a big, empty, clean basement that the whole family could use. As soon as they made up their minds to tackle the problem, they made it disappear."

Flylady says we are to declutter for 15 minutes a day, using 27-Fling Boogies. "Take a garbage bag and walk through your home and throw away 27 items. Do not stop until you have collected all 27 items. Then close the garbage bag and pitch it. DO NOT LOOK IN IT!!! Just do it. Next, take an empty box and go through your home collecting 27 items to give away." "Do not save your clutter for a yard or garage sale, you will be blessed by giving it away."

Elsewhere on her website, Flylady encourages finding ways to economize, get money into savings, and paying off your debt. We are supposed to do things like cut down on air conditioning to save money--after we've thrown or given away 1680 items over the course of a month that might have brought in more than enough to keep the house comfortable. There is some kind of disconnect here...

I've got a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head on this, but for the sake of not making this too long, I'll post Part II tomorrow.

Moving ahead, s l o w l y

June 8th, 2005 at 08:18 am

Last Thursday I read a discussion on another website that really set me off emotionally. It wasn't a flame war type of thing, just something that brought up some uncomfortable financial memories. I ended up spending most of my time at home trying to figure out why it affected me so much, what I should write as a reply, what I should write about it here, etc.

I can hardly describe how mad I was at myself for wasting the day like that, close to tears. If it weren't for being online so much, reading too many message boards, it wouldn't have even happened. Long story short, I decided to switch to a different internet service that would 1) limit my online time, and 2) save us more money. I ended up switching to a plan that will give me only 30 hours a month for $3 a month. I'll still be able to write here; I can save time writing offline, then cutting and pasting my text online. I can still be on some email lists, because I can download and then read and write replies offline in Outlook Express.

I'm still working on switching everything over to my new email address. I'm still waiting for my phone service changes; the phone company had been forwarding the calls to the wrong number! I'm still waiting for the cable downgrade to happen; the cable company was supposed to do it yesterday but they didn't.

We had an emergency with DH's car the other day, which meant a lot of running around, picking up takeout for dinner, and so forth. So after getting through the first week of the month, I already can't account for $10 that was spent. It doesn't sound like much, but if it happens every week, it's easy to see where I'm losing $520 a year. SOMEHOW I've got to record everything, every single day. But easier said than done.

Well, the second week of the month is starting, and I'm going to try and start fresh.

Busy as a bee

June 1st, 2005 at 06:57 am

Thanks for the welcome and encouragement. Smile

My "mood" icon reflects the fact that my head is spinning right now.

I started out Saturday morning meaning to spend no more than 1-1/2 hours a day dealing with financial stuff. I need to work on it, but I'm tired of money worries dominating my life. The thing is, after I got started I could see how much I needed to do and how much time it's going to take. 1-1/2 hours a day would hardly make a dent.

Here's what I've worked on so far:

1) Went through all stacks of paper to make sure all bills were found and paid, and all spending recorded in Quicken. Decided I have to record spending every single day, or no system is going to work.

2) Worked on a cash flow spreadsheet I made up in Quattro (like Excel) to plan out how to stay in the black each month. Panicked! As things stand now, there isn't enough money left to cover emergencies like car repairs, assuming they will come to what they did last year--let alone "extras" like new clothes. And if our cc minimum payment goes up (as is predicted to happen to everyone later this year), I'll need to find still more money.

3) Dropped the voicemail service from the phone company, and the wiring protection plan we'd signed up for when we were remodeling. Switched to just Call Forwarding on Busy, so when I'm online calls will be sent to my cell phone (it has free voice mail). Savings, $9 a month or $108 a year.

4) Downgraded our cable service from expanded basic to limited basic at $10 a month. Savings, $40 a month or $480 a year.

5) Worked on our food and sundries budget, intensely! There are some interesting charts the government puts out that show what the average household spends on groceries, supplies, "food not at home", and so forth. They show it all different ways, by area of the country, size of household, income level, etc. So I looked at what we've been spending vs. what the typical family in our situation would be spending, and finally made up a new budget.

6) Started setting up my new budget tracking gadget for June. It's called Budgetmap. It's supposed to go in your checkbook like a register, but it folds out and has colums for 12 budget categories. Decision One: It's rather thick to keep in my checkbook, which is incorporated in my wallet. Plus when I'd have to fold out the pages to write on, it would give me a really lumpy surface. So I'm keeping it separate, with a rubber band around it.

7) Lookiing into cheaper car insurance, and am finding a Catch-22 situation. Apparently insurance companies are using your credit rating now to set your rate--better credit rating=lower insurance rates. To up my score a bit, I'd like to take money out of savings and pay down our one cc so the balance is less than 1/2 of our available credit. But then I wouldn't have much cash left to pay on the new policy. So I kind of feel like I can't afford to apply for cheaper insurance quite yet. At least after comparing rates on the state insurance dept's website, I know which companies I want to pursue.

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