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Paying myself back rather than the cc

March 16th, 2009 at 08:56 am

I've gotten back into that vicious cycle that Carol Keeffe describes so well in her book*--one month you charge some groceries and toothpaste, the next month when you pay the bill it leaves you short to buy the new month's groceries, and you end up using the credit card again and again each month.

When things were really wild over the past few months, I'd just shop when I could. I didn't always have cash with me, and didn't always know for sure how much was in our checking accounts. I didn't want to overdraw an account, so I used the credit card to be safe. If I was using the credit card, I couldn't go to Aldi, and I didn't have time to shop the sales and use coupons, either. I didn't always take time to record what I spent. Often I had to charge things that were really for my mother, which confused things even more. (She doesn't have a credit card of her own.)

Result--a balance I've been paying off each month, but sometimes painfully so.

This weekend I "borrowed" $140 from our bills account to cover a big food shopping trip. I've got a lot of catching up to do, as we've used up a lot of stockpile items, and a lot had to be throw away because it got spoiled or was way out of date. I'll probably have to "borrow" some more next week. So far this month I've already spent $284 on groceries and we're only half through.

But at least I can pay myself back at my leisure with no interest adding up. And it's enabling me to take advantage of some really good sales and coupons, like a series of $5 off $40 coupons at one of our stores.

* "How to get what you want in life with the money you already have"

A wild few months

March 9th, 2009 at 08:27 am

It's been about three months since my last post, and exactly one month since we went to settlement on my mother's "extra" house.

Just before Christmas, my mother got the bad intestinal bug that was going around and because of her age, she was hospitalized for it. Just as she was due to be released, I came down with it and couldn't even go to pick her up myself. Then in January we found out she had a buyer for the house, and spent the next few weeks moving and disposing of the rest of the stuff that was still in it. (Not only is she quite the packrat, we also had to clean out stuff left by the previous two owners!)

It's taken me a month to feel caught up on my own life and back to some kind of normal.

I'm really trying to get back on top of money management--after months of just buying what we needed regardless of price--and posting here is the best way I know to stay honest! So here I am.

Loosening up the purse strings

December 7th, 2008 at 10:26 am

I might have loosened them a little less if I hadn't made a mistake in Quicken. (For awhile, I thought I had about $500 more available than I actually did!) Grand total was $615. It's a lot to spend the first month of working full-time, but I thought about each purchase and don't regret any of them. I shopped sales and used coupons. Some of the clothes were almost Goodwill-level prices.

New (to us) TV through Craigslist $200
New throws for living room chairs $20
2 prs winter pajamas $38
4 tubes Revlon lipstick $12
Sneakers, one pr black and one pr white, $62
Bra $24
Nylon knee-hi's for work $22
2 velour track suits $72
6 long sleeve tees $22.50
1 sparkly henley tee $7.50
Black stretch corduroy jeans $15
Navy polyester slacks $15
Route 66 DVD set $37
Black leather purse $34
6 cloth napkins $7
2 computer books for reference at work $10
2 battery lanterns for when power is out $17

My body is changing, due to lots of walking, and I'm now wearing a 16W on the bottom. A lot of my older pants are baggy 20W's. The vinyl purse I bought last year is crazing and not repairable. We gave our lantern to my mother when her power was out, and decided we actually needed two at our house. The napkins I really didn't need, although they may help us cut down on the use of paper napkins. It was either spend the $7 on the napkins and get free shipping, or pay for shipping and get nothing else.

I need more decent casual clothes for running errands, in order to reserve work outfits for work. If I take my mother to a doctor, lawyer or stockbroker or we go out to lunch, I don't want to look like too much of a schlub. My old jeans are not only baggy but getting faded at the knees. That's where the track suits, tees and sneakers came in.

The "new" tv is digital, so it gives us a whole new range of channels on cable that we couldn't get on the old one, for no extra monthly fee to Comcast. It's a larger screen. It's a model that we like, but it's been discontinued, so we wanted to grab it when we could find it. And the picture on the old one kept shrinking every so often.

The new throws replace old ones which have numerous holes, pulls, and stains. The extra PJs are to help stretch out how often I have to do laundry.

I know the spending has to slow down. Next year, my ceiling for discretionary spending like this is the $40 a week being direct deposited into Electric Orange checking. But for now, it feels really good to be catching up on things and ridding my life of some shabbiness. Next project--bathroom towels. Smile

1974--eek!

December 5th, 2008 at 09:05 pm

Just saw a headline about November having the worst monthly jobless figures since 1974. Yikes, in some ways this headline bothered me more than recent talk of another Great Depression. I lived 1974. If that's where we are now and it's going to get worse before it gets better, uh oh.

For instance, in 1974 we still had these fashions to look forward to!
15minutelunch.blogspot.com/2007/10/strap-in-shut-up-and-hold...

But seriously, my 1974 involved--

Seeing adults in my family unemployed, in federally-subsidized CETA jobs, or getting on social security earlier than planned because they couldn't find work.

Going to school in the dark in winter because of the energy crisis (daylight savings all year). Being cold in school all the time because they turned the thermostat down. Having our senior trip to Washington instead of Disney World because it was cheaper.

Knowing that going away to college for one year would have been a waste, if there wasn't money to continue. Attending community college instead, to learn a marketable skill, and dealing with the odd/even gas rationing system as a commuter student.

We were still going through Watergate, and Vietnam was still on people's minds. I just checked, and the term stagflation was coined in 1974. It just wasn't a very happy or optimistic time.

I've been there, done that, and I really don't want to be there again! I mean, you adjust, you shop at K-Mart instead of the mall, your world gets a little smaller. You tell yourself a lot of other people are going through the same thing, but it still isn't fun. Enough already, I've already been economizing for the last 3 years!!!

Something I learned on Sears.com

November 29th, 2008 at 05:33 pm

Did you know they carry items like Keebler snack crackers, paper doilies and printer paper?

If you need some small filler items to make your order eligible for free shipping or to use a coupon, try Breakroom Supplies in their search box. You'll find all sorts of things like single boxes of tissues, air freshener, bags of mints or Nips candies, and so forth. They also carry small office supplies, like boxes of paper clips.

You'd be hard pressed to find this stuff using their category titles--it's all deep within the Electronics and Computers category.

Whipsawed, but in a good way

November 1st, 2008 at 08:21 am

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.




I-bonds vs. the stock market

October 12th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Thought this might be a good time to post a link to this chart, being that the stock market has been so choppy lately. Note that the chart is updated to October 1st--and the I-bonds were already ahead before the worst of the stock market's descent. Might be good for anybody else who's feeling rather chicken right now.

http://www.savings-bond-advisor.com/i-bonds-versus-the-stock...

I've been thinking about these for a long time as part of our Emergency Fund, but never seem to have enough money to spare. They can't be bought in IRA's, where the bulk of our already-accumulated money is, so I'd have to find new money.

I know you can buy them in small amounts, but I guess I'm embarrassed to put a bank through the paperwork for a $50 bond. (I'd rather do the paper ones, as it would be a help to DH in an emergency.) But maybe I will start, once I know the new rate as of November 1. They are supposed to announce the new rate this week.

McDonald's-my best investment this week

October 8th, 2008 at 05:11 am

No, not McDonald's stock--coupons.

DMom and I sometimes go to McD's for coffee because it's cheaper than some places and we like it just as well. Yesterday there was a sign on the door about Halloween coupons books, so I asked about them.

For $1, you get a coupon folder with 12 coupons for free items. In other words, for $1 you get coupons for about $10 worth of food. Can't beat that with a stick.

I suppose they're meant for kids--they have Ronald McDonald on them, and they're for small items--hamburgers, cones, juice, milk, and apple dippers. They expire 12/31.

I bought two. They are just the kind of things DMom and I might want to snack on with our coffee. Or that would hold off the hunger pangs if I'm out on errands a long time.

Somehow this lifts my spirits more than hearing that the Fed has lowered interest rates. Wink

Asset allocation--any ideas?

October 5th, 2008 at 11:54 am

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?

Back because I'm scared

September 27th, 2008 at 04:13 pm

I feel like I need to huddle around the virtual campfire at Saving Advice again, safe from the cold, cruel world with some people who have their heads on straight. Smile

I'm trying not to be a Nervous Nellie, but all this upheaval in the economy is starting to get to me. It's not just what I'm hearing on the news--it's real life.

WAMU-we have our one credit card with them. Things should be business as usual, but it feels strange to have a 2nd credit card provider go belly up on me. (I had a NextBank card years ago.)

Wachovia-I have a brokerage account with them, DMom has two brokerage accounts plus she owns a pretty significant chunk of Wachovia stock which is already showing a loss. I'm hoping they don't do a WAMU and that she doesn't lose it all.

The housing market-My mother, at 91, has finally put her "extra" house up for sale, seemingly at the worst possible time in recent memory. There have only been two showings in about 3 weeks. If it goes on too many months, we may need to help her get it ready to rent out.

It's been a year, and DH still isn't working. In a lot of ways it's been a help, but we could sure use some extra money.

Especially since we are still paying $660 a month for his COBRA health insurance, which runs out in March. The prospects for me getting full-time at my present job don't look good, and the cost of an individual (non-COBRA) policy will be even higher.

Our emergency fund is below the $1000 minimum that I feel comfortable with, and I'm going to have to work hard to get it built up again. I'm unavoidably spending $200 a month on gas now (because of driving my mother), and our car insurance just went up $35 a month.

Somehow I'm going to have to get back to frugal ways, but I don't have time to fiddle around with Quicken like I used to.

Hope things are going a little more smoothly with everyone else.

One last entry

August 11th, 2008 at 05:45 am

My own mother had full-blown stroke on June 1, and it's basically changed my life. Several times I've had ideas for entries about how caregiving can affect your finances, or my observations on Medicare. But I just haven't had time to write.

In fact, I haven't had the time to read the other blogs, and when I checked in to read new posts in the forums, there were hundreds more than I had time to check out.

DMom is actually doing pretty well, living in one of her two houses and trying to sell the other one. But she's not supposed to drive, so DH and I are doing a lot of running, and we're the ones trying to empty out the for-sale house. I don't see things calming down any time soon--when one project is done, there's another one waiting to be started.

So, it's been fun and fulfilling, but this blog has to go. Best of financial luck to everybody. Smile



When poor folks have better crap than you

May 21st, 2008 at 06:41 pm

"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

Resisted temptation and added $70 to savings

May 17th, 2008 at 10:27 am

There are two special purchases at Aldi that I've been itching to buy--a paper cutter for $20 and a metal detector for $50.

I decided today that if I could dig up the money to pay for them somehow, then I could just as well afford to move the money into savings instead. I've already spent quite a bit this spring, and our emergency account balances are low.

Still, I always find it hard to put money aside for vague reasons like "emergencies." Maybe playing mind games with myself like this is the only way to get it done.

No spend day, yesterday!

May 14th, 2008 at 07:24 am

I hardly ever have these. I've been spending way too much on coffee at work, even at 50 cents a cup. Yesterday I drank water instead. Smile

Life has calmed down a little, so I'm trying to get back to some little frugalities. I made macaroni salad over the weekend, and am using it up even though it's rather bland. Making a pitcher of iced tea in the mornings to keep from going into my diet soda stash. Having toast instead of bagels or English muffins, because the price per serving is about half. Using up home-made soup I have in the freezer instead of opening a can.

I'm planning my driving trips more carefully--I actually made it through the past week on $25 worth of gas. This morning I'm in the mood to go to Aldi's before work, but I'll wait til tonight. I can combine the trip with getting my hair cut. Tomorrow I'll hit Petsmart on the way home from work, rather than making a separate trip. It's kind of aggravating when you want to go NOW, but I'm sure I can get used to it.

I've also changed some computer settings so my pc goes on standby sooner when it's idle, and turns itself off earlier at night. May save a little electricity, I hope.

Nothing more exciting going on right now--which is a GOOD thing.

Comprehensive Aldi Price List

May 7th, 2008 at 05:23 am

A blogger named Homeschool Dad came across a printed price list in his local Aldi, and posted it online!

I've been trying to keep a price book of Aldi prices, based on my receipts. At one point I even put it up online hoping it would be useful for other people to use as a comparison for sale prices at other stores. But I never managed to put together such a comprehensive list as this one.

Here's the link location as of today (it will open an Adobe Reader .pdf file)
http://a.slickdeals.net/attachment.php?attachmentid=88642&d=...

Homeschool Dad had to take the file off his own website because he got too many hits. Go, Aldi fans! Smile

Homeschool Dad's blog--
http://homeschooldadblog.com/04-12-2008/complete-aldis-price...

I've never seen a printed price list at my Aldi, and I've never noticed some of the products on his list. OTOH, the special seasonal stuff isn't listed, just the stuff they have all the time. The price list also says every product in their store has a price tag on it--not the case here in NJ.

Happy comparison shopping.

It makes a difference

May 3rd, 2008 at 05:16 am

Yesterday as fate would have it, I walked into the supermarket behind a mother and adult daughter, and ended up in the checkout lane behind them too.

Before I left home, I looked at the store flyer, made a list, and gathered my coupons and rainchecks together. They grabbed the flyer on the way into the store, and seemed confused about which week it was even for.

We both had fairly full carts. Their total was over $100, and the cashier told them they saved $3 and something today. My total was $52.92 and my savings, as the store calculates it, were $36.58.

If I ever needed a reminder that it's worth the time to plan ahead, this was it!

Quicken-ing again

April 26th, 2008 at 04:33 am

As I mentioned here:
stressless.savingadvice.com/2007/12/19/of-memory-banks-and-b...
I gave up on Quicken for a time, after a disastrous experience with a newer version on my older computer.

Well, I'm a Quicken user again, but not in a way that would make Intuit happy! I'd gotten a rebate on the new version, and then when I sent the disk in for a refund I got the full price back. So I actually made a $20 profit there. Then, I found a new, sealed-in-the-box 2002 Deluxe version online for $15. It's exactly what I wanted--the older non-buggy version I'm used to, but with the savings goal feature I didn't have before. So basically I've netted $5 for my time, aggravation and losing almost 3 years of data.

Yeah, I know losing the data is my fault. I've never been good about backing up, and I should know better. But at least now I've discovered a way to make it painless and automatic--I have storage space with my (new) ISP and they even give you software to automatically upload your backups. I could have my Quicken data backed up as often as once an hour--but I decided on once every 24 hours.


Living in our "New Normal"

April 26th, 2008 at 04:15 am

It's been almost 7 months since DH quit his job. After 6 months of trying to be really careful money-wise, it hit me--we're in the middle of the kind of emergency you're supposed to save up against, yet we seem to be doing ok.

It doesn't look like he'll be working again anytime soon; maybe this is our New Normal for now. If so, we might as well go ahead with some purchases and home improvement stuff as long as we don't go into the red. Take our life off Hold, so to speak. Lots to report on about that.

Also, DMom was just in the hospital and life's been kind of chaotic. I think writing here again will help me keep my head together a bit, and keep me from morphing into my evil twin StressMore, living in the New Crazy.




Catching up

February 23rd, 2008 at 09:30 am

Thanks for all your condolences. A Going Jessie--I love it! Yes, sad as it is, wouldn't we all rather go like that--quickly, after a long and interesting life.

This morning I sat down and tried to catch up on our financial record-keeping, generally. I was also finally able to come up with what this whole crisis has cost us specifically. It's roughly $1000.

Hotel $177 (they gave us a bereavement discount)
Train $208
Taxis to and from train $130
Obituary in paper down here (to be reimbursed from the estate) $195
Clothes for DH $95
Luggage and locks $50
Flowers $66
Gift certificate for neighbors who watched our pets $25
Gas and tolls for trips to hospital $45
Meals out $120

There was no free food on the train; they did have a cafe car, but all we got was coffee. Mainly, we ate our own snacks on the trip. We took full advantage of the hotel's free breakfast buffet, and free coffee in the lobby.

There's still $156 of cash we spent that I can't account for at all. Some of it might be regular groceries and such, but I really can't tell. Every once in awhile something else comes to me, and maybe more receipts will turn up. I really don't like having that much unaccounted for.

The kicker is, there is going to be a lot of family pressure to make the trip again in the summer. The ground was too frozen to bury the ashes, and they'll want to do it during this big family reunion in August. DH is still not working, and our emergency fund is about wiped out. We avoided going out for a similar "second funeral" for DH's father some years back, and I'm determined not to be pushed into it this time, either. If money isn't so tight then and DH really wants to go, then maybe. But I'm not putting out another big chunk of money, and using more vacation time, just to make a bunch of distant relatives happy. DH barely knows them himself!

Death in the family

February 19th, 2008 at 06:02 am

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.



Coffee makers - not Made In China

January 30th, 2008 at 08:20 am

A few months back, I read the book "A Year without Made in China." One thing that stuck with me was how impossible it was for the author to find a new coffee maker that wasn't made in China. I wondered if it were really true. Well, our cheapo 18-month-old coffee maker just died so I decided to find out for myself. I'd written about it here: http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2006/05/01/kissing-and-co...

It's not that I'm completely anti-China. I have some clothes that are extremely well-made, that I love. But I'm tired of buying appliances that die after a year or so. It's bad for the environment, and it's a hassle to have to shop again. And since we drink so much coffee, I don't want to use things made from Chinese metal, which I've read often have toxic impurities in them.

The only stand-alone, electric appliance type I could find that were made in America are by Bunn. The info I found was from 2004, so it may no longer be so. They cost $100 and up. But even American-made electronic parts fail eventually, and I'd like to reclaim some counter space.

If you can get used to boiling water on the stove to make your coffee, and don't need to make a potful, there's the Aerobie Aeropress. If you need to make it by the pot, it appears the 6-cup manual Melitta system is made in the USA. I'll know for sure, either when I hear back from customer service, or mine is delivered. I ordered mine directly from Melitta USA's website, and it came to about $15, shipped.

If you're willing to branch out to other countries, there are French press pots made in Germany, stove-top drip systems from Italy, it looks like the 10-cup manual Melitta is made in Canada, and there's the Eva coffee brewer from Denmark.

If you know of other ones, please do leave the info as a comment.

I know from past experience that the glass carafe for the Melitta isn't going to last forever--we always seem to break them eventually. So I'm still looking for a stove-top all-metal system that doesn't require ongoing filter purchases. I saw some intriguing vintage coffee pots on Ebay, and would like to get one eventually. I was excited to see a aluminum stove-top Dripolator at Vermont Country Store, very similar to some vintage ones on Ebay--but then I saw the same thing at Fantes.com, where they said it was... made in China. So I think I'll go for a vintage one to have in reserve.

Next time--kettles!

Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 06:57 am

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.

Christmas Club blast from the past- Pix!

December 18th, 2007 at 07:48 pm

The old school Christmas Clubs must be alive and well somewhere, because I came across a banknote printer who's still selling the books. And the graphics look about the same as I remember them from the 70's!




You can see their whole product line here:
www.kbnc.com/christmasclub.htm

Full Plate Part 2 - Family Stuff

December 12th, 2007 at 06:28 am

It started about 4 weeks ago.

DMom finally decided to have the bathroom redone in one of her houses, so that one house was completely livable and she could sell the other one. She's been driving between the two houses almost every day for over 20 years. Did I mention she's 90 years old???

DH and I attended meetings with the remodeler with her, moved furniture and breakable stuff so they could get in and work, made phone calls, made sure there was food and coffee in the house, etc. DH also got a shed torn down and some yard work done while it was going on.

For 3 weeks, we took turns being at the house at 8 a.m. to let the remodelers in. DMom couldn't sleep there because there was no bathroom, and she couldn't drive down herself to meet them because she doesn't get that early a start in the mornings. We'd wait til she got there, then tried to get on with our own days.

We thought it was only going to be 2 weeks, so we scheduled our own roofing job for week 3. But as it turned out, I was at DMom's with her remodelers while DH was home dealing with our roofers.

At the end of the job, we discovered the toilet they gave DMom was not nearly powerful enough...you don't want to know! I ended up working a split day, managing a toilet changeover for her during my afternoon off.

It was getting to be very stressful because while sitting at DMom's house, we were holed up in her living room which is crammed with old, crumbling dirty stuff she doesn't want to get rid of. We saw tons of things that need to be thrown out, given away, cleaned, or stored. We could have gotten a lot more done while we were there anyway--but she just kept saying No, No, No. She couldn't deal with that much change all at once. Very frustrating.

Finally at the end of the projects, DH and I sat down after dinner to relax, but it wasn't meant to be.

My BIL, who lives with my MIL (also 90) has had bipolar disorder for many years, which has been pretty well controlled with lithium except during extra stressful periods. Well, it was starting to have medical side effects and they changed his medication.

I won't go into detail, but we've spent many hours on the phone with family, the security guard in my MIL's development, the mental health crisis people. The police and crisis folks were at the house 6+ hours before he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He'd been holding MIL practically hostage, pulled out the phone lines so she couldn't communicate with the outside world. He was suicidal, and there's a good chance there's still an old gun on the property that he hid somewhere. The police looked for it, and couldn't find it.

We are all very apprehensive about how long the hospital will keep him, how he'll be when he gets out, and how to keep my MIL safe. I called the social worker's office at the hospital but only got an answering machine and no call back yet. I emailed the Red Cross's Lifeline service (the I've fallen and I can't get up thing) but it bounced back as a bad address. More frustrations I really don't need.

We've also got DMom's car at our mechanic because lots of repairs have been adding up and we felt it wasn't safe for her to drive. It looked like she hadn't gotten an oil change for over a year! She's just developed a bladder infection and since her car's in the shop, I'm driving her to doctor appointments and the drugstore this week.

I've been spending money like a drunken sailor--can't even tell you what on. I had to raid the Bills checking account for stuff that should be coming out of the Groceries checking account, but I don't see how it could be helped. I can't see my financial life getting back under control until things start to calm down. I've been lurking on a Debtor's Anonymous email list, and know I would be taken to task for Vagueness (not writing down everything spent, not spending within a budget). My mental reply to the DA folks right now is, "Get Real!"

My plate is full

December 9th, 2007 at 08:43 am

Since DH left his job, all heck has broken loose. Not due to him--on the contrary, if he didn't have the time and energy to help with this stuff, I don't see how I could have managed. As it is, we are both feeling pretty stressed, and at times physically shaky.

In this entry, the financial front.

Just before DH left his job, he decided to get a tooth fixed. Looking back on it, I think he wanted to look better for job interviews, but it didn't occur to me at the time. That cost $1500.

I managed to pick up some extra hours at work, which covers our COBRA insurance almost exactly. My boss knows I'm ready to go full time and get benefits, and she'd like to give it to me, but it's not in the budget right now.

Still, the cheapest COBRA option (keeping the high deductible insurance and the HSA account) is $645 a month and it's kind of painful to pay. It's more than our mortgage! And we still have to find money to put into the HSA.

We had to start paying on life insurance for DH, because the only policy he had was at work. $94 a quarter.

In October, our dog had a swelling on her cheek that we thought might be a tumor. It was relatively good news--an abscessed tooth that needed to be removed. The vet visits, surgery and medicine totalled $605.

One of the little additions on our house had a much older roof than the main part, and it started to leak once in a while. It kept getting worse and in November we decided we'd better get it replaced before snow season started. Even I could see it was beyond repair, unless we just wanted to lay a tarp over it for the winter! $1125.

We rarely have flea problems, but our dog and cat both got them recently. I didn't have the stuff on hand, so I ordered it online for the best price I could find--just under $100.

It was our balance month for natural gas, and we owed $48 extra. We needed a new faucet cartridge, $22. DH worked on hedges at DMom's house, sliced the extension cord. New cord, $25. MIL needed her phone card re-upped due to a family emergency, $25. We've been very involved with DMom and MIL lately, which has made it harder to do things the cheap way. We've been indulging in some fast food and I'm just happy to get out shopping when I can, let alone following sales and using coupons.

Amazingly, we are still afloat financially so far. I had to charge a few things only because the emergency money I had to spend wasn't in the account with the debit card. As soon as I pay that bill, we'll be debt-free again except for the mortgage.

Oh, and all that subprime mortgage news that's been coming out has made me very, very nervous about our ARM, due to adjust in 3 years. So I set up an automatic extra payment to principal for $50 a month--don't know how much it will help in the long run, but it makes me feel better.

Next time, the family crises. (Oh, joy!)





Auto Scoop radio--has anyone heard this?

November 14th, 2007 at 06:46 am

I just happened to catch this show while I was out doing weekend errands recently. I was absolutely flabbergasted at the advice they were giving.

http://www.autoscoop.com/content.featured.about

It all seemed to be about how to borrow the most money you could, even if you have bad credit, to get the most expensive car possible. After having listened to Dave Ramsey for quite a while, it was quite a shock I can tell you!

The host actually suggested to more than one person that they borrow more than they were paying for the car. For instance, if there was a cash-back offer on the car they should borrow the full price of the car, and take the cash to use. The callers weren't asking if it was possible to do this, he was actually putting the idea into their heads.

I can see where it would be a good idea if you were getting a 0% interest deal. But this didn't seem to be the case; it sounded like most of the callers had bad credit and were living on the edge already. The interest rate wasn't going to be good.

I'm thinking, geez, how can that host sleep at night? Maybe it was just the episode I caught. Someone please tell me he's not saying this stuff every week!








Taking things one day at a time

October 20th, 2007 at 08:29 am

It's been three weeks since DH left his job, and he's starting to get cabin fever. He's ready to start looking, but frankly the way things are right now it's good he's still off.

Monday our dog is having surgery to check out a tumor on her face. The vet thinks it's different from the supposedly harmless lipomas she's had elsewhere on her body. They have to put her under to even do a careful exam and biopsy, because she's not the most laid-back of patients. We can't just let it go because it was getting oozy and ugly-looking.

If this is the beginning of the end, I'm sure DH will feel better being able to give her plenty of quality time while he's still home. She's his baby. Even if all she needs is some after-surgery care, it will still be a big help having him home, as I've been working extra hours.

We've also had things come up like one of us having to be here while a new water meter is installed, car repairs, getting to the bank about a matured CD, navigating through the COBRA insurance maze. It's all been easier to manage because he's been home and carrying some of the load.

I'm starting to have this feeling that maybe things are going just as they should be, even if it's uncomfortable for both of us right now. Except for the vet bills, our income and outgo through December is pretty predictable, so there's no use spending time on obsessing over money right at the moment. All we can really do is get through each new thing as it comes along.

Dry cleaning and the environment

October 15th, 2007 at 01:19 pm

In honor of Blog Action Day ...

Personally, I just can't stand the way my clothes smell when I first bring them home from the dry cleaner. But there are health and environmental aspects to it, too. Did you know that California is on the way to outlawing those smelly chemicals by 2023?

www.faircompanies.com/main.aspx?uc=notampl&id=229&sec=1

For years I've been looking for a local dry cleaner who uses the C02 or silicone system, without success. Recently, though, I was happy to see that a new "green" dry cleaner was opening near our vet's office.

I'm going to use them even though it's a little out of my way, and even if they're more expensive. I usually run things through the dryer with Dry Cleaner's Secret between cleanings anyway, which is already saving me trips and money.

To find a green dry cleaner near you, try the locator links at the bottom of the above article.

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

October 2nd, 2007 at 06:03 pm

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?

COBRA insurance loophole

September 25th, 2007 at 05:30 am

Interesting article that includes info on how to save money on COBRA health insurance after you leave a job:

www.charlotte.com/business/moneywise/story/289408.html

"But here's what a lot of people don't know: You don't need to sign up for or buy COBRA coverage as soon as you bid adieu to your old workplace. That's because you have 60 days to elect COBRA coverage and another 45 days after that to buy it. In other words, you don't have to pay for any insurance for 105 days -- and if you don't get sick or need to see a doctor or go to the hospital, you pay nothing at all.

Here's what you do: You sign up for COBRA on the 60th day after leaving your job. Then, if you need to use the health insurance within the next 45 days you pay for coverage. Claims are retroactive to the first day in which you were no longer covered through work."


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