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Archive for June, 2005

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.

Deciding how to handle windfalls

June 26th, 2005 at 06:44 am

A nice problem to have!

My mother is pretty generous with cash gifts for Christmas, birthdays and our anniversary. The thing is, often the money has gone right toward some kind of bill like car repairs, a new oven, etc. I've been glad to have the help, OTOH it's really a blow to the self-esteem to feel like we wouldn't be making it except for her help. Especially since I'm 48 and DH is about to turn 50. So what I've been trying to do with our budget is make sure we can cover all the necessities of life on our own and let the gifts be for extras or savings.

It was our anniversary yesterday, and the usual nice check has arrived in the mail. I've already set up automatic deductions from our checking account, sending 10% to our savings account for a new car and 10% as an extra payment on our (0%) credit card. The balance is what I'm still unsure about.

I want to be rid of the debt. I want to sock as much away in that new car savings account as I can. But I just signed up for two of those programs where you buy gift certificates at 20% off. It doesn't make sense to keep up the memberships at $14.95 a month and buy the GCs in dribs and drabs, with the savings barely covering the membership fee. What makes sense is figuring out how much I'd spend in a year at those stores anyway, buy the GCs all at once, and then quit at least one of the programs. That way, at least in theory, I'd be saving 20% off what I'd be spending on extras like clothing, plants, and home improvement projects anyway. This chunk of money would enable me to do that, and it's what I'd planned to do. But I seem to be chickening out.

I don't know if I've made a mistake in signing up for the programs or not. It's no biggie; I could buy nothing and just cancel before the 30 day trial period is up. Which is being more realistic and honest with myself--figuring I'd spend that money anyway and I might as well save 20%, OR, recognizing that as easy as it is to let small amounts of money slip through one's fingers week in and week out, I'd be better off putting this bigger chunk toward savings or debt while it's easy to do. Also, would I be able to save that 20% or even more by just shopping carefully and buying less? Will I feel stuck buying at the stores I have the GCs for even though I see a great sale somewhere else? Will I end up spending more because in the back of my mind, I'll be thinking about how much of a bargain I got on the GCs?

I guess at the most basic level, it comes down to spending vs. saving vs. paying on debt. They all seem to be pulling at me equally right at the moment.

Remembering why I stopped selling on Amazon

June 23rd, 2005 at 07:50 am

Over the past month, I've listed a lot of items on Amazon again, to try and raise some quick extra cash. Financially, it's been worthwhile--so far I've netted about $150 after mailing supplies and postage. But I'd forgotten how much it disrupted my life when I was doing it as a business.

It's not one of those things you can do when you feel like it or have time. Once someone orders an item, you are committed to mail it out within 2 business days. Sometimes, it's just not convenient because of my work schedule or things I need to do at home. Sometimes, I don't have the mailing supplies on hand and have to run out for padded envelopes when I really can't spare the time. Last night I tried 3 dollar stores for envelopes, and they were all out!

Plus, I start to get stressed out when the volume of stuff to be shipped gets beyond a certain point. I've had 28 items to mail out since June 1. I start to worry whether I've addressed things correctly, whether I've mailed the right item to the right person. I worry I haven't looked at things carefully enough so people are satisfied I described the condition accurately.

So basically, for me, it's kind of a high-stress way to raise money. I think this next week when I'm on vacation, I'm going to take the rest of the stuff to a used CD store (they give cash) and a used book store (they give credit) and be done with it.

Update--the ants have slowed down. I used talcum powder in one spot and will be trying the cucumber peels in another spot today. The a/c problem seems to have been a fluke. We're signed up for a "cool savings" program where the electric co. can turn off your a/c remotely if electricity demand is high. So that's probably what happened Saturday. I just can't understand why they cut it off on an 80-degree day instead of the 96-degree days we had last week. Oh, well...

Good news and bad news

June 18th, 2005 at 04:37 pm

Good news--We saved quite a bit on some car repairs because DH's friend was able to do it today as a side job.

Bad news--It still cost us $200, and we already put out $130 this month for another problem on the same car. It is still going to need 2 new tires and an alignment, when we can afford it.

Bad news--I thought I felt warm today because I was wearing jeans; all my shorts were in the laundry. But we finally figured out the central a/c isn't working. It's constantly blowing air and not cycling off; and the air coming out isn't cold.

Good news--At least we got through the heat wave earlier in the week. It's tolerable right now without the a/c. And we have a window unit upstairs in the bedroom, so we have a place to retreat and we'll be able to sleep comfortably.

Bad news--The ants are marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah... Across our kitchen floor. They aren't marching in a nice, orderly line but are scattered all over the floor. The only way I've figured out to battle them so far is mopping them up every few hours. I need to find something non-toxic (and cheap) to control them, so the dog and cat can't get hurt if they investigate.

Good news--At least they haven't worked their way up to the countertops!

I'm trying to stay positive and feel grateful for the good rather than focus on the bad. But darn it, I keep feeling like we're sliding backwards instead of making progress. I had cut enough from our budget so we were within $500 of having a positive cash flow for the next year. I'd figured on about $200 a month for contingencies, unexpected things like repairs and such. We're way over that already this month before the a/c even gets looked at, and there is a lot more month to get through. So I'm back well over $500 I need to find somewhere, to keep us in the black.

I keep looking for more ways to raise some extra money, and also ways to save. I found a consignment store near us, and found out how it works. I might as well get money for things I'm getting rid of, instead of just giving things to Goodwill. I got the names of some places that may buy aluminum cans by the pound. I signed up for one of those membership programs where you can buy gift cards at 20% discount. (Lots of info on this on fatwallet.com.) I'm determined to do it right, i.e., order all the gift cards I can right away, then cancel before the monthly membership charges start. I've put books and CDs up for sale on Amazon that I wouldn't have been willing to part with before.

I know we are very lucky. On another board I read, a woman just posted about starting a new life--in a homeless shelter. It makes you think. And I know positive results will come eventually. But right now I'm not doing too well at keeping my chin up.

Gee, I don't feel quite so bad now!

June 18th, 2005 at 03:44 am

I came across this chart http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Common/Flash/P120764.asp?special=IA

It shows which states have the highest consumer debt loads, not counting mortgages. If you click on a state, it shows you how much debt people are carrying, by age group. Here in NJ, for people 40-49 years old, the average is $22,853. Our debt is "only" about $3500--only 15% of the average. I still want to be rid of it, but hey, it could be much, much worse!

Taking Actions

June 14th, 2005 at 06:08 am

I was re-reading an old book I have, How To Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, & Live
Prosperously, by Jerrold Mundis. One concept I want to remember is to Take An Action.
I like it a lot better than just Doing Without.

His idea is, don't just sit around and wish things were better. Keep trying a variety of
things to make or save money. You have no control over the results, and many
ideas will fail. OTOH, some will succeed.

"Fish lay thousands of eggs. Only a tiny percentage of these ever hatch--yet there are a
lot of fish around. If I take ten actions and only three work, I've still made three gains I
couldn't have if I'd simply sat around wishing something were different. It's taking action
that counts."

When I think about it that way, I don't feel so bad about some of my ideas that haven't
worked out. There have also been successes. This morning I emailed a local movie
theater chain to see if they have a "secret shopper" program--you see movies for free but
also have to turn in reports on your experience at the theater. It was an idea in Budget Living
magazine. It may or may not work out--but you never know til you try!

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.