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Archive for November, 2005

Good enough is good enough

November 27th, 2005 at 01:50 pm

What Flash said an entry or two ago hit home with me. I'm also very tempted, as in her example, to spend $5 more for a larger box of chocolate than is necessary because it's a better buy per pound.

I also saw myself in a book I read this week, Save Karyn. This is the young woman who ran up $20,000 in credit card debt and then put up a website, www.savekaryn.com, and asked people for help paying it off. She described her thought processes as she decided to spend money, and a lot of the things she told herself sounded just like me. Like, "Why not get the top of the line thingie, it's only a few dollars more."

I've been doing a lot of shopping this week, and I tried to keep reminding myself not to let those kinds of thoughts take over. And it's worked pretty well.

Here's an example. We started out married life with 8 place settings of silverware. But lately we've kept running out of silverware between dishwasher loads. I counted, and we were down to 4 place settings. I guess I can't complain about losing 1 piece a year Wink, but I'd chosen it carefully and it was good stuff.

I figured these were my options:

--Buy replacement pieces, which would come to $200 using replacements.com (and this is stainless, not sterling silver!), or through Ebay, which would be cheaper but very slow, because it doesn't get listed very often.

--Buy a good new set for 8. I was very close to getting a set on Amazon for $71.99, which seemed like a great buy for what it was. But even amongst the supposedly good stuff (marked 18/10 and made by a well-known company) I was reading bad reviews about knives getting rust spots, knife handles coming loose, and so forth. It hardly seemed worth spending that much if, 1) I'm going to keep losing 1 piece a year, and 2) there's no guarantee of quality even at this price.

--Buy a cheap new set for 8. But I have my limits for cheapness. I don't want fork tines that bend. And if I'm really being cheap, and we really only need 4 more place settings, why spend money for 8?

--What I ended up doing was buying a cheap set of 4 place settings, for $10, at Target. The forks seem strong, and the knives are nice and heavy. The style is similar enough we can just mix and match with the original set. They're good enough to serve the purpose, which is to carry us between daily dishwasher loads. We're not preparing to give a state dinner.

I actually think I'm happier than I would have been if I'd spend the $71.99. And I have to say I'm surprised. I just wish this "good enough" mentality was more engrained in me. I sure spent a lot of time shopping and thinking, just to come to the decision that most other people might have made automatically.

Goals for next four weeks (thru Dec. 17)

November 20th, 2005 at 05:15 am

My debt reduction goals are to get the Discover down to $2124 and the Sony down to $1505. The Citi gets paid off each month anyway, so what the balance happens to be on a certain date doesn't have much meaning.

I want to read 2 books a week, for a total of 8.

I want to do aerobic exercise at least 2x a week, for a total of 8x.

I'd like to try and keep the Groceries part of my Everday Expenses down to $230, based on the USDA Thrifty Plan. Not to say we won't spend money on take-out, but I'd like to see if I can keep the food Must Haves to that basic level. I don't really expect to succeed--but it's a goal to shoot for.

Speaking of food costs, there's a cookbook I'd like to get hold of again--my public library had a copy years ago, but weeded it. Frown It's called Good Recipes for Hard Times, by Louise Newton. I've searched online, and there are only a few copies available, ranging from about $35 to nearly $100. (I know price on used books is largely based on rarity, but gee--if the book is geared toward people having hard times, how much are they going to be able to pay for it?) She has shopping lists and menus designed to keep you fed for *less* than the cheapest USDA food plan. There are some interesting blog entries about the book here: http://mungooftheshire.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_mungooftheshire_archive.html and here: http://mungooftheshire.blogspot.com/2005/06/grocery-bills-redux.html

I guess another goal in the back of my mind is to get my hands on that book. I wonder if any booksellers who have it would take another valuable old book or two in trade...

4 Week Status Report

November 19th, 2005 at 03:46 pm

It's the end of another 4-week "month" that I've divided the year into. Debt is as follows:

Firestone - 0 - yay!
Citi - 450
Sony - 1530
Discover - 2499 - finally under 50% utilization

Total debt as of 11/19, $4479. This is up $269 from 4 weeks ago, but still less than it was when I started keeping this tally back on 9/15. The main causes were the $450 car repair, $185 vet bill, and $330 in discounted gift cards I stocked up on before I knew I wouldn't have to cancel my membership.

I don't feel great about the way things worked out, but I don't feel terrible either. I *was* able to pay the 2nd vet bill for follow-up blood work with a check. And, having a higher balance because of buying the gift cards is outweighed by the rebate and having them on hand as an asset. With less going into goal savings accounts, and being able to free up some cash by using gift cards, I should be able to put quite a bit more against the cards in the next 4 weeks.

In other news, the $25 gas gift card from PNC came in the mail today, and the 10,000 reward points finally showed up in my Visa Extras account. I was getting a little worried! That is enough points for another $25 gift card right away. Also a $5 coupon from a Petsmart offer came today, and a $2 check for doing a survey. Went to an all-you-can-eat oyster supper tonight, Mom's treat. And a ton of request books just came in for me at the library. Am feeling kind of rich today, despite the debt. Wink

Lands End GC = Dog Food

November 17th, 2005 at 12:13 pm

Yup, it's weird but true. I used a Lands End gift certificate to buy dog food today.

When I first signed up to get the discounted gift cards, I had in mind to buy more Land's End clothing. I have a t-shirt and a sleeveless cotton blouse of theirs that I really love, and I'd gotten them on a really good clearance sale at Sears. I figured when things went on clearance again, at landsend.com or in Sears, I'd be ready. But I kept checking, and no really good deals have come up. I couldn't find much of anything else at Sears or Sears Hardware to use them on, either.

A K-Mart store not too far away was switched over to a Sears Essentials over the summer, so yesterday I finally called them to see if I could use the Lands End gcs there, like you can at a regular Sears. They said yes. I didn't know quite what to expect, but it worked out well. I found two of Sears own brand winter tops on sale for $10.99 each, which I can really use. And to use up the gcs, I was able to buy the dog's food for the week and some regular grocery items.

I can't say I'll be going back anytime soon. But it feels really good to get some use out of the gcs, and conserve some actual cash. Monkey #3 off my back this week!

Russell-I know what you mean. It's great if you can find an independent mechanic you can trust. Unfortunately, ours on the corner sold out, and now here's an Eckerd where he used to be. Another guy we tried down the road couldn't figure out to put a belt on correctly, and it kept getting shredded. Finally a dealership mechanic figured out the problem. What good is cheap if the work isn't done right? A friend of DH's is a good mechanic, and will do side jobs for us at at good price. But if it's something where the car won't start or it isn't safe to drive, it can't wait til he has a free weekend. We kind of have to go where we can arrange getting us both to work and back, and picking the car back up. Which for us is this Firestone, or a Dodge dealership about 8 miles away. I did call the dealership for a comparison price on the wiper motor, but their price wasn't any cheaper.

Two monkeys off my back

November 16th, 2005 at 07:46 am

I just took some money out of savings, and scheduled payments to pay off the homeowner's insurance I've been paying in installments, and the Firestone bill. I also cancelled $70 worth of automatic monthly savings deposits into ING. This still leaves me with $1500 in what was our "new car account," that can actually be used for emergencies if need be.

To get our debts paid off, I now realize that I simply can't afford to sock away as much into goal savings as I was trying to. If I continued doing that, I'd keep being short on cash to pay current expenses and emergencies, and I'd keep charging them. Paying off our debts completely is one of the few ways I can adjust our All Your Worth "must haves" category so I'm more motivated than ever to get them paid off. (They count minimum payments on ccs as a must have.)

It's like Frugal Laura In Texas just said--it makes you feel good to see that money sitting in ING, but if your cc balance is going up, too, you are just fooling yourself about getting ahead.

All Your Worth

November 15th, 2005 at 05:20 am

Somebody - Jorge? - mentioned a book I hadn't heard of, "All Your Worth" by Warren and Tyagi. I found it at my library, and boy is it an eye-opener. I've been through it 3 times so far--Skimmed it while half-asleep, before bed one night. Read through it thoroughly, taking notes, another day. Now I'm using the index to try and find answers to questions I've had while starting to do their calculations. I can definitely second the recommendation that it's a good read.

To sum up, they recommend no more than 50% of your income on must-haves, 20% towards a combination of savings and debt repayment, and 30% on wants. I found a nice little Excel spreadsheet to download that calculates your percentage of Must Haves. It's about 3/4 of the page down, here: http://www.mdmproofing.com/iym/BMF.shtml

Obviously, food is a Must Have. But they say to allocate only a small, basic amount for food in the must-have category, because a lot of what we normally buy is really non-essential, or bought in a form that's more expensive than it needs to be. But they didn't really give much of a guideline, like a percentage of income. So I pulled my food figure from the USDA guidelines for the lowest budget for a 2-person household. You can find guidelines for various budget levels and household sizes here: http://www.usda.gov/cnpp/FoodPlans/Updates/foodnov04.pdf

They include predictable household, medical and transportation costs in Must Haves, but it looks like they mean for emergencies like car repairs and such to be handled out of the 20% savings. So my must-have figure below doesn't count any of the $461 a month we've been hit with recently for various repairs.

Our current Must Haves are at 65.2% of our income. That falls into their Must-Have Crash Zone--the absolute worst category. Their description of our situation is accurate: "Even the smallest hiccup can seem like a major disaster because there is no extra money to handle anything that goes wrong. You shot through the Danger Zone many warning lights ago, and now you are deep in the highest risk area--the Crash Zone."

Now I did figure in a few things that some people wouldn't call Must Haves. DH and I cannot physically mow our own lawn anymore, so I included the expenses for our lawn guy. I also included our Virgin Mobile cell phones, because we both drive old cars, and I drive home from work several nights a week. I'm just not going to put myself in a position where I have to walk to a call-box along a highway at night, where people are driving 65 mph. It's the cheapest cell option I could find, and I consider it a necessity. OTOH, I also included every bit of income we've been getting, such as rebates, cash gifts. Amazon sales, and so forth. So I think overall the 65.2% gives a pretty accurate, if dismal, picture of where we are.

Misc. updates

November 13th, 2005 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the good wishes for our cat. Smile He's doing much better. He's still eating nothing but "people" salmon and some Nutrical goo if I put it on his paw, but I can tell when I pick him up that he's put some weight back on already. We have to get more blood work on Monday, to see if his liver is getting back to normal now that he's eating well. But the way he is acting and looking, I'm not expecting bad news. He wanted to jump out of my arms today and chase a bird--big improvement!

The only down side is that I've got so many opened packages of foods he won't eat. So the dog is getting some sardines and Sheba today, and I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. The older stuff will just have to be tossed.

With this latest vet bill, I decided to add up how much we've spent on emergencies since I starting using Quicken again back in May. It's over $3000. I figured on $2500 for an entire year's worth, based on the past couple of years' totals. That would have been $1354 in 6-1/2 months, instead of $3000. Or to look at it monthly, our emergencies have been costing $461 a month instead of $208.

I thought we were going to get away with the 10% increase on natural gas that went through month or so ago. But now the gas company is asking for an additional 30% increase, which will come to about $47 more a month year round on our budget billing. That's another $564 a year.

I just ran a cash flow report, which shows we are only in the black by $160-some dollars over the past 6 months--meaning every penny received as gifts, on rebates, from cc rewards, from surveys, and from selling books online has been absolutely necessary. It can't be thought of as "extra" income right now.

Well, it could be worse. At least we aren't in the red. And I'm not even counting what goes into DH's 401K plan, or the fact that our mortgage is getting paid down a bit each month, so really we are ahead by more than $160. But it's not good, and it's getting kind of scary.

I've got to find some more ways to cut our spending, and/or bring in more cash. Simple as that. Only, how.

One thing I managed the other day was cut my membership costs at Passport To Fun, the discount gift certificate program. Over on fatwallet, they were talking about being offered one year for $9.95 or $14.95 when they tried to cancel one of the programs. It sounded like you'd get an automated thing, and it was luck of the draw. However, I got a live person and was really unsure of what to say. Luckily, the rep offered me the option without my having to ask. One more payment of $9.95 and I'll be a member for one full year.

Sick cat

November 11th, 2005 at 05:22 am

Our poor baby boy, Pumpkin, isn't feeling well. He's 10 years old but up until recently he's seemed very healthy. I took him to the vet yesterday because he wasn't eating, and just laying around--which isn't like him. Turns out he'd lost weight, had a fever, and his heart rhythm was a little odd. They are doing lab work, and in the meantime he's on an antibiotic for the fever. I think it's helping a little, as he's eaten quite a bit of salmon and is moving around more.

Money-wise, it's $185 so far (including flea stuff I also brought home for the dog). I put it on the Sony card as there is only $106 of available funds in our emergency account. Somehow it feels like progress, though. It's a lot closer than having $30 on hand for a $450 expense.

If it were another car or house repair, I'd be feeling angry and stressed about it--even if it were a medical thing for DH or myself! But somehow I don't feel resentful at all about spending money on the cat. He's always been very sweet, and very cooperative about medical things. I feel like if he can put up with it all, I'll do what I can for him. A totally different situation from when our last cat died. She was very high-strung, and fought everything from nail clipping, to pill taking, to rides in the car to the vet, and the exams themselves. I felt terrible about it, but when she got sick at age 9 we just decided to let her go. Getting her upset all the time with daily injections and frequent vet trips wouldn't have been a good quality of life for her, just to extend her life a few months.

If you're so inclined, could you please send positive thoughts or say a prayer for our little Pumpkin?


November 9th, 2005 at 08:03 am

There's an interesting article in the current issue of Psychology Today that I meant to post about. "The Winning Edge," p. 42+ Nov/Dec 2005.

It's about "grit." The ability to keep on keeping on. Persistence, tenacity, staying committed, sticking with things despite obstacles. What researchers are finding is, it's probably even more important than intelligence or creativity or the circumstances you were born into.

It got me thinking that I need to develop some grittier attitudes about money:

--Getting to financial security is going to take time. A long time. Accept it.
--There are going to be setbacks and obstacles. Get used to it, and just keep going.
--It's not how much money you have, it's what you do with it.
--Everybody makes mistakes. Just try to learn from them.
--Stay optimistic, and believe I'm going to succeed in the end.
--Do a little less flitting around with new projects, and a little more working on what I've already started.
--Practice deferred gratification. Remember to look at the big picture, the long-range consequences.

Nice weekend

November 7th, 2005 at 05:48 am

Friday night I usually stay home and watch a video while I have laundry running. Not exciting, but it makes the laundry easier to take. However, it was the end of a sale at Penney's, and I had a 10% off coupon and over $60 in discounted gift cards on hand. So I went shopping. I found a pair of slacks for work, and a set of of bath towels on clearance, for a total of about $40. Also did some grocery shopping at Pathmark, and finally earned my free turkey/ham/whatever by spending $300 over the pre-T'giving season.

Saturday the weather was beautiful and DH and I both wanted to get out on some kind of little road trip. (Gas is down to $2.13, so I'm not so reluctant to drive at the moment.) There was a library booksale going on, and the route up is very scenic this time of year if you take 295. The sky was bright blue, and the leaves are about the peak of their fall color now. Trees are planted along both sides of the highway, and as the road turns you see trees in the distance ahead of you, too. So it felt like we were just nestled in and completely surrounded by color.

We got to the booksale just in time for the bag sale. I got about 20 books in a bag for $2. Smile Two were on wish lists at paperbackswap.com, so I knew they'd go right away. I also discovered that two were going for about $14 each on Amazon, so I'll be listing them there. (If even one of them sells, it will have paid for all the mailing expenses I've accrued lately mailing things out for swapping.) Most of the rest I turned in for credit at our local paperback exchange.

With all these books piling up (from the library as well as from swapping), I thought I'd better start reading instead of just finding them, listing them, and mailing them. Read 1-3/4 novels, a Scumble River murder mystery and most of Sullivan's Island, the first in the Low Country Tales series. Sunday evening, after having read most of the afternoon, I realized how much more relaxed I felt making dinner and cleaning up after. I'd forgotten how relaxing reading can be. I've been spending much more of my leisure time online and watching movies, and less with books. I really need to make it part of my daily life again. With access to 2 public libraries and the paperback swapping, cost is certainly no excuse.

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.