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The Credit Protector Gambit has begun

December 14th, 2005 at 07:31 am

I'd heard about this on Fatwallet, and am now in a position to pursue it. It's available through Citibank credit cards--I'm not sure if others have a similar thing. You sign up for the Credit Protector program, which is designed to help you pay your credit card bill if you are disabled, called up for military duty, etc. After the 30 day intro period, they start charging you 85 cents per $100 of your balance.

Not a great deal at all, if you are carrying a balance. BUT--normally they give you a $15 gas purchase rebate for joining. Right now it's a bit better, $20 back on any purchase at a store. Then when you try to cancel, they keep offering you more $15 gas rebate offers. Still not great, if you are carrying a balance. But if you aren't actually using the card, and there's no balance, you are getting $15 back every so often, for no cost whatsoever.

Since I'm not planning on using the card after this billing cycle (and after I get my last rewards check), I can finally take advantage of it. Smile

FYI--The offer showed up for me three different places when I went online to check my Citi account today, at different times. Once along the right side with some other offers. Once on the screen that came up after I logged off. Also through the link that says "today's special offers."

Baselle--Thanks for your comments. I don't think I've been too extravagent, either, glad you reinforced that. Although I don't really feel guilty about this spending, I just feel kind of guilty that I DON'T feel guilty, if you know what I mean. Wink

2006 Cash Flow Planning

December 4th, 2005 at 08:10 am

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

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

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

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

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

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...

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.

mjrube94, and, another car repair. Sigh.

October 25th, 2005 at 03:50 pm

mjrube94, I've sent you a private message to you about the Pioneer telephone referral.

On the way home this afternoon, my windshield wipers stopped working during a steady rain, in rush hour traffic. Naturally they stopped sticking straight up in front of me, making visibility even worse. Took it straight in to the mechanic's, and DH brought me home. The car can just stay there overnight; it will be easier than us trying to take it over tomorrow morning.

The last two car repair bills are not paid off yet, and I have exactly $30 available in the emergency account. Sony cc to the rescue again, I suppose. At least I can look forward to the free movie tickets we'll be able to get as a reward from Sony, soon.

Debt tally update

October 22nd, 2005 at 07:24 am

I last added up our cc debt on September 15. That day it was $4527. As of today, it's $4210, for a net reduction of $317 in about 5 weeks. I don't think that's too bad, especially since I had to charge that additional $500 car repair bill. On the negative side, I can't remember the last time I had to actually pay interest--but this month I ended up paying $6 to Citi because I didn't have quite enough to pay it off completely by the due date. Here are the details, to keep me honest--

Firestone - $427 (0% runs out in December, want to pay off asap)
Citi - $20 (paid off balance with an extra payment, this is new gas purchase)
Discover - $2874 (0% til next spring)
Sony - $889 (0% for another 11 months)

What I'm trying to do is kind of let the Sony balance build up and start paying down extra on Discover. Assuming I won't be able to pay off the Discover by the end of their 0% period, I'll want to do a balance transfer to the Sony card--but they charge a 3% BT fee. So the lower the balance is at that point, the lower the fee.

OTOH, I don't want to miss out on the cash back from Citi. So I'm using it where they offer the 5% back (grocery stores, gas and drugstores) and using the Sony everywhere else.

I'll try to report back on this in another 4 weeks. It helps to add the figures up once in a while, and see the big picture.

I'll be so glad when it's paid off and I don't have to do all this juggling.

Another car repair--glad yesterday is over.

October 13th, 2005 at 05:20 am

For the past few weeks, something in my car hadn't been right. Some kind of loose feeling in the front end, and a vibration coming up through the steering wheel. At first it only happened at higher speeds, then it kept getting worse. It got to the point I was avoiding the freeway I usually use, and driving on slower local roads instead, because I was afraid of what might happen. I was trying to avoid a car repair until I had more emergency money saved up. But I got to work late a couple of times because of taking the longer route, and the problem just kept getting worse, so I figured I'd better not wait anymore.

Yesterday I spent the best part of 5 hours getting to and from the car repair place, and waiting for it. The repair cost $508 and there was only $80 available in the emergency account I opened awhile ago. So onto the 0% Sony cc it went. Part of the job was an alignment, and when I drove it out it was pulling to the side--the alignment was worse coming out than it went in! In addition, I discovered that the fan for the heater and a/c now only works on high. It worked yesterday. I was extremely suspicious that they either bumped something by accident, causing the fan problem, or caused the problem deliberately, to create more work for themselves. Especially because I also didn't have this front end problem until just after they did the timing belt a few weeks ago.

(I did some research online, though, and discovered that the blower resistor, which controls the fan speed, is a weak point on my car. One poor guy on a message board is replacing his 3 or 4 times a year!)

I was already on edge because of PMS (thank goodness that's over!). Burger King kept about 6 people waiting in the drive-up line before taking anyone's order, and then they messed up my order. The receptionist at AAA told me to go the wrong desk to pick up the Entertainment Book, which used up more time. My day was so messed up I didn't eat lunch til 2 p.m. or dinner til 8 p.m. (Cold BK, warmed over.)

By the time I had the chance to call the car repair place back and complain, I was not a happy camper. I'm afraid my Inner *itch took over; now I feel kind of badly. I think when I take the car back in on Friday, I'd better take them an Entenmann's coffee cake or something.

If not for the PMS--If not for the day being so rushed--If I'd had time to come home, do an aerobics tape and take another shower before work--If I'd had a chance to eat right--If I'd had time to be online a little while and chill out. And most importantly--IF I'D HAD THE $508 READY AND WAITING IN THE SAVINGS ACCOUNT--I don't think I would have snapped. You can't control everything, but if just one or two things had been different about the day, it would have made a world of difference. And one thing I can control is having money socked away.

After this, I think I'm ready to start throwing all extra money into the Emergency Account, until it's built up to a comfortable level. Rebate checks, coins, etc. There are things I've been starting to hanker for, like those nicer razor blades, a gym membership, and so forth. But if using money on that stuff means continuing to deal with emergencies in such a stressful way, it's just not worth it.

Another $184.61 out the door

September 15th, 2005 at 10:43 am

That's what the bill at Midas was this morning. When I add up the emergency type expenses we've had over the past 12 months, it comes out to about the $200 a month I planned on. It's just that so many of these expenses have fallen in just the past few months, and we didn't have a cushion built up yet for emergencies.

Until recently, I've been mainly working on paying down debt. Back in February, our debt level was the worst it's been in years--$4185, not counting our mortgage. By the end of August, it was down to $3548, plus I'd gotten more money into savings toward various known bills and goals. Now it's up again, worse than ever:

Discover (no new purchases, just paying down at 0% interest) - $2939
Firestone - $660
Sony Card (just got, expecting a $100 credit as a bonus from them, also 0% interest) - $229
Citi (we pay that one off each month, used to earn cash back) - $699 as of today, will pay off early October

For a total of $4527. I could take some money out of savings goals accounts, but that would only pay it down partially and we'd have no cushion left. Not to mention lost hopes and dreams, like replacing our 13-year old car. I can't take money out of the accounts for things like the property taxes, because we need that money on hand to pay the upcoming bills.

I'm nervous about it, but maybe not for the reason you'd think. I know we can pay this off eventually, gradually. What I'm mostly afraid of right now is myself, and how I can tend to try too hard and end up making things worse for myself. Kind of like a gambler betting even more to make up for losses. Or someone exercising too hard because they've neglected it, and ending up with a heart attack, or at least sore.

I've already been burned on Ebay, trying to save a few dollars over Amazon's price on that software. I've already had rebates this year that I forgot to mail in, after spending extra money I wouldn't have if I weren't trying to do the rebates. I've already wasted time and money on "frugal" recipes that turned out so badly I had to throw the food away. I've had food go bad in the fridge and spent money on take-out because I got too involved in some other "money-saving" project. Then there's the way I overdid it on those discounted gift cards, leaving us strapped for actual cash.

And the more worried I am about money, the more compelled I feel to pursue these things, to make up for previous losses. So my main goal right now is to stay to my usual routines, and try to relax and not worry.


September 9th, 2005 at 07:51 am

The $660 car repair went on the Firestone cc. If paid within 90 days, no interest and we get a rebate of at least 2%. Better than the 1% would have been on the regular cc.

I was going to pay our homeowner's policy in one payment. But to keep some extra cash on hand for the other bills, I'm going to split it up. I should be able to pay it off over 3 months, which will save most of the installment fees that would be charged if I spread it out over a whole year. But it will still be $9 extra. I think it's worth it, because now I won't have to take money out of our "new car" savings. I know how hard it is to pay that savings account back, so I'd rather just not take anything out.

I put all those transactions into our check register in Quicken, to see how the cash flow works out. Looks OK--the lowest balance I'm left with over the next 6 weeks is over $200. When we get into November and December, there are more paychecks than usual in the month, and some interest checks coming in, so things should be easier. We should be caught up by the end of the year, barring any more emergencies this big. But who knows! Wink

Trying to have some faith and confidence

September 8th, 2005 at 09:08 am

Last night DH mentioned he thought he needed exhaust work done on his car, and that didn't bother me too much. We'll wait a couple of weeks til he has a vacation day, and take it back to Midas, where we'll save somewhat on parts because of their lifetime warranty. Last time it was under $100, which we'll have in our emergency savings account by then. Perfect timing, it seemed.

Now this morning my car wouldn't start. Turns out it's the timing belt and it's going to be almost $600--if all goes well. The computer diagnostics part alone was $80. (I'd shop around if it weren't an emergency. But I can't just drive it to another mechanic.) And DH is going through one of his moody periods, where I'm afraid he might just walk out on his job, or worse.

I feel like I can't even work up a good worry. I feel more like, the heck with it. I give up. I've done the best I can, and if our cc balance has to go up temporarily to cover this round of car repairs, then so be it. At least the timing belt didn't break on the way to the shore or something. At least we have Triple A to tow it in. At least putting it on the cc will earn us some reward points.

As far as DH, his actions are his responsibility, not mine. If he quits his job at a financially dumb time, for a dumb reason, I'll be angry about it but I'll know it's not my fault. I've spoken my piece, and that's about all I can do--short of divorce! Wink

I've run reports on our cash flow and net worth over the past few months, and there has been steady improvement. Every month has been in the black and our net worth is creeping upward--even though at the beginning of each month I couldn't have told you how it was going to happen. Who could have predicted winning $100. Or getting paid at all for answering questions about vacuum cleaners, let alone $40 when I'd expected to be paid $20.

I don't want to go blithely along charging useless stuff, figuring it will get paid for somehow. But I am beginning to feel like as long as I'm doing my part, something will happen to make up the difference somehow, if a problem crops up. At least it seems to be working that way lately. To quote one of my favorite books again, "The money comes in. There is always enough." p. 246 How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously" by Mundis.

Budgeting lesson from the 1950's

August 16th, 2005 at 06:35 am

Last week DMom and I were discussing money and budgeting methods, and she pulled out a ledger book from when she and DDad were first married--1952 to 1956! We got a good laugh at some of the prices, believe me. Wink

DMom is Mrs. Moneybags at this point, but as she pointed out, back then it felt like they were living from paycheck to paycheck. And actually that wasn't such a bad thing for them back then. The first few years they were living in an apartment and didn't own a car. So there weren't surprise car and appliance repairs or large car insurance and property tax bills to plan for. They kept track of things as small as 47 cents for an electric socket, but my dad managed to buy a slide projector for $185. That's $185 in 1950's money--equivalent to several month's rent.

What I found really interesting was that although they had a budget, they were always going over. (I think I found one month where they were under!) And yet, over that 4-year period, things worked out just fine overall.

The key seemed to be their systematic savings, along with an artificially low, slightly tight budget. (To paraphrase The Millionaire Next Door, "they created an artificial economic environment of scarcity for themselves.")

DMom said she had a nice cushion of "war bonds" she'd bought during WW2. And I could see in the ledger book they were still buying more savings bonds, $37.50 a month for a $50 bond, through payroll deductions. If they went over budget by $10 each month, they were still $27.50 ahead because of that payroll deduction. When the checking account got too low, or they had something unusual to spend money on, they just cashed in some bonds--as opposed to the modern way of using plastic. Wink

It left me feeling a little better about making mistakes and not managing to stay within a budget all the time. I tend to worry and feel guilty--like if every financial move I make isn't exactly right, we'll end up bankrupt and it will have been my fault. But maybe the important thing is just to make sure we're moving in the right direction even if it's only by $27.50 a month. Once again, remembering to look at the big picture and not letting myself get so riled 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!

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