Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Starting to look up

Of course, I always think it's starting to look up - stupid optimism.

Good: Boyfriend got a job!
Somewhat bad: Boyfriend is on hourly at a lower rate for the first 90 days. Then he will be bumped to salary at his old rate. It's still more money than unemployment!

Good: Boyfriend's mom is doing a lot better.
Bad: Boyfriend's mom is still living with us with no plans to basically ever live independently again. We are not sure if she is moving in with another family member soon or not.

Good: Boyfriend's mom will soon be getting unemployment due to the extension. So she will be financially contributing to the household.
Bad: This means she's even less willing than before to look for work, if that was even possible. I personally think working for a living, if it is possible for a person, is not something that you should actively attempt to get out of, and don't much appreciate this perspective. (Especially since I have been mystery shopping my ass off to cover household expenses.)

Good: Boyfriend's mom's house got a reasonable offer and is selling.
Bad: Boyfriend's mom never completed her mortgage modification paperwork several months ago, and stopped paying the mortgage four months ago, and so we will clear at best several hundred dollars on the sale. The foreclosure fees and unpaid payments are eating up most of the equity.

We're not too far from paycheck to paycheck right now - Boyfriend has savings in the form of the money the government gave us for buying the house, but since we got the $7,500 deal and not the $8,000 deal, we may have to pay it back, and so he is holding on to most of it, and pulling out money only for emergencies. My parents sent me a bailout since I had to pay my car insurance and replace all my brake pads and rotors - fun!

Plus, we took in a stray cat who's been living in our basement for several weeks - he had an infected toe, so we took him to our vet to get that treated, and once we can scrape it together to get him neutered and get shots, we'll start trying to find him a home. He's very sweet and just wants to be with you, unfortunately I don't think our male cat wants to be with him. =P

Boyfriend's birthday, my birthday, our anniversary, and Christmas all fall close together, so the next several weeks will consist of much watching the mail for mystery shopping checks to come in, and trying to figure out how much I can spend on gifts. Normally I'm quite organized and start a list months in advance, but I haven't given it much thought and need to get on that so I don't forget anyone or double-buy gifts. Last year I bought some stuff from J-List which didn't get here until after Christmas, so some people will get that stuff this year.

I'm just really looking forward to trying to climb out of the hole of paycheck-to-paycheck, and start actually saving some money and paying down debt. At this point most of my debt is a fixed amount per month, so paying those down won't make much of a dent, but I have a couple smaller ones (under $500 each) that if I pay those off, I'll have a lot more to put towards other debt. I just want to feel like I'm getting somewhere. I try to put $100 into each of two savings accounts each paycheck, but inevitably something happens and I have to pull it all out. When I got the brakes done, I had to fall back on ING's policy of letting you "borrow" up to $250 over your checking balance - I didn't have the money until when I got paid, so I went $200 in the red and then transferred money in when I got paid. I've been doing a lot of mystery shopping (between the beginning of October and the end of November I will have gotten my tires rotated three times, windshield wipers replaced twice, gotten carded for alcohol five times, had my oil changed, and gone to the vet with Boyfriend's mom's dog.) So I am hoping I can kill off at least one of the small cards with that. That would feel like something of a victory.

And I got all excited because there was an ad on Gmail for Groupons where I live - if you have not heard of this, it's a site that lets you sign up to purchase super discounted gift certificates, basically, to local stores, but only if a certain number of people also sign up to buy them. I thought this was terrific and I am always looking for restaurant gift certificate deals (we have only once paid full price at The Melting Pot and rarely at many other places) so I was very excited to see that they had come to my city. Alas, they are not yet actually here, but I guess they are planning on it soon. If you are interested, and you like me, you could click here and use my signup link. Or, if you don't like me, why are you still reading this blog?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Life is whizzing by

I feel like hardly any time has passed since I last posted (in July) mostly because we have been very busy the last several weeks. Boyfriend's mom became very ill, and also ran out of unemployment at the same time, so we spent a number of weekends going up to her house to fix it up so we could put it on the market. It wasn't in bad condition or anything, just needed a lot of cosmetic stuff, cleaning, and removing a bunch of stuff from the house.

Interviewing listing agents was interesting - I felt pretty well prepared for it, having read Searchlight Crusade for years, but was surprised at how much we ended up going with the person that had the best rapport with us. We interviewed four agents altogether. They varied widely in the price they thought they could get for the house - one agent thought it would have to be a short sale, at nearly the price that a smaller, older house down the street sold for in 2 months flat, one agent thought the best price was the break-even point, and two thought that we could net more than $25,000 on it. Boyfriend and I did not think that making that much was likely, nor that it was an appropriate price given that his mom is never going to make another payment on this house and we are trying to sell it before it gets foreclosed. We ended up going with the break-even agent and listing it for a little more than break-even. I liked this agent the most because he emphasized getting it done quickly, and had a great marketing plan and lots of neat strategies (like sending postcards to people who rent in the nicer areas nearby.) When we asked one of the agents what his marketing plan was, he kind of hemmed and hawed and ended up saying that he let all the other agents in town know about the property, and listed it on the MLS. Not too impressive. The other agents that lost weren't terrible, but one of them appeared very disorganized, and actually called me about ten minutes before she was supposed to show up and was all flustered because apparently her printer hasn't worked for a few days, and should she just cancel altogether since she couldn't print out the comparables? I did not find this very professional, and mentally took off several points, but she showed up anyway, and later emailed me multiple times to show the comparables. And another one walked all around the house with us taking notes on the features, and seemed very dismissive of the house overall. I got the impression that she was used to selling bigger, nicer houses (although this house is 2,000 square feet and quite nice) and she gave the impression that she thought it needed a lot of work (which it doesn't.)

Work has been going well, if slowing down - unfortunately Boyfriend still doesn't have a job, although I guess he'd be having to take a bunch of time off to deal with his mother's problems if he did. The job market is not terrible, but there are a lot of people applying for the same jobs that he is who already have a lot of experience, so it's not exactly fair. Here's hoping the FBI calls him very, very soon.

With all this going on with Boyfriend's mom, I don't have much in savings now, which makes me nervous. I still have lots in my IRA, but don't want to pull much out - I already pulled out about $800 because my car needed repairs and there were other one-time expenses. Between Boyfriend and me, our household is really a closed economy, so when I have to spend more money, it means I have less to spend on joint expenses. We also accidentally ran up a $200+ cell phone bill (stupid T-mobile raised the price of extra minutes from about 20 cents to 45 cents, and Boyfriend had several phone interviews, and we don't have a land line) which is also not exciting. My car insurance is due next month - hopefully no more surprises. I also stopped contributing to my 401k when Boyfriend lost his job and am thinking of at least doing 1% - just to keep doing something, even if I'm missing the full match.

In pet news, the remaining guinea pig also passed away, pretty much just from loneliness. I think once a few weeks had passed, she started getting increasingly lonely, and started turning down one treat after another, till she wasn't eating anything at all. I don't think she was in any pain, just very tired at the end, and she passed quietly while she was lying on my lap, being petted, in the vet's waiting room. With Boyfriend's mom came her snortly little 9 year old pug, who hadn't been to a vet in a LONG time. Our vet noted several problems, one of which requires surgery (fixing a dropping soft palate, which causes some breathing problems), but there is neither the time, money, or inclination to fix it currently as it isn't lifethreatening. We didn't get him his shots when we went, since that's an extra $100, but I did find a mystery shopping company that does vet offices, so I'm hoping to pick up one of those and hopefully get the cost of his shots reimbursed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You win some, you lose some

I got a notice in the mail from Chase saying my minimums were going to go up to 5% of my balance instead of 2% or whatever they'd been - I did some quick math and lo and behold I can't frigging afford that. So I called them up and said, I can't afford this. A very nice Indian lady went through my budget with me, how much I spend on this and that, and how much I pay to other companies, and set me up on a fixed payment plan where I pay a little less than my current minimum for the next five years to pay it off. Not bad. The interest rate even got lowered to 6% - a win on one card, where much of the balance was from a balance transfer that had expired, and had been at 9.9% and then raised to 14.9%, and a slight loss on the other card, which had all fixed rate balance transfers at 4.9%. But altogether a good deal. And once I have more money I can certainly pay more and get it paid off sooner.

Flush with this victory, I decided to call Bank of America, who'd also raised my interest rates and slashed my credit line (though, among my creditors, who hasn't?) and told them that the interest rate increase was too high and I couldn't afford it. Apparently at some point they'd included in the very fine print, in the online statement they encouraged me to sign up for, that the rate was going to increase on x date and if I didn't want it to increase I'd have to call them and tell them so. The deadline for doing this? The day before I called. So the somewhat-less-nice-than-at-Chase Indian lady went through the same budget thing with me, except that they determined that I make too much money so good luck with paying the higher minimums ha ha ha. Screw them.

In my perpetual habit of finding the upside to things (even when I really just want to be angry about it and leave it at that) I guess it's good that I didn't reject the interest rate increase at Bank of America because if you do, they close your account and you just get to pay off what's left at whatever the rate used to be. Given that the deal with Chase also closed my cards there, once I paid off all of this, I'd have little credit left (I also have Discover and Amex cards but they are much smaller credit lines.)

But still, not fun. Things are pretty tight as Boyfriend is still not working. There have been some leads but nothing solid yet.

My ridiculous amounts of mystery shopping are finally starting to pay off - yesterday felt like one big money party because I got a $100 check for the open house jobs, 2 $50 Visa gift cards (in lieu of checks, I guess) for our rebates on the phones we recently bought at T-Mobile, notification that another $100 would be deposited next week from a set of mystery shopping jobs I did a few weeks ago, and two other jobs paid by PayPal. Plus, I sold a text link ad and completed a bunch of shops this week and will get paid for older ones at the end of the month. I feel like I am maybe catching up a little bit. Of course, we have plenty of uses for that money - reserving a hotel room for a friend's wedding in September, buying dog clippers and a Peticure for the dog, fixing the oven which fails to complete the essential purpose of an oven (which is heating up), fixing my car which is getting progressively louder, buying more storage shelves for the basement to get our crap off the floor, finding out what that smell is in the kitchen, etc etc freaking etc. But mostly I just want to put it in savings as it makes me nervous to not have any.

Between my job, Boyfriend's unemployment, and the mystery shopping, we certainly aren't going to not eat - but I'd like to be a little less flying by the seat of my pants, financially. If we have any large catastrophes, such as my car breaking down completely or having a major house repair, we're going to have to pull money out of my Roth IRA, which is obviously less than ideal. Boyfriend's glasses just broke, so he's currently wearing contacts full time, but that's not a great solution since he's going to run out of contacts eventually. Hopefully when he gets a job it has vision insurance...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Wheeeee mystery shopping

So with Boyfriend's recent unemployment, I have cranked up doing the mystery shopping. Yeah, I probably should have been cranking it up all along, to help pay down the mountain of debt in whose shadow I live, but I'd been taking it easy for a while. But now with the extra $75 or so per month to pay on the CareCredit card from the vet bills, and I hit the end of the two years of low payments on my Sallie Mae loans (and, naturally, their online system for trying to get it lowered again has been down ever since I started trying to lower it), I really need to get going.

So in the next month I will be doing:

Four price audits (taking pictures of prices at a home store)
Three grocery store alcohol audits (I buy some booze and see if they ID me)
Two Pinkerton open houses
One fitness center shop

And a partridge in a freaking pear tree. In the past two weeks, I have also done a cigarette audit (I try to buy cigarettes without showing ID - with my baby face I do a lot of these and ones for alcohol), an apartment shop, an alcohol audit (but this time I did get to show ID and buy some Guinness, which I don't drink, cause I don't drink), and drove a brand new car. Unfortunately a lot of this money won't roll in for a while - a few weeks up to two months away - but it won't start coming in unless I start doing stuff. It's nice to keep getting small amounts and sticking it in savings - it also on more than one occasion has saved my keister when there is an unexpected expense.

I would also like to give a shout out to Text Link Ads and LinkWorth, who find me buyers for text link space at the bottom of the right sidebar. I don't get paid as much for the links as when I deal with the sellers directly, and it costs them more, but then I don't have to find them and they don't have to go looking for me either. It is painless to do and gives you a bit of predictable income - definitely different than mystery shopping. If you have a blog you should check it out, and if you love me, you'll use my links. :)

Am feeling somewhat better about the departed guinea pig - I'd been kind of expecting her to die for a while as she was obviously unwell and not eating for a few days. I put the other guinea pig in her cage (the departed pig's was bigger) and the other guinea pig ATE the ramp connectors and so the ramp to the water bottle platform fell off. Oh, rodents. I bought a new one online (about $5, with $5.50 shipping of course) and will attempt to put her in the big cage again when it arrives. With all the non-food items they enjoyed consuming, it's a wonder either of them is alive.

Boyfriend also has a very promising interview on Thursday, with a really great company making MORE than he did at the old job. The place is so awesome, their average tenure for people in his position is about 14 years. Which means people love it so much they NEVER LEAVE. They even have a gym with a POOL. Can you tell by the use of caps that we are both very excited about this? Hopefully it is someplace he can be happy for a long time (unless the FBI finally calls him up, of course.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More fun news from the Department of Kicking You While You're Down

So I may have mentioned before that Chase cut my credit lines a few months ago. This pissed me off because my balances were in fact going down and I hadn't put anything on the cards in months. This made my overall balance-to-limit ratio look really bad, because I had my two cards with the biggest limits at Chase. Today I got a nice thin letter from Discover, stating that they'd done the same damn thing, except they cut it to within $150 of my current balance, instead of the $500-750 that Chase had done. And I bet I know why they did it.. drumroll please...

Because I took out a CareCredit no-interest veterinary card so I could PAY FOR MY DEAD GUINEA PIG'S SURGERY. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one of my guinea pigs had a medical emergency and required immediate surgery, and died the next morning, and I didn't exactly have $850 rattling around in my pocket... because.. drumroll please...

Because my boyfriend got fired the week before and until he gets his unemployment we are paying the mortgage using the money he got from his tax return for buying the house, which we'd been saving since we may have to sell the house before the tax return is repaid to the government.

Fucking hooray.

So my beloved pet is dead after a horrifying, bloody, and fairly sudden illness, our household income has been halved, and Discover thinks this is a fantastic time to eliminate the very last vestiges of any financial flexibility I might have and cut my credit line to nothing. Fantastic.

Let's just hope nothing else goes wrong (my job is sound, so no worries there) or I will be pulling money out of my retirement accounts. I don't have much other than that right now since between all the debt and the veterinary expenses and the house and the oh yeah buying food, we don't have any cushion left.

It's really hard to have any optimism about my situation right now. I'm usually fatally optimistic - I even joked that my guinea pig had the kindness to die $400 earlier than I thought she would (a week in the vet hospital costs as much as the surgery itself.) But I've just about had it.

I'm trying to take on as many mystery shopping assignments as I can, and we've stopped eating out unless we can keep it under $20 for both of us. We've started having our friend get togethers at a place with half-priced appetizers before 7. I'm not spending any money on BrainMarket right now (although Boyfriend does now have time to work on the website. See, there I go with the optimism.) But it just isn't denting the real problems much - how do you earn an extra mortgage payment each month out of mystery shopping? I'm even thinking of trying to get a second (well I guess third, after CashDuck) job and do ten hours on the weekend to make any kind of dent.

At least we're better at the unemployment website now.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Getting back on track

I've somewhat recovered from the fiasco where I got half a paycheck - unfortunately, a side effect of that was that I went off the nice, stress-free system I had set up for myself to pay all my bills. I had been paying half the bill each paycheck, and generally staying well away from the due date, and I was very happy with this. Also, it meant that every paycheck ended up about the same, and I had the same amount of money to spend. I like planning things out like this - it makes me nervous to not know what's going to be due. So since I was knocked off my plan for a while, I had to wait until I either had enough money saved up or I hit a three-paycheck month (which is new to me, since for the three years previous I got paid once per month.) May for me is a three-paycheck month, so I'm going back on the plan. This makes me feel much better! From the end of May on, I'll be paying half of each bill every two weeks, except for utilities, but I'll be putting $100 aside each paycheck to cover it so it'll come out the same. Yay!

I think that subconsciously I am some kind of obsessive-compulsive, but obviously only about certain things, if you have ever seen my desk. For instance, today my purse strap broke, and I went to Kohl's to look at purses and bought.. the same purse. (Well, the same purse with minor changes that don't affect anything functional, such as it having pebbly leather instead of smooth.) I also honestly considered buying a second for when this one breaks in two years, in case they don't sell it anymore.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Kind of happy to not get Kiplinger's anymore

I got a notice in the mail a few days ago that my subscription to Kiplinger's was soon to come to an end, and did I want to send them some more money? I got a three-year subscription waaaay back when (which frankly seems like a frigging eternity ago, when I first started this blog.) It was pretty much free with a serious coupon code that all the bloggers were using. Since that time I've been glad, over and over, that I only paid $1 per year for it.

Kiplinger's confuses me. Basically it confuses me why anyone would pay for it. It's a split personality magazine - half of it is stock tips, mutual fund analysis, and world-market news, and half of it is personal-finance tips on the order of "Raise your car insurance deductibles to save money!" Generally these tips are things that fifteen minutes actually thinking about it would come up with. I imagine they pay the personal-finance writers a lot less.

I often don't even read the Kiplinger's anymore - it gets shuffled around the dining room in various piles until it gets up to my office, where it goes through some more piles until I dump it in an old-magazines box that eventually gets taken to the volunteers office at my former workplace so that people at the hospital have reading material. (I apologize for this, cancer patients.) But the March issue was the kicker.

They have a big "Save $50 A Day!" blurb on the cover, and the entire cover is devoted to telling you how much money they saved on your bills in various areas. Now, this perked up my ears, but frankly, $50 a day is somewhat less than half of all of the total expenditures of our life, between me and Boyfriend, so I was not sure how they were going to accomplish this. How did they accomplish this? By assuming that you are not able to save money on your own using commonly-accepted techniques, and also that you are the worst shopper in the world and pay through the nose for everything. You must be the person at the supermarket that says, "But these grapes! They are fantastic! I insist in paying a thousand dollars for them!" There is nothing to stop people from spending more than they have to - but there's also nothing to stop you from doing three seconds of Internet research.

And for all the cover-story shenanigans, the piece only gets eight content pages. They devote way more to comparison shopping for cars you can't afford to buy new (or at all.)

Because I have a lot of time on my hands, here's the complete list of all the things you'd have to be stupid enough to do in order to save $50 a day using their tips.

Pay six late fees on your credit card per year
Carry a credit card balance at 13.6% (even *I* don't have a rate that high)
Make an out of network ATM withdrawal every single week
Pay 1.3% fees on your $100k portfolio
Have an eTrade account and never make trades or close the account ($40 inactivity fee per quarter)
Pay a 4.75% load on a $5,000 investment
Using a full-service brokerage for one stock trade per month (but wait, you have an eTrade account too?)
Get free checking (does any bank NOT offer this now, seriously?)
Not use a cash-back credit card (but I thought you were in debt?)
Get fleeced on your life insurance
Bounce a check six times a year
Shop for everything you need, including toilet paper, at Whole Foods
Get a Starbucks coffee every day (although their solution of substituting Dunkin Donuts to save 36 cents a day seems pointless - why not just cut back?)
Rent a car for a week once a year (that isn't for business)
Drive like an asshole with a bunch of crap in your trunk and never inflate your tires properly

I get the feeling that this list wasn't really compiled for anyone for whom $50 a day is most of their spending. They also assume that you eat out at a fancy-ass restaurant three times a month, and go to six major events (concert, sports game, Broadway show) a year, for which you are willing to pay through the NOSE. They also let you know that if you book your Amsterdam vacation last-minute, you'll save 20% off the price ($2,500.)

And then there's a long list of things that cost more to do than you'll get back in savings for years, such as replacing your toilet, or getting a $1,600 clothes washer to save $50 per year on water. Really? Cause my front-loading washer saves me a ton on water, and the set was $1100 including delivery. And that you're buying a digital camera, a laptop, a big flat-screen, designer handbags and shoes and jeans, and men's suits.

The one thing that strikes me as sad is them telling you to cut out the bimonthly night at the movies for a family of four, which they tote up to $168 per year. Yeah, you can get Netflix and save some money, but if you have two kids that are willing to go to the movies with you, especially if they're teenagers, that strikes me as money well spent to do something relatively inexpensive as a family. Even the pre-movie meal would cost more than the tickets.

Anyway. I apologize for the rant. But this is the essential idea of why I hate Kiplinger's. Because people who have enough money to buy into Contrafund, and thus would be interested in a long article about why it's reopening, should have enough damn common sense to figure out that you can save money on a digital camera by looking for a better price, or that generic medications cost less than brand-name. It's just sad if that's what the world is now, that they need Kiplinger's to tell them basic financial skills that teenagers should be able to understand.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A new blog for the very, very small business

Check out my new project - The Itty Bitty Business at http://ittybittybiz.wordpress.com. This grew out of a collection of articles I started writing when I was propositioned by a magazine-type site to write some articles for them, and when they stopped responding to my emails I just kept on writing more articles. It's got a bunch of articles up already so far (and if you see one that says something about a link that's not there, or something otherwise doesn't look right, let me know :). There's a lot of stuff about what to think about when starting a small business, how to grow a small business, articles on resources that one might find useful, and a bunch of random stuff, all geared towards people who are the only employee in their own business, or are otherwise really, really small-time. I really enjoy writing this stuff because I know that my fellow tiny-business owners have situations that aren't really addressed by the kind of books you can get at Barnes and Noble, but that the majority of businesses start out this way, so there should be a place for people like us. Let me know what you think or if there are other topics you would like to see!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Victory is mine!

So waaay back in October, I did a one-day stint at a scholarship fair. I was supposed to be paid about $100 for a nine-hour day. Hilarity ensued trying to get me this check - I wrote about this briefly in January - but I think now that the woman who was paying me was basically just lying as much as she needed to so I would leave her alone. I finally got a check, by driving there and picking it up from an empty office, but it bounced. I tried to resolve this with her but of course she did not follow through. So I sent the check (or rather, a scan of the image the bank sent me in the mail) off to an NSF processing company.

Today, I got a check in the mail for my $109.50. I rejoiced with a happy yay. (Plus I know she got a fat fee - that's how the company makes their money, by charging the person the legal maximum fee.) Me and the check prevailed in the end. (By waiting until she deposited more money.)

I got two other small checks in the mail from CashDuck activities, so I'm feeling good. Not awesome, cause I've still got to build my savings back up from squat to diddly, at the least, but every bit helps.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

And just when I thought I was getting somewhere...

So yesterday was payday for me. I get paid every two weeks. I have a bunch of automatic debits set up so that everybody gets paid and the money just whooshes out to where it's supposed to be, usually ahead of time. So yesterday I log on in the morning to check my bank account, because I like seeing the big fat deposit, and what do I see but a deposit that is about half of what it should be. I freak. Then I figure, well, I got a reimbursement check for some copying that I put on my credit card, maybe they treated it as an advance. It doesn't quite add up but it's pretty close, so I race in to work to see the HR lady, thinking that if they catch it they can issue me a new check. I talk to her and say, I'm not sure what's going on, but maybe it's because of the reimbursement check. She says, write me an email with all the details so I can send it to payroll and they can check it out.

Apparently, what happened is that my manager requested that my salary come from the Operations budget instead of the Marketing budget. This means that instead of being paid current (ie the week I get paid, it's for that week and the previous one) I'm being paid one week in arrears (ie the week I get paid, it's for the two weeks before that.) So that means that this paycheck, I only got one week because they've already paid me for the previous week.

I am PISSED BEYOND BELIEF. I did not get ANY warning about this, and the only way I'll recoup this money is that when I leave the company, whenever that is, I'll get an extra week's paycheck. Big fucking whoop. That'll do me a lot of good.

I am so mad that I am actually annoyed at myself for seeing any positive in this. The positive things would be 1) since I logged in in the morning before most of my automatic debits proces, since Chase usually processes around noon, I was able to bump most of them to my next pay date and thus prevented overdraft, 2) I hadn't deposited the reimbursement check yet and the bill for the credit card I used isn't even available yet, so I'm putting the money in the bank now to make sure I don't overdraft anything, and 3) since I've been saving as much as I can, I have enough money in savings to transfer in and can make all the payments I need to.

But I'm still really pissed that the only reason I'm not in dire straits is because I planned ahead and was diligent - if I went crying to the HR woman that I wouldn't be able to make rent, they'd probably advance me part of my next paycheck. Not that that would solve the problem permanently, but they'd have more sympathy for me than if I said, this is going to make me take money out of my savings account!

Mostly though I am pissed because I was finally going to have enough money in savings that I felt secure. I have $300 in absolute-emergency money in a savings account attached to my regular checking account, so I can get it at an ATM, but I wanted to have at least $1000 somewhere else, in case the car had a major repair, another pet got sick, etc. Now I have about $250 in non-emergency savings. Which sucks. Boyfriend repeatedly asked if I needed money (because he knows about all the debt, and also that I pay the utilities) and I said no, but if anything even minorly catastrophic happens, I will. Which makes me feel dumb, because I should have had more in savings than this - I've been working full time since December, and have been doing mystery shopping and what not. But with a gas bill routinely $250-300, and a few very minor catastrophes, I haven't been able to put away as much as I wanted to.

Yesterday Boyfriend and I were talking about the new business that we're working on (he will be the lead programmer for the site) and I said well, once this makes money, I can go back to spoiling you. And he said, maybe this time around, just give me money. Which really would have been a good plan for both of us when CashDuck was doing very well - I did save a lot, but most of it was in retirement accounts, and it definitely would have been a lot better for both of us just to save it instead of eating out as much as we did. Hopefully if this does well, I'll be much wiser with it this time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Update on dog daycare, among other things

So I did hear back eventually from the doggie daycare owner of the place Maggie goes to - I had emailed them about two weeks ago asking if it would be possible to trade me working on Saturdays for her going during the week. They said that everybody was trying to get as many shifts as possible right now, but offered that she could come at a much reduced daily price for the next three months. Which is really super awesome of them and is really going to help. She'd been going two days a week for the past few weeks because I couldn't afford the $75/week for her to go everyday, but on the off days she was all wound up and lonely. So it's definitely good for her mental health to go back to going every day. I feel a little like I shouldn't be taking advantage of their offer, because it's not like we're not going to eat if she goes, but I'm sure they realize that if it were a choice between groceries and dog daycare, the daycare would always lose, and $25 a week is better than $0, especially since the incremental cost of labor for caring for each dog is pretty small, and Maggie is a well-behaved dog.

Still trying to increase my savings - it makes me nervous to not have much in savings so I've been paying minimums and putting the rest into savings. I do also contribute to the 401k at work, which is about $100 a paycheck, but I want to contribute to my Roth as well.

Speaking of which, I did roll over my 403b when I left my previous job, into a traditional IRA and then into a Roth IRA, but my calculations on whether I could afford the taxes depended on me getting a job sooner than I did. So I called TIAA-CREF and asked that it be recharacterized and turned back to a traditional IRA. Not something I particularly wanted to do, since last year was (hopefully) the lowest annual income I've had since leaving college, and stock prices are so low that it would be less money to roll over, but I really can't afford an extra $3,000 in taxes right now. I'll try and roll it over in chunks over the next several years, which was the original plan. However, it's been more than two weeks (maybe three?) and my online statement still shows all my money in the Roth. I don't have much confidence that they did it correctly, since the guy on the phone first didn't know what a recharacterization was, or that you could ever roll a Roth back to a traditional, then didn't know that you had more than 60 days to do it, and then didn't know (though an online rep had told me so) that you could do this over the phone. So I'm betting there's a good chance that the paperwork wasn't processed correctly.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Another little project of mine

For Christmas I received a very nice scanner from Boyfriend's grandparents (I am apparently now an honorary grandchild.) This scanner has text recognition software. So I used it to scan in a little book that I had gotten from a friend, that I had intended to type up during my unemployment, but did not get farther than a couple of pages once I decided that typing that much with no one paying me was not worth it! I did used to be a transcriptionist in college, but while that wasn't terribly exciting, it did pay $14/hr, so one gets used to it, and I would pull 12 hour days during the summer.

Anyway, the little book is called Harmony in Marriage, and I thought it was interesting because it was published in 1955, but has some pretty progressive ideas in it for the time. Or at least what I perceive to be progressive, having not actually lived in 1955.

There is, interestingly, a good segment of the book devoted to finances. And I think this reflects something that people today don't like to talk about, and so "money gurus" bring it up again and again: people in relationships fight about money as much if not more than anything else. This is theoretically supposed to surprise us. But this guy in 1955 saw that this happens, and set out to provide some of what seems to me as very basic personal finance advice. But he lays it out in the spirit as, this is just part of what you need to make your life and your home run smoothly, and it cannot be ignored or the rest will be derailed.

Here are links to the sections (the chapter is interestingly called, How Can Money Hlelp or Hinder?):

Choosing Goals
Financial Teamwork
Shall Both Work Outside?
The Budget: A Plan for Spending
Overcoming Insecurities

Much of the rest of the book is somewhat vague - but it's interesting that he's pretty direct here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Something I'm rarely accused of, outside of comments

One thing has struck me, when looking at the comments that spam-posters make. These people want you to think they are real posters and have actually read the posts and have something to say about it, while conveniently slipping in their own link. But they continually say that I'm doing something that I rarely if ever do.

Which is provide useful information.

Now I don't claim to be totally useless, but this blog pretty much is "whee! look at me go!". I don't really report anything useful that's going on in the world, or provide a reference for much other than how much my pet surgeries costs. But the commenters seem determined to see me as useful.


This is really an informative post, and I have to say your blog is really giving my knowledge in the financial industry a boost which is a great help as I run several bad credit sites, making it very important to get all the important up to date finance info that I possibly can. Good luck to everyone in the new year.

P.S. I definitely recommend subscribing to this blog's feeds, they are a wealth of information.

Sept 2007:

this report is fantastic, the infomation you show us is really interesting and very important. Do you want to see something more? you can visit too:

Great investment opportunity in Costa Rica: jaco beach real estate, map jaco beach, hotel in jaco beach costa rica. Visit us for more info at: http://www.jaco-bay.com/

July 2007 (from someone who evidently didn't notice I don't have a PR of 2)

I saw your website and all the blgs are very good, so you have the opportunity to sell space ads on you blogs... And i can't find another way to contact you,sorry...

i receive 72$ every month doing nothing, there is just 4 links at my website)))And you're website is much more better then mine.
Payments via PAYPAL and CHECK!!


No matter what language your website or blog has. No matter how many visitors a day visit your website, it's only depends on the PR!


try them...

After you'll sign up here write to me... and i'll tell you how to optimize it for well... and give you several good tips...

April 2007

Hello I want to congratulate to them by its site of the Web of the exelente looks like entertained and very good very to me it elaborated. I invite them to that they explore a little on my site of the Web.
Costa Rica Real State (blah blah more about costa rica for several sentences)

And then of course there are comments left by real people, which I cannot decipher anyway. This person posted twice, apparently because she thought the first didn't go through..

this was a gr8 post n i do agree abt the adding comments thing
i madly wanna start my blog
infact i had gone half way .........but then adding titles confused me in blogger....
i had thought title means the headline for the specific blog
but having written that it asked me 4 a heading ....
anyways even i m interested in informal blogs n thanx 4 d information
i just hope i can b a gr8 blogger cuz all my net friends luv d way i write

this was a gr8 post n i agree wid u
i m lookin 4ward 2 startin my blog
but how is it that someone can have newones under their wings............
all i know is probably signing up 4 blogger n then u need 2 write a blog straight there
n how do ppl post their emails as their blogs?
is there any way 2 poat the same thing everywhere .......in blogger thoughts etc?
i think informal blogging is very interesting as we can relate wid so many other ppls thoughts
btw thanx 4 d post !!!

But no post has ever received more comments than mine on how to start a blog. It does well on searches and seems to have inspired a number of people. And to think I thought I knew so much after having mine for.. uh.. six weeks? Yeah. I don't follow a lot of my own advice (for instance, I basically never edit, and my posts are right off the top of my head) but most of it still looks pretty good, and it still gets a lot of traffic.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Feeling much more in control of things.

When I first started my new job I tried to map out exactly what would come out of each paycheck, and made an Excel list to try to keep track. I thought $100 a week would suffice for all random expenses and sent the rest to debt and savings.

That didn't last very long. There were of course expenses that I did not plan on (such as a $39 per month prescription) and I kinda sorta flipped out. Since a large chunk of my income is going to debt repayment and to emergency savings, and I didn't want to cut back on either of those things, I got very upset about how I was going to be able to afford the things that I want, and how I would save for anything other than the emergency stash.

Part of what I was flipping out about was that I hadn't planned my deductions very well and sent too much money to debt and savings, and didn't really think about the recurring expenses other than that. So I pulled out my Quickbooks CD and made myself a ledger (business name: Me) and started entering all transactions. It's been about a month and I think I'm doing well with it. It's nice to know how much I am able to spend, and I also enter in transactions ahead of time that I know I'll have (for example, entering in the cell phone bill weeks ahead) so I don't get any surprises. (Except of course for Maggie's dog daycare place, which seems to pride itself on never cashing a check that isn't two or three weeks old. Don't you people want my money?)

Today I went the extra step and set up automatic bill pay for all credit cards, and my student loan, and automatic transfers to the two savings accounts (one for actual savings and one where the bills money stores up.) So now on payday all of that will disappear and what's left is the money that I can use. Chase is very useful in that regard, because you can pay bills to nearly anyone and set up a weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc schedule. I'm also counting on the fact that biweekly is not quite twice a month to help pay things down faster.

Switching to this wacky every-two-weeks thing is weird for me, since at my previous job it was once per month. That was super easy - just pay everything on payday, and you're done. But here's hoping that doing everything automatically means I won't get behind on anything. (Plus, I'm terrified that I'll accidentally miss a payment and get hit with universal default rates on everything - which is about the worst thing that could happen, financially.)

One odd thing I did notice - my paychecks are apparently not exactly even, because it alternates between $1240 and $1239.99. =)

On the other side of things, I'm trying to increase my discretionary money by making more and cutting expenses. Maggie's daycare got the ax, going from five days a week ($75 per week) to two days ($40 per week). They sell discount packages where you buy 10 or 20 days at a time, and once I have a little more in savings I'll buy her a 20 day package to save money on the average price of a day.

I've also been signing up for more mystery shopping - I did a dozen alcohol compliance checks last weekend for $8 a pop (plus lots of snacks!) and signed up for a restaurant shop ($35 reimbursement at a place that that usually covers the bill - not making money, but hey free steak!) and several grocery store shops. I use a free job site right now, but I used to have a trial subscription to a paid one that I'm thinking about renewing. It's $60 a year for a silver membership, but there really were a lot of shops on there that never show up on the free one. So that might be worth it. Perhaps another thing to wait until I have more in savings.

I also tried a new avenue - back in October I worked a one day event, and the company had the damndest time getting me paid. First they never sent it at all, and when I called to check where it was a week later, she told me that she didn't have my address. Really? But you had my telephone number, so that seems easy enough to get. Then (theoretically) she FedExed the check to me, but mysteriously FedEx failed to find my house - twice. I find this suspicious as we've never had any other package unable to be delivered, and she wouldn't give me the tracking number, or say if I could pick it up at the facility. Finally I just came to the office in person and she left me a check. Which, naturally, bounced.

I called the office and talked to her and she was very apologetic and said she'd get me a money order. That was, um, four weeks ago. I've tried her cell and the office several times since then as obviously no money order has been forthcoming. This is especially sad since the office is literally two doors from a post office. So I finally got fed up and sent the check to a bad-check processing company (who monitors the bank account and re-processes it when there's money.) So hopefully that'll come through soon as it was for $109 and that's nothing to sneeze at!

I also applied to grade tests online but don't know when I'll hear back on that - that would be nice, as I've done it in person twice before, and certainly have plenty of free time!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The best purchase I made last year.

The last year was not good to me financially. This year looks to be shaping up much better, thankfully. In 2008 I worked at four different jobs (that gave me a W-2), and continued working on my own business, but was basically unemployed for more than half of all working days last year. (Although I did get unemployment from mid-July to December.) This was a pretty depressing time for me personally and financially and I am pretty in the hole now from covering living expenses and household things with credit.

If I could re-do anything I did financially last year, it would be only through the magic of 20/20 hindsight - I'd cut spending back more, and also I'd apply for unemployment sooner. Last year, I kept almost getting jobs - to the point that it became farcical, and I was wholly surprised when my new job that I'm at now actually came through. I had multiple other jobs that I almost got (one's grant fell through, one's company instituted a corporation-wide hiring freeze, a few loved me except that I won't draw blood, etc) and so it seemed like the entire time I was unemployed, I wasn't worried about spending because it always seemed like a job was right about to start. (Plus I did actually get a job in June, but it was horrible and I was fired after three weeks. Thank God for getting fired or I would have quit.)

But there is one purchase that I made which required significant and continuing outlays all year, and usually when I was least able to afford it. I made this purchase of course right before I started to become aware of the circumstances that would force me to quit my last (full time) job in February.

And that purchase is my dog Maggie. Picture at the bottom to avoid spoilers. :)

Now those of you who have read this blog in the past (or cheated and read the archives) know that my pets seem to have a special ability to come up with terrible health problems that incur large veterinary bills. (For the newbies: I have two guinea pigs, both of whom have had uterine cancer, one of whom has recurring kidney infection problems, and the other has recurring cystic growths that occasionally need removed. I also have a cat which had to undergo bladder stone removal and several accompanying diagnostic tests of various types.)

The dog is no exception and she incurred her very first vet bill the day after we got her, because she was coughing and we though it was kennel cough but it turned out that she had scratched her throat eating a biscuit. This summer she also required about a thousand dollars in emergency care because she ate something at the park that caused her to not poop for a week. (Somehow the vet students at the hospital decided erroneously that my thin dog who doesn't like to eat had Cushing's disease, an endocrine disorder which causes you to eat a lot and gain weight. Luckily our regular vet said that wasn't so, and gave her stool softeners and IV fluids and she was just fine the next day.)

If I had known when I got the dog last January 24th that I was going to be unemployed for a good chunk of the next year, I would never have taken her. Because I would have known that that was an expense that I shouldn't take on when my income is about to be slashed. While she is a healthy dog other than the abovementioned, she still goes through kibble, special dog food sticks, lots of treats, a bzillion toys, and (recently) homemade dog cookies.

But having my dog at home with me really kept a bad period from getting much, much worse. Having Maggie in the house meant somebody to talk to, somebody to go places with me. Because a girl wandering around in the park by herself in the middle of the day might be a weirdo or homeless, but a girl with a leashed dog is obviously out for a stroll. And realistically I probably would have never gone to the park and never taken a walk without the dog. Going to the dog park gave me a chance to interact with others, and also gave me something to talk about with them. Having a dog also meant I had someone to think about other than myself - what she would like, where we could go, what should I feed her. She gave me something to think about and a built-in activity during the many days where nothing happened, and no one called.

I do feel a little annoyed with myself that I didn't put my time off to better use - while I did do a lot of mystery shopping, I didn't start any of the new businesses that I've been mulling over, I didn't take up running and get in shape, I didn't keep the house tidy or get everything unpacked after the move. But I'm pretty sure that without Maggie, I would have done a LOT less.

Here's a picture of Maggie, taken the day we brought her home. She is at least half husky (perhaps part Border collie?) and is now four years old and approximately 50 pounds. For the curious, she cost $95 at the Capital Area Humane Society.

Here is a crappy picture I took with my cell phone when she was in the river at the nearby park. She really likes going in the water and never gets cold. This was probably in August.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Annoyed but also amused by Chase. And other notes.

So I logged onto my Chase account a week or two ago and found that they had reduced my credit limits. To within a couple hundred bucks of my current balances on each card. This really pisses me off - the thing I'm working towards most right now is to get each card below 50% utilization so my score will improve. I tried to apply for credit cards about six weeks ago, to try and get a balance transfer for the higher rate cards, but no one would bite. Which is really upsetting to me because I've never had a problem getting credit in the past, and I've never missed a payment, and I do have an income now. So shaving thousands of dollars off my credit limits on my two highest balance cards means that it's going to take practically an extra YEAR to get everything down.. especially since I'd bet you that they will reduce my limits more as I pay it down more. I guess I should be grateful that they didn't reduce my limit below my current balance. None of the other cards have had the credit limit reduced although no one wants to take balance transfers right now. Unsurprisingly I do get cash advance checks sent to me in the mail, but yeah I am not going to pay the high interest on that.

Amusingly though, Chase sent me my 1099 for the $125 reward I got for signing up for a checking account - and apparently, they've already sent $35 to the IRS on my behalf to cover it. This wasn't mentioned and if tax was required to be withheld I would have assumed they would have made a bigger deal out of it (ie made it a $160 promotion, with some diverted, as opposed to a $125 promotion that people might not even find out about the $35 credit until months later.)

In other news I am trying to find a few days to make the ol' budget a little roomier.. I did a lot of mystery shopping while unemployed, and because I am young I can do compliance checks. I only do alcohol - while I neither drink nor smoke, I don't feel stupid trying to buy a can of Mike's Hard Lemonade, but I feel like I would be picked out instantly as someone who's never bought cigarettes in her life. Lately I have only done restaurant shops (free food!) but I applied for 11 shops to do this weekend. I did 23 in 2 days in August, that was fun. =P So I'll get $8 per, plus $1 for a candy bar or whatever (basically so I'll get a receipt) and try to buy alcohol without an ID. I get $8 per shop, so $88 plus 11 bags of Fritos. Or whatever. I try to vary it so that between Boyfriend and I we should eat all of it.

I also applied to grade tests at home with one of the test-grading companies I've worked for in the past - it really sucked to work 20 hours a week after work at their facility, but it does pay decently. Although it probably sucked mostly because I didn't have a car - so I got on the bus right after work and spent about an hour and 15 minutes on the bus to get out there. I did have a ride share home, but I'd basically be gone from 8AM till 10:30PM, and that was for about two months straight. Grading at home, especially since I can do it on the weekends, will be a lot better and I'd be able to put in more hours. But I won't know if I'm going to get put on a project or not until at least the end of February.

And one that was a little humiliating for me, but I thought it would be at least worth it to ask - I emailed my dog's daycare (yes the dog goes to daycare be quiet) to ask if they would be willing to trade my working there on Saturdays for her fees during the week. I haven't heard back from them yet, although it's hard to say if that's because they don't want to, they're thinking about it, or because nobody checks the email very often. But I don't think I can keep paying $75 a week for her to go every day and make any headway in savings. So if they don't want to do that, I am going to cut her down to two days a week and take her to the park more often. (Which would also be immensely helped by nicer weather which I hope we get some more of soon.) The daycare's fees are on a scale where the more days you go, the less each day costs - so $75 for five days, but $40 for 2. I'm probably going to get the 20 days package though, where you can buy 20 days to use anytime in any combination, which is $18.50 a day, and that would last us ten weeks.

I'm also (as usual) cooking up new business ideas - I have a couple I've been kicking around but I guess we'll have to see when I get the money to pay somebody to program the sites for me! If Boyfriend ever gets laid off, he has said he'd be willing to do it, so at this point he'd have months of backlog of ideas I've had that he could code for me. :) I guess I am a child of the Internet generation - pretty much every idea I have involves a website, and those that don't, involve specialized computer programs to make the business run more efficiently. I sort of think from the website up.. although not a bad thing I guess as I tend to stick to ideas that don't cost much to implement other than getting the dang thing coded.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In which our heroine realizes something patently obvious.

I've been in the habit these past few years of keeping a number of different checking accounts with money earmarked for various things. I had an account just for the gas, electric, and phone bills, one for fun purchases such as online music and new books, etc. Also there were several separate savings accounts that I would put money into each month to save for whatever the account was named for. I did this because I wanted to make sure that whatever was left in the main checking account was what I could spend without having to worry, am I going to have enough left over for the gas bill?

Since I have been out of (steady) work for about nine months non-consecutively and have just started to have normal income, I'm working with a lot less money than I used to, and am trying to pay down the accumulated debt with it. Also, I'm now getting paid biweekly instead of once a month, which complicates things in my eyes. So I made up a list of what I would pay each paycheck - half of what I wanted to pay each month to the credit cards, half of the estimated bills, half the rent to Boyfriend, etc. Since my previous method of having a bzillion checking accounts involved keeping some slush money in each account, I decided to bite the bullet and do things the way most people do them - that is, having everything paid out of my main account, so I wouldn't have to continually transfer money and have that much slush - when I was working before, I usually had $500-600 in the various accounts beyond what was needed.

I was worried, however, that I would spend too much without knowing and overdraw the account.

Then it occurred to me: As long as I stay within my budget, I won't overdraw, because I have planned out how that money will be spent. So as long as I don't spend more than $100, I know that I've got enough. (Plus I have a savings account attached to the checking, so I can transfer some money in if I need to spend more one week.)

I realize that most other PF bloggers have probably realized this a long time ago, but I feel much better now.

Monday, January 05, 2009

All is, er, well-er.

I started my new job December 8th (my birthday!) by getting on a plane and going to Kansas City, MO for training by the pharmaceutical company for three days. I like to travel but was a bit sad at spending my birthday on it. I did take myself out for sushi though.

The project is a bit slow to start up but I have been amusing myself by learning about multiple sclerosis, reading lots of articles and websites. I created a bunch of documents that I'll need - but before anyone can see them, Legal and Marketing have to review them, and with everybody gone for the holiday it's taking some time. So I really hope things get going this week because I'm getting pretty bored.

On the upside, I'm generally left to my own devices. Which is nice because I don't like to be micromanaged, and I pretty much know what I'm doing regarding my own job. On the downside, I had to ask around to find out such things as how to use the telephones and what sort of training I should do. My manager is in another city, so there's a person here that's helping me get everything done, but I also don't think it's actually her job to do these things - she's just picking it up because no one else is! I appreciate it nonetheless.

People actually seem pretty happy, which is a nice change from, well, everywhere else I've worked. Everyone seems quite enamored of my plant, Rupert, and came over to see him - since we're all in cubicles, you can see the plant over the top as it's 3' tall. (Three years ago, he was a 8" money tree plant.) Somebody left me a holiday treat bag and someone else left a candy cane. I came in a tad bit too late for the Christmas party, but there was a day with free cookies, which helps!

I'm also excited about having health insurance again. I'm very glad that nothing bad happened while I was off it. :) Now I have to choose though between going back on the Nexium that I had been on while working (which will cost me $38 a month, can only get 1 month at a time, and I have to go pick it up from a not-very-convenient location), or stay on the generic Prilosec I've been taking ($3.91 per month, can get 3 months at a time, and it's mailed to me.) However, the birth control is very cheap at $12 a month despite being a non-generic - clearly it occurred to someone that birth control is less expensive than a pregnant employee.