Friday, December 31, 2010

There's many degrees of money problems

So something just happened at work that affected me so much I had to rush home so I could tell it to you.

There are some temps that are in my cubicle row at work, who have been brought in to do data entry work, I don't know for how long. They know my name (because I have a nameplate on my cube) but I don't know theirs. We have exchanged pleasantries, "bless-you", and napkins but little else.

Today the lady in the cube across from me got my attention and then leaned over and asked me for something in a barely audible whisper. I couldn't hear her so she repeated it a little louder - could she borrow a couple of dollars for lunch? and something about her check. I immediately said sure and gave her the singles I had in my wallet, figuring she had been given a ride to work, had forgotten her lunch, and now had to eat lunch out of the sandwich machine in the cafeteria. I didn't think much of it. I have done the same thing, but I have emergency backup ramen in my desk - if I didn't, though, I would just have asked to borrow a couple bucks from a coworker.

Around lunchtime I saw her heading for the front door, evidently heading out to get lunch.

Later in the day, I came in the bathroom and this same woman was standing at the bathroom mirror dabbing her eyes, clearly cleaning up after crying so she could go back to her desk presentable. I asked if everything was okay and she said yes. On my way back to my desk I saw her getting a hug from her supervisor and she seemed somewhat upset still.

So at that point the wheels start turning and it occurs to me that if she left the building to get lunch, it means she wasn't stuck here, but instead that she didn't have any money at all that she could tap to buy herself lunch. And since today is a Friday, if she's missing her check, she won't have any money until at least Monday or even later.

When I get back to my desk, she's picking up her things and preparing to leave. I get out my emergency $20 bill, which is all the cash I have left on me, and go over and ask if she'll be okay for the weekend if she doesn't have her check. She starts to say she'll be okay and I hold out the $20 to her. She's looking at it like her pride is saying no but the rest of her knows she needs it. So I just put it in her hand.

At which point she starts telling me what happened with her check - she should have gotten her first paycheck from this job today but they messed up her direct deposit, and the payroll woman breezily told her that "this cycle we'll just give you a live check", ie a real check and not a paystub. Which means they mailed it to her yesterday or today, and it won't be here till at least Monday or Tuesday because there's no mail on Saturday. Which means if she didn't have money for lunch today, it's unlikely she has money for lunch tomorrow.

We talked a little bit more and I said, no worries, we've all been there. Every time you start a new job you end up working and spending money on gas and childcare and lunches for one to two weeks before you start getting paid. We've all had that new-job bank account dip. I told her not to worry about it (I hope she understood I meant I didn't expect her to pay me back) and she wished me a happy new year.

All the way home I was thinking about why exactly I felt like shit now. Hadn't I just done something nice? It's not like I've got extra cash right now - Boyfriend's working but is on furlough for the last two weeks of the year, and we just got back from traveling to see our families. It costs us about $300 for any trip between hotels, gas, and dogsitter, so neither of us has much at this point. So Boyfriend and I are watching what we spend and waiting for our next paychecks too.

And I finally figured it out - I felt like shit because here I was worrying about how I could speed up paying off my debt, when am I going to be able to start contributing to my retirement again, avoiding paying interest on our veterinary credit card, etc etc etc, but there was no way in hell we weren't eating tonight. We've got enough food in our house to easily not shop for a couple of weeks, including everything the pets need. I have half a tank of gas at least, and while my car needs struts soon, it's running fine. Our heat and electricity are paid up early, I just bought some new clothes with a gift from my supervisor, and I spent last night making cookies for dogs. We're not in need of anything. And here was someone who is.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I love my deals sites!

Hate to let the cat out of the bag but several friends and family will be getting certificates from Groupon, LivingSocial, et al this Christmas. I have been on a real lucky streak in the last couple of weeks - since you can't predict what the deals are going to be, you can't really plan on purchasing them as gifts, but there have been a few that once I got the email I immediately knew who would love it. I am going to have to buy some cards or something to put them in as it's rather hard to wrap a sheet of paper. :) If you have not signed up with a daily deals site, you are missing out, kids! I'm writing an article on them and have found a ton that are awesome.

If you are not a member of these sites you are sorely missing out:

Groupon - almost everywhere!
LivingSocial - also almost everywhere!
Eversave - many cities available and also tons of online stuff, multiple deals per day

These are nice but don't usually have in-your-city stuff, mostly online deals:

Roozt - exclusively online, all eco-conscious stuff!
Jasmere - all online, lovely luxurious stuff that makes great presents!
Mamapedia - great stuff for kids, especially little kids, and great as gifts for moms
Plum District - lots of great online deals plus you get $5 for signing up!
BuyWithMe - in-city deals for an expanding list of cities plus some pretty good online deals.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting better

Things have gotten a little better in recent months. Boyfriend has a three-to-six month contract again, but this time at a major bank that isn't known for running out of money and firing its newest employees like the last few places he's worked. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of full time permanent jobs out there - a lot of these places seem to be taking on contract employees to try them out, and potentially offer them positions, but they also seem to use contractors when they aren't sure they'll have any money to pay somebody after three months. It kinda sucks. And my job is getting busier all the time, but I'm on salary so I don't get overtime or anything.

At work we're heading into open enrollment season - this year my company is giving us SIX different medical plan options and giving us several for vision and dental where we used to have just two medical and one vision/dental plan. I'm not sure if this is actually designed to give us choice, or to confuse us into not realizing that the costs have doubled again this year. Since Boyfriend is getting his own health insurance now, I can get something that hopefully will lower my costs, since I'm currently paying about $130 a month for my health insurance and feel like I could do with a more catastrophe-focused plan that would lower my premium. I should go use my vision benefits, actually, but I think my glasses prescription is fine.

In pets news, the only sick animal recently has been the dog, who developed a "lick granuloma" on her paw - basically an infection that occurred because she licked a wound, and the wound healed but the infection didn't. I took her to a new vet on a mystery shop and actually really liked the vet, so we'll be going there from now on. With this mystery shop you can do the same pet at the same location approximately once a year, so hopefully I can get her shots for free. The antibiotics were a little pricey but much less than surgery to remove the granuloma would be, and they seem to be working, so fingers crossed on that. I've been putting all the pet expenses on CareCredit (a 0% veterinary/dental credit card) and you get 3, 6, or 12 months to pay depending on the size of the purchase. I've got to really start paying this down because the 0% periods on several purchases are expiring early next year and I haven't made much of a dent in the older purchases.

I'm hoping to get through Christmas with a $300 budget for gifts - we'll see how that goes. I've been buying gifts on and off through the year at estate sales and with Groupons, so I already have several. I'm also combining forces with Boyfriend, who isn't rolling in it either, so we can buy one present jointly for friends and some family members.

If you're not a MoneyCrashers reader, you should be, since I'm now a writer there! It's been interesting trying to write about things that other people can learn and benefit from, instead of going on whining about how I don't have any money on my blog. ;)

A couple of recent articles that were very popular: Essential Tips for Saving on Plus-Sized Clothes, How I Got My Minimums Reduced, Is a College Degree Valuable without Job Skills?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bad day

So I recently reopened my website I had closed it over a year ago because I was losing my shirt, and there were just fewer and fewer offers I could put up for the users since the advertisers were getting really fed up with not getting enough real paying customers through using incentivized offers. I felt like this was the right thing to do financially, because there were a lot of ongoing costs associated with maintaining the website and I couldn't compete with the other sites who were putting up junk offers, scammy things and using offers they weren't supposed to be using. Recently when I checked in on my accounts with the ad agencies, there were a lot more offers and the quality and price of these offers were a lot higher than they were a year ago. So I decided to reopen CashDuck. I really enjoyed running the business and I feel this is an industry I know something about, so why not use it?

Well, today has been a load of suck as far as getting interest in CashDuck going. I tried to put a post on a Disney forum where a lot of CashDuck users used to go - it got deleted and I got permanently banned for spam, despite this being my second post and despite there being a lot of other posts that were similar if not more spammy. Now I can't even see if anyone replied with a question. Then, while reading pfblogs looking for good personal finance blogs to buy advertising on, I find a post by a former CashDuck user complaining that she feels used by the reopening. And how does she know I was reopening? Because I had sent a few of the previously active users an email to let them know I was reopening. Many of these people already have referrals since there are lots of referral links floating around on old webpages, and since there are new users that have not heard of CashDuck I thought they might pick up a few more referrals, or at least come in and collect their earnings for doing nothing more than having referred someone years ago.

So today is just the day of can't do shit right. I didn't expect people to be doing a little jig when they found out it was back, just log in to see what's new. And of course now that every other GPT website is using the ideas I introduced, which four years ago were very new and interesting (like giving feathers in addition to cash, and allowing Disney Dollars as a cashout method) I have to come up with all new exciting features for everyone else to copy. It's great to go into business for yourself, kids, so everyone can steal your ideas or badmouth you. Bad day.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Car excitement! Part 2: Selling the old car.

My previous car was a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier which I had bought in October 2007. It had a rebuilt salvage title from having been in a front end crash, and part of the reason I had decided to get a new car is that the air conditioning was going. Quoth the guy at Midas, either the compressor or the fan on the compressor was going, or both, which would have cost multiple hundreds to fix. After the poor decision making of the transmission incident (I stupidly paid $1700 to have its transmission fixed, on a car that was not worth $1700 at the time) I had resolved that the next major thing that went wrong, I would not fix it and I would replace it. Well, this was the next major thing and so I started looking for a new car.

With all the car's body problems (I sideswiped a parked bus, swiped some ATM poles, backed it into the telephone pole behind the garage multiple times, hit the garage with the front bumper, etc etc etc etc. Let no one say I am a good driver) and with the A/C going and its transmission issues, I didn't think I could get much for the car. When I was at the dealership doing the paperwork for the new car, I jokingly asked if they were interested in a piece of shit Cavalier that drove well but looked like it'd been through a fence. (Because I think it had - it had many spots where the guy I bought it from appeared to have touched it up, but all those touchups came off the first time I took it through a high-powered car wash.) The dealer became very interested and asked a number of questions about it, and asked how much I wanted for it. I said I didn't know, probably $650 or $750, and the dealer said that I should put it up on Craigslist for $1900 and I'd probably get much more, but if I couldn't he'd buy it off me for $650. Apparently his daughter who was about to turn 16 had taken a shine to the car I bought, and was trying to get her father to give it to her instead of selling it, so I wonder if he thought that my Cavalier would be a better starting car! When I called to tell them to deposit the check, I thanked him for the advice and told him I'd sold it for much more than I thought and I appreciated that he was willing to tell me what he thought it was worth. (i.e., most car dealers would have told me it was worthless and that they would buy it for $500, then turn around and sell it for more than what I sold it for.)

After I had bought the new car (see part 1) I got the car cleaned (not a full detail, but washed outside and vacuumed and wiped down inside) and took some pictures. I put it up on Craigslist for $1500 at about 8PM on Monday and had 2 calls that night. I met with one man on Tuesday evening, who was looking at the car for his daughter. No calls or emails Wednesday so I reposted it. (Well, no useful calls - I had one person offer to trade me his $2500 motorcycle for the car, to which I wondered, if it was worth $2500, you should easily be able to get $1500 cash and buy the car that way! I declined to trade.) Thursday I got a few calls and set up an appointment with someone. I also got a call from someone who wanted to know if I could hold it for a few weeks till the middle of August, since she only had half the money at the moment. I was a little flabbergasted because it's not like there won't be other $1500 cars in three weeks! Maybe she thought that the paint on the sides from the ATM poles just matched her outfit or something. I don't know.

Anyway, so I met up with the second guy on Thursday evening - rather late, as the appointment was for 5:45 and he said that if he wasn't there by 6 to call him and remind him. Lo and behind he was not there at 6 so I called him and he eventually got there about 6:25. He did not say too much but poked around the car a lot, apparently he is a mechanic and buys cruddy cars like mine and fixes them up. This week he was looking for a car for his "girl", whom he told my boyfriend while I was walking home to get the title that he had bought and fixed up an Acura for her, but that she didn't want to learn stick and wanted an automatic. As Boyfriend told me later, he said "She bitching all the time!" So I hope this car passed muster. After the test drive he offered $1000 cash and I negotiated up to $1200. I tried to negotiate a little higher and he looked concerned, I found out later that he had only brought $1200 so it seemed he was afraid I wouldn't take it. But I took it, since I had decided early on that that was what I was trying to get for the car, and cash on the spot is always nice!

Since I had the title, I went home and got it and signed it over to him, and then promptly went and deposited the cash at an ATM since I really don't feel comfortable walking around with a huge wad of cash. When we bought Boyfriend's car, I had literally $5,000 in my purse in 20s and 100s and I felt like everyone knew it and was going to choose that day to steal my purse. Sheesh. We also forgot to take the plates off the car, and had to call the guy back and drive to his house to take the plates off once he got it home. So that's saving me another fifty bucks by not having to get brand new plates for the car, since I can transfer the old ones onto the new car.

My parents had lent me $2000 for the car, so now I can send back the proceeds from selling the old car and be able to pay that off pretty quickly. I felt a little bad about doing this since my parents have been helping me out from time to time during the past year of financial badness, but then it occurred to me that my grandparents had financed my family's cars up until I was in middle school, so I shouldn't feel too bad about the loan. =) I think my grandmother thought it was a better use than sticking it in a CD and I think she is right. After we sold the Cavalier, Boyfriend remarked that he was very glad that I had a nice reliable car now because he was constantly dreading getting a teary phone call from me that my car had died in the middle of the highway. He hadn't mentioned this fear to me before, probably to keep me from also getting paranoid about it, but I had already considered that possibility. So I am quite glad that it didn't take long to either find a new car or sell the old, and I am pleased that both transactions went relatively smoothly and with nary a ding to my credit! I feel like I should put a bumper sticker on the back of the Grand Am, "This car brought to you by working for the U.S. Census Bureau", since that is where I got the money to save up for the car. I am down to about $500 in savings now, but since I have been doing a ton of mystery shopping and other work (more details later) I should have a lot coming in this month to replenish it. Hooray!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Car excitement! Part 1: Buying the new car.

So I finally got a new car! (Well, a new to me car.) I am super psyched as I am quite pleased with myself with both the deal I got on buying it, and what I was able to get for my old car. But one thing at a time.

1. The New Car

New car is a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am. It's bigger than the Chevy Cavalier I had but gets the same mileage, and has remote start and cruise control, which were 2 things I was dying for. It is also in much better shape than the Cavalier was (since I haven't run it into anything yet) and doesn't have any body damage or any other major problem. However, the reason I was able to afford it is that it has a rebuilt salvage title. I bought it from a small town dealer who did some detective work and found out that the reason it has this title is because it went in to a dealership in Lima, OH for an oil change, and somebody forgot to tighten something, and all the oil leaked out. Well, the engine seized, and since that is an expensive repair job, whoever owned the car opted to just get the cash for it from the insurance company and turned it over to insurance. Any time that happens, it automatically gets a salvage title. It seems that someone at the dealership, probably one of the mechanics, then bought the car back from the insurance company and replaced the engine. They then sold it to someone else three weeks later, and that person drove it for two years before selling it to a dealer near the one I bought it from, who sold it to my dealer. Somewhere along the line the remote start and cruise control were added aftermarket.

So that's the Grand Am's story. Having a rebuilt salvage title means that I got a great deal on it, but it will also sell for less when I want to sell it down the line. I'm hoping that I can get many years out of this car before that happens, and also hoping that I don't make the stupid mistakes I made with the Cavalier. (I put $1700 into the Cavalier in November to fix its transmission. I just sold it for $1200. Dumb.)

Overall I am very pleased with the car. I had wanted a bigger car that was easier to drive on the highway because Boyfriend and I frequently drive the three hours home to see our families, and this month will be driving both home and to Michigan to see some friends who recently moved there, so lots of highway driving. Boyfriend doesn't want me to drive his car (and if you'd seen the Cavalier's body damage, you wouldn't want me to drive your car either) however since I am perfectly happy to drive long distances, it makes more sense for me to do the driving, and so we used to rent a car whenever we'd be driving a long enough distance that we needed to trade off. I'm over 25 now so it doesn't cost as much as it used to, but still a good $40 a day for a nice car after all the taxes and what not.

This was actually the first car we saw - I tried to make an appointment to see a 2004 Malibu off Craigslist but the guy balked when I said that I would like to take it to a mechanic. Well, more accurately, he said it was fine, and then when I called him back to make a specific appointment, he said that "my wife and I" had thought it over and thought it wasn't a good idea, but I could bring the mechanic there. Nuh uh. If someone won't let you take the car to a mechanic, they know there's something wrong with it. The guy also claimed that he had multiple others interested in it with just a test drive and were willing to pay cash (what was I willing to pay with, fresh live lobsters?) so he was taking a pass on showing it to me. I took great satisfaction in seeing this car appear on Craigslist day after day - the last listing was for $600 less than it was originally listed for (at $3600) so I guess those multiple others didn't exactly pan out.

I also found this car on Craigslist, but it was listed by a small dealership literally called Just 2 Guys Selling Cars. I am not kidding, and I wrote that on the check. They said they had had a number of people out to see it but that everyone was scared by the rebuilt title. I was a little nervous, because many of the Cavalier's problems were directly related to having been in a crash (one time, the frame had to be tightened, and we had to replace items you should never have to replace, such as the circuit board that runs the turn signals) but they exhaustively went over what they had found out about the car and they were very certain it had never actually been in a crash. They took it to apparently every car place in town to get its electronics checked, the body checked at a body shop, oil changed, etc. So I felt pretty confident.

It was listed at $3500 but I asked if they would be willing to take $3200, and they did some numbers and said they could do $3600 total including tax, title, etc. That works out to about $3300 for the car itself so I was pleased with that. What really floored me though is that I said that I was transferring money out of savings and my parents were sending me a check, so would it be possible to put down a deposit and I'd bring them cash on Friday and pick up the car? And they said, Nah, just write us a check now and call us when we can deposit it. I was totally floored as I have never had anyone take a check in a situation like that. They also said that if I wanted to take it to a mechanic and I found something I didn't like, that I could just bring it back and they would tear up the check. I was very impressed by their not acting like I am a scam artist out to get them and that they were willing to stand behind the car if something was wrong. So they will definitely be getting my business in the future when we need another car. If you're in the central Ohio area, the dealer is in Groveport, OH and their website is

Numerous times over the next few days, Boyfriend would drive the car and say how pleased he was and that he thought we got a good deal. I am also very pleased with myself and feel that my obsessive-shopping approach saved us both time and money. I had been looking at cars on Craigslist for the past month, so it is not by accident that we saw this particular car. I looked up KBB values and Edmunds reviews on all the models I was interested in so I knew it was a good deal. I am willing to accept the risk inherent with a rebuilt salvage title, and with a replaced engine in general, and feel that for the price I got, I will be happy even if the car only lasts a few years.

To keep this post from being 9 million words long, tune in next time for exciting tales of meeting strange men in church parking lots! (To show them the Cavalier.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And finally some good news! And then more good news!

So Boyfriend finally got a job offer. It's a 3 month contract to hire doing programming at a place that does police department database integration. It's a good hourly rate and they seem sane. And, he can start Monday, which is awesome. We were really worried about what was going to happen with unemployment - it certainly won't extend forever and since his last job only lasted 19 weeks he didn't get to start over on the unemployment clock for the year. He's been on so many interviews the last couple weeks that I was really hoping at least one would turn out. He got the offer two days ago and got all his paperwork done. Well, it seems good luck travels in packs, because today he got a call on a different job offering him a different 3 month contract to hire gig. Sheesh.

Now that our financial life is going to be looking up, I'm thinking again about buying a new car. Well, not new new, of course, but "new to me" as my family says. I saw a good car on Craigslist at a local dealer a few weeks ago and it got the wheels turning. Part of the problem there is that my car is truly a piece of junk on the outside. It's reliable on the inside, and I took good care of it, but this was my first car and I.. well, I hit a bunch of stuff. I hit ATM poles twice, I hit the garage, I hit a parked bus (it's a long story and left some ugly damage) and the car already looked bad when I got it. Boyfriend doesn't think I can get $1000 for it and he might be right. I was hoping to sell it to some 16 year old who's also just going to hit it on stuff, but we'll have to see. Since we've been pretty lucky recently (no major car problems, none of the animals needed surgery, no house emergencies) I actually have a couple thousand saved up. After all we've been through though I am incredibly antsy about spending the cash, though. The car I found is a hatchback 2004 Aveo for $5400 at a nearby dealership, and I could probably put a good chunk down and trade in my car, but I am unlikely to get a stellar financing deal. I had intended to run this car into the ground, but now that that point is getting close, I envision "running into the ground" translating into "stranded in the middle of the road in rush hour traffic when the transmission inevitably seizes."

I'm kind of hoping it rains tonight - among other things, I've been working for the Census as a door to door person, and if it rains I don't have to go out. :) But I only have eight addresses to hit, and we're leaving Thursday for a friend's wedding so I'll miss a few days of work, so I should probably go. I'm pretty glad I have the census gig even if the work is less than exciting, since it pays really well ($15/hr! seriously!) and is self scheduled. I know I'll be happy in two weeks to have the money from the couple hours I'll get tonight, but it's not much of a motivator right now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The ol' I-Have-No-Money blues

One thing that's struck me recently is that I used to post a lot. And I mean a lot. When I first started blogging sometimes I had to save posts so that I wouldn't look like a crazy person. Some of this is due to the fact that I was very bored at work and so would have the time to write up a post on anything that popped into my head. Some of this is due to being new to blogging, so that most of those thoughts were new ones and did indeed merit a post. But increasingly I realize that much of it was due to the fact that I was new to having a real salary and extra money, and so I had to for the first time think about what exactly I was going to DO with the extra money. Other than spend it. I had enough money to spare that I had the luxury of deciding what to do with my 403b that I had at the time, best ways to leverage it to make more, etc.

The difference now is that a year of my unemployment and a year of Boyfriend's unemployment and purchasing a house that needed work means I am in a lot of debt. Boyfriend was laid off from his last position after only four months because some contracts they'd been counting on didn't get signed. At this point we're looking to conserve cash and earn what extra we can. So any decisions about money are very straightforward - do I save this money or do I pay down the highest interest rate debt? We aren't in any danger of not eating or not making the mortgage payment or any of that, but there a) aren't a lot of extra dollars to have to worry about what to do with, and b) I don't really have any money that can be considered "extra" anymore.

Consequently, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my finances these days. I spend most of it thinking about ways to earn more money, and I have been doing a ton of mystery shopping, to the point that I will get paid for 14 separate mystery shops in April, but all of that money is either going to go into savings or towards whatever is the most pressing cash need at the time (such as getting my front wheel bearing fixed on my car.) Other than that, I'm only contributing 1% into my 401(k), which at least is getting fully matched now, but I don't really do anything with my other investment accounts.

So I admire the bloggers who do manage to make something interesting out of having a mountain of debt and a small income. I'm just not sure what else to say about mine. In the future (and I will try to update this more regularly) I will post a State of the Debt note. I had previously not wanted to fully disclose how much debt I have, being rather embarrassed to have got into such a mess from being in a really good position a few years ago, but what do I have to gain from pretending that it doesn't exist?

Current State of the Debt, March 27th, 2010:

Chase #1: $10,388, at 6% interest
Chase #2: $9,450 at 2% interest
Bank of America: $11,384 at 5.5% interest
American Express: $4,496 at 15.24% interest
Discover: $4,719 at 14.49% interest
CareCredit: $764 at 0% interest (temporary)

I'm not going to bother including my student loans, because otherwise I'd be even more depressed than I regularly am when I look at these numbers. Mint helpfully totals them in for me - currently it tells me that I am $53,000 in debt. But the student loans are low priority and I deduct the interest anyway. So I'm not putting them in. Nyah.

Next month I will be getting paid for a bunch of mystery shops, plus starting a working at home project to grade standardized tests. So that will help out a lot, not least because anytime I am awake and fretting about how much I owe and how little money we have, I can log into the system and earn some more, which will at least make me feel like I'm doing something about it.

Also, the cards (other than CareCredit which is a veterinary expense card) that are at lower interest rates are there because I called up the companies and said, look, I really can't afford this, is there anything we can do to lower the payments or the interest rate? And Chase and Bank of America put me on repayment plans, which is great in that it lowered the interest rate significantly, but bad in that they closed the cards. I had not wanted to do this with all of my credit cards, since I wanted to preserve some measure of flexibility and still have some credit left when I get out of this. However, American Express and Discover keep cutting my lines of credit (before all this, I had at least $7k in credit line on each card) and raising the interest rates. So I think it's probably not worth an extra $100 a month in interest charges alone to preserve the existing lines of credit. Once I get better established and have lower debt-to-credit limit ratios, it shouldn't be otherwise difficult to get new credit since I've never missed a payment in my life. I've been trying to do balance transfers but no one will touch me, and even Prosper, et al, won't take me since I have so much debt (despite explicitly offering an option to list it as a debt consolidation loan.) I don't want to destroy my credit, but I also want to be out of debt someday without ending up paying thousands in interest. I'm still waffling about this though - I don't want yet more mistakes screwing up my future.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Hey jobhunters: Be nice to the secretary

As a useful addendum to the popular post in which I mention tattoos, here is another little tidbit that I would like to pass along. At work, I frequently visit with the front desk secretary as I process my outgoing mail through the mail meter. She checks in people who are coming to interview for positions at the company. Here is my inside info: The front desk secretary is part time HR. Once the people have finished interviews for the day, the guy who interviewed them comes out and asks the secretary what she thought of them. Her impressions of whether you were nice to her, on time, said please and thank you, etc, could make or break you. And in a pinch, if someone is out sick, she may actually interview you as well. So always be nice to the secretaries!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Me 'n my restaurant coupons

So I have become a serious cheapskate when we eat out now. We hardly ever eat out and pay full price anymore. First it started with going out with friends to a place with 1/2 price appetizers between 5 and 7 - we get there at 6:30 and have appetizers for dinner (this includes chicken wings, which counts as real food in my book.)

My 3 best resources:

1. - they have gift certificates between $10-100, although most are for $25 or $50. $25 certificates are usually $10 to $15, already saving you at least ten bucks. But here's the secret - sign up for the email list, and use the tons of coupon codes they send out. For all but the most popular restaurants, you can get them for $2 or $3 at 80% off. For Christmas, I gave Boyfriend's brother a folder full of certificates I'd picked up over the previous two months for a couple bucks each.

Caveat here: they don't expire for a long time, which means you may forget about them. I usually buy one and then when we use it I buy another. I have no shame at going to these places every two months and using a certificate every time. Also, check the fine print - some are only good if you buy $50 of food, or only Sunday through Thursday, or what have you. We have some for Ted's Montana Grill, which is a completely awesome and delicious restaurant, but you have to spend $50. It's not a terribly expensive place which means you either need four people or a hollow leg.

2. Entertainment book ( to order) - if you've never heard of this, I feel bad for you and your wallet. These are basically just big books of coupons, which are available in most big cities, and contain offers for lots of local restaurants and other services as well as chain restaurants. My mom got me one this year and within 48 hours of receiving it we'd already gotten buy 1 get 1 free fajitas at Baja Sol. Given that the book is $20, you can pay for it pretty quickly. There are some other really good things in there, like $10 off per night through Priceline, and the usual dry cleaners and what not. But definitely worth it for the restaurants alone, especially if you're willing to try new places, because most of them are buy 1 get 1 free.

Caveats - many of these restaurants you may never have heard of. My book has a ton of little places that aren't familiar to me, and so it can be a bit of a gamble. Best to check the internet first for any reviews. Also, although many coupons are BOGO, they can limit the amount you can get free. So a Mexican place near us that we like has a BOGO coupon in the Entertainment book, but only up to $6 (most entrees are $8-9, so not a huge deal, but kind of annoying.)

3. Groupon - sign up and get an email each day with some kind of percent-off deal on a gift certificate to a specific place. They just started in my city a few weeks ago and it is somewhat hit or miss, but when it hits it's pretty awesome. For Christmas I got Boyfriend's mom a Groupon for $60 of services at an Aveda salon - and it only cost me $25. And I also got super cheap tickets to the art museum to keep in reserve if we have a slow Sunday.

Caveats - you get a random deal each day which isn't really targeted to you, so you may have no interest whatsoever. And a lot of them aren't for food (they're for, say, personal trainers) and almost none are for durable goods. But when you get something good, it's REALLY good - usually at least 40% off. And they're good for a year. On the downside, though, probably 400 other people also bought that same coupon today, so they may be a little slammed with the coupons for a month or two. They're good for a year, so I'd hang onto them for a few months so the staff doesn't give you the stink-eye.

4. Email lists of chain restaurants - I am signed up with every chain restaurant we've ever been to, and ones that we'd like to go to as well. Frequently you get something for signing up, so if we're thinking of going someplace, I try to sign up for it a couple hours beforehand and see if they send me something. Tip - they usually ask you for your birthday and sometimes your anniversary, so unless you want to eat out twice a day for the two weeks surrounding your birthday, try to space them out and choose random months. I've never actually had anyone ask me for any proof, and if you stick the coupon in with the bill, they won't sing to you either. (Blech.)

Caveat - in addition to coupons you will get lots of other emails, about special events, etc. I don't mind too much, but if you already get a lot of email you might. Perhaps a separate email address you check only when going out? Also, the coupons aren't as good - usually on the order of $5 off or a free appetizers.

My favorites: BD's Mongolian Barbecue - recently I got a "loyalty card" to print out that essentially means buy 3 get 1 free.
Red Robin - I get a free appetizer coupon every couple months.
The Melting Pot - they send you free chocolate fondue coupons for birthday and anniversary, but more importantly on their email list they let you know about upcoming special-price days.
Gordon Biersch - sometimes I get a BOGO entree coupon, which is super nice.

Any other suggestions for good sites I've missed? I love me some discounted gift certificates, so if anyone knows of sites I don't, please comment.