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Archive for January, 2009

Yay! I'm getting the spouse on board slowly, and I'm working hard on a budget

January 27th, 2009 at 03:02 am

Lately my wife has been turning the computers off at night and whenever they aren't in use for a few hours. I had started doing that last year on my New Year's budget kick, but I got out of the habit as I worried about the BIG things, like balancing the budget and minimizing CC interest paid, keeping college bills paid, etc. So this is a great sign, I just have to build slowly on it.

And on the budget front, I know what I want to do now. I was working with the numbers exported from Quickenonline to a spreadsheet, and I want to graph them, to sort of emulate that new type of income/expense graph that they just added to Quckenonline. I'm trying to visualize how I can be overspending by about 10-20% per month on checking alone. Unfortunately, Quickenonline only goes back to May 8 for me - I'm not sure why that is - fixed number of transactions, software change, etc.? But it's a good amount of data to work with nonetheless.

I'll keep you posted! It's fun to at least have the hope of getting in control.

OK, I'm building a budget using Quickenonline

January 25th, 2009 at 10:20 am

Does anyone else here us that? We need to form a user's group if so! I signed up for it last year when it was $3 per month, intending to most likely cancel after the free trial, and then thankfully before I did they made it free! Nice! But it is pretty basic, and I see they've recently made some changes. I remember the old Windows 3.1 version was awesome, everywhere you clicked you could get a subtotal or a graph - really cool! So this online version is not so good in comparison, but I don't want to spring for the regular version just quite yet. So anyway...

It does well with the checking account from my CU. But it can't deal with the Mastercard account from that same CU. I've emailed problem reports to Quicken to no avail, so for now I am stuck with just the checking account, but that's ok, it's the lion's share of transactions anyway.

Job one is to clean up the categories. It is now doing better it seems on automatically categorizing transactions that clear electronically, but the smaller payees like doctors and so forth still need to be manually entered. And bafflingly, it guessed wrong on a few electronically cleared ones, so I wound up with a newspaper bill for $165 this month, but it was really Macy's. Weird! It is consistent though, always calling Macy's the newspaper, so it's easily manually fixed.

What I need to figure out is it says we are overspending by about 20% per month. We may be, but only on one CC, not the bank account, that stays positive with no infusions of cash, so I have to get to the bottom of that right after I finish categorizing to give me more clues.

This is sort of fun in a tedious way. But I can see right now that the four month trend of category spending should be very helpful. November and December spending is off the charts as usual. Frown

Ack!! I am now paying almost $20 per day in CC interest! I'm bleeding!

January 23rd, 2009 at 04:25 pm

On what used to be at 0% and 2%. Soo, my choices at this point are:
1. Withdraw from savings, take a huge tax hit and likely some penalty.
2. Keep desperately trying to refinance somewhere below 12%.
3. HELOC.
4. Remortgage. I think I have about 6 years left at 5.75%. I have plenty of equity but it makes me sick to even think of doing this.
5. Pay big bucks to get a financial planner who specializes in disaster recovery!
6. Run away to Brazil.

And of course continue to squeeze the budget, but it takes time to squeeze out this kind of dough.

Do you suffer from "dual-income" envy?

January 22nd, 2009 at 09:27 am

I sure do! It all started when I was in my early 20s looking to buy a house, but the starter housing market in my area was VERY hot in the early to mid-80s as interest rates were dropping from terrible highs. Anyway, I kept getting outbid for houses. I blamed the ability of those in dual-income marriages to bid more for my inability to buy a house.

And now years later, when I hear people talking about "banking my wife's paycheck", it almost makes me physically ill! I realize it is a trade-off, and that my kids probably benefitted greatly from a stay-at-home Mom, but now that they are over 16, money would be of more use.

Anyway, I guess I have to get over it! I just wanted to see if any other single income families are feeling the heat like I am!

Where the sidewalk ends - the end of the 0% game

January 20th, 2009 at 06:20 pm

The day I have been dreading for years is finally here - I can't refinance my wug of debt at 0% or 2% anymore. So now it's time to pay the piper, for the CC companies to get even with me for living off them for years now, to the tune of 12% and 14%!! But I can't afford to pay that rate, not without a fight!

So I'm entertaining ideas on what to do next! Every time I look at the taxes and penalty for withdrawing from my old work plan from a job that ended in 1995 that was SUPPOSED to be a savings plan, (a good bit of it is after-tax money), I get extremely shell-shocked. It seems like they force you to take money out of both before tax and after tax at the ratio of assets, which certainly wasn't the deal when I was actively employed at that company.

So my wife is still getting 0% offers even though she has no income, but she doesn't want the debt in her name. But that seems like the only easy way out, although I assume she will have very small credit limits. Discover has a nice deal at 4% until 21014 I think - that should give us time to get it paid off.

Let this be a lesson to those of you out there struggling to stay out of holes like this!

So I've noticed that most of you bloggers are women

January 18th, 2009 at 06:07 am

Smile You can't get anything past me! I'm curious as to why that is. First of all, let me state another observation and say that I love this place. It is really fun and productive to share financial problems, tips, goals, dreams, realities, and setbacks. And since most of you are women, I feel like I'm on Oprah. j/k

So it is probably the natural superiority of men, right? That we've stayed out of debt and need no help? [duck and run]

So anyway, before I babble on and on and dig a serious hole for myself, suffice it for now to say that I've noticed this trend and I'll have no further comment!

How did I let this happen?

January 16th, 2009 at 08:08 pm

I still can't believe that I am struggling under a mountain of CC debt at my age, since I have a good job and I personally am pretty darn frugal. When I think back at what snowflakes make up those big snowballs of debt, it's too much stuff (I LOVE Delbert McClinton's song of that name). A particularly bad memory is American Girl dolls - my wife blew a TON of money on that junk. But I guess the bottom line is it's my fault for not laying down the law. The fact is it is darn hard to live the life we have lived on one salary. Other things in those snowballs are every vacation we ever took after kids, I suppose. Also in there are swim and dance classes for the girls. There's a lot of costly packaged food in there, as well as too much dining out. Definitely WAY too many clothes for the girls, one that REALLY irks me.

So the irony is that in trying not to be the bad guy, we are much worse off than if I had had a backbone and stopped the insanity. I'm not sure what my point here is, other than to think out loud on what is in those snowballs of debt. The immediate problem is I'm not even sure we have stopped digging, so like every governor in the country I am scrambling to cut costs to the bone. Oh well, what's life without a challenge?

So who else is mad at themselves for missing the Google IPO a few years ago?

January 10th, 2009 at 05:38 am

I saw a graph somewhere about how phenomenally the stock has done since its release. It reminds me of all the old people who used to say that about Xerox. I guess I figured that the market was more sophisticated now, and also I think it was pretty difficult to get in on it. It would have had to been in my retirement savings, which is fine, but only a very small portion is in a 401k or IRA that allows purchase of individual stocks.

Oh well!

And I'm not even sure how it has done in the bear market. On a related note, anyone who went into cash before the market crashed must be pretty darn happy!

Paying for Christmas Past, Present, and Future - a Christmas Carol

January 8th, 2009 at 03:08 pm

It has gotten to the point where I hate to see the holidays coming because it means going deeper into debt every year. So I can't set aside money to pay for Christmas Future because I am still paying for Christmas Past and Present. And I can see it in my FICO score, which has a seasonal pattern, dipping around the holidays, recovering slowly throughout the year, and then repeating the cycle by dropping sharply at year end again.

I think we have done marginally better thus year, but it's still bad. OK, I guess I'm done venting, I just wanted to get in that part about how still paying for Christmas Past is no fun. Smile

What should I do about high lawn care expenses?

January 5th, 2009 at 07:25 pm

We have our lawn mowed for $32 per week, and a good lawn service for about $500 per year, so obviously that is not good for someone with debt to pay off. The problem is that both service providers do an excellent job. I think at a minimum I will ask the lawn mowing guy to go back on the alternating plan we did a few years ago. The main reason I don't just cut him off completely is I like him and he does an absolutely perfect job! And as my neighbor says, $32 per week doesn't seem bad, but 32 x about 30 is bad indeed! Same for the service that fertilizes and aerates and seeds- they do a perfect job. When I do that myself, the results are not so good, largely because I don't have the equipment to aerate, and I can't spread fertilizer evenly to save my life!

So should I cancel the fertilizing service for next year and see how it goes? And how can I tactfully cancel the lawn mowing guy, or at least reserve him for vacations? Or should I look elsewhere to save? This seems like a must when I look at what significant expenses I can cut.

How do you stay focused on saving money?

January 4th, 2009 at 08:40 am

As in most things, I tend to run hot and cold - I'll go whole hog on an effort only to burn out and ignore it for months at a time. One thing I MUST do better this year is to keep up with the mail and related financial commitments. But my situation is so depressing that can be difficult.

I think the answer is to be disciplined and segment each day into chores that must be done, i.e don't ignore things and let them pile up. Pretty simple plan, right? But not too easy to maintain.

I guess it is directly analogous to weight maintenance, another area I am falling down on. So unlike thin and rich, you CAN be too poor and fat!

Overall I have all the tools in my arsenal - I have a hobby that I love and that keeps me sane and is my main form of exercise - cycling. My weakness is that I tend to waste time on the Internet while ignoring household work, so this year I have renewed focus on ensuring that at least some of that time is here, where there is much comraderie and help to be found, so thanks! As far as the neglecting household work, I guess I may have a true Internet addiction. As they say, procrastination pays off NOW, and hard work only pays off over time, so...

Anyway, thanks for listening. I think I may have to reclassify this post as a rant! Smile Which brings up a fascinating question to me - how to classify posts - it seems to be a real art, a lot of it in picking useful minimally overlapping categories in the first place! For now, I put this one in all categories!

Cell phone rant!

January 3rd, 2009 at 05:01 am

Man, these things are a budget killer! So I wonder what people gave up for this new toy? I know, I'm very late to the party, they have been de rigeur for YEARS now, but it still makes me mad to pay for them for the family. Of course them all getting new phones right at Christmas time didn't help. Arghhh.

But I wonder, what has been given up for these things? Probably savings. Frown

I love this blogging software!

January 2nd, 2009 at 03:48 pm

It is just so intuitive and easy to use, which unfortunately is not all that common with software these days. I like how new entries scroll past but you only get one at a time so no single entry-happy person dominates. And then the commenting system with email notifications is so nice.

And the little buttons at the top are fun! Lately I have been hitting the Favorites button when I read a blog I like. And the new entry and one to return to my blog are pretty convenient.

Another fun thing is Categorization. I recently added a Reference Category so I can easily find things I would like to remind myself of periodically, like the "Car Insurance Rules".

And my latest toy is creating new special pages, like one for monthly goals. Thanks, designers and programmers, I'm having a blast!

So who's your financial guru? Dave Ramsey? Jeff Yeager?

January 2nd, 2009 at 09:31 am

I just finished a little book by Jeff Yeager that I got from the new books section of the library. It was entertaining and very easy to read. I didn't glean a lot of new stuff from it, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. My main thought was "hey, this guy is a cheapskate just like me, so why does it work for him and not me". The answer is of course that he had his family on-board and was more dedicated than me.

I may need to check out Dave Ramsey since he apparently specializes in helping people like me dig themselves out before it gets too late.

Any others? I know someone here did recommend another book I got from the library that I enjoyed, so I'll have to go back and find that and maybe reread it.

Since Jeff Yeager is probably not that well known, here is his web page.
http://ultimatecheapskate.com/index.cgi

I'm apparently a "seasonal" financial blogger - how about you?

January 1st, 2009 at 07:20 am

So I joined last December and flamed out by May! And it looks like I'm not alone! A few of my favorite bloggers here have also fallen off the wagon.

But now I'm back for the usual reason, Christmas is always a financial disaster for me! I managed to hold the line on the old CC up until about September when it spiraled out of control - I still need to go back and try to figure out what happened! Then Christmas hit, my 0% rate expired on some CC balances, and one car needed tires, the other a $550 repair, so it's a Perfect Storm of sorts for me.

So what's your style and has blogging here helped you? What do you get out of it? I have received some good moral support and advice, but at times it seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic since all I can focus on are relatively small expenses. But it's all I got - I need to keep things in control since I am working with very little financial freedom or leverage here in attempting to get rid of too much debt.

Anyway, it feels good to be back, and we'll see how far I make it this year!