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Hey, where did all the "About Me" stuff go?

September 12th, 2009 at 10:24 am

I haven't been here for a few weeks and it looks like there's been a somewhat big change. The place seems more boring and generic now without all those pics and background info. So did we have some kind of online stalker or security breach or something?

I have been just hanging in by my toenails financially lately. I've been walloped by several big unexpected bills all at once. I need some kind of break! To top it off some kind of wrist injury is keeping me off my bike, which is my stress reducer and main form of exercise. I guess I need to step up the dog walking in its stead! Anyway, I hope the rest of you are doing better than me!

What's your biggest financial lesson? Mine is today is tomorrow.

August 22nd, 2009 at 10:11 am

I am a born procrastinator, and it has and is costing me dearly. The bad part is it is a progressive disease. Fall a little behind, no big deal, you can set aside some time and work extra hard to catch up. The all nighter syndrome a few of us may remember from our school daze. And it actually feels good to work hard and complete something. But fall behind big time, and you start to lose hope. THEN it starts to get REAL bad. Little things turn big and snowball, another term and concept that we debt-troubled people are all too familiar with.

In contrast, I know a guy, a former Boy Scout, who always does things as soon as he can. And he is a financial rock of Gibralter, I'm sure largely due to that and other good habits. He says he grew up poor, but I think it is also due to the Boy Scout experience, probably along with genes. My nature, in contrast, is a laid back "thinker", an absent minded professor who is interested in concepts rather than details. Needless to say, that ain't good in the anal world of finance. I try to concentrate and focus and I succeed for a while, but it's always a struggle and I then backslide big time.

It is an interesting paradox. The payoff for procrastination is obvious and I am hooked on it. But the payoff for hard work is also obvious, and I also love that. But it takes hard work! And actually, I'm more a fan of easy but satisfying work - you know - doing the laundry, etc. So a lot of financial chores actually do fall in that category - paying the bills, keeping track of a budget, etc. But I tend to put it off too long even though it is relatively easy. After thinking about it a while it is the feeling of being overwhelmed that snowballs on me. So now, since I have LOTS of saved up "staycation" (a vacation that isn't dirt cheap is, in my current financial situation, absolutely unthinkable). So cheer for me as I try to work hard to bail out the sinking financial ship.

By the way, what is your biggest financial lesson?

So is the credit crunch a good thing?

August 3rd, 2009 at 02:47 pm

Is the way CC companies are closing down lines of credit just a return to fiscal sanity? Will it force people with debt problems to bite the bullet and get 'em paid off?

I have mixed feelings, but in the long run it's probably a good thing. They got some of us hooked on crack and now they have withdrawn it suddenly.

So my big question is will colleges respond to supply and demand, and lower their prices as people who used to depend on student loans are denied en masse? My feeling is no, they will behave more like government, where the only way to cover their uncontrolled expenses is to keep jacking up the price. At least until people figure out alternatives to college.

Oh man - what a difference a year makes!

July 28th, 2009 at 06:51 pm

I applied for a private student loan for my college daughter, and I was turned down, even with me as a co-signer, they said because of my credit rating! And last year I got one at 1% over prime. So in one year I apparently went from a very good rating to trash? I think the credit crunch is hitting big time!

This really stinks. I had planned to use loans to get both daughters through, and then once I could withdraw from a 401k after age 59.5 to get them paid off. But I was concerned that this might happen. Why have I died and gone to hell?

Man, graduation/birthday season is expensive!

June 8th, 2009 at 05:01 pm

It seems like April/May/June are pretty darn expensive months! If it isn't graduations, it's birthdays. OK, that's my poor excuse for a post for June. Smile I guess I'll go update my Goals pages.

Help me decide whether I should get my daughter a car!

May 3rd, 2009 at 10:08 am

OK, for the hardcore here, I'm sure that the correct answer is no, since I do not have the money. Case closed!

So if we go with that, do we be really mean and make a senior ride the bus to school, or more realistically, have her mom take her as in the last two years since the bus leaves WAY earlier.

One big problem is that the darn high school parking lot is like a demolition derby for not just door dings, but MAJOR door dents! They just about ruined the beautiful 2002 Accord my older daughter took there her senior year.

The killer for me is I am a cheap car guy (yes, I know, definitely an oxymoron, especially with insurance and repairs). So one of my favorite things in the world is to get a nice old fully depreciated Honda for her to drive. The killer is the insurance. Ouch! But I'm still thinking of a REALLY cheap car with only liability. Help me decide!

Another quick update

April 20th, 2009 at 05:47 pm

It feels great to have the taxes behind me. But I've been slacking on maintaining focus to pay down debt and keep up with paperwork. I have unfortunatley noticed a pretty big uptick in family spending with the nice weather - it seems every trip is a $100 trip if you include a meal out!

I sure intend to get back here soon with some more meaningful posts - see you, and keep saving!

A quick entry amid the tax frenzy

April 11th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I'm finding a few nice things that are combining to give me a decent refund this year. We were able to get a decent education deduction, and at least a piece of the child tax credit for my daughter's last year of eligibility. And we're finally getting the $300 recovery rebate for her that I missed last year because of the careless mistake of omitting her SS number on the return. And next year I'll have to pay some college loan interest to take advantage of the deduction up to $2500.

My bottom financial line is still way too much debt and expenses. Argghhh!!!

I'm still here! To catch up, some minor stuff..

March 15th, 2009 at 03:31 pm

I just got my FAFSA in under the wire for today's deadline for my daughter's college.

I wanted to get the taxes done first, but TurboTax is acting funny. I think I need to reset it and start over, since it doesn't seem to have picked up my state withholding so it's telling me that the standard deduction is better, and I KNOW that ain't right! I always filed manually, but since Vanguard allows you to at least use TurboTax, I found that it is good for finding college deductions. But it also has my state wages at TWICE what they should be. Hmmm...

The good news is that it seems the IRS is ready to pay bozos like me who somehow missed last year's stimulus payments. I somehow omitted my two daughter's SS #s on the return, so we missed their stimulus payments.

In other news, I almost killed my car by letting the oil get low. I think it's consumption may be getting high prematurely, at a young 150,000 miles!

Anyway, I stayed away too long!

The Winter Savings Effect

February 19th, 2009 at 02:03 pm

Has anyone else noticed that it is MUCH easier to save in the winter than in the other seasons? I think it is because cocooning is so darn cheap. I know with my wife and kids, if they are out somewhere, they are spending money. So the only time I ever come close to catching up is January through April - unfortunately a very short season.

So what is the Ideal Budget?

February 16th, 2009 at 04:20 pm

Does it look like this, the top Google hit?


In lieu of anything else, it looks pretty close to me. I'd like to post my actual numbers next to it for a critique from you people, hopefully I'll have that ready in a few days. What I do know is mine is far from that! Oh, housing is dead on, but debt service is a TAD higher. Arghh.

So the numbers in descending order are :
Housing 30%
Transportation 14%
Food 12%
Entertainment/Recreation 7%
Clothing 6%
Misc. 6%
Debt 5%
Savings 5%
Investments 5%
Insurance 5%
Medical/Dental 5%
Total 100%

Some difficulties with quicken online are slowing me down, but luckily I found the help forums, and a fix for the problem I am having is due in February. In the meantime I'll probably just resort to Excel.

Man, budgeting is a bear!

February 15th, 2009 at 09:02 am

The good news is that Quickenonline FINALLY co-operated in accepting the CC data from my CU. I re-entered the login data and it finally started working, so now I have four months of CC data to work with. So it will pick up things like periodic charges for bridge tolls (it stinks having to commute over a toll bridge!) and anything else that goes on the CC and needs to be budgeted.

I guess it isn't telling me anything that I didn't already know, that our excess spending is manifested in a rising CC balance over the last six months or so. The trick I guess is annualizing things like auto maintenance and Christmas expenses.

And I have basically stopped using the CC, converting to cash for the occasional dining out so that I feel the pain, and it works! But my wife has not slowed down as much as I had thought. Arggghhh!!

Oh well, back at it.

Better to go Cold Turkey When Cutting Spending?

February 14th, 2009 at 11:56 am

A quote that really stuck with me from the TV series that I just discovered called "Maxed Out" was a woman saying it was easier to just stop spending money than to try to just cut back. This was in reference to eating out. Makes sense, sort of like alcoholism, you have to stop, not just slow down!

But realistically, severely scaling back can be a great feeling. Then it feels just wonderful to splurge once in a great while on very small things. It seems more special when it is unusual. The habit of eating out all the time drives me bonkers - what a waste of money!

We've still got a long way to go, and it is very hard for me because it's indirect, in that I'm trying to control my family's spending, although I still take challenge in making my frugal ways even more frugal. What I've realized is that my accounting sucks. It's not a be all and end all to know where the money is flying away, but it is a necessary first step to getting control and setting a realistic budget. It gives me a common language to use with them, like "we did very well on eating out last month, so we can go out once this month, etc." If it all just gets sucked up into the big black hole of debt, it's much harder to visualize. I think that is what most of America has lost with Credit Cards, that necessity of give and take to balance things out. It's like a cultural collective madness - I'm sure most people just follow the crowd, most of who can't afford to go out all the time either. That's why I've always appreciated the viewpoint of depression era people - they know the deal.

Who here watches Maxed Out on Style Network?

February 13th, 2009 at 11:51 am

And yes, I realize that sounds silly and hypocritical coming from someone who shouldn't even have cable. I've made many a tarry in that battle over many years and I've always been forced back. Just one more example of how my preferred monkish lifestyle is at odds with a family. I have to rationalize it (for now) by remembering that we spend VERY little else on entertainment.

ANYWAY, I've been sick lately and I ran across the Maxed Out series on Lifestyle network on daytime TV. I only saw the one yesterday about two 30ish single women who made the smart choice to share a condo, but they were each in deep debt due mainly to maintaining a single urban lifestyle, with WAY too much eating out. So besides slashing expenses, the counseler lady insisted that they sell or refinance their condo - they went for a refi. This was a little surprising since you usually hear not to do that, to pay off consumer debt with home equity. So I think I am in a similar situation. So far I THINK I can make the payments without doing that, but it is getting way too close for comfort.

So I will concentrate on analyzing expenses - both women were SHOCKED that they were grossly overspending. I'm not quite in that much denial, but there is some fog as to exactly how much we are overspending, so that is job two, right after stopping the bleeding from excess interest charges.

Anyway, it's a good show, and it just emphasizes to me what a constant battle it is to keep debt from encroaching if you don't make a serious and concerted effort to prevent that from happening. I think it is a little worse these days when costs are rising much faster than income, but it has always been a battle. I remember when I grew up, eating out was just not done, we just couldn't afford it. And now it is WAY too routine.

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%.
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.

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!

Financial Denial and Hopelessness

May 18th, 2008 at 11:52 am

I have a feeling that "financial denial" is a major cog in the credit industry's machinery. Back in the day, people didn't have this tool to get them in financial trouble, they just had to suck it up and stop spending, to balance their budget in real time! I know I have always hated to think about money, and that's a mental block I really need to work harder to get past. And my immediate family also has it, big time. They are all too happy to let me suffer through the misery of trying to make ends meet all on my own. I've said it here before, that I always meant to go all Ross Perot on their ***es, to show them just where the problem is and what we have to do. I suppose it all comes down to me being too much of a wimp. But I am quite aware that it's doing my daughters much more harm to allow this to continue to fester than to get them involved in buckling down and dealing with life.

That said, when expenses just rain down, I understandably get depressed. Large dental bills, the ever increasing gas and food bite, and the big kahuna college along with persistent old debt can be a TAD overwhelming.

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