Friday, December 28, 2007

FSA: Use it or Lose it?

I have a medical expense FSA, or flexible spending account, set up through work. I use it mostly for co-pays at various doctor and dentist appointments, any medicine, and contacts. For 2007 I set it at $500, which turned out to be pretty close to my actual usage.

The thing that I don't know is whether or not I have to use the rest of the money - $64.15 - by December 31.

Because the money set aside for the FSA (or in my case, on a debit card) is not subject to payroll taxes, it has a coverage period or "plan year". In general, the plan year is the calendar year. However, in 2005, the IRS authorized an optional 2 1/2 month grace period that employers can offer, extending the "plan year" through March 15, 2008. I just don't know if my employer does this.

Seems like a little thing that I should easily be able to find, right? When my money is forfeit? I have already received my new FSA debit card for 2008 and my husband needs a new pair of glasses - if my 2007 FSA extended into 2008, then I could use that $64.15 towards the glasses and pay for the rest with the 2008 FSA. But I can't find anywhere the date my "plan year" ends. So I have to assume that it ends on December 31, 2007. I would rather use my money than forfeit it accidentally.

So today I bought 3 new boxes of contacts for us, as they won't expire for many years. Using a free shipping coupons I found online, the total came to $62.38, which leaves me with $1.77 left to use on my card. I just need to run to CVS and find something small to use the rest of it up!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Spending Relapse

As I alluded to earlier, the budget has slipped in December. Big time. I'm embarrassed to admit it, too embarrassed even to look up how bad the numbers are. All I know is this: in December, all we paid to our credit cards debt was the minimum payments. On top of that, we had covered our December minimum payment towards the Discover card with our November payments, so we didn't even put anything towards that debt. Our grand total towards the credit cards in December was $198. Somewhere, the credit card companies are cackling with glee.

As I predicted in November, the month of December was really tough. I was really quite busy and didn't pay attention to our finances hardly at all - just enough to pay the bills. No budgeting, no coupons, lots of buying. Most of the shopping was for Christmas gifts and related items, but those budgets there were still *ahem* broken. And we went out to eat quite a few times throughout the month. I am such a bad example! Maybe I'm a what not to do?

The good news is that we didn't use our credit cards. At all. Christmas, while expensive, was all cash.

All these add up to a disastrous December for debt payoff. I think the kicker is that when I allocate money towards a certain budget category (like Christmas gifts), but I don't spend it right away, I throw it toward the debt. So some of the credit card payments in November should have been made in December. I don't know if I prefer it this way or if I would rather have a sub-accounting system to allocate my money towards its final destination. I know that when we get a savings account, I will need sub-accounts to keep track of it all.

I need some ideas- when you have money to use a certain way, but not immediately, where do you put it? How do you keep from using it for something else?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

5 Personal Finance Lessons from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Merry Christmas everybody! I hope you had a great day filled with fun, family and food. And, of course Christmas traditions.

One of our traditions is to watch watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when we put up our tree. Although our tree has been up for weeks now, I wanted to divulge the secret financial lessons hidden like little presents within this hilarious movie. It's much deeper than what it seems.

5. Get your Christmas tree for free. While I wouldn't recommend trekking out in the middle of the woods and pulling the perfect tree up by its roots, Clark was on to something when he dragged his frozen family deep into the forest. Why pay $30 or more for a temporary decoration? In the past, my parents have chopped down a tree on their property and used that as our tree - a fun experience and free. The King and Queen of Debt at We're in Debt reuse the same tree every December and keep it in a pot outside the other 11 months of the year. Great way to make it last!

4. Help out others who have less. Clark and Ellen offered to buy some Christmas gifts for Rocky and Ruby Sue when Eddie and Catherine were unable to get them anything. There is always someone who has less than you and, though it's easy to feel bad about being in debt and not having any money, it's important to remember that there are others worse off. So shovel your elderly neighbor's driveway, donate some canned goods to the food bank or spend some time with a sick relative. It's easy to get a little caught up in the gift frenzy, but at the end of the day, it feels much better to have made a difference in someone's Christmas.

3. Don't let pride stand in your way. When Cousin Eddie confesses that his family has had to sell their house and live in the trailer, it's easy to feel bad for him. Until they mention that he hasn't worked in 9 years because he's "holding out for a management position." There's really no excuse for not finding some way to generate income to support your family when it's needed to pay the bills. Work a part time job, sell things on eBay, work freelance. It can be tough to swallow your pride, but much much better than losing your house.

2. Give what you can afford. Aunt Bethany shows up at the house on Christmas Eve with a Jell-O mold and her cat wrapped up to put under the tree. A little extreme, but on the right track for someone who is trying to save money. Re-gifting is a tricky business, but there are plenty of gifts you can give for very little cash. It all boils down to...

1. Spend only the money you have. In the grand mother of all financial lessons, Clark puts down a deposit on a new in ground pool - before he gets his Christmas bonus necessary to cover the deposit check. Then, of course, when the bonus doesn't come in as expected, he panics. Although the desire is strong to spend spend spend and pack under the tree with gifts, it's just. not. worth. it. to go through that kind of torture.

Merry Christmas! And if you find that you made some of these mistakes, well, there's always New Year's Resolutions. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Where Have I Been?

Busy. Busytown, busyville, busy Vegas. Busy busy busy.

I know that this is a busy time of year for everybody. What I don't know is how they handle it all, keep sane, and sleep. I was doing so many things that I had to put something on hold for a little bit, and that something was the blog. :(

During the last 10 days, I began working on 3 new big accounts at job #1, worked past 11pm 4 times at job #2 (after a full day at job #1), shoveled 16 inches of snow out of two driveways, finished my Christmas shopping, made 78 truffles for various potluck events, wrapped all my gifts and went to 3 Christmas parties. So while it was fun, it was crazy.

Now things are settling down a little. I have a few days off work, most of the Christmas preparation is done, and I have time to breathe. For anybody who has been looking for new posts, I'm sorry and thanks for sticking around.

One thing I've noticed is how much work it is to stay frugal and within budget. I let things slide a little bit recently (more on that soon) and, while not devastating, my wallet has definitely noticed the lack of attention. I wonder if I'll ever be at a point where saving money is a no-brainer. Right now, if I'm not trying to save money, it seems to *poof* disappear.

I also have a lot of catching up to do with reading other blogs. Like when I was deep in the pits of credit card debt, I found that ignoring things that make me feel bad is a defensive tool. Reading other's frequently updated blogs made me feel bad about neglecting mine. And did I mention I was busy?

I am very very excited to get things back on track, and very very excited to see that there are still people who have stuck with me throughout my little lull in posting - thank you! More soon - promise. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Update & 7 Random Weird Things About Me

This week has been a crazy one! Work exploded all of a sudden and between that and Christmas, I have been overwhelmed. The good news is that business is up, which means more commissions! The great news is that there's about a 70% chance my commission backslide will be remedied and I will no longer owe my company the $2500. I have done all I can and I'm just crossing my fingers now.

In other news, I have been tagged by wealthy_1 over at Collecting my Cash for a 7 random weird things meme! I am definitely weird, so this should be easy :).

1. I have a wicked combination Boston/RI accent from growing up in the Ocean State and going to college in MA. Obviously, it is most prominent when I am angry, talking fast, or drinking.

2. I played rugby in college. If anyone knows anything about rugby, I was a second row, which is quite possibly the least glamorous position.

3. I like to sing in my car, dance & gesture wildly. One time, at a red light, 2 kids saw me, pointed and laughed hysterically. That was a little embarrassing.

4. I have different voices for each of my cats and I have conversations with them, speaking in my voice and then their voice. Usually the conversations are about Pounce or cat toys.

5. Following along with wealthy_1, I was caught cheating when I was in 3rd grade on a reading test. I was the one who knew the answers, and my pal Steve used to give me a pencil for each answer he took off my paper. He had some sick pencils. I think he still owes me a few.

6. I skipped 2nd grade, graduated high school when I was 17 and college when I was 20. People always seemed shocked that I wanted to graduate early instead of taking fake courses and bar hopping 7 days a week.

7. Penguins are my favorite animals. My PJ's are almost exclusively penguins, I have a penguin calendar, stuffed penguins, penguin candle holders... etc etc. The list goes on and on.

I am supposed to tag 7 more people, but I know how crazy everything is right now, so instead, leave a comment of one weird thing about you! Of course, if you want to play, then consider yourself tagged!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Financial Adviser? Not Right Now.

Last week, I finally got around to my free meeting with the financial adviser. Yes, it was two months later, but, hey, I only canceled on him once. :) I'm a pretty busy gal.

In our meeting, we began by discussing goals and plans for now and for retirement. I told him our current #1 priority of paying off the nasty, evil credit card debt, and that we then planned on building an emergency fund and saving for retirement. I even outlined our eventual plan - contribute to the 401(k)'s until we reach the maximum employee match, then open Roth IRA's for each of us and contribute the maximum we can. After that, go back to the 401(k)'s. Simple, right?

It's actually very simple, straightforward... and not really necessary for professional input. I'm sure I'll want to do some research on how to allocate my funds (once I have some) and when we eventually have the money to invest directly, I'm going to want some help. But right now, there's not much for him to do. I did leave the meeting feeling better about the decisions I am making,but that's about it. Reassurance.

I'm just glad the meeting was free and I didn't have to pay for it. :) And I can't wait until we reach the point where we can use professional help. Just one more reason to get the debt monkey off our backs.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Carnivals Galore!

Back in the swing of things! This week I participated in FOUR carnivals. Very exciting stuff! In order of appearance:

The Carnival of Debt Reduction #116 at Blogging Away Debt. My post on my Minimum Payments Gone Haywire was included. Others I enjoyed were:

  • Journey to Financial Freedom has 8 Debt Signals to let you know how serious your debt is. I wish I have never had any of those signals, but a few look familiar!
Debt Consolidation Lowdown posted the Carnival for Debt Management #31, and my post on What I'm Financially Thankful For was a part of it! My picks are:

Next up is the Festival of Frugality #102 at Lazy Man and Money. One of my favorite festivals at one of my favorite blogs :). My thoughts on Leftovers Gone Wrong were included, along with these other great posts:

Last but not least, Loonies and Sense posted the 37th Carnival of Money Stories. My Commission Backslide tale of woe was included along with:

  • A Penny Closer has a fantastically written story on his First Debt. He has a new subscriber in me!
That sums up this week's carnivals! Be sure to check them all out, and, as always, many thanks to the hosts!

Should I Keep the Great Deals to Myself?

As I progress through this gift giving season, I have been faced with a dilemma. I have been getting great deals on the presents I'm giving left and right, which I am very excited about. So what's the problem? I don't know whether or not to share that the gifts I bought were on sale.

This doesn't really sound like a very big problem, I know. Except I don't want it to seem like I spent too much money on their Christmas gifts. If someone gives me a gift or gifts that are much bigger or more expensive than what I give them, then I feel pretty bad. I wouldn't want to make anybody feel bad on Christmas. On the other hand, I am averaging about 50% off the retail price, which essentially doubles my Christmas budget. I want to, and planned to, use my Christmas budget to the max. Nor do I want to brag about how well my shopping went (to them, anyway, blog readers are fair game:)).

Some people are easy - my husband, for example knows exactly what I spent on his gifts, and my mom always loves a good bargain. With my pared-down Christmas list, most of the people on it are people I can share the deals with. It's not like I'm shy about being frugal - it's a well-known fact. And some of my gifts are pretty obviously low-cost. I hope that those don't make me look cheap. What problems to have - half too expensive and half too cheap. :)

I think my best bet is to be honest as much as I can, but keep a little bit of mystery. If someone asks me how much something cost and I don't want to share, I'll just say "Exactly as much as I wanted to spend." Case closed!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Practically a Different Person

Last week, when reading a post over at PaidTwice about her changes in attitude, I started thinking of how I've changed since we started this debt payoff journey. I couldn't really come up with anything except "I spend less money now". It sounds so simple, right?

Then I had a conversation with my sister, discussing our respective Christmas lists. I told her a few things I was looking for: knee highs, undershirts, hair mousse, cookbooks, and she proclaimed, "But none of those are fun!" It hit me like a ton of bricks - almost everything on my list was practical. Even the cookbooks weren't solely for pleasure; they were useful, too. I wasn't really asking for things that I wanted, but things that I needed. Things that the old me would have run out to the store to buy.

Somewhere in the past year and a half, I went from buying the things I wanted to buying the things that I needed to wanting the things that I needed. Unless it is something I can't live without, I put off buying it until I can ask for it as a gift. I have been out of hair mousse for at least 3 months, but I refuse to buy it because I don't strictly need it. Same goes for some makeup - I have been using an old, forgotten eyeliner until I can ask for a new one in my Christmas stocking.

Of course, if it's an essential, it's already built into the budget, but for all the little "extra" items, nope. Many a time I've stood in an aisle of Target, picked up some new non-necessity only to put it right back again. The one time in recent memory I've actually purchased a non-necessary item for my self, it was a pack of bobby pins. That were on sale. For $0.79. That, when I got home, I gave to my husband to give to me for Christmas. In October.

There are plenty of examples of my attitude transformation:

BAD: Buying a magazine every time I saw a new issue on the newsstands
BETTER: Subscribing to my favorite magazines
BEST: Ordering magazines through My Coke Rewards (Bonus: using other people's Coke caps) and reading from the selection at the gym

BAD: Grocery shopping every day, with reckless abandon
BETTER: Grocery shopping once a week with a list
BEST: Grocery shopping once a week with a list, coupons, freezer inventory and menu plan

BAD: Buying myself gifts because "I deserved it"
BETTER: Buying myself treats with my fun money
BEST: Treating myself to free "gifts" like a night in watching movies or an hour blog-a-thon :)

BAD: Buying books I wanted to read
BETTER: Only buying a few books, on sale
BEST: Getting books at the library, or with gift certificates

BAD: Replacing an item if it broke, on credit
BETTER: Replacing broken items with cash
BEST: Evaluating how necessary the item was, and only replace immediately if I can't go on without it

Obviously, this has pushed me to become more frugal, and work towards the ultimate goal of eliminating our debt. Some of these are borderline cheap, but they only affect my husband and me, and are taken on a case-by-case basis. It's pretty amazing to see the differences in our spending now that we only buy absolute necessities.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Standing on the Brink

My darling husband started his own blog today, Standing on the Brink. On his blog, he writes about growing his company and the trials, successes and failures along the way. In my completely unbiased opinion, he is a fantastic writer. Plus, reading all about his company will help explain how we took on this debt in the first place - much of it was used to get Servprise off the ground. So take a minute and check it out!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

November Round Up

All in all, November was a great month. We received extra paychecks, visited family, started our Christmas shopping, and paid off another credit card! Wow.

The best news of all is... we hit our debt payoff monthly goal for the first time since June!! In November, we paid $3103.14 toward our credit card debt, which surpasses our goal of $3000 per month and blows our budget of $2771 out of the water. The total paid to principle was $2971.48, bringing our current total debt down to $13620.08. To date, we have paid off 65% of our credit card debt, up 8 percentage points from October!

Despite my problems with my commissions, my income was still $330 above the budgeted amount, thanks to those extra paychecks. We went over our gas budget by $27.06, in part from the extra travel and also the increasing gas prices. I thought that was going to be much worse, so I am OK with that. The grocery budget was under by $10.98, but our fun money was over again by about $40. What is really hurting us there is we have gone to a few concerts recently, and it costs us more than the price of the ticket. Something to work on :).

The Christmas budget is coming along nicely. I have been filling out my Christmas Plan spreadsheet after everything I buy, and I'm about halfway done with all the shopping. It really helps to not be exchanging gifts with the in-laws this year (more on that soon). I am pretty amazed with how far my dollars are stretching, and I can't wait to write some posts about it. I knew I shouldn't have shared this blog with my family!

That being said, December is making me a little nervous. We'll be traveling again for New Year's, and with all the gifts and craziness, I'm going to have to fight to keep the budget under control. I know that if my commissions don't get sorted out, the chances of us hitting our debt payoff goal for December are pretty slim. The credit card we're working on currently has a balance of $2486.55 - I would LOVE to knock that off before the new year. I think it's going to be pushed into 2008, though.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Minimum Payment Gone Haywire

Back in August, I messed up and paid one of my credit cards late. After a few phone calls and back and forth, the late fee was removed (twice, then one put back) and I was promised that my interest rate wouldn't change. Which it didn't- the interest stands at 12.49%, making it my lowest rate of all our credit cards. In fact, while writing this post, I realized that the interest rate has dropped from 12.99% to 12.49%, without me having to ask.

What has changed on this account is our minimum payments. I pay attention to the minimum payments because, as our smallest interest rate in the snowball, that's all I pay. Right after the late fee drama, the minimum payment was off by one late fee ($39), and totaled $171. Then the following month (October), the payment was still high, at $164. This was completely unexplained.

Logically, as more payments are made, the principle will decrease, and the interest earned will also decrease over time. As most credit cards charge interest on the average daily balance, days with longer months will have slightly higher interest charges than shorter months, thus creating a variable interest amount built into the minimum payment. So I checked out the interest charged in August (for September's payment) and September (for October's payment). They were $70.49 and $64.78, respectively. I think this is why the interest rate dropped from $171 to $164. Now we're getting somewhere.

Except... in August, the minimum payment was $133. So October's minimum payment should have been somewhere close to that. And then November's minimum payment was $128, and the new bill for December has a minimum payment of $122. Why does this have to be so confusing?!?

I think that, quite simply, BofA made a mistake in calculating October's minimum payment. Maybe it was a result of Sepetmber's mix-up, or maybe it was just a glitch. In the long run, it doesn't make that much of a difference, and the money was applied to the principle, so it's still going to the debt payoff. What really disturbs me is that the minimum payment can change so drastically. While my budget allows for such fluctuations, it could be detrimental to someone who is under tighter financial restrictions. What is really disturbing is that I couldn't find how my minimum payment is calculated on the statement, nor was I able to find it on their website. I hope it's there somewhere and I'm just missing it - otherwise it leaves me with a very uneasy feeling.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Frugal Recipe for Disaster

This week, with all the turkey leftovers and our chock-a-block full freezer, I only bought a few things at the grocery store. So when I got home last night, I had to do a little creative cooking. We didn't really have anything that fit nicely into a meal and we were taking a break from all that turkey before we turned into turkeys. I decided to make mini-pizzas, using crescent rolls as the dough and a variety of toppings. Never said I was making a healthy dinner.

I unrolled the crescent rolls, baked them into mini-crusts, and prepared a variety of toppings using a little bit of everything we had in the fridge - spaghetti sauce, chicken, broccoli, pesto, mashed potatoes - you name it. I then mixed up some mozzarella, parmesan and cheddar cheese we had left over from various dinners past. I looked at the cheese briefly to make sure it wasn't moldy, and it looked fine. This is what writers call "foreshadowing".

Ten minutes later, we were sitting down with our smorgasbord pizzas. I was bragging to my husband about how amazing I was for throwing this all together and not going to the grocery store. I think I even said, "I am a frugal champion!" Words that I would soon eat.

We bite into the pizzas, and they're pretty good. Except... they taste like bleu cheese. And bleu cheese wasn't one of the ingredients I used. About 4 bites in, we realize that one of the three mixed cheeses must have gone bad. All together now: ewwwwwwwwww. Much to my chagrin, we figured it best to throw the pizzas away. All of last night's dinner and what should have been today's lunch. My frugality was thwarted, as the rest of the food was fine, just smothered in moldy cheese.

So I heated up a couple of cans of soup and ate those instead for dinner. I learned to always have a backup plan (notice that it wasn't take out! YAY!) and to always smell your cheese. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carnival Delight

Gonna grab my laptop, gonna hold on tight, gonna get me some carnival delight. When you see these posts you know somethings right, they will keep you reading into the night.

This week I participated in 2 Carnivals! The first is the Carnival of Debt Management #30, hosted at Debt Consolidation Lowdown. I'm a little late on this one, as it was posted on Thanksgiving. My post on getting All Fired Up to pay off debt was included. My other favorites are:
  • The Wealthy Create Luck at Watson Inc. I take this one step further and believe that there is no such thing as luck, and that we each control our own futures.
  • Freezer Cookin' and Pantry Eatin' at Dandelions and Daydreams. I have a post about cooking from food you have in the works, and though my meal didn't turn out so well, it's a great challenge.
Moving on to the Festival of Frugality 102, which was posted at Cheap Healthy Good and featured a sweet little mix tape theme. Ah, mix tapes. Remember having to listen to the radio and try to push the play and record buttons at the exact same time without catching any of the DJ blabbing in the background nor missing the beginning of your favorite song? Good times. My post on Black Friday Shopping Karma was included, and here are my picks:

  • Reducing the Grocery Budget at Lightening. Great post, and always a personal goal of mine. This is the first post in a series, so be sure to check back.
  • Be organized be Frugal at Frugal Journey. I think everyone has an example of how being disorganized has cost them money. Here are some trouble spots to help prevent that.
  • Lazy Man just returned from his honeymoon and teaches us how to Save Money in Aruba. I'm not sure I believe all these tips... maybe I'll have to test them personally. ;)
That wraps it up! Thanks to the hosts, and be sure to check out the carnvals - tons ofpriceless information to be had.

Commission Backslide Part 2

I did it. I sent the nasty-gram to try and save my $2500. Thanks for all the support and cross your fingers for me! $10 off coupon = free stuff

I saw this at and wanted to share. If you sign up for Google Checkout, you get $10 off a purchase at I signed up and bought a USB flash drive for tax only and free shipping. Then I signed up using another email account and bought a Christmas present (for someone who reads this blog) for $7 less than I found it on Amazon and eBay, also with free shipping! YAY!

All $10 items that are free with this promo.

The USB flash drive I bought.

Many thanks to MoneySavingMom and her readers. I just started reading her website today, and I am so glad I did!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Commission Backslide

As I've mentioned before, I work in sales. My salary isn't very large, and a good chuck of my income is made through commissions. In January 2007, I helped to sell a large deal that was worth $2483 in commissions to me (before tax). For comparison, the majority of my deals are worth $200-$600 pre-tax. So this was obviously a big deal (pun intended).

In October, we ran into an issue with the billing of the customer. Turns out that there was an error and the customer never received any invoices. They hadn't made a payment on the equipment in the 9 months that they were using it. After much back and forth and getting the runaround, visiting the customer 4-5 times, the two companies decided that an agreement couldn't be reached that everyone was happy with. So the equipment is going to be returned and the sale will be effectively canceled.

Why is this relevant? My company has asked me to pay them back the commissions I earned on the deal. All $2483. On paper, this is the correct way to deal with the situation. They have to protect themselves from anyone who places false orders and then cancels them, cheating the system.

However, this is an extenuating circumstance and a rare case. I was advised to write a strongly worded letter protesting having to pay the company back. Two weeks ago. But I haven't done it yet. I don't have any good reason why not. I'm a little bit of a procrastinator (example: I started writing this post Monday morning). I think I'm almost embarrassed to ask for my own money. Which is ridiculous, of course. I earned the money to begin with and did everything in my power to prevent the order being canceled.

I just need to man up and do it. Writing this post is a start - it will hold me accountable if I try to wimp out again. I will have my protesting email sent by midnight Wednesday. It's not like I have $2500 laying around to give back to my company. It's already been applied to the credit cards! Months ago! Having to pay it back would seriously inhibit my budget and debt payoff.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back to Reality

This long weekend has been something of a vacation. I had five days off from both jobs, cooked Thanksgiving dinner, slept, ate, and shopped. Unfortunately, the party is over and I need to go back to my real life.

Thanksgiving had a bit of a negative impact on the budget, but I think I'll be able to balance it out within the grocery budget. We came home with a cooler full of leftover turkey (like PaidTwice), pie, and 25 bagels from the bagel shop down the street from my in-laws. I have to check out the freezer, but I might not even have to go to the grocery store at all this week. It'll be close. If I can pull that off, we'll end November about $45-$50 under the grocery budget, which, in these days, equals just one tank of gas. It's something, though.

The other thing I need to get back to is my budget mindset. It's easy to be a little more free with money when you're away from home, and I need to tighten the purse strings once again. We've both gone over our fun money for November already, and there's still a week left. I have to pay about another $750 to our debt to reach our monthly goal, and I hope to do so with my paychecks on Thursday. It all depends on whether my husband's direct deposit goes through on Friday (Nov 30) or Monday (Dec 3). Our mortgage will be deducted on Dec 1, even if it is just pending, and I need to make sure we have the money in the bank account to cover that.

The best way I know how to get back to our financial reality is to open up Quicken and look at all the numbers. That usually whips me back into shape!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday Shopping Karma

Yesterday, my husband and I got up at 4am, armed with lists and our Christmas budget, and hit the road. We were headed to a few department stores and then the mall. After a cup of coffee, we were raring to go.

The first couple of stores were a bust. We were looking for the early bird specials, and two out of three were already sold out. We weren't in dire need of anything, so we didn't get to any store early enough to stand in a line that wrapped around the building. Feeling slightly defeated, we headed to the mall.

There we fared much better, scoring deals left and right. Most notably, at Macy's, I bought 3 ties for my husband for Christmas for $27.95 when they were originally priced $113, and he bought me a sweater for $10.98 that was 69% off after a coupon. When we went to JC Penney, I quickly zeroed in on a blazer I found in the ad for $16.99, regularly priced at $44. We were able to find a register with no line and made it out of the store in record time. On the way out, I tapped on the shoulder of the last customer in a 20 person line and directed her to my secret, lineless register. My husband asked me why I did that and I replied, "Shopping karma. It'll come back to us."

By this time, we had been shopping for about 8 hours, so we stopped for a quick bite to eat, then hit the outlets nearby. We found a nice pair of Banana Republic black pants for me that, at 40% off, only cost $29.99. Then we went searching for dress shirts for my husband. Here is where I found my greatest victory of the day.

We went first to Brooks Brothers and looked at their no-iron shirts. They were offering them three for $159, which I know is their everyday price and not within our realm of possibility right now. Disappointed, we left to wander throughout the other stores and made our way into Van Heusen. We found that they had wrinkle-free dress shirts there for $27.99 where, if you buy three, you get 40% off. What a great deal! He picked out colors to match the ties from Macy's, and we went to check out. While we waited in line, the women in front of us received a coupon to three other stores in the plaza. When we checked out, I asked for the same coupons, but was told that your total must be over $60 to get the coupons. Our shirts were only $50.47. Oh well, at least we tried.

We continued our shopping nest door at Bass, where we found a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes for half off. At the check out, they printed out three coupons for $5 off - including one for Van Heusen. My husband saw the look in my eye and told me to "just let it go." I said, "Honey, no way am I letting this go. You keep shopping, I'm going to take care of this."

I marched back into Van Heusen and sweetly asked to get my price adjusted. The manager came out, made a phone call to the manager of Bass, and said she could adjust my receipt. Sweet! While she was calling the other store, she saw a coupon for 10% off one item and asked me if it were mine. Unscrupulously, I said it was. Then she scanned another coupon for 20% off another item! This was my shopping karma coming back for me. So all in all, we ended up paying $40.33 for all three dress shirts. It wasn't our best deal of the day (that prestigious honor goes to the ties), but it was the most satisfactory.

Our grand total for the day was $298.17, at an average savings of 55.69%. The interesting part is that most of the items we bought were clothes, and almost all of them were unadvertised. We just went out and looked around for things that struck our fancy. While this sounds like a recipe for disaster, we stayed well within our Christmas budgets, and we had a great time!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I'm Financially Thankful For

While I am thankful for all the standards - my family, health, house, etc, I wanted to write a list of things I am thankful for in terms of my personal finance.

  • My jobs - although I complain from time to time about working so much, working both of my jobs has allowed up to accelerate our debt payoff.
  • My husband's business - this is a high risk venture that he pours all his time into. The plan is for this company to eventually fund our early retirement (of course there is a contingency plan).
  • Our financial awakening - we were in a downward spiral, charging everything, including gas, groceries & unnecessary crap. Last year, we woke up and started fixing all our mistakes.
  • The progress on our debt - one year ago we had about $38,000 in credit card debt. Right now, we have just under $15,000. We're behind our original plan to pay it all off in 2007, but we've still made tremendous progress.
  • Our budget - I love knowing how much money we're supposed to spend when. It helps me keep things in check and limit my spending.
I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving and have plenty to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Miscalculation

This Thanksgiving, we traveled to my in-laws house in Delaware. We drove down this morning, missing most of the traffic and arrived early this afternoon. In all the planning and preparation for the trip between packing for the trip and working extra hours to make up for the time off, I forgot something important. I forgot to budget for the extra expenses.

When I was planning for our journey, I concentrated on what I needed to do before we left: pay bills, buy another cat carrier, pack. I was excited that we wouldn't need to buy groceries for this week since we had some left over from last week and we'll be eating here all weekend. I didn't budget for the extra gas needed or travel expenses.

This doesn't sound like much, but consider this: the drive from our house to their house is 7 hours long. That is about a tank and a half of gas. With the recent rise in gas prices, the trip down cost us about $60 in fuel alone. Granted, we didn't think ahead enough to buy gas before we left at 4am, so we ended up at an expensive gas station right off the highway. Hopefully the trip back will be a little less expensive.

I know that our budget can handle this alteration, but it will put us over the normal gas budget for the month. I feel pretty dumb for completely overlooking this aspect of our trip. I was just so excited to finally have a few days off that I put the blinders on. Of course, it wouldn't make any difference on whether we would make the trip or not. In the future, we will just plan for it a little better.

This Week's Festival

I am slowly getting back into the festivals after the hectic chaos that was the past couple of weeks. At the Festival of Frugality #101, my post on the Frugal Bridal Shower was included! If you haven't seen it, be sure to check out Kyle's writing at Rather Be Shopping - the way he posted the festival as a tour down Highway 101 is a testament to his creativity and writing skills.

I enjoyed the other posts in the festival, as always, but my favorites were:

So, based on these picks, can you guess what's been on my mind? Christmas shopping! Maybe it's Black Friday looming, but I have been thinking about it a lot and have some upcoming posts on the subject.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Absolutely Free and Almost Free GIfts

Just in time for the holidays, Are You Going to be This Way the Rest of the Time I Know You? posted a challenge: to come up with 5 completely free and 5 almost free gifts. This is a great way to challenge yourself to come up with useful gift ideas that won't break your budget instead of just running out and buying the latest gadget.

Absolutely free gifts (can count items you already have around the house):

1. Stocking stuffer samples: I get a lot of free samples throughout the year from places like for mostly toiletries like deodorant, toothpaste and the like. Perfect size to stick in a stocking! I'm even giving my husband some to give back to me in my stocking. :) One tip: use a secondary email address on the form to avoid spam.

2. Day at the park: Plan a day with someone you love and the great outdoors. If you're in the snowy north like myself, go sledding and then make some hot cocoa. In a warmer climate, google some local wildlife and go find the animals.

3. Mix tape: Go old fashioned and make a custom compilation for your friends or family. Of course, I have a bunch of blank CD's hanging around and loads of songs on iTunes.

4. Giveaways: While rare, there are occasions when the freebie handed out at promotional events are actually good. A cool t-shirt or even a stress ball would be a great gift for a kid.

5. Re-gift card: With one of my credit cards, we can claim our rewards in the form of gift cards to restaurants or stores. You can either give away the gift card or use it to buy presents. We often get $25 gift certificates to and use them to buy books, DVDs, CDs, pretty much anything.

BONUS - Rescue a pet: There are plenty of dogs and cats available at the pound or posted in the newspaper that are initially free. Of course, there is food, vet bills, and supplies later on. Imagine the look on your child's face when they open a box with a puppy in it! Instant classic.
Caveat: don't give a pet without either discussing it with the recipient or being prepared to care for the pet yourself. I surprised my husband with a kitten that was found behind my mom's restaurant after we'd talked about getting one for ages. They get along pretty well:

Almost free gifts (under $10, hopefully under $5):

1. Mix in a Jar: A popular cheap gift favorite. Basically it's all the dry ingredients for a recipe layered in a jar with instructions to make the recipe. I am making the double fudge brownie in cute little snowman jars that I bought for $2.24 each.

2. Dinner on Us: Offer a busy couple dinner with all the fixings at their house, from set up to clean up. If you plan it well, it can cost less than $5 total. A favorite of mine is baked ziti.

3. Super Clearance: Throughout the year, there are special deals and steals online and radical markdowns in stores on discontinued merchandise. I was able to snag a few such deals, both at about 99.5% off. I would post details, but I don't want to spoil the surprise!

4. Custom Web Design: My husband used to work in web design and we have a server in our basement. For the low, low price of $9.95, we bought a domain name for my parents and set them up with their own website for their photos. They keep it going and love posting all their pictures.

5. Cozy Fire in a Basket: Nothing beats curling up by the fire on a cold winter night, so why do so many fireplaces go unused? Because it's a pain in the butt to gather the wood and build a fire. So invest in some firewood, divide it up and include some kindling (gathered in the woods) and matches. If you have a little extra money, buy a cheap wood carrier and wrap it all up together.

There are all my ideas for saving money on gift giving this holiday season. I have used a few in the past and plan on using more this year. Make sure to check out the original list and the list at Paid Twice for more ideas!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Frugal Bridal Shower

This weekend I am going to a bridal shower for an old friend. My sister and mother are also going. This shower is going to be a classy event - full, plated luncheon at a very nice restaurant and there will probably be about 100 people there.

The bride and her parents are the kind of people who know everybody. And the people they know have money. So, when I check out the registries, there were a lot of very nice, very expensive gifts chosen, such as Waterford dishes at $120 per place setting and Lenox stemware for $30 a glass. A little bit out of my budget price range.

I was planning on spending $50 for the gift. My mom and sister had about the same budget, so we decided to pool our money and buy a gift together. We wanted to get a few smaller items so it looked a little better than buying 1 place setting between the 3 of us. I know, it even sounds silly to type that out - buying any gift should be OK. But I was concerned with looking cheap. So we worked to stretch our dollars.

Before we went to the store, I looked at the registry and picked out a group of things in our price range. The bride was registered at two stores, and both registries were pretty picked over. Then we went to the mall, prepared to buy our gifts. Except they weren't there. Everything in our price range at store #1 was on back order, with no chance of becoming available for 3 months. So we went to plan B and walked across the mall to store #2.

Store #2 wasn't much better. We did manage to find a few items that kind of went together, in that they were all kitcheny. They had to be ordered and the store charged for shipping. By that point, we were so frustrated that we just agreed with it. But I had a secret plan.

I knew that store #2 frequently sent out coupons in the mail. I waited until I received a coupon, then returned to the store with my receipt. The adjustment was $23. Twenty three dollars just for going back with a coupon!!

Using this money, I was able to buy a card, wrapping paper, a Christmas ornament and a cookbook (50% off) to go with the original gifts. The grand total was $127, well under our budget of $150, and we bought a lot of presents. I am very excited to be able to walk into that shower knowing that we bought gifts the bride wanted AND in our price range. I know there will be people there who spent a lot of money on their gifts, but I am very happy with ours.

Monday, November 12, 2007

All Fired Up to Keep Paying Down

I was finally going through our files today and organizing and purging them. I was throwing things out left and right, using this list as my guide. It was nice to be getting rid of some old files, like electric bills from our old apartment and random condo association newsletters. Then I came to the file where I put all the receipts from our wedding.

This was the thickest file in the whole drawer. As I was going through it, it was like going back in time to when I spent money recklessly, without a care in the world. I always knew which credit card had the most available balance, because that is what I used to buy everything. I look at all the money we spent on the wedding, borrowed from credit cards, lines of credit, and family and it makes me sick.

We bought a lot of things we didn't need. Of course, the argument can be made that all you need to get married is the piece of paper and a trip to the courthouse. But there were just superfluous purchases made here and there that all added onto our debt. I really look forward when I can think of our wedding with only happy memories and not reflect on the mistakes we made. (Not in marrying my husband - that was no mistake and the best decision I ever made. More on that in a minute.)

So of course, all these receipts made quite a big pile. I'm looking at them and getting bummed out more and more. My husband asked me what was bothering me so much. When I told him, he suggested getting rid of them - we've already dropped that spendy mindset and there was no need to keep them (except the wedding ring receipt). Since we had a nice little fire going tonight, that's where they all ended up. Burnt to ashes. It felt really good to get them out of my file cabinet, my house, my life.

I still felt like an idiot for making the purchases in the first place. Until my husband said to me, "You're only an idiot if you don't fix the problem. We're already solving the problem. So this (referring to the flaming receipts) was just a mistake." He's pretty good at saying the right thing and never just what I want to hear. Mistakes I can deal with. Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to only make it once, and learn and grow. Or burn and grow. :)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tales of a Cashier - Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Tales of a Cashier relates my experiences at my part time job in a retail store.

In my store, as I'm sure holds true for many stores, we have an official policy and then we have the policy we actually follow. A lot of this revolves around trying to get the customers to return to our store. There's a lot of competition out there and we do everything we can to keep the customers happy and telling their friends how happy they are.

Our store sells household products and frequently sends out coupons to use for a discount on most items in the store. Officially, if a customer forgets their coupon, we offer to them the chance to bring back the coupon with the receipt and we will adjust the price. Unofficially, any customer who asks for, forgets, or "forgets" their coupon will get the discount anyway, on the spot, no returning required. All they have to do is ask.

Now will we give them a discount on 5 items for each of the 5 coupons they forgot on the kitchen counter? No, we do our best to keep it reasonable. But the main thing to remember is that the stores want you to leave happy and want you to return. Customer loyalty over the course of years is much more important than one sale. Similar to the coupon issue, we will also discount items is they are visibly damaged or have been used as a display. Usually all you have to do is ask.

So how can you benefit and save using this theory? Don't be afraid to speak up. The worst that could happen is that you're in the same position you started off in. Be polite, slightly apologetic, and be sure to thank them. That's all we really want. When people start getting rude or witchy, we're actually less likely to help them out than if they are polite. There's a lot of money you could keep in your wallet just by asking the simple question. I used to be shy about it until I was on the other side of the cash register. Now I don't care. Anybody have a good story of asking for a discount and saving some money?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

October Round Up

Even though we're 1/3 of the way into November, I shouldn't neglect poor old October just because I've been busy. So onto the wrap-up!

October, being a long month, is pretty challenging. Add on to that the fact that My brother, brother-in-law and sister have birthdays within a week of each other at the end of October, and the budget gets a little strained. But, fortunately, we have a little stretch in our budget.

This month we paid $1836.29 towards our credit card debt, which is $934.71 short of our goal. However, we made huge mental progresses and paid off our worst debt, that we've been working on since February. At the end of October, we have paid off 57% of our total credit card debt, up 4 percentage points from September. Our motivation has really picked up as well.

My income was finally over for October (by $658.30, thanks to extra hours and commissions), which will be extremely useful in keeping our November numbers on track. Our gas expenses were over by $30.87, which is essentially one fill-up and due to some bad timing of getting gas on Halloween. Should have waited one day! Our groceries were over by $19.53, and our fun money by $22.28, which totally disproves my theory of fudging the budget. I guess that's what happens when you try to cheat the system.

As for the emergency fund... I set up a high interest bank account, and then never transferred the money over. It's still waiting patiently in my checking account. This is a high priority on my to-do list this week.

While the numbers look OK, I'm pretty disappointed in myself. We pay a lot of money toward our debt each month, but nowhere near our goal of $3000. I have $2771.00 budgeted toward debt payment each month and try to make up the difference, but the last time we hit our goal of $3000 was in June. Not that much has changed in our finances that we shouldn't be getting to that number. I think we were just burnt out from being in super frugal mode that we rebelled a little. Not to mention a few mistakes along the way. Paying off our line of credit and transferring to the 0% card were huge for our motivation and will get us back in the fast lane. Same old story and I need to put my money where my mouth is. November is off to a great start with the extra paycheck and already making a big payment, so I am feeling very positive moving forward. Hopefully planning ahead for Christmas will prevent any bumps in the road.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mental Victory & a Milestone

Whoa, what a week!! I was in a work training session all week and between the extra hours and trying to make up the real work I'm supposed to do, I have neglected my housework, sleep, and of course, the blog. :( I unfortunately didn't have the foresight to prepare some posts soooo... nothing all week long.

At the beginning of this week, we paid off another credit card! (With a little help from all the paychecks.) But it's a shallow victory. We paid a lot of the card off with a balance transfer - $5100 to be exact. So the $1900 payment I made on Monday didn't really pay it off. But oh man, does it feel good.

I have all my debts listed in an excel spreadsheet, from highest interest rate to lowest. Every time I pay something off, I highlight the entire line in red. It's such a powerful feeling to eliminate a debt and put that big fat red line on the "Debt Snowball" spreadsheet. Before paying off our largest debt last month, I hadn't crossed out a line since February. February! No wonder I was losing motivation.

I am psyched to be gaining momentum again and to finally be back on track. In addition, this last payment has gained us another milestone - we are now under $15,000 in credit card debt. (Current total is $14,616.42. We started this journey at $38,621.13. This means that we have paid off 62% of our debt! We're almost 2/3 of the way there!! :-D Just when we needed some more incentive to stick with it. Now I understand more why Dave Ramsey recommends paying off the smallest debts first - the feeling of accomplishment is tremendous.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Crazy Eights

I used to love playing crazy eights as a kid. Actually, I still love it. Never mind the kid part. I like to hoard the eights and draw and draw from the deck so when I defiantly say "one card!" I get to watch my opponents scramble to change the suit so I can't win when it's my turn again. Then I can triumphantly throw down my eight and do a banging victory dance. Man, do I love winning!

So when Suburban Wife at Daily Dollar Diary tagged me for the Crazy Eights Meme, the first thing I thought was cool! Yay me! The second thing was... uh, what's a meme? Turns out I'm some part of cultural evolution. Woot.

8 Things I'm Passionate About:

1. My husband
2. My family
3. My kittens
4. Personal finance, especially our debt payoff. Although "psychotic" might describe it better.
5. My home
6. The Caribbean
7. Improving myself
8. My future

8 Things I Say Often

1. Loveyoubye. This is how I end phone calls with my husband, mom, dad, sister and brother.
2. NoooOOOOOoooo. One of the kittens is still testing the boundaries of my sanity.
3. Want to snuggle? I haven't turned the heat on in my house yet. :)
4. Hello, this is Jessica - this is how I answer the phone.
5. Bedtime for Bonzos
6. Miscellaneous quotes from Will Farrell movies
7. That'll move the chains!
8. Giggity giggity giggity

8 Books I've Read Recently

1. Eragon
2. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke
3. P.S. I Love You
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
5. Something by Nora Roberts, I'm sure
6. Confessions of a Shopaholic
7. Rich Couples Finish First
8. Pay it Down

8 Things I Want to Do Before I Die

1. Be married for 100 years. 1 down, 99 to go.
2. Travel to Europe
3. Visit all 50 States
4. Live in the Caribbean
5. Write a Book
6. Have children and grandchildren and great grandchildren
7. Travel to Australia
8. Build our forever house

8 Songs I Can Listen to Over and Over

1. Everything I Do - Bryan Adams
2. Unbroken - Tim McGraw
3. The Wonder of You - Elvis Presley
4. Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
5. Stronger - Kayne West
6. The Moulin Rouge Soundtrack
7. I Can't Get Next to You - The Temptations
8. Benny Lava - ok, maybe not over and over. Or politically correct.

8 Things the Attract me to My Friends

1. Integrity
2. Sense of Humor
3. Honesty
4. Lack of Drama
5. Ability to have a conversation
6. Intelligence & Common Sense
7. Loyalty
8. Extra tickets to the Red Sox, Pats, concerts, etc. (see #2)

8 Things I Learned in the Past Year

1. How to create and stick to a budget
2. How to win arguments/confrontations (not that I win them all, but my record is improving)
3. Which battles are worth fighting
4. How to sleep alone in my house. Hint: it involves a sleep timer on my TV.
5. That often you only get what you want if you ask for it.
6. DVR makes my life better.
7. How to swallow my pride
8. To be a better judge of character

Wow, that took me a long time. Gone are my plans for more relevant blog posting tonight :). I'm just going to convince myself that you all really wanted to know that information about me.

I'm going to tag a few people so we can culturally evolve together, but if anyone reading this wants to throw their hat in the ring, feel free! Just link to it in the comments so I can read your answers too!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Will that be Cash or Debit?

There are generally two schools of thought for controlling your spending. The first is a cash envelope system, where your monthly budgeted amount for every category is placed in an envelope with the category written on it. The second is to use the debit card for everything and track it using money management software.

Strangely enough, I like to use both. Better than that, I have to use both. I have tried to go all one way or the other, and it just doesn't work.

Our fun money has to be in cash. If I use the debit card for my fun money, I overspend my budget. Without fail. When I have cash only for fun money, I can keep it in check. The sooner I go to the ATM and take out my fun money, the better off my month is budget-wise. (Which reminds me, I need to get November's fun money.)

Everything else - gas, groceries, household expenses - are all on the debt card. I can't imagine carrying that much cash around, not to mention that my husband needs to spend some of that money as well and it's not practical to split that money. We just make sure that the totals don't surpass out budget. Plus, I can track when we spend the money rather than how much we have remaining.

So this is what works for us. It's a little unorthodox, but a lot of what we're doing now is irregular. How do you keep track of your spending - cash or debit? (Presumably, if you're reading this, you don't use credit unless it's for the points.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Fantasy, Baby

Today I found myself daydreaming about improvements to my life. Being a personal finance blogger, you would probably think that I was imagining what it would be like to have more money. That wasn't the case today (although some days it is). Today I fantasized about having more time.

Time, the elusive minx, that, along with love, cannot be bought. Between working 60-70 hours a week, commuting, and housework, I rarely have any time to myself. Unless you count the time alone in the car. I have to squish regular things like laundry and grocery shopping into my schedule, often making my lists or cutting coupons on my breaks at work. Not to be outdone, my husband works 80+ hours a week, so I rarely see him as well. Simple trips to see our families have to be orchestrated weeks in advance so we can clear our schedules - and even then we have to take time off of work.

I know this is being whiny, but I'm leading up to what I would do with more time. In random order, I would
  • Work out more (I doubt the gym will recognize me at this point)
  • Spend more time with family and friends. And husband.
  • Make improvements to my house (nothing drastic, but lots involving paint & elbow grease)
  • Elaborate on my hobbies - I love cooking and try to make it exciting, but too often it ends up being hurry-up-and-get-the-food-on-the-table because it's 9pm and we haven't had dinner yet.
  • Better maintain my daily tasks instead of leaving the laundry until there are no clean underpants left
  • Write more on this little blog thing I've got going on
  • Sleep more - 8 hours a night is a once a week occurrence. Unfortunately for the people who know me, I really need 8 hours a night. :)
At the end of the day, my daydream works as motivation to keep paying off the debt. Once it's all gone, I can leave the second job and the income that it brings. This is essentially paying for my time back, but I'm looking forward to having my life again and I'm willing to deal with the reduction in income. (See, it all relates to personal finance somehow!)

If you had more time, how would it affect your life? What could you do with a few more hours a week?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Paycheck Quad-fecta

As I mentioned in my sick post, the paycheck planets have aligned for November, starting with this week. We each get paid on separate schedules, so it's very rare that we get paid at the same time.

My husband is simple - one paycheck on the first of every month. Quick and easy, direct deposit. At my day job, we get two types of pay - salary and commissions. The salary is paid every other Thursday. Commissions are paid on the last day of the month. These are all direct deposit as well. For my part time job, I get paid every other Thursday as well, on the same Thursdays as my day job. This is via a live paycheck, so I have to make a trip to the bank. Got all that? This is why I have Quicken!

Because there are 52 weeks in the year and I get paid every 2 weeks, there are 2 months a year that I get 3 paychecks. This year, those months are May and November. So November has two extra paychecks, one from my full time job and one from my night job. These paychecks are the basis for my Christmas budget, so I'm psyched that November is one of the months with an extra paycheck.

On top of that, for the first time ever, we will receive all four types of paychecks this week because November 1 is a Thursday payday. Do you have any idea how exciting that is? Our bank account is usually pretty low by the end of the month, and by Friday it's going to skyrocket. Then it's dropping again as I send a bunch of the money to the debt!

Since the extra paychecks are going to Christmas presents, our total amount of debt payoff won't change drastically. However, we'll have more money at the beginning of the month so I can front-load our debt payments. I just need to make sure to keep the rest of the month on track.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Being Sick is Bad for my Budget

As I mentioned earlier, I had a little bit of a cold this past week. Then my husband got it. While things are finally getting back to normal around here, it kind of threw us for a loop. I never really thought about how much energy we put into being frugal - until we had no energy.

I ate out 4 times this past week (including last night for the Sox game), which is way more than usual. Two of those were fast food, and one was using a gift certificate, but it really shows how lazy I get when I'm sick. We also had food in the freezer, ready to be made, and I made an emergency trip to the grocery store for comfort food - grilled cheese and tomato soup. I didn't cook once this week. That's unheard of! We ate leftovers and sandwiches and the aforementioned restaurant meals.

In addition, I called out sick from my second job one night. I really hate calling out sick, but it was definitely the best thing to do, as the next day I felt 1000 times better. Still, it really frosts my cookies to lose out on those hours. I work there to make extra money, so it's pretty pointless to stay home. It's only about $35 before taxes, but still. Since I spent last weekend away, my next paycheck is going to be half what it normally is. Fortunately, November is a three paycheck month, so it won't affect the budget too much.

I'm really looking forward to this week getting back to normal. Once the World Series is over and I can sleep again, things will go much more smoothly. My husband isn't traveling, and the paycheck planets have aligned so we will get 4 paychecks this week. All in all, I'm expecting a very good finance week.

Friday, October 26, 2007


It's something we've known for a while. The car needed new tires. They were pretty bald, so much that even random coworkers of mine noticed how bad they were. And one (ok, two) were leaky. The car has a nifty little "low pressure" indicator light. Every 2-3 days, it would pop on, gleaming in my eyes, reminding me of our nagging problem. We put off buying tires as long as we could. We would fill the low tire every time we filled up the gas tank, we'd put air in the tires. We'd even put some air in at home if necessary. Ever pump up a car tire with a bicycle pump? I have.

We bought this car, a Mazda 3, in 2005. Since we drive all the time for work and my in-laws live about 7 hours away, our poor little 2 year old car has over 50,000 miles on it. We definitely needed new tires. Since it has to do with the car, my husband stepped up to the task.

After some research, he discovered that new tires would cost about $250. Each. Without installation. IF we found a good deal. The car has low-profile tires, which they should call high-cost tires. Then my husband came up with a brilliant idea.

A few years ago, he found one replacement tire on eBay when we ran over a nail. If he could find one, why not four? He put in a search for all the requirements and, a couple of weeks later, got an email for an auction of 4 "slightly used" tires. They had less than 5000 miles on them. The cost? $230 for the lot. When we received them, we did a thorough inspection and they were perfect, just as promised.

Using our trusty mechanic, Dave, the installation only cost us $32. Our total cost was less than full price for 2 tires. I love it when we're able to beat the system like this. It's like sticking my tongue out at all the people who expect me to throw my money away. Frugality pays off! Woohoo!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Transfer Complete!

I got an email today telling me that my balance transfer is complete! I checked the card's websites and it's true - the Amex is now at $2363.59 and the AT&T has $5100 at 0%. Although I know it's not really paid off, I am so excited to see the Amex drop like that. That card used to have 29.99% interest. Twenty nine point nine nine! Are you kidding me?? It currently has 16.99%, which is a big difference, but still awful. It's the highest interest rate we have. Getting rid of $5100 at 16.99% is going to save us some cash.

The interest-ing thing (sorry, I couldn't resist the bad pun) is that both cards have no minimum payment for November. I guess if you think about it, it makes sense. The Amex counts the transfer as a payment, so the minimum has been satisfied - and then some! The AT&T 0% card has already passed its billing cycle for the November payment. This is great, I can apply the money that would have gone to AT&T to the Amex instead and kick it fast. I can't wait to see it gone!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Transfer Limbo & Updates

Last Thursday I finally initiated the balance transfer from our highest interest card to the new 0% card. While the transaction hasn't shown up on either card's activity yet, the 0% card now has only $200 available credit remaining. At least this reminds me that I didn't imagine making the transfer. :)

Somewhere between traveling all weekend and staying up late watching the Red Sox win the ALCS, I got a nice little head cold. I have a bunch of posts half composed in my head that I promised will spill out into the computer soon. The expense check should be coming in this week, so that will go back to normal. The Christmas shopping is off to a nice start, and that budget is well in check. All in all, things are boringly normal. Not a bad thing to have no financial crises so far this week!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shopping Extravaganza

This weekend I am at my Aunt's house in NJ with my mother, sister, grandma and 2 aunts. Why? It's our Annual Christmas Shopping Extravaganza!

Every year we all get together and go to a group of outlets on the East Coast. We get to see everyone and buy Christmas presents, gab and laugh, eat and drink and be merry.

Group shopping can be dangerous. Peer pressure abounds and the attitude is very "oh, go ahead, buy it!" The trick is to prepare for the trip and stay within your budget. I made this beautiful, geeky Excel spreadsheet with all the people I was buying presents for and how much I was spending on them. You enter in the items you buy and their costs, and it calculates how much you have left to spend. Then I couldn't get it to download into my phone... so I played it by ear. This was the beginning of the shopping, so I knew that I wasn't going to overspend any of my budgets.

The BEST part of shopping with a group is the instant feedback and openness. If I saw something I wanted, my sister would buy it for me to give as a Christmas gift, and vice versa. I know that everything I bought today is something they will love. The satisfaction in that is better than opening a surprise on Christmas.

I love shopping, and rarely let myself do it, so today was especially great. We shopped til we dropped today (and we're exhausted!), got a good start on the holidays, and had fun at the same time. Group excursions get a big thumbs-up from me!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fudge-It (the Budget)

Recently, I have been fudging our budget. I "borrow" money from other categories so I stay under budget in all aspects. The most common instance of this is borrowing from my grocery budget.

When we get take-out or go out to eat in a restaurant, our system is to split that down the middle and take it out of our fun money, or pay with the cash fun money we have on us. We've been caught a few times without the cash to cover it, so we payed with the debit card. When I download the transaction into Quicken, I will sometimes put it under groceries instead of fun money, thus leaving us with more fun money for other expenditures.

We only get $100 fun money a month (each) and if we go out to eat, it uses quite a bit. The other night we went to a concert in Boston. Tickets were $52 total and dinner was $46. If I counted all of that as fun money, it's be $49 each! Almost half of the month's budget gone in one night!

Instead, I filed the $46 dinner tab under groceries. We had a little extra room in the grocery budget due to my husband being away on business. We'll still be under budget with the groceries, so our total money flowing out will be within budget, and our total money spent will be the same.

I feel kinda bad about fudging it, but at the same time, it helps keep me sane. I choose to sacrifice some nice dinners for a night out on the town, and that's OK. As long as I don't go crazy doing this, and I keep the total spent under the total budgeted, I'll keep on going.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Great Groceries

I usually like to do my grocery shopping on the weekend, so I can take my time and enjoy it (weird, I know). I don't get to do a lot of shopping, so groceries are pretty much it. This past weekend, however, things were a little crazy, so I didn't get to go until Monday nighthic.

At Stop & Shop, I was kicking butt and taking names. I made my list beforehand, including some great sales they had. This week they had chicken breasts for $1.79/lb, pork tenderloin for $1.99/lb and italian sausage for $1.99/lb. I bought a total of $27.97 on meat this week. I saved a total of $19.37 on meat this week. This is why I only buy the meat that is on sale. :)

The other thing that saved my grocery list is I didn't buy any deli meat. All our lunches this week have been leftovers. When I plan ahead like this, it really pays off. We spent $70.56 in groceries this week, which is below our budget 0f $75.00. We're going to end up low in the grocery budget for October (I hope), so I am planning on fudging a little of that in with out fun money (more on that in a later post). My stomach and my freezer are both full and happy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Welcome Paid Twice Readers!

I had a guest post on Frugal Adversity go live today at Paid Twice. If you haven't already, make sure to check her site out. She blogs about getting out of debt while raising her 2 kids and all the challenges that entails. PaidTwice really puts the personal in personal finance.

If you're coming from Paid Twice, welcome! Here are a few of my favorite articles to get you started:

Thanks for checking out my blog & to PaidTwice for letting me take hers over for the afternoon! If you like what you see, please consider signing up for my RSS feed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Better-Than-Free Lunch

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my business card in a fishbowl that boasted "Free Lunches!" hoping I would get lucky. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from Charles at Ameriprise, telling me my card had been drawn. I hadn't realized that the free lunch came with a consultation, but hey, I can endure 5 minutes of blab for some free eats. I booked the lunch for today.

My husband, 2 coworkers and I met at the restaurant at 1pm. It was held at a 4 star restaurant about 15 minutes from my house. We sat down, ordered drinks and our meals. Then Charles came in.

I wasn't really expecting too much. The first thing he did was ask what the #1 cause for house foreclosures is. I replied medical debt, which he said is correct - that and disability. (I haven't checked if this is accurate, so don't quote me.) Then he started talking about goals and how to ensure that they weren't inhibited before they could be met. He touched upon 401(k)'s, IRA's, 529b's etc, etc, etc. Then we filled out a questionnaire about our current finances (Are you saving for retirement? Do you know what age you want to retire?), paid for our food, and went on his merry way.

Nothing he said during our meeting was revolutionary, at least to me. I read a lot of personal finance books, and, while I'm no expert, feel as though I have a pretty decent handle on things. I know at this point in our lives, our focus is on debt payoff, and we're pretty much ignoring retirement, savings and investing until then. This is a temporary plan, which we will alter once all the credit card debt is gone. I think it's the right idea, but maybe a second opinion wouldn't be so bad.

So I'm considering setting up a meeting with Charles, if nothing more than to go over our current course of action and get his input. He did say that we could have a free consultation. I'm going back and forth with myself about it. Does anyone use a financail planner currently? Is it worthless to see one when you're still getting out of debt?

My husband was smarter than I was, though, and ordered a pizza for his free lunch - so we have plenty of leftovers for lunches.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Go Green to Save Green

Today is Blog Action day, where bloggers worldwide post about the environment to raise awareness about the environment. To participate, here are the ways I go green that also saves us money!

  • Use less water. We try to keep the showers short and run the dishwasher and washing machine at night. Saves on the water bill, too!
  • Compact Fluorescent Bulbs. Almost all our light bulbs are CFBs (except our soul-sucking bathroom vanity lights). This helps us save on the painful electric room.
  • Less driving. I try to combine trips all I can, considering I drive too much for work anyway.
  • Recycling. Especially in MA, where we pay a 5 cent deposit on items like soda and beer. We usually just put the recycling outside (since we have little soda & beer), when we have a bunch we take them to the store for our deposit back.
That's all I can think of right now. This is obviously something we need to work on. I'm sure none of these are revolutionary, but please share any other ways you use. That way we can improve as well!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pros and Cons of a Second Job

As I've mentioned before, I work a second job in a retail store. Some days I hate it, some days I only dislike it, some days I actually enjoy it. Since I love making pros and cons lists, I made one for my second job.

  • The pay is lousy. While I make above minimum wage, it still doesn't add up to that much at the end of the week.
  • There's temptation to buy. Ever want something really bad, but resist buying it so you can meet your financial goals? I walk by items I want every time I'm in the store.
  • Dealing with customers. Don't get me wrong, I love helping people pick out merchandise. Kind of like shopping without me actually spending money. But there are a few witchy customers that can really get to me.
  • Scheduling. If I need a day off, I have to ask for it 2 weeks in advance. Kills all spontaneity.
  • It takes up time. Not just a little time. I work at the second job 24 hours a week. I work 2 nights during the week, Saturdays and Sundays. All my housework, errands, and any social activities are planned around my hours at the store.
  • Employee discount. I get a neat 25% off everything in the store. I don’t buy a lot, but every now and then there are items I legitimately need (shower curtain liners, anyone?), so it’s nice to save some dough. Plus, about half of all gifts I’ve given this past year were from my store.
  • Access to the Deals. Every now and then, we mark some items WAY down. Whether it’s discontinued bedding or display glassware, we sell some things at unadvertised low prices. I’ve snagged replacement dishes for my sister and some sheets for my mom for a fraction of their actual cost. Not to mention I know what’s on sale before it’s on sale – even for Black Friday.
  • Friends. I’ve been working there for just over a year and have met a bunch of people. They help the time pass in the store and we socialize outside of work as well. Good people make everything better.
  • It keeps me busy. Not that I would sit around doing nothing otherwise, but working all the time has its advantages. I’m sure I would go out more and spend more money if I had the free time to do so. Working every day of the week naturally keeps that in check.
  • Pay down debt. This is the number one reason I have a second job. Even though the pay isn’t all that great, every little bit helps. The $650 I make working the second job in a month is $650 less on my credit card balance and $650 less that I am paying interest on. At the end of the day, it’s the paycheck that keeps me going.

At the end of the day, the pros still outweigh the cons. I'm pretty sure that once the credit card debt is gone, that will change. My number one reason for working a second job is to pay off the credit card debt, and I don't know if any other incentive will be able to overcome the pitfalls of the second job.