Thursday, August 30, 2007

Junk Mail

I went to our mailbox today and picked up our mail from the past two days. There were two credit card statements, my bank statement, a Netflix and seven credit card offers. Between two people. In two days.

This is preposterous! Can you imagine how many credit cards I could open if I applied for all of them? If the past two days were average, I would receive 910 offers in a year. Not counting Saturdays.

They all have a special promotion, of course. Zero percent until 2008! Pre-approved for $10,000 limit! Free balance transfers! You lose a little credibility, however, when there are two envelopes - one addressed to me, one to my husband - each claiming that I met a special qualification. You mean living at this address?

So I go through them, every day, sorting out the real mail from the junk, taking out the actual applications and shredding them, throwing out the inserts. Today I got a little fed up. I don't want them anymore! I found a website,, and removed my name from the list. They ask for your social security number, but I chose to leave that out.

Hopefully this makes a difference. I only put my name on the do not mail list, not my husband's name. The website states that it takes 5 days to process and then I should receive no more offers. I'll be counting how man I get and how many my husband gets to see how well this works, but I have high hopes. Aside from the annoyance, think of all the paper! And if you're easily tempted to open new accounts, this is a great way to remove the forbidden fruit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We get what we deserve

After a long day at work, I like to go home and relax, put my feet up, watch some TV. Maybe pop open a beer and order some take-out. I've worked hard all day so I deserve it.

Wait a second, what was that? I deserve it? Why, exactly, do I deserve it? Because I did what everybody else does and went to work to earn my living. It's not like I'm breaking rocks or anything - I work at a desk job. Sure, there are days where I work my butt off and I tend to go easy on myself those nights. But on the average day, I still have energy to do something useful once I get home, be it work on our finances or throw in a load of laundry (while maybe watching a little TV).

I used to have an attitude like that toward sending. I deserved a vacation because I haven't been away in a while. I deserved new sandals (in every color) because my old one were a little worn out. I deserved a new bikini because I was going on my honeymoon. I deserved a hundred useless items because I was getting married.

Did I actually deserve any of these things? Probably not. I wanted them. There's nothing wrong with wanting a new pair of shoes or tiny starfish to tie to your wedding invitations. But my sense of entitlement led me to spending money I didn't have. I allowed myself to operate under the illusion that, despite the fact this was going on a credit card, it was justifiable. This contributed quite a bit to the credit card debt we're now working to get rid of. Not everything was frivolous spending and a great chunk of the debt went to legitimate expenditures. But there's definitely some that came from a sense of entitlement.

To break this habit, I used a bit of budgeting. Every month my husband and I each get $100 to spend however we want. We take our fun money out of the ATM and use it as we please. Once it's gone, it's gone. So now I can buy anything I want, whether I deserve it or not - as long as I keep it under $100/month.

In the end, I think I deserve to be in debt and I deserve to learn as much as I can throughout the struggle out of debt. I deserve to appreciate the differences between wants and needs and plan for future expenditures in advance. I deserve to have to suffer a little and feel some pain for all the mistakes in the past. But most of all, I deserve to come out ahead and emerge from all of this stronger, smarter and wealthier than before - because I am trying so hard to fix it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cheap Date #4 - Purgatory

Recently, my husband and I took a drive to Purgatory Chasm. It's a state park comprised of a trail formed between two rock walls. It's a really unique hike with a lot of caves and cool places to climb.
I've found that outdoors physical activities tend to be the easiest way to go on a cheap date. This suits me just fine as it's killing two birds with one stone - working out and spending time together. Except "killing two birds" makes it sound like I don't want to do either of those things.

Hopefully, we'll get a chance to check out a few more hiking trails before it gets too cold.

Cheap Date Idea

I was browsing some other finance blogs and saw a reference to I've never heard of this before, so I checked it out.

This website sells gift certificates for about 40% of what they're worth. Are you kidding me? I can get a $25 gift certificate for $10? That's amazing!

All you have to do is plug in your zip code and up pops a list of restaurants in your area that are partners with the website. Then you pick out which one you want, purchase the gift certificate, print it out and enjoy a meal for cheap!

I can't wait to try this for my Cheap Date series. Although some gift certificates have minimum purchases, it's still a great deal.

Disclaimer: I've never tried this, but there are testimonials on their website, so I have every belief that it's all legit.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's Alive! My Dynamic Budget

In accordance with my new task list, I spent a couple of hours the other night revamping the budget. I haven't done this in a while, so it was overdue. As our life changes, our cash flow has to change as well. So I logged into Quicken and went over our income and expenses.

One of my favorite features of Quicken is the budget calculator. It allows you to categorize every expense and determine the average over the last year. By looking at the averages, I can see where we needed to tweak and where I need to spend better.

The big changes I made were:

  • increased my husband's income from his last raise a few months ago (I told you the budget was out of date)
  • increased our gas budget to $400/mo - previously $300
  • increased my pt job income to $630/mo as I plan to pick up another day each week
  • changed our car insurance to add the second car

After much back-and-forth, I decided to keep Netflix in the entertainment budget. We haven't been using it all that much recently, but my husband is traveling for 5 out of the next 6 weeks and I think I'm going to want some entertainment. Other than that, I made a few small tweaks and now it looks good to go!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Milestone - under $20K in "bad" debt!

I was revamping our budget tonight (more on that later) and decided to update all our accounts. We have recently dropped under $20,000 in "bad" debt! I am so excited. Our current total is $19,953.12. Not too far under $20K, but still.

Now I know this is still A LOT of debt to be in. Considering that in October 2006 we peaked at $38,440 in credit card debt, I am really really proud of us. We've come a long way in less than a year. It's very encouraging to know that despite some recent regressions, we're still making headway. I still plan on making one more payment in August as well.

Based on our current numbers and the new budget, we will be credit card debt free in March 2008. I am a little disappointed that we had to adjust our original goal of becoming debt free by the end of 2007. However, I know that in the long run 3 months will make little difference.

Removing Credit Card Fees - Small Roadblock

I made the phone call to the credit card to ask them if they would remove my late fee. My heart was pounding so hard, I was sure Larry the customer service rep could hear it through the phone. Why was I nervous? I was afraid he would say no, but on top of that, I was afraid that he would judge me for missing my payment.

This is probably because I am judging myself for missing the payment. "How did you let this happen?" I asked myself, time and again since I saw the charge there. I feel sick to my stomach and guilty. What a waste of $39. So despite my fear of Larry, I called and asked them to remove the late fee.

Larry: What can I do to provide you with excellent customer service today?

JvW: Well, Larry, I made a mistake. I made a late payment on my credit card. (pound pound) As this has been my only late payment in some time, I was hoping you could help me by removing the late fee.

Larry: OK, let me look into this for you.

It didn't work. But not because of Larry - he said there should be no problem removing it. The payment I made for August just hasn't shown up on their system yet, despite the fact that I made the payment on their website and it is pending on my bank account. This is pretty annoying. I was hoping to rip off the band-aid and get this over with. Now I have to wait until it posts on the credit card website and call back.

The good news is, my mistake won't change my interest rate. Larry said that they will only review and revise your interest rate if you have 2 late payments in a 12 month period, and this is my first in a looooong time. I am pretty happy about that, as this is my lowest interest rate (12.99%) and at the bottom of my debt snowball. I didn't want this to affect my whole debt payoff plan.

So while I don't get to check this off my to-do list, I feel better about it knowing there should be no issue. I know it's silly to be nervous to make phone calls like these, but the important part is to do it anyway, stand your ground, and get what you need. I am the only person who will stick up for me, so I had better do it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Two steps back

I made a mistake and forgot to pay one of the credit cards on time. It was in my excel debt snowball as paid, but not on the actual website. I feel like such a moron and I am pissed at myself.

I think as a whole, I have been paying less attention to our finances than usual. I know we have been going over our budget, especially for fun money. I have been ignoring it a little because, frankly, I am enjoying it. It's tough to deprive yourself of things you want over and over and over. I am resentful of the choices we made that got us into this mess to begin with. Morale is low here at the base camp.

We were very good about sticking to the budget for 8 months, then summer hit and we wanted to DO things. Despite the cheap dates we've been going on, we've still spent too much money already in August. And we plan on spending more money this weekend. AND (this is the worst part) we've used the credit card to pay for a little of it. Oh, the shame!

I need to buckle down and get back on track if I want to get this beast. This was like a small setback in the grand journey we're traveling on. My short-term task to fix this problem are:

  • call the credit card company and get them to remove the late fee I just incurred :(
  • revamp the budget
  • pick up another day at my part time job to bring in more income
  • look for other ways to make some money (eBay?) to resolve this quickly
  • organize our files so bills don't end up in a big pile
I'll be updating on my progress when I check them off. I give myself until Sept 1 to check these items off my list and get my act together.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cheap Date #3 - Life's a Beach

This date actually took place a few weeks ago. On the last Sunday in July, my husband and I decided to take a trip to the beach. It was hot and sticky and we wanted to go somewhere with decent surf. We chose East Matunuck State Beach in RI, about an hour away from our house. This beach, like many state beaches and parks, only charges for parking. At $14 a car (out of state) and with a picnic lunch, we could definitely come in under $20 for our date.

When we pulled up to the ticket booth, we were in for a shock! With happy circumstance, the day we chose to go was Governor's Bay Day in RI. Parking to all the state parks was free! I love that RI does this - it really promotes being outdoors and enjoying the beauty of the Ocean State.
This got me thinking. Many states offer days like this throughout the summer (google it), but unfortunately Massachusetts does not. They do have a yearly pass for $35/vehicle, and my library has free passes as well. I need to look into what parks that will work at and if it's only for certain days. But I of course love the idea of FREE dates!

My husband:

Look at that fog!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I don't want to be normal

The other night, I was driving from my full time job to my part time job and feeling particularly cranky. It was Friday, it had been a long week, and all I wanted to do was go. home. Not go to work for 4 1/2 more hours and get home at 11pm.

I called my husband and said as much. "I just want to be NORMAL!" I whined. "Normal people get to go home on Friday night and watch a movie or go out for dinner. Normal people don't go to work when they get out of work."

Then I heard what I was actually saying (complaining about). The common figure floating around is that the average American household has around $8000 in debt. Assuming an interest rate of 18% and paying minimum payments calculated at 2% of the balance, it would take 40 years and 2 months to pay off that credit card. The total interest paid would be $20,219.05.

I can't think of anything that I would buy for 3x what it's worth. That's what carrying a balance makes you do. I know that there are some iced coffees and cheeseburgers in my credit card debt that I have now paid for at least 3 times. Thinking about it makes me feel sick to my stomach. Thinking about it gives me motivation to go to my part time job and sell things on eBay and reconsider everything I buy. I am doing my penance for my crime.

If this is normal, I don't want to be normal. I want to be better.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I've been tagged!

I don't know of anyone who hasn't been tagged already, so if you're reading this and want to play, consider yourself tagged (and leave me a comment!)

Players list 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, players then tags 8 people by posting their names and makes sure they know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at the tagee’s blog.

1. I love coffee milk. This is a RI drink that is sort of like chocolate milk, only using coffee syrup. I am frequently astounded by how few people know of it.

2. I got married in the Caribbean. Totally worth all the hassle to make it legal.

3. My second toe is longer than my big toe. I can thus cross my toes.

4. My youngest kitty, Tango, likes to nibble my neck when I am asleep. Not the best way to wake up. I think he's either a vampire or believes he's in the backseat of a station wagon.

5. I played rugby for four years in college and know many crazy rugby drinking songs. I have also had to "shoot the boot" on multiple occasions.

6. I love to SCUBA dive, ski, hike, swim, & camp.

7. My last name is so long my children won't be able to fit it all on the SAT's.

8. I love to cook and bake and drive my husband crazy because I never follow a recipe exactly, but make my own changes along the way.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cheap Date #2 - Hanging with the Fishys

While that phrase brings to mind someone who can't hold their alcohol, it's one of my biggest challenges. I love trying to find cool, interesting things to do with my husband that don't cost a lot. Bonus points if they don't cost anything!

Inspired by this article, I have a goal of coming up with 20 dates for $20 or less. As it will be challenging enough, I am including this date I already posted as date #1. On a side note, I am not counting gas into my calculations. Everything else will be included.

Onto cheap date #2! This Saturday, we went to the New England Aquarium. Regular admission is $18.95/person. However, my library offers free passes to residents! (Many libraries offer passes to museums and parks; check yours!) All we had to pay was parking.

Unfortunately, this was our demise. We passed 2 garages for $14 and $15 all day parking, but were a little bit lost and parked in the closest garage, for $32. Yowza! I know, I know, this passes the $20 limit, but I still count this date because it can be done for less than $20. We just made the mistake so nobody else has to. Onto the pictures:

Los penguinos

Jelly, whoa

Sea Star and a white lobster

This turtle was HUGE: