Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Bye Bank Of America

Some may call it the "Golden Ticket" and others will call it stupidity, but I am happy and relieved to have dropped off my final payments to Bank of America. Now before you get all excited for me, all I did was transfer the balances to another card. The good news is I went from 27% to 3.99% which will save an incredible amount of money. Essentially, I will be paying less than $40 per month in finance charges compared to ever $300. The bad news is this is not my credit card that I transferred it to; it's my mothers and I have 23 months to pay it off.

I'm not worried about paying it off in time. The payments equal what I'm currently paying every month. Any follower of Dave Ramsey knows that you should never lend money to family unless you're prepared to gift it or accept that you won't see it again. I took over a month to accept my mother's offer because of my concern on how it would affect her credit rating and the fine print her bank would put into such an offer. To guarantee that my actions will to adversely affect my mom's good credit, I am giving her an extra payment up front to act as a cushion. I will also roll over the payments I've been making towards my LASIK surgery as soon as that's paid off in October.

It's Harvest Time!

I have been enjoying a fantastic bounty! As you may or may not know, I have been working with my mother on her garden and enjoying part of the bounty. This weekend I picked another 4 cups of raspberries which are set to become jam, lettuce, peppers, snow peas, and the first tomatoes of the season. Through a bit of swapping with the neighbor, I also have some wonderfully sweet yellow cherry tomatoes.

No reason to let excess go to waste. Now is a great time to pickle, freeze, and make preserves for later in the year. Check your local paper for recipes or the local extension office for classes. Better yet, spend some time with an older relative or friend to learn techniques, split the work load, and share to rewards. Do you have a bounty to share? Consider swapping with neighbors or co-workers. (I picked up a big zucchini for zucchini bread from a co-worker.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Goal Progress

After 6 deliveries in one day last week, I'm happy to report an extra $100 payment to one of my credit cards as well as an extra $100 payment for my LASIK. I realize I should have put all $200 towards the LASIK, but the balance on the credit card is so small it will be easy to snowball once its out of the way.

The "Free" Box Revolution

I've been noticing more and more "Free" Boxes out on curbs as I walk around my neighborhood. Its a relatively new phenomenon around here even though I know it has been commonplace in other areas of the US. People are taking advantage of this recession as an opportunity to purge excess. Garage sales take a lot of energy and work often yielding an extra $20-$50 (more if you have big ticket items or items in high demand), but at the end of the day you still have all of this stuff leftover that needs to go somewhere. "Free" boxes allow people with just a few items to get rid of things without a lot of effort. I'm amazed at some of the things I've seen on the curb including nice chairs, a new bag of batting, a guitar, even plants. Take advantage of these opportunities and take a peek. You never know what kind of treasure is waiting for you.

Do you already look? What is your favorite find?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goal Progress

I took back pop cans for the $.05 refund and earned a nifty $4.00. It may seem like a waste, but every bit helps! On a more positive note, I am set up for deliveries next Saturday. Wahoo!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Announcing My Newest Goal!

Dave Ramsey has coined a term the "Idiot Tax." Basically, the Idiot Tax is the true cost of an item after all of the interest you've paid is added into the original cost. One example is a$400 sweater that was originally on sale for $14. Another example is the $70 dinner that ends up being $568. All of this because many people do not pay off their credit cards every month.

While I don't follow Dave Ramsey's program and I disagree with him on some of the advice he provides to his audience, I do tune into his radio program in the evenings when I'm driving and you can't argue with the numbers. Families following his program are successfully getting out of debt and learning about fiscal responsibility.

So how does this all tie into announcing my newest goal? First, most articles you read on setting goals say that you are more likely to succeed if you let people know what your goals are. Telling people what you are working towards holds you accountable. If you let your support network know, they will even help you work towards those goals, cheering you on in victory or supporting you in getting back on the horse.

My personal Idiot Tax has not occurred yet... but the deadline is coming quickly. I had LASIK surgery done a little over a year ago. I signed up for my flexible spending medical savings account through work, but could not pay it all in one year. I was offered financing at 0% interest if I paid it within 18 months. After 18 months, all of the interest will be tacked onto the bill. Unfortunately, things always come up when your emergency fund isn't adequately funded. I have been making payments faithfully every month, but I'm coming up short by about $1,600. Essentially, I have to earn an extra $400 per month for the next four months in order to avoid $1,200 in interest. It's not as difficult to do as it sounds. During the summer I have a delivery job that brought in an extra $2,300 last year. My challenge is, thanks to the recession, this year is slower. I will be working on my creativity in order to meet the challenge, but I'm determined to do it. I'll be posting updates regularly and feel free to post any challenges you may be working on.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Field Trip to the Convenience Store

Anyone with any frugal sense knows know not to shop at a convenience store. However, there are some times when the convenience is worth the extra money. I was pleasantly surprised on two counts today although one of them was bitter sweet.

First, I have another confession. Occasionally I crave junk food, usually in the form of frozen pizza or chips. On my field trip, I discovered my secret treat to be on sale. My frozen pizza was $1, which is a rare price in the grocery store let alone the high priced convenience store. The lesson here is... always keep an eye out for bargains no matter where you are. There may be a diamond in the rough just waiting to be discovered.

My second surprise was to discover that the receipt coming out of the Debit/Credit card machine had a space for the clerk to initial that they checked ID. I've never seen that before and commented to the clerk with glee in my voice. Unfortunately, the clerk replied that most people don't actually follow those directions. She then tore off her receipt from mine and stuffed it into the till... without asking to check my ID. Bittersweet frustration.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cutting the Food Bill and Enjoying the Season's Bounty

For those who don't know, I live in an apartment with no deck or patio, which is a first for me. I've always had space to plant a couple of pots for fresh tomatoes, but I chose to give that up for the convenience of location. The first growing season I lived here I really missed the taste of home grown tomatoes. I got spoiled and just couldn't find the same interest in bland store bought tomatoes. The farmers' markets in my area are great, but I was looking for something a bit more economical and a way to satisfy my green thumb.

A little creativity, a bit of negotiation, and I'm set. I'm swapping weed pulling and gardening skills for produce and home cooked meals. My first victim, err gardening partner is mom. She has great vision, but volunteers with a lot of groups so her time is limited. So far I've been able to harvest some English peas that were so sweet I couldn't cook them. I split the pods and ate them right out of the shell. Next, I pulled some rhubarb that I'm freezing for crumbles later in the season. Last week, I picked raspberries and lettuce. Yum!

After visiting a friend to see her chickens and her raised beds, we were commiserating about all of the work a yard takes. Her environmentally conscious son is home from college and has kitchen duties, but while he and his friends visit the chickens, they're not particularly in love with weeding. My wheels started turning again and we agreed to swap produce and some homemade Carbonara for help taming her front beds. I think she's getting the short end of the stick.

Finally, last weekend I was having a girls weekend and again yard work came up as a topic of conversation. Cher is an IT guru and is raising two children so her time is stretched already without adding the chores on top. This time negotiations included Phillipino home cooking and hopefully some homemade egg rolls. I think I'm going to have to work harder in the yards just to work off these fantastic meals!

Do have some spare time to swap chores with a friend? Gardening, painting, computer work, start the conversation and see where you can take it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cost of Convenience

Anyone who's read this blog for awhile knows that I struggle from time to time with keeping my eye on the prize; to get out of debt. Occasionally, it's because I get frustrated, go out on a splurge, and do some serious damage. These are the easiest to see but its actually the convenience factor that does the most damage.

If you live on your own or even if you're cooking for two, it's difficult to keep up the enthusiasm for preparing meals from scratch (or even just preparing meals.) There are tons of new products coming out every year to make our lives "simpler," but do they really?

First, lets take a look at the cost break between some comfort foods.

Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce
From Scratch Conveniently Prepackaged Nuke It
$.69 - Can of tomato paste $2.00 (on sale) Jar of Marinara Sauce $2.50 Stouffer's
$.89 - Can of tomatoes $1.00 (on sale) Spaghetti Noodles ($5.00 for two)
$.25 - Basil, Oregano, Bay Leaf $3.00 TOTAL
$.10 - Clove of Garlic
$1.00 - (on sale) Spaghetti Noodles

The cost isn't that different between these two examples and I did choose to use sale prices for the prepared ingredients because honestly, I probably wouldn't buy it at any higher rate. You'll notice I also kept this to the bare minimum, no salad, bread, Parmesan, etc. I also didn't take into account that during the growing season I have access to free oregano and bay leaves in the yard (I can't get rid of them even when I try) and I grow tomatoes and garlic in the garden.

Mac and Cheese
From Scratch Conveniently Prepackaged Nuke It
$.25 - Margarine $3.00 - 2 boxes Annie's Mac and Cheese $2.50 Stouffer's
$.50 - Milk or Half n Half $.25 - Margarine ($5.00 for two)
$1.00 - Cheddar Cheese $.20 - Milk
$1.00 - Mozzarella $3.45 - TOTAL
$.05 - Flour
$1.00 - Elbow Noodles
$.05 - Homemade Breadcrumbs
$3.85 - TOTAL

This one is cheating a bit. I know I'll have leftovers from the scratch dish.

While the homemade always sounds more appetizing than the frozen dinner or even the "conveniently prepackaged," I have to argue for both sides. There are those nights that you get home late after a hard day and the last thing you want to do is cook. Be prepared for those nights just make sure its an exception to the rule rather than the norm. My great aunt taught me to always keep a box of Mac and Cheese in the cupboard just in case.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Did I Make A Mistake?

A month ago I took a good hard look at my credit cards. (Okay, it was actually the bills since I cut up the cards almost a year ago.) I realized that due to a couple of stupid mistakes over the holidays, I've been spending close to $300 a month on interest alone. Fed up I went into my credit union and inquired about options for a consolidation loan. The customer service person told me they don't do consolidation loans, but I could either apply for a new credit card at a low introductory rate of 3.99% or I could apply for an increase in my line of credit at 14%.

Honestly, I didn't think I would get approved because my debt to income ratio is high, but I thought "What the heck?" Its not going to be any worse than paying 26% on the credit card I have now and its cut up so I won't be tempted to use it. Amazingly enough, I was accepted for an amount that was almost enough to cover it.

When I got the card, I was still a bit unsure if I was making the right choice. After all, I've transferred balances before and I'm still struggling with debt. After much debate and a month later, I made the call. Sure enough, it couldn't be that easy. The woman I spoke with today said the interest would be 11%. I asked her about the introductory rate and she said it ended March 15th. Funny, that was about 5 days after I received it. I decided to do it anyway. After all, that is 15% less than what I am currently paying.

So, have I learned from my past? I hope so. To help guarantee my success I've arranged for automatic payments from my account to make sure I don't miss a pay date. I'm closing the other account as soon as its paid off.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mother's Day is One Week Away... Are You Prepared?

Ahhh... Mother's Day... it's just around the corner and time for a bit of planning. I've been a bit lax lately on putting a lot of thought into gifts. Call it frustration on my financial situation or
attempting to put as much towards my debt repayment as possible. Either way, I have been feeling really guilty about it.

There are certain holidays that I have mixed emotions about... Valentine's Day, Father's Day, and Mother's Day. This is primarily because I believe that we should be celebrating the people we love throughout the year. So with concerted effort, I am looking for a compromise to the greeting card and candy holidays and am looking for meaningful ways to let mom know how much she means to me without spending more than $5-$10, staying environmentally friendly, and ensuring my efforts are memorable rather than put into the next Goodwill donation bag.

I made a pledge some years ago that I will only give gifts that are usable. (No singing trout, Chia pets, or other last minute panic gifts.) Gift wrap must also be reusable or recycled. I work in an office that receives lots of gift baskets during the holidays and I'm known for grabbing seltzer and unwanted baskets for reuse.

So how do I meet my self imposed guidelines and feel good about the gift I give? Here are some ideas:
  • While reading through some blogs I stumbled upon this idea, (as soon as I find it again, I promise to give the well deserved credit) take a number of slips of paper and write down things you are grateful to mom for, special memories, or favorite mom sayings. Fold them up and put them in an attractive container. She will enjoy reading them over and over and the cost is next to nothing.
  • Go to the local farmers' market to pick up seasonal flowers. Put them in a mason jar or vase picked up at Goodwill for a $1 and tie a ribbon on it. The money paid helps support the local economy and is much more reasonable than the traditional $50 bouquet from a florist.
  • Create a coupon book for mom with gifts of your time. Mow the lawn, weed the garden, a home cooked meal that she doesn't have to cook, hugs, etc. anything goes and you are giving her time spent together as well.
  • Create a CD of her favorite songs from her collection, yours, or even the library's.
  • Scan the newspaper or web for free events in your area and take her. Bump it up a notch and pack a picnic lunch.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Falling Off The Wagon

In my journey to financial independence, I've struggled, stumbled, rededicated myself, and persevered. Like kicking addictions, financial health is all about identifying destructive behavior and building new habits. Unfortunately, like kicking addictions there are stumbling blocks. Do you run for your favorite department store to combat depression? Pick up the last round of drinks because it's "the thing to do?" Buy the expensive gift to impress the giftee? Or, lend that friend or family member your savings because you feel responsible for them? These are all unhealthy habits that keep us in debt, but forgetting to budget for basics like food, gas, or that emergency savings. I think, "If I can just pay off that bill quicker, I'll be free." What really happens is that emergency comes up or there are no groceries left for that last day before payday.
So how do we change these habits? First, identify the triggers. Next, make baby steps until the changes become what feels normal. Then, build in a cushion for those slips. Make sure you also build in rewards along the way so you don't feel deprived and "binge." Most importantly, don't beat yourself up. Acknowledge the set back and get back on track.