Saturday, February 28, 2009

Different Debt Snowball Plans - What Works For You?

So, I read a post last week that kind of peaked my interest. It was "Recession Proof Your Debt Snowball" by Frugal Dad. His twist on the classic Pay Off Your Debts Snowball plan is to pay minimum payments on his credit cards and put the maximum amount in his emergency fund. When he has enough (over his emergency fund base amount) he writes one whole check and pays off the balance in full. I like the idea, I really like the idea - but I am really glad I didn't read it 9 months ago.

I started this whole journey of choosing to get an extra $900 over my regular income per month to avoid foreclosure back in June. If I had seen his post then, I would have been tempted to do the same thing, except I see a few problems I personally might have run into with his plan. The first would have been that I might have dipped into that cash on months I didn't make my goal. I realize that that is part of his point - that if you do have an emergency, you have the cash to cover it, but let's just say my qualification of what an emergency is has changed a lot in 9 months. As it is now, that credit card debt (which was accumulated through my divorce) is under $450.00. (yay!!) I am paying a ton on it in order to get it wiped out so I can use that money towards my other monthly goals instead. I don't know if I would have done nearly so well at eliminating the debt this quickly had I used his plan.

Another problem would have been a concern that one of his commentors had - I might have had a really hard time writing that check even once I hit my goal. Having an emergency fund is so wonderful for my peace of mind, being as my situation changes from month to month based on how much money I can bring in, I might have been tempted to leave it there and not pay off the debt. Not the smartest move perhaps, but one I could see myself doing.

So, I won't be using his plan to pay off my debt. That one card is the only consumer debt I have and my car loan will be paid off about the same time. So once those two things are out of the way, the only debt I will have is my big fat mortgages. However, I can see one or two applications for his plan...

Mainly, I think this would be a fabulous way for me to save up for things I want. I have a couple big home improvement projects that have to happen at home and at the cabin in the woods. I wish I could ignore them because with my financial state, that is really not where I want to put my money, but it is the kind of thing that if I don't fix it soon it is just going to get worse and worse and more and more expensive. If it is possible for me to do them this year, this would be a great way to pay for them without taking on too much debt. I don't know if I can, but stocking away money in the emergency fund is a good thing to do in any case. Even if this doesn't work out for me now, it is certainly something to consider for the future.

You know, I really can't wait for my car and credit card to be paid off. That will be such a relief. Both of those items will drastically effect the $900 number. Although... I still have some big goals. So, even if I could pay my mortgages without working hard to bring in extra income and being frugal on my spending, I don't know that I want to just take the pressure off and coast. Yes, having the weight off my mind will be nice, but until all my goals are met, I am going to keep on pushing. I've got too many things I want to do - too many goals to hit. Just making (or saving) $900 a month won't fund my emergency fund, get the house painted, or get me back in school. Nope, now that I know it can be done, I'm keeping that high target set.

Photo by: wajakemek

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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Start of My No Spending Challenge

My No Spending Challenge starts Sunday, but I am already thinking about it. Today I got a coupon in my email box for $5 off a $25 purchase at Rite Aid. That's not a bad deal if I needed anything from there, but I don't (and it can't be used on prescriptions) so I just deleted it. Even though the challenge doesn't officially start until March, I am trying to cut back on spending now. Today I have two purchases I have to make, I have to pick up a prescription and get gas for my vehicle. Tonight I am driving across the state to spend time with some folks over there. That actually should work out well since other than a meal or two out (which I already said wouldn't be included in the No Spending Challenge when it was with other people) I shouldn't need to buy anything. Weekends can be hard for me when I am at home since I have a tendency to work on home improvement projects - which always end up requiring a trip or two to Lowe's. So, this should be a good start to the month.

The trip should take about two and a half hours. Normally I pick up a bottle of juice or ice tea for the road at the gas station, but this time I have my big travel/sports container that I am going to fill up with water before I leave the office. Not only will it be cheaper, but also better for my waistline, though it may inspire an extra stop at the rest stop! If so, I will have to quick walk past the vending machines - I am a sucker for "road food."

Ever notice how once you decide you can't have something, it is the only thing you want?

Here I am at work and I have a gorgeous lunch of a leftover pork chop. beans with garlic and balsamic and homemade applesauce and all I keep craving is going out for fast food. I DON'T EVEN LIKE FAST FOOD!! It isn't fast, it is barely food and it is never cheap! (as opposed to my gorgeous lunch which cost under $3.00 to prepare.) Yet, here I am thinking about how tasty a fillet-o-fish would be right now. I have one or two a year and I swear I am craving one now because I am determined not to buy anything like that.

Don'tcha love how the brain works?

The good news is that I talked to the company accountant about changing my withholding for city taxes. I let him know that I really do live in the city, so he is going to get right on it. He says it has probably been that way for awhile, well over a year. I am guessing I didn't catch it last year because my ex and I were still filing joint taxes at that point and the refund hid the problem. I don't know. I got a copy of the taxes that were filed, but I'll be honest, I didn't go through them as thoroughly as I should have. Plus, I didn't meet with the tax accountant at that point, so if he did mention it to my ex, I didn't hear about it. Ah well, it is water under the bridge as they say. Nothing to do now but get it fixed. It should be solved for the next check which means I will only have two months of improper withholding.

I hope everyone has a pleasant weekend!

I love this photo by: eskimo_jo

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The No Spending Challenge - Challenged!

Ha!! My grand plan of my No Spending Challenge was already threatened by my own forgetfulness. Seriously, how does this happen?

One of my best friends, (who also happens read this blog,) sent me an email yesterday that a coworker of hers was selling Girl Scout cookies and while she really wanted to buy them to support the cause, she didn't want them in her house. So, she asked, could she buy me a box? It was such a sweet offer! ...and then I thought, "Hey, I can afford $4.00 or whatever they are now, she can just order them and I will pay for them myself." Moments later it suddenly hit me... they would be due in March - my No Spending month! Hahahahahaaaaa! Tempted to spend money and it is still only February! (I shook her down for some Thin Mints.)

However, with that somewhat rocky start, I bounced back with how I am spending my morning today. My sister called me earlier in the week and said she wanted some "sister time." She and I have both been so busy lately it has been forever since we have seen each other! We were tossing around ideas on when we could get together, maybe lunch or dinner, when I suggested something a little different...

Morning coffee at my house! I don't work until 10:00 a.m. and she has a fairly flexible schedule, so we are getting together in a bit here at my house. My place is conveniently not only located near her place of work, it also happens to be where I wake up in the morning, so the location will be perfect. I happen to have coffee beans, creamer, sugar, mugs and a French Press, so no money will be spent.

I don't plan on including dining out with friends in my No Spending challenge, but finding less expensive ways to spend time with the folks I love is always a good thing. After all, it isn't about the restaurant, it about catching up and building relationships.

I can't wait until she gets here!

Photo by: Bright_Star

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Visit with the Tax Accountant

First off, a big thank you to Frugal Chick, who mentioned my March No Spending Challenge on her blog. Thanks Frugal Chick!

Now, onto M is for Money who has a really thought provoking post about whether us ladies would be willing to buy our own engagement rings. Her beau is high on many wonderful qualities, but money making isn't on the top of the list. She makes more than he and could buy her own "Ring of Her Dreams," but she wonders if that doesn't lose some of the romance. What do you think? Click over, check out her blog and leave a comment, won't you?

As for myself, I just got back from the accountant. It looks like a sizable refund is in the works. On one hand this is good news since hey, I need money, but on the other I hate giving the government a free loan. If it were up to me I'd get a small return (since I don't want to pay either) but the rest of it would be in my paycheck each month, not in Uncle Sam's pocket! M is for Money has a fabulous post called Adjust Your Tax Withholding on just this subject and she explains it perfectly. I couldn't agree with her more.

So, I will have to change my tax withholding soon. I'm going to wait for the final numbers from the accountant before I do though. This was just a rough estimate and I have seen rough estimates from him change fairly dramatically once all the paperwork is completed. I'll wait until then to give you the exact numbers. Unfortunately I do owe quite a bit on my city income tax. Apparently at sometime my office decided I wasn't a resident of the city in which I live?? We did just change accountants not all that long ago, so it might have been something to do with that, I don't know. The accountant didn't seem to think it was that unusual, but did recommend I get that fixed ASAP. I'll take care of it tomorrow.

However, if his numbers are right and you add in the federal + the state - the city - the accountant fee, it still should = a bit of a windfall. So what I am I going to do with it?

Not a darn thing.

In fact, I am not even going to think about it. It will come when it comes, and in whatever amount it ends up being. I am just happy that it will cover the costs of filing and what I owe to the city. Once it gets here I am going to put the whole thing in my emergency savings account. My goal for this year is to have one month's worth of emergency savings stocked away. This could help me meet my goal early!

I know, I know, I am a bad consumer. I am not out helping the economy - first I choose to take a month off of spending, then I decide my tax refund will go to savings. Somehow I don't think I'll be the only one though. Are you getting a refund? What are you planning on doing with it?

Note: My No Spending Challenge starts in just two days!

Photo by: Romanlily

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The Ups and Downs in My Mailbox

Quick note: Moolanomy has a really nice post on How To Deal With a Job Loss. I thought I would mention it since I know a number of people are dealing with this currently, or like the author, think they might be dealing with it soon. If you have a second, go check it out.

In other news, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away*

I wrote earlier this week that my natural gas bill went down. Of course I barely get over being giddy about that then I get my water bill statement - which went up. For some reason my water bill keeps climbing and I don't know why. I don't have any leaks or anything else that would cause the problem. Perhaps my tenant has been taking a lot of hot baths?? I've decided to see if I can start bringing it back down with the old "brick in the tank" trick. Although, rather than using a brick I have heard good things about filling a 20 oz bottle with water and using that. This will decrease the amount of water needed per flush. Simple Dollar has a nice article on conserving water, if you want to read more.

I did get some good news though in my mailbox...

I mentioned awhile ago that it looked like my property taxes were going up. The good news is that I just got the notice that property taxes are actually going down on my little cabin in the woods. Hooray! Of course, the difference isn't even close, but what can you do? The assessed value of my home went up by approximately $22,000 - my cabin went down by about $1,500. Somehow I don't think those will even out, do you?

Today I am meeting with the tax accountant at 2:00. I am actually looking forward to this meeting. I am hoping he can give me some advice for this year and help me make sure I have everything set up properly. I did all my own taxes before I was married, but my taxes were far easier then. I guess I am always excited to learn something new... even if it is about taxes! I am hoping he might be able to tell me how the stimulus package might effect me and anything else that I need to be doing as a homeowner/landlord. Naturally, anything I learn I will be happy to pass on.

Photo by: lumiereff

* Quote from Tom Waits "Step Right Up" a song for the times if there ever was one.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Saving Not Spending - No Spending Challenge for March

As it is getting towards the end of February, I'm starting to look what happened during the month and also starting to looking ahead at next month. As I mentioned before, so far March looks like it is going to be a tight month for me. There is a whole bunch of part time work available, but unfortunately, I won't be able to do it. Instead I have a huge volunteer commitment for this month. I can't go into the details here, but suffice it to say I am going to be a very busy volunteering gal. None of the work I am doing is paid, however, it will be a whole lot of fun. It is working for a nonprofit that I love, doing work that I am really excited about. In fact, the only downside at all is that it will take up most of my evenings next month - evenings that I could be working at another job.

I've had a very successful February, so I have some surplus and that will help. However, I have also gone over budget in some areas and the surplus just won't be enough, plus I can't help but notice that my Amazon, Half and eBay sales are really down. So, that means I need to come up with some other means of making making my goals. With that in mind, I've decided to try something new for March....

I'm going to see how little I can spend. In fact, I am going to give myself a "No Spending" challenge.

Even though I try to save money, I still have a tendency to occasionally fall prey to impulse purchases. It happened last week. I was out shopping for a couple of needed items, and while I was there I picked a couple of things up at the store that were totally on impulse. By the time I was home I was already regretting it. I am happy to say that I was motivated enough to take everything back and return it. You know, that is a big change for me - back in the old "extra cash" days, I would never return an impulse purchase even if it wasn't something I needed. I would just buck up and deal with it and figure out how to pay for it and my "punishment" would be keeping whatever I bought. That's pretty lousy thinking!! This week I didn't particularly enjoy bringing what I bought back, but I felt a lot better once I had done it.

I also got some inspiration this week for a No Spending Challenge from some bloggers that I read. Budgets Are Sexy mentioned that he gave up spending for Lent last year and Three Rooms and a Path is working hard on cutting down on her dining out spending. So, what I am going to do is make March my month for not buying anything accept necessities.

In order to make this work, I need to define necessities:

No Extra Grocery Shopping

I am going to try to completely eat out of my own freezer and cupboards this month. I have lots of grains and beans in the pantry and have some meat in the freezer, so I should be fine. If I run out of something, I will put it on a list and see if it is something I must have this month to in order to make other meals. The only example I can think of off the top of my head would be something like olive oil. (Fortunately I am stocked up on it.)

No Impulse Purchases

Mrs Micah has had a number of good posts about no spending days lately, but one that particularly caught my eye was about making a list of things you want. She recommends creating a list of anything that catches your eye or that you want, rather than just picking it up on an unplanned purchase. Then, at the end of the month, you can see how your budget is and make the decision if it is really something you need. I like that idea a lot. For March I am going to make a commitment to review each purchase and see if it is something I need right now or if it can wait until April... or longer. I have a little notebook I keep in my purse, so I am going to jot things down there to wait until the end of the month.

Minimum of Shopping

Honestly, I don't feel like I spend a lot of extra money on "things." I haven't bought clothes in forever, no music, no DVDs, no home decor. Most of what I buy (when I do go over my budget) is in the categories of home repair and groceries. When I buy impulse items, it is usually one of these two, and I do sometimes splurge on makeup (though I always get it on sale) and other body care products. When this happens it isn't because I am shopping online - it is when I am in the store, so, March is going to be a great month for me to take this challenge - especially since I am going to be too dang busy to shop!

The Exceptions

There are are a couple of exceptions to the rule. I do have a few things I do need to purchase, one being shampoo. But I have a coupon for Ulta that starts March 1 and a gift certificate, so that won't be too bad. I also have a couple of small gifts to buy. Again though, those will be planned purchases and I can use all my mad frugal shopping skills to get good deals on them. I am also not going to include in my No Spending Challenge my dining out budget when it comes to friends. My idea here is not to alienate myself from my friends for a month, just to watch and monitor my daily spending. I will continue to try to not use my dining out budget for solo dining, since making meals at home is such a better deal. There are other obvious exceptions - gas for the car, for example.

My purpose in this challenge is just to see how often I am tempted by impulse purchases. It is also to develop some skills for dealing with those "must have" feelings. In order to keep myself in line I will add a line at the bottom of each post about my spending. I won't make whole posts about it, but I will track it here in my blog.

Wish me luck!

Cartoon by: Austin Kleon

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Having a Roommate for Extra Income

I am kind of surprised I don't get asked more often why I don't have roommates. Here I am living in this big old house and needing to get quite a bit of cash each month; even I have to admit that roommates seem like the logical answer. Yet for me, this is pretty low on my list of ways to earn money, and I haven't even had horrible experiences like Kristy from Master Your Card. Check out her post, A Story of Sucky Roommates. (Warning: you may never want roommates again!)

I'm not actually completely against the idea. If I could find the right combination of right person and monthly rent, I would do it. There have been a few friends I have considered as roommates and I have even looked at the CraigsList postings of people who just need a room for a month or two. A lot of these are folks in between housing - college students waiting for dorms or people whose leases have expired and their new place isn't ready yet. I figure with the short term leases, if it didn't work out, the commitment wouldn't be too long.

If you are the kind of person who likes other people and are willing to take a bit of a risk, having roommates could be a good option. There are several other non-financial advantages as well...

I have talked to friends who like roommates for safety. They like living with someone because it means the house is usually occupied if something should happen. I can understand that - my old house certainly creaks and groans on occasion! The other reason is the social aspect. Many people enjoy hanging out with other folks. I, on the other hand, have admitted that I am a bit of a hermit who likes her space - so much so that I have found alternate ways of paying the bills.

I think it just all depends on the situation. Like being a landlord there are good tenants and bad, and no matter what, it requires work. Even with the best roommate in the world there should be negotiation and an understanding of house rules so everyone gets along. It may not be physical labor, but it does require effort to make it all work.

What about you? How have your roommate experiences been?

Hilarious photo by: Ratterrell

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Looking Ahead at the Future

My friend Catie sent me the following poem. Seems pretty suited to most of the folks I know, especially those dealing with finance issues. I thought you might enjoy it as well.

- by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.
A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs--
all this resinous, unretractable earth.

I've been thinking a bit about what comes next... what happens when my financial situation improves and I don't need to get $900 a month. Will I stop being frugal? What kinds of things will I do differently?

To be honest, I don't know that there is that much that I would do differently. I think I will still cut to tops off my eye cream tubes to get the last drop, I will pop off the brush holders of my lip gloss (the way my sister taught me) to get the last bits of color. I will still try to check at multiple websites before I buy and continue to try to reign in on impulse shopping. I will use coupons, conserve utilities and plan a menu before I grocery shop. I will continue not to use my credit cards and I will keep building up my emergency fund. I will keep my part time jobs and keep selling things online.

So, what will be different? Well, I think I will sleep easier knowing that don't have to hustle every single day just to get by. I am going to head back to school and I might take some classes just because I will enjoy them. I'd like to travel a little and spend some money on home improvement projects. In a comment on my post about When DIY makes the Most Cents, Kristy from Master Your Card said, "...Ultimately I'm going to take the stance that I want to turn my money into time - a concept that I've picked up from Randy Pausch. I want more free time to enjoy the things in life I love doing, so I'm going to pay someone else to do the stuff I don't want to do, but know needs to be done anyway..." I think she has a great point. When all my financial goals are more settled, I will look forward to spending more money on improving my life - rather than just day to day "getting by."

Photo by: Scalespeeder

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Decreasing My Natural Gas Bills Monthly

Good news! My natural gas bill just went down. YAY!!

When I moved into the house in June, one of the first things I had to do was get all of the utilities put into my name. My ex and I historically had used the budget plan for heat and because I'm living in a 200+ year old house in Michigan winters, I did the same. When I switched the heat over from his name to mine, I was disappointed to find that the monthly budgeted amount went up by quite a bit.* The customer service person I was speaking with said that natural gas prices were on the rise. With my service plan warranty, my monthly gas bill has been $146.95, which was about $15 - $20 more than what my ex was paying.

Apparently the gas company just did a 6 month correction. My new bill is $109.95. I now have $37.00 less to pay each month, which is another $37.00 closer to my $900 a month goal! Interestingly, this does not take into account the fact that I just had my furnace repaired and it is running far more efficiently. It is entirely possible that in six months I might see another correction for the better. It is funny, what happens when you become frugal - your gas bill goes down and you end up doing a little happy dance in your kitchen!

I have had some other thoughts on the budget plan and how to modify those monthly heating costs...

Part of that monthly cost is a service call warranty plan that is $12.95 a month. I have considered dropping the warranty plan, but I haven't because I am a landlord. I can't afford to have my heat out when I have a tenant. It did certainly came in handy recently, but I have to say, I really do hate warranty plans. I would prefer instead to have enough money in my emergency funds to cover it should there be a problem. Unfortunately, my emergency fund just isn't there yet, and frankly, it is still needed for other emergencies... like not making my $900 a month goal. Once I get it further built up and have enough stocked away, I am definitely doing away with the warranty!

I also have mixed feelings about using the budget plan. On one hand, I love the simplicity of it. Each month my budget is exactly the same - I know in advance how much that bill will be. Without it, I would easily have $300+ bills in the winter months. This way I can set my payments up with my automatic bill pay and I never have to worry about it - they just take care of themselves.

The downside though is that I am spending a lot more on heat in the summer than I should - essentially I am paying into an account, and they are the ones getting the interest! If I could, I would be more inclined to pay the same amount each month into my own account and pay the bills out of that, so I am the one getting the interest. The problem is that I don't know what to predict for heating costs yet. I don't have much in the way of historical data at this point, nor do I know what gas prices will be in the future. Perhaps once I have lived a full year or two in the house I will get a better feel for it.

I also have as one of my goals this year to winterize my home. Each month I am trying to do a couple of projects that will help with that - even in the summer. I hope that will also help on that all important bottom line as well. I keep the heat at 69 degrees in the morning between 6:30 and 9:00 a.m.. After that, it goes to 65 degrees until 5:00 p.m. when it warms up again to 69. At 11:15 it goes to 62 degrees. Personally, I would keep it a lot cooler if it were up to me, but again, because my furnace also heats the one bedroom apartment, I try to keep it at a comfortable temperature for her.

What about you? What do you do to keep your heating bills down? Where do you set your thermostat?

*We had attempted to sell the house from January to June. He had made a spreadsheet of his utility bills for the Realtor and I had a copy. At the time I was determined to keep my costs low, so I was disappointed that my bills would be higher right off the bat.

Photo by: Maroon Michelle

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Buying a Carbon Monoxide Detector For Your Home

I mentioned recently that I had some work done on my furnace. While he was there, the service technician and I talked a bit about my unit - I wanted to get his opinion on its estimated lifespan. I don't know how old the furnace is - the house was built in 1847 and I bought the house about 5 years ago, so it is somewhere in between there. It doesn't look ancient but the technician told me that the company that made it was bought by another company and the unit is now obsolete. In fact, repairmen have taken to writing where you can get parts for it on the outside of my furnace in Sharpie.

Scott, my repairman, said that while my furnace is a pain to work on, in his opinion, as long as it is still running, there is no need to replace it. However, he did have one suggestion for me - he recommended that I get a couple carbon monoxide detectors. Scott told me that furnaces are fairly easy to repair and in most cases, unless the parts are no longer available, they can be fixed. However, there is one problem that will shut the furnace down and require immediate replacement: a problem with the heat exchange, because that is when you can get carbon monoxide gas leaks! He strongly recommended that I get a carbon monoxide detector for the basement and one for near the bedroom. Scott said he recommends them for everyone, but since I do have an older unit, I definitely should have them.

After thinking about it for a day, I decided he was right, so, I put on my frugal shopper hat. I am rather impressed with how I was able to leverage this purchase and get a really good deal:

First I did some reading up on the different types of units. This site had this to say:

You can choose a model that is wired to your home's electrical system, a model which plugs into a standard electrical outlet, or a battery-operated model. Battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors continue to protect even in the event of a power outage. Hardwired AC models, although more costly and difficult to install, reduce the expense of battery replacement but do not offer protection during power outages. Hardwired AC models with battery back-up offer double protection.
Then I went and looked at some different kinds of dectectors. I decided to go with a battery operated unit as (by my request) my mother bought me a very nice rechargeable battery set for Christmas. I figure that way I don't have the electrical expense and it will work through a power outage. Scott mentioned to me that current detectors have about a seven year lifespan, so it is a good idea to jot the date you install it on the back in Sharpie. (Dontcha love Sharpie?)

Then I did some perusal on different brands, makes and models. Once I settled on one that had the right combination of features and price, I then went hunting for deals. I found that a local hardware store carries them on their website, so then I went to ebates and to see what deals I could get there. It turned out that ebates offered quite a bit more, so I shopped through their site. After adding the detectors to my shopping cart, I then stopped over to where I picked up a coupon code for free shipping if I had it sent to one of their stores. It also just so happens, that I have a frequent shopper card to this store sooooo... I used that too! Heh, the only way it would have been better was if they had been on sale too! As it is, I'll be milking this purchase out for all it is worth!

If you don't have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, here are some good articles I found on the subject:

Iowa State University - What You Need to Know About the Leading Cause of Poisoning Deaths in America

InspectAPedia - A Guide to Furnace Heat Exchanger Leaks - Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Indoor Health Advisor (also where the graphics came from) - Carbon Monoxide, The Silent Killer

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Changing My Last Name on Accounts After My Divorce

I'm going to set another goal for 2009 - to change all my legal documents, credit cards and other various accounts back to my maiden name. When I was married I took on my husband's last name. Quite a few of my accounts are in that name. One of my goals is to start going through everything I have and making sure the proper last name is on it.

This isn't a move to be vindictive nor am I particularly worried about security issues with my ex, it is simply a matter of getting my financial house in order. When I was first divorced I didn't mind what name I was called or how I was listed on things. It still doesn't bother me, but it is a constant reminder to get off my duff and make sure everything is nice and legal. Should something happen to me or there be an emergency, I don't want people having to deal with the fact that I have two names.

I have a very simple plan, as each statement, bill or other notification from an account comes in, I am going to send them a letter informing them of the name change. Click "Read More" to see my sample letter:

Feb 20, 2009

Regarding Account Number: XXXXX

To Whom it May Concern:

Good afternoon. On June 5th, 2008 I was divorced. I have reinstated my maiden name. Please change the name on this account from: Dawn XXXXX to Dawn XXXX.

Enclosed is a copy of the divorce paperwork, showing the changing of the name on page 4.

Please make the required change on the account. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Thank you,


It's simple, to the point and seems to work. I have already sent this in with a copy of my mortgage paperwork and a copy of the divorce papers and they sent me a letter that it is taken care of. I noticed on my last statement that correction had been made.

I think everyone handles divorce differently. Some people might rush out and change their name back the minute the paperwork comes through. For me, I had too much going on at first to deal with it. But, I think I am hitting that place where I feel more like myself again, I feel like a newer, stronger, more confident, slightly worn and damaged but all the better for it version of myself. It's time to match the model name with the new make.

Fabulous photo and artwork of Inigo Montoya by: Rakka

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When DIY Makes the Most Cents

Wednesday I wrote about when and why I occasionally hire a professional. Of course, just as there are really good reasons for me to hire someone to do something for me, there are also some really good reasons why I like to do some things myself. There is the obvious financial advantage, but there are other things as well. One of those reasons is the relationship you develop with the object. This is something I have been thinking about a lot, so let me see if I can explain it better...

When you decide to repair an object yourself you develop a relationship and a connection with it that is different than if you hire someone else to do it. You get to know it better - how it works, how it was put together, what it is made of. For example, back when money wasn't really an issue for me, I would regularly take my car in to the local car wash. As money became tight, one of the first things I did was start washing my car myself. Its a small change, but it changed the relationship I had with the car. Suddenly I saw my car in ways I hadn't before, Usually I just saw the driver's side door, now I was looking at the car close up. I saw every scratch, the tiny ding in the passenger side door, the condition of my tires. It made a difference in how I saw my car.

Another example is my house. When my ex husband and I were together he decided to hire a house cleaner so that he and I could spend more time together. I already felt a disassociation from this house anyway, (it never felt like "home" to me then,) and I think this actually worsened the problem. I recently saw a play where one of the characters talked about how she can't understand why people hire house cleaners. She says something along the lines of (and I am very loosely paraphrasing here,) "When you give up the right to clean your own house you don't know how long it takes for dust to accumulate under the bed." I still don't know how long it takes for the dust to accumulate under my bed, but I get the point. Now that I live in the house alone and certainly can't afford to pay anyone to clean my house, I do a lot of the work and repairs myself. Because of that, I see things I never saw before. I notice details in the house I never saw, some good, some bad, but I feel I "know" it better than I ever did. Now I don't feel as much like I am an actor in a set - the house feels like it actually belongs to me. I'm not saying that (if you can afford it,) having someone clean your house is a bad idea - not at all, but I think that if you unattached to the property, this can make that feeling even stronger. I certainly saw that in myself.

There is another reason to Do It Yourself, and that is pride of accomplishment and a gaining of knowledge. Let me tell you, I now know more about toilets then I ever knew before...

When my tenant's toilet was having problems, I decided to do the repair work myself. I bought a book and had the directions from the kit and went to work. It was hard, from the standpoint that I really didn't know what I was doing, but eventually (with one helpline call to a friend) I persevered. When I was done, I felt really good about it - I was proud of my accomplishment. Since then I have had to work on 4, count them 4, toilets. I'll tell you, I now pretty much know how one is put together! When the bolts that held the tank on the stool rusted out on my cottage toilet I knew exactly what parts I needed and how to install them. It was great!

Recently my mother gave me a beautiful olive green jacket that no longer fit her. The only problem with it was that the buttons were a garish screaming yellow faux gold. I don't know how to describe this color except to say that the gold of a diet caffeine free Coke can looks more realistic. While I've admitted I can't sew, I can put on a button, so I went to the local fabric store where they were having a 40% off buttons sale and I found some buttons that were very similar in style but a much more subdued mellower coppery bronze color, and you know what? Not only do I like the jacket better now because I prefer the new buttons, but I like the jacket even more because I worked on it myself.

I wonder now that everyone is working hard to save their shekels and find ways to pinch pennies if there will be another rush towards DIY. What do you think? What are things you like to do yourself that others hire others to do?

Photo by: Fenton and Family

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mid Month Miscellany

I have a handful of little items I want to write about, but none of them are big enough for their own post, so I thought I would dump this financial drawer out in one post:


I've been slowly working through putting all my tax information together for my accountant. They sent me a really nice workbook that shows all of my taxes from the previous year. It has places where you can mark the changes for 2008, however, so much has changed in the last year that it is almost like starting from scratch. I spent a couple of evenings working on it... then I kind of lost motivation. It sat, like a big fat noxious toadstool, on my counter for a week. On the cover of the worksheet is a request for clients to get their information in before mid-March and I could easily see myself slipping away into procrastination and letting it go until March 14th. In an effort not to let that happen, I decided to call up the accountant and set an appointment, thus giving myself a deadline. I had to laugh - when I called the receptionist said, "Looks like we have an appointment this afternoon at 2:00." I wanted a deadline, but this afternoon was not one I was going to be able to meet!! We set something up for next week.

I was right, the deadline helped, the last couple of days I have spent a little time each day going through the workbook and my papers. I made a list of items I still need to put together, (I'm now down to just charitable contributions and my license fees) and should have everything together by next week. It will be interesting to see what the accountant has to tell me. I have absolutely no feel for how things will turn out.


I was given a blog award! Kari at Not So Normal Girl, nominated me for the honest scrap award. See, here's my trophy:

One of the requirements of this award is to list 10 things honest about yourself. If you want to read them (and more of my miscellany) click "read more"...

Ten Honest Things About Me:

Since this is a financial blog, I'll try to keep them about money & my blog.

1. I am a hermit at heart, yet am blessed with the most amazing friends and family. Sometimes I am surprised they still love me, and yet, they do! They have all be so supportive to me through this process, it sometimes takes my breath away to think about it.

2. Going through all of this has made me a stronger and wiser person (and I continue to grow) but some days I just want to go out and buy a new pair of extravagant shoes.

3. The most I have ever spent on a pair of shoes is $189. I have spent more on handbags. And yes, when the time comes that I can afford it, I'll do it again.*

4. Occasionally, I go to Starbucks. And I like it.

5. I now pick up pennies. Hey, from pennies dollars are made.

6. Sometimes I can't believe I have held out this long. When I started coming up with $900 a month back in June, I was determined to succeed - but also had a fear of failure. I admit, I had some expectations that I would have to go into foreclosure and at one point had a deep conversation with my therapist about it. She had to talk me down from the ceiling with things like, "What is the worst that will happen if the house forecloses? It won't kill you - you will survive." How's that for cheerful? It worked though.

7. I wish I could sew. I'm not much of a seamstress (though ironically I work for some) and by "not much" I mean "not at all." But the other day one of the gals was wearing a fabulous coat she had made from some tapestry material she bought for a $1. It was so sharp! I thought to myself "hmmmmm..." However, right now I can't afford classes (either in class fees or the time) or a sewing machine - even if it was used. But someday I am going to learn, by gum!

8. I love eating out alone. In fact, even more than shoe shopping, this is something I miss. Once upon a time when I had few financial worries, if I was driving home from work and felt hungry, I'd just swing into one of my favorite restaurants and have dinner - just me and a book. I love cooking, but I miss having that freedom.

9. I have really mixed feelings about the house. One minute I can't wait to sell it, the next I am thinking that I could live there for a long, long time. Since the market won't let me sell for the price I want right now anyway, its moot, but I am slightly worried that I will fall in love with the house - and that is definitely not in my plans. I try not to think about it though. Why worry about something I can't control?

10. I have a bit of a fear of credit cards. I think that is because I have consolidated my debt, paid them all off, and promised to never get in debt again... twice. (I am now on time #3.) Now the only credit card I use is for buying gas, and that I pay off each month. I don't regret my debt - some of it came from my wedding, and then later, the rest came from my divorce. The purchases I made, I made for a reason. But, I never want to have "worthless" debt again. By that I mean I debt when you own an asset is one thing (car, home loans) debt from credit card is another. Even though I admire those who use them for rewards programs, that will never be me.


One bit of really good news - the repairman did a wonderful job on my furnace! Yesterday I mentioned that he fixed the small problem I was having, but also found a part that wasn't working properly and was causing my furnace to not run as efficiently as it should. I can really tell the difference! It isn't something you would notice unless you lived at the house, but the furnace sounds a bit different now, a little quieter and a touch smoother. It isn't running as often either. I won't notice a big difference in my bill since I'm on a budget plan and pay the same each month, but it should make a difference in the end. Naturally there is part of me that wishes I had this done in say December rather than February, but there is no sense crying over spilled milk. Instead I'll just be happy that it should make a difference in next year's bills!

* Of course, my definition of being "able to afford it" has changed a lot.

Photo by: Point_Shoot_Edit

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When to Hire a Professional

Several authors of blogs that I read have written articles along the lines of "Frugality vs. Being Cheap." The conclusion that they seem to come to is something like this: Being cheap is choosing the cheapest alternative no matter what. Being frugal means looking at long term value and occasionally spending more, but knowing you are getting more for your money. I agree. In my opinion being frugal means being wise with your money, and occasionally that means spending it. Along this same line, I believe that there are times to do it yourself - and there are also times to call in a pro. Here are some examples from my own life where I've felt the need to spend the money and pay for help -

My Divorce

There are lots of books out there on Do It Yourself Divorce. It can be done and it some cases people may not have any other choice, but hiring a lawyer was one of the best moves I could have made. The fact is, I don't know divorce law - do you? I needed someone on my side who could help me figure out the rules and regulations. My divorce was amicable, but still, having a lawyer on my side not only gave me peace of mind but also made things so much simpler. The day I went into court those of us with lawyers stood out from those who didn't. For one thing, we were more prepared. My lawyer took me aside and coached me on what to say and explained how the process would go - I noticed other lawyers doing the same with their clients. Another thing was that the ones with lawyers had a minimum of paperwork. We entered the court room empty handed, while everyone else entered with 1" - 2" high stacks of paper. One couple I saw had failed to get a form filled out correctly and had to leave the court. When the woman complained that she didn't know how to fill out the form, the court employee said, "If you are going to file on your own, it is your job to find out how to complete the proper forms." Harsh, but true. I paid for it to be someone else's job, and though hiring a lawyer took a big chunk out of my emergency funds, it was well worth the money.

My Taxes

There was a time not that long ago that I did all my own taxes. That was back before I was married and when I only had one W2 and maybe a 1099 or two. I think most people can do their taxes themselves, especially with all the online programs now like TurboTax, but now that things are complicated I'm glad to use an accountant. This year I am dealing with things I have never tackled before as far as taxes go - rental income and write offs, a midyear divorce and a few other odds and ends. Though it will cost me more money, I am going to feel a whole lot better about it in the long run.

Just yesterday I called a professional for a different reason...

Home Improvement

Normally I am a big fan of DIY when it comes to home improvement projects, however, there are occasions when it pays to call a pro. For example, I noticed recently that there was a lot of water on the floor near my furnace, so I did what everyone does nowadays when they have a problem - I diagnosed it on "Dr. Google." (From health problems to home improvement, what did we ever do without Google?) Anyway, according to the sites I found online the problem probably wasn't serious - it was either a plugged line or a bad pump. The plugged line I could fix myself, and possibly the pump too, but I have a service contract on my furnace so I figured I should use it.

The repairman fixed the water problem in about 5 minutes. Sure enough, Google was on the right track - the hose had simply vibrated off a bit and was leaking. I watched him fix it and if it happens again I could easily take care of it. What I couldn't have done (and why I was glad I called him) was listen to the furnace and realize that it wasn't running properly. While the furnace was working, it wasn't working very efficiently. It is kind of a long story and not related to this post, but basically it is an old furnace and one of the parts wasn't working properly. The repairman was able to get a new part and fix it and he tells me that now it should be running far more efficiently (read: less expensively). Hooray!


When my ex and I were going through marital problems we started going to couples therapy which eventually moved into individual therapy. My ex didn't choose to stick with it, but for me, therapy was one of the best things I could have ever done for myself. It wasn't cheap, but it helped me get through all the heartache and eventually heal. I'm a pretty introspective gal, but going to an actual therapist helped me in ways that reading self help books never could. My friends and family were (and continue to be) incredibly supportive, but therapy was different - it pushed me and forced me to face my fears the way that friends and family couldn't. Could I have gotten through that part of my life without it? Probably, but not as easily or with as much confidence.

As I look at these items I see a common thread - I pay for professionals not to make it easier on myself, but when expertise is needed and the outcome is important. I pay for them to help me for my own peace of mind, when I need to know that it is done right. I don't need an accountant to help me handle the day to day bills or manage my budget, but I will use them once a year if my tax situation seems to warrant it. I know that there are probably cheaper options, but that doesn't always mean they are the best option. The right choice for me is going to be the one I can trust and that lets me sleep well and night.

Photo by: jpmatth

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Upromise - Getting Money for School

Yesterday I wrote about how I often pick up tips from fellow bloggers. It happened again today. J. Money over at Budgets are Sexy had a post about Upromise. Are you guys familiar with this? Because I sure wasn't. I think I had heard it mentioned a time or two, but I had no idea what it was about. Basically, the idea is that when you make purchases they credit your account for college classes or student loans. You can get money through registering credit cards for dining, grocery store cards or shopping online. I also found that you can get money by completing surveys. J. Money has a good breakdown of the pros and cons over on his site, so if you are interested, check it out.

Although poor J. doesn't seem to be having a lot of success with it, I thought I would check it out. I do have plans to return to school for my Masters Degree in a few years, so anything I can do towards that goal is a good thing. Especially if it is free!

While on the site I found something that simultaneously made me happy and made me cringe...

Several of my favorite (and most frequented) bars and restaurants are on the list and some of them pay up to 8% back!! Upromise has been around for a long, long time - do you have any idea how much money I could have been putting aside? I think of all those pints of beer, glasses of wine and dishes of potato nachos (you didn't think I ate healthy all the time did you?) and I shudder to think what it could have added up to.

However, rather than grumbling over the glass half empty, I'll raise my glass half full in a toast to J. Money on Saturday night when I have plans that will be earning me a bit of college funds!

Note: If any of you all know me, you have already figured out where I am talking about. The other place that I'm thinking of will give you Upromise dollars on your half priced wine on Sunday nights. If you are thinking of going back to school or have a niece or nephew who might be, go sign up! Or you can always feel free to sign up on my account and help me get my degree.

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My Love Hate Relationship with Frugal Tips

The author of Mighty Bargain Hunter wrote a post with the hilarious title of, "Why Do Frugality Tips Suck So Much?" Hee! I love it! Mostly because I have wondered the exact same thing myself many times. You see, I have a bit of a "frugal tips" addiction. Every time I see a "34,451 Frugal Tips" post I click, even knowing as I do that 34,450 of them I already know and the other one doesn't work with my lifestyle. (For example, having no children, tips on babysitters don't apply.) The thing is - I know, even as I click, I am going to read things about lowering the thermostat (sigh) or not drinking coffee from Starbucks. (sigh, sigh)* Nonetheless, I will click away, hoping for some gem that I haven't tried yet - hoping some item that will catch my interest.

The case that Mighty Bargain Hunter makes is that frugal tips don't suck, it is just that we have unrealistic expectations of them. We expect tips to change our lives in moments, but they don't really work they way - they are frugal habits that need to be built in over time to be effective. No tip will make you rich in an instant, however, many of them done over time will make a big difference to the bottom line.

I hear what the Hunter is saying and I agree, but for me, frugal tips suck for a different reason...

I guess because I have been trying to be frugal for awhile now, I don't expect a miracle tip. I don't expect to read something and have it change my life, and I know that the only way tips work is over time - no tip will make you instantly rich. When I click on a blog to read their tips, I don't have high expectations. I am just hoping to see something new - something I haven't tried before. I don't think that expectation is unreasonable - I have picked up a number of great ideas from blogs. What gets to me is the repetition. Everyone has such similar ideas. Of course, when you get down to it there is a really good reason for that:

The only two ways to have more money is to spend less or earn more. That's it.

And since there are only so many ways to spend money, there are only so many solutions on how to spend less. That means a lot of repetition.

Does this mean I am going to quit my frugal tip addiction? Of course not! As I said, I have picked up a few gems here and there. My success with lowering my electricity bill through cfls, for example, came from an idea I got from Milk Your Money. There are ideas out there I haven't tried or even thought of. For example, my friend David sent me this article on how deleting your computer cookies can save you money online. There is something I certainly wouldn't have thought of!

I say there is still frugal tip gold out there, you just might have to search a little harder for it.

* So where do they come up with the figure for how much you will save by not drinking coffee from Starbucks, anyways? I mean, the only person I know who drinks a Starbucks coffee a day is my ex husband, (who would sometimes have as many as two or three,) but then again, he wasn't clicking on "Frugal Tips" blogs. It seems to me that if you are attempting to be frugal, this one is already a no-brainer, you know?

Photo by: Nick Humphries.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lessons From My Gratitude Journal

I read an interesting post over at the Simple Dollar today. It seems he has been keeping a gratitude journal recently. I don't know if you remember, but that was one of my own Goals for 2009. A gratitude journal is a very simple concept - at some point during the day you sit down and write out a few things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. In many ways it is like counting your blessings, except on a micro level. Instead of being grateful for "friends and family", for example, you might write down "I am grateful for the lunch I had today with a friend. We got the opportunity to catch up and hear about each other's lives."

You can have your own way of doing it - each person should find their own method. The important thing is taking a little time each day to reflect on what is good in your life. Personally, I have a little notebook by the side of the bed. Each night before going to sleep I write down ten things that were important to me or that made me smile during the day. I believe that writing about your gratitude is more valuable than just thinking about it. There is something very special in the act of writing down what you are grateful for - plus, when you are blue, you can flip back and see what you have written. It is an instant pick-me-up.

The author of The Simple Dollar noticed an interesting thing....

I have a collection of about twenty five of these entries now, and many of them (...) usually involve my family, enjoying some quiet time alone, a writing success, or a period of feeling really good (like an after-exercise rush).More importantly, though, virtually none of the items I’ve listed in nearly a month revolve around spending money. The high points of my day usually don’t revolve around any sort of financial exchange at all.

I would have to agree with that.

I did have lunch with a good friend yesterday, and I did put it in my journal. But it wasn't the food or the idea of spending money that I enjoyed, it was spending quality time with someone I care about who is important to me. As I think about the kinds of things that I jot in my gratitude journal each night, they tend to be about moments that are special to me: seeing a perfect blue sky, a long luxurious nap, seeing friends and family, getting a project done. When they do involve money, it is thankfulness for what I have: a good job, extra income, book sales. When things are particularly hard, I think about all the good things that I have that many do not: a well stocked pantry, a car that runs well, a safe and warm home.

In my situation, it would be easy to let myself slide into a "poor me" attitude, but the gratitude journal keeps me grounded - it reminds me of what I do have. When I find myself wanting throw my hands up in the air and go on a shopping spree, it reminds me that I can find just as much pleasure - more, in fact - in quieter things, such as having a cup of tea and sitting and reading a chapter of a good book. When I start to wonder what I am doing all this for, I need only open a page at random.

I admit, I am not perfect about writing in it every day, but the point isn't to be "perfect." The point is to regularly remind myself all the wonderful things I am blessed with - and grateful to have.

Photo by: SnoShuu

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Conversations at Work

I had an interesting conversation with one of the owners of my company today. Let's call him Bill. Bill started this company from scratch in the late 80s and has seen it soar to greatness, but has also seen us suffer dramatically from the economy. Four or five years ago he semi-retired. He no longer has an office at the company or handles any of the day to day operations, but he still is a part from an advisory standpoint. Bill comes in and meets with other company heads once a week and still is a big part of deciding the direction of the company.

In his day, Bill ruled the company with a bit of an iron fist. Though he is extremely fair, he is also pretty tough. I still have huge respect for him. Whenever he is in the office all of us are on our toes and I always get a nervous twinge when he's around. This is a man who can have any of us fired, after all. That isn't to say he isn't a nice guy, but I still straighten up in my desk chair when he walks by. Fortunately a few years ago he and I discovered we both enjoyed the short stories of Anton Chekhov, and there is nothing like the common love of a Russian author to warm two people to one another.

So today, Bill stopped in my office and mentioned that he had some forms he needed scanned into a pdf document and emailed to him. While I don't handle the scanning here, I know who does and was happy to take care of it for him. In the course of the conversation he asked, "So how are you?" Since I don't believe much in mixing work and personal life I answered the same way I almost always do, "I'm doing great! And how about you?"

I don't think he was expecting the question...

He gave me a look - one I am not entirely sure how to explain, the closest I can think of is "flummoxed." For a moment his guard just dropped. He was silent a minute, as though unsure how to answer, and then just laughed a little and said, "I don't think you have that much time."

I was taken aback. The thought running through my head was, "Ohhhh... we are being honest." I suddenly felt a bit guilty for my flippant "I'm doing great!" answer. I smiled a little and nodded and tried to let my own facade slip a bit. "I know what you mean," I said "we'd need a few hours and a glass of wine." (I threw in that last bit knowing he is a wine connoisseur.)

He nodded, "Exactly. We should do that sometime and catch up."

Aggggg... reading this it sounds a bit like he was hitting on me - or I him. That wasn't the case at all. It was more like two friends connecting.
I have absolutely no doubt that glass of wine will never happen, it was more a metaphor for the fact that both of us a lot going on in our lives. Though I don't discuss my personal life at work, my boss is aware of my financial situation and my divorice so I have to assume that Bill knows about it as well. He certainly knows that my world is very complicated right now. Maybe it was knowing that, that allowed him to admit he was having a tough time as well, even just for a brief moment. It was just a couple offhand sentences but I suddenly felt like I went from "one of the office gals" to... well, not quite friend, but certainly peer.

At my job, where despite being here 10 years and being made a Vice President, I still occasionally feel like low man on the pole, it was nice to have that brief moment of affirmation. It touched me and made me feel respected - not a bad way to start the day.

Photo by: Sean94110

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Monday, February 16, 2009

February Goal Made!

Well, guess what? It is only Feb. 16th and I have made my goal! YAY! I don't know that I have ever made my goal this early in the month before.

Most of the income came from two different part time jobs. That is really good news, since looking ahead at March I am not sure how much part time income I'll be able to generate. For some reason it seems to go that way - a month on and a month off. I can live with that though - as long as the surplus money either goes to emergency funds or to pay off debt so the low months aren't so bad. It looks like this week and next are going to be a little quieter, so I am going to work on a few projects to bump that surplus up even higher; it would be nice to have a little cushion for next month.

The downside is, it looks like my taxes are going up....

I got the notice a little while ago. It looks like I am one of those people caught with taxes on the rise while my home value on the decline. Between calling my aunt who works in the assessor's office and talking with my friend Catie, who had just seen something on the news about it (yes, enough of us got hit with a hike in taxes that it made the local news) I got the scoop on it. Basically, what it comes down to is that there isn't much I can do about it, but grit my teeth and wait and see what the damage will be. My assessed value is still under the appraised value, so I can't fight the hike. Since I pay my taxes out of escrow, this will mean a hike in my monthly home payment - once I know what it is, I'll fill you in.

So, have your home taxes changed any? How are you doing on your financial goals?

Photo by: espresso marco

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alcohol and Frugal Finances

The author of Fit Wallet recently inspired me with their post about Booze and the Budget. It was a hard post for them to write and I commend them for doing it! Interestingly, my friend Catie and I were just having a conversation on this subject.

Not that long ago I had a similar relationship as Fit Wallet with alcohol. My ex husband and I drank quite a bit. At the time, it didn't seem like that much - it is only in retrospect that I realize how much we must have spent! Most evenings we would have a glass of wine with dinner. Our favorite bottles usually ranged from $8-$12. We'd buy a couple each week with groceries. In the summer if we were cooking something that seemed like a "beer dish" (hamburgers, chili, that kind of thing) we'd drink beer - high end beer. Plus, we'd often had a nightcap of some kind of spirit - he'd have scotch and I'd have Baileys or something similar. This is not including all the times we went out, either just the two of us for dinner, or with friends. When I start adding all that up... my mind reels.

When I moved out I found I didn't drink. You might think that being separated, facing divorce, trying to put my life back together, that I might drink more, but that just wasn't the case...

Living in my tiny apartment I went out and bought alcohol specifically for my own consumption twice. Once was a blazing hot day in July when I spent the evening laying in front of my window air unit watching movies and having a cold beer and the other was a blustery cold winter night when I was craving a glass of port. Other than that, my consumption was always with friends - hanging out with the girls or dinner with a friend.

I really enjoy wine and spirits; I almost always have a bottle of wine in the house and at Christmas time a friend of mine purchased a bottle of Kahlua for me at my request. The thing is that the wine bottle can sit for months without being opened and the Kahlua has only been cracked once so far. So what is the difference between now and when I was married?

I think there are two things. One is money. When I was married, money wasn't such a large issue, but my grocery budget now doesn't allow for it. I am okay with that. In fact, I prefer adding it into my "dining out budget" instead and having a glass or two when I am out. The second, is that I don't feel the urge as much when I was alone. When I lived with someone, we both enabled each other. If he was having a glass of wine - I had one, simple as that.

Unless someone has issues with alcohol, which is entirely a different matter all together, I don't think it is necessary to cut it completely from the budget in order to be frugal. Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, it is about making smart choices. For me it is about finding ways to enjoy the things you love while still making good financial decisions. For each person those choices are going to be different whether it is splurging on food, alcohol, electronics, music... pretty much anything at all.

It is all about finding the right level.

Photo by: Thomas Ormston

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Food That Isn't Frugal

Things are going to be real quiet around Fighting Foreclosure for a few days as I am working a second job most of this week. This particular job hires me for 3 weeks out of the year, and this is one of them. The job is from 5:00 pm - midnight, so I am taking some extra time off from my regular day-to-day job to prevent burn out. I figure I have plenty of vacation time, so why not? It isn't like I am planning any traveling anytime soon! Anyway, what this means is that I won't be around a computer much this week. Don't worry, I have a notebook with me at all times and will be jotting down ideas for future posts.

Here's a little financial (and health) thing that I noticed while at second job, though:

This job is one of those "30 minutes of boredom followed by 30 seconds of chaos" kind of jobs. When I am needed, I am absolutely flying and working hard, but there are long stretches in between when I end up sitting on my fanny with a book, waiting to be called. Because I know these are going to be long nights, I make sure to eat a good, healthy meal before I go. Last night I had some wonderful leftover chicken, beans with sage, whole wheat bread and olive oil and a cherry tomato salad. Not bad, eh? And high in protein to boot. I figured it would easily last me until I got home, but at about 8:00 pm I found myself starving. I wasn't just craving anything though, I wanted something very specific...

Junk food. I kept having visions of wet burritos and cheeseburgers in my head. I wanted something hot, cheesy and greasy and I wanted it now. Then, as the night progressed, I started contemplating potato chips as an easy substitute instead. When a gal walked by with a bag of Fritos, my stomach started growling.

It took me a little while to realize what was going on. It wasn't just a craving - it was hunger from boredom. Sitting and waiting for your call can be kind of boring, even with a books and an occasional conversation with the fun people wandering by. My brain (and my stomach) wanted entertainment. It almost resulted in an impulse run to the vending machine - which is not only bad for my pocketbook, but my waistline!

I wasn't alone. I saw a number of vending machine goodies being consumed. Someone else mentioned to me that they were also hungry and would "have to see what was open on the way home." This type of work, with long hours and late nights, is prime for really expensive and unhealthy eating. Fast food is rarely cheap and it certainly isn't good for you. I don't even like it, but I found myself hearing that statement and considering a container of French fries.

I'm happy to say that I realized what was going on before I gave into any impulses. I kept my change in my pocket and my car out of the drive through. Instead I waited to get home and raid my own 'fridge for tasty, healthy snacks that were already in my budget!

Tonight I am going to be smarter though. I will pack along a few things that I know are good for me and will also satisfy those cravings. I know that anytime I buy something from a vending machine or a fast food establishment I am paying a premium for low quality food. That just goes against my frugal ways!

Photo by: The Eggplant

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Answering a Reader Question

The author of Master Your Card asked me a great question on my last post:

Do you include the income from your second job in these calculations? I'd think that a second income would help significantly with this goal.

It's good that you were able to get lower mortgage payments, but you also mentioned tenants. Are you renting out a room, or do you own another house? If the latter, have your considered selling that, or are you looking at a loss there as well?
This is going to require a fairly long answer, so instead of putting it in the comments, I thought I would write a post about it:

Second Income:

I do have a variety of second jobs. I call all of this work "part time temp" because these jobs are intermittent - I do a little here, a little there, then run over and do a bit over there. For example, one of my part time temp jobs needs me just 3 weeks of the year. (These are not consecutive weeks, there is one in October, one in February and one in May.) Another one of my jobs needs me for scattered evenings during 2-4 week job cycles. These cycles happen 5-7 times a year. Yet another part time job just needs me one night every now and again. So basically, instead of having one steady part time job, I have a variety of them. This system works out for me really well as it means that almost every month I have some work. (January was kind of an exception to this - although I did work in January at a part time job, but it was at the tail end of the month and is a 4 week job cycle. I'll get that check next week sometime.)

Most importantly to me, having these multiple intermittent jobs means that my schedule is flexible. While I do have some late nights, I am not burned out trying to work 60+ hour work weeks every week. As it is, sometimes the running from one place to another, not getting home until 10:00 p.m. (or much later) can wear me out. I don't think I could do it every single day. Right now I do work some weekends at these jobs, but typically it is Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, which still leaves me time to putter around the house or do some errands.

There is one other reason these jobs work so well for me - they are in an industry I love. The people that have hired me are all friends and people I respect and love working with. I like what I am doing and where I am working. I like my coworkers and I like the companies I work with. Enjoying what you do is such a huge bonus and it makes going into work so much easier. So far, it has been the perfect solution.

Would I change it and get one steady part time job if I needed to? Sure, and here's why...

I will do what I have to do to survive,. If my part time temp jobs dried up or weren't enough for me to get by, I'd start combing the want ads. Mrs. Micah wrote a post last month asking What Kind of Work is Beneath You? which I found very thought provoking. I don't think there is any work that is beneath me, nor am I unwilling to work extra hard to make ends meet. If I thought some other type of part time work like waiting tables, working in fast food, working in a coffee shop or cleaning people's houses would make the most sense for me, I'd do it - no hesitation. However, at the same time, I try to keep my work/life balance in mind. Frugal Dad had a nice post yesterday about How Much Does It Cost in Life Energy? and I think that is an important distinction. Some thought should go the cost in your life vs. the money you are bringing in. My part time temp jobs probably pay as much as an average part time job, maybe even a little less, but the enjoyment level is quite high.

Properties and Rentals:

I own not one, but two houses. And no, I don't rent the other one out, despite the fact that it could be "easy money." To explain why, I have to include a little back story:

I own "the house" which is the one you usually see me writing about. It is a Victorian home built in 1847 and is the one the one that my husband and I bought just before we were married. This is the same home that he was supposed to take over when we became divorced, but didn't. (It's the entire reason I need the $900 and I started this blog.) Three quarters of the home is my space. One quarter of the second floor is a one bedroom apartment. It is a cute apartment with its own entrance, French doors upstairs and a big walk in closet. I currently have that rented. When I mention my tenant, that is who I am referring to. That income ($550) is not part of the $900 I need. The math goes something like this: 40 hr. week salary + rental income - bills = -$900.

I also own a cabin in the woods on a little lake. This home is mine and was to be mine after the divorce. It is about 1.5 hour drive from where I live. I initially planned on renting this cabin out. In fact, I have an aunt and uncle that rent their cottage and I had a meeting planned with them to pick their brains about it. I also had done some research on the cost of advertising on cabin rental websites. However, there are a couple of reasons why I haven't done this:

1) The cabin is not really "rental ready." I bought this as a distressed property and "fixer-upper." It wasn't quite a handyman special, but it does need lots of love. I'm not talking about just little things, I means some fairly large (expensive) projects to make it suitable for someone to pay to use. Until those are done, I am not comfortable renting it.

2) I have enough landlord issues already. Being a landlord ain't easy - whether we are talking about a week to week rental or a yearly lease. I had no idea how hard it would be until I took over "the house" and became the landlord myself. (My ex-husband had always handled it before.) I've written a bunch of posts on this before and always comment on it when someone writes about owning rental property as easy money. It isn't. Finding tenants, vesting them, making sure they don't destroy your property accidentally or otherwise, plus added expenses and handling maintenance issues - it isn't for the weak of heart or those with two left thumbs.

In the 7 months I have been a landlord I have had to replace the seal on the tenant's freezer, rebuild her toilet, unclog her shower drain, buy her a space heater, and spend hours shoveling her walk. My heating, water and trash bills are all higher than they would be if I lived alone, and when something breaks I have to get it fixed fast. There isn't a lot of time for searching for frugal deals. I can't ask her to use another toilet, for example, while I hunt down the best deal on parts. Now, just imagine that with a property that is 1.5 hours away... one that I know has septic problems. When you add that to the increased cost of insurance on renting out waterfront property, it just isn't worth it to me.

Now that isn't to say that being a landlord or renting out a cottage can't be a viable way to make money. My aunt and uncle do very well by it, but... they are both retired and my uncle is very, very handy. I do think it can be a good way to make money, but it isn't passive and it isn't easy. Not if you want to do it right.

So what about selling the cabin?

I've certainly thought about it. Here's why I don't:

1) Pretty much the same reason as #1 for rental. Unlike the house, rough estimates actually show the cabin going up in value. (Yay lakefront!) However, in order to get the full value out of it, I should complete those home projects. Could I sell it as it is? Probably, after all, I bought it knowing they were there. However, when I think about the value of this land, I think of it a little like a 401K. Yes, if I were desperate I could cash it out and stop paying into it. However, I would take a huge loss in actual value today and by selling at this time I would be "buying high and selling low." Financially speaking, unless I have no other alternatives, it makes far more sense to ride out the market, fix the problems and then list it when people have more money and are shopping for their own vacation property.

2.) The cabin is my haven. It is my own little place that I go to relax. I am happiest there, most myself, most comfortable. I don't know if I can describe it, but it is the place I would rather be more than all others. If I could live there all year (and teleport to see my friends and family whenever I wanted,) I would. When life has gotten terrible it was the once place I could go that would make me feel like everything was going to be okay. In short, I am in love with my cabin.

3.) And I am stubborn. Yes, I realize this is an asinine reason not to sell, but I am trying to be completely honest. I don't like to write bad things about my ex-husband here, but part of the reason he reneged on our agreement for him to take the house was that he wanted to see me in a place where I had to sell the cabin, precisely because he knew all the things I wrote above. He admitted to me that he wanted to hurt me. However, putting that aside for just a moment - when I first realized how much money I was going to need each month to stay afloat, the only two ways I could think of for getting the money was to either sell the cabin or take in roommates. Both ideas sent me into an anxiety attack. I've written about why I couldn't have roommates before, so I won't go into that again now, but suffice it to say, this was not an option. When my therapist saw what a state I was in she asked me, "If you didn't have to take in roommates how would you feel about taking over the house?" I admitted that if it weren't for that, I could do it. I wouldn't be in a panic. "So," she said, "then don't. Find another way to make the $900. Other people have done it. Why can't you?" It was like the clouds suddenly lifted and I could see again. Honestly, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life.

Of course, I think she was thinking that I should sell the cottage. But her statement lifted me into a whole different place - what could I do to get that $900? How could I make that happen? How could I keep my haven, not have roommates and still pay all my bills on time. How can I turn this all around into a positive?

I sat down and made a list of all the ways to (legally) make money that I could think of. It is a good sized list - several pages of a legal pad. My brain was hurting it was buzzing so much with plans; and that's when I knew I had to have a place to put them, a place to track my ideas, my successes, my failures. I needed a place to write and keep myself accountable and to remind myself of what I am fighting for - and that was the day I went to blogger and started "Fighting Foreclosure."

I took the list and went through and ranked every item on it on a 1-5 scale, from "no brainer" to "only if I have no other alternatives." On that list are both renting and selling the cottage. Before falling off any financial cliffs I will do either, or both, if I have too, but they are pretty far down the list. I have a lot of things I haven't even tried yet far above them. For now, they are back up plans of back up plans. The fact is, I am making it happen. So far, I haven't even had a late payment. As long as I can continue to do so, I am going to do it. Plus, in a few months time I have a bunch of good things coming up, for example, both my car and my credit card will be paid off. That will make a big dent in that $900!

One last big picture item to consider with all of this, the silver lining if you will: when all is said and done, I will have two very valuable properties. For various reason, both are in desirable locations. When the time is right to sell, I will do so on my own terms, knowing that I will have significant gains. It is just making it through the "meantime" that is the exciting part!

Photo by: Ezu

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