Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Contemplating Clothing

Recently J. Money at Budgets Are Sexy asked, "How Much Have You Spent on Clothing This Year?" When I saw his post, I popped over to Mint to try and figure it out - the answer was $191.39. Some of that came from thrift store shopping, some came from daily lingerie. (All the gals out there can probably attest to how ridiculously expensive women's undergarments are.) The only new piece of clothing I bought, other than the undergarments, was a sweatshirt I bought for $29.00. It was a custom design that was put together for the big non-profit project I worked on back in March.

Last week, I splurged and bought three new shirts. Each was $14.00. They were exactly the kind of thing I love for fall - roomy enough so I could wear a turtleneck underneath but dressy enough I can wear them to work. They also don't require ironing, which is a definite plus. I bought the same style in pumpkin, dark chocolate and a mossy green. I hadn't been planning on buying any new clothes, but I have a Misc. Fund designed for this kind of purchase, so I had the money set aside.

When the clothes come home though, I have rules about how to handle them...

Back when I shopped a lot I instituted a "one in, one out" rule. Even though I am now doing most of my shopping at the thrifts, I still find that is a good system. It works with gift clothing I receive as well. My system goes like this - one large item for one large item. In other words, I can get a pair of pants and give up a shirt or a skirt - it doesn't have to be like item to like item, but on the other hand I can't get a pair of pants and get rid of a necklace. Pretty much if it is something that has to go on a hanger, I get rid of something on a hanger.

I carry that through to other things too - shoes can be swapped for boots, necklaces for earrings. As long as the items are about the same size in the closet or jewelry box, it is fair trade. Everything gets either donated or placed in the garage sale box for next year's sale. The system has worked pretty well for me for a number of years.

How about you? Do you have any rules for clothing shopping? How much do you think you've spent this year? Do you have a clothing budget?

Photo by: wiccked
via flickr

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day... Neither is My Bank Account

You know what is just a little frustrating? Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and be "done" with my finances, but that just isn't going to happen. Not for a long time.

The fact of the matter is, there really isn't an end to my financial work - as long as I am breathing, eating and using some form of money, I need to keep working away at my finances. It is a little discouraging in a way, but also really eye-opening. There was a time, not that long ago, that I never worried about shopping or spending money. When I first started this blog and rebuilding my finances, I thought it would only be a matter of time until life was "back to normal" and I could be that free again. I am not sure that is actually the case.

A good analogy might be building a house. In the past, I lived in shacks on the beach. Not very comfy, lousy in bad weather, put together with palm leaves and twine, but acting like it was a mansion and I was on permanent vacation. Now that the divorce hurricane came through and leveled everything, I see things differently. I realize that I had no foundation, no security, no support. When it comes to divorce horror stories, mine wasn't even all that bad, but it had the power to wash away all the finances I had saved up.

So now, things have changed...

Now I'm building myself a better financial house. Last year I turned the big hole I was in into a basement, poured walls for the foundation and started planning the shape of the house to come. I finally feel like I am out of the dark and sitting on the floorboards of the first floor, but that doesn't mean I can go back to beach living. Instead, I know now how easily that can be blown away - so I am planning on building walls, a roof, a thick door with a deadbolt lock. What I am trying to say is that even though I know I can make all my bills and can keep out of debt - I don't think I can ever be as carefree about money as I once was.

Mostly, that is a very good thing. While the past may have been fun, there was a level of danger that was there that was all the worse because I didn't know about it. In my case it was a divorce, but it could have been anything - medical emergency, job loss, who knows... anything could have blown that palm house to bits. I was lucky, it could have been a lot worse.

I can't say though, that I don't miss being that carefree. I do. Sometimes I think, "Well, when I get X, and X and X finished, then life will be just like it was." The truth is, I don't think that will ever happen. Even if I get the first three things done on my list - all I am going to do is add more. That metaphoric house I am building? It is going to need windows, shutters, carpet and more. My goal right now is simply paying off my mother, but that is just building the stairs out of the basement. I see so much that I still want to do - build a bigger stronger, emergency fund, build a fund for other needed home improvement projects, start investing... the list goes on and on.

Now I am more aware of what every dollar means and what it costs me. That isn't to say that I don't go on occasional splurges - I am wearing a fun little ring I bought the other day on a whim for $4.00, but even in that small purchase I can't help but think of all the times I have been grateful when a book sold for $2. I am grateful for that lesson and my new knowledge, but am honest enough to admit, I miss the ease of ignorance, just a little bit.

The hardest thing about it is time. It is so, so easy to blow tons of money and get into debt, it is really hard to pull yourself out and pay it off and build emergency funds. I feel like I have learned my lessons, I have mastered budgeting, now I just want to snap my fingers and have it done. POOF - I want my financial dreams to come true.

I know that is just wishful thinking though. If I want a sturdy, safe house, I need to do it brick by brink knowing that the time it takes just makes it all the better in the long run.

It doesn't mean I don't want to win the lotto though! Of course, now I would never spend the money to play it.

Photo by: Dean Terry
via flickr

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Monday, September 28, 2009

House Painting Finale

It is done.

The house is finally painted.

This morning I walked around with the painter and we took at look at the final job. There are a few touch ups and a couple little projects, but for the most part, it is done. I wrote my last big fat check today.

I asked my painter how long the paint should last. He used Sherwin Williams, which he said has a 15 year guarantee. Now, that is somewhat pro-rated for harsh weather, and it takes into account that you do some regular maintenance, but still, I am pretty pleased with that. One thing he pointed out to me is that if you "spot-prime" meaning you only prime the small patches that need it, the paint will not last as long. That is why he primed the entire house, it uses up more primer, however, it is the proper way to do it on these old houses and should help the paint last. I have to say, that is a load off my mind!

Now, I just have to pay back the loan I got from my mother...

I was sitting with a friend of mine, drinking wine and admiring her new apartment, when we got talking about finances. I mentioned my loan from my mom and how I wanted to pay it back by Christmas. As we were talking, I did the math... $2,700 over the course of 3 months equals... yep, $900 a month! What is it with me and that figure? Nine hundred seems to be the figure for 2009 for me!

I am going to try to take a photo of the house very soon. We've been having quite a bit of rain, so I couldn't really get one this weekend. I am excited to swap out that photo in my profile for one showing the new paint. Of course, the colors haven't changed much, but to me it is a symbol of a remarkable accomplishment. I not only was able to make finances work so I could pay off my car, pay off my credit card debt, pay all my bills on time and make up the difference I needed so the mortgage was taken care of... I also painted my house! Now, I just have this $2,700 loan to take care of and I can start working on the next big thing!

Photo by: Terence J. Sullivan
via flickr

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Long Route to Fixing Up Free

I mentioned in a post last week that my computer died. I do now have a computer running again at home, but the lengths I went through to to make it happen, while spending as little as possible, are pretty amusing. Talk about stretching frugality to the limit!

A few years back I had a lovely iBook, which unfortunately died. Apparently there was a known defect with it (there might have even been a recall on the part that I didn't know about) and mine died about 8 months after the extended warranty that Apple provided for it ended. To fix it, it would have cost me between $400 - $500, which really wasn't worth it. If I had had that kind of money, it would have made sense to just save up for a new one instead, however, this was during the time of the whole marriage separation, and the last thing I had was extra cash laying around.

So, for the time being I was using my computer at work. I'd drive into the office on Sunday afternoon and check email and take care of all my online business. My boss, running into me one afternoon, took pity on my and offered me a "permanent loan" on an old PC he had laying around in a closet. I could use it as long and I wanted and when I was done, I was to give it back to him so he could donate it.

Well, on September 12th, it died. The hard drive had been going for quite awhile, but this time it locked up, shut itself off and would not turn on again. I knew it was probably heading down that road, since it had been making weird noises for awhile, so I hadn't kept anything valuable on it. Of course, naturally it died the same time my cell phone did, plunging me into a world with the inability to call or email anyone. However, I wasn't completely out of luck, as I had another computer standing by...

A good friend of mine, knowing I was using a dying, borrowed PC, offered me his old iMac. There was just one problem. It only had an internal cable modem, and I used the neighborhood wireless. So, I chatted with a buddy of mine in the tech team here at work about what I could do. He suggested a usb
wireless adapter antenna. There are a lot of them out there, and if I had a PC, they are pretty cheap. But since I had a Mac, I wanted one that said specifically that it was Mac compatible. After a lot of searching, comparing of prices and brands, I finally decided on one I found on NewEgg for about $50.

The night my phone died, I decided to try out my new antenna - and that is when I ran into a problem. It needed OS X, and I had OS 9. Sigh.... back to the drawing board.

The following Monday I went into the office and talked with my tech buddy again and asked him about getting a copy of OS X. (I was starting to wonder how much my "free" computer was going to cost me. ) Good news! My office (where we all use Apple computers) had a few copies of OS X.3 laying around - and I could have one - for free! Sweet! So that night I went home, downloaded the new software and the software needed for the antenna....

and it still didn't work. It seemed to me that the problem was the iMac itself. It's curvy plastic body, while looking cool, seemed to have a design flaw. The usb didn't connect very well. The next day, I went back to the tech team. By this time the whole team knew about my mission to get a computer running as inexpensively as possible. The tech director said he had had the same problem with the iMac and his son's iPod, and he dug through a box of pieces and parts and handed me an extension cable. It was maybe a foot long, and looked like it would do the trick... except, it didn't.

That night I went to the computer, excited to try it with the new cable... and to my vast frustration, the cable didn't fit. The male end plugged in nicely to my computer, but the female end had some kind of wacky bump on it. It wasn't a traditional usb fitting - even though at first glance it looked like one. I tried a few other usb ends into it - my keyboard and mouse - and nothing fit, including my antenna.

I admit, I did have a bit of amusement watching the director of technology go through the exact line of thought I did, when I handed it back to him the next morning. He too tried plugging a bunch of things into it and, for a moment, looked equally confused. He solved the mystery when he found out that the cable worked beautifully with some of the office keyboards. Apparently they have a special connection. The tech director wandered off into "tech land" (the back of the office where there are tons of dead and dying computers and computer parts) and emerged awhile later with a screaming bright aqua blue 15' cable usb extension, with standard ends. He gave it to me and said I could have it on "permanent loan." A lot more cable that I needed, but by borrowing it I could at least figure if the problem with the antenna really was that it wasn't plugging in properly. I still wasn't 100% sure this was the root of my problem.

I was right, it wasn't. The cable worked great and everything fit where it was supposed to, but the computer still didn't acknowledge the wireless. I tried my limited store of computer knowledge, then gave up. The next day I brought it into work.

My tech buddy had it on his desk for two days. He updated all the software and then found some drivers that could be downloaded for the antenna. I did still need the cable, that had been a problem, just not the only problem. He also put in a little extra memory he had taken out of his wife's computer when she upgraded. He found that the battery is pretty dead and the on/off switch is a bit wonky, but other than that - it lives! Taking it home, I held my breath plugging it in. I had my coworker's cell number in case there were problems, but I hoped it wouldn't come to that. Fortunately it didn't - I am now up and running and online!


Computer - FREE
Antenna - $50
Assorted parts and software - FREE
Tech advice - FREE
Box of gourmet chocolate chip cookies and chocolates for the tech department to thank them for all their help - $12

So, for $62 I have something I can limp along on. Would I like something else? Sure, but this will do just fine until I can get something else. A computer is low priority right now, but when I do buy one, I want to have all the money saved up and put away so I can just walk in and pay cash.

Photo by: Stephen Hackett
via flickr

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting Out of the Office

It looks like my office will be moving some time near the end of the year. We currently have a huge office and don't need half of the space. Our lease is coming up due soon, and it just makes sense to find someplace smaller. Now it just so happens that the company founder owns a building, with a suite that is the perfect size. In fact, when I was first hired in, our company was located in that building. As the company grew, we finally got too big for it, and ended up moving to our current space. Since the economy went screwy, we've gone through so many layoffs that we are now planning on moving back there. To give you an idea - when we moved to this office in 2000, we had 90+ team members, now we are down to 14.

Anyway, the tech director and I will be responsible for the move. He will be handling the "hard side" of the move - the computers, servers and cubical relocation, I will be handling the "soft side" of of the move - deciding how the new office will be laid out and where people will sit, what is going to go into storage (and what will be Freecycled) and so forth. Now here's the thing, we have 3 Vice Presidents at the company, one President and one Accountant. All of us at this time have private offices, but in the new space, there are only 2.

Those two offices will undoubtedly be given to the President and the accountant, as they have the most sensitive information. The rest of us VPs will go back to cubicles. Now believe me, I am not a very materialistic person, and I totally understand how foolish it is whine about losing an office when so many other people have lost their jobs, but I have to admit - when I looked at the map and realized how things were going to have to be, my heart sank a little...

It is silly, I know. Yet at the same time, I have to admit that I really like my office. I have artwork on the walls that makes me happy, I have my plants and all my file cabinets laid out just the way I want them. I also appreciate the privacy an office offers me - though I keep my office door open 98% of the time, if I do need a little privacy, I can just walk over and close the door. If I am being 100% honest, I also like the status the office gives me. Titles don't mean a lot in our company, but the office is a physical symbol of how far I have come - I am the only woman VP, so that matters a bit to me. Giving it up makes me just a little sad, even though I know in my heart that it doesn't change my place in the company at all.

Truthfully there are benefits. In the past, my company has offered profit sharing. With the recent economy, we haven't seen any of that profit sharing in quite awhile. Moving over to the old building means dramatically lower rents, which could just be enough to start putting cash back in my pockets - or at least getting us back on the right road toward it.

Now, how does all this relate to finance? This minor angst of mine has made me think a lot about how the economy has effected so many people in much bigger ways. I've been pondering how difficult that internal struggle is when we think we are losing status. To give up something you've never had or to defer something you've been planning on is one thing, but to lose something you've worked for - that hurts.

My situation is so small compared to people who have had to downsize their cars, homes, vacations and so on, but it has given me a taste for how bitter that pill is to swallow. In my life, I have occasionally felt like I have been floundering, but I didn't really have that "step back" emotion. I've had to struggle for money and making sure the bills were paid, but through all that I was gaining a beautiful house. Though my lifestyle has changed, it still was moving forward... if you use society's definitions of "moving forward."

In its own way, this little hiccup of mine has helped me understand how difficult it is for people to give up good things they have always had. It isn't just the loss of the thing itself, but it is also all the emotions tied in with it. Our self worth and self confidence should not be tied up in "things." How big our office is or how nice our house is shouldn't effect how we see ourselves... but it does to some degree. Especially when it is "taken away from you" by circumstance, rather than given up by conscious choice. I think acknowledging how hard it really is is one of the first steps for getting past that emotion. For myself, I can admit that I am sad to lose my personal space at work, but rather than seeing it as a step back, I can chose to view it as a chance for the company to rebuild and get stronger - which can only further my career. For others, their losses might also be a chance to create something even better and far more stable.

I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime I will be starting to go through my file cabinets and start cleaning out what I can. No sense moving what doesn't need to be saved. I will also be looking forward to working for a leaner, meaner company that gets stronger all the time.

Photo by: Chris Blakeley
via flickr

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Being TOO Frugal?

At the beginning of the week my mother called up and asked if she could swing by the house. She had a couple of things to drop off and she wanted to see how the new paint job was coming along. We set it up for Wednesday night. I get out of work at 6:00, so we agreed to meet at 6:30.

Wednesday morning she called to verify the time and then asked if I wanted to meet at the coffee shop first. She said, "I know you will be hungry after work, so I thought we could get a sandwich beforehand." My immediate thought was, "she's only dropping a couple of things off and looking at the house, it shouldn't take more than 20 minutes. I can wait that long to eat!" Plus I had some great chicken leftovers in the refrigerator - why pay for food? I told her a little of this and said I would be fine to wait to eat until after we met. She was fine with that and the conversation moved on to other things, when suddenly a very distinct thought popped into my brain:

Wait a minute, knucklehead. She didn't ask you to the coffee shop because she is worried you'll faint from hunger. Nor is she worried about money, she knows she's going to pay. Your mother just wants to have dinner with you!

Oh. Well, that changes things...

Fortunately this thought occurred to me before we got off the phone. As we were wrapping up I said, "Hey mom? About that coffee shop, why don't we meet there after all?" I could tell she was pleased. That night we had a nice light dinner together.

I think this is one of the first times I (almost) turned down spending time with someone I care about over money. Even in my most lean times, I have always had a budget for entertainment and dining out. About the only thing I haven't done is attend big charity fund raisers where I knew friends would be, but otherwise I have made seeing loved ones a priority. It didn't have to be an expensive night - sometimes just a bottle of wine and a little homemade appetizer shared while sitting on the couch. Other times I have chose less expensive options like meeting for breakfast or lunch instead of fancy restaurants, or just just meeting for a single cocktail or cup of coffee, but overall I have always done what I wanted to do. Now that finances aren't so tight, I feel a lot more comfortable going out to dinner, though obviously, some habits die hard.

If you've read my blog for awhile you know that I view personal finance as just that - personal. I think we all have different priorities. For me, the small amount I have spent on social spending has come back to me threefold in love, support, and laughter. I don't know where I would be if I didn't have such a great network of people who care.

So, have you made frugal choices that surprised you? Ever turn down going out because of money? Has caring about money meant you spent less time with people you love, or more?

Photo by: km6xo
via flickr

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

T-Mobile Phones - Discounts and Insurance Plans

Yesterday I wrote about my cell phone dying and being home Saturday night with no phone or computer. Sunday morning I decided to head over to T-Mobile to see what they could do for me.

My phone, fortunately, is still under warranty. They ordered me a new one and then gave me a loaner phone while I wait. I still have to pay $9.99 in shipping, but other than that, I should be all set. When the new phone arrives I take my broken one and the new one to the store and they see if they can rescue any of my information. While chatting about my options, the T-Mobile rep told me that my phone warranty will end on December 10th of this year.

I am no longer under contract, so I can get a new phone whenever I want at the "new customer" price, or I can continue with my current phone, going month to month, as I am. If my I keep my current plan, my rep suggested that I consider putting insurance on the phone. If it is after December 10 and the phone breaks again, I can't put it on after the fact, so his suggestion was to put it on now, keep it on as long as I keep the month to month plan (especially once the warranty expires) and then cancel it when I get a new phone with a new warranty.

It made sense, but there is just one thing, I hate paying for extended warranties...

I've written about this before - and in fact canceled this very plan. Why pay $3 or $4 bucks a month on top of the warranty? I tend to get pretty low-end inexpensive phones, to me it just isn't worth it. By the time I get through a year of paying for this extra insurance - I could easily buy a new phone and keep the money in my own pocket!

I explained some of this to the rep, and he said, "Well, let's see if we can get you the insurance for free." For free? Well, now that makes sense. I don't mind having insurance if I am not paying for it! It turns out that T-Mobile has a new program with certain corporations and quite a few colleges and universities that gives a 15% discount to employees and alumnus. My university was one of them! So, he applied the discount, then added in the insurance, which meant my total bill will probably be about $4 less than what I have been paying. Great! (One funny note: in order to get me the discount he asked what my email address was at the university... I started laughing - when I was in college we didn't have email! I certainly didn't get one from the college. Gee dude, way to make me feel old!)

So, my plan is this - I will keep my present phone for the time being, but start researching new phones. Since this is the second time in a year I have had to replace it, I don't think it is a "high quality" phone, despite the fact it is made by Motorola, who I usually think quite well of. I'll definitely keep it through December and probably through to next year. In the meantime I will make the effort to research my next one. I don't care about Bluetooth and a lot of the fancy features, but there are some wacky little things I like in a phone and they aren't the kind of things they usually list on the T-Mobile website. That means I will need to go into the store and pick up different ones and play with them. Once I find one I want, I will keep an eye out for a deal - they frequently have discounts on the web.

While I normally hate insurance plans on appliances and the like, since the rep found a way for me to add it and lower my bill a little bit, I am a lot more open to it. Plus, this gives me time to use all my frugal shopping skills for the next one!

Photo by: JonJon2k8
via: flickr

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change in Focus and Money Goals

In the mail yesterday was my monthly statement for my mortgage. When I opened it, the amount due seemed off. Not by a lot, but the number didn't look familiar. Fortunately, I always have the previous month's statement close at hand so I grabbed the month's prior statement and compared them. I was right - there was a difference. My mortgage payment actually went down by $6 and some change!

Just last year at this time I would have been elated. At that point, even $6 a month was a big deal. It would have been yet another drop that would help me fill my nine hundred dollar bucket. I would have adjusted my online automatic bill pay accordingly and then added my $6 to my monthly goals.

Now when I got it, I had a different reaction...

After a year of struggling, I have made enough changes in my life that I don't need that $6 like I once did. The fear of having to fight foreclosure is much further off. Barring an emergency (knock on wood) I can make it now - I even have some breathing room.

I decided to just leave my bill pay as it is. My mortgage company has been great in the past at applying over payments correctly and as long as they keep doing that, I'll shoot that extra money over there. At $6 a month, I am not going to be paying off my mortgage much faster, but as I have learned, every single bit helps!

It is good not to have to stay up at night worrying anymore, but I admit, I miss some of my "gazelle like intensity". So much of what I do now is automatic - my bills are all paid online, my savings are built in, my paycheck is larger and is deposited straight into my checking account - where it is automatically divvied up to pay every bill. I don't have the same fear driving me anymore, and I find myself relaxing. Maybe this is natural - if you've ever watched gazelles (to build on Dave's analogy) they aren't intense for long stretches of time. As soon as the danger is gone, they go back to grazing.

I've got two big goals right now -

1.) Finish the house painting, then repay my mother $2,700 before Christmas
2.) Keep on going like I am - paying all the bills on time and keeping out of debt.

Perhaps that is enough. Once the first goal is done, I can concentrate on a new goal for 2010 - like building my emergency fund with 6 months of income stashed away. As for the second goal, the main thing I need to be aware of is to not let my relaxation turn to into spending temptation. I have to keep my frugal hat on for awhile yet!

What about you? How are your goals going?

Photo by: shoothead
via flickr

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Turn Off the Power

Last Friday, during the garage sale, I noticed that my cell phone battery was very low. This was kind of annoying, since I had people all day calling me about the sale, but what can you do? I threw it on the charger. By the evening, it was charged up again.

Saturday my phone starts beeping and letting me know it is low on power again. I thought it was kind of odd, but I had been texting a bit and that always uses up a lot of power, so back on the charger it went.

Saturday night after the sale I went to grab my phone off the charger to make a call.... and it was hot. Really hot. I have to admit, I wasn't too surprised when it wouldn't turn on. It was fried. I had someone I was supposed to call, and I knew they would be concerned if they didn't hear from me, so I decided to send them an email and let them know the scoop.

So, I went into my office, turned on the PC, clicked to go to the internet, and then it whirred oddly for a moment... and died...

I can't say I was terribly shocked, I knew it had been close to dying for quite awhile. You see, a couple of years ago my beloved iBook died. This was about the time when my money troubles were starting and the divorce was looming. I didn't want to buy a new computer (and it would have cost over $500 to fix mine) so I started going into the office on the weekends to check email and do banking. My boss, running into me one Sunday evening working away, felt pity for me and offered me an old PC he had laying around - warning me that he suspected it had hard drive problems. Now, I'm an Apple girl because that is what I use at work and I love them, but a free computer is a free computer and all I needed it for was simple internet kind of stuff, so I gleefully accepted.

My office has a number of computer parts laying about, so they threw in a monitor, and I was in business! Sure, the PC made horrible noises and occasionally froze up, but for the most part it would work. I just never saved anything of any importance on it.

Then a friend came to the rescue. He had an old iMac - one of the old cute red plastic ones. Fabulous! Quite a few years ago I had had one of those on my desk at work - I was thrilled to accept his for home. There was only one tiny problem... he used a cable modem and I needed wireless. I've had the computer for awhile, but finally last week I decided to buy a
USB wireless antenna. I had some help from the tech team at my office picking one out and it arrived last week Monday. With the garage sale, I hadn't had time to install it, so I figured now was the perfect time! I could kill two birds with one stone - get the antenna set up and send out my email. That's when I discovered another problem... the antenna was only compatible with OS X, and guess who had OS 9 on her "new-to-her" iMac? Sigh.....

So, I was pretty much out for the count Saturday night. Unless I wanted to use semaphore or smoke signals, no one was going to be hearing from me. I briefly considered getting dressed and going into the office to make a call, but it was very, very briefly. You have to understand that this was 10 p.m. at night, I was dead tired from the sale, in my pajamas and in absolutely no mood to put on shoes. I decided that my calls would just have to wait until Sunday.

It was a very strange feeling to know that I had absolutely no way of contacting anyone. People today are in such constant contact with others. I actually myself getting tense and nervous about it, and for a little while I felt really uneasy. Then I thought about it more. This is really only a problem of today's society. If you go back just 8 or 9 years, you would have found me living in an apartment with no cell phone, no internet and only a land line. There were times when that land line went down. I didn't worry about it - I barely thought about it. In fact, if you go back just a little further, I remember having only a land line and no call waiting or voice mail. If someone was on the phone (or accidentally left the phone off the hook for 3 days the way my parents did once) then too bad. Now my blood pressure was rising because if someone wanted to contact me, they couldn't. It was bizarre.

Once I realized how silly I was being, I settled down. In fact, I wondered if maybe this wasn't someone looking out for me - I was in absolutely no shape to talk to anyone Saturday night; the best thing I could have done was just sit quietly for awhile, and that was just what I was forced to do. It was good not to have to think about that little hunk of metal and plastic that I carry around all the time. I started to wonder if maybe I needed to do this more often. I do it a lot at the cabin - I don't have internet there and cell reception is spotty, but I don't at home. Maybe I need to turn the phone off a little more at home. Electronics are wonderful, but only when they are working for us, not when we are slaves to them.

(By the way, I did solve both the phone and the computer problems, but more on that in another post.)

Photo by: rtisbute
via flickr

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The House Painting Continues...

Well, I am finally getting the other two sides of my house painted. Back in April I had the South and East sides of my home done. When I started the project, I had hopes that I would be able to get the whole thing done at once, but I realized that realistically I probably wasn't going to have the funds. So, my painter and I worked out a deal - he would do two sides at a time. As he finished each side, I would pay him. That helped spread out the financial burden. He and I also talked about the fact that I might need to do two sides at the beginning of summer and the other two at the end, as I needed those summer months in between to raise the rest of the money. Which is exactly what happened. There is only one problem - I didn't come up with enough to finish the job. Ultimately, I ended up borrowing from my mother - something I really didn't want to do.

I should say here that I am really pleased with my house painter. His prices have been very, very reasonable and I love how willing he has been to work with me. He knows my situation so he has worked to keep my supply costs low. He has passed his paint discount on to me and he has gotten very creative in replacing only the siding that needs it. Cedar siding is running me a $1 a foot, so this is important! However, I do own a big old Victorian house - that's a lot of work and a lot of paint. Considering that my financial situation is already precarious, this is an awfully expensive project...

Not having part time work really put a dent in my extra income. My book sales were also down, and though I had two garage sales and really scrimped and saved, it just wasn't enough. Last month I knew it was getting toward the end of painting season and I really had to think about what I was going to do. Since I only had about half of what I needed to finish the job, I figured my options were:

* Wait until next spring to finish the job.

* Try to get a loan somewhere or do a cash advance on my credit card.

* Borrow from mom.

* Wrap the last two sides of my house in Tyvek Priority Mail envelopes and call it "art." (What? They are red, white and blue - just like my house.)

If I waited until Spring, then it would be another Michigan winter hitting the two unprotected sides of my house. Remember that $1 a foot cedar siding? I'd be buying a lot more of it! The only good side is that I might save a little in scraping costs - as my paint is flaking off so badly, a few hard storms might take the rest off!

Last spring, when I knew I might be in this situation, the thought of getting a loan to finish the job or even using a credit card to pay for it didn't seem like that bad of an idea. I even talked to a bank about special loans designed for Michigan homeowners who are doing repairs. However, now that I have all my debt paid off (except for mortgages, of course) the thought of going back into debt made me literally sick to my stomach. Every time I thought about it, I would just tighten up. I can't do it. I'm not saying that I won't ever have debt ever again, but it is just too soon. It feels amazingly good being debt free - I want to enjoy that for awhile.

Technically, borrowing from mom is still debt, and that is part of why it bothered me. Though really, that wasn't the main reason I tried to avoid this option. My problem with a "mom loan" came from the fact that I just didn't want to have to borrow from family. I'm a pretty independent gal and my emotions here were about accepting charity; being in my mid-thirties and needing to ask for help. There was a lot of shame and embarrassment involved.

As for the Tyvek envelopes, as stylish as that might be, the thought of buying all the tape to put them up with ruled it out. ...that and the fact that as funny as the idea was, it wasn't exactly practical!!

Then I went out to dinner with my friends Catie and David. I had pretty much made my mind up that I should borrow from my mom and just get it done, but I was glad for the chance to run it by them. They are both smart people, my age, who own old houses. They knew exactly where I was was coming from! They immediately recommended borrowing. As Catie pointed out, my mom has been wanting to help me out since my divorce. She is always offering to do something for me. By giving her this chance, I can actually make her happy and make her feel like she is supporting me. And as David pointed out, waiting to get it done would probably mean more money in materials come spring. After our dinner I thought about it some more, and then decided to bite the bullet and borrow from mom. When I emailed Catie and David my decision, (and complained once again about how I feel about borrowing) David said something to me that really made sense:

But you'll be able to have the painting done before winter, and instead of budgeting to save the money, you just budget to pay back the money. By the time you get to where you would have had all the money to do the painting, not only will the loan be paid off, but you're house will already be finished! Win-win!!
He is absolutely right. For me to get that $2,700 at $900 a month it would've taken me until November. By then it would be too late to paint. However, if I borrow the money now and get the house painted, I can still focus just as I would have, but now it will be on repayment. The time frame is the same.

So, I told mom I needed a loan. Catie was right - my mom was thrilled to help me out. As I said, she has been offering since the divorce, before that even, to help me in any way she can. I'm too stubborn to normally take any kind of help, but this time I did, and I think it made my mom feel needed.

So, for the next three months I am going to have one simple goal - pay my mother back in total, well before Christmas.

I've got a good start. I have a separate online savings account that I've put the house repair money into, and I have plenty to finish the job. In fact, I am hoping I have more than I will need. If so, once the painting is done, I'll be able to cut mom a check right away for at least some of what I owe her. In addition, I have a lot of part time work lined up, so repayment is very doable. Naturally, I'll keep writing about how it all goes!

Photo by: M J M
via: flickr

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Garage Sale Week

Last week I didn't post because I was extremely busy with garage sale planning. I came back from the cabin on Monday night and then on Tuesday and Wednesday it was crunch time for work. I had to get a lot done because I took Thursday off to prep for the sale, which we ran Friday and Saturday. I host the sale at my house and my best friends all bring their junk to sell. We had just tons of stuff to sell, and while it didn't all go - a fair amount of it did.

We lucked out - the weather was beautiful! We got a lot of traffic. I would guess that we had even more shoppers than we have in past garage sales, which makes me wonder if having it at the end of the season like this there was a lot less competition! All told, our sale made close to $900 - not bad considering we only had a few things priced over $5, most of it was $2 and less! Personally, I came in at about $180.

I won't lie to you, it is a lot of work, but the best part of it is, not only do we earn a little money, but my friends and I also all get to hang out with each other for a couple days straight - it was fabulous! Now here are a few tips for a fun garage sale....

1) Have your sale with friends - people you want to spend the greater part of two days with. A friend of ours who stopped at the sale said she threw hers all alone or with one of her (very) unwilling children to help her out. She got so bored at them, she gave it up. I promise you - if there was one thing I wasn't this weekend, it was bored. Even in the rare lull of traffic, I still had fun people around me that I like to spend time with, sitting and having a beer with me, which brings me to...

2.) If you enjoy adult beverages, I highly recommend drinking. If you happen to have friends (as I do) who make amazing mixed tropical drinks or show up with cases of beer or bottles of wine, all the better! Not only does it make the afternoons more enjoyable, especially now that you are in the company of good friends, it makes it so much easier when you watch that candle holder you paid $30 for, go for $.25.

3.) Plan on food. You are now going to be spending hours in the sun drinking - you need food. This time I planned ahead by having sandwich fixing in the fridge for everyone, plus friends brought all kinds of munchies. This was a very good thing.

4.) Make it fun! We crack ourselves up with funny signs (on a latch hook wall hanging of a carousel horse - "Don't laugh, my grandmother made this. $3"), we joke with the customers, we send out emails and facebook posting to other friends to stop by and have a beer, we proudly proclaim that we have "The Best Yard Sale Ever." If you look at the cost to dollar ratio of work to income earned, garage sales don't make me that much money, however, once you add in how much fun I have - I'll do one every single year I have a yard and friends that are willing!

Photo by: William C Hutton Jr.
via flickr

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Weekend Plans

Last night I was busy getting ready to head up north. I fueled up my car, went to the grocery store and spent part of the evening packing. My plan is that as soon as I get out of work, I run home, grab my bags and hit the highway. I can't wait!

An anonymous commenter yesterday asked, "Non-financial related, but was just wondering if you ever have any safety concerns being out there yourself?"

You know, I don't. The photo I posted yesterday wasn't actually my cabin, it was just one that had the same "feel" as mine. When I saw it, reminded me of how I see my place, so that is why I chose it. This photo was actually taken at my cabin. That's me down by the water. What neither photos show is that there are other properties nearby. In fact, both of my neighbors up there are year round residents.

When it comes to critters, so far the largest beastie I've seen up there is white tailed deer in my backyard. The cabin is miles away from any large cities, but isn't that far from several small rural towns. If I needed help, there are people around. Honestly though, there is no more danger up there than there is living in my home in town alone. The hazards, such as they are, are more likely to come from a cooking accident then anything else. In fact, if you want to talk about concerns being alone, my house is in a bit of an "edge" neighborhood on a street that gets a lot of foot traffic. I am more concerned about two legged menaces at home than up north.

In just a few hours, I'll be heading up there for a long relaxing weekend...

I made a menu for the next couple of days, although I kept it light, since I tend to eat less up there. I prefer sporadic small snacks and little meals, rather than three square meals. I do like to cook though, so I have a two dishes planned. I am going to be making a Caribbean citrus chicken with coconut rice and beans and a Chinese beef and tofu soup. One will be enough for a couple of dinners and the other will be great for lunch. The rest I'll just wing. I'm bringing up some favorite foods for throwing together - fresh tomatoes, homegrown garlic, basil, oil cured olives, goat cheese. Guaranteed I can make something out of that!

Other than food, all I need is a few t-shirts, some underwear, a pair of jeans and a pair of capris. The other advantage to not renting out my cabin is that I can keep it stocked with everything I need. I have a full kitchen, and keep salt, pepper, sugar and other spices there as well as non perishables like cooking oils, tea and hot chocolate. I have spare clothes up there for chilly nights or if I decide to work on a project. Heck, I don't even need to pack a toothbrush - I have one there!

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Making Extra Income - a Look at Bringing in More Cash This Fall

During this past summer I had very little part time work. Fortunately, as we ease into fall, I have quite a few things lined up. First up is another garage sale. Coming up soon I'll be posting signs and setting up tables. I'll put out all the stuff that was left over from July's sale, along with lots of new things from my own house and the leftovers from a sale my aunts had last month. Some of my friends will be joining me, so that will help too. Garage sales are a lot of work, but a great way to get rid of unwanted items and make a little extra cash.

I also just submitted my schedule for one of my part time jobs. That will give me the potential to pick up extra work at the end of this month through the first of October. This is my main part time job, and I typically work a few 4-6 hour shifts after my day job (6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m) or on the weekends. They will have shifts available throughout the fall to next spring, so that will certainly help!

In fact, October is actually going to be a busy month for me. I have quite a bit of work lined up! One of the other part time jobs needs a hand for a week in the last half of the month, plus I have another job lined up as well. I know that all of this on top of the day job makes it seem like I have no free time at all, but that really isn't the case. Since I am single I can afford to work a few long days, and since I love what I do, it actually is fun for me.

Of course, this isn't all for yours truly...

Book sales have been picking up a bit lately. Has anyone else noticed that? It has been really nice since those sales make my day. Quite a few of the books that I haven't been able to sell are going in the garage sale. Hopefully I will sell a few more that way. What I don't sell I may take over to my local library and donate. They can add the books to their sale, and I get the tax write off - it is win-win.

I do have another thought too. We have a local artists' market here and my friend Catie sent me a link on it. It runs throughout the summer. At the time she sent it, it was spring and I knew I didn't have time to get anything together for it, but I am thinking about putting together some items over the winter. It will depend on how much time I have and how motivated I am, but I love making Christmas gifts and could use some of those ideas make items to sell at that market next summer. That might help with income next year, as I have learned I need to expect summer income to drop off.

Of course, I am still a landlord and receive rent from my tenant. I don't include those figures in my income goals though. Interestingly, I have a friend shopping apartments right now and from her I've been finding out what rents are going for nowadays. It looks like the rent I charge is a real bargain!! I have no intention of raising my tenant's rent, she's quiet and pays on time, but should she move out, I will definitely look into it.

There is a lot going on around here over the next few months. I find that I am actually looking forward to it!

(...of course ask me if I still feel that way in a few months!)

Photo by: on2wheelz
via: flickr

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Financial Choices, Personal Growth - Life at the Cabin

I'm a little frustrated. I had two posts I was working on when BLAM! The power went out. They weren't completely lost, both were partially saved, but I hate rewriting something I have already worked on. So for now, they are both in the "to-do" pile, waiting until the irritation fades and I feel like diving into them again.

If you are here in the States, do you have plans for Labor Day weekend? I will be heading up to my cabin. It has been a couple of weeks since I have been there and I am looking forward to setting up my lawn chair down by the water and just taking it easy. It will be five years ago this weekend when I first saw my cabin. It was a cool crisp Sunday when I first walked in and fell in love. Despite the piles of trash and clothes, dog feces in the corner and wasps surrounding the garbage, and I knew within 10 minutes of being inside that it would be home. The owner had rented it to a "friend" who responded by throwing her electric bills in boxes and burning trash in the woodstove. Yet, despite all this, I could see the diamond in the rough. Sure, the cabin had been through some abuse, but the "good bones" showed through. It would take some elbow grease, some paint and a lot of love, but underneath the trash, the cabin was made for me.

Although yes, I know that in some ways, having the cabin has contributed to my financial woes...

but I also know it helped keep me sane throughout the divorce process. The cabin and therapy were two things (along with my friends and family) that helped me deal with the changes that were taking place in my life. I am never more at peace than I am when I am there. Just getting in the car and hitting the road I feel all my stress and worry leave my body and fly out the car windows, and I leave it tumbling along the highway.

In many ways, my therapy and my cabin are very similar. Both were big expenses when times were tight. There was quite awhile there that I was going to therapy twice a week, and my insurance does not cover it. Some hardcore financial folks might wonder about the need of spending that much money on things that aren't strictly "necessary," as in, they don't fit in that bottom rung of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. While it is true that I could have lived without either, not having them would have changed who I am.

The therapy got me through the divorce and helped me get my head on straight. As I have said many times in this blog, it was because of a session that I decided to fight back and get nine hundred dollars each month instead of caving in. The life skills that I have learned, first through therapy and second, through my financial journey over the past 14 months, are lessons that will help me throughout my life. I have learned resilience, forgiveness, creative thinking, gratitude, and how to have confidence in myself and when to ask for help. I have learned practical skills like budgeting, plumbing, refrigerator repair, tax planning, and all sorts of skills need for running two houses and being a landlord. I have improved my writing and web skills from having this blog, and in turn, that has helped my job. All of this came with the help of therapy. Had it not been for it, I might have given up and given in.

The cabin, on the other hand, has been my haven. Think for a moment of your favorite place in the world - the one spot where you felt completely at ease and at peace. Think of how you feel on a relaxing vacation, no stress, no worries, no phones. Now imagine, that all you have to do is get in your car and drive one hour and you'll be there. That's what it is like at the cabin for me. My therapist says that instead of having this somewhere else, I should work on creating this in my own home, but there is a fundamental problem with that - my house has a lot of memories of my ex. It isn't so bad now, and now I am finding new appreciation for my house, but at the time, thinking of my home as a haven was ridiculous.

The cabin too, is an investment. At this point, it is not "rental ready." It needs some repair work as well as some money spent on amenities that I can live without, but a renter would expect. While I might be able rent it out now, I couldn't get the kind of renters I would want. (In other words, I might be able to rent it to a group of hunters who are a lot less picky, but are those really the types of renters I want?) However, in time, I could see turning it into a property that could earn an income. Even as it is, going by local sales and rough appraisals (and the fact I bought it dirt cheap,) it has increased in value - even considering the real estate market of today.

However, I didn't buy it to make a profit. I bought the cabin because it makes me incredibly happy. It was something I have always wanted, and I was able to achieve that goal. The fact that I have had to work hard for it over the past year has just made it more dear to me.

It is interesting to me that it really only took me a year to change things around. Sure, sometimes it felt like a looooong year, but in reality, it really didn't take that much to create a working budget and get my financial house in order so I don't have to worry about fighting foreclosure or coming up with nine hundred dollars each month. I still have goals that I need money for, but I have breathing room now - and I did it while keeping the things that were important to me. I feel really good about that.

Photo by: pixiesticks23♥
via flickr

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