No Whining Wednesday

May 22, 2008 by

Yes, I did whine a bit over the weekend. It’s hard when you feel like you’re making an effort and being mindful of every move and then and the unexpected event occurs (home repair or auto repair) and blows you and your money off the board. Go back to Jail. Anyways, it’s a process. Eventually we’ll have enough money earned and saved to account for the unexpected events.

On a positive note:
— I finally returned my overdue library book.
— I got a free lunch (if I eat 10 times at the company-subsidized restaurant I get my 11th meal free).
— I filled my DCRA claim for a couple months and expect to receive a check back for $1000.00

Saturday Night Blues

May 18, 2008 by

I just went through Liquid Ledger and realized that we have over $2200 worth of uncashed checks. It drives me crazy that people take such a long time to cash checks. Our Liquid Ledger appears to be a bit off. Once these checks clear we will only have a small amount of money ($1100 or so) until I get paid at the end of the month.

I hate being in this situation. Our expenses are much too high for our income. We’ve been trying to pack lunch this week but that seems almost like a quaint attempt to solve a collosal problem. Kind of like the dutch boy and his frickin’ thumb.

We’ve had some unexpected expenses in the last month:

– over $2000 in car repair

–over $1200 in house repairs (have to fix a retaining wall)

My husband’s car is about to die. Today it did peter out and he had to have it towed. This means another expense (1) repair and (2) rental car.

One step forward and about four steps back. Should I feel good about even noticing the steps back and forth?

Coming Clean: How did we do with our finances this week?

May 17, 2008 by

Ok, so I have to come clean. I still have an overdue library book in my car.
But what did we do right?

#1. We paid our bills on time.
If you’re like me and work full time, have 2 kids then you are exhausted at the end of the day and probably find it hard to find the time to stay on top of the bills. A few weeks ago I made a note in my calendar at work to pay bills on 15-May. I get paid on this day so I knew I would have the money. I noted which bills to pay and how much. I was easily able to do this from my desk at work thanks to online bill pay.

#2. I didn’t pay for any coffee. (Did Noma?)

Now that I’ve said “stop the madness” I get a sick satisfaction from walking by Starbucks. That little voice inside says “Nope, don’t want to be a sucker. I’ll keep my $3.50, thank you very much.”

#3. I packed lunch for my husband and I two days this week.

So, it isn’t every day but it’s better than nothing. Together this saved anywhere from $25 to $35. That adds up.
#4. I went to the gym 2 days this week.
Ok, so it may not be directly related to reducing debt. But as Tricia from Blogging Away Debt knows there’s a correlation to trying to get rid of debt and get rid of excess weight. Also, as many others have noted there’s a cost to poor health.

#5. I got my husband to close a bank account that had a negative balance.
My husband opened a checking account and was slowly letting it die on the vine. I let him know that he needed to revive it with a cash infusion or close it out. Getting a statement with a negative balance just won’t do. He closed it!

#6. We snowflaked some money.
I have an automatic deposit for health care reimbursements. I received a $100 deposit for a dr. visit. My husband snowflaked this towards our CC debt.

#7. I taught my kids a lesson about spending money.
My daughter LOVES money and she doesn’t like to spend it. She has it neatly organized in a little box in her bedroom. She recently received about $60 from various relatives for her 7th birthday. My daughter and son were at the drugstore with me asking for toys. I normally just say “nope.” But this week I told her that if she wanted to buy them she would have to use her birthday money. She asked me how much items cost and made a decision about how much she would be willing to give up to have an item. When we got home I showed her the receipt and took the money from her box. While I don’t need that extra $15.00 I do feel that she needs to understand that things cost money and that every decision has a consequence. I was happy to have the opportunity to show her this. She seemed to appreciate it as well.

#8. I blogged.
Blogging about the challenges we face as well as our goals has really helped me stay focused on what we need to achieve.

#9. I shopped at the cheaper Grocery Store.

I really like shopping at Gelson’s. It’s a pleasant experience all around. However, as one my friends put it their motto should be “why pay less.” I’m trying to retrain myself….Instead of driving East I’m forcing myself to go West to Albertson’s which offers much cheaper prices. With my Albertson’s card I supposedly had a $10.43 savings today. Who knows? I should take my receipt to Gelson’s and calculate the costs of what the items would have been. If I did that then I would reinforce the need to shop at less pleasant but much cheaper store.

10. I entered our expenses in Liquid Ledger
This helps us know how much money we really have.

The Good Life — America Yearns for Stability and Simplicity

May 17, 2008 by

Everywhere I see signs that most Americans are yearning for a change. Politically, yes but also we yearn for personal change as well as financial change.

We only get the Sunday newspaper delivered. Otherwise I read all my papers online. One feature I particularly like is the New York Times’ “Most Emailed Articles List.”

I would argue that atleast half of these articles cover financial issues and that the topics covered include a desire to rein in spending and focus on what our core values are as individuals, families and citizens.

A sampling of what I’m seeing:

#1 most emailed article — Five Basics for Building a Solid Financial Future
I like this mantra “Index (mostly). Save a ton. Reallocate infrequently.”

#3 most emailed article — “Chasing Utopia, A Family Imagines No Possessions
While this family’s dream seems a bit unrealistic to me (do they have homesteading skills?) I understand the desire to get rid of possessions. Almost everyone I know wants to stop accumulating things. It’s a burden and it drains our energy.

#7 most emailed article “Hard Roads Ahead
I think this quotation says it all “The role of the federal government in improving secondary education should be one of the major issues in the presidential campaign, but it’s not. The U.S. has stopped dealing honestly with difficult and complex problems. Politicians (and not just John McCain, by any means) spin fantasies of a wondrous, cost-free future. No investment and no sacrifice necessary.”

Assessing Our Financial IQ

May 15, 2008 by

Just read a great piece on Get Rich Slowly about Robert Kiyosaki’s book called “Increase Your Financial I.Q.”.

In the posting here’s what GRS says:

Kiyosaki divides financial intelligence into five “Financial IQs”:

  1. Making more money. This is measured by how much money you earn. If you make $100,000 a year, you have a higher Financial IQ than someone earning $30,000 a year.
  2. Protecting your money. Once you earn your money, you need to hold onto it. Protecting your money, especially from taxes, is the second Financial IQ.
  3. Budgeting your money. “Being able to live well and still invest no matter how much you make requires a high level of financial intelligence,” Kiyosaki writes. This Financial IQ is measured by how much money you have left after expenses.
  4. Leveraging your money. This Financial IQ is measured by return on investment. How well do you make your budget surplus generate more money?
  5. Improving your financial information. Financial information doesn’t just mean knowledge of basic financial concepts — it also means detailed knowledge of the investments you make.

So, what’ is our Financial IQ? This is scary to contemplate…I may need to sleep on this…

Bada bing, bada boom

May 15, 2008 by

One definition is “this “expression” can be used like the word “voila” —-> something is finished or completed…”

I’m not quite up to snowflaking yet….but I’m back on track ready to make things happen.

What can I commit to today? Here’s my list for Thursday:

1.) Pack my lunch
— I bought turkey and cheese and will pack a sandwich, an apple and a granola bar. I will try to enjoy it. No promises there.

2.) Drink free coffee
— No fancy lattes for me. The institutional free coffee or the good stuff at home. That’s it.

3.) Pay my bills tomorrow (payday)
— Some of the bills may not be due until the end of the month but I’ll aim to pay as many tomorrow to avoid late fees which I’ve been stung for due to the LONG period of time in which it takes epayments to clear (Don’t get me started on that one!). Another benefit of paying bills on payday is to keep up my financial awareness. Don’t want to think I have more money than I do…

4.) Return my library books!

That’s it for Thursday. If I do more, great. If not, this is enough.

Financial Amnesia: Who Will Tell the People?

May 15, 2008 by

I’ve been thinking about Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed piece a lot this week. For those who haven’t read the piece, I encourage you to read it here. It is an extremely well written and thoughtful piece about the state of affairs in the U.S. — politicially as well as financially.

The choices our government has made directly parallel our the poor choices we’ve made as consumers. I don’t know one American who feels proud of the decisions our government has made in the last 8 years. I don’t know one person who voted for President Bush (or admits to it). And yet we have him leading our country. It’s an embarassment at best. I also don’t know many people who think it wise to defer their gratification to live below their means. So many people live at the edge of their means or well above it. We suffer from political and financial amnesia and it threatens us as individuals as well as Americans. How can we let our governments spend so little money on education and healthcare? How can we allow ourselves to become victims of our own greed and take on more than we can afford? Here’s a great quotation from the article:

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

I also appreciated the sentiment expressed in the last paragraph of the piece:

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Amen. I really want to be hopeful again.

Truth or Consequences

May 15, 2008 by

I’ve been quiet. We took a break from the blog and guess what? Yes, our debt went up again. The husband and I were marvelling at how close we got to kicking the debt back in September. When I think back to the months between September and May I can’t easily explain how our debt shot up by 13K. I want to be shocked and yet I am not. *Sigh* Who would read the blog of two people who came so close to their goal and then lost sight of what they were doing? Is this delusional blogging? Don’t answer that. For now I can only hope that the blog serves as a way to help the husband and I focus on our debt elimination again. For now this is our tool to jumpstart our financial awareness.

I could spend a bunch of time trying to account for why we lost track of our goal and how we racked up more debt. But I’m guessing that’s a bit boring. And yet, I wonder from a psychological standpoint, is it helpful to review the past in great detail? Will this truly help us or prevent us from moving forward? Hmmmm….I suppose there’s not a straightforward answer to that question. Shrink husband, what say you?

To tackle our debts we clearly need to look back to understand how we have spent our money and what our pitfalls were. In looking for patterns we can identify areas for improvement. But what does it take to move beyond the past and really take control of our financial decisions? Here are some suggestions:

1.) Look at past spending — If you have been using Quicken or Liquid Ledger run some reports to see how you’ve spent your money for the past 12 months. You may be surprised at what you find.

2.) Identify areas for improvement — Be realistic. Don’t go from eating lunch out everyday to packing a lunch every day and never eating out. Being absolute is a surefire recipe for failure.

3.) Remember that every decision you make about how to spend your money is a choice. — Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need something or that you are entitled to it. Remember that you are in charge of financial choices and every choice has options and consequences.

Third Carnival of Snowflaking

May 15, 2008 by

I’m so out of it. Here’s the third carnival of snowflaking.

Debt Reduction Newbie? See Snowflaking

May 14, 2008 by

What is it? If you’re new to this debt-reduction subculture you’re in for a treat. Moving up the ladder of abstraction into more and more arcane info — finance, personal finance, debt reduction, and the kicker — snowflaking. Snowflaking has posted the first edition of its own carnival!

Snowflaking, as I understand it, is the practice of immediately applying any extra funds, however humble, to one’s credit card balance. Intuitively, this seems to be a great idea. Rather than just make the necessary minimum payments, keep chucking money at the debt, grinding it away by attrition. Another key idea seems to be selling of junk, unneeded stuff, finding other ways to make a little extra cash, and, you guessed it — snowflake it.

Iconic power? LadyDough informs me that there are snowflake icons all over the debt reduction world. Obviously, this is an idea flourishing within a subculture — like a new chess opening, or a surgical procedure — an idea that only a select few are gorging themselves on. It’s time has come?

Carnival, carnival, carnival. It’s so much more fun when subculture concepts emerge out of an organic communication process, rather than medical research or academia. So I’m revving up for debt reduction. Can’t wait for my first snowflake. Don’t hesitate. Let’s get this country out of debt! Get thee to the carnival. Many links!

Snowflakes in May

May 13, 2008 by

I love that barely a week into the frugal debt-reducing world and I’m reading today’s post at the Simple Dollar and when he says, “I should have snowflaked it” (actually a paraphrase) I actually know what he’s talking about.

Community is so awesome. We are linking minds and reducing debt…

Limping Back to Frugality

May 12, 2008 by

Waiting for a plumber, who’s probably not going to show.

We’re just, just getting back into the mode of observing what is happening in our financial life. It’s sort of like being caught in a crashing wave and being wrapped in kelp — 1. things are a mess and 2. things are in flux. Anyway, I found a quick free budget tool, BudgetSimple, and punched in the numbers that I could think of. (YNAB Pro is on an out-of-commission laptop). I’m almost always sure I’ve left something out, though, when it comes to expenses. Finished updating the still questionable LiquidLedger, personal finance tracking software.

Early findings: Having kids is expensive.
We have a pretty good income, but a lot of expenses. I thought about this when I sauntered into Metropolitan cafe today. It did not deter me from plunking down $4 for a latte. I’m not ready to deny myself yet. I’ll work up to excruciating self-abnegation as things progress. At the moment we have a decent bank balance. But our budget projects that balance will erode by at least $500 per month even as salaries continue. Intuitively this is not surprising, yet in terms of how we spend money — the way we spend money doesn’t make sense. If that makes sense.

So, still getting oriented.

Debt Reduction Strategies — 7 Solutions

May 10, 2008 by

The field of psychology has a history of debating just how people learn. Is it through reinforcement? Social modeling? Good examples to follow? What you want to learn is how to cultivate the good personal finance habits so you can eliminate credit card debt and get on with your life. You want this. I think I can help.

  1. Reward yourself. The sooner after the thrifty behavior the better. Rewarding yourself before, during, or some time remote from the behavior will not have the desired effect — creating a positive reinforcing association with the habit you are trying to cultivate.So reward yourself right after you defer the impulse purchase, make a menu plan, buy gas in the wee hours of the morning… Make sure the reward is something you love, ice cream, playing soccer, spending time with the kids, whatever it is for you.
  2. In the beginning, reward yourself often. If you are just beginning to develop habits they require constant reinforcement in order to stick. This is in the beginning. So for the couple of weeks reward yourself as often as you can, again, as close to immediately after the desired habit as possible. We start to believe, somewhere in our brains, that looking for bargains actually causes ice cream to materialize.After a couple of weeks you need to taper off the rewards, otherwise they become meaningless. But in the beginning, continuous reinforcement is powerful. It is the strongest reinforcement schedule for establishing a habit. This is well documented by lots of empirical research.
  3. Make your rewards non-routine. When I say non-routine, what I really mean is unpredictable. After continuous reinforcement, which has limited utility, unpredictable rewards are the next strongest reinforcement schedule.A good example? Slot machines. This is why people get hooked. The reward is unpredictable, but it comes, and that has a powerful effect on people. This is not to say that routine rewards are not good, they are fine. But mix it up a little.
  4. Make it a ritual. This may seem to contradict the last point, and in a way it does. But ritual has its own power. Going for gelato after the kids clean their room every Saturday may not be, strictly speaking, as reinforcing as a random treat, but it sure will work miracles on Saturday!More importantly ritual provides continuity in our lives, comfort in order, and helps us focus on what we value. I would not rely solely on ritual, as it is not the most powerful reinforcer, but having a ritual or two can be very powerful.
  5. Join a community with similar debt reduction goals. Truly the internet is fantastic for this. You can go to personal finance blogs and read about things that people on the outside generally are very reluctant to talk about, including their big financial blunders, how much money they make, how they choose to spend it, how they got into credit card debt, and what they are doing to get out of it.Community offers a variety of food for thought, ways of looking at things you might never have come up with on your own, handy tips, as well as the emotional support that comes from knowing your predicament is not yours alone. Do not underestimate the power of being able to identify with people you like and respect.
  6. Find a debt guru. I am not a big fan of gurus. They tend not to live up to their initial radiance. So gurus aside, find someone you like and respect who has walked the walk for longer than you. It might be someone you’ve known personally for ages, or someone you strike up a rapport with on a personal finance blog. It’s probably more effective if you actually know the person in actual time and space. Have an appreciation for their personality and how they make their finances work for them.I know a lady in her late 60’s (I’m guessing) that I’ve known since I was about five years old. I now recognize her as being a titan of frugality. We saw her during our vacation. She offered to take us and the kids out to lunch. She said “we can go to [crappy chain] or [a local Chinese restaurant].” That part was a no-brainer. The chinese food was good and inexpensive. When my wife remarked that she wished our kids were more adventurous eaters, that she wished our kids would eat sushi, my guru bridled. “You don’t want that. That’s expensive!”Now that might sound cheap. Her point was that if you can avoid fostering expensive habits in your kids, then avoid it. When they grow up and get jobs they can acquire whatever expensive habits they like. She had picked both restaurants because they were adjacent to parks, planning to take the kids there if they got squirrelly. She had thought of everything. Would it surprise you to know this lady grew up in the Mid-West?
  7. Consider psychotherapy or some kind of debt counseling. This may strike some of you as very non-frugal. It is not for everyone. It may seem draconian (the expense!) or even counterproductive. It may fall under the heading of “treatment of last resort.” But some of us are really going to need some outside help if we are going to make substantial changes in our habits.Debt counseling may be an excellent option. Another is psychotherapy. If you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts that have evolved into larger attitudes and the way you are in the world, a good cognitive-behavioral therapist might be able to help you get some perspective.Are some feelings — regret, vulnerability, powerlessness — hard for you to get a handle on? Do you tend to be very energized and optimistic only to collapse when faced with the outcome of your decisions? This sort of pattern tends to be entrenched. Even when we know exactly what we need to do in order to get out of debt, save money, whatever the goal is — we stumble. This can be very frustrating and lead to plummeting self-esteem and self-punishment, not to mention mounting credit card debts.A good psychodynamic therapist, one that looks at some of the deeper meanings you attach to money, may be able to help you make sense of and even overcome this type of problem. The goals in this sort of therapy are ambitious, including making adjustments to our character. You can’t change your character, but you can modify it in ways that are helpful. Are you are confused about how your finances got to be such a mess? Then you might want to pursue psychotherapy

Harried Attack on Financial Front

May 10, 2008 by

Preparing for the snowflake.

Right before a superhero themed birthday party we made a foray into the financial mess. This involved our latest financial tool, liquid ledger. The jury is out on liquid ledger for the moment, but it seems to serve. We made a $1000 payment on our credit card, well over the minimum payment, seem to be out of the woods in terms of bouncing checks, and I will be taking the “snowflake” approach to paying down the credit card debt. All this to say we’re getting back on our feet, getting oriented.

Thursday and Friday I tracked my daily cash outlays.

Jasmine and The Low-Density Gas Errand

May 10, 2008 by

This post from probably June last year. While we get up and running posting some old stuff.

Very still this morning in a foggy Los Angeles. I noticed two palms covered in jasmine creeper. The jacaranda are in full majesty. I’m back from the gas station to test out the theory that cooler, early morning/late evening, fuel gets better mileage. How will I verify this curious assertion?? It’s been offered at a number of credible sites.

I am rather intensely engaged in YNAB Pro (You Need A Budget). So I’ve hidden the debit and credit cards, budgeted some cash for gas and food, and set out into the cash only wilderness. I’ve traversed this land before, and it can be treacherous. Once, in Nantucket, standing at the checkout of a groovy granola grocery with my brother-in-law and lots of healthful products, and, oops, no cash. At that time I was carrying my bankcard. Turned out it expired that very day.

My lovely wife may soon be contributing herein. I got the $20 of gas for her car. Paying cash for gas can really take some getting used to.

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Black Ink on the Horizon

May 10, 2008 by

Some things never seem to change.

Dear Diary,

I think we might be doing too much laundry. It seems it’s all I do. Of course, this is one of the first times in my life that I’ve done multiple loads of laundry in a row, so that may have something to do with it. Maybe we’re wearing too many clothes. And then there’s the dishwasher. Its hunger knows no bounds. Forever gorging and disgorging flatware and china.

Everything is mixed up. I went to a new gas station. Who knew that gasbuddy could point out a station right under my nose, even closer than the habitual haunt, with cheaper gas. In fact, looking at some old receipts I was appalled, simply appalled at the price I’ve been paying for gas.

But this Saturday, intoxicated by the sheer madness of a mid-day gas purchase, I forgot the receipt, so my number crunching will have to wait another day. My number-cruncher alter-ego is seething with anticipation. We bought the gas at high noon. It was about 83 degrees Farenheit. Twenty full degrees warmer than the usual Saturday run. So it was, perhaps, high volume gas. How will I ever sort it out the cost-benefit analysis?

What strange ways I’ve taken up. Pulling plugs out of sockets without a thought. Driving 55 m.p.h. (but trying not to piss people off, if possible). Being very aware of when I can coast down a hill. Noticing with no small amount of smugness the other drivers ludicrously weaving in and out, spilling their precious fuel — and then arriving at the light at the same time as I do. Thinking very seriously about whether we are laundering too much.

Have I studied a whit for the EPPP, the national licensing exam for psychologists? No. Not of late. I have drifted into a fringe subculture of frugality, blogging, and plug pulling. Does this mean that I am figuratively “pulling the plug”? One wonders.

I wonder if there is a parody of personal finance sites out there. There must be, no. Maybe an Onion piece? This drifting into the trees, losing sight of the forest. I have lost sight of the budget. Just for a few days, but it nags at me. The budget. There’s where the goodies are. Not this niggling penny pinching. The big plans, the straight and narrow, the total control — the end of debt. How far off is it? When shall we strike it? Like a sailor up the rigging, looking for land, I scan the horizon for black ink. Thirsty.

Spring Round-up: Some Favorite Posts

May 10, 2008 by

From last spring, that is. Still, some nuggets here

Greatest Hits.
Spring has come and gone, it’s not quite 7 a.m. and sun is blazing through the blinds, and I’ve yet to put together a greatest hits package. So here it is, in no particular order. This debt-reduction ride has been fun. I’m seeing that choosing favorite posts is like choosing favorite children — well, if we had three kids, we would have picked one.

Trends.
A few things that stand out: LadyDough has really been kicking butt! The phenomenon of sense-of-humor failure is something to watch out for. This ride really has its ups and downs, that’s for sure. While short posts are delightful, rants have their place…

Psychology of Personal Finanace.

  • Mental Health Day, A Good Investment. Click here.
  • The psychology of getting frugal. Ever wondered how to really leverage habit building? Click here.
  • A numbers running rant.
  • Freud on Money. Click here.
  • The all-important emergency fund. Click here.

La Vie Frugal — Living the Dream.

  • Destitute Credit Zombies. Click here.
  • It’s the little things. Click here.
  • Getting into Gas. Jasmine. Errands. Click here.
  • Getting into the groove of austerity. Click here.
  • Debt gladiator. “Could there be such a thing as a bipolar wallet?” Click here.
  • Chicken Suizas Lean Cuisines never tasted so yummy. Click here.
  • Frugal Bugle. Getting into the car thing. Click here.

The Sense-of-Humor Failure: When Frugality Turns to Self-Flagellation.

  • A day in reassessing debt. Confronting an ugly phenomenon: Sense-of-humor failure. Click here.
  • Loosen up a little! Click here.
  • Driving, more. A minor sense-of-humor failure. Click here.
  • The bottom. Humor completely absent. Not for the faint of heart, but instructive. Click here.

Parenting Posts.

  • Parents gone wild. Click here.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses. Click here.
  • Capital of Consumerism. Click here.
  • Daughters and Mothers. Click here.

Well, that’s it for May and June. Next time, July.

10 Tips For Surviving Birthdays

May 10, 2008 by

We’re re-running some old favorites while we get back on our feet.

Our son is the youngest in his class. All of his preschool buddies are turning four over the summer months. And so birthday season is in full swing.

Many parents I know (myself included) have overdone it for their kids’ birthdays. I think there are many reasons for this including the fact that so many of us work so much that we want to make the birthday a big deal. Also many parents use their kids’ birthdays as an excuse to have a party for themselves. Even those with the best intentions can end up feeling exhausted and broke once all the guests have gone.

Every year I seem to do less and less for our kids’ birthdays and the kids are just as happy and my husband and I always feel like much better about the whole thing.

Here are some tips for how to have a reasonable, affordable birthday party:

1. Determine your budget – Before you come up with a spiderman theme and invite the whole preschool class figure out how much you want to spend. Once you know how much you have to work with decisions about what to do become easier. If you have $100 perhaps you want to just invite a few kids to the park to have a picnic and blow bubbles. $100 may sound like a lot for a picnic and bubbles but buying groceries and drinks does add up!
2. Pick your audience – You can’t please all of the people all of the time. My feeling is that when kids are young you need to be sensitive about who you invite. I feel that if you invite a lot of kids from your child’s class that you should invite all of them. However, if your budget is tight perhaps you could ask your child to just have one or two friends over for a special dinner. Or you could have a family only party. Just try to avoid inviting the entire class, neighborhood friends and family. Pick one audience to minimize costs and chaos.
3. Have Junior Make the Invitations — Why buy invitations when you have an artist in house? If your child doesn’t want to make them then you could make a collage and then use a color copier or printer to make copies. Getting a homemade invitation sets the tone and feels much warmer than a store bought one.
4. Make Your Own Food – Why order pizza when you can save money and provide something tastier? I’ve found making pasta and a salad satisifies adults while sandwiches, grapes and/or pirate booty does it for the kids. You can use a cookie cutter and cut out interesting sandwich shapes for the kids too.
5. Buy Drinks in Bulk – Juice boxes are expensive and create a lot of trash. By the time kids are four they like to drink from real cups. Get some dixie cups and big bottles of juice at costco.
6. Let the Kids Provide their Own Entertainment – Between seeing their friends outside of school and the promise of getting cake the kids will be very excited. There is no need to provide a Snow White impersonator, a reptile guy or even a bouncer. This stuff gets expensive. If you want to provide activities consider old fashioned games like pin the tail in the donkey or setting up a simple arts and crafts table.
7. Presence not Presents – This one is tough for a lot of people. As your kids get older they start to accumulate so much junk that they really don’t need more stuff. Consider letting parents know that gifts are not needed. Some parents ask guests to bring canned goods for their child to take to a homeless shelter. This can actually be a great thing for a kid to be part of — in our consumer focused world parents need to look for opportunities to teach kids to think of others.
8. Limit on Gift Giving – If you don’t feel comfortable showing up empty handed or with a can of pinto beans then at least set a cap on how much you spend on a kid’s gift ($5-15). Or consider having your child make a coupon for a sleepover or a movie and dinner at your house.
9. Ditch the Goodie Bags — Goodie bags create a lot of waste. Parents spend money on them and the trinkets of crap end up wedged in the backseats of cars or in the depths of a closet. Why create more waste? Kids shouldn’t expect to get a present when they attend a party.
10. Don’t Buy Your Own Kid a Gift — Explain to your child that the gift from you and your spouse is the party. This presents a good opportunity for a child to learn abou how a family chooses to spend their money. If your kid starts to whine for a particular toy then perhaps you give your kid a choice about getting a party or a present.

For more about birthdays check out these great web sites:

There’s many more but now I need to work.

A Dream, A Dollar, and A Dog

May 10, 2008 by

We’re re-posting some old favorites, while we get our feet on the ground

Daughter wants a dog
Our daughter really wants a dog. We, her parents, however, do not want to take on this responsibility at this point in our lives. Life is chaotic enough already. However, this does not mean we can’t find creative ways to foster and support our daughter’s interest in and love of animals.

We recently found a great opportunity to do just that. Our neighbors have a dog that doesn’t get taken out on walks very often. So, I asked the couple if we could start walking their dog for them. My girl and I each have a leash and we take the pooch on a walk. It’s a toss up as to who is happier — the dog or my daughter. The dog experiences a smorgasborg of smells and my daughter gets to bond with the animal and pretend for 30-45 minutes that she has her own dog. It’s very sweet.

Dogwalker for hire
Our friends recently approached me to ask me if they could offer my daughter a regular job and pay her $1 every time she walks their dog (about 1x a week). Before I agreed I talked it over with my husband. I wasn’t sure if this was something that our daughter should be getting paid to do. But then I realized that it could offer her some good lessons in learning responsibility and also a sense of pride about doing a job and getting paid for her work (I’m also a big on teaching girls the importance of being paid for their work. This is something I feel that women need to stress to their daughters.)

So, after talking to my husband we agreed it was a great idea. When we mentioned the job offer to our daughter she was beaming. The first thing our girl told her friends the next day at school was “I have a job.” My daughter’s teacher told her she wished she could walk her dog.

Dog poop and responsibility – a lesson learned
Later when my daughter was thinking about her future glory days as a dog walker she said “When I grow up I’m going to be a dog walker and I’m going to hire someone to pick up the poop.”

At this point I told my daughter “Well, you could do that but then you would have to split the money you’ve made with that person. If you pick up the poop yourself you can keep all of the money.”

She thought about that for a moment and I think she realized that it’s worth dealing with a little poop to get the whole dollar.

We haven’t taken the dog out for a walk yet now that she’s his official walker but once we do I’m going to encourage her to learn how to clean up after the dog. Up until this point I’ve been her pooper scooper. But now that she’s getting paid for this work she needs to do the whole job. If she’s not up to that then yours truly will be pocketing 50 cents per walk.

Perhaps other readers think this is too rigid? Or that I should help my daughter out by cleaning up the poop. I for one don’t think there’s any lesson offered to my daughter if I do the job for her.

One of my coworkers told me “well, it’s good for her to understand that sometimes you have to get a little dirty to get a job done.” I also think she’s up to doing the whole job and that she will enjoy reaping all of the rewards.

Others thoughts?

Debt Reduction Carnival

May 10, 2008 by

Originally ran last year.

Our First Carnival.
Warning: Many exclamatory statements ahead. I guess we’re just excited, excited, excited about hosting our first ever debt reduction carnival. It certainly has been inspirational to be a part of the debt reduction community, really.

Would You Consider Helping Another PF Blogger?
We’ve learned a lot. So, sit back and click. Would you mind? The pf community is a great place for otherwise scarce information about debt reduction. Pf bloggers are making a public commitment to debt reduction — a powerful motivator. Perhaps you will post something to the next carnival, respond in kind? Since you’re reading this, it only makes sense.

[If the previous paragraph reads like utter dross -- please pardon, there's a reason, to be explained in a later post about marketing that exploits our deepest, largely unconscious needs. Look for it on Wednesday, most likely.]

For the record, these are in absolutely no particular order! Enjoy.

Two Investment Mistakes:
I’m partial to this post, perhaps because it looks into two mindsets, cognitive rules of thumb, heuristics, that can get us into trouble when investing. That’s psychology folks. So read on… It’s hard not to want to spur someone on that has just started a pf blog, whatever the focus — debt reduction, money management, frugality, investment. Check it out!

Building A Better Snowball:
Is it possible to resist such a title. This is an awesome post. If you haven’t read it yet, get thee to consumerism commentary and check it out. It’s got Pink Floyd, it’s got a killer financial plan for getting out of debt, it’s got a credit reduction calculator, did I mention it’s got a plan. For my money, setting up the emergency fund is key, this message cannot be crowed off the rooftops enough. Check it out!

When You Put Your Mind to It:
Clever Dude is not kidding. He shares his method for destroying $58,000 in debt. There’s hints galore for even the most world-weary debt gladiator. One of my favorites is “We Fix Things Ourselves.” It doesn’t take much — not that I’ve done it — to change the oil in your car, does it? Check it out!

Free Credit Reports, A Cornucopia:
Hustlerama offers no less than 15 ways to get a free credit report. Not that I’ve actually ever done this, but this could be the inspiration that finally puts me over the edge. I’m actually kind of worried that some of our behavior has led to some nasty credit comments. Maybe not. An important step in reducing debt: Know where you are, financially. (And for the not-faint-of-heart, scroll down about halfway down his homepage and look in the left gutter — something to roil the emotions of any debt reductionist.) Check it out!

Alternate Income Streams:
I’ve ventured into this area, but think it is underutilized. An occasional CD sold on amazon has bought me the occasional lunch. At businesscreditcards, the focus is New Media Ways to Raise Capital. Some tips you’ve probably not considered. If you’ve got a little time, these could really pay off! Check it out.

David On Finance:
Has got some well considered thoughts on when to consolidate debt. He also uses the phrase “raw power”, which I think is highly under-used in the pf world. If it was good enough for Iggy… David makes some excellent points about credit unions (not always…) and extra payments (ah, the power!). Check it out!

Grad Money Matters:
He calls them myths. I call them heuristics, cognitive shortcuts, rules of thumb. Well, some of them, anyway. There’s a goldmine of good advices and links here. I particularly like what he’s done with the I’ll-never-get-out-of-debt-so-I’ll-give-up mindset. Check it out!

Mighty Bargain Hunter, Putting Things in Perspective:
This is a refreshing post that puts a little forest into the viewfinder (rather than trees). Your debt needs the context of your life. Not other people’s lives. An important thing to be reminded of, that. Check it out!

Sex for $3:
Can you beat that for a deal? Another whale of a post from one of the funniest bloggers around. If you’re not conversant with the ways of Bianca and Basil, you’re in for a treat. Check it out!

OOPS: It appears that the Bizarros have “scrapped” their blog. I’m not sure what this means, but hope it’s temporary. The link may not work. Sorry.

A Book Review. Now I Want to Read This Book.
Books are invaluable motivators for re-focusing. Get it at the library or one of those great used books sites (I kick myself when I think of all the new books I’ve bought — used books are simply no longer the coffee-stained acid-ravaged items we encountered in less-than-savory warehouses.) And of course, Trish at blogging away debt is a certified maven of personal finance. Check it out!

Another Lie About Debt:
Here’s another perspective enhancing article. (Or a link to it.) In the circle of linking, I got this one from blogging away debt. I found it so interesting I broke my goal of having 10 links for this carnival. So now we have a nice prime number. Check it out!

Am I Really Ready to Get Out of Debt?
Okay. So Let’s Make It An Even Dozen. NCN submits some interesting points, ready starting points for self-inquiry. I particularly liked the one about being ready to withstand the opinions of others. Let’s face it, turning down lunch because you don’t want to spend money is awkward, in many circles. Check it out!


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