Archive for July, 2007

It Feels So Good

July 31, 2007

Despite some recent setbacks, snowballing costs related to the termite tenting, I’m feeling remarkably enthusiastic about Lady Dough’s dispatch of the Green meanies, a.k.a. American Express. Please, where do they get off with the personal questions? Don’t they have enough personal information as it is?

One down, indeed.

On a pratical note: Some ancillary costs to termite tenting (death to termites):

    $97 for work outfit — I didn’t realize we weren’t going to be home on Sunday night. I’m happy with the clothes, though.
    $20 on lunches I would not have paid retail for otherwise
    $150 on hotel expenses
    $35 to park car in hotel last night

Ouch, it does add up. Also, we had a delicious weekend in Del Mar, north of San Diego. That saved us $150 in hotel costs. It was a beautiful drive and Del Mar was gorgeous. Never underestimate the salubrious and salutary effects of ocean air. Not to mention the scent of pines.

Debt Extermination — 1 card down, 3 to go

July 27, 2007

I just got off the phone with American Express. I’m happy to report that this member since 1990 paid off her personal card and closed the account. I found it immensely satisfying to tell them to get rid of the $55 membership charge (which was just applied this week!) and to close the card. They tried to ask personal questions and even said “what can we do to keep you with American Express?” I said, “I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t feel like I’m being heard. I’ve asked to cancel my card.” Once I hung up the phone I got my big scissors out and cut that sucker up. Chaching…that’s the sound of becoming closer to $0 debt.

So, the positive part is that we’re down to 3 cards. My goal is to get down to 1 shared credit card and $0 debt. The downside is that while we’re down to 3 cards our debt has gone up as I had to put the second half of the bill for the extermination company on a credit card since I don’t get paid until 31 July. I’ll be sure to pay that down once I get paid.

It sometimes feels like I make a baby step and then have to take a big step backwards. Today however I’m not feeling discouraged by that. At least I’m aware and doing everything I can to help us move forward.

Happy Friday.

The $34 Haircut

July 26, 2007

I haven’t had a haircut in months. I decided to finally get my haircut and I was thinking about going to Supercuts when my wise husband said “No, as a woman you can’t go to Supercuts because that would be Hair Suicide.” Made me laugh and also feel good about spending a few extra bucks on myself to get a decent haircut.

I ended up going to a place just one notch above Supercuts. I found out the name of a haircutter at the place. If I weren’t anonymous I’d show you how cute my haircut is. It’s is definitely as good a haircut as any I’ve ever gotten. This one cost me $26. Normally people tip $5 but I tipped $8 as I loved my haircut so much. So, the whole thing cost me $34.  Normally my haircuts cost between $50-75, not including tip. So, I think it came out pretty well.

Lazy Man and Money recently had a post about how much women spend on their haircuts.  It’s interesting to see how much women pay for their hair.

Confessions from a Debt Whiner

July 26, 2007

Blogging about our financial goals allows me to do the following:
(1) focus on our goals
(2) communicate with my husband about staying the course
(3) track our progress 
(4) create a community in which we can share stories and inspiration
and
(5) have an outlet to whine and complain about how much it sucks to be in debt and how god awful it feels to start digging your way out….(shoveling a mountain of s&*t with a toothpick)

Confessions from a Blog Whiner
Lately I’ve been using this blog to really have a good whine about it all. When I mentioned that I’ve been whining a lot on the blog my darling husband kind of nodded tentatively and agreed by saying “no one really likes hearing it.” When I said “you’re right. I think I should delete it” he countered with “no, it’s part of the process.” Yes, it is definitely part of the process. Does this whining help us though?

Financial Exorcism
I still feel like I’m in a bit of a financial exorcism. Some ugly feelings have definitely come up since I’ve woken up to realize I can’t afford that coffee I’ve been drinking for the past 2 years. It ain’t pretty. I want my latte along with a generous heap of credit, thank you very much. Did I just say that? No, bad ladydough, bad. Time to drink the office brew.

Noma, the smart husband, is right in that this whining is all part of the process.  

While I realize this grumpiness is part of the process I’m going to also try to remind myself to be thankful for all that I have and to be more patient with myself. After all I am so incredibly fortunate for so many things. Also, we just started our new lives as debt warriors in May. It took us a few years to build up this debt and I need to just take a deep breath and realize it may take me a few more before I get rid of it again. That’s ok.  But it’s so hard. Now that I’m ready to face reality and make progress I have to wait. That’s tough.

 So, without further ado, here are some things I’m thankful for (not in any particular order):

1.) I have a wonderful husband and two healthy, beautiful, curious, interesting kids
2.) Everyone in our extended family is healthy
3.) After many career changes my husband has found a field that he loves and enjoys. He knows he will never want to retire and he is sure he will find success as a therapist.
4.) I have wonderful, lovely, supportive friends
5.) We own our house. Although we are cashpoor our networth is high due to the value of our home and my retirement savings
6.) For the past 5 years I’ve been able to save about 20-30% of my income towards our retirement
7.) We are lucky enough to live in an area of LA with a good public school
8.) I work at a stable company where I never have to worry about being laid off
9.) I live in a blue state
10.) I’m not on any medications

Focusing on Goals: Persistence without Obsession

July 22, 2007

I recently read a post by Leo over at Zen Habits called Enjoy Life Now, AND Safe for Later, or, Why Delayed Gratification is a False Dichotomy.

The article is a good reminder about how one can simplify to enjoy life in the moment while still keeping the future in mind. I find this a good reminder for how to live.

But what about for those of us who are paying for past gratification?

The zen approach doesn’t feel quite right to me….we’ve already bitten off more than we could eat and now we’re paying for it. To be a debt warrior one needs to become a bit obsessive in order to make any progress towards one’s debt. And even when we are in full battle mode with the debt it never feels like enough to keep it at bay. How do you get rid of 20K of debt without becoming obsessive and perhaps cutting so much out of your life that you don’t really enjoy life to the fullest because you’re watching every penny?

Yesterday I realized that if we paid $500/month towards our debt it would take us about 3 years to pay it off. That is very depressing.

How do other debt warriors come up with plans to conquer their debt while still making sure that they can enjoy life now and think and plan for the future? Please share.

Friends with Money

July 22, 2007

I recently rented the movie Friends with Money. For those who haven’t seen this movie it’s about four girlfriends played by Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener and Frances McDormand. I found it a bit unrealistic that these four women would spend as much time with one another as they did considering how different their lives were.  Once I allowed myself to suspend disbelief about Jennifer Aniston being a maid I thought that the characters were very real and believable. The film did a really good job of capturing how our perceptions about what our friends have (money/relationships/happiness/etc) shape our views of ourselves and also the nature of our friendships.

I find it a bit disheartening to think that how much money one has dictates our friendships and yet I think it does to an extent. When I was younger I didn’t feel like I was aware of money and that I found my friends because of shared interests or sympathetic personalities but as I’ve been in the workforce longer and longer it feels like friendships are determined more by “lifestyle” which I feel is largely determined by one’s purchasing power.

Keep Old Friends — They’re Gold
In my own life I know that I’ve stayed closest to the college friend whose life most closely parallels my own — E and I both have kids, we’re both the main breadwinners in our homes and we are both trying to balance family and work. Two of my other college roomates, by contrast have children but one of them has never worked since she’s got a trust fund (didn’t realize this when we were in college because I was clueless) and the other one’s husband is very successful and she doesn’t work outside the home.

It makes sense to me that E and I have a stronger friendship because we have more in common. We can relate to each other. We also have such a long, rich history of friendship together. 

Circles of Friends — Lifestyle = Purchasing Power
Here in LA it feels as though friendships click if you’re in the same circle and that circle is largely determined by how you spend your money (what house can you afford, what restaurants do you go to, what schools can you afford, what recreations do you have time for and can afford, etc…)

Can people who have completely different values about money as well as varying levels of access to money be friends and truly accept one another without judgement or without thinking the grass is greener on the other side?

Again, an interesting thing about the movie was that the three married friends with more money felt sorry for the Jennifer Aniston character because she had no money and she didn’t have a man in her life. While they said they wanted to help her the three women were also envious of Jennifer Aniston’s freedom. Sure she was a bit of a loser but she also hadn’t yet limited herself in any way. By being broke she was in some ways more open and liberated than the women who had their lives “on track.”

Keeping up with the Joneses
I also notice that people don’t talk blatantly about money but people make assumptions. If you’re at a preschool for instance in which 40% of the class drives a Prius or god forbid (my pet peeve) pushes a $800 bugaboo stroller the parents assume that everyone has this kind of purchasing power and people make efforts to keep up. I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve been stunned at how much money has been spent at some of the kids’ birthday parties and all the adults in attendance act like it’s natural. Of course, if you’re friends with the parents, what can you say? So, would it be better if people said “geez, you guys spent a lot of money on your kids’ birthday party? are you really wealthy and are you planning to retire young?” or just act like it’s normal which then creates pressure on everyone else to “keep up.”

This is just a blurb. On Cults.

July 22, 2007

This is what they say at the International Cultic Studes Association:

psyhological abuse, spiritual abuse, brainwashing, mind control, thought reform, abusive churches, extremism, totalistic groups, new religious movements, alternative and mainstream religions, group dynamics, exit counseling, recovery, and practical suggestions for those affected by or interested in these subjects.

Check them out here. Edging closer to that post on Scientology.

And here’s a story that ran on Nightline. The tagline, “The stodgy v. the slick” — the BBC takes on Scientology.

Eight Things You Didn’t Know About Me (2)

July 21, 2007

I’ve been a little slack lately, but I think, upon re-reading some email, I was tagged by Basil Bizarro. I’m feeling very out of it, blog-wise, but excited to get back into the fray.

Eight things you didn’t know about me.

1. I worked on a suicide prevention hotline for a year-and-a-half.

2. Once, I woke up on a haystack and the sun was rising. I kid you not.

3. I got to know my wife over a primitive company email system, around 1993. At one point, I went to the tech guy for some help with my account. He was very puzzled. “There must be something wrong — you can’t possibly have sent this many emails.” I didn’t say anything.

4. Ever hear of Guadalcanal? I was born in the Solomon Islands. My grandfather narrowly missed getting strafed by Japanese warplanes (roughly) 40 years prior. He believed in God after that. He died two years ago. He was 97.

5. I was in a rock band with a record contract and everything. Sadly, I can’t say more! To be completely honest, I left for some sanity before the actual contract and stuff.

6. My brother attempted suicide.

7. I have worked as: a sandwich maker; a production assistant in publishing; a temp in banking, blood processing, insurance firms; I even went door-to-door, interrupting people’s dinners, for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

8. I got back-stage passes to a Pogues show once and met Joe Strummer. I was so star struck all I could do was shake his hand and walk away. My date was amused by this. As a shrink, looking back on the experience, he looked kind of depressed. Kind of sick of the star thing.

I guess that’s more like 25 things. Thanks to B. Bizarro for the tag love, and a great belly laugh. This is one of the funniest lines I’ve seen in a while: “I was trying to hold my phone to my ear and urinate at the same time.” That kind of sums up the customer service experience.

Free Lunch

July 20, 2007

There is such a thing as a free lunch and I’m eating it now!

The company I work for routinely caters lunches. Sometimes the meetings are cancelled and the person who organized the mtg forgets to cancel the food. An assistant sends out an email and the rest of the rodential (is that a word?) workers like me go scurrying to the abandoned conference room to raid the vittles. Yum! I made off with some good loot. Free food….

This will save me about $6-7. I think that’s worth a bit of a rodent like scurry….because over time….the rat gets rich….(But will I still be a rat?)

Credit Card Stalemate

July 19, 2007

My Lunch with Debt
Today during my lunch hour I paid a few credit cards and then updated the spreadsheet that I use to track all of our debts and assets. The good news is that in July my retirement plan got bigger by quite a lot. I noticed, however, that our credit card debt has been stubbornly hovering around 22K despite feeling like we’re making constant sacrifices to the credit card companies. This is in part because of the onslaught of car repairs, home repairs, etc.

Christmas on 27 December
Then tonight I realized it’s also because we bought our tickets to visit family over the holidays. To buy four tickets for the approximately 5 hour plane ride cost us $350 per person (with tax it worked out to $1500). The tickets would have been more like $3-4K had we decided to go during Christmas. I played around with fares and found that flying out on 27 December reduced our ticket costs by more than half. Before buying the tickets we got the ok from the relies. The relies were game to celebrate xmas after Jesus was born. And the kids are always game for having a holiday at home and then one again with their grandparents and aunt(s), uncle(s) and cousin(s). I put the tickets on one of our visa cards and then forgot about it. Yet, I hadn’t forgotten to keep paying our bills down.

So, while we’re maintaining the 22 K and not making too much progress I am happy to report that it hasn’t gone up and we’re starting to make baby steps.

Help! Termites are Eating Our Emergency Fund

July 18, 2007

The optimist in me says it’s a good thing we had started to build an emergency fund. We recently found out that our house has termites and that we’re going to need to tent it for fumigation. Unfortunately, this is going to cost $2400 not including the cost of having to find a place to stay while our termites get gassed out. I transferred funds from our ING account to cover the cost. Glad I didn’t put this on a credit card.

This now means our emergency fund is at $1700. I know that my car still needs even more work done to it. The mechanic said the struts will cost about $600. For now it’s apparently safe. However, I don’t think many cars ever sounds this clunky and junky. As long as I don’t have to drive my boss anywhere I think I can live with it. My kids certainly don’t care.

 So, the pessimist in me is bummed to see the emergency fund get so low and I wonder if I’ll have to wait until my next bonus to see it get some positive activity.

 I hope those termites appreciate the money I’m spending on them. Damn ingrates.

Struggling with Debt, Struggling with Study

July 18, 2007

A new realm.
We seemed to have moved into a new realm in terms of the debt-reduction struggle. The budget, at least for the moment, has fallen to the wayside. It’s not that we aren’t committed to a budget, but haven’t settled on what’s going to work for us.

Striking modifications.
On the other hand, we have successfully made a pretty striking modification of our spending habits. This is way cool. I take lunch every day (okay, one day I forgot my ATM card and had no cash and had to borrow $10 — oops, I forgot to pay it back!).

There have been some casualties. I don’t know where I put LadyDough’s ATM card. She might have to order a new one.

Distractions.
My driving habits have changed, but I think that saves us like maybe $100 a year. I am more focussed on my professional website at the moment. That avenue is a much more likely road to debt reduction.

Another realm completely.
I wrote a thing on psychologists seeking rights to prescribe psychotropic medication for my local psychological association. I don’t think it was received well. Big Pharma has already begun to infect us. Sad. They’ll be asking me to write a different article, no doubt, putting me in a dilemma. I don’t want to summarize the views of others, especially when I think they are not well reasoned, at best, and disingenuous at worst.

Study break.
I need to dedicate a week off from blogging in order to do some serious studying. I got my letter to test, which means I have about 50 days to schedule and take my test for the licensing exam. Until July 25th, I leave you in Lady Dough’s capable hands.

8 Random Things You Didn’t Know About Me

July 16, 2007

We were tagged by Alex at Retire Young or Die Trying back on 5 July. I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s lists. Noma and I haven’t told anyone about the blog so I don’t want to reveal too much as I like the shroud of secrecy. That said here are 8 completely random things about me:

1) My mother was a clown.
Seriously, for a short period of time my mom and her friends worked as a clown troupe that would perform at local libraries. It was the 70s and I think the other two ladies were big drinkers. I only wish we had video footage. Imagine my life a la David Sedaris.

2.) As a kid my favorite ice cream flavor was coffee.

3.) I was an English major.

4.) In college I worked as a guard in a small museum.

5.) I love design and architecture. I’m addicted to design blogs like Design Sponge.

6.) I have a love/hate relationship with religion. Organized religion sends me running and yet I fantasize about finding a church with Annie Lamott as the minister.

7.) I’m proud to live in a Blue State.

8.) I’m pathetically cash poor. However, our networth is over $800K. This is largely due to having bought our house in real estate crazed Los Angeles more than 8 years ago and to saving at least 20% of my salary for retirement for the last 6 years.

I’d like to tag a few others:

Debt Free for Life
Boston Gal’s Open Wallet
Debt in Seattle
Stop Buying Crap

July Grocery Shopping — $306.04 tally and 16 more days to go

July 16, 2007

It’s halfway through the month of July. I decided to tally up how much we’ve spent on groceries this month. So far we’ve spent $306.04. This works out to $20.40 a day. We have four people and a pet in our home. Pet aside, this works out to about $5/a day for groceries for each person in our home.

I realize we’re only halfway through the month. Assuming we spend the same amount on groceries for the second half of July that means we will have spent about $612 on groceries this month or $153 per week. I’d be really impressed if we could keep our groceries to just $150 a week.

My husband sent me an article about how much people spend on their groceries and I was shocked that some people manage to spend just $150 a month. I wonder if they are eating only rice or if they aren’t being completely accurate in their accounting….Or are we just super wasteful?

Some interesting links with more on what people spend on groceries as well as some tips for how to reduce costs:

Failure to Post: Blog Avoidant

July 15, 2007

Noma has been asking me why I haven’t posted recently. Hmm…It’s true I have become a bit blog avoidant.

I think this is due in part to our recent set back with having had to dip into our emergency fund. And because I know we’ll have to dip into it again to pay for the termite tenting we have to do in the next couple of weeks/months (unscheduled so far). I’ve got my head down and my blog between my knees. Who am I to write about battling debt? Perhaps I can offer some schadenfreude to those who have avoided dipping into their emergency funds this month.

The optimist in me thinks these are small setbacks and that we are still in a better place than we were before because we are much more aware of our spending. This awareness, however, does, not in and of itself bring any feeling of progress. In fact I’ve noticed it makes me feel more anxious and lackluster about life. This is probably because I’m more aware of our situation and how impossible it feels to get ahead.

Feeling more lackluster about life because of my financial situation doesn’t make me feel proud. Why should any of us not enjoy what we have in the moment because of something we’ve done in the past (incur debt) or something we want to obtain in the future (a car, a remodelling project, a vacation, keeping up with the joneses)? How is it that our financial situation can dictate how we feel about life and ourselves to that degree?

How can we work on achieving financial goals without losing a sense of balance? Any tips from fellow debt bloggers would be appreciated.

Drying Paper Towels For Re-Use

July 12, 2007

There was an image here. Let it rest in peace.

Madness. Genius. Knavery. Slavery. Foolery.

Moral Highground — What to Do With It?

July 11, 2007

Over at retire young or die trying, Alex is wondering whether he should “sell out” and allow a payday loan company to advertise on his blog. But this is his blog‘s stated purpose:

This blog will document my attempt to save and earn as much money as I can, as fast as I can, with the purpose being to retire as young as possible and to stop having to work.

Six out of ten, at this writing, polled at his site think he should allow the ads. Given his stated purpose, I wonder if he shouldn’t reconsider. Hmmm. My own thought is that allowing big banks to make more money is unfortunate, possibly even vile. But, that sounds awfully puritanical. Scruples are a pain in the butt, when you get right down to it.

I don’t see any real contradiction in running the ads. I mean, is your readership going to take out a payday loan? Doesn’t the content at The Simple Dollar and Lazy Man and Money speak volumes more than an ad? Do you look at ads? Or is this a case of put your money where your mouth is (which always sounded distasteful to me, like poker).

Upon reflection, both of the above-mentioned sites reveal a very pragmatic approach in content and design. Both are interested in passive streams of income, not something I would argue with. I don’t think they give up any moral high ground.

Anyway. Maybe I should be writing about cultish religions founded by science fiction writers and staffed by others that really like the color blue. Bizarro asked about that one. But that was before Sin City on The Cheap.

Found Money

July 11, 2007

I was thinking there was tuition, $1300, coming up at the post-doc — but there is not. I am done with tuition! This is an awesome bit of luck, not to mention a commentary on my money awareness (or lack thereof). It softens the blow of paying $1500 to visit my family around the holidays, somewhat. I don’t know where the heck our emergency fund is at, but I know our credit card has sprouted ears again. Shit.

I forgot my lunch today. I sidestepped the sense-of-humor failure. In fact, I had to borrow ten bucks from one of my office mates, because I didn’t have any cash nor even my ATM card. Nor a credit card. I strolled to Ralph’s and got some salami and apples. Come to think of it, there’s still some in the fridge…

Frugal Meal: Baked Potato and Corn

July 10, 2007

Lately we’ve been leaning on this one, weekly. I don’t know what the dollar breakdown is, but the sucker is cheap and nutritious, and strangely satisfying.

Baked potato with grated cheese, served with corn on the cob.
Baked potato takes nothing but some time. 75 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit. (The time and temperature yield a very consistent, fluffy, delicious baked potato. Credit goes to the food maniacs at Cooks Illustrated.) I like to put some olive oil on the potato with a paper towel, and sprinkle it with salt. The olive oil makes the skin crunchy (I think, that part’s from my brother-in-law).

Corn on the cob, according to Bill Buford in Heat, the chronicle of one man’s immersion in highbrow Italian cooking, is best obtained by plopping the corn in boiling water for 2 minutes. If you’re looking for something to read I strongly recommend heat as being vastly interesting. It’s a solid piece of reporting, too. Bon appetite!

Razor’s Edge

July 9, 2007

Making coffee this morning and I was struck by the brutally sharp edge of the tin as the can opener peeled it off. This is supposedly the number one source of serious lacerations in the emergency room. It brought to mind the surgical incisiveness of the credit card, seemingly innocuous, but capable of relieving you of a lot of financial blood. Like the tool of some John Wayne Gacy.

I froze the offending card in a plastic cup. I was going to shred the sucker, but it pleaded for mercy. Now it sits, hanging in limbo like some tusked mastodon. Like a blood-sucking mosquito suspended in amber, a memento from the era of financial chaos. Before the light.