Author Archive

Third Carnival of Snowflaking

May 15, 2008

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


Debt Reduction Newbie? See Snowflaking

May 14, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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!

Can We Afford Intelligentsia (Coffee)?

May 9, 2008

Sure it makes Starbucks taste like the swill that it is. The branding is terrific (but is not used to good effect on their website). The coffee is fantastic. But can we afford Persephone & Alchemy, Zirikana, Anjilanaka? Starting to think about cutting corners. Eating out, $3 coffee, these things are on their way out. But I don’t know if we can give up Intelligentsia.

Look, tea, made at home of course, is insanely cheap. Put it in a thermos. Tons of antioxidants (black or green) and research has proved (though I can’t cite it) that it gives a more sustained, gradual release of the caffeine, leading to a more relaxed, alert mind. No crash. The whole personal finance recovery thing is about smoothing out the roller coaster of consumerism, isn’t it? Drink tea.

Dormant Volcano

May 8, 2008

We’re in pretty bad shape financially. This blog is operating on geological time. Perhaps it will erupt soon. 



January 11, 2008

I’m so glad we didn’t delete this blog. We are in a mess again financially and only the kindest gurus (ourselves, I guess) can get us out of it. I’m enlisting Lady Dough Girl (my wife) and we are going to lick this thing into shape.

Probably the best way to look at it, from a psychological point of view, is from an addiction perspective. Not in the shaming AA way where you lose all your status and have to start from the bottom (which, admittedly is rather appropriate), but from the perspective that there will be screw ups and they are part of recovery.

‘Knee deep’ wouldn’t really capture where we are with this. We are up to our necks in it, credit card debt. I hope we can enlist the support of that dear personal finance community again, as it was so helpful before.

Where Do They Go?

October 31, 2007

Old blogs that is. I considered calling this “coda”, but I’m not sure it’s time just yet to cash in the chips, call it a day, and so on. In glancing over the more recent posts I note that there’s nothing about my passing the licensing exam. And that’s ancient history.

We are back in debt, to the tune of a few thousand at least. That I only have a ballpark idea indicates where we’re at. Still, it’s confined to one card now. We just hit that wall of “I want that.” That wall is tough. Plus, what do you do when your bank balance is $0.00. That was a new one, courtesy of overdraft protection. But it didn’t last for long and soon we were at -$207.

Managing Internet Identity: Addendum

September 29, 2007

The previous post courtesy of pasadena conversations, an excellent blog the keeps an eye on media and community in Pasadena. A related website offers “open hours” with instructions on how to develop websites.

If you happen to be in the Pasadena area, these are well worth checking out.

On taking control of one’s internet identity

September 28, 2007

Privacy? What’s that?
Somehow I came upon this fascinating take on managing one’s internet persona. It’s here. Since clicking on links seems to be not a very engaged in practice (how’s that for passive voice?) I’ll quote at length. As someone that writes an “anonymous” blog I found this fascinating:

controlling your public appearance

In the last month, I’ve received almost a dozen panicked emails from people who had commented on my blog at one point or another and were horrified to find that their comment was at the top of Google’s search for their name. In each case, I have respectfully altered the comment to an anonymous name. I prefer not to remove these comments because this leaves holes in my blog, especially when others’ comments are based on those earlier comments. Unfortunately, most of these people do not understand how Google’s cache works and write back in rage that it’s not fixed. I politely try to inform them that Google’s cache can take months to update and I cannot do anything to speed this up.

When people bitch about MySpace and Facebook being walled gardens, one of the positive things that I offer in return is, “at least those teens’ profiles aren’t in Google’s cache.” With Facebook’s opt-out decision, this is no longer the case. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a bit terrified of what this might mean long-term. (more…)

Vacation from Blogging

September 14, 2007

I’m making a unilateral call. I should find out about the results of my licensing exam soon, on Monday. I think, though, that we’ll probably not be back scrutinizing the finance stuff for a few weeks. October 5th. Of course, Ladydough is free to violate this at any time. So check back once in a while, for kicks.

Lady Dough said to me the other day, “I can’t believe Bizarro are done with their blog. I feel like we were blogging for them.” RIP.

Blog Action Day.
Of course you all know about the blog action day coming up, right? Check it out. Google ‘blog action day’.

Pissing On American Express, or, Hot Air into Action

August 31, 2007

The hair that broke.
Oh, I meant pissing off. So sorry. Do I sound angry, bitter, resentful? I am and have been all those things, but the overriding mood is one of sweet, unalloyed triumph. As I mentioned early in August, American Express really pissed us off. I don’t know why. We should really not be so naive. They simply pulled the old bait and switch tactic, 0% followed by two late payments and then whack! 30%. Will we ever learn?! So I wrote of drastic measures. I even mentioned Thunderbirds.

Napalm for debt. Napalm for Chase. Napalm for Amex.
In any case, we converted some of this hot air into some active warfare. We liquidated an asset. We are sad about this. This was not part of the dream. But, as John Lennon sang, the dream is over, time to move on.

Recent payments, made August 3o:

United Mileage: $3207.32

Chase/ Amazon: $5999.24

American Express: $15,770.15

I am ecstatic that we have the resources to do this. Amazingly, we still have a couple grand of debt. But the bulk is paid off. I’m delighted that we didn’t take out a home loan thereby prolonging, and multiplying our debt for 30 years.

Not doing it again!
Now the trick is not getting back into a debt that even remotely resembles this morass. Since canceling credit cards hurts your credit rating we are pondering what do with the couple we won’t ever use again. I said never. Shame on me. Freezing them is not enough. How about preserving them in plexiglass? Or amber, maybe. Another idea is cutting them up and burying them in the back yard. Admittedly, these solutions are more based in poetic justice than any real contingency.

The morass.
This last bit about not doing it again is very serious. We still want to maintain a credit card for airline fares, that sort of thing. But we really need to get into a mindset where that card is literally frozen, is treated like a hand grenade, is kept under lock-and-key, sort of like a firearm that you wouldn’t want your kids to get their hands on. This will be the challenge. I’m hoping we’ll be more than up to it.

The addiction model — a little psychology.
I think debt is a little like addiction. It is, after all, largely a result of compulsive behavior. It creeps up on you. Little mindless impulse purchases, CDs, video rentals, trips to Vegas and then — kablooey — $20,000 in the hole. (I realize this scenario is not as common as some people would like us to believe, thus normalizing large debts. But it is fairly common, nevertheless.) So back to the addiction model. In Alcoholics Anonymous addiction is viewed as a disease. On a charitable day I view this as wrong-headed, perhaps even dangerous.

Biological determinism.
I am familiar with the brain science. Much of it is compelling. But I’m still not convinced that it fits the disease model. And as with much biological deterministic thinking there is the chicken-egg problem. What causes these mechanisms in the brain to activate? Another side to the disease model is that there is a high genetic component to alcoholism. This is undeniably true. But why is it that some become alcoholics and others don’t? What is the mechanism that activates the gene? My point is: We are not doomed to fulfill all the scenarios scripted in our genes. This makes for hopelessness and a willingness to shirk off responsibility.

In Marlatt’s relapse model relapse (in our case, think Doctor Debt shows up at the doorstep, “Damn, you again?”), relapse is viewed as inevitable. This is not fatalistic. It is just viewed as part of a process. Relapse is part of the process. It is not looked upon as being shameful. When it is viewed in this way, it is easier to pick oneself up and get back on track (hey, two cliches in a row!). You are not a failure! Your life is not over. You can be debt-free again. One does not have to return as a newbie and start all over again. Time and again I’ve heard from relapsed AA members that this can be a very shameful, even shaming experience. When relapse is a process it is treated matter-of-factly. And it is dealt with accordingly.

Making it official.
Once the transactions clear I’ll update our debt meter. But I want it to be all, like, official.