Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Time Has Come To Bid The Blogosphere Adieu


When I really started getting serious about getting out of debt, I looked to the blogosphere for help. I can't begin to thank everyone out there, both for the great information, but also for the support your comments gave me. I'm not out of debt yet, but the pace quickens almost by the day, and I can truly see the light at the end of this dank and horrible tunnel. Unfortunately, my massive debt repayment effort leaves zero time to blog, so we made the decision to fold up shop and throw all efforts to killing debt.

I thank each and every one of you that took the time to read our ramblings, and cared enough to cheer us on when we were down (and my, were we low at times). That takes a certain kind of character that makes me believe humans may have a chance.

The one thing from this amazing experience that resonated with me deepest is this: gratitude. Look within your lives, because everything you need is right there. And for the most part, free. Many people who become mired in debt lose that ability to see the beauty of everyday things and everyday moments, to see and appreciate nature and beauty and human kindness - because Madison Avenue doesn't get rich promoting those things. Corporate America gets rich on people zombified by stuff-lust and plastic pieces of crap, not the appreciation of what truly matters in a life. What I learned is this - pay attention to your life, right down to every bite of food you take into your mouth to the value of the love given to you that is worth more than ten thousand hours in front of a plasma screen you can't afford.

It's all right there in front of us, and as the immortal Huey Lewis and the News once put it, "Don't need no credit card to ride this train."

Cheers. And good luck.

Basil

Sorry, I can't begin to follow that so I'll just say that I'll miss the interaction, great ideas and support I got from everyone. Thank you for being there for us.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Basil Bizarro, Debt War Hobo Soldier

Yeeaaaahhhh...so we took a little unexpected break there. Sometimes life comes up and hits you broadside with a shovel blade, right behind the ear. Which is expected, this unexpectedness - it's just that we were weakened by the madness of starting a business, so we went down a little harder than we anticipated.

Apparently sometime between starting this blog and now I turned into a hobo. Frugality, while it has certainly helped us in some areas, hasn't done much for my personal appearance. I had one real haircut since last December. I don't even recognize myself. Who is this person, with the shooting shafts of jagged hair that gave me the look of a barn owl blown apart by buckshot? Bloodshot eyes peering out from sunken pits? Even my car, which I've explained as being something quite horrid to begin with, is failing. The paint is peeling off the body in shapes that remind one of huge sores. I'm having difficulty remembering the last time I bought a shirt. Or pants. Or underwear. All I need is a bottle of river-distilled gin and a boxcar and I'd fit in with the likes of Cacklehead Jimmy Pastelpants and Frank "the Shank" Moonbeams. Oh, the times we'd have, keeping clear of the railroad dicks and Capital One's goons.

Due to exhaustion, I've yet to update the debt total, which now sits at $13,150. I'll have cracked thirteen large by the end of the month. Things are snowballing, faster and faster, but the brutal work pace and my freakish hobo appearance are taking their tolls. I just hope I can make it to the Big Rock Candy Mountain, where the dogs have rubber teeth, the lake is made of gin and debt is but a long forgotten dream.

I think the end of the journey may more realistically resemble the following, which is the original last verse of Harry McClintock's Big Rock Candy Mountain:

I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Friday, August 10, 2007

We're Back!!!

Sorry, we've been out of the loop for a while, but we've had a lot going on with our personal life, as well as Basil's crafty side business which is exploding like an egg in a microwave. Basically, if he's not at his day job, he's working on the side business. Really. Every night from after dinner until midnight, and this morning he even had to forgo a shower because he was busy packing envelopes. I said that was fine as long as I wasn't working next to him -- but he had to get into a pool today at work for some reason (nice job, huh?), so I think he figured that counted as bathing.

Our goal this weekend is to set up a budget and start going over it on a weekly basis, to staunch the dining out flow before it gets out of control as well as keep a closer eye on where all the money is going. Plus although we have additional income from the side business, we also have additional expenditures, so we want to see how much extra Basil can send to the credit cards. We also decided to get the ignition fixed on Number One Son's new/used car, so we'll be taking that into the shop Monday morning, but we plan to put that on an empty credit card to just float paying it off a month.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Who Stole our Savings?

As you can see, I finally updated our emergency fund bar. After taking money out for dental bills, new glasses and a car, we still have $3727 in the emergency savings. And that's what it's there for, isn't it? It's going to be a very tightly budgeted month in August because there's the college payment of $940 to pay (which will be mostly refunded after all the loans and scholarships come through), plus Number One Son just called to say he needed to go to the dentist because he thinks he has a cavity. I bought him dental insurance this week, but it won't cover fillings for the first six months. At least it will cover the check up and cleaning, and as he'll be in college for another three years, I figure I should have it on him anyway. Basil's going to attack the credit this month, and I just hope I don't have to dip into the savings again. At least work's picking up for both of us, so we should have a little bit of overtime as well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cracked Fourteen Large, Or, The Crafty Side Business Strikes Back

I just took the gloves off and gave my debt a smack in the nose with the heel of my hand. It's bleeding a bit, dazed, but leers at me, knows the fight is far from over.

I should have kicked it in the groin. Maybe next month.

Fight debt. Fight dirty.

Monday, July 30, 2007

June Income & Expenses!


Whew! I just made it. I barely made getting June's income/expense report up in July. I think I've decided that next month I'm not going to wait until I get my bank statement (since it usually arrives after the 15th), and instead, reconcile with my online statement so I can get a better handle on where the money's going. What happens to Basil and me is that we have a good month, and then celebrate the next month, yet we don't realize how much we've spent until yet another month's almost gone by. We used to try to go over expenses weekly, but that kind of got away from us, too.

Unfortunately, as you can see, we ended up in the negative this month. But that can be explained by the purchase of a car and registration for Number One Son to take to college. We also had an airline ticket for Number Two Son to fly to visit his father for the summer.

The good news is that we quit randomly driving around and combined errands, so our gas went down $60 for the month. Basil had a lot of art income, but that was mostly spent on art expenses, supplies and for when his parents visited, but hopefully in the future a bigger cut of that should go toward the credit cards.

We kept groceries down to around $400 which is where we want to be, but that could be because for one week of the month there were only two of us. Also dining was cut by half to $236 (but I'm afraid that July's will be back up).

Entertainment was high because of Basil's family visiting.

Gifts Given was high because there are A LOT of birthdays in my family in June including mine, two of my sons, three of my sisters, and a friend's. Add to that that Basil's brother graduated from high school and I think we did pretty well in the gift giving department.

Everything else is pretty normal, but car insurance will be going up with an additional car $60 a month. We're hoping to change our cell phone package to try to get that lower, but with four people in a family plan, I don't think $142 is too bad, especially since we don't have a land line we're also paying for.

Hopefully next month I'll get July's budget up much quicker, because we've got to get this debt paid down, plus save for a wedding in the next 11 months. I think we're going to implement a budget through Quicken and see if that helps us.

Sex At $3 A Pop, Or, The Price Of STD And Pregnancy Protection

While Bianca and I were at the Rite Aid looking for aloe for my third-degree sunburn, she went off one aisle and I lingered down another. I came across the condom aisle and began looking them over. Something I had never noticed before was that in addition to the "large" size (including the popular "Magnum"), there is now an XL. This was news to me. I thought the upper end of the scale was the Magnum. Leviathans lurk in the waters of the masses, I thought.

That was until I reached the Extra Large Durex XXL's. My goodness. The box proclaimed "Extra large for big time pleasure." But I was in for another surprise as my eyes played over the colorful boxes.

I scanned the prices, finding the normal discrepancies between the Mercedes and Kia comparable brands...until I reached the "sheepskins." Holy colona. While a mid-range box of 12 condoms will run you $12.99, a box of 12 sheepskins, or "sheepies" as I immediately nicknamed them, will cost you - get this - $39! I had to know more about these extravagant contraceptives, and before I knew it I had my notebook out and was jotting down the words "pricey sheepies" in it (what - you don't carry a notebook for times such as these?).

Apparently, sheepskins are only good for pregnancy protection. They won't do you a bit of good if you find yourself sharing a room where the only furniture is a mattress with a towel over it and there's someone taking your money (But who would use a $3 condom in a situation like that? Then again, you're probably not thinking frugality at that point). Sheepskins are worn mostly because they apparently feel more natural.

The kicker for me was this: sheepskins are not actually made of sheep skin - they're made from lamb intestines.

I've got to stay out of the Rite Aid - too many rabbit holes to tumble down.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gah.

Monosyllibic rants. Stress headaches. Spitting obscenities at machines.

Getting serious about adding a debt reducing side-business is painful. Doing it on top of a stressful 9 to 5 job is excruciating. I had my best month yet in terms of sales, but had to invest it all into growth. Disappointing.

Bianca is an angel, without whom I would be in a park somewhere, my clothes black and shiny from my own oils, an empty bottle of Old Jim Skin's Budget Drunkdrink laying next to me.

Gotta pull it together.

This is the war on debt. Sacrifice. Hard work. Hopefully it will bear fruit.

Good and Bad News

The good news: Basil was really relaxed after a day of boogie boarding and lying in the sun on the beach.

The bad news: The sunscreen should have been reapplied more often because by 10 p.m. his stomach and chest were the color of a cooked lobster. Today he says it feels like a million needles are stabbing him.
I guess we'll have to find a better way for him to relax, because when it comes to putting on sunscreen, it's like trying to apply it to a three-year-old.

More good and bad news: I got a refund check of $74.80 from State Farm for my car insurance. The letter stated: "When financial results are better than expected and business conditions permit, we are pleased to return part of your premium. We enjoy these positive results because of our policyholders' attention to safety and our careful management of your premium dollars." Yay!

The bad news: I got a bill for lab work from my physical for $85, which doesn't say it's covered by insurance. It was last year, but the doctor sent me to a different lab, and this year the blood was drawn in her office. I'm hoping it's actually covered, and I'll call Monday to find out, otherwise, that refund check is going straight to the bill for the lab. Wah!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Day of Relaxation

Today we're taking Basil to the beach for some much needed (forced) relaxation. He's been working every night and all last weekend on his crafty side business and his boss even sent him home from work Thursday because his eyes were all bloodshot and he looked awful. Of course he went home and worked his second job. I figured the only way to get him to relax was to get him to the beach. There he swims, lies around, reads and always feels great when we come home. I know the side business will help pay off the mountain, but I'm afraid of what kind of mental and physical shape he'll be in when that year's up. I don't want to look like I'm marrying a hobo next summer.

Oh, yeah, and maybe I'll finally get to balance the checkbook and post June's finances this weekend.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Basil's Intervention

Sorry, I've been out of commission for a while, but Basil was using both computers for his crafty side business this weekend and I worked late yesterday. I thought I'd better interject before people become too depressed and think Basil's going off the deep end. Basil says his brother is "more successful" than he is, but he's basing success on what capitalism, advertising and our society deems "successful".
Yes, his brother makes a lot of money, but he's 30 years old and I've given up learning the names of the latest girlfriend because I know it'll change before I even get the chance to meet her. He parties every weekend, which Basil and I have long outgrown (not that we don't like partying with friends, but going to bars has never been a weekly activity for us). Yes, he's buying a house, but he's never camped on a beach at Catalina Island, hiked the Rockies, or seen dolphins chasing a whale-watching boat. He hasn't moved across the country and when it's 0 degrees out in Chicago, we're running errands in t-shirts and jeans. He hasn't helped raise three wonderful boys, who are smart, funny, creative and just fun to hang out with. His brother may seem successful to the outside world, but he's going it alone, not letting anyone get too close to him. Basil throws himself into the world and new experiences. He's smart, creative, generous and has a fiancee´ and family who love and support him. And you can't buy that down at the Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Holy Cats

My, that last post was a cheery one.

I've run myself ragged trying to manage my Crafty Side Business and my full time job and I'm coming apart at the seams. Emotionally battered. Tired beyond reason. My successful younger brother buying a house and I'm in the gutter trying to crawl my way up to $0.

My only excuse is that this site is titled "Freak Show." Lest anyone get any ideas that it's anything but.

Trying to think postivie thoughts. None come to mind, at present. But what is there to do but soldier on? At least money's being thrown at the mountain.

Movin' On Up

When you move to a major urban center to try and upgrade your financial fortunes, you often neglect to look around you at the splendor such a place has to offer. I mean, if I hadn't looked around recently I would have missed:

The beauty of the slow, graceful arc of a tall unconscious man, and the wet, deep slap his head made hitting concrete. I would have missed his assailant, chest puffed out, striding away triumphant in his drunken, shirtless glory.

The beauty of several dozen pigeons eating out of a wet garbage bag in the parking lot of a Home Depot - eating and screwing, sometimes at the same time.

A two hundred pound woman urinating quite vigorously, in the middle of the sidewalk, at 3:30 on an airless, sun-baked afternoon.

In other news, you can read about how a guy blew $210,000 on drinks this weekend. The story is here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Going Into Debt For Jesus


Bianca and I have never had cable. Ever. Whenever we enter a hotel room, the first thing that is done - before bags drop from shoulders- is the television is turned on, usually to the Weather Channel, which I could watch for hours. I could rent a hotel room, watch the Weather Channel for 24 hours, and leave completely satisfied. That's what no cable has done to us.

At home, my options were limited to the crap network stations, the Home Shopping Network and several (13) Spanish-language stations. Then there was TBN. I used to watch the Trinity Broadcasting Network way more often than I should have. I watched it for the sheer, gleeful horror of its entertainment value: the Crouches (see Jan pictured above), the silly movie premieres (watching Christian filmmakers and broadcasters act all "Hollywood" remains endlessly entertaining to me) and, of course, Benny Hinn with his amazing Holy Spirit Knock You Over Spells. I mean the guy is a real-life X-Man. There's something so ornately sleazy about him that makes you suspicious he bathes only in Cristal champagne.

I was reading a William Lobdell article in the Times today titled "He Had Faith In His Job" in which Lobdell talks about his years covering the holy beat. He mentions TBN's "prosperity gospel":

"TBN's Creed is that if viewers send money to the network, God will repay them with great riches and good health. Even people deeply in debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards." (italics mine)

"'If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN and have not contributed...you are robbing God and will lose your reward in heaven,' Paul Crouch, co-founder of the Orange County-based network, once told viewers. Meanwhile, Crouch and his wife, Jan, live like tycoons."

They need the money, you see, for the $21 million dollar private jet, 30 homes across the country and their two mansions in Newport Beach. Oh, and the ranch in Texas. And the taxes they have to pay on these donations? Nada.

"Even people deeply in debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards."

Look, somebody's gotta pay for Jan's pink skyscraper wigs.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Debt Numbers Updated

Debt total now stands at $14,294. This number would be much lower if I wasn't reinvesting profits from the Crafty Side Business back into it, but today I nearly made as much from sales as I made at work.

The hope is once I have the business where I want it I can grow it steadily while using profits to obliterate debt. I would love to be blasting a grand off the mountain every month, but that doesn't seem feasible just yet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So, My Credit Card Company Screwed Up - Does This Mean My Balance Will Stay At 0% Forever?

Upon double checking my statements online, I noticed that a 0% balance transfer had been misapplied as 9.9%. One of the statements showed all sorts of corrections and additions and subtractions, and they were named strange things like FUND READJ FRONT END FEE MALJUS TW 769EEHJ.

I called the company.

"What's the deal on all these corrections?" I asked.

"We misapplied a transfer rate. It's been corrected," the woman said.

"I see it's been corrected."

"Of course we apologize for any inconvenience," she said.

I was trying to hold my phone to my ear and urinate at the same time. I had been on hold for 21 minutes and the woman had come on just as I had begun to use the bathroom. "So...you make a mistake, I get an apology - but I make a mistake and I get 29.9%?"

"Is there anything else I can help you with today, sir?"

I had a vision in my head, being fresh from a viewing of the latest Harry Potter film. In it there are beings called Dementors, which suck the life out of you, your very soul trailing like vapor into their mouths. This is what it feels like, I thought. Talking to this woman, who thanks to the wonders of globalization is sitting in a room full of other women, women who speak English better than I do, somewhere in Ajjampura, India - I truly felt my soul being sucked out and into the pinprick-sized mouthpiece of my cell phone.


Gah. I've gotten so used to not speaking to these "account specialists," that it pains me when I have to do so.

A Nasty Little Secret About The Secret

A while back I wrote about the Secret. About how the Secret was essentially crap. But something happened recently that was more than a little bizarre. And it had to do with the Secret.

Because I'm sometimes known as a "wiseacre," or even a "smartaleck," or occasionally, if people are being particularly cruel, a "wisenheimer," I've been known to mix it up a little bit. Zig instead of zag. Not "hit that" when someone commands "hit that." So when I was listening to the audio version of The Secret, there came a point where the author said to imagine something positive you would want. Something you really, really want. So I did. But I didn't think of anything positive; no, because I'm a "wise guy," I thought very specifically and very hard about wanting a certain co-worker to leave the company.

This person - who, mind you, was considered by all within the company to be a lifer - is very suddenly no longer with the company.

I still think the Secret is utter shite, but let's be honest here - I did get a bit of gooseflesh over the whole affair. And just to be one the safe side, I'm going to keep my negative thoughts in a mental "lock box" for the time being. Let's face it, I'm just too cosmically powerful right now.

Mommy, There's No More 'Mercials For Nuggets! I Feel Empty In My Tummy And My Soul, Mommy

Having observed the "McDonald's-As-Crack-For-Youngsters" phenomenon with the spawn of my friends, I find this article interesting. Apparently some of the largest food companies are going to restrict advertising aimed at children under 12. Including those nugget-dealers McDonald's.

Of course parents should be encouraging their sugar-addled young to get out from under the gaze of the electronic babysitter (or the Flat Screen Love Substitute, as it's known in some households) and go outside. There are billboards I see every day that try and encourage parents to turn off the television, or to serve vegetables at dinner. What has happened where we feel like we have to use billboards to instruct people that Ho Ho's and Red Vines are not a nutritious dinner? I think once we've gotten to that point as a society, it may be that we've peaked on the ride and it's time to just throw up your arms and scream as it rockets downward.

I, of course, was above all that advertising to the under 12 set when I was included in that group. Pay no mind to the overflowing boxes of battered, very un-mint-in-box Transformers and G.I. Joe figures in my parents' attic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Our Dining this Month So Far...

After the crazy eating out binges we've been going on, I decided to check our Quicken halfway through the month to see how we're doing. So far we've spent $157, which includes the $58 buffet (for two) we ate in Las Vegas (we were checking it out to see if we wanted to take wedding guests there, but decided that unless you were a big seafood eater, it wasn't worth it. Plus it encourages you to overeat - the true American way). So we're way down from our high of $600 in May, but over where we'd really like to be. Plus I'm not sure if everything has been entered into Quicken. The only good thing I can say is that we've been eating out really cheap, and believe it or not, I'm actually getting burned out on In-n-Out after eating it four times in a week.

Monday, July 16, 2007

One To Grow On

My Crafty Side Business, which I use primarily for debt destruction, is experiencing major growing pains. I'm being approached by stores that want to carry my little crafty things, I have no social life as I'm constantly trying to stay on top of custom orders...it's mad. If I weren't in debt, I'd be able to quit my 9 to 5 and have a wonderful time making what I want. But...I am in debt, so it means I'm working essentially two full-time jobs (Take a moment here and wipe your eyes - I know, I'm a little choked up as well. Poor Basil...). I don't even know my own fiancee anymore. Plus I'm in a transitional stage with the Crafty Side Business where I'm Trying To Take It To The Next Level, which of course means spending money to make money. Errrgh. It was so simple in the beginning, just selling stuff and all the money going to debt. Now I'm actually having to do calculations, profit projections...

On another note, I've been thinking about something lately. Having been in the blogo-verse for a while now, I've noticed tons of articles about frugality, how to get out of debt, etc. What I'm not seeing much of is, what's behind all of this, all these people waking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt? What's the mass psychology behind this problem, which, as I found out here on the Intra-nets, is a massive one (and tied to America's fat problem, I'm certain)? Why aren't we dealing with the psychology? Is it because we don't want to face it directly? Is it too complicated? What's causing college educated people to wake up one day and say to themselves, "F--k me, I'm thirty thousand dollars in debt?"

That's for another time. But it's a valid question, and I think if properly asked and adressed on a massive scale would paint the world we live in in much more menacing tones than the bright colors and shiny plastic would have us believe.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I Used a Reusable Bag!

I did it! It was truly a bizarro moment for me! I used a Trader Joe's reusable shopping bag at a competitive grocery store! I felt a little weird, but she filled it up, no questions asked. Of course, one item didn't fit, so she had to use a whole bag for it. I think I've crossed a line today that I was afraid to cross before. Now if I can only remember to take them in before I'm wheeling the groceries through the parking lot to my car.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tagged! 8 Random Things About Bianca

We were recently tagged by Blogging Away Debt as well as An English Major's Money to reveal eight things you may not have known about us. Luckily there are two of us, so you, you lucky people, will get to learn 16 things you didn't know about the Bizarros (which you may live to regret). Since Basil's working late tonight, I'll post my eight things now, and he'll regale you with his unknown facts tomorrow.
1. I'm a twin. Not an identical twin. You should see how excited people are when they find out I'm a twin, and then watch their faces fall when they find out I'm a fraternal twin. I'm such a disappointment. They're also disappointed to find out we don't have any special "connection".
2. I'm 11 years older than Basil. We've been together for 10 years, and yes, he was a wee lad of 24 when we started dating. When other women find out they say "You go girl!" and call me Demi.
3. I don't like hot peppers. Every time (and I do mean every time) Basil is eating some, he offers me one. I will never take it. Ever.
4. I enjoy watching Mystery Science Theatre with my sons.
5. I make a fabulous homemade barbeque chicken pineapple pizza almost every Saturday night (including the crust). We eat it while watching Mystery Science Theatre.
6. I love boogie boarding.
7. I paint portraits in oil.
8. I've been known to play Guitar Hero with my sons as a way to bond with them, but I secretly just like to pretend that I can play "I Wanna Be Sedated".

I'll go ahead and tag Frugal Babe to find out 8 things about her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sin City on the Cheap

I'm exhausted! Saturday we cleaned and organized for the arrival of Number Three Son on Monday, and Sunday at 6:30 a.m. we hit the road for Vegas. Had a great time and we'll recap more details later, but the bottom line is we did two full days of vacation for just under $300 (that includes hotel, gas and food). That doesn't count the $98 for a new tire after we lost some tread in Baker, CA. You haven't lived until you've changed a tire in the desert in 115 degree heat.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Vegas, Baby, Vegas

It's been a busy week at the Bizarro World household. And I can't even blame it on children. My work has been really busy, and with a holiday in the middle of the week, I found it hard to find time to post.


I'm afraid I have a confession to make....we may go to Vegas this weekend. Not to get married, but to check out the chapels, hotels, buffets, etc. It's strictly for research. No fun will be had. Since we aren't usually childless, I brought up the idea that we should go now before Number Three Son arrives Monday night. We would start out early Sunday (it's a 3-4 hour drive and hotel rooms are cheaper Sunday nights) and come back Monday afternoon before "the boy" arrives at 9:30 p.m. After checking out hotels online we figured we could do it for around $200. I could use my birthday money $110 and Basil just sold $50 worth of art, plus he got a $20 tip at work yesterday, and I had a whole day of overtime this past week which would more than cover the rest.

Then Basil did something that's usually Bianca's forte....he said maybe we should just put that money toward the debt. I'm always the cheap one, getting a big chunk of money and just putting it in my savings until I decide how to spend it (hence still having a $110 to spend on my birthday even though it was almost a month ago). We decided that maybe we didn't need to run to Vegas this weekend, and that we could probably go in the winter when it wasn't 117 degrees when Number Two Son was visiting his brother at college. This weekend we could create art, relax and maybe spend his tip money on eating out. We decided to sleep on it, and as Basil is still asleep, I'm still not sure what we're doing. We both have to enter in all our receipts and deposits into Quicken, and then we'll know. It would be so much more relaxing to just hang out at the apartment all weekend...but on the other hand, Basil insists on wandering around naked. So maybe Vegas is sounding better after all.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Cost of a Beautiful Moment



Basil already reported the good news in the previous post, so I'll just report how the spending went. It ended up being a relatively cheap weekend. We decided to rent snorkel gear (mask and fins at $9 each), which was really worth it since I'd never snorkeled before and we saw a 5-foot bat ray and some garabaldi, along with a lot of other sea life. It was kind of scary for me because I'm not too keen on swimming with large marine life, but Basil held my hand the whole time and didn't laugh when I panicked swimming over the bat ray. We also ate out three times for a total of $55. The little grill restaurant on the island was really inexpensive, so we had a big breakfast Saturday morning before our 7-mile hike. Then when we came back Sunday afternoon, we had burgers and unlimited fountain Diet Cokes (I think Basil had at least seven glasses -- it was so hot). After the boat ride back to the mainland, we stopped for some Mexican fast food. Here are the expenses for a romantic camping weekend on Santa Catalina Island:

Boat Ride: $118
Campsite: $36
Food: $33
Eating Out: $55
Parking: $24
Snorkeling: $36

Total: $302

Getting Engaged on an Island Beach at Sunset: Priceless.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Basil Pops A Question

First things first - when I was signing into my Blogger account I glanced at the rotating "Just Updated" feature, and I'm pleased to report that "Ebony Ass Gallery" has updated its blog. I didn't check what was added, but I think it's safe to say it was some ebony asses.

Second things second - Bianca and I got engaged over the weekend. It was all terribly romantic and would probably have induced vomiting if people were watching, but since we were on a secluded beach on an island, dinners were spared. The below photo was taken moments after I popped the question.
We had hiked in seven miles, and I had hidden some chilled champagne and glasses in my backpack. The ring was handcrafted by an artist on Etsy.com, and contained zero diamonds. If Bianca was someone who had to have a huge rock to show off to friends who actually cared about that kind of thing, she wouldn't be the person I would ask to be my wife. And any industry that tells you what percentage of your salary you should spend on something is suspect at the very least. It's almost laughable watching the diamond industry combine love and societal peer pressure to increase profits. In fact, the wedding industry is a little microcosm of the consumerism-fueled U.S. economy. Girls are trained from an early age to feel they deserve the perfect wedding, deserve to be a princess for a day. To paraphrase my dad, "you don't deserve shit." It's about love and relationships, not dresses and cake. Dresses and cakes have their places, but they should be realistic places. A traditional wedding is a whirling tornado of increasing costs and is the perfect example of how people get into serious financial trouble - they let their emotions get in bed with their money. It would make my heart glad to have wedding planners and bad DJ's out of business if it meant more couples focused on the huge commitment they're taking on. May the "Electric Slide" rest in peace. Let "Celebration" die a painful death.

When we returned to the mainland, I was intrigued to find that the newspaper had an article titled "Love extravagantly, but cut wedding costs." The article states that the average wedding cost in the U.S. is $27,000. A chart within the article ranked the average wedding costs by city. Vegas came in at $15,257, L.A. at $26,930 and - get this - a wedding in New York will cost you $40,000. Let's just say that our wedding will cost less than what someone in N.Y. would pay for music ($1,677). Number One, Two and Three sons all play guitar beautifully, so we've got the music covered there. We're looking forward to a small, close-knit affair.

Another article in the section was titled "Bare all debts, assets before the big day." This shouldn't be a problem, since we share everything with complete strangers every day. The article states a couple of horror stories, "one about the bride who found out that her husband had a $20,000 tax debt only after the IRS put a lien on her home" and "a bride who canceled the nuptials after finding out that her fiance had paid his gambling debts by draining the joint account they'd established to pay wedding bills." Brent Kessel, a chief executive at a money management firm says, "Money is one of the leading causes of divorce."

But financial matters aside, a beautiful, amazing woman wants to spend the rest of her life with me.

Celebrate good times. Come on!

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Camping We Will Go

So far this week's been pretty good on the spending front. We bought some groceries for our big camping trip this weekend, but every night we ate at home. It's been a real struggle since we're childless and that's when we go out the most since we only have to pay for two of us. Tomorrow morning we get on a boat to take us to Catalina Island where we'll eat breakfast in a restaurant, and then hike seven miles to our campsite on a beach. We're not sure how much food to pack, and since we won't have any refrigeration, we can't take anything cold. Mmmmmmmm....warm water. Basil's worried we're not taking enough, whereas I think we're taking too much (since I have to carry the food, I tend to think less is more). We only have a four-person tent, and though I was tempted to go out and buy an inexpensive two-person tent, I resisted. We figure we'll buy a two-person tent once the debt is gone, plus it's not often that there are just two of us anyway. So far the expenditures for this weekend are: boat trip for 2 - $118, campsite - $36, food - $33, parking car - $24; total: $211. We may rent snorkling gear which is $9 each. We also plan on eating dinner out Sunday night once we back on the mainland. All in all, I think it'll be cheaper than a hotel-staying, buffet-eating Vegas vacation.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A "No Money Spent" Day!

We did it! On Wednesday we had a "no spending" day! I'd like to say it was intentional, but more likely it probably had something to do with my posting our May expenses on Monday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

May Income/Expenses



Wow - what a month! The bottom line doesn't look too bad, but I put some expenses on the credit card to delay them a month (dental bills, glasses), so next month will be crazy. We're still having a problem making ends meet because of the extra $100 a month in rent increase as well as the extra $100 a month in gas. We're going to try to cut back the unnecessary errands.

There wasn't as much art income this month because Basil saved the money to spend when his folks were visiting.

This month we started adding interest income and expense. I have a savings account that earned $17 worth of interest, and Basil's credit card interest was $119, but that included a $75 charge for moving credit around to get a lower interest rate, so next month that will be much lower.

The clothing expense was up, but that was paid with extra money I got from selling some artwork.

The scary/bad category, as always, is the dining category. We spent $499 in one month! Ugh! So with the $500 in groceries, that's $1000 in food for the month! Granted, most of the time we ventured out to cheap fast food joints, but often there were four of us as Number One Son was staying with us for two weeks. We also celebrated the end of the semester with a nice meal out as well. Something has to be done! Basil and I decided that if we're really serious about saving for an emergency fund and getting out of debt, we're going to have to sacrifice. So we've decided to follow in the footsteps of An English Major's Money and use an envelope for our monthly dining out funds. We're going to budget $30 a week for eating out, which will amount to $120 for the month instead of the $500 we spent this month. That would give Basil $380 extra to go towards credit card debt. Since that's our worst expense, we thought we'd try it for a month, and if it works well we may go to other categories as well. It will be hard because Number Three Son comes to visit July 9.

The only other problem was that last month I posted that we got the electric bill only every other month....well, I was wrong. We just missed last month, so we had a double bill this month.

Everything else was pretty standard. It's kind of depressing sometimes to see how much we spend in a month, but then we get competitive and say "We can do this thing! Let's not eat out at all next month! Let's pay the credit cards off by Christmas! YEAH! GO! GO! GO!" Then we come down off the furniture and get a little more realistic, but still determined to beat this debt.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Put Down that Phone!

We live in the LA area and today a co-worker handed me a sheet with all the newest driving fines that take effect July 1st. The one that worries me is that cell phone use while driving must be "hands free" and if you get caught, the ticket is $285. Ever since I backed into my sister's car in my parents' driveway with my recently purchased vehicle while I was searching for a ringing cell phone, I've avoided talking on the phone and driving. I've also told my sons that no phone call is so important that you have to answer it while driving. They were in the backseat at the time of my accident, so even though it cost me $500 for the insurance deductible, I think it taught them a lesson. Unfortunately I don't have the same control over Basil. He has a fairly long commute to work and often calls me to ease the boredom ("Tell me a story," is how he usually starts the conversation). Also, his phone isn't new enough to have hands free technology. I could switch phones with him since my phone is bluetooth ready, but his has been dropped so many times that it looks like a family of bears mauled it for a week.

Also mine has cool ring tones.

As a $285 ticket is not in our budget, I guess Basil will just have to use patience and make phone calls before he leaves work or wait until he gets home. He definitely doesn't want to have to blog about having to pay a $285 ticket.

And I would make him.

Was doing a little research on this info, and I've found that the law doesn't go into effect until 7/1/08. There is conflicting information, so to be safe, I think I'll advise Basil to start now....just in case.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Debt Komix!

Because no one demanded it, the debut of Debt Komix!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Live Free Or Debt Hard

Some excellent recent posts to check out:

Zen Habits has 73 Great Debt Elimination Tips! Number 38 really stood out for us: "Turn off your television, and discard catalogs and other advertisements immediately (but not coupons!). Do this, and your urge to buy stuff you don’t need will plummet." Very true. Start paying attention to how often you're bombarded with ads. Ask yourself if the tool at the water cooler prattling on about the taste wonders of Sierra Mist isn't being paid to do Word of Mouth Advertising (WOM). When the blaring, near-unavoidable inanity of today's advertising starts really pissing you off, you're on the right track.

Fiance Psychology has 7 Crucial Habits To Cultivate. If you haven't checked out this site, I highly recommend that you do so.

Frugal Babe talks about how frugality and the environment in their post Doing Our Part. Bianca and I are struggling to get to where Frugal Babe and her husband are at. They're doing the right things, and inspiring the hell out of us. An excellent post about how financial and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand.

I'm Afraid to get the Mail...

I'm starting to get nervous. My credit card bill arrives any day now and I've been putting some pretty big purchases on it the past month: eye exam and glasses, car repairs & tires, dental bills, web server fees, and many other little things I can't remember right now. Those items are adding up to almost $1000 already. I'm hoping a couple of things didn't make the most recent bill, but it'll still be high. And I'm determined to pay off the entire balance, even though Basil tells me I can do it in two months instead of one. I would rather take it out of my emergency fund than pay a penny to the credit card companies. I also go to the dentist tomorrow for my final crown on my tooth, but at least that should be on the following month's bill. Basil and I are cracking down on the spending (again!) and I should have some healthy overtime the beginning of July, so I shouldn't have any problem paying. I would just like a month where I don't have an unexpected expense of over $100.

Kwote Korner

“When you look at the buying habits that have taken hold in our culture over the past 30 years or so, you can see that we made the descision somewhere along the line to work longer hours so we could acquire more things. We’ve exchanged our leisure time for stuff.”

Elaine St. James

Cracked $15,000

Inspired by a comment on my last post, I knocked the debt below fifteen large.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Son Of A BITCH

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid!

Some dumb mistakes lately cost me $73. The first mistake happened less than an hour after I had picked my parents up at the airport. Having promised them the glory of In-N-Out Burger, I took them to the nearest one, only to find the parking lot jam packed. I grabbed some bare, unpainted curb on the street and we went in and enjoyed our lunch.

On our way out I noticed a guy writing a ticket for our car. Then I noticed the fire hydrant, the bright yellow one I failed to notice on my way in to the restaurant. "You're not fifteen feet away from this fire hydrant," he said. And he was right. Where we used to live, all curbs by fire hydrants were painted. Not here. Just a dumb mistake. I took the ticket and pushed down the frothing fountain of bile-tinged rage that was flowing up from my gut.

The second mistake came in the mail, in the form of a letter from the library. Apparently I had kept a pile of reference books for my Crafty Side Business a bit too long, to the tune of $28. Insanity. A $3 fine used to send me into a wide-eyed hate bender, culminating with me pounding my forehead with the heels of my hands and actually screaming "Grrrrrrrrrr!"

I accepted both of these mistakes calmly and with maturity. They were my mistakes, my responsibility.

Stupid dumb asshole police and library. I mean, how dare they?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Budget Followed, Spending Watched - What The Hell Is Wrong With Me?

The parents are off. And there is still some money - granted, most of it change - in my pocket. I feel giddy. Weird.

I knew my parents were coming, so a month ahead of time I diverted my second job earnings (previously earmarked for extra debt repayments) into savings for when my parents were here. I took out the cash before they arrived and put it in an envelope in my sock drawer. Every day I would take out how much I thought I would need for that day. When that money was gone, it was gone. No more fun - at least fun I had to pay for.

And it worked. I would pat myself 0n the back, except I gained so much weight from eating out I can barely touch my left shoulder with my right hand. No back patting for a week, at least.

Budgets work. Saving works. I feel like some real Bizarro World progress was made.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Importance of an Emergency Fund

You never know when you're going to need an emergency fund. Often you think everything will go on as always....until it doesn't. My sister is a case in point. She's been at her job for over 20 years, since she was 24, and making $50,000 a year. Right after her vacation a few weeks ago, she was called into her supervisor's office and told that she "wasn't coordinator material", even though she'd been doing the job for over 7 years. It wasn't a huge surprise, as her manager has a history of personality conflicts with staff, and should not be managing people to begin with. (I also worked for the company and when I gave three months notice to say I was moving across the country, she stopped talking to me because she was hurt that I didn't tell her sooner.) Anyway, my sister is now getting unemployment, but it's a fraction of what she was making. Her husband is working, but they own three houses -- the one they live in, the one her in-laws live-in, and one they're fixing up, plus her husband just bought a new truck, so they have car payments, too. They are living paycheck to paycheck, and though my sister's usually very level-headed and practical, she was in tears and frantic about how she was going to pay her bills. I don't have a huge emergency fund (yet), but if I lost my job tomorrow I'd like to think I'd have enough to hold me over until I got another one. That's why it's so important to have an emergency fund -- you never know if you're going to be laid off or get injured. I know it' s really hard to have a huge chunk of money just sitting in a savings account, when you're thinking about all the cool ways to spend it -- a great Hawaiian vacation, a flat screen TV, or that full-body tattoo you've been wanting. But knowing you have that emergency savings can give you a peace of mind that the tattooed grizzly on your back will never give you.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me with Free Ice Cream!

Thought I'd post about a freebie you can get on your birthday. Just sign up at the Cold Stone Creamery website to join the birthday club and every year you'll get a coupon via e-mail for a free medium Coldstone Creation. My Number Two Son got his last week and I got mine today. They're good for two weeks, and though it's not entirely ethical, one of my co-workers used hers three times last year. I think I only need the calories from one. Okay, maybe I don't neeeeeeed them.....

Get Inspired!

Check out the 100 Most Inspirational Personal Fiance Turnaround Stories over at creditcardlowdown.com. We're number 16!

There's some great stuff over there - and when my folks leave I'll be adding links to some great blogs.

Must not strangle my mother, must not strangle my mother...