Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm eating out again!!!!

It's been a not so good week for refraining from eating out. Picked up son from airport at 7:30 p.m. - ate at In-n-Out Burger; took two sons shopping - ate lunch at TGI Friday's; bonded with sons by playing Guitar Hero all afternoon until dinner time - picked up chinese food; drove son back to college - lunch at Chipotle's. Now none of these were expensive meals, but I'm really afraid to see what they all add up to. Plus my parents are on a five-hour layover in our city this Tuesday, so we're going to have dinner with them, too. Without Tuesday's meal I think it came out to around $90-$95. I made much more than that in overtime this past week, but I still feel guilty spending it when I know that eating at home is cheaper. I know I can't eat all meals at home, but we'd been doing so well that this feels like a set-back. All I can do is to try harder next month.

We also had some college-related expenses like printer ink cartridge, notebooks and toilet paper. Luckily most everything else is covered, so we won't have too much more of that this semester.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Kwote Korner is murder right now. Difficult to post. Should ease next week. Until then, enjoy this very special Friday edition of "Kwote Korner."

"Folks don't even own themselves/Payin' mental rent/To corporate presidents."

Public Enemy, "He Got Game"

More Unexpected Expenses

I'm going to get my eyes checked on Monday so will probably have to at least pay the deductible or co-payment or whatever. In the meantime, I noticed a sharp edge on one of my teeth and after a close look in the mirror found out that I chipped off part of my tooth and only the filling is showing on the inside. I have awful teeth and even brushing and visiting the dentist regularly since I was five hasn't prevented me from having three root canals and a cavity in practically every tooth in my head. Now I have to find a dentist and make an appointment for that. Luckily I've been working a ton of overtime, so at least I have the extra cash to cover whatever my insurance doesn't.
Also, my son didn't get all his college books used, so his total was $593 instead of $502. Resale value at the bookstore at the end of the semester -- proabably about $75.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The grind, the grind - pays off!

Whew! Working two weeks straight is not for the faint of heart. Near the end I was a zombie, gritting my teeth and chanting "get through, get through, think of the debt..." It worked. Bianca and I were able to knock $1,300 off our debt this month so far. You can check out the update on the NCN network here. The scrimping and sacrificing and hard-assed work paid off. I'm continuing my "not buying anything but essentials" program. It's working, big time.

Frankly I'm stunned at how much money I've pissed away over the years on stuff I didn't need. The hamper in my closet broke. Sure it was a crappy IKEA plastic thing-a-ma-jig, but instead of throwing it away and taking the time and money to buy a new one, I just fixed the thing. Two zip ties and it's as good as new.

I feel reborn. I feel like I've stepped outside a vast and powerful machine. Commercials seem louder, more obscene...The constant prodding and selling you normally gloss over when you're part of the machinery becomes abrasive and obvious. Grating. It's an ugly world out there. You're too fat, you've got too many wrinkles, your boobs are much too small and for goodness sake, do NOT STOP SHOPPING, lest the terrorists win.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mom, can I have some money?

Sorry, it's been a week since I last posted and I have no excuse. This week I had a couple of unexpected expenses and one unexpected reprieve from an expense. My oldest son bought his books for college which amounted to $502 and he called me to say that he only had $4 left in his checking account. So, of course, Mom pulled through and transfered $150 into his account. Luckily my children are pretty tight-fisted with their money and since he lives in a dorm with meals provided, he can probably make that $150 last the whole semester. He usually waits until Mom visits to say he needs things like notebooks and shampoo.
I also have another unexpected expense -- I lost a (hard) contact while hiking yesterday. There were high winds and lots of dust. I took it out and while trying to clean it, lost it on a rocky path. I think my insurance through work will cover some of it, but I'm sure there's a deductible or co-pay of some sort. Meanwhile, I'm wearing dorky glasses and feel like I'm back in the eighth grade.
The good news is that my 16-year-old does not have to have car insurance until he gets his license. As long as he only has his permit, State Farm won't add him to my insurance....hmmmm.....I wonder how long he can drive on that....

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kwote Korner

"If we weren't groomed to be adolescents, we would be terrible consumers. We'd be responsible with our money, we'd buy things that last, we'd insist on quality and we'd spend our time in pursuits that had meaning for us, rather than just plugging ourselves into the consumer engine."

Todd Field

Monday, January 15, 2007

Coming Attractions: "Maxed Out"

Click here to check out the website for the upcoming documentary Maxed Out. Very appropriate to the topic at hand.

Refunds! Refunds! Refunds!

The kitchen sink has been clogged for over a week and after trying boiling water and baking soda (usually works) and even snaking it, finally broke down and bought Drano Max Gel. Didn't work at all, even thought the bottle says "guaranteed". So since it's Bizarro World this year, instead of just forgetting about it, I e-mailed Drano and said that I wanted my money back since it said "guaranteed". Just received an e-mail saying that they'd send me a check for $4.50 since it didn't work. I didn't even have to send a receipt or anything. Of course, the bottle cost me $6.48 with tax because it was from a grocery store, but at least I got some money back. Yay Bizarro World!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gaaaah! Nobody stopped me!

Basil's been working all weekend, so left to my own devices I apparently eat out. A lot. Today I went on a 6 mile hike with my son that ended around 3 p.m. and as we were starving, I drove to the nearest fast food joint for burgers and fries. Neither is on my budget or my diet. Another $13 not spent toward my debt. I vow to not eat out for at least one whole week.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stop me before I eat again!

Just spent another $9.40 on Chinese food for celebrating my son getting his learner's permit after six months of driving school on Saturdays. I'm trying to justify it by knowing that we both only ate half and that $9.40 will equal four meals. That's only $2.35 a meal. Must......stop.....eating......out.

$4.27 to Celebrate a Life-long Dream!

I've been feeling guilty this week. I'm usually the frugal one, but since we started this new year, Basil has been doing much better than I have. I only have a car payment, but I do have a freshman in college and a junior in high school who will soon have college expenses. I have no problems spending on them, but feel guilty spending anything on myself. This week I splurged (only two weeks into the new year) and ate out with my co-workers (again!), but only spent $6.33. Now my car payment is under $200 (though I always pay more), I have no credit card debt, and I made $40,000 last year, you'd think I wouldn't feel guilty about spending $6.33 on lunch (a salad and water), but I do! I also had a big victory in my art, in that I'm participating in a group show at a gallery and doing a joint project with another artist. I majored in art in college, have been painting on and off ever since, and my dream is to be able to sell my art. This is a big step in fulfilling my life-long dream. I went straight from work to the gallery to talk to the curator and had a headache from not eating anything when I got done. So to celebrate I took Basil to In-n-Out and I used a $5 gift card from Christmas and spent $4.27 extra to feed us both. Did I feel terribly guilty? Of course. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about spending so little to celebrate a life-long dream, but I do. We used to celebrate every little thing by going out to eat, and I don't want to get into that mindset again. I guess it will have to be an ongoing struggle.

The Can Man

There was a man in the small town where I grew up, we called him the Can Man. He was of indeterminate European origin, had a shock of white hair that looked to have the brittleness of uncooked spaghetti and rode a three wheeled bicycle up and down the rural roads. Some days I would pass him and he would be cackling, weather-beaten face raised to the sky. By the end of the day he would have the basket brimming with aluminum cans and plastic bottles, and he'd return to the two room house where he lived with his two grown sons who sold both nightcrawlers and meth.

I don't want to become the Can Man. That's my fear of going down the road of frugality. This morning Bianca and I took all our recyclable materials from our 6 1/2 foot stack of IKEA containers and drove them down to the recycling center (which, we learned from an article in the paper, had recently been fined heavily for scamming the state). The total: $7.58. Here's where Bizarro World came into play. Normally on a Saturday after collecting our cash we would immediately drive to a fast food joint and indulge our tastes for gristle and grease. Today, however, we drove to the bank, deposited $7 (keeping quarters for laundry), and I used BillPay to send that money to my highest rate credit card.

Okay, so where did the $0.08 go? Savings. Daddy's gonna need him a three-wheeled bike someday.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Kwote Korner

"You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you."

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 5

"Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is it essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No."

Tyler Durden, Fight Club film, 1999

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Off to a good start

Tonight I threw $450.94 at my debt. I'm working two weeks straight, with lots of overtime, so it's giving me a big boost at the beginning of the year.

Monday, January 8, 2007

No Credit Needed Network

If you notice at the right there is a new section. We've decided to name it "links." Brilliant.

Thanks so much to the No Credit Network for including us on the site. If you've never visited please do so. We're dying to see that purple circle wane. Our profile can be found here.


Whew. That's what I get for thinking negatively, I guess. Our trusty mechanics let me know that the brakes were fine and that my oil level was getting pretty low and I needed an oil change. They performed the oil change and also replaced a bald rear tire with a used, but perfectly tread-tastic tire. Total cost: $49.51. Hate to pay even that, but I was bracing for hundreds.

Now my car is back on the streets once more, to be laughed at by small children and the elderly. Teens? They just sneer and flip the hair out of their eyes.

I feel like a hamster!

Today I did some much needed shredding of old credit card statements. I usually keep them a year (in my mind anyway), but unfortunately, I hadn't cleaned out the file for over a year or so....okay, okay, I actually was shredding bills from 2001 if you must know. I also ordered a copy of my free credit report from Transunion since I had ordered my last one over a year ago in September 2005. I had had a problem with Discover when I moved last year and notified them of my new address. I rarely used the card except at Christmas time, and so wasn't aware that I hadn't received a bill until March or April when I got a nasty letter from them (to my NEW address) telling me that I was behind in my payments and they were going to send the bill to a collection agency. The bill was only $250 and I would have paid it in full had I received it, only now they had tacked on three months of late charges. I paid the bill (the $250 part) and after two months and 6 phone calls I got them to take off the late fees and the black marks on my credit rating. The kicker is that they still cancelled my card even though it was their fault. Now I don't really need a Discover card, but it was the first one I'd gotten while in college, so it's long history looked good on my credit rating. The nice customer service people said that I could open up a new account, but that wasn't the point. Anyway, the credit report looked good and there were no negative marks on it. I didn't pay the $8 to see what my credit score was, as I'm not currently looking to buy a house or anything, and my rating last year was 820, so I can't imagine it went down that much. I'll save that $8 for my next car payment.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The stinking, burning smell of a car-tastrophe

Barely a week into Bizarro World, and on a drive back from a hike this evening, my brakes began to feel a bit soft and Bianca detected a noxious, burning odor coming from the right front wheel well. My steed is a 1996 car often described as "feminine" and "sissyish" as well as "rather sad, really." But it's been reliable. Taking it in tomorrow to our trusty Armenian mechanic brothers to give it the once over. Hope it doesn't knock me back too much. I felt we were really building up a head of steam moving into Bizarro World. I envy my brother who at thirty hasn't owned a car in seven years; I read somewhere that not owning a car saves you about 6 large a year.

Going to the pictures

The thing about Bianca and I is, we love going to the pictures, or the "movies" as the kids are calling them these days. In 2006 we went to the theatres 17 times (24 including free screenings - see below). Since we live in a large urban area where ticket prices average about $10, going to the picture show cost us about $340 last year. One thing we were very good about was not buying concessions, clearly one of the biggest rip-offs we consumahogs indulge in. I like to go to someplace like Wal-Mart, buy boxes of Milk Duds for $0.99 (Concession price: $2.75) and stuff them in my pockets and in Bianca's purse. The pant ones get warm and soft by the end of previews.

Today we went to see "Children of Men," an amazing film. We used a gift card and it cost us nothing. Our goal this year is to not see movies in the theatre. If we're given an AMC gift card for a birthday or whatnot, yes, we'll be going. Will we sneak into another film to double our value? More than likely.

One benefit of living in an urban area is free screenings. Hollywood loves to hear from Joe Public in regards to their movie they're about to throw $20 million in advertising behind. We scan the weeklies for ads offering free screenings and also joined The Screening Exchange which emails us about upcoming free screenings. Last year I saw "Little Children," "Martian Child (coming in 2007 with John Cusack)," "The Break Up," "Jesus Camp," "Sweet Land," "Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny," and "Borat." All free. Most of them months ahead of release.

So no new films unless we can see them free. We'll be retaining our Netflix since we don't have cable and watch little to no television.

A December to Remember

I finally got our expenses posted for December, but not without a lot of hair pulling and cursing. I guess the html coding classes I took at the community college finally paid off. As you can see, we go a little crazy around the holidays and every celebration was an excuse to eat out. We're correcting that this month and as much as we wanted to grab a bite to eat after an early matinee (only $6 and using Christmas gift cards), we went home and had sandwiches. Also a big purchase was a new computer for me as mine was randomly shutting down and it was getting very frustrating to even sit and get anything done at it. Ask Basil about the heavy sighs. I put it on a credit card and paid the amount in full when then bill came due from money from my savings. Anyway, check out where the Bizarros spent their money in the month of December.

Hey! I actually have a jawline!

An unexpected side effect of not eating out is that I've lost 5 pounds since New Year's Day. Without working out at all.

Do I miss eating out? To the extent that I've gotten splitting headaches and a strange, unpleasant gnawing sensation akin to withdrawl symptoms. You see, eating out for the two of us was extremely pleasureable. We weren't hitting the five stars, mind you, but the sheer joy of knowing that we were off to the shiny red and white interior of In-N-Out Burger made me as giddy as a full-bladdered cocker spaniel hearing the rattle of his leash coming off the hook by the door. I have an In-N-Out bumper sticker on my car, for Pete's sake. I willingly advertise for that beautiful place, with their sumptouous double doubles, spilling over with animal-style sauce, the aroma of fresh peeled - STOP IT!

Like I said. I lost five pounds. Bianca and I are off for a day that will include seeing "Children of Men" and going to IKEA to pick up some things. All using gift cards received on Christmas.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Freegans - Not members of a Morgan Freeman fan club

The lovely and financially deft Bianca sent me a link to this article. It's about a group of friends that pledged to go one year without buying anything new. The most interesting thing to me was finding out about the existence of "freegans" : "Several cities in the United States and Europe have communities of "freegans," people whose contempt for consumerism is so complete they eat food foraged from Dumpsters whenever possible, train hop and sleep in abandoned buildings on principle." I used to call these people "the homeless" or "hobos." Talk about hardcore. Freegans are like anti-consumerist monks who gladly wolf down a soggy half-eaten Big Mac, then lift their faces to the rain, and with the defiant shake of a fist they cry, "Damn you, consumerism! I will not bend before your dominant steamroller will! Snfff. Hey, do I smell McRib sauce?" Bianca wishes I'd remained ignorant of their noble cause, because now I say, "That's 'freegan' awesome" all the time.

Books begone, in Dumpster-dug envelopes

After I decided to really get serious about getting shipshape financially, I began to look around our living room, which had begun to look something like a library. There are three bookcases in here, all of them overflowing with books. I'm an unabashed bibliophile, but for cry-yi, this was getting out of hand. Is there really a need to keep books you've already read? Granted, we do keep first editions and signed copies, but the overflow of once read chick-lit and mediocre non-ficiton was too much to bear. There's money on them there shelves.

So far I've sold $100 worth of books (as well as two DVD's I received as gifts and never watched). For shipping I use padded envelopes I dig out of the Dumpster at work, so the cost of packaging is nil. After the money appears in my checking account, I use an electronic Bill Pay and throw it at the debt.

The One Month Challenge continues, with all purchases being made with a debit card. No cash, no questions. It's all in Quicken.

28th Car Payment

I just made my 28th of 60 car payments, and decided that my goal this year was to pay off my car - all $5632 of it. So my payment this month was $500. I figure that if I can keep that up, it will be paid for by fall. That's my only debt, since I don't use credit cards, unless I pay them off in full the following month.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

One Month Challenge

My debt as of this writing stands at $18, 264.53. I've paid $539.40 to credit cards so far this month. I'm taking part in the One Month Callenge being thrown down by the Simple Dollar blog. Check it out - it's already been quite informative for my personal spending habits.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

December spending

I promise to get our December budget posted this weekend. Basil just entered the last of his December receipts into Quicken last night. Good thing too, as I had a mini meltdown this past week because I had to transfer $750 from my savings account to cover our December expenses and was bitterly complaining because Basil had gone to Vegas with his brother and used his Christmas bonus, and I was using mine to cover everyday expenses. Well, seems that with the holidays and everything, Basil had forgotten to enter his paycheck from the 21st into Quicken, which was $1100. So now I'm happy again and look forward to paying a chunk of my car off with my bonus. Yea!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Not Spending at Target

I went to Target today and only spend $3.24 on cold medicine for my son. It was really, really difficult to only buy one item at Target. But on the bright side, I got to use the express lane. I wanted to buy a new thermometer since the battery died in ours and it was only $4.99, but I figured a battery would be cheaper. Now if I can only find the tiny screwdriver to get the battery out....

Oh, but they love us to be afraid

I'll be dealing with the concept of fear and how it relates to finances quite a bit, as this is something I've struggled with. When I think of my debt, I tend to think of it as this mountain of granite I'm struggling to keep aloft. If I make one wrong move, I feel like it's going to come smashing down on top of me. It's this fear that I'm going to try and deal with this year in Bizarro World, because it is this fear that has most negatively affected my life. It's crippling once you let it in. But in Bizarro World, fear has no home.

"I have no room for fear in my life. Fear is paralyzing. It's one thing to be scared, but once you allow fear into your life, it is debilitating. I don't make any claims to not being scared. It's important and it's healthy. I've been scared enough that I'm comfortable with it. When you experience fear, the next thing out of people's mouths is 'I can't.' We are in control of our minds. As much as our minds try to control us, it is important not to let your mind run too far." - Kit DesLauriers, the first person to ski from the summits of the hgihest peaks on the seven continents. She made history on Oct. 18, 2006, a little over a month before her 37th birthday

Things I know: by a debt-ridden financial jackass

Four years ago, the process would go as follows: I'd grab a neat stack of receipts and bills and decend into the basement and sit down at the computer. Cut to three hours later: I bang up the steps like a lurching Quasimodo, trailing pieces of reciepts and literally pulling at my hair and screaming, "How the #$@! can I be $33,000 dollars in credit card debt?!" Bianaca would kindheartedly put down the magazine she was reading and silently watch as I wailed and thrashed on the living room floor, slamming my head against the hardwood.

Today I'm now "only" $19,000 in debt. Thanks to Bianca's help, I was able to stem the bleeding and feel as if I'm on the road to recovery. And here is where I'd like to share something that has helped me tremendously: the debit card/Quicken/no cash combo. These days I don't carry cash. None. When I touch a buck or a fin it's like touching something exotic, like money from New Zealand. Everything I pay for is paid by debit card, comes directly out of my checking account and when I get home, all receipts get put in immediately. Everything is accounted for in Quicken; no more disappearing cash. Is it embarrassing sometimes to be a grown man and not have cash on me? Absolutely. Has it made for some stressful situations? You bet. But I look at it this way: I don't HAVE any cash. All money that passes through my hands that does not go to bills belongs to the rat bastard credit card companies.

Wallet-deep in Bizarro World

Shazam! Ahem. We're off to something of a start this year. I'm looking at this entire thing like a recovering alcoholic - one day at a time. Money spent today: $2.07, mailing something for Bianca, that foxy broad. Deposited a paycheck, which was needed as our expenses were stretched due to me being given a "vacation" of non-paid days off between Christmas and New Year's. During which I either had bronchitis or pnuemonia.