Saturday, March 31, 2007

Debtor, How Big Is Thy Mountain

New total is $15, 832.51. And it's all mine.

As if that weren't depressing enough, Bianca and I were looking through the home listings (we live on the west coast), and I thought it would be fun if we each drank from a mug as we looked at the home prices. Then we could do spit takes at each other.

"Oh, honey, here's a 'charming, fixer-upper 2 bedroom' for only - spppppppppttthththtthththth! - $987,000?! What's it made of, gold?"

Sigh. Something to look forward to once I'm out of debt. Putting myself a different kind of debt.

Woo hoo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Baby You Can Drive Your Car, With Our Junk On Your Trunk

While we're on the subject of Bianca's car, it reminds me of when we went to purchase it. We bought the car while still living in the Midwest, and this is what car dealers do where we're from: they put a big plastic chrome-y looking name of their dealership on the back of the car. Not a licence plate holder, mind you. Not something you can take off easily. No, this is attached TO the back of your car, to the body. On the paint. Some even use vinyl letters.

What the hell is this all about, may I ask? And what kind of sheep allow this kind of nonsense to go on? Why not tattoo Olaf Dingle's Car Sellery on my arm? Perhaps if you distracted me with a television set in the lobby you could. Perhaps some snacks for further distraction? Pork skins? Sure. Do what you will. Because protesting is too much work. Christ, it's a wonder we have any civil liberties left.

As the negotiations for the car neared the end, Bianca pulled a very Bizarro World move and pointed to the name and said, "I want this taken off." The salesman looked at her like she had suddenly started to vomit kittens, but dutifully sent the car off to have it removed.

Are you driving around advertising? Do you care? Obviously most people don't. Happily where we live now, there is a bit more respect for the customer. Not much, but some.

Getting Held Behind A Couple Of Grades

Bianca will soon be debt free. Which leaves me and my sixteen large. I feel like she's graduating, and moving to another state to attend college, and I'm still a junior in high school. Or, for a truer sense of scale, a sixth grader. Which would be kind of sick if we were dating.

I'm extremely happy for her, but my feelings of being a drag on the relationship is always there. Just another bit of stress to go with the monthly payments.

On the upside, it shifts the spotlight onto me! Poor, pitiful, debt-ridden me!

I wish this sixteen thousand was a person, so I could punch it in the spleen. Instead I'll pull a Corky St. Clair and just go and bite my pillow.

Kwote Korner

"Does the man who makes the shoes own you, clown?
You can't even pry the nameplate off, now can you?
Fix it with your tiny fist there
James Van Der Beek and them sisters from Sister, Sister
The only one that's ever felt this is you
The force that's forcing you
To feel like busting up a Starbucks.

This bitter drink
Has made you drunk
The thoughts you think
Become unthunk"

"Busting Up A Starbucks"
From the album "Haughty Melodic" by Mike Doughty

My Car's Almost Mine!

Made a payment of $1700 on my car yesterday and now the balance is $1618.03. My state income tax is still pending in my checking account and the additional good news is that I sold two paintings over the weekend, so I'll definitely have enough with some left over for a weekend family trip in the late spring. The financing company now says my next payment is $171 and due in November of 2008. I'm planning on paying it off before the end of the month and I'll keep checking my on-line banking to see when the checks clear. It's not even registering with me that I'll be debt-free once this is paid off. And the odometer is 35,600, so I could actually have it paid off before the 36,000 mile warranty expires!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Apparently I Am A Plastic Bag-Refusing Freak

As part of living in "Bizarro World," I've been trying to cut down on the amount of plastic bags we take home from every place.

I have been to the dump, folks, and it is not a pretty place. If you ever want to feel sick to your stomach at the sheer wastefullness of us human animals, take a field trip to your local dump. I remember standing in the sunshine, hand over my mouth in an asinine attempt to stop the stench, and watching hundreds of thousands of plastic bags swirling on the winds among the seagulls. The bags looked like ghosts hovering over a Dante-ish version of trash hell.

So today, fresh off my last post about plastic bags, I went to the mega-grocery store. I had three items: milk, a bag of buns and some not-so-healthy "Texas Crispers" fries. As I set these items down on the little moving belt thing, I immediately said, "I don't need a bag."

Checkout Woman: "You don't want a bag?"

Me: "No. No bag."

Checkout Woman: "But you got milk."

Me: "Yep. I have milk. It's got a handle, see?"

Checkout Woman (to Bag Boy): "This guy doesn't want a bag."

Bag Boy (to Me): "You don't want a bag?"

Me: "NO BAG."

Bag Boy (to no one): "Friday's pay day."

Checkout Woman: "You sure you don't want a bag? You got three items here."

Me: "I would not like my items bagged."

Bag Boy: "You got milk there, though."

At this point I just took my receipt, gathered my three items in my arms, and left. So, if you ever want to know what it's like to be treated like you're developmentally disabled, or have Alzheimer's or like you enjoy putting applesauce in your shoes, deny the bag.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Free Groceries Are A Small But Welcome Victory In A Long And Dirty War

While checking my voicemail at the airport at 4 a.m. this morning I discovered I had won $25 in free groceries from our favorite grocery store, Trader Joe's.

We won the contest that allows you an entry if you bring your own grocery bags into the store. A couple of months ago we purchased three of Trader Joe's handy reuseable bags. Now we take them into the other grocery stores we visit. In our broom closet, there were enough plastic bags to build an entire family of plastic bag people. Since buying the reusable bags we've cut down that amount considerably, and now find ourselves saying "I don't need a bag" at almost every transaction at all the stores we visit. Cashiers look at us as if we recently found a way to get our straight jackets off.

Ikea just announced it will soon begin charging for each plastic bag. Good for them.

Anyway, it was $25 we didn't have to spend this month.

Tax Refund Came Through

Yea! Got a nice surprise when I went on-line to check out the bank account because with our rent going up and some other unexpected expenses, I was unsure if we had enough funds to cover everything. Noticed a huge amount in the checking account and found out my federal income tax refund came through. And just now when I checked to see the actual amount, I found that the state refund came through as well. That's a total of $3563. It's a lot because I only claim myself and my Number Two Son on my W-4 form, but my Number One Son recently moved across the country and is attending college near me, so I got to claim him on my taxes. I know I need to add him to my W-4 so I don't let the government use my money interest-free all year long, but my human resources person is a little scary and you have to approach her when she's in a good mood. I've already asked her once, and reminded her this past Friday. Hopefully by next week I'll get it changed which should help out with the rent increase. This refund is supposed to pay off my car, but I have a rather high credit card bill that includes my broken tooth ($374) and an airplane ticket for my Number Two Son ($279). Plus my Number Three Son is visiting on his spring break this week, so I think I'll leave a little in the checking account for "dining and entertainment". At he's 14, the dining bill could be rather high. Also the state refund is "pending", so I can't really spend it yet. I'll check into how much I actually owe on the car and post after I make a payment.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Kwote Korner

On the continuing subject of feeling trapped, here's a quote that speaks to how many times these traps we find ourselves in are self-made.

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man' sliving spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

Chris McCandless

Thursday, March 22, 2007

NCN Update

NCN has kindly added our update! You can see it here.

We've knocked 19% off our debt this year.

I'm thinking of possibly doing the cabbage patch, though Bianca frowns on the practice.

Oh, hell, I'm doing it anyway.


I think of my debt as many things: mountain, vast expanse of ocean, a living person being pummeled by my fists. Also, a trap.

I used to work as a "wildlife rescue technician," going around rescuing wild animals that had the misfortune of making their homes on the property of suburbanites. One day I was checking a live trap and found it chock full of raccoon. As I walked up, the raccoon looked up at me and did not snarl, didn't pounce at the bars as many had, but instead looked at me with eyes that swam with guilt and sadness. I walked around the side of the trap and my breath sucked in as I saw that in its efforts to escape, the raccoon's right foot had somehow became entangled in the mesh. Extending from the hip socket was a perfectly cleaned set of gleaming white bones, from femur to toes.

There are days that, honestly, I feel like I am caught in a trap. I walked right in, snarfed down the Chicken of the Sea, turned around, and BLAM! That was it. Pretty soon the Chicken of the Sea was gone, but I'm still in the trap. I walked in. I was responsible. Like the raccoon, I knew better, but damn it smelled tasty.

There are days, I swear to you, that I feel like I would cut off my own leg if it meant being free of this financial prison.

But what can you do? Soldier on. Keep giving them the interest. Just do your best to avoid the traps within the traps, I guess.

And keep the leg. You'll need it when you taste freedom again.

No free movie for the Bizarros

The problem with "free" is that sometimes it doesn't work out. Basil got in line at 5:15, because I got off work at 6 p.m. and he was going to get a spot for us. At 6:30 as I was pulling up to the theatre, he calls and says they're full and we should just go home. Ah, well. We tried. Usually it's not a problem to show up at 6:30, but this movie had a popular actor in it, so there was more interest than usual. Maybe next time.

Free Movie

Tonight Basil and I are doing a "cheap date night". We're going to a pre-screening of a movie, which means it's free, but you have to wait in line about an hour and then fill out paperwork on what you liked and didn't like about it. The last one we went to, we got picked to be in a focus group, so we got two free tickets apiece. We've actually only paid for one movie this year, so far. The only thing we have to pay for is parking, but it's still cheaper than a movie.

Monday, March 19, 2007

February Income and Expenses

I balanced the checkbook this past weekend, so was able to do February's expenses.

Our February budget ended up in the red due mostly to $1500 less salary income. We actually had less expenditures, but not enough to break even. Basil didn't have the overtime that he had in January, so we'll have to take that into account since we're now coming into the slow season for both our jobs.
Much stayed the same. We had higher art supplies and expenses, but also had quite a bit of art income. Our gasoline was down $50 because we've been staying home more on the weekends.
Basil paid $807.60 toward the credit cards, which was lower than last month, but about $100 more than he was paying last year.
Unfortunately, our weakness showed up again in the dining out category - $273! That's twice what we spent last month! I'm afraid we've fallen off the wagon on that one, but we're trying harder this month, though with Basil's birthday, we did go out to celebrate a bit.
The College Expenses were incurred when we took Number One Son to Target to restock supplies. The Education expense was a photo lab fee for Number Two Son.
Gifts Given: Valentine's day and a nephew's birthday, plus a gift card for Number One son for during midterms.
Groceries were up by $150. Not exactly sure why. Basil did stock up on bottled water which we're still drinking mid-March.
Health Insurance was higher this month because one son's I pay monthly and the other I'm billed bi-monthly. Not sure why since it's the same insurance company.
Misc.: This is up and included gloves and a knife for work for Basil which came to $58.
The shipping refund was an internet sale Basil made, but accidentally sent to the incorrect address, so he refunded the shipping.
The electric bill was for two months which is about the same as the last bill.
Tax Preparation: Basil paid to have his taxes done, but I didn't get all my forms, so my bill will be on next month's budget.
The overall picture doesn't look so good, but we're hoping to get back on track. March could be pretty shaky as well as both Basil and I have been doing big projects outside of work that have been taking all our time. And when we're under stress, we tend to eat out. We still have time to correct that, though my Number Three Son is coming in for his spring break this weekend so I'm sure I'll be spending money. Our rent is being raised $100 a month, too, so I think the credit card may not have as big a payment next month. Once I get my income tax return money, I can pay off my car and we'll have that extra money to cover the rent increase.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Healthy Teeth or Vacation?

Went to the dentist for a cleaning and check-up, since the last time was the emergency crown and I was a new patient. Had about 15 x-rays taken of my mouth because I still have all my wisdom teeth. After the painful poking of bleeding gums, my dentist told me that I had two cavities and two teeth that were badly cracked that she wanted to put crowns on. Since the last crown was $374, I wasn't eager to fix teeth that weren't bothering me. She said she'd send it in to the insurance to see how much they'd cover since they'd already done one crown this year. I scheduled my cavity fillings for April 17, since that was the first early morning (before work) appointment they had, plus then I would have a month to save up the money for my portion of the bill. I may see if I can spread the crowns out over the course of six months or so. It really makes you wonder how important your teeth are, if you could take a really nice vacation instead of getting them fixed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Money-Saving Tip of the Day

This money-saving tip is probably just for women, unless you're a guy who likes wearing a little blush and foundation. That's okay - this tip's for you, too. One of the most important things "they" say to do if you wear any makeup, is to remove it before going to bed. I like those facial cleansing wipes, but unfortunately the cheap store brand ones smell like baby wipes, and after wiping baby's bottoms, I can't really enjoy washing my face with something that smells like that. So I buy the more expensive ones. Then I read in a magazine that to save money, you can cut them in half and they last twice as long. So I started doing that. This year I decided to take it one step further -- I cut one cloth into thirds. Now, I don't wear tons of makeup, so this may not work for you if you have nine layers like my cousin used to wear in high school, but it might be worth a shot to try it, and you could save tens of dollars by the end of the year. Woo hoo!

Throwing Snowballs

The full-on assault on my Discover Gold card continues. I'm paying minimums on my other cards and throwing everything that isn't tied down at the Disc. Gold. I made $60 in sales today (crafty!) and also received the direct deposit of my state tax return. The $60 and the part of my return not going to paying my federal taxes is also going toward the debt mountain.

As of right now our debt is thus: $19,348. My portion of that is now under $16,000, in what I like to call the "Fifteen Large Bracket." Mob guys call a thousand "large," like, "That guy owed me sixteen large so I cut off his ring finger with a plastic fork." It just means I've decended below $16,000 and am a good ways north of $14,999.99.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My Car Financing Company Hates Me!

The reason it hates me is because I'm paying my car off earlier than the loan period. The past three months I've made $500 payments instead of the originally $198 specified in the original loan agreement. I'd been paying more off anyway, so my minimum payment had been going down and due farther into the future. They don't want to lose any of that interest. So a month ago my minimum payment was $117 and not due until July. I went ahead and paid $500 again at the beginning of March. I check on-line to see when my next payment was -- September and then they only wanted $11. They really don't like me. We got the $1000 security deposit refund back and I paid another $900 this week toward the car. I just checked on-line (my loan isn't supposed to be paid off until September 2009), and my next payment due is $ February 2008! For them to make their money, they want me to wait a whole year to make my next payment! It's surprising how much you can save by just paying a little more than the amount due, even if it's just $10-$20, because you then aren't paying interest on that portion. Once my income tax return comes back I think I'll be able to pay off the whole amount -- then they'll really hate me.

Monday, March 12, 2007

10 Things I Hate Only Slightly LESS Than Credit Card Companies

1. People who say "brah"

2. Nail fungus

3. Oil companies

4. Hitler

5. People in parking lots that think I'm there to listen to their crappy loud music out of their car stereo

6. Taggers

7. The asshole that smokes outside my apartment

8. People (and I use that term charitably) that litter

9. Cancer

10. Dick Cheney

The Secret History Of The Credit Card

Still think credit card companies are "just doing business" and are "simply engaging in the beautiful experiment I like to call capitalism"?

Check out the Emmy-winning documentary "The Secret History of the Credit Card" over at It will change your mind. There are some other interesting articles and inteviews on the site as well.

In other news, last month I paid $910.60 to my Discover Gold card. I see on my March statement that they lowered my monthy payment to $0.75. Okay, not quite that low, but getting there.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cash windfall!

Basil blogged about our rent increase and I have an update. The night the manager left us the lovely letter about the raise, he said that "if we're going to have a problem with it, to call the owner. She's a really great lady." So I took that as a huge hint that we may be able to talk our way out of the rent increase since we always pay our rent on time and don't threaten the manager, etc. Monday morning 9 a.m. came and I'm not good with confrontation or conflict, so with sweaty palms I dialed her number. After trying to tell her we were on a tight budget with child in college and one starting to drive and taking AP and SAT tests, she still told me that she could get $1500 for our apartment because it was a downstairs unit and in a really good school district. Since we paid a HUGE security deposit of $2700 because neither of us had jobs when we moved here, I asked for a partial refund since we're no longer a high risk. She said she'd look into it and get back to me. The next day I got a message on my cell that she'd left a check with the manager for a $1000 refund. Yippee! I'd like to say that it's all going straight to debt, but Basil's birthday is next week, so some of it may be spent on that....but at this rate I'll still have my car paid off by summer! Note: I wanted to split the refund with Basil, but he insisted I take it since I had put the money up initially when we moved in. Maybe I'll spend it on hats and shoes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

10 Things Your Credit Card Company Won't Tell You

Dumb Little Man has an interesting list of links called "10 Things They Won't Tell You."

Here's a link to the "10 Things Your Credit Card Company Won't Tell You."

I especially like #1, "We're Just Waiting For You To Screw Up," and #9, "Our Whims Are Legally Binding."

While they're waiting for you to screw up, they try and "guide" you into the screwup by sending you lots of free checks! Can you imagine? Free money? My stars!

See here for more on that wonderful tactic.

Oh, Discover Gold, How I Loathe Thee

Due to my craft-tastic sales of my second job, I'm really snowballing the bejeezus out of my Discover Gold card. Now, since credit cards exist as a "helpful financial tool" for the consumer and not as "vicious, greed-filled legal loan-sharking tools," you would think Discover would be happy for me and kindly not interfere with paying off my financial obligation to their company.

But nooooooooo.

Since I've started the intense snowballing of this card (snowballing meaning paying everything extra I can manage toward the highest interest rate card), I've been receiving packets of checks from my Discover Gold card. You know the kind, the first one always made out to you in the sum of $1,000 and a letter such as: "Mr. Bizarro, please use these handy checks to take that vacation you've always dreamed of and deserve but couldn't afford!" Well, if I have to use these checks with a 31% interest rate, I can't afford it, now can I?

But I digress. I have two Discover cards, both with balances. Now why aren't I receiving these dangling carrot checks from my other card, the one I'm not snowballing? Hmmm. My shredder loves those check packets. Loves them.

This kind of behavior is bulls--t, plain and simple. Here's hoping Congress gets on these rat bastards. I wonder why hearings weren't held during the Republican-led Congress? Is it because Providian was President Bush's biggest contributor?

There are some pretty serious and malicious machinations moving against us, the consumers, and I for one have just about had it.

NCN, Oprah. Oprah, NCN.

Get thee over to the No Credit Needed Network. Big things are afoot! Talk about couldn't be happening to a better person.

Are the debt tables being turned? If Oprah's getting involved, the only answer is "yes."

Credit Card Companies Are Dog Poop Predatory Bastards

Here's an article about the recent Senate hearing on credit card practices (I also heard a story on it on NPR this afternoon - listen to it here). I'll break it down for you: credit card companies are insanely predatory and are out not to provide a service but to rip from your hands as much money as legally possible. Wait, wait, that was too long. How about: credit card companies would have to rise several levels to equal the dog poop I stepped in this morning.

Okay, the last one wasn't a breakdown of the article. It's just the truth.

The article is worth checking out to read about a top Chase Bank executive apologizing to a man who repaid twice the amount of a $3200 credit card bill because of interest and fees. Wonder if the executive would have done that had he not been in front of a panel of Senators.

Like I said, dog poop predatory bastards.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Good News and Bad News

It's been a roller coaster this past week. The rent went up and I did a quick check on how our finances went for February, and even though all the receipts aren't in yet and it looks like we're in the red for the month. More about that when I get the final figures. The good news is that I finally got my tax refund info from my accountant and I'm getting a total of $3563 back from federal and state. This large refund is partly due to an education credit because of having a son in college and partly because I hadn't claimed him when I started this job because he was living in another state. I think I'll add him to my W-4 so I get the money now rather than letting the government hold it interest-free for the whole year. I won't have the gigantic refund next year, but hopefully I'll pay off the car and add some to my savings in the meantime.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Knock On The Door And The Day Is Ruined

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned how a day can be going along swimmingly, and then, WHAM. Done.

Tonight about 9 p.m. I answered a knock at the door to find our manager standing there.

"Rent increase," he said, handing me a sheet of paper. "$100 more a month. Have a nice night."

In my mind, an f-bomb the size of the Little Boy nuclear device went off. Day officially ruined.

Expensive tests and cheap airfare

Went to a school meeting the other night concerning Advanced Placement testing and the SATs. At one point the speaker said that you have to pay to take the AP tests and Basil next to me mouths the words "How much?" Since we were near the back of an auditorium, we didn't ask out loud and figured we'd find out eventually. Yesterday Number 2 Son brought home the info - $83 a test! I think he's in three AP classes so that's a total of $249! I know it's a lot cheaper than college, but not a budgeted expense. This is why I probably shouldn't be paying $500 extra towards a car payment. Unfortunately, I can't put it on a credit card and float it until next month (I ALWAYS pay off my credit cards every month). I have some in savings, so I may have to transfer some over.
I also spent some money to save some money for airline tickets. Number 2 son has to visit his dad this summer and last year the airfare was $425. This year I bought earlier and picked odder fly times, so it was only $279. Saved $146! Of course, his flight leaves at 11:20 at night and arrives at 5:20 a.m. He said he'd rather fly at night than get up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight anyway. I put the ticket on my credit card and plan to pay it off next month. Maybe my income tax return will finally come....