Monday, April 30, 2007

One Month Challenge - Day 11

Today we were also both off work and ran errands after a two hour free hike in the morning.

Gas - $38.39
Groceries - $8.65
Oil Change and Car Wash - $35.77
Eating Out (I know, I know, bad Bizarros) - $12.03
Art Supplies - 50 cents

Total - $95.34

One Month Challenge - Day 10

Today was dangerous because it was a Sunday and Basil and I tend to want to get out of the apartment, which usually means spending money. I returned a shirt I bought last month because I decided it didn't really fit right, so I got to credit $16.23 to the store credit card. We did eat out (did I mention that it's our favorite pastime?), but used a coupon for Subway from the Sunday paper and got both our meals for $7.99 plus tax. Also used two 30% off coupons at the art supply store (one of our obsessions), but only purchased three brushes and a tube of paint.
Eating out - $8.65
Art Supplies - $14.01
Groceries - $9.36
Shipping for Crafty Side Business - $2.43

Total: $34.45

One Month Challenge - Day 9

Got behind on our One Month Challenge updates so here is Saturday's:
Groceries - $34.44
Eating Out - $17.69
Quarters for Laundry - $20.00

Total: $72.13
I know we're not supposed to be eating out, but we took the recycling in and got $13.00 which would have been enough for us at In-n-Out, but we wanted to take Number 2 Son, so I used some money I had left over from my trip to Illinois.

Friday, April 27, 2007

One Month Challenge - Day 8

Library fine (bad, Basil, bad!) - $1.50
Groceries (two coupons used - free 2 liter and $1 off) - $7.08

Total: $8.58

The Goods

Frugal For Life has the goods on being frugal. Check it out here.

It's a great site - I don't know why "frugal" has become such a bad word in our culture, but this site makes frugal cool.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One Month Challenge - Day 7

Craft supplies for Bianca - $10.82

Free Museums Visits in May!

I recently got my bank statement from Bank of America and buried in the middle of the first page was a paragraph saying that select museums in the Northeast and California would be free during the month of May. I just saw a post on Boston Gal's Open Wallet about it and it reminded me that May is almost here. Just show your BofA ATM or MBNA credit card and you and a guest get in free. Check out here for a list of museums participating. Basil and I are definitely planning some free museum trips in March as the Huntington Library in Pasadena is on the list and I've wanted to go there for two years, but didn't want to cough up the $15 a person. Maybe we can combine the museum visits with college tours in the same areas -- won't Number 2 Son be excited.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

March Income and Expenses

I know it seems like forever for me to get the monthly expenses up, but I know from experience, that there's always something that doesn't get entered into Quicken, so I have to wait until I get our bank statement. Sure enough, Basil and I each forgot to enter a deposit for a paycheck, which is why I was panicking that we were going to run out of money. It was an insane month for income and expenditures, but I'll try to explain them all. First of all, I dropped the cents part of the chart since it was just distracting.
Art income was way up because I sold two paintings (yea!) and Basil sold mucho items in his crafty side business. Salaries were also up because I get paid weekly and there were five Fridays in March. On top of that we both got our tax refunds back, plus Basil still gets birthday checks from his relatives because he writes great thank you notes. I know I've about given up sending gifts to nieces and nephews because I never get thank you notes. I'd even take an e-mail thank you, but noooooooo. We also got a partial security deposit refund (see previous post). Anyway, we had a LOT of income for March. On to the expenditures....
We also spent a lot.
Art expenses and supplies were up because we had some big projects.
Fuel was way up because my Number 3 Son was out visiting on his spring break and we drove him around sightseeing, etc.
Clothing: I splurged with some of my tax refund money and bought some work clothes and a nice outfit because we had a couple of events to go to.
Computer Expense: This is the Applecare for my new ipod. I've known too many people who's have crashed after a year, plus my old one died at two years and nine months, and as the Applecare is for three years, they had to replace it, and it's still going a year later after I gave it to my son.
Credit Card: Basil paid quite a bit and was happy about it.
Dining: Uh do I explain this? $604! When I told Basil to guess how much we spent he wasn't anywhere near close. Last month I lamented that we'd spent $273! All I can say is that we REALLY celebrated: Basil's birthday; Number 3 Son visiting; my selling two paintings; all three sons, Basil and myself getting together for the first time in over a get the picture. Now with our monthly challenge, we should be better in April and May.
College Expenses: Emergency funds for Number 1 Son. You know--he's a college student, they always need money.
Education: AP Exam fees. I hope he passes at least one of them....
Gifts Given: Basil's birthday, plus my father's and Basil's brother's.
Groceries were right around where we want least we're doing something right.
My tax preparation was paid, and well worth every penny as I had my refund in the bank while my niece was celebrating the fact that she had two extra days to procrastinate doing her taxes.
Next month things will settle down and I hope to add my savings and Roth IRA, etc. to this report. I did transfer $1000 over to my high interest savings account (close to 5%), and I'm still waiting for my college refund for Number 1 Son. Hopefully some of that will go into my Roth IRA.

One Month Challenge - Day 6

As Basil is working late, I'll be in charge of giving today's finances. Especially since I did the spending.

Target: I returned a water purifier for $28.97 and purchased one that you fill and it sits in your fridge for $29.11 (trying to save on buying bottled water and the environmental impact of recycling all that plastic). Also purchased some groceries and hand soap: $27.70
Groceries: $6.78

Total: $34.48

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Queer Eye For My Frugal Brother's Eye

My brother is like the "Bizarro World" version of me. He's the opposite in every way: good looking, confident, athletic and financially successful. He's also the most frugal sonofabitch I've ever met.

My brother does not own a car and has not owned one for ten years. He takes public transportation everywhere. Whenever he orders a cola, he asks for no ice. "More per glass value," he says, "plus soda usually comes out cold from the fountain." He buys all his clothes at thrift stores. "I go to the ones in gay communities. The clothes are stylish and better taken care of." That's my cheap-ass, successful brother for you.

He just got a new fancy work-at-home gig for one of the nation's leading IT companies. He's going to be pulling in close to a hundred grand a year. Now if that happened to me, I'd go out and get a new desk, one of those swanky chairs with the ass-conforming micro-technofibers, maybe some of those clickety-clack balls. Not my brother. Here is my brother's set up: his desk is a card table. His chair? A $7 white plastic lawn chair with a pillow for comfort. His frugalness is blinding. I can't look directly at it.

He's had that chair so long that he had it during the brief "phenomenon" that was Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. In one of the episodes Carson had bitch-slapped some "dude" for having a chair similar to my brother's. "This is outdoor furniture!" Carson shrieked. So whenever I visit my brother I pick up that chair and pretend I'm going to throw it out. "This is outdoor furniture!" I yell.

We both laugh until we get thirsty and then we grab some iceless Cokes.

One Month Challenge - Day 5

Our Sunday/Monday weekend over, let's hope the spending decreases during the week. Let's "do the numbers."

Postage for Crafty Side Business orders: $7.73
Fuel: $32.22

Total: $39.95

Hmm. Necessary spending, all. I'll let it go. THIS TIME.

A Very Special Post

I didn't take the traditional ways into my debt dungeon. I didn't buy plasma televisions and take vacations to Maui or take out tons of student loans. Before I went into debt I was actually quite financially responsible. What happened? Oh, nothing much. I just went completely batshit crazy.

I remember the exact day I knew I was in some serious mental trouble. I was in my parents' basement, alone, having gone there to let out their dog since they were on vacation. I was standing there, in the middle of the room, and I just felt the bottom go out from under my mind. I realized, "Oh, boy. I'm depressed. Seriously, take-no-prisoners depressed." There wasn't any horror (which there should have been, there should have been abject terror), just a detached, clinical assesment of the situation. As anyone who has been clinically depressed knows, there is no emotion. Just a numbness that seems to go on forever.

And thus began a hellish several years. I began failing in every part of my life, taking worse and worse jobs. The worst was working as a courier. Not a courier that had a company van. No, I drove my own car, and put well over 300 miles a day on it. Soon I was paying to have $1,400 repairs done on it, sometimes twice a month. There was no way out. Telemarketing is actually one career level above courier. Below courier? Pigeon-covered homeless man wearing dirt for pants.

I knew things were really, really, really bad when I began the moaning. Here's what would happen: I would pick up a package, get in my pieced-together piece of crap and begin driving. And from somewhere inside me would begin to eminate a low, toneless moan. It would rise in pitch, completely outside of my control, and fill the cab. Just a lone wail that I didn't even have the ability to stop, until I reached the destination. I would have the person sign for the package, smile, but then once back in the car the moans would start again. Whew, boy. Like I said. Batshit crazy.

The courier job's low pay, combined with the car repairs, made making rent impossible. So what did I do? I began using credit card checks to pay rent. Buy groceries. Pay for the 4.5 tons of General Tso's Chicken I consumed during this period (I mean, if you're going to go on a depression-fueled binge, if eating is the only thing in your wasteland of a life that gives you one scrap of uplift, why not eat the unhealthiest food you can find? It was like eating sugared balls of pure fat). When my credit card statement would come, I would not even look at what was going on below the "pay this amount" line. I just paid that amount.

All this time, with my mind deadened to the world around me, my absolute and total misery manifesting itself in banal banshee screams, there was a tiny little voice that would speak occasionally. It would say, "I'll help you. Just get through this and I will make things right." And the weird thing was is that I knew that it was the "future me." I would speak back and say, "I'm sorry. I wish I could stop this but I'm going to need your help. I'm afraid I'm running up quite a tab here." "I'll shoulder the burden," the voice would say. I know it's really quite insane, but I remember that it would say that. "I'll shoulder the burden."

But it wasn't the future me that helped me get through that unspeakably horrific chapter of my life. It was my parents, and my brothers and most of all Bianca.

Every once in a while, when I've had some real debt destroying victories, I'll take a moment and think, "It's okay. I'm shouldering the burden."

I probably should see a shrink. But it's not in the budget.

Monday, April 23, 2007

One Month Challenge Related Debt Haiku

Eating out too much
fills stomach but slows debt war
Brown bag it beeyotch

One Month Challenge - Day 4

Holy cats. This one month challenge has really been an eye-opener...and what my eyes are seeing is that this eating out jackassery has to cease. Let's "do the numbers."

Groceries: $20.00
Sharky's Fresh Mexican: $9.50

Total: $29.50

I'm on a bit of an stress-fueled, manic emotional binge, and am fully aware of how it's negatively affecting my financial situation. Need to find another way of dealing with stress. Before the eating out it was banging my head against the bathroom wall. I feel it was a step up, but perhaps not. The banging my head against the wall, while incredibly painful in a make-the-voices-stop kind of way, was free.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Month Challenge - Day 3

Today we took #1 Son back to college, and took him out for lunch. We also bought supplies for our side business and some things from Target. Let's take a peek at what the Bizarros blew precious dollars on today:

Chipotle: $23.54
Target (bathroom supplies for #1 Son and ourselves, and a water purifier for our faucet, which will not work with our rolling dishwasher, so will need to be returned): $54.63 ($0.75 coupon used)
Art stores: $40.33 (two 40% off coupons used)
Fuel: $42.65 (!)
Netflix: $19.47

Total: $125.99

We've been Tagged!

We've been tagged by Blogging Away Debt to tell the world five of our obsessions. I'll let Basil tell you his (which are exciting and have to do with mimes), but mine are pretty mundane:
1. E-mail. I don't check it so often on the weekends, but at work every spare minute I seem to be looking to see if I have anything new. And unfortunately if I do, it usually has to do with winning the lottery in Ireland (and I've never been to Ireland).
2. Our blog stats. Ever since Basil showed me how to do this, I'm constantly checking them.
3. Researching every purchase, no matter how small, on the internet. Basil makes fun of me, but every time we have to buy something like a printer, or a camera, I get on-line and research, research, research. But it works. I have a digital camera I bought 5 years ago that everyone says takes the best photos, and I know it has nothing to do with the photographer.
4. Art supply stores. It doesn't matter if I need anything or not, I just have to go in and look.
5. McDonald's M&M McFlurries. Whenever I'm stressed, or celebrating, or just hungry for ice cream, I make Basil go for an M&M McFlurry with me. He used to say he'd just have a bite of mine, and quickly discovered I wouldn't share. Now he gets his own or we get a large to split.

Basil here, with my five obsessions. Please feel free to hum "Obsession" by Animotion as you read this. ("You're my obsession, who do you want me to be to make you sleep with me...")

1. Debt destruction. This, above all else, rules my life at the moment. I may not be the best at it, but it is the number one issue in my life at the moment.

2. Internet pornography. Um, ahem, uh, I mean my second job selling artwork on Selling my handmade wares has allowed me to pay off a big chunk of debt this year.

3. The residents of Meerkat Manor. I never thought I would get caught up in a soap opera about meerkats, but then again I never thought I'd be $33,000 in debt either. Life's kinda crazy that way. Meerkat crazy.

4. My failed, ongoing attempt to lose 20 pounds. While I've certainly made some headway in the debt department, this part of my life (inexorably tied to my being in debt) seems as if it is a lost cause. I'm obsessed with doing it, though. Maybe stomach stapling? Yeah, that's the ticket. Maybe I'll sign up with one of those "helpful" debt counseling services to get rid of my debt while I'm at it.

5. As puke-inducing as this may sound, Bianca. At an art opening last night she looked more beautiful and radiant than any human being I've ever seen in all my years. I don't deserve her, and tell her that constantly, but she sees something in me I cannot. She's superkeen and completely and utterly deserving of obsession.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

One Month Challenge - Day 2

Today's spending:

Dining: $16.38 (In & Out Burger)

Okay. Seriously. No more dining out. It's a problem we face, dining out to celebrate. It's got to stop. But it's difficult - Bianca is out of debt, and if Bianca wants to eat out, do I have to sit in the car?

I do, don't I? Damn it. I've become a cocker spaniel.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Kwote Korner

"Wake up to another day
Gotta get to work gotta get the big pay
I got car notes and rent and the other nonsense
That's slowly turning me into a slave
But its ok because I look good
I got the best clothes and the best neighborhood
And that's what it's about the American dream
In a rat race but the rats want cream
In an obscene amount more than I can count
So I won't recognize that I'm drowning deep
In the oceans of life my breath full of strife
And my head aches the stress just pounding me down
Here comes the tears of a clown"

Pigeon John, "Weight Of The World"

One Month Challenge - Day One

Here's today's breakdown. We had promised son #2 a dinner out for his spring break. He's a phenomenal kid that works very hard and never asks for anything, but wanted some Chinese.

Dinner: $41.51
Postage (crafty side business): $1.20
Groceries: $4.82
Money for co-worker going-away gift: $10.00
Fuel: $39.56

Total: $97.09


Debt War Lull And The One Month Challenge

My craft-tastic job continues to bring in cash, but recently I've had to divert funds from the front line of the war on debt to use to cover a financial low point due to a couple of very slow weeks at work. I guess it gives me time to wash the blood off before I jump back into the fray with my debt-killing nunchucks a-twirlin'. I'm the Chuck Norris of debt destruction.

Bianca and I are going to detail one month's worth of spending to try and see where our money is going. We found out about the One Month Challenge at The Simple Dollar (read about it here). We get a fairly clear idea using Quicken, but there are leaks in the boat and we need to find out where exactly those leaks are (something tells me those leaks are Basil-shaped). So, for the next month we're going to post our spending every day. There will be regular posts in there too, but we're doing this to make sure we do it for one month. When we use a notebook we get as far as a week and then it's out the window.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Dumpster Diving....

Debt Regret recently posted about recycling unused items from work (read here). It made me think of my own version of dumpster diving. Like Debt Regret, I see a lot of waste at my office, mostly in the form of computer paper. My department goes through many reams of paper a day and I started saving mine in a desk drawer, and when the drawer was full, I'd put it in a paper bag and take it home to re-feed through my laser printer using the back side. We hardly ever print out official documents, mostly mapquests, receipts and e-mails, so to us it doesn't matter what's on the back. A couple of times co-workers have asked me what I was doing with it, and then thought it was a good idea, but I've never seen anyone else take used paper home. If we get too much, we just recycle it. I know I should organize at least a department-wide recycling program, but I'm not sure how management would react -- maybe they wouldn't even care. Plus, naturally lazy person that I am, I'm not sure I want to drag bags of paper home all the time. They would probably pile up in my car before I ever took them to recyle, and when I stopped at a light I would truly look like a bag lady (albeit with a car).

I'm Back!!!

Sorry I haven't posted for a while, but I was out of town for five days and then work's been picking up, so I worked late the last two nights. My trip was relatively cheap since I visited family, so only paid for a plane ticket and took $120 cash for eating out and miscellaneous items. I actually came back with $38, but took Basil and Number Two Son out to In-n-Out after they kindly picked me up from the airport. Upon perusing the kitchen, I realized it was hardly used the entire time I was gone. We saved money on groceries because none were purchased either. I think the dining out bill might be high again this month though Basil assured me he didn't eat out that much. I just got my bank statement yesterday, so I'll be balancing the checkbook this weekend and posting our expenses for March. That will be crazy because we had high income from tax refunds, etc., but also spent $600 in dining expenses. Ugh!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Consumerism

Wise Bread has a fantastic article called "The 7 Deadly Sins of Consumerism (and the frugal redemption)." Check it out here.

I Found Four Dollars Today And I Felt Like Crying

I found four dollars today. Words fail me in being able to express the sheer, naked joy those four filthy bills gave to me this morning. I felt like I had the world on a string, like the sun was shining just to light my face.

Then I bought a breakfast burrito off the catering truck that comes by at 9:30. If you've ever had the hulking 1/2 bound breakfast burrito off this particular catering truck, you'd have given me a knowing nod and said, "Basil, you did the right thing."

I even got a quarter back.

That was four dollars that could have gone at the debt mountain, and I diverted it into a burrito. Luckily, the guilt didn't hit until after the last bite. The indigestion hit a half hour after the guilt.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Does Your Car Say About You?

Here's what mine says about me:

I'm a sixteen-year-old girl, a sophomore, I work at Del Taco, my daddy loves me enough to have bought my car for me but not enough to fix my broken passenger side window, I like hardboiled eggs and leave the shells in the cup holder, in which there is an inch-thick hardened chunk of fossilized Diet Coke. I also have a tattoo on my lower back that I think my parents don't know about, but they do. I want to be a dental hygienist when I graduate, though I have no idea what they do. I use the phrase, "Like, that's so totally gay," more than is warranted.

That's what my car says about me. If someone looked at my car in a parking lot, that's who they would imagine as the owner.

And...I'm fine with that. Really. This is my steed I will ride until my debt is paid off. I've begun to love this car. It runs like a champion. But while I'm fine with it, the people in the region I live in, whoo-boy - they are not fine with it. Because these are the people that Define Themselves By What They Drive. (Cue horror music)

Who are these people? I've never understood this. "Hi, my name's Brock Handsome. This is my Mercedes XL4569 Turbo. I'm a man." And all the other shallow people think Brock's a man. That's the freaky part. Brock is a man because he drives a Mercedes XL4569 Turbo. Now, Brock might be impotent, Brock might cry during Grey's Anatomy, Brock might be up to his alligator belt in debt to drive his Mercedes, but the people he's trying to impress don't know that. It's all so surface it makes me want to puke. I've never seen so many Mercedes, BMW's and Hummers in my entire life. And the Mercedes and BMW's? All silver. Every one of them.

"Oh, Basil, my good man. Is that a touch of jealousy I detect?"

Um, no. The following comes from the New York Post:

"IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, ranked 4th richest man in the world, drives a 15-year-old car and always flies economy class, in part to inspire his 90,000 employees worldwide to see the virtue of frugality. "

Cheers to Ingvar. Listen, if you're in deep with the credit card debt, I don't see why you should have a nice car. If it's paid for - great. But if you've got twenty grand left to pay on a "sweet ride," or a "German-engineered safe family car," and this is on top of your substantial credit card debt, that is saying something about you. And it's not saying something nice.

The bottom line is if I'm in debt, I don't deserve anything nice. I gave that up when I got into debt. Nice things are for people who respect money and are smart with it. We seem to have forgotten this. We think just because we grace the world with our princely presence we need to have things, that we deserve them. When I'm out of debt, maybe I'll get a nice thing or two. But a car isn't going to be one of them. I'm not defined by leather seats and a Bose sound system. I'm defined by me.

What does your car say about you? Are you still paying for it? It it more car than you should have? Do you think you deserve the car? Why? Do you ever talk to your car like Michael Knight to KITT? Does it ever talk back? Are people who ask a bunch of questions at the end of a blog entry annoying, or kind of sexy?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Host Of National Financial Radio Show Narrates As I Buy Stamps

I went to the post office today to mail some out orders from my second job, the profits from which I dedicate to paying off debt with. Now, I despise going to the post office usually, and most times make it a point to use their fancy automated machine at around midnight, when no one is around. But today was my day off so I decided to stop in and mail off my orders.

I'm at the machine about to start "doing my thing," when I notice three young children gather around me. A man approaches and asks if they could watch me go through the touch screen process. "Sure," I said.

So the father narrates as I go through the steps, and the children are transfixed. And slowly I began to realize - I know that voice. I turned around and asked, "Are you Kai Ryssdal?" He smiled and said yes.

Crazy. Since I've decided to up my financial I.Q. last year, I've listened to "Marketplace" on NPR every day. Just bizarre.

But what else can you Bizarro World?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Debt haiku - ROUND THREE!

Please feel free to contribute your own debt haikus. We've gotten some great ones. I was stressing a little today so I calmed my mind with some debt haiku.

Debt lives in my life
Much like an elephant would
Big, loud and stinky

Cut The Red Wire, Or The Blue Wire?

Ahhh...debt management.

When you've got what's known in the business as a "shitload" of debt, managing it can be very tricky. I used to be horrible at this - I was slovenly, unorganized, didn't keep receipts, didn't pay attention to how much interest my cards were at...a real mess to tell you the truth. When it came time to manage my debt, which then stood at over $33,000, I would literally tear my hair out. I would scream obscenities at objects like pens, or an envelope. I would punch our hot water heater and grind my teeth until I felt flakes of enamel on my tongue.

Then Bianca, my mate, saved me. She sat me down and helped me write down all my debts, what the interest rates were, etc. etc. Then I put this information in a black three-ring binder, and every month I pulled it out and managed my finances. It was immensely more helpful to have all the information in one place. I suppose I could make an Excel document and track things that way, but I like the solid feel of my now four and a half pound Black Book Of Debt. When I heft that bad boy out of the drawer, I think to myself, here's the story of how you paid off $18,000. Or, if I'm in a bad mood, here's the story of how you lost 7 years of your life to consumer debt.

Most of the time it is smooth sailing; my cards are all below 6%, and for months on end I simply leave the balances alone. But now and again there are opportunities to move a balance to a 0% card for 10 months or so. And here's where it gets all bomb squad. When I pull out the Black Book Of Debt to juggle thousands and thousands of dollars, I need absolute quiet. I need to concentrate. If I need to open the front door and shoo away noisy birds, I will do that. Because one small mistake, one misread of a bit of small print, and BOOM.

So the Black Book is opened. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. Fine print is examined. Transfer checks written out. Credit card numbers and available balances are checked and rechecked. The clock-ticking sound from "24" pounds in my throbbing temples. During this process Bianca is on eggshells; she hides in the bedroom or goes for a walk. If dinner is being served, I will not be interrupted to join, lest she be met with "Iamtryingtotransferbalancesheredoyoumind? Doyou?!"

And then I seal the envelope and cut the blue wire. The birds return to the trees outside. The household breathes a sigh of relief.

Until the next time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

On The Nightstand

I have one of those jobs that is so completely meaningless that it makes me feel faint when I try to think about it. So I try not to. I have to lose myself in some reading.

I'm about 40 pages into Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money And Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Any book that is dedicated to "all of the people who are actively engaged in leaving our planet in better shape than they found it" gets high marks from the get-go. I'm really enjoying it and beginning to do some serious re-evaluating of my job situation.

At the library today I picked up America's Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides. (Economides? I think I dropped that class in college). If you haven't heard their story, check it out here. A family of seven that gets by on less than $35,000 a year. And they have no debt.

So, while Bianca is in the Midwest for a few days, I think I'll hit the books.

Speaking of, I'm curious: what's your favorite book? Mine is The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It replaced my previous favorite, Blood Meridian, also by Mr. McCarthy. Read The Road in two sittings the day it came out. Bracing, spare and heart-wrenching. I highly recommend it. Oh, and somebody named Oprah likes it too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dumpster Diving Do's And Don't's

Hello, my name is Basil and I'm a Dumpster diver.

At work there is a battered Dumpster that is used by about four different companies in the large alleyway where I work. The Dumpster sits behind some shrubs and a five foot tall cinder block wall. I make about four trips to the Dumpster a day, two of those to hide behind the wall and talk to Bianca on my cell. I always take a peek in and see what's what, see what treasures lie in its cavernous maw.

If it's a good day, there will be a ton of plastic bottles and/or cans sitting on the bottom. If so, I hop in, collect my stash, and hop back out. It's even better if the Dumpster is full, then I can collect the recycleables from the top. But if it's only half full, I usually nix the plunge. One reason is what I like to call the "rat factor." I've seen some poodle sized vermin in there, and fear a Luke Skywalker-being-attacked-in-the-trash-compactor type of situation if I jump in a half full Dumpster. Another reason is that one of the companies makes toupees, and they are constantly getting boxes of human hair from all over the world. Oftentimes the Dumpster is rife with empty boxes, bits and pieces of hair everywhere. I'm not one of those people with a fear of human hair, but if you've ever gotten a haircut you know how hard the hair is to get off your neck and skin. I'm okay with my hair. The hair of strangers? Like, grody. To the max.

At our apartment complex, we also have a Dumpster, but there is to be no diving. I get within about four feet, then heave the bag like an seventh-grade girl making a shot from the three point line. If there's an odor of baby poop coming from anywhere, four feet's as close as I get.

Occasionally when I go to take out the garbage, our manager is out there. Digging. But not just digging. Opening. He's opening bags of trash to get the cans and bottles. He's got a variety of handmade grapplers and implements that he uses to get down into the steaming, festering heart of that Dumpster. The first time I saw this I was stunned. Stunned. I always thought that bags of trash were private as a diary. But once I witnessed our manager, cigarette dangling, pulling a can out of a pile of coffee grounds, I knew there was much to learn about the world and I was but a newborn babe.

My Dumpster diving has decreased since observing this violation of the trash bags. But not completely. I can't give up the thrill of the discovery, the sweet "tong" sound of feet on the steel bottom. Part of me will always be up for a throw over the side. But Bianca does have instructions to end my life the second she sees me fashioning an implement.

Life Takes Visa

I read this article in the Los Angeles Times about how The Game of Life would now use a credit card instead of cash. I know we need to teach our children about credit cards, but I'm not sure this is the way to do it. Plus, VISA will be displayed prominently all over the game. I didn't get my first credit card offer until I was 21 years old, and now there are college students who have huge amounts of credit card debt. So when they're done with college, they not only have student loans to pay off, they still have to pay off that midnight pizza order they charged because they didn't have cash. With this game, the credit card companies can start on the ten-year-olds. What are some of your this a good or bad thing?

The article is here:,1,5684556.column?coll=la-news-learning

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Bizarros Win A Bloscar™ And Forget To Thank Their Debt

Since I've been consumed with massive creative-outside-of-work projects for the last two months, I haven't had time to catch up on my blog reading until today. And lo and behold, The Family CEO awarded us a Bloscar™ for Most Entertaining Bloggers!

Excuse me while I take out a folded sheet of paper. Man, these Bloscars™ are heavier than you think! Ahem. I'd like to thank The Family CEO for this honor, it was an honor just to be nominated. I want to thank, for hosting us. My agent...wait. I don't have a...OH! And Bianca!

(Bianca tries to step to the mike, is thwarted by Basil's flailing arms)

I almost forgot Bianca. She's my heart. My soul. My new target for debt-free jealousy. I couldn't have done this without her. Her witty and informative posts that balance out my rambling, ill-written jackassery made this project what it is today. I love this woman.

(As the music swells, Basil lifts the Bloscar™ in the air with one hand. Bianca forces a smile)

I'm the king of the world! You like me! You really like me!

You can read about it here!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

How to Buy a Car

Just got the title to my car in the mail yesterday along with all the loan paperwork. My loan total was for $9927.30 and I made $11,312.03 in payments....that's $1384.73 in interest over the course of 2 1/2 years. That doesn't sound so bad on a $10,000 loan, but I could have definitely used that money elsewhere. My father never made car payments. I remember in 1985 when he took my sister and I with him to buy a car and let us sit in on the negotiations. I didn't think much about it at the time, but it was a really good lesson. The salesman was running numbers and when he finally stopped scurrying around, my dad said "So how much is it if I write a check for the whole amount today?" I just remember the guy's jaw dropped as my father wrote a check for $10,000, walked out with a good deal and no car payments. That's what I'd like to do next time, and as I'm planning on driving this car until it falls apart, I think I should have the money saved up by then to do it.

March Came In Like A Lion, Mated With Us - Then Mauled Us

The ever-lovely Bianca was looking over our March income and expenses with wider-than-usual eyes this afternoon. March was truly a Bizarro World month - lots and lots going on - victories, victory celebrations, casualties, overspending, income surprises, heartbreak and Bianca getting out of debt - easily the biggest victory in quite a while. March was all over the damn place.

She also pointed out that my crafty side business made $850 in March. This from selling things that go for $4 or $5. I was shocked, to say the least. Almost every dime went toward the debt mountain.

Today I worked on another creative project that will hopefully net me another $500 this month. This is all on top of my normal income from my 9 to 5. At the beginning of the year I had two choices: I could continue paying what I was toward my debt, which was the minimums plus everything else I could afford, or, I could work really hard and come up with extra money and put that on top of what I was paying. By taking the second tack, I can feel the fractions of months it will take to pay off this debt peel away with each extra hundred dollars I put in the mail. The choice was simple - I'm trading the free time I have in the evenings now for a shorter amount of time I'm going to be in debt. Would I like to relax? Yes. Would I like to not come home from work and go straight to work again? Yes. Would I like to open a bottle of vodka and suckle its sweet nectar straight from the cork hole until I wake up at three thirty in the morning, sprawled on the kitchen floor with damp pants? Sadly, more than I'd like to admit.

I'm going to beat this debt. I'm going to beat it until I have wide, crazed eyes and my chest is heaving and I have debt-brains splattered on my face.

I'm putting out a hit on my debt.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Frugal Repairperson's Best Friend

Many of you may have heard about "The Secret" and how it may change your life. Well, I got your secret right here.

Zip ties. Zip ties will change your life. As I try harder to become frugal with repairs, the zip tie has become an indispensable tool. It's cheap and easy like my first girlfriend. I use them at work constantly, and they are extremely strong. I've extended the life of an IKEA hamper by about a year using one zip tie, and currently they are holding my muffler on the bottom of my car.

Make sure you get the good ones made of heavier plastic. You can find them at Lowe's and Home Depot.

Come on, people. There's a zip tie revolution going on. Get on board before Oprah gets wind of it and you can't find them anymore.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I'm Looking For Some Debtspiration

Check out Debtspiration. Great site that is all quotes about debt.

Why Are We So Financially Retarded?

fi-nance /n. & v. 1. The management of money.

re-tard-ed /adj. 1. Less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than usual for one's age.

While leaving a comment on the wonderful blog Blogging Away Debt, a reader named Karen posted this: "I also agree that finances, credit, and “money 101″ should be taught in school - high school. College is too late."

Why aren't we taught sufficiently in finances? I had one semester in high school where we were taught how to balance a checkbook.

I believe we're sent out into the world as financial illiterates. But the answer is, why? I could tell you the themes and metaphors in "Of Mice And Men," but clearly up until now I've been much more Lenny when it comes to finances than George. But when have I needed that? I can recite the Bard's "To be or not to be" speech, though it has never helped me score with the ladies.

I think personal finance should be taught four years in high school. When we teach our kids, we're preparing them for the real world, right? The quadratic equation has been utterly useless to me. A complete waste of time. However, if I'd been taught about IRA's, and investments, the truth about how credit cards operate, how credit works in general, that would have been greatly useful.

"Yes, Basil, but do you think kids will remember any of this, or care, or want to learn?"

Six words: "To be or not to be..."

Think of the volume of information we're taught in high school that never gets used again. Now think of how often the financial information would be used in a student's life.

Now, turn down the lights. Look through the blinds - is anyone watching? 'Cause I'm about to get all conspiracy theory on your ass. Are we being churned out of high schools as financially dumb as sheep for a reason? Is financial education being snuffed out in the halls of the Education Department? I think maybe we're worth more dumb than smart. I'm sure of it.

As sure as Walt Disney's frozen head waits to be reanimated for the world premiere of "Cinderella 18: Glass Slipper Stripper."

Debt Haiku - ROUND TWO!

For some great reader debt haikus that make me happy to be part of the human race, click here and read the comments. You guys are geniuses.

Here's another that came to me while on my run tonight:

Debt-ridden dumbass
Learns much from financial blogs
Gets his ass smarter

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Today I Visit Pre-Debt Me

Come with me, dear readers, back, back into the depths of time, to the faraway year of 1999...

(((((Wavy time travel effect)))))

Me: Hey.

Pre-Debt Me: Who are you? You look familiar.

Me: I'm you. From 2007.

Pre-Debt Me: Where's your chin?

Me: In my neck somewhere.

Pre-Debt Me: 2007? Are there flying cars?

Me: No. Still no flying cars.

Pre-Debt Me: Son of a bitch!

Me: I know. Listen, I came here to warn you off some rocky times ahead.

Pre-Debt Me: Like what?

Me: Oh, nothing much...a horrific bout with clinical depression, falling down the job ladder and hitting every rung with your head, buying and selling two vehicles (for easily less than 1/4 what you paid for them), complete loss of your confidence...Shall I go on?

Pre-Debt Me: Sheesh.

Me: Here's what you do right now. Take those credit cards, your glorious, balance-free credit cards, and flush them immediately down the toilet. Buy every personal finance book you can. When "blogs" start getting big on the internets, read every finance blog you can find. Invest in Google! Start a video site called YouTube and have videos of skateboarders falling on their nuts and kittens falling into jars! Save, save like you're saving right now, but KEEP saving --

Pre-Debt Me: Dude, dude, slow up. What language are you talking? What is that, Mandarin?

Me: I can't change the past, can I? I'm not going to go back to 2007 and have everything be changed for the better, with Bianca coming in from playing tennis and she's all fabulous and in neat slacks like Marty McFly's mom?

Pre-Debt Me: You mean Bianca doesn't dump your ass? Maybe you're luckier than you think. Anyways, I'm going to atribute this to a flashback brought on by eating too many McRibs.

Me: might want to start laying off the McRibs...

Pre-Debt Me: They're only around for a limited time, dumbass!

Me: (sighs)

Pre-Debt Me: How'd you get so tubby, anyway?

Me: I started eating my feelings. Then there was a "feelings buffet," and I kept coming back for another plate.

Pre-Debt Me: I really become broke, huh? You mean I'm not going to continue driving this shiny new truck and having a fabulous job forever?

Me: Sorry.

Pre-Debt Me: How about the penis? We get any help down there?

Me: Nope. Same size.

Pre-Debt Me: Son of a bitch!

Me: Well, I have to get back to my debt-ridden life.

Pre-Debt Me: Sayonara. Before you go, let me ask you something very important.

Me: Shoot.

Pre-Debt Me: Are there McRibs in the future?

((((Wavy time travel effect)))

I'm Out of Debt!

I got a statement from my car financing company yesterday and was ecstatic to see that the balance due was $0.00! The statement was 31 of 60 which means I paid the car off in half the loan time -- 2 1/2 years instead of 5. This is the first new car I've ever purchased because I said I'd never purchase a new car because they lose value when you drive them off the lot. Well, the new 2005 PT Cruiser models had just come out and I was finding the used ones to be only a few thousand dollars less than the new ones. The list price on the 2004 model was $19,500, and I had $5000 for a down payment and only wanted a $10,000 car loan. I didn't want a car payment of more than $200 a month because we were in the process of moving across the country. I lucked out because my car salesman was new to selling cars and was previously a computer salesman, so he didn't have the hard sell down or the gold chains. Once we were seated in the office, he brings in the "accountant" (who was wearing gold chains and had an oily sheen about him, along with a tough guy accent) to run the numbers and he come up with a figure of a $5000 down payment and a $10,000 loan, but it didn't include the taxes, title, and all the junk that comes with it. I said I wasn't paying for that and I didn't want the total loan to come up to more than $10,000. He left the room and came back and said he got it down but that I'd still have to pay the license and some other additional items. I was adamant that I would not have a loan for more than $10,000. Gold Chains left the room and came back looking exasperated and said "Fine. Your loan is $10,000. Are you happy?" Well, he didn't say the last part, but I could tell he was thinking it. Basil couldn't believe I did it. $10,000 was the biggest loan I'd ever had before and it was a little frightening. My car is 2 1/2 years old, 36,400 miles, and paid for. I plan on driving it for at least another 8 or 9 years, unless I save up enough money and can find an electric car before then. So now I'm out of debt, but as I have one son in college and another one starting in a year or so, I don't plan on having tons of extra cash lying around. I have a 401(k) from a previous job and a Roth IRA that I haven't contributed to yet this year. I have around $3,000 in savings and want to save for a trip to Australia and New Zealand before I have to see them with a walker. Now I have to figure out my next step.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Debt Haiku

My mountain is high
I'm buried with things gone now
I strive to breathe free.

Please submit your own! I'm talking of course to the two people who read this site and the occasional drift in from Bizarro World Fetish Porn Net. Fetish haikus are fine, too.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

We Rent, And Boy Do We Hate It

What are our upstairs neighbors doing?

a. Ripping up their carpeting using hoes
b. Testing the upper limits of their television speakers
c. Drunken calisthenics
d. Building a human Habitrail throughout their apartment
e. Trying to win the award for most Korean church members jammed into a two bedroom apartment that is not a church, and also singing as loudly as humanly possible, in Korean, at 8:45 p.m.
f. All of the above

Yes, students, it is "f." Whenever I go up to complain, my English is met with furrowed brows, and then they attempt to mime that there are animals in the walls, which, unless it's a four-hundred-pound raccoon that mimics the Korean shopping network, I highly doubt.

But Basil, my good man, what about your next door neighbor?

Perhaps you refer to "Smokey Joe?" Smokey Joe is a tall, silver-haired drink of water with a debilitating knee injury. Smokey Joe also does not want to smoke in his house. So he hobbles out onto the porch in front of his apartment, which is inches from our kitchen window, and proceeds to suck down the first of about forty menthol cigarettes while doing business on his little earpiece cellphone in a booming baritone that sounds like someone trying to impersonate God. Does the smoke dissipate into the air? Of course not. It flows right into our house, as if riding on the loud, low tones pounding out of Smokey's pipes.

Bianca and I are trying to decide what to do about the situation. Our manager is a smoking junky fiend, so no help there, and Smokey is a real "dude," a real "man's man," a real "cock-o'-the-walk" if you will, and we are dejectedly predicting that our politely asking him to smoke inside or elsewhere will be met with hackles raised and no small amount of flag-waving, "You can't take away my rights" swagger.

Here's the lowdown on buying a house to escape this hell. Where we live, we make about 15% more than someone who lives in Oklahoma City. But to buy a house, we'd be paying 600% more than someone buying an Oklahoma home. We would move elsewhere, but we're involved in the "gypsy arts" of creativity, and Oklahoma, while I'm sure a fine place to live, would probably leave us in serious job straits, as well as in some serious arts withdrawal.

Oh - they're at it again. I really think that Habitrail is going to be an engineering marvel. I think they're singing Korean labor songs.

Our Tentative Plan

Bianca and I were discussing a tentative financial plan for the next couple of years. Obviously my paying off the sixteen large is the first step. As I'm doing that, Bianca will build up savings equal to six months of expenses. She'll probably accomplish that before I pay off the sixteen thousand, so after that she will begin saving toward both retirement and a trip to Australia/New Zealand that we've always wanted to do.

After I pay off the sixteen, I will then save my six months of expenses, then save for the Australia trip.

That's the plan as it stands.