Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gasoline Experiment Update 2

Well, I would love to let you know my MPG.... only one problem. I haven't run out of gas yet!! I still have just under a half a tank left. I have driven about 220 miles so far. I am not driving as much as I did last week, but it is only a difference of maybe 50 miles. So, I can't give you a real update at this point except to say the last time my gas lasted over 8 days I was probably on vacation!!! I expect I will need to fill up Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. I will give another update as soon as I do. But, for now, I would say Hypermiling IS real. It works. I just can't say by how much yet.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dave Ramsey Fixed My Blog!!

Well, not Dave himself, but Jeremy from his web team helped me find the problem this morning. Turns out it was NOT the Dave Widget but actually my feedburner script. I am not sure why it didn't happen until after I added that widget, but I am just glad it is working right now.

However, I am still having problems. My Linkies were working fine yesterday and now they are giving me problems. Also, my header will not move back into place. I wanted to change to another template but when I view that one the sidebar is doing the same thing. So.... I am not sure when things will be 100% back to normal. But thank you for bearing with me!!!

This Site is Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Please bear with me while I get everything taken care of. I will update on the problems as soon as I get it all figured out.

Thank you for your patience.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Financial Tip Friday

Hi! Welcome to Financial Tip Friday. I hope you will create your own post and add it to the list at the bottom. If you found this post after Friday, that is okay you can still add a link to your blog.

I wanted to get very basic for my first tip. I often surf other personal finance blogs and I notice that a lot of them have gotten away from simple debt reduction tips and often post things that I don't even find relevant to personal finance. So, this is for those newbies trying to get their finances in order.

The tip for today is, if you are in debt, stop borrowing now! Stop using your credit cards, don't take out any more loans just STOP!!

It may sound impossible but last year I did just that. I honestly thought we NEEDED our credit cards to live. I had started reading Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover (see sidebar) and I finally got the courage to cut up my cards. I chopped them all to pieces. I was expecting to feel really anxious after doing that, but instead I got really calm. The stress was gone. I COULD NOT use them anymore. I COULD NOT create any more debt!!! It was great. So, my tip... if you haven't done so yet, STOP CREATING MORE DEBT.

Please share your tips!!! Add a link to your post on a financial tip here. Add the link to your POST not your blog homepage. (That way if someone sees this post two weeks from now they can see your post.) Also, provide a link back to this blog and mention Financial Tip Friday! That is all. It is a simple way to get some readers to your blog!!

Frugal Friday- Frugal Baby Tips

This post is part of Frugal Friday hosted by Crystal aka MoneySavingMom. You can find all of the other posts here at her blog.

I wanted to share a few frugal baby tips. With my older children one thing I always did was buy a pack of cloth diapers. Not to use as diapers but for burp cloths. It may be a regional thing, but everyone I know does this. Well, this time I skipped the purchase. I just used hand towels instead. They are larger and they catch more of the "yucky" stuff. I think a pack of cloth diapers runs around $10 now. So that is money saved!!

Try a generic formula if your baby is not too sensitive to them. We use Parent's Choice from Walmart. It has the same ingredients as Enfamil, but cost over 50% less than Enfamil. Even with the coupons Enfamil sends me, I can't beat Walmart's price. I have also continued to breastfeed in the early morning and at night saving even more money!!

For this baby, who turns three months TODAY, we have reused a lot of our three year old's old baby stuff. If you can't do this, try yard sales or consignment shop. Let someone else take the huge hit on buying the item new and get a good quality item for much less!!!

One more tip, this one has nothing to do with being frugal, but I think it is the best advice anyone has ever given me... When you make up baby's crib, put on a mattress pad and a fitted sheet. All ready to go, BUT THEN, put on another mattress pad and another sheet! This way if baby has an "accident" that ruins the top sheet at 2am, all you have to do is pull off the top two layers and everyone gets to go right back to bed!!

Do you have a financial tip that you would like to share? Today is Financial Tip Friday at Picture of Wealth. Join in here!

Dave Ramsey Ruined My Blog!!

I absolutely hate this template. However, it is the only one that does not stick my sidebar at the bottom of the page. This thing is so cramped. I hate hate hate it. Yes, Dave Ramsey really did this to my blog!! I was trying to add his widget that allows you to take a little financial check up and it is what caused my side bar to relocate itself. Now I can't get it to fix itself no matter what I do. I have tried putting one thing back at a time but it doesn't work. I am wondering if it might be a feedburner script or something causing the problem too but I just don't know enough about templates to figure it out. If anyone knows how to fix this I would appreciate the help, but for now I am stuck with this cramped ugly template... sorry!!!

More Stupid Things Jen Does

I have been paying an extra $36 a year for my insurance. I am not sure how long, but I would say for at least the last 5 years. So let’s see, that is 180 dollars I think? Yeah, that is stupid. The reason? My insurance company charges me to bill me. So I pay an extra $3 a month because I get a paper bill.

I actually find it hard to believe that it is legal to do this, but apparently it is. That is on my list of things to do this week. STOP paying that extra three dollars a month by switching to automatic deduction.

Do YOU have a bill that charges you for billing? You should check your next statement. You may have charges you are not aware of.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Opportunity for Personal Finance Bloggers

Starting this Friday I am going to host my own little "carnival". It is open to ANY personal finance blogger OR any blogger who wishes to post a financial tip. The name of the carnival will be Financial Tip Friday. On Friday you just post something that is helpful to others. Mention Financial Tip Friday and provide a link back to this blog. At the bottom of my Financial Tip Friday post there will be a Mr. Linky widget. You just give your post a name, submit the link and your link will appear on the list. Be sure to tell your readers about it so they can add a post as well. I will try this for a few weeks and see how things go.

Try it now....I have added a Mr. Linky Widget below. You can add your link to any post on your blog for this little trial. I just want people to see how it works.

One Step Ahead of the Joneses

My husband and I recently had a conversation where he said for Christmas he wanted to buy our daughter something for Christmas that would make all the other kids on the street jealous. See, this past Christmas she got a scooter and in the last month about 4 other kids have gotten them too. These other kids have not had birthdays or any other reason to get a scooter. I guess their parents just finally gave in to the constant begging. It was never our intention to make anyone jealous, but my husband is just having a ball with this.

I told him NO we would not be doing that because we were not playing "keeping up with the Joneses". He thought this was NOT the same thing because he would be buying it first!!!

I couldn't even believe my ears, but now I understand some of his ideas a little better. Keeping up with the Joneses does not mean you buy something because your neighbor has it, it means you are buying things to impress people who you could care less about. No thank you.

We still have several months to go until Christmas so I am sure I will be hearing more about it. I know she will get some good toys, but we are not going to buy her anything to make other kids jealous. My post on Monday explained that best.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Savings for the Tax- Refund-less

Sunday, I talked about changing my W4 and the fact that we would no longer be able to use our refund to pay off our house taxes. Yearly expenses like this are pretty easy to save for so they don't hit you like a ton of bricks. I like Dave Ramsey's statement, "Christmas is NOT an emergency." Nope, it is every year on Dec. 25th, just like our taxes on our home are due each year on Feb. 1. However, expenses like these have always had a tendency to slap us in the face. Like we weren't expecting them.

Truth is we were just being irresponsible. So, what do you need to do to prepare for such expenses?

What are your yearly expenses? Ours are real estate taxes, vehicle taxes, flood insurance, and you could add holidays like Christmas if you are so inclined.

How much is the grand total? Add up all of the expenses. Let's say for the sake of simple math, that our total bill comes to $2,400. That is how much we need to have saved each year in order to pay these bills.

How much per month? Take your grand total. In our case $2400 and divide it by 12. (That being the number of months in a year, just in case.... you never know what might confuse folks). Therefore, our monthly savings must equal $200. If we save this amount each month, we will have the money as each "event" rolls around.

Don't worry!! You will probably never actually see $2400 in the account, but that is okay. Since you continue to save this amount each month when it gets used up by an "event" the total in the account is going to go down. Maybe even to a level lower than the next bill that is due. However, if you have enough months between you and the next bill, the money should be saved up in time for the next "event" (don't ask why I keep putting that in quotes, I just do).

So, this is saving for recurrent yearly expenses for those of us who don't get a tax refund.

** On a way off topic, topic, can I just say I hate being an adult sometimes. I hate saving money each month that I don't get to play with later. At the same time, I am really glad I have finally woken up and started being responsible with my money!! ** End off topic, topic.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Can I Get Some More Input?

On the visibility of my blog. Can you read it? I had a reader who could not. Are the colors merging together? Is the sidebar where it belongs? It looks fine to me, but I want to make sure you can all see it. Thanks!!

Gas Experiment Update

I realized I never actually said what my mileage had been before the experiment. I was getting 20-21 MPG. My tank is a little over 15 gallons so roughly 300 miles on a tank of gas. (I think... not really in a math mood today :)

Anyway, at this point I have driven about 70 miles and my needle has moved a little over 1/16th of a tank. I know this is not a really accurate way to measure anything, but I think it is much better than I normally do. At this rate I may not be able to use all the gas in one week!! I only have two more days of work this week, so we will have to see.

If you are interested in this is a good website to check out.

I tried using cruise control today (supposedly saves gas because it accelerates much slower) the only problem with it is going downhill it will put the brakes on. This will take away from your gas mileage so if you use cruise be sure to tap the brakes anytime it tries to slow you down.

I have a feeling the biggest helper is slowing down on the interstate. I just watch all those people fly by me and think... "Wow, they must be rich to be using all that gas!" LOL

What Do You Tell Your Kids About Money?

We talk to our kids about not smoking, drinking and taking drugs. At least my parents did, and that is one major reason I never tried drugs. I knew their expectations. But, do your children know how you feel about money? What about credit cards? If you think they teach this kind of thing in today’s public schools you are sadly (very sadly) mistaken.

So, when do you start talking to them about it? And what do you say? Well, let’s start with what you should NOT say…

My parents never spoke directly to me about money. However, I did get the, “No, we can’t afford it,” speech more than once. This made me fearful that we were one step away from living on the streets. So, if you haven’t spoken to them specifically about money, watch what you say indirectly. I like my husband’s phrase, “We could buy that, but we choose to spend our money on other things.” That is a MUCH more secure statement.

A lot of what you say will depend on the ages and maturity level of your children. You may have a child who just really doesn’t care and will not sit through a lecture. In this case, just hit them up every once in a while with something like, “Don’t open a credit card, they will steal all of your money.”(Sounds dramatic, but you are trying to spark interest) Maybe eventually one of these statements will be a springboard into a longer discussion on money.

I have recently started talking to my 11 year old about credit cards. I told her that if she can’t afford something with the cash she has that she should not buy the item. We talked about how they work, and how you could end up paying three times the original price of an item if you keep a balance on the card and have a high interest rate. I also told her about my experience and how I am now trying to pay for things that I no longer have, don’t remember buying, and have probably already used up or thrown away.

It is getting through to her? I won’t know for a long time. But, in my opinion starting now is much better than waiting until there is already a problem. I am looking for books on money that can show kids how saving can make them wealthy. I don’t want her to have to repeat my mistakes. I hope she can learn from them. Of course she will make some of her own money blunders, but part of my problem was lack of an education about credit, savings, and how it all works.

Talking about money does not take a lot of time. It makes great driving discussion. Just use caution with what you say and make sure they know that you are NOT standing with one foot in the poor house (even if you really are).

Do you have specific advice for talking to certain age children? What have you told your own kids? I’d love to hear about it!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

New Look!

I hope this does not confuse anyone. You ARE at Picture of Wealth. I had to change my template because Blogger had moved my sidebar to the bottom of the page. I don't know why, but with the template I had, it would not go back to normal. This one is more cramped but for some reason it works. Go figure.

Cash Crate Paid!!!

I got my first check from Cash Crate!! It was for a little over $10. My plan for money like this is to use it to snowflake the mess out of my debt. I am still waiting on a couple of rebate checks that will go toward the same thing.

Please read more about Cash Crate HERE before signing up.

Does a Yearly Tax Refund Make You Financially Irresponsible?

I never thought a person could enable himself or herself. It is possible though. I did it for many years. Even though I carried around a credit card with a balance of a few thousand dollars every year, I never saw myself as being in debt. (In case you didn't read yesterday's post, this is a direct example of being in denial)

The reason I didn't consider it debt was because each year in January I would do my taxes, get my refund, and pay off all of that debt. In my mind, it was not debt because it would be paid off before February 1st each year.

Then came the year when there was something more pressing than paying off my debt. I don't remember what it was. It may have been the bills from my toddler's birth. I hadn't saved for that like I did for this baby and they caught us off guard. (Doesn't insurance pay for all of that, ha ha.) Suddenly my refund did not go toward my debt. Do you think I changed my ways? Nope. It was a habit now. I had to use those cards every month because we needed groceries etc. In all honesty we could have done without a lot of the "groceries". When you shop at Wal-mart for everything a video game is considered "groceries".

It took a long time for me to realize that the tax refund had actually been enabling me. As well as costing me a lot of extra money. Think about this. I was paying around 10% interest each month on the card, so the government was collecting interest on my money all year long while they "held" it for me. On top of that, I was paying back the credit card companies for the items I had purchased, but I was also paying for being allowed to "hold" their money for a year.

How stupid! What I should have been doing was changing my W4, and holding my own money and making my own interest. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess.

Even after realizing all of this it has taken until recently for me to actually change my W4. This is going to do a lot for me and for my debt repayment efforts. I will be able to pay off my debt sooner, and I will not be paying as much in interest while "waiting" all year to get my own money back.

It is astounding how many people use this for savings. It truly is the worst savings account in the world. But, if you need to be enabled it is just perfect. Things will have to change though because in the past we have also used it to pay our house taxes at the beginning of each year. We must now create a savings plan just for that, which I will talk more about tomorrow.

So what do you think? A lot of people realize they are getting no interest and giving the government in essence an interest free loan, but they like it this way. What do you do?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Debt/Weight Loss Connection

I remember a long time ago an article I read. Basically it said that many people with debt had weight issues as well. I don’t think it was trying to say that if you aren’t good with money that you aren’t good with food. I think it was more along the lines of you are in debt and are turning to food in response. However, I find it funny that I see these things linked up quite often.

Take Total Money Makeover for example. Dave Ramsey spends an entire chapter comparing someone trying to get out of debt and someone trying to lose weight. It really is striking how similar the two processes are.

Denial. I think this is the chapter in which Ramsey first talks about the comparison. It really is true. Weight denial usually comes in the form of, “Well, it is only 3 pounds. I just won’t gain any more.” Debt denial is very similar. “Well, just one more outfit charged to my card won’t hurt.” You have to get passed the denial in both situations before you can do anything. That small amount of denial about your situation just builds on itself, until the pounds are up to 30 and the debt is thirty grand.

Obstacles. The next thing is getting to know your obstacles. For weight loss, if you keep buying cookies for “your kids”, you know you won’t be able to resist and you will blow your diet. (I use this example because…. Fine, I bought cookies this week!) Think of the obstacles with debt. If you keep your credit cards around when you are not 100% sure you can live without them you are going to use them. Identifying the things that will cause you to fail is key because what you don’t know WILL hurt you.

As a side note, this was my major problem to stopping debt spending. I really believed we could not make it a month without some help from my credit card. It took me cutting them up to realize that we could. Try it!

Planning. With Total Money Makeover you use baby steps and a debt snowball to fix your finances. For weight loss, you obviously must cut calories and then start exercising. I like to think about snacks now as how I am “spending” my calories for that day. If I go over budget, so does my waistline!! Exercising is kind of like saving. You are in essence banking calories that can be used later. No exercise, no room for extra spending. The exercise in your finances is working out those debts. Until they are gone you have no room for extra spending with real money either.

Goals. Financial goals and weight loss goals are easy to write down and track. However your goals have to have a deeper meaning. The end result should actually be a healthier lifestyle physically and financially. It takes commitment and putting what works in practice consistently. If you stop taking care of yourself or your finances you are bound to wind up right back where you started. That is the key.

I have started using some of the TMM ideas toward getting in shape… if you can’t already tell. It helps me feel like I am doing something while trying to get my finances in order. One thing that has finally become clear to me is the final step I talked about. This is a lifestyle change. It is not just a process you go through once and you are done. Weight loss for it to be permanent must work the same way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thanks Reader Shelby T.!!!

Recently, in a comment, Shelby asked how I was doing with my debt repayment. I knew it was lower, but I thought perhaps I had made a mistake in my calculations because it was thousands of dollars lower than I thought it should be.

Well, I decided to figure it up. I subscribed to NetworthIQ last year so I had the exact figures from August of 2007. Since then I have paid off around $6000 of debt! Maybe that is not a lot for a whole year, but considering that was the exact time when I stopped my debt snowball and started saving for the baby I think it is quite good!

On top of that my net worth has improved. At the time I last checked it was -$21,000 it is now -$12000. So it has increased $9000 even though it is still in the negative. I think that is really awesome for one year. That of course comes from retirement savings and the savings that were to go toward the hospital bills.

Anyway, this gave me a nice little pick me up. So, thanks for your question Shelby!!

Gasoline Experiment

Lately I have been experimenting with changing up my driving habits a little. I haven’t tried to do a full blown experiment, but today I decided to try just that. After my trip to work and back, I realized my gas needle, which usually changes by about an eighth of a tank, had hardly moved at all.

So I filled up my tank and I am going to try all of my little tricks out for the next week. Here are my plans, and also some cautions if you plan to try any of this.

Slower Acceleration

Pretty self explanatory. When coming from a dead stop I will accelerate more slowly. (Just in case you did need an explanation!)

There are not a lot of hills in my area, but today I noticed two on my way home. I took my foot off the gas about 25 yards before the hill and coasted down. It added 5 mpg to my speed and I was able to get up the next hill to the stop sign without adding any more gas.

I have started coasting as soon as I see lights turn to amber, before curves, and up to stop signs (and obviously on hills as prev. mentioned.). In the past, my habit was to stay on the gas and brake hard at the stop. This caused me to use more gas and lose all that energy when I suddenly stopped. This new way means that I stop using gas at the beginning of the coast, and lose less energy when I have to stop.

Speed Limit- Speed Reduction

I am doing the speed limit on all streets now and if I get behind a slow car, I STAY behind them. This is probably going to be the hardest thing for me because I am really used to going 5-10 MPH over the posted limit… I know tsk, tsk.

I am also going to reduce my speed on the highway by 10 MPH. Actually it will be even more since I was going closer to 80 and will tune it down to 60 from now on. I recently read that you lose 5 MPG when you go 10 MPH over 55, and 5 MPG more for each 10 over that. If this is true, than this is where I will pick up the most extra mileage.

I have already realized I am going to have to keep a sharp eye out for other motorists. They will pass you because you are not going fast enough and pull out in front of you if they can make it. Keep an eye out for these folks.

Be cautious when coasting. I took a curve today after coasting to it and still needed to apply the brakes a bit more than I expected. When you coast it is a good idea to keep your foot on the brake NOT the accelerator because if you are startled you may romp down on the wrong pedal.


So far I found it really amazing how much speed can be picked up coasting on hills. I knew I would pick up some speed, but I didn’t expect it to get me up the next hill.

I also found out that I can start coasting about 100 yards from my street, apply the brakes to turn, and still make it to my house without adding any gas. I still had to use the brakes to turn into the drive and I am about the 8th house down on my street!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Result of My Crisis Plan... Debt Free Baby

To discourage anyone from starting a Blogger blog I am leaving this picture like it is. Blogger is stupid and this is how my right side up picture came out.

BUT.... this post is about the fact that THIS is a debt free baby!!! Our plan gave us the money to be able to pay our bills in full, so no extra debt due to baby!! Yea!!

It is also to brag on my beautiful baby!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Has Your Debt Snowball Stopped Rolling?

A few months ago I realized that I was NOT going to have any extra money to pay on my credit cards. This would mean that I would have to pay only the minimum balance which would mean I'd probably be out of debt about 5 years after I died.

So, I had to think drastically! I had to get myself really motivated to get the debt paid off. I am going to share some of the things I did to get it rolling again, along with some other ideas.

1. I stopped paying into retirement. NO I AM NOT CRAZY! I already have some money going in that is mandatory since I work for the state, so the rest was on my own. I was not getting a match for it. For me this is a huge motivator because I want that money IMMEDIATELY returned to retirement. So you better believe I will be doing all I can to get my debt paid off sooner than later. Also, I want to open a Roth IRA and I need a certain amount to open that, so once my debt is paid I will be putting the money toward that.

2. I changed my W4. That is the thing they give you when you first begin a new job. On it you select the number of exemptions you wish to claim. We get back an insane amount of tax money back, and I don't just mean a couple thousand... so we are withholding WAY too much. Now, I am not, and that money will go toward my debt. I followed the IRS worksheet but still claimed a bit less that I was eligible for. So I should be fine at tax time.

3. I took a summer job. I hated to do it. I hated it more than anything. But, I took on a summer job to go strictly toward my debt. I will get that money in two weeks and I am really excited about that. You could take on a part time job to help fund your debt snowball if you are really serious about it.

4. Sell things!! I am hoping to have a yard sale soon. I will be selling anything I can to help pay off my debt. I even have an original Nintendo WITH the box. I LOVE that thing, but I am not using it and I can now buy my favorite games on the Wii, so it has to go. I guess my SNES will have to go too. (Hey, if you are interested drop me a line!! Of course if you are reading this you probably need to lay off buying stuff, lol)

My husband sold his motorcycle which took care of that monthly payment and also reduced our insurance and taxes. That was a big help!!

5. Downgrade. This can be anything. Your cell phone, cable, satellite radio, or any unnecessary expense. I recently took Internet, text messaging, and navigation off my cell phone to save $30 a month. Actually, I only had it there for a month just to try it. We both recently downgraded our phones from Blackberries and are saving $100 a month now that I took off those extras.

6. Bundle services. Last year I bundled our cable, Internet and home phone. We ended up saving almost $85 a month. Not too bad!!

So, if you are serious, there are many ways to get the snowball rolling again. Try a few, you might be surprised!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can I Just Say....

Do you ever hear a piece of advice that makes no sense to you? Do you ever hear it so often it begins to get on your nerves?

Can I just say... If I froze my credit cards in a block of ice, there would be nothing but lack of a little hot water that could keep me from using it?

This really is a mindset and if you are not ready to stop using them, none of these little tricks will really work, but I especially hate the ice one!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We Only Do It Once a Month... Revisited.

Last year, I wrote about the fact that I hate how I only have the money to work towards paying my debt off once a month. Well, in a moment I will talk more about how that is not necessarily true even if you are only paid once a month like me. However, I am getting really frustrated right now because I can't even do this!!

I am still waiting on final bills from our hospital, anesthesiologist, and one doctor. I want to pay them all off, but I haven't gotten the bills yet. Well, we have gotten bills but they had errors and one has had to be sent back to the insurance company THREE times!!

So, what can you do when you truly CAN NOT pay your creditors? (I mean because the bill has not come not because you have no money :) I like to plan. In fact, I have changed my plan a few times since starting it. I simply opened up a word file and started typing about what I WOULD do once the bills came in. It help get it off my mind. As long as I owe money I feel very anxious that I might forget exactly what it was I wanted to do. I keep my "plans" saved in a specific folder and any time it starts bothering me I open up the file and read it.

Now, back to what I was saying about it not being true that "we only do it once a month". If you feel like I used to, snowflaking is the answer for you. Right now I am waiting on a $4 single check rebate from Rite Aid, a $10 check from CashCrate, a $4xx MIR, and a $100 MIR from my cell phone. Some people won't try things like CashCrate, or they won't mail in rebates because they think it isn't worth their time for the money they get back. Well, I am going to get $118 for my troubles!! All of that, since it is unexpected money, goes to debt. If I get the check on the 15th, I will pay the bill on the 16th. I don't allow the money to "sit" in my account. If I do that it gets used for something else.

I am also about to head over to Cash4Books and sell more books to them. Get this.... the titles I am selling were rejected last time, but now they are buying them. So, if at first they say no to a book, try it again later!!

The point is, anytime you get extra money that you are not expecting, OR that if from something like a rebate, put it toward your debt. I recently got a check back from one of the doctors because after insurance we had overpaid. I used that check to pay TWO months worth of my regular payment toward my credit card. That also helped me reach a milestone with that card of getting it under $3000! So, while some holdups are frustrating, you CAN do it more than once a month!!

Please share your ideas for adding to your debt repayment efforts!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

More About a Monthly Emergency Fund

My monthly emergency fund is something I have done for quite a while but I just realized yesterday that I had never mentioned it. It really is a misnomer, but let me elaborate.

I take a certain amount of my paycheck each month that is not allocated to any other purpose and save it. It goes into savings with any other overage, but it can be taken out for miscellaneous expenses. This helps me because I don't make it a regular part of the budget. I feel that if I did, this money would get spent EVERY month. So, it goes into savings ,but portions of it can come out if needed. If they are not needed they stay put in savings and become part of it. NO ROLLOVER. Once the month is over that money is property of savings. (Or when I get our hospital bills in and paid for, it will start going toward debt.)

Budgets have always scared me because there is always seems to be something that pops up out of the blue. This is my way of making sure my savings is safe, AND I will be okay if I go a little over budget for one reason or another.

This month the money is really going to help with the way gas prices have been rising. If I didn't have this small stash I would run the risk of having to dip into savings this month.

So, this is just an idea you might want to try out. The amount I have on hand varies from month to month. Sometimes I have none left to put in the monthly emergency fund, some months I have close to $300 for it. It depends on a lot of things, but I try to have some to have a cushion.

Shift Your Thinking to Beat Debt

At work the other day, I was finishing my morning snack. I had a peanut butter sandwich, no jelly, in a Zip-lock bag. I folded the bag and put it into my take-home bag, so I could bring it home, rinse it out, and reuse it.

Have I lost my mind? This is something I used to think was SO stupid. I never understood people who bought disposable products and reused them. Now, I am one of those “stupid” people. The truth is, Zip-lock bags are not cheap!! They are not too eco-friendly either. I know I am not going to get rich saving these bags, but say I used them five days a week, and reused each bag twice. A box of 100 bags would have lasted me 20 weeks, but now it will last me 40. Use each one three times, and the box will last me more than a year! However, I am not really trying to stretch the lives of my baggies here. My main concern is avoiding extra costs in my grocery budget as often as I can. This is one way to do that. The thing that I noticed most was what was going on in my head!

I guess this just highlights a major shift in my thinking. I can clearly remember being at my neighbor’s house and seeing her washing disposable plates and flatware. (I still have a little problem with this one because if you have glass dishes, why not save on buying disposable stuff and just use what you have?) When I was younger, we just threw that stuff away. And, at one point, distressed by the state of my kitchen, I must admit, I thought about buying the stuff to avoid washing dishes. I guess frugality is one of those “to each his own” type things. And, I have become much more frugal since vowing to pay off all of my debt. I have paid off all of my debt many times in the past. The diffence now is the way I think about it.

Last night I had another remind of how far I have come. My laptop, my beloved laptop :), died. I had no idea what happened. I had been using it, stopped for an hour to exercise and when I came back, the power would not come on. And the battery icon, which stays lit, was extinguished. I was so upset. I have just enough money to pay our hospital bills and one of my credit cards off. Now this was happening. But, my first thought was not, “I must find a way to buy a new one.” It was, “Well, how can I get by without.” Of course that was mixed with sheer terror at all the files I had lost, and then I started thinking of solutions. I finally found one, and to make a long story short, the computer was saved.

The main shift here for me is that I want to have and not owe. I want financial security and independence more than I want “stuff”. This is slowly becoming a reality for me now, and it is funny how many old ideas get thrown out as I develop new truths about the life I am working toward having.

Do you have any ideas you have thrown out recently? What are they?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Will we make it this month?

This month has been an odd one. I got paid a week and a half early because we get paid on the last working day of each month. It was "just in time" because my budget for the previous month was pretty much gone.

Now, I am in the process of really revamping our budget and this month was the first trial run of that. That hurt us a little too. Add to that the cost of gas, another strike. Finally, I took my husband shopping with me last week and he drove. He likes to accelerate way too quickly and do you want to know if that makes a big difference? YES! My gas normally last 6-7 days, that week it lasted 4!! (I guess you can't really call that a week, but it was a week's worth of gas)

So, I have $50 left in my grocery budget, one more week's worth of gas, and $100 left in my monthly emergency fund. I also have $40 in cash, and $15 in CVS ECB's. So I think I can make it. I will probably have to dip into savings for a little of the gas, but other than that I should be fine. It is going to be tight though.

One thing I will have to do really well with is groceries. I am going to have to shop our house BIG TIME. However the reason the grocery budget is so low is because I have over a month's worth of meat stored. All I really need to buy for the rest of the month are bread, veggies, and dairy. I have snacks stockpiled as well as cereal.

Personally I think I am doing pretty well since this is my second month without a full paycheck. (my last check was $70) I am glad I am not considered on maternity leave anymore!! Next month we should be back to our regularly scheduled programming. :)

Well, I will update at the first of next month to let you know how I did.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Adventures in Stockpiling- Save money, pay debt.

I have a friend who laughs at me when I talk about my deals. He asks, “You know smart shopping is not a new concept, right?”

Yes, I know. But, for a long time I was a very bad shopper. I thought the fact that I shopped at Walmart meant I was getting the best prices and the best deals. The truth is on a day by day basis, Walmart does have better prices, but only by a few cents in most cases. The problem is Walmart never has very good deals or sales.

A few months ago, I started trying to reign in our grocery spending. I started reading about stockpiling and shopping the sales ads. It took me a while to “get” stockpiling, but I actually fell right into a groove with it. We now have a rather large stockpile of different items. Read on to learn more about it.

Stockpiling is obviously the building up of household items or food. However, there is a right and a wrong way to do this. The right way is to buy items when they are at their lowest prices and to buy as many as you can comfortably fit into your budget at that time.

By stockpiling items when they are on sale, but when you may not need them, you are taking away the seller’s right to tell you what you must pay for them. For instance, this week I bought 4 Dawn dish soaps. They were on sale for $1 each. I had coupons for them totaling $3.75 so I paid $0.25 for the soap. I can’t even touch a Walmart brand dish soap for that price, and I got four NAME BRAND soaps. When you buy more of an item at its sale price and save it for later, you end up cutting your monthly bills. You get the items you need in advance of when you need them, but you pay less.

Walmart is not a good place to stockpile. Like I said before, they do not have many deals and a “rollback” may be for as little as 12 cents. ( I saw that last week) Your local chain grocery stores are a great place for stockpiling food, and CVS is probably the ONLY place to stockpile household, hygiene, and medicinal products. (This is because of their unbelievable customer reward program, but that is a whole other blog!!) I get most of my meat from our Winn-Dixie which really doesn’t have the greatest sale prices, but they have BOGO sales every week. If you have a deep freezer, stockpiling meat is a great way to save money on groceries.

I have now started giving myself a “stockpiling” budget each month. This actually comes right out of a portion of my old grocery budget. Since some of the items I stockpile are groceries, I can get away with using some of that money. Also, buying items on sale and using coupons has reduced our grocery budget by so much I hardly notice the money is gone.

When I first heard about stocking up on items I thought it would cost us MORE money. Somehow it has actually done the opposite. Now, the money we are saving can go toward debt repayment. The only downside for me is that I have to cook a lot more instead of using all those convenience meals we used to eat. My family is NOT complaining :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Did you know? Student Loan Payoff

You can now link your Sallie Mae student loans to your Upromise account. In four years, my account has only accrued $2. But, I recently went in and connected it to my student loan, added another debit card and my CVS card. It won't pay off the loan much faster, but free money is free money.

On a side note, I just looked and in 18 months of paying $140 a month I have knocked off exactly $1000 of debt. What a joke! I can't wait to get rid of my other debt and start really knocking that off!! Plus in two and a half more years I may qualify to have $5000 paid off with the teacher forgiveness act. Keeping my fingers crossed that it works for librarians too!! (I am a certified teacher in the school)

Oh, here is the math- 140 X 18 = $2520 Loans suck!

Monday, June 9, 2008

One Year Later- No Extra Debt!

A little over a year ago (March 2007) I began this blog. It started as a way to help me vent about what was going on with my debt repayment. I wanted to get some ideas out in the open so that I could see them in print and evaluate them. Some of those ideas have continued to be part of my plan. Some have not. So, a few months late…. Here is an update on my first year of debt repayment.

In the past, I had very little debt. Before I got married I was eligible for grants instead of loans for college. So, I had no student loan debt. I sometimes carried a balance on my cards, but I always paid them off each January with my tax refund. I had saved money and put ½ down on my first car. Then, I got married.

My husband had significant debt. We signed up with a credit counseling service and finally began paying on his debt (yes, I said STARTED paying… he was not making a single payment on over $7000 in debt) We were not making much money. I was still in school, now taking on loans, and since we had finally begun paying all of his bills there was little left in the monthly budget. I started relying on my credit card to help us buy groceries at least once a month. In the meantime, my husband became debt free.

I planned to pay them off my cards as usual in January, but then we had to pay taxes on the house. Then we had a baby. This was getting a little harder. I felt bad for my husband. He was not used to not buying things. When his computer went out, I bought him a new one… on my card.

In December of 2006 we spent too much on Christmas. We had some friends over for a little Christmas party and I was so embarrassed about our shabby furniture. I bought $10,000 worth of furniture the next month. By March, I realized things were out of control, and I had gone from virtually no debt to close to $50,000 in 5 years. While a large chunk was student loan debt, there was more that was not.

I read Women and Money by Suze Orman and realized that things had to change. I had no decent life insurance, too much debt, and we were living paycheck to paycheck and still not covering our bills each month.

I then read Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and when I got to the page about credit cards, I stopped reading, found each of my cards, and cut them into little bitty pieces. You would think that would be scary but actually I felt a weight lift off of my chest. I COULDN’T create any more debt!!!

At that point, I finally started paying the debt full force and quit adding to it. Of course we had a little surprise in July that wound up giving us another mouth to feed this past March, but we are forging ahead.

I am proud to say that I have not added anything to our debt in the past 16 months!! I HAVE used my credit cards (new ones were sent because the old ones expired) but only for emergencies and they were paid right back from my emergency fund.

So, I do now keep the credit cards around for emergencies. My emergency fund itself is not as liquid as I would like, so I need the cards in a pinch but they don’t keep the extra cash on them for long.

As far as my debt goes, I should have my first card paid off by the end of this summer. Then I can start rolling the snowball into my next debt. If I continue at the rate I am going I should have all of my debt save for the student loans paid off in two years. This includes my car. I don’t plan to buy a new car at that point either. I am hoping the car I have will last until my oldest starts driving. Then she can have that car and I should have enough money saved to buy a “new” used car.

I would say the biggest difference for me now is that I actually plan ahead. I am thinking 5 years into the future at this point with the car and my other kids being finished with daycare. Of course, stopping the addition of new debt has been a biggie too. I know it is so cliché, but honestly, if I can do this, anyone can.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another Way to Make Money on a Website

Sometimes, when I think back to "when I was young" I can't believe the advances that have taken place with technology. I also never really thought about the fact that in the United States we have access to credit cards so easily. I guess this is not the case in other countries.

There is a new service, called Password By Call, for people who have websites with paid content. Since many websites get international traffic, but many of those people do not have credit cards, this service may help.

A customer from another country can call a number. From this number they get a password to the content site. I am assuming that the fee for the paid content is charged to their phone bill. It really is a simple idea if you think of it, but who'd have thought?? :)

I am not sure exactly how it would work with blog sites, but say you had an e-book you wanted to sell online. Anyone with a telephone would be able to buy it from you!! It could really expand your customer base.

Anyway, if you do have a paid site and are interested, there are no set up fees. They cover many languages and markets including India and China. They have even had calls from Antarctica according to their site. And, probably the best part, they pay every two weeks. (Do you hear that Google?)

You can check out some realtime stats HERE.

Or visit their site HERE. It is worth it just to see the freaky video guy. His eyes follow your mouse...

Field Trip!! A Day at The Simple Dollar

The Simple Dollar is one of the first personal finance blogs I ever came across. I honestly don’t remember how I found it. Probably a search on Google or a link to a link to a link. However, there is some great stuff here. Blogger Trent has even put all of this in the realm of public domain, so his posts can be used to help even more people. He has daily features, so if you find something you really like you can check back the following week for a similar post.

I recently spent the day at The Simple Dollar and here is some of what I found.

Got Credit Card Debt? Ten Tactics to Use Right Now to Get it Under Control
Who couldn’t use a quick refresher here.

Ten Clever Money Savers You Might Want to Try This Weekend.
I love posts like this. There is almost always SOMETHING you can take away from them and adapt to your own life.

Building a Better Blog
You can buy this series as an E-book or follow the links to each post in the series. This series will help you develop a great blog of your own.

I am going to leave you with these links because there is so much to delve into at the Simple Dollar any more would be too much. You will find plenty to love on your own!!

Want your PF blog featured on a field trip? Leave me a link to it in the comment area!!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Contribution to my Fellow CVSers

I created this little spreadsheet that allows you to input the items you wish to buy, the price, any coupons, and the ecb's they give back. Then you can enter any ECB's you have and the deal maker will tell you how much you will pay OOP, OOP w/Tax, how many ECB's you are using and how many you have earned!!! I love this little thing. It is the only way I have gotten my OOP totals lowered. Yea ME!!!

Download here!!

As a courtesy to me, PLEASE share with your readers/friends, but PLEASE link them to this post and not to the actual download site!! I appreciate the traffic!!

How Far Will You Go to Pay Your Debts?

I recently had a conversation with a friend that led me to believe he had finally declared bankruptcy. He had been considering it for some time. I made a comment about my summer job and how all the money would be going toward my debt, and he said he no longer had to worry about any of that. So, I am quite sure that is what happened, although I would never be so rude as to ask.

That got me thinking. I am not nearly in the type of debt that would require me to declare bankruptcy, but just how far would I be willing to go to pay off my debt. Bankruptcy is obviously a big step and I have a feeling people who have to declare probably feel some sense of failure. (I am not saying they are, but I know some things can affect people that way.) What other feelings could be associated with repaying debt. For me, hatred springs to mind.

My summer job of teaching summer school is driving me crazy! I have to be away from my newborn, I am dealing with students who do not really care to learn the material I have to teach, and I will not get to spend a dime of the money I make. It is not really that I have anything I need to spend it on besides debt. However, after all of that work I will be paying for things that I no longer remember or even have. I am essentially working to repay my past mistakes.

If nothing else, I guess this will make me think twice before I ever charge another thing. I had come to that conclusion long before starting this extra job, but now I have a very clear picture of what is in store for me each summer that my debt is with me. I don't look at it as punishment though; I look at it as an opportunity that a lot of folks don't have. However, I still don't like it.

So, I now know that I will do something I really hate to pay off my debts. What keeps me going is that each day I walk in my classroom to set up for the next day and call out the amount of money I am up to. Today it was $800! On the last day I will be able to say $2000! That will make it all worthwhile. Of course I have to wait for Uncle Sam to let me know what I actually get to pay toward my debt, but it will still be a nice chunk of change.

I understand there comes a point when people get so in over their heads that they have no choice but to declare bankruptcy. For a while, I was a little jealous of my friend for basically getting the slate wiped clean. However, I know I will be a better me for having worked so hard to repay my debt. It will give me a sense of accomplishment, and that is a good thing!!

What have you done to lower your debt? Did you part with things you really wanted to keep? Did a job you hated? Let me know!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Did Cash Crate Pay Out? Plus tips if you join.

Well, I haven’t gotten my check yet but I did make $10 last month and right now that check is being processed to be sent out to me on the 15th of this month!! I know $10 isn’t a whole lot of money, but it was 10 free dollars and there was not a lot of work involved. In fact, I kind of enjoyed some of it!! You can get your own free $10 here, but please follow these tips!!

Set up a dummy email account. Most people already have these. If you don’t, just go to hotmail and set up a free account. That way any spam will be sent there and you won’t have to worry about it. You WILL have to provide an email on most offers and some require that you verify.

Be very selective. When you first sign up, you will have many offers that do not ask for your phone number. These are the ones I completed. And, yes, if you look there are at least enough of them for you to make your $10.

Do not give out your phone number. I would not give out your phone number on any of the applications. If they ask for a number, (except for some of the survey companies) just click out of the offer and do another one. I put my number in on two offers. One of them called one did not. The one that called I just told them I was not interested, but be careful because some say they will send you text messages and if you don’t have free texting you will have to pay for those. One exception here is the one for the insurance quotes. I gave them my number and it was not a problem. I actually DID find a better deal for my auto insurance but I am not going to switch right now.

So, have I been bombarded with spam, trash mail, texts or phone calls?

Spam- Yes, but I made a dummy account so I am not concerned. I use this email to sign up for other free trials etc. So, I had been using it for a while but now it is constantly being bombarded. Make a new address to use with Cash Crate or you will be sorry!!

Trash Mail- No. I gave out my home address on several offers and have yet to receive any garbage in my mail box.

Texts- I have not received any texts, but I was very selective about the offers I opted in to.

Phone calls- Only two companies called me. One about a vacation and one about insurance quotes, but they simply left a message and did not call back. The vacation folks I told I was not interested and they have not called back. I would still caution you against giving out your number for most offers though.

I haven’t used Cash Crate since I made it to $10 and I may or may not. There is a free NetFlix trial that will make me $13 (I think). But, I have to give credit card info. I am not really concerned with that because I have used NetFlix before, so I may do that one. Other than that I am pretty happy just taking the money and running!!

If you are ready to join now you can do so here!!

If you have experience with Cash Crate I would love to hear about it!!