Blue Friday

It’s payday. You might think a day of joy — time to get bills paid, take a small step towards debt reduction, and maybe even put a few dollars in the emergency fund.

But this morning, when I sat down with my coffee to hit the the online banking, by the time I was done I was almost in tears. I don’t even have enough to cover everything and if I don’t find some extra cash pretty fast, I’m going to be farther into some debt wormholes.

(BTW, I know I mentioned getting that desk below and you might be wondering how? My dad gave me a gift card for Office Depot recently he recieved at work and with the coupon I have it’s just enough to buy the desk, thankfully.)

So why am I here?

  1. I overspent on my emergency trip home to California and the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost
  2. I am not budgeting.
  3. I need more income or to reduce expenses even more. But I’ve cut a lot of the fat and still am dealing with a lot of payments on old debt.

So where do I go from here, without adding further to the debt load?

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I was a vegetarian for two years in college — but like other vegetarians I’ve met the smell of frying bacon pulled me back to the dark side. However, I still find a diet with less of a focus on high-fat meat and more of a focus on beans, veggies, and healthy grains to be very satisfying.

PiggyBank Raid’s contest this month ($20 prize!) seeking frugal, primarily vegetarian recipes has inspired me to pull out some of those fave recipes or even to try some new ones to submit to the site by June 30.

I’ve got a two and a half weeks to cook up a few tasty dishes — focusing on quickness and ease of preparation, frugality, and health all at once — and the ones I submit I’ll also post here as a part of my Cheap Eats series, with price breakdowns.

Already on hand in my pantry are some bags of beans I’ve been considering doing something with this weekend. And I also had been planning to hit the farmers’ market this Saturday, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

Hump Day

Things are busy, busy this week.

  1. Big changes at work. My manager is moving on to a new position and a new GM is coming in. I work very closely with this person so it will definitely be a transition. The good news is my role has expanded in the last few months making my job a much more secure and important one. (Also, rumors are in the air that some bonuses are coming due — cross your fingers for me!)
  2. Big changes at home. A few weeks ago, my sister, her fiance and my toddler niece moved into my house with me. It’s temporary, but will likely last several months. The good about this has been the help from the fiance around the house and with the yard work especially. Also, my food budget has dropped as they are contributing to the pantry/fridge and we are sharing meals. Starting next month, they will be paying a portion of the utilities, too. Cha ching!
  3. Household projects. With more people in the house I’ve been finally getting to some organizational projects. Shelves are going up on some walls and my home office is getting a makeover. The big deal will be the purchase of a desk I’ve had my eye on:

I’m glad I waited a few weeks to purchase it (with a gift card I’ve been holding for this purpose) — last week I picked up a coupon at Office Depot good this week for $20 off any purchase over $75. This desk will be a nice addition to the home office — and since I do actually have a small side business, the receipt will be filed away in the 2007 taxes file — giving me a place where I actually want to do my personal financial work.

Well — it can fell insurmountable, that’s for sure. But a recent post at No Credit Needed provides an alternative view of how the little things in debt reduction add up.

Debt reduction requires the same patient, day after day, commitment. Drip by drip, drop by drop, payment by payment, we work ourselves out of debt, one account at a time. A consistent flow of water, over time, can accomplish amazing things. (Think, Grand Canyon!) Waiting for a “flood” of money? Stop. Focus on creating a consistent flow of money. Think of each dollar that you send to your creditors as a single drop, working with hundreds or thousands of other drops, to eat away at your debt.

Just yesterday, as I was idling in my car at a stoplight on my way back to work from eating leftovers at home for lunch, I thought to myself “how much extra can I put towards the next few month’s credit card payments if I brown bag it every day for the next three months?”

Some weeks I don’t eat out at all, others I might buy 2-3 lunches at an average of, say $7 a pop. Also, I often spend about $4 a few times a week getting McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches in the morning. I quickly did a bit of rudimentary math and I estimated that I could save $15-20 a week on average by consistently eating breakfast and lunch at home.

As NCN points out:

$1 per day = $365 per year

$5 per day = $1825 per year

$10 per day = $3650 per year

$25 per day = $9125 per year

Drip by drip, drop by drop.

Today’s drip — I found some crackers in my purse to hold me over until lunch, saving $1 for a snack from the vending machine. It’s a start.

No, it’s not the latest Fox “News” special. But MSN Money has an interesting article up this morning discussing the ways banks are nickel and diming us to death.  Included in the article, with tips on how to avoid the evil lurking at your big (or even smaller) bank:

  1. Checks clear almost immediately; deposits take days — this is one of my biggest pet peeves and I had to deal with it last week. I have banked with Bank of America for over 10 years but I am increasingly frustrated with this policy. My sister wanted to write me a check to cover some money she owed me but we knew it wouldn’t clear for 5 days.  Instead, she went through some hoops to get that $200 to me in cash. Frustrating for all, to say the least.
  2. Stacking the deck against you – this one burns me to no end and unfortunately I’ve got in this scrape a few times:
  3. Most big banks, and many smaller ones, process checks that arrive the same day in order of their size, with the largest check processed first. Banks say they do this to increase the odds that consumers’ most important checks, such as mortgage and car payments, get paid. Consumer advocates say it’s simply a way to jack up overdraft fees, which make up the majority of account service charges that banks collect. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you have $500 in your account, and you write checks for $10, $55 and $450. If the bank processed from smallest to largest, only one overdraft fee would be generated. By processing them from largest to smallest, two bounce fees can be collected.

  4. Fat fees for using personal-finance software – ugh. I loaded Microsoft Money this weekend but haven’t yet started using it. Not sure I’m going to like what I find.

Our local credit union is coming to my workplace in two weeks. I’m definitely going to be chatting them up.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been fulfilling my need to come home to goodies in my mailbox with free samples. I’ve also been busy swapping books with other members of Paperback Book Swap.

I can’t say enough good things about how cool this is (and note: despite the name members swap hardcovers and audio books, too).  Signing up is easy to do:

  1. Post all of the books you are willing to swap — you get 3 credits just for listing your first 9 books.
  2. Each book you then request “costs” you 1 credit.
  3. You also recieve credits each time you successfully fill someone else’s request.
  4. Each member pays the shipping and packages the book up (they provide a nice wrapper to print out for use with the address information included) — which is usually only $2.13 media mail.

I’m loving it. I picked up a set of $1 stamps and have some random denominations I use to stamp the packages I’m sending. If the book is under a pound, you don’t even have to go to the post office — you can just leave it for your letter carrier.

Since I purged most of my book collection when I moved to Arkansas from California a year and a half ago, my listings are light but as I’m an avid reader and plan to keep using the swap to both get and receive books. 

These are the kind of reasons I love the internet.

 I am addicted to free samples. 

It started out innocently enough — I’d see a link here or there on personal finance and debt reduction websites, click, and a few weeks later a sample of some new product would arrive in my mailbox. Score!

Now, I refresh the Absurdly Cool Freebie Finder at least 5 times a day to see what’s been added.  The Freebie Finder does all the hard work for me — it filters out most scams and referral pyramids and aggregates freebie offers from the top freebie sites. I don’t think a day has gone by in the last month that I haven’t found a sample that I want to try.  

My faves are laundry products, personal grooming (shampoo, toothpaste, skin care, etc.) and cat food, actually.  I only request samples for things I will actually use. Toiletries go in a bin in the bathroom that I raid for travel or my gym bag — no need to buy new travel sized items! And running a load or two of laundry with “free” detergent can’t be beat.

While the savings to my household budget may not be huge — the pennies add up.

But honestly, I get a big kick out of coming home to sample boxes in my mail. Buying a lot of products (books, movies, gadgets, etc.) used to fulfill that same need — but now I get it met with freebies!

First of all — apologies to my 1 or 2 regular readers (ha!) who I’m sure have all but abandoned this blog. I don’t blame ya’. I mean — where the hell have I been? Here’s the scoop — I spent two weeks in April in California helping with a sick family member. I literally flew out in one day and headed straight to the hospital.

Things are all well now, thankfully, but with my lacking emergency fund and resources, I did find I had to charge some of these things. I’m glad I was able to be there for my family and that is the most important thing, but I admit to some depression after the fact for sliding further down the debt wormhole.

It’s taken me over a month to face that I need to deal with my financial life. Bills have been getting paid, but I haven’t brought any focus to my money. No question — I’ve been overspending.  But I’m getting myself back on track. Here’s a few things I’m doing this week:  

  • Blogging again!
  • Tallying up the debt totals and refocusing on the goal, no matter what the number
  • Organizing my home office — I know I use clutter to hide and not deal with what is in front of me
  • Making money!  I’ll be serving beer Friday and Saturday night at a local hog rally and hope to bring in at least $200 in cash to give myself a boost.

It feels good to be back.

I’ve had a family emergency that is taking me out of state for an undetermined amount of time. This blog will be on hiatus until my return.

My good friend, Fey, posed a few questions and ideas in her comment on my previous post about saving for an emergency fund that I wanted to highlight and talk through a little of my decision-making process on this. I’m happy to have suggestions like this and open this blog up to more back and forth. 

 Its good you are saving for your emergency fund. But unless your credit card debt is on a 0% interest card, wouldn’t it be better to pay off high-interest credit cards first before starting an emergency fund?

Example: If your savings was earning 5% APR while your credit cards are charging you 15% then that would be 10% you are loosing dollar for dollar that’s sitting in your savings account……

I totally agree with you, here, that the key is paying off the high interest card debt. But without the emergency fund to tap in to when the car inevitably needs a new timing belt or I need to call the plumber out to unclog a drain I can’t manage — I’m afraid of resorting back to those cards to cover these emergencies.

While keeping $1000 in a savings account that doesn’t earn nearly enough in comparison to the interest charged on that $1000 of debt that could be paid off sooner may not be the most aggressive debt reduction strategy – I think for me the psychology and feeling of being covered in an emergency outweighs the cost of the extra $$ I’ll be paying on that $1000 of debt.

For xmas have you thought of a secret santa gift exchange between the adults? I know you have lots of family members…And for the kids (mine and everyone elses) I write up a budget and decided how much money I will spend on each one. Then I start shopping in September and pick up things here and there with my spare money grocery money. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around I am done.

Great suggestions! I’ve also been keeping a budget over the last few years. I’ve really cut the number of “extra” people outside of my family down to few and we do focus primarily on the younger kids. Last year, my siblings and I decided to limit ourselves to $10 each, too, so we still have the fun of exchanging presents but without hitting our pocketbooks too hard. I was pleased too at how creative we all did get within that small amount.

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