Monday, December 24, 2012

From smooth sailing to rough waters ...

The Christmas shopping was completed early. We didn't go overboard and we paid cash. Decorations have been minimal and instead of hosting 15 tomorrow, there will be 8 of us - such a small group that we will all fit around one table. (This is not because we trimmed our guest list - some of the usual suspects are traveling this year.)

Anyway, even though we have less than $100 in the checking account, I was feeling pretty confident. There's food in the fridge, gas in the car and nothing on the horizon.

Yeah, you know what's coming, right? Yesterday, DH got up from his chair at church and was suddenly limping. He had no idea what happened. He did say his foot had fallen asleep, but he didn't feel anything pull or pop. He hobbled a bit when we got home and then decided to prop up his foot for awhile. I suggested he go to Urgent Care, but "I'll be fine," was the answer I got. By evening, he said it was much better. This morning, it was back to hobbling. I mean, really hobbling. Because he likes to self diagnose, he has decided he has a stress fracture.

Problem is, he is a package car delivery guy. Sitting out Christmas Eve is not an option. So I was out at the crack of dawn this morning buying an Ace bandage and cold packs. I don't know how he's going to manage today, but he has to. And aside from his health, I can't help but worrying about the financial implications. There are no sick/personal/vacation days left. Any time off until next Tuesday will be unpaid. Just the thought is enough to give me hives.

Deep breaths. It will be OK. It will.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish all of you health and happiness this week and always!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Shattered innocence

I live in a world where babies die. In fact, my sister Jenny's baby died of the same genetic illness that my son lives with. It's not a world I would wish on anyone.

But the horror of the events of last Friday in Connecticut has shaken me to my core. All those precious babies and their devoted teachers. No one should have to die such a violent death, least of all in an elementary school classroom. It has been my prayer that it was so fast that those sweet faces never realized what was happening.

Godspeed, beautiful angels. And peace and blessings to the families affected. There, but for the grace of God, go we.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ticker recommendations?

I've been using Ticker Factory with moderate success since starting this blog. I've hit some snags, but for the most part it does what I want it to do. I like the visual of seeing my debt progress - slow that it might be - at the end of each post. Alas, TF no longer likes me and won't let me update. You should know it's killing me not to be able to make that bar move after sending in a debt payment!

Do you use a ticker to track your progress and like it? Because I think it's over between TF and me. Time to snuggle up with a new fave.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I feel sick ....

I've been cleaning out files today. That was supposed to make me feel good. It didn't.

I came across old copies of our credit reports and sat down to see what our debt was back then. Aside from the mortgage, we had balances on three credit cards totaling just over $31,000. As we've been on this journey to rid ourselves of debt for about two years and still have $100,000 in credit card debt, I knew these credit reports were really old.

I was wrong. They're from October 2006.

That means we racked up most of our debt in a period of four years. I'm stunned. I've been sitting here trying to figure out how that happened. There was no job loss. We didn't go on any big spending sprees. And then it hit me. College. That was when DD started college. A private college. An expensive one. Her brother followed a couple years later - after getting his driver's license and tripling our insurance costs. I don't blame college for all of our mess. We have a disabled child with outrageous medical expenses. We have taken some trips we probably shouldn't have (but don't necessarily regret).

We just didn't pay attention.

I can't believe that I'm still shocked by our stupidity at this point in the game, but I am.

Wow. Just wow. Stupid adds up fast.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy post-Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend with family and friends. This was our first without our oldest daughter, who traveled several states away to be with her new in-laws. Still, we had a great time with the 10 who gathered around our table.

I wasn't planning to participate in Black Friday, but I woke up very early that morning and thought, why not? I had already gone through the flyers and marked specific items I wanted that were on sale. I got to Target at 6 a.m. In the past, that would have been a move of total insanity. However, this year, it seems everyone really did go shopping after Thanksgiving dinner. By morning, the parking spaces were plentiful and the stores not at all crowded. I hit several stores, got every item I wanted at the price I had planned and was home faster than if I had done my shopping during a regular afternoon! Christmas gifts are easier this year with all the kids older. The list is not long and no worries over hard-to-get toys.

The only person outside of my immediate family who I have continued to exchange with is my BFF, but I asked her this year if she would be interested in just getting together for a pot-luck dinner with my husband and her significant other as a gift to ourselves. She jumped right on that and so one less gift I have to worry about! I'm thankful DH doesn't do any exchanging at work - I think that's the dumbest thing we do. A bunch of little gifts no one really wants from people they may not even like. I do understand the problem if you're the only one who doesn't want to participate and am awfully glad we don't have to face that issue.

As much as I can, I think I've made this a fairly stress-free season. I've even already gotten our free tickets to a local church's Christmas pageant. All that's left is lots of baking, and I truly enjoy that.

I wish for all of you all of the wonders of the upcoming season, free from stress and filled with blessings!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's the little things ...

Yesterday, I had several errands to run. Given that the bank account is nearly empty, I wasn't looking forward to figuring this out. First on the list was CVS for a prescription refill for DS. This particular medication costs nearly $300 a month out of pocket, but because I routinely call the manufacturer and sign up for a loyalty card, it costs me $20. The card is good for three uses and they let me have a new one each time a card is complete. So I'm very thankful that I only pay $20, but I was really going to feel the pinch this week. When my name was called and I went to the counter to pay, the cashier handed me the bag and said "no charge." I'm sure my blank look gave me away, but he repeated that the balance was $0. I just nodded and walked off, my "free" meds in hand. I don't know why this visit was free, but I'm really not in a position to argue.

Next up was heading to Target to pick up a turkey breast on sale for Thanksgiving. Their flyer said 99 cents a pound, which was the best I could find by far. Good thing I went then, too, because there were only four left and the sign said "limited quantities." The sign also had a tag that said $5 Target gift card with purchase. I didn't read it closely, grabbed my bird and headed for the checkout. When it was rung up, no mention was made of a gift card, so I asked whether I got one with the turkey. The cashier asked how much and I said that the sign said $5, but I didn't read the fine print, so I don't know whether I'm eligible. He didn't blink, but handed me a gift card. I later learned that I was supposed to have bought a $29 pan to go with my turkey in order to get the card, but I figure I asked - I didn't demand. I've decided not to feel bad.

All in all, I came home pretty happy. It's the small things, right?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Holy cow - it's Jenny!

Thank goodness at least half of this sister duo is responsible. Well, okay, the other half - yours truly - has been responsible, just not in reporting progress. Or, in some cases, lack thereof.

Sarah relayed some time ago that we were still waiting to hear the results of the bankruptcy decision. After providing additional information to the assigned trustee’s boss, some of which made no sense, and waiting FOUR MONTHS after our appearance in bankruptcy court, we finally received our discharge papers.

The paralegal had assured me that no news was good news, and I eventually stopped worrying about the possibility that the bankruptcy would be denied because of some technicality. That might be one reason I still can’t fully comprehend that it’s over and that I no longer have to keep track of every receipt in anticipation of having to fork it over to someone who seemed to hold a grudge the day of our court appearance.

The result: the weight of the insane credit card obligations has been lifted, and while we could have also included hubby's medical bills, we never stopped paying those. We will now get back to the massive student loan debts for our kids (they are paying some themselves). That will hardly be a cakewalk, but I am relieved to be able to pay on them instead of plunking down insane interest-only payments on the credit cards, sinking further into the proverbial quicksand.

We have managed to start a savings account again; my immediate goal is to save up for next summer's two months without pay and hope nothing major gets in the way (I’m an optimist!). 

The minute the discharge became official, we began receiving myriad email 'offers,' thanks to our ‘improved credit score.’ Ha. I have no idea how low it went and have no plans to check on it in the future. We have no plans to procure another credit card.

While Dave Ramsey claims bankruptcy is horrific and should be avoided, sometimes it’s the only path left. As the other options we investigated petered out, bankruptcy was left standing alone. By the time the papers were ready to file, I firmly believed God hadn’t allowed any of the other avenues to work because not one would have allowed us to start ‘fresh’ (as fresh as a start can be with $$$$$ student loans). The relentless stress of figuring out payments and then humoring collectors far outweighed any stress of the bankruptcy... until we left the courthouse with no resolution in sight for 120+ days (it usually takes 10 minutes). Honestly, being able to unload our dilemma onto an expert and retain the attorney to stop the calls was the first stress-reliever I’d had in years.

So here we are, dedicated to keeping ourselves focused towards a debt-free life. Granted, it'll take a while. Meanwhile, kudos to all of you who have done such a fantastic job on your own with your debt-shrinking efforts, including my terrific sis! It’s most impressive, and I'm proud of all of you :)


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween. Bah humbug.

Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. Too much pressure to come up with the best costume. Too many decisions on how much candy to buy.

This year I've decided not to partake. As in, the porch light is staying off and the doorbell will be ignored. Don't worry. We live in an older neighborhood and most of the neighbors are seniors. We have never gotten more than a handful of trick-or-treaters anyway - some years none at all.

And since candy isn't in the budget - and would end up mostly being eaten by me - I didn't buy any.

So there.

Bah humbug.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

A wedding, a late fee, and progress

My daughter got married this weekend. The weather was perfect, the bride was gorgeous and the wedding beautiful. I have spent this week catching my breath ... and washing bunches of votive candle holders that I need to return to a friend.

In all the excitement, I forgot to pay a bill ... so I am going to have to come up with the late fee. It pains me to have to pay that - it's been a long time since I've had a late fee.

On the bright side, I paid a couple of bills - on time - and our debt total fell under $140,000! See, if you feel bad about your debt, I'm always here to make you feel better!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hey CarMax - you're history!

Our CarMax account now says "Account Closed. Balance $0. And we paid it off nine months early!

If I could do a cartwheel, I would!


Monday, October 1, 2012

I want to live like that!

My across-the-street neighbor popped in the other day to rant about Wells Fargo. Mind you, she hasn't a clue about our financial situation, but we've been neighbors for 17 years. She is an at-home mom with one teenager at home and another at an in-state university. I would guesstimate that our household incomes are fairly similar. We live in a modest neighborhood, and we both drive our cars into the ground.

But back to the rant. She said her husband had stopped by the ATM to get some cash and called her asking why their checking account balance was so low. She had no idea, so she went online to look. Turns out Wells Fargo had made a mistake and added a zero to a payment. But that's not what left me with my mouth hanging open.

While she's telling me this, she says "And there was only $1,700 left in the checking account!" Seems the check she had written for $800 to pay a bill had been debited from her account in the amount of $8,000. And AFTER that much was taken out, she STILL had $1,700 in her account! Holy Cow!!! Is this how other people live??

But I started thinking. If things had turned out differently for us, and we didn't owe everybody in the universe, maybe we'd have a healthy bank account, too. That's the goal, right? We have a decent income. It should be more than enough to cover our expenses. And it would, if we didn't have all these debts. I can't even imagine having that much money sitting around with no place to go. Although even when we are out of debt, I don't expect to have thousands sitting around in a checking account tempting us to spend.

But how great will it be when a bank error only irritates us and doesn't send us over the edge?


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Still here, still in debt

I don't have much to post. We're sort of in that rut where we've figured out what works for us and we just keep doing it. We're still in debt, still living on the edge ... but we're slowly edging that needle in the right direction. I feel good about how much we've paid off this year - hey, we even finally have one debt that is under $1,000 and will be gone by December!

Jenny's still around, too. She's still waiting for the bankruptcy to be decided. The trustee in charge is doing some major dragging of the feet. I'm hoping she'll have some news to report - soon!

Oh, yeah, DD is getting married in less than a month! All the DIY crafting projects are done and boxed and ready for the big day!

Happy Wednesday!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to a new grind

DS started college last week, which is a milestone all on its own. He is loving every minute of it - what a relief!

I'm settling in as best I can to the new normal of being even more of a chauffeur than ever. College schedules are brutal on an old person like me! His classes are intentionally spread out, time wise, as he would not be able to physically traverse the campus and make back-to-back classes. When I say spread out, I mean really spread out. One morning class, one afternoon class and two night classes. Thank goodness, the school is just a few miles from our home, because the miles are already adding up ... and so is the cost of gas (how come gas prices only went down when I didn't have to drive?!).

During one of the drives, I was pondering finances. Summers are pretty stagnant when it comes to debt repayment. Expenses are higher and income is lower. As long as the overall number doesn't climb, we're good.

I've realized something else this summer. While the debt is always at the forefront of my mind, I don't think I'm as stressed anymore. I don't mean those numbers aren't stressful, just that I'm beginning to be able to breathe again when thinking about things. I guess it's because 20 months into this journey, we're proving it can be done. It's slow - and yes, it's painful - but we're continuing to move in the right direction. And although it is years away, there is a finish line in that direction. This is one of the hardest races we've ever run, but we've found our pace.

One day we'll get there. I know it. And if my writing this blog gives anyone in the same situation a little bit of hope, then it's worth it - we're in this together. But for now, I'll keep trying to figure out how to keep up with the gas and grocery prices!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Help! Where did my pages go?

When I click on my debt and goal tabs, I am told this page no longer exists. But it does!! If I go in to edit the page, it's there. Why can't I see it in a view mode? Is it just me? Please take a second and try to open Sarah's Debt and Sarah's Goals pages and let me know if you are able to get in. And if anyone knows why this is happening, please let me know ASAP! This is really stressing me out!!


Monday, August 6, 2012

Glad I paid attention

Last month, we opted to switch a Parent Plus loan to a different lender for a slightly better interest rate. It required virtually nothing on our part in the way of applications, fees etc., so it seemed like a no-brainer. The original lender was paid in full by the new lender on July 9. On July 10, our regularly scheduled payment of $368 was debited from our account by the original lender. Uh, huh?

I let it go for a couple weeks, thinking the account would be reconciled and the overpayment either shifted to the new lender or returned to us. No such luck.

Last week, I braved the lengthy options menu with a phone call. After being on hold for close to a half hour, I finally reached a live person. I explained the situation and asked what had happened to that $368. If it was applied to the loan, fine. If not, where was it? Her immediate reply was "you are not due a refund." OK. So what happened to the money? She stumbles over her answers a couple times and I finally tell her that I would like a detailed statement so I could see exactly where the payment was applied. She allowed as how she would send it for a review.

Not even 24 hours later, I got an automated email saying a refund check had been issued. It came today, and I immediately used it for the next payment on that loan.

But it got me thinking. What if I hadn't noticed? What if I hadn't asked? It's clear there was no intention to return that money. And in my world, $368 is not pocket change.

The moral of the story is check and recheck the numbers. And if you don't understand, insist that a clear explanation is provided. I don't think the money was intentionally withheld from us. I just think that most times, there's no one there who cares. And that's where I come in. Because, I most certainly do care!


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Too good to be true ... but it is

Summer is not full of lazy days for me, and my lack of regular posting is just one of the casualties. But I made time for this one, because I want to put it in print. I still have to pinch myself to believe it's real.

As you know, DS was accepted to the local state university - a wonderful school close to our home. Because of his severe physical disabilities, living on campus is not an option and so this is ideal. Of course, with college comes a tuition bill and I've been dreading Aug. 1, when fall tuition is due. DS was going to have to take out a Stafford loan to bridge the gap - something that made me sick to my stomach.

But a week ago something amazing happened. One of the organizations we are involved with because of DS's disability announced that they would be footing the bill for DS's college education. Tuition, fees, books and supplies. ALL of it. For four years - as long as he keeps his grades up.

If this is a dream, I sure hope I don't wake up anytime soon. Despite all, we are so very, very blessed.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unexpected success

I stopped by the Goodwill store yesterday afternoon, looking for some mason jars for the tables at DD's upcoming wedding. There weren't any of those, but I always check out the men's clothing racks in case there's something DS can use. I had just mentioned that I needed to find him several pairs of jeans for college. That's easier said than done because of the odd size needed to fit him in his wheelchair. Would you believe I found THREE pairs of Levi's in the right size??!!

Total for the jeans, all of which look nearly new: $10.77.

Woo hoo!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Missing the boat on mortgage rates

I remember when we refinanced our mortgage back in 2002. Rates were at "historic lows" and I clearly recall being told that "it will never get any better than this."

That rock-bottom rate was 5.85% on a 30-year-fixed loan.

Fast forward to today when that rate sounds astronomical. I cringe every time I hear some financial guru say that if you haven't refinanced by now, you're crazy. I cringe not because I'm crazy, but because I'm broke.

It seems illogical to me, but we can't refinance. I've tried. Too much debt, I'm told. Duh. I've talked through our situation with the refinancing department of Wells Fargo, who holds our current mortgage. I've pointed out that we have never been behind on our mortgage, that we have more than $100,000 in equity in our home - about half its value - and have been in this home for 17 years. And I've pointed out that we'd be better able to handle our bills if we had that little bit of breathing room a lower payment would afford. They didn't buy it.

I tell myself that our interest rate really is incredible when compared to years past. It's just that it could be better. A lot better.

Debt really messes things up, you know?


Saturday, June 23, 2012

An ah-ha moment

I have been down lately about how much further we have to go on this debt journey and wondering whether we can keep it up for the years it will take - not that there's really a choice, but it's depressing. But I paid a small bill today and plugged in my numbers to my debt total and realized that as of this morning, we have paid off $10,000 in 2012 alone! If we're able to keep up this pace, it's possible that we could pay off $20k in 12 months. That would be nearly twice what we paid off last year. Now that feels like progress! Maybe there is hope. Let's hope there is.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

I love summer!

It's a beautiful day and I'm sitting on my patio listening to the birds sing and just being lazy. Mostly, I'm enjoying not having to make the 40-mile round trip to my son's former high school twice a day! Figures that gas prices would start falling now!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bonus bucks

I found out a couple days ago that I had qualified to participate in another focus group. This one is perfect, considering it's summer and I have my son with me all day. Every day this week, I go online and answer some questions that have been sent to me regarding my shopping and online habits. I never have to go to the research firm's office. At the end of five days, I'll get $200!

It's kind of funny how that sounds like a lot of money to someone who doesn't normally earn a paycheck - though I think I should for all the work I do ... but that's another rant post.

Happy Hump Day!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another small milestone reached

We've been focusing on our debt for just under 18 months now and with the last round of payments, we have paid off $20,662.98. On its own, that sounds like a huge amount and tremendous progress. But our numbers are so astronomical, that in reality it's just a drop in the bucket. And therein lies the rub. It is so hard not to get discouraged when you still have so far to go. I keep reminding myself that the numbers are finally moving in the right direction and every month brings us just a little closer to the ultimate goal of debt freedom. I know the prize is worth the fight, but oh my, it still seems so elusive.

It probably goes without saying that it's rainy and dreary outside today!


Saturday, June 9, 2012

So much for the meal plan

Yesterday was a big day. My youngest graduated from high school (especially momentous because he wasn't expected to live to manage this accomplishment) and we threw a party. It was just family, but ended up being 20 mouths to feed. We decided on a cookout with kabobs and lots of sides - salads and chips and such - and a cookie cake for dessert. I bought a generous amount of meat, figuring we could eat leftovers this weekend as we recuperated from the excitement.

Yeah, well, that was a nice thought.

Those people ate every single morsel of meat and cleaned us out of the sides, too. All that's left is a slab of cookie cake and some chips. Guess it's a PB&J weekend for us - but a happy one still.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Report from Sarah's long-lost sister

It's been so long since I updated that I had to figure out how to use the new Blogger format. Sheesh.

Life has been full in all kinds of ways since the last update, but I'll only hit a few of the highlights (you're welcome!).

Out of all the credit card accounts included in the upcoming bankruptcy, the state credit union was the last to become delinquent, and I had maintained closest contact (without further payment, which is forbidden before the discharge) with one of the executives. Our mortgage is with the local branch, and I had full intentions of reaffirming (paying back) the balance of almost $2400 as soon as we were allowed to do so. I kept the rep updated as to the status of the bankruptcy process and thought that would keep them as satisfied as possible.


Earlier this month we were served papers for failure to pay the bill, meaning we had to appear in court to explain our side. I contacted the paralegal, and she and the attorney immediately went into overdrive so that we present a case number for the bankruptcy filing. She said that it would be illegal for the CU to collect once the BK had been filed and that legally we now didn't even have to appear; however, she advised that we probably should in case the magistrate and CU rep hadn't received the paperwork. We did appear, and it was a good thing because no one had received any documentation. Once I handed the magistrate and the CU rep their copies of the case number, the credit union opted to dismiss the case.

So now we wait, after almost six months of digging up figures and completing forms, for the court date in a few weeks. The paralegal said that most appearances last less than a minute, which I find hard to believe but for which I would be so thankful.

On a different note, we've had some hefty unexpected expenses the past few months, particularly during May, and we have scraped together cash for them all. Not always easy, and we're now back down to pennies, but we did it!

Since our summers are always skimpy thanks to no regular income (which has always led to an increased reliance on credit cards), I'm not sure what this summer will bring. I do expect some sort of peace of mind, though, and hope the same for all of you!


Saturday, May 26, 2012

$30 was burning a hole in my pocket

That $30 I saved on the mattress earlier this week? I've been carrying it around all week thinking about what to do with it. Today, the decision was made. My 21-year-old, who lives at home while working two part-time jobs, has been doing some much needed landscaping in the back yard. It started at his Mother's Day present to me, and morphed into a good-sized project. He's been putting a lot of work - and quite a few dollars - into this. He has bought and installed pavers, bushes, mulch and some plants. I decided today that I really wanted some flowers out there, so he agreed to take me to the nursery in his truck and help me pick up a few things. I didn't go over the $30 budget and the pretty colors make me happy. I like being happy.

Happy Memorial Day to all!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

It never hurts to ask ...

Last weekend, we bit the bullet and replaced a mattress set that was older than I would like to admit in print. Let's just say there were probably groans at the dump when it was delivered to its final resting place.

We got what we thought was a good deal at Big Lots (thanks to a suggestion from Jenny), and spent three days being pleased with our thriftiness. On the fourth day, I saw a Big Lots ad. You know where this is going, right? There was a picture of our mattress set for $30 less than we paid. Suddenly, our great deal didn't seem so great.

Having not had much experience with Big Lots, I had no idea whether they have a price guarantee policy. Given the type of store, my guess was no. But I headed over anyway, receipt in hand. It took all of 3 minutes. They happily refunded the difference in cash and I walked away happy. I've suddenly become a Big Lots fan!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Capital One - BLEH!

First it was ING. Now my Union Plus card is being eaten by the Vikings.

Capital One is taking over the world. I cannot wait to be out from under its rule.


Monday, May 14, 2012

The gift of friends and family

This weekend, I had a similar experience to my PF friend over at Destination: Planet Debt Free. My stress was at red alert level and the cause was finances. Are you shocked yet? Murphy has hit several times recently and we had reached the point where we would not be able to pay the bills on time. I hate that feeling - not that it's anything new. But it's the kind of feeling that keeps me up at night and leaves me at the point where the only thing I can do is pray and give it over to God. I should remember to always do that first instead of last.

On Saturday, after a sleepless Friday night, I went to get the mail and was surprised to see something from a good friend who lives locally. It was a Mother's Day card with an incredibly sweet note. And included was a very generous check. She said that she was doing well financially and God had laid it on her heart to share with me. Wow. I really should remember to go to Him first.

I have never shared the particulars of our finances with my friend (only you cyber pals know the real story), but she is aware of the hefty costs we shoulder in caring for a disabled child. Her gift lifted - even if only temporarily - the heavy burden weighing on me this weekend and gave me hope just when I needed it. Hope that there will be an end to this nightmare if we keep doing the right thing and working to get ourselves out of this. And it gave me the ability to enjoy the wonderful lunch DD and her fiance cooked for me on Mother's Day.

Life is hard, but it's also good. Very, very good.

Happy (belated) Mother's Day to all you terrific Moms out there!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sometimes, technology rocks!

I am generally behind the times when it comes to gadgets. I had an aging flip phone until my kids got me a smartphone for Christmas. Which would be when I sent my first text ...

But today, I see the light! My credit union just put out a mobile app and I am in love. I just sat at my kitchen table and deposited a check with my phone. How cool is that??

Am I the only one who remembers the days when you had to go to the bank during business hours on Friday to withdraw enough cash to get you through the weekend? Before ATMs and debit cards?

Maybe there's hope for me yet.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Necessary sacrifices

A couple of things happened recently that escalated the pain of our debt.

For starters, I keep getting older. Not that I mind that necessarily, but I've been a little shocked at how quickly my body turns on me. I mean, I know I haven't always treated it right, but hey, I didn't give up on it! Anyway, this month's culprit is my eyes. I always had excellent vision until a couple years ago, when I found myself holding my books a little farther away. And so I got my first pair of reading glasses. Lately, though, they just aren't doing the trick very well. I know I need a new prescription. I also know our vision insurance is crummy and I just can't spend the money right now.

Meantime, some obvious structural issues have surfaced in the shower stall in the master bathroom. This is a tiny, tiny (think barely one-person) room which I have hated for every second of the 17 years we've lived in this house. For starters, it is tiled floor to ceiling in baby blue. I would love nothing more than to gut it, fix the problem, and get a new bathroom. Ironically, because it is so small and we're not looking for top-of-the-line anything, a re-do would not be exorbitant, relatively speaking. But it might as well be a million dollars for us. So for now, DH and I trek down the hall and use the kids' bathroom to bathe.

It's the price we're paying for the sad shape of our finances. I don't like it. But maybe I should start using the time to plan the amazing new bathroom I'll get when we get out of this mess. I can dream, anyway. And check out my ticker - I made it below $150k!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Laying low

I'm trying my best to hide from Murphy this week. Last week turned out to be an expensive one when the van door wouldn't open and it cost $346 to repair (necessary because of the wheelchair lift). So we are down to $82 until Friday - and we will likely spend that much in gas.

On the upside, we are getting very close to dropping below the $150k mark ... who would have thought that would be cause for celebration?!

I've stayed home for two days and gotten some much-needed cleaning done and worked on the cross-stitch stocking/wedding gift. So far, I've made it without spending a dime.

Two more to go ...


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Would we do it again?

College for the kids. It's one of those many things that we didn't plan for. I mean, we planned for them to go, we just never really thought through how we would finance the plan.

When the older two started working part-time and summer jobs in high school, we did tell them that they would be responsible for books and spending money for college, but it was presumed that we would be footing the bill for tuition, room and board. Our parents paid for our college educations and we both graduated without the burden of a student loan. We didn't appreciate then what a blessing that was.

When it came time for DD to start college, she had her heart set on a private school one city over. She received a sizable academic scholarship and pulled together a couple of other small scholarships, but we were still left with a pretty big bill. And that's when we started the slippery slope of college loans.

All of the student loans listed in our debt log are for the education of our children. The first two are Stafford loans in DD's name. The last two are dreaded Parent Plus loans. We made a deal with the kids that if they graduated on time and in good standing, we would make the payments on their Stafford loans. DD did just that. DS1 only lasted one year in school before deciding it just wasn't for him. As agreed, he has assumed payments on his Stafford loan.

DS3 will be able to cover most of his college costs with his disability payments, and he will live at home which will keep costs down. Still, we're left with thousands of dollars of student loan debt from his siblings.

Did we do the right thing? Should we have taken out loans to pay for their college? Should we have insisted they foot the bills themselves? I don't know. Our niece was not given any help financing her education and she worked 40-hour weeks while taking a full course load. After three years, she burned out and dropped out, leaving her with three years worth of loans and no degree to show for it.

Where do we draw the line? And is there such thing as good debt? My daughter has taken her degree, gotten a good job in her field and has been self-supporting since a couple months after graduating. I believe our investment with her was a good one. DS1 left us with a Parent Plus loan and has nothing to show for it, but he is working, paying his bills and finding his way. For him, college wasn't it.

It's a hard call. And even now, I don't know that we would do anything differently. But it sure would be great not to have those student loans staring us in the face every month. One day. One day...


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lots to do before she says I do

Wedding fever has officially taken over. DD will be getting married in October, and we realized last week that it's going to be here faster than we realized. Since we decided on the biggies a few months ago - church, pastor, reception site etc. - we hadn't really focused on doing any more until recently. We're starting to realize how many little details we need to make sure are taken care of.

Because the budget is obviously tight, we're doing a lot ourselves. DD and her fiance, both of whom have been on their own and working for a couple years, are shouldering a big chunk of the costs - so DD is just as concerned with the bottom line as I am. She's making her own invitations and has called on friends to help out with the ceremony. A friend of her brother's will play the piano and a dear friend of mine has offered to direct. All of these little savings add up. The deeper we get into planning, the more I am amazed at how much people really do spend on weddings.

We hit the gold mine the other day when the friend who is directing asked if we would like to borrow any of the decorations she has collected. Not having any idea if that meant crepe paper and pinatas or what, we headed over to check out her supply closet ... and we came home with four HUGE boxes! We now have enough votive candle holders, larger centerpieces, decorative pebbles/gems/mirrors and other such goodies to turn the reception into a thing of beauty. I am so grateful for her generosity.

This weekend we're going to meet with a florist at the grocery store to talk bouquets. We've already decided to keep flowers to a minimum. We'll only be getting bride and bridesmaid bouquets and the boutonnieres made "professionally." We're planning to pick up some lovely mums at the farmers' market for the church and to make our own loose bouquets of seasonal flowers for the moms and grandmothers to carry.

It's so easy to go overboard. But I also know that this wedding will be even more special because we are putting so much of ourselves into every detail. I will say, though, I'm relieved I will only be the mother of the bride once. My hat is off to those of you with more than one daughter!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One-stop shopping

My big boy turns 21 next week. Sniff, sniff. He was such an adorable little guy. I wish I had believed everyone who told me those years would pass way too quickly. But I digress ...

We have a $50 budget for birthdays, but DS has not given a single clue as to what he might like to receive. When I don't get suggestions, it's off to the gift card rack I go. Younger DS had thought of a DVD he wanted to get for his big brother, so I agreed to trek to Target with him so he could make his purchase. While there, I passed the display of iTune cards. And right there in the middle was a pack of 4 cards of $15 each - $60 worth of tunes - priced at $51. I had no idea you could get gift cards for less than face value!

So that's what he's getting for his birthday. I came in $1 over budget and I can cross one more thing off my list.

Now I'm going to go enjoy this gorgeous day!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Home and happy!

We are back from an eventful weekend in the Big Apple celebrating DS's impending high school graduation. It was a good trip and many, many memories were made.

An added bonus to a great time is that we came in under budget - I didn't even know that was possible when going to New York City. We found gas to be cheaper as we traveled north, which was a nice surprise. We packed lunches for the trip up and breakfast items and snacks for our hotel room.

Speaking of the hotel room, therein lies the rub. We arrived early Friday afternoon to be told that the room with a roll-in shower that I had reserved was not available. This happens often to us so we were not terribly surprised. Still, having a teenage boy who cannot bathe for days is not pleasant for anyone. Then, after I had signed for the correct amount of our stay, the front desk person swiped my American Express card. We chose to handle this by funneling the amount of our stay from our tax refund onto the card, so we were pre-paying and weren't adding to the debt. We were told the card was declined. After two swipes, they insisted the card was declined, forcing me to hand over our debit card. This caused a rock to form in the pit of my stomach as various scenarios went through my mind. But we had no choice. Finding a hotel with an adequately accessible room is nearly impossible in the Times Square area.

We went up to the room and I immediately called American Express. It was then that I realized that the desk was overcharging my card by nearly $200 more than I had signed for. Back to the desk I went and explained the situation to the person who had just checked me in. She calculated and agreed with me and told me that a manager would have to call my credit union to release the hold and the funds would be available by Saturday morning at the latest. Not ideal, but OK.

Late that night, we found that the sofa bed was broken and there was no place for my son to sleep. A rollaway bed was finally brought in about 1 a.m. The next morning, when the CU had not released the hold, DH took charge. He found the manager and explained that we now had three major problems. (Turns out no manager had contacted the CU as promised and now it would be Monday before the funds were released.) DH was initially met with a combative, defensive manager (note to customer service people: a sincere apology and a little compassion will go a long way), but in the end won her over. He's much better at that than I am - I get too emotional.

The final result of all of this was that we were moved to a room with a roll-in shower on Sunday - for one night. We were also comped one night's stay and given free parking for the duration. So while I wouldn't have chosen to deal with all the aggravation and while we weren't looking for a handout, the result was that we came home with a few dollars in our pocket and no added debt.

The total cost of 4-day trip was $1,652. We had expected at least $2,000. And the Amex balance actually went down as we had pre-paid more than we were eventually charged.

All's well that ends well. And DS hasn't stopped talking!

On to the laundry ...


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"It's your lucky day!"

Today is the day I was to participate in a focus group. It was to be a two-hour gig and the pay was to be $85. When I arrived, I signed in and then was told to help myself to lunch (they never mentioned I'd be fed!) while I waited. As several of us helped ourselves to sandwiches, the rest of the group trickled in - 10 of us in all. The receptionist then said to follow her when she called our names. Except she never called my name. Or the name of one other woman. When she came back, she said "It's your lucky day!" Apparently, they routinely overbook in case someone doesn't show and she picked us to "pay and release."

So 10 minutes after I arrived, I was given an envelope and told I could leave. The best part? The envelope had a $100 bill - not the $85 I had been told! Talk about easy money.

In other good news, DS found out this week that he has been accepted to the local public university, which is top-notch, an easy daily commute and at bargain tuition. We are thrilled for him and hugely relieved that his attending college is not going to be nearly as painful as it could have been.

All in all, it's been a pretty darned good week. Now I need to focus on packing for our weekend in NYC. We leave Friday!


Friday, March 23, 2012

Listen up - it can pay off

I was at church the other day and overheard a conversation ... OK, I was eavesdropping. A woman was talking about participating in a focus group and being paid well for it (this is where the eavesdropping commenced in earnest). She mentioned the company and I made a mental note.

I looked it up and it is indeed a legit local research company that conducts surveys and focus groups for other companies. I filled out the online form with my stats and interests and pushed the button.

Not 24 hours later I got a call asking if I was interested in participating in a study. From what I can tell, it will be about sweeteners or artificial sweeteners - not sure which. I am to report at noon on Tuesday for a 2-hour gig. At the end of two hours, they'll give me $85. Cash.

Not a bad take for keeping my ears open. ... And today, I made a payment to CarMax and felt the urge to update my ticker on the spot because we've officially paid off $16,000! The tortoise is winning the race! Woo hoo!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Updates, with a 'huh?'

Kudos to Sarah for such a substantial drop in the debt numbers this past year! It's not an easy task (understatement!) to face the mammoth task on a daily basis, but seeing the new numbers helps provide much-appreciated incentive to keep going. As does the encouragement you all provide!

I made the final payment to the bankruptcy attorney on Monday, so now we wait to hear if there's anything else he needs from us before he files it with the court. In pondering the possibility over the past year that we may have exhausted all other options, one of the points about bankruptcy that stuck to what was left of my brain was the necessity of providing the attorney with all financial info, as surprises were frowned upon. I took that literally, providing ours with as much detailed information as I could possibly unearth. There has been a lot. The paralegal, who has been instrumental in this process, gets a kick out of my attention to details. I told her I didn't want anyone to find out I'd neglected to include something, even inadvertently, and have the case tossed out!

Anyway, when I returned home, I opened our mail and DISCOVERed a little surprise. I'd received a 'replacement' credit card for an account that has been delinquent since the attorney's office instructed me to stop paying all credit cards over four months ago. HUH??? I don't know that I'll ever have the nerve to try to activate it. I've heard folks have procured credit cards fairly quickly after bankruptcy, but we're still in the process. Maybe it was the excellent credit we used to have....

On the bee front, we have picked up the materials for two beehives (paid for in cash) and will start assembling them this weekend after hubby wraps up bee class #2. The more I learn about bees, the more excited I get about this endeavor!

Overall, we have done a good job keeping track of our pennies. Actually, keeping them, period. Despite increasing medical bills for hubby and the $chool loan$ that hover over us, we feel like we're on the verge of an opportunity to get ourselves back on the right track. And we are thankful.

On that, happy spring to us all!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One year later

My first post here was March 7, 2011. And here I am a year later, still fighting the good fight.

I re-read some of my old posts today. Boy, was I overwhelmed back then. Still am, but at least I feel a little more in control. After contacting creditors and putting some plans in place, we've managed to pay everyone every month as agreed. There's not many pennies left over, but we're doing it by the sweat of our brow.

And in a year, we've paid off well over $15,000. Yep, that's a drop in the proverbial bucket, but it's starting to make a dent. Hey, I can almost see 4 numbers peeking through on my ticker as the original debt and the current balance begin to separate.

If you're not tracking your debt by a ticker or a graph, set one up now. It is a huge motivator to be able to visualize where you were, where you are, and where you will one day be.

And guess what? It's SPRING!!


Friday, March 16, 2012

On food and family

I overheard a conversation my husband was having with a friend of mine yesterday. My friend was saying she needed to go to the store to pick up some items for dinner. It went something like this:

Friend: "I wish Bob weren't so picky."

DH: "Picky, how?"

Friend: "He only eats corn and potatoes and expects meat and bread at each meal. But he doesn't like casseroles."

DH: "As long as it's not cauliflower or coconut, I'll eat it. And as long as it satisfies my hunger, I don't care what we have."

He was telling the truth. He doesn't cook, but he never complains about what I fix. Leftovers or gourmet, he doesn't care.

As I was pondering this, it occurred to me that his attitude should bode well for our food budget. I'm really going to have to buckle down on this because prices keep going up and I don't have a choice. We always use up all our leftovers, so we're not wasting food. And we certainly don't do gourmet.

One thing I've been working on is lunches. I pack sandwiches for DH and DS every day. I've usually done deli meat, but the price of that has gotten out of hand, too. The past couple weeks, I've grilled an extra piece of chicken or made some extra barbecue chicken etc. and used that for sandwiches. I do use hoagie-type rolls because they hold up better and are more manageable for DS. All of these have gotten rave reviews from DS. No comment from DH, as is typical - as long as it fills him up, he's good.

You'd think after 26 years of marriage, this wouldn't take any effort. But it's a process. I'm going to spend some time in the kitchen next week and see what I can come up with. Because grocery prices sure don't look to be headed down anytime soon.

Happy Friday!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hello spring!

We set our clocks ahead last night and I already feel like I'm behind. It's been such a crazy winter - every few days the temperature is in the 70s. My daffodils were blooming back in December!

I always equate re-setting the clocks with a change of season, which sent me into a bit of a panic yesterday. I'm cross-stitching Christmas stockings for DD and her fiance. My plan has been to give them at a family shower his sister is hosting this summer. (His parents live out of state, so this was a way to get the whole family together.) I was so pleased with myself when I came up with this idea. I cross-stitched my kids' stockings when they were babies and DD mentioned at Christmas that she wanted to take hers with her when she gets married. (Another moment of panic. I want to keep it!) About the same time, her fiance said his family had lost his childhood stocking and he was quite upset about it. Ding, ding, ding! So I found a pattern and supplies and began right away, patting myself on the back for finding a budget-friendly and uniquely sentimental gift.

That was three months ago. I did not pay enough attention to how complicated the pattern is and it is taking me five times as long as I expected, my eyes not being as young as they were when I last undertook such a project. I'm still hoping to finish in time for the shower. My motivation is that if I don't, I'll need to find another gift for them for that event. I can do it. I have to do it!

Hope everyone is having a great day!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thank you

Thanks to my PF for the (mostly) kind words and encouragement about our graduation trip for DS. Honestly, I expected more of a thrashing. That so many of you are understanding was an unexpected blessing.

I was a bit taken aback by the comment: "This is by far, the most ridiculous excuse for 'I just wanted to' I've ever heard." I wasn't sure whether the writer doubted my story or whether she just didn't like our decision. Doesn't matter, I guess.

When I started writing that post, I was sitting in a hospital room while DS endured yet another round of tests. That his health is my "excuse" is spot-on. If we wait until we are out of debt to take him to Broadway - his dream - chances are he won't get to go because chances are he won't be here.

The commenter is also correct that going is not the "responsible" thing to do. We are deeply, deeply in debt. But I know that if we put everything on hold until we dig out - which is going to take years no matter what - we will fail. We will get discouraged and worn down and give up. I read a post by one of you recently (I apologize for not remembering who or where) about balance. And that's it exactly. All of us has to find some balance in our lives. For us, we have to balance a determination to get out of debt with not putting our life on hold. We live pretty simply under our current plan. We very rarely eat out. We stay home a lot. We don't buy new clothes. Or shoes. Or toys. We drive older, paid-for cars. In short, we are paying attention. We have made cutbacks. We do think about every penny we spend. But we also still have cable. And we are taking our son on a trip. That's the balance that works for us.

We are not incurring new debt with this trip. True, we could use the money to buy down the debt we have, but we've made a choice. Broadway tickets are discounted because of the wheelchair. I'm not going to one of the shows because of the cost. We're driving, so we will bring our own snacks, drinks and breakfast food. We will eat out once a day - a mid-afternoon dinner. (Thanks SAK for the restaurant suggestion!) DS tires easily so we won't be going non-stop. We'll be spending a fair amount of time in the room to recharge. We are making conscious decisions about every dollar, which is a huge improvement over years past.

I'm proud of what we've done in the past year. The ticker is still moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. We didn't get into this mess overnight. And we won't get out that quickly, either.

But in the meantime, we'll continue to seek that balance that will keep us on track.



Monday, March 5, 2012

Checking in

I have a desk full of stacks (you know the kind) but thought I'd pop in with an update while I procrastinate, er, decide which one to tackle next.

First, I am so glad to see the support for the vacation Sarah and her family are taking in a few weeks. When our third baby was diagnosed with a deadlier form of the same disease Sarah's DS has, folks began helping in a variety of ways, including sending a little money for expenses. My husband had just lost his job, and while he was try to get a new business started, he was also needed at home for our other two children (etc., etc., etc.) while I tended primarily to our baby's needs as a mama and nurse. It was survival mode, which is what Sarah's been in for a lotta years.

Two days after the service for our beautiful baby, my husband and I took our other two children (11 & 8) on a rare getaway to a fun-filled destination highly recommended by many. We had plenty of bills that coulda/woulda gobbled up the money folks had generously sent our way, but WE knew after the grueling previous months that in order to get ourselves back into some semblance of a routine, we needed our children to experience a few days of joy and see that life was still good. My mother-in-law, several states away, was aghast that we would take them for 'fun' instead of making them continue their routine with school. In my nicest DIL tone, I explained that she had no clue what fortitude it takes to watch your child/sibling die. They were truly incredible.

Sarah has endured this same fortitude for years, and she knows what she's doing - she's providing an irreplaceable memory for her son and the family. While the focus isn't on the borrowed time they have with their amazing son, decision-making and second-guessing with respect to virtually all issues, medical and otherwise, never stops. I am proud of Sarah for being willing and able to put 'life' into perspective and full of gratitude that (most of) you are cheering her on.

On our bankruptcy proceedings, we are still proceeding. Nothing in our case is easy, but we're used to that. I will update more when I know more. I will say that I am increasingly confident that the reason none of my other attempts to straighten us out financially worked is that for US, bankruptcy was the best solution.

On a positive note (because I'm an optimist!):
1. We have saved spare dollars and all change for two months now! Our only entertainment has come in the form of two small burgers and a regular order of fries at the new Five Guys Burgers 30 miles way while we were on business. The entertainment was people-watching and figuring out how to get our tap water from a fancy machine.
2. When the repairman opened the front of our ailing dryer, there was about $3 in change in the midst of the lint! That wasn't the problem, but it was sure was a nice, unexpected discovery.
3. We have made a bee payment (cash!) for the two beehives we're starting with and found all the posts and miscellaneous wood necessary for the stand thru our local Freecycle group! If you've never heard of Freecycle, check it out - it's a fantastic way to unload what someone else needs. The rest of the beekeeping supplies will be purchased over the next few weeks.
4. This year we were due a tax REFUND for a change! We certainly could have used it, since we're fast approaching the summer months of no paycheck, but it's been earmarked for the 2012 estimated taxes. That'll help with those.
5. Congratulations on the arrival of Baby Abe in the 'family!' He's a doll.

Back to those stacks. Yippee!


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Time to come clean

We're going on vacation. An expensive one. There, I said it.

A little background. We have three children. We decided when our oldest was in high school that rather than gift her with something that would likely be forgotten, we would take her on a family graduation trip. (Remember that those were the days when our financial heads were buried way deep in the sand.) It's a tradition we've carried on with our boys. Each graduate chose the destination and off we went to make memories.

Now it's time for DS3 to take his trip. He asked to go to New York City and see a couple Broadway shows. So that's what we're doing. Because he is in a wheelchair and the logistics are more complicated (like the fact that not all NYC subway stations are wheelchair accessible), we are staying smack in the center of Times Square. And, yes, that means even more expensive. As a disclaimer, we've already saved the cash to pay for the hotel. And we've already bought the show tickets in cash (Phantom and Wicked). We hope to have food and gas money covered by the time the trip rolls around at the end of this month.

Should we be doing this? No way. We have no business spending this kind of money when we have that kind of debt. So why are we?

Because sometimes the memories are worth the price we pay. My older two kids, if you ask, will cheerfully bore you with a blow-by-blow recap of their graduation trips. They remember every detail and they love to relive the fun we had. They'll pull out the scrapbook and make you look at every last photo. For each, it was the last true family vacation of their childhood and one they'll never forget.

But this trip is even more important to us. DS3 has already outlived his life expectancy by five months. From here on out, it's borrowed time. And if my theater-loving boy who has worked harder than anyone I know to get to this point wants to see a show, then by golly that's what's going to happen.

This is one of those times when we are going against everything we know is right so that we can do the right thing.

Because times like this only come once in a lifetime. And you can't put a price on that.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Changing the family tree

The highlight of the past week for me? Watching my daughter buy her first new car. A shiny 2012 Toyota Corolla.

In cash.

I can't begin to describe what it feels like to see a 23-year-old who is so determined not to incur debt that she scrimped and saved for a year and a half and then wrote a check for a brand new car.

Just knowing that she learned from our mistakes and will not repeat them is worth all the agony of this financial journey.

Sometimes our kids do listen. And it pays off.


Friday, February 24, 2012

A reminder of what's important

I attended a funeral this morning for the husband of a dear friend. He was all of 52 years old and in seemingly good health. He died in his sleep a few days ago. As I watched my friend and her only son grieve, I was struck by the rawness of their emotions. They didn't know when they said goodnight the other day that it would be the last time. They didn't know at Christmas that it was their last one together. They didn't know time was running out.

On Sunday, I'll be attending another funeral. This one for my grandmother. She also died in her sleep this week. But she was 97 years old and was of sound mind and fairly sound body right up until her death. We are not grieving her death, but rather celebrating a long and happy life.

You know, sometimes the money stuff just isn't all that important.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A baby step reached!

Finally! The Emergency Fund now has a balance of $1,000! The tax refund hit our account and we immediately funded the EF. I don't pretend to think it will stay at this level, but for now, it's there and I'll take it.

Funny the things that make us happy these days, isn't it?

Hope everyone has a super weekend!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We've been tagged!

I was beginning to feel left out until I saw us pop up over at Paying For My Past!

Here are the rules. It seems all my PF friends have been tagged already, so I'm going to hold off on that. If you haven't been tagged and want to play, leave a comment and I'll put up some questions for you!

#1 - Post these rules.
#2 - Answer the 11 questions from the person who tagged you.
#3 - Create 11 new questions for the people you tag.
#4 - Tag 11 people and link them to your post.
#5 - Let them know that you tagged them.

1. What's the number one TV show you have to watch or record?
Depends on the season. Right now, it's "The Biggest Loser" (I can't stand Conda!!)

2. Sweet? or Salty?
Can it be both?

3. Weekly grocery budget?
I aim for $125 a week - that includes everything from shampoo to TP.

4. Laptop or desktop?
Laptop - love my MacBook Pro!

5. How many hours of sleep do you average?
Hmm. On a good night, six hours of interrupted sleep. Such is the life with a special needs child :)

6. Did you watch the Grammys?

7. Knowing what you know now, what career path would you have pursued?
Probably nursing, since I spend so much time in hospitals and doctors' offices. Actually, if I had the time or the money, I might consider going back to school for that very thing.

8. What's the mileage on your car?

9. What is the last movie you saw in a theater?
"We Bought a Zoo" at the $2 theater last weekend for our 26th anniversary. Sort of fitting, don't you think?

10. Favorite Sports Team
Carolina Tar Heels, baby!

11. Give me your favorite time management tip!
Keep a scrub brush in the shower and give the tiles a once-over every time you're in there.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Hey DH, help me out here will ya???

I tried to do a nice thing. I signed DH up for one of the online customer thingies that fast food restaurants promote. If you sign up, they send you a coupon for a free meal. Not a sandwich, a whole meal. DS happened to have a couple dollars left on a Christmas gift card to this same place. The coupon arrived Saturday and I ceremoniously presented it to DH, saying he and DS could go eat dinner there. I expected the final bill to be around $2 after the coupon and the gift card.

I see the receipt on the desk the next day. $12.93. Twelve! Um, I say calmly, what's the deal?? DH proudly shares that the cashier rang it up wrong the first time, but he caught it and got it fixed. I stare blankly. What? he asks, I used the gift card. And what about the coupon, I ask, trying not to shriek. Well, I gave it to him, says he. Too bad "him" never applied it.

I know it's not a lot and I'm trying not to dwell on it. (Really, I am. I figured if I vented here, I wouldn't take it out on DH.)

Ever feel like you're the only one focusing on the goal??


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On to February

January is usually a downer of a month. Because of holiday overtime, hubby's checks are the biggest in December, followed by the smallest in January. Business has been good, though, and the year has started off a whole lot better than previous ones. Maybe it's because this time last year, I had knots in my stomach every single day wondering how we would ever get out of this mess. We were behind on bills and no idea how to pay them. I kept the knot until March when I knew we had to face the music and call the creditors and set up some sort of workable plan.

Those calls sucked. It would take me hours to get up the nerve to make them. And then I had to admit to the person on the other end that we had done stupid a thousand times over and now we were entering desperate days. I had to lay everything out for them. How much we owed. How much we made. Why we couldn't pay what they wanted. But as bad as they were, they were what kick started this long and horrific journey for which there really is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel. We are still barely making it each month. And it will be this way for years. But for the first time we are seeing real progress. The numbers are going down instead of up. There's hope.

This post turned into my mind's rambling (I'm on serious allergy meds right now :), but I'll end with the tally for January. Drum roll, please.

We paid off another $1,304.99. We may be the tortoise, but we're going to win this race!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taxes are done

And the news isn't what I'd hoped for. Actually, what I'd planned on. We've always gotten a pretty big refund. I know that's not what the money experts advise, but it's what we do. Mostly because our expenses vary so wildly that we're afraid to change anything lest we owe a boatload of money come April. I knew that we were losing DD as a deduction this go-round. She's been on her own for more than a year now. I also knew that for the first time in a few years, we didn't have any college tuition expenses we could count. What I didn't know is that we could no longer claim our 20-year-old son as a dependent. He left college after a year and moved back home where he has been cobbling together part-time jobs until he's eligible age-wise for the full-time job he is after. Because he's not in school and because he earned more than the around $3,000 threshold, he is considered head of his own household. Despite the fact that he lives rent-free in ours. Aside from health care and transportation, we absorb his basic living expenses. Just doesn't seem fair.

The good news is that we do not owe anything. The bad news is that the refund (just a few hundred dollars) isn't nearly big enough to cover what I had hoped it would cover. Namely a chunk of DD's wedding expenses. Given that DS is graduating high school this year, too, and my parents' 50th anniversary is coming up, we really could have used some help. I'm trying not to panic here.

It's back to the drawing board. I'm going to have to cut some already dull corners even more. What fun.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Things I learn at the grocery store ...

The most expensive grocery store in the area advertised a "meal deal" sale this week. For $7.99, you get: 1 Freschetta pizza, 1 TGI Friday's appetizer, 1 bag of Mission tortilla chips and 1 2-liter Coke product.

Not bad, right?

I got my four items and headed to the register. It rang up $7.44. The cashier took note first and commented that often the advertised sale prices are really lower. She presumed it was because of lower regional prices.

Who knew?

My men will be quite happy that there is now an unexpected stash of junk food perfect for watching a good ball game. And I'm happy that I feel like I got a deal. I won't be eating with them as I am actually making progress on one of my 2012 goals: I've lost 7 pounds! Now I've just got to keep the ball rolling ...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The price of losing focus

It's been crazy busy around here. The problem with juggling so many balls at once is that inevitably one is going to get dropped. A small error in my checkbook register sent the account into overdraft. The deficit was covered by an automatic overdraft transfer from savings - at a cost of $3. I know I should be thankful that it only cost me $3, but it really annoys me that I let even a penny get away. Plus, that means I officially have just over $7 to last until Friday. Another annoyance.

But that's what happens when you don't pay attention, even for a day. You pay. It was a good reminder for me.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Free ham - it's what's for dinner tonight

Free food is the best! Hubby handed me a gift from one of his customer's the other day - a $50 gift certificate to the Honey Baked Ham store. He had no idea what to do with it, but I sure did! I had never been there because I know it's pricey, but with my $50 in hand, I marched confidently in and stated my intentions.

The woman was very helpful and in the end I left with a mini spiral ham, a sliced turkey breast and a bag of fresh rolls. The total came to $49.99. I told her to keep the change :)

I am so excited because this will not only provide a couple of dinners, but lunches for everyone for at least a week. I can hear the grocery budget breathing easier already!

Hope everyone is having a great day!


Monday, January 2, 2012

12 goals for 2012, part 2

I'm determined to try to uphold my end of this blog better, so I've gotten together 12 goals as I see them today, though there are many more! As sisters, Sarah and I share several, so I've taken the liberty of swiping a few from her list :)

1. Count my blessings. Every. Day.

2. Declutter (that could be its own blog)!!!

3. Follow Eboo's Dollar a Week Saving Plan in order to have a fully funded Christmas account come next buying season.

4. Lose 40 pounds. I'd lost 29 before our daughter's wedding, then came football/holiday/stress pounds. 17 of 'em.

5. Exercise daily - treadmill or walk up our little mountain. A sit-up or two on occasion would be a nice touch.

6. Be creative with healthy, frugal meals.

7. Live more simply. We've never lived lavishly, but in a quest to reduce our heating bills (and be WARM for a change), we're preparing for a wood stove in order to take advantage of years' worth of wood on our property.

8. Take better advantage of our land (see #7) and look seriously into beehives this spring. Hubby had some as a kid, and we have a perfect setup for them. The new beekeeping supply shop in town is reasonable and knowledgeable, and since we've always preferred honey to processed sugar, this seems like a worthy investment.

9. Regarding debt, I'll have to update after the bankruptcy process has been completed and I see what's what, although I can probably go ahead and include Start repaying student loans again. And save for the two months of no summer paycheck.

10. Finish organizing photos and wrap up some old, relatively inexpensive projects (freeing up time and space for new ones).

11. Remove everything from the walls, paint, and put back only family photos and evidence of our daughter's photography skills.

12. Keep praying!

May the challenges of 2012 be easy to knock down for us all as we seek the light at the end of the $$$ tunnel!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

12 goals for 2012

OK, I promised new goals and following in the shoes of my fellow bloggers, I'm putting 12 out there. Here goes.

1. Smile more.

2. Count my blessings. Every. Day.

3. Pay for our part of daughter's wedding. In cash.

4. Make way too complicated cross-stitch Christmas stockings for same daughter and her groom as a wedding gift.

5. Follow Eboo's Dollar a Week Saving Plan in order to have a fully funded Christmas account come next buying season. I actually started this in November, since that's when I'll need it next. Total so far: $28.

6. Catch up on scrapbooking. That should keep me busy.

7. Lose 25 pounds. I made this #7 so it wouldn't be so scary.

8. Exercise. Some. Anything at all will be an improvement.

9. Continue to work on the grocery budget while eating healthier. See #7.

10. Be more positive about anything and everything. See #1.

11. End 2012 having shaved a minimum of $15,000 off our debt.

12. Keep praying. It's the only way to survive this life journey.

Happy New Year, friends. Let's make it the best one ever!