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.