Vanquishing My Debt

I'm 29 and trying to get a handle on my finances so that, one day, I can buy a home of my own. I've been reading personal finance blogs recently and decided to start one chronicling my own struggles and success (hopefully). I am lucky, considering the amounts of debt and tales of tragedy I've read about... but I am making some positive changes and moving in the right direction.

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Second Credit Card Down, 2 to go!

Just made my last payment on Credit Card #2!

As Taylor Hicks would say, "Woo!"

Have you gotten weird about your money?

I realized last night that since I've gotten involved in personal finance, and reading books about frugality, and setting a budget, I have gotten weirdly selective about money and the way I spend it.

On Saturday, I went to JC Penney with a coupon and bought a purse that was on sale. The total came to $44. This is okay with me, because I love the purse and it's exactly what I've been looking for for several months. Plus, purses are a weakness of mine, I'm embarassed to say.

Last night, R and I went to a movie screening and got home at about ten pm. This is about the time when we usually go to bed, since we get up between 5:30 and 6 each morning. Hayfever allergies were attacking us both, me especially. He takes a Benadryl and offers me one. I refuse, thinking, "I don't want to waste the money spent on that pill because I'm just going to bed in 30 minutes anyway. So I'll be paying XX dollars to be relieved for less than a half hour, since the pill won't kick in immediately anyways. "

So I can now spend $44 for a purse, but will suffer with allergies when it's the most cost effective option rather than spending 25 cents on a pill.

I'm also getting aggravated with the speed that we go through a roll of paper towels. This perturbs me so much that I'm starting a rag bag for our old clothes that I can up and use in the kitchen. How did I never notice how many paper towels we used before?

Has anyone else gone through this when starting your financial turnaround? I feel like I'm getting fixated on the smallest things, even though I can still spend money on some unecessary items.

Selling out or seizing opportunities?

Luckily I've had a lot of time at work lately to websurf and look for more ways to bring in some cash. I believe that the best way to get ahead (for me, that's paying off debt and saving more), is using your income as wisely as possible. But I also believe that you should look for additional opportunities to make more if you can.

You may have read in my previous post that I signed up for Blogsvertise, a paid blogging site. When my blog turns 3 months old on Friday, I'll also sign up for Pay-Per-Post. I'll mark these entries by putting the name of the company in brackets before the title of the post - I understand you guys may not want to read that kind of entry. I apologize.

As much as I love the honesty of the personal finance blogging community, I feel like I would be foolish not to take advantage of using this blog in all possible ways to meet my goal of becoming debt-free. Since some of these sites pay $10 a post, I think it's a practical approach to supplementing my income without taking a second job... just like joining survey sites and participating in focus groups. All these things can be done with a minimum of time and some even with a minimum of effort.

I know the blogging community tends to either be very positive or very negative about paid blogging sites, and I can completely understand that. But I hope that you all will be as supportive about this decision as you have been about others that I've written about.

[Blogsvertise] Paid blogging site

I was reading a blog post yesterday (sorry, I can't remember which blog - I read a lot of them yesterday!), and the blogger was talking about Blogsvertise, a new company that pays you to blog about specific topics and products. And unlike other similar companies, your blog doesn't have to be a certain age or meet any requirements.

Blogsvertise is pretty simple and straightforward - register for free, give them your Paypal account so that you can be paid, and they'll email you topics to blog about. You don't have to falsely endorse the product, either, just write about it - you can even complain about it and you'll still get paid!

The current pay rate for a blog entry is $10 for new members - and if you show quality blogging, you can contact them after 5 assignments and request an increase. Sounds pretty good to me.

If you're interested in finding out more, go to Blogsvertise and read their FAQ- I'm not getting referral points or anything if you follow the link.

Friday, August 25, 2006

VoIP as a money-saver

I was talking to a co-worker who's getting VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) at her home this weekend and she's looking forward to getting the first telephone company bill - minus the long-distance fees!

We live here in Southern California, and she has family and in-laws in Arizona, Chicago, and in several Southern states. So the long-distance bill was a good size every month... which is something I haven't thought about in years, since all my family is local. Her teenage son is looking forward to talking to his favourite uncle in Chicago a lot more often.

This is a really neat service, one that I've heard about a lot lately, but didn't really know too much about. I wish this had been a possibility when I was long-distance dating my ex-boyfriend 7-8 years ago!

My co-worker is estimating that her family can save at least $65 a month, just by not racking up long distance charges. That's almost $800 a year!

How many PF bloggers out there have switched to VoIP for the savings?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pleasantly surprised (and relieved) by our electricity bill

I have been dreading the most recent electricity bill for some time. I get billed every 2 months, and the last several months have been very hot in my part of the San Fernando valley. It seems that this year we've had a lot of days where the temperature was 100 degrees or higher... though luckily, we were not in the areas that were suffering from power outages during those days.

In our second-floor apartment, I have a ceiling fan in the dining area and a window air conditioner in the living room (might I add that I think the unit is too small for the space, since it doesn't seem to cool anything except the space immediately in front of it?). Shortly after I moved in, I put a ceiling fan into the bedroom and one in the spare room. During the summer, I keep all windows closed and blinds and curtains down. The darkness and fans are very adequate... until the temperature passes 90 degrees or so. Then there's just nothing that we can do. Except wet down our old cat every half hour or so, which doesn't usually go well.

So earlier this summer, we bought window fans for almost every window - 2 in the living room (along with the air conditioner), 2 in the bedroom and 2 in the spare room. We leave all the ceiling fans on all the tmie. During the day, we leave the air conditioner off and turn the fans to expel hot air from the apartment. As it gets dark and cooler, we switch the fans to pull in colder air from outside. So basically the window fans are running 24 hours a day.

Each fan cost us about $30, which was something I balked at when I realized the cost. But it was worth it! We got the electric bill the other day and it was only... (drumroll, please) ... $130! This may not sound great, but with the almost-useless air conditioner going all the time, last summer's bill was about $200. So this summer was cheaper and cooler... plus we have the window fans for several more summers, until they wear out.

Such a relief! I've been dreading this bill, thinking that it would derail my plans to pay off my credit card debt. Huzzah!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Spending money to stay healthy

I read a great post called Your Money or Your Health over at Ms. Money's Blog. Ms. Money specifically talks about spending money to see alternative healers that aren't covered by insurance. This is a topic that I've been thinking about a lot (in a slightly different direction) since I've cut our grocery budget down in the last few months.

When planning your grocery budget, do you all go for cheap food, healthy food or a combination of the two? I understand that, especially when cooking from scratch, the food tends to be both healthier and cheaper than the pre-made version. But some food is so tempting just because it's dirt cheap... like everybody's friend, Ramen noodles.

Ramen Noodles - they cost like, $1 for 12. That's a very cheap lunch. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there's always Ramen, and that's pretty darn close. But then you read the nutritional chart on the package and find out that it's full of sodium and pretty nutritionally devoid of anything. Do you keep buying it because it's cheap, or do you buck up and buy something better yet more expensive?

I'm especially curious because I'm trying to adopt better eating habits to lose weight and become healthier... while trying to stick to the budget. Maybe I just need to up my budget. Or expand my horizons a bit.

What food do you eat that's reasonably cheap and healthy?

Where, oh where, do I see myself in 5 years?

I'm catching up today on some the blogs that I haven't reading as faithfully as I'd like to lately, and I found a post on LaMoneyGuy's blog called Where do you see yourself in 5 years? He wrote this about the classic interview question... but it got me thinking about myself and my personal life instead.

I've never thought of myself as an unambitious person, but I've never really had goals like this before. I think part of that was because I was just kinda drifting along with the status quo, instead of actively trying to start my "adult" life. I say "adult life" because even though I'm almost 29 and have been an adult for awhile now, I feel like I have started my grown-up life in earnest because I am now with the man I'll be marrying, having children with, having a home and life with. (Don't get me wrong, ladies - I'm not saying that my life has started because I found me a man! That's not at all what I mean, even though it may sound like that at first!) For the first time, I am planning (not just idly thinking about) children, a family, a future, a retirement. I'm also trying to look down the road to figure out how I can help my mom with her retirement (she is turning 60 in a few months and will not ever financially be able to retire without a lot of help). I'm trying to educate myself a bit about different investments and am reading about finances.

I've always felt like an old teenager with adult responsibilities. I'm now feeling like an adult woman.

In 5 years, when I'll be 34 and R will be 40...
...R and I will be completely debt-free, including my car loan and his student loans. (Obviously this is assuming that we won't have a mortgage.) Once we pay our off current debt, we will not rack it up again. Ever.
...we will be physically fit... or physically fit-ter.
...we will have a savings account with at least 6 months of emergency expenses, hopefully more.
...I will be in a different job, or even better, working for myself out of our home.
...R will have one of the city jobs we're hoping for, which come with benefits and a pension plan. He'll also invest the max in his 401k plan.
...we'll both have started saving in earnest and investing.
...we'll have our first child (or maybe both) by then, which we're planning on adopting. mom will be working part-time at the most, but hopefully completely retired. Ideally, I'd love for her to watch our kids during the day instead of enrolling them in daycare. (And yes, we'd pay her)
...I'd like to own at least one rental property, but that may not happen within the next 5 years. It depends on kids and my mom's situation.

What are everyone else's personal plans or goals for the next five years?

Concert Ticket Conundrum - Follow-Up Post

Well, I bit the bullet and sold the second pair of tickets also. I was feeling a bit mournful yesterday after receiving Ebay's "But It Now" confirmation, then getting into my car 30 minutes later and hearing my band's song on the radio, but I have bounced back. I have given these musical strangers enough money over the last decade. I am happy and feeling positive about the steps I've taken to get out of this debt cycle. Eye of the tiger, baby! I am feeling "gazelle intense."

I have issues with the phrase "gazelle intense," though. Sorry, Dave Ramsey. I understand the logic involved in this phrase - the gazelles darting and dodging as the predators attack - but it just doesn't work for me. Gazelles have always seemed very peaceful and complacent to me... not uber intense. Cheetahs are intense, gorillas are intense, snakes are intense. Gazelles are... friendly.. and gentle... and Bambi-like. Gazelles are like large fluffy bunnies. Sugar, spice and everything nice. Like they would love to nuzzle you if you'd let them.

I don't want to nuzzle my credit cards. I want to throw them down on the ground and rip them apart. I want to roam around the field with the debt carnage dripping from my chin. I want the credit companies to see me and retreat in awe and a bit of fear. I want to be a legend of prowess and power. I want to be the bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson character of debtors.

That's not very gazelle-like.

Is it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Concert ticket conundrum - I'd love your advice

Every year for the last 10 years, I have gone to see my favourite band in concert. Some years, I've even gone more than once. It's the only expensive indulgence that I permit myself on a regular basis. I've seen them a total of probably about 14 times so far - they are the only concert I attend each year, with maybe 2 exceptions over the last decade.

So earlier this year, before I started reading pf blogs and books, I bought my presale tickets through the fan club as always. I bought 2 tickets to each of the 2 local shows, bringing my total to about $285. It was oh-so-conveniently charged to my lovely Discover card. (If only I was a talented hand model so that I could show you, with great flourishes and flair, my sparkling plastic card.)

Well, recently it's occured to me that I'm still paying for those tickets on my credit card, the same card that I'm aggressively paying right now. It really stuck in my craw that I've been paying on those tickets for several months and will probably continue to do so, even after the concerts (which are at the end of August).

So I listed a pair on Ebay and they sold today... for $225! That's another $225 that I can put toward my credit card immediately! At this rate, I may be able to pay off Credit Card #2 by the end of the month! Yowzaa!

I'm greedily torn now as to whether I should sell the tickets I have to the second concert. On one hand, they should fetch about the same amount... which means that not only will I have paid off the debt, but I'll actually make a very nice profit (which will also be put toward the credit card). If I sell these tickets also, Credit Card #2 will be paid off and I can start on Credit Card #3 right away.

But on the other hand, the sale of the first pair of tickets means that going to this concert will only cost me about $55. They have been my ultimate favourite band since I discovered them my senior year in high school. It feels like cheating on a boyfriend to even just say that maybe I can skip seeing them this year.

What do you seasoned savers think I should do? What would you do in this situation?

I think I know the answer already, but I need a little shove toward doing it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Getting our emergency fund in place

I feel somewhat guilty after a recent post about how my fiance, R, seems to be indulging me instead of actively participating in a financial makeover... we were talking about the Dave Ramsey books I've read recently (Total Money Makeover and More Than Enough) and how Dave suggests establishing your $1,000 emergency fund first.

I've been suspending my savings account investing for the last few weeks to jump into this credit card debt fight. I have about $200 saved, but I'd rather the money alloted in my budget for saving went right to my credit cards. It's such an amazing feeling of accomplishment and being in control that it gives me to pay down or pay off a debt... to me, the feeling is worth the risk of not having enough to fall back on. Plus (I know you're going to cringe because this sounds so lame), I know I can always ask my mom for a reasonable amount in case of an emergency.

So I was talking about Dave's steps with R, and he asked me if I had fully funded an emergency fund yet. I basically told him what you just read in the above paragraph. He volunteered to put $1,000 of our earnings at the upcoming convention into the emergency fund, allowing me to concentrate on the debt. Wow! I was floored, because he's not the best planner I know. But since he is paying all the convention costs up front out of his paycheck, any money we make there will be going to us, instead of to his business credit card.

I think he's realizing that this is so much more important to me than either of us thought at first. He's starting to understand that I'm not trying to temporary changes, but permanent ones.

Yesterday after work we went to a discount ethnic market near our apartment that we had never been to. We stocked up on cheap produce (peaches and pears were 2 pounds for 99 cents) and we spent all of $12.13 of our weekly grocery money. He was impressed and suprised. I think he's being won over in part because it's so easy to save money when you focus on it... or especially when your significant other is focused on it! :)

Monday, August 07, 2006

1 credit card down, 3 to go!

Note: This should have published August 2, but I found it backdated to June 23rd, for some reason. Blogger, what's up with you?

Last night I paid off my credit card with the smallest total. Yippee! Like I mentioned in a previous post, I'm applying the snowball effect to my credit cards. So now I'm concentrating on the next smallest balance card. I'm going to forgo using neat little graphs and charts (mostly because I don't yet know how to create them) to show where my debt comes from. Like I've said before, it's nothing awful, unlike some other blogs that I've read. I guess dropping out of college pays off sometimes - no student loans. :)

So here goes, my financial soul laid bare (as of August 1).

Credit Card #1 - Paid off last night! Huzzah!
Credit Card #2 - $507
Credit Card #3 - $2,060
Credit Card #4 - $3,156

Credit Card #4 is actually the card we used to start up R's small business. It is actually his obligation to pay this off, and he will probably take over the payments by the time I conquer the other 2 cards. If he doesn't, I'm prepared to tackle it myself.

I have not added my car to this list, because frankly, it's too discouraging. I am going to attack this list, then figure out the car situation. After tackling my debt, we'll begin tackling his in earnest... which is mostly delinquent student loans.

In light of some of the other blogs I've read talking about immense debt from college and medical emergencies and unemployment, I feel somewhat silly about posting my numbers. I feel like my frustration might be dismissed by some of you because it isn't *enough.* But I think frustration and worry counts no matter what the number behind it is. I am already feeling like a load is off my shoulders just from paying off one card last night!

Time to go shopping!

Just kidding! :)

My almost best friend...the crockpot

One of the keys to us eating dinner at home is having good food that we like... duh, right? This is one of my favourite crockpot recipes, for spicy chicken tacos. I don't remember where I found this recipe online, or I would surely give credit and many thanks!

4 boneless chicken breasts (I remove the skin, too, out of personal preference)
2 cans of tomatoes and green chilis
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried onion (I usually just chop half an onion and throw it in)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix tomatoes and green chilis in a bowl with onions and spices. Pour half of this mix into the bottom of the crockpot. Lay the chicken on top (bonus: the chicken can even be frozen), then cover with the rest of the mixture. Cook in crockpot for 5-7 hours on HIGH, or 10-12 hours on LOW, until the meat begins to fall apart. Stir every now and then to break up the chicken and keep crocking.

This is one of my favourite recipes because it's cheap, too. I buy and freeze chicken breasts when it goes on sale for less than $1 a pound, so I use maybe $2 of chicken in this. Another $1.50 or so for the tomatoes and green chilis (the best deal I've found is at Walmart - about $0.69 a can for the generic brand) brings the grand total to $3.50 for enough meat to make approx. 12-14 burritos or tacos. If you want to stretch the chicken even further, add a can of beans into the crockpot... I love black beans.

This is one of those easy, time-saving recipes that is great for a family meal, and also great if you're having guests - just set up a taco station where people can add their own toppings and condiments.

Definitely try it - I think it rivals the chicken at Chipotle, which is one of our favourite Mexican food restaurants. A chicken burrito there costs more than this recipe does.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Great freebie website

This is one of those rare websites where the site lives up to its name...

Have fun!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lane Bryant in-store coupon $15 off $15

I got this link in a promotional email and wanted to pass it along to anyone who'd like it.

Make sure you read the fine print about qualifies for this purchase and what does not.

Lane Bryant $15 Gift Cheque