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

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

MSN article - "Weird stuff that hurts your credit"

This article at is definitely worth a read - it discusses several oddities in the credit scoring system that can lower your FICO score. For instance, Capitol One refuses to disclose your credit limit to the credit bureaus, forcing the bureaus to use the highest balance you've ever had as a replacement amount. So if the highest amount you've ever had on your Capitol One card is $150, but your limit is $10,000, guess which number will pop up on your credit report? Something to think about if you have Capitol One cards (which I do).

Interesting stuff... I highly recommend the article, especially for newbies to personal finance like myself.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Target donates to charity through me

Well, in a sense. Let me explain.

I am a devotee of The people who post in the forums are genius at figuring out ways to combine sales, coupons and unadvertised promotions to get merchanise for barely nothing. And everything is completely legal, as far as I know. Stores just need to close a few loopholes here and there, or use common sense.

A few days ago, someone had posted an unadvertised promotional deal that if you buy any 2 Almay cosmetics or skin products, Target would give you a $5 gift card. The geniuses on Slickdeals figured out that the cheapest items were the Almay facial soap bars for $3.09 each. Many Almay products had peelie coupons on them for $1 off. So you could buy 2 facial soaps with coupons for a total of $4.38 with tax and get a $5 gift card. (As far as I know, the deal is still going on if you'd like to check it out. There is a similar deal right now with 12-packs of Pepsi, too.)

But I don't use that product, nor does anyone I know. So I should have ignored it, right? Nah.

R and I went and spent $8 out of pocket on 4 bars of facial soap with coupons. We received $10 in gift cards. We then used those gift cards to purchase more soap with coupons...and get more gift cards. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

As of today, we have 16 bars of free brand-name facial soap that will be donated to a teen runaway shelter here in Hollywood... it's free because through the last set of gift cards, we've recouped our inital investment of $8 and even made a profit of about $4. Since our local store is now out of Almay soap, I'll use the gift cards to purchase regular stuff for our own household like toilet paper and Kleenex.

And that's how Target makes charitable donations through its customers.

Woohoo! I'm finally not upside-down on my car loan!

And yes, I know, I will only be berated and thought of distastefully for having bought a new car... something I will never do again (I'll discuss after I share my excitement). But I'll take the beating in exchange for sharing my relief.

I was reading an article online and my curiousity was piqued about how close I am to not being upside-down on my loan. After plugging my car (a 2004 Toyota Rav4) and its condition (Good) into (the Kelly Bluebook website), the private party sale value is assessed at $18,975. If my car hadn't been attacked and scratched by a dog without a collar when I was stopped at a STOP sign (yup, scratch marks all over the driver's side door - man, was I pissed! But that's another story, eh?), the value might be a bit higher.

So I logged into my account with the finance company and found that my pay-off amount is $16,845.85. I know that this situation is atrocious, but I am still very happy that the value of my car is finally more than what I owe on it.

How did I end up with a new car while professing to be frugal? Well, it was before I discovered my interest in personal finance and becoming debt-free. Back in the days when I thought, "Everyone has credit card debt, it's no big deal." Ah, those carefree days of blissful ignorance.

Cue the flashback music...

Growing up, my mom and I always had crappy used cars and were always being taken advantage of by unscrupulous mechanics. About 6 or 7 years ago, she bought a brand new Kia Rio purely for the sense of security that a new car offers - the reasonable expectation that nothing major will go wrong with it anytime soon and the sense of "I'll take great care of it from the beginning, which saves me trouble and money in long-run." She also plans on keeping it for a long time until it's driven into the ground, as opposed to people that just like a new car every few years.

Two years ago I was driving a used Kia Sportage (bought from a dealership - again financed), and it completely died on me. I took good care of this car for the several years I had it, but suddenly there were a lot of major mechanical problems - several thousand dollars worth of repairs. I was prepared to fix it, especially since I still owed about $5,000 on the car. (And no, the 10 year Kia warranty didn't cover them because the car had changed ownership one too many times.)

My mom talked to me about the security of a new car and told me that these repairs were the first of many to come. How much money did I want to put into a dead horse? So I let myself be talked into buying a new car. It sounded even better after finding out I could use my old car as a trade-in instead of ponying up cash for a down payment.

I got a good interest rate on my loan since I have good credit, and the dealership accepted my old car, even though I didn't get much for it. But then I found out (duh!) that what I still owed would be rolled over into my new loan. What can I say, I didn't have any experience with loans and such - I guess I just thought that $5,000 would disappear in a puff of smoke, much like the car itself. Then sales taxes and fees were added into my loan total. All of a sudden I owed $26,000 on a brand new car I had to be talked in to. And that didn't even include the huge increase in car insurance I'd see for owning a brand new car!

Wow. I love my car, and it has been very good to me. I think I've been good to it, taking care of it and even babying it at times. But has it been $26,000 worth of good to me? At the time it was the easiest and smartest (ha!) thing to do. Now, not so much. And once again, following the old familiar story, the strongest of catalysts was that I had no savings to help me out of a crunch.

What can I say? I'm older and wiser and have seen the error of my ways. I'm plannng on driving this car into the ground, too, so it should last me a long time... barring any unforseeable circumstances.

On the bright side, this car loan has been added into our debt-free plan - so it should be completely paid off in early 2008, saving loads of interest charges.

Oy. Never again, I tell ya.

The story about the dog attacking my stopped car will have to be for another time... maybe Halloween. I am a cat person for a reason.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My latest adventure in combining couponing and sales

This is one for the books, ladies and gentlemen. I am way too pleased with myself. Some might even say I need to be taken down a peg or two.

Maybe a month ago, I signed up online to receive coupons for a free bottle of L'Oreal HIP foundation make up. I got 2 in the mail and stuck them in my coupon organizer, where I figured they'd languish until I needed more make up.

Last week, Rite Aid was advertising the same brand of make up as buy one, get one free. So I went and got in line with 4 bottles, hoping the clerk would not get militant about their duty to protect the Rite Aid fortune.

Luckily, the clerk I got was a very amused middle-aged guy, who talked about how his wife would be jealous when she heard about this coup. My final total for $52 worth of make up (4 bottles at $13 a bottle) was only the sales tax... $2.15! I live for stuff like this! R was stunned and tickled as well.

I can't wait until our debt is paid off so that we can do what everyone recommends - saving what you save. It would have been even better to be able to put that extra $50 into our savings account.

I really love this idea of combining coupons with sales like this one. It turns saving money into a game, and I love games.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

[Sponsered] Handy mortgage calculators

I saw the coolest function on a mortage calculator at Personal Home Mortgages - a function that tells you your finance charges per $1,000. I don't have too much experience with mortgage calculators (since I'm nowhere close to buying a property yet!), but I thought this was a neat feature. They also have a calculator where you can figure how much you're saving if you start making extra payments - everyone should check this out! They have many different calculator features that are really interesting at Personal Home Mortgages.

Another great feature on Personal Home Mortgages is that they have a borrowers forum, where people can post about their different experiences they had and pitfalls they faced when searching for a mortgage company. Unfortunately, there's not many posts yet, but I can see this being a helpful tool in the future.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Busy at work = no blogging

As the title suggests, I've actually been busy at work (gasp!), so I haven't posted anything for awhile now. So here's what I've been up to, if you care to ask...

- On Tuesday I went on a job interview - my first in a long time. I was terribly nervous, but I think I did decently enough. The job would be a sideways move out of my field into a comparative position in another industry. The bad news is that they start you at $13 an hour... and I'm currently making $21. That's quite a hit I'd be taking, so I don't know if I'm going to pursue this one. The sad thing is that without a degree, $13 might be the best I can hope for if I leave this company... which is a scary thought since I live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive cities to live in.

- I consolidated the balances of Credit Card #3 and Credit Card #4 and put them onto another car, which offers a 0% APR on balance transfers through September 2007. Paying off the balance, which is about $5,100, within a year is completely doable. I'm very happy about this, since I figured out that I was paying about $80 in interest fees alone on those two cards each month.

- I read a great tip somewhere online about keeping the fizz in 2-liter bottles of soda after it's been opened. Put the cap on very tightly and store the bottle upside-down in the refrigerator... the carbonation can't escape because the soda is blocking any open space between the bottle and cap. I tried it and it's not 100% percent perfect, like when you first open the bottle, but it's a heck of a lot better than when you store the bottle standing up. Try it!

- I bought a small notebook and a coupon file, which I can keep in my purse at all times (Ladies, don't you love that big purses are back in style?). In the notebook, I write down dinner menus for the week, shopping lists, to-do lists and lists of what products are on sale at what supermarket. I think the coupon file is self-explanatory. Just having all of my notes in one place is incredible, instead of fishing out little scraps of paper and post-it notes from the black hole known as my purse. I look so organized! :)

- I've been sticking to my budget, only spending cash on groceries and other household items. It really forces me to be disciplined about only buying what's on my list, and it also encourages me to try new following recipes. If broccoli and potatoes are on sale this week, what can I make? By the way, the answer is Cheesy Potato and Broccoli Soup - definitely try it, it's terrific.

- I found a link and signed up for Pinecone Research, an online survey company that pays $5 a survey. They do accept sign-ups on their website, since they are trying to target certain demographics with banner ads on various websites. You can visit and view their thread showing links where you can sign up. Just click on the last page of the thread for the most recent links. I signed up maybe 2 weeks ago and have already received 3 checks for $5 each. And no, I don't get a referral bonus or anything.

- I've received numerous freebies and samples in the mail for the last several weeks. There are several sites that I visit to sign up for these - the best ones are and the Freebies thread at I have a drawer in our telephone table where I put freebies that I don't want, along with items gotten for free or almost-free with coupons at the grocery store. Once or twice a year, I take these items to a womens' shelter downtown.

- My fiance and I are looking into moving, which is something that only came up yesterday. A family friend is looking to rent out a loft-style apartment in a building that they own, where their business occupies the ground floor. The rent is less than we pay now (by about $150), and we'd both be closer to work. We're looking at the place tonight and if we like it, we'll have to hammer out a legal lease with our friend, who is known at times to be a bit flighty. Just the idea of moving - oy! One of the main issues is that in this new space, we can legally have our old cat, which is contraband in our apartment now and violates the lease in a very noisy way. I am always worried that a neighbor will mention our cat to the landlord, who lives off-site.

And that's it in a nutshell. I'll try to be more on the ball when it comes to blogging in a timely manner.