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cooking and no spend days

July 10th, 2008 at 08:20 pm

Generally, my biggest expense is food. This is because before I started cooking, I'd eat out all the time. But since I moved, I've been doing a lot more cooking, and I find I don't want to eat out at all.

I've been making a habit of making an extra serving of something, so I can have it for dinner the next night. Since it's summer, breakfast is cold cereal and fruit. I haven't done so well with lunch, and end up skipping it. But I used to go so far as to buy desserts, like bakery cookies and cake. Now, I'm doing more baking on my own, and might have cookies. Actually, since it's been so hot and muggy, I've just been eating a lot of fruit.

So I'm finding that my day to day expenses have really dropped. But, I'm spending a little more on groceries. Some of it's not a bad thing, because I let myself buy fresh fruit in season, even if it's a little high. So I've been eating tons of cherries and blueberries, even though apples and bananas are cheaper. But I can't get fresh cherries in December, so I'll save the apples for wintertime.

I think I could drop my meat consumption and save more money. Or at least change it. I just found out my fishmonger will clean/scale and behead a whole fish, and these tend to be less $/pound than buying the fillets. I hardly ever buy red meat, and when I do, it's hamburger, but I do buy a lot of chicken and then just boneless, skinless breast. I should switch to whole chickens, and joint them, but I'm squeamish. I eat a lot of egg (whites) which are cheap. But I should eat more beans instead. I don't really like them though, so I'm going to have to sneak them into food.

I can't handle a ton of dairy, so I have milk, soymilk and yogurt as my dairy servings. Soymilk is $$, which is aggravating. But I can make my own yogurt, which can really cut costs.

But I haven't really kept to the grocery budget, because I went on a carnivorous rampage over the 4th of July, and that just really got pricey.

I've decided to set aside the grocery money and put it into a holding account that I was using as a potential space to hold my pocket money. Currently, this account has about $50.00, just to keep it open, and I give myself the pocket money when I need it. But since I don't eat out, I only use a dollar or two, and I can just keep that in my wallet.

Since the holding account has a check card, I can put the grocery money there, and that way the month's allotment is isolated from the rest of my operating expenses. So I won't blindly go over (I'm good about checking my overall balance) and if I underspend, I'll just put in less the following month and pay extra on my debt.

Reassessing the situation: the income

June 27th, 2008 at 08:31 pm

I figured that one reason why the money details seem so overwhelming is that I didn't have a clear picture of my spending. Especially for the past few months, when things got crazy everywhere.

So this morning, I made a cup of strong coffee and crunched the numbers for the next 14 months. I tried to be realistic with my budget and it looks like my previous guesses were a little optimistic: it will be about 30 months to clear it all.

However, I think I've come to some compromise with working extra hours: I'm going to try to do some side-gigging in a field that's related to my job at the Forum (I don't think I can freelance directly in my own educational field.)

The Forum asked me to take some new responsibilities, and in lieu of a higher salary, they've offered to pay for the relevant training. This training will teach me some marketable skills that I can use at the lemonade stand.

I was occupied with some of their other projects, and haven't really used the opportunity. But if I do, and can pick up an additional couple hundred $/month, then I can make a solid dent in the debt. This is less than what I made Wenching, but it has the added bonus of being more of a long term option. Plus, it's much less conspicuous than the Souk (the Forum found that work slightly distasteful.)

I'll spend the next two months really throwing myself into this training, and try to get at least one gig by September. If I can't, I won't have wasted my time (it will make me more useful in the Forum) but I'll reassess my relationship with the Souk. One day a week there would definitely help, if I could balance it (and if they'd even take me, as I've been gone so long.)

Things get messy...

June 25th, 2008 at 07:35 pm

I took down an earlier post as a result: too much information in too public a manner.

I'm having a Neo-in-the-Matrix moment, where I'm suddenly aware of problems that had previously flown under the radar. There are a few family responsibilities that are causing (have caused, will be causing) some major financial damage.

I recently did an assessment of some personal goals, and right now, my money commitments are at cross purposes: I want to be there for my family, but by being there for some, I can't easily be there for others. And by involving myself at all at this point, I'm jeopardizing not only my own situation, but my ability to be there for anyone in the future.

So it's been really confusing. Right now, I have 15k in debt, with 7k deferred for a little while. At my current income, I can definitely pay it off within 25 months. But at the same time, that's if I don't increase my spending from this point forward and leave myself with a tiny emergency fund.

However, there's a wedding this year, a recent family trip, and another relative who is swimming with alligators. I seem to be the person that's supposed to be taking care of this, and realistically, I don't think I can shirk these duties.

In addition, I don't think I can do any more moonlighting, not if I want to further my education. Rather, my moonlighting will be school-related training (unpaid in a non-negotiable manner.)

So I'm trying to balance my options with my responsibilities, and it's not helping me sleep at night, that's for sure.

I'm frustrated, because I can't talk to my family, and my friends aren't in a position to "get it" yet. Some friends have the money issues down, but don't have the same family situation. Others understand the family drama, but have their own leaky financial boats.

Grocery Budget?

May 20th, 2008 at 08:15 pm

Ok, I am a ramen/tuna/cornflakes kind of person who, if peanut-butter and jelly were outlawed, would have to live in San Quentin. In the settlements near the Guild, it's microwaves and George Foreman grills. Not the stuff of haute cuisine.

But my apartment has a kitchen, eeek! And now I have to stock a pantry. I'm thinking that having one meatless meal a day will really cut costs. I'm not a vegetarian (I am a baconarian) but meat=expensive!

I know there are frugal cooking websites, but they seem to be family orientated. I am perennially single, and using Monday's meal for 4 to make leftovers for Tuesday and Wednesday's meals (also for 4) mean that I've got tons of food that's going to waste.

But what's a reasonable amount to spend? I'm organic for dairy, but I can make my own yogurt and cheese is incompatible with bikini season, so it's mainly a milk bill. Cutting down on meat is definitely going to help, but I could cook a chicken or something. There's a local farm cooperative not too far from me that's selling shares. For about 20/week** I can get fresh vegetables (not fruit). I could bake my own bread. Eliminating coffee is slightly less preferable than eliminating air.

So I'm guessing 20+6 for fruit, plus dairy and some meat...that's looking like 35/week? Say 40/week total. Is that crazy?

**this is a half-share. I expect to freeze a ton of stuff for casseroles. If I could find a buddy to pair up with, it'd be 10/week. This is the second peril of singledom. The first is that there's no one to kill the spiders for you.

Sorting, Sharing, Shopping

May 20th, 2008 at 07:46 pm

I have too much stuff. And I can't take it all with me! The funny thing is that at the Guild, there are a ton of people that are saying the same thing. So this time of year is like musical chairs: the people change, but the furniture stays the same. In my new apartment: donated shelves. So in my old apartment, a cabinet will be left behind.

I've been scouring the coffeeshops and signboards for deals. One apprentice is selling a lamp for $2.00, no doubt purchased from another apprentice a few years ago. I don't need another lamp, but I can definitely use a fan, so I buy that, a coffee machine and a plastic storage caddy for $15.00. And I sell a chair for a few dollars and try to unload some old scrolls.

I've been purging a lot of stuff though, so my local Goodwill will be getting a few drop-and-run donations. My goal is to strip away the stuff that I don't use or absolutely love. The odd thing is that even with all this stuff, I didn't have the things I really needed, like a dresser. So it makes me think about the ways I've thoughtlessly spent money, and what it's really cost me.

I did pretty well with my thrifted deals: I've got a way to make breakfast and to keep my socks off the floor for less than the cost of dinner and a movie. But I look at all the stuff I forgot I even owned, and I realize how easy it is to be wasteful.

What's done is done

May 15th, 2008 at 08:21 pm

I sign a lease this weekend. For the original price. So my total rent is about 10/mo more than what I'm paying, but it's less driving, and slightly better accomodations. And I'm alone. So the next step is (pack, whoo boy) and crunch the numbers: I really want to crush my debt.

Gazelle Intensity or Jack*** Decisionmaking?

May 14th, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Trying to keep it clean and family-oriented. Smile

So, I am ending out my current apprenticeship at the Guild, and my Guildmaster has recommended that I spend my summer in the dungeons assisting the Potions Master, instead of in the Guildhall.

This is good, because lowly apprentices have to pay Guild fees, but lowly assistants just have to scrub cauldrons, and pay labor for trade. Also, it may put me line for a senior apprenticeship, which may mean that I have to cut my hours at the Forum.

Also, there's been some trouble back at home, and I think that sooner or later, I may need to start sending some $$ there.

So the concept of cutting costs is really in my mind lately. One option is to go back to the Souk for the summer, but I wanted to spend this time preparing for the Imperial Examinations and working will take away from that.

The second option...may be good or not. Currently, I live alone, and I pay base-bottom rent. But there are some other apprentices in my neighborhood who are looking for someone to share a home, and this would cut my costs by about 200.00/month. The downside: I don't know these people, I'd probably have to move again in a year and, parking is a total nightmare.

But, that extra 2400/year would be a nice buffer to send to the 'rents and/or a tidy way to pay off my debts sooner. Or it could be just enough for bail money for when I strangle the person who eats the last of my Frosted Sugar Squirrels.

I know, I rarely post anymore...but any thoughts? Take the plunge or keep my sanity?

How I save on textbooks

January 20th, 2008 at 04:52 pm

Being an apprentice at the Guild is a really great experience for me, and I'm truly thankful that they've agreed to take me on. But the cost of materials can be super high -- I eat ramen and tuna for weeks after visiting the storerooms.

But a buddy of mine attends Modernus Universitas, and told me the benefits today's scholar has over an apprentice of ancient Rome:

1. Information Management. I know, in your mind, you're like...wha?

But do this. Take a look at the back of your textbook, and find where the price is located. Try not to vomit at the cost of this book -- instead, focus on the 10 to 13 digit number sequence right above the barcode. This is the ISBN number, and it is your key to unlocking the power of:

2. The internet. Yep, the internet. Ancient Guilds didn't use the internet: if we wanted to send messages to each other, we had to run 26 miles and have a heart attack at the feet of the Senate. Luckily, students today live in a digital age.

So what to do? You plug in your ISBN into Google and see what comes up. There are tons of places where people are selling their old books for way less than the college bookstore. In some places (like Amazon), it'll even be a new book, at a lower price. There may even be hits for the international version of a book: same content, different cover, and these tend to be a lot cheaper.

Another place is from students who have taken the class before, and who want to sell their books. This is what we do at the Guild -- scrollwork is notoriously hard to find online. This requires a little more coordination to find someone more advanced in your field who is willing to sell, but it's cheaper.

One thing: getting the right books at the right price requires a little bit of planning. You don't want to buy a text and find out that you won't be using it. So a well-timed email (or a really fast runner) to your instructor can be a good way to find out what you'll really need for the class.

Final note: sometimes the best place to get your materials is from the school. In that case, take good care of your books, and if you think you won't need them, list them on Amazon at the end of the term.

Knowledge can be expensive, but a little bit of applied knowledge can maybe drop the cost a little bit.

Starting Small

January 15th, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Ok, so here's the plan for the rest of the month: use the use the surplus $$ from the grocery money to get a crockpot. I was talking to a girl today who said she loveloveloves her crock pot. I figure if I just use it for stew, I'll be golden.

Second plan: make a list of my favorite cheap eats, and set a menu for the next few weeks. This will put me on target for one of my goals for 2008: lose weight. I'm a little too cuddly for long-term good health. So being more careful w/the meals is a good way to be both economical and healthful.

Sticker Shock

January 13th, 2008 at 06:08 pm

So I'm getting ready to return to the Guild, which begins the new session at the end of this month. It's kind of a wierd schedule, but it gives a nice relaxing downtime for the long holidays. So I've been waiting to learn what I'll need to bring with me: they provide the raw materials, but we still have to purchase books and specialty equipment (eye of newt, dragon-hide gloves, a calculator, etc.) Plus spellbooks and scrolls.

Well, I got my letter in the mail today, and holy crap! The items they want me to get are really expensive. I've been looking online to find a better deal, but even the used scrolls are high. And the worst part is that we will only use them for part of the session, not the entire thing. So aggravating. Especially since the information hasn't changed much from the Dark Ages.

I put in a request to my former Guildhall, to see if I could borrow some things (I mean, you can use the same cauldron and scrolls for years, if you're careful with it.) But I don't think they'll be able to ship me the gear in time: apparently the guild intends to hit the ground running, and want us to concoct some potions before we actually meet. So I might have to make an early trip to the Guild's storerooms, which is the most reliable, but also the most expensive option.

I'm hoping there's a recipe for dyspepsia, because that's what I'm feeling right now.

Two steps back or h3ll in a handbasket?

January 12th, 2008 at 07:13 pm

I mentioned before that over the holiday, I really overextended myself. I didn't use credit, so I don't owe anything, but travel expenses and gifts took a healthy bite out of my savings.

I knew I'd need to buckle down: I've got Guild fees that are due, and I'll still need to purchase materials. And I have a going-away present that I promised to get . I had a little cushion for these things.

But I got a call recently, from a relative, and he'd blown the bank: a few checks overdrawn. He owed me a check for some work I'd done for him, and called to say he wouldn't have it. This isn't the first time he's been short on cash. And it's not the first time I've given a hand. I'm also not really ready to not help him.

I know I should be angry: he's mismanaged the money so much he's not able to pay for even the basics right now. And I'm looking at tapping out my funds (not to mention my time) with the Guild, so I can't easily pick up hours at the Souk to bring in more cash.

But I realize how sloppy I've been in the last few months, and how easy it is to get so far off kilter that you can barely right yourself again. And I'm worried, for myself, and for this person.

I mentioned in an earlier post about my friend Rufus, and his friend Chris: Chris was going through some chronic unemployment, and is really struggling. Part of the struggle is that there was nothing saved for a rainy day. It's a total train wreck, and it makes me ill just thinking about his situation...maybe because it's a possible conclusion of my own actions?

I will, by the end of next week, have zipped down to zero in my emergency stash. And while I'm working now, I have been warned by the Guild that I won't be able to work full-time if I want to become a Senior Apprentice, which will be mandatory for my career. They'd prefer I don't work at all, but may concede me working part time.

So I'm looking at taking a huge financial shortfall, probably within the next year. And, this relative is very likely also looking at a reduction in income within that same time frame.

I am uneasy. I know the right answer: tighten the belt, boost the capital and the earning power...but I feel very anxious right now.

Frugality at it's finest (and funniest)

January 8th, 2008 at 11:07 pm

If you haven't had a chance to check this out, go over to the getrichslowly.org blog for the entries for the ultimate cheapskate's contest. The contest is over, but the stories are really good. Some of them are kind of ordinary, and some have a touch of the scammer, but some of them are just jawdropping, and there are some really funny ones too.

My computer's being bratty, but look for the ones with dental floss, or roadkill. Wink

Unpacking boxes, begging favors

January 6th, 2008 at 06:12 pm

After considering, reconsidering and boring everyone rigid with the topic of my potential move, I've decided to stay put for a little while. I have too much stuff to make a quick or easy move, and there's nowhere so compelling that I need to bend over backwards to get, especially with the Guild starting up again soon.

One of the commenters in the previous post thought it might be better to move to the apartment that comes available when the Guild shuts down for the equinox. I agree: it would be handy timing. I'm going to keep purging my stuff, because that's the hardest part. It's easy to toss stuff in boxes, but it's a lot quicker when you already know what you plan to leave behind.

But staying put doesn't solve my original problems: quick/cheap to the Guild and food that's not hot-plate cuisine.

So I started calling in favors. I talked to one of the Scriveners in the Alchemist's ward, and he may allow me to use his Guild's transport permits for the next few months. It's really hard to get this: you pretty much have to wait a long time, AND know someone. But for me, it would be a big weight off my shoulders, because my parent Guild doesn't give transport, and the public caravans don't run as late my classes do.

Finally, I've started the new year's finances: I think it's going to be the year of giving my self an allowance, and leaving the debit card at home: it's too easy to replenish the $20 in my wallet when I can go to the ATM.

So the current goal is more manageable: staying within the budget and using the surplus to reduce debt. I allowed for trip money to visit relatives, and for a big trip I'd like to take in 2009. But I've allocated every dollar to a given category and I want to stick to that.

Revisions of Decisions....

January 2nd, 2008 at 07:05 pm

So I contacted the landlord of the apt that's losing the current tenant (mentioned in the last post.) He told me (love the lovely Skype) that he's out of the country and won't be back for several weeks. As such, he doesn't want to enter in a lease with me until he returns.

This is problematic, because I really want to move before the Guild sucks all the oxygen from the room. When I said as much, he offered to let me take the place now, and do the final paperwork on his return.

This makes me super antsy. Basically it's a huge issue of trust: if I'm not on a lease, I might start paying what the current tenant pays, but the landlord has the option to raise the rent when the paperwork is finalized. Currently, the rent is at the peak of my desired price range, and if I move there, I really won't have the time to move again for several months. So I'd have to accept the lease at a higher rate than I want to pay.

The other option is to wait until he returns, and take the time to get myself properly ready for the move. I've only just started cleaning and purging: I have a ton of stuff. We've left it open for a few days, while I mull it over.

In the meanwhile, I called another place, where I heard had a vacancy. I'm not sure of the price range, but a little birdie told me that there will be 2 vacancies by spring, and one of them is teeny, so hopefully the cost will be managable.

Life might be easier if I had a roommate, but after looking at the numbers for the person who offered, I'd still be at the top of the price range.

So I recrunched the numbers, and found that by moving to the first apt, I would be paying about 1300/year more than what I currently do. By moving to the second apt, it's about 800/year more.

So I'm super bummed. A one-time extra 1300 applied to one of my debts will (due to interest) allow me to pay it off like 15 months earlier.

So now I'm looking at the current place (shivering) and trying to figure out how I can make this workable. Is it a case of gutting it out, gazelle-intensity style? Or just being penny-wise and pound-foolish, as this place would be reduced to the most basic function: just place to sleep? I can already tell, I'll be stashed away in Gryffindor Tower because it's too blasted cold in my room.

I need to do well this session, and I don't have time for my environment to be a distraction.

I've got one apt in the bag, the super-tiny one mentioned previously. This will cost me an additional 800 in the year, plus the fact I'll have to pay double rent for the month, because I haven't yet given my landlord notice. I kind of wish I hadn't seen my relatives, because I could have used that time to pack. I feel like if I were ready to go right now, the decision would be easier.

I'm wondering if's just smarter to put a little extra love into the current digs (as in, hire a pro) and stay put for a few more months, and hope that the low rent doesn't come at the price of my sanity.

Spending to Save?

January 2nd, 2008 at 12:01 am

Warning: rambling commentary ahead:

Lately, I've been under a lot of pressure to perform. Luckily, it's all self-imposed, but it doesn't stop the feelings of being unprepared to do a really important job.

So I've been doing some self-monitoring, to see where my weak spots are. One of the big ones is that my current living situation isn't really that great: it's too far from where I need to be, and it's pretty ramshackle. It's a "studio", which means the plumbing is iffy, the heating is bad, and the kitchen is non-existent.

So I've been looking around, and I've found a couple of options.

But, it means juggling the trade-offs: the choices are size, price, quality and privacy, but you can't get all the options.

I found a high quality place, good price, but with the square footage of a postage stamp. This would be ok, but it's really dimly lit (only 2 small windows.)

Another is high quality, a good price bright and airy, but I'd be living with someone. I have strong feelings about cohabitation: if I have to pick up someone's dirty socks, I'd better get something in return, you know? Also, I'd be pinch-hitting for someone who left mid-season, so my lease would only be 6 months. And then the other guy would be moving, so I'd have to find someone new.

The third is good quality, good price, light, location, and not a postage stamp size...but unavailable until March. Guild starts up at the end of January, and I really don't want to move mid-session.

The last...well, I'm not sure about the last. It's a good size, bright and airy, looks clean, good location. But the current tenant is in a rush to leave (family problems out of state) and I'm afraid I'm rushing in as well. There's no laundry on site, which isn't so bad, as I use coin-op now (but on site)...but it's off street parking, which might be.

And, the total cost is 50 more a month than I pay now, because I could put my minimum transport cost into the rent.

I know that's only 600/year, but I'm worried. What if I hate it, or it's really not that great? The current tenant was really nice: I liked him and he seemed honest. But I'm afraid I'm making a bad decision. I've had my current landlord for years now, and I love him. I just don't love the place. He's said that I can build in a kitchen, but the city disallows it, and I'm really loathe to break the rules.

But I worry: what if I lost my job? Right now, my rent is low and it's all the other things (transport, high grocery bill) that add the cost. But moving will mean that the rent itself is higher. So I'm antsy. And then there's the parking...other people do it, but I've never had to before.

I guess I'm afraid to take a chance, but things really have to change for me. It was so cold in here, I had to run the space heater for a few hours before I take off my gloves -- a big impediment when you've got Alchemy work to do. And even though I work the daylights out of an electric skillet, I've only managed to make one meal at a time, which makes it hard for me to set aside meals for my busy weeks, and I skip meals or get carryout a lot. It feels like a bad Victorian play, all chilblains and gruel, lol.

But I'm not sure I'm making the right decision...is it better to just take the chance and see what happens? Or stick with a situation that works poorly, but is a known quantity?

Plans and Plans

January 1st, 2008 at 04:57 pm

Whooboy. It's been crazy.

First off, the Guild's winter session ended, and I nearly lost my shirt in the process: my first Christmas gifts were passing marks in my final tallies.

Before the ink had dried on the reports, I went off to see my family. I had told everyone that my Christmas gifts to them were my presence (plane tickets), but that well-intentioned plan didn't stand up to the Giftmas onslaught.

I will never. ever. EVER! wait until the last minute to gift shopping. I felt like I'd been robbed by brigands. Not only did I end up buying more than I planned, but because I was away from home, I didn't use my discount at the Souk to drop the total cost. OUCH.

Never again. Even if it's little token gifts, I'll get them throughout the year, and avoid the sticker shock b!tch-slap I got from the Mall. Luckily, I used a debit card, so all the cost is paid at the time of sale.

Even so, I see a few bean&rice dinners this January.

The financial plans for this year are very much like that for the previous: I need to check and update my totals, and go from there.

I spent 2007 working hard, but not working smart. In 2008, I want to work hard and work smart, and really knock out those goals.

Black Friday at the Souk

November 23rd, 2007 at 01:16 pm

I'm on holiday from the Guild, and even though I have a TON of work to do, agreed to pull a shift at the Souk.

I haven't been there in months, and there have been a few changes. Now, all the wenches have earpieces and microphones, and we've finally moved into the new millenium by adding our inventory online. So there's a little less rowdy energy, and a whole lot more hustle.

It's wierd, being back. You see a lot of the "Christmas Machinery" at work -- there's a big push to buy, buy, buy. And everyone is out shopping, so the place is jam-packed. Tempers are already starting to flare: demanding and annoyed customers, crying children. The wenches have already started the holiday back-stall venting.

There's so much pressure to get the perfect gift, but I wish there were as much focus on the everyday gifts: patience, courtesy, kindness. I have to admit, I'm not displaying as much as I should be.

I found myself getting really frustrated with a customer who wanted to pick up an order that hadn't come in yet. She'd been (mistakenly) told it was in a few days earlier, and had come back repeatedly to see if it had arrived. It still hadn't, and she kept asking me why she had been told earlier that it was. I was getting frustrated (because it still hadn't arrived, and I had no clue as to who had spoken to her earlier,) she was getting frustrated (because she didn't understand why it hadn't arrived,) and of course, trying to find a phoenix at this time of year is well...let's just say she'll have to wait for her order to come in. But I looked all over the Souk, just because you have to show the effort. So we tell her (again) that she doesn't need to come back in and check - we'll call her when it comes. She leaves, not thrilled.

So now, we're all totally annoyed: spending too much time with one shopper takes away our attention from the other people who need our help. And as we grouse about the whole situation, we realize that if this lady has been in a few times already, and isn't quite getting the concept of the phrase "it's not here yet" that maybe she's not being sucky, but maybe a little dotty instead?

And then we all felt like jerks, complaining about this little old lady who just wants a phoenix for her grandson. And even if she was being sucky, why let it get us all down?

And as we get this revelation, we get the midmorning report about our sales rate, and how we need to start pushing dragon's teeth, and the sale on leopard spots, and we have be faster in our transactions, because we're not making enough money. And it just bothers me...isn't this supposed to be the season of joy, and of being thankful?

It's hard to feel thankful when it's just reduced to the dollars, instead of the individuals. I hate the pressure that people put themselves under to equate spending with love. Because when they treat that like a number, and we treat them like a number, well...it's just not how I want to live.

And did I mention how my suggestion to not buy me Christmas gifts was met with a polite silence? In spite of the fact that a few family members are having trouble paying the rent? Oy vey.

Investments don't always = money

November 10th, 2007 at 03:21 pm

A few months ago, I started a project for the Guild-- I needed to fill up some gaps in my courseload, and so asked to do an independent assignment. It took a while to find anyone to agree to this: most of the Senior Crafters have heavy workloads of their own, so supervising a stray apprentice is really not something they have time to do.

When I finally found someone to take me on, I was thrilled -- I needed the project to fill out my course hours and keep my Guild Aid. I decided on an Illuminated Manuscript...a stretch for my abilities, but well within my general interest.

But between the responsibilities of the Guild, the Forum and the Souk, plus my total lack of organization, I had put off the work until it was very nearly overdue.

So I pulled a few all-nighters, and fueled by coffee, carryout, panic attacks and sheer blind luck, managed to finish the first part of the assignment.

It was the biggest project of the type I had ever done, and I realized that by taking on such a big job, it gave me tons of practice and helped my skills improve.

But I still had to finish the second part: translation. Still, my old habits and workload hadn't changed, so it was a long stretch of procrastination before I touched the assignment again.

And this time, I hated it.

After so long, I could see the flaws in the illustration, and the places where a little more skill would have been really useful. I could barely even look at it, I hated it so much.

And on top of that, I still had the translation! So all of this took a few more espresso-powered nights.

So when I finished, I was totally burned out: a week of interrupted sleep, piles of laundry, money $$ on fast-food, and an overall feeling of being dragged through 10 miles of country roads.

A final look at the project made me feel annoyed: the work was ok, but could have been better, if I'd taken more time to get things done.

But I knew that I didn't really have the time...or did I?

Maybe the hour on Sundays I spent surfing the internet could have been spent practicing my illuminating/translating skills. Even a little bit of effort in these areas would have eventually given me a high enough skill to do the big jobs.

It reminded me about the discussions we have about money: how the few dollars saved by packing lunches, or using coupons helped build a fund large enough to cover the car repair, or the furnace malfunction.

It's easy to think of investment when it comes to tangible things: we can see the money in the coin jar or the bank balance at the end of the month.

But it's a little more abstract to think about the time we spend and where we spend it. I think about the manuscript I did, and I realize that even 20 minutes a day (which I waste just looking for socks in the morning) could improve my situation, in the same way that skipping the daily Starbucks could improve my wallet.

So I'm rethinking how I spend my time -- realizing that little steps do add up!!!

The Forum takes the lead

October 29th, 2007 at 07:27 pm

I haven't really talked about work much lately: the Guild consumes so much of my time, I barely have a moment to think. But I still have bills to pay, and to make that happen, I go to the Forum. Not so much at the Souk anymore - it just doesn't pay enough for full time, and the although the pay isn't high at the Forum, it does give dental, so it's an easy call.

My job there is of the low-level type, so I have very little status. I think that's a good thing: as a body, the Senate has an unforgiving eye, and staying low to the ground keeps me from their attention.

However, even the most lowly water carrier must show some evidence of work, inititative, and good execution of duties, and this must be submitted, in triplicate, to the Senate scribes.

And because of this requirement, I was summoned to their chambers and asked to give an account of myself: my strengths, weaknesses and plans to improve my failings.

I thought that an alarm clock, an IV drip of espresso and a bullet train could help...but I don't think the Senate is known for their humor in these cases. In fact, they strongly suggested that I do some cross-training: it's better for them to have a Jester with some skills besides juggling and joke telling.

So it has been decided that I will spend some time with the Forum Scribes, learning the arts of language, commerce and illuminaton. This is something I think may be very helpful for me: I know people that use these skills as their only employment.

I enjoy the Forum, and don't wish to leave, but it would be very nice to have some knowledge that I could do for pay in and out of the Forum. My hope was do switch my moonlighting efforts from the Souk to my own endeavors, but I didn't have the skills to do so. Perhaps I can change that, and switch my side title from "Wench" to "Freelancer". I'd never be able to do it full time (the hope being that I might one day work for the Guild,) but it might be more lucrative than mucking stalls.

Wake up calls

October 27th, 2007 at 10:25 pm

It's been awhile, I know it. :P

In any case, my buddy Rufus and I were discussing a friend's recent downturn of luck. This friend (Chris) is really struggling: recent job loss and high moving expenses. He's got a little side job right now, but it doesn't cover all f his bills, and Rufus has been helping him out: helping make a budget and spotting some cash here and there.

I don't know Chris very well, really only through Rufus, so when R was setting up C's budget, I stepped in it and tried to give some advice. The typical stuff: can he cut this expense, does he really need that expense, can he contact this creditor, can he get a roommate, has he looked over there for work. Both guys were nice about my meddling (meaning, they didn't tell me to stuff a sock in it,) but my suggestions weren't able to be done.

Later, Rufus filled me in on Chris's backstory. Specifically, that Chris's troubles were pretty far reaching: high debt (student loan and credit cards), crazy interest rates, overdraft fees, poor health (and uninsured), and now living in a sketchy area and the car had just broken down. The current situation was an emergency that had reached the chronic state.

Rufus and I talked about how easy it was to slip from stability to insolvency, and my anxiety was increasing with every word he said. The thing was that Chris had no money in savings, was operating in the red even before the job loss and the move, and had no concept of budgeting. So he'd been walking on the tightwire without a safety net, and it felt like I was staring out the window at a man plummeting to earth. Chris himself is a wreck: in a bad place emotionally, which makes the whole job thing even harder.

The thing is that, with a few minor changes, Chris could have at least had a safety net. Rufus made a preliminary budget (before the job loss) which showed the fat in Chris's budget. Which meant that Chris had been spending that amount (and not realizing it) before the budget was made. After it was pointed out to him, he didn't want to change it: he said it was just a few luxuries here and there. Say 100.00/month. But it adds up: you can save it, or bleed it away, but it adds up.

Rufus was saying that he (R) had been lucky: he'd managed to put away a little $$, so if things went sour, he'd be ok for a while. And he has a skill set that's really flexible -- he can go anywhere for work, and find it.

The entire conversation scared me, because I know I've been more like Chris than like Rufus. Thoughtless spending, not planning, no real program for eliminating my debt, and my skill set is not at all adaptable. There are more guild members than guild work. And since the guild has been giving me aid, and the extra $$ has lulled me into a false sense of security.

Right now things are good for me. But I can't plan that it's a permanent case. I don't want to have to worry that I've been out of work for months, and that if it weren't for my friends, I'd be on the street.

I know that I'm neither organized nor disciplined, as a rule. I'm just really not. But I know it's not an excuse, and that I haven't made it easy for myself to do the "right" thing. A little preparation/planning and observation of my weaknesses (like the online billpay) would make the good choices a lot easier to do than the bad ones.

I don't want to be like Chris.

This is a long post, sorry.

Internet Bill Pay?

July 30th, 2007 at 01:06 pm

Ok, on recommendations on my last post, I'm going to consider online bill paying. I just talked to the one problem creditor: apparently I missed a payment for one month along the line. They got a recent payment, but that meant that as time progressed, I was one off. So it's all fixed now, and they do have online payments.

I have to check on the other two creditors and with my bank. I use a debit card for the bill paying account, so I could even make phone payments if they don't do online. I think that might be helpful too: I can make a list of the contact info and just call it all in on payday.

So thanks for the advice! Any tips are greatly appreciated!!

Potential Pitfalls

July 29th, 2007 at 09:49 am

Problem 1: a consistent bill-paying schedule. Iím really haphazard with checking my mail every day and my house is a paper explosion on the best days. Also my debts require that I return the statement that comes in the mail with my payment and I hate it: it means that if for whatever reason, I canít put my hands on the actual statement, I canít pay it right then.

Also, my payments come due at different times in the month, but I pay all my bills at payday. So there are some that come early, and others that come late. I donít know if I can make phone payments, and Iím leery of auto-debits from my bank accounts. Iíve heard horror stories about how inadvertent multiple payments send an account bouncing all over the city, incurring steep fees.

But honestly, Iím a super-disorganized person, mentally and physically, so keeping track of stuff like this is definitely not my strong point. I always say Iím just going to buckle down and be more disciplined, but I think I also need to make my situation a little easier.

When I had more debts, and no real payment plan for any of them, I drafted letters that I had saved (on disk). The letters had my account information, plus a comment about how much was being sent each month. I liked having the letters saved on computer, because I can find the computer a lot easier than I could find the letters from my creditors. But I didnít like having to wait until I got to a computer and printer (I donít have one at home).

So I made a set of coupons and labels for each of my bills. They wonít have the current balance, but my debt payments are the same each month and my utilities are pretty constant each time. I can keep the coupons, labels, envelopes and stamps in a folder at home, and then all I need to do is transfer money from my checking account into my bill paying account each payday. This is easy for me, because I can do it by ATM.

Iíll have to get on a different schedule though: all the bills will have to be paid early, instead of near on time. It will take a small removal of $$ from the E-fund to do this, but Iíll be able to replace it by the end of the month. Of course, this comes on the heels of the deposit I made to the e-fund just a few days ago. Frown


July 29th, 2007 at 09:21 am

It looks like with my total debt load (not including what the Guild has deferred) the original payoff dates for my debts will be as follows:

Debt A = April 2012 (which is INSANE)
Debt B = Jan 2008
Debt D = October 2009
Debt E =(Deferred)
Debt F = Feb 2009

This isnít going to work, because by 2009, the deferment will be over and Iíll have to start paying on another 6.7K. Also, Iím hoping that by this time next year, Iíll be in a new Guild, or on my way to one. So my income will probably drop signifigantly.

My two goals are to just have just debts D and E by August 2008, and to be disciplined enough that sticking to a budget is second nature to me.

Obviously, the second goal takes dedication and effort, but the first one can be achieved (hopefully) with snowflaking. By snowflaking for 12 months with no increase in income I can do the following damage:

Debt A = Jul 2011 (still unacceptable)
Debt B = Oct 2007
Debt D = no change
Debt F = Feb 2008

Thereís a possibility that I can get some $$ from the Guild (not a loan, but $$ outright). If I do, Iíll need some for robes and cauldrons, and then maybe the laptop. But Iíll be able to divert the other into debt. Optimistically, if I can do that for about 5 months, then I can pay off Debt A by 2009. Still not ideal, but workable. Iím thinking that ultimately, unless I want to work at the Souk, I might need to really tighten the grocery budget.

Another option is to work at the Souk just for holiday money. And then I wonít need to include that category into monthly savings. I can work

I feel a lot better by working this out. I donít know if I can stick to it, but the target date is to have enough paid off so if my income drops by this time next year (if I continue with the Guild, it may) then Iím hopefully in a workable position.

Preliminary Calculations

July 29th, 2007 at 09:20 am

So Iíve reworked my budget (to December), and Iíve tried to be realistic with the amounts I have for each category. Iíll have to do it for at least a month to see if Iím on target, but I think that Iíve come close to what Iím likely to spend. I gave myself some cushion in groceries and also entertainment, but eliminated the amounts for the e-fund for now.

I also tried to anticipate the things Iíll probably need by the winter. Some I can get used, like a coat, and jeans. But others, like shoes and a comforter Iíll get new (my apartment is FREEZING at night in the winter, and used bedding just seems icky to me.)

It looks like if I follow this plan, it will free up some money to apply to my debts. If I decide to take additional shifts at the Souk, Iíll be able to earn more, but Iím not counting that as part of the total figure, because Iím still on the fence about working so much while in the Guild.

One major change was that I removed the savings for a new computer. Having one would greatly help (now, I just have access to one, but I donít own it) but unless I can get some $$ from the Guild, Iíd like to hold out for a little while longer. Iíd definitely consider getting a used one, if I could trust the source, but I donít know anyone personally whoís selling.

Potential pitfalls:

Christmas, groceries (eating out because I didnít pack food.)

At the Blackboard

July 28th, 2007 at 03:20 pm

So I think I spoke a little too soon regarding my one troublesome debt. It looks like it's a problem in a different way I expected -- so there's the problem I knew about and another one I hadn't anticipated.

I'm hoping I can straighten it all out, but the reality is that with my current payment arrangement, I'm barely making a dent -- I'm barely paying the interest. This made more sense when I had so many other debts to pay, but I've gotten rid of some since I started the payment plan. However, I was also taking home more $$ because I was working two jobs. I can't really do that right now.

So, I'm looking at all the figures. Currently, I have some (not as much as I'd like) money in the e-fund, plus a little at hand cash in case of emergencies. All together, that's nearly 1,000. So I'm going to quit adding to that, and start seeing how I can quickly pay off these other debts. I really want this all to just be finished, but I know that it's going to take time.

So I'm trying to find the balance between speed and continuity: there's a payment rate that will pay off these debts, but won't leave me eating ramen for 2 years. Because I know myself: I'll eat ramen for one month and then crave steak.


July 27th, 2007 at 09:17 am

So a few posts ago I mentioned that one of my debts was looking really ugly. So I pulled some of my savings together to address it, mustered up a tiny scrap of courage and called them.

Luckily, the brass knuckle squad was having a coffee break, because I got a nice lady on the phone. She told me I should send in the payment for the amount due right now, but that the late fees would be billed to me later on -- typically, that takes them at least 6 weeks.

So I'm wondering what my best course of action is with the extra $$ I have at hand. Note: this is extra for now -- I will have to pay it later, but by that time I will have earned the money back.

Should I:

1. Pay down (not enough $$ to pay off) another debt?
2. Put the money back in the DebtSucks fund and continue on current plans?
3. Put an early deposit in the untouchable e-Fund?

At the least, it needs to be moved from checking, immediately. Otherwise I will spend it. I'm not that disciplined yet to leave it alone when it's so accessible.

edited -- I've decided to add to the e-fund (as it's currently beneath what I'd like it to be.)

Refocusing the efforts

July 26th, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Ok, so I've got a ton of things I'd like to accomplish, but the focus of a gnat. So I've decided to address my biggest short term goals (short term meaning less than 6 months.)

In regards to my finances, this is what I think I must do by December 31 (all debts listed in sidebar):

1. Plug the leaks in my budget.
2. Pay off Debt B entirely
3. Reduce Debt F by 1/2, bringing it to $500.
4. Increase E-fund by 50.00/month.

A careful assessment of my goals shows me that if I can do #1, the rest should fall into place. So that's the first step: really targeting those areas that result in overspending. One of those is eating out, so packing lunches consistently, and having healthy snacks in the house are key.

I know I should probably work more on paying off debt than building an e-fund. However, I only have $500 in the account, and I'm the sole breadwinner. I'm afraid that if something happens to me, I won't have any $$ to fall back on.

There are things that I want to have: a new coat, a laptop, some stuff for my place, but these aren't necessities. So I'm saving for them, but I'm focusing on the goals.

Playing with fire

July 23rd, 2007 at 03:47 pm

Lately, I haven't been on top of anything.

I'd like to blame it on the Guild, and that's partly true: the added workload is a lot for me to handle. But it's a necessity, and so I can't really use being busy as an excuse. Still, I feel like I've got a clean pair of socks in the morning, I'm a hero.

So all the little householdy things like packing lunches and catching the cheap transport rather than the expensive have really fallen by the wayside. Plus, I haven't been keeping track of anything: not the money coming in, and definitely not the money going out.

Last year at this time, I was working like someone just invented the concept of "jobs" and I was really trying to reduce my debt load. I did that, which freed up additional $$ that I planned to use to either 1) stop working at the Souk or 2) pay off more debt.

But I didn't really plan for, or anticipate what my spending issues were: what behaviors got me into debt in the first place. As they say: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

This month, I've gotten nasty-grams from three different debt-holders. One of them was fixed with a simple telephone call, one with a quick check in the mail, but the third one is already looking really thorny. But the stupidest thing is, in both cases, I had the $$ to send them. I just didn't do it. And not only did I not do it, I spent the money I was supposed to send them. I earned it back, and I have it now, but I could have sent it straight away. I didn't, and that scared me.

I've had a rocky relationship with money, from the very start. No one in my immeidate family is what I'd call responsible with $$. I'd sworn I didn't want to live that life, and I remember the sick-gut feeling of knowing that there's not enough money, and that people aren't going to care why that's so. I've been working to fix this issue, but not enough: a lifetime of sloppy habits take effort and care to break.

I'm taking another look at my "system": checking for leaks and pitfalls. I know now that my biggest money drain comes from a few isolated issues that I have to address, and that the fact I'm making more $$ means I have to be more careful, not less. The reality is, even though I'm not in the same debt area I was last summer, I'm still very much in the red. Im hoping that I've got a little bit of grace to fix the current screwups, but I really don't want to be making the same mistakes over and over in my life. If nothing else, I want to be assured that when I go on auto-pilot (because if things go well, my life will be even busier than it is now), I've got a straight course set.

Comfort Spending

July 11th, 2007 at 05:52 pm

So I've been spending more time with the Guild. And it's kicking me in the teeth, really. Currently, I'm doing some accelerated work: Double Potions, and it's with the Slytherins.

Needless to say, I HATE IT. I really do. I don't understand the material, I'm a complete fumble-fingers, and I've very nearly broken my cauldron and set my robes on fire. I have almost been reduced to tears every time I enter the dungeons. And I'm wondering how long it will take for nearly-tears to be actual tears, because I'm defintely a Neville Longbottom in this scenario.

Unfortunately, Potions is a fundamental skill for any member of the Guild, so I have to grit my teeth and just keep trying.

But I'm finding that (besides the queasy-stomach feeling I get when I've gotten the answer wrong, again,) I'm feeling a strong urge to consume. From sticky-sweet pastries to chick-lit magazines, I'm wanting a level of distraction that isn't really what my budget needs right now.

So far, I've been trying to limit my spending, but there's that little voice in the back of my head that whines, "but you were working so haaaaarrrd! You deserve to buy a muffin, Thai carry-out, a new CD, a Porsche!"

Ok, well not the Porsche, but I did have carryout and I was definitely talking myself into a CD, until I realized that I had to you know, pay rent this month.

The worst is that I'm rarely at the Souk anymore: the Guild is sucking all the oxygen from the room, and I can't really manage one well, much less both. So I feel a lot of pressure to perform right now. And that's making the situation a little worse: the more pressure, the greater desire for comfort, and by indulging it -- more pressure to better manage spending.

Just venting, I guess, but does anyone else do this kind of retail therapy?

edited: The references here are from Harry Potter. Smile

Drinks, Part III

July 6th, 2007 at 04:45 pm

Ok, so the Coffee Trials are over, and if you want to cut to the chase, scroll to the end of the post! Smile

I tried using coarsely ground coffee instead of fine ground coffee and I'm really not seeing an appreciable difference in taste.

In fact, it seems counter-intuitive to me that a coarse ground is going to extract more flavor (using the logic that a smaller particle is more easily saturated by the water, and will release more flavor as a result.) Also, it's a little harder to really ballpark the volume of coffee to water: a large ground takes up more space than a find ground of the same weight. Basically, a pound of coffee, ground fine takes up less space than if it's coarsely ground and since we're eyeballing how much water to add, it's a little harder (for me) to get the strength I wanted.

This is just a guess, but I think I'm going to switch back to fine ground coffee, if for no other reason than sometimes I want to drink the coffee hot, and when I do, I use a fine ground.

And, I decided that diluting the toddy with 1/2 water was too weak. So here's the final answer for iced-brew coffee:


* 2:1 ratio of water to coffee (fine ground, dark roast if you're me!)

* Put it in a cup, sticck it in the fridge, go to bed or something.

* In the morning, filter the coffee (I poured the coffee sludge into an automatic drip and used the drip's filtering basket.)

* The remaining liquid (toddy) is superconcentrated. I like cream in my coffee, so I've been adding that, and then adding water to dilute it to taste. I'm finding that about 3 parts toddy to 1 part water is what I prefer. Don't come crying to me if it leaves you with a mohawk on your chest.

* Add sweetener. If you're using plain sugar, you might add it to the water you're using to dilute the coffee. I like using the sugar syrup (there's a link posted in another Drinks post to show you how.)

* Drink, and hope you don't get the shakes. Then drink some more, it's July!

Note: cold-brewed seems to take about 1/3 more coffee than hot brewed. So if you're really cutting costs, brew it hot and cool it overnight. It's still yummy, either way.

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