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Archive for July, 2007

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

Snowflaking

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.

Opinions?

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:

ICED BREWED 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.