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Less Annoyed, More Poor

August 15th, 2006 at 02:29 pm

So I threw myself at the mercy of the Brass-Knuckle division and responded to the letter. To prepare myself for the inevitable shin-kicking, I tallied all of my monthly income and expenses. It was pretty depressing to see that with my income from the Forum, I'm just hitting the income=expenses with a very narrow margin. The money from the Souk makes a bigger difference than I'd like to admit sometimes.

Anyway, I crunched the numbers, and made a little report to explain the futility of using stones as a primary method of blood acquisition.

To my surprise, I got a very nice, polite lady who had predrafted out a payment plan that was pretty close to what I was already paying. They did just want to formalize what I was already doing (sending in monthly payments on my own), and commented that my situation was actually fairly common. She was really nice during an akward situation, which really made my day a lot better. Hopefully I can learn from her example to be gracious to others when they're all at odds.

Later, I went to pay the parking ticket, and had to admit that I never even saw it on my car. So this is a lesson to me: keep an eye on the meter when I'm out clubbing. Although, I'll be doing less clubbing, now that I'm short the $$.

Tomorrow, I'm going to contact the health rep -- I really hope I can get the total balance of the reimbursement account. I was really depending on that money. I guess I can pick up a few extra shifts, but that's the last option.


August 14th, 2006 at 09:58 am

I get my health insurance from my job at the Forum. Through them, I participated in the Flexible Health Spending accounts (where a certain amount is deducted from my pretax pay, and I can use it to pay off my health expenses.) It's a "use it or lose it" expenditure for each tax year.

This past year (probably exacerbated by my crazy work schedule) I had quite a few doctor's bills. I wanted to save my reimbursement as long as possible, so I could use the $$ to pay off a bill, or for rent, whatever.

I will never do that again. I submitted all my paperwork near the deadline, and I got my check in the mail a few days ago, BUT I was only reimbursed for 1/4 of the amount I had deducted. So now, I'm not sure what happened - did my stuff get lost, or did I send the wrong stuff? I had actually talked to the health plan rep and sent in exactly what she said, but I don't have a record of who spoke to me so I can't prove anything. Now I have to appeal the reimbursement, and there's no guarantee it will work.

Plus, I got a letter in the mail yesterday: evidently I had gotten a parking ticket a few months ago. Probably it either fell off the windshield or was taken off, because I never saw it. So now, the $$ has been tripled, because it's late. So I have to go to City Hall to give them the $$$ before I get arrested or whatever happens to you when you haven't paid a parking ticket you didn't know you had.

AND, one of the bills that I had been paying sent me a nasty-gram: I was told (verbally, and I'm realizing that verbal=big mistake) to send in regular payments even though it wasn't for the full amount of the bill. But this letter is looking very legalese, and a few days after I got it, I got a phone call from their brass-knuckle division. I wasn't home, so I called them back and left a message on how and where to contact me. I'm hoping that this is an opportunity to formalize a repayment plan rather than a chance to kick me in the throat or something.

Did I ever mention that debt sucks? Because it does. Frown

Wasting Frugality for a Good Cause?

August 11th, 2006 at 07:21 am

Yesterday, as I was leaving the Forum, a co-worker gave me two tickets to a concert at a nearby club. She'd gotten the tickets for free, but after a long, stressful week at work, she wanted to stay home and relax.

I haven't been feeling too adventurous lately, and had my own plans of staying home, but the option of a free night's entertainment was too good to resist. So I started calling around to see if they were free.

I don't really have a lot of friends: work consumes a giant part of my life right now so I haven't made the time to be social. The few people that do hang out with me are also busy with school or family, so my social circle is depressingly miniscule. I made some perfunctory calls, not expecting (or getting) any takers.

So yesterday, I felt the first sun-streaked rays of an epiphany: I need to get out more.

So that night, I decided to take a leap into the oblivion, and act on a half-extended invitation to learn to play Go at a nearby Corporate Coffee House O'Doom near the Forum. I'd never really hung out with this crowd before, and I know nothing about the game so I was really nervous. The group was very gracious, teaching me to play and giving me pointers.

After I'd been there for about an hour, one of the players mentioned some books I should get and how I should get my own set. They're talking boards and gear and I'm thinking, will anyone notice if I get this stuff from eBay? Mentally, I'm tallying up the costs of my new hobby, not to mention the possible investment of time and I'm wondering: how do people have a social life on the cheap?

I'll see how game night goes. If it's still fun after a few more tries, I'll hit the thrift stores to see if I can find anything there.

The Mercenary's Advice

August 9th, 2006 at 11:31 am

During the summer, a few college kids return to the Souk to earn a couple of bucks while classes are out. One of these is a buddy of mine named Josh. He's one of those scary-smart people: the kind that will stop mid-way through a knock-knock joke to make a comment about postcolonialism's effects on tofu. He's taken about 1 bazillion shifts, so I see him a lot lately. He's a good student and a good worker.

Anyway, Josh was telling me about how two other wenches (Irene and Alexa) were playing a trick on our supervisor by making calls to each other and pretending to be a customer looking for llamas. This allowed one of the girls to leave her stall and goof off somewhere else in the Souk.

My response: high dudgeon.

Why? Because it's annoying, immature and more importantly, when they goof off, I end up pulling some of their weight. At the end of the day, we've got to clean up the Souk, so you can imagine how I feel after scooping up more than my fair share of llama poop after hours on my feet. Not to mention that the manager got mad at me when she couldn't find the two of them.

So we're mucking out stalls, I'm frothing at the mouth about slackers and Josh stops me in the middle of the rant to blow my mind with this statement: it's pointless for me to work as hard as I do.

So I pick up the tails of my rant and start frothing again about work ethics, responsibility and personal integrity and Josh stops me again with: you don't get rewarded here by working hard - in fact, you get punished.

So I'm getting totally offended here because of course it's important to work hard: if you're going to do a job, do it right. I'm lucky to have the job at the Souk, for all my complaints. It's helping me get out of debt, and I get a discount on camels, plus free martinis before 9 am.

But then Josh says: If you're going to work hard, you need to correlate your effort with your pay. That doesn't happen at the Souk. It doesn't matter if you sell 10 llamas or 10,000 -- you get the same paycheck. Not only that, everyone else around you gets the same pay as you. Think about it. The only people who benefit from your extra effort and sales are the investors. You don't get anything.

So while the mushroom cloud in my head was settling and as I was on the floor picking up the remaining pieces of my brain, Josh kicks me while I'm down and says:

If you worked more for yourself, and put even a little of the effort into that as you did here, you would probably do better. If your work is successful, -you- get the benefit.

And Josh points out that yes, while we are both scooping the poop; he's using the money to help defray school costs, which is helping him succeed in his career. We both point out the merits of using the Souk to achieve my financial goals, and the fact that as a job, it's not a bad one.

But Josh makes a knock-out punch and concludes his sermon: take a look at the long term goals and invest in yourself at least as much as someone else.

I've been mulling his words (and coddling my bruised ego) and today, I saw a post that reinforced his words.

So my homework? Think of the value I can provide and what it might be worth. Not to be afraid to put my skills on the open market. And to put my foot in Irene's behind the next time I see her on the telephone.

About Me: What is a Wench? And Who is Whom?

August 9th, 2006 at 10:27 am

relisted post


For my part, more of one and two. That's what it feels like, at least (all that fetch and carry, kwim?). Not so much of three. I like to keep it clean -- this is a family show.

More than this, I cannot say. There's some stuff I'll keep on the hush hush, and my employment is one of those things. So all names and identifying features have been altered in this blog. I especially like using ancient history words, so you'll see a lot of that.

Ive updated this post for some terminology (read: aliases) I use a lot. I'll make more additions as necessary. Many thanks to Dictionary.com and Wikipedia for the defs.

Agora noun. A Grecian marketplace, the employer of scullery maids and a competitor of the Souk.

Ash biographical name. Ash (Ashleigh) is a bodyguard at the Souk. Built like an Amazon, she is my accomplice in mischief and mayhem. She has a twin brother named Zach.

Bactrian noun. A two-humped camel, sold in the Souk.

Bee Hive noun. Where I live.

Corporate Coffee House O'Doom place name. Where I meet people.

Dromedary noun. A one-humped camel, sold in the Souk.

Forum Romanum place name. Where I work by day. Occupation? Jester.

Game Gang biographical name. The ladies and gents that meet to play games. Right now it's Cribbage. The members of the game gang I know best are Idris, Ron and Kalhil. Added: Colin, Aldo, Dov.

Guild place name. An association of craftsmen, and the place where I apprentice. Currently assisting in elementary Potions, will hopefully be learning Alchemy, Herbology.

Idris biographical name. Idris is a cute guy, part of the Game Gang.

Keiko biographical name. My neighbor.

Modernus Universitas place name. A center for higher learning, slightly analogous to the Guild, but has a better football team.

Scullery Maid noun. The scullery is a small room adjoining a kitchen, in which dishwashing and other kitchen chores are done, and the maid is the girl that does the work. Scullery Maids to Wenches are like apples to oranges. They work in the Agora.

Rufus biographical name. A friend of mine. He has a friend named Chris, who is having a lot of money problems.

Souk noun. An Arabic marketplace. I moonlight here.

Wench noun. Who I am. v. What I do. Kind of like being called a Potter because you are a potter. Definition explained above.

Zach biographical name. Zach (Zachary) is Ash's twin brother, and my consigliere in matters of romance.

Works for Me Wednesday: Old Socks

August 9th, 2006 at 06:05 am

I love socks. I can never seem to find a matching pair when I want them, but I love them so very much. I buy them in packs, and I always seem to have a stray hanging around somewhere. I use them for loads of random stuff, and sometimes I even wash them.

My favorite use for old socks is to keep fruit from being bruised. I despise bruised fruit: I won't eat it if it's bruised, but I want to pack it in my lunch. So I put the fruit in the sock, and it stays nice and perfect for me. I do this with pretty much all fruit except citrus (cause it has a protective rind) and berries (because they get smooshy too easily.) Bananas, pears and apples are perfect for this treatment. I don't want to find berries smooshed in my toes, so I don't use little fruits. YMMV.

Anyway, if the thought of this makes you queasy, then there are other uses for old socks. I also use them as potholders, and as dusters (just stick your hands in and voila!) I guess I feel like my feet aren't too gross, so my socks aren't contaminated by working double-duty.

So if you're a picky eater and/or kind of a slob (like me, in both cases) then don't throw out an old sock! Smile

Snowflaking, defined.

August 7th, 2006 at 01:04 pm

Snowflaking, as I define it, is a process where little bits of "whatever" can accumulate to make a great impact. Like how snowflakes (little) make a snowball (bigger), which can get even bigger still.

I've seen this term used in talking about debt reduction: little amounts of surplus money go towards paying a bill, which causes it to be repaid sooner.

For example:

Sears Card = 600 w/minimum payment = 50, payoff =12 months
Car note = 2,000 w/min payment = 200, payoff =12 months
Visa = 1600 w/minimum payment = 100, payoff =16 months

But if you could squeeze out an extra 25/month, you could repay the first one in 3 months and do this:

Sears = 500-75 for 8 months = 0
Car Note = 2000-200 for 8 months = 400
Visa = 1600-100 for 8 months = 800

and in month 9

Car note = 400-275 (the 75 from Sears)=175
Visa = 800-200=600

Month 10

Car Note =175-175
Visa = 600-200-100 (from the car note) = 300

and in month 11

Visa = 300-300 = 0. So you get done 5 months early.

In cases where the debt doesn't accumulate interest, the math is very straighforward: whittle away at the smallest first and when it's done use the freed up $$ from the first debt to take chunks from the next one.

But often, debts aren't that simple. In this case the interest and the principal has to be factored in, and it may not be the best strategy to go from smallest-biggest or even highest interest first. I guess an easy way to ballpark it is to not snowflake the low balance, no interest debts and attack the smaller of the interest-bearing ones first.

I actually use a calculator to figure this out, because the difference in payment order can add or delete several months to the repayment time. This is partially because of the interest, but also because my snowflake amount may vary each month.

Here's the link to the calculator:
snowball. I like the basic one. If it works for you, give the dude a tip -- his spreadsheet can really save a lot of headaches.

And I got the link from this amazing blog:

It's your money. He's got other cool stuff too.

If I were better at computer programming (which is to say, if I could do it at all) I would write a program that would just do it for you. Maybe someone out there with higher brain wattage can tackle this job?

Budget tweaking

August 7th, 2006 at 11:22 am

Ok, so after crunching the figures for bit, I've decided to do the following:

* Pad the grocery budget a bit more, upping it to about 120/mo
* Drop a shift at the Souk, freeing up one night
* Use part of the money from there to snowflake my car
* Use the rest of the money for a freedom account money and a "slush fund"
* Redo the budget in 6 months

I know that I should budget so that I don't need a slush fund, but that hasn't worked well for me. With this set up, $50/mo goes for discretionary spending. I'll consider it as "use it or lose it" so if the $50 doesn't get spent, it goes into the emergency fund.

The goal for the emergency fund is 6 month's operating expenses, which for me, can be rounded up to 4,500 or down to 3,600 depending on how close to the wire I can go. Looking at that makes me realize that if I lived in "gazelle mode" I could cut another $100-$150 from the budget a month. But I don't know how I can trick myself into doing that. Maybe I should. Frown Hopefully, I won't have to find out the hard way.

In any case, the new budget is more workable. The freedom account will take care of intermittent, but required expenses like holidays, car servicing and clothes purchases. The biggest chunk now is car servicing: I want to change my tires for winter.


August 7th, 2006 at 08:57 am

I'm looking at the figures for the rest of the year, and I've made a few revisions on my plans. Originally, I had planned to stay on at my second job (approx 20 hours/week = about $450 total) for about another year. The money from there would go entirely to snowflaking.

I think this might be pretty unrealistic of me. There are a few things that I really need to do if I ever want to achieve my long-term goals, and a consistent 60+ hour workweek is really making that incredibly difficult for me.

So instead of the $450 I have planned, I'm going to budget for 200/month for snowflaking. Extra money earned will go to extras or for holidays, etc. I don't want to depend on earning at the maximum hours, because it's given me little leeway room.

At a targeted $200/mo snowflake goal, I can pay off 3 additional debts by January. I'll still be in debt, but up to my nose instead of my eyeballs.


August 7th, 2006 at 06:33 am

Although I'm able to pay off my one big debt on time, I think that it won't have the effect I wanted: I may have to pay a good part of a second debt before I can proceed with the Plan A goals. So I'm looking at Plan B too.

Where does the money go?

August 7th, 2006 at 06:33 am

My budget is pretty tight. Before I get paid, I write out the checks for all of my debts and get them ready for mailing. I typically pay as many of these as I can from the first half of my full-time job's pay. Then the rest of my pay goes for the household budget. For the most part, the money from my second job goes towards this one big debt I owe.

Most of my household expenses are fixed, or within a narrow margin: utilities, auto fuel and rent are pretty much the same every month. So I do all right with paying the bills on time, and theoretically I should be able to anticipate exactly the remaining expenses.

But I realize that I don't keep an accurate enough track of what I really do spend. I consistently overspend on groceries, and even though I shouldn't, I do eat out. I've really cut back on entertainment -- I generally use the library, but there's still some spending that happens each month.

I know that people say it's not what you make, but what you do with it -- but I'm so impatient to be out of debt that I feel like my pay isn't really doing much of anything. I digress here.

Anyway, a ballpark overview of my spending and my attitude reveals that because I don't account for the things I do actually buy, my budget tends to go off the rails and I waste money when I don't need to. I think I get this "I'm never going to make it" mentality that makes it easier for me to be less disciplined.

So I think I need to go back to the budget, with a more realistic mindset.

Tidying house

August 4th, 2006 at 08:44 am

I stayed up super late last night, trying for the 10,000 time to organize my place. The motivation? I ran out of checks and I was looking through all my old checkbooks to see if I had any extras. I found a few, and spent what seemed like forever going through old statements, bills, etc. I'm usually a DIY'er, but I think I might have to break down and use a shredding service, because I ended up with a huge box of stuff that needs to be destroyed.

One of my goals for 2006 is to get rid of all the extraneous stuff in my home. I have so much random junk, which is really ridiculous, as most of it was given to me by my packrat relatives. At the time I thought they were being helpful, but I think they felt guilty about tossing their stuff so they passed it along.

I was going to have a garage sale, but the items aren't that great and I really don't see myself doing it alone. So I'm packing some bags for the thrift store, and I'm rethinking my purchases: if I'm not going to use it a lot, I'm not going to get it.

How to make a dollar out of 59 cents

August 3rd, 2006 at 03:28 pm

So I was reworking the numbers after a crazy week visiting my family and I realize that the rest of August is going to be very very tight. I didn't really budget for the visit, and I guess my inner Paris Hilton took the reins of my spending. I got gifts for people, food, and evidently a Ferrari, because I'm so close to the red it's just crazy.

So now I'm back on the money diet, with a vengance. I sussed out all the figures, paid off the debt for the month, and now I'm left with the operating expenses. I see a lot of beans and rice in my future, which is probably good because although I spent like Paris, I ate like a linebacker.

So now, I have to be suuuperr good. And really disciplined. I think that I'm going to go ahead and pay out everything very soon, so there's not even the temptation to spend. Luckily, there's a lot of free stuff happening lately, and I have a lot of books that were given to me that I can read in the next few weeks so there's less incentive to spend.

Works for Me Wednesday: Coffee Tricks

July 26th, 2006 at 06:35 am

I really love coffee. I desperately need it to get me going in the morning. But sadly, I'm kind of a coffee snob: I have friends that work in Corporate Coffee Houses of Doom and I've fallen under the siren call of overpriced java. Home brewed stuff just doesn't taste the same.

But I've also coffee-jockeyed (not for the green mermaid) and I know that the differences between store and home-brewed coffee are so minor that even when you are too groggy to find your own toes, you can make a good cup. You can use a fraction of the money saved by eliminating the latte factor on your set-up, and soon you'll be making mocha-choka-latte-yayas with the best of them.

First off -- start with decent beans. Most major grocery stores carry a selection of whole beans under their own label, along with specialty brands like from the Green Mermaid. So if you're attached to a specific blend you can generally find it. Of course, you can always buy coffee in bulk from any coffee shop. I am a firm supporter of Fairly Traded Coffee, like Equal Exchange. The pricing on these can be a few dollars more per lb than the grocery store blends, but are on par with the coffeehouse blends. But as a pound of coffee goes a loooong way, I think it's worth the extra $$ to provide the farmers with a sustainable crop and wage.

Once you've gotten your beans, DO NOT GRIND THEM. Whole roasted beans keep their potency for (I think) a few weeks. Ground beans lose theirs after a few days. Most people get a pound of premium roasts, grind it, keep it in the freezer and use it for a month, but that doesn't stop the oil oxidation that occurs after the beans are split**, and you're left with a flat-tasting product that isn't as appetizing.

So you have two options: get a week's worth of ground coffee at a time. Or buy a little grinder and grind each pot fresh. This is what the coffee shops do: the coffee for each pot is premeasured, stored in an airtight container (in a cabinet) and then ground right before brewing. I think it's unwise to store the grounds in the fridge or freezer because they absorb odors.

It's unnecessary to get a fancy-schmancy ones grinder: unless you are making espresso, you can do fine with a regular one. If you are making espresso, there are plenty of online sites that can guide you through the home-brewing process. This can require you to be more careful with your grinding and brewing equipement, but it's still cheaper (in the long term) if you've got a cup-a-day habit.

If you're really feeling adventurous, you can always roast your own coffee -- this gives the freshest taste, and can be a good economical and ethical option. I've never done it, but it looks pretty easy and fun (you can even use a skillet or the stove).

If you like the speciality drinks, you can typically find the syurps for sale in the shops (or their equivalent in the supermarket.) These are typically artificially flavored and full of corn syrup, so if you channel your inner Martha and make your own flavorings, you can get an even better tasting (and better for you) result.

Good luck!

** oh yeah: the coffee oxidizes more quickly once its ground for the same reason ice melts more quickly once its crushed: more surface area (relative to volume) exposed to the air.


July 24th, 2006 at 06:32 am

I scrubbed the old site content -- I wanted to make some major changes to what I was talking about, and why. So this is pretty stripped down for now. Some of the old posts may be replaced in the future.

An update: I'm about $150 away from paying off one of my debts, which is about 2 months later than I had planned, but not too late for what I really needed to do. I'm cutting down on my hours at work, probably substantially.

Now that one big debt has been paid, I'll start building the e-fund and then snowflaking. So far, things are ok.

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