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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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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!!!

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.

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

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.)

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


June 6th, 2007 at 03:51 pm

I am not going out to eat tonight. So I'm saving $10.00.

That's all!

A not so drastic move

May 30th, 2007 at 01:06 pm

I've decided to move to a new apartment. Currently, I live in a cave on the mountaintop (at least that's what it feels like sometimes!) It's a tiny studio space, barely enough room to open a door and shatter a window. But it's enough room for me and 10 lbs of stinky socks, and the tiny space translates into a tiny rent. Plus it's in a good location: equidistant between the Forum and the Souk (in the sense that all roads lead to Rome.)

So why the switch?

I'm spending a lot less time at the Souk these days, and much more time doing the work of the Guild. Most of my nights are spent in the libraries, and I'm finding that my commute is getting problematic.

Plus, I'm finding that living in a cave and dodging out at night doesn't lend itself to either money-saving or better eating practices. The biggest expenses I have at this point are transportation and carryout. It's really just silly how much money I spend in these categories.

So I found a little studio apartment within public transportation of the Guild, not too much difference from what I pay right now. The only problem is that I have to come up with the $$ for the moving expenses and a few household items that I aren't provided in the new place. It's quite a bit of capital for me to raise up front, but I have a little $$ put away (and of course, the Souk keeps her doors and arms wide open).

Still, I think that the math works: even with these purchases, I'll be paying what I'm currently paying plus I'll cut the commute time/cost down.

Also, I think that in this location, I'll be able to have healthier habits (more time at home = more meals at home.)

I'm a little nervous, but I hope that the move will pay off overall.

Boys and Bills

August 28th, 2006 at 12:29 pm

So I met again with the Game Gang last night. We switched off from Go and started Cribbage. Idris had me play Colin, his young nephew who learned the game from his Uncle. Lucky boy -- Idris is a good teacher and Colin totally kicked my behind.

I must be a glutton for punishment, because I eventually asked Idris if he'd like to play a hand or two. As he was repeating the example set by his nephew, we got to talking and I realized that Idris is not just a cute guy, but a nice one. An entertaining one with a sly wit and an easy smile. And now I'm sitting there, losing like it was a moral imperative, and grinning like a six year-old with a bag full of cupcakes.

As you know, I moonlight as a wench. What you may not realize is that the job requires a fair amount of social skills. We don't sell air or kidneys at the Souk: money spending happens out of desire, not necessity. So part of what we sell is customer service: the attitude and personality that makes shoppers want to buy, and to do it from us rather than next door at the Agora. A casually flirty attitude is part of the standard-issue uniform, and we learn fairly quickly how to chat up a customer and subtly lay down the charm.

So I can sell the latest bridles, or convince you to extend the warrantee on a GPS system for the last llama you bought, but I seem to falter when it comes to promoting my own agenda. I felt and probably acted like a middle-schooler, unsure if I should give the boy a smile or a kick in the shins to get his attention.

Unsure of what to do, I called in a ringer: Ash's brother Zack. And in a moment of true loyalty, he gave me some tips on the inner workings of the male mind. One of the suggestions he made was to revamp my wardrobe. Typically, my style runs to polyester leisure suits, but Zach tells me that guys don't dig that. He recommends girlyfying it up a bit: some belly shirts, maybe a little cleavage, some perfume.

I'll do anything once, so I snuck off to the Agora this morning and ran around wild for a bit, spraying myself with perfume and trying on new clothes. For a second, I felt like I was Paris Hilton, but I must really be Paris Motel 6 because the price tags brought the escapade to a screeching halt. I saw perfume that cost more than a month's worth of groceries, and some of the clothes looked like thrift-store deals at a 500% markup. My mom always told me to be myself, and at the prices I saw this morning, I'm thinking she gave excellent advice.

I can probably pick up a cute pair of pants at the Souk. The ones I have are worn, so it's a justifiable expense. As to the cleavage, I think I'll leave that to the imagination. I talk a big game, but I lack the follow-through, if you get my drift. But Zach insists the perfume is a must. I'm not sure how I feel about spending that kind of cash, though.

I wonder if Idris likes the smell of dryer sheets, toothpaste and soap? Smile

Silly Mistake

August 21st, 2006 at 07:46 am

I hung out with some of the guys in the Souk on Saturday night so waking up for the early Sunday shift was a killer.

Usually, I try to pack a lunch the night before, but I dropped off to bed with barely enough time to find clean underwear, much less make a meal. I had gone grocery shopping on Saturday morning, and thrown the bag in the fridge without unpacking it (the joys of single life) so I grabbed the bag, shoved it into my backpack and went tearing off to work.

It was a crazy day. I mean, just flat-out nuts. One customer went ballistic after her llama set off the security gates (we forgot to take off the bridle tags) and another had a meltdown because we stopped giving discounts on tiger cubs (now it's dragon eggs). The wenches kept running out of change in their aprons, and the rain was interfering with our intercom systems. It was getting stupid, and I couldn't wait to get home to a plate of warm cookies and a good novel -- both waiting paitently for my return.

So I finally get home, and snuggle up cozily to my reading and treats, and have a relaxing evening until I fall asleep and wake up on Monday with barely enough time to find a clean pair of socks.

On my way out of the door, I see my backpack. It's open. And inside? A bag of groceries. I had forgotten to put them back in the fridge when I got home from the Souk, and a week's worth of cheese, lunchmeat, mayo and yogurt sat out all night long. Part of me wanted to make a sandwich out of sheer perversion, but I think it must be hard to be defiant when you've food-poisoned yourself.

So it's PB&J for lunch today!

Freedom and Responsibility

August 19th, 2006 at 11:31 am

So I met with the Game Gang again last night. It's fun, but I still feel pretty akward because they all know each other and I'm the new kid. And I feel like a total tag-along because they've all been playing forever and I just learned quite recently.

But I finally got a chance to play with Idris, the person who had originally invited me to play Go in the first place. He's a really good player and just an interesting person (not to mention kind of cute Smile ). So as I was getting my requisite butt-whupping on the gameboard, Idris and I got to talking.

Idris is a pretty active guy, and he told me that he volunteers on a regular basis and that he often stops by at the Souk to pick up lunch on his way out. He also mentioned that he often visits some of the restaurants and coffee shops nearby to meet with friends. Then he told me that he's gone back to college to make a career change and when he finishes, he's thinking of moving overseas to teach English if he can't find a job right away.

He has a lot of interests and time to pursue them and it got me to thinking about how money can greatly influence how you spend your time. Idris had mentioned that the Go group sometimes meets at the Agora in the afternoons and maybe I could go. But then he noted that I work "a lot" and so maybe wouldn't have the time. He's right. I don't. I've been so focussed on getting out of debt that work takes up a huge portion of my life, and it's hard to imagine it might ever change even though strictly speaking, I'm working less now than I was before.

I have to admit, for a minute I was resentful of Idris -- not of him, but of his freedom. I just wanted to ask him: do you not work? Don't you have bills? How do you afford to have the days off and still have money to eat out, or go visiting? How do you do this? It's none of my business, but I was wondering -- how could I explain to a stranger (one that I was trying to impress) why I work so much?

Some people at the Forum see me in the Souk, so they know I work there. But the majority of people who see me in the Souk don't realize that it's not my only job. The few times I told people that I work 60+ hour weeks, they wanted to know if I was funding a drug habit, or do I have a kid to support, or what am I doing?

So I quit telling people. But now I'm meeting more people and it's hard to decline invitations because I can't get off work. Or that going to a restaurant is supposed to be a once-a-month thing. The people I meet in the Souk are fairly well off. I need to not feel out-classed, but sometimes I do.

I'm still focused on getting rid of debt though. It's too important to let feelings of akwardness stand in the way of that goal.


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.


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.