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What's done is done

May 15th, 2008 at 08:21 pm

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

How I save on textbooks

January 20th, 2008 at 04:52 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!

Thanks to the Webmasters!

June 1st, 2007 at 10:20 am

I really like the new features of the blogs. It's so cool to be able to adjust colors. So thanks, webgurus!

Later that Same Year

December 19th, 2006 at 08:41 am

The past months have been...just surreal. To put it plainly for a change, I've been trying to clear an account that had been sent to collections. Since the summer, the collection agency has been stonewalling the application of a settlement offer - which meant, according to the creditor, the account hadn't cleared.

We'd called, emailed, practically sent a message in interpretative dance, but it seemed like luck was against me here. In fact it got so bad that at one point, after I'd called every day for about two weeks straight, a rep from the collection agency hung up on me. Then hung up on the original creditor when they called to see WTF was going on. I think it was some computer glitch, I don't know. But the upshot was that I was in line for some aid that would have covered out the remaining balance of the account -- but only under the terms of the settlement.

With the settlement not appearing on my records, I couldn't get the aid. Without the aid, I couldn't clear the account and that was going to be a hole in my tiny lifeboat.

So we go round and round and round some more: more calls, more emails, more tension headaches and nails bitten to the quick. Not to mention the stomach-churning feeling I got when they reported that (courtesy of the ghost in the machine) my account had been cancelled and reinstated which (due to the rules of the aid) would disqualify me from getting any assistance for 6 months. Cue stress-induced vomiting.

Or when I discovered that they'd overcharged me 3 times after I sent in a one-time-only electronic debit payment. That week's menu: peanut butter, lots of water.

But last week, I get a letter in the mail saying that I just needed to approve a wire transfer from the aid agency to the collection agency. I signed the forms and gave the courier some candy, and then sat, trembling for about 10 minutes.

By now, I felt like Charlie Brown, gazing down the field while Lucy balances the football and looks up with a beatific smile and the promise that this time, she won't yank it away, no really she won't.

So I waited until today to make a phone call.

And they said to me, in a briskly efficient voice, that they've made a wire payment, but maybe I should call the collection agency just to be sure?

And I call the collection agency and they say in a similar tone that while I had a balance with them last week, I don't have one today.

And my head feels kind of empty and quiet right now, which is crazy, because that little number -- that zero, that ending? That zero is a tiny little chance for me to make a huge change in my life. And I don't know if it's an anticlimax or the center of the storm, because I feel like I've accomplished everything but it's coming at a cost and a responsibility that I can't even articulate.

So I'm back from the palaces and the temples and returned to the mundane world. Not quite in the condition I left in, but with some added goals and priorities.

Of course I am still at the souk -- for now.

The Byzantine Empire

September 19th, 2006 at 12:08 pm

byzantine adj: of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation

The agents of the Medici are playing games with me. I've gone through 1,000 different offices and spoken to twice as many agents, but they still will not do what I need them to do: update my records.

This is a triviality of enormous consequence: my bills still show as unpaid. And until they are cleared from the records, I may not even make a request for an audience. I'm beyond frustrated and angry. Some of the people I've encountered have been helpful, but a few have been almost perversely determined to block me. Even the original creditor is unable to get them to move: Bob has contacted them directly, several times to indicate that yes -- this part is paid. But they refuse, and I don't know how to move them. I can't imagine what mountains will need to be moved to get this cleared off my credit report.

I've reinforced a committment against debt: I don't ever, in my life, want to have to put up with this kind of nonsense. It's one thing to be hassled when you can't pay, but quite another when you are actually trying to pay.

My goal for the next few months is to raise capital. At the worst case, the delaying tactics will prevent me from getting the help I need, in which case I'll have to come up with even more cash in the next few months. In any case, the settlement has reduced my debt by about 3.4k, which knocks 3.5 months off of my debt-reduction calendar.

However, for now, I'm still at the palace gates, wild-haired and raving, begging bowl at my feet.

keep your fingers crossed

August 30th, 2006 at 10:38 am

I go to plead my case to the Medici.

There is so much that depends on their decisions. If they consent to a patronage, so many doors may open. If they refuse, the doors stay shut. But the doors are already shut, so I lose nothing by my petition. Except the opportunity to pull out of this orbit -- to break out of the cycle I am in. No guarantees, just opportunities. I have sent along my letters of introductions, and wait for their counsel to speak to me.

I hope against hope: my mind soars while my stomach plummets.

What Happened Next

August 30th, 2006 at 08:01 am

So last night, before I went to bed, I made sure my checkbook (with the proper checks) was tucked away in my handbag. That was a good idea, because I slept poorly: I kept waking up with nightmares, and managed to turn off the alarm clock, which meant that I overslept and was late to the Forum. I'm running a little ragged today.

During a break, I went down to my creditors and tried to make a payment on my account. The lady in reception couldn't even see my balance, so she said that I need to see Bob, the late accounts guy in another office. I got scared and started to leave, but she pulled some lever by her desk and I fell straight through the trapdoor into Dungeon #256 and landed right next to Bob's secretary, who dragged me by the hair into his office.

Or maybe it just felt like that.

In any case, I found myself huddled in the entryway, afraid to leave and terrified to stay. But Bob told me to sit, and asked me what I wanted, and with all of the grace of a nerd's first date with the prom queen, I explained that I wanted to bring my accounts to a current status. This is actually a three-part task -- the first part being to pay off a portion, the second to have them accept the settlement offer, and the third to actually settle it. The third part is supposed to be fairly straightforward, but I just went cold all over after I typed the words "supposed to be".

Bob was nice, not too pushy, and said that ultimately the settlement would be handled by their offices, but if I would wait a minute, I could talk to someone there right then. So I did, and this is where I stand right now.

Firstly, they agreed with my settlement offer. So now I have to contact the collection agency and suss out a few details on their part -- some paperwork through them that will settle the account, which will hopefully be (cue lightning strike and spooky laughter) fairly straightforward.

Secondly, they told me the final balance that needs to be paid this week. I can do it, but they said it takes some time for the check to clear and cash or a cashier's check is a better option. I can see why they'd say it -- I haven't exactly been prompt in the past with getting them their money, which is how this whole problem got started. So I'll have to stop Jesting for a few hours to petition the Medici for the settlement, or it's 6 more months shoveling camel poop to raise the necessary cash.

Step by step. I can only go step by step.

What's it Worth to You?

August 29th, 2006 at 02:05 pm

I read an interesting post from Young and Broke about Psychological Income: basically, the emotional return you get from a given action. She applied the concept to purchases, and it's a valid consideration to make. I've been keeping track of my spending this month and there are too many areas in which I've nickle-and-dimed myself, not getting a good return on my investments.

There are some things I'd planned to get for the fall/winter season, and I'm finding little things that I wanted to purchase. But I need to be more careful with the "I wannas" -- those little nifty items that I can do without and that add little value to my life. These can really derail my budget, especially since I'll be working a little less at the Souk.

I need a more stringent assessment of the little, offhand purchases to be sure that they really mean something to me.

My Nerves are Shot

August 29th, 2006 at 10:33 am

I wanted to pay off the one big bill today, so I made sure to grab my checkbook as I raced off to the Forum. I was going to take some time off at lunch to take care of it. But I realized (too late) that although I brought my checkbook, I didn't put checks from the holding account in there. So basically, I'm shooting blanks.

In any case, I'm feeling stressed. I have a feeling that paying off this bill won't satisfy the debt enough to put plan A into action. It depends on what they think and what they let me do. I guess I always knew this deep down, because I haven't geared up plan A at all: nothing but the idea is in place.

I may try to go home early, get the checks and pay these guys but it'll probably have to wait until tomorrow. I feel queasy and sick just thinking about it all, so I want to pay out the cash before I totally lose my nerves.

Sometimes I wonder why I can't seem to get my act together. Frown

I Never Learn

August 25th, 2006 at 11:42 am

So after I made that last post, I just braced myself and made the call. The lady was really nice, which was reassuring, and gives me more confidence to contact them again in the future if I need to.

They are going to send a settlement offer to my creditor, and get back to me. The way it works is the agency sends in an offer for one amount and the creditor either accepts or sends a counter-offer. As per usual, I didn't even factor that into my plans, which means that I'm not likely to get an answer anytime soon.

Of course, I need my answer pretty soon. I never can learn a lesson the easy way.

This is only part one though -- I still need to pay of my one big debt pretty soon also. I transferred the money into my account, and I need to take some time off from the Forum to hand-deliver it. I don't know if that will put everything in place, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Scared to Make a Move

August 25th, 2006 at 11:24 am

I'm a total chicken. I don't know why that is, but I'm the kind of person that when faced with an unpleasant or intimidating task, will not just buckle down and do it.

As you can probably imagine, this causes loads of trouble, in nearly every aspect of my life. It doesn't help that I'm typically a very disorganized person, so when I actually get the courage to do something, it's hard to put my hand on all the relevant material needed to take action.

There are two big areas where this has caused me problems, and they are on the verge of intersecting. One is my finances: I have to contact one creditor to see if an account can be taken out of collections. I want to know if they will settle for the original amount. If they agree, there is some work that I need to do and people to contact to set another plan in motion.

But I'm really scared. I guess it can't get worse than what it is: if they say yes -- bonus. If they say no: nothing changes, and the plan might still be able to go forward anyway. The ridiculous thing is that the debt wouldn't be in collections if I had contacted them when my life took a tailspin. But I waited, like over a year before I contacted anyone. It was stupid, and it cost me, both in damaged credit, interest fees, sleepless nights and a near-ulcer.

So looking back on the mistakes I made before, I keep telling myself just to make the call, to take the chance, but I've always been the girl on the side of the water, afraid to dip a toe in because I might get yanked underneath.

A Surprising Victory

August 21st, 2006 at 11:13 am

At lunch today, I ran into Ron from the Game Gang. He was talking about different techniques of playing Go and about how long it would take my skill level to evolve out of the primordial slime.

I was dreading the answer, because some of the gang have been playing for years. I mean, years and years. My attention span for new hobbies is like, 6 months. Then I chuck it to stay home and play Barbies. So I was all ears when Ron told me that I could really improve my playing by keeping a few goals in mind while I learned. When he told me the basic gear I needed, I mentioned that I had recently bought a book.

I scored the book at a thrift store while I was looking for aprons to wear to the Souk. It was only a dollar, and it seemed like a lucky find, so I bought it. It's pretty old, but in good condtion, and I like the chatty writing style. I couldn't remember who wrote it, so Ron told me to bring it next week and he'd take a look to see if the info was any good.

I half-remembered the author, so after lunch I went on Amazon to see if I could find it and I got some surprising news: my book is really well respected book by a very good author. Other owners of the book say it's really informative and helpful. And, it's both difficult and expensive to get a copy of it, because it's been out of print for like 20 years.

So even though the Gang can mop the floor with me, I feel like a winner today!

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.