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Things get messy...

June 26th, 2008 at 02:35 am

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 21st, 2008 at 02:46 am

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 15th, 2008 at 05:04 am

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

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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 14th, 2008 at 02:08 am

So I'm getting ready to return to the

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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 13th, 2008 at 03:13 am

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

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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 7th, 2008 at 02:12 am

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

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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
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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 3rd, 2008 at 03:05 am

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

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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 08:01 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.

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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 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 09:16 pm

I'm on holiday from the

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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,'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 11:21 pm

A few months ago, I started a project for the

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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 28th, 2007 at 05:25 am

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.