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What Would You Do, and a general update

November 25th, 2007 at 04:06 am

It's been almost two months since I've written anything here. We've just been rocking along okay, more or less. I was not able to find a seasonal job, though I applied for four, and interviewed for one. The interview was at Michael's, during a job fair there. I thought I hit it off pretty well with the manager, but either I really didn't, or I failed their "loss prevention" quiz somehow, or else, more likely, she really wanted someone to work permanent part-time, and I wanted to work through New Years only.

As it turns out, I might have had to quit anyway, since my husband has been preparing for a huge trial that starts on Monday and has only had Thanksgiving Day off for the last three weeks, with two more weeks of the same ahead. Someone had to stay with the kids, you know? So my faith that things always work out the way that they are supposed to is affirmed, even though the way things work out might not be the way we want them to.

In other financial news, I paid off my Parisian/Belk card this month. It's really not a huge deal, because when I got the card ten years ago, they offered a special "pay a larger payment and pay no interest" option, and I never paid any interest on that card. I would pay it off, not shop there for a while, then I'd go shop again, take a few months to pay it off, and so on. Anyway, I guess the last time I bought stuff there was before spring break, and I had been paying the "interest free" amount, and just went ahead and paid the balance this month. So that card is done, and I doubt I'll use it again. In fact, I should probably close the account.

So a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. It's one less payment to make.

In other credit card news, my husband got a credit card offer from AARP (yes, we're members, even though I'm only 40! He's 52.) I think I am coming to love AARP. For one thing, they have an auto club like AAA that is almost half the price. We signed up for that last month, after paying $65 for towing when I had a blowout. Then I was studying the credit card offer from AARP - no annual fee, 9.99 APR (my Wachovia Visa, which I've had for years, is ten-something, and our American Express Blue is 11.75) and 0% APR for balance transfers until March '09. AND the balance transfer fee is only 3% of the transferred amount, as opposed to the 5% I usually pay. I stuck the offer in my bill folder, thinking I'd get around to sending it in, when a few days later another offer came, this one with an 8.99 APR! It too had the 0% APR balance transfer offer. So I applied online, and the card came in the mail the other day. I set up our online account, and it wouldn't let me do a balance transfer online, but the card came with one balance transfer check, which I am going to use to pay a big chunk of the AMEX balance. Husband is also under strict instructions not to use the AMEX anymore.

I'm not even going to say what our AMEX balance is - it's too horrifying. I looked at the account online to see what our interest rate is, and it showed a breakdown of balances - about $2500 of it is from balance transfers, but the bulk of it is "purchases". The horror. A lot of the "purchases" are from when my husband would charge work expenses, and then when he got reimbursed I would usually need that money for other bills, and so would not pay off his expenses.

To give at least small props to AMEX, I did cash out a bunch of our AMEX Rewards points for $75 in Barnes & Noble gift cards, which I am going to use for Christmas shopping.

There are a bunch of other things I wanted to blog about, like how the movies are a total ripoff, and how food prices are obscene, and how I laugh when I think about how I used to buy all organic food. However. I really want input from any readers, so on to the What Would You Do:

Our city property taxes are due on December 20. We paid the first half in June (from our income tax refund). I have been trying, honestly, to save for it, but I have only managed to save about $650. We need $2300. My husband might be getting a percentage check next week (which is a perecentage of his profits) but even if I knew he was, there's no way to know how much. In any event, it is unlikely to be more than a thousand dollars.

So as much as it makes me want to hurl, my options for paying that bill are as follows:

1. Withdraw the money from a retirement account, paying an early withdrawal penalty and taxes on the amount, but not incurring any more debt, or

2. Paying it from our home equity line of credit, with an APR of 7.8, and which already has a $29,000 balance from adding on a room & other home improvements.

It's also possible that I could have my husband call and request additional balance transfer checks from our new Visa, and pay it with one of those.

I really am tempted to take it from our retirement account, just so I know it's paid and gone, not sitting as a balance we have to pay later. However, it's highly unlikely that money would make it back into the account, and we're not adding anything to our retirement at the time anyway.

I welcome any opinions on this issue....

Discover Card: Ugh.

October 5th, 2007 at 10:33 am

I have been getting calls almost daily from a 800- or 866- number. If I type them into my Google search box, I almost always get one of those "who called me" pages and a bit of searching reveals that the numbers are usually from Discover. I don't pick up, but the other day my kids were watching PBS and the phone started ringing, and I picked up so they wouldn't have to listen to the five rings, then the answering machine. I also figured I'd tell whoever it was to quit calling.

This perky woman asks for me, I say "this is she" and she launches right into her spiel. Did I know that identity theft is a ten billion dollar problem? An account review revealed some concerns about my account. Right here I knew this was complete bull, because the only thing I've used my Discover for is a balance transfer. The card has never even left the house. She goes "so what we're going to do is send you out a copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus and then.." but I cut her off here, figuring that next was going to come an aggressive push of some product like identity theft insurance. "I don't need them." I was about to tell her not to call me anymore unless it pertains specifically to my account, but she said "1-800-Discover" and hung up on me.

The only other time I've picked up the phone and it was them, they used similar tactics. I've forgotten what it was they were trying to get me to sign up for, credit insurance, I think. Anyway, throughout the whole spiel the woman never actually asked me if I wanted it, just basically said "We're enrolling you at the low monthly cost of x" and never allowed me a word in edgewise. She finally got to the point where she said "I just need your verbal permission to enroll you in this program" and I said "NO! I do not want it. Do not enroll me." She acted all disgruntled, thanked me, and hung up.

I can't imagine how many people get stuck signed up for these types of useless things, because they fall for the "there's a problem with your account" line or they're pushovers. These ladies were really aggressive. Just typing this has strengthened my resolve to pick up the next time I get one of those number on my caller ID and right away tell them to take me off their list unless it is an actual problem with my account, not just a sales pitch.

Still can't seem to get ahead.

July 30th, 2007 at 08:58 pm

Are we ever going to get anywhere?

Lee got paid today. He kept out $100 cash (which will be gone before I know it). I have either scheduled or will schedule the following bills:

Mortgage $1070
Car pmt. $410
Car ins. $145
AMEX $250
Power co. $160
BP $140
Health ins. $422 automatically deducted
Discover $95

I also have a medical bill to pay, the newspaper subscription renewal, a few back-to-school things to buy, not to mention groceries, gas, etcetera.

He is all hyped about a notebook computer but I have already told him that even if he does get a percentage check - which he's not sure about because the woman who does them is out for part of the week - we can't afford one this month. We'll need that money for expenses and I refuse to put a computer on the credit card (or, if I do, I need to have the money in the bank to cover that charge right away).

For crying out loud. It doesn't seem like the regular bills used to get on top of us so much, even before we had his withholding adjusted. I think maybe I used to pay some of the bills with the previous month's paycheck (ie, car payment is due on the 4th, so I'd pay it with the paycheck received on the 15th of the previous month) but we've not had the money for that for the last few months.

I decided to do a $1000 balance transfer from my Wachovia card (12%) to Discover, which has a promotional rate of 2.99% through December, then 11.99. It probably won't save me a whole lot, but every little bit helps.

I swear I am tempted to withdraw a couple thousand dollars from a retirement account and throw it at a bill, but I know that is probably not a good idea. Besides, I need to save that option for our city property tax bill due in December, since we haven't been able to save a damn dime for that yet!

Payday!

June 29th, 2007 at 07:02 pm

So today DH got his paycheck with adjusted withholding - an extra $194. Plus a percentage check for $950 and an expense check of $237.

We kept out $350 cash - $150 for me to buy groceries with and $200 for him to take camping (he's leaving tomorrow, coming back Wednesday morning, with the boys - one night in a hotel because the campground they want is full, but hopefully will open up on Sunday night).

I have a whole pile of bills to pay, but I can't do anything until the deposit shows up in the bank after midnight.

I looked at my VISA bill and there is no payment due for July. I'm not sure why? Anyway, I'm planning to give them at least $300, for the stuff I charged in the last few weeks plus some toward the balance I already had.

I called today to make a dermatologist appointment, thinking it would be late July, if not August, before I could get in with the physician's assistant that I like. To my surprise they said I could come in Monday morning. I am glad; I have a spot on my left leg that I worry about and I want her to look at it and take it off if she thinks it's at all necessary. Since we have a high-deductible plan, I'll have to pay for the visit, but probably not until August after they've filed the insurance.

AT&T/Cingular continues to call us, even though we mailed their payment already. Yesterday DH said they called to try to get him to reactivate his phone. He told them NO. We've already got his new phone from Working Assets, activated and charged and ready to go. NOW if AT&T would just receive his payment and we can be done with them.

I'll update again after I've paid the bills tomorrow...

Easy come, easy go....

June 19th, 2007 at 09:45 pm

So here are our expenses and income....

Income: $2954 net 2x/month
Percentage: anywhere between $200 and $2000 most months (paid at the end of the month, and I never know if we're getting anything or how much, so I don't usually count on it).

About our income: I have been bugging my DH to get his withholding adjusted since we received our (very large) tax refund in February. There's not a dedicated accounting person in his tiny firm, so one of the paralegals who writes the check was supposed to be working on it. Well, it was the busy season for the firm's accountant, so it didn't happen, and then in late April that paralegal went out on maternity leave. Needless to say, it still hasn't happened. All I wanted them to do was look at the number of allowances he was claiming on his w-4 and then adjust it up a little. Apparently no one can find his w-4 and the accountant wasn't too helpful. So I found the 2007 withholding calculator at irs.gov, used it, then filled out another w-4 (also from irs.gov) and emailed it to him with instructions to get it to the accountant to see what his net would be using it. We shall see. Probably what will happen when I ask him about it is, I'll get some attitude and be treated like I'm a big nag. Whatever!!

Monthly expenses:

Mortgage: $1070 (we don't pay into escrow, so this is just principal & interest).

HELOC: Our balance is 29K and our monthly payment varies - it's usually in the neighborhood of $200. I usually pay the minimum, but I"ve had to dip into it in order to cover expenses.

Home Equity loan: this was originally part of our HELOC; we rolled part of the balance over into a fixed rate loan (the HELOC is variable rate). The interest rate on the fixed loan is five point something; at the time, I though that was outrageously high because the variable rate HELOC was at four point something. OH, if I'd only known...I don't know what the balance is, but our monthly payments are $169.69. I know we have several years left to go.

Car payment: $410 (we have just under two years left on this, a 2004 Honda CRV)

AMEX: Balance is $12,115. The bulk of this was balance transfers from higher interest cards. This is the only credit card my DH carries. When he needs stuff for work, like plane tickets and whatnot, he uses this. He only gets reimbursed at the end of the month for expenses, so though I TRY to pay all the work related charges off, sometimes I wind up using some of the reimbursement money for something else. I have a card on this account also, but rarely use it.

BP: This card is almost always paid in full, except for last month, when I didn't have the funds to do it. Usually the charges are between $20 - $120 a month.

Wachovia: This is my credit card. The balance is $9100. Some of this is from a balance transfer, but some not. It's linked to our bank account, so what I try to do is if I use it online, I immediately log on to my account online and transfer the money from our checking account to the Visa account. Obviously I don't do it enough. The minimum payment is quite low, last month it was $63, but generally I pay at least $200 a month plus any additional post-purchase transfers from my checking account.

Parisian: This is my card. I've had it for about twelve years and what they offered at the time I got it was an "interest free option" where if you paid a certain percentage of the balance each month, there was no interest on your balance. I have never paid interest on that account. I have not always carried a balance on that card, but I'm carrying one now, about $350. Parisian has been sold to Belk, and they are eliminating the interest-free option, as well as closing the store closest to me, so once it's paid off I won't be using it again.

Discover: This card is strictly for a low interest rate balance transfer I did a few months ago. I've never made a purchase with the card. Right now the balance is $4700. The interest rate is something like 2.99 for the life of my balance transfer, so I've only been paying the minimum.

That's our consumer debt.

Other monthly expenses:
Health insurance: $422 automatically deducted monthly. This is a high-deductible plan. We've already switched once from BC/BS to this less costly plan.
Life insurance for both me & DH: $335, also automatically deducted
Dish satellite: $23.99
Working Assets wireless & long distance (mine): $35 (I never use all my minutes and we rarely call long distance)
Cingular wireless (DH): $39.99 (his contract is up in August, then we are kicking Cingular to the curb and switching him to Working Assets)
Georgia Power: budget billing of $160 monthly
Natural gas: about $40 in the summer, $100 in the winter
Internet: $50/month
Water: between $60-$80 every other month
Car insurance for two cars: $545 twice a year, divided into monthly payments of $140 for four months, twice a year. I switched to Geico (you could save fifteen percent or more on your car insurance by switching to Geico!! ;-)) about a year ago from a more expensive company.
Bellsouth local phone line with caller ID: $36
Arrow pest control: $40/month (we live in the deep South...palmetto bugs...'nuff said!!)
Netflix: $19/month. This is automatically billed to the AMEX.

Those are our monthly expenses. Here are others that pop up during the year:

Homeowner's insurance: $700 every April
City taxes: we pay this ourselves, every June & December. It's usually between $2200 - $2500 each time - the June one is higher because it includes the sanitation fee.
County taxes: about $600, divided & paid in July and November
Homeowner's association fees: $400, divided & paid in April and November. This includes use of a pool & tennis courts.
Termite bond: $320 yearly (this is due at the end of this month)
HVAC service contract: $275 (this was due for renewal at the end of April but I haven't paid it yet)
Newspaper subscription: not sure...maybe $115 every four or five months?
Yoga classes - this varies. I buy a bunch of classes at one time to lower the cost per class. Now that my kids are home, it will take me longer to use my classes, but during the school year, I usually go 3 or 4 times a week. I just bought a five class card at one studio for $65; at another studio, I bought a 12 class card last month for $149.

I think that's it. My next entry will be about our other spending (groceries, extracurricular activities, etc.) and entertainment/shopping.