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What Would You Do, and a general update

November 24th, 2007 at 08:06 pm

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 03:33 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.

It's the end of the month and we have money!

September 25th, 2007 at 01:50 pm

I'm not really sure how it happened, but it's true. I've paid almost all the bills that I had that were due around the first of the month, that normally I would have paid with the first of the month paycheck. I have the usual ones due, the mortgage, the car payment...but the utility bills, the BP card bill, and our equity loan payment are all paid. I even paid an extra $50 on my credit card and on our home equity line balance. I've also paid two medical bills, AND I've already deducted our life insurance premium (which is withdrawn Thursday).

Maybe it's because school is in and and we're not going to movies or using eating out as a diversion. But something is different. We are even splurging and eating out tonight (at our neighborhood cheap Mexican place, where kids eat free during the week) AND I got a pedicure today, the first one in months (on Tuesdays, all services are 20% off!)

I also transferred $25 out of my paypal account to checking, from two recent sales. I left about $15 in there to cover my eBay fees.

So though it still feels like summer right now (last week it was lovely and cool, and I didn't need the air all week!) it sure is nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck. I'm definitely going to enjoy it while it lasts.

On the job front, well, there is no job front. I applied online for temp/holiday job at Borders. Probably hundreds of people apply for those, and since it is all done online, there's no way to know whether you have any chance at all. At any rate, I've got a volunteer opportunity lined up which can probably keep me busy from now through November: our town sponsors something called "A Season of Giving" in which people "adopt" a child or senior for Christmas. I have worked on this project in various capacities for the last two years, and this year the woman who runs it (who is Volunteer Coordinator for the city) needs office help , and I told her I'd do it. So I may start on Friday, a couple hours a day, a few days a week. Even though it's volunteer, it would be a great thing to add to my resume, and she, a great person to act as a reference.

It feels nice not to be so desperate to earn money. I need to hold on to the feeling I had this summer, though, to get me through those times when all I wanna do is indulge in some retail therapy!

Clothing swap.

September 13th, 2007 at 06:57 am

One of my girlfriends had a bunch of us over last night for a clothing swap. Two other friends had unloaded bags and bags of clothes on her recently, and there was so much left over that she had one herself. I didn't have much to contribute, because I lost weight a year ago and had already donated or consigned most everything, but I took a few things I rarely wear. I brought home way more than I took - a couple of Chico's things, two Michael Stars tops, a sparkly silver H&M choker, a pair of Ann Taylor capri pants, an embroidered hoodie jacket, a black ribbed turtleneck with funky flared sleeves, a Gap yoga top, a cool winter chenille scarf, a couple of girly going-out type shirts, and, my favorite, a Buffalo denim skirt that the former owner had distressed and embellished herself (she is very arty and creative). How lucky am I to have friends with boutique-y tastes in clothes?? We drank a couple bottles of wine as well and I didn't get home until midnight. I'm feeling it today!

In a few minutes I am going to a kids' consignment sale. I dropped off a bunch of clothes at the sale yesterday, plus all our old Duplo Legos, the Thomas the Tank Engine roundhouse, and assorted other stuff. I am working a shift at the sale tomorrow, which meant that I could shop the presale tonight, but DH has something to do for work and won't be home. I told another friend who is working two shifts at the sale that I wouldn't be able to shop the presale, and she gave me one of her two free passes to shop this morning. So I'm headed there in a few. I don't usually find much, but it's worth checking out.

Payday is tomorrow. I've got a list of what'll be due between now and the end of the month, and it accounts for about $1100 of DH's check, leaving not quite $2100. I hope this will be the month I can get finally get ahead of some of these bills and breathe a little easier.

I also applied for a job with Borders for temporary holiday work. The application is done strictly online, so I have no clue if I even have a chance, since you don't ever interact with a human. If I don't get a holiday job, it won't be the end of the world, but if I do, it'll be great.

Part-time jobs.

August 30th, 2007 at 06:54 pm

I have been checking craigslist.org several times a week for possible part-time/temporary jobs. Nothing has really turned up....nothing that wouldn't require me to take some computer courses, anyway. That's always a possibility, but more down the road. Anyway, I was really hoping to find a seasonal/holiday job, though it may be too soon. I went to the newspaper's job website and searched for part-time temp/seasonal jobs. Macy's is already hiring, so I filled out an online application for a retail support type job - not selling, but stocking, moving merchandise, etcetera. I have done the retail thing before and I don't really want to do it again.

I am also going to think about the stores nearby where I'd like to work, make a list of them, and poke around their websites to see if I can apply online. There's a Borders a few miles away, and they have an online job application system. I'd love to work there over the holidays.

I probably need to get a few references lined up, though. I'm feeling really out of touch with this whole job thing - I haven't worked at a REAL job since, well, almost exactly nine years ago (my son turns nine on Monday!). There are at least two people at Michael's school (where I am PTA president) that I know will give me good references if I ask.

I hate to sound superior, and I really don't mean to, but in places like Macy's, I'm amazed that some of those folks have managed to apply for and get jobs. I keep thinking, if some of those clerks can get hired, surely I can. I am reliable, organized, reasonably intelligent and articulate, hardworking and detail-oriented. My resume, though, may make me look both seriously underqualified (not having had paid employment, other than eBay sales, in nine years) AND overqualified (all my work experience is in a professional office).

I just want to work a couple days a week, and on the weekends, through the holidays. I NEED to feel like I have some control over our family finances. I have had enough with living paycheck to paycheck, putting groceries on the credit card, and facing the fact that I am going to have to dip into our retirement fund in order to pay our property taxes in December.

Face it, DH is never going to be a go-getter, aggressive, money-earner. When I hear jokes about rich lawyers, I just want to laugh. Or throw up.

He wants to stay in the realm of the intellectual...he has zero interest in the business side. Court arguments? Loves it. Schmoozing clients? Hates it. Unfortuately, the latter is what gets you money in his field. He does it only reluctantly, and I think it shows. He hasn't gotten a new client in several years, and his ONE fairly big client happens to owe him $10,000 right now. Even when they do pay up, he only gets 15% of that, under the terms of the agreement with the person he works for. As I've said before, his salary pays the bills and his percentage pays for the extras, and there have been very few extras in the last several months. He also has a guy he's doing something for and not charging. I guess he kind of HAS to...he's a guy who's done a bunch of work on our house before, and he's a decent guy. Lee also did another paid legal matter for him recently, but way undercharged him.

Things are tight, getting tighter, and it SUCKS.

He tends to get grumpy when there's nothing exciting to eat...or when I tell him he needs to make his six pack of beer last...dude, it's not exactly fun for me either to have to be imaginative with basic groceries every single night. I know we can't afford the nicer, wider variety of food I used to buy and cook with. And no, we can't afford to eat out either. But taking on yet more FREE legal work isn't putting those groceries back on the table. It's like he's not even trying to do anything about it.....just moping around feeling defeated, snapping at the kids, sitting by himself reading a book. NOT spending more time working. NOT out trying to get clients.

It's not that he's lazy. It's that he's not in the least motivated to be successful, monetarily speaking, at his career. He does a good job. He's smart and likeable and has a lot of experience. He just wants to do his legal thing, have someone else take care of all of the details, and have a nice comfortable paycheck direct-deposited.

And I gotta say, being at the mercy, so to speak, of his funk about developing business, is getting very old. Here I am, out of the workforce for nine years, and my skills are obsolete. I don't regret staying home with my kids at all. DH never "made" me, or tried to control what I did at all. It was our choice, and I wanted to stay home. If money were no object, I'd not be looking for a job at all. But I can't keep on feeling like we are barely keeping ourselves afloat and not do anything about it. I have to have some control over this situation. I feel like there is a very thin financial line we could easily cross over, with one push from a disaster, illness, or major domestic catastrophe.

For all I know, thousands of people apply for these kinds of retail jobs and I may never hear back. But I have to try....I have to do something....I am the kind of worker that employers want. I am willing to learn, I love to learn, I will go the extra mile to help people. I've multitasked, run a household for nine years, volunteered in numerous capacities, served on our neighborhood board for three years, organized & ran the preschool library for three years, and am serving a second term as PTA president. I promise I am a person worth considering for a job.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Bad and good.

August 23rd, 2007 at 10:44 am

Bad: I took DH's car today. On the way home from the Farmer's Market, I hit a curb (or something), heard a really loud BANG! and two seconds later, knew I had a flat. On a busy residential street.

Good: I managed to pull over in the shade and I was only half a mile from DH's office.

Bad: I was supposed to join some friends today for lunch, to celebrate a birthday and I missed it, dealing with the car.

Good: I saved the money I would have spent on lunch.

Bad: DH was wearing a suit today, and I was stopped half on the curb, half off, so we called a tow truck instead of having DH change it (or taking DH home to change, then coming back so he could change the tire). That cost $60.

Good: He only had to tow us half a mile to the Goodyear place.

Bad: Two new tires aren't cheap.

Good: But the Goodyear place is having a special - free oil change with two tires, and DH's car was overdue for an oil change.

We were getting back in my car at the Goodyear place, and I, trying to be all chipper about it, say "When life hands you lemons...." and DH, all grumpy, goes "...pucker up."

I paid myself first.

August 15th, 2007 at 02:51 pm

DH got paid today. I deposited his check in the bank, and when I got home, I went online to ING direct and scheduled $100 to be transferred from my bank account to ING.

Now let's hope I don't wind up having to take that money back out before the end of the month.

I've paid a medical bill, our county property tax bill (the balance is due in November), renewed the paper, deducted our life insurance premium, and picked up DH's shirts from the laundry.

On the topic of DH and his clothes, he took all his suits to the alterations lady today because he has lost 20 pounds since February and they're all too big. So I should probably count on that costing at least $100. It's cheaper than a whole new suit, at any rate.

I also went to Wal-Mart today. I know millions of people shop there regularly, but I hate that place. I went there because my younger son's radio/CD player bit the dust. It was a cheapo I got several years ago with points I earned from doing surveys with Harris Poll. I'm suprised it lasted as long as it did. Anyway, both kids use their CD players on a daily basis for audio books and music, so it needed replacing ASAP. I did a little online research and found that I could get one that was not a complete piece of junk at Wal-Mart for a reasonable amount. I looked at Best Buy's website too, but for what I wanted, I'd wind up spending more than fifty dollars. My older son's cheapo stereo (purchased at Big Lots two years ago) is going to need to be replaced soon too, as the CD player only works intermittently. ANYWAY, long story short, I went to see what Wal-Mart had. They had a reasonable selection of stuff, some off-brand stuff that I wouldn't buy but I found a Memorex CD/radio/cassette player for under $30. I also spotted a kind of nice Sony CD player with remote for $68 that I might buy my older son for his birthday (September 3).

While I was there I needed to pick up a few other things, milk, something for dinner, ibuprofen. I decided to stroll through the grocery aisles to see what their stuff looked like and how the prices were compared to Kroger & Publix.

I don't know if all Wal-Marts carry the same stuff or if it varies by neighborhood, but I thought a lot of the stuff here looked kind of....scary. Some of the meats and processed foods looked incredibly cheap and crappy, full of disgusting chemical ingredients. In fact, the place was loaded with nutritionally void processed junk.

I did find a half-gallon of Horizon Organic milk for a dollar less than Kroger, a package of Nature's Own "double fiber wheat" bread for twenty cents less than Kroger, two pounds of all-natural ground beef marked for quick sale (I'm cooking it tonight), plus a can of mixed nuts and a bag of spinach. And a two-pack of Advil for cheap.

Otherwise, I can't see that I will be doing much shopping for groceries there.

There is supposed to be a Wal-Mart supercenter opening early next year in a neighborhood not too far away. The Wal-Mart I went to today is in a neighborhood that is kind of scary, so it's possible that the new Wal-Mart will carry higher-quality groceries.

I'm not sure that would change my opinion of Wal-Mart, though...the aisles are always filled with displays of crap, making it hard to get through....there are always shopping carts of random stuff everywhere...there are a hundred checkout stations, but only two of them will be open...Target is by FAR the nicer shopping experience.

School started on Monday, so I am hopeful that I can get my eBay business going again, at least a little bit. I have three things up now, plus two more set to launch tonight.

Just because they're so handsome and the light of my life (and I'm glad they're back in school), here's a picture of my kids:


I'll report again once I've dealt with all the bills.

Seeking some clarity.

August 9th, 2007 at 03:18 pm

In an effort to find out WHERE THE HELL IT IS ALL GOING (money, that is) I pulled up our bank account online, had it show all purchases only for the past sixty days, and then printed it out.

Normally, we're not rich or anything, but we can pay our bills with no problems, put a little away in savings, and go out to eat or shop once in a while. That has not been the case this summer.

We started off nearly cleaning out our savings with a $2500 city property tax bill. That might have been part of the problem - no savings to dip into for unexpected bills.

I suspected that a lot of our money was going to summer-related expenses, what with summer camp (though several of those were paid for in the spring) and other recreation. I'm not necessarily regretting any of it, but it does make me feel better to know that it's not going to be situation every month.

Anyway, looking just at where we used the ATM card, not cash or credit card (though ATM would be what we used the most), we have spent $885.48 since June 11 on the following:

- Movies (6 times, all matinees) $19.75 each trip, except for one where all four of us went, for about $27
- Lunches out with the kids (Moe's, Chick-Fil-A, Coldstone Creamery)
- Other kid activities/recreation (Bounce 'n' Bob's, Sun Valley Beach waterpark, a trip to the Lego Store, a weekend camping trip to a state park in Alabama)
- Two trips to the used book store for used DVD movies (about $25 a pop)
- Only a little bit of shopping (once to an antique store, to Old Navy, and to DSW Shoe Warehouse, totalling about $100 altogether; once to REI for something Michael needed for camp)
- Two trips to the liquor store (about $28 each time)
- DH spent $209.60 at various local pubs either with the boys or with "the guys"
- $279.20 spent at either of the local Ace Hardware stores or at Lowe's; most of what I spent at Lowe's was on paint/paint supplies for the kitchen & living room; I know I bought a bunch of plants in June, too.
- $193.92 spent at Target (though I frequently get $20 cash back, so that's not entirely accurate).

This helps explain why we are in the predicament we're in.

It's not like I can eliminate all these expenses and voila! We're flush. However, we won't be going to the movies six times in the next three months, or eating out lunch, or going to Sun Valley Beach. I am also going to mention to DH about what he's spent; he takes the boys to the neighborhood watering hole to let them play pinball, and three beers later, he's spent $25 just like *that*.

I hope I am not just kidding myself thinking that we'll be in better shape once the summer is over (three days!!!). I hope I don't just replace all those summertime expenses with other "stuff".

In other bill news, I was looking at our cell phone bill and saw that when DH was out of town right before the 4th of July with the boys, he called home four times for a grand total of $42 for non-network roaming calls. Part of the time he was camping and part of the time he was calling from a hotel where he said the house phone cost a fortune. Jeez louise! I about crapped a brick when I saw the bill. This is the first bill we've gotten since we switched to a family plan with my provider and got DH a phone, so I was going to be seriously depressed if that was what I was facing every month...however, it's going to be closer to $80. There sure are a lot of damn taxes tacked onto the bill.

In some GOOD bills news for a change, I looked at my BP bill on line and saw it has a zero balance. No one's used the card since I paid the bill last. Huzzah!

School starts on Monday and we have a whopping $64 to last until Wednesday. However, I have food for lunchboxes (we went to Trader Joe's today), the boys are set for clothes, I have half a tank of gas and food for dinner until then. I have to pick up two or three things at Kroger on Monday, but that's it. Fingers crossed there's no crises in the making.

Still can't seem to get ahead.

July 30th, 2007 at 01:58 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!

The dog days.

July 25th, 2007 at 07:38 am

Nothing really new to report....I'm in a bit of a funk which is mostly related to the monotony of our days. It happens every year at this time....I'm completely sick of summer. Mercifully, it hasn't been as hot as usually gets. I even turned the a/c off and had the windows open for two days earlier this week, which is unheard of in July in Georgia.

As far as money goes, well, for the first time in about three months we're approaching payday and there's actually money in the checking account. Only a couple hundred bucks, but certainly enough to get us through to Monday. I've been spending a little bit, not too much: I took Will to a water park called Sun Valley Beack on Monday with some friends; it cost $34 for the two of us but it was worth every penny. He had such a good time swimming and playing all day. I'm planning to go back week after next with Michael, since he was in camp that day.

Yesterday we went to lunch at Moe's ($9) and to an indoor playground ($18). Weekend before last all of us went to a matinee of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ($27).

Planned for the rest of the time before school starts are matinees of "Ratatouille" and "Silver Surfer"; a trip to the science museum to see a lizards and snakes exhibit; a trip to the Lego store at Discover Mills; a little bit of back-to-school clothes shopping at Old Navy and Target (Will needs shorts and Michael needs shirts; both are set for shoes); a pediatrician's appointment next week, and three days next week at a friend's house at Lake Hartwell.

I got a $25 REI gift card from MyPoints so the other day I went to REI and bought myself a new prAna yoga top; I spent about $19 of my own money. I also got a $20 check from another survey company, mysurvey.com, I think, and am expecting a $28 deposit from NFOInteractive this week.

I'm also trying to get motivated to start listing on eBay again; I went through my inventory bins and pulled out a few things to put up. I have already listed a Chico's shirt and a pair of Dansko mary janes. In past experience, this is the earliest I can start listing fallish stuff and have it do well, so I'm really kind of waiting until August to put more stuff up.

I told Lee we had to hold off on the notebook computer until we got a big percentage check. Don't know if that's going to happen this month or at the end of next month. One of his McClients is behind on several months of McBills, so once they pony up, we should be able to pay cash for a notebook computer.