Facing the Numbers, again.

December 31st, 2009

We’re finally pulling our head out of the sand and taking a look around at our financial situation. I’ve been frantically collecting information and data so that we can get back on track with our finances. No more looking the other way and no more just hiding from reality — nothing is going to get better if I keep ignoring everything.

The partner is also on board for paying more attention to what’s going on and not leaving me the only one aware of our finances. I did a great job with our money when it easy, when progress was being made, when I felt like we had control. But the past two years, everything been a huge struggle, one that I just gave up and walked away from. Now we’re back to getting on track for erasing debt and getting the things we need.

When we were really on top of the money game, we made great progress on our credit card debt – going from $30,000 to $13,000! Being able to buy a house was the prime motivation and I’m said to admit that since buying said house, we’ve added back at least $7,000. This has been a combination of things going wrong, poor money choices, personal business purchases, and economy fall-out. Since buying the house, we’ve not really made any positive progress on paying off debt as most month’s have felt like we’re lucky to be eating. But now we’re looking at $20,000 in credit card debt that has to get paid – and we’re going to!

The other big money buster has been the eating out habit. I’ll be honest, this is my problem. I’ve gotten in the habit of always going out to eat and not spending any time working up meal plans or menus. I’ve let various excuses get in the way and am always quick to play the “we have to eat” card when everyone is starving and going somewhere is then the easiest option. In fact, I manage to eat out almost once a day — I’m a stay-at-home mom that lives in the country. It’s at least a 20-30 minute drive to get somewhere to eat — there is no excuse for this. So, we’re going with the envelope system for eating out and groceries to curb this habit – wish me luck.

Oh and the money group plans are actually moving forward, yay!

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Longing for a Money Group

December 28th, 2009

As I’m trying to get our finances back on track, I feel myself really longing for a money group or some sort of personal support in this venture. I think it would really help me stay on task and dedicated to have someone to be honest to and to get feedback from. Honestly, I used to feel this blog sort of fit that need, but being inactive for a couple years, I’m thinking I’ll just be talking to dead space now.

We’re looking into the Dave Ramsey system and I know their courses do provide this sort of mentorship – but I’m not spending money to save money at this point. I think the partner and I can get on board and make positive changes without outlaying cash for courses. The small online group I was hoping to work with doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out – they’re probably just going with a format that I won’t be able to follow along with due to a lack of structure and easily accessible support. I do have my hopes that they’ll move to a slightly different format so we can make it work, but since I’m not in charge, I can’t force that change.

I just have some questions and issues I’d really love some supportive feedback on, especially the ones that seem pretty obvious what the answer should be but is hard to accept or follow through with. I’ll probably just end up posting them here eventually, but feel like the possible comments I’ll get in return won’t offer the supportive feedback that will make it easier to make necessary decisions. I’m not looking for someone to tell me “yes, make that stupid decision” but I do want something more than “well duh, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t do that” as well.

Perhaps for now, it’ll just have to be the partner and I supporting each other.

Hitching up the Horses

December 26th, 2009

I’d love to say that I’m jumping back in the financial saddle again, but I’m afraid a statement that bold will invite instant downfall. So lets just say that I’m cleaning tack and getting the horses ready.

For 2 years (guesstimate), I’ve stopped watching our finances. My head has been in the sand and it’s time to get it back out. We have some goals that we’ve been talking about eventually getting to, but they aren’t happening because we don’t have a real plan for how to make it happen. I’m considering doing the Dave Ramsey method for the next year to help get us in better financial shape. I’m not sure how the partner will feel about that method, but I know that he’s also feeling the strain of wackadasical finances.

I have some friends that are trying to come together to support each other for reaching their financial goals and am going to use this opportunity to get back to being honest about our money. Right now, the situation is pretty scary and it’s been that way for quite a while. I’ve been trying to hide it from myself and the partner and it’s time to get out of that destructive pattern.

So, hopefully I’ll be back here soon to give an honest assessment of where we’re at financially and where we want to be in the short-term.

First Coupon Grocery Trip ($30.29 saved)

February 11th, 2009

So, I took the coupon plunge and have my first shopping trip to report on.

– 2 boxes of Triscuits, Free with coupon
– Razor for $3.99, less coupon
Out of Pocket: $4.47
ECB Earned: $4.00

The crackers are a snack item for the partner to take to work or hide in his office so our oldest won’t eat them. The razor was for me because I needed a new one and to start the ECB ball rolling. The ECB can be used like cash for my next purchase and there will be a next purchase.

Shoppers Food Warehouse:
– Grocery Items totaling: $89.92
– Manufacturers Coupons: $11.15
– Shoppers Double/Triple Coupon Discount: $13.14
Total Grocery Bill: $65.63 (27% savings)

Now, many people argue that coupons get people to buy things that they don’t really need and I’ll admit that I did buy 6 items that I normally wouldn’t buy: 6 can of Pringles Chips for $0.40/each after sale and coupons ($2.40 spent, $6.49 saved). But that’s the only item I purchased that was out of the ordinary for us. I comparison shop unit prices on name brand and generics and combining sale price with double or triple coupons saved us extra money in the end.

I plan to stop by Shoppers to get a raincheck for the pizza rolls that were out of stock because I forgot to get it while we were there (I’m going by the store anyways). Those are another item I usually don’t buy but with the coupon and sale price, they’re free. Free is a good price for a snack item to fill in on days when dinner is running late or we want a treat.

Some notes for myself as I go forward:
– I need to find a way to track my savings.
– I originally planned to just save coupons inserts intact, but since my local stores aren’t listed in the common databases online, I’ve decided to clip the items that I would normally buy or that I would buy if it were free or close to it. For beauty and paper products, those I’ll continue to file with the inserts and only pull those coupons if there is a for-free sale offer at CVS or another major chain.
– I will cross reference the coupon databases as I scan sale flyers and place the plan-to-use coupons in an envelope that I will write our shopping list on… no forgetting coupons, well as long as I don’t forget the list.

couponing gone extreme

February 9th, 2009

One frugal tip that I always scoffed at was cutting coupons. I had plenty of reason to scoff: it takes too long, I never buy name brand anyways, it’s all for processed foods we don’t eat, I’d never remember to take them to the store. Reality was that I’d never really looked into the art of using coupons and maybe that was a good thing.

Turns out that couponing or Qing is quite an elaborate system thanks to people’s obsessive natures to save a few dimes (or many dimes) and the wonderful community building aspect of the internet. A friend told me how much money she saves and all the free products she gets and I made the mistake of looking into the sport of using coupons, a mistake that cost me about 5 hours of my time so far. I looked it over, read everything over and over again (maybe I’m dense, but this stuff can be confusing), and finally think this is something I could get into on a small scale.

There are a two things going for coupons that has me interested: I already subscribe to the daily paper and I need to save money. That seems like simple enough motivation. I still feel like coupons are often for items that I typically don’t buy and this is where the wonderful world of FREE comes in. Now, I’m not someone that has to get something because it’s free, but I do like taking advantage of opportunities when I find them. While I usually don’t buy items like cereal bars or frozen meals, I would bring them home if they were free or darn close to it. The partner can use them for snacks and meals at work and it’s often nice to have a dinner alternative around for those night when no one feels like cooking — plus any food with a $0.00 cost is a budget bonus right now. Another reason to try it out is that with all the internet sites out there supporting the coupon habit, I don’t think it will take much time in my extremely busy schedule. I don’t have to actually clip any coupons unless I need to. Coupons get filed away by date, intact with the insert they came in, and I wait until a handy dandy coupon database tells me there is an awesome sale that is too good to pass up. When such sales come along, the database tells me where to find the coupons I need, so I clip only when it’s worthwhile.

I admit that there is still a lot for me to scoff at, but I’m going to hold back on my coupon-clipping-criticism for a couple months and give it a try. My first adventure into playing the coupon game will be a trip to CVS to pick up some free items and start the ball rolling. I’ll try to update with how things go, but don’t hold your breath, you might have notice the intense lack of posting over the past two years.

Making Calls and Making Plans

October 7th, 2008

This weekend, the partner and I brainstormed a bit to figure out how to work the numbers so that we can stay afloat for a while longer. So far the current plan is to reduce fixed expenses as much as possible, reduce variable expenses as much as possible, and stop eating (oh wait, that’s not a serious idea.. but one we considered just the same).

We’re planing on bringing in $500+ less per month than we were before. I worked up the number for all of our fixed expenses that must be paid – mortgage, debt payments, utilities, insurance, etc — and that alone came out to more than what will be coming in. That didn’t take into consideration anything like food or gasoline. So, I think that was what the partner needed to see; finally my testament to the severity of our current situation finally made a little more sense. So one step is that we’re trimming where we can.

Yesterday I made a call.. in fact, I made a lot of calls.

I called our internet company because our rate had gone from 19.99/month to 39.99/month. I did my best to argue that down but didn’t get anywhere. But I did get the concession that I could call back in 90 days to re-request the lower rate; originally the woman had said I had to wait 6 months to call. So, that date is on my calendar to call back. Savings: $0/month

I call my home phone company. Their rate had been creeping up and it was already on my to-do list, now I had motivation to do it. This was the longest call of the day, probably taking about an hour to complete. While I was on hold, twice I forgot who it was I was calling. But I argued a bit and got the rate reduced along with some extra I really didn’t care about. Savings: $6/month

Balance Transfer. I don’t care much for credit card games, but I needed to get our monthly debt payments down a little bit. I actually called all four of our companies. The company with the best rate (5%) never spams us with offers but I called to see what they could do. They had the same offer as everyone else, but without a cap on the balance transfer fee — next call! Ended up transferring the balance from our highest interest rate card (17%) to our second lowest card (7%). This is a temporary band aid, it doesn’t really help us get above ground, as it just lets us continue treading water. But, it’s what we’re going to do for now. Savings: $300/month

We’ll also emptying our local storage shed and moving all of those items to Bowie. Savings: $145/month

We’d already canceled our plans to attend an annual camping event that is happening this weekend. We also nixed the idea of driving the daughter down to a soccer tournament 5 hours away as well. Luckily, we did find someone else for her to go with and my mom volunteered to send money with her — otherwise, the daughter would still be staying home as the cost would be too much even without the hotel stays.

When I looked at our numbers last month, I realized how much I’d been wasting on eating out. I’m please to say that we have basically eliminated that expense – having spent less than $20 eating out in the past 3 weeks – once a small special occasion funded by bake cookie sales and the other when we were out all day from 10am – 10pm and failed to plan ahead to bring food with. We’re getting much better at making sure to bring food with us while we are out.

Our dinners are getting much less elaborate and so far that has the support of everyone in the household. Eggs are a pretty big part of our diet now thanks to our 9 laying hens. We’re also doing more meatless meals and bean dishes. But, this also means that the quality of our meals is going down a little, so I’m trying to figure out how to still eat as cheaply as possible while still eating healthy.

To increase income, the partner plans to sell off more of his ‘stuff’ – this should work out to about $500/month in income for the next few months. And I’ll get more help from him for working on business stuff which should also bring in about $500/month in income as well. And the partner is working on his resume and looking for other employment options. A 15% pay cut hurts but losing his job will hurt even more and it seems obvious that is a probability on the horizon.

Also, clearing out debt is topping the priority list as well. We realize that we may end up using credit in the near future if pushed to it. But we also realize that debt has to be eliminated for us to make any real financial progress in the future.

Could you handle losing 15% of your income tomorrow?

October 3rd, 2008

How much of a hardship would instantly losing 15% of your income pose? How would you react if you were already struggling to make ends meet and had finally worked out a way to barely squeak by, how would this news affect you then?

I’m not really sure what my answers are because I’m still in shock. Come Monday, the partner’s company is striking 15% off everyone’s salary as yet another last-ditch effort to help them survive their financial crisis. The good news is supposed to be that we he still has a job, but at the moment, that isn’t cheering me up every much. 15% is a substantial chunk of our monthly budget that was already stretched way too thin. Also, I’d finally worked out a plan that trimmed off all the fat and kept us just within our means, and that was by cutting out everything I could think to cut. Now what?

We had a brief family meeting tonight about it and I’m really worried. I’m worried because I feel like I’m the only one that really sees what a giant issue this is. Tomorrow, the partner and I will sit down with the numbers because he says he needs to see them to understand the severity of the situation. The severity is, that a 15% reduction in income isn’t wiping out ‘luxuries’ (those were already wiped out), it wipes out gas money, grocery money, the electric bill, the heating bill. This isn’t a matter of eating out less, sadly.

Okay, sigh, breath. This will work out, somehow, this will work out. I need to go sew because I need my sewing business to not only bring in no only my conservative estimates to help us get by, but now it also needs to cover this short fall we’re facing too.

paying off debt … losing retirement

September 24th, 2008

So, I’ve been thinking something crazy tonight… liquidating measly retirement accounts to pay off debt. Yes, it’s one of those crazy thoughts that hit you when you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed by your current financial situation and you just want to make a problem go away.

There are some pluses:
– eliminating this debt will free up income that can then go back into savings and retirement
– the emotional freedom of eliminating this debt is HUGE
– yeah, thats about all the pluses I can think of

the negatives:
– the financial impact of early withdrawal penalties… 10% of amounts taken, and then the cash is taxed like income, if my quick 5 minute review of the conditions is correct
– we lose the retirement account.. it’s losing at the moment anyways, but that’s another post
– it probably won’t eliminate all of our debt, so whats the point?
– while debt increasing behaviors are mostly gone, they’re not 100% gone — in that case, that makes this a very bad idea, it’s a bandaid, a bad bad bandaid that negatively impacts our future

some messed up rationale centers on the fact that we’re soooo far behind on retirement planning, what does it matter — not an approach to take toward your finances. also, freeing up the money currently going to debt will help the monthly cash flow somewhat, but it’s still a losing battle at the moment.

so, yeah, I better go to bed before I give this stupid idea any more thought. feel free to comment on what a bad idea it is if you want, though I don’t really need anyone telling me what I already know.

oh and just cause I like adding details… I’m a numbers and budget wench. There are great suggestions out there for taking serious strides against debt and your budget, I’ve read them all and considered them all. For our situation, I can say that we’ve trimmed our budget down as far as we can/will, let just say that pasta and rice are more than just staples for a while. Getting another job doesn’t work either because I home with a nursling and the partner honestly cannot add that on top of his professional job, with unpaid overtime – yay salary, commute, and helping me continue to run my home business (which does bring in as much income as I can earn with said nursling eating up much of my time).

Though, having said that, I will work up some numbers for our family budget night meeting to go over some other drastic steps that we might consider to improve on this situation. I’m feeling recommitted to getting numbers under control, especially now that I’m not hiding from them as I have for the past 6 months (ouch, that really hurts … we could have been in much better shape if I’d clued in even 2 months earlier). So, I’ll be thinking drastic thought but hopefully nothing as foolish as 401k withdrawals. Oh, and maybe now that I’m facing numbers again, I’ll start posting again on the steps we’ve been taking to make ends meet.

broker than broke

August 20th, 2008

There isn’t anything to talk about when there isn’t any money in the account. For the first time in 2 years, our personal account will have a balance less than $1,000 – maybe even less than $400 if I drag my feet on an account transfer. This freaks me out, to me, it’s the equivalent of being flat out broke. Right now, I’m worried about filling the gas tank and going to the grocery store. Sigh.

One-plus year of not making quite enough has finally caught up with us. We’ve been able to skate by, somehow, each month but that has run out. I need to figure out what I’m going to do about it, but I’m at a loss because I’m out of options. I was hoping for a raise to come in last month and it never did. Last week, we finally got paperwork about a raise (I don’t think it’s going to be back dated, or is that call pro-rated, for a July 1 start as it has in previous years) but it wasn’t anything to be comfortable with. So, what was going to be a slight boost, didn’t come when we really needed it, and as it is, we’re probably only close to breaking even now – which doesn’t make up for the fact that, based on the way our budgeting is supposed to work, our account is facing a $4,000 deficit.

Sigh – I’d love to post more, but lately, it’s been too frustrating to face the numbers – even for me, someone who usually finds comfort in the reality that the only way to solve the problem is to truly understand it. I understand the problem, but don’t see any solutions on the horizon, other than starting busting my butt 24/7 (something thats not remotely possible with a newborn in the house). I need to do something though… maybe posting about it will help get me motivated.

need to make another call…

August 8th, 2008

sigh, I get so tired of making calls to credit card companies. Somehow, in the unfortunate coincidence of my bill pay service delaying a reoccuring payment and my credit card company upping the due date — we missed a payment – by a day. This shouldn’t have happened, but it did. Now, the past few weeks I’ve been a bit busy paying attention to our new little girl and no so much our finances, but this one is a big one because we’ve lost our 0% balance transfer if I don’t get this corrected.

Now, it’s not the end of the world, I can always transfer the balance off somewhere else. In fact, that’s the bargaining chip I’ll be using when I call them up because this is the same company that I’ve missed 2 payments with in the past 2-3 years (both times during our move) and while they’ve been understanding each time, I don’t expect the same consideration this time. But I’ve been dragging my feet on making the call, as usual. But I at least have the excuse that every time I think I have a moment to make a phone call, a little angel starts fussing and reminding me that I should give up thinking I have any control over anything in my life.