Debt has really strong shackles and chains

Do you ever find yourself having to do something just because of your debt?

For instance, do you have to take a job that pays well over a job that you are interested in or that you have a passion for?

Do you have to forgo an exotic vacation because you can’t afford it because of your credit card payments?

Do you find yourself spending all of your hard earned money on bill payments instead of savings or things that you would like to spend your money on?

Um, pretty much all of those are me right now.

Today I had to waste 3 hours getting an employment assessment with the unemployment office in order to keep getting my unemployment checks (more on that tomorrow!). It was a complete and total waste of time, but I had to go because I need the money from the unemployment checks. Luckily I had two messages about potential jobs when I got home!

I have hated my recent jobs. And the types of jobs that I am interviewing for – I know I’m going to hate those too because they are all the same types of positions. Sadly, I do not have a lot of choice at this point as debt dictates that I need the highest paying job possible. My current unemployment stint is only making that even more the case.

Sure, I could get two lower paying jobs and come out the same in the end. However, I’m not doing that because it would be many more work hours. Before I became unemployed I was making a little extra cash online, which was going towards the debt so that I could stop working jobs I hate.

Ah, debt is a vicious cycle.  And the shackles and chains are way strong.

I plan on breaking those shackles and chains though. I have declared war on debt.

Hopefully it will not be quite the long and drawn out war that Bush currently has the US troops fighting overseas. Nope, I want a nice quick war against debt.

After having to go to the dreadful thing I went to today I was left with one thought – this has got to change.

I have got to annihilate the debt now! Sure, I’ve known it was there and I have even been focused on it. It’s all out war now. I never want to have my hand forced again just because of debt.

So, what am I going to do about it?

First, I am gonna hit the job hunt full force. I admit, I have been kind of doing it a bit half-ass these past few weeks. I;ve just gotten into a bit of a routine. I get the unemployment, I make a little money on eBay and I watch some Law & Order reruns on cable.  It’s a nice routine, but it’s getting me nowhere fast.

Then, I am going to start looking for ways to make extra cash online and other ways. I’ve been published in magazines before, so I will start looking for opportunities like that. I will also start looking for things like paid reviews or maybe even for advertisers for this or some of my other sites.

I might even consider looking for something at the mall for the weekends. It’s the holiday season so a lot of places will be hiring. That means it should not be too difficult to find something – provided I can handle working two jobs. I guess that will depend on what I get for my primary job.

And I am going to squeeze out all the non-necessities out of my spending. I’m going to try to not go to the grocery store (except for produce and milk) until my pantry is completely bare. If there is only taco sauce, peanut butter and rice then I guess I will be eating rice with taco sauce and peanut butter! (eww, maybe not)

I’m keeping the high speed internet but I’m turning the cable off! It might only save $10 a month, but that is something. And in my past experience, if you have high speed cable internet you can usually still get regular basic cable on your television. If not, oh well, I’ll miss you Law & Order reruns.

That’s all I can think of for now. Have you declared war on your debt? Have any tips for other measures I can take in my war on debt? If so, let me know!

Getting on the road to financial success

Not too long ago I was working a decent paying job with lots of overtime pay and spending every dime that I was making. I would get paychecks around $1500 and by the time the next paycheck was due in two weeks time I was out of cash. Thinking about that now kind of makes me sick.

Fortunately, I have gotten way better at money management but it was not an overnight task.

About two years ago I had to sell a paid off car that I absolutely loved just so that I could pay my American Express bill. I had charged it up on an impromptu trip to Los Angeles that I thought I both deserved and could afford. Turns out neither assumption was correct.

That was my only car, so before selling it I had to get another one. Funny logic, I know. So, I went to a lot and got myself a brand spanking new car and only put $500 down because, let’s face it, I couldn’t even afford to put that much down. That got me a $350 car payment on a 72 month loan. *sigh*

I sold the car, paid off the credit card and immediately booked a trip to London.

I know, I was really an idiot. I get that now.

Luckily for me I did not book the London trip on the AMEX, which has to be paid off in full each month, but on another card. I quickly realized though that I could not afford the trip to London because I did not have another car to sell to finance it. Man how I missed that car too. Oh the agony of realizing stupid financial decisions.

That was when I started realizing that I need to be better with money. Up until that point I was living life in the now and thinking that I would worry about retirement if I lived that long.

One of the first things I did was sign up for the 401K program at work. They matched 5% so I put 5% as my contribution.

Other than not taking the trip to London and signing up for 401K that was pretty much all I did for about a year in terms of being financially responsible. I kept going to restaurants with regularity. I bought books and cds I didn’t need. I liked new clothes that I didn’t need. So, I wasn’t dropping a lot of cash at once (say on a trip) but I was spending that equivalent slowly.

Then about a year later I wanted to book another trip overseas. My other half would not let me. We will call that a blessing. I was mad about it for a little while but looking back it was the best thing ever as a lot of medical bills were about to start happening due to some unforeseen health issues.

That happened at about the same time as our apartment lease was up. We had been planning on moving back to NYC and getting an apartment with a max rent cost of $2500. Instead we moved into the spare room at my parents for 3 months.

It was horrible. They lived an hour from our jobs. We had to get up at 4:30 am to be at work by 8:30 am, since everyone had to shower and get ready. We didn’t have a lot of space and they only had dial up internet! Eek. But we had no rent payment. There were no restaurant nearby as it was a rural area, so we didn’t spend a lot eating out. We didn’t spend a lot on food cause the ‘rents shared. We were able to save up about $7,000 before we got a new place of our own – and not in NYC. Our rent now is only $767, but I have decided that is still too much. When our lease is up in January we are looking for as close to $500 as we can get. But first we’re going to stay with family again for a couple of months.

After moving out of the parents we read Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence which totally changed our way of thinking. If you have not read this book then you are seriously cheating yourself out of some great information.

We started tracking our spending and created our very own wall chart, as suggested in the book. We have stopped buying things like books and DVDs and have instead been enjoying the local public library. If we cannot find something that we want at the library then we use MyPoints to get a gift card for Barnes and Noble and buy it that way.

We have started creating menus for the month and doing our grocery shopping once every 3 weeks. This has greatly reduced the amount that we spend at the grocery store! I have also just started my own price book, which should help save us even more. We have reduced our dining out to only once a month, and usually that is only because we are out somewhere and have no way of eating our own food. But when we do dine out we either use a free gift card from MyPoints or we use a coupon! We do not do fast food, even though it is cheaper, because we have also gotten health conscious while on our debt diet.

One of the important things that I have learned is that it is more important to pay for experiences that it is for stuff. For instance, we are going to a local festival with family this weekend and there is a fee to go. I would rather pay that fee than pay for something I do not need at Best Buy or Target. The memories will always outlast the stuff.

While I have found my way to the path of financial success, I am afraid that I have not gotten very far down the path. I still have some debt that is pretty major, but I am focused on paying it down. Once that is taken care of though I plan on working on retirement saving. And I have done my best to educate my youngest brother on financial success and the costly detours that I took. Hopefully my lessons are enough to keep him from having to learn them on his own.

How do you do cheap travel overseas?

I have mentioned before that I am treading water in a sea of debt and that is no joke. Most of my debt is due to an addiction. Travel. I love to travel! I just can’t help myself when I see a good travel deal.

I try to justify it in my brain with the thought “You got a really good deal though” even though I really should be putting all my money towards debt. On my behalf I have been doing pretty good as I have only fallen off the turnip truck a few times. (If this phrase is unfamiliar to you I issue the following warning – I grew up in the South where this is said all the time. I said this phrase in the NorthEast last week and was met with blank stares.)

Usually my travel addiction is limited to U.S. locations as the both cheapest and easiest option for me. However, every now and then I get the itch to go back overseas. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I have a lot of airline miles with British Airways that are set to expire in March. I can get a free ticket to London. But I’d have to pay for everything else.

Now, a smart person would say “If I can’t afford the ‘everything else’ then I will just lose the free flight because it’s not worth it.” But a chica with issues like me says “Dude, it’s a free flight to London! And I love London. ” See how I get myself into trouble?

The real issue here is the current state of the exchange rate. Oy. Looking at XE.com today. Ouch. It will cost a fortune to go to London or Europe!

I seriously doubt that the exchange rate will turn to my favor before I find myself overseas, so that means I have about 7 months to figure out how I can use my free plane ticket without needing to rob a bank. (that was a joke – it’s hard to convey sarcasm over the internet. we need a special font for it.)

After reading a lot lately about people getting to their destination overseas and their checked luggage not showing up I know for certain that I will not be checking anything. And I do not want to have a lot of luggage anyways as I usually take a lot of trains when overseas. So, since peanut butter is a banned item I cannot pack that to save on food like I did last time.

I am thinking I should make a list of what I will need to pay for in order of most expense and work my way down the list so that I will have the more expensive things covered first. This way if I don’t get everything covered on the list the expensive stuff will be taken care of. I’m not sure where I want to go yet, so it will be sort of general. (estimating high here…I hope) Here is what I imagine those expenses to be and a rough estimate:

  1. Hotels – let’s say 7 nights at $150 = $1050
  2. Food – let’s say around $850
  3. Transportation/Rail pass/ Ferry pass (Ireland?) – at least $500
  4. Emergency money (in case get sick/injured while there) – at least $500
  5. Misc. activities – around $300
  6. Misc. shopping – around $200
  7. Airport parking -around $125

If anyone sees anything I may have left off, please let me know as I want to make sure I account for everything. Granted, I have a few months, but still.

For the hotel, I think I will focus on trying to get some free stay with a hotel rewards program. I have a Marriott, Hilton and Holiday Inn rewards account. All of them have some points. I can also earn Hilton Honors points through MyPoints. And my American Express Rewards program offers points for all three. E-Rewards also offers up Hilton Honors points.

For food, the cheapest option may be to go to a grocery store once I get where ever it is that I end up going. The problem will be how to make what I get. You can make a lot of stuff in coffee pots, but if I remember correctly there are not coffee pots in the hotel rooms overseas. At least not the ones I stayed in. Sandwiches may be the only way to go here. Last time I was in London I did really well with finding local places to eat away from tourist areas, but the exchange rate kills that savings.

I don’t know how I can save on any of the other costs. Sure, I don’t have to shop or do a lot of activities that cost money. And I probably won’t but I like to plan with a bit of a cushion.

Something else to consider when traveling abroad are the currency exchange fees that credit card companies charge you. I know that Capital One does not do this. When I was in Ireland the hotel I was at converted charges to dollars instead of Euros and charged for it and then my credit card company charged me too!

Wow, trying to plan overseas travel on the cheap is difficult! If you have traveled overseas recently and were able to do it inexpensively feel free to give me some tips! I have a subscription to Budget Travel magazine and plan on looking through the latest issue of it for some pointers. If I find anything great I will point it out.

7 money-related things that I regret doing

I warn you, it’s not going to be pretty, but here are the top 7 money related things I regret doing….so far…

1. Buying a new car instead of a reliable used one. Twice. You would think I would have learned my lesson the first time around when I was a young little thing and said car got taken by the repo man. Oh no, I didn’t let that lesson sink in. Six years later I decided I needed a new car instead of a cheap used one. And now I have a car payment that I wish I didn’t have and insurance that would be lower if I had gotten a used cheapie car. Now that I am older and wiser I am really wishing I had bought a $500 car.  Okay, well, maybe not $500 but $5000 would be a decent amount to spend. I really hate paying that monthly car payment and you better believe I will never have another one after this baby is paid off. Only cash cars for me after that.

2. Ages 16-18, spending every dime I made.  Ah, life was good. I was working and making great money as a waitress. And on my days off I drove 45 minutes to the closet mall and spent every cent. Repeat the next week, and the next, and the next…. Oh, what a horrible cycle. I could have had so much money saved before I started college. A time travel machine would be really nice to have so that I could go back and fix this.

3. Age 18, credit card #1. “Oh wow, lookie here, a nice shiny letter telling me that I have been selected to receive this shiny new Visa card! OMG, I must be so sophisticated and grown to have gotten selected for this.” Blasted credit card companies. Off to college I went with a credit card limit of $1,500 and a payment of only $15 a month, which I thought was just too cool at the time.  This was the beginning of a very bad addition I would grow into. At one point I had 23 different credit cards. All of them were maxed out. And I was making $8.50 an hour working at the mall.

4. Moving out of state. Multiple times.  I used to proudly proclaim how many different states I have lived in since turning 18 ( five if you are wondering). Then I realized how much I spent making all of those moves. And then there is the effect it had on jobs. I was never at one place long enough to get a promotion so I have been making the same salary for about 4 years now due to moving every year to a new state. Yes, it’s true that I only learned this lesson about 6 months ago. Right after I made a move to state that, unknown to me when I moved,  ranks 46 in the nation for highest unemployment. See, every time that I have moved it has been without a job in place beforehand and I have never had a hard time getting a job upon moving. Well, I got to this state and it took a few months to get a job. A job that I got fired from two weeks ago for asking for a raise. Go figure. The moral of the story? Only move out of state if you have a job. And if you still want to move without a job do a little research to see where your state ranks in unemployment levels.

5. Staying in school when I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I started college right out of high school because that is what you are supposed to do. Unfortunately for me I was not real clear on what I wanted to do in life, so I spent my undergrad years at 5 different schools. Each time I would transfer there would be some classes that would not transfer. That means money down the drain. That makes me an idiot.  I know better now and if I have kids I will make sure that they have a plan before they go to college.

6. Getting talked into “signature student loans” instead of Stafford loans at one of those schools.  Yes, sadly I was one of those poor schmucks that ended up with a 10% interest rate student loan that you can’t consolidate and you can’t defer. If I had it all to do over I wouldn’t have even gone to school if I had to get loans to do it. And I certainly would have run from the lady in the UCF financial aid office that talked me into those signature loans. Some days I don’t think I’ll ever pay off my student loans let alone early like some people do!

7. Becoming a junk collector.  At one point a year or two ago I went through the stacks of CDs and DVDs and books that I had and discovered many I had never viewed. Brand new items still in the plastic. What I am telling you here is that I had acquired so much junk that I didn’t even have time to use or enjoy it! The sad thing is that I am probably still paying for some of those things on my credit cards. I ended up getting rid of all but a select few of those items on Amazon Marketplace. I was stoked because I made a few thousand off of all of that. Then I realized that I spent at least 3 times that much on all of that junk. That made me sick to my stomach. Whenever I think about buying something I don’t need I remember that feeling and quickly put it back on the shelf.

There you have it – my horrible money regrets. Now tell me yours – make me feel better, make me think that maybe mine aren’t so bad because I didn’t do what you did. Just don’t tell me that you were super smart about money. That will make me jealous.

 

A lesson on saving money on gas

My license plate was due to be renewed by the end of April. I’m a procrastinator, so I didn’t do it before the end of the month. In fact, it is the 15th of May and I still haven’t done it. But on my behalf, I did try to on Saturday but there were around 30 people in line and I didn’t have time to wait that long. So, as a result I have been forced to drive the speed limit because in the off chance that I get pulled over for speeding I’d also get a ticket for the expired tag.

Up until the first of May, I was having to gas up my little economy car twice a week. That is not the case anymore. Now, I can get to work and back with only one fill-up a week. Amazing! Driving slower really does use less gas. The speed limit here is 65, but I was going closer to 80 before my tags expired.

Here are some additional gas saving tips to help you cut some costs:

  1. Use www.fuelcostcalculator.com to check gas prices and see how much you will need if you’re taking a road trip.
  2. Plan your trips for errands so that you can avoid wasting gas by driving to the same area more than once a week. For me, I decided to only to my grocery shopping, which is 15 miles away, once a week. Not only is this saving gas, but it’s saving grocery money as I only have one chance to impulse shop now!
  3. Sign up for MyPoints and redeem your rewards points for gas gift cards. (If you want a referral, drop me a comment)
  4. Buy your gas in the morning, and not on weekends. I have noticed 2 things over the past month. Gas prices are always higher when I come home from work as opposed to when I am heading to work. And gas always seems to go up on Friday and not come back down in price until Monday.
  5. Try www.gasbuddy.com or www.aaa.com to look for lowest priced gas in your area.
  6. When you are getting gas and the pump clicks off, turn the handle abour 180 degrees. This gets the gas that is still in the handle to go into your tank. How many times have you pulled the handle out of your car only to have gas drip on your car or the ground? Don’t waste it, put it in your tank!
  7. Check your tire pressure
  8. Check and see if your air filter needs replaced. Ditto on the fuel filter.
  9. Rotate the tires and get an alignment if you need one.
  10. Commute or take public transportation if you can.
  11. Don’t accelerate quickly from a stop!
  12. Remove excess weight from your car. Do you really need those boxes and other junk you’re carrying around in the back of your car? Hauling that extra weight around takes more gas, which means more money!
  13. Accelerate before a hill so you can coast down the other side.
  14. Make sure your gas cap in on tight! When I was younger I actually left a gas cap on top of my car at a fillup and didn’t realize it until a week or so later when my parked car had no gas in it. It had evaporated!
  15. Use cruise control when you’re on the interstate.
  16. Remember that Sam’s and Costco might not have the cheapest gas, even after their member’s discount. The Shell station across the street from my Sam’s Club is $0.02 cheaper per gallon, even with my Sam’s Club member discount.