Quantcast Finally Frugal: November 2008

The bumpy road to financial independence. . . .


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Finally free. . . . .

of credit card debt!! You are reading the blog of a woman who owes NOTHING on her personal credit cards! This is at the top of my list of things to be thankful for this year:

  1. Consumer debt-free!
  2. I have not just one job, but two!
  3. I live in a wonderful, beautiful city!
  4. I own a cozy house that is my sanctuary.
I'm going to 'live in the moment' for once, and just revel in the feeling that having no credit card debt brings to me, without thinking about what comes next. I started this journey just over a year ago, by downsizing my bills and 'upsizing' my debt repayment. I began with almost $5,000 in credit card debt, and little by little, using every spare dollar that came my way (hello 'stimulus check' and 'tax refund'!), my balances are at zero!

Honestly, I've tried to pay my credit cards off quite a few times in the past, but somehow always ended up "needing" those new boots or that "stuff" at Target (who knows what it was) and the bills grew and grew. This time was different. Why? Because of the blogosphere (including my own little blog) and all of you encouraging me via your comments and emails. Without my electronic motivation, I don't think I would have succeeded.

So, number five on the list of things for which I'm thankful this year, is:

5. YOU! Whoever you are. Thanks for reading, encouraging, suggesting, and commenting. I couldn't have done it without you!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tough times. . .

I just received an email from the CEO of the company I work for in the evenings, asking us to improve our efficiency and accuracy, and letting us know that we would begin being compared to other employees. If we don't measure up, well, the implication is that we would be asked to go. I'm not particularly worried for myself (I just got a raise and a promotion, after all) but there were many anxious IM's and emails from my coworkers, wondering if we're about to see the axe drop. It was a little strange, and completely unexpected, to be honest. I suppose even grant-funded non-profits are suffering from the economic crisis. . .

On a more humorous note, I just came across this "memo" on a blog called The Iterative Life, from the "CEO" of the "Stober family", discussing these very same issues. This made me giggle and I thought I'd share it. Here it is in full, below:


TO: Stober Family Members, Newton Highlands Branch

FROM: Marc Stober, Chief Operating Officer

DATE: November 21, 2008

SUBJECT: The Financial Crisis

With the recent news on Wall Street, I have been hearing many concerns about our organization’s situation and wanted to take this opportunity to detail what we are doing from the top.

First, there will be no layoffs.

As you know, we are operating at a deficit this year, due to extraordinary child care and preschool expenses. It is important to note that this is unrelated to the general financial crisis, and these expenses are fully funded through school year 2008-9.

In terms of recurring revenue, our employers have indicated that they are committed to continuing at present levels on a monthly basis. However, they are also facing pressure, and, based on our discussions with them, we are budgeting for a significantly smaller increase in revenue compared to what we have seen in recent years.

At present, our greatest exposure is highly leveraged real estate debt used to purchase our primary residence. While related debt service is our largest recurring expense, the good news is that this is a fixed expense that will not increase until at least 2013. We believe our investment is fundamentally sound, and will achieve long-term growth while continuing to provide immediate benefits through use of the underlying assets, regardless of the current market.

Our extended family’s long history of continuous operation through difficult times–including the Great Depression–gives us the strength to navigate in the present climate. However, in light of the global financial situation, there are some measures we are taking to cut back expenses. We feel these measures are prudent to preserve cash flow in the face of uncertain growth and unfavorable credit prospects.

The most difficult budget issue is transportation, and we have not made any final decisions. As you know, our second car was scheduled for replacement at the end of this school year, and we may decide to extend its service life. The reason we have not made a final decision is that repair costs required for this course of action are yet unknown. While this is potentially disappointing, keep in mind that our primary car still serves over 80% or our non-transit transportation needs. We committed to meeting those needs, and through a program of regular maintenance (that has not been cut), we have not had any unplanned downtime for a primary car in over 4 years. Additionally, thanks to successful strategic planning undertaken by the Board, we are uniquely situated for a suburban family to be able to utilize the MBTA as a safe, cost-effective option.

In the Travel and Entertainment category, you will find that fewer requests to eat in restaurants will be approved, and requests for desserts in restaurants, particularly, will not be approved (unless they are included in the cost of a kid’s meal). In the case of Cabot’s or The Cheesecake Factory, where ice cream or cheesecake, respectively, is kind of the point, sharing is strongly encouraged. An additional benefit of this will be improved health. Netflix has been put on hold for 90 days, and we will reconsider that offering then; unopened red envelopes left on top of the TV indicate a lack of demand at present. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions are subject to elimination as well. Executives, including myself, are being asked to purchase regular coffee in place of more expensive coffee drinks while traveling, and to utilize meals from our on-site food service provider whenever possible.

Charitable giving will continue, primarily to organizations to which we have supported on a regular annual basis, and new requests will be considered individually.

All major vacations, home improvements, and furniture purchases are temporarily put on hold, unless essential. Pre-approved food and clothing purchases can continue as needed and may be subject to increased budget scrutiny.

Lastly, note that we have no plans to add human resources. Requests for non-human resources (i.e., pets) may be considered in a future fiscal year.

The bottom line is that while the coming years may not be everything we want, we will stay together and have great stories to tell the grandkids.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hmmmm. . . . .

As I continue to contemplate my status as a homeowner (and I don't mean 'status' in the "I'm superior to renters" way), I often wonder about the real benefit---especially as home values (including my own, I fear) plummet. I know that I've grown up thinking that I was "supposed" to own a home. That I wouldn't truly be successful until I stopped throwing my money down the drain by renting. And, granted, when I sold my first house in California, I did make some money---primarily because values were so incredibly inflated at that time (mid 2006).

As much as I love my cozy house, at this point, I would sell it if I thought I could and not lose money. Even breaking even would create some stress and anxiety that I'm not willing to undertake, since in Portland homes are taking an average of around 90 days to sell. In the whole scheme of things, owning a home right now just doesn't seem so wonderful. If I were a renter, I could stop working like a maniac at two jobs and put some more money in savings and retirement vehicles.

I came across an article that discusses the compulsion Americans feel towards purchasing, owning, a home. This column is written by Mark Morford, one of my all-time favorite newspaper writers. Full disclosure: Mark (since I'm one of the thousands of 'friends' on his Facebook page, I feel that I can call him by his first name) has a writing style that could be termed 'irreverent'. He puts it all out there without shame, nor does he mince words. And the words he uses! Well, let's just say he's not exactly your prim and proper newspaper columnist. Which is probably why I find his columns so delightful.

Anyway, I thought his topic was interesting today; and I loved the inference that anyone---especially an economist---who claims that remaining a renter could possibly be more beneficial than owning is the antichrist of American capitalism. This truly made me think about where my notions of homeownership came from---why I was so driven to buy when I could have simply rented happily for years. This is not to say that once I sell my house I'll never buy again. Only that I'll scrutinize the decision a tad more than I did this time, to make sure that I'm not simply buying a house to prove that I can or to feel successful or to add to my net worth in some way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Overwhelmed? Have I got the book for you.

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the publisher of an author named Louis Barajas. Mr. Barajas has a new book just out, and his representative wondered if I would be interested in reviewing it on the blog. Once I heard the title I had a feeling it would be right up my alley---and maybe yours too!

This self-help book is called 'Overworked, Overwhelmed, and Underpaid: Simple Steps to Go From Stress to Success'. Mr. Barajas is a financial planner, who focuses on underrepresented, lower income families who need help digging themselves out of debt and determining what to do with their limited money to afford the greatest security. He also does work with upper income folks, many of whom also struggle with questions surrounding personal finance.

I found his website to be very helpful, with many of the downloadeable forms that were mentioned in his book. I should note that Mr. Barajas has also written books regarding entrepreneurship and small businesses, which is a focus of his newest book.

So, how DOES one escape the cycle of feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and underpaid? The book is actually laid out in a very organized fashion (and I do love organization!).

First, Mr. Barajas discusses the concept of overwork (as someone who works two jobs and goes to school, I felt I could relate). In essence, the message is very similar to my other favorite book, Your Money or Your Life. The main focus of this chapter is on determining what is important in our lives, and gaining balance based on that knowledge. There is a 'life blueprint' form that can help us to figure out how much of our lives we really want to devote to work, versus the time and energy we'd like to devote to family, other relationships, spirituality, or hobbies. For me, it was incredibly helpful to see my life on paper, and to make decisions that I could view in black and white, versus simply considering---with no commitment to change---while on my way to work!

Next, Mr. Barajas turns to feelings of being overwhelmed. Again, the key word in this section is 'balance'. Except in this case, Mr. Barajas discusses the 80/20 rule, in which it is posited that 80 percent of our 'output' is actually connected to just 20 percent of the energy we expend. The key here is to determine (by using lists and prioritizing our activity based on level of success or output) what it is we're doing (what is the 20%) that is accounting for 80% of our output. The theory is that then, we can achieve more with less. Less time, that is. Now, for someone with just one job or one obligation, I think this might make sense. In my own life, I found it difficult to separate each of my jobs and obligations and determine what to cut. For example, my day job is a 40 hour per week position. Although I know that some of those 40 hours are much more productive than others, I need a full time salary to pay my bills (or most of 'em, anyway!). Therefore, even if I'm only using 20% of that time usefully, I can't just leave work when I'm finished---I at least have to pretend to be getting things done so I can keep my salary and my benefits. My 'overwhelmedness' comes not from having too much to do at ONE job, but at having too many jobs! Something to think about, definitely. When I have time, I'm going to try to apply Mr. Barajas' ideas to my own unique situation to see if I can make some changes that will help.

Finally, we come to being underpaid. This section brought up some very good issues, such as the five reasons we may feel underpaid:

  1. You really ARE paid less than you're worth
  2. You don't make enough to support the lifestyle you want (or the one you already have)
  3. You're putting in more effort than you're being compensated for
  4. Work is taking you away from what's important to you
  5. You don't enjoy your work
As you can see, these are all quite different reasons for why we might feel like we're not making enough money (I can relate to several). Mr. Barajas then goes through a myriad of options for either changing careers, making more money at the career you already have, or making other changes that will affect the 'bottom line'. I hoped to see more discussion of frugal living (since that's my interest, and how I've given myself a 'raise' over the past year). However, this book is focused more on people who are willing and able to make career changes---maybe even those who would want to start their own business, since that seems to be a way to control and grow one's income more quickly than through conventional routes (like working in public education, as I do!)

In the end, I feel that this is a worthwhile book. While I've linked to Amazon.com just so you can read a synopsis of the book, I (of course) always recommend trying your public library or used book store first---it's not a financial 'bible', like Your Money or Your Life. But it is a good read, and one that I recommend to those who are thinking about making some big changes in the way they consider the interaction between work and personal life.

In fact, if this sounds interesting, I'll spread the love and mail my copy of this book to the first person who comments on this post (if you've actually made it this far you DESERVE a free book!). Just be sure to either enter your email address, or send me a separate email with your mailing address so I can send it along to you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Frugal business travel. . . .

I'm back from my business trip (to a tropical locale, no less)! Since I was traveling to an area that is known for high prices, I wanted to pay special attention to my per diems; usually when I travel for work (which is rarely), I end up overdoing it and having to spend my own precious money to break even at the end of the trip.

This time, I did several things that helped me to stay within my business travel budget:

  • I stocked up on snacks to eat at the airport and in between conference sessions, so I wasn't tempted by the $4 muffins at the Starbucks in the hotel;
  • The conference supplied a free "continental breakfast" several mornings, which allowed me to skip the $17 version of a continental breakfast offered at the hotel restaurant!
  • The breakfast muffins and croissants were often left out or replenished for the two daily coffee breaks; at the last coffee break, I would take an extra muffin (only when I knew there were enough for everyone) to snack on later;
  • I avoided the more expensive restaurants to which my coworkers and new conference friends wanted to go to. This has been my downfall in the past: when everyone else is ordering the $20 hamburger, the $12 drinks, and the requisite dessert, it's tough to rein in my hunger/thirst AND stay within the $50 per diem for dinner!
  • Finally, I avoided the trinket and tourist shops, and walked away with some edible gifts for the office but nothing for myself.
All in all, it was a good trip! The weather was fantastic, I had fun and learned a lot at the conference, and the best part is that my employer will pay for 100% of the trip---not a dime will have to come out of my own pocket, which is as it should be!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Continuing a frugal habit. . . .

Last year I began my frugal journey, beginning with decreasing the amount of energy I use around the house. I unplugged appliances, turned down the heat (way down!), stopped using fans on hot days, and made sure I turned off lights when I was leaving the room.

It paid off! Here are the differences in my gas bill over last year:

November 2008 bill: $9.18
November 2007 bill: $26.56

As for my electricity bill, that's been a bit more difficult, but I'm still seeing some savings there as well:

November 2008 bill: $44.94
November 2007 bill: $53.13

I think last winter I shivered more than I've ever done in my life. This year, I feel as if I'm a bit more 'immune' to the cold. Having my thermostat at 62 degrees on cold days seems almost too warm, if you can believe that! I'm hoping my immunity will last through the cold, dark winter.

As I pay off my credit card (a little less than a week from now!) and begin to think about increasing my savings and starting to chip away at my student loan debt, I'll want to remember these small victories; saving $9 dollars here and $11 dollars there may not seem like much, but over time these small savings have allowed me to meet a big goal--of doing away with my consumer debt.

Next week, I'll be away at a conference---I'm traveling frugally there, too. Although my employer will pay for the majority of my trip, I'm also buying my own snacks to bring along so I'm not tempted to pay $5 for a granola bar or bar of chocolate (I'll be in a very expensive location) . . . . Anyway, just a reminder that I may not be able to post for awhile, but I'll be back!

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Don't forget to vote. . . . .

After two lonnngggggggg years of campaigning, the day is finally here. No matter what your political orientation or how you will vote, be sure your voice is heard today!

If you need additional incentive, just know this: If you don't vote, you don't get to complain about anything our government does for the next four years! (-:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spreading the love. . . .

Momstheword tagged me for an award! Thanks! And now I get to pass it on to someone else. . . . .

The rules are that I'm supposed to mention who gave me the award (done!) and then comment on their blog that I posted the award (done!).

Then list six values that I hold, six things I don’t support, and pass this on to six people.

So, here goes:

Six values that I hold:

  • Frugality (of course!)
  • Empathy and generosity toward those who are less fortunate than I
  • Carving out some time for friends and family amid the chaos of life
  • Continuing to learn and grow, always
  • Viewing peope as equals regardless of their beliefs or actions
  • Taking care of myself (physically, mentally and spiritually) so I can help others
Six values that I don't support:
  • Greed
  • Judging others who hold differing beliefs
  • Always being "right"
  • Dishonesty
  • Violence and aggression toward the self, toward others, or toward the environment
  • Laziness
And now, to whom should this Kreative Blogger award go next?

Six blogs I enjoy:
So there you have it, folks! I hope you'll visit these bloggers, as I do from time to time. I can honestly say that I wouldn't be $171 away from being free and clear of credit card debt without the blogosphere to educate and support my efforts!

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