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Archive for December, 2008

So frustrated!

December 31st, 2008 at 06:23 pm

The ongoing saga of AS's layoff--who knew it would be such a drama?

First off, she got rejected for the private health care she applied for, because she's "high-risk" due to her high blood pressure. Um, OK, if a 29-year-old with high blood pressure that is well-managed with medication is high-risk, I can't imagine what at least a quarter of the U.S. population is considered..."imminent corpses"? So she's working on applying for a Minnesota insurance for high-risk applicants. We're hoping she does not have to resort to COBRA, which will eat up about half of her unemployment pay (before copays and deductibles).

Then, today her last paycheck was about $400 less than I expected. She checked and found out that her week of severance pay wouldn't come till next pay period. No problem. Then she did some further digging and found out that, because she hadn't signed some line on her final layoff forms, and gone to get another set of forms, she had basically waived her right to severance pay! Huh? And no one noticed this slight clerical error and gave her a chance to rectify it, and now it's too late because it needed to be done on the last day of employment.

Needless to say I'm livid, and I'm trying to make her push for her severance pay. After all, this office has not stood on ceremony (e.g., basic legal employer procedure) for most other things in this layoff process--why be picky about the process now? Besides, who the fuck ever heard of a company letting you go without severance, and not helping you through the process and ensuring you would get severance? It's insane that no one noticed--it's a big college, but her department was tiny.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. If we can't get this resolved, chances are I will miss my first savings goal of the New Year. Not the end of the world, but extremely aggravating and disheartening. Poor AS. This process has been a bigger clusterfuck than any of us could have predicted. Let's hope at least the unemployment pay comes in without a hitch--so far two of the three big financial pieces of this puzzle (severance pay and health care) are still in red-tape hell.

January goals

December 30th, 2008 at 05:02 pm

OK, here's my first attempt to do a month of multiple goals, per my New Year's resolution. The goals have to be in each of six categories:

1. DEBT. Pay off at least $1,500
Balance as of 12/30: $409,865
Goal balance: $408,365

2. SAVINGS. Save at least $1,550: $1,200 for the baby/emergency fund, $350 for the birthdays fund.
EF balance: $33.18; Goal balance: 1233.18
BD balance: $0; Goal balance: $350.00

3. HEALTH/FITNESS. Work out at least 10 times.

4. GREEN. Catch up on washing/reusing produce bags, ziplocs and plastic bags (I have a big stack of produce bags that need washing out; I've fallen down a bit during the holidays).

5. CRAFTS/CREATIVITY. Mend our rag rug. Get AS to show me how. Smile

6. PHILANTHROPY. Collect unused eyeglasses and donate to Lions Club or some other charity. I have two pairs I've been meaning to donate somewhere, and I want to see if I can gather some more from work and friends and make one big donation.

Wow, my sidebar is going to get a lot longer with all this!

Debt payoff totals for 2008

December 30th, 2008 at 07:15 am

I looked back at my past months' results and calculated that we paid off $35,122 in total debt this year. From looking at my CC debt in the sidebar, you would think $32,995 of it was credit card/personal debt. However, $4,274 was transferred from the CC category to the education category as I used excess student loan money to pay down my personal loan, thus increasing education debt and reducing CC/personal.

In reality, I paid off $28,721 in CC debt and $6,401 in mortgage and/or education debt.

I won't be paying off that much in 2009, I don't think; if I pay minimums only, we'll pay off about $18,000. But there will still be a couple of exciting milestones: Our CC debt will at least get below $30K, and our total debt should get down below $400,000 within seven months. If I figure worst-case scenario, those are the only two biggies that will happen in '09. However, that's not to say things won't turn around at some point during the year.

OK, I'm just babbling sleepily now. Time to watch a bit of TV and then get into bed!

Reached December goal!

December 29th, 2008 at 09:07 pm

I just put a cashier's check for $1000 in the mail to my dad. I know I should wait till it's in his hands, but I really want to reach my December goal, so I'm considering that a payment made!

My December goal was to pay $2536 by Wednesday, and I've paid $2671. Even better, I've now paid my dad exactly half what he loaned me for the condo--$6000 out of $12000. I'll try not to take another 5 years paying off the second half!

That's my last payment of the month and the year, so I'll be posting my January goals soon. My New Year's resolution was to have goals in other categories besides just debt repayment, so it might take me a couple days to figure out what I want to accomplish and put it all into words. I've been so happy and distracted by the holidays that I haven't really thought seriously about it yet.

Payment to student loan

December 28th, 2008 at 07:29 pm

$99 to principal on one of AS's student loans. That's $1671 down, $865 to go on the December goal.

Happy Boxing Day and Kwanzaa! (and progress on Dec. goal)

December 26th, 2008 at 06:38 pm

Having a nice relaxing day at home, balancing the books and drinking coffee. A payment went to the UK credit card: US$80 to principal. $1572 down, $964 to go on the December goal.

I was going to go mail my payment to my dad today, but I don't have anything else to do until later, so I'm just going to mail it Monday. That way it'll still count for December and I'll reach my goal.

My parents sent boxes of gifts and were way generous as usual, so I guess the recession isn't hurting them too bad. I realized that they probably sent the three of us enough in Xmas gifts, gift cards and money to about cancel out the check I'm sending to them. Smile Oh well. I didn't get them Xmas gifts, just sent a card, but NT decided that with part of his bonus we should get flowers or something else nice for each of our families, so I ordered a really nifty birdseed wreath to be delivered on New Year's Eve. They have several birdbaths and bird feeders, so hopefully they'll like it. My dad's diabetic and not really into flowers, so it was the one thing that grabbed me on the FTD site.

Hope everyone's week has been great so far! We went to our friends' place for Christmas Eve, and a few other people came over as well. We fixed Japanese and traditional holiday treats and drank sake, and our friend read aloud a David Sedaris essay about Xmas in Norway.

Xmas day was really mellow, just lots of opening presents and then playing around with said presents. We'd picked up a vegan roast from Whole foods and made some mashed potatoes, stuffing and vegan green-bean casserole to go with it.

I have today off, and AS doesn't have a job anymore, so we're both home. Ironically, NT, the lone person used to getting Boxing Day off, has to work, but with any luck he'll get out early. This afternoon/evening we're going out for drinks with some friends, so I don't know if we'll cook the dinner we planned or end up getting some carryout food somewhere. We've got plenty of spending money right now, so it's an option.

Oh, and we booked our Vegas trip (flight and hotel) for March! Woo hoo! With those parts out of the way, we can plan the rest of the trip at our leisure over the next few months.

December net worth update

December 23rd, 2008 at 07:06 pm

NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $2,898
AS's 403(b): $3,010
AS's CD: $500
CJ's 401(k): $20,212
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $170,000
Total Assets: $492,570

Total Debt: $411,044

Current Estimated Net Worth: $81,526

November 2008 estimate: $78,119

Change in net worth: +$3,407

Summary: We paid off at least $1,500 in debt; AS and I showed small gains in our retirement accounts; AS has a new CD in her name; and NT's bonus included 401(k) contribution (with matching!), so his account's value went up nearly $1,000.

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.50 per British pound.

Mo' money

December 22nd, 2008 at 06:23 pm

NT got some more money recently (he's my golden goose!), from England this time. US$40 from his aunt and uncle, and an FYI from his mom that his gran had deposited 750 pounds in his UK bank account. We are doing great over there--we have enough in the checking account to cover 4 months of UK bills. This extra money will take care of the 999-year land lease we have to buy next year, as well as those months when management fees get taken out of his rental income. That means we won't have to send a penny over for the forseeable future. (Remember when I had to send thousands over, at $50 a pop?)

We are telling gran her gift is going into the baby fund, because essentially it is--now we know that every extra cent we make here in the U.S. can go toward baby. I always had it in the back of my mind that I was going to have to deal with that lease, but now I know I won't!

2009 New Year's resolutions

December 19th, 2008 at 09:58 pm

OK, I've put this off long enough. I've decided that I can't see far enough into the future to see what I'll be capable of in the upcoming year, but I know what areas of my life need goals. My monthly debt repayment goals have really helped me focus on something that needs ongoing commitment, so I'm going to try that with other self-improvement projects that also need constant focus to keep going strong.

So for each of the following areas, I'm going to post a goal at the beginning of each month and a result at the end. It might be something small or large depending on the circumstances of that particular month.

1. Continue to pay off at least the required minimum amount of debt.

2. Start saving money in a baby/emergency/eventual-debt-repay fund.

3. Pay attention to health and fitness.

4. Become more green and reduce my footprint.

5. Be more craftsy or creative: Learn new skills or start and complete new projects using existing talents.

6. Be more philanthropic; try to do things for the good of others.

Buncha good money news

December 19th, 2008 at 05:18 pm

Christmas came early this year for us! Well, a few days early anyway.

First, AS applied for unemployment, and they gave her an estimate for her weekly payment. It's about $75 more per week than I thought! Then I realized that I was calculating based on her net income, which usually has retirement, health insurance and bus pass taken out. So we're looking at nearly $300 per month more than expected. That's really great! I'm hoping I also overestimated the dent my new, more expensive healthcare will put in my own paycheck, but I won't find that out till Jan. 15. That's OK, $300 is quite enough to play with! $120 will go toward AS's third student loan, but that doesn't start till March. Looks like the baby fund will be getting a little infusion of cash, and I think I'll set aside some for AS's retirement too, so she's not missing out on contributing just because she's unemployed.

Also, NT's bonus came in. Now, my company gave us a $100 gift card, and I was happy to get it considering the state of the economy. We knew NT's company did quite a bit better and that he'd be getting about $4,000, or maybe $2700 after taxes. Well, it turns out they decided to give him $6000, so we cleared $3957 after taxes!

I'm garnishing $2300 of that to make sure our Vegas trip is fully funded, but I'm not going to fight NT for the remaining $1657. He's been looking so forward to this bonus, and he's worked damn hard this year: 40+ hours at work plus 4 nights of classes + homework. And he still does some of the chores, despite my best efforts to stop him. Anyway, I have a feeling some of that money's gonna benefit me one way or another, knowing his generosity. Smile So I'm quite happy for it all to be mad money. With AS's unemployment being so much, my budget has plenty for me to use for more-practical purposes.

AS and I are racing to get her health insurance settled before Jan. 1, because her work insurance only lasts through the end of December. If we don't get there, we'll either try and get COBRA set up for a month, or I'll strap pillows on all her limbs and make her sit perfectly still until we get her covered again. Smile

Passed a milestone I didn't even notice

December 18th, 2008 at 06:16 pm

So I started this journey in July 2007 with $457,714 [EDIT $459,388; my initial tally back in '07 must have been a little off, because I've been scrupulous about tracking debt paid and debt remaining, and those add up to this amount] in current and anticipated debt. And I've paid off $48,344 since then. I've been keeping an eye on the total amount so I could celebrate passing the $50,000 mark, but I just realized another milestone that I actually passed in November and didn't even notice: we've paid off more than 10% of our entire debt!

Could I really have missed that? I looked through my November entries and don't see mention of it, so I guess it escaped my notice.

Someone (creditcardfree, maybe?) posted recently about how it's important to note these little steps. And since our debt repayment is going to go way slower for an indefinite time period, I'll celebrate anything that helps me keep my enthusiasm up.

One more step toward goal

December 16th, 2008 at 04:26 pm

Personal loan payment hit, with $523 going to principal. That's $1,492 down, $1,044 to go on my December goal. I will mail my dad's check out after Christmas (per his request, to avoid mail rush) and then I have a student loan payment for AS and a credit card payment for NT near the end of the month, so I should surpass easily. Yay! Since I've decided to continue my challenges right to the end of the month, even if I hit my goal before then, I won't post my final results till New Year's Eve.

Still considering what I want to do for my New Year's resolutions. Since monthly debt payoff challenges have worked so well to keep me focused in that area, I'm thinking about creating monthly fitness and environmental challenges as well. I might make that my resolution, rather than specific measurements, since it's really an unpredictable year I'm facing (exciting, but not good for making specific resolutions Smile ). But, I've still got a little time to think it over.

What are the best- and worst-case scenarios?

December 14th, 2008 at 07:18 pm

AS just asked me an interesting question. She wondered how optimistic (or despairing) frugal people are about the future (economic and quality-of-life-wise and existence-of-country-wise) of the U.S.

I told her personally I was 95% confident that the U.S. would continue in some form or another, that our self-interest as a country would save us, but that I wasn't confident our home or retirement investments would end up being worth anything, and that we might not be retiring, like, ever. But I don't think we'll be foraging for food in the city park, or be wiped out by mass starvation and hunger.

Without straying into partisan tirades on either side, what do you think are the best- and worst-case outcomes of our current financial distress?

Student loan payment; and what am I doing still awake??

December 9th, 2008 at 08:13 am

OK, it's 2 a.m. here and I should be asleep. It's rare I stay up past midnight, but AS and I were completing some craft projects as gifts for NT's family. She made bath "tea bags," taco seasoning blend, lemon and orange flavored sugar, some sugar and salt bath scrubs, and monogrammed hankies for NT's dad. I made candied ginger, some ginger-scented sugar with the remainder in the pan, and the labels and instructions for all the containers. Now I'm trying to relax so I can get sleepy. I'm going to be dead tomorrow! I hope it's an easy day at work.

Anyway, I checked AS's student loan account, and the payment finally hit. $55 went to principal, so that's $969 down, $1567 to go in my December goal. I've realized I can't pay my dad $1000 until the 15th, and that's about when a couple other payments hit, so I probably won't see any movement on my goal till then.

Calculating a month's expenses in an emergency

December 8th, 2008 at 06:32 pm

So I've recently decided to stop focusing on extra debt repay in the new year and try to save up emergency fund/baby fund money instead.

Question for those of you who already have emergency funds: How do you calculate a month's expenses? I went through much more of a thought process than I expected to when setting up my amount:

- I figured I could drop my cable and Internet with no penalty, but it would cost so much to cancel our three cell phones that it would be less financial stress to keep them going in an emergency, and I'm already at the cheapest family plan I could find.

- I dropped all fun money categories except $20 per week per person, knowing that in extreme privation we could of course drop that too.

- I was going to slash our rather extravagant household/grocery expense category a lot, but then I figured there was a chance I'd be expecting or have a child, so I couldn't have too little in that category. I took it down from $900 to $600.

- Two of the student loans are government issued, and I know from experience that you can get those deferred fairly easily in times of financial woe, so I cut those out of the emergency expenses.

- Our condo costs nearly $2000 per month between mortgage and association dues (which include utilities), and I know I could rent an adequate place in our neighborhood for half that. However, the financial ruin it would cause to walk away from the place or try to sell it in a way-down market makes me think I should factor in those costs and try to keep the place in an emergency. For this same reason I decided I would keep homeowner's insurance if possible.

- One of our bus passes is free due to work and school, and two of them we get at a reduced rate. But assuming a true emergency would mean none of us could work (and we'd want to drop school so as not to incur further debt), I had to add $85 per person to the budget for monthly bus passes, so we could all get around during our imagined emergency.

- I was going to cut out barber completely, until I realized that we would be looking for work and need to look at least passable. So I thought maybe one of us could skip the barber each month, and I allocated $40 instead of $60 per month.

- If none of us could work, we'd need to purchase health insurance. I decided to allocate $1200 for that, because AS applied for health insurance recently and it will cost $400 per month to pay the $100 fee and save up enough money to cover the annual deductible. Of course best-case scenario we wouldn't go through the entire deductible, but this year has taught me you can't assume that just because you think you're healthy.

So all told, a month of emergency expenses would be $5,451.43. Yikes, it will take a while just to save one month's worth. I could probably get it down more if NT and I could find health insurance together and if I spent less on grocery/household expenses. But that is my best estimate. Here's the breakdown if anyone is interested in the details, and feel free to give your opinion (I'm new to figuring this sort of thing out):

Monthly expenses need for emergency fund (estimated)
Set aside for Nationwide annual bill ($240 on Feb. 26) -$20.00
Bus passes (3 @ $85) -$255.00
Cell phones -$83.00
Personal loan -$622.67
Spending money -$65.00
16th-31st groceries/household -$300.00
Spending money -$65.00
Barber -$40.00
Health care -$1,200.00
Mortgage -$1,436.03
1st-15th groceries/household -$300.00
Spending money -$65.00
AS student loan #1 -$64.08
Credit card -$275.00
Condo association -$548.64
Spending money -$65.00
NT student loan -$47.01
TOTAL -$5,451.43

EDIT: I'm still considering what my goals should be, but one thing I did accomplish was cut spending money and reduce grocery money in my emergency budget, so I've got it down to $4,991.43.

Spending like a fool + debt repayment decision made

December 7th, 2008 at 08:14 pm

The last few days I've been spending money by the boatload! It's all planned, allocated spending and/or use of my own spending money, but it's kind of amazing how much I've gone through.

I spent over $300 on Xmas gifts for AS and NT, mostly online.

I bought about $150 worth of books for NT's next semester (saving over $100 off full-price books, woo hoo!).

Our grocery shopping, which usually runs about $125 for the main Saturday trip, was up closer to $200. But we were gathering supplies for a bunch of homemade gifts for family and friends, so really a cheap price considering how many people we'll be able to make gifts for with it.

And I bought $25 shoes and $10 double-sided clothing tape for NT's holiday party. AS made me a gorgeous strapless dress, and I wanted to make sure it had some help staying up! Smile

So a very "spendy" week, but nothing I didn't have money for, so I guess I feel pretty good about it! Plus, it's going to be exciting when all the packages from my online ordering start rolling in.

Oh, and a follow-up to the last entry about where to put my extra debt repayment money: NT and AS agreed it would be a good gesture to give it to my dad. Then I'll have paid half what I owed him, and he'll know I'm good for the rest eventually. Besides, my dad is 76 years old, and his retirement funds are probably tanking like everyone else's, so maybe it will even be a welcome infusion of cash for him (even though I'm pretty sure my dad's doing well--he's a smart, frugal guy). And at most, it only delays repayment of my 8.9% loan by two months, so it's not affecting our progress that much.

So I'll get his bank info and make the transfer on Monday. Yay!


December 5th, 2008 at 05:25 pm

I owe my dad $7,000. He loaned me $12,000 back in 2003 for a down payment on my condo. I paid him back $5,000 over the first two years, but more recently I've chosen to put extra money toward debt that charges interest and has a regular payment. So it's been about three years since I made a payment.

My most recent plan was to pay off my final higher-interest (8.99%) debt and then focus all my energies on paying my dad off. He's never asked for a payment or displayed any need or urgency, but I feel compelled to make good on this as soon as I can.

My 8.99% loan is now at $14,000. It looks like, with AS's layoff, general economic instability and baby plans in the future, I won't be able to pay extra on it much longer. If I pay the minimum on the debt, I'll pay it off in 28 months. That's over two years before I'd start paying my dad...

I was going to pay an extra $1,000 to my 8.99% debt this month, and then stop paying extra until things have stabilized. But I am starting to think I should give that $1,000 to my dad. I won't be able to pay him the remaining amount anytime soon unless I take out another debt to do so; this may be my last chance to give him any part of it for awhile. It doesn't make financial sense, but does it make enough emotional sense that I should do it?

Two more payments hit

December 2nd, 2008 at 04:29 pm

U.S. mortgage: $271 toward principal
And my credit card: $228 to principal

$914 down, $1,622 to go on my December goal.

And $38,859 in official CC/personal debt left to go.

BTW, I got an e-mail from the above credit card, reducing my credit limit to just above what I owe on it. Then I saw in the news that more and more credit companies were rescinding credit. Funny! There was a time where if I paid down my credit cards on time or ahead of time, they would keep bumping the credit amount higher and higher. Honestly, I like it better this way.

Mortgage payments and interesting interest changes

December 1st, 2008 at 10:02 pm

The UK mortgage payments hit today:
$166, $36 and $37 went to principal, for a total of $239.

$415 down, $2121 to go in my December goal.

When I went to the UK account online to verify the mortgage payments, there were e-mail notifications about interest rate changes. (NT's rates can change at any time.) I'd actually missed notification from about a month ago saying the rates had gone down to 5.49%. That would have been exciting on its own. These newer notifications let me know that the rates have gone down to 3.99%! That's just amazing; the payments are significantly smaller this month, meaning more money saved for other UK rental expenses. I don't know how long it will last, but even for a little while it's going to be very helpful.

My U.S. mortgage payment has not hit, weirdly enough, but it says it's processing, so I'll check again tomorrow. When I checked my account online, I noticed something truly bizarre. Our interest rate was listed as 5.75%, but I swear it adjusted up to 5.99% from 5.0% in November, and was not going to adjust again until November '09. I didn't see any notices about it either in e-mail or regular mail. I'll have to call them when I get a chance and see what's going on. I hope it's for real!