Monthly Archives: May 2008

Making the Switch

For the last few days, I’ve been impatiently waiting for a few checks to arrive. When I get my stimulus check and my travel reimbursement, I’ll be able to make a $1600 credit-card payment. That will also include my $400 in snowflakes. This payment will wipe out Card #1 and pay some on my last lump of debt, all rolled into that one low-interest card. I know that I can’t count my chickens before their hatched. Anything could happen between now and when my checks arrive, but it seems likely that I can mail off those payments.

It also seems very likely that I can pay everything off by October 1, seven months ahead of schedule. At that point, I plan on permanently making the switch from a “revolver” to a “convenience user.” The credit card industry divides people into these two categories. Convenience users, currently 39% of all cardholders, pay their charges off in full each month. Revolvers carry balances and contributed to the 34 billion dollars of profit credit card companies made last year. After all these years of paying interest, fretting about debt, and all the rest, it is going to be glorious to wash my hands of the whole mess and hop over to the “deadbeat” convenience-user category in the eyes of the banks.

While my new budget, snowflaking, and blogging are all helping me to pay off my cards early, there is another life change that is making a huge difference: my upcoming marriage. No, the future husband isn’t paying off my cards, but just being in a two-income household has increased my standard of living. It also means that I only pay $330 a month toward the cell phone and house costs. When I lived in Maryland, I paid $925 a month in rent alone. I had roughly the same salary that I have now, but my budget was much, much tighter.

I’ve been reading Credit Card Nation by Robert D. Manning. It was published in 2000, so his analysis focuses on the changes in credit from the 1960s through the 1990s. On a side note, it’s amazing what eight years will do. Looking back at life before 9/11, the Iraq War, sky-rocketing gas and food prices, I wonder what we all worried about! On the credit front, the past eight years have just amplified the trends Manning was identifying. One trend that has really got me thinking is the “moral divide.”

Manning describes how many stories in the media follow the personal narrative of a single debtor. So, we hear the individual story of one family who foolishly racked up $75,000 in debt. They are at fault for their consumption, have to repent, and redeem themselves through hard work, thrift, and savings. Even if it means well, this kind of narrative places the blame on the individual for his or her foolish choices.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans have seen real wages stagnate and must cope with rising costs, so they use credit to mask their declining standard of living. In some ways, Manning identifies the old American drama.  Rather than examine the serious societal changes that are affecting someone, it is easier to find some personal flaw to explain his or her bad fortune.

Current definitions top the “middle class” at $60,000 per year per household and “the upper middle class” at $80,000 per year per household. Before my marriage, I was squarely in the middle class. On a middle-class salary, where I lived, I could not afford to buy a house, rent took nearly half my take-home income, and there wasn’t much money for extras. All my furniture was second-hand or a gift. Credit cards filled the gap when I needed extra groceries, gas, or any “treats.” Part of my debt comes from my own foolish choices, but part of that comes from forces beyond my control.

Whenever I pat myself on the back for my new-found thrift, hard work, and savings, I need to remember that it’s not all about me. We now live in a country where 60% of Americans are carrying revolving debt. When you add in the people who use payday lending loans and other, even more nefarious forms of credit, I’m sure the number rises. Most people rely on credit because their real wages have been steadily falling. As we all dig our way out of debt, I hope we remember that it is not just our own bad choices, but our country’s bad choices that have landed us in the mess we’re in.

Daily Accounting: Weekend Update

Earned: $0 Spent: $0 Saved: $0

I had a great spend-no-money weekend. Of course, it is much easier not to spend money with the future husband around. He bought a few groceries at Meijer’s and treated me to dinner out last night. He also bought a gift for one of his daugher’s friends. Still, between the two of us, we spent a lot less than we used to. We were running low on groceries, but I was proud that I managed to just use what was in the pantry. I didn’t have all the ingredients for one cake recipe, so I dug around and found another recipe. Before, I would have rushed out and bought whatever I needed; this time, I took a second look and made a delicious cake with what we had on hand.

I also made a very yummy “green” meal Saturday night. I had leftover roasted asparagus and asparagus soup. I also had enough lettuce and spinach growing for a pretty big salad. I added in some breaded fish fillets and opened a can of green beans in case the younger one didn’t like the asparagus soup. I put the soup out first in little ramekins. It was a very bright green, so I figured the younger one (who used to be pickier) would turn her nose up at it. Instead, she loved it and said the salad was her favorite part of the meal. I think she liked that I was out picking lettuce as they came home from playing basketball. When I first started cooking for the future husband’s family, she often requested peanut butter or mac and cheese. Now that she helps out in the kitchen for most meals, goes to the farm with me, and watches food growing in our backyard, she’s become quite an adventurous eater. It’s been fun to see that transformation! Now that she’s not as picky, I can rely on leftovers more and plan more frugal meals. So, the “green” meal was quite a success.

Today, I’ve got to start editing my conference paper, print out the wedding invitation inserts, and put the tomato plants in the ground. Have a good Monday!

Daily Accounting: Why Goals are Awesome

Earned: $172 Spent: $20 Saved: $0

On May 3rd, I posted my goals for May. Here it is May 10th, and I’m amazed to report that I’ve already acheived two of my goals! One milestone is all thanks to you; I’ve added fifteen new subscribers. Thanks so much everyone who subscribed! If you still haven’t, remember it’s easy, free, and I’ll love you forever! :)

The other goal achieved was my snowflaking target. I now have 408 extra dollars to throw at my debt this month! My mini-garage sale yesterday was a big success. I have to give a shout-out to Antishay (a constant source of great ideas). In her “snowflaking business” series, she gave examples of how she advertises on criagslist. I followed her lead and posted a friendly and very specific listing of all the IKEA furniture that I was selling. One woman e-mailed back and forth about it. Sure enough, she showed up at 7:00 am and spent $150 for all that stuff. The future husband thinks I could have gotten more money, but I didn’t pay much for it in the first place (someday I’ll tell you about the cool IKEA contest I won). She wanted it for her son’s room for his birthday this weekend. I loved that she was so determined and got a good deal, and I love that I can now park my car in the garage!

It was a cold, rainy Friday, so we didn’t have much foot traffic. However, we made almost $300, so I got to add $172 to my snowflaking fund and the future husband’s TV fund is now at $226. We’re going to have one more sale in June with the kids; I’m hoping to get another $100 or so then. As soon as my stimulus check hits my account, I get to sent $1,008 to my credit cards. My original goal was to pay them all off by May 2009. After June 1, I may revise that to August or September. It’s amazing how writing things down really does help me act differently.

Once again, let me cheer for blogging! If you’re worried about debt, I highly suggest journaling or starting a blog. The great thing about the blog is that it’s so public. At first, it’s scary to put yourself out there, but then you realize that you have all these wonderful readers helping you along. Also, the pressure of writing every day can keep you focused on your finiancial goals. I know that I wouldn’t have called my cards for a lower interest rate, started clipping coupons, or finally had a garage sale without this blog! Before I started writing, I’d spent sixteen months trying to pay off my credit cards. I sent in $1,000 payments, kept using the cards, and month by month the debt went up instead of down. Now, in the two months I’ve been blogging, I’ve paid close to $3,000 to my cards, saved a $750 baby emergency fund, and had a blast joining in the personal finance blogosphere.

Speaking of, I got another link on MSN Money’s “Smart Spending” blog. Donna Freedman included my budget busters in her roundup of Oh My Aching Debts’ meme. Be sure to check it out. I agree wholeheartedly with ChouChou at Debt Non Sequitur who said: “We all have stuff floating around in our heads, but when you write it down, take an honest look at it staring you in the face, it becomes reality and you have to make a choice about it. You can ignore it or do something about it.” Three cheers for writing things down!

My Big Fat Mileage Mistake

Yesterday, I called and closed my United Mileage Plus Visa card.  If you read my post “One Call — $1,000 Saved,” this was evil Card #3.  I called to lower the interest rate and got nowhere, so I transferred the $3598.20 balance to a 0% offer, paid my final $52.43 in interest, and closed the account yesterday.  Of course, yesterday’s supervisor was much nicer to me than the previous supervisor who had offered me a 0.75% reduction on the interest rate.  This one wanted to offer me several different deals, but she still couldn’t lower the interest rate.  So, I listened to her pitch and then happily closed the account.  Why did I open it in the first place?

Well, three years ago, I lived in Washington, D.C., flew more frequently, and had grand plans for this card.  I decided to charge everything on it, pay the balance in full each month, and rack up enough miles to never fly coach again.  While rewards cards may work for people who are responsible with credit, as we have seen, I am not one of those people!  I did redeem one flight in the first year.  What happened since then?

I saved my statements from July 2006 until April 2008.  For fun, I decided to tally up what I paid for the privilege of carrying around a United Mileage Plus card for those twenty-two months.  For the record, I currently have 24,483 miles.  By the time we book flights for our honeymoon, I’ll have 26,483.  I’m planning on buying the final 4,000 miles for $160 in order to get us first-class upgrades for the flight home.  But how much did I really pay for those upgrades?  Let’s take a look:

  • I never was responsible enough to use the card as I had intended.  Instead, I always carried a balance and used it for random purchases.  The lowest balance on the card was $2226.48.  The highest interest rate was 20.24%.
  • I spent $120 for in annual fees.
  • I spent $234 for one $39 late fee and FIVE $39 overlimit fees.  Oh, the shame!
  • I spent $1156.64 in interest fees, on average about $60 a month.
  • TOTAL:  $1510.64!!

That’s not for purchases; that is pure cash that I forked over to Chase bank for the right to have debt.  What would have happened if I had never opened that credit card and had instead saved $70 a month in a 4%-interest savings account for 22 months?

I would now have $1746 sitting in a savings account.  We’ll probably spend around $1500 for two coach tickets plus the extra for our upgrades.  Add that together and that’s pretty darn close to the $3600 needed to purchase two first-class, round-trip tickets for our honeymoon.  Remember, as it is, we’ll only be able to fly first-class for one leg of our return journey.

Amy’s Reward Account
Once I’m done with debt-reduction mode, I’m thinking about taking the $70 a month I used to spend on credit card interest and socking it away in my savings account.  I’ll call it Amy’s Reward Account.  Rather than getting sucked into another reward credit card, I’ll let it sit there, accruing interest for a couple of years, and then treat us to first-class flights for vacations or anything else I want.  The great thing is there will be no blackout dates, no expiration dates, and no extra fees.  Just our friend compounding interest, finally working for me rather than against me!!

Daily Accounting: 5/8

Earned: $0 Spent: $2 Saved: $0

No earnings today, but tomorrow I should have something to report for this category. I spent most of the day finishing up all the pricing for my garage sale tomorrow. I advertised on craigslist, and have one woman who is planning on showing up bright and early to clean me out. I can’t wait!

I spent $2 plus $3 in ECB for tinted moisturizer for the summer and a bag of Sunchips. Now that I’m refueled, I can highlight the last two carnivals I was in this week:

The Carnival of Financial Goals is at Debt-Free Revolution. Instead of a typical editor’s pick, you can vote for your favorite post. If you liked my post, “A Vision and a Plan,” I’d love a vote. I’m not sure who I’ll vote for yet. There were so many excellent tips for financial goals!

The Third Carnival of Snowflaking is up at Antishay Ventenne. I was happy to be chosen as an editor’s pick for “Spending my Way to a Snowflake.” I also really enjoyed Pennywise and Poundfoolish’s ideas to sell off his automobiles. The Carnival of Snowflaking is slowly growing. Be sure to submit you great snowflaking stories next week. I’m hoping I’ll have a good report about my garage sale.

Confessions of a Frugal Bride

Since wedding season is gearing up, Moolanomy is running a cool contest for posts about weddings.  Fortunately for my upcoming marriage, I have recently embarked on a serious effort to reform my terrible financial habits. Unfortunately for the wedding industry . . . I have recently embarked on a serious effort to reform my terrible financial habits. I’ve already blogged about how my transformation has led to a paradigm shift in my wedding planning. Now, with seventy-four days until the blessed event, I’m ready to confess all the ways I’m cutting corners on the wedding. If you’re planning a wedding soon, here are nine ways to make your wedding planner cringe and your pocketbook grin.

Confession #1: I don’t need a wedding planner.
Seriously, planning a frugal wedding is not a labyrinthine process shrouded in mystery. Basically, you’re throwing a big party. Unless you are incredibly busy or planning a wedding across the country, you don’t need a professional. Read around on the Internet, puruse a couple of planning guides at Barnes and Noble, and trust yourself! I know that can I plan the wedding of my dreams.

Confession #2: I’m making my guests sit outside in July.
I didn’t rent a fancy hotel conference room or book an exotic wedding locale. Instead, I’m forcing all my guests to sit outside in muggy, July weather at our favorite state park. I was kind enough to rent the lodge there for $170 for the day, so they will have a place with A/C to cool off. Am I torturing everyone just to save a few bucks? Not really. You see, this park is where the future husband and I had our most memorable date. We love the outdoors; we love to hike, and we love that we’ll get married in a space that is meaningful for us.

Confession #3: I’m not paying an officiant, a baker, or a single musician.
No, I’m not planning on running away as soon as the ceremony is done so that I don’t have to dole out checks. Instead, I have beautiful friends who are willingly donating their talents to our wedding in lieu of gifts. Since we’ve got plenty of toasters and towels, these gifts are much more valuable. Hooray for amazing friends!

Confession #4: I never was able to wear a bridesmaid dress again.
Not even the very tasteful black one that one bride bought for each of her six bridesmaids. I loved every bride I stood up for, but hated every dress. So, I am going against the grain and asking my maid of honor and bridesmaid to pick out their own dresses — no restrictions. No, they won’t be all tastefully lined up in matching dresses. But, they will be there, finally celebrating my wonderful relationship rather than listening to me drone on about another bad date. After all that they’ve put up with, I want them to look and feel fabulous that day!

Confession #5: I hate wedding videos.
So, no videographer for me. It was an easy way to cut costs. Just like ballet or modern dance, a wedding is best enjoyed live. The beauty of that moment will come from everyone who has gathered together to wish us well, not some stranger’s super-cool camera angle.

Confession #6: My mom and I have a secret desire to be caterers.
Since this will probably never happen, the wedding is a great opportunity to indulge our fantasy. While other folks may dream of sitting back and basking in the princess-y glow of being a bride, Mom and I love the idea of creating the food for everyone. For us, our own cooking is central to every other holiday and life-event, why would a wedding be any different? Now, before you think we’ve completely lost our minds, I am hiring two people to serve and coordinate the food at the wedding so that I won’t be stuck behind the buffet table all day. But even with that, I’ll cut the food cost at the reception in half.

Confession #7: I haven’t saved a single wedding favor from a single wedding that I’ve attended.
Sorry everyone! Your matchbooks, napkins, cookies, and jordan almonds were all adorable. And they all went into the trash once the fun of your wedding faded. So, I won’t be shelling out top dollar for favors that get lost in the shuffle of life.

Confession #8: I won’t be wearing Manolo Blahniks at the wedding.
For the last five years or so, during my shopaholic days, I dreamed about buying super-expensive shoes for my wedding. I decided that you don’t wear the dress again, but you can wear the shoes again. The problem with this fantasy? Well, when the choice came between $500 for shoes and $500 for food or photography or anything else in our $4000 wedding budget, the shoes lost out big time. This doesn’t mean I can’t ever have expensive shoes. I just have to wait until I’m out of debt. Once I shifted my thinking from fantasy bride to frugal bride, charging money for shoes while I’m working so hard to get OUT of debt seemed really stupid.

Confession #9: I’m having a great time being a frugal bride!
You may remember that scene from Father of the Bride where the bride feels guilty about all the money her dad’s spending for the wedding, so she falls asleep reading “frugal” tips in a bridal magazine. Steve Martin finds her, flips through the magazine and shudders at the mere thought of his baby having to cut corners. Well, what’s amazed me the most about this process is how I don’t feel like that at all. I’ve designed the wedding and cut corners in ways that reflect who I am and what the future husband and I value. This wedding will be a better reflection of us than any “typical” $20,000 wedding. I’m having a great time planning the wedding, love my friends and family who are helping me, and can’t wait to stand in front of them and commit to the love of my life!

Daily Accounting: 5/6 + 5/7

Earned: $36.29 Spent: $87 Saved: $0

Yesterday’s groceries seemed to take a lot of extra work. Somehow, I ended up in the coupon-clipping vortex. I sat down to quickly zip through the Grocery Game list at 10:45 am. . . and when I finished, it was 11:45 am. Then, several of the coupons that I clipped weren’t even worth using. Grrr. However, I did “save” 18% of my bill, pretty typical for life with the GG. I also bought some extra treats for the future husband’s birthday meal, which turned out really nicely. Today is a spend-no-money day, so I can go ahead and account for it. The great news is on the snowflake front! Look at that, $36.29! This is from a payout for stuff on Amazon, a survey check, and a sign-up bonus.

Carnivals Galore!

This week has been very busy on the carnival front. If you need some mid-week reading, be sure to check out all these great carnivals:

Enjoy the reading.  I’ve got to go mow the lawn before it rains!  Then, I’m going to start pricing things for our mini-garage sale Friday.

Daily Accounting: Weekend Update + PF Carnival

Earned: $1 Spent: $56 Saved: $0

Freebies: $30

This week’s Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Alpha Consumer at US It’s a great carnival, and I’m excited to have my post about homemade chips and salsa included under the “Shopping and Spending” category. If you’re visiting here for the first time, thanks! If you like what you read, I’d love for you to subscribe.

I’m a little slow posting the weekend update thanks to our faculty retreat yesterday. The retreat was interesting, but the best part was the off-site Plan B committee meeting.

Over the weekend, I earned $1 for a survey. I got one of the $330-for-$300-Krogers cards. It covers the rest of the month’s groceries, so I’ll track spending it each week. I used the $30 for our cookout, so I only spent $5. We were tempted to go buy new wine glasses, but after the Wii and the wrap, neither of us wanted to spend the money. Fortunately, we found some old ones that were boxed up. Another case of “shopping our house” first. I’m getting quite good at that. On Saturday, I also bought gas.

Yesterday, I spent $16 on supplies for the Plan B committee meeting and a coffee. That was certainly money well spent!

I’ll be back this afternoon with my weekly grocery update. Tonight is the future husband’s birthday dinner, so I get to pick up some treats at the store. I’ll also have more link love and carnivals. Until then!

Spending My Way to a Snowflake

Over the weekend, I splurged and bought a beautiful wrap for $43 at our favorite local gift/antique shop. I didn’t plan ahead nor did I even have the item in mind when I walked into the store. However, I have been thinking lately that I’d like a shawl or pashmina for summer evenings out and air travel. I’ve got two trips coming up, so it will be really useful. Finally, I had only spent $13 out of my monthly $90 Target budget, and I had saved $150 on wedding invitations. So, I paid cash for it out of the Target budget, it will be useful, and I’ll wear it tomorrow (an old shopping rule I had with a friend).

Why do I feel guilty? Well, because that $43 COULD have been a snowflake. I’ve set a lofty goal of $400 in snowflakes this month. Lately, most of my snowflakes come from extra money in my monthly budget. $43 is significant, especially compared to the $0.83 I made on mTurk yesterday and the $1.58 refund I got in the mail. I could just return the wrap, but I REALLY love it and want to keep it!

What to do? Well, I remembered that PaidTwice started her whole snowflaking concept by sending off an equivalent payment to her credit cards for anything she splurged on. I could just do that by shaving off some other budget lines for the month. Then, I remembered my “fun” budget. I’ve saved $400 to spend in San Francisco at the end of the month, probably on a lovely dress to wear after the wedding ceremony if it gets too hot (remember, we’re picnicking outside in July). I got to thinking about my plan and my current summer dress collection. I used to love to buy darling summer dresses; I now have at least four that are too dressy for much wear in my day-to-day life in small town Ohio. One of them would even go perfectly with my new wrap for the rehearsal dinner. Another one is a darling white, crocheted number that would match my veil if I decided to change at the reception. . .

Whala! A $200 snowflake! I’ve decided to re-set my budget for the trip at $200, perhaps for a smaller souvenir and a nice meal out with my friend. Come June, I’ll have another $200 in my “fun” budget. I can use that for shoes and any extra summer clothes I want. Now, I’m halfway to my snowflaking goal of $400, happy with my new wrap, and looking forward to wearing those lovely dresses the weekend of the wedding. Yay!

See, I just spent my way to a serious snowflake. Pretty cool, eh?

Settling in for the Summer: May Goals

Yes, for most people, summer starts in June. Around here, we had graduation today, so summer break starts next week for me. After a faculty retreat on Monday, the summer is my own. Once, at a conference, I was talking over life choices with a few other graduate students. We were complaining about our meager earning power, when I said, “yes, but we get paid in time.” It’s really true. I’m on a ten-month contract, but I have roughly five months out of the year where I’m in charge of my own schedule. That’s an amazingly great deal! During graduate school, I always worked in the summer, so last summer was my first “summer off.” I finished an article, did some research, and had plenty of time to read, garden, and cook. I also had about three weeks with the future step-daughters.

And, of course, I spent entirely too much money! Looking back, I can see that some of my worst spending choices are linked to anxiety. I was anxious about living in a new town, keeping myself busy, and if there would be a permanent commitment from my boyfriend, so I converted that anxiety into spending. I bought lots of kitchen gadgets, canned ridiculous amounts of jam in the early months, and spent far too much money entertaining the step-kids. When the younger one proclaimed that going to Target and then going out for a nice lunch was our “thing,” the little voice inside my head said, “uh oh!” We won’t get the girls until June, but I’m sure one of my June goals will be to find fun, frugal things to do with them. I know that my credit cards were far too busy during all my time off last summer!

So, what do I hope to do differently this summer? Well, we’ll start off with just May:


  1. Get up at 7:00 am and get moving Monday — Friday.  Antishay posted about how she’s going to start each morning with a power walk to boost productivity.  I think that’s a great idea!  Much better than the hour and a half I spent surfing the web this morning.
  2. Write/research for two to four hours each day.  I’ve got a conference presentation the third week of May.  I’ll need to finish up the paper by then, so I’ll have to spend some mornings in the library this month.
  3. Edit page proofs for my upcoming article.  I think this task will be the most fun.  Hooray for an upcoming article!
  1. Earn $400 in snowflakes.  I need to get busy selling stuff, and I think setting this goal will be a good motivator.
  2. Don’t spend the stimulus check.  It’s gotta go straight to debt.  Enough said!
  3. Stay in budget in San Francisco.  I’ve got $400 for eating out and shopping on my trip.  I don’t want to get swept up in shopping fun and spend more than that.  
  1. Limit house cleaning to two times a week.  My grandmother was a super-cleaning guru.  Once, when she was like 85, my cousin came out of her bathroom completely shocked at how amazingly perfect her grout was.  I think the cleaning gene has weakened in my family since her generation, but it is easy to spend WAY too much time getting everything perfect.
  2. Cook frugally.  Last summer, I made almost every recipe in Gourmet magazine.  We ate really well, but this year, I need to be more cost-conscious.  I’ll still have us eat locally, but I’m going to be more careful about menu planning.
  3. Limit driving to two “Driving Days” a week.  When I get bored, it’s pretty easy to waste an afternoon running “errands,” like checking to see if Williams-Sonoma has a yogurt maker.  Since I live in a small town, I can walk downtown, to the grocery store, to the bank, and to the library.  I can bike to our local farm’s store.  Both for my wallet and our planet, it’ll be better to only drive twice a week.
  1. Make an effort to socialize at least once a week.  I’m an introvert by nature and can easily hole up.  Then, when the future husband gets home, he gets a little overwhelmed being my only human contact!  This month, I’ll be sure to make plans with other people at least once a week.
  2. Find out about volunteering at the Farmer’s Market.  I’d like to meet more people in our town, and I think this (plus the library book group) will be a good start.
  3. Keep going to church regularly.  I’ve found a church I’m pretty happy with (unfortunately it’s about thirty minutes away).  I’d like to get more involved there as the summer unfolds.

Blog-illy  (I know, I know, but I was so happy with parallel structure!)
  1. Post every day.  I’m really enjoying the blog and hope to see it grow.  I’m giving myself three months to stay serious about it before I check into advertising.  I told the future husband that it’s already making us tons of money because it keeps me so focused on my financial choices!
  2. Grow the blog by ten hits a week.  Right now, I’m in between 100 and 150 most days.  The growth in the first month was awesome, but I know that I can’t expect that rate to continue.  However, ten more a week this month seems fair.
  3. Get fifteen new subscribers.  I only have 22 subscribers, so here’s a goal you can totally help me with. If you haven’t subscribed, join in!  You know it’s easy and fun.  If you don’t have a blog reader, you can subscribe by e-mail.  That’s what I do.  If you want me to subscribe to your blog, drop me a comment; I’d be happy to swap!
So, there are my May goals.  It’ll be fun at the end of the month to see how I do.  Of course, I’ll keep you posted!