Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Christmas!

Just a short note today to post some pictures - we decorated the apartment (just a little) for Christmas, and I am very excited!


Of course, part of my excitement may stem from the fact that I got a big, giant present from amazon.com today! ;)

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Because this is Gary's first time in Spokaloo and he likes going to new cities, we went downtown today for another day of shopping, eating, and walking around the park a bit. Gary slid down the giant Radio Flyer slide, LaRue finally found the cocktail dress she was looking for, and LaRue, my mom, and I all rode on the 1909 Looff Carousel at the park. I discovered that LaRue had never ridden on a carousel before, and I feel like I have done my duty as a life partner by ensuring that she experienced it. We didn't ride on the gondola over the falls, though, because it was too damn cold.

I did the last of my Spokane shopping today, too, and found an appropriate gift-exchange-appropriate gift for my book club for $20.09. The limit was actually $20, and I would have made it under, except the stupid sales girl wouldn't give me the "4 for $10" price on this bottle of apple-scented soap unless I actually bought 4. You know how often I use girly-flavored soap, so I declined. Irregardless, at least that's taken care of, and hopefully I won't have to purchase any more hijack presents. I do not heart those kind of presents.

LaRue, Eagle and I have all agreed to have a capitalism-free holiday as well, and are going to give each other massages and possibly eat chocolate. The chocolate may call for some outlay of money, but probably not a big one. And really, I am being quite honest when I say that I would prefer hanging out, being silly, and seeing friends to getting gifts. (Even though LaRue does tend to have good taste in gifts and, in the case of emergencies, defaults to a Half Price Books gift card - something I certainly can't argue with.) My best friend from back home and I have a similar arrangement--we are going to go out to lunch and catch up instead of buying presents. And since she and I see each other about once a year, our respective gift radar probably isn't that accurate anyway.

So far, the holiday season has started off with a bang, I think. I've had a lot of fun the last few days, and got to do Christmas-y things like make cookies, sit by the fireplace, and go shopping with mom and laugh our buns off at all the psychotic/overly-stylish/fat/bitchy people running around the mall. We also got to do a lot of rational things, like going through holiday decorations and getting rid of stuff we wouldn't use anymore, or buying thoughtful but reasonable gifts for people. I have been able to restrain myself from doing anything really out-of-control gift-wise (although I have been sorely tempted on a couple of occasions). But all in all I am feeling good. I feel like we've been able to be ... un-gluttonous ... shopping-wise but still celebrate, you know? And that's a nice feeling :)

I am sad to be leaving home tomorrow, but I'll be back in a few weeks with Airbear when it's official holiday time, and I'll be glad to snuggle my honey and the kitties tomorrow. Going to go sleep off some cookies now.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Well, I made it well under my $200 shopping limit for the day. In fact, I spent $41 ($22 on Christmas presents), and made* $35. Net spending $6. Ha ha ha.

May do some more shopping tomorrow, so we'll see how that total holds. Although atm I feel pretty thoroughly shopped out!

* Technically, I didn't "make" $35, I just traded a $35 gift card I'd been carrying around for a couple years for $35 cash. So really I already had it, but this way I could actually use it :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving and Black Friday Eve

Today was Turkey Day, and it was full of delicious food. We even had mashed potatoes with real butter, and stuffing with the crunchy bits on top. Mmm, do I heart the crunchy bits. I carbo-loaded like you wouldn't believe. Well, maybe you would, if you are reading this through a tryptophan-induced coma like everyone else in America. (My blog is very popular.)

Tomorrow is Black Friday, and mom, LaRue, Gary and I are getting up early to go shopping. I made a list of the people I am buying gifts for this year, and ideas for them so that I don't buy a bunch of random, useless shit just because it is ONLY $x.99!!! There isn't really anything on mega-sale that I am looking for anyway--all Airbear's electronic shizz doesn't really ever go on sale, and I don't have kids to buy for so the toys are a moot point. LaRue will be buying a bunch of clothing-type gifts for herself, so I will have to watch out that I do not fall into that trap, but otherwise I think I will do well.

We shall see ;)

P.S. Gobble, gobble, gobble!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Week #2, and time for a challenge...

Started off week 2 strong - $0 today (although I have to admit I was sorely tempted to go out to eat tonight since I will start traveling tomorrow and, you know, any excuse to indulge myself!). But I am eating top ramen and a half a grilled cheese instead. Half because it was the last piece of bread besides the heels, and heel-grilled-cheeses take like 5 times more cheese.

Tomorrow, the spending will have to start, though. At least half a tank of gas, plus any miscellaneous road expenses. But then I will be at mah MAMZ' house! You gots to spend some monies to go on TEH VACATION.

Ah, vacation...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Weekend Recap

Well my $0 continued throughout Saturday. Then Sunday I bought a birthday present and some groceries - necessary from time to time, I suppose ;) I still did pretty well, though, and only spent $67. Today I spent $0 as well, so that makes a whole week with only $67 spent. Not bad at all! I am going to try to be good tomorrow and during the day Wednesday, and then LaRue, Gary and I will be driving to Spocompton for Turkey-Day weekend. This will of course necessitate some expenditures for gas (ugh), but I will try to avoid additional expenditures for things like delicious chicken fries.

Also, Friday is, of course, Black Friday, and we will be out shop-shop-shopping. However, I am going to make a list before I go, and I am not going to buy a bunch of crap I don't need. I will be greatly aided in this by the fact that I will not be buying gifts for my brothers' kids (as I already contributed to their education, and that is all they get). I will most likely look for little (and on mega-sale!!1) girly presents to give people like my sister-in-law and grandmas. Possibly a gadget for my dad. Hopefully there will be lots of salez and I will do very well on my goal. I am hoping to spend under $200. That seems possible, right?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Oh, and about Christmas...

I also found this article and this one about not going broke on holiday shopping. One of them says to make a list of who you're giving presents to, and then set a budget. Sounds wise.

I also read an article by this woman saying that gift cards were lame, and that you shouldn't give them because they aren't thoughtful--that you should know the person better than that and attempt to find out what they want. This makes me consider two important things:

1) But you often do have to buy presents for people you don't know very well, and don't know what they want. My initial thought: isn't it better to let them decide what to pick out for themselves? My thought after a few moments of consideration: maybe you should limit your gift-giving a bit. If you don't have any idea what someone likes, are you guys really that close? If you want to be, maybe use it as an opportunity to reconnect. But it might also just help you stop from buying presents for people you don't need to buy them for :p **

2) People do buy you gifts, too. And many of them don't know what you want. And they would feel bad if you returned it or sold it on eBay. I actually do appreciate the thought that goes into gifts that people buy me, and the fact that they thought I was important enough to give a gift in the first place (even if the gift idea is a little bit deranged). But I swear, I keep telling these people I don't need more things and I don't want them to incur more debt on my behalf. Really! Things that make me happy? Spending time together and laughing. Going out to a yummy dinner together. Playing Warcraft. Books. The first two you can do for free or pretty cheap. The next one my grandparents would never know how to buy me ;) The best way to do the last one without getting a book I already have? Gift cards. Oh, and I'm not adverse to people paying my bills for me, just in case you had that urge ;) But I don't mind receiving gift cards for things I actually like but are hard to pick (like gift cards to the used book store, for instance, or to Safeway--really). I don't think they're offensive or thoughtless. As long as they're not to the Home Depot, of course.

What do you think?

** The exception of course being in-laws. If you have to buy them a present, and will piss them off and look bad if you don't, you're more or less confined to either buying them random crap (like bath products or automatic card shufflers) or gift cards. If you like them, go with gift cards. That's just my opinion.

Money, Continued

So I spent some time today reading financial articles on msn.com. This is not nearly as tedious as it probably sounds. (I particularly enjoy the "Women in Red" series, because it features actual women with financial problems, some even worse than mine, and they have forums and tracking to keep an eye on how they're doing.)

Back at the beginning of the year, I used this blog to keep track of how I was doing with eating healthily and learning to cook more. I think it was really motivating, kept me accountable, and I accomplished my goals. So for awhile I'm going to redirect the blog toward my new financial goals, and see what happens :)

Now, those "Women in Red" post their totals monthly, or something like that, including totals for credit card debt, school debt, retirement, other savings, etc. Posting the actual amounts would freak me out a little bit--not because I would see how bad it is, I know how bad it is--but because I feel like someone would be able to use that information to identity-theft me. However, I do want to take a moment to celebrate some important financial milestones I've achieved this year, so that I can feel good about myself and keep from giving up and going crazy.

Here are the highlights:

* I opened GET (college tuition) accounts for my three nephews. I haven't put a ton into them, but it feels like a very smart move. It keeps me from buying them toys (probably more expensive and totally unnecessary), it can't be screwed up by intermittent periods of financial hardship, and they will really need it when they get older. It also made me feel really rich to do it. I never thought I'd be able to do that kind of thing. Even right now I'm getting a little teary thinking about it ;)

* I started saving for retirement. I've put about $300 in a Roth IRA while waiting for the enrollment period to start for the SIMPLE IRA that my employer will match. I'm also getting the $300-something I have in the state retirement system from an old job transferred into my new account. I will pay a small amount of tax on it now (because it was a pre-tax account and Roth is after-tax), but then I won't have to take taxes out when I withdraw it (and its interest) in 35 years. And that will be a lot more money than $300 by that point ;) Long story short, I had to fill out a million tons of paperwork but I am on the road to retirement savings, finally.

* I started automatic withdrawals into a savings account. I don't miss the money as much as I thought I would, and in fact I am thinking of increasing it. I made a bet with Airbear at the beginning of the year to see if I could get it up to a certain total, and when I did, I paid off my car with it. I had to start over again, but I had paid off my car! I get a higher interest rate on the first $799 in it, so I try to keep at least $800 in it at all times. For now, when I get a chunk above $800, I take it out and apply it (all of it) to one of my credit card balances.

* I paid off my car. It's not a fancy car, but it's mine and I don't have to pay a monthly payment for it. Plus it's good on gas mileage. And owning something that physically large feels like a significant achievement.

Now of course it has not all been that rosy. I still have ... let's just say more than $10,000 on credit cards, and probably in the neighborhood of $30,000 in school loans. I no longer have car debt, so that feels great, and because I managed to luck-out in the rent department with Airbear, I don't have a mortgage. I will be paying the condo dues, though, when they start coming due in 2008.

As far as budgeting goes, I do fairly well - I don't shop, really, and am pretty good with not buying things. As I said in previous posts, my biggest cash outflows come from eating out with Airbear. That's a big current goal. I have spent $0 since Tuesday, which is great! I will have to spend a bit this weekend--I can raid bus money from the Miscellaneous Change Cup (TM), but we're going to need to restock some groceries in order to keep eating frugally at home.

So there's where I am at, and having admitted it will hopefully make me be accountable for it! While I'm not going to post my exact totals online, I am going to go through and figure out what they are and keep you updated on my progress. I'm sure you will be waiting with baited breath. Well, maybe not, but it will make me follow through with it! Hopefully ;)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day Two

I took lunch again today and have so far spent $0. So far, so good.

Tonight is Industry Night which usually means we go to The Garage and eat a bunch of delicious (if terribly unhealthy and, more importantly for our current purposes, expensive) food. I don't usually drink there, because it sucks to walk there and they have parking. I'd rather drive and drink diet cokes. Besides, their drinks are moderately overpriced and, well, moderate. But still, the food is a chunk of change.

So the plan is this: I am eating some reheated shepherd's pie (mm, garlic mashed potatoes) before Airbear gets home, and then we can go to Industry Night and I'll just drink soda and hang out. They'll probably give me the soda for free anyway--most bars do, assuming you must be the D.D. I'm sure the waitress would like it better if I spent $50 on food and drinks, but I'm sure the rest of the geeks present will spend enough to make up for me anyway.

We will see if this plan works. :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day One

Technically, I had the Capitalism Revelation on Saturday, so this is several days from then, but I made the resolution last night--so today is day one. And today, I spent ....

... $0.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Teacher, what does "in the red" mean?

So I had a humbling experience over the weekend.

I had to go to the doctor, and like
47 million other Americans I do not have health insurance. (Thanks, Fartless School!). So I looked through a bunch of doctors listed on the website of my boyfriend's insurance (which I cannot be on because we are not a gay couple and thus not discriminated-against enough), and found "Country Doctor Community Health Clinic," which had a bunch of family practice docs, sounded harmless enough, and was close to my house. I called them, and they even said that they had a sliding scale for patients like me without insurance, and that there would be a billing specialist on hand (during my Saturday appointment, no less) who could talk to me about my special circumstances and determine what I would have to pay.

Well it turns out it was the scary, "poor-people-get-inferior-health-care" kind of doctor you have probably seen on TV. Among other problems I experienced there (including waiting in my little smock in the freezing appointment room for an hour), there was in fact no billing specialist on hand to talk about my special circumstances and, besides, they do not consider tens of thousands of dollars of debt special circumstances. Or at least special circumstances they care about. So I would have to pay for the whole appointment by myself.*

Anyway, long story short I learned a lesson I had learned in the past before. It is possible to be not quite poor enough. You can have no money, you can spend every dime you get paying bills, you can have a tuition bill roughly 12,000 x more than you can afford to pay, but someone can still determine that you technically make too much money to qualify for help. This happened to me while filling out my FAFSA for college loans, and at various other points. Granted, at this point in my life I am less poor than I have ever personally been, and I feel extremely grateful for that. It is only when I am afraid that my doctor bill might be two thousand dollars or something that I get worried about it. That or when they tease me with the idea of a mythical sliding scale. I am pretty broke at the moment, I think, and the vast majority of my paycheck is earmarked for paying down debt. So I don't have a bunch of money sitting around for medical expenses, and help sounds great.

I guess it's the only way that social programs make sense--you can't help everybody, right, and technically I accrued all those school loans and credit card bills myself, so the welfare state should not be obligated to help me. That jackass on the phone just shouldn't have mentioned the sliding scale at all and I probably wouldn't have even thought about it.

But the grand conclusion I decided to come to was that if the welfare state thinks I make enough money to not be broke, then I am going to stop being broke. (Rather than just be pissed off about not getting help, which I admittedly did do for awhile in the waiting room.) There are millions and millions of people who need that help more. The only reason I struggle is because of this debt: if I didn't have these payments to make each month, then life would be pretty easy. I do actually make a decent living wage (although of course I should make more, as I am teaching teh childrenz while my bosses are out building yachts for fun). I just spend a much-too-large portion of that wage on credit card bills and school loans.

So I am making a resolution. I know it's not New Year's, yet, but maybe that will help (since those resolutions never stick anyway). I am going to use fewer parentheses in my writing.

Just kidding.

We all know I'm not going to stop that.

(Just kidding again.)

My real resolution is going to be to make a serious, dedicated effort to pay down my debt. I go out to dinner several times per week with Airbear, particularly on the weekends, and I am going to see how few times I can do that. During the week shouldn't be hard, as he is entering crunch mode at his work for a few weeks and they'll be catering dinner there, so I can eat very inexpensively at home. I can also suggest cooking on the weekends, and Airbear gets excited by "real" food, so hopefully that will feel like a treat and will help encourage me to do it. I am going to keep myself out of used bookstores, too. I currently have fifteen tons of homework to do anyway and no time to read books, so that shouldn't be hard. I am going to take lunch to work (which I do most of the time anyway). I am going to make sure I get up early enough on Fridays to take a bus to my volunteering job so that I don't pay for gas (or $11 parking!!!). I am still going to drive to work Monday-Thursday, though, because my hours are just too long those days to add additional hours of bus time.
Sorry, Al Gore.

When I was growing up, we didn't eat out all the time. Almost never, in fact. And when we did, it was a treat. It's like a fact of life for these crazy gamer kids, and once I get my debt paid down I can do it too. But I am going to do this, because I don't want to have it hanging over my head. The school loans are one thing--they're for a good cause and the interest is tax-deductible. It's not the end of the world. But I do not want to have credit card debt anymore. It means I can't comfortably go back to school; it means I have to have a job, which can put you in less-than-desirable situations; and I want it gone before I get married or have kids. Plus just think of all the books I could buy guilt-free.

But almost everyone I know is living in debt, and still buying more stuff they don't need and can't quite afford. Why are we all living beyond our means? Why have we all stopped counting how much money we have left before we think about what we buy? Why have some of us even stopped thinking about what we buy? It's getting out of control, and it's going to break. We don't need this much stuff, and we shouldn't be wasting this much money on it anyway. How did we all get into this mess?

Anyway, I want out. And I hope you will join me, because I would love some company :)

One big problem: what about Christmas?

* I got a bit upset at this point, because I didn't know how much the appointment was actually going to be, and the guy at the front desk couldn't estimate it for me. So my options were to cancel it and wait another couple months for an appointment slot I could actually attend or have an appointment and hope I would be able to pay for it. It ended up not being that much (because she did NOTHING for me), so it wasn't that expensive, and the front desk guy felt bad about making me get teary, so he only charged me $15. Which just goes to show you that it does not pay to be middle class, but it does pay to be an emotional basket case.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Back from Siberia

Just kidding. I haven't been anywhere. Just busy or, when not busy, lazy ;)

But I finally have pictures of the house! http://picasaweb.google.com/aleiby/CondoFurnished

I bought the multi-colored rug in the main living room (as opposed to the 'piano living room') with my very own monies. It was insanely expensive, as I discovered room-size rugs happen to be. However, I feel like a Real Grown-Up (TM) for buying it, and it does feel nice and homey. (As opposed to "nice and homie," which I originally typed, but which would refer to something else entirely.) Anyway, I am loving the condo. I even got Airbear to go through a big stack of paper crap that he had been letting pile up. As any of you who own a home know, you get a shit-ton of catalogues in the mail. I think this is a new experience for Airbear, and he still feels like he wants to look through them all before he recycles them. Of course, this is stupid, because if he wanted to buy anything, he would buy it on teh internets anyway. I am sure the fit will pass soon.

That or I will just start recycling all the catalogues :)