Monday, March 30, 2009

Oh, It's A Monday!

When I agreed to take a "temporary" reduction in hours, I was told that while my hours and subsequently, my pay, were getting cut, my "benefits" were not. So that meant my employer part of my health insurance would still be paid and I'd still accumulate my full vacation and sick time (which is on the low end of the spectrum).

Much to my unhappy surprise, I found out last week that the "powers that be"-i.e. the other partners in the company, decided that a reduction in hours meant a reduction in benefits, specifically, my vacation and sick time. It's been dropped by more than a third. And I'm not happy.

I'm not happy because I did not get the reduction in writing with the promise to keep ALL my benefits. I'm not happy because my immediate boss (and a co-owner of the company) told me otherwise and he knows it. This means I've used up just over half of my vacation time for the year. I did have a mini conversation with my boss about this and he is "willing to work with me if I need additional time off".  Boss speak for I f*%$ up. He knows he gave me misinformation, but he won't 'fess up to that. I know he had a meeting with the other partners and they decided otherwise. I know he knows he told me one thing in November and now had to tell me another. Grr.

The part that is the kicker, is that I did not use all my sick days last year, I had about three that I was under the impression could carry over to be used as vacation days instead of being paid out as "well time". Since I told my boss about my trip I had made the assumption that I could use those three days as paid vacation time and save my 2009 days for later this year, maybe actually take some time for me. Guess I was wrong-what did Felix Unger say? "An assumption makes an ass out of you and me".

This is what bothers me most. This is a small company that I work for, but we have two "silent partners/investors" that are not active in the business. We do utilize their other businesses to assist with payroll, accounts payable and receivable, vendors, etc. My boss can if he wants to, over ride the other partners on certain decisions; I've seen him do it before. I've said it before, our company is feeling this economic pinch and my boss has some very odd money saving ideas. I don't get paid that much, I don't have tons of vacation/personal/sick time and I was under the impression that if I agreed to the reduction in hours, those other benefits would not be affected.  I'm pretty positive that he caved in on this because he's picking his battles and my time off is not a battle he want's to fight.

I'm also annoyed at myself. I did not get this in writing and it has come back to bite me. I'm annoyed because this happened at my last job with the new bonus structure supposedly to be paid out and did not. I'm too darned trusting and you would think I would have learned my lesson the last time. And I'm going to make sure I take a sick day as a mental health day pretty dammed soon too.

Can you tell it's a Monday?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

You Got The Discharge-Now What?

This is the next installment of my long overdue series on Bouncing Back From Bankruptcy.  As always, please consult with your own financial experts and resources when it comes to dealing with and managing your money! The following is my personal experience. 

I am now 15 months post Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Discharge and on my way to Bouncing Back From Bankruptcy.  I had my 341 Trustee/Creditors meeting in October 2007 and got my discharge just over 3 months later.  Hopefully, your 341 Trustee/Creditors meeting goes along uneventfully.  What happens after that? Hopefully you get your discharge.  My discharge papers came in the mail one day, just a one page form from the Bankruptcy court that gave my name, my case number and said I was discharged.  I almost missed the envelope in and amongst the junk mail. 

Actually, I started getting offers of new credit even before my discharge letter arrived in the mail.  For me, actually getting the discharge letter was a bit anti-climatic.  I had been struggling with the whole filing-delays on my part, delays on getting a CMA of the house, delays dealing with my attorney, delays dealing with information the trustee wanted.  I was probably the exception and not the norm in filing for a bankruptcy. Maybe it is the norm?  You guys tell me. 

Anyway, the best bit of advice I can give you as soon as you receive your discharge papers are to do the following:

1) File away for BK petition in a safe place.  There is no reason on God's green earth that anyone needs to see that pile of papers again.  Keep it for safe keeping, but file it away. If you need a copy, your attorney will probably charge you something like 75c to $1 per page to get you a copy. 

2) Take that discharge letter and make about 5 copies, file the original one away.  Why make copies? You may need the official court letter at some point for something. Might need it, might not.

3) Get a copy of your credit report 4-6 weeks after you get your discharge letter and make sure that the BK filing is noted.  As I always say, I may have negative information on my report, but at least I want that negative information to be correct. AND you want to make sure that all your debts included in the C7 or C13 are correctly noted. 

4) Get a folder for all those credit offers that come in, put those offers in the folder and DO NOTHING with them. Remember patience is a virtue!

5) Thank the spiritual entity of your choice for getting your discharge and allowing you to move on and bounce back.  

6) Find some time to reflect on your BK filing and make a plan for your own bouncing back and moving forward. 

When you file for Bankruptcy, more than likely your credit score has taken a big hit from the late payments, accounts in collections, loans in default, you know, the nasty things.  In America, one way to improve your credit score is to establish credit and be on time with your bills.   This puts most post BK folks at a bit of a disadvantage.  We are bankrupt and can't get credit, but we need credit to improve the FICO score to be able to get credit.   So why am I telling you to put those credit offers in a folder?

Simply, most of them are going to try and offer you credit at an outrageous interest rate.  I can remember getting letters from finance managers at several car dealerships, some of the dealerships were well known in my area and some were from those sort of seedy looking corner lot used car lots, You know the type, the cars look flashy, lots of flags and signs that say "We Finance Anyone" and probably crap cars.  The one company that persistently sent me an application for a credit card also had (to me and others) insane fees and charges.  For the privilege of getting a $500 credit card, this particular bank was going to charge about $229 in assorted fees just to "activate" the card that was at a 19.9% rate as well as charge of $7.50 per month fee to have the card.   

I had two goals last year. One was to get a credit card again and one was to get a car loan.  I ended up with the car loan first, only because my old car really needed to go.  It has over 232,000 miles on it and needed a lot of work, again for the third or fourth time.  I pulled from my file, those letters from the finance managers of those car dealerships.  I had about 10 different "offers of credit".  I did my homework on both  of the type of vehicle I wanted and the dealerships themselves.  

Some of the finance offers were eye opening to say the least.  23% interest rates, loans available only on select makes and models, offers only good up to a set price.  Needless to say, these types offers seemed shady.  I did get a letter from the finance manager of a local dealership that had a good reputation. I called the finance manager and set up an appointment.  Doing my homework paid off.  This particular dealership had a vehicle I wanted with all I wanted (plus a couple extras), I went into the meeting with the finance manager well prepared. I had my budget, I had done my homework on the two vehicles I was willing to look at on their lot and I had some cash to put down on the car.

What worked in my favor was that I was organized when I came in to meet with the finance manager.  I also had on my credit history, a paid off car loan with a major bank. I did not have a repossession on my account.  I drove out of the dealership a few days later with my new to me car and have faithfully paid that loan three days early every month.  I am now going to pray to my spiritual entity of choice and hope that I can refinance the Escape at my credit union. I'm hoping I can make it into the single digits. 

Getting a credit card took a little longer.  For starters, I was not going to "accept" that invitation I mentioned above. I knew out there, there had to be a better offer for me.  There are two choices when it comes to credit cards after Bankruptcy.  The secured credit card and the unsecured credit card.

A secured credit card is not a pre-paid credit/gift card. It is a credit card issued by a bank.  This type of card requires that you put a specific sum of money into an account at that cards bank.  This is your collateral so to speak.  You then get a credit card with a balance that equals the savings account.  You can click here to read on about secured credit cards. Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank all offer secured credit cards.  I also encourage you to check with your local bank and credit union, they may also offer a secured card. Many times after about a  year or so of good credit card management, the secured card may be re-issued as an unsecured card.  Each banks policies are different.  

I waited 10 months before I took the plunge and applied for a credit card. I applied for and got a credit card with a $500 limit, 14.99 % interest rate and a yearly fee of $39.  Folks I was thrilled with the whole deal!  I also made sure that the card I was applying for reported to all three credit agencies.  I want my positive re-payment status to be reflected, remember this is the new and improved Betty here.  

There are several banks that issue credit cards to folks with less than perfect credit. One of those banks is the one many PF bloggers love to hate, you know, the What's in Your Wallet Bank.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you had a credit card with that bank or one of the others, it may be more difficult for you to get an unsecured card with that bank even at a lower limit.  I honestly don't know, but my gut tells me that if that bank was part of your BK filing they would probably be less likely to grant you an unsecured card.  No matter which type of card you get, make sure that they report to the major credit bureaus. It will do you no good to have a card that does not report.  You want the positives to start hitting your credit report. And ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT AND THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS. 

The purpose of getting credit is not to run it up again and to carry.  It's to help you establish a better credit score.  I am perfectly happy with my $500 limit credit card. I use it for things like gas, pet food, and the other odd personal purchase. I also log on to my account every two weeks and either pay in full or pay a chunk down on the card.  The highest balance I've had in the past 5 months is now, I have about $200 that will be paid next week which reflects the last of my vacation spending and some car maintenance.  I get paid from my weekend job next week and will pay the balance in full. 

More so than anything else last year, getting that $500 limit unsecured credit card was such an ego booster. It showed me that I was truly bouncing back.  

I think it's also important post discharge to really look at what got you into the BK in the first place.  We all have our stories for filing for Bankruptcy.  As I've posted before, I had a string of really bad fiscal luck, I could not get out of my own way and I fully admit I also made some less than stellar money decisions which just added fuel to the fiscal fire.  My next post in this Bankruptcy Series will be on the importance of "soul searching" and "coming to grips" with the BK filing now that you have filed the bankruptcy and are discharged.  

Have a lovely weekend y'all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Step One-Get the application

I stopped at my credit union on my way home yesterday and picked up a car refinance loan application.  I'll sit down this weekend and fill it out. I figure I have NOTHING to loose (maybe a couple points on my credit score) and drop it off at the credit union one day next week.  I'm not looking for the rock bottom interest rate, I'm just looking for a better rate than I currently have.  

I'll let you know what happens. 

Two More No Spend Days

I somehow managed to add two more no spend days to my total.  It's amazing what one can do without even trying!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Change In My Personal Direction

On the heels of yesterday's whinging post, I came home to a message on my answering machine.  It was from the car dealership that I bought my new to me car from last year.  As a just fresh post BK person, my new car is financed at a whopping 14.99% rate.  Ouch! But I desperately needed a new auto and I made the plunge into the world of the consumer loan by applying for and getting that car loan just 3 months post discharge.

The dealership reminded me that it has been one year since I purchased that auto. It was one of those courtsey thank you for your business even  after12 months later calls. Normally, I would have deleted it 1/3rd of the way through the message. I listened to the whole message.  It also made me sit up a bit.  For all my complaining about my lack of goal focus, I have to realize that one goal I had last year was to qualify for some sort of a credit card or consumer loan.  I got both.  I have a car loan and I have a credit card (the credit card with a whopping $500 limit, but that's OK!) I also went in to the car dealership well prepared with a budget, discharge papers, pay stubs, etc.  I did a little sweat equity and got my loan.

Soo maybe it's time I really stop with the pity party and self doubt and give myself a little credit for getting back on the bandwagon and attack my new action plan with the purpose of anticipated success instead of anticipating roadblocks.  Novel concept-eh?  Now to also take the next step and see if my credit union will do a refinance on the car loan, at least I can try to get a lower interest rate.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Decisons Have Been Made

The nice thing about a Transatlantic Flight is the number of hours you have to think. It was 7 hours going to the UK and almost 8 hours coming home. I used the time coming home to give some serious thought about my goals list and what I want to do on the flight back as I mindlessly watched CSI reruns on my personal entertainment screen.

As I've blogged before, I've had to take a reduction in hours from my full time job and not by my choice. I also don't see the job going back to full time from part time. I had hoped that our business would pick up and I could see a return to full time hours. I have been lucky enough to get a part time weekend job to cover the funds shortage. I've had to overcome my own issues about taking a second job and I've made my peace with those issues. BUT I am working approximately 6.5 days a week to earn the same income. The other half day is spent traveling and squishing various personal errands and appointments into that time slot. My free time has drastically dropped to almost Nil and honestly folks, I'm getting physically tired between the work, the travel and my own responsibilities at home. I just don't feel like I have enough time in my week to get certain chores done at home, which I don't. I'm getting caught between my need to get things done at home or even just to rest and my need for cash. Instead of taking a day or weekend off to rest and do my personal work, I'm packing up and going to my weekend job, because I need the cash. When I was employed full time, my goal each month was to cover my car note, which I could do by working about 2-3 weekends a month, that gave me the extra cash and gave me some time off. Not happening now. I've committed myself to working through the first weekend in May, with only one Sunday off for a party I have an invitation to attend. I made that decision to work based on my reduced schedule at my "regular" job and my desire to replace my almost defunct lap top. Those hours will provide me with the additional income I need to make up, cover the cost of the laptop,and cover the cost of my dental visit (oh yeah, I need $400 worth of dental work too).

This weekend was exceptionally tough. Not in the work that had to be done, the work was it's usual, plus some extra animals at the barn, which I knew about last week. I knew we would have a full house this weekend. I just had this overwhelming sense of frustration at the end of each work day that even though I did a job well done at the weekend job, the work at home has been neglected (which it has been). Coming home from work on Thursday, seeing a water leak in my living room and not being able to find the part of the roof causing said leak was discouraging and frustrating. I pulled myself up into my attic crawl space with my flashlight and just can't see to find where the water is coming in. I came home last night and crashed into bed around 9:15 PM, early even for me. My personal To Do list has come to a screeching halt, partially my fault, partially due to circumstances.

So on the flight back to the US, I made the decision to seek full time work somewhere, someplace and then cut back on my weekend job if I could not see or sense a return to full time status. My current job is a cross between a project manager and an office manager for a small company. The perks to this job are it's very close to home, the office environment is pretty good for the most part, I get 75% of my health insurance paid for by the company, I get paid vacation and some paid holidays. I like the work, I like the people, and the office dress is casual.

What I don't like is my boss having a meltdown over the drastic drop in business and IMO a lot of his knee jerk reactions to the current economic situation and some of the ideas he has to save money here at the office (some good, some a bit bizarre). I also don't have things like a 401K plan, retirement options, etc. I'm not getting any younger, I currently don't have a significant other to help offset my expenses, and I'm sure as heck not contributing to my own retirement fund. I'm not helping myself. The other thing is I'm pretty much maxed out on how I can "move up" in this company. I am as far up as I can go, short of buying the company or being made a partner (both not realistic options). Plus to be quite honest, I see another reduction in hours in my future,not a return to full time status, since our business has not picked up and our income stream is down-that would not be a good thing for me at all.

I have a real estate license, but the real estate market is just not happening at the moment and I have no clients. Being less than part time does not help either. One reason I took the weekend job was I was not getting any real estate clients and could not use real estate to as an additional income source as originally planned. I had hoped that when I re-activated my license that I would be able to have a few clients to at least cover my costs associated with the license and additional income to offset the car, contribute to savings, etc. Part of me knows I could be a darned good real estate agent. A lot of the skills I have accumulated in my work life translate well to real estate, I'm good with an overwhelming majority of people, I'm computer literate which helps in searching the various MLS's, I like to read and keep on top of industry trends so buyers and sellers know you are "looking out" for them, I have a nice network/Rolodex of contacts in the field. I have a really good sense of my area's market conditions, my current broker who holds my license has told me that on several occasions. There just are not buyers out there right now.

Part of my is kicking myself for not being a more aggressive saver to my E fund and also allowing myself to have a VERY broad definition of what constitutes an emergency and then dipping into said E-fund. Had I been more diligent about this, maybe I would have the confidence to forgo my current job and move into real estate on a part time basis with the intention to move to full time, the market has to turn around at some point! One fall out from the Bankruptcy is my confidence took a huge hit and I constantly second guess myself with each decision I make. I'm getting better about my decision making, but not where I should be. I hinder myself in that respect.

I made the decision to drag out and dust off my resume and start looking for full time work, either in my current field or a related field AND also make a much more concerted effort to find a way to become self employed and work for myself. I will use the next couple weeks to re-work the resume, start looking at job search engines, and figure out what field I want to pursue work in. I've also started another one of my endless to do lists to assist in this endeavour. This time, the lists will get my attention because the lists will turn into an action plan to put me on my new path.


1) Buy a new laptop for new business. My old laptop is very dated, hard drive is about to crash and does not allow me to connect to the Internet.
2) Price out broadband Internet for home if working from home becomes a viable option (I currently use dial up-gasp, yes sooo 1990's).
3) Pursue online work-Elance, Virtual Assistant work, web design, Virtual Assistant work for real estate agents.
4) Pursue part time work-Continue at barn 3 days a week, currently can provide a steady income stream and that will cover almost my basic living expenses.
5) Give serious thought to entering the Real Estate field on a part time basis-either on my own or as part of a team.
6) If entering the Real Estate field as part of a team, make sure I get a written contract/outline of duties and pay scale.
7) Pursue other part time web based income streams.
8) Work on that E-fund! Now it really needs to be at the 3-6 month mark more so than ever.


1) All of the above PLUS
2) Looking for full time work so that I can move to being 'my own boss' but at least have increased income and more weekend free time.


1) Win the Powerball and say screw it to plan A and B, move to Costa Rica and drink margarita's on the beach.

I'll keep you informed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Annoyance Part II

So,  I heard back from my neighbors wife.  She e-mailed me knowing I was out of town.  She said in her first e-mail to me that she did not take the missing liquor. I responded back OK, maybe I misplaced it (but she knows how small my house is, there are not that many places to misplace things) or it could be in one other spot and I'd check when I got back home. Which could very well be the case. I could have put the bottle in one other spot and forgot about it. 

I get a second e-mail this AM that says her husband had a buddy over while I was away who likes whiskey, so maybe they took the bottles and forgot.  MAYBE TOOK THE BOTTLES AND FORGOT!   I have a couple problems with this.

It's one thing to use my spare key and go in to my  house to water the plants, it's one thing to leave a note and say, hey we ran out of booze late Friday night and borrowed your bottle of Tequila.   It's a totally dammed other thing to let an almost complete stranger into my house and take my good whiskey and the gin. 

Neighbors husband has this friend who keeps falling in and out of AA.  Last time I spoke to him (which was around the holidays), he was going to go clean and sober because he became a first time grandfather and wanted to become part of his family again.  His drinking had become so bad he lost his license to a DUI and was only allowed to drive his truck to work and back from work, and not on the weekends.  He had become detached from his family.  He likes to hang out with my neighbors husband, they do similar work, etc. And just so you know, I don't like the man, not only is he drunk each time he comes over to the neighbors house, he is also just an unpleasant person. Neighbors wife does not like husband's friend all that much either. 

I can see this whole scene.  Neighbors husband and friend are hanging out drinking their livers into cirrhosis.  Neighbors wife is working the late shift as she does do for her job so she is not home.   Neighbors husband and friend run out of their beverage of choice.  My neighbors don't have a liquor cabinet per se, they buy liquor and they drink it.  Neighbors husband knows I have a selection of liquor. Neighbor husband volunteers to get a bottle from my cupboard and is so drunk, he does not remember it the next day or now two weeks later.   I have no idea if this is the case, but people I can just see this happening knowing my neighbor's husband and his sense of generosity using my liquor.  Neighbors husband is actually a nice guy, probably did not have any money and liberated my whiskey from my house to give to his scummy friend.  

Folks, I can't make this up, I sure hope I'm wrong and I'l find the bottle in the only other place it could be (and truthfully, that would be under the kitchen sink).  My neighbors are having some personal issues and the husband is dealing with them by drinking far too much far too many days during the week, the wife by staying with her sister a couple nights a week. 

I guess the only solution to this is to take back my key that I have with them and when I go away, hide all my liquor or put a lock on the one piece of furniture that I can convert to a liquor cabinet.   I think what I will do is get that lock and do a re-arranging of my special bottles of liquor anyway and move on from this situation. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just A Little Annoyed With My Neighbors

I am very fond of my neighbors, we have become good friends over the years we've lived on our little road. I watch their house, they watch mine. I feed their cats, they let my dogs out for a walk. We share pizza and beer. I asked if they could water my plants while I was on vacation and keep an eye on the house in case we had an unexpected freaky freeze. I did not want any burst pipes. They said sure. I said thanks.

BUT I am annoyed right now at this moment.
I have in a cabinet in my kitchen an assortment of liquor. It ranges from various disgusting bottles of flavored Schnapps left at my house after a few summer BBQ's and parties to some fortified wines that I use for cooking to some very nice gin and single malt scotch I got as holiday presents. Last night I really wanted a nice drink. I decided on a glass of whiskey. Imagine my UNHAPPY surprise when I opened up that cabinet only to find the inexpensive bottle of whiskey with far less in it than had been when I went away and my very expensive bottle of whiskey and gin both gone. I can only make this assumption. My neighbors probably had a mini party one night and ran out of booze after the liquor store closed. They probably came over to my house and "borrowed" my liquor. Now if they had taken the Schapps (which I don't drink or use in cooking and they like things like peach schnapps) or the mediocre Vodka, that would not have been so bad. But I'm assuming they took the whiskey and gin and did not bother to 1) tell me they did this or 2) leave me cash for the alcohol consumed. It's either they took it, their teenaged kids took it, or someone robbed my house of only those two bottles of booze and drank down the other bottle.
To give you an idea, the bottle of whiskey retails for about $80 and I can't always find it locally. It was a gift at Christmas. The gin retails for $40 and I can find it locally, but because of the price I don't buy it on a regular basis, that too was a gift at Christmas. I have some very nice friends who happily buy these bottles for me for Christmas and my birthday.
I had only had about 3 small glasses from the whiskey bottle and the gin was unopened. I called over to the neighbors (it was after 8:30 PM and I was already in my jammies) got the answering machine and left a message asking if they had "borrowed" the liquor and could they return the bottles. Just to let you know, they had done this one other time, but left me a note stating they took some vodka and tequila.
No return message, no e-mail, no running over with the remainders, no one calling back to say NOT ME! I admit I am making an assumption that it was my neighbor or her husband that came over and "borrowed" the booze or it was one of her teenaged kids who did the same. As far as I know, no one else was in the house while I was away. I also did not open the liquor cabinet to count my inventory when I came back from my trip. No need to, I wasn't using any of that liquor for cooking or drinking. AND the kicker is, if it was my neighbors who did take it, I know they really don't like gin and whiskey-they much prefer things like Vodka, Schnapps and really bad American Bourbons.

Now I guess it's a wait and see kind of a deal. I'm heading off tonight for my weekend job. I'll be back on Sunday and I'm going to see if somehow the bottle magically re-appears or if an explanation is given yea or nay. It would have been nice of them to at least tell me they did this..........grrr

No Spend Day #4

Happened yesterday. Dang I'm on a roll when I plan ahead!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vacation Spending Round Up

I added up the numbers for my trip

Plane ticket: $525-Budgeted and Actual $525
Car Rentals: $240-Actual $161-I searched about 4 days to find this great price
Hotel costs $100-Actual $95
Extra Bag Fees: $75/0-did not have to pay extra for checked bags on an international flight!
Gas: $150/Actual $180- I drove more than I planned.
Meals: $150/Actual $100 we ate in a lot
Misc: $100/Actual-$145-includes the day pass at the Presidents Club.
Planned spending: $200/Actual 175

Grand Total: $1,540/$1,381
Under Budget: $159

Some of my planned and miscellaneous spending was on gifts for people in the UK and for those many folks taking care of my animals and some specifically British items I wanted. My contributions towards meals were mainly wine and beer for dinner,which I put under the planned spending category. I did spend about $60USD on gifts (and a bottle of liquor at Duty Free) to bring over which I included in the planned and misc spending categories.

I had used the last of my small holiday bonus to pay for the tickets and part of my tax refund and second job wages to pay for the rest. The hotel ended up being cheaper than planned because of the pound to dollar exchange rate was better when I was in the UK than when I posted my budget. I went over in gas as I really had no idea what gas would cost. I paid for gas for the girls trip out as part of my present to my friends (they paid for their own hotel, meals, drinks, I did get treated to a few rounds at the pub). I searched the Internet relentlessly to find a better rental car rate. The car was economy in every sense of the word, but it got me from point A to point B. This budget does not include the two weekends of lost wages by not working at the barn (I don't get paid holidays being part time). I do have some left over Sterling. I did not want to pay the ridiculous currency buy back fee at the airport and just pocketed the extra Sterling for my next trip. Since I used almost cash exclusively I had Sterling left over. I used my debit and credit card when I was on my trip with the girls since I left the majority of my cash at the house. I paid for my meals, gas and some souvenirs with my debit or credit card.

Part of me looks at that $1,400 spent and thinks-"Wow, I could have my spiffy new laptop and a fair chunk of change in my E-fund" . Then the other part of me reminds myself that the biggest and most important reason I went over now to the UK was to visit my friend and her ill husband. I truly enjoyed seeing them and I as I've posted before, my friends husband is very very ill. I sure hope he recovers, but there is a strong possibility that had I stuck to my original plan of a trip to the UK in the fall, he might not be around then, we just don't know for sure. People first, money second.

I have to keep reminding myself not to be so selfish about my money spent on this trip for that reason and remind myself that I also truly needed a vacation that was a trip away from home.

Plus I came back from vacation with a clearer vision of what I want to do with myself this year and specific goals I want to accomplish. That, in and of itself given my total lack of focused goal setting in 2008, was worth the money spent on the trip.

It's Wednesday! And I've Had a Productive Week!

Yeah, it's Wednesday. I actually like Wednesdays. The bulk of my work for my main job is done, I usually use Wednesdays as a day to map out the next week and tidy up what's on my desk. I also make an effort to finish any outstanding projects that may be on my desk that I don't want to see come Monday AM. There is never enough time on Thursdays (my half day) to get tons of work done.

Monday was no spend day #3, a good thing! I did go grocery shopping last night and spent $43 on assorted pantry staples, meats and produce. One of my local grocery stores has been closed for the past few months for renovations. I've missed them. They had (and still have) great prices on meats and deli items, I would do most of my meat shopping from them. Their prices on other grocery items are not super competitive, but they are also a store where I can buy two onions or two All Purpose potatoes without having to buy the 5 lb bag two days before I'm heading out for vacation.

I got home last night, made dinner for myself, made a pasta salad to have for lunches the next couple days and did a mini menu planning. I keep finding these great receipes on Smitten Kitchen and thankfully, the past 3 or 4 I've printed out I've been able to make without having to do a special grocery shop. The key to cooking at home is to have a decent stocked pantry and to have a variety of easy receipes so you don't get in a rut of cooking the same old thing. I had a friend in high school whose mother was not 'into' cooking. They had three meals they ate each week, roasted chicken, steak, and burgers, all served with boiled white rice and rotated throughout the week. This was supplemented by pizza and the odd take out Chinese. Every once in a while pasta was made. My high school friend was fascinated to come to my house where we ate more than the three staple items. We had soup night, pasta night, burger night, grilled cheese/pizza night, roast meal night, chicken night, letover night, sandwich night... you get the picture.

I digress. I did make my lunch this AM and have plans to fire up the grill tonight, first time in 2009 I'll be using my grill. I got a small steak and am looking to have a "meat, potato and two veg" meal. I think I'm feeling a bit of Spring Fever!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Two No Spend Days!

It's just totally amazing how easy it is to have a no spend day when one PLANS a head-ie-getting all the shopping and errand running done on one day and not spread out over 3 days.

AND to really make my weekend, I had just enough spare time at the weekend job to give the interior of my car a good cleaning-all the "stuff" came out, I threw out a ton of stuff (old maps, junk I've been saving-why? in a car?), cleaned the interior windows, cleaned the mats, vacuumed everywhere, fixed my rear view mirror and organized the glove compartment, etc. I'm due for an oil change this week and I also get a complimentary car wash with each oil change. So I'll have a spiffy car inside and out by the end of the week.

I also need to update my side bars, I've had some changes to my account balances, on the good side. I'll get to that shortly!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Fastest Way To Get Someplace is The Way You Know How To Go

Interesting statement isn't it?  For my trip in the UK I bought and downloaded a map of the UK for my GPS (or Sat Nav).  I was doing some traveling with friends who don't drive much and are, by their own admission, directionally challenged.  I decided since I was doing most of the driving, I would invest in a UK map. It was worth the money spent.  We sat at the local pub at lunch before we departed, inputting the directions to the GPS, then reading the map summary and comparing it to our notes. The Sat Nav took us one way, the hand written directions from someone's husband took us another, both took us to the same place.  Someone at the pub looked over at our Sat Nav and said The fastest way to get someplace is the way you know how.    

Sheer genius. Really sheer genius folks.  Think about it.  In the personal finance world, we have the Dave Ramsey way of debt reduction, we have the gospel according to Suze Orman, we have the John Cummata way to wealth, we have a multitude of ways that all proclaim follow my advice and you too shall be debt free.  

 There are people who swear by  the Dave Ramsey system, there are people who swear AT  the Dave Ramsey system.  Personal finance is just that, personal.  What works for Dave Ramsey may not work for  you.  I've been reading a number of blogs where people are confused about the "best" way to purse debt reduction.  Snowflake or not to Snowflake? That is the question! Never using a credit card or limited use of a credit card? Cash only for everything, or loan shopping? I  don't think any system is the "best" system unless you are comfortable with it.  Suze and Dave may not be the best way for you to get out of your debt if you not comfortable with their systems or approaches. You may even have to make up  your own system! If you are comfortable with a system or an approach, I guarentee you will make substantial progress towards your financial goals.  If you are not comfortable with an approach or system, you will hit roadblocks as you work towards your financial goals. 

I do think people need to establish an emergency fund and work up towards the magical 3-6 months worth of living expenses as a cushion.  I do think people need to cut back on the use of credit, make some radical changes in their spending habits if they have substantial debt and want to pay it down or off. I do think that people need to spend their money wisely.  I also think that all work and no play does make Jack or Jill a dull child.  I think that people need to find something to do that gives them joy, even if it costs a little cash- a hobby, or pay for that gym membership, have that latte twice a week on your way to work,  or go to that weekly movie with your best buddy.  If it gives you joy, it can make the whole process more palatable. 

As I read a number of PF blogs, I see a pattern.  There are those bloggers who complain about the lack of debt reduction progress, but continue to do things like clothes shopping, entertaining, travel, and go out with friends. In one sentence they complain about their VISA balance, in the next sentence they state that "They must go out with friends" (and I'm not talking about a Personal Obligation here) . I read about PF bloggers following a "system" and getting burnt out and frustrated by a system because it does not seem to "fit" that person or their family, debt reduction yes, happiness in one life-no.   There are also those bloggers who do "have a life" but don't make apologies or complain that trying to have a balanced life has prolonged or increased their debt reduction progress.  The latter are the PF bloggers who have found that happy medium between spending, saving and debt reduction, in other words, their quality of life is pretty good!   It may take them a bit longer to get to that debt free place, but they are working towards a balanced life. 

Part of my journey from bankruptcy is finding that space that allows me to have a life and achieve my personal and financial goals. I did a lot of research this past year to see if there was a wonderful way to "bounce back from bankruptcy" and achieve my goals. I would be happy to share it with all of you, I really would.  What I have found out is that there is no wonderful pre packaged way to bounce back.  I'm finding ways to bounce back, but what works for me may not work for you.  I can only share what I do to help me achieve my goals. I also believe that if you are in debt reduction you have to find what works best for you out of the various "systems' and plans available and that into your life. You have to decide what place you want to get to. 

The fastest way to get to that place is the way you know how to go.

Good luck on your journey. 

March Goals

I've posted before that I've not had a great track record with my goals.  I thought about this for a couple days and realized that my lack of goal achieving coincided with my bankruptcy issues.  Hum, I find that interesting.

For a while, my goal was to make enough money to cover my car payment, then with the reduction in hours, it was to work each weekend.  That goal has been achieved.  Now for some more concrete goals!

 As I posted earlier this week, increase my no spend days.  This is probably easiest done while I'm at my weekend job.  I can pick up my groceries and get my gas for the return trip the day I arrive to the barn.  For at least two days, there is no reason on Gods green earthy why I need to go out and spend money on me. I have food, I have shelter, I have laundry facilities, I have gas to get home.  This should give me an average of at least 8 to 12 no spend days per month.  More if I just PLAN when I need to shop. Case in point, I ran around on my break yesterday, did my errands, did my shopping and came back to work.  I can not see a reason for me to get into my car and go anywhere or do anything until it is time for me to leave on Sunday.

I gave myself one goal of getting rid of a bunch of books. My original plan was to put them on or e-bay, but I had an opportunity to donate them to women's shelter that was looking for books for it's library.  Fair enough, I dropped off a load of books, de-cluttered my bookcase and bedside table a bit and am hoping some of the shelters clients will enjoy the books as much as I did.  Goal Achieved!

I also sat down and wrote out a list of 5 things that I think I can achieve in the next few months. Only one of those things are PF related, which is to aggressively contribute to my E-Fund since I've been a slacker about it. The other is the ongoing rejoin the gym issue, I've decided it is worth the money and more importantly the time to have the membership. I can dig out the old VCR and video tape any TV shows I might miss because I'm on the treadmill at the gym.  Working out at home just does not cut it for me, I've tried and failed far too many times to even attempt it again. The other 3 items give way too much personal information for me to post here, but they are goals that I think will inspire me to move beyond my comfort zone and really try to achieve some much needed progress in my life.

I wrote down my list of 5 things, made a couple copies and those copies will go 1) in my car taped to my dashboard, 2) be taped onto my bathroom mirror, 3) be taped on my computer  4) taped onto my fridge-put in places where I can't miss them to remind me that my action plan needs to be carried out!

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Back in The Saddle Again

I'm at my weekend job and getting back into the routine.  Thankfully, not a lot of horses in the barn this week, we are in the transition phase, clients are taking horses home now that the snow is (hopefully) done for the winter.  I see from the schedule, next week will be busy, horses are coming in.

The best part about the day was coming to the barn and finding my paychecks!  Yeah.  The payroll issue has been resolved and sitting in my bag are all my past wages, with a gift card to Dunkin Donuts thanking me for my patience while this got sorted out.

It's sunny out, it's supposed to get nice and warm tomorrow, I have money, my laundry is getting done! What a great wa to start the day!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Found The Cards

I had already put them in a smaller wallet I had planned on using once back from vacation. I never looked at that wallet. Glad I found them and did not have to go through the "hassle" of getting new cards. And I like the smaller wallet size in my bag.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Few Updates and a Wallet Clean Out

I did a little blog maintenance yesterday. I took down my ad sense ads, seems I was in “violation” of the ad sense terms and agreements (don’t remember getting a notice about it) and since ad sense never made me any $$, off it went. I also updated my blog roll with a few new blogs that I’ve been reading (I need to put on a few more) and took off my blog roll a couple blogs that went by the way side or went private. One day I’ll get around to really making this blog template spiffy, one day!

I had my first no spend day yesterday! Awesome for me. Did it without even trying. Blew today already as a no spend day, got gas and got dog food all by 8:30 AM. Tomorrow is not looking good either, I have a dentists appointment and need to do some food shopping for the weekend.

I have misplaced my Costco, Library, and medical insurance cards. I emptied my wallet of cards that did not need to come to the UK with me (those being three of them) and now can not find them. I had a stack of other cards (some old gift cards, rewards cards etc) and thought maybe I had them in that pile, no such luck. I did also clean off my computer desk to look for said cards. Since the home computer really does not work all that well, I'm not using my desk all that much and it has become a dumping ground for paper debris. The desk was looking way to messy for my liking.

I did sit down and sort through my piles of paper, wrote checks to pay some bills, shredded what could be shredded and filed what needed to be filed (I really need to get off my ARSE and get a scanner as I had planned to do LAST YEAR). My desk is a lot tidier, but still no missing cards. I can stop at Costco over the weekend, replace that card and do the same at the library the next time I'm in. I'll call the insurance company on Monday and order a new card. I know I decided to "put them in a new someplace safe spot" and will find them come June. Those three cards were lumped together in my wallet and have been for years. I hate it when I decide it's a good time to move things around and change storage locations. I am such a creature of habit! I will look again when I get home tonight.

Before my trip I cleaned out my purse of those cards not needed for travel. I was amazed at what I was carrying around in my purse. Business cards of friends, assorted rewards cards, frequent flier cards for airlines I don't even travel on anymore (from when I did travel on a more frequent basis). I even had a separate little wallet for all those cards. WHY? I took a good look at the pile of cards, picked out the two that I use on a more frequent basis and put those in my little wallet. The rest are wrapped up and sitting on my desk. I can guarantee you I won't need those cards for a really long time.

Ah well, lets hope I go home and find those cards just sitting out there waiting for me!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Goals for March

I've not posted monthly Goals for a while. Mainly because I stunk at achieving the many goals I had on my list. That was really depressing me too.  For a few months, my goal was to make $$ at my second job. Now that I have a lot of set hours at my weekend job, it's time to re-evaluate my goals in life. 

My goals for March are as follows

1) Try to do as many no spend days as possible-at least 5 prefer at least 10.
2) Get motivated to re-join the gym-the weight has crept up and the MD is shaking her fingers at me and I miss the time there-working out at the gym was a big stress reliever for me.
3) Sit down one weekend and think of some long term goals and an action plan.

Not very many goals, but one issue I've been dealing with is my lack of concrete goals in my life.  Time to move beyond that "safe zone" and get back out there! Have you worked on a goals list?

Britian on a Budget

I've managed to sort out the piles of work on my desk. Not as daunting a task as it first appeared. My boss has a habit of dumping EVERYTHING on my desk. One third of the items on my desk went into the trash or to someone else.

My trip was very nice and very sad at the same time. My friend’s husband is quite ill, home from the hospital, but still quite ill. For all my grousing about giving up a vacation some place warm, sandy, and sunny or at least Britain in late spring, I'm glad I went over when I did. I honestly don't know if my friend’s husband is going to "bounce back" from this illness he has. I had made very tentative plans to try a trip to the UK in the fall, when I found friend’s husband was truly ill, I decided sooner rather than later and am glad I made that decision. I really wonder if he will be around come fall. It is truly People first, money second. I can rant about the NHS in another post........

That being said, I did get a call from said friend while I was sitting in the airport twiddling my thumbs. Seems her bank would do currency exchange for free! I exchanged about $40USD just so I had some Sterling in my pocket, but when I got to my destination, one of the first things I did was make a withdrawal from the "hole in the wall" and walk into the bank to get Sterling! I did this twice during my visit. I've not sorted out exactly what I spent money on, I have to look back at all my receipts and figure that out. I tried to use cash as much as possible. When I went off with the girls for our couple days out, I left most of the cash behind in my passport case, I forgot to grab the Sterling when I packed up for our adventure. I used my debit card and it IRKS me to no end that I got whacked with these fees from my bank for the "privilege" of using my debit card because I FORGOT my cash back at the house. Ah well, all I could say when we stopped for lunch and realized I had left the bulk of my cash "back home" was Bugger All.. If you need a translation click here.

Britain is not a cheap country to travel in. I am eternally grateful for the generous hospitality of various friends I've made over the years that allow me to drop in and spend days at a time at their home. By staying with friends over the trip, I figured I saved about $600 in hotel costs. The two nights the girls and I were traveling, we stayed in a small guest house and it cost me 50 pounds each night, or roughly $75USD each night. That did include breakfast. Gas is still expensive. I paid on average 90 pence per liter (not gallon), sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more. I am glad I did get a car. Having that freedom to travel when I needed to was a godsend. I pretty much got to peoples houses and parked the car, but when I needed to run an errand I could just up and go. It also allowed me to take my time and do a little touring of my own as I made my way from friend 1 to friend 2. I bought my fair share and then some of liquor and food from Tesco's and Morrison's as my contribution to the meals, it was the least I could do, add another couple hundred dollars on for lunches and dinners to the hotel costs had I been staying in hotels or B and B's.

Probably the one splurge to me was buying a pass to sit in the Airlines Presidents Lounge. Due to my earlier than planned arrival at the airport (like 7.5 hours before my flight was set to board), I bought a day pass to the lounge. It was the best $45 bucks spent. My airlines web site did not indicate that I could buy a singular pass, they stated passengers could buy passes in books of ten if they were not members of the Presidents Club. When I checked my bags, the attendant said that they do sell day passes, so off I went and Shazamm, a day pass is what I got. I had a very comfy seat to pass the time while reading my book, in and out privileges, a place to store my carry on bag, free munchies, free drinks (even free beer and wine), reading material, a TV to watch, and probably my favorite- a place to shower. Yup, the Lounge had a shower. I took advantage of that to take a quick rinse about an hour before boarding the flight. My flight was an overnight flight and I knew based on my travel upon landing in the UK that it would be a long time to be in my travel clothes before I could change out of them. Airport food and drink is freaking expensive and buying my lunch and a couple drinks at the airport would have cost me around $30. I had a lunch of cheese, crackers, fruit, mini bagels and chips. I had packed a makeshift sandwich for my lunch (using leftovers from home). I got on the plane, relaxed, clean, and happy. I had my meal, read my book and promptly fell asleep for the majority of the flight (it was an overnight flight so when I landed it was morning there and the middle of the night for me back home) and got to the UK in a good mood and well rested.

The other interesting part of my trip was the completely unexpected opportunities I got talking to some friends to write some posts about Personal Finance and spending habits. I’ll be working on those posts in the upcoming days.

Here are a couple photos of my travel! Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2009

No Place Like Home

I'm back on terra firma in the US.  Interesting trip abroad and I did get some ideas for some PF posts. Once I get the piles of work down to managable level on my desk, I'll give you a recap.