Sunday, October 28, 2012

Week 6 & 7 planning - what comes next?

Things got a little rough and I've had three weeks where things just didn't seem to go my way.

To help me with my motivation, I'm going to post the long-term goals here... and then pick a couple LESS micro-goals for the next two weeks and see if I can't make some progress anyway.

1) Pay off all debt - I keep getting close, but there's still some medical debts haunting me.

2) Have a better emergency fund set up than I had when everything fell out from the bottom a few years ago and I came so close to bankruptcy.

3) Save up enough money for a decent down payment for a house (previous house had been foreclosed on).

4) Raise a happy, healthy son.

5) Find healthy, easy-to-cook meals that we enjoy.





Micro goals:

1) Take lunch to work every day (that I work) for the next two weeks.

2) Trial run with Netflix to see if it will work for my family.

3) Find ONE new recipe to try, maybe with chicken again - only this time, we might try canned chicken.

4) Put another $200 into savings.

Week 4 & 5 - ugh - rough couple of weeks


Things did not work out very well over the past couple of weeks. I didn't do very well with several of my goals and was incredibly busy. But, I DID manage to put away a few dollars for savings and even though I failed a few micro-goals. The key is to not give up.

So, what went wrong? First - I have been putting off some dental work for a while with the knowledge that I have some heavy-duty dental work expense coming up and I wanted to plan for it. While I was waiting two of my teeth (that I've had root canals on, no less) decided that they aren't ok with getting ignored. What do I mean by that? I mean that the root canals had been a failure (they didn't get all of the nerve) and they'd been uncomfortable for a really long time. Well, a little over a week ago, they went from not comfortable to extremely painful quite suddenly. A third tooth is also bothering me quite dramatically. I'm taking pain killers which is making me tired. And with my allergies, the only pain killer available to me is Ibuprofen or Alleve... and, honestly? It's not cutting the pain very well. I've been running around with ice, and discomfort.

As a result, plans kind of fell to the way-side. Lunches weren't very well planned out. I'd forget things and it just all kind of fell apart.  I go in on Tuesday to get the problem molars pulled and hopefully will feel a lot better shortly thereafter.

Anyway - here are the goals I had set for the past two weeks and my results.

Goal 1: Verify and pay off medical debt from 2008 Goal Failed
Details:

I did work out a short-term 'good-faith' payment plan of $50/month and they are hoping to settle for 80 cents on the dollar in January. It's at least managed - just not handled, unfortunately.

Goal 2: Continue to take lunch to work and spend just my $1/day for breakfast Goal Failed
Details:

There were two days where I forgot my lunch at home and was able to run home to fetch it. However, there were a couple of other days where I had forgotten my lunch where I didn't have that option. I ended up eating lunch at the work cafeteria one day and at the mall on the other day. As I had taken some time to volunteer with the Race for the Cure process fundraiser.

Goal 3: Find at least two new meals to try to cook. Goal Failed
Details:

I spent more than I planned on groceries due to the ingredients I needed to try a couple of new recipes. The problem was that I was going to grill up several chicken breasts one evening for several of the recipes... and I didn't get to it. Then I worked 12 hours the following day. Then I worked 9 hours and drove for 4 hours the following day... then next thing you know, I had raw chicken in my refrigerator for six days... um. Yeah. NOT edible. I should have left it in the freezer - but I thought it would cook easier if I had thawed it out first...  which resulted in all of it going bad.

As it was, next thing you know my teeth started to bother me... and I didn't feel like cooking anyway. I was too tired and groggy and the last thing I wanted to do was deal with it.  Thankfully there were lots of meals in the freezer, so while we still ate more fast food than is probably good for us this week - we also ate lots of leftovers as well.

Goal 4: Add $200 to savings  Goal Met
Details:

I still spent WAY more than I should have on way too many things. I feel guilty about a lot of it... but I can't let it keep me from trying to move forward anyway. It was just that we ate a lot of junk food. We spent a ton of money on some charity items... some of the food wasted... etc.  The good news is that because I've been doing better the other weeks, there was some money available still to add to savings. My goal is to keep repeating my micro goals as they make sense and keep adding to savings.

Goal 5: Try the new Red Heart Love yarn Goal Postponed
Details:

I'm going to put this exercise off until after November. I've got enough knitting planning going on that I really don't want to mess with this just right now. The good news is that at least I haven't spent any money on yarn in the meantime... so it's not that I bought more expensive yarn to experiment with. I did start a sweater with KnitPicks Brava Worsted weight acrylic - this had been bought a few months ago and not used. I don't hate it. But I also don't LOVE it. So, it's not going to be a great replacement bargain yarn for the yarn I'm choosing not to use any longer. In the future I'll try this new Red Heart yarn and see if it'll be a better option in the end. We'll see.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Amazon Prime Review

When I got my Kindle Fire last month, I signed up for the free trial with Amazon Prime which has free instant streaming of videos.

'a', my 9 yr old son - LOVED IT! For me? it was an 'eh'. And I think that for the cost, it's too expensive for providing more cartoons to my son who could benefit from LESS tv addiction.

He did watch entire seasons of cartoons that were no longer broadcast on television over and over again.

Me? I enjoyed a few of the early seasons of Dr Who. There weren't many on there, but there were some of the good ones. I didn't find any movies that I hadn't already seen that I wanted to see. There weren't any current television shows that I had missed that were available. My list of want-to-see items was pretty short.

Using Amazon Prime with the Kindle Fire was so-so. Once we were able to pull up our watch list (which took navigating to Amazon, and a few more clicks on the web site than seemed appropriate, hence the so-so ranking)... we were able to select the episode we wanted to watch and enjoy it quite well. There was a place to get to the watch list quicker - but it wouldn't include the things you wanted to watch and hadn't started yet. And you couldn't add to it from there.

But it would pop up asking if we wanted to watch it with the right viewer (which of course, we did). It just would have been nice to have easier access to the watch list right from the device without navigating to the web first; which would then let the episode pop up with the right viewer in the first place. (yes, I consider this unfriendly user experience a negative).

You can't use the micro-USB to USB cord to plug the Kindle to the Digital TV to play the video on the television monitor... BUT you can buy a HDMI cable for the laptop. Since Amazon Prime works from any web enabled device, that means that I could have my laptop hooked up to the big screen for streaming television. So, I'll put this down as neither a negative nor a positive.

BUT - the vast majority of the movies and/or television shows that I watch on a regular basis aren't available without a long delay on Amazon Prime. This won't ever replace my cable service, no matter how much money it would save. Big negative.

Also, live streaming is free, but downloading the episodes to watch while offline? Not free. Not incredibly expensive - many of the shows/episodes were priced around $.99 - $2.49 each. Which is about the cost of a one or two-day RedBox rental... and you would own the episode to watch repeatedly. I was dissapointed that this was as expensive as it was though. My thought was that it would be useful to have some downloaded movies/television cartoons for my son to watch on long drives.  Also a negative.

I do love that once you get to the viewer you have the list of the seasons and/or episodes right there and it's dead easy to start the next episode. This ease of use meant my son didn't require a lot of assistance to get to watch what he wanted to watch - though he did need my help every time we had to find the watch list again and any time we wanted to add something to the watch list. Big positive.

For pricing, while it's at $80/year (which seems high because it's all paid at once) -- it's actually almost a bargain compared to Netflix and Hulu Plus (which at around $8/month - are $96/year). It comes with free shipping on all (I think all?) Amazon purchases for the year. As well as the ability to download one book-at-a-time from a specific library of digital books for free.

I'm planning on experimenting with Netflix and Hulu Plus (which both have free trials as well) to see if I have a preference between the three services I'm aware of.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nothing like catching the flu to put things in perspective

When I was struggling so bad with chronic pain and fatigue... I would periodically catch a bug, a cold or the flu. But I HONESTLY did not feel any better or worse... I just had a few more symptoms... i.e., a cough or sneeze, or runny nose and/or fever.

I'd end up going to work more often than not unless I realized that it was the flu for sure (usually only understood once "a" would start complaining about not feeling well.

Now that I'm no longer having chronic pain throughout most of my body. And now that I  no longer feel exhausted 24/7?

I am coming down with the flu. I'm tired and achey with a headache and a slight fever.

And I've never before had a 'good' feeling when I started to feel ill.

Because I CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE.

It's highlighting just how much better I really am.

I have NOT been feeling this way for a really long time... since I started the shots at the end of April of this year.

So, I'm working from home today and trying to drink lots of liquids and take it easy.

It's SO MUCH EASIER to tell if it's the flu or what it is because I feel the symptoms.

I know? Who on earth besides me would ever be happy to have the flu. I'm not happy about it... but I am happy that I can tell that I feel worse... which means that when I'm over it? I'm going back to feeling better.

And that is WONDERFUL.


Proposed debt settlement was rejected

So, first things first, it's $1400, not $1200. So when I came in at 45% on $1200, they weren't exactly in a receptive mood. Secondly, they refused point-blank to discuss any settlement option at less than 80% (which would require digging into savings and I'm doing my best to avoid that).

But they did agree to work with me. I explained my situation of paying $600/month on my current medical debt (which isn't in collections and I have EVERY intention of keeping it that way). Ergo - my medical debt from 2008 which HAS been in collections for a while takes a back seat.

They agreed to good-faith payments of $50/month until my hospital debt is retired and then we can discuss settling for 80% of what is left at that point.

I'm exceptionally frustrated by the fact that they wouldn't even consider any other offers for settlement as I have had a lot of luck in the past with settlement offers and working things out that way.

But, I owe the money - I don't have an issue with paying them money. I just can't afford all of it now and as long as they are willing to work with me, I'm willing to work with them. In the end the difference between the 60% I would have liked to have paid and the 80% they are going to insist on is only a few hundred dollars (not thousands). And that few hundred dollars is mostly fees and interest. So, it would still be a win if I can get any little bit knocked off. So, off to adjust my little ticker a little more for a) understating the debt and b) another payment to get to add.

Monday, October 15, 2012

That old debt - yuck

So, I looked through the paperwork I got from the lawyer's office. There was about $1200 in medical debt from 2008 from when I tore my ACL. In the Spring of 2008 I was treading water, but flailing in debt. I'd spent over two years dealing with all the expenses that had piled up since 2005 and I thought I had things under control as of the beginning of the year.

By summer of 2008 I had bills coming out of my ears and everyone had decided simultaneously that they were no longer going to except small payments from me, but instead needed me to settle out 100% of my debt with every company. In 2008, that totalled over $45,000. (I had paid down $5,000 worth of debt between 2005 and 2008). But it was all due NOW.

I got scammed by one of the debt consolidation gimmicks. Who told me to stop all payments and pay only them x amount - then they would start negotiating settlements on my behalf.  The idea being that by stopping payments, the companies would be more willing to negotiate and by paying them the difference - that would give me a chance to save up enough money to make it interesting for the other companies to settle. About two payments in, I started getting garnished - which meant I couldn't make the payments to the settlement company. I never saw the money back either.

By Fall 2008 I was convinced I was going to have to file bankruptcy. The collection calls were constant. I didn't have the money to make anything but mediocre payments. My debts had been bought and sold so many times I couldn't keep track of whom to make the next payment to. I'd get calls from companies and wouldn't know what debt they were calling about. It was bad.

I talked to the lawyer and we started the process for bankruptcy. This would have been right around the time that the debt for the spring 2008 surgery probably would have gone to collections for non-payment. I couldn't find any record of it at all in the documentation I prepared for the bankruptcy process. And of course, one of the benefits of starting the process is that collections can't breathe down your throat while you're doing it. So, they couldn't send me a statement of the amount owed.

When things started to take a turn for the better during Spring 2009 and I finally could start making a dent in the mess I'd gotten myself into... I ended up not filing for bankruptcy. But instead I took the debt list that I had prepared and used a work bonus and tax refund (which was a GOOD tax refund) and used it to start knocking off debts. I got enough folks off of my back that I could start making payments... I worked on the little debts. Between the garnishments, getting rid of the smaller creditors, etc. I got to the point where I had less than $10,000 in debt by Spring 2010. We went to Disneyland to celebrate.

By Summer 2011, the only debt I thought I had left was just my car payments... which has since been paid off, died, replaced by another car and more car payments.

But now, out of the ashes of my former financial fiasco rises this 'oh, but what about us' debt. sigh.

I am going in with a plan this time, though. I have $800 in checking before my last payday. That's more than 50% of the debt total. I'm going in there and offering them $540 (45% of the debt) and asking them to write off the balance. If they counter offer higher (which I would expect) I'll go up as high as $720 - 60% of the debt. Though I'm hoping since they've never seen a single payment in 4 years, that they'll settle at closer to 50%.

Sooner or later I have to dig back through my credit score again and make sure there aren't any more of these hidden gems. I was going to wait another year or two because that would be around the right time to start contacting companies to get them to remove out-dated information from the credit report and I could start cleaning it up. But I don't want any more nasty surprises.

Travel plans - Eastern Iowa

We've been trying to head out to Eastern Iowa for quite a while now. "A" proposed in February and we wanted to introduce her around to the family. She's actually met a couple of cousins, and two of my three brothers simply because they've actually been in town (which never happens). My nephew's wedding certainly counts as an exception. And my brother and his family came into town for a school event for one of their daughters and ate at the restaurant where my son and his fiance work. My nieces and nephews come into town a little more often (guess they aren't the stay-at-home homebodies the rest of my family is.

"a" is spending this weekend with his father and one of the things I liked to do in the past when I was often in the area was meet his father at my parent's house... saves him some driving time and I get to visit with my step-father while I wait.  Since mom has passed, this hasn't happened as often as it used to and "a" keeps asking me when he gets to see pa-pa.

So the current plans are to take off a little before noon on Sunday, "A" wants to take her to a few places and point out some 'scenery' in small town Eastern Iowa... we'll probably point out the house in Mt Vernon, at least one of the schools he went to, point out the sights (haha) in Olin... maybe hit Jungle Town. We'll definitely get a chance to visit with dad for a while. We might poke our heads in at our brother's houses... We'll definitely grab supper at Hale Supper Club. And if I was a good girl, we'd even call my sister and see if she was up for a visit as well. Maybe hit her house on the way home.

It's about 40 miles each way further to drive around and visit family than it would be if I were just picking "a" up at our regular meeting place... but this gives us all a chance to visit... plus it'll be a lot cheaper than if we tried to make a weekend out of it.

So, an inexpensive trip to Eastern Iowa - coming up. Something to really look forward to for family time. And if I plan things right - my son will be doing the driving and I can sit in the back seat and knit. Double-win.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Weeks 4 & 5 Planning

Last week was the roughest of the three weeks. Which I think is pretty typical. Being frugal often requires doing things that might take more effort. It takes postponing purchases that you might want to make immediately into a - maybe no, let's think about it wait.

Those aren't typically the fun things to do.

But if I managed to do frugality for three years and manage to work off a ton of debt, I can manage a few more to get to a point where I'm going to be where I want to be financially in the future.

So, more micro-stepping goals.

Goal 1: Verify and pay off medical debt from 2008
Details:

Either I already paid it off in 2009-2010 or it got lost in the midst of all the chaos. Between my checking account buffer and my current balance in checking, I should be able to propose a settlement offer. Either way, it should be history before these two weeks are out. My goal will be to pay 50% of it and get them to agree to that offer (if it's truly not already paid for ages ago). While dipping into the buffer isn't my ideal solution, I'm still not dipping into savings, and I can live with that option.

Goal 2: Continue to take lunch to work and spend just my $1/day for breakfast

Goal 3: Find at least two new meals to try to cook. My slim-list of meals I can cook from scratch are already starting to get old. www.food.com is my new best friend.

Goal 4: Add $200 to savings EVEN with my expenses for cub scouts (woops), two long drives next weekend, plus payments for medical debts. Right now, I have more than enough money in checking to cover all upcoming expenses, plus the pay-off for the old medical debt.

Goal 5: I've been pointed to a new inexpensive yarn option that isn't supposed to be as nasty as lot of local shops acrylic yarns are. I'm going to try to pick up a single skein (under $5) to make a couple of charity hats and see how I like it. (The new Red Heart Love yarn) I've never been much of a lover of Red Heart, but if it's as nice as it's claimed to be, we'll see. Vast majority of my current projects are using yarn I already own and the rest of the year will continue in that vein, but I do have some projects starting in 2013 that will need an easy to get, affordable option... so this will be my test to see if it'll work.

Weeks 2 & 3 - progress post

Goal 1: Cook 6 from-scratch meals at home in two weeks

Details:
Sunday - Taco Soup - not very good, tossed most of it (1)
Tuesday - Grilled Chicken and Mashed Potatoes  - didn't happen - ended up eating Frozen dinners
Wednesday - Chicken Tortilla Soup - made Grilled Chicken, Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans instead - (2) but I did cook up the Chicken Stock... am planning on making the Tortilla Soup on Friday night instead.

Friday - not planned - but made the Chicken Tortilla Soup. (3)
Saturday - Shepherd's Pie - didn't happen. I was just TOO tired to move. We ate leftovers.  Shepherd's pie for Sunday day instead.

Saturday - Spaghetti - didn't happen, again just too tired to think. 'a' had macaroni and cheese and I had leftovers.
Sunday - not planned - Shepherd's pie - divine. (4)I tried chili beans instead of standard veggies. Yummy! - only enough for 2 leftovers for lunches, but yum,yum, yum.
Sunday - Yummy Chicken Alfredo (5) - this was more of a throw things in and see how they turned out - they turned out pretty good. I'm not a huge fan of alfedo to start with, but 'a' loves it and he hasn't had that many dishes of the new recipes I've tried that he likes.  He picked out the corn and peas, but ate the broccoli, so I'm still calling it a win.
Tuesday - not planned - was originally going to teach; but class got cancelled - Spaghetti will fit in here instead. (6) - plus 3 leftovers for lunches - woot!

GOAL MET

Goal 2: Take left overs to work for lunch every day - 10 meals
Details:


Week 2 - 5/5 days took lunch to work
Week 3 - 5/5 days took lunch to work


GOAL MET


Goal 3: No yarn buying, no 'fun' buying, no browsing online and indulging any purchases
Details:
Tempted... I did find out that my 'knit-in' is accepting registrations. I've gone two years in a row. It'll cost a little over $100 to take full participation in the knit-in. This is a LOT less expensive than a lot of other options. I will probably be signing up, but not this month. I'll sign up in November instead (when hopefully most of my medical bills have stopped arriving). I avoided all yarn shopping sites and browing.

I did flip through the catalog for gift card wrap and candies and odds and ends that my son is asked to sell for school fundraiser. I don't need the odds and ends, nor the cookie dough, nor the brownie mix, nor the candies. I could use more wrapping paper. But I could also buy less expensive wrapping paper at the store (albeit lesser quality as well). Given my current finances, I'm resisting the urge to order any thing.

GOAL MET

Goal 4: Identify opportunity for a weekend in Eastern Iowa - October or November
It won't be a full weekend, but we'll be driving to within 60 miles on Sunday, the 21st as it is. So, we're going to try to arrange to enjoy lunch at my favorite haunt - Hale Tap and visit with my step-father. Everyone is going so that the newest members of the family can be introduced around.
GOAL MET

Goal 5: Don't dip into Savings

Not only did I NOT dip into Savings, but I spent far less than planned. As well as had two unexpected deposits to my account for $300.  In fact, I was able to build up the $400 checking account buffer that has been absent for over six months. My checking balance at the end of week three was:    $770

I am going to leave the $400 buffer in the account and was planning on moving the difference into savings.  But that was before I got the 4 year old medical bills. I'm spending a few hours this weekend verifying that I haven't already paid them. And then I'll use the amount I have in my checking to attempt to reach a settlement. I *might* owe about $1200 on the debt, and if I can get them to settle for $600 or just a little over, I can avoid dipping into my savings (still) AND I can mark it off as being settled.

GOAL MET AND EXCEEDED

Payment tracking - honesty, and helps keep me on track

Nothing like posting your spending list on a blog to make you think twice about an impulse purchase!

PLANNED:


Expenses already spent:
$790 Rent - actual
$350 Month of daycare - actual
$60 Car Insurance - actual
$100 medical bills - actual
$20 Tickets to Living History Farms for son - actual
___

$100 on gas to get my son to get to see his dad, picking him up and gas for the two weeks
Actual:
$30 on 9/29 Sat
$40 on 10/2 Tues (should have filled up sooner, but oh well)

Saved $30

$10 breakfast
Actual:
-- skipped Monday 10/1 (worked from home
-- $4 for week 2
-- $5 for week 3

 Saved $1

$100 Take out meals - buying for extended family (includes effective compensation for babysitting)
Actual:
$12 on 9/28 Fri - driving to Iowa City from West Des Moines and back
$12 on 9/30 Sun - driving to Iowa City from West Des Moines and back
$17 on 10/4 Thurs - teaching night, bought dinner for three plus latte for my son who was babysitting
$6 on 10/6 Sat - 'a' spent two hours outside in the cold selling popcorn for the scouts, he got a well-deserved treat for his hard work and stepping out of his comfort zone by asking strangers if they want to buy some popcorn to support the scouts.
$9 on 10/10 Wed, too many errands and too exhausted to face cooking
$18 on 10/11 Thurs - teaching night, bought dinner for four

Saved $26


$175 Groceries and dog food for two weeks
Actual:
$115 on 9/29 Sat

Saved $60

$25 Dye and supplies for dyeing yarn for Sweater
--Postponing this project - Nothing spent


Temptation fought:

I really want a new vacuum cleaner. My old one works. But clogs up all the time. Taking it apart with a screwdriver and dislodging the clog works. But it's an annoyance. For now, I'm living with the annoyance (and dirty carpets when I'm too annoyed to fix it).

I really want to support my son's school fundraiser. But most of the things being sold aren't needed. And the other things are excessively priced. I have a dear friend who likes the wrapping paper because it is of higher quality (it is). So, my support this year is going to be limited to reaching out to her to see if she's bought any from someone else yet, and if not, if she'd like to buy some from us.

I did NOT sign up (yet) for my Knit-in. I'm re-evaluating my expenses and budgets. If I can't afford to sign up between now and December, so be it. Then worst case, it will be a December gift for myself. It might mean I miss out on some of the options that I'd like to participate in, or it might already be filled and no room, which means I might not get to go. But, if that's the case, it isn't the end of the world.

A friend wanted to go camping this weekend and I thought it would be fun to join her. I don't usually do much fall camping as I don't care for the cold. But over the weekend I thought about all the expense for some of the camping equipment that needed to be replaced, the menus, the cost. And it occurred to me that if I don't do much fall camping because I don't like cold... then why would I spend so much money to get to go camping this weekend (which is forecast to be cold and rainy) when money is tight. This became pretty easy to say that I had a change of heart on Monday.

Temptation lost:


I am supporting my son's popcorn sales for the Boy Scouts. I have about $90 worth of Military donations and caramel popcorn coming my way next month. I only bought one bag of caramel corn last year and regretted that decision for months afterwards. I am not going to have any regrets at buying five bags of the addictive, sweet, stuff that I have no intention of sharing. I know I didn't have to go that crazy with buying the caramel corn. I know I didn't have to do the Military donations either. But it helps him achieve a goal he set for himself, and he's taken great pride in working hard at this... I want to be supportive of something that helps with the scouting and gives him so much benefit (assuming we don't end up dropping out before the year is out). This is all coming out of next time-period's check. ... plus I really do love the caramel corn. And that's saying something because I rarely eat any popcorn at all of any kind. But this stuff is REALLY good.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ugh... I thought this was already handled.

So, I got a call from a debt collector about a $20.00 amount that was still not paid in full from this spring. I had set up a payment plan with the medical company and this was the amount that was due to get paid that same month. It's obnoxious to me that they would agree to a payment plan and still send it to a collector, but whatever. I paid the $20.00 when I originally agreed to pay the $20.00. With an explanation to the debt collector that I was making payments over the payment to take advantage of HSA funds which weren't going to get distributed until x date.

They wanted to know, well what about the money you still owe us from 2008? Why aren't you paying that.

Well, to be honest. I thought I had paid it all off by 2010. It took two years because it was on top of the almost $50,000 in medical debt piled up between 2004 and 2008. But I thought I had paid everyone back fully.

I had received NO NOTIFICATION of any unpaid debt since 2009. Three full years without any calls, without any mail, nothing.

So, when they called (this was about eight weeks ago). I told them that I thought I had paid off all debts years ago and that if they wanted anything from me, they would need to provide written documentation so I can verify that it was or was not paid.

They sent me nothing.

They called again about three weeks ago wanting a payment. They said they didn't understand that I had requested written documentation from them. So, I repeated my request. As far as I'm concerned. If you can't document what I owe you - then I'm pretty sure you can't collect on a dime.

So, they finally sent me something this week. Almost $1000 of medical expenses. I can confirm the expenses were the expenses that went to collections in 2008.

Now, to start digging through my records to try to identify if I've actually paid anything on these accounts. That might take some time... and my fear is that I simply paid the noisy wheel collectors and had forgotten about these accounts. At the time I was paying off these debts I had closed all checking accounts so that they couldn't be garnished and lived check-to-check and used money orders to pay my debts. I've kept all those money orders (along with all the stubs for rent, etc).... hence, it's gonna take some time to find anything (if it exists).

If I can't find those payments... my plan is to set up a payment plan of $100/month... and hope that I can use my tax refund to pay off the remainder at that time. Yuck. Absolute YUCK. Everytime you think you're getting ahead, getting to the point where things are 'handled' something like this comes up and makes you just want to scream.

I was talking about this to a co-worker yesterday. Because I had been given a couple of job descriptions from a recruiter even though I'm not seriously looking for another job... I've learned that it pays to ask questions before you out-right state that you're not interested. Sometimes an ideal opportunity is out there and if you say no before you look, you're only screwing yourself. It pays to be aware. If I find out those opportunites aren't ideal, I don't have to take them any further. Anyway, these opportunities would all be lower wage. I never considered my current employer to be one of the higher salaries in the area in this field... but am starting to think that as much as I complain over not having gotten a raise in the past three years, apparently, I'm still making more than some of the current opportunities out there.

That said. I don't know how people do it on a lesser salary. I seriously don't. I know I have some expenses I could cut (i.e., cable)... but it brings me 90% of my entertainment every month and there are several things I would miss if I cut it. I could drop my data plan from my cell phone. But I use it for a great deal on my traveling, researching things while on the road and just every day for things like the turn-by-turn directions, getting phone numbers to call if I'm running late, etc. 

But we cut back on so many other things - like clothing expenses, traveling, eating out, I can go years between seeing a movie in the theater, I've stopped going to any live performances, etc. etc. And as it is I can barely afford medical care, let alone trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to pay for the major dental care coming up. I don't know how families do it these days.

Her explanation? If you don't get sick, it's not an issue. And the folks that have gotten sick are in the same boat as I am. Obama care (which I'm in favor of) or not, getting sick and having health issues that aren't straight forward are destroying folks financial worlds.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Feeling torn

My youngest is nine. And he's one of those who claims to be happiest in front of the tv watching cartoons all day or playing video games. And 'a' does get a lot of pleasure from those activities.

Of course, as a parent, I want him to find other ways to use time as well. 'a' has some vision issues which makes certain sports more challenging. It's not that he couldn't play those sports, it's that he would have a hard time playing them well, and without having any great inherent sport skills, I'd rather not pick sports he'll have a challenge with to make my stand of 'you will do something besides turn into a couch potato'-stand.

Swimming is one of the activities 'a' enjoys and that he does pretty well. I'll definitely keep up the swimming lessons and encourage swimming as an athletic sport when he gets into High School.

But it certainly isn't enough right now.

I grew up Christian, but am currently Atheist. (I dither back and forth between it and Agnostism about every four to five years).

I still have a lot of the same morals and ethics from my Christian upbringing that I'm raising my son with. One of the greatest institutions for boys is the Boy Scouts. It lets boys be boys. It encourages them to learn a lot about the world, about being a good citizen and contributing to society. It teaches SO MANY of the things I want my son to learn and does so in an environment that is tremendously fun. It is predominately a Christian program and advertised as such, but it includes information about all religions and spends time talking about religious freedoms. And, in my personal opinion, not allowing Girls to join is acceptable because there is a Girl Scout program which lets girls be girls and exposes them to a lot of the same educational opportunities.

Since BSA is geared for growing boys, it sadly has also drawn in the past volunteers that wanted to take advantage of those boys. BSA has gone to tremendous lengths to train the adults working with the boys and make it incredibly safe to prevent further abuse. If everyone, including parents, are as involved as they are expected to be, the boys will be safe. This is a reassuring thing to me. As parents we take turns leading the meetings and there are always 2 parents at every moment of every meeting if not all of the parents. If I'm not present for the entire meeting, I make sure that my eldest is able to supervise in my stead to make sure my son is safe.

What is less reassuring is the current experiences around intolerance that make me nervous. In my position, I am the last one to teach the segment on religion. I always stand back and let one of the more devout members take this on. I have no problem with my son learning more about religion. At this point he seems a little bit agnostic in the way he talks about god... but in my mind the more information he has, the more he can chose what he wants to believe in.

But, last night when we were talking about what makes America special - the boys were discussing things like religious freedom, a good government with good laws, etc. And religion got a little to the forefront. At one point my son introduced a couple of things he believed about god (which aren't the standard Christian beliefs). He got told he was WRONG and was told what was CORRECT. I stepped in a little and talked about the fact that to my son's point - whether you believe in God or not, it's not wise to jump off a 100 foot cliff assuming God will save you... that you have to be smart and make good choices first. They conceded that point and I tried to change the subject.

But the next thing that they brought up is that there is a different boy in the school (not in cub scouts) who has declared that he doesn't believe in God. This was debated while I was trying to bring up another picture to try to distract them again.  Before I knew it one of the other little boys declared that the boy who didn't believe in God was Evil. Thankfully his mother admonished him immediately. I changed the subject and steered us away from Religion.

I know part of it is that they are at an age where they've taken in a ton of information and are starting to make their own decisions... and as such, their very nature is argumentative and a little judgemental. Tolerance is something that has to be taught as children's very nature and they way we teach them things in school is that there are right and wrong answers to questions - so learning how to tolerate someone with a different belief structure takes time and discussion. We did talk a little about discrimination. Martin Luther King, Jr was brought up and all of the good he did to America in helping everyone see what was wrong about discrimination based on skin color. So then we brought up that there are some countries where women are not allowed to show their faces in public. This was deemed by the group as unacceptable and unfair discrimination. Because it was based solely on being a girl or a boy. While I want to be tolerant of other religious practices, it does seem inappropriate to have gender discrimination be so rampant. If it was simply the matter of covering the face, that would be one thing. But it's the fact that many of the same religions also practice further discrimination and do not give women equal rights as men that makes it something that I am not comfortable tolerating. If the practice creates harm for other people do we allow tolerance on the basis of religious practice. In the past, that seems to be the right place to draw the line. Even if we don't always succeed at figuring out where that line is.

My son is struggling though with the fact that his opinions on god and religion are being met with such strong, vehement opposition. Not discussion, which I would be open to... but 'No, you're wrong.' And then they go on to explain what is the correct belief.

My problem is that I'm torn about raising this up for discussion with the parents and pride leader. I don't want to call out on the one boy who is most firm in his devout beliefs - as his own mother did step in when he got over the line. But I do think that my ideal is that when we cover the religion section that we help the boys understand that it's more appropriate when it comes to beliefs to have discussions and respect the opinions of others even if you don't believe in them. So, I kind of want to send an email requesting that tolerance be defined for the boys and discussed. That when you believe in religious freedom, that tolerance must also be part of the discussion. Maybe even go so far as to figure out how do you define evil (i.e. someone or something that harms others) vs. different belief structures (which doesn't harm anyone else).

BUT, then I see things in the headlines like the boy who has declared himself openly gay is being denied his Eagle Scout pin based on being gay and for no other reason. That it opposes the religious beliefs of the organization. I'm pretty sure BSA has had a policy against gay scout leaders - in part (I think) because they confuse the term gay with pedofile not fully understanding that they really are separate. I think they've gotten better about being instead focused on finding ways to make boys safe. But I'm pretty sure I haven't seen anything in any guidebooks about the requirement that the boys be heterosexual to participate in the program. Admittedly, most of the boys are too young to know until they get close to Eagle scout level. But, it's a LOT of work to get to that level and the vast majority of boys drop out of the program or chose not to chase that level because of that effort. Anyone who does the work, should be allowed to earn it. My understanding is that the parents of the boy fighting have escalated the issue but that the larger organization hasn't responded yet. I'm sure they are trying to figure out the right thing to do. I'm sure that they are struggling with the very thing the boys are struggling with. How do you balance your own belief system and tolerance when your very structure is Christian. In my opinion (and it's only that) - if you can earn the Jewish or Moslim religious awards for practicing those religious and showing that you've dedicated yourself to understanding that religion that the BSA has lost some of the right to make decisions solely on Christianity belief sets of SOME of the Christian members. Tolerance is something that just hasn't had a strong enough foot hold in our country and the BSA has an opportunity here to show Tolerance and teach the world that it can be a better place without discrimination.

I struggle, because I don't know if I should keep quiet about tolerance because it's not obvious that the organization itself is good about tolerance. I struggle, because I'm making my son participate in a program that isn't showing tolerance for his beliefs. I struggle because the program can do so much good in his life, I'm afraid to push it away and allow him to bow out of it when he has so many things he can learn from it.

We have talked. And I encouraged him to speak up a little bit to defend himself. He's allowed to say that someone is being mean to him if they don't let him voice his opinions. He's allowed to share his opinion and not be made to feel bad about his opinion.  In deference to the fact that he isn't completely sure about his beliefs, I'm going to encourage his dad (a devout if somewhat hypocritical catholic) to spend a little time teaching 'a' about his beliefs.

And I'm going to keep taking my son to scouting, but I'm going to be diligent and probably speak up immediately if anything happens again that comes off as intolerance.

Monday, October 08, 2012

How to stay motivated?

I don't find it hard to get motivated about saving money and trying to cut expenses.

But I do find it INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to stay motivated.

I'm on week 3 of my stepping-stones-plan of getting my spending under control. And it's starting to get challenging.

So far, what's working for me is looking at each step and whether or not I'm succeeding at each step. I'm not yet at a point where I can start increasing my savings account. But I'm decreasing my medical debt every pay day by a certain degree.

I added progress monitors on my web page and I keep revisiting them. But progress is minimal.

So, I'm going back and revisiting my motivation. And that's helping.

What motivated me in the first place?

The fact that my savings account was dropping fast... so it wasn't that it wasn't growing (which is actually my goal). It was that I kept having to dip into savings every week or two.

So, taking that into account, this is the third week (so far) where I haven't had to dip into my savings. That means that what I'm doing IS WORKING. Even if it doesn't feel like it.

Secondly, I really want to be back to being debt free. Everything is paid off except for my current Hospital bills (from surgery at the end of July). I figure if by the end of the week, the only thing left are the bills I haven't received yet and the payment plan for the bulk of the expense... that's a plus. A big plus.

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm taking baby steps. And feeling frustrated that baby steps don't get you 100 miles an hour is pretty likely.

Lastly, it gives me a reason to start thinking about my NEXT steps. If I can get these three weeks under my belt and succeed. Then maybe, I can take yet another step to help MORE with my savings. If I keep focusing on what I need and why I need it - and why it is working (no matter how difficult things still are); then I'm more motivated to keep it up.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

New (to me) scam - US Airlines

Got a letter from a non-existant airline claiming that I won a contest that I never entered and won two free tickets to anywhere in the Continental US. I just have to call.

US Airlines doesn't exist, first. It's either US Airways or United Airlines.

Second, the logo doesn't look like anyone's logo from any airline.

Third, most companies include contact information in their letter head. This wasn't printed on letterhead.

Fourth, the envelope looked like it was hand-addressed (even though it looks like it might have been printed on a color printer in blue ink).

Fifth there's no return address nor company logo on the envelope.

They give you a deadline and tell you they've been trying to award you the free tickets. Call us at an 800# to claim it or we'll be forced to give them to someone else.

Yep. Scam. Confirmed quite quickly via quick Internet search.

Still getting bills

So, I was in the hospital for surgery in July... along with a couple of ambulance rides and visits to emergency rooms before being admitted.

It's the first week of October and I'm still getting bills. sigh.

Actually, these bills aren't that terribly expensive because with insurance covering 80-90% of the bill, most of these bills run between $15 - $80. But I've gotten three MORE bills just this week.

Good news is that I can pay most of these off with my mid-month paycheck without killing my planning.

Bad news is that I pay $100 off on a debt just to incurr another $100 more bills. Ever feel like you're running a race and you're the only one on the treadmill?

As it is, I have one collector insisting that I didn't pay off a medical bill from three years ago. They've called me twice this month. I haven't received a single bill, balance letter, or anything for well over a year from those old expenses. I've asked them to send it to me in writing what I owe and for which bill. The second time they called they said they didn't realize I wanted it in writing. Um, yeah. I am 95% certain that all my old medical bills have been paid in full. You aren't seeing a dime until I can validate that what you think I owe is what I actually owe. If they call next month and still haven't provided anything in writing? I'm going to make them work through a lawyer. I'm pretty sure if you try to collect on a debt but you can't provide written evidence that the debt exists? I'm pretty sure I don't have to pay it.  Provide valid documenation and I'll verify that I didn't pay it two years ago? and then and only then will I start making payments - happily in fact. I don't want to have missed any debt payments.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Dentist - what's reasonable?

I'm planning on doing something that I wouldn't recommend to anyone else. That's pretty unreasonable. And that's apparently going to cost me an arm and a leg.

I'm having my teeth pulled next year and getting dentures.

It's an extreme solution to a problem I've had for quite a while.

It's against recommendation.

So, you might be asking why I'm planning on doing it anyway.

1) My teeth hurt - all the time, all day, every day and have for several years.
2) My last two root canals and crowns were unsuccessful. As in those teeth hurt the worst.
3) I have a TON of cavities (like more than 10)
4) I have a TON of old fillings that might be making me sick - still waiting to talk to my doctor about running the MTHFR testing, but as it is I have over 30 fillings in less than 30 teeth
5) I have weak teeth - as in it's not uncommon for me to chip a tooth a week
6) My teeth are extremely sensitive to cold, air, etc. Even if all of the above issues were corrected, my teeth would still hurt daily. Yes I'm using the sensitivity toothpaste. But I haven't had a cold beverage for over six years. If I get a drink with ice, I have to wait for it to warm up to drink it, which means watered down drinks.
7) This is actually minor, but if I were honest, it's part of the decision as well. My teeth don't look good. I've stopped smiling with my lips open. I don't want to take a family portrait because I don't want to smile and show off the bad teeth. So there is a touch of vanity in there.

Why did the dentist agree? Because I have a TON of decay and old fillings. It would cost LESS to get dentures than to fix the teeth I have. And they did acknowledge that fixing the teeth wouldn't remove the sensitivity though they did try to convince me that fixing them would remove the daily tooth pain. I'm not buying it, I have already spent $4,000 on the last two root canals that did NOT fix the daily pain.

Why would I go through such a painful, unbelievably expensive process even if I have a doctor agreeing to it? I'm thinking that the people who ask this question. Or who are shaking their heads thinking I'm nuts haven't experienced four years of constant tooth pain. CONSTANT pain. I should buy stock in ambesol because a coating of ambesol is the only way I can eat. Or talk. Because my teeth hurt ALL THE TIME. I figure, the only ones that have the right to question me are the ones who have walked in my shoes. If you've spent four years with chronic tooth pain, I'm betting that you've at least thought about getting dentures. You might not have caved and decided it was a good idea yet. But you've at least thought about it. My mother had hers done at 34 for the exact same reason - chronic pain, issues with constant decay and weak teeth. I'm 46, I'm more stubborn than my mother was. I wasn't going to do this either. But, I'm pretty much done. If the dentist hadn't agreed to do it this year. I wouldn't have let them do anything to my teeth and I would have just come back in a year with worse decay because it wouldn't have been treated. I'm tired of throwing away good money on fixing teeth that hurt ALL THE TIME.

So, without buying the best dentures, but settling for a good warranty on quality dentures... what's it going to run?

AFTER ENHANCED dental insurance, I'm still going to need to come up with over $8,000 for the surgery to remove the teeth (oh yeah - did I mention? I have curved roots on my teeth - over $250 per tooth for extraction).

That's enough to buy a new car. I seriously need a raise.

Is it appropriate to get a quote at another dentist? I'm actually fairly certain this is probably a reasonable price estimate. But holy, camoly... that's a lot of money. The dentures themselves are only $1,200.  The vast majority of it is for the oral surgeon. Would it be crass to ask for a bulk discount? I suppose, but honestly, that might not stop me from asking anyway.

So, here's my plan. I went in towards the end of the year to get the estimate intentionally. Next month we'll be needing to set up our plans for Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) for our health and dental expenses. I can plan to set aside the max allowed FSA amount. I also want to set up at the same time a direct deposit account for savings for the 'other' medical expenses that might occur during the year as I can't imagine that I'll be completely out of the woods as of next year. I believe that I won't have enough money to cover the whole procedure even if I max out FSA and spend it all at the dentist. So, I also have to set aside $300/month. By January that will have me at over $1000 cash (not including emergency savings); plus approximately $5000 FSA funds; should leave me with about $2000 that I might have to set up a payment plan for. By then my Hospital bills (current debt) should be down to $0 which means that I should be able to afford about $300/month towards the dentures. (I hope). Barring major disasters, I should be in decent shape to get this done.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Online Bill Pay (reviews)

I've used online Bill Pay now for about ten years.

AND has it every improved over time.

My first experience with it was exceptionally painful. I was using a local bank, and admittedly, it was still early days for online banking. They were working with another firm that was offering the service for multiple small banks.

It was difficult getting the account established initially. They would require in-person, in-the-bank, verification of who you were before you could get your account unlocked. Your account would get locked if you didn't log in every two weeks, if you tried to change your password, but it had erred out (and didn't tell you it had erred out), or if you failed to change the password in the timelines they required (every 3 months).

Additionally, it was painful setting up a new payee and there were a few hiccups here and there where the payments weren't getting sent when they stated they would send them.

Unpleasant.

I moved out of the small town where the bank was located, and after a couple of more locked accounts where I had to actually drive 60 miles to present my face in-person, in-the-bank to get an online account unlocked, I switched to a larger financial institution. Bank-not-to-be-named as I actually work for it.

Online bill pay at the new national institution was extremely intuitive, easy to use, and prone to no errors that I can remember. If I wanted to change my password, I could easily do so and get very good visual indications if there were issues (which there weren't). Setting up accounts and payments were straight-forward and simplified.

I've since switched banks to another national institution (also-not-to-be-named as if I name one and not the other, it's highly likely you'll figure out the other) for reasons unrelated to the online bill pay.

BUT, I got the same exact positive experience.  Online bill pay is smooth, fast to set up, easy to manage.

I've been talking to friends that bank locally and none of them use the online bill pay. A couple of them had tried to set it up, but had gotten frustrated by the process.

90% of the time, I try to support local businesses over big chains. My exception to the rule tends to run along the lines of price and/or support. If I could find a GOOD local bank or credit union with AWESOME online bill pay, I would switch to it. In the meantime, I think I'll stick with my current bank because 99% of my bill paying/banking transactions occur online at this time.

Beginning of month is tight - plan to make it a little less painful

So, the first of the month is QUITE a bit tighter for me every month.

Right now it includes the following:

Rent - $790
Car Insurance - $60
Life Insurance - $90 (quarterly though)
Daycare - $280 or $350 depending on the number of weeks in the month

Daycare doesn't HAVE to get paid on the first of the month, but it is easier for me (in general) to pay it once a month instead of weekly. And it's also easier to count the weeks, if you start with a new month.

But, moving that one payment to the middle of the month frees up almost $300 from the beginning of the month.

Generally speaking, I average only $450 at the middle of the month for utilities, etc. So by moving this payment to the middle, I balance myself out a lot for payments and when I have money available for other expenses.

I've already sent in my October payment... so to switch, in mid-October, I'll pay the first two weeks of November. Then starting with my first paycheck after November First, I'll start paying a month's-worth of daycare with my mid-month paycheck expenses.

Sunday Cooking

I tried Hearty Taco Soup from www.food.com

I spent approximately $8 for a big pot, which I ate one serving from. I haven't tossed the rest of it... I saved several servings. But, I didn't particularly care for it. It was 'ok'. I finished my serving, but have no desire to eat more.

Sad, huh?

 But, I at least tried something new. For the money, I would REALLY prefer chili over the taco soup.

On Wednesday night I plan on making my Chicken Tortilla Soup (which is really a misnomer as I don't put chips in my soup). And I am really, REALLY looking forward to making that this week.