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Posts Tagged ‘finance’

 

What’s your magic number? (I am not talking abracadabra here.)

What I mean is, if you won the lottery today, what is the dollar amount it would take to buy your freedom from debt?

As I sat down to do some bill paying last night, that was the question I posed to myself. The current price of my freedom amounts to $20,863.21 to be precise. *Deep sigh*

I firmly believe the road to debt hell is most often paved with credit cards and good intentions.

How did I get in this deep? Let’s break it down:

Various credit card debt (i.e. store cards, etc.) = $2,613.34

Old student loans (years later and they are still moaning like zombies on the hunt) =$4,640

Consolidation loan from previous debt = $9,975.85

Loan for kid’s graduation and college trip costs = $2,028.78

401k loan =$1,605.24

Since I don’t anticipate winning the lottery any time soon, I will have to find alternative means of obtaining my magic number. Will it be from a second job, thrifty e-bay sales, or the sudden appearance of a genie in a bottle?

I will keep you posted. 🙂

 

 

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Here’s the scoop

Two days ago I logged onto the website of my prepaid cell phone service provider.  I checked my account balance to find it at $11.70.  My plan charges per day and I don’t like taking the risk of getting my balance too low without realizing.  The interesting thing is that within five hours later of checking my account, the balance dropped to .05 cents.  That’s right, five cents! Over the course of five hours I lost over ten dollars of credit on my account.

Was it really my fault?

 Did I access the internet ask?  Did I send some mega-sized messages? Did I go on a random calling spree that was outside my plan? The answer is “No” to all three. 

 I didn’t do anything.  Which is why I was concerned when a couple hours after checking my balance I got a text from my service provider that my account had dropped below $5 and I should add more money soon. 

Excuse me

 How odd I thought? I had just checked it a couple hours before and seen the $11.70 balance.  But rather then getting alarmed I figured I would check it again.  When I logged on, the balance read $2.95.  WTF?

 Yeah I did a serious double take! Obviously I wanted to know the details before I called up the company and started ranting.  So I reviewed the history of my phone usage to see what the charges were.  I went through 26 screens of usage history (most of which was gobblegook and made little to no sense) and suddenly it informed me that my balance was .05 cents. 

Their fingers went a little too deep into my pockets

 It seems that over that course of time, the company had randomly assessed a charge of over ten dollars for something they termed “Data Packet”.  I called the company and the friendly representative said, “Hold on, I will have another department look into that for you.” After a few minutes he came back to tell me my account had been credited back for the amount in question, with no real explanation for the reason of the charges, and that was that. 

The real danger

 I am glad to have gotten the money back without a battle.  But the real danger was this: what if I was enrolled in an automatic replenishment plan? 

 If my account was set to withdraw money from my bank account and refill my balance whenever it drops below a certain point, I might never have known what happened.  Further still, what if it continued to happen on a regular basis, and they just kept withdrawing from my account and replenishing until I realized.  If this happened three or four times in the span of a day or two, it could have really added up.  Even worse, what if I was waiting on a paycheck and ended up bouncing a check or getting overdraft fees because of these types of glitches?

 Needless to say I will continue to monitor things for myself and keep a sharp eye on my charges in the future.  

(*My apologies to my readers for my recent absence but I was fighting a stomach virus for over a week and have just recently been getting back on track with things.)

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Who reads receipts anyway?

I can’t tell you how many times I have gone shopping at the grocery store and told them to toss the receipt.

To me, a receipt was nothing more than extra paper to be thrown away later.  I didn’t want to bother.  As for checking the receipt, who had time for that? I already knew what I’d bought, so why look at it again.

Reality check!

I know, even I am slack jawed at my own naiveté!  It is almost painful to think how unblissfully ignorant I have been when it comes to finances and frugality.  But this morning I had a real wake up call in “the value of keeping receipts” department!

On my way to work I stopped at the grocery store to buy a couple last minute things for the day. I picked up a yogurt cup, a bottle of juice, a snack bag of pretzels, and a lunchable. I was paying with a debit card and in my haste, I never even looked at the cost of the groceries! I just swiped the card, grabbed the bag with receipt inside, and walked out.

WTF?

Once I got to work, I took a minute to log onto my bank account to check the numbers and balance my checkbook.  Low and behold, it was then that I saw a charge from the grocery store for $14.62. WTF?

Since when should it cost over $14 dollars for one of each: yogurt, juice, pretzels and a lunchable?  Since never!   Breaking with my own tradition, I fished the receipt out of my bag to double check.  And this is what I saw:

The “clincher” was that this particular store doesn’t give you cash back on purchases with a debit card ~ ever! I knew the cashier hadn’t given me anything but the groceries and a receipt.  No money that is for sure.

Lessons learned

Thankfully they were nice about it and refunded me the extra I’d been charged. But what if I hadn’t looked? If I had waited two or three days to check my bank account and balance the checkbook, I would have seen the $14 charge and never questioned it. I would not have remembered what I bought at the time, and I would have assumed it was right! I wouldn’t have double checked the numbers on the receipt that’s for sure.

Reformed!

I am a receipt slacker no more! I have been transformed.  Never again will I casually toss the receipts without a second thought, nor will I hastily agree to pay whatever number the cashier says without doing my own mental calculation.  I have joined the world of receipt checking adults everywhere who prefer not to lose anymore money than they already have too, thanks to overpriced goods. (But that is the stuff for another article.)

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“Have you ever played Roulette?”

My significant other posed this question to me not long ago. At the time I said yes, thinking of a drunken incident on New Year’s Eve long ago (we won’t discuss details). But it occurs to me now that for years I have been playing Roulette with my finances. Sometimes it’s been a total gamble from month to month and/or week to week, as to how I would get by and which bills would get paid.

Playing the wheel of fate

I would realize that only so much money was available, (let’s say $900 for the sake of argument), and there would be a stack of bills overdue (perhaps totaling $1300 just to give it a number). At this point, I could randomly draw from the deck and let fate decide which creditors got the cash and which ones got the “check’s in the mail” bluff for another month. I am ashamed to say that for awhile I did exactly that.

It all adds up, your not buying yourself time your digging the hole deeper

Of course the late fees, ($30 here or $45 there), would add up on the unpaid bills. I don’t know why I was clueless to this at the time, except that I was living in a constant state of denial. This continued until I had to apply for a loan just to finish covering my monthly living expenses. In hindsight I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but its amazing how talented you can get at juggling (even without clown training).

Trying to make it right

Then I realized that I had to stop letting my decisions ride on fate’s spin of the wheel. I had to sit down with all the bills, prioritize them, organize due dates, and make phone calls on the ones that couldn’t be paid in order to negotiate better terms, perhaps a deferment for the month or whatever I could manage.

Getting there

It hasn’t always been successful, and I still ended up falling into the payday loan trap for awhile. But there is no way to get out of the deep hole of debt unless you start paying your way out, one bill at a time.

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MISSING JACKET

A couple of weeks ago my son’s jacket was stolen at school.  I didn’t give this as much attention as I should have. It was an old jacket with a broken zipper, something I knew would need to be replaced soon anyway.  I know some of you are shaking your heads at me thinking “zippers can be replaced”, and “an old jacket is as good as a new jacket as long as it still fits”, and your right. But that’s not the point of this story…

At the time when he told me, I didn’t really believe it had been stolen.  Because he said it had “disappeared”, I figured he had left it in the gym locker and would find it the next day. But as days and weeks went by, he still had not found it.

CONFESSION

Last night he confessed to me that when the jacket disappeared, it had his Nintendo DS video game system in the pocket.  He expected quite a lecture about this.  I had told him many times that if he took it to school, someone might steal it.  I had warned him I would not replace it, and he would have to do so himself if it was taken.  As he confessed the loss of the game with the jacket, he immediately followed it up with a restatement of all the above things I just mentioned.

SURPRISING MATURITY

I wish he would have told me sooner.  But I have been in his position and know how he must have agonized over keeping it a secret all this time.  In fact, he confessed it to me after I told him a financial secret of my own. I didn’t lecture or say ‘I told you so’.  He had already learned his lesson the hard way.  He had accepted that he would be without it until he could replace it himself.  I felt that showed maturity and I respected it, especially from a 12-year-old.

As is common with siblings, he didn’t want his sister to know.  She would have lectured and hassled him over it time and again.  I felt bad knowing that at his age, he doesn’t have many money making opportunities, and it would take time for him to earn the money.  I considered offering to pay half if he saved up the other half.

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED

As an adult, it is not easy to wait for things I want and save for the things I need.  But how much harder is it if you never learn that lesson, until you’re an adult.  Maybe this experience is a catalyst for a life lesson that may save him in the future.  If he learns to work for things he wants; to take better care of the valuable things he has; and to heed warnings when they are given; then his life may be far less turbulent and full of financial pitfalls than his mother’s has been.

*Photo provided by freedigitalphotos.net

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I read a great blog this morning by Man vs. Debt, and I have to say I am inspired. If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely need to!  So many of us run into a wall of frustration, and too often we deal with it in ways that make it worse rather than better.

This is especially true for me with money.  All too often, I find myself between a rock and a hard place.  Say I had to make a car repair this month and it used up money I didn’t have to spend.  That means something else gets cut.

I would try to make the least painful cut possible and then within hours or a day, something else happens. My daughter comes to me and needs basketball shoes $50, or I have to pay a school athletic fee for her to play $50, or its time to pay for school lunches again at $30.  Then my son wants to know if he can have this new video game he saw on tv for $30.  There is an endless sea of expenses that crop up, some are necessary (shoes, lunches, etc.) and some are not (games), but it hits like a sledge hammer every time.

I don’t like to tell them “No” because they are only children for a short time, and I want them to enjoy the experience.  At the same time, I am torn between what I know I can and can’t afford, and the realization that I need to teach them some wisdom when it comes to spending money. Sometimes that has to mean saying “No”, but sometimes it can also mean having them help me with the choices of what to say “No” too.

For example, my daughter wanted to go see the movie “2012” this past weekend and had already made plans to see “New Moon” this Saturday.  As soon as she brought up the “2012” movie I was instantly ticked.  I slipped into the “hulk mode” immediately (as mentioned in Man vs. Debt’s blog), and I felt pressured because I knew there was no way the money would stretch for her to see both movies.

Feeling the pulsing anger about being put into a position of having to say “No”, I did what Man vs. Debt suggested.  I shrugged off the “hulk mode” (before it got the better of me) and slipped into a “lets think about the alternatives” mode.  I told her outright, you can’t do both because the money isn’t there.  So you choose, which one is it going to be?  Considering how badly she wanted to see “New Moon”, there wasn’t much of a contest, “2012” lost and went down in flames.  But at least she decided what to say “No” to for herself; and I learned that the “hulk mode” is better to remain in hiding!

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I was inspired this morning by a blog at budgetsaresexy.com regarding whether or not to accept a gift of a car by a relative (for more details, please see the blog posting). But in general terms, a gift or charity should almost always be viewed in the best of terms.

According to the freedictonary.com  charity is defined in some of the following ways:

char•i•ty (ch r -t )
n. pl.
• Something given to help the needy; alms.
• Benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity.
• Indulgence or forbearance in judging others. See Synonyms at mercy.
• Charity Christianity The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.
• Voluntary activity of or disposition towards donating money, property, or services to the needy or for general social betterment. — philanthropic, adj.
• Kindness (especially in giving money to poor people)

In the above mentioned blog, there was a concern that by accepting the gift, there would be an implied obligation that something was owed. Now correct me if I am wrong but if you give something with an expectation of being repaid or owed, than it is not a gift at all. Instead, this implies your really ‘selling’ or ‘trading’ it in exchange for something else. That is not what I mean when I refer to gifts or charity.

Charitable gifts are those given with no expectations in return. They are a show of generosity and concern where the betterment of someone else is truly at the heart of the giving. In these cases, we should not let pride get in the way. We live in tough economic times, and everyone can use a helping hand in one form or another.

I know this sounds like the “pay it forward” concept, but if someone gives you a gift that you cannot afford, or that will help ease a burden in some way, why not accept it? Then when you are able, either return the favor or do something similar for someone else who is in need. The world could do with a few more expressions of kindness and generosity, and giving to others does your own heart a tremendous amount of good. Besides, there are many far less fortunate people who are desperately in need, yet they have no one to give them gifts.

In the cases where someone offers you something with expectations in return, then simply give them back the gift. But only if you are sure those are their intentions. Call me an occasional optimist, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

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