Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Update: Details on Our Debts

About 6 months ago, I posted details on our debts. I figure it's about time to see which ones are still remaining and which ones are taken care of since then (or about to be).


$308 - Dish Network
$368 - Chiropractor bill
$400 - Foot Dr bill
$401 - Ambulance
$435 - Pacemaker checkups
$517 - Hospital Emergency Visit
$685 - Hospital Emergency Visit
$2187 - My Stupid Mistake
$804 - Bank Fees for closed account
$3629 - Menards (started settlement, will be done by 7/3/08)

Taken Care Of:

$1591 - Cingular canceled account balance
$5333 - Discover
$5774 - Home Depot
$6919 - Capital One (in 3 weeks will be taken care of)

As you can see, I haven't been doing the Dave Ramsey method of tackling debts. I did that initially (hence nothing smaller than $300), but these bigger ones have been more of an annoyance (and higher potential for going to court). If I keep working on Saturdays, we'll see everyone above done by the middle of July, a month and 1/2 sooner than I had originally wanted.

May Budget & April Net Worth +$1,827


The one budget-buster this past month was the car. We ended up not settling on Capital One and put the money towards the car. In the end, it was an ok month with us having a few NSF fees as well (bad communication).



1330 IRS
1000 Rent
3434 Weekday Job
3000 Weekend Job

Total: $8764


200 Mrs. Student Loans
110 Mr. Student Loans
1130 Mortgage
77 Natural Gas
50 Water
41 AT&T
120 Electric
200 Car Gas
200 Toiletries & Groceries
55 Cell Phone
95 Life Insurance
200 Our Fun Money
130 House Cleaning
860 Menards (1st payment, two more to go of $760 each on June 3rd & July 3rd)
5100 Capital One
146 Savings

Total: $8764

The items that are different this month are the last 4 items. We decided to go with a once a month cleaning for the harder stuff (vacuum/mop/etc) so that I can work on the weekends. Menards we have made payment arrangements for a settlement. Capital One we made a starter $100 payment yesterday and the rest will be on the 20th. Cash-flow wise, everything is looking good, we're just going to have to focus on communicating.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Free" Landscape Hooks

I started putting down landscaping fabric in our back yard to help with weeding our garden and read the directions about needing landscaping hooks in order to secure it down. I didn't want to spend the money on something that will probably be flimsy plastic clips that will break or come up, so here's what we did at our house:

1. Grabbed 50 old metal hangers from a previous roommate (there's the free. Often you can find someone trying to get rid of them on freecycle as well).

2. Using a pair of wire-cutters, cut right below the twist on either side so you have the hook removed.

3. Cut in the middle of the bottom half.

Now you have 2 landscaping hooks! The best way to use them is to put the non-straight edge in first as far as you can, then put the other part in as far as you can. Depending on your soil, you may end up with a few inches of the metal showing, so make sure to space their entrance into the material far apart enough. This can be done while watching one of your favorite shows since it requires very little brainpower.

Friday, April 25, 2008

First Draft May Budget

I need your help on my May budget. It is looking like such a crazy month (on the income side), I'm going to put up a draft here for you to look at and then I'll post another on Wednesday at the end of the month. Here we go:


1330 IRS
1000 Rent
3434 Weekday Job
3000 Weekend Job

Total: $8764


200 Mrs. Student Loans
110 Mr. Student Loans
1130 Mortgage
161 Natural Gas
50 Water
41 AT&T
120 Electric
200 Car Gas
200 Toiletries & Groceries
55 Cell Phone
95 Life Insurance
200 Our Fun Money

Total: $2562

Debt Snowball: $6202

Menards: Start settlement of $640 per month for 3 months.

Capital One: I would have started this one this month, but $1500 was delayed coming from my weekend job, so it's coming in May instead. I'm going to see about settling with them for $1000/week for 4 weeks.

Padding: $1562 as padding into savings.

In June we'll be starting to tackle our smaller debts (those under $1K). Those are the debts listed as Other on our NetworthIQ profile. What do you think?

Bank Fees This Month

These past 2 weeks have not been good on the amount of money we have in the bank. With problems at the post office of returning checks and miscommunication between my wife and I, we have had a NSF charge on 2 bank accounts. We're going to have to probably increase our cushion (this month there was almost none) to prevent problems like this. We also resolved the communication problems, I had been keeping a fair amount in our primary account, so my wife assumed it was OK for her to charge the things in our budget on the debit card.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Garden Update

Here's where we're at:

Sq Feet with plants: 157
Sq Feet prepared for plants: 63
Sq Feet to prepare and plant: 566

What's Planted: Strawberries, Lettuce, Spinach, Peas, Onions, Chives, Leeks, Asparagus, Peppers, Garlic, Green Beans, Cilantro, 4 Tomato plants in pots

Planting This Week: Peppers, Onions, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Tomatoes, Dill, Flowers

Planting Later: Carrots/Radishes, Eggplant, Celery, Basil, Kohlrabi, Cucumbers, Flowers, Cantalope, Tomatoes

What's Growing: Peas have sprouted up, spinach took very well to the ground, lettuce is taking root, chives and leeks made it through transplanting.

Decisions to make: It's been hard to find time to meet with the guy from church that has the tiller, my schedule is packed (even on Saturday). I'm thinking of using a shovel for the front 90 sq feet remaining to tear up and then just laying down landscaping fabric in the back.

Money spent: We're back to spending, purchased fencing to enclose areas from neighborhood animals (and kids). Spotted a possum checking out my strawberry bed on Saturday morning. Also purchased landscaping fabric for the back.

Item Missing: Wedding ring is in the dirt, small area we were working in last night, going to contact friend that has high-end metal detector for their help. Always remember to work with gloves or take any rings off.

I'm waiting for next year's garden, it will be a whole lot easier!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Work, New Decisions

It appears that my temporary work from a week ago is going to be regular work. They just received major funding to continue on the current project and another big project, so they're going to need someone and are liking my work. I'm planning on doing it every Saturday for 8-10 hours and then during the week for emergency fixes only.

The reason why the new work is causing new decisions is because of the pay. It is more than double my normal day pay (and when we worked late this past Sunday night, it was 4x my normal day pay). That is where the new decisions come in...

When you are able to bring in $65-100/hour, is it worth it every week to spend 3-4 hours cleaning the house yourself? You could have hired someone to do the house work while you worked 1 hour. What about ordering that $5 pizza so that you or your wife don't need to work in the kitchen every so often?

We decided on the following:

- No more chicken stock making: It has become time consuming saving up bits of chicken, keeping them organized, then making stock out of it. In the end it probably doesn't save much either.

- Housecleaning: My wonderful wife some days tries to be superwoman and get more done than her body can physically. She has bad feet, a bad back and a pacemaker, so it's not a pretty sight to see when she has pushed herself. We have decided for now it is worthwhile to hire someone to do some of the heavy cleaning once a week (vacuum the house, wash the linoleum floors, scrub the tub and toilet). Most of these have been my responsibility, but with the second/third jobs I've had in the past, it's been hard to get them done.

- Ignore price on fresh fruits & vegetables: My wife has been working at losing weight, but the challenge has been getting fruits & veggies that she likes being on sale. My view on it is that one of our priorities should be our health, so if something is 2x the normal sale price, get it if it will help you.

We know this is a season of our lives and that the increase in pay should not cause us to spend more. If spending a little bit more though will truly increase the opportunity for us to spend time together and doing the work God has put us here to do, I'm willing to consider spending a little more. It though is something to always keep an eye on.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Garden Update

Today's the day for lots of planting (for my wife). My work is taking me away for this beautiful day, but I've given my wife a list of plants and where she can plant them. She also spent several hours yesterday moving rocks out of a bed next to the house (sitting most of the time).

Planting Today: Spinach, Lettuce, Leeks, Chives, Peas, Thyme

Planting This Weekend: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kohlrabi, Peppers, Eggplant, Onions, Tomatoes, Dill, Asparagus, and possibly others

Work This Weekend: Hopefully the guy I know that has a tiller will be free to come over soon (and that we'll have enough dry time to do the tilling). Otherwise I'll have to look into doing it with the shovel and pitchfork, which will not be fun (did about 50 sq feet a week ago).

Problems: Some of the pepper plant leaves started getting mushy, I think it is because they are on the edge of the lighting and we've been watering them too much. I'm hoping that getting them outdoors will help them. I'm also having troubles figuring out who are Brussels Sprouts and who are Kohlrabi. The problem is they are both cabbage-like and I've planted so much. Same situation with the leeks & chives. Next year each tray will get 2 labels (#R, #L) and all info will be put into a spreadsheet.

Successes: It appears that the plants are growing very slowly, but it helps when I'm not paying attention to them every day. Our leeks & chives are over 6 inches tall and an inch away from the lights. The Roma tomato plants we started early have many leaves.

Financial: I'm deciding now whether to sell some of our plants or not. I'm thinking of try to plant everything we can with the space we have, then selling the excess. I have been good staying away from looking at more plants, since I've got so many already.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weekend of Work Blessing

Last week in the back of my mind I had been mulling over our car purchase and how I would be able to settle with Capital One. Friday morning I looked at the numbers hard and it didn't look like I was going to be able to give them much this month unless some cash appeared out of nowhere. I logged into my local Craigslist site and searched for some computer gigs, found one that needed help for this past weekend and applied.

They accepted me, 22 and 1/2 hours worth of work over 2 days will bring us around a net of $1400 by the end of this week. Once the check is received I will be calling the Capital One creditor to settle with them. I consider this a blessing from God and has helped me even more to trust in Him for all my needs.

My Ethical Viewpoint

A reader recently questioned indirectly my ethics, especially due to me making choices recently to tackle other items ahead of debt payments. Here's the points in no particular order:

- Tree removal versus Debt

Yes, for most situations removing trees in your property are luxuries. Here's our reasons besides the "nice to have done" point:

1. Safety: We had 2 trees that were within 15 feet of our house (and our neighbor's house). Like clockwork every July we have had huge limbs come off the trees (20+ feet). They had missed the houses in the past, but the only ones really left were aimed for the houses. I don't need a 5-10K repair bill because I wanted to stay focus on our debt obligations.

2. Timing: The better times to cut down trees is when there are no leaves on them. It speeds up the process, less brush, etc. That prevents us from paying more money.

3. Time of year discount: During the summer months, tree cutters are a lot more busy because that's when everyone thinks of their outside projects. By doing it now instead of right before the storm, it prevented us from paying more money later.

- Replacement car versus Debt

Yes, we are a 2 car family even though I'm the only one that goes to a job during the week. Here's the main reason we decided to replace my car instead of paying more to debt: My wife's emotional well-being. I know my wife, we have fought a couple rounds of depression together. I know that when she does not have a car at the house, she fights loneliness, feeling trapped, unable to get together with others. Say what you will, but my wife comes before any debt.

- Fun money versus Debt

Theoretically, our fun money should be at $0 since we made prior obligations to our creditors. It's a great idea, but in real life it doesn't work too well.

1. We need to keep running the race. I tried the $0 fun money, it was not worth it. I'd much rather work an extra hour or two than be in that situation.

2. Our "free" entertainment items break down sometimes. My wife has her sewing machine that has brought her many days of entertainment, I have my computer. In the past couple of months we have had a power supply need to be replaced on my computer and some parts replaced on her sewing machine. The money came from our fun money.

- Debt settlement

I view it ethically ok to make settlement offers. Here's when:

1. When the alternative is bankruptcy. Almost 2 years ago I lost my full-time job and started working at Taco Bell. They don't pay much, but we had a whole lot of debt. Everyone was saying I should file for bankruptcy since I was unable to pay. I'd much rather give them something than nothing.

2. The debt has become "old". During that rough period of time when we couldn't pay, most of our creditors ended up selling our debt to collectors. The collectors paid pennies on the dollar in the hopes of collecting something more in the future.

3. They are offering settlements or are willing to listen to one.

4. Bringing the account "current" would be equal to the settlement amount. Because of the many months we could not pay anything, the amount to become current kept growing. At this point in time, if I asked them how much to be current, they would pretty much say as much as the settlement amount.

5. You don't have the money in the bank to pay them everything they want.

- Not making monthly payments on all debts

1. To be current is impossible: We went through a time where we could barely pay the mortgage, let alone any debts. Because we couldn't make payments back then, the amount to bring these accounts current is astronomical.

2. What we could give them would not be enough: This goes back to #1 regarding being current. I've only had 1 creditor be reasonable regarding paying them something monthly until we could do more, which we have done fairly consistently the whole time I've had this blog (except for 1 month, which was really tight).

PS: I've been mulling this post over for over a week, there's probably more I could have put in, but I'm wanting to get this up.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Garden Update

I've been a bit reluctant to post about my garden, since things have been going VERY slow with it (my sprouts have seemed to stop growing). Here's the updates:

Planted Recently: 2 types of cucumber seeds last weekend indoors.

Failures: My sprouts seem to have decided to stop growing. The only item I can think is that the bay window I have them on is not warm enough, while having them above the vents and in the laundry room was. We have been now putting a small amount of fertilizer on them. The parsley did not sprout (learned I had to put boiling water on them to crack the seeds, will do so when I plant outside). I also attempted pansies, but they failed big time (had little sprouts and then they wilted). My peas were a bit old, so I only had 8 out of 130 sprout. I also tried cumin, but did not sprout at all (from my kitchen).

Successes: Last year I had a hard time with cilantro, until I read you need to crush the seeds in order to make them grow. Did that this year and they have grown great. My oregano that I started around Christmas time is a huge bush about a foot tall and a foot wide. The only problem with that success is that it thinks it's fall/winter, so it keeps flowering.

Outside: We planted tulips last fall and they are starting to come up. It was a pleasant surprise when my indoor stuff is just standing still.

This weekend: We are still working on the tree situation, I had them leave the brush in order to save money on them chipping it as well as to have wood chips for our garden. My father is over for the weekend and we're about done with that. Afterwards, we will be tilling the ground so that I can start planting some stuff outside (additional peas that I bought this year, spinach, some tomato plants, lettuce, carrots, onions, strawberries, asparagus). My wife has been picking up the trash and moving rocks out of last year's garden bed.

Bought: I'm still in crazy buying mode, bought strawberry plants, asparagus, cucumber, and peas. The only items left to really buy this year is tomato support which I plan to do at the end of the month.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sister's & My Car Situation

I knew this would happen again, but didn't know when. My family has problems with cars, they buy too expensive of cars, they buy ones that they crash in a matter of months, or they buy ones when they don't even have a driver's license.

I called my sister yesterday since my dad had said she was not doing too well with her new position regarding pay (became a hair stylist at an upscale shop, was an assistant before). When I got her on the phone, she let me know her car was gone. I thought it first was stolen, but she explained that she was negotiating a payment plan since she was behind on the payments, had made a plan and was paying, but they came and took the car anyways. She owes about $8K on the car, it's worth about $3K and was starting to have problems.

I wish there was some magic smart pill I could give my family, but there is not (yet at least). Here's the advice I gave her:

- Buy a beater of a car for $500 (all she has in the bank).
- Save $200/month for 6 months. By that time the beater will be dead.
- Buy a better beater of a car for $1200 (from savings).
- Keep up the $200/month savings for a year, repeat cycle in a year for a $3000 car (from savings and selling the previous car).

I doubt she'll listen, but I tried all I could.

Regarding my beater, it is dead. The brakes are shot and it's not worth pumping more money into this thing. We haven't made a decision yet, but I'm leaning towards us holding off Capital One a bit longer and us buying a $2K car with 75-100K miles on it. For now, I'm driving my wife's car to work and back, while she stays at home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Surprized Bank Teller & Local Crown Seminar

This past Saturday when I stopped at the bank to make a deposit and withdraw some cash, the teller looked at the check I was depositing several times. It was a $750 check from some programming work I had done. I had held onto it for a few weeks since I had not had a chance to stop at the bank.

She commented about the check being a month old based on the date on the check, a little surprised. I responded back that I hadn't needed the money and I had stopped living paycheck to paycheck. That response surprised her even more and the tone in her voice was a little wishful to be in that place. She ended up mustering a "Well, that's a good thing."

It's still a little weird not being in that situation of living paycheck to paycheck. On April 12th I'll be helping fellow members of my church (Harvest Bible Chapel of New Lenox) through a 1 day seminar with Crown Financial Ministries to learn about God's way of handling money. If you know anyone in the southern suburbs of Chicago that would benefit from it, I am willing to pay for 3 people to go ($20/person includes lunch).