actually, i’m pretty sure it is your fault.

28 10 2010

so i’ve been hearing these commercials on my morning radio show where some dude starts yelling off a list of horrible financial woes:

debt collectors knocking down your door?
up to your eyeballs in credit card debt?
thinking that bankruptcy is your only option?

but then he brings it down just a notch to let you know:

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

sure, people hit hard times. medical bills, lost jobs, some other things that i can’t think of right now… but the majority of people that i know who are financial wrecks (myself absolutely included) are that way because they made poor choices. it fills me with rage to hear the debt consolidation/credit counseling agencies preying on people’s need to be in denial about the reality of their financial situations. nobody wants to take responsibility for fucking up, but if you ask anyone in a 12 step program, admitting that you’re a fucking mess is the only way to make it better. so fuck you debt consolidation agency. IT IS MY FAULT- and here’s why:

1. i don’t pay attention to what i spend. i put my credit cards in the freezer over a year ago, which is a distinct improvement, but my debit card is with me all the time. i go out to eat constantly, buy crap on a whim (can you say series of 4 horse paintings?), overspend at the grocery store (i was in the whole foods for 5 minutes yesterday and still managed to spend $14). even thought i’m not creating any new debt, i’m not giving the money that i have the reverence it deserves- i just keep unceremoniously shoving it out the door.

2. which brings us to admission #2-  i don’t save enough. probably because i’m spending all my fucking money on nothing. for the most part, the really bad debt disasters happen when people are spending up to the hilt of their income and don’t have a cushion saved up for emergencies. then, the first time that shit goes really wrong, they bust out the credit cards. like i did. repeatedly. from the ages of 18-30.

3. even though my 2 cards are in deep freeze at the moment, they got in there in the first place because spent the first 10 years of my adult life spending beyond my means. i wanted to have grown up clothes, i wanted to buy people decent xmas presents for a change, i wanted to find out what it felt like for money to be no object. except that it is an object, a very big object with an 19% APR. too bad i don’t pay more than the minimum on my cards every month. it’s good that i’m not racking up new debt, but if i can’t control my cash flow enough to afford to make bigger payments on my credit card, then i’m never going to get out from under it.

maybe it’s because i just watched confessions of a shopaholic AND maid to order back to back, but i’m sudden feeling possessed to try to make some greater changes in my life. i’ve made progress from where i was, but i’m stalled out. i still have $13,000 worth of credit card debt, and i’d really like it to be gone by the time i’m 35 (that’s T-minus 2 years and counting). maybe i hate dave ramsey because i know that he’s right about making severe lifestyle cuts in order to cut my debt… actually, it’s probably the religious thing, but i am definitely in denial about the fact that real debt reduction does require some sacrifice. now, i’m not going to go all crazy and start making drastic lifestyle changes (eat out less? stop shopping? start buying produce at walmart?) or anything… but i am going to admit that what i’m doing now is definitely not working.

step one down… 11 more to go.

what is the one habit/addiction that you SHOULD cut out of your life for financial reasons, but just can’t seem to let go?





outrunning the repo man.

18 03 2010

economy, i tire of you.  the layoffs, the foreclosures, the whole hopeless mess. with a good chunk of my friends presently on unemployment, i feel pretty lucky to have a job, but still pretty nervous about the security of said job. economic turbulence = unrest. every day is a new day where the rug could get unceremoniously yanked out from under me at any moment, without hope for the cushy severance packages that people were getting before our little recession morphed into a full on downturn. it’s scary. but obviously scarier for the people who already had their rug yanked and are just trying to figure out how the hell to pay their rent.

but today isn’t really about that. surviving a layoff is a post for another afternoon (probably a series of posts). today, it’s about watching people that you love fall to rock bottom, and not knowing what the fuck to do about it.

so i have this friend who is a freelancer. which is basically code for  no insurance, no unemployment, no safety net at all…  i believe the word roughly translates to: “first person to get slashed when budget cuts are on the table”. back in 2007 before the economy had started to visibly wilt, she was pretty much kicking ass. in high demand, edging up to 6 figures, feeling positive about the future. she bought a moderately fancy car and a condo, and hit the tropics during slow season. then 2008 rolled around, and things started to sag a little.  but, she forged ahead like nothing was happening, attempting to keep up her standard of living while she was waiting for things to pick back up. but they didn’t. 2009 was was the worst. she was able to pick up bits and pieces of work here and there for food and gas the phone bill… but the big boys, the credit cards, and mortgage, and car loan started to fall behind and behind and behind.

fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. she was completely broke and totally freaked out, but she’d been so good. i never once saw her dodge a creditor, and she never stopped trying to find work. there just wasn’t any. so when the repo man came knocking for her vehicle…it wasn’t a surprise. $1,100.

she’s one of the nicest people i know… and i really wanted to give her the money… but i told her that i didn’t have it. even though if she ever read my blog, she would know that i do. i felt terrible, and i still do.  luckily, the fairy tale didn’t end too badly, and she found another more liquid friend to help her out of the financial pinch of the week. but what about the next car payment? or the pending foreclosure? she’s in serious financial trouble right now, and it’s probably going to involve some really serious life changes before the economy even starts to catch up. technically i have the money, but do i really? i have a rule that i never lend money that i can’t afford to say goodbye to permanently. i’ve worked so hard for my little nest egg (which is still pretty sad), and if i let it go, what happens when/if i lose my job?

did i do the right thing? am i being greedy?





a momentous occasion.

11 03 2010

maybe momentous isn’t the right word… but today brings a small amount of warm fuzziness to me today, because the highest of my high interest credit cards has finally dipped below the 5 figure mark. not actually that impressive, as it has been 5 months since i placed my debt up on display for public ogling and judgement… and it was at $10,640.29 when i started. but for me, this is a semi-major achievement. i’ve had the card since i was in my early twenties, and i haven’t seen it at a 4 figure balance for YEARS. mostly i would just pay a little… then buy a little. and so on. i’m sure they love me down at the credit card company. me and my 20% interest rate.

but this time, i’ve been plunking down my slightly higher than the minimum payment for 5 months, and that little bitch remains frozen solid in my freezer. and according to my favorite financial advice/calculator site, even if i can never pay any more, even if i never do anything different than exactly what i’m doing right now… in 4 years, it will all be over. 10 years worth of damage completely gone in 4 years. and if i can up my payment by $100 a month, it’ll be gone in 2.7 years. now wouldn’t that be a little miracle?





do we inherit our spending habits?

8 02 2010

yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and i’m telling you right now- she is one amazing lady. i’m talking about a woman who made us quiche out of government cheese when we were on welfare. if that isn’t the definition of class (and resourcefulness for that matter), i don’t know what is. however, if i did have to choose one thing about my upbringing that i would change, it would most definitely be my financial education.

our little family would eventually climb out of the welfare system, and make a pretty nice life for ourselves. there was private school, themed birthday parties, 16th birthday cars (not that i ever learned how to drive…). life was good. but somewhere in the transition between poverty and  upper middle class-ness, the lesson about how not to end up back in poverty again got lost. i was never taught the value of saving. i didn’t learn the rudimentary aspects of bank accounts, and certainly the mysteries of the credit card APR were never discussed. and the day i learned that i would have to pay back my student loans… shocking! i entered into a world of financial independence not even knowing how to write a check.

what i did learn about was shopping. for necessity, for celebration, for fun- new stuff came into our home in a steady stream. cars were traded up every 2-3 years. new living room furniture arrived on roughly the same schedule. it was no tragedy really, my family could afford what they bought- but all i came out with was the understanding that shopping is a constant need, the ultimate way to fill up the empty spaces in life. it’s still my biggest crutch. in times of crisis, some people might get drunk, or pick a fight, or eat a whole cake… but nothing cheers my broken spirit more than a good spendy trip to the mall. not good. especially for a person who doesn’t make a lot of money or have any sort of savings cushion (what’s that again?) to fall back on.

when i was first starting out on my own, i knew so little about money- and wanted so much to maintain that flow of stuff into my life, that i made all the cardinal mistakes:

1. i took out bigger student loans than i needed to so i could spend the money on “fun” things (all of which i no longer even remember buying/having/enjoying).

2. i opened a store credit card, bought one set of calvin klein underwear, and then never paid it. the black mark only just slid off my credit report last year.

3. i opened 2 high interest (not that i ever really knew what a fair interest rate would have been) credit card accounts, and kept convincing myself that i “needed” to buy things that i couldn’t afford, and that i would pay it all of on my next paycheck, or student loan, or tax return, or birthday. i never did.

4. i didn’t save. anything. ever. so when i lost my job and unemployment didn’t kick in for 2 weeks- i had to sell all my CDs just so i could eat.

i think it’s pretty obvious from the contents of this blog that i still struggle, all the time. i still have crazy debt. i still spend too much. i still think that shopping is the cure-all for my problems. but i’m learning, and at the ripe old age of 32, i finally feel like i’m pulling the airplane out of the tailspin.

but absolutely no disrespect to my mom. kids are hard! i think that parents are expected somehow to know everything- to do everything the exactly the right way for their children, and i don’t really think that’s fair.  for all of my lack of financial education, my mother gave me my sense of humor and style, my ability to love and forgive, listen and empathize, my eternal optimism, and my general gratefulness to be alive in the world right now. i may have some debt (ok, some serious debt), but i’m not a hooker or a ponzi schemer. i rarely have more than 2 drinks, i give really  good presents, and i can still name all my US presidents in order in under 15 seconds.

i guess the point here is that i think we should never stop trying to be better (for ourselves & our kids). i will learn from my mother’s mistakes as well as her successes. although i’m sure i’ll find some other fun way to screw up my future children, they will most definitely be taught how to balance a checkbook, and how to properly sacrifice to the gods of FICO.  and they will most definitely be loved- even if they manage to fuck up their credit anyway.

you’re the best mom! happy birthday!





snowed in.

21 01 2010

as evidenced by the 2 feet of snow currently carpeting the streets of portland, january is usually a pretty tough month here in maine. january is also traditionally a tough month for me. stupid clean slate/new year expectations!! it’s so easy for me to make that list, to fantasize out loud about how at this time next year i’m going to be somebody way better than i am right now…  but it’s so hard to get it started. and if by the end of january i haven’t quite gotten things moving, i have a hard time not giving up completely and writing my goals off for yet another year… no wonder i’ve had $16,000 worth of unchanging revolving debt for the last 5 years.

the punch line here is that my credit score is in the high 700s. i pay my bills! on time! i have a decent job, and had i been more disciplined, my debt probably could have been long gone right now.  but the high hopes and the bad habits are always at battle, and right now, the bad habits are winning.

why such a bummer today? well, yesterday i decided to take a look at my debt tickers and make sure they were all sufficiently updated. here is what i learned:

in the 3 months since i tallied and posted my total debt, i have only paid off $1,395.57.

actually, one of my two credit cards went up in balance by $190.

oh, and despite throwing over $1000 at my other (highest balance & highest interest rate) credit card, my total went down by a mere $369.87.

depressing. depressing. depressing. what went wrong?

1. well, thanks in good part to xmas and the burlesque, i spent more money than i had. i was stressed out and wasn’t careful about my spending. i ate out instead of cooking, and bought stuff to masque my stress.

2. research shows that people who write down their food intake lose more weight. it stands to reason that i gained more debt when i stopped balancing my checkbook.

3. i’ve only been paying the minimums on my credit cards, and according to my favorite financial calculator at free-financial-advice.net, at the rate i’m going, it will take over 4 years for me to pay off my high-interest (20%) card (you know, the one with the $10,000 balance). i could SHAVE OFF A WHOLE YEAR OF PAYMENTS if i gave them $100 more per month.

but anyway,  as much as i’m good at ruminating about what’s wrong, i’m less good at formulating plans of action, and even less good at implementing them. regardless,  i think that the goal is still to never stop trying. so here’s my plan:

1. call up credit card companies and beg them to lower my interest rates. i haven’t asked in a while, this could be my year!

2. make an effort to pay at least $50 more per month on my higher interest card. $100 would be better.

3. balance that checkbook!

i’m sure there are many more things that i could do (any brilliant suggestions out there?), but a small start could be just do-able enough to keep me motivated until the snow melts.





suze says.

11 10 2009

suze-orman-show-booki love suze. she makes me feel terrible about myself- but that’s only because she’s telling the truth. when i need to remotivate myself to save or stop spending like crazy, i watch suze’s show and try imagine that she’s yelling at me. and the bitch is brassy as hell, so she’ll be yelling for sure at some poor jackass who wants to buy an olympic size swimming pool on $6.25/hour.

anyway, i ran into this article tonight on cnn.com. it’s pretty straight-up. admittedly, she always talks like everyone has a company that will match their 401k contributions (or that offers one at all)… or money to invest in stocks…. but still, she speaks the truth. and maybe if i can get past the first couple of steps and get out of debt, i will have money to invest in that IRA someday.  at least if i pay attention to suze, if i ever do have any money- i’ll know what to do with it.





$16,462.48

7 10 2009

here it is in black and white, my revolving debt. every penny.





flashback to the suicide apartment.

27 09 2009

i have a really bad habit of spending a lot of time finding great deals and saving my pennies… only to waste them on things that i don’t need throughout the week (remember that time i bought workout clothes instead of going home to get my own?!). i really need to learn to be more careful, and overall more discerning about my funds if i ever want to get out of debt. i remember when i was 21 and i graduated from college, moved to portland, and got my first real job (temping in a windowless office at a local law firm) and my first apartment (a tiny cockroach riddled studio for $455 a month that my friends referred to as the “suicide apartment”). i made roughly $21,000 that year.  i remember having $7 with which to do my grocery shopping my first week alone because i had given them all my money for a security deposit. i bought a loaf of white bread, a package of $.99 baloney. $1.50 worth of sliced deli cheese, some mustard, and some ramen… and i lived off that until i got paid. i don’t remember it being that bad. i didn’t have any credit card debt yet, i didn’t have cable or internet, or a cell phone. i didn’t really have anything except my futon, the roaches, and the combination tv/vcr that my mom got me for graduation. i’m pretty sure that i was reasonably happy.

flashing forward 10 years, i now make more than twice the amount that i did when i was 21. i own a condo (no more cocoa-roches), and i’m still reasonably happy. but now i have roughly $15,600 in revolving debt… and that adds a certain level of stress and uncertainty to my life situation that really does make me a little bit less happy. and when i think about wanting to go to medical school, and know that i won’t be able to have a job for 2 years while i’m in school, it just makes me doubt that i’ll be able to do it. my debt is far more than just a financial burden. it’s scary.

considering how much money i make now- it should be controllable, completely deletable even…. but just as with my weight, i have a consumption problem that i have not yet been able to curb.

they (weight watchers, richard simmons, bob & jillian on the biggest loser) always say that keeping a food journal is a surefire way to lose weight. maybe the same thing works with money? i’d like to try a little experiment with my own spending this week (possibly this month?) where i just write down everything i spend in a effort to find out where all my money is going.