August 1, 2014 Debt Totals

Ouch – here are my August 1 debt totals:

Chase Card #1: $21,765.10 ($899.37)

Chase Card #2: $4,299.72 (-$104.19)

Chase Card #3: $9,528.10 ($349.97)

Discover Card: $14, 199.84 ($1,363.64)

Citibank Card: $7,791.71 (-$130.00)

Total Credit Card Debt: $57,584. 47 ($2,378.79)

I’m not particularly surprised by this spike, since we had a number of unplanned-for expenses this month, but of course it’s stressful and disheartening. I’m really glad August is a three-paycheck month…

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Throwback Thursday, Garden Edition

Remember these?

tomato plantsI got them at a nursery on sale on 7/8, and wasn’t sure how they would do. Here they are now!

tomato plants 2

 

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I Have a Confession…

I don’t have a budget. There, I said it. If you’re at all familiar with my debt totals, this probably won’t surprise you. Having read quite a few personal finance books and become an avid follower of other PF blogs over the past few months, I understand how they work and why they’re important. So why haven’t I done it yet? There are a few reasons:

  1. I feel overwhelmed by the options. Should I use an online tool, like You Need a Budget or Mint? A spreadsheet? Cash envelopes? There seem to be countless tools, each with its fans who swear it’s the best way to go.
  2. I’m not sure my husband will be on-board. He’s not happy with our debt and wants to pay it off as quickly as we can, but he also wants to balance this with living a reasonably enjoyable life. He feels like we already live a pretty simple life, and cutting expenses any further will be too much. (As I type this, I’m hearing various PF writers say that budgets are about setting limits you can live with…)
  3. I’m fearful of the choices I’ll be faced with. I keep a close eye on our spending, so there shouldn’t be any surprises when I put it all down on paper – real or virtual. However, we still use our credit cards – a lot less than we used to, but a lot more than we should. Living by a budget will make this much more obvious and force us to make some choices I’d rather not. (Yes, I realize that we’re making bad choices by using the cards when we shouldn’t be…)
  4. It seems frustrating. I’ve attempted budgets in the past, and it always seemed like something changed or came up mid-month, that knocked everything out-of-whack.

Since I’ve read in several places that it’s helpful to track your spending for a while before putting together a budget, I’ll make that my primary goal in August. I think it’s even something I can get my husband to commit to without grumbling.

What about you? Do you budget? What tool(s) do you use/recommend? What challenges have you faced? What advice do you have for a budget newbie?

 

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Visiting with Hillary

About two weeks ago, I learned that Hillary Clinton would be doing a book signing at the local independent bookstore in my town. I hurried in to be one of the first 1,000 to purchase the book and a ticket for the signing, and yesterday was the big day. I arrived at 9:30, and was pretty surprised to see that a long line had already formed about two blocks away from the store. It snaked much farther than I ever thought possible, and I spent a full three hours waiting in that seemingly endless line.

The information provided with the tickets informed us that there would be no personalization, and no posed photos. What I didn’t anticipate was that the photo-taking area would be tiny, and designed in a way that made it virtually impossible to get a picture of anyone but the people in line in front of us. Here’s the best shot I got:

hillary

One more step forward, and I would’ve been outside the photo-taking area. Since there was a large Secret Service officer standing next to this area, I decided not to push my luck.

Everyone in line had a numbered wristband, and a Post It was placed on our books with our wristband number. Once we got to the final waiting area, our books were taken from us and handed to Secretary Clinton. She was busily signing the books as we approached her, and was therefore somewhat distracted. I get pretty star-struck around politicians and other leaders, but I managed to shake her hand and stammer a “thank-you-for-coming-to-our-town”, (twice, I think – I’m so smooth!), and to ask how Chelsea was feeling. (Well, she informed me.) And with that, the line moved forward.

A friend asked if it had been worth it, and on balance, I’d say it was. Sure I waited for three hours for about 20 seconds of her time, but when else will I speak to Hillary Clinton?? Or get one of these:

Hillary 2

Have you had any encounters with celebrities – political, or otherwise? Do you get star-struck around them, or maintain your cool?

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Last Week’s Frugal Highs

Happy Monday! Here are last week’s frugal highs:

  1. Received a payment of $136.31 for purchases made via my Amazon store.
  2. Scored a free roll of paper towels at CVS.
  3. Used lettuce from my garden to make salad one night.
  4. Received a SavingStar cash back payment of $6.94. (I earned cash back on my purchase of grapes, Fiber One cereal, and Fiber One granola bars this week.)
  5. Earned a $0.25 cash back credit from Checkout 51 on my purchase of bananas.
  6. Watched the first two episodes of Six Feet Under, Season Three on DVD from the library.
  7. Picked up some unsold items at the local children’s consignment store, plus a credit of – brace yourself – $3.39. Hey, every little bit helps, right?

How about you? What were some of your frugal highs last week?

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Weekend Plans

Happy Friday! Our week started out hot, humid, and sticky, but turned to what I consider summer weather perfection midweek – sunny, clear, and under 80 degrees. (I especially love the fact that we don’t need to use the AC on those days!)

Our weekend plans include a lot of driving. Late this afternoon, we’ll be driving to my parents’ house, about 2.5 miles south of us. We’ll spend the night there, then drive to an extended family member’s house on Long Island, another two hours south. We’ll spend the day there with my parents, grandfather, aunt and uncle, and my father’s cousin, celebrating my grandfather’s successful completion of treatment for colon cancer this winter/spring. He’s 91, widowed, and still lives on his own. He deserves a little celebration! Sunday, we’ll head home from my parents house, and do some house and yard chores before the new week starts.

What about you? How was your week, and what are you up to this weekend?

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Great News From SavingStar!

As you may have noticed, I’m a huge fan of SavingStar. Since I’ve been using it, I’ve received $76.06 in cash back, mainly for purchases at my grocery store (Price Chopper). However, I’ve also earned cash back on purchases at CVS and Rite Aid. (There’s a full list of participating stores on their website.)

savingstar

Until now, I haven’t been able to use it at my favorite store, Target. But – it’s official – SavingStar can now be used at Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Dollar General, Family Dollar, WinCo, and Meijer, via their new (free) iPhone/Android app. Yippee!!

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A Small Piece of Good News

My husband is paid biweekly, and last Friday was a payday. I’m a bit obsessive and check our bank account each day, sometimes twice. Friday I was surprised to see that his payroll deposit was about $35 larger than usual. Since we started a new health insurance plan year on July 1st, I figured it had something to do with that. (This was the first full pay period paycheck in July.) His employer had told him that insurance plan costs had gone up slightly for family plans, but they decided to cover the cost themselves. (Another piece of good news!)

Sure enough, when I compared this pay stub with the last one, the difference was in the health insurance amount. So this means he’ll be netting an additional $70 each month!

What about you? Have you received any good news lately?

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Propane Update

When I last wrote about propane, I had just received a bill for the $99 fee to lock-in our rate for all of next season. The offered rate was $3.59 per gallon, a full $0.94 per gallon more than we paid last season. With a 500 gallon tank, that could conceivably cost almost $500 more per tank filling. (We never completely drain our tank, so it won’t, but it’s still a huge difference.)

Last week, I called our propane company to ask if this was the best rate they could offer us. Pretty quickly, I was offered a rate of $3.05 gallon. Then I called the local home heating fuel co-op, and learned that their rates vary throughout the season, but would probably cost us between $2.30 and $2.70 per gallon.

The difference between $3.05 and $2.70 per gallon was enough to convince us to make the switch. Doing so would entail paying a $40 service call fee, plus $0.35 per gallon pumped out of the tank at the time of removal. Our tank is currently 65% full – we barely use any propane during the warmer months – so it would cost us $113 to have it pumped out. (Side note: The thought of paying to have propane we’ve already paid for and won’t be using pumped out of tank, kills me!) It seemed worth it, though, so I called our current company to let them know that I won’t be paying the $99 fee to lock-in our rate, since we’ll be switching to the co-op in the fall, after we’ve used up some of the propane that’s currently in our tank. Lo and behold, they offered me a lock-in rate of $2.77! I couldn’t believe it, but I guess the thought of losing the several thousand dollars of business we give them each year was a good enough motivation to lower our rate – again.

Given the cost and hassle of changing companies and tanks, plus the variable nature of the co-op’s pricing, we decided to stick with our current company. Don’t you just love the power of threatening to take your business elsewhere?? I had a similar experience when I called our trash company to let them know that we were switching to another company.

Have you negotiated better rates for anything by threatening to take you business elsewhere? And, out of curiosity, if you heat with propane and have locked in your rate for next year, what is it?

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Last Week’s Frugal Highs

Happy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend. Mine was great, except for my daughter getting up at 6:15 Saturday morning. :)

Here are last week’s frugal highs:

  1. Received a $90.01 payment for items purchased from my Amazon store.
  2. Used a $0.83 per gallon credit when filling the car.
  3. Made sandwiches out of leftovers from my parents’ house for lunch three days.
  4. Scored six free portfolio folders from Target, and  two free Sharpie markers (after rebate) from Staples. (I love the back to school deal season!)
  5. Dropped off a few items at the local children’s consignment sale, and picked up a $31.57 payment for items sold there.
  6. Used a gift card from my in-laws to pay for a dinner out with my husband.
  7. Finished watching the second season of Six Feet Under on DVD, borrowed from the library.

How was your weekend? What are some of your frugal highs from last week?

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