Friday, May 30, 2008

I Love Saving Money!

Ok, so today I read in the news that Spam is actually a lot more popular these days because people are trying to cut back on food prices!

I've never had Spam, but I can sympathize, being that I spend ten minutes yesterday trying to find the lunch rolls that were SUPPOSED TO BE $1.99 BUT WERE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND!

So confession: I rarely go to the supermarket. It's a hike without a car so I usually wait until someone can drive me and then wind up getting lots and lots of stuff - terrible, expensive, one time use only things too. Lately I just haven't been able to afford it I tell myself, so I haven't gone.

Then I realized I am actually spending money on food at the bodega quite a bit. The bodega is right around the corner so I'll pop in their for something small - milk, soda, cheese, etc. I usually only spend $5 or so but when you go all the time, it's a waste. I also had to suffer through a lunch yesterday of french fries in raspberry vinegrette and gerkin pickles. Needless to say, I was OUT OF FOOD.

So I proceeded to make a list - you can do this at my supermarket online and see what's on sale.

I needed the following things:

Yogurt (I eat one every morning for breakfast)

Lunch meat preferably ham


Ground beef
Something to make Boyfriend for dinner (I settled on Pork Chops and Shake and Bake)
Lunch rolls

I got all the above, plus two marinades for steak Boyfriend has in freezer for $26!!

I have never gone out of the supermarket spending less than $50 so I am a little proud of myself. Sure I had to walk about two miles but hey, excercise is good.

Tomorrow I am going to get a ride so I can buy bottles of soda on sale so I will never pay $1.25 at the vending machine again!

Tracking my expenses makes me feel really good. I've never really made a Grocery List with a budget in mind before.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thank Goodness I Can Eat Now!!!

Quick update: I got $120 back from my bank today increasing my budget for food/other daily expenses for the next two weeks from a paltry $44 to $164!

I'm tempted to throw $50 towards Utilities just so I could knock that out faster but I think I will wait at least until I've made it much closer to the end of my 13 day waiting period.

I am officially allocating $21 towards taking the train to my Sister's Bridal Shower #2 next weekend.

Stay tuned for a long rant on Payday Loans very soon!

Budget 5/29-6/10

This Budget Sucks. Well it being rent time, it's not much of a "budget" per se, but a list of people who will be enjoying my money instead of me.

Starting Balance: 1169

100 - Capital One (finally not maxed out anymore! $450 remaining)
100 - Student Loan (didn't pay enough last month, still owe $100+)
195 - Payday Loans (Kill me now, more on this later, may be getting $ back!)
690 - Rent

Total remaining = $84

Still need to pay:

$25 to the Dentist tomorrow
$15 prescription co-pay

Sad sad amount to live on for 13 days = $44

I went to school for seven years for this?!

Alas, I may be getting some money back but I can't put it in the budget if it's not for sure. But if it did, I still need to pay:

Overdue Utilities - $400
Overdue Student Loan - $100+

So alas, the debit card is locked in a drawer at home.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where it Went 5/14 - 5/27

So today is the first day since I started the blog that I get to analyze how well I stayed within the budget I made for myself. It proved a little harder than I envisioned, as it turns out getting online access to my bank account revealed to me precisely where my money was going whereas my head-in-the-sand philosophy of the past did not. And I didn't budget for the $315 I received back from the bank/my landlord although I sure found out how to spend it fast enough.

So here it is, my budget from two weeks ago and what I actually did with the money:

Budget (Actual)
$90 Sprint Bill ($90)
$100 Repaid Loan to Friend A ($100)
$300 Settled with Nice Collection Agency ($301.53)
$315 Owed to Landlord ($0- Paid it and then got it back)
$205 Payday Loan ($390!!! - See later post on this pain)
$??? Student Loan ($100 - Owe $300 more)

Not in Budget But Paid
$50 Overdue Utilities
$38 Bank fees
$245 cash withdrawals ($100 for the new furniture)

Total Spent: $1324.53

Note that my Starting Budget was $1220 but I was able to get it up a little more from the following sources:

$35.00 Revolution Money Exchange (Thanks Chicky for using a referral!)
$28 Refunded Bank Fee
$32 returned some of the cash I had left over in my wallet and emptied a change jar

Which totals about: $1229

So yes, sadly, I did overdraw my account for the umpteenth time. It was mostly an accident and once I realized it had happened I rushed to the bank with all the cash I could scrounge but it was still a couple of bucks short. But trust me, it's been much worse in the past.

So there it is, the story of my finances. It amazes me to have spent so much in the past 14 days and have nothing to show for it. The payday loan story I'll have to explain in another post but pretty much THEY ARE KILLING ME and I am doing everything I can to get rid of them.

Today is payday so I can start all over again. Hopefully it will go better this time around!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Have I Sunk This Low?

My job interview? In a word: sucked. I'm starting to get very depressed about the whole job search process. I need to make more money and get more established in my career in a place where there is job security and opportunity for advancement. This place? Let's just say they told me most people go there to get experience and then leave to make more money. She also said that the organization is not viewed favorably by its peers and they wanted people with thick skin, etc. They obviously don't value their employees since she barely seemed interested in my experience or background and was extremely short with me (pretty much just asking me questions like if I could handle x, y, and z).

Depsite the fact that it was such a negative experience, I still found myself filling out a form entitling them to do a BACKGROUND SEARCH on me. Even as I looked at the forms it felt like such a stupid idea - especially since I had listed two prior bosses as references and I don't want them getting calls about my character, but I went along with it because I've heard that sometimes companies do this and also just out of idle curiosity to see if I would be offered the position.

I feel lower than low right now at the possibility that I might be in a position to have to take this job or one just like it if things don't work out in the next couple of months. I've always done well in school, received awards, etc., why is it so hard to find a decent job?

Friday, May 23, 2008

If I won the lottery

I found a great post over on Sick of Being Poor about what you would do if you won the lottery. She wrote a great combination of paying off debt, saving, setting up trusts to help with her family's education and investing in a non-profit community theatre. It prompted me to think about my own plan if I landed such a windfall.

First of all, I totally agree that you would need to get a lawyer and an accountant, most likely someone that has experience with lottery winnings. You read all the time about lottery winners who squander all their money away and wind up in debt. I wouldn't go crazy with expensive houses or toys either. Here is my plan.

1. Pay off all debt. Yay. I'd even make sure my attorney settled my accounts for less than I actually owe.

2. Set up a College Fund for my little sister's education. She's 15 and I'm not so sure if my parent's have ANY money saved for this and I don't want her to wind up in the same situation that I'm in now. I wouldn't want her completely spoiled though and would encourage her to seek on-campus employment the same way I did.

3. Pay off my parent's mortgage. My parents struggle financially as well and the thought of them ever having to sell the beautiful house that I grew up in always scares me. The one condition I would impose, however, is that they would not seek to use the equity in the house for anything else. I've already considered the tax obligations of this gift and have decided I would become a co-owner of the house so they wouldn't need to pay taxes on the windfall.

4. Buy a modest house for my older sister and her husband to be. She's getting married in August and dreams of moving back to the area we're from but the prices are such that it would take them so long to accomplish this. I'd like to see them get started close to home, as my older sister is very close to her family and hates living in a tiny studio apartment.

5. Help my brother attend graduate school if he wishes. My younger brother is a little bit of a lost soul. So smart but utterly directionless. He's taken a few courses towards a Master's Degree in History. We all would like to see him become a teacher but he believes he can get his Phd never mind the fact that he got bad grades in college. I'd prefer him to get his Master's first and then try teaching for a while but either way I would help out a little (though the Army pays for some of his education already).

6. Purchase a brownstone close to where I currently live. Rent out the basement for additional income.

7. Continue working. I have worked hard to establish my career and I wouldn't stop now!

8. Travel! I love to travel and would like to take a major trip once a year.

9. And then, if there's some left over after saving up a sizeable chunk for future expenses, I would like to establish an artist's community of cooperative living. It would be like an apartment building of artists and everyone would contribute what they could to the community in terms of money or services. It sounds a little utopian I realize but I studied a little socialism in college and I would like to see a place where struggling artists could flourish.

What would you do?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Got an Interview!!!

I am underpaid. Yup, I said it, it's true. I always sort of knew that the kind of work I wanted to do would take several years of toughing it out at low pay before I could make the transition into the work I really wanted to do - at a higher salary. Things have gone pretty much according to plan in the past two years since I graduated, but...

I don't feel challenged enough at work.

Sometimes I'm asked to do things that are way below my level of experience/education.

My job - while offering excellent benefits - is not secure.

And last but not least, I NEED more money if I'm ever going to have a chance at climbing out of this black hole of debt.

Today when I was at the gym, I got a message requesting an interview for one of the jobs I applied to weeks ago! I had to look it up before I called back I had forgotten all the details. The details are still a little hazy as this job is not in my area of experience at all, but there are also a lot of positives.

The interview is on Tuesday. Cross your fingers!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Don't You Want My Coffee Machine?

Money sucks. It also sucks that with all my expensive education I have to scrape by so that the purchase of a used coffee table doesn't break me. It's pretty depressing.

Went home at lunch to meet a Craig's List respondent who I had shared three emails with about selling a coffee/espresso machine donated to me by an ex-boyfriend. It works and retails for over a hundred bucks and I frankly just have no use for it and it takes up valuable closet space.

She gets there, comes in my apartment and says "oh this isn't what I thought it was" and walks out immediately without explanation or even an offer for a lower price. I was only asking for 20 dollars! I had even included a bag of liners and the User's Manual.

On top of that, it started raining on my way back to work even though it has been sunny all day.

Craig's List can really suck sometime. I've been trying to get rid of a futon mattress as well and I had one guy show up and try to fit his homemade cover over the mattress for 20 minutes before deciding it didn't fit and one no-show.

I can't get a break. Sigh....

Free Stuff Rules!

I feel a little remorseful still about my recent splurge but when I got home last night and the stuff was delivered into my apartment I was admitedly quite excited.

The TV (which I guess since I cancelled cable I didn't really need) also has a built in DVD player. This is pretty cool since I love sitting in bed and watching movies.

It looks pretty good on top of my FREE dresser. Yes, my bedroom is so small so not having a dresser for the past several weeks had made me such a slob.

My neighbor even left me a matching sidetable to the coffee table I bought, a power adapter, and a whole bag of canned goods! More was waiting outside the trash including a lovely bar stool I promptly rescued and brought to my kitchen and a shelf that now lives below the sink in my bathroom. All in all, I am pretty happy with the state of my apartment now.

I'm even going to make a little money today when I sell the coffee/espresso maker I never use to someone who responded to my craig's list ad!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dumpster Diving and Impulse Buys

So last night my friend took me to drop off six bags of clothing at Goodwill that I pulled out of my closets. No, none of them were quite nice enough to sell to a consignment shop (they're pretty picky where I live). And yes, I did get a receipt.

I felt really good about getting rid of stuff as I have way too many clothes in my closet that I don't wear and also because getting my apartment in order is one of my current missions.

A major problem I've been having lately is there is not a lot of closet space and I just junked an old dresser that I had and most of my clothes are all stacked in piles on the floor. Pretty much everything in my apartment has been donated to me by friends or family. I've been looking high and low for a dresser to replace the one I had to throw out but alas the weather hasn't been warm enough for too many garage sales and the ones on Craig's List were too pricey.

When we got home I ran into my neighbor who just happened to be moving out. He said he was getting rid of stuff. Sweet, I think! After snagging some free picture frames, he asked me if I was interested in buying his coffee table and/or his small bedroom t.v.

It just so happens that I have never actually had a coffee table. I have a little table that I use as a coffee table but it's a bone of contention for me because it's not big enough for guests on either couch to access. It is small and has a chessboard on it so I mostly use it as a gaming table. I've wanted a coffee table for literally four years since I've moved in and have alternated between using one of those big tupperware containers, the chess table, and a pretty much broken end table and they have all been insufficient. My neighbor's coffee table is awesome!

It also happens that approximately one year ago I broke my bedroom t.v., one that I've had for eight years so it's not too sad but I like to lay in bed and watch a movie. Even though it's small they cost almost $200 to replace.

So long story short, I end up agreeing to buy both the t.v. AND the coffee table from my neighbor. I'm really not an impluse buyer and was already feeling sort of remorseful on my way to the ATM to get the money. Yes, I told myself, I have just enough money to cover this, BUT it's going to make the next 8 days difficult. But then again, getting my apartment in shape is pretty important to me as I've decided to renew the lease and since it's difficult to do any furniture/appliance shopping on my own, this seemed like a great deal.

AND THEN on the way back from the ATM, I got a message from above. A lovely discarded dresser only a block from my apartment. It is EXACTLY what I have been looking for for weeks! I lugged it inside all by myself and set it up in my room!

I was so excited that I stayed up half the night cleaning and sprucing up my apartment. So, I still feel a little guilty about spending the hundred dollars, I did make out pretty well all told last night. I think I'm going to relist some of my stuff on Craig's List to see if I can break even this week.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Little by Little

I paid $50 to my Utilities company today. Still owe them $400. The sad thing is my utilities bill is only about $60 a month. I just never pay it until they send the threatening letters but I've paid them $250 in the past month and as soon as the past due amount is paid off, I vow to NEVER pay them late again.

I like writing down everything I pay on this blog. It helps me vent and keep track of where the money is going. Thanks to getting my $315 back ahead of schedule I can manage to make it to next week's payday without going broke.

Got My Money Back!

So I'm new to budgeting and this month was always going to be a little tight, but some things have changed (some good and some bad) since I laid out my Budget last week.

I had to pay $315 TWICE to my landlord a couple of weeks back. It was money that I owed him. Problem was: I wrote out a money order so that my check wouldn't bounce and HE LOST IT. It was my fault. I didn't tell him I was putting it in the envelope with the rent check so he didn't see it I guess. I went to the bank to see about cancelling it and they told me it would take 90 days to get it back. Frustrated, I just waited for the next pay period and paid him again, figuring I would wait the 90 days for the money to be returned to my account.

Well this weekend he calls and says HE FOUND THE MONEY ORDER. I was extremely happy to hear this. Took it to the bank this morning and boom, $315 back in my account.

Alas, it was needed as I have taken out $100 in cash since Thursday and still hadn't paid my student loans. And another payday loan that I must have forgotten about went through and I'm out another $65.

It's embarrasing that I am this bad with money. It really is. But I'm glad the money is back in the account. I promptly paid $100 to my student loans this morning and now will have enough to cover the $300 settlement I made to a Collection Agency that hasn't hit the account yet.

Luckily I can't eat any solid foods or smoke this week so I'm going to be pretty much spend free for the next couple of days.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It Hurts and Not Just the Surgery

One of the reasons I started this blog is that I felt so much pressure trying to stay afloat financially and wasn't comfortable talking about the problem with the people close to me. It sucks having to ask my parents for money. It sucks being the girl who can't go out for dinner and drinks all the time. What sucks even more is knowing that people think ill of me for not having a lot of money. Like I've made bad choices in my life and career.

Example: I bounced two rent checks in a row to my landlord. Super annoying and embarrassing but he was paid back several days later each time (with added late fees). I apologized profusely and made an excuse that I was looking for another job. At the time we were supposed to meet for me to sign new lease but he never called to set up a time when the rent was still outstanding. Today he called me and ask me how the job hunt was going and I told him I was still looking. He said he would love for me to stay in the apartment but to let him know if it wasn't going to work out financially.

It was embarrassing. I hate talking about my financial problems for this very reason. I feel like people don't trust or respect me. I mean, I know he has to look out for himself and if I'm going to break the lease in a few months because I can't pay the rent, he should think about getting a better tenant but I've been paying him his rent for four years so you think I would have some clout by now. I feel bad about the bounced checks but I made good on the payments and the late fees so my finances aren't really his business. Neither is my career.

I am motivated to find a better job and make more money but it sucks hearing from everyone how imperative it is for me to do it (my family, my Boyfriend, and now my landlord?). I've applied to SO many jobs in the past month it is ridiculous. I hope something comes up soon but I'm doing everything I can.

I know that renting is the best thing for me right now but it's annoying having someone else watching over you poised to judge you based on your finances.

I know a rule of thumb is to not spend more than half of your income on living expenses and my rent is less than a third of my takehome pay. I just need to make sure I allocate the rest in a more responsible fashion. I'm trying....

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Good Thing I Have Insurance

Otherwise this would have cost $1100.

That's the spot where the dentist sewed a flap of my skin (taken from the roof of my mouth) to an exposed area of my gum. Yes, it hurts quite a lot.

I also need to get my wisdom teeth out this summer. I've gone without dental insurance for so long that I truly underestimated the value of having coverage now. Even though I'm looking for another job, it takes a while for dental insurance to kick in so hopefully I can finish all the work I need before then.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A little Friday Humor

I have to have dental surgery today so to cheer myself up I found this clip from Saturday Night Live of Suze Orman. I like her a lot but this clip is too funny:

In other news, I found six bucks in my jeans pocket today, sweet! I also made an excellent dinner for Boyfriend and I last night for $1.79.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Online Banking is Pretty Cool

So as much as I was annoyed about Online Banking last week, I'm begining to really like it. It can create pie charts!! That really gives me a handle on what I'm spending money on. Some readers have expressed concerns that I didn't allocate enough money for food and other expenses but it's true, the proof is in the (pudding) pie chart:

So that's where my money has gone for the past month. Rent appears a little higher this month due to a reason that's too long to get into, but I was pleasantly suprised to see I only took out a small amount of cash this month. The most annoying revelation is how much money I spent on Payday loans but I have vowed to avoid them at all costs from now on.

The overdraft fees are also a thorn in my side. Today I called and got a $28 refund from the overdraft I wrote about before. Not the same as getting all $38 back but it made me feel slightly better.

I have been too busy at work today to even eat lunch (again) but luckily I have some leftover chinese food waiting for me soon!


Got a rejection letter from a job I applied to a few weeks back. This one stung as I had interned at this place while in school for FREE and was quite knowledgeable of the field in which they specialize. I thought at least I would get an interview. This blows. Oh well, my field is a little different than most as some of the places I'm applying to are legally obligated to take the person with the highest credentials but still, this kinda sucks...

Yesterday I spent money. It was all because I skipped lunch to go to the gym and then walked by a chinese food place on the way home. Haven't had chinese food in SO long. Still, a Sesame Chicken + Egg roll combo usually lasts 2.5 meals for me and costs $7 so it wasn't so bad.

Then my friends came over and we each bout 2 22 oz. bottles of Smirnoff Ice for about $4.

Plus cigarettes @ $5.50.

So all told I spent $17 yesterday but this is rare I promise! I've been so anti-spending since I started the blog that I felt defeat for a while but it could have been worse I suppose. Tonight is a free night because Boyfriend came home last night a day earlier than usual and we get to watch Grey's Anatomy and Lost together.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Projections (or I hope this gets better)

I spent a couple of days figuring out my budget for the next several pay periods. Even though things are pretty tight (in fact more than tight) right now, according to my projections they will get much better come mid-summer. Right in time for me to prepare for my sister's wedding (yikes).

Here it goes:

5/28 Starting Balance = 1220
- 690 Rent
- 255 Payday Loan Balance (paid off!)
- 100 Capital One (still owe $455, $55 = minimum payment due)
- 100 Pay off balance of Student Loan payment (overdue as of 5/17)

Remaining = $75 for other expenses

6/11 Starting Balance = 1220

- 600 Student Loans (will still owe 200 from last month + 400)
- 125 Paid to Nice Collection Agency
- 200 Paid to overdue Utilities
- 75 Cell Phone
- 15 Prescription co-pay
- 60 Pay back Friend C

Remaining = 145 (most of which will be spent on Boyfriend's Birthday Weekend)

6/25 Starting Balance = 1220

- 690 Rent
- 100 Capital One (still owe $355, minimum payment = $55)
- 100 overdue Utilities

Remaining = 330 (coincides with Sister's Bachellorette Weekend $$$)

7/9 Starting Balance = 1220

- $125 Scheduled payment to Nice Collection Agency
- $400 Student Loan
- $355 Payoff Capital One (yay!)
- $100 Start Paying Back Boyfriend (Still owe $200)
- $75 Cell Phone

Remaining = $165 - allot $50 to Sister's Wedding Gift

Okay, so I was hesitant to transfer that from the piece of paper I've been carrying arround in my pocket and meticulously consulting but here's where I'm hoping I will be in 2 months.

How to Spend $1220 in Two Days (My Budget)

Ok here goes, my first payday since starting the blog. I am always so happy on Payday (for about a minute until I realize all my money will soon be gone). Here's where it's going today:

Starting Balance - 1169 (+38 I will get back from my bank as a Courtesy Waiver) = 1207

(Remember that I was 13 dollars overdrafted)

- 90 Sprint Bill (need to keep my service going in case a JOB calls)
- 100 Repaid Loan to Friend A
- 300 Settled with Nice Collection Agency - one time 10% payment
- 315 Owed to Landlord (but I'm getting this money back in July - long story)
- 205 Payday Loan (Finance fee + 100 of the balance - still have 250 to pay off on this)

Which leaves us about $197.

Still have to pay:

Aunt Sallie - $400 is due on the 17th!! Which is a Saturday, so that's weird. I'm not too sure what to do about this one. Since I added my late payment to the principal of my loan last week I'm fairly sure the late payment clock won't start ticking again but I don't really want to risk it.

I also don't want to take out another Payday loan to cover the difference. I worked the numbers and it will just screw things up for me down the line.

I think I'm going to just send as much money as I can to Aunt Sallie and deal with the rest when I can.

It feels good to be back in the black though!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

$14k = $7k After Taxes?

So yesterday I sent my resume off to two different job openings. Both are interesting (if not ideal). In one I was asked to state my salary requirements. After considerable research and deliberation I asked for $57,000.

Today they emailed me! I mean, granted, they only wanted me to resend my resume because they couldn't open the file I sent (drat!) but it left me almost happy that they are actively trying to view my resume.

So I decided to investigate just how much more money this would mean if I were to obtain my stated salary requirement.

I currently make $43,260. So, if I were to make $57,000 this would be about $14,000 more. Correct?

No, not so much. I went to this website which allows you to see how much your take home pay will be after taxes and other withholdings. The answer? Approximately $1519 per pay period (about $300 more).

The site isn't perfect as I actually receive a couple bucks more than it says I should and that takes into account my pension and health insurance witholdings, but I don't know, factored into annual numbers, would my $14,000 increase in income amount to only $7000?

Sorta makes me want to hate taxes even though I know they fund important things, yadda yadda yadda. I guess I would get a bigger tax refund, however, since my student loan interest can be deducted from my income and get me back into the under $55k tax group.

Of course this is all speculative as I haven't even gotten an interview. An extra $600 bucks a month would be nice though. A girl can dream....

You Can't Hide Forever

So part of becoming fiscally fit I realize is owning up to just how much debt you actually have and who you owe it to. I've known about this old credit card (I mean OLD - back when I was 18 or so) for years. And no, I can't claim Statute of Limitations. And I've been dodging them for way too long. The damage? $3001.95

It irks me because I never even use credit cards and this thing has been haunting me since I spent a semester in Washington D.C. and racked up $1800 in charges. I was paying the minimum for a while but then I moved around and lost track of it. So now the $1800 has ballooned to three thousand.

I DID try settling with the last collection agency this debt was assigned to a few months back but they were so rude and unreasonable that they refused to let me make monthly payments. A couple weeks back I get a "Welcome Letter" from another collection agency. I WAS going to call them back, really! But I just didn't get around to it yet (owing to the fact that I never have any spare money).

Yesterday I get a letter saying something to the effect that if I don't pay, I will be SUED. So, I decided to own up to the debt.

I must say, for collection agents, this company was really really nice. They even congratulated me on owning up to this obligation. I know this is how they make their money but I felt like a real responsible bill-payer for once.

We worked out a deal wherein I will pay 10% of the debt up front ($300) and make monthly payments of $125 for 21 months. Sounds good to me. I am proud that I finally addressed something that I've been too scared to think about for literally years.

The only problem is this $300 is going to totally kill my budget this month. I may have to resort to accepting a handout from my Dad. He offers several times a month and I've been trying so hard to resist him lately because of the "strings" the money comes with (judgement, unwanted advice, etc.) but then again, I really don't want to be poor either.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Two Movies = Two Bucks!

A new movie theatre just opened in the city and to celebrate they are showing second run movies all this week for just two dollars!!

I haven't been to the movies in a while so I couldn't pass this up. A friend and I went to go see 10,000 B.C. - great movie and one that I probably wouldn't have paid the 10 bucks to see when it came out but that I rather enjoyed. We even snuck in to see about an hour of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix after that as well (which I, of course, saw on opening night already) and that was great! Plus the Taco Bell I had for dinner at the Food Court, I had a pretty great night for under ten dollars.

The night did have it costs, however. I had borrowed $200 from this friend a while back and had only been able to pay him back $100 so far. He has since lost his job and has been unable to find another one so I was too embarrassed to not address this elephant-in-the-room and give him a post dated check for the balance of the loan. Debt paid, yay! But now I'll have to adjust my alreading waning budget to deal with this development (more on that tomorrow).

I vow to never borrow money from friends again. It may seem like a good idea but it makes things awkward for all involved.

I applied to Two Jobs Today

I have decided that instead of beating myself up over the "one that got away" I just need to keep sending my resume out there and see what comes of it.

Thus, two jobs applied to today. Both would mean a sizable income boost. There are downsides to both of them of course, but upsides as well (besides the money which obviously would help).

Who knows what will come of them but I am cautiously optimistic that something will happen soon.

Weddings and Budgeting

Let me preface this by saying I love my family dearly and am very close to all of them. Now that has been said, I will proceed to rant over the fact that my sister's wedding planning is driving me crazy!!!

Several weekends ago, I (as Maid of Honor) had to endure Bridal Shower #1 (of 2) in which Sister opened up thousands of dollars worth of junk that she 1) does not need and 2) has no room for in her tiny studio apartment.

A little bit about Sister. She does not cook. She hates most food and is afraid of meat. She is profoundly materialistic. She has debt too but never speaks about it. In fact, NO ONE in my family EVER talks about money if they don't have to.

According to her registry, my sister has asked for no fewer than six pots and pans, all over $100 each.
This Williams Sonoma Stainless Steel Saute Pan can sit in my parent's garage indefinitely for only $255!

Not that I'm complaining. I'm not. Not really. It's just hard for me to sit next to her and watch her open all these things when I can't even afford anything to cook most of the time, much less stainless steel pots to cook them in. I even had to borrow money to take the bus to the shower!

And yet she sits there like a queen.

My Mom says when I get married the same thing will happen for me. I keep telling her that I will not, under any circumstances, request that my friends and family spend $255 on a PAN for me. She disagrees. I told her I don't value things like that. She just shakes her head. It's so frustrating and I'm beginning to be turned off by the ritualistic nature of marriage itself these days.

Not to parents are spending in excess of $25k for the single event.

Yes that's right. Twenty five thousand dollars is my conservative estimate of that they will be dishing out the day my thirty year old sister marches down the aisle.

On top of the rather extravagant Engagement Party my parents threw for her last summer, with a bill they revealed to me as over $5k. No expenses were spared - D.J., tent, food, bar. And that doesn't factor in the expenses they incurred getting our house ready for the party - they painted and landscaped and repaved the driveway!

All in all (minus gifts), they will be spending over $30k on my sister this year. And they are NOT rich people. Do you know what I could do with $30k?

Online Banking - Or Else!

I am at a new level of mad only seen before in cartoons where steam starts to shoot out of a character's ears.

I have been SO on top of my finances lately, devoutly checking my account balance to make sure I do not incur the terrible Overdraft Monster. On Saturday, I knew that I had $27 in the bank. I went to an in-network ATM and withdrew $20. I get into work today, do my ritual calling the automated bank number just to confirm that I still have $7 left in my account.

What do I learn?

I have NEGATIVE $13 in my account!

I immediately get on the phone with a represenative to find out how this could have happened.

Here's the deal:

I apparently went to a couple out of network ATM branches during the month. So, in addition to paying the fees upfront at the ATMS (ranging from $1-$2), my bank assesses a fee at the END of the billing cycle based on how many out of network ATMS I used. The damage? $8.

AND I have apparently been calling the automated number TOO FREQUENTLY so they decided to charge me for that too! I expressed my frustration with the representative and she could relate to my situation and genuinely felt bad. She suggested I apply for Overdraft Protection and I told her I had already been denied. She then admitted to me that she had in fact been denied once before and had opened up a Savings Account linked to her Checking Account and had used Online Banking to transfer the funds when she had to cover an oferdraft.

I told her I had never used Online Banking at this particular bank and she told me it was easy (unlike HSBC where you need six million passwords that arrive in separate envelopes in the mail). So now I am using online banking because apparently I am not allowed to check my account balance by phone everyday. She said I will most likely incur an Overdraft Charge of $38 as well but to call back when it goes through and ask for a Courtesy Waiver.

So I'm pretty pissed but so far liking Online Banking. It shows you everything, where ATMS are and even copies of the checks you write.

AND I learned I can only SPEAK to a Customer Service Representative three times a month or I incur another fee. How's that for service? I hate banks!

Friday, May 9, 2008

"You have excellent credit history"

Ha! That's what one of my Payday loans told me when I logged in to see how much would be debited from my bank account on the date of my next paycheck. They love me apparently since I have paid off two loans in full with them. It was nice, although a bit funny, to hear that. At least someone thinks I have good credit history! The good news is I wasn't sure if I still had money on that loan left to pay and the balance is zero, yay!

This means I can devote $100 to paying off the balance of the OTHER Payday loan I took with another company at the end of April ($350 borrowed, $455 owed). If I pay the finance fee plus $100, I am pretty sure I can knock off the balance by 5/29, my next due date.

Organization is key to debt management I realize. Sallie's Niece of the past would get so discouraged that she would go days without checking her account balances for fear of getting depressed. The overdrafts, finance fees, late fee, etc. would add up. The new Sallie's Niece is going to know exactly how much she owes, to whom, and when it is due at all times.

I didn't spend any money at all yesterday except for the soda from the vending machine. Went home for lunch (had a pitiful chicken noodle soup but oh well, my parents gave me like a case). So I still have $20 cash on hand and $27 in the bank. It's hard to get encouraged by this pitiful balance but at least I know where it is!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Design Skills are Lacking

But I'm going to try to see if I can sell some debt-related apparel on CafePress. I tooled around for a while last night with Photoshop (I used to be SO good at it) but for various reasons my designs are still a little sorry looking. BUT I have lots of ideas and with BF away so often, plenty of time on my hand to work on them on his Photoshop-equipped computer. So I set up a shop and there's already a couple of shirts available:

Despite some initial Photoshop problems, the site is relatively easy to use and if anyone buys them I get a $5 markup, sweet! I know a lot of my friends in school bought funny t-shirts from there so maybe I can make a couple extra bucks!

No More Bank Fees!!!

So the other night (when I needed a venting session with a friend) she told me how much she hates overdraft fees. She hears me complain about them all the time and she even admitted to me that her boyfriend thought that he thought I was "irresponsible" for getting them. AND THEN she made a mistake with her bank, and found out the bank's policy of not just penalizing you for the charge that made you overdrawn, but ALL charges you made that day. That's because the bank can reorder the charges to get even more.

As much as I felt for her situation (hey I've been there more times than I care to admit) it helped to know I wasn't not alone. I found this article on The Street today talking about how banks are now relying on fees to make a profit.

My friend was so frustrated that she ended up opening an account at a local credit union. This is problematic for her, however, as she works in a different state and is in the process of moving slightly closer to work (though she's not sure what town yet) and now has to figure out where she's going to move AND what bank suits her needs best.

I told her if she has a good experience with the credit union I may join as well but my current bank is very convenient for me right now (branches close to work and home). I've also resolved to keep vigilant track of my account balance so that I never get overdrafted again!

Chef Dreams Halted Due to Student Loans

Wow, this article from the New York Times today really put things in perspective for me a little. Apparently students are entering culinary school and are unable to pay off their debts after graduation. Many of them are defaulting. The article mentions how one student was urged by their school to take out private loans in addition to the federal ones and now is working as a cook earning $20k a year.

I hate to think of anyone having an experience like that, especially if it discourages others from pursuing their dreams. I think that private loans are really dangerous (as you can tell from my expeience). Luckily I only took out two of them during my 7 years of school. The rest of the money owed after federal loans were exhausted was paid by my parents and a generous fellowship I received in graduate school. Most of my friends in graduate school took out private loans for all three years.

I also think that while my degree (and the professional licensing that came with it) was neccessary to pursue my dream, perhaps culinary school isn't as much. Now I don't know much about the industry, but I do know that there is a very good community college with a culinary program near where I live. It seems to me too many schools are urging students to pay amounts that exceed the federal student loans as part of a racket. There has been investigations going on in New York about schools receiving kick backs from lenders.

I guess I should consider myself lucky to have a marketable degree with earning power (even though it's not earning me quite enough right now) and a job in my preferred field. Me lucky, how about that!

Cash Update

So I have ONE MORE DAY to make it til the weekend when I will be going home to see my parents for Mother's Day and will therefore not have to worry about feeding myself, spending money, etc. So far, I'm doing pretty good.

Yesterday I spent $17 on:
1. Mother's Day Card ($3) - I had to laugh when I heard a teenage boy ask the clerk where the $0.99 Mother's Day cards were because I was thinking the same thing!
2. Lunch - Mexican Border Bowl at the work cafeteria ($7) - I overspent at lunch a bit but I thought there would be a craft fair outside the cafeteria where I could get a Mother's Day present for cheap. There was but it was no good. Anyhow, once I was there I really couldn't resist the Border Bowl.
3. Cigarettes ($5.40) - I know, bad habit, but one I'm not ready to give up just yet.
4. Megamillions ticket ($1) - I hardly ever buy lotto tickets and when I do I never spend more than $2. Even the guy in the store said "You're just going to buy one?" Hey, one is all you need!

Today I have bought my usual Diet Coke from the vending machine for the price of $1.50 but I brought my yogurt with me and I expect to go home for lunch.

Which leaves me with $27 in the bank and $20 cash on hand.

This much would be plenty IF:
1. I get a ride home tomorrow with my boyfriend; or
2. I spend absolutely no money until tomorrow and take the bus home ($38).

I'm not sure how things are going to pan out for various reasons but it's helpful to know that I at least HAVE enough money to take the bus home. Last time I went to visit my parents (a whopping three weeks ago) I had to borrow it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Was (is) It Worth It?

I read this post at MSN Money just now about "How Much Student Loan Debt Is Too Much" and it kinda pissed me off.

It says the average student has $20k in student loans and first of all, I just don't agree with that figure. I'm no economist, but I remember at my undergrad "Exit Interview" for financial aid, they told me my loan debt was less than $20k and when I looked at the forms, all that was listed on them were my federal student loans, not the whopping $20k private loan I took out. It's just an anecdotal piece of information but then the same thing happened yesterday when I called up the Department of Education looking for some help with my private grad school loan (they didn't have it listed in their records). I know many many people who took out private loans. Hell, at my grad school it was pretty much mandatory unless you were very wealthy to begin with. I have a feeling that many more students carry more debt than the studies indicate. But that's just my two cents.

Anyway, even though, gasp, I owe a significant amount of money due to my education, I don't regret it for a minute.

After college I briefly joined the "rat race" working as a secretary in a big city. I was making good enough money considering what I was required to do, but I HATED my job and wanted something more fulfilling. Most entry level jobs are pretty much the same unless you are 1) extremely lucky or 2) extremely talented in a field.

I always knew I wanted to get a professional degree to advance my career options and it wasn't about the money for me. Sure I did the cost/benefit analysis before packing my bags, but it's so hard to predict where life will take you after graduation.

Truth be told, I am looking for a more lucrative position right now, but I currently am proud of the career choices I have made, including going back to school, and I don't think the price tag should have scared me away. I was fortunate enough to go to a very selective liberal arts college and the education I received there was invaluable. Some people think state school is a bargain and maybe for them it is. But I have no regrets.

I also think, despite the staggering amount of my student loan debt, that I can get it under control and still live the kind of life that I want.

And now I'll step off my pedestal and get back to work!

Will my phone get shut off (again)?

So I get a text message from Sprint yesterday - payment is due now - and then an email this morning. Okay, I get it, payment is due. Sprint has turned off my phone many a time but actually the past couple of months (since I dumped my stingy sister who never paid me back from my bill) I've been good. The email said I have to pay NOW to avoid service interruption, but when I logged into my account, it looks like I have until the 24th.

So what's a girl to do? I'm going to just risk it because I have just 6 DAYS until my next paycheck and I really really want to get there without:

1. Borrowing money; or

2. Incurring any overdraft charges at the bank.

Last night wasn't the smartest night in terms of finances. I spent approximately $15 between beer and cigarettes but I just needed a venting session with a good friend.

AND this morning I forgot my yogurt and had to get breakfast at Dunkin Donuts at the cost of $4 cuz I was dragging myself to work.

So now, until next Wednesday I have $46 cash on hand - some of which I will spend today purchasing Mother's Day card and small gift; $107 in the bank ($80 of which will be taken when my payment to Aunt Sallie shows up).

I think I can do it. Usually my Dad gives me some pocket money when I come home so this weekend isn't a factor. I really only need to make it until Friday. Here's hoping I can do it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Update on My Really Bad Day

So today went from BAD to WORSE in the world of student loan debt. I waited and waited to hear back from the one woman at Private Loan Lender who would possibly help me rehabilitate my loan until I finally get her on the phone and she says they cannot help me. She said the loan had been assigned to Evil Collection Agency and that I had to deal with only them. The only advice she could offer me was to apply at my bank or local credit union for a loan in the full amount. Yeah, right? Anyone know a bank willing to loan someone with bad credit $28k so they can pay off a defaulted loan with no personal/real property in their name? Good friggen luck!

So I get back on the phone with Evil Collection Agency and ask if there is any other way to get a payment program other than getting rejected from two banks by Thursday. Not only did she pretty much laugh over the phone, she also told me that they were unlikely to EVER offer me a plan since they were "willing to wait" to get the money.

I asked her what that meant and said that I will NEVER have the full amount in cash and she said "you have a job, Ms. Sallie's Niece."

I asked to speak with a manager and she gave me his voicemail. Ugh.

And now here's where I feel sorry for myself

Ok now I realize that it's no one's fault but my own that I let my loan go into default (even though I applied twice and was denied for economic hardship). But it just irks me that literally the very WEEK I resolve to get a handle on my debt (I started a BLOG for God's sake) that this hits me. I've been reading HORROR stories about the student loan collection process and I'm just a little scared about the future. But the advice I have been reading has all said to just stay on top of the creditor and they will eventually cave and work with you.

Update on my Federal Loans

So my theory that paying the $80 would stop the Default Clock and get me back into good status? Wrong! But as luck would have it, Aunt Sallie called me today and told me I was Past Due (duh) and said I would roll my past due amount into my existing loan amount if I started making regular payments. I consented and now Thank God I have avoided Default.

And a Daily Spending Report

$0.97 for mailing my resume to a potential job (cross fingers)
$1.25 for soda vending machine
$1.00 for fruit snacks at vending machine

Just in Time

Ok, so I guess now was a good time to decide to get a handle on my student loan/other debt problems as things have gone from really bad to worse in the manner of just a DAY.

A couple of hours ago I get a call from Evil Collection Agency saying that my Private Student Loan was in default and this was an attempt to get a debt. "Ok, I want to start paying that loan," I say.

Not so easy apparently. Since the loan has been assigned from Private Student Loan Lender to Evil Collection Agency, the entire amount is DUE NOW. That's $28,050.84 thank you very much.

"Can I make payment arrangements?" I ask. She says no. I have to "exhibit willingness to pay" by trying to get the money elsewhere and getting denied TWICE. And, wait, I have to do this ALL by THURSDAY or they will begin collection procedures.

Yikes. I tried calling Private Student Loan Lender all morning, kept getting transferred around. Now everyone agrees that there may be one person who can help me get back into their system, i.e. get my loan out of collection, but she hasn't returned my call yet. I'm praying she does before Thursday as I really really don't want to have to go to two banks by that time and KILL what's left of my credit.

Addressing Other Debt

In the meantime, I've been able to do some research on the default process.

Apparently, if your loan is a Federal Loan and you are in default there are ways to rehabilitate it through the Department of Education. I called them, they were very nice, told me I was not in default on my federal loan but that I should contact Aunt Sallie ASAP.

Then I log into my account on my federal loan and find out that yes, I am 262 days late. Yes 262 days. Good job Sallie's Niece! Owing to my research I have discovered that whereas private loans go into default after 120 days, you have 270 days for federal loans.

So I just made it! I guess I should not be too happy to realize that my inaction the past several months has cost me over $200 in late fees but I sent them $80 to stop the clock ticking.

Note: I don't know if $80 will be enough to stop the default as my past due amount is over $3k but it's literally all I had at the moment and I am sick and tired of calling loan companies today.

Grand Total

One possibly rehabilitated loan
One loan that will perhaps begin collections on Thursday

$87 in the bank to get me until next Wednesday. Not counting transporation costs to Mother's Day or neccessary Mother's Day present yet to be purchased.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The First Step admitting you have a problem. And boy, do I. I've been reading lots and lots of Personal Finance Blogs over the past couple of weeks and have decided I wanted to join this community of people baring all (albeit anonymously for me) and document my journey to financial fitness.

About Me
I'm 28 years old and living in a medium size city with a professional degree and lots of student loan debt. A butload in fact. $167,000,000 at last count though I admit I haven't been on top of them as every time I check up on my finances I get overwhelmed and more than a little depressed. I officially owe my life to Sallie Mae and other lenders, thus the name Sallie's Niece.

So I've decided to set some financial goals after a month or so of really bad financial problems.

Here are the goals as of today:

1. Survive the next 8 days on $157. Not too terrible I realize - luckily my $600 from the federal government came in today so that my rent check went through and I have a little left over (a rarity).

2. Pay off "short-term" debt - two payday loans (never buy these!!!) totaling about $400; loans from friends and family totaling $460 (super embarrassing as one of these friends is now out of work); pay overdue bills - utilities around $400, cable (now shut off) around $200.

3. Develop a working budget. This has already started but it turns out I have absolutely no idea where some of my money goes every month so I am vigorously tracking it now.

4. Start paying as much of my student loans as possible.

5. Save up an Emergency Fund of $1000.

6. Contribute (after a long lapse in which I drained all my savings) to my Roth IRA.

These aren't ordered in any real order (I don't know how long it will take me to tackle that utility bill for instance) but it's a general idea for how I want to go about getting out of this hole.

Let's hope things get better from here on out.