Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm broke. Let's fix it.

The last part of this year has been characterized by our being pretty much totally broke. Now, a disclaimer is in order---we went on an Alaskan cruise in August, which we paid for in cash. A lot of our brokeness can be attributed to throwing all our extra money at that. And, due to a slight dispute over the terms of our lease with the landlord of former residence, we paid two rents on the first of this month. So, I guess I'm saying we're broke as a direct results of our actions.

The knowledge of this reality---that we're temporarily broke because we went on an extravagant vacation and we paid two rents this month---has not in the least prevented me from being mopey all day today. Perhaps having to scrounge the dregs of our food envelope for enough money to buy cat food yesterday is what put me in a funk. Or maybe it was having not one, but two beer brewing catalogs in my apartment, and not a spare dollar to even order some bottle caps. *le sigh*

I let myself be mopey for a while, but I decided to snap out of it. Yes, I might not have any spare funds at the moment, but I never do---we use a zero-balance budget, so every dollar is accounted for anyway. No "spare" money, ever. Just so happens that there wasn't any fun money in this pay period. And we're in no danger of starving because two friends who moved away gave us all their food. And T-Bone is in no danger of starving either because really there was plenty left in the food envelope this pay period to get her a new bag of kibble (and even kitty litter. How fancy!). Besides, it was two rents and an Alaskan vacation that "caused" this. I really have nothing to be mopey about.

Part of the snapping-out-of-it process for me is to reaffirm the goals we've set for ourselves for our debt repayment and emergency fund savings. Here's our plan:

Out of debt: December 31, 2011 (Right after I turn 30)
Fully funded emergency fund: October 15, 2012 (Right before Luke turns 30)
Start funding retirement: November 1, 2012 (BOOSH!)

In the short term, at least for this pay period while there's no money, I plan on posting some things on Craigslist. Also, I'm mulling over the idea to start teaching some knitting classes to pull in some extra income. I would love to have our debt paid of even a month earlier than the projected date.

I also resolve not to go on any more extravagant vacations. Or pay two rents in the same month.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shyoooooot---I Let Too Much Time Pass

Hi blog. Wow, I've let an embarrassing amount of time pass. I don't really have an excuse, other than to say I have let life get in the way of my blogging endeavors. However, I have been hard at work continuing to simplify and organize.

My current goal is to get all of my papers in order, particularly the ones of the estate-planning variety. Not that we have any assets to speak of, but Luke's grandfather recently passed away, and that got us thinking about estates, wills, papers, etc. I hate to think that if something happened to one or the other of us, or both of us, how anyone would go about figuring out where our insurance papers are, or our wills for that matter. My weekend project is to set up a robust filing system and to compile our important information so that it can be found if anything were to happen.

The only problem is this: I have no idea how I should organize my paper. Right now, I have about 3 months worth of paper sitting on my desk. I've been all over the internetz trying get some ideas about how to set up our files so that a) both Luke and I can find stuff, b) nothing important gets lost or shuffled up with unimportant stuff, and c) they are self-purging. I've seen some filing systems on the web, but I'm not sure if they're worth the money. I'd like to set up something myself, but how should I go about it?

Monday, March 9, 2009

48 skeins of unused yarn - a cautionary tale

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
- William Morris
During a Recession, it might seem counter-intuitive to get rid of Stuff. Stuff with a capital S. During Lent we've decided to limit what comes in and what stays in our house. One of the firsts posts I wrote was about declaring hobby bankruptcy. I finally, FINALLY followed through--I gave away almost all of my hobby supplies. I kept my knitting needles (I'm still knitting) and my sewing machine (I have one project to finish). Other than that, I filled up a stranger from Freecycle's Prius with unused (and, in some cases, unopened) craft supplies.

It was a little sad for me, but it was cathartic. It was cathartic to admit that I'll probably never crochet again, mostly because I hate doing it. And I'll never do calligraphy--not because I think it's boring, but because, if I'm ever in a position, I'd much rather pay someone to do a master job at it rather than try to do a half-assed job of it myself. I'm never going to bake polymer clay because I hate the way it smells. I'm never going to pursue drawing. And I'm never going to do anything with a pound of unfinished wool.

All of that might seem like a huge downer, but it's not. I decided that I love to knit. I've been knitting pretty much everyday for the last six weeks, and I'm not tired of it. I made not one, but TWO whole pairs of socks, and I'm working on my third. Getting rid of all that other Stuff means that I don't have to feel guilty for not using it. No more "unfinished" projects. Enough is enough.

Decluttering with intention has brought me a lot of clarity. I know what I like and what I don't. I know what I want my house to look like, and more importantly, what I want it to feel like. I want to be able to have guests over at any time without having to worry whether the house is clean enough for them. I want to know where the bills are so they will be paid on time. I want to know what's in the pantry so I can buy what I actually need from the grocery store and not inexplicably end up with 4 pounds of butter in my fridge. I'm getting there. It's slow-going, but it's happening.

I had a HUGE wake-up call earlier this week. My in-laws are having the inside of their house painted, and they called us over to move the furniture away from the walls. I knew they had a lot of stuff for just two people, but it's very apparent when you have to pick it up and heave it to the center of the room. Some of this stuff, I'm positive, hasn't even been touched in over a year. Why have that? I don't want my house to look that way. It's not like they're compulsive hoarders or anything--not in the least. But Stuff just accumulates. Someone gave it to you, so you have to keep it. Or you spend good money on it, dammit, so you have to keep it, even though you have no intention of using it. Or it's on the bookshelf, so you have to read it, even though you hate Victorian literature (ahem).

I'll have you know that I only kept 5 skeins of yarn.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Documentaries are more real than photo albums

I've been thinking about my mother, and my family in general for the past few days. I mean, I think about them all the time, but I've recently been having these dreams about my mom that seem so real that for about ten minutes after I wake up, I feel like it really happened. I haven't spoken to my mother in over three years...

On Sunday, I saw a documentary about Okinawa, where my mother is from. She's not sure when she was born, but she thinks it was 1940, so that would have made her about five years old when WWII tore Okinawa to bits. What's sad is despite the horrible things that happened there, I learned more about my mother watching 20 minutes of a documentary on the History Channel than I have in 27 years of my own existence.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Previously on Lost: Everyone's Just as Confused as They Were Last Time They Watched Lost...

Let me be honest with you--when I started this blog, the aim was to blog about "professional" topics 50% of the time. By "professional" I really mean topics that are "serious" and "worthy of one's attention." Maybe even topics that "change the way you think about things." In fact, I had a serious blog post planned for tonight about personal finance and budgeting.


Tonight, I'm going to talk a little bit about ABC's hit television show Lost.

Lost is the only show I watch regularly. I may watch Paula Deen every now and then, but Lost is the only show where, if I were to miss it, I'd seriously consider calling in sick to work for the morning to watch it online.

I don't know who all out there who reads my blog also watches Lost---for safety's sake I'm going to avoid spoilers. I will say this, however--I completely agree with this old post from Jezebel about how Lost is like a bad boyfriend. Maybe I read all the interviews with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof wrong, but I really, really wasn't expecting that at the end (spoiler alert--Wikipedia articles about Lost are edited super fast)....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Learn to Make Lemonade

A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks.
- Oscar Wilde
For any who knows me personally, saying that I'm a bit of a pessimist is an understatement. Over the past year couple of years, I've learned more about myself, and I can now qualify the term "pessimist" with a bit more detail. I don't think I'm a pessimist at all, but rather a worrier. Maybe that amounts to the same thing, but I have learned this:

1. I'm extremely risk-adverse
2. I tend to think of the cons before I think of the pros (but I do think of the pros)
3. I tend to err on the side of caution to a fault

Those three qualities might explain why I became so strangely excited by a post today at The Simple Dollar about the potential collapse of Iceland's government. Trent does a much better job of explaining the situation in Iceland than I do, but suffice it to say that, from October 2008 to today, Iceland when from being the sixth wealthiest nation in the world to verging on economic and government collapse.

Trent takes it step further and talks about what you can do to be prepared in such an event. This totally appeals to my sense of...well, whatever you want to call it. Because I'm of the belief that life will throw you lemons--so you better learn to make some supergood lemonade.

I don't think our government or our financial systems are in as much trouble as Iceland's, but The Simple Dollar certainly made me think about our financial plan for the coming months. Luke and I are realizing that we're spreading our focus out a little too much. We have three main goals:

1. Get out of debt
2. Pay cash for a cruise in August (more on that later--it's a family cruise and it can't be postponed before we meet our other goals)
3. Save

Right now, the cruise is taking up most of our focus, simply because it has to be paid for by the end of May. I'll get into the particulars about why the cruise has to happen this year, but for now, our major priority is to pay for the whole thing in cash. We're whittling down our debt load, which is a little over $30K.

In an ideal world, we'd be paying down our debt, then paying for the cruise--obviously, this minimizes risk. And I'm not going to lie--it goes against all of my instincts to pay for the cruise now. The high-interest debt we carry is worrying me, especially during a time when credit card companies seem to be doing whatever the heck they want. Nevertheless, planning for the cruise and for our debt snowball has forced us to think much more long-term. In fact, tonight, I just finished our preliminary budget for June 2009.

No matter what your circumstances, I'm learning that planning is the key to financial success, no matter what the economic climate. And that's really the theme of the Iceland post at The Simple Dollar as well. It's not a matter of if life throws lemons, because it will. But you know the rest of the saying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Budgeting for Groceries--How Much is Too Much?

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
- Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
Luke and I did our budgets (or spending plans, if you like that better) for the first quarter of 2009. We don't do a full, detailed budget for the quarter--we're usually about a month ahead on the detailed budget. However, we're finding that we're really cutting it very close every pay period on food, especially in the last few months. I know that food prices are going up, but I'm not sure that accounts for everything...

We use the envelope system. That means when the envelope is empty, it's empty. We have to wait till next pay period to buy more food. I don't mind this if there's only a day before payday (there's always enough between the freezer and the pantry to get by). But in the first 15-day pay period of January, we blew our grocery money in the first week.

What's changed for us is that we read
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. And the fact is, real food is expensive. I could do like I did in college and eat Ramen noodles every day and catch scurvy (I didn't really). Joking aside, though--cheaper processed food for the savings now, or higher medical bills and insurance premiums later?

The last six months of 2008, we budgeted $500 for food per month. This did not account for eating out (separate envelope, with much less money in it). We eat most breakfasts and dinners at home and take our lunches to work. Is this too much?

According to the
USDA's food plans for 2008, $500 consistently fell between the low-cost plan and the moderate-cost plan for food for each month of the year (December's figures are not available yet) for a family of two. $600, which is what we're considering bumping our food budget up to, is between the moderate-cost and the liberal plan.

We're concentrating on eating less meat, more vegetables and fruits, and spices. We're not really buying anything processed, with the exception of flour to make our own bread. Keeping Michael Pollan's Real Food tenants in mind, can this be done for $600 a month? How much do you think is appropriate for a family of two?