Chains of Servitude Update

It’s been almost exactly one year since I told my wife that we were either going to take control of our finances or file bankruptcy.

At that time, we were spending at least $500 more each month than we made, and often, it was $1000 more.   We had more than $5000 accumulated on our overdraft line of credit, more than $30,000 in credit card debt, $2500 on a student loan, $12,000 on a car note, and our mortgage.

Our savings were nonexistent.   We had automatic deposits established, but we’d transfer the money out right away to cover other expenses.    Everything that came up was an emergency and a surprise.  We had no real idea how much our lifestyles cost or what it actually took to maintain.

Maintaining our finances took several hours every payday to balance the checkbook and pay bills.

Fast forward 1 year.   The student loan is gone, the line of credit will be gone next month, and the car loan will be paid off before the end of the year.   We’ve reduced our total debt load by more than 20%.

We have a useful emergency fund and we’re meeting our other savings goals, including a college fund for the kids.    We don’t have extremely high balances, but it’s reassuring to have more than a couple of months of expenses in our savings accounts.

We’ve automated almost everything and gone to a cash-only system.   I now spend about 20 minutes a month balancing the checkbook and less than 5 minutes paying bills.

A year ago, we were in a hole, digging as fast as we could.   Now, we can see the end of the debt tunnel and we are rushing as fast as we can to get there.    According to my debt spreadsheet, we will be completely debt free in just under 4 years, ignoring any money coming from our side-hustles and work bonuses.

We’re making better progress than I had hoped for, and it keeps getting easier.    Smart spending is becoming a habit, instead of a just wishful thinking.

Update:  This post has been included in the Carnival of Debt Reduction.

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Selling on Craigslist

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The vast majority of personal finance websites(including this one) focus on reducing your bottom line–cutting costs.   The other end of the budget is at least as important. Have you tried raising your top line lately?   Have you picked up a side hustle, sold an article, put ads on a website, or even sold some of your stuff?  After we had our garage sale a few weeks ago, we were left with some furniture that was too nice to donate or discard, so we decided to sell it on Craigslist.

The key to selling your stuff on Craigslist is taking pictures.   They don’t have to be good pictures, just something to let your customers know what they are getting.  Take pictures, post the measurements and, if it’s electronic, the model number. Beyond that, a simple description will suffice.

Be safe when you are posting the listing.  Don’t give your address and don’t post when you will be home.   That’s just a job offer for burglars.   When you talk to a potential buyer, never tell them there is nobody home.  Tell them your roommate is the only one home and he doesn’t want to deal with the sale.   Don’t give strangers on the internet an opportunity to rob you.

When you are meeting a buyer, pick a public place away from home, if at all possible.   If you are selling furniture, it may not be possible, but it is for smaller items.   Meeting in a busy gas station parking lot or even in front of the police department is a good way to stay safe.   Secondary crime scenes are nasty things and inviting the wrong stranger in is offering one ready-made.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Bring a friend.  Preferably, an intimidating friend. Crime is less likely to happen if there is more than one person there.    Bring a friend to a public place to meet the buyer to maximize your safety.

Don’t get ripped off.   Craigslist scams abound. Bad checks, forged checks, and shipping scams are just some of the problems.

Only accept cash. It’s hard to forge a greenback.

One of the most common scams, after a bounced check, is the cashier’s check scam. You’ll get an email saying the item is great and payment is on the way.  When the check clears, a relative of the buyer will come to pick up the item.  Then, oops, their secretary made the check out for $3000, instead of $300.  Would you mind sending the overpayment back by Western Union, minus $100 for your troubles?   First sign of trouble:  over-complicating a simple transaction.   Second sign:  not using cash.   The cashier’s check will be forged.   There is no way to verify funds on a cashier’s check, and the bank will post it as available well before it comes back bad.   You will be able to spend the money, only to have the money disappear later. That means you can’t wait to see if the check clears before wiring back the overpayment.  There is no way to recover your money.

If you get a response that includes a link, do not click it!  Ever.  No matter what the link looks like.  Ever.  No clickyclicky. It may be an innocuous link to your ad, but the link can be masked.  Any other link is almost definitely a link to a virus-ridden website.  Repeat after me: No clickyclicky.

If you get an email about Craigslist transaction protection or escrow, you are being scammed. Run away.

Craigslist can be great way to turn your junk into cash, but only if you actually get the cash.  Keep yourself safe and scam-free.

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The Friday Tax

I’ve been at the doctor’s office every time my kids have been scheduled to get shots.   I let them know what to expect before the shot, hold their legs still during,  and comfort them after.   It’s not pleasant, but it is a bonding experience.  It builds trust. My kids know that if I tell them something won’t hurt, it won’t, because I tell them when it will.   Unpleasantness is never a surprise.    Somehow, this policy hasn’t led to a fear of the doctor.  They always know what to expect and how tough I’m expecting them to be, so they don’t worry.

Last Friday, it was time for the unpleasant duty. Both of the girls had checkups and one was due for shots.   I took the afternoon off to meet my wife and kids at the clinic.

It was a beautiful day.  It was warm, the sun was shining, and traffic was light.  The windows were down and music was playing; it was an almost perfect start to the weekend.

Did I mention I have a lead foot?

“No, honey, I don’t think we need to buy that” certainly loses some of it’s effect shortly after “Uh, honey?  I just paid the voluntary driving-too-fast tax.”

For days, I heard,  “Well, I wasn’t the one who got a speeding ticket!”   This sounds like nagging, but it’s not.   I am normally the one issuing reminders about spending and saving.   This time, it was her turn.   It’s not my job to hold her accountable.   It’s our job–jointly–to hold each other accountable.   If I mess up–and I did–she is perfectly within her rights to hold me feet to the fire. I certainly don’t hesitate when the roles are reversed.

I haven’t had a ticket in almost 12 years, so this isn’t a habitual problem.    It is an expense that should have been avoided.

Now, I’ve got to take a day off of work and go to court to try to keep it off of my record, so it won’t affect my insurance rates.   That means court costs on top of the fine.

Monetary weakness or a lapse in judgment can  derail goals.    We haven’t destroyed our budget for the month, but it’s not an insignificant amount of money.  I try figure enough padding into our budget that this isn’t painful, but it is money that could have been “snowflaked” onto our debt. It could have meant another $150 in the vacation fund.   That is disappointing.

It’s time to establish the habit of driving the speed limit.

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.


Decluttering the House – April 30 Day Project Update

My 30 Day Project for April is to declutter my entire house.   That’s every room, every dresser, every drawer. We’ve got 12 years of jointly accumulated clutter.

Our progress so far has been wonderful.   The main level of our house is almost done.

In our daughters’ room, we put in bunk beds and pulled out a dresser.   With the crib, changing table, and toddler bed removed, they actually have room to play on the floor.  Their closet has been emptied and repurposed as scrapbooking and blanket storage.  Cost: $140 for the bunk beds.

Our son’s room has had a dresser, a desk, and a bed replaced with a loft bed.   Even with the 6 foot tall monstrosity of a bed, his room looks so much bigger.    We still have to clean out his closet, which is mostly artifacts of a business we no longer have, leftovers from when his bedroom was our office.  Cost: $260 for the loft bed.

Our room was depressing. Never dirty, but oh-so-full.   The closet was jam-packed.  The top shelf was full of towels and sheets.   The closet rod couldn’t fit another shirt.   There was a modular shelving system on the floor of the closet–full.  We had three full dressers.   The headboard has 5 foot tall cabinets, half of which were full of makeup and jewelry, the other half with books.   Now, there is 1 empty dresser.   It belonged to my great-grandmother, so it’s going to the shop to be refinished, instead of the garage sale to be sold.   Another dresser has spare room in it.   There’s no need to rearrange the cabinets to get to anything.    The closet is less than half full and there is almost nothing on the floor of the closet.   Gear for my side-line business is stored out of sight and out of the way.  This is so much more relaxing.

We’ve tackled the kitchen, except for 1 cabinet, which is mostly cookbooks and booze.   That will be fun to clean out.

Our front closet was worthless.   It was so full we put hooks on the outside of the door to hang our coats.   We pulled out a dozen coats we never wear.   At least 20 pairs of shoes, some belonging to roommates gone 1o years.   We can actually use the closet now. The shoes and boots all have homes.  Our coats all fit…inside.

We have 1 closet and 1 cabinet left to address on the main level.   There are also 3 small rooms in the basement that need to be gutted–the laundry room, the family room, and a room that has been designated for storage and the litter box.    The last one will be the hardest.    It’s full of remnants of hobbies past and failed ventures.   I’m expecting some fights, flowing every possible direction.

In the process, we’ve filled our dining room with stuff for our garage sale…twice.   It’s all getting priced and boxed as we go through it.   We thrown away anything we won’t be able to sell.   We’ve done all of this with the mutual understanding that nothing is coming back in the house.  After the sale, it will be donated or sold on Craigslist, but it won’t become a part of our lives again.   We are successfully purging so much.    The “skinny clothes” are gone.   When the time comes, they’ll be replaced.  In the meantime, they can be put to better use on someone else.   Hobbies that never took, games that are never played, it’s all going.    We are getting down to the things that are actually used and useful.

It’s interesting to note that the process is getting easier as the month goes by.     My Mother-in-Law is a hoarder.    Those habits get passed down, but what was originally a source of stress has turned into a pleasant chore.

The most wonderful discovery of all?  It turns out we don’t need a better storage system, we just need less stuff.

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.