Archive | March, 2012
29 Mar

Ok, tell me that you didn’t just smile at that picture.  I figured we all needed a smile today.

It’s been a hell of a week over here for me.  I’ve been fighting some stomach issues (comes with the food allergy territory) and some head issues (comes with the everything-else allergy territory).  Today I finally got a diagnosis: the oh-so-specific “super bug.”  With that came new antibiotics, new anti-vertigo meds, and new probiotics (yep- I’ve got one of those kinds of doctors).  So, while I go wait for the room to stop spinning and enjoy a breakfast of half a banana, you go enjoy that picture of a truck.  Happy Thursday, everyone.

When The Bubble Bursts

26 Mar

Here we are at the end of March.  Everything seems a little brighter lately, doesn’t it?  The weather is warmer, the birds are chirpier, and everything is covered in a soft yellow blanket of cheerfulness.  Wait, scratch that last part.  It finally rained last week.  (If you’re not from the South of the US, that was supposed to be a pollen joke.)

When art imitates life...

I was feeling pretty despondent over my loans this past week.  A quarter of the year is gone, which means just 9 months left to pay off $10,382 + interest (because I’m not good enough at math to calculate that out. My loans have two different interest rates.)  As I said in my post two weeks ago, that means a monthly payment of $1334.  That’s a $373 increase from my original ideal monthly payment.  It went up because a) I failed at math and forgot to factor in interest each month, and b) I didn’t even hit the $961 ideal payment for January and February.  Thus the despondency.

However, I’ve found support in some unlikely places.  Those of you who are new to this blog likely found it because of Facebook.  A friend of mine posted a link to my blog, which then got reposted by someone else, and reposted again by a third person.  After that I lost track of the link, but 276 of you viewed my blog in two days (as compared to 250 views in all of February), so I figured I’d struck a nerve.  If you’re reading this now, thanks for sticking around.

I also found support from the Huffington Post.  In the last week, they’ve posted at least three articles on student loans.  One article stated that the average 20-something carries $42,000 in debt, and 50% of us so-called Gen Yers have educational loans.  Another said that the federal student loan debt is over $1,000,000,000,000.  Yes, that’s 12 zeros.  There is over 1 TRILLION DOLLARS in student loan debt in the US.  A third article discussed how a large percentage of student loan borrowers don’t fully understand their loans or repayment schedules.

Those articles astounded me.  If you didn’t just click on the links above, you should.  Go read those articles and tell me how you feel about this issue.  To me, it’s all saying the same thing- Gen Yers got duped.  We were told to go to college to improve our career prospects, but by the time we go out of school, the job market had bottomed out.  Now we’re stuck living at home again, working part-time or minimum wage jobs, and running on the never-ending treadmill of loan repayment.  It’s like the home ownership crisis all over again, except instead of 60-year-olds being forced out of their homes, it’s 20-somethings being forced out of their first apartments.

I’m going to level with you.  I didn’t get angry over the foreclosure crisis.  I felt like, at some base level, those people who bought too much house should have known better.  I know, I know- it was a terrible thing to think, and that actually very few people who lost their homes were being extravagent, but there it is.  I did feel sympathetic for those who lost their homes, and I even watched my neighbors get foreclosed on. (Note- I lost all sympathy for the neighbors after they threw a wild party and trashed their house on the eve of their foreclosure.  After that, I was glad to see them go.)  But the entire thing didn’t touch me personally, so I didn’t get angry.

I am angry now.

The student loan bubble is about to burst, and you’d better believe that I’m standing right in the splash zone, along with a few million others.  The federal interest rate program is about to expire, and the rates on our loans are going to skyrocket.  People are going to be defaulting and declaring bankruptency right and left, and setting the tone for their entire financial future based on one decision they made when they were 18 years old.  I don’t know about you, but that seems really, really unfair.

So yes, I am angry now.  But probably not for the reasons you think.  I’m not angry that I got tricked into taking student loans, because I don’t think that I did.  I read all the information, I understood that I would be paying interest on the loans, and that interest would accrue even while I was in school, and I understood that the only way my loans would be forgiven would be if I a) paid them all back, or b) died.  (No joke- I have a promissory note that says it just like that. “Full repayment or death.”) 

No, I am angry because other people got tricked into taking loans that they didn’t understand.  Student loan providers preyed on my classmates like credit card companies used to before colleges got wise and started banning representatives from their campuses.  But more than that, I am angry that even though we all endured four years of hard work, we can’t even earn enough to repay the chances we were given to succeed.  A college degree doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but  it sure costs a heck of a lot more than it used to.  That’s some twisted financial logic right there.

So here’s what we do.

1) Write to your congressperson.  Tell them to not let the federal student interest rate program expire.  Bust out some fancy mathematical skills and show them how much extra we will have to pay (hint- look at the articles linked above.  $5,000 over a 20-year repayment plan for a student who borrowed $23,000.  That’s almost 20% extra in interest alone.)  Casually remind them that college students are allowed to vote, and perhaps thrown in that said students know that congressional members are up for election every four years.

2)  … I don’t actually have a number 2 yet.  I mean, the obvious thing is that we all get really angry, pool our resources, take over the job market, and pay our loans back early in protest.  Rob the lenders of their cushy interest rates.  But since most of us are struggling to find a job that will cover the rent, let alone minimum payments, this might be a crazy plan.

Or is it?  Think about it and let me know.

Until then: I present End of March figures.

End of March

$10,980.16 (end of February balance)

– $658 (initial March payment)

+ $42.83 (March interest)

– $290 (Secondary March payment)

———————–

$10,074.99 (End of March balance)

My goal for April is a balance under $9,000.  And to beat Amanda.  This month I paid $948.  I’m still waiting to hear her final payment.  I bet I won, though.

The Top 10 Worst Things to Say to Someone in Debt

22 Mar

We all know the phrase, “let me offer my two cents.”  Regardless of who says it, it only ever means one thing- unsolicited advice is coming.  Sometimes the advice is actually worth two cents, but often the advice offerer has overvalued their opinion.  In that case, you’re stuck with Penny Advice- unsolicited opinions that no one really wants, and that just end up clinking around loudly in your head until you can “accidentally” drop them on the sidewalk and leave them behind.

I get a lot of penny advice on debt and student loans.  Here are the best (or worst) ones I’ve heard.

Top 10 Best (Or Worst, Depending On How You Look At It) Pieces Of Penny Advice.

10. “Spend within your means.”  This makes the list for being both stupidly common sense, and wonderfully ambiguous.  It’s the corporate jargon of the debt world.  We’ve all heard it, but do we really know what it means?  Obviously, don’t spend more than I make, but in what time frame?  Don’t spend more than I make in a week?  In a month?  In a year? Society tells men to spend 2-3 months salary on an engagement ring, and the general rule for car buying is to not spend more than you make in a year.  Nowhere in this advice do you mention that I ought to have that money in my hand (ie SAVE IT FIRST) before making a purchase.  This leads right into number 9.

9. “Credit cards are evil.”  Once again, fairly common sense but ambiguous advice.  For the younger set like me, we need a credit card to build our credit rating.  Even if we don’t plan to finance anything, potential employers will pull our credit scores to see how we are managing our money.  No credit card means no credit score, and therefore no job.   Also, let’s face it- we don’t all have emergency funds.  We should, but we don’t.  It boils down to this: don’t go crazy with the credit card.   Just because we have a $5,000 line of credit doesn’t mean we need to use it.  Spend within predetermined monthly means.

8. “Have you thought about/ looked at…” or any variation therein.  This implies that I have not fully explored all my options, and that I’m making a yet another poor financial decision.  It also sort of implies that I’m not smart enough to navigate the perilous financial waters on my own.  Now, it is possible that you have some knowledge of a new program that I am not familiar with, but there is a better way to frame this question.  Ask me why I’ve picked a certain debt-reduction program.  That gives me the chance to prove that I’ve done my research.  If I haven’t, then you can bring up what you know.

7. “Things will get better soon.”  This is a wonderful sentiment, and I thank you for the encouragement.  It is not, however, actually helpful.  Please do be supportive, as I need to hear that, but maybe only say these sorts of things after you’ve let me whine about my debt over a cup of coffee, or as I launch into a monologue about debt for the hundredth time.

6. “You could always sell your iPad/car/computer/blood/soul.”  All right.  Can we all assume that if I’m serious about getting out of debt, I’ve already taken inventory of my possessions?  Perhaps I’ve even, as Dave Ramsey says,  “sold so much that the kids think they’re next.”  Even if I haven’t sold off all my worldly possessions, you can rest assured that I’ve looked into it.  The price of a soul is not what it used to be, you know.  Also, I probably need those “fancy” things like a car and a computer to earn money- after all, don’t you?

5. “That’s nothing, my best friend’s daughter went to Harvard medical school and she owes $200k” DO NOT BELITTLE MY DEBT.  Pure and simple.  I know you’re trying to put it all in a rosy perspective for me, but I can assure you that telling a bill collector, “Well, Mrs. Donavan’s daughter, Nancy, has a much higher balance than me” will not get said bill collector to hang up and call Nancy instead.  Rather, they will continue to insist that *I* send them a check.  Tell me that Nancy owes $200,000.  That actually will make me feel better about my current balance, but don’t try to one-up me.

4. “How did you ever get yourself into this mess?”  Don’t ask me to relive my financial mistakes for you.  If you don’t already know, chances are that you’re not a good enough friend to need such information (or that you haven’t read the About Me page).  Spilling my financial guts to you will only a) make me feel bad about the choices I’ve made, and b) make you think less of me because I’ve made poor decisions.  Save us both the grief, and compliment me on my efforts to get out of debt.  It doesn’t matter how I got into the hole, what matters is that I’m trying to climb out.

3. “Here’s $20…”  While most of us will very rarely turn down the offer of free money, this doesn’t really help (unless you are planning to write a check for the entire balance, at which point let me mention that it is currently $10,318.15).  True, I may need that $20 to get groceries, gas, or clothes (or CDs, DVDs, video games, etc), but you’re also wounding my pride by handing me cash.  You’re implying that I can’t manage my money well enough to keep myself fed or clothed (or entertained).  If I haven’t asked you for money, don’t offer it.  Instead, fill a specific need, like paying this month’s water bill or buying an extra loaf of bread and jug of milk at the store (or let me burn a copy of that new Coldplay album).  It will let you help me without beating me down more.

2.  “You should have known better.”  Ok, how is this advice?  It’s not, and it makes me furious every time I hear it.  It’s arrogance and prejudice and a few other things that would make this entry NSFW.  Of course I should have known better.  I get it.  In fact, I’d wager that everyone in debt understands that concept.  You reminding us of our mistakes doesn’t help us get out of debt any faster, just like shaming a person with depression will not make them snap out of it.  Either offer some good advice or please keep your opinions to yourself.

1. “It’s not your fault.”  This one is my absolute least favorite bit of debt advice.  It’s a cop-out, and it’s a lazy cop-out at that.  Of course it’s my fault that I’m in debt.  No one held a gun to my head and forced me to sign the promissory note.  (Note- if someone has done this to you, I’m pretty sure that makes your debt invalid).  This is true for all kinds of debt.  We all got ourselves into this mess: we spent beyond our means, we didn’t take the time to make sure we understood all our options, we let ourselves get sweet-talked into refinancing, etc.  We all made our choices.  We gambled on the world being different, and we lost.  Now we have to pick ourselves up and dust off our wallets.  It’s time to take personal responsibility and teach future generations that blaming others isn’t going to fix anything.

Ok, stepping off the soap box now.  It’s your turn to speak.  Let me know if you’ve heard these things before, or if you have one that should be on the list.  Tell me your favorites, or tell me I’m way off base.  Post a comment and let me know what you think.

Post For Monday (Written On A Sunday)

19 Mar

It’s Sunday afternoon around 2 as I write this.  I’m getting a jump start on tomorrow’s post as part of my new devotion to time management (see last week‘s post for clarification.)

Sorry.  I apologize.  I thought I could say that with a straight face.

I really am writing this now so that I won’t have to do it in the morning.  I can also post it earlier, and not have it take any time away from other jobs.    But in all honesty, I’m writing this early because there’s a Mutemath concert tonight.

For those of you who don’t know, Mutemath is the only band for whom I will voluntarily shell out $70+ dollars and buy the VIP package.  For that price, I got all kinds of cool stuff including a first-in-line and meet-and-greet pass.  Of course, I’d pay $70 just for the chance to go to a Mutemath show (no one tell the Tabernacle that, though- I really enjoy those $20 tickets).  They’re amazing musicians and their shows are so high energy that you have to wonder if the guys have stock in Monster energy drinks, but most importantly they are just cool guys who have remained humble despite their success. That’s a big deal in today’s musical scene.

Since I have the meet-and-greet pass, and that doesn’t start until around 11:30 tonight, it’s going to be early morning before I finally drag myself into bed.  This means that by the time that I sit down at the computer at 10 am tomorrow to begin the workday, my brain probably won’t be up to anything more advanced than the cutting and pasting that my job requires.

Really, I’m writing this early FOR YOU.  You’re welcome.

Now that I’ve spent 250 words explaining why I’m writing this early, I should probably write the actual post.

I’ve been babysitting a lot this past week.  Four days with two different families- one with two little girls under 2, and another with three boys all well past the diaper phase.  I kept the girls from 8-5 for two days, and spent a few hours with the boys on two different nights.  These were very different jobs, but I enjoyed them both.  These are all excellent kids, and their parents are clearly doing a great job raising them. (I’m not sucking up here- I don’t think either set of parents reads my blog.  I’m just really glad that there are good parents out there.)

All together I made $290, which is going to make a nice month-end payment.  My goal this month was to be under $10,100.  This final payment should put my balance around $10,085, accomplishing my goal by $15!  I’ll let you know for sure next week.

Also next week, Amanda and I will be tallying up our March payments and comparing them.  A winner for the month will be announced.  If you’re confused as to what I’m talking about, you can read about the Amazing Loan Race here and here.  You can also just click the Amazing Loan Race category on the right side of the screen.  Whichever works best for you.

One final note- You’ll notice that it was a disapproving bunny above, and not a cat.  The threat of posting cat pictures if people didn’t click Like or Share seemed to work well last week.  As such, no cats appear in this blog post.  You’re welcome again.

 

PS- I was right about the time thing.  It’s 2 am and I just walked in the door of my house.  Still brushing confetti out of my hair.  There was a lot of confetti.

Like I said, there was a lot of confetti. I don't lie when it comes to airborne paper particles.

Pennies in the Dirt

15 Mar

When I was nine, my grandfather died.  Actually, I’m not sure how old I was.  I may have been younger, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t older.  In any case, my exact age isn’t important here.  We’ll call it nine and move on with the story.

Some time after that, my dad took my older brother and I to Pennsylvania. We had family up there- my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I hadn’t seen most of them since I had been a flower girl in my uncle’s wedding, and that had been at least three years (and two cousins) before this story.

I remember really enjoying this trip: playing with my cousin Paige, who is only a few months younger than me, a trip to McDonalds (no idea why this sticks out, but it might have something to do with the giant ball pit), at least a dozen rounds of Pretty Pretty Princesses (which my older brother refused to take part in), drives to see the old house that my dad and his siblings had grown up in, and at least one evening of playing stickball in the street until the streetlights came on.

But the thing I remember most is the trip to the graveyard.

It was one afternoon, probably close to the end of the visit.  I remember that the headstone was missing from the grave site (simply because it hadn’t been delivered yet), and I was very concerned that someone might forget which end of the grave that the feet were at.  There was a young tree right next to the grave, and I remember thinking that I would like a tree next to my grave one day.  That way, my ghost could spend all day in a tree reading. (I was a strange child, even at nine.)

As we got ready to leave, my dad reached into his pocket and pulled out three pennies.  He set them in a row on the grave, right over where my grandfather’s heart would have been.   There was a penny from 1984, one from 1986, and one from 1992, the birth years of my two brothers and I.  (Sorry to any of the other siblings reading this- you guys came along later.)  My dad said it was so that my grandfather would know that we had come to visit him.

That was sixteen (or so) years ago, and I can still remember walking away from the grave site, holding my dad’s hand and looking back at  the mound of freshly laid grass.  I don’t know if my grandfather saw us there that day, or if people even really do look down on us from Heaven, but I do know that I remember those three pennies in a line, and the lessons that I learned about the importance of family that day.

 

 

 

While looking up images for this blog post, I came across a lot of discussions about leaving coins at grave sites.  It’s apparently a more common practice than I thought, and there are dozens of meanings behind it.  This made me wonder- has anyone else left coins at a grave?  What inspired you to do so?  Let me know in the comments below.

Recalculating

12 Mar

My ideal loan balance as of March 12, 2012: $9,083.42

My actual loan balance as of March 12, 2012: $10,341.01.

I think it’s time for some rethinking of the plan.

No, I’m not giving up.  I’m just recalculating.  This time with the help of a financial calculator I found on Google, since we all know about my track record with math-related subjects.

Based on my current loan balance and interest rates (4.75% for two groups, 6.8% for the other two groups), my monthly ideal payment is now $1335.28 for a final pay-off in December.  My monthly income is around the $2,000 mark each month.  My fixed bills (ie, things that can’t be changed) are  $839 each month, plus another $400 in flexible costs (ie, things that change each month).  That leaves me with about five hundred dollars to make up each month if I want to hit this new goal.

Take a deep breath, because the belt is about to get tighter.

Here’s what’s going to change:

1. Retirement and vacation funding: drops to $10 each per month.  I can’t drop these completely, since Roth IRA contributions are tax-deductible at the end of the year and the vacation fund gives me something to look forward to, but reducing the payments into each saves $100 a month.

2. Entertainment budget: drops from $50 each month to $20 each month.  That’s still enough for one fun thing each month.  Plus, I can get free books from the library and free video games from work.  The hardest part will be breaking myself of the “I really want a new book/ DVD/ CD/ t-shirt” habit. Doing this saves $30 a month.

3. Grad student loans: $50 payment each month drops to $0 each month.  This will probably come back to haunt me later when those go back into repayment, but right now that’s $50 a month that I can use elsewhere. This saves $50 a month.

4. Savings budget: drops to $5 a month.  I have an emergency fund in place in case the bottom drops out of my employment (or some drunk totals my car again).  The savings fund was mainly going to support my tendency to go over the $50 entertainment budget each month.  Cutting that out saves $10 a month.

5. More work hours.  This seems like common sense, I know, but it’s an actual possibility for me.  I’m not getting all the hours I could be at my various jobs, which means I’m not getting all the money that I could be.  Therefore, I am going to attempt to schedule myself a bit better.  This means setting aside specific work hours each day, and not letting the “I work from home therefore I can move work around” mentality convince me otherwise.  This also means not letting others try to pull me out of the office before I’ve finished work.  And maybe turning off the internet so I can focus. Doing this can add up to $600 a month.

All in all, that will save me an extra $190 each month.  If I can shave off a few dollars from other places, then I can probably make that an even $200 a month.  If I can succeed in better time management, then I can easily hit my new monthly goal.  I just have to stay focused.

Oh look, a kitty.

These are not the novels you're looking for.... but that might be the Golden Snitch you're seeking.

When people don’t click on Like or Share, I worry that no one reads this blog.  When I worry that no one reads this blog, I obsessively check my view stats page.  When I obsessively check my view stats page, I get sucked into the internet vortex.  When I get sucked into the internet vortex, I start posting more pictures of cats.  Don’t make me start more posting pictures of cats.  Click a button below.  Any button.

The Inherent Creepiness of Flamingos

8 Mar

Let me set the scene. The place: Zoo Atlanta. The year: 2000, ish. The characters: a large group of kids, a harried teacher, and one scared little boy. Ready for the story?

After staying a moment too long with his 7-year-old nose plastered to the glass window at the far side of the flamingo enclosure, the tow-headed child turned to see his classmates had vanished.

This is a big deal when you’re a kid. Remember that feeling when you lost your mom in the grocery store when you were young? Yeah, imagine that feeling of aloneness, and add a flock of birds standing on one leg just over your shoulder.  Got it? Ok, let’s continue.

This is a world-savvy kid, so once he edged away from the avian pool, he found an official looking sort of man in a khaki vest. The boy told the man his plight, and the man leapt into action (if your definition of leapt means talking quickly into a radio). The man lead the boy a few feet away to the elephant viewing platform, and together they watched the African beasts nibble on freshly planted trees.

No one came for the boy. Minutes passed and no frantic teacher came rushing around the corner. More minutes passed and no chorus of child voices could be heard calling his name. A few more minutes passed, and the man began to get uneasy.

He looked at the boy and thought for a minute. He put a hand on the child’s shoulder and led him to a kiosk of brochures. Near the kiosk stood a souvenir penny machine. The man dug out a penny and two quarters, and fed the machine. He motioned for the boy to turn the crank, and they watched as the gears smashed the coin flat and engraved the face of a gorilla. The coin dropped into the vending tray. The boy knelt and retrieved it.

It was the coolest penny he’d ever seen.

That penny still sits on my now-grown brother’s nightstand. And yes, we eventually got him back from that ill-fated field trip. He’s still uneasy around flamingos though, for whatever reason.

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