Tag Archives: debt

What November Brings

1 Nov

Here we are on the first day of November.  For some, the first day of a month is revitalizing, a chance to shrug off the struggles of the previous month and start anew.  For others, it’s a scary new frontier, full of unknown possibilities and a fair dose of fear.

For me, it’s a little of both.  On the good side, November is one month closer to paying off my undergrad student loans.  This month’s payment will be $9 short of my $1,334 goal, but next month’s (FINAL!!) payment will only be around $900, so it will be easy to make up this month’s shortfall.  When I started this process in January, I was sure that I’d have given up by April, especially since my loan balance actually increased in January (the interest was higher than my payment.  I was not yet the budget master that I am now.)  I figured the pull of the blog would keep me in it for a few months, but eventually I would fade out well before the end of the year.

Now that I’m two months and just $2,205.35 away from my goal, I can assure you that no one is more surprised than me.  I’m thinking of turning this past year’s blog into an ebook, if only to have something to remind myself of the fact that I did it.  In January 2013, the quest becomes paying off grad student loans, and that will be a multi-year (or multi-decade if we’re being realistic) project.

But good side aside, November is going to be a very busy month for me.  While I don’t mind being busy, as it helps me not turn into a ball of anxiety by keeping my OCD-brain occupied, this month’s schedule goes far beyond my usual level of busyness (random observation: busy-ness, busy-busi, busi-ness, business. Word origins. Ok, back to topic.)

Here, let me give you a rundown of the month:

  • 1st: Budget rollover and bills due, plus meeting for secret project (another week or so, and you’ll be hearing all about this, I promise.)
  • 2nd-3rd: Out of town. Not far out of town, but an overnight stay still requires some coordination.
  • 5th-9th: Business trip #1. I leave early Monday morning and return late Friday night.
  • 13th-17th: Business trip #2. I leave even earlier Tuesday morning and get home even later Saturday night.
  • 21st-25th: Black Friday weekend.  Since one of my part-time jobs is a retail sales job, it’s pretty clear what I’ll be doing all weekend.  Oh, and Thanksgiving is on the 22nd and that means family in town.  So there’s that too.
  •  26th-30th: Apartment hunting.  Since I’m moving in January, I need to find an apartment this month so I can put a security deposit down in December to hold it.  Also included in this activity is taking inventory of all my possessions so I know what I need to get before January (#1: a bed).

Oh, and somewhere in the midst of all this, I need to a) continue to work 40 hours a week, b) plan Christmas lessons for Sunday School, c) write 50,000 words because it’s NaNoWriMo and I need the drive to get back into writing daily, and d) find time to eat, sleep, shower, and do all the other little tasks that keep me presentable to the public.

So yeah, November is going to be a busy month for me.  Even with a jam-packed schedule, including back-to-back business trips, there’s a lot of room for anxiety.  What if a flight is delayed?  Or what if my car breaks down (like last month, when I had to empty out the car maintenance fund and pull from the emergency fund to cover the cost of new brakes)?  Or what if I get trampled in the Black Friday hordes (last year, I got elbowed twice. Once in the face. Protip: if you abuse the employee, you don’t leave with a Playstation)?

The good news is that once I hit “publish” on this post and open my budget tracking sheet, I’ll be far too busy for the rest of the month to worry.




While I go stare at my massive budget spreadshee (an example of which can be found here), why don’t you let me know how your November looks? Will you be super busy? Super relaxed? Sick of Christmas music by the end of it?  Throw in your two cents (hehe, puns on the blog name) and let me know.

Oh, and a huge WELCOME to all my new readers.  Over the two days I was on Freshly Pressed, I ended up with almost a thousand extra hits and 48 new followers. So, welcome, and I’m sorry there were no zombies in today’s post.

Oh wait, there’s one.  Spoke too soon.

How Debt Is Kind Of Like A Zombie Apocalypse

29 Oct

It was a weekend of unrelated activities for me.  I got home from my grandmother’s house on Saturday afternoon, went to a Haunted House on Saturday night that was put on by the local fire department & could give professional Haunted Houses a run for their money, watched fairy tales and zombies yesterday, and went back to work today.

Actually, now that I write it out like that, I do see a common thread of zombie.  Except for my grandmother- she’s not a zombie.  (She’d be an excellent zombie-slayer, however, but that’s another blog post.)  But otherwise- zombies at a Haunted House, zombies on the TV, zombies at work (I assume because it’s Monday. Working from home makes it difficult to judge my coworkers’ state of alertness), I think I even discussed zombies at church, which isn’t as weird as it sounds, considering The Walking Dead crew rented our building several times while filming over the summer.

This building…
won’t ever be seen on the show. The zombies just ate lunch here. Like, salads and stuff- not brains. Brains would have stained the carpet.

I really like zombies.  I don’t know if it’s the public health student in me who loves the idea of a good epidemic, the writer in me who admires the versatility of the concept (28 Days Later super-fast zombies, Resident Evil 6 zombies that can shoot you back, The Walking Dead zombies that seem to make nice pets, etc), or the reader in me who adores snarky-yet-insightful books such as Zombies: Where To Find Them and How To Avoid Them and The Zombie Survival Guide.  (Both of these books are shelved with my other how-to books, because when the hordes of the undead descend, I don’t want to be trying to remember who wrote them and which shelf I’ve put them on.  It’ll be grab and go.)

Whatever the case, you’ve got to love an enemy that not only can’t be stopped by death, but actually gets far more terrifying after it dies.  It requires a whole new level of survival strategy, far beyond the lazy-man’s-way of point and shoot.  With zombies, you’re not just running from a tangible enemy, you’re running from a disease.  You may outrun a shambling reanimated corpse, but those airborne germs are a lot harder to avoid.

Lysol is missing out on the college-student demographic by not marketing their products as zombie-proof.

Luckily, the CDC says that the chances of a true zombie apocalypse within the next ten years are essentially zero.  But you know what is a lot like a zombie plague in the real world right now?


Think about it for a moment.  I’ve even made you a handy comparison table.


Zombie Plague


Able to drastically alter your lifestyle

Able to seize your possessions


Makes you willing to sacrifice your neighbor to escape

Makes you disconnect the phone and seal the windows

Makes it hard to eat

Results in shambling shells of former people

Separates the adults from the children (figuratively, but literally in extreme cases)

Can follow you even after death


(not legally, but I’m pretty sure debt collectors are simply high-functioning zombies)


So, by slashing down my student loan debt, I’m essentially training for a true zombie apocalypse.

That’s preparation at its best.  Also, I’m going to start putting “zombie apocalypse training” in the memo line of my checks to my student loan company.  I wonder if that’s tax-deductible…

While I’m off to research tax loopholes, you can take solace in the fact that if the zombies really do arrive, the debt collection agencies are going to be the first to fall.  Even zombies hate those guys.

Speaking Of

17 Sep

I’ve been thinking hard about what I wanted to write about today.

I kept hoping inspiration would strike.

It didn’t.

Instead, I ended up with lots of little things that I’m excited about that happened this past week, and no real way to tie them all together except through a series of clever (and not-so-clever) segues.  So, here we go.

Speaking of beginning, I started my new job last Monday.  For a full-time job, it seems like I’m doing a lot less work than I was as a consultant.  This is mostly because I’m going through an orientation program, and last week was full of meetings.  This week is also full of meetings, but more productive meetings and I have more control over the schedule.   I’m looking forward to getting back to compiling reports (which is something I never thought I’d say), if only because it’s something tangible and tangible things make me feel like I’ve actually earned my pay.

Speaking of tangible things, I am now the proud owner of a new website domain.  This is for the secret project that I keep hinting about.  If all goes according to plan, come late October, you will all be in on the secret.

Speaking of secrets, I’ve been tweaking my budget to reflect my new income levels (but I won’t post a new excel screenshot until next month- hence the secret part).  While the total monthly number isn’t much different from previous months, the sources and usages of that money is different.  Less of my income comes from my retail job, and I’m no longer setting aside money each month as estimated tax.  The good news is that I seem to have been overestimating that monthly tax amount.  Come next April, I may have some of that money back in my pocket.

Speaking of pockets, I had some trouble keeping my debit card in my pocket this month.  I got past the major hurdle that was Dragon*Con, but then the Shakerag Arts and Crafts Festival snuck up on me last weekend.  $50 later, I have three new kinds of jelly, and the dog has three new kinds of treats, a new bandana, and a new toy.  The lesson of the day is don’t take the dog to the arts and crafts festival.  People will be selling homemade dog treats and it is impossible to say no to a pair of big brown golden retriever eyes.

Go ahead, try to tell her no and mean it. I dare you. Also, how cute is that bandana??

Speaking of saying no, I have been thwarted once again in my attempt to locate a deluxe edition of volume 2 of Fables.  This is the one true comic book series that I read, although I read several manga series.  I have tried and failed multiple times to find this book.  You see, Fables has been running for years, and now they are collecting the series into deluxe hardcover volumes.  I have volume one.  The local comic book store has volumes 3-5.  Barnes and Noble have volumes 4 & 5.  Not one dealer at Dragon*Con had the deluxe editions.  They all had individual issues, but since none had the complete set that make up volume 2 and the local comic book store doesn’t carry the individual back issues of Fables, there wasn’t much point in purchasing any.  Last week, I thought I had lucked out and found the elusive volume 2 at Barnes and Noble.com.  I even had a 20% off coupon.  I ordered it, got a confirmation email, and even got a shipping notice.  Then I got an email that the shipment had been delayed.  Saturday, I got an email that it had been delayed again.  This morning, I got an email that basically suggested that I give up hope.  With great sadness, I cancelled the order.  One day, I will find this book.

Speaking of getting new books, someone bought my Sunday School kids a class set of bibles.  These are specialty bibles, which tell major biblical stories in terms that kids can understand, and are designed to fit with our current curriculum.  My church had three copies, one for each classroom.  That’s all we could afford.  Through the generosity of someone who doesn’t even attend my church, we now have 23 copies, more than enough for each kid in the two elementary classes to have their own each week.  It was the single biggest donation to the children’s ministry that I’ve seen in my two years as director, and it blows me away that someone who has never met these kids or seen how I run the program would believe in me enough to send a check of that size.

Speaking of checks, I just have to mention again how wonderful it is to know when my paycheck will arrive each month, how much it will be for, and that I won’t have to calculate an estimated tax amount.  Honestly, that might be the best perk that my full-time job offers- simple peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind, I’m going to stop with the terrible segues now.  Mainly because I’ve run out of things to say, but also because I care about all of your peace of minds.  I’m off to read my way through the stack of books on my nightstand.  Another excellent perk of my new job is having my evenings back to myself, which means time to read.

By the way, if you have any book recommendations, leave me a comment here.  And that’s not just another segue.

Two Thirds (Or Only $163,748.40)

28 Aug

I forgot to post again, didn’t I?  My bad.

Seriously though, I’ve had a lot on my plate.  The new job (if you missed that on Thursday- I HAVE A FULL TIME JOB NOW IT STARTS SEPTEMBER 10TH I’M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT YOU SHOULD GO READ THURSDAY’S POST HERE I’LL LEAVE YOU A LINK JUST CLICK ANYWHERE ON THIS EXTREMELY ANNOYING ALL CAPS RUN ON SENTENCE YOU’RE WELCOME KTHXBAI OH WAIT I DIDN’T FINISH THE ORIGINAL SENTENCE) has finally been settled and now things should calm down.  My schedule will still be busy, but it will be a much more predictable busy.

The biggest change will be for my student loans.  While it’s not a marked pay increase, this full-time job means a steady paycheck, which means far less uncertainty about making my monthly payments.  I’ve got four months left to pay off these loans.  I started with a balance of $11,533 on January 2nd, and I have a balance of $4,849.11 as of August 28th.

According to a loan calculator I found online, my current monthly payment goal of $1,334 is still good.  This surprised me, since I only managed to scrape together about $120 for August’s payment (due to paycheck timing issues. This is why a steady guaranteed paycheck is such a huge deal for me).

What surprised me more were the following paragraphs of advice the loan calculator offered me, based on my current loan balance and four remaining payments.

“It is estimated that you will need an annual salary of at least $163,748.40 to be able to afford to repay this loan. This estimate assumes that 10% of your gross monthly income will be devoted to repaying your student loans… If you use 15% of your gross monthly income to repay the loan, you will need an annual salary of only $109,165.60, but you may experience… a partial economic hardship. Partial economic hardship is defined as having annual education loan payments in excess of 15 percent of discretionary income, where discretionary income is the amount by which Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) exceeds 150 percent of the poverty line.”

An annual salary of only $163,748.40.

Only $163,748.40.

Only $163,748.40?

ONLY $163,748.40?!?


If I was making six figures a year, you can bet I would have cut the word “only” out of my vocabulary.

You can also bet I wouldn’t be writing this blog. My student loan debt would have been exterminated faster than a first-name-only character on Doctor Who. (Seriously- if they don’t give a last name, they won’t last to the end of the scene).

So, according to this helpful calculator, by devoting half my total income each month to my student loans, there is a chance I could “experience a partial economic hardship.”

I’m so glad a website took the time to tell me that.  I had no idea, after only eight months of this, that I could be missing out on things like books, movies, video games, food, and clothing because I was spending more than 10% of my discretionary income on loan payments.

By the above definition, I earn roughly $7,000 a year in discretionary income (or $7,000 over 150% of the poverty line for my one-person household).  My student loans started at $11,533.  That means I was already looking at living under the poverty line this year.

To borrow yet another internet meme: Partial economic hardship I am in you.

But you know what?  I wouldn’t have changed anything about the past eight months.  I learned a lot about how far I can stretch a dollar, what’s truly important in life, and even who I am.  The months when I’ve made my ideal payment have been awesome, and the months when I’ve fallen short have been the most insightful.  Along the way, I’ve made new friends, heard from people that I’m inspiring them to pay off their own loans, and I hope made at least a few people better understand what it’s like to be simultaneously full of potential and totally stuck at the beginning.

Two thirds of the year are gone.  Four months and $5,000 stand between me and my goal.  It’s time for the final push.

August Update

6 Aug

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t been keeping up with my monthly loan updates.  For those of you who didn’t just fall asleep at the mere mention of finance, hang in there.  There’s some interesting stuff in here too.

Exciting news: at this moment, I have $4,884.12 left on my undergraduate student loans.  *cue cheers*

My loans were originally divided into 9 groups.  When I consolidated them a few years ago, two of those groups were labelled as “PIF” or paid-in-full.  Over this past year, I’ve been able to pay off another four of those groups.  The remaining three groups all have balances below $2,600.  My next goal is to pay off Group E, since it has the highest interest rate at 6.8%.

Interesting news: I have learned that it is in my best interest to designate specific amounts for each group.  When I pay an amount over the accrued interest, the rest goes towards paying the principal of the loan. However, my loan company (and I suspect others do this too) put that principal towards the groups with the lowest interest rates much more often than the groups with the highest interest rates.  This means I am paying off the low-interest groups first, while the high-interest groups are still costing me money.  It’s a good plan for the loan company, but it’s a terrible plan for me as a consumer.

I now specify how much of each monthly loan payment is to go to each group.  This lets me attack the high-interest groups first, and saves me money in the long run.  For those of you with loans, it might be worth it to see if this is an option for you.  Don’t let the loan company make any more money off of you than necessary.

Bad news: I’ve had some paycheck issues this month and last, and that has led to me being extremely short on money this month.   I’ve managed to scrape together just $112 for my monthly loan payment.  Of that, $52.20 will go to paying the accrued monthly interest.  Just $59.80, or 53%, will go towards my principal balance.  (For reference, last month 95% of my loan payment of $1,334 went towards principal.)

Everyone who has ever lived with a variable income can relate to how frustrating it can be to not be able to plan a monthly budget with confidence.  The good news is that I can pay my immediate bills, but luxuries such as student loan payments over the minimum amount and new video games will have to wait until everything is sorted out. *sigh*  At least there is…

Good news! It’s August, which means two things:

1) IT’S DRAGON*CON! I love Dragon*Con, and I save for it all year long.  This year, I am very happy with what I’ve been able to save.  It will mean costume upgrades and lots of celebrity autographs. Also, it may even mean food.

2) It’s my birthday month!  I love birthdays, and mine falls very close or during Dragon*Con, so it’s like a giant birthday party each year… with 100,000 of my closest friends.

Last bits of news: I’ve got a very busy work week ahead of me, and lots of potential changes coming in the next month or so.  One of these is a possible full-time job, so keep your fingers crossed for me on that front.  Also, be on the lookout for a short story involving the winners of the Blog Search Term Challenge on Thursday.  Finally, if you haven’t read it yet, go check out Seeing Beyond The Outside, a post I wrote on Saturday about how girls are perceived in geek culture.  There’s been a lot of debate on this topic lately, and the girl geeks are coming out far worse for it.

See you all on Thursday.

On Student Loans, Via A New York Times Editorial

26 Jul

A friend on Facebook posted a link to the following New York Times article today.  It’s a fascinating editorial piece on student loans, so I thought that I’d repost the first few paragraphs here.

Better Disclosure for Private Loans

About two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow to complete their educations. The fortunate among them rely on federal loans that offer a low, fixed-interest rate and broad consumer protections that allow them to defer payments — and stay out of default — if they lose their jobs. But many students have been roped into costlier private student loans that have variable interest rates and few consumer protections.

This means that borrowers who fall on hard times have few options other than default, which can make it more difficult for them to obtain credit, find jobs or rent apartments.

A new study issued jointly last week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education makes clear that the government, Congress in particular, can do a better job of educating families to the significant differences between private and federal loans while making sure that colleges and lenders are upfront and honest about risks.

The study’s most distressing finding is that more than 40 percent of students who borrowed privately were in fact eligible to borrow from the safer and generally less costly federal program. Those students, and the parents who co-signed for them, simply may not have known the difference between the two kinds of loans because no one told them. But because of variable interest rates, even sophisticated borrowers may not be prepared for “payment shock” when graduation rolls around and the first bill arrives in the mail.

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here.  You can also read the study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Education by clicking here.  Both of these links are also available in the Other Links You May Want To Click section above.

I’ve talked about this before, but I am a big proponent of personal responsibility. If you sign to take out a loan, that is your decision and you ought to own up to it.  However, there are some very deceptive practices out there, and I don’t think that every 18-year-old kid is wise enough to understand all the intricacies of signing a loan.  I certainly wasn’t.  I signed for my first student loan when I was 20 and halfway through a college degree, and it still took me quite a while to understand the seventeen pages of information that I was given by the loan company.

Student loans are invaluable ways for people to gain access to higher education, but if lenders are allowed to keep taking advantage of young adults new to the financial world, all we’re doing is setting the next generation up for a lifetime of financial failure.  Surely we can do better.

Off To A Good Start

12 Jul

Last month, I twisted my knee oddly and ended up with a partial patellar dislocation.  This meant I got a fancy knee brace, three weeks of bonding time with said knee brace, and a referral to a physical therapist.  It also meant that I received a bill for a five-digit amount.  That’s right- at the bottom of my bill was a red Pay This Amount box with FIVE DIGITS inside, three of which were even in front of the decimal point! (Wait, did you think I meant something else by five digits?)

I reluctantly accepted this amount, waited until this month to address it, and sat down this morning to finally pay it.  I hate writing checks, since it takes a while for the amount to post to my account.  I don’t know about you, but I always spend that lag time trying to decide if the check made it to its intended recipient, or if it is wandering in a strange town stuffed in an ill-intentioned man’s back pocket.

Luckily, this doctor allows payment by credit card.  I grabbed my silver rectangle of instant-debit-gratification and dialed the office number.  The receptionist pulled up my account, and read me the outstanding balance.

People, I almost dropped the phone.  I asked her to repeat it twice.

My balance had lost two digits.  It was now a size three, with only one of those digits before the decimal point.  The offered explanation was that my health insurance company had paid up.

My health insurance company has never voluntarily paid on anything, ever.

I take this situation as proof that there is a God, and He knows how to work insurance companies.  In any case, I happily authorized the amount charged to my credit card, and hung up before the office could realize they made a terrible mistake and that decimal point was supposed to be two digits to the right.

This was a good beginning to the day.

Last night ended well too, actually.  I made these at Art Club:

Bonus: Dalek photo bomb.

Bonus: space painting my roommate made last night.

The only problem is that I’m too fond of them to put them on the bookcase.  I’d rather have them on my desk so I can play with them as needed.  So I did this:

Yes, that is a robot ball and a Ziploc bag of magnetic silver balls and words.  You should have known my desk would be odd. The Doctor Who bookends were your first clue.

I hope all of your days are off to a great start.  If not, do what millions of O2 subscribers in England are doing right now- turn it off and turn it back on.  (I’m betting exactly one of my readers will understand that.  For everyone else, it is a piece of recent advice from a cell phone company a la iPhone 4’s “hold it the right way” campaign.)  Talk to you all on Monday.

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