Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving Money on Hair

I've done 2 things this weekend that save me money on hair care costs, both mine and Dog's.

First of all, let's talk about Dog. He's a miniature poodle, which means he has people type hair rather than fur and needs to have it cut every so often. Usually that means regular trips to a grooming place for a bath and a haircut. That sets me back $53, since I haven't yet convinced Dog to get a job. Ideally (from the groomer's perspective perhaps?) he should be groomed every couple of months. That means his hair care alone would cost $318 per year!

No human in this house spends that much annually on hair care so I get around it by a) letting him go longer than 2 months between haircuts, b) doing it myself for the most part and c) only getting him groomed professionally about once per year. Okay, sometimes twice. But I'm moving toward just doing it annually as I improve with my canine clipping skills. Perhaps, eventually, I might become enough of an expert that he won't have to go to the pro at all.

Then there's my hair, which I cover with either a snood or a sheitel (a wig). Underneath my head covering my hair grows until it gets to be down the middle of my back. I have quite fine hair and it's not terribly thick, so I just put it in a ponytail and wrap it under the nylon stocking cap that goes under my sheitel. It's really not noticeable. When it gets really long I go to a hairdresser who cuts my hair at her home and have it all cut off in a pixy cut. I've saved 2 lots of hair from this over the past 8 years or so and am growing it out again now.

When I get it cut again I think I'll finally have enough hair to have a wig custom-made with my own hair! In the meantime, I do wear a human hair wig but the hair in it didn't originate on this continent. The problem with that is that the hair is coarser than my own and has been rigorously straightened. For the most part it stays straight, even when I wash it or I'm caught in a downpour, but the occasional strand suddenly gets a mind of it's own and kinks up.

Let's face it. Hair that's been bleached, dyed, straightened and styled just doesn't feel and move quite like my own. A sheitel from my own hair will be a very special treasure but I'm planning to move one step closer in the meantime.

The sheitels I've bought over the past 25 years have ranged from synthetic to mixtures to pure human hair but they've generally been at the lower end of the price scale, say from $50 to $200. For my birthday my big kids got together and got me a credit at the best place to go for a quality human hair wig in Vancouver. They put $600 in but I'll still need to add some more to that, so I'm waiting for our financial situation to calm down a bit so I'll be able to come up with a couple of hundred dollars of my own.

Until then I need to take good care of the sheitel I'm wearing currently. That means wearing a stocking cap under it to keep oil from my own hair off the wig, and washing it on some kind of regular basis. Again, this is something people often leave to a professional but it's easy to do. Here's how.

Fill the bathroom sink with warm water and add about as much shampoo as you would use to wash your hair. Agitate the water so the shampoo froths up a bit on the surface. Lay the wig in the water and let it sit for at least a couple of minutes. Then squeeze the shampoo laden water through the wig gently for a couple of minutes. Don't rub it or you'll end up with a tangled mess. The water will get dirty and there may be a tiny amount of dye released as well.

Drain the sink, fill it again with clear water and rinse the wig until all the shampoo is out. If necessary, drain and fill the sink again or hold the wig under the tap. Don't rub or twist but gently squeeze out the water when you're done.

Take a bath towel, lay the sheitel on it at one end and roll it up. Press on the towel a bit, then undo and set the wig to dry. If you have a wig "head", that's the best place for it. Otherwise try to find something to drape it over. When it's about half dry comb it out gently, removing all the snarls. Then let it finish drying.

If you want to curl it, you can use heated rollers or a curling iron or blow dryer. You can also straighten it with a straightener. Note that all of these are for use only with 100% human hair wigs. Using heat on a synthetic wig may melt it!

My sheitel is currently draped over a vase. It's been blown dry and combed out and looks pretty good as is. It looks even better when I get Eldest Daughter to use her straightener on it but that takes quite a while. It didn't cost any more than to wash my own hair, took only a little longer to dry and comb out and will look great on me tomorrow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Baruch Dayan HaEmet*

(Posted Motzai Shabbos)
* The title of this post means "Blessed is (G-d) the true Judge" and is the phrase Orthodox Jews say upon hearing of a death.

This post is a notable departure from my usual posts but the events in Mumbai, India have affected me greatly.

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivki Holzberg, Chabad emissaries to Mumbai, have been brutally murdered along with other American and Israeli Jews in their Chabad House (a building which housed their home, a synagogue, community centre and drug prevention programs).

Miraculously, their 2 year old son escaped from the building during the seige with his Hindu nanny and has been reunited with both sets of grandparents who flew to India from their homes in Brooklyn and Afula.

Terror acts like this always seem cruel and senseless, particularly when you consider that this young couple has spent the past 5 years serving 3 free meals per day for up to 50 people at a time, preparing all their food from scratch because there was no kosher food available to buy.

I didn't post the other day during the crisis because I was checking for news updates online and saying Tehillim [reading Psalms]. My heart just goes out to that little boy whose birthday will forever be tied to the tragic deaths of his parents (he turned 2 in the middle of the crisis).

Global financial meltdowns, terror activities increasing, retail workers being crushed by Black Friday shoppers. Has our world gone (totally) insane?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Goodbye Landline Hello Savings

I finally talked to Hubby about the landline, which costs us about $50 per month. Other than my in laws, pretty well the only people who call us on the landline are telemarketers of one sort or other. You know the usual nonsense. You've won a vacation to Costa Rica, you have a reduction in interest available on your credit card, you're invited to join Direct Buy or you've been selected to go on a free cruise if you just come listen to our timeshare pitch.

Everybody else knows to call on our cell phones.

So, as of today, we no longer have a landline. The one aspect that otherwise would have bothered us, that in an emergency 911 doesn't always identify your location on a cell phone, doesn't really apply to us. We share a house with Eldest Daughter and her family and they have a landline. So we're covered that way. And saving $50 per month is nothing to sneeze at.

Hello, Goodbye or Wednesday Payday

Well, my paycheque hit my bank account this morning and it's gone now, or will be by the end of the month. I guess that's what happens when you're way into overdraft, to the tune of almost half your paycheque. I'm not happy about that, but I'm getting caught up on all my bills first and then I'm going to gradually get to the point where I don't have to go into overdraft before the next payday rolls around.

Really, if you think about it, my situation is uncomfortably close to that of people who get sucked into payday loans. I was fortunate enough to qualify for overdraft protection, which costs me 21%. They don't, and as a result, they end up paying around 300% interest. I can't even wrap my head around interest that high. Frankly, 21% sounds bad enough even though it works out to between 5 and 6 cents per $100 per day. For example, in October I paid $1.39 in overdraft interest and that was a month when I was in overdraft for a long time.

In the best spirit of Won't Wait Wednesday I plunged right into paying bills. I paid my Bell bill, the water bill and the $114 I needed to pay on my MasterCard. That doesn't leave me much to buy groceries with because there are other pre-authorized charges that will come out between now and the first few days of the month but I'm going to get Hubby to give me $100 to buy another Safeway card when he gets paid on Friday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Baby Step

Well, my UCCB cheque finally showed up today but I was stuck in the house with all 3 girls because today was a Professional Development day at Dear Child's school. Why was I stuck? Well, I had no car and no car seats. My son-in-law drove his van to work with 2 of the car seats and my hubby took our car with the remaining one. I really didn't mind that much because he hardly ever has it any more since he started riding his bike to work. Besides, I'll have to have the van tomorrow so I can ferry DC to and from school, plus pick up my Dear Granddaughter at school in the middle of the day. Days like that I pretty much spend my time buckling and unbuckling car seats containing small children.

The only reason I would have wanted a vehicle today would have been to drive to the credit union and I ended up doing that after work this evening. I put the whole $100 cheque into VanCity, which will forward it to my own credit union. I needed about $65 for the electric bill and just under $10 for the service charge at the end of the month and it was simpler to deposit this cheque than to deposit the $56 one that came on Friday plus a cheque from my own (deep in overdraft) bank account. There won't be an electric bill in December but I'll still have to pay the service charge on the account and that will use up another $10.

Now, my only concern is whether the transfer into my own credit union account will be complete by Thursday, when the electric bill comes out....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hunkering Down

Right now I feel like I'm just hunkering down, being really quiet until payday rolls around again next Wednesday.

If I hadn't publicly stated that I wasn't going to use my MasterCard this month I might be tempted to put $20 worth of gas and $20 or $30 worth of groceries on the card, even though it would be dangerous. Right now I'm so close to my limit that just the accrued interest could tip me overlimit if I don't make an appropriate payment next week so charging anything more would be a very poor choice.

I'm close to my overdraft limit on my regular bank account and I have to transfer money into my credit union account for a payment that will come out Thursday so I'm not spending any money at the moment. To make things just that little bit tighter, my monthly UCCB cheque for $100 hasn't arrived yet. I'm hoping it will show up tomorrow.

But, in the meantime, I'm figuring out what we have for dinner for the next couple of nights. I think Monday will be fried eggs and hash browns. Tuesday we can have lemon pepper linguine with butter and the last of the mozzarella cheese. As for breakfast, we have a couple of packets of oatmeal, a box of frozen waffles, plenty of cold cereal and enough of my morning protein drink to last us until payday. There are apples, a few cookies (2 types), a couple of granola bars and some flavoured applesauce for snacks, with challah and 2 types of cream cheese for sandwiches.

So why do I feel so deprived? We're not starving; we just don't have all our preferred junk foods around at the moment. I'll be able to go shopping Wednesday night (although I probably should make sure I eat something before I go or I might buy out the store!). It's just very interesting to see how I'm reacting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday on Thursday

I didn't do anything about Won't Wait Wednesday yesterday because I was working. Normally I'm home with the little girls then and I work in the evening but my son-in-law's folks have been here for a few days and his mother watched the girls Monday and Wednesday. That meant I got to work 2 full days instead of 2 half ones, for a net gain of 6 hours! Sweet.

I worked all day today too, but my brain clicked on and I realized there were some things I needed to take care of. I got a couple of bills online over the past few days so I checked them out. The important one was my MasterCard.

I'm within about $50 of my limit, which is not a good scenario. That's even with the $81.36 dental reimbursement I put towards the card earlier because my interest charge was bigger than that payment!

The good news is that I only made a small donation to charity on the MasterCard in October. I don't feel badly about that because it was for a tribute card I sent to someone back east who'd had a heart attack. This month I haven't charged anything.

I don't have a minimum payment due but it would be a huge mistake to fail to make a payment because the interest alone will push me overlimit. So the absolute minimum I have to pay next Wednesday is the amount of the interest that was charged last month plus the amount I charged, about $114. But ideally, I want to pay the 3% that is the normal minimum payment demanded on a card, about $180. I'll have some extra pay for these hours I worked this week but not that much, especially once the deductions come off. We'll just have to see.

I also have an electric bill that is due to come out of my credit union account automatically next week (for the house) and I need to put money in now to cover that because it takes a few days when I deposit in a different credit union's ATM. I got the smaller of my 2 government cheques, the BC Benefit one, today but it's for $56 and they're taking out about $64, so I have to deposit other money too so there will be enough for that and the service charges.

If I can, I'll do it tomorrow but Fridays just keep getting shorter until mid-December and I have things to get for Shabbat, plus my regular passbook to update. I work until almost 2 pm, pick up Dear Child from school at 2, run my errands, dash home to make sure the food will all be ready by candlelighting at 4:06 pm!

I expect to be asleep right after dinner tomorrow night! After all, I can't watch TV or be on the computer on Shabbat. I usually read but when I'm tired that just puts me right to sleep.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Better To See You With

Today Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks asked her readers whether she should get LASIK eye surgery. That got me thinking about my own eyes and my feelings on the subject of eye surgery, including the financial impact of it.

I have terrible eyesight and have worn glasses since I was 7 years old. Back then my mother took me to the one and only movie theatre in town to see Mary Poppins and I was very excited. I kept asking what time it was and my mother eventually got tired of telling me. So she said, "You can tell time, look at the clock yourself." I couldn't see any clock so my mother told me it was down front by the curtain. I said, "Do you mean that circle with the green neon around it?" I had a wonderful time at the movie. My mother sat there the whole time thinking, "My baby's blind. My baby's blind."

Well, I wasn't blind but I was fairly nearsighted so I got a pair of blue plastic glasses, the kind that tilt up at the upper corners like cat's eyes. The difference was dramatic. I walked into the house and said, "There's a pattern on the kitchen drapes". It was an openwork yellow and orange material (this was the 60s after all), with a faint overlay of gold leaves and I'd never noticed the leaves. I could also now see the board at school, which was a Good Thing.

As I grew I kept needing stronger glasses but I always hated the teasing, so I tried contacts a few times in my teens and early 20s, even though I have a certain amount of astigmatism. I couldn't afford the special lenses for that but got fairly adequate correction with hard contacts, gas permeables and, finally, soft contacts.

I really didn't like contacts any better than glasses. They were uncomfortable (like having a constant eyelash in your eye), sometimes got out of place or sucked onto my eye or gave me terribly dry, sandy eyes. If I wore them for too long I would even get scratches on my cornea and not be able to open my eyes for a day or 2.

I was never happy with my vision or the methods of correcting it and, among other dreams, I wanted to be a pilot when I was in high school.

I seriously considered RK (radial keratotomy) when it first came out because, in order to be a pilot, you had to have uncorrected vision no worse than 20/40 (whereas my uncorrected is roughly 20/400).

I eventually gave up on the aviation dream because it was totally unrealistic for the time. My eyesight was not within limits, I was under the minimum height of 5' 7" and I was female (at a time when having 2 heads would have been only slightly more unusual than being a female pilot).

I still dreamed of not having to wear glasses or contacts but I was too scared by the thought that something might go wrong either immediately or in 20 years if I had the surgery.

Now they know it's basically okay, they've improved on it dramatically with LASIK etc. and most of the side effects are considered to be relatively minor (dry eyes, halos around lights, poorer night vision).

So a couple of years ago I asked my regular opthamalogist about it and was told I was too late! You see, I'm at the point where I now wear progressive lenses. If I had the surgery I'd probably be able to drive and walk around without glasses but I couldn't work on the computer (uh, my JOB) or read (my obsession) without wearing glasses.

We didn't even get into the other considerations. Within the past few years I discovered I have a condition with a number of names that was first described as Anterior Basement Membrame Dystrophy to me, so that's how I think of it. (One of the more colourful names is Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy.) It causes corneal erosions, areas where bits of the membrane peel away and some of the fun features are dry eyes, intermittently blurry or double vision, halos around lights and sometimes pain.

I notice that those happen to be remarkably similar to the most common side effects of LASIK and other eye surgeries, so I have to wonder if I'd have a harder time than the average person (if it didn't disqualify me for the surgery in the first place). If I really wanted to pursue it, my first step would be to go to my other opthamalogist, the one who is a corneal specialist and ask him.

But I don't think it would be a great solution for me from a financial point of view. I'm sure I could afford the surgery. Everybody has some kind of LASIK deal and painless payment plan (although the idea of going to the cheapest guy around to have him operate on my eyes freaks me out). It would probably cost about twice what I pay for glasses currently but then you're free, right?

Well, not in my case. I'd still need bifocals for work, so I could read the computer screen and my hard copy data at the same time. I'd need those right away on top of the surgery and I'd continue to need new glasses every few years.

Bottom line. I'm going to pass on eye surgery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sticker Shock

I stopped at Safeway on my way home tonight for a few items that we were out of and looked at the protein drink I have every morning for breakfast. I had only tomorrow's serving left at home and I was considering buying one or two at Safeway rather than driving out of my way to Superstore. As I've noted previously, Safeway has always been about $1.10 more expensive per bottle but the last time I bought them at Superstore I noticed that their price had risen to only about 50 cents cheaper.

The last time I bought the drink at Safeway I paid $4.99 for the large bottle (2 servings for me), while the single serving bottle was $2.99. Tonight they are $6.99 for the large one and $4.99 for the small size!

Yes, that's right. The small one now costs what the large one cost a few days ago! So I bought the other items I needed at Safeway, then headed to Superstore after all. I had about 15 minutes before they closed but I made it and was through the cashier just before 11 pm. And their price for the large bottle? $4.48 each. I took 4, enough for 8 breakfasts, and I'm planning to go back for more when I get paid again in a week's time.

The lesson here is that you always, always need to pay attention in the store. If it's an item you buy regularly you might tend to just buy it on autopilot. Don't. Keep on top of the price increases. Maybe the store that wasn't such a good buy is now better than this one for certain items. Maybe it's time to find a substitute product. Maybe it goes on sale every 6 weeks or so and you can load up on it then. Just keep looking for the most cost-effective solutions that work for you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Smell a Rat

Hubby took the car in and asked the dealership to put the belt back on. They hoisted the car up and then came to get Hubby, wanting him to see what they found.

A rat. A dead rat.

The mechanic said that it probably crawled up into the engine at night when the car was warm and caused the belt to come off when it tried to escape when the car was started again.

They said they usually charge about $50 to replace a belt like this, but did it for free given the $2,000 we recently dropped there. How kind of them.

And speaking of rats and things that smell, the dental lab tried to tell my husband today that his plate came in like that. They said, or inferred, that he'd broken it off himself! I don't think so!! If they don't fix it, we're prepared to sue them. This is just ridiculous. Somebody there did something to it and they're trying to cover their rear ends. Not going to work.

On the up side, Hubby picked up his repaired bike today and rode it home. Kudos to him for being able to get "back into the saddle" and ride through rush hour traffic.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shevy, Rationalizing

Okay, you remember when I said I wasn't going to charge anything this month? You know, what I really meant to say was that I wasn't going to charge anything on either of my credit cards (MasterCard and IKEA). I wasn't establishing this as a goal for my hubby to refrain from charging, mostly because he has at least one automatic charge to his Visa card that happens monthly.

But we actually charged our new bathroom on his Home Depot card this evening. You see, it's like this. I may have mentioned that we've been waiting for our bathroom reno since about the fifth of forever. Some of it is to be paid for and done by us; some by Eldest Daughter, our son-in-law and his dad.

It got started once, when we first moved in very early this year but got hung up and has been on hold for something like 9 or 10 months. This has left us with a barely usable washroom and required us to go upstairs for baths and showers. Let's just say it has been inconvenient for everybody.

This weekend Home Depot had one of their occasional "do not pay for a year" events ending tonight, so we went and bought a new bathtub, tub surround, toilet and vanity top (which includes the sink). All of that cost $538 and isn't due until January 2010 (with no interest so long as we pay by the due date). Months ago we already bought new tub and sink faucets, a light fixture and a vent, as well as floor tile, thinset, grout and Ditra. My son-in-law and his dad have bought cement board, drywall and insulation and will do all the work at the same time as they install the new laundry room on the opposite side of our bathroom wall. Well, I'm doing the bathroom floor but they're doing the rest.

I'm not thrilled that either of us charged anything but the reality is that the bathroom isn't getting done otherwise and we are really, really ready to have a functional bathroom! And this wasn't a spur of the moment decision. We've been waiting for one of these year-long events and just didn't know when it would happen.

Remember I mentioned a new car problem last night? The problem is pretty simple. The brand new power steering belt has come off! It's in perfect condition, so Hubby will take it in along with the car tomorrow and get the dealership to fix it for free.

On a totally different topic, Hubby and I went out to the Giants game tonight and watched the Giants beat Portland 5 to 2! We haven't been out on any kind of date night for ages and the best part of this was that the evening was totally free. He was given the tickets, we parked on the street several blocks from the Coliseum and didn't buy anything there (although he looked at hats and jerseys). It was a lot of fun!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Could We Stop the Bad News, Please?

Posted Motzai Shabbos [after Shabbat].

So, Hubby went to pick up his repaired partial plate on Friday. The repaired part seemed okay but one third of the plate, including a tooth, had been cut off! Hello? Why would you take an undamaged part and slice it off?

Of course, "nobody" knows who did it and the guy in charge wasn't there. Hubby will have to go back to talk to him on Monday. He'll have to have new impressions now and either have the entire plate redone or just that part done and reattached to the main part of it (if they can do that). But we are absolutely not willing to pay a penny towards it. It's their fault; they need to deal with it.

And my hubby says there seems to be some problem with the power steering on the newly repaired car! Does the nightmare ever end? I know, gam zu le tova [this too will be for good]. Please just tell me how.

I keep trying so hard to keep things going in the right direction and it just keeps getting tougher and tougher. I'm still not feeling great. We all just stayed home today and tried to catch up on sleep and get better, rather than walk an hour and 20 minutes to shul. I'm not aching any more, Baruch Hashem [Thank G-d], but I'm still coughing really badly and that's not good news with my history of asthma and pneumonia. Things tend to settle in my chest and just stay there.

It's shaping up to be a very busy day tomorrow, so I'm posting this before midnight and trying to get some rest.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Every time I turn around there's good news and bad news, bad news and good news.

The bad news: Hubby's partial plate kept breaking and the cost to replace it turned out to be over $600, NONE of which would be covered under his extended medical because he's only had it for 3 years and they only pay out for that every 5 years.

The good news: He found a place that can supposedly repair it (recommended by someone who has had it done). It'll be ready tomorrow and will cost $45.

The bad news: Dear Child was sick yesterday with a fever and missed school.

The good news: She was able to go back today.

The bad news: Now I'm sick -- cold and achy all over.

The good news: We went to parent-teacher conferences and heard lots of good things about DC.

The bad news: She had her hearing tested at school today and now needs to go to the doctor for further investigation as one side was problematic.

The good news: I mailed that cheque last night.

The bad news: Being sick obviously makes me susceptible to overspend on food for Shabbat. I spent about $60! I just hurt so much that I didn't care and bought yummy but expensive stuff.

The good news: At least I spent cash and never even considered using the credit card.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It Won't Wait Wednesday Returns

I got kind of out of the habit of taking care of outstanding tasks during all the recent religious holidays, but I'm back into it today with a vengeance!

First, I updated my passbook at the bank on the way to work this morning. My paycheque was in there and it was about $110 more than my average pay because of the extra hours I worked the other week. Of course, it would have looked much more impressive in there if I hadn't been almost $300 into overdraft.

So, then I started paying bills.

IKEA is HISTORY! Totally paid off!

I paid one month on my water bill and one month (last month) on my cell bill. I only just got a notification about my cell bill the other day and realized that I hadn't had one last month. So, I paid it now and will try to pay the rest in 2 weeks.

I've also finally written the cheque for the plumber. I have stamps. I just need to find an envelope so I can mail it tonight.

All of that puts me back about $50 into overdraft (at least it would if the cheque I just wrote were to go through today) so I've also initiated a transfer of $100 from my ING vacation pay account back into my chequing. This was money I should have transfered last month to cover the 2 vacation days I took during Sukkot. And I'll have my 2 government cheques totalling $156 coming between the 20th and the end of the month. At least one of them and probably both will come before my next payday (2 weeks from today).

I still have about $20 on the Safeway card I got at the beginning of the month and I'll ask Hubby for $100 for another one when he gets paid at the end of the week, but I'm not sure he'll be able to. After all, he has to pay at least that much for the repair to his bike and we're going to have to pay for a new partial plate for him after all. Glue just isn't holding it. I'm not sure if any of that will be covered by his extended medical. We'll see.

Anyway, when all's said and done, I should have about $200 to last me for 2 weeks. Plus I could go back into overdraft but I'm trying not to. I still haven't used the credit card and I'm planning not to use it at all this month. I'd like to pay another $100 on my MasterCard on the 26th but I don't think I'll be able to because I have to pay about $90 on my cell bill.

We're not doing tremendously well, but we're hanging in there and trying not to go any further into debt. If things like this bike accident and the car repair would stop happening we'd be fine!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This famous poem was written in May 1915 and has been learned by countless schoolchildren, myself included. More than the ubiquitous red poppies that everyone seems to wear at this time of year, this is what I think of when I think of Remembrance Day.

I picture McRae writing this on a piece of paper on his comrade's back during a lull in the fighting as he tried to deal with the death of one of his friends and it makes the ultimate sacrifice made by so many through the years more personal, more real.

May we all merit to live in a time when all our soldiers everywhere will come home safely.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sometimes People Just Don't Get It

I just read 7 Surefire Ways to Stay Poor by Liz Pulliam Weston and, with all due respect, Liz just doesn't get it.

She starts strong, talking about a friend who drives a clunker but pays a hefty car payment. When she asks about it, she finds out that the friend's previous car needed $2,000 in repairs (been there, done that) and she couldn't afford it. Because she had bad credit, a dealership set her up with a used car at an astronomical interest rate. The payments were just barely affordable. But the point is, they were affordable and there was no way she could pay $2,000 up front. Her friend did what she had to do.

Liz is right. It's not a great solution. And it may cause further problems for her friend if paying this big car payment means she can't take care of routine maintenance or put money away in an emergency fund or pay down her credit cards (which were maxed).

But, if you're poor, you do what you have to do. If you think she shouldn't have taken the car loan then come up with a better solution that is actually feasible, given your friend's circumstances.

I've dealt with this situation twice. The first time (before I remarried) I sold the car for scrap and started taking the bus to work. Then we had a bus strike. Two wonderful co-workers drove way out of their way to pick me up in the mornings during the strike and I walked home (an hour walk) at night. This time, my hubby got an advance on commissions and increased his credit limit. But, if we couldn't have done those things or gotten a loan (either from the bank or a family member) we too would have had to trade the car for a used one.

I'm unimpressed by much of the rest of her, well, I can't even call it advice. For example, Liz notes that one of the ways the poor stay poor is by overspending on the big items (rent, mortgage, car payment) rather than on the little ones (too many visits to Starbucks). Her advice, such as it is? Just don't spend more than 30% on shelter or 10% on a car.

If you're poor or if you suddenly become poor (by job loss or divorce) that may be difficult to impossible to do. Moving isn't cheap, even if you do it yourself with a friend's truck. There are still deposits and all sorts of connection fees (gas, electric, phone) to pay. You may not be able to sell your own place or break your lease. You may not be able to move out of an expensive city because of custody agreements for your kids.

Yes, there may be some ways to economize while you wait for a buyer or the anniversary date on your lease. If you have any extra rooms you could try to rent them out to students. If you aren't upside down on your car you could try to sell it privately and then buy a decent used one. If the situation is new to you, there are probably a lot of little expenses you could cut out. But if you've been poor for any length of time you've probably done all that and hearing all the same suggestions over and over is liable to get on your last nerve.

When she talks about credit cards she says to just stop using credit if you can't pay your bill in full. Then pay far more than the minimum until you wipe out the debt. What about when you're a few days from payday and there's no milk or bread in the house, and no gas in the car you must drive in order to keep your job? Do you say "Mustn't use the credit cards?" or do you just charge the minimum amount that will feed your kids and get you to work until payday?

How do you pay more than the minimum payment when you can't even afford the minimum?

Liz talks about the danger of considering only the monthly payment in determining affordability and warns against using payday lenders or rent-to-own places. Now, payday lenders are a huge, huge problem. I hate that they can charge something like 300% interest and would like to see them legislated out of existence. But I know someone who uses them to cash her BC Benefit and UCCB cheques. I think they charge something like $3 per cheque but this person uses them because she doesn't have a drivers licence or any other acceptable photo ID and therefore can't open a bank account.

And, many years ago, I went the rent-to-own route for a VCR so I could play videos for my kids. It wasn't too much monthly and we got a ton of use out of it. Yes, I did pay almost 3 times what the VCR would have cost to buy outright but I was a single parent with 3 small kids and no credit rating. In fact, it actually helped me to establish a credit rating. But don't buy a 42" flat screen on a rent-to-own plan or a big dining room set!

Now, I'm not saying that Liz doesn't make some good points. If you're broke, tracking your money is vital. You shouldn't get yourself in over your head on anything, whether it's too much house, an expensive car, rooms full of furniture (don't pay until 2010), or whatever. Don't confuse wants with needs. Don't cash out your retirement fund when you leave a company.

She just needs to realize that some of her suggestions were unrealistic for a poor person to implement.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Unscheduled Rant

This is for the guy (or gal) driving a van north on Knight Street this morning in the rain.

You know when you hit your brakes hard and you heard a little thump on the back of your van? That was my husband's face smashing into your back window! Maybe after you parked your vehicle at your destination you noticed a little dirty mark on your back bumper. That was from my hubby's bike. The front fork has to be replaced and it's going to cost about $100.

Was that a spot of blood on the back window that the rain didn't quite wash away? That would be from where his face was cut open above and below his eye. You mean you didn't notice his face in your rear view window? Maybe you don't use your mirrors much. I'm sure if you had noticed you wouldn't have driven off and left the scene. In case you're not aware, that's a criminal offense. If my husband hadn't been in pain and shock perhaps he could have gotten your plate number and you can bet the police would have been at your door.

Lucky for you both that he was able to stay upright and get out of the travelled portion with his non-functional bike without being hit by anybody else.

In case nobody noticed, I'm upset. Listen, accidents happen, especially in the rain and Baruch Hashem [Thank G-d] my husband is going to be fine. The point is that drivers in general (and this person specifically) have to pay better attention. Pay attention so you don't have to stomp on your brakes. Pay attention so you know what vehicles, bikes and pedestrians are around you. Pay attention so you'll know if you hit someone!

I left work to take my husband to Emergency and the bike to be repaired. They checked him out and sewed him up with stitches that have to be removed in 5 days. The longer of the 2 cuts is 2 to 3" long and right under his eye. The other one is above his eyebrow. Baruch Hashem, his eye itself is fine. He's badly shaken up and his chest is sore but they don't think he cracked any ribs, not that there's much in the way of treatment for that anyway. They basically just gave him some Tylenol 3 and told him to go home and rest.

While Hubby was waiting in Emergency he felt something rough in his mouth and took his partial plate out. The front tooth fell out of the plate. Yippee. So, when he was done there we went to the dentist. The choices were to replace the entire plate for about $500 or glue the tooth back in. We voted for glue.

Anyway, thanks to my readers for letting me vent. I'm going to bed now because tomorrow is the first early Shabbos of the year. We light candles at 4:23 pm and I've done nothing today in preparation. I work tomorrow until I go to pick up my Dear Child at 2 pm so there's not a ton of time. Luckily I've planned to make a vegetarian lasagne for Friday night, which only takes about 20 minutes of prep and another 20 minutes in the oven.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November Financial Goals

Back on October 26th I wrote that my financial goals for November are:

1. Not to charge anything during the month.
2. To pay off IKEA.
3. To start paying down my MasterCard.

It's 5 days into the month and I've already put money towards MasterCard and have made plans to pay off the IKEA bill a week from today. That feels good. I'd like to put another $100 toward the MasterCard by the end of the month but I'm not 100% sure I'll be able to, what with the other things I need to do.

I also haven't charged anything in the month of November but there's still plenty of month left, so I shouldn't get all proud of myself yet. Besides, until I paid that $83 and change I was so close to my limit that I didn't dare charge anything.

But I did encounter a situation where I might have otherwise been tempted to use my credit card. As you may have heard, Linens N Things is declaring bankruptcy and closing all their stores. I took my Eldest Daughter to IKEA to return something on Sunday and to get some missing parts for something else and we saw the massive signage at LNT (very close by) so we went to check it out.

Prices will probably drop further before people get really excited. Right now things are anywhere from 10% to 30% off, with only things like duvets at the 30% discount right now. I wanted three things and I got two of them. First, I was looking for a wedding present and I found something I liked at a decent price. Second, I needed a curtain rod for those living room curtains I charged a month or two ago. I found a nice, slim rod and some matching finials. The whole thing was 10% off and the finials were also already marked down $10! (Now I just need Hubby to get handy with a drill and put the rod up!)

What I didn't find were comforters in a pattern that will complement the sheets we bought previously at LNT. I was hoping for 2 full/double comforters and there were only a couple of twin size and a king. They have something that looks like a cross between a blanket and a duvet (but very, very thin) in the right colour and size but far too thin to be using instead of a duvet or comforter. Plus, I think they were regularly $79 each, with a 10% discount. The comforters were only $99 each regularly and much warmer and more useful. Of course, that's probably why they're all sold.

Anyway, I bought the items I needed and nothing else! Plus, I used my debit card for them so there's no worrying about how I'll pay for them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

She Works Hard for the Money

Well, I've been working extra hours for the past week and I wondered just how much that was going to turn into on my paycheque. I figure I've earned about an extra $180 over the hours I usually put in and that will probably end up being about $120 once all the deductions are taken off.

That's nice, but I really need more than that. We also finally got the re-imbursement for my visit to the dentist back in the middle of September. The first cheque went to our old address so it had to be re-issued and it's taken a while. Hubby transfered it to me today and I've now paid MasterCard $81.36. So, that's something at least.

What will I use the extra $120 for when I get it in a week from now? I'm sorely tempted to put it all towards IKEA, toss in another $20 or so and have that one fully paid off. The card is at a horrible interest rate (28%!!!) and I never intended to be carrying a balance on it. This is all because of the dumb mirror I took back and they wouldn't reverse my credit card but gave me a store credit instead. I still have almost $40 of the store credit left (after buying bookshelves for the country house) and I think that will turn into a Hanukkah present for one of my grown kids.

Eldest Daughter and I have been talking about Hanukkah and I think we're going to do a draw among all the grown kids, me and Hubby and each get one person to buy for. They feel like we have too much on our plates to be buying a nice gift each for the big ones, plus 8 gifts each for Dear Child and for each of our 3 granddaughters.

ED is also trying to convince me to just get one gift for each of the grandkids because with everybody else buying for them they'll still end up getting at least a gift a night. I'm thinking about it. I'm just not sure it's fair because I'm still giving DC a gift per night regardless (I've already bought 5 gifts, plus one night is always chocolate gelt and dreidels). I should note that I've always tried to keep the kid gifts small, $5 or so per night, but not junk. It's not like we're trying to make Hanukkah into another overly commercialized extravaganza like the other major religious holiday at the same time. But kids like having a little something to open every evening when they light the candles and to have something new to play with while they're lit. It just multiplies exponentially as you add children and grandchildren.

My hubby gave me a cheque the other day for $100 for a Safeway Gift Card from the school (which I wrote about before) and today was the day to use it. Safeway offers 10% off your bill the first Tuesday of every month and I hope to start planning my shopping around that! Today, with not much in the way of real planning I was spending $90 something, once all the sale prices were taken into consideration it was in the mid $70s. With the 10% discount, I paid about $66 at Safeway. (I also went to Superstore for the things that are cheaper there and bought $45, and about 1/3 of that was non-food items like garbage bags and light bulbs.)

I want November to be a really frugal month, one where I actually pay all the bills instead of juggling them. I don't know if that's totally realistic, but I'm hoping. Gas is down, which is good. I actually saw it advertised for 99.9 cents per litre last night, which made the price at the pump 96.4 cents and for 97.9 tonight (94.5 cents/litre at the pump)! It hasn't been under $1/litre for a very long time, and was actually up around $1.52/litre in the summer, so that's just fantastic.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Spring Ahead, Fall Back

This is pretty weird. I thought I posted this last night, but it was just sitting as a draft. Let's try this again. And now it posts but at the time I originally tried to post it (i.e. just after midnight Sunday, so very early Monday morning, even though now it's after midnight again and is now technically Tuesday). Okay, fine. It's actually appropriate how time-challenged this post is. [cue X Files or Twilight Zone music]

Early Sunday morning we turned the clocks back and got an extra hour of sleep. Apparently, that extra hour may be good for your health (always assuming you didn't just stay up later than normal).

But I tend to think of the useful phrase "spring ahead, fall back" as more than a way to remember which way to turn the clock. It pretty much describes my progress in financial matters.

I make some progress and then I crash and burn. Sometimes it's pretty clearly my own fault. I had a bill. I didn't pay it when I should have. I spent the money I could have used to pay the bill on something frivolous, like groceries or gas. The bill suddenly becomes important. I somehow pull together the money to pay it. If that happened once, it wouldn't be a big deal but it's not just once. I pretty much just rinse and repeat.

Other times, something comes at me out of left field, like the water pump and related car repair bills. I didn't do anything to make it malfunction. We even take the car in pretty regularly for the maintenance stuff like oil changes. But it happens and it needs to be taken care of immediately. Much drama. But again, the money appears from somewhere and disaster is averted.

What do I do then? I say Thank You to the Boss because, ultimately, He's responsible for getting the money to me. But I need to do more. I need to work harder on these things, so that they have less and less impact over time and so that eventually the first category won't happen. Unexpected issues will always continue to crop up however, so I also need to keep plugging away on an emergency fund.

Even if I have to dip into it every few months an emergency fund is important. Maybe "especially" if I have to keep dipping into it. When you don't have an emergency fund and something happens, you're in big trouble.

But the most frustrating part for me personally about the situation of taking "3 steps forward, 2 steps back" is that I keep feeeling like I'm in the middle of Groundhog Day or that X Files episode where the day keeps repeating endlessly.

I know I need to do something differently but everything I try comes out pretty much the same. When will I get it "right" so the replays will stop?