Thursday, January 29, 2009

Preparing to Pay Home Depot

All the money I transferred from ING last week is sitting in my account, waiting. Hubby should get a cheque tomorrow that he can deposit before the weekend. Friday is a short day and a tough one to get any kind of running around done before candlelighting, but I want to try to get to Home Depot to pay them tomorrow afternoon! I want Hubby to go into a branch and deposit his cheque at a teller so there won't be any possibility of any holds and then for us to go together to pay the bill off. He can pay $650 via Interac from his account and I can pay the balance from mine and then we'll be done!

Well, at least we'll be done paying that bill. We'll still be very tight for at least the first half of February and possibly for the whole month. But paying down about $1,800 of debt in the first 5 weeks of the year has got to be a pretty good feeling. I mean, generally speaking, I'd be pretty happy to be able to pay down $1,800 of debt in 5 months, never mind 5 weeks.

Once we catch our breath we can start working on the credit cards. I'd personally be thrilled if I could cut my credit card debt by 1/3 by the end of the year. $2,000 divided by 10 months is $200 in principal to pay down each month. And right now the interest charge is about $90 per month. So, if I can start to pay $300 per month on my credit card I should be able to achieve that goal. But can I really do that? I don't know. I know I've budgeted for at least $180 per month. That would drop my principal by only about $90 per month and would have me paying down only about $900 by the end of the year. Still, that's a $900 improvement over where I am right now. I'd rather aim high though.

I'm hoping that when I do our taxes this year I'll find that my BC Benefit increases once they recalculate it for July. It should. We both earned less in 2008 than we did in 2007. If so, maybe I can snowflake the increase towards paying my credit card. I never expect a big tax refund. It's usually in the $50 range, but that can go directly to paying down debt too.

We're going to be debt free sooner or later. Preferably sooner!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Preparing for an Uncertain Future

Very often the life we end up with is not the life we thought we were going to have. That happens all the time for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is that we're just looking at our little corner of the picture and not even seeing the Big Plan).

But right now there is a lot of uncertainty on both a global and a local level. Globally, we have the whole financial meltdown, banks going under or being acquired by other banks, the big 3 automakers all in trouble, fighting in various corners of the world, the possibility of one or more further waves of credit problems, etc.

Here in Vancouver we have the Olympics coming up in 2010 and some major projects grinding to a halt because of financing issues. The City of Vancouver has guaranteed the completion of the Athlete's Village, which it has been suggested puts the city on the hook for up to $1 BILLION and another recent newspaper headline that puts the total cost of the Games at $6 billion. Vancouver is a pretty wealthy city with a great credit history but that's a hefty price tag for anybody to come up with in the next year!

I've been focusing on our financial situation as a family, the fact that we were spending more than we were taking in and that our debt load was growing. In response, I've been looking for ways to make more money and pay off our debts faster. Because we're coming very late to retirement planning I've also spent time worrying about whether or not we'd be able to manage once we retire.

There's nothing wrong with planning for 10 years down the road or for focusing on paying off debt in 3 years or less. But what if things really fall apart financially in the short term?

For the past while I've been buying as little in the way of groceries as possible and diverting as much money to debt repayment as I could. That's nice, but what if we end up in a situation where we have neither money nor food? What if everything really crashes?

My worst-case scenario would have us move to our rural home (which is fully paid for). We could plant a fairly large garden there and live much more cheaply than we do in the city but I'm hoping it won't ever come to that.

I could make our life more secure here in the city by stocking up on water and groceries but I don't have the money to do that right now. It's also not a good time of the year for me to stock up since we usually spend the couple of months before Passover getting rid of as much non Passover food as possible because it's a pain to box it up and sell it for the duration of the holiday or to toss it or burn it. Permanently disposing of it is also a waste of money and I would argue that boxing it up is too. There have been far too many times that a box of food disappeared into a black hole only to reappear after I'd rebought most of its contents.

So, what will I do? I don't like riding off in six different directions at once but sometimes you have to try to cover a lot of bases all at once. Between now and Passover I should begin to gradually buy extra items of things that are kosher for Passover or that don't require Passover supervision. For instance, I could stock up on toilet paper, facial tissue and grape juice now and wait until after Passover to stock up on things like granola bars or flour or decaf coffee. But I can't lose track of the fact that I'm also trying to pay down debt. I can't start charging things on the credit card or missing payments just so I can buy in bulk.

We also have a much smaller area here (than at the other house) that could be planted in veggies but we could do it and save a certain amount on our food bills. Both Trent at The Simple Dollar and JD at Get Rich Slowly have talked a fair bit about growing food in the garden and Mrs. Accountability has had a couple of really good posts on the subject recently over at Out of Debt Again.

The bottom line is that security isn't just about how much money you have in the bank or have invested (ask anybody who was in the stock market or mutual funds how their portfolio is looking). Security is also knowing that you'll have a place to live and food to eat no matter what.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Back to Real Life

Nobody won the $33 million, which then grew to $45 million for Saturday night's draw. I did buy another ticket but the jackpot was won by 3 people (or groups of people) in Ontario.

Since I'm not a multimillionaire I'm just going to have to pay my bills the regular way. The Home Depot due date is fast approaching so I transferred all but $650 of the money we need to pay it into my chequing account from all my ING accounts. It should actually arrive in there by the middle of the week. The rest of what I need is going to have to come from money Hubby will get at the beginning of the month. I have about $50 left in the Emergency Fund but the Home Depot and Vacation Pay accounts are wiped out.

It doesn't feel good to have so little leeway but it will feel great to have that debt paid off (and without incurring any interest). I still have one more amount left to pay Home Depot (my new bathroom, which is still sitting in boxes in the shed). That's about $500 and isn't due until next January. In the meantime I'm going to concentrate on paying down my MasterCard.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

$33 Million?

Krystal over at Give Me Back My Five Bucks brought up the fact that the 6/49 is estimated at $33 million tomorrow. I asked what she'd do if she won and she posted about it. Then she turned the question back to her readers.

What would I do with $33 million?
  • Although most people seem to think they'd jump up and down (just like in the commercials) I think I'd sit down fast and stay there until I was sure I wasn't going to faint because, you know, starting my new life as a multi-millionaire with a concussion wouldn't be very much fun.

  • I'd obsessively check and recheck the numbers.

  • I'd arrange to collect my money from the BCLC office in Richmond and, ideally, I'd work an elaborate scam to get all my family members to the BCLC office all dressed up without knowing what was going on, by saying that I'd won a family photo that had to be done at a specific time and just giving them the address. Hey, it wouldn't be a lie, they do a free photo of your family as you collect that giant mockup of a cheque!

  • I'd deposit the cheque and take 20% off the top that would go to charities I've already picked out. Many of them are religious but some of the top secular ones are Children's Hospital, the Rick Hansen and Chris & Dana Reeve Foundations and Habitat for Humanity.

  • Pay off every penny of debt right away.

  • I'd pay for new cars for hubby and all the adult kids, including the annual ICBC premium and pay for Young Drivers for an adult child who still only has a learner's permit.

  • Buy each of the adult kids a home, which would be specific to their individual situations and preferences. This would include paying out the mortgage on Eldest Daughter's home (where we also live).

  • Finish renovations both at this house and at our rural home (even though I would ultimately be selling it).

  • Buy the land I want in the Okanagan, with a lake view. Plant lavender and grapes. Build my "dream house" (about 2,000 to 3,000 square feet in a country style with extensive gardens, including lots of fruit and vegetables).

  • Build a kosher winery.

  • Plan to travel, whether immediately or when school is out. I have a long list of countries I visited as a child and want to return to with my own kids. I'd also like to travel by RV around the US and Canada and see a lot of historical sites. We've also talked about doing a family trip (all the kids and grandkids) to Disneyland at some point in the next couple of years but are waiting for the baby to be at least 3. I wanted to be able to pay cash for the trip and we could certainly do that!

  • Go on a very non-frugal spending spree that would include furniture I've been wanting or needing for more than a year, lots more books, some clothes and accessories and a laptop for my hubby (so we don't have to share).

  • Get new glasses and have a considerable amount of family dental work done.

  • Go back to school (easier to do if I stopped working).

  • Spread out my money at different banks and credit unions and invest most of it very conservatively. Then live off of the interest and dividends.

Things I'm not sure I'd do:

  • Quit my job. I kind of enjoy it and I only work a little more than half time. It also wouldn't be fair to quit unless I'd hired and trained a replacement. So I certainly wouldn't be one of the folks who go in and tell the boss they quit on the spot. I might take a Leave of Absence or two though and then retire a little later.

  • Disappear for 3 to 6 months. That's okay if you're single or just have a spouse but it's pretty complex if you have kids in school.

  • Allow myself to be talked into business deals. I have some specific business ideas of my own but I don't need to help my high school buddies open a restaurant or a long-lost relative open a sports bar, or whatever.

As I pointed out in my comment on Krystal's blog, the really nice thing about lotteries in Canada is that What You See Is What You Get. You get the full amount of the win right away and there are no income taxes due on that! Lotteries are a form of voluntary taxation and people pay for lottery tickets with after-tax dollars.

But, if I won, I'm afraid I'd have to stop blogging because it's pretty impossible to stay even semi-anonymous when you win an amount like that. And that would make me sad.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I had a nice Shabbat, very quiet with lots of rest and sleep. I feel a little more human as a result but I know that I'll be zapped again by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. Most of it is likely caused by too little sleep and too much running around.

But I'm also wondering if Seasonal Affective Disorder isn't raising it's grim head. First we had all that snow, so most days were fully overcast. Then the past few days have been very foggy. We haven't seen much of the sun for over a month! And we live on the garden level of a house with smallish windows that only face the sides of the lot. That means we look out at our neighbour's fence on one side and at the side of our other neighbour's stucco house on the opposite side. As a result, very little natural light and almost no direct sunlight get into my house. That would be great if I happened to be a vampire, but I'm not.

It's so dull in here that I have the greatest difficulty in keeping plants alive and most of them succumb eventually. Right now I have an Xmas cactus that lost all its blooms within a week of moving in but seems to be alive otherwise. I think. And my mint almost died. It's down to one tiny, spindly stalk with about 6 leaves. Mint is really hard to kill. Mint doesn't just survive; it takes over. For this plant to look the way it does really says something about how much light it's (not) getting.

So maybe that's my problem. Or maybe, as Mrs. Accountability suggested the other day, I might have adrenal fatigue. All of these possibilities are nicer than saying that I'm just not as young as I used to be and should probably scale back. But really, if I had any brains that's what I'd do.

Of course, where do I cut back? If I don't drive the girls to and from school how will they get there? Nobody else in the family can take them and they can't very well bus by themselves (at ages 6 and almost 4). I have to go to work for a minimum of 20 hours per week but I need the extra money. I worked something like 51.5 hours this past (2 week) pay period. That 11.5 hours are going to pay some bills. Should I stop working extra (once I finish with year end, which should be sometime this week)? Or quit my one 2.5 hour class each week? And so on.

If I knew of a good place to cut back, I'd already be doing it. I'm working extra and trying to take on some additional work because we've had such a bad year and I'm tired of us being in the red each month. And everything else I'm pretty much committed to.

So maybe I'd better hope that it's SAD and that a week or two of sunshine will turn things around! What do you do when things are like this? Do you just push through in the belief that sooner or later you'll get to the other side? Or do you cut back? Or take supplements? Get a light box?

Friday, January 16, 2009

I'm Still Here

I realize that I haven't posted in over a week and I feel badly about it but not badly enough that I'm going to write a huge post right now.

I'm always exhausted. I've been fighting something that never quite wins and makes me out and out sick but never goes away either. My voice comes and goes and makes me sound sicker than I am on the phone but I realize I've been pushing my luck and burning the candle at both ends and in the middle for quite a while.

There have been a couple of days when I didn't even read blogs, let alone comment. I went to sleep around dinnertime at least 2 or 3 times and I spent most of last Shabbos in bed. I feel the need right now to take as much time to rest as possible because the rest of my life is as crazy and busy as ever.

I spend a ton of time in the car, driving. And I've continued putting in longer than usual hours at work. Year end is a busy time for non-profits. I have a ton of work to do and it needs to be done now.

So I'll try to blog a little more often but, for the short term, I'm going to put a couple of other things first.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Won't Wait Wednesday for the New Year

I haven't talked about it recently but Wednesday is still my day for getting those tasks that keep hanging around the To Do list onto the Ta Da list.

What did I do today? Well, today was the first payday of the new year and, as expected, my cheque was a little bigger than usual because of the week where I worked longer hours in my co-worker's absence. Last week I finally managed to open a new account at Coast Capital Credit Union. Today I took a chunk of cash from my cheque and deposited it into the Coast account. I'm still waiting for my ATM card but it should arrive some time this week and I've already written a couple of cheques that will be clearing in the next few days.

I called to find out why we didn't get our water delivery (yes, the snow is to blame even though it's finally melting away). They promised to get to us tomorrow.

I also paid the water bill and half my monthly payment to my credit card from my old account. I bought a couple of things at Safeway but I missed out on 10% off Tuesday yesterday and am just buying as little as possible now. I did buy one treat though. I couldn't resist buying a bag of cherries (on sale). I love them and so does Dear Child. She'll be so excited to find them in her lunch tomorrow!

I finally dug out my last Home Depot bill and transfered the money to pay the first of two amounts that are coming due. I'm not sure if it will make it into my bank account by Friday but it will certainly be there by the beginning of the week. It's due on the 19th so that gives me enough time to get it paid.

I'm satisfied with what I accomplished. Did you tackle any tough tasks today?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Learning Goal for 2009

On January 1st Trent posted a great article entitled "What Will You Learn This Year?" and it has inspired me to make a decision that I've been going back and forth on for a while.

The basic idea behind his post was that he was challenged to choose something to learn well by spending an hour a day at it for a year. Trent's decision to master solving the Rubik's Cube in under 3 minutes struck me as a little frivolous and was challenged by a number of commenters, although I understand that he chose it as a "parlour trick" that was portable, could be easily demonstrated and documented via YouTube updates.

I used to be able to solve the Cube in 3 minutes when it was first popular. I had a book on how to do it, which was very useful for the lower layers. Getting one side all one colour is not that complex, but getting the next 2 layers done without permanently undoing what you've already completed is the challenge. I eventually came up with a sort of "cheat sheet" on binder paper with little diagrams to help me remember some of the key moves and I memorized others. It was fun, but not particularly useful and I certainly don't remember how to solve it now. I could probably pick it up again in a week or two but that's not my learning goal for 2009!

I first started doing a particular daily religous learning, known as Chitas, a little over a year ago. CHiTaS is an acronym for Chumash [Bible, specifically Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible], Tehillim [the Book of Psalms] and Tanya [a kabbalistic book in several volumes written by the Alter Rebbe]. It takes me about half an hour (sometimes longer) to read the daily Torah portion with Rashi's commentary, the day's portion of Psalms and the day's portion of Tanya. I try to do it first thing in the morning (before I get Dear Child up for school) because if I don't do it then it really tends not to get done. I did fairly well with it last year, although there were times I fell behind and had to play catch up.

I did have a concern that I should be learning in the evening as well and considered moving the Chumash part of it to nighttime because it can be very variable in length, especially the amount of commentary. I also checked out another program called Nach Yomi which takes you through the other two parts of the Bible (Navi [Prophets] and Ketuvim [Writings]) by reading a chapter per day for two years. The OU started doing this at the beginning of November 2007 and all the shiurim [lectures] are available online with new ones added daily.

I thought it would be appropriate to start it at the beginning of November 2008 (so that it would be very easy to listen to the appropriate class by just clicking on the current date, albeit a year out) and did try for a while but was falling behind and getting discouraged.

I've also been taking a weekly university level class in Biblical Hebrew. I like the class but I don't have good study habits and am always flying by the seat of my pants. I find it particularly challenging because I went to school at a time when grammar was considered to be a non-essential subject and this course is heavily grammatical. I don't always understand what the instructor means when she talks about the difference between certain types of clauses (for example) and I feel stupid asking in front of the others (the class includes college instructors).

However, the reason for taking Biblical Hebrew was twofold. It was to help me with my translation of Chumash and to help me decide whether I want to pursue an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies. As tough as it is, I'm feeling more and more drawn to pursuing the degree.

Maybe I'm crazy. I work more than half time. I look after my granddaughters more than half time. I blog. I have other commitments and may be adding some additional work that I could do at home (in my "spare time" ha, ha) for more money.

But if I don't do this now, when will I do it? When will there be a better time? When I'm also managing my land from 4 hours away? When I'm also making wine or setting up a website to sell lavender products? My Dear Child has just started her way through the educational system and is learning Hebrew and studying Torah. By actively learning myself I provide her with the best possible role model.

I've put off making this decision but Trent's post made me really sit down and think about the whole thing. Not just from a time or tiredness point of view but with an eye to what I want in the long term. Who do I want to be? What value do I really put on learning? What middot [character traits] to I want to develop within myself? Where am I strong? And where am I lacking?

Ultimately I've decided to set a learning goal for 2009 of studying religious subjects for at least one hour per day. I don't expect it to be easy. I believe the hardest part of it will be developing the self-discipline necessary to actually do it every day. But I believe it will be valuable on many levels.