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Archive for July, 2013

July Freebies Received

July 31st, 2013 at 08:30 am

It was my birthday in early July. I usually sign up for birthday rewards clubs when I can, so I got a bunch of free stuff this month. I also scouted the internet for other freebies and found some other stuff. Also, I did a few secret shops which I will be reimbursed for next month. The best of them all was two free opera tickets - I received these through a special offer for employees at my workplace. I don't think others signed up, which is probably why I received them so easily.

Here is what July brought me:

Opera Tickets x 2
Free B'day Bowl @ Noodle and Company
Free B'day Icecream Scoop at Baskin Robbins
Free Birthday Pizookie at BJ's
Large Pizza from Secret Shop (will be reimbursed) x2
Free Buffet dinner at Secret Shop (will be reimbursed)
$10 B'day rewards at World Market
$5 B'day rewards at DSW
Free Sephora Mascara & Highlighter for B'day
$25 Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks
$20 Kohl's card
Free TaiPei Entree w. coupon
Free bottle of Mio FIT "water enhancer" (Had to laugh at that name!)
Other odd freebies such as free toilet paper roll, sample size toothpaste, trial size moisturizer etc.

Are there other freebies/ birthday rewards that people like/sign up for/ recommend?

Meal Plan for the Week

July 30th, 2013 at 09:58 am

The plan is to use up what is in the pantry and fridge. I am vegetarian. D eats chicken everyday - he cooks it in the most basic way possible - he just roasts it! Sometimes, I go crazy watching him eat chicken the same way over and over, and when he is cooking, I will add some spices or toss in some veggies. He says he likes it when it is cooked like that. But, when he cooks the chicken himself - it's always plain and roasted. Weird how someone who enjoys flavor can so easily forget to toss in a few spices that are on hand!

Here are a few things that we will eat this week (apart from the plain roasted chicken):

* Cabbage Stir Fry w. Spiced Rice
* Barley-Lentil-Vegetable Soup
* 7 layer dip
* Cheese Quesadillas
* Zucchini Stir Fry w. Rice
* Coconut-Mint Chutney
* Pizza (have signed up for Secret Shop)
* Baked Potatoes
* Salads - lots
* Yogurt - lots
* Fruit Salad and ice-cream for dessert

Weekend Updates

July 29th, 2013 at 09:16 am

I had a pretty lazy weekend - I could have been more productive, but we were away from home last weekend, and I was enjoying just lazing around at home. I did some unpacking, but need to do some more. D is terribly disorganized and it drives me crazy. I did some deep cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen, and got him to do some cleaning/organizing in his closet area.

I got a Secret Shop check for $19.99 and this will be going to EF. I have not deposited it yet.

I also went and shopped around for some frugal wedding gifts for a friend who does not have a gift registry. I used some of the birthday saving coupons I received from various retailers, and managed to come up with a decent gift basket quite frugally.

No updates from the rental car company. They have not called me or my insurance yet. I wonder what is going on. I don't think I will call them. I am too scared to find out how much it really will cost. I suppose I will have to pay the $1000 and any fees they have for taking the car out of circulation while it is being fixed. There is a part of me that fantasizes that they will not have noticed the scratches. But that is unlikely especially since I let them know and filled out an accident report when I returned the car. I wonder why they are taking so long!

I can't wait for the 31st. I get paid on the last day of the month, and I am itching to send off a large payment to my Discover Card. I owe my sister $800 and that will be taken out too. I will probably be broke again by the 5th of August, but am looking forward to it.

Tiny Raise

July 25th, 2013 at 04:04 pm

The extremely tiny raise that they had been talking about around work finally came through. When I got back to work, there was a letter waiting for me notifying me of this. It means that I get about $54 more in my paycheck each month. I will put it towards the EF.

In another update, I also received the PIN number for my retirement account and I know know how much I have in there. It currently stands at $9061.54. It seems like a teeny-tiny amount when I think of retirement, but I am reminding myself that it was only started about two years ago, it will grow, and that this is in addition to a pension that I will have.

Hit a Snag!

July 24th, 2013 at 03:12 pm

Why is it that when I start to get back on track and save money, something awful happens? D and I went on our trip out of town. We had a good trip, we were frugal, and I was motivated to keep working on continuing to save. However, the trip did not end well.

We had rented a car for the trip. On our way back, on a sharp curve on a narrow highway, a largish rock had rolled over onto the road and we scraped the side of the car with it. It could not have been avoided unless I had swerved the car into the opposing lane of traffic or had been going at a much, much lower speed. I took the car to an auto body shop for an estimate - the scratches are only cosmetic, but are on both doors on the passenger side, and the estimate came to about $2000. My insurance has a deductible of $1000, so I will have to pay the full $1000! The one accident I get into in over 7 years has to happen with a rental car! I would not have minded so much if it was my own car - I can deal with scrapes on it.

I understand why I need an emergency fund. It would have been helpful to have one. And I am trying to have one. But, it is very frustrating that when I start to try to scrimp and save in order to avoid debt, something like this happens and I end up deeper in debt. We had paid for this rental using our debit card (stupidly), and so there isn't even the extra coverage that a credit car might offer to a rental car. D and I will both pitch in to pay this amount, but I will be paying the major share.

I can't explain how sad I am about the whole thing. I almost want to give up. I won't, but I want to!

Walk + Sale

July 16th, 2013 at 11:22 am

D and I went on a walk last night. It’s beautiful in the evenings here this time of year, and I love walking. It was nice to get out and spend some non-TV time together as well. We walked about a mile away to the local Walgreens because I wanted to exchange a shampoo that I had purchased. While I was there, I also snagged up several items on sale:

$7.47 – 5 boxes of feminine hygiene products for which they are changing the packaging
$0.99 – Bottle of Coke Zero (+5cents deposit)
$0.57 – Bottle of Welch’s Peach Mango Juice

I used up $5 in Walgreens rewards and got the whole lot for $4.08.

I am taking the coke and the juice to a work potluck, and I am stocked up on feminine needs until the end of the first quarter of next year!

Walk + Sale = 2 goals at once.

Weight Loss and Money Management

July 15th, 2013 at 11:53 am

I get a free subscription to Weight Watchers through my workplace. I have attempted to do Weight Watchers in the past, and have discovered that keeping track of everything I eat and counting points is just not a sustainable sort of lifestyle for me – I always give up because it is too time consuming. Also, I don’t know how much I buy into their philosophy of using a formula for point-tracking that does not take into account a bunch of personal factors that impact weight and health. Since WW is the #1 weight loss program in the world, I assume that this works for many many people out there –just not for me. However, I do like the part of WW where you have to go in and get weighed every week – it keeps you sort of accountable in a way when someone is weighing you in each week. So, although I don’t count points, I do weigh in each week. I occasionally attend meetings too.

I attended a meeting this past weekend where the leader said that when you start getting in control of one part of your life, you start getting in control of other parts as well. She said that as people lose weight and start getting closer to their goal weight, they also tend to get more in control of things such as finances. Following this theory, the converse must be true as well – if you are more in control of finances, you also are more in control of weight-loss and health. I must try this out and see if it works for me.

In reading blogs on SA, I see that lots of the savers on here also have weight-loss goals. And it appears that being frugal and budgeting is also conducive to healthier eating habits such as eating at home, making food from scratch, avoiding expensive junk foods, and reducing impulsive food purchases. I am currently healthy overall (at my last doctor’s visit), but I am overweight and at risk for many things including diabetes (which runs in my family). My doctor has advised me to exercise more and lose more weight. But I hate exercising. However, according to the theory of the WW leader, I will find it easier to work towards the weight loss goals if I use the momentum from the personal finance management goals. So, I am going to use this as a forum to also log progress towards weight management. Also, ultimately losing weight will probably also help me save money on medical bills and can be viewed as a financial goal as well. Wish me luck! I would also appreciate any advice/feedback from other SA bloggers who tackle both goals at once.

Lazy Weekend

July 14th, 2013 at 08:34 pm

It's been a good weekend so far. The only money I spent was on paying for my glasses (will be ready in two weeks), groceries, and $4 at Kohl's (was using a gift certificate there).

I also resisted the temptation to gamble. I wanted to, but I resisted, and it went away. I hope I am successful every single time I try to resist.

It was quite a social weekend. On Friday night, my best friend took me out to a belated birthday dinner. We spent an hour and a half talking at the restaurant, and then went for a walk around the neighborhood. On Saturday, we hosted a potluck. I made some Indian food with ingredients I already had at home - no extra money spent. My partner (henceforth to be referred to as "D") got some wine and beer. Everyone brought lots of food, and we have lots of leftovers for the week. The plan this week is to eat up everything we have in the fridge before we go out of town on Thursday.

Unexpected Expenses

July 13th, 2013 at 01:55 pm

I had a good reminder today about why an EF is necessary. I went and broke my glasses, and had to get new ones. Thankfully, I have vision insurance through my employer, and my portion came to be $154.85. I have the money in my account, thankfully. However, that is $154.85 less that is going towards my Discover credit card next month. If only I needed low prescription glasses and did not have astigmatism! I would have gone and bought them at the Dollar Store!

My insurance covers frames up to $150, and 20% over that. I got the cheapest frame possible - it was originally $155, and I ended up having to pay $4. Not bad. All the other frames were 200+. However, it got me thinking. Why in the world does an eyeglass frame cost that much? It was not a high-end or designer frame. The materials that go into making that frame would not cost more than a fraction of that amount. Who gets the rest of that amount?

This is the first time that I have got glasses in the US. I usually get them when I go home to India. I could get the exam, frame, lenses and follow up in India for the same price as my portion of the cost of the whole thing here. It makes me really sad to think about the cost of medical needs in this country. I have insurance, so I had a reduced bill. If not, I would have to pay $550+ for the service I received at the optician. What about the people who can't afford that? I hope things change for the better soon.

Slow Going

July 12th, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I continue to feel motivated to save and pay off debt. However, I am just starting to realize how slow-going everything is. There is a lot of waiting that is involved, isn’t there? I have been looking at my spending/saving for the last week or so, and there really isn’t much to report. I can’t wait till the end of the month when I get paid and can repay my sister and start sending money off to credits cards.

A few updates –

The retirement thing has sort of worked itself out. After calling about 3 times, I reached someone who knew what she was doing and my retirement account is linked back again to my social security number. I can’t access it yet, because they had to reissue me a PIN that will arrive in the mail in 2-3 weeks. But she assured me on the phone that I had about $8700 in the account not counting interest.

I have earned 3 Swagbucks this month already. It’s quite nice.

I have had lots of no-spend days, and the plan to eat frugally at home is working out beautifully thus far. We are eating a lot of bean soups.

My best friend is taking me out to a belated birthday dinner because she was not in town for my birthday. That will be nice.

Frugal Steps I Have Been Working On

July 11th, 2013 at 11:28 am

At the beginning of this month, I ran short of money and borrowed $800 from my sister to be returned at the end of this month when I get paid. I want to use as little of this money as possible in order to be able to pay it back and still have money to send towards CC payments. I have been more frugal so far this month than I have been all of this year.

Eating In: Thus far, I have only spent $15 on pizza one evening. This was for a secret shop, and I will get reimbursed, but not for another two months, so I am counting it as an expense for this month. My partner took me out to Chinese restaurant on my birthday. I received a couple of free desserts and one free entrée coupons as birthday rewards and we have used them. Other than that we have been using what we have at home and shopping only for the bare perishable essentials – milks, veggies, meat etc. I cut my allowance for the Eating Out and Grocery budgets this month because I need to repay my sister. Also, we are going out of town for a wedding next week, and there will be some gas and meal costs to reckon for later.

Online Rewards and Secret Shops: I have been trying to use Swagbucks and Secret Shops to earn some extra cash. I have got two $5 Amazon cards on Swagbucks thus far, and maybe I will be able to get 5 of these this month. I have done two secret shops, and have one more scheduled. The thing with secret shops is that although they will pay you back, it is not until a while later. Maybe I will send these amounts to the EF when I receive them.

I have been tracking where all my money is going and have a spreadsheet that tracks every penny. This will be helpful, I am sure. Small starting steps, but I feel a sense of pride and motivation when I do these things. It is a good feeling.

Retirement Scare

July 10th, 2013 at 11:35 am

I received some feedback on my budget that I posted on the forms and on the other blog before I deleted those posts and moved everything here. This is helpful. I am going to take it all in and see where I can make changes and tweak things.

I wish I could get a part time job, but as an international individual on a work-visa, I can only legally work for the employer on my visa documentation, and no more than my current 40 hrs/week. Isn't it ironic that they won't let me work anywhere else, but they will let me gamble? Anyhow, that is behind me and I have not spent a penny on gambling since 7/1/2013. A very short while, I know. But I hope to keep it up.

Now for the scary news! After I received an encouraging comment about my employer's retirement scheme, I decided to log on and see how much I had. Now, I have never logged on before. I see on my pay stubs that they started paying in money to this account 6 months after I started working here, so I just assumed that it was collecting in the account at a rate of about $290/month. However, I could not log in or create an account. I called the number listed on the website, and they could not locate me in their system. I had a mini-freakout! Where was all that money going to, then?

This was at the end of the workday and I placed a call to the HR department, but the person I needed to talk to had gone for the day. I called again this morning, and she said that she could not understand it - they have been paying money into that account monthly. She referred me to another person in the Payroll department. I called her, and she said that she could not understand it either, but that she will look into it and get back to me tomorrow.

I feel slightly reassured because my employer's accountants say that they have been paying into retirement for me. They have records of it happening. I can't be mistaken, can I? Can it all just disappear like that? I hope not!

Moved My Blog Here

July 9th, 2013 at 02:27 pm

Dear All,

I am new to posting on SA, and realized just after I made a post to the forums with information about my income, debts, etc. that it posted it not as "IndianGal", but using my login name which I unwisely chose to reflect my real name. I would like to maintain my privacy, so have started a new blog using a new username since SA was unable to help me change the username for the previous blog.

I have copied all the 3 posts that were on the other blog here and will be deleting those entries soon and closing that SA account. I am sorry that I will lose some of the kind comments that people left for me on the other blog. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Indian Gal.

My Budget and Debts

July 9th, 2013 at 02:22 pm

Ok, as promised, here is a list of what my debts, income and budget are going to be. I will also post on the forums to get additional feedback.

First, some background about my living situation. My partner and I live together in a rented apartment. He is disabled, and does a part-time job. Each month he brings in ~$800, and I earn ~$3600. We keep our finances separate. He has no debt, but has some medical and other expenses that I do not pay for. The lease is in my name and I pay the rent. We take turns paying for things like movie tickets, we chip in proportionally for any vacations that we take, and we go dutch when it comes to eating out. We go to the second-run theatre or get Redbox, and eat out using coupons or Groupon deals, so our spending in these categories is not too much (see budget). We share groceries – not in any particular way, but he buys some things and I buy other things as needed – it works out pretty evenly over the month.

The budget below only reflects MY income and spending. Also, it is a bare bones budget. I realize that other than the $100/mo that I want to send to the EF, I am not saving much more for unexpected events etc. However, with over $44000 in consumer debt, I want to attack that aggressively rather than have a lot sitting around in savings. If something unexpected happens and I need more than I have in my EF, I will borrow the money from my Personal Line of Credit and then pay it down ASAP. Once I am down to about half this debt, I will up the amount I send into the EF.

My employer pays a 6% employee contribution towards my retirement plan. They don’t match – they just pay 6% in and no more. I have not planned to add anything to the retirement plan until I pay down my debt. My employer also pays contributions into a retirement reserve account, and I will receive a pension at retirement that is calculated based on salary at retirement. I have 2 more years to go towards vesting for the pension.

Income: $3600
Rent: $749*
Internet: $15 (my share)
Car Insurance: $40
Utilities: $45 (usually ends up bring around $30-40)
Cell phone: $46
Gas: $80**
Groceries: $100 (my share)
Eating Out: $80 (my share)
Miscellaneous: $100***
Emergency Fund: $100
Debt Reduction: $2245 (see section on debt below)

* I live on the West Coast, and this amount of rent is pretty reasonably frugal for my area. I will be looking for something slightly cheaper to move into when my lease is up at the end of August, but I don’t know that I can lower this very much.
** This much works out for in town use. If I need more for out of town trips, I will budget for it or use Misc. money for smaller amounts that go over
*** Misc. covers most of my expenses that are not covered in the other categories. I rarely buy clothes that are not from thrift stores. I have no regular medical expenses.

Discover: $3033.67 (25.99% APR, need to pay this off first)
USBank 2: $7086.72 ($700 at 23.99% APR, the rest at 0% APR till 8/13, 15.99% after that)
USBank 3: $9188.27 (0% APR till 10/13, 15.99% after that)
Chase: $4869.50 (0% APR till 3/14. Hopefully it will be paid off by then)
Citi Expedia: $3335.00 (0% APR till 8/13. Hopefully will be paid off by the end of the year)
Personal LOC: $10441.84 (9% APR)
Car Loan: $6197.09 (3% APR)

The minimum payments on all of these combined come up to $815/mo. I plan on putting $2245/mo towards them all.

I will try to see if I can open new cards and transfer some of these to 0% balance rates. However, given my debt:income ratio, it is unlikely that I will be approved for new cards. I tried recently and was declined. I will try again every few months or so while I work on reducing these debts.

How I Sold Myself Into Financial Slavery

July 9th, 2013 at 02:22 pm

This is a long story.

I grew up in India in a family where money was not plentiful, but my parents were frugal and we had enough money for what we needed, but not always for what we wanted. One of the things I wish my parents had taught my sister and me is how to manage money. Instead, what happened was we told our parents what we needed, and if they made the decision about whether we got it or not. Until my late teens, I never had to manage money at all. When I finally did, I was uneducated about how it all worked.

I got my undergraduate degree on a scholarship. My parents gave me enough money to cover living expenses, and I never thought about money – everything was working just fine. Following this, I was accepted to a graduate program in the US. I received a partial scholarship, and flew to the US when I was 22 years old to start my grad program. That is when my financial woes really began.

My scholarship would pay for the tuition aspect of my education, but I was responsible for my living expenses, University fees, and non-tuition college expenses such as books, etc. As an international student, I was only allowed to work on campus legally for 20 hours, and I took an on-campus job which helped towards meeting some of these extra expenses. Things were looking not too bad when a series of things happened that put me into a chunk of debt.

First, I signed up for some credit cards because a booth on campus was running some special and they told me it would help me build a credit history. In India, less than 1% of the people use credit cards. I had no idea how to use one. I was stupid and treated them like free cash. I used the cards to the tune of about $5000, forgot to make payments, my APR shot up, and I was in debt that I could not afford to repay. By the time I learned how to use credit cards properly, I was in trouble and had no idea how to get out of it. I kept making minimum payments. But I was too proud and ashamed to ask for help, and since I was only making minimum payments on cards with APRs of 27.99%, my debt kept growing.

Secondly, I was in a relationship that was going pretty well. We were both students, but he had less money than I did. He was going to graduate sooner than I did. He was a smart guy and we had no doubt that he would get a good job as soon as he graduated. So, we were reckless in our spending (on my credit cards) with the plan that he would start paying off what we thought of as “our debt” as soon as he got his job. But less than a year before he graduated, he cheated on me and we broke up. I was saddled with the debt that he showed no inclination of helping with – another several thousand on my debt list. This was totally avoidable. But I was stupid and young and having fun and being in love seemed more important at the time than being sensible and frugal did. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson!

Thirdly, I made a major shift in my career. I realized that after I graduated, I would be doing a job that I would not like. I made the decision to change my major after spending 6 years of my life in school working towards being an engineer. I made this decision against the advice of my parents and other friends. This meant going back to school for what would only ultimately lead to a lower paying job than if I had continued on as an engineer. Despite the additional cost to me, I have not regretted this decision. I love what I do, and I know I would have been miserable had I not changed career paths. However, as an international student in the US, I could not apply for federal financial aid, and so all of my educational expenses went on my credit cards also.

Fourthly, I bought a car. This is my lowest interest debt, and I needed a car, so there was no way around it I suppose.

The real trouble started however, after I graduated 5 years later. By this time, I was laden with consumer debt. But I had a job that paid me well. Not too well, but certainly more than the part time jobs that I had had while I was a student. It started out well, and I was determined to pay off my credit card debts. That is when I discovered gambling!

This is horribly difficult to write. I am so ashamed of my gambling habit. It seemed at first to help – I could “earn” money this way and pay my debt off sooner. However, soon my bets started getting larger, and so did my losses. I tried many times to quit, but like any other addiction, I felt “powerless” over this habit. I read somewhere that what sets gambling apart from other addictions is that if you are gambling in order to pay your bills, the addictive behavior itself can seem like the solution. This makes it an extremely difficult behavior to change.

I hit rock bottom at the end of last month when I had maxed out all my credit cards and my personal line of credit at the bank. In order to make ends meet, I had to borrow money from my sister (but I did not tell her the reason I had to borrow the money). I felt more ashamed of myself then than I have ever felt in my life. I resolved to quit and am “sober” now. I need accountability, and my hope is that by posting my spending on this blog, I can be accountable.

I feel a sense of hesitation to post this entry. I have a feeling that I might go in and “delete” it if I feel too ashamed. Anyway, there it is – my stupid story of my stupid choices!

No One Knows How Much Debt I Have

July 9th, 2013 at 02:21 pm

I worked myself into $44,300 of consumer debt because of stupid choices starting in my mid-twenties and leading up to now - when I am 34 years old. I am ashamed of this debt and cannot bear to think of how I have been hurting myself and those who are close to me by making choices that will eat up the bulk of my finances for the next several years.

I want to be honest here because I have not been able to be honest about this with anyone - including my partner, my sister and my parents. The most I have told people is that I have considerable consumer debt. My partner thinks it is about $33,000. I feel so ashamed! How could I make choices that would put me in a position to have to lie to people I care about?

I resolve to never again be in a position like this. I will work towards eliminating this debt. Thankfully, I have a job that pays well enough where if I scrimp and save and live frugally, I should be able to pay this debt off in about 3 years. I hope sooner than that too. Please lend me your support. I need every bit of it that I can get.