Category Archives: Money

This is Why I Don’t Work Out

Last August I joined Bally’s Total Fitness in my town.  I thought it would be a great way for me to take some yoga and aerobics classes, and I really needed to get in better shape.  I specifically chose Bally’s because they were one of the few gyms who offered month-to-month memberships, meaning I could cancel at any time.  When I went in to join, the gym representative (for the sake of anonymity we’ll call him “Satan”) told me that the month-to-month special was still running.  Because I knew what my dedication level was, I asked about a thousand times, “And you’re sure that I can cancel this membership at any time?” and “Satan” responded about a thousand times, “Of course!

Great!  Sign me up!

Jump ahead to the end of September.  I have now been to the gym twice.  Once on the day I joined and once because I forgot my iPod on the day I joined and I had to go back to get it.  Clearly, I was wasting my money and so I called my gym representative and said that I wanted to please cancel my gym membership.  This is the point where I was informed that I had signed a 2 year contract and, therefore, was obligated to pay for the next 2 years.  I calmly explained to the gentleman that there must be some mistake, as “Satan” had clearly stated my contract was month-to-month and eligible to be canceled at any time.

“No,” the gym representative argued.  “You’re in a 2-year contract.  No cancellations.”

“Sir,” I said.  “I’ve been to the gym twice.  I eat Ruffles potato chips for breakfast.  I sometimes spend entire weekends without once getting off my couch.  I have been known to walk my dog by driving a golf cart next to her while she runs.  Do I sound like the kind of person who would sign a 2-year gym membership contract?”

Apparently, that doesn’t matter in the wacko world that is gym memberships, and I have been forced to continue paying my gym membership since August.  I tried using my pregnancy to get out of it, but I had to have a note from my doctor saying I was a high risk pregnancy and that exercise could compromise the baby.  My doctor wants me to exercise more, so that was out of the question.

I even tried explaining to the gym representative what “Satan” had promised me and assured me.  The gym representative said that “Satan” had actually been fired for promising similar things to other clients and he then suggested that I write in to appeal to the Bally Fitness corporate office, which I did immediately.  Which they rejected immediately.

Short story, I’m stuck in this membership.

And the only person who is more annoyed than me is Chris.  I thought he was going to kill me.

“What would possess you to join a gym?” he demanded.

“I thought I would get healthy and fit,” I argued.

“Are you healthy and fit now?”

“Not exactly.”

Needless to say, it has been a sore spot for several months now.

The baby is due June 3 and Chris has already declared that on June 6 he is dropping me off at the gym until I work off all the money we’ve paid for that stupid membership.  And every day he is going to drop me back off there until the 2-year contract is up.  I laughed and giggled when he said this and told him he was cute when his veins popped out of his neck like that.

But the closer we get to June 6, the more he is talking about this dropping me off at the gym thing.  Last night we were at dinner with my parents and in the middle of a conversation about how excited we all were about the baby coming, Chris turns to me and says, “What you should be excited about is your gym membership.  June 6 is right around the corner.”

Now, I’m getting worried.  He might, like, be serious.  I might have to, like, work out.  And I am dreading that possibility almost more than the whole shooting a kid out of me thing…

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Filed under Husbands, Marriage, Money, pregnancy

Wishful Thinking

9780060245863

When I was little, one of my favorite books was called If You Give A Mouse a Cookie.  It was about how if you give a mouse a cookie, then he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.  And if you give him the glass of milk, he’s going to ask for a napkin to wipe his mouth.  And if he wipes his mouth, he’s going to notice his whisker’s need a trim.  Etc., etc., etc..  The gist of the book is that we’re all greedy and if you give us an inch, we’re gonna take a mile.

I am the mouse.

It all started about a month ago when I had my own personal economic meltdown which resulted in my own personal stimulus package, consisting largely of cuts in spending to evil corporate empires.  Like Target.  When I started getting a handle on our budget and spending, I started to see the dollars adding up in our savings account (ALREADY!!  Can you believe it?!?) and seeing the balance drop on several of our debts (we’re already paid one off entirely).  I became addicted.  I wanted more money.  Not necessarily to spend, but just more.  I went from getting a high by swiping my debit card at a shoe store to getting a high making extra car payments.  I was on a whole different planet, let me tell you.

But in the past few weeks, I seem to have taken it a little too far.  To the point now where its becoming weird.  I’m looking for any way to make extra cash.  Any legal way.  It started innocently with just one radio contest.  My local radio station was doing a contest where you send in one of your monthly bills and twice a day they were randomly selecting winners whose bills would get paid.  I sent in my car bill.  And then a student loan bill.  And then my electric bill.  And then my mortgage payment.  I haven’t won yet, but I think I’m going to submit my cell phone bill next just to cover my bases.

And I didn’t stop there.  I started thinking about how many hours I listen to the radio on my commute to and from work and of all the money that is randomly given away during those drives.  Why shouldn’t I get a piece of that?  I’m a loyal listener, dangit!  So I programmed the radio station into my speed dial on my cell phone and now I call in whenever there is a contest.  No matter what they are giving away.  Last week, I was the next called AFTER the winner of a trip for four to a casino.  What do I need with a weekend at a casino, you may ask?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I don’t even like casinos, and I probably couldn’t go because of all the second hand smoke I’d inhale which would not be good for the Bean.  But I am now calling the radio station daily and its getting a little weird.

Then I started thinking that this was really small beans that I was trying to win.  What I should be focused on instead are the big bucks.  Like the lottery.  Why waste my time trying to get one bill paid when I could win the freaking lottery???  I’ve never played the lottery in my life.  In fact, when I bought my first ticket a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know how!  I had to ask the guy at the counter what I was supposed to do.  So embarrassing.  But, I’m a pro now since I buy them every week. I have not won a single penny yet.  Not a penny.  But I keep going back because I MAY win someday…  Incidentally, it is this mentality that makes me pretty darn lucky that I didn’t win that casino trip.

I’ve also entered the Wheel Watcher’s Club on Wheel of Fortune.  I watch that show all the time and people are always winning thousands of dollars if their Spin I.D. comes up.  Why shouldn’t it be mine?  So, I entered.  And while I was registering online, I thought, “Why stop there?” and I signed up to be a contestant on the show.  And then I went on to sign up for multiple television game shows – Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and I seriously considered The Bachelor, until I realized I couldn’t do it because I was, you know, married. All these shows out there are just giving money away.  Why shouldn’t it be to me?  And when I’m in New York, I only take a cab if its the Cash Cab.  None of that paying for a cab ride for me.  I want my cab to give ME money.

After all this prize/game show haze, I decided that large amounts of cash were what I needed.  Just having a bill paid here or there wasn’t going to do it.  Not only did I want to be debt-free with a nice cushion in my savings account, but I really didn’t want to have a job either.  So, now I have started scheming up ways that I can make millions of dollars without ever having to work again.  This leaves me with options like inventing something or dating someone famous.  The dating someone famous thing is out because of the whole marriage thing again (which is really starting to cramp my style, by the way), so I am left with inventing something.

Which do you find more useful:  A Girl Scout Cookie crumb catcher/preserver or a belt that holds your underwear up?

I really think I’m on to something…

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My Spirit is Weak

A few weeks ago, I shared about my personal financial crisis.  Ever since then, I have immersed myself in financial advice – Dave Ramsey (which is the program we are actually following), Suze Orman (at the suggestion of a reader of this humble blog), my parents (who are smarter with money than anyone I know – professional or otherwise), the girl at my hair salon (whose suggestion was to spend more to revitalize the economy – somebody needs to give that girl a book deal).

I have spent more time than I care to admit with our checking and savings accounts.  I know my 401k better than I know my gynocologist.  I have spreadsheets and budgets and calculators and sharp pencils.  I make meal plans and am averaging only about $70 at the grocery store every week, which is down from about $150.  And I haven’t seen the inside of Target yet (although I do sometimes sit out in the parking lot and cry).

In short, I’ve been a pillar of strength.

But, I’m cracking.  It started yesterday morning when I ordered curtains for the baby’s room from Target’s website.  I figured it was safer for me to go to Target online than in person.  And besides, the curtains were only $25.  But as I congratulated myself on my bargain shopping, something snapped in my head and I decided to hunt around the website a little more.  Just some harmless cyber window shopping.  Before I knew it, my shopping cart totaled over $150.  It was uncontrollable.  It was a force larger than me.  I couldn’t help it.  My shopping cart was like a mythical force.

Finally, I snapped myself out of it and immediately emptied my cart of everything but my curtains and then I checked myself out and decided to take a walk to calm myself down.  The pressure was too much.  I couldn’t handle it.

How long can I last without shopping?  Without so much as one purchase?  Without the joy of a full shopping cart?  Without the satisfaction of sliding my debt card through the card reader in checkout lines?

I’m cracking under this kind of pressure.  I need a new hobby.  Like knitting or quilting.  Actually, I should really go for a contact sport.  Something like rugby or football.  This problem can’t be solved by crafting.  I need to release this energy.

I need to beat someone up.

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Filed under Around the House, Changes, Money

The Cost of Marriage

I haven’t been sleeping good lately.  In fact, as I write this post it is 4:22 AM and I am wide awake sitting in my living room.  Some of it is because I have a terrible head cold and being pregnant, I can’t take anything for it.  Not being able to breathe really puts a cramp on your sleeping patterns, among other things.  But I’ll be honest, most of the reason I haven’t been able to sleep lately has been money.  

Let me start all this off by saying that Chris and I have 2 solid, good paying jobs.  We bought a house this year that, thankfully, we can afford (not many people can say that these days).  We have 2 cars, but only 1 car payment.  Our dogs get new bones every week.  We’re doing okay by any one’s standards.  So this is not an attempt to cry poor.  But, like everyone else lately, we are starting to feel the strain.  In fact, the bigger my belly grows the more of a strain we are feeling.  My belly is the constant reminder that our financial world is about to be rocked.

When Chris was in graduate school, we lived on my one income and we lived pretty good.  We stayed within our means, but we also prioritized things like traveling, big dinners, and weekends away.  We could do this because we didn’t have too many financial commitments.  On the flip side of all that spending, we were also able to put a lot of money into savings.  That was a big priority for us.  And we gave monthly to my favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  In short, there wasn’t much we weren’t able to do.  

And then Chris graduated and got a job that paid just about as much as mine did, doubling our income.  Knowing that the smartest thing to do with this newfound paycheck was to invest it, we bought our first house.  A nice house.  A house that most people our age wouldn’t have been able to afford.  We were thankful to the Lord for this blessing, and we happily committed ourselves to a mortgage payment.  

The problem was that we didn’t adjust our spending to make room for this enormous new responsibility.  We were still enjoying traveling whenever we wanted, weekend trips to New York, and we started spending on new things to fill this house.  Top of the line electronics, computers, sound systems, the Man Cave.  Even the dog’s kibble was upgraded.  And still we were able to afford this to some extent.  True, we weren’t saving as much as we used to, but we were still living within our paychecks.  The only difference was that now we were truly living paycheck to paycheck.  And while we had been once again blessed to have great jobs, our lifestyle was rapidly deteriorating the size of our paychecks.

Enter the Bean.  

When I got pregnant, things didn’t change so much financially for us.  Sure, I was eating a lot more, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost all that much to be pregnant.  But the bigger my belly got, the more acutely aware we became that one day – soon – this Bean would be a Baby.  And he would need diapers and food and clothes and daycare.  He would be the most expensive 2 foot tall investment we’d made yet.  Also about this time, the 6 month grace period on our student loans expired and we began to receive these ugly bills every month.  Ugly to the tune of about $600 a month.  Very, very ugly.  

Now, neither of these things is a negative or a negotiable.  Baby Michael is not in any way a burden to us.  His daycare payment, however, will be a bit of a pain the butt.  We are looking at paying around $250 a WEEK for daycare.  That’s an extra $1,000 a month.  And our student loans paid for 2 masters degrees – one from Yale University.  Neither of us would have the nice paychecks we enjoy without these student loans, and so its always a little bittersweet to write that enormous check every month.  Nevertheless, these 2 things were drastic wake up calls for us.  When you are already living paycheck to paycheck and suddenly you are forced to add in an additional $1,600 a month in expenses, you realize very, very quickly that something is going to have to change. Something would have to give in order to accommodate these 2 new costs.  

In the grand scheme of things, we are lucky because at least we have decent salaries to budget within.  But in truth, it doesn’t matter how big your paychecks are every month.  Cutting back – on whatever scale you live on – is never easy.  And that’s where we are right now.  We are having to cut back on an enormous scale.  I have spent the past month staring at our checking account, really examining where we are spending our money and I’ve learned that scaling back for us is not going to be all that difficult, in theory.  We eat out a lot, I don’t pack my lunch, we go to concerts and sporting events and Broadway shows, we buy things for the house, we don’t car pool, we take our dogs to the groomers, and we continue to travel.  If you add all these things up, we more than recoup the costs we need for daycare and student loans each month.  But the trouble I was having was how to make these cuts.  How do we get disciplined enough when we have been living like kings for the past 4 years?

And that’s when I remembered my parents and my Aunt and Uncle suggesting a book that they had all read.  Its a financial philosophy based on the Bible and its called “Financial Peace.”  Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who believes that the US in general is living above their means.  They are considering extra expenses to be necessities.  They are trying to keep up with the Jones.  And in the process, they are losing their homes, their retirement, and, in many cases, their marriages.  His theory is that 50 years ago, people lived happier lives because they lived more meager lives.  They had no debt.  They paid outright for major purchases (including their homes).  They found extravagance in the little things.  Essentially, Dave Ramsey believes we need to return to the basics.  And he bases this all on Scripture.  

This was exactly what I needed.  I needed some peace of mind.  I needed some patience and goodwill.  I needed some blessings.  And I needed to know what the crap to do with my checking account.  And I found answers to all of this in Dave Ramsey’s book.  I picked up the book only this week, but already I can feel the weight lifting off my shoulders a little bit.  True, I’m still waking up at 4:00 AM thinking about daycare and diapers, but at least now I have some sense of peace and I know that I can get this situation under control.  That doesn’t make it any easier.  That doesn’t mean that Chris and I are always going to agree on what things can be sacrifices and what things can’t.  That doesn’t mean its not going to suck when I have to climb my pregnant booty into the shower to wash my own dogs instead of taking them to the groomers.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to hate every turkey sandwich I pack for lunch everyday.  But blessings are rarely easy to receive.  The Lord has provided a door, and now we have to be responsible enough to walk through it.  

I’m not writing all of this to influence someone or motivate someone and certainly not to set an example.  I’m writing this because this is my journal, and the way I think through situations is to get them on paper (er…computer screen).  I thought about just writing it for myself and not posting it for all the world to judge and know.  But then I realized that we probably (and hopefully!) are not alone.  Maybe the mistakes we have been making are common mistakes for young, married couples.  And maybe there is someone else out there is awake at 4:00 AM thinking about money, and they’ll read this and know that at the very least, they aren’t alone.  

So, I’ll continue to chronicle this new financial path we are blazing for ourselves.  Not daily, or weekly, or even monthly.  But whenever we hit a speed bump or experience a small victory, I’ll share that with you.  

Because, you know, we’re, like, friends. 

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For more information on Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace,” check out his website daveramsey.com or his book on Amazon, The Financial Peace Planner:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring Your Financial Health.

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Filed under Marriage, Money

Tightening the Purse Strings

My Empty Change Purse

My Empty Change Purse

I was going to blog this morning about the pitiful State of My Union, financially speaking, but then I got word from a good friend that she is on uncertain terms with her job and her husband recently lost his.  Suddenly, my financial woes seem insignificant and petty.  But I guess in these times, you could play the “Whose Got It Worse” game with just about anyone and you’d always find someone who is worse off and someone who is better off than you.  If anything at all is certain right now in this economy, its that we all are going to have to make some sacrifices and cutbacks, and whether that is in your paycheck or in the grocery bill cutbacks are always hard to handle.

In talking to people, I think one of the scariest parts about this whole economic hell hole is that no one wants to talk specifics.  The government is so general when they talk about the “economic stimulus package” that it doesn’t really generate a warm and fuzzy feeling in my household.  And on a more personal level, no one wants to talk about money specifics with friends.  Not only is it such a downer, but its also kind of rude.  I completely understand this and have always been an advocate for keeping money, religion, and politics out of the civilized social conversations.  But I think an exception may need to be made in this case.  Knowing what other people are struggling with financially, considering where other families are choosing to cut back in their personal budgets, all these things help people realize that they are not by themselves in this.  We are all experiencing the same frustrations and, even if some of us are unfortunate enough to feel it a little stronger, at least we can find some ounce of comfort through hearing other people’s stories.

So, I’ll start with mine.

Chris and I have been really fortunate with money since he graduated.  We both have pretty good paying jobs and (at least for the forseeable future) both our jobs seem secure.  But we are feeling the crunch in our accounts because of this little Bean in my belly.  Daycare around these parts is pretty outrageous and when I think about what I will be spending on it a week, it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a wooden spoon.  Add to this the funny fact that my insurance company has decided it doesn’t really feel like paying some of my lab test and ultrasound bills (to the tune of about $2,000.00) and that the hospital where I had the testing done just sort of arbitrarily assigns costs to procedures (“Today, this procedure will cost you, um, $5,000.  Tomorrow it will cost you…oh, lets say $500”) and you see my predicament.  I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon on the phone with the hospital and Aetna trying to even understand the bills, much less pay them.  And to top it all off, my tires are balder than Mr. Clean.

And my dogs smell.  Although, that’s not really a financial issue, but its still very much a problem…

So, what to do about all this mess?  What to do?  Well, we have found some ways to tighten the purse strings and maybe some of them are some things that can help your family, too.

1.  Grocery Store – We are making a real effort to conserve money on the food-front, starting with the grocery store.  I’ve started clipping coupons and we are rotating between 3 different grocery stores based on who is having what sale, as opposed to just shopping at the same place every time.  We are also trying this new thing where we only buy what is on our shopping list.  I keep a list on our fridge and as we run out of things, we add them to it.  But when we get to the store, we tend to venture pretty far off that list based on how hungry we are at the time we are shopping.  Now, we are making more of an effort to just stay on the list.  That way we are only buying what we need and not ending up with random crap that doesn’t get eaten.  I’ve also started buying things in bulk and freezing them.  So, if bread is on sale for buy-one, get-one, then I buy 2 and put one in my freezer.  I know this seems like it should be common sense, but you’d be surprised little common sense I actually have sometimes.

2.  Eating Out – We have cut back so much in this area.  We both pack our lunches every day (which capitalizes on our new grocery store system) and we are not eating out at all.  In fact, we went to BJ’s Wholesale this past week and stocked up on meat products so that we don’t have any excuse to eat dinner out.  And we are even cutting back on weekend dinner out, too.  Now, if we are going somewhere like the movies or something, we eat at the house first and then go out.

3.  Re-examining our checking account – One of the most helpful things we did was to take a good, hard look at our checking account.  It was quite painful.  I may have cried.  Chris may have threatened to leave me over my Target addiction.  It wasn’t pretty.  But we did it, and we found so many expenses we were running up that we didn’t even know about!  Target is actually a good example.  I was going to Target a few times a week and I wasn’t spending less than $50 a trip!  That really adds up!  We also noticed we had several small things that were being automatically deducted from our account.  There was one charged called “Easy Saver” which is some program that we inadvertedly signed up for at some point.  They were charging our checking account $20 every month!!  And have been doing it for almost a year!!  And I never noticed!!  Once we spent some time really looking at our account, we found some very obviously places that we could cut back.  (Goodbye, Target.  I’ll miss you dearly…)

So, that’s about it.  I’d love to hear how your family is tightening its purse strings, too.  What are you sacrificing (Target…I love you…)?  What are you cutting back on?

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True Confessions

I have some things to get off my chest.  Some things I’ve done this week that I need to confess.  Judge me if you will…

Make Up Confession

Yesterday I took a brand new thing of blush back to the Mac counter at Macy’s and told them that I had recently purchased the blush there, but when I got home and opened it the blush was shattered.  They exchanged it right on the spot.

It is true that I recently purchased the blush from that counter.  And when I opened it for the first time, the blush was shattered.  But I didn’t tell them that 2 seconds before I opened the blush for the first time, I dropped it down my stairs.

I need to confess this make up sin so that the make up gods do not curse me by discontinuing my favorite make up products for the rest of my life.

Dog Bath Confession

I hate bathing my dogs.  I usually pay a large amount of money so that I can drop them off at a salon smelling like poo and pick them up in a few hours smelling like sunshine.  But we are poor this month after all our holiday excitement and I can’t take them to the dog salon without taking out a second mortgage on my house.  And Chris won’t agree to co-sign with me for that, so I have been forced to bathe them myself.

So, a few days ago I cleaned them with a lint roller and then I sprayed them with Febreeze.  This might raise all kinds of red flags about what kind of mother I will be, but I’ll just have to think about that on another day.

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Filed under Around the House, Lucy, Molly, Money, Random

We Came, We Ate, We Conquored

Well, we survived Thanksgiving.  The turkey was moist, the stuffing was spicy, the mac ‘n cheese was to die for.  There were no fires in the kitchen, nothing burned on the stove, and we were all still speaking to eachother when we finally sat down for dinner.  All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving.

One of the things I was the most thankful for this year was the outpouring of support, prayers, kind thoughts, and encouragement from you.  I must have read your comments 1,000 times.  And I might read them again today.  Thank you for reaching out to someone that most of you don’t even know.  Chris and I met with the geneticist on Tuesday and the news was very encouraging.  Basically, there is a 25% chance that I could pass along the genetic mutation.  Then, if I do pass it on, there is a 15% chance that it could result in a disability that you can see.  Now, there is a lot more to those statistics than anyone (except me) cares to know, but in a nutshell those are our odds.  And I feel pretty good about them.  I have a CVS scheduled on Monday, which is where they go in through my abdomen and take a sample of the placenta to see if the baby has been effected.  That means in one week I will know the health of the baby and also THE BABY’S GENDER!!  How exciting!  Bring on the Little Jack or Jill!!

And now, I need you to reach into the depths of your spirituality and pray for me again…  I’m going shopping today.  On Black Friday.  I must have a death wish.  Either that, or I am in desperate need of some sales this year.  So, send me your Christmas Lists.  I have Santa on speed dial.

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Filed under Around the House, Family, Money, pregnancy