My financial train just derailed

December 31, 2010 at 10:07 am (emergency fund, truck, unexpected expenses)

I was *so* close to paying off my last credit card and tackling my final big SBA loan. Argh! And my truck has turned into a serious money sink this month. It was overdue for an oil change. Got it done and it turned into fixing a bunch of oil and fluid leaks. They didn’t tell me about it, so I got $50 in labor for free and just paid for the material/fluids. $52. Then they told me it was more than overdue for some things. It’s been months since the last big overhaul, so I made plans for it to go in for a tune-up and engine cleaning (to find out where leaks are occurring). Total: $532. However, during this time, they found out that that the clutch was slipping (badly) and it needed new a new clutch, and all the bells and whistles that go with it (resurfacing the fly wheel, yada yada). ARGH! $1200 extra. And it still needs new front tires, but I’m going to have to wait on the $200-$300 on that. I guess that’s what I get for having an older used vehicle. It’s at 170,000 miles now. It better not having anything go wrong for at least 6 months or I will cry.

This has turned into a very expensive month. I have cleaned out my emergency fund, my vehicle fund, my xmas fund (obviously since I spent everything this month!), and pretty much everything except for the kitten fund (which I am not going to touch, as that is for a true emergency with my 2 cats).

So I’ve cleaned out all my savings, and still will have $1,600 to pay on my credit card, which puts me back 2 months on my informal payment schedule. J still owes me rent and his half of some big home purchases this month, so I should be getting about $600 soon. That will help quite a bit, once he actually gives me the money.

The new year starts tomorrow and I’ll be starting it from a very low financial position. I think I’m going to start really tightening the belt. Seriously curtailing the eating out, buying more cheaply at the store, significantly reducing the amount of alcohol I purchase (no more bottles of wine). At least for January. I need to get back on firm financial footings.

We’ll see if my salary changes (negatively) on Jan. 20 – the company I work for has been losing money, so I expect if no raise, then a possible salary cut, or reduced hours.

I will make this vow. If they choose to cut my hours I will get a part time job.

Here’s to wishing you all health, wealth, and financial stability in this coming year!



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Slow and steady wins the race

September 3, 2010 at 8:04 am (debt stats, things I bought, truck, unexpected expenses)

Regardless of how quiet I’ve been on this blog, I continue to chip away at my debt. My disposable income seems to have shrunk a little in the last few months, what with the boyfriend still paying a reduced rent due to his unemployment, and my increase in REI purchases the last few months. But I’ve refocused on paying down debt and am trying to slow down on buying. If nothing else, I continue to pay debt and update my debt stats on the right.

Made a pact with a friend to get out and go hiking every weekend in spring, so had to buy a bunch of new equipment that will last me for years to come. New boots, new hiking pants (and all those fancy new non-cotton fabrics) and shirts, and all the camping supplies that I once owned but seemed to go on their own walk-about (I think they did on my last relationship breakup). I think I’ve spent like $800 this summer!!! But it’s mostly over now. At least I already had the tent, sleeping bag, cookware and stove. Not to mention all the extra gas! It’s about a full tank of gas every time I go, so $30-$40 every other week. But it’s been worth it to get out in the woods for a serious dose of triple oxygen for 6+ hours one day a week.

My car broke…again. Some really expensive Nissan part, diagnostic, and labor. $788. That was way more than I had in my car fund, so half of it came out of debt payments (I didn’t need to hit the emergency fund). This is the third time my truck has broken since Thanksgiving. I wonder if it will continue being so expensive? I do a lot of driving with it, luckily it’s all been when I was close to home, and not 2 hours from Seattle on a forest service road with no cell reception in the middle of the mountains, which is definitely a concern! I don’t want to, but I think I have to increase my vehicle fund savings from $100 to $150 for a while.

I finally managed to have a yard sale. Made $350 and promptly put it in the bank and paid down debt. We’re planning on having another one in a few weeks, now that we’re finally clearing through all the piles of stuff in our basement storage disaster. I also have a bunch of higher ticket items that I need to sell on craigslist/ebay, since they will all sell between $50-$500. That’s definitely too rich for a garage sale, plus many of the items are pretty specialized.

I did a photo gig about 3 months ago for a company that wanted photos of their staff and office shots to redesign their website (which replaced really bad stock photos). Finally got paid $500 for that, and of course, it went straight towards debt. Not something I have done before – a good friend talked me up to her friend (who eventually hired me), since I do photography and well. But I had never done people or any type of photo shoot like this (I do fine art that does not include people!). This seriously pushed me out of my comfort zone, but the results were quite nice, and I got paid a bunch, so bonus!

My computer broke last week – the port where the power cord plus into the laptop broke off inside and I couldn’t charge it. Ugh. $208. Not expecting that. 1.5 years old, too. It’s annoying when all these things happen when it would be so much better if they didn’t! To think of how much debt I could have paid off instead?!

Either way, I’m sticking to my slowed-down schedule of debt payoffs. Hard as it is! It’s a process, a long one, but I’m getting there. I don’t think it will happen, but I’m pretty close to only havine one debt left (by February/March next year) and be under $30,000. I think when I make it into the 20Ks, I’ll really feel like it’s manageable. I’m definitely on track to meet my deadline, and who knows what will happen in the future?

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Ups and downs the past 2 months

June 29, 2010 at 7:41 am (mr. maven, things I bought, truck)

It’s been mostly downs when it comes to money, but things are certainly looking up going forward. You’ll notice that my mini-funds are mostly exhausted (on the right). Here’s an overview of what’s been going on:

Vehicle Issues
One night leaving work my truck refused to stay running and started chugging in fits and starts. Luckily I was able to limp to the mechanic and catch a ride home with a coworker without having to get a tow. A $175 diagnostic later, and a $475 Nissan specialized part later, my bill came to $777.87 for a new mass airflow sensor. That cleaned out my meager $360 car fund. The rest (more than $400) came out of what should otherwise have gone towards debt.

J’s continued unemployment
J finished his 2 year paralegal program earlier this month and he is DONE! However, he has continued to remain unemployed in order to have time to complete his 2 final classes. Now that he’s done he has decided to be self-employed and try to find several lawyer clients to do contract paralegal work for. He has one person lined up and is in the process of getting another. However he wants to stay unemployed through the summer if possible to finish getting his business house in order and to help study for a big paralegal exam. So for a while he is going to continue to pay less than his normal share of rent and expenses. That is a direct impact on me, as I have to make up the difference, which means less money to pay towards debt (to the tune of $150-$250/month).

New art purchases
I couldn’t help myself. I bought another sculpture from my favorite artist. I am helpless when it comes to this person’s art. Damage: $240. I still don’t feel bad about it however.

Hiking, more hiking, and supporting REI
I made a pact with a good friend of mine to go for a hike every Saturday. Except for one weekend she was out of town for a trip (and I still went without her), and last week when I had strep throat and was in bed for 5 days straight, we’ve not missed a weekend in the last 3 months. We’re doing this to get out of dodge as well as get good rigorous exercise. To really make this possible I had to replace my nasty ill-fitting hiking boots (they gave me such a bad blister one weekend that it took me 3 weeks to heal the skin on my heal), buy some gear, some hiking books, and clothes. Damage: $270 for new hardcore boots (which fit like a dream), $275 for wicking shorts/convertible pants/wicking tops, $40 for 6 hiking books (all used!!), and an extra tank of gas every other week (driving 2 1/2 hours outside of Seattle to get into the mountains); $30 for an annual trail pass, $30 for an annual Mt. Rainier national park pass, $60 for a pair of used trekking poles, and a bunch of other misc. items. I did pay for this partially with my clothes and health fund – I’m considering this an investment on my health and well-being.

I’ll definitely be paying more in the future as I have a few more items to get (a good day pack to replace my cheesy $10 target backpack for example), but I still have most of my camping gear. I don’t know if I will need a new backpack, as the one I have is expensive, but I don’t like it very much. Maybe I will return it to REI for a refund, I think it was in the $300-$400 range. Tent, check. Sleeping bag, check. Cookware and stove, check.

I’ll also be planning a few backpacking trips for overnight or multiple days, and hopefully a week-long trip in September or October where I plan on hiking every day.

I could have neglected to buy the new art and not invest in hiking gear, but I don’t think I can maintain not hiking or buying new art for another 4 years. Marathon, not a sprint, remember! I’m in this for the long haul, and want to enjoy my life as I get out of debt in a maintainable way.

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Brand loyalty & buying a car or truck

February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am (Being Frugal, spending habits, truck) ()

I’ve been thinking a lot about brand loyalty and cars lately. You can’t escape the issues with the Toyota recalls right now and the tarnish to their reputation. NPR had a recent story in which they interviewed some Toyota retailers to see how it was affecting them (if you guessed “badly”, you win a gold star!). One thing they discussed was that first time Toyota purchasers were the ones most upset. Repeat buyers were ok with the hit to the car manufacturer’s image. They were still loyal, and able to overlook this little “bump in the road.” It seemed to me as though their critical thinking was clouded by brand loyalty.

I’ve also been reading a bit of The Millionaire Next Door. There was a whole section (way too long and involved in my opinion, but still educational) about the habits of people that were considered millionaires and their car buying habits. It was broken into those that bought new cars vs. those that bought used cars. The question of loyalty came up a bit there as well. Some were loyal to a particular dealership (in part due to networking and returning business to their own clients that were dealers, or family members that owned dealerships). This held true for both the new car buyers and the used car buyers.

Then we come to me. I have very little brand loyalty. I would never ever purchase a new car. To prove my point, here is a list of all the vehicles I have driven:

  • 1989: Nissan Sentra (my only new car, but it was a gift from my parents, and I didn’t own it; this lasted for 18 months when my parents sold it).
  • 1991: Toyota Tercel hatchback (bought used at a dealership – this was before craigslist)
  • 1995: 1995 new Toyota Camry (leased; the tercel was traded in; I didn’t want it, but my husband of the time wanted me to have one, and I didn’t know any better).
  • 1996: 1986 Saab turbo hatchback (I had an accident and totaled the Camry – the Saab quickly became my favorite car ever, I still miss it).
  • 2002: 1997 Subaru outback (my beloved Saab was stolen, I upgraded to a more rugged off-road vehicle since I was doing a lot of wilderness hiking down long, unpaved sketchy roads)
  • 2007: 1998 Nissan Frontier truck (yet another accident, not my fault, and the Subaru  was totaled)

As you can see, I’ve run the gamut of vehicles. Other than leased vehicle, every car/truck I’ve purchased I have bought outright, with cash, and with no accompanying car payments. I can’t see dropping $20K+ on a vehicle, only to have it drop in value right away. I also hold the belief that all the new-fangled electronics on cars make it more challenging and expensive to repair, and less reliable when it comes to needing mechanical attention.

When making my most recent vehicle purchase, I will admit that I tried getting a replacement Subaru outback. However, the value that the insurance company gave me did not quite equal the value of what it cost to get a similar Subaru (they are the de rigueur in the Pacific Northwest). Rather than pay more out of pocket, which I couldn’t afford to do (please note that this was before I discovered living within my means, frugality, budgeting, and the importance of having an emergency fund), I began searching for a slightly less expensive option. Based on my needs (cargo space, camping, rural driving expeditions, plus sleeping in the vehicle on occasion), I ended up looking for a pickup truck with a cab. I was open to a Toyota, Nissan or other similar reputable option that had good safety and repair records. I will also admit I’m still a little biased against American vehicles.

I’m happy with my Nissan Frontier. It’s a good basic vehicle. It doesn’t have the most amazing power (I drive in the right lane up hills and little old ladies pass me), it doesn’t get nearly the gas mileage that J’s Honda does, but it’s reliable for its age, it does what I need it to, and best of all, it’s Paid in Full.

What kind of vehicle will I get next? Who knows. I might go for gas mileage, or maybe go for a vintage cool car with a rebuilt engine (J wants to get an old 50s GMC/Chevy/Ford truck and refurb it, which is still way cheaper than a new inexpensive car). We’ll see, but either way, I’ll still research safety & repair costs, troll for deals on prices, and make sure I have enough to pay for it all up front in cash.

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Responsibility, frugality, and saying no

February 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm (Being Frugal, mr. maven, truck) (, )

Being the responsible one in the relationship has the potential to cost me money. I’ll give you a prime example. I have a ’98 Nissan Frontier truck, which I got to transport art (most artists I know own a truck or vanagon-type vehicle for that very same reason), or to go camping/sleep in on long trips. It’s also my primary commuting vehicle. Not the most fabulous gas mileage, I think it gets between 19-22 average. But it’s the only vehicle I’ve got, so I have to use it. I can’t afford to own two vehicles, nor would I want to.

J has a very inexpensive, very old Honda. The thing is perpetually on the edge of falling apart/needing to be retired. The latest issue is the battery – it has outlived its usefulness and needs the occasional jump. But it’s a great frugal gas-sipping machine. And until it actually does break, J can’t afford to buy a new vehicle (nor is he beginning to save up for one, though I have repeatedly recommended he do so).

This weekend J wants to go to Portland (2.5-3 hr drive) for an event. We’re going to keep it to 1 day, and avoid a hotel (and having to bring our cats, which for the record, you should consider them as dogs – they cannot be left alone, they need daily walks, yes I am serious, and they are major attention hogs. Their feelings will be hurt if we leave them beyond 7 pm alone and bereft without company or heat until we return; an overnighter is simply out of the question). With my gas mileage, that’s a tank and a half of gas, about $60. That’s almost double what J’s car would cost. But since my vehicle is much more reliable, in good working order, and is up to date on any repair issues, we’re taking the truck. I mean, who wants to get stranded hours from home??

J knows that I make more money, and while I can afford it, that I am being very frugal in my spending habits (outside of food, liquor, and restaurants that is). This is something that he wants to do, with me accompanying him. So he has offered to pay for it. I’ll probably pay some of it of course, since I am attending.

I get asked all the time if I want to do certain activities. My answer is always “how much does it cost?” or “if it costs money, no.” I’m not always the most fun, but those activities (a day at the firing range, taking a boat ride, gas to Portland for a quick jaunt) can really add up. I’d rather save up and do something unusual every few months, like rent a cheap cabin on a deserted Oregon beach for 3-4 days or splurge on a big underground dinner at $125 a pop (our splurge kitty is at $120 and still unused!), or buy a high-end ice cream maker just before summer ($240, I’ve priced them out!).

I want to buy some household items for our new rental house, and now that the xmas recovery period has ended (ie, all of January), and now that the new rental deposits are done hemorrhaging my checking account, I can get back to spending limited amounts on necessities that I’ve been putting off (IKEA curtains here I come!)

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$450 and a dead bug

November 12, 2009 at 5:20 pm (truck) ()

Well, 7 days, $450 dollars, and 1 dead bug later, my truck is back in fighting trim! I recently chronicled the process of it dying on the road, having to get it towed ($100) home, and J’s multi-day process of trying to figure out the problem. Alternator? Not sure. Battery? Not sure. Post fully-charged battery? Not the battery. Alternator? Stll not sure.

1 AAA membership ($56), a pre-existing problem car tow later ($20) and 3 extra miles later ($12), I left it with a reputable mechanic near work. Luckily the tow-driver was kind enough to take me ($0) to work 3 miles away after dropping it off. The expected alternator/battery diagnostic was not sufficient (both were working properly, $75). Additional diagnostics into the electrical harness (ie, all the wiring under the hood) ended up with 1 dead wasp and an additional $175 charge.

The wasp made it through my air filter, through a barrier-protected area, through a tube and into a small bb-sized hole that ended up shorting out 2 wires on either side of his little wasp body. Those wires were part of the sensor that watches the air in and fuel into the engine. I did get some little odds and ends repaired, and found a new nut for the big bolt on the bottom of my alternator (it would eventually have failed because of it, so I saved myself a tow and more diagnostics in the future).

So, total bill? $450!!!

Oh, and did I mention that my yearly allotted budget for my car is $1200? Want to know what I’ve spent so far this year prior to now? $800. That brings me to $1250. Pretty spot on for the year. Provided nothing else happens this year! Knock on chrome.

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Car drama continues…

November 11, 2009 at 4:30 pm (truck) ()

It’s 6 days and my truck is still broke and sitting at home. We’ve talked to some local mechanics and found out that part of the problem may be that the battery is completely depleted. So today I drove it over (in J’s car, since we work together and can carpool) to get trickle-charged at the mechanic by where I work.

Tonight we will try one last time to see if we can get it working. If it starts up and remains running (it’s been dying if allowed to idle), then I’ll drive it to the mechanic in the morning. 9.5 miles away. Even with a (potentially) broken alternator, it should have enough charge to go that distance during the day with no heat, lights, or windshield wipers going. Pray for no rain tomorrow!!!

The mechanic will then run some tests and find out what the problem is – is the alternator charging the battery? Is it the battery (which I have now found out, is at the end of its life and needs to be replaced)? Is it the plus that goes into the alternator that has a wire broken and sticking out attached to nothing? Was it the belt being too loose? Was it the nut that was about to fall off the alternator bolt not putting tension on the belt?

So far I’m out a $100 tow, a potential charge by the mechanic tomorrow (they will do diagnostics and we’ll decide what to do from there), and a $200 rebuilt alternator (currently replaceable if I need to bring it back to Napa, or with a $50 rebate if I replace it and return the core).

Hmm… stay tuned to this debt channel!

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Murphy & my car

November 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm (truck, unexpected expenses) ()

So I’m moving soon, and have to pay extra deposits and such. I also made the mistake of looking at my past year’s expenses on my truck and thinking, I did good this year and I can decrease my car (truck) fund next year. I think Murphy heard me.

After driving home from looking at the new house we’re going to rent, everything died on my car and it just stopped working. Just prior the dash lights were fading, the windshield wipers were slow as molasses. The window was moving up and down like snails. Hardly any heater air was coming out, even on 3 (it was raining really hard, and the windshield was fogged up). We were halfway home. We think it’s the alternator. So now I have a broken truck out in the parking lot, I’m out $100 for the tow, and $150 on a rebuilt alternator (I had to pay $50 extra until the core gets returned afterwards). J offered to fix it, so I’m stuck until he does. If he can’t, or if the rain keeps up and he doesn’t feel like standing in a cold downpour to fix it, I will have to pay yet again, a second tow and a mechanic to fix it. And of course, there are complications – the bolt was loose, the belt was looser than it should be, and a plug that goes into the alternator has a wire sticking out, broken. Is it one of these things or something completely different? Time will tell, though I really really want a working vehicle back (it’s been broke since Thurs evening).

Ugh. My car fund is empty, so even more will be coming out of my EF savings. I just can’t win this month! And I know there will be extra expenses with moving, like renting a truck, maybe getting a wireless router for internet, various deposits for utilities and such (I’m sure).

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