Friday, November 30, 2007


One of those things Dave Ramsey is always saying is "Give every dollar a name" when budgeting. I'm working on my December budget with this in mind. But a mistake I've made in the past is naming every dollar so minutely that I'm not prepared for unexpected expenses that don't fall into my carefully-crafted catagories.

For example, in November, the following expenses cropped up: (1) My high-school senior needed $13 to go on a class outing to see Beowulf (they couldn't just read the book?); (2) My five year old granddaughter who still wears pull-ups at night left hers at home when she came for Thanksgiving--who knew that the smallest package costs $12?; (3) No one could find the corkscrew for the Thanksgiving wine and none of my neighbors had one--six unbudgeted dollars(and dang if I didn't find my old one when I was putting the turkey roaster away two days later!); (4)There were two baby showers and one retirement party in my office in November--exit $60; and (5) A friend invited me to a cocktail party--I knew she was running for state attorney general but I didn't realize the party was a fundraiser--another $25 gone, though I will recover it when I file my state income taxes.

SO--$116 dollars that had no name but still had to come from somewhere.

That's what I really hate about budgeting. How, exactly, could I have predicted any of those expenses? And none of them qualifies as an emergency expense.

So, I'm now adding a budget entry for miscellaneous. But it's just a guess as to how much to put in it. For December, I'm making it $75 and keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

6th Month Anniversary & November wrap-up

Six months of blogging. Feels like it has been longer. I mean that in a good way!

I'll wait until the end of the year to see what my overall financial picture is like but in the meantime, November went relatively well. My indebtedness is down $993.26 counting my mortgage. If I leave the mortgage out, my debt is down $410.12--not a lot, but better than I managed to do in October.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting Scary Out There

I remember advising, many posts back, that one NOT keep checking one's retirement fund balance, particularly in a market as unstable as we are now experiencing. However, since I don't always take my own advice, I have peeked. Big mistake. My funds are down 10% or $17,000. I am closing my eyes, continuing to contribute, and keeping my fingers crossed that in the eleven years I have left until retirement, this will all work itself out. It had better--I have no good recipes for dogfood casserole

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And a Happy Thanksgiving to All

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday--kinda like Christmas, without the expense, the hype, or the planning. For Christmas dinner, I invite only family. But Thanksgiving is for everyone--my sister from New York, my best friend of 30+ years, the Russian woman I work with who wants to experience an American Thanksgiving, one daughter's new boyfriend, one daughter's old boyfriend who still shows up every Thanksgiving for reasons no one understands, my grandkids who range from age 19 down to age 4, the neighbor who expected to fly to California but broke her leg and can't travel, and various and sundry others.

I buy and prepare the twenty-two pound turkey. I provide the TV set--two of them, actually. One for the football games and one for the playstation.

Everyone else brings the rest of the food, and my family can generally live on the leftovers for several days.

I catch up on the gossip, my adult children who are scattered up and down the coast come together and compare notes, the grandchildren play hide and seek all over over the house--and at least three people always volunteer to do dishes because "Grace did all that work making the turkey." Lemme tell ya--offering to do the turkey is the biggest scam around. It's the easiest part of a Thanksgiving dinner and barely qualifies as cooking.

For one glorious day, I'm not even thinking about money--I'm thinking how much I enjoy just hanging out with my friends, my family and all those other interesting people who happened to come by for dinner.

D'ya suppose that's why they call it Thanksgiving?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maxed Out is an In Movie

I'm a tad behind the curve on this one. "Maxed out" is a documentary that has been around for awhile. In my usual timely fashion, I finally watched it last night. But in the best frugal condition, I waited until it came out on DVD, and then I reserved it at my local library. So, there was Grace, two of her adult kids, and a gigantic bowl of popcorn.

The movie is laugh out loud funny. But it's the kind of movie that makes me uncomfortable even as I'm laughing. How funny is it, really, to see a 44 year old retarded man who can only write his name when he is copying from printed letters, get a credit card? Do I want to see kids enter college where they get free T-shirts by signing up for credit cards, and where, in two of the saddest cases, they commit suicide over their debt? Why am I laughing when Bush appoints a disgraced banker to head a watchdog agency, when I should be throwing shoes at the television set?

Like many documentaries with a political agenda, "Maxed Out" makes no pretense of fairness--in fact it deliberately juxtaposes scenes and comments to get easy laughs.

But in the end, it is an utterly maddening movie. How dare the credit card and lending industries talk about personal responsibility when they deliberately exploit the most financially vulnerable among us.

The movie ends with the passage of bankruptcy reform and the spectre of possible sub-prime mortgage failures. From the vantage point of another year, we now know that bankruptcy reform did not harm the poor as much as we thought it might, and it did harm the credit card industry far more than they predicted. Some crows come home to roost in exactly the right place!

As for the possibility of subprime mortgage issues? How many ways can one say "Duh?"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Holidays in GRACEland

I kinda blur everything from Thanksgiving through Christmas altogether--the resulting assault on my finances gives me a whopping headache.

And therein, lies my greatest discontent. How can I enjoy the holidays when I am always worried about its impact on my finances? If the true joy of the holidays is in family warmth, why are my kids and grandkids less than amused if all they get from me is socks and underwear?

Both Thanksgiving and Christmas take place at my home. My kids bring side dishes, but I'm the one buying and preparing the turkey and any other main dishes.

I'm the one who buys the "big" gifts for my children and grandchildren.

I am determined that this year will be different. I am determined to pay attention to my finances and NOT to use my credit cards.

I have a budget for the holidays. It is $1845, with a leeway of $300 due to a check that will come in December 31st.

You'd think that would be enough, but my guess is that it will be close.

Part of the reason is that at least $400 will be earmarked for gifts for my sister. Why my sister, you might well ask? Well, since our parents died, she and I are the only ones who really remember each other's birthdays, and carry on our parent's tradition of lots of nice presents under the Christmas tree. My sister has no children, and a six figure income. I may spend $400 on her, but I know that she will spend over a thousand on me. My lime-green couch, my lifetime Tivo, the sink in the upstairs bathroom are all courtesy of my sister, not to mention the Coach bag that shows up with my name on it every year. I am seriously going to ask her for a dishwasher this year! So, within the framework of my finances, I take good care of my sister at Christmas.

Then, there's my FIVE children (what WAS I thinking?) and their SIX children--ELEVEN folks who are expecting wonderful (read that: expensive) things from mom or grandma.

Plus, there are the hangers on--the boyfriends and spouses who will show up, and for whom there needs to a little something under tree.

Oh, and there's the tree ($20) and the wreath for the door ($17) and something for the Salvation Army bellringers ($20) and. . .


My plan, for the moment, is budget $150 apiece for my adult children, $50 for each of my youngest grandchildren, $75 for the two older grandkids, and $25 for several miscellaneous folks.

I'm curious how this compares to the rest of the world. Too much? Not enough?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Surprising Money Saves

I spent much of this weekend at a local literary festival. I budgeted the $5 per day to get in, counted on getting a lot of free pens, bookmarks and other do-dads, determined not to buy any books, and looked forward to seeing a number of my favorite authors in person.

All of the above happened as planned. I even managed not to buy any books, which--trust me on this one--took some definite intestinal fortitude.

But, big surprise for me, I also saved some money.

The local daily newspaper was one of the exhibitors. They couldn't sell me a subscription since I have been a subscriber for over 30 years. But, by promising to save me $2 per month, they did pursuade me to have the monthly costs taken directly out of my checking account. And to sweeten the deal, they threw in a $5 grocery card at a store I frequent.

I would have enjoyed this festival at any rate, but combine it with the money savings, and what's not to like?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Adoption on the Cheap

November is National Adoption month.

Given that this is a personal finance blog, and given that I adopted five daughters without spending a dime for the adoptions, I think it is time to dispense with some of the financial myths surrounding adoption expenses.

The biggest myth is that adoption is prohibitively expensive. It can be, of course. Adopting.Org reports that a private adoption of a healthy, white infant can cost anywhere from $8000 to $30,000. International adoption runs a close second, from $7,000 to $25,000.

But I adopted each of my children from state foster care. Not only did I not pay anything for the adoptions, the state reimbursed me for the travel costs involved in meeting with my children and their social workers, and continues to give me an adoption assistance payment each month. Each child was also covered by Medicaid until age 18. (I put my kids on my own insurance plan when they came into my home, but having them on Medicaid meant I never had co-pays.) Health insurance companies are required to put your adopted children onto the policy as of the date of placement in your home, even if the adoption itself doesn't take place until later. Also, healthcare providers that don't routinely take Medicaid usually will make an exception when your family is already being treated through your employer's policy.

A number of employers (not mine, unfortunately) offer adoption benefits that are much like FLEX plans. Specific adoption expenses come out of pre-tax income. If your employer does not have such a program, it may well be worth your time to check this benefit out and present it to your employer as something they might like to offer. The big selling point is that because the employer will not have to pay FICA on pre-tax income, and because those FICA payments are usually more than what private FLEX firms charge to administer plans, the benefit is revenue-neutral for the employer. If your company already offers FLEX medical and childcare, call the administrator to see if they can handle adoption benefits as well.

There are also substantial tax benefits to adoption. These are available for all adoptions, whether domestic or international, but they are higher and better for anyone adopting out of foster care. Check out the IRS website for Forms and Instructions (Form 8839) to claim the tax credit. For one child, it is currently $10,960. It can be spread over more than one year. If the adoption is international, the credit cannot be claimed until the adoption is finalized. However, for a domestic adoption, there doesn't even have to be an adoption as a final result, provided the expenses were incurred as part of an adoption process.

For the adoption of a special needs child (and keep in mind that a "special need" can be as minor as a child being African-American, or over six years old, or part of a sibling group, or having a family history of mental or inheritable physical illness), one does not even need to have incurred that much in expenses to take the credit.

That's right--at least on the front end, one can actually make a profit on the adoption.

With my usual stellar timing, I adopted for the final time the year before that particular provision of the tax code was passed. So, no profit for Grace, unless you count the addition of five very special girls to my family as a profit.

Come to think of it, I do consider that a profit. And a blessing.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Monthly Scorecard

Thank God October is over. Between private school tuition for my 17-year-old (who attends a school for learning disabled students), various crises, getting oil for the winter, and all the niggling little expenses for my grand-daughter in her first year of college, I was barely hanging in there.

My total debt reduction for the month was a miserly $341.73. Still, it's a reduction, for which I am grateful.

And last night, I didn't have as many trick or treaters as I expected, so I have half a bag of miniature Snickers left over. I'm grateful for that, too.