Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Face of Homelessness

It's not often that someone homeless also has the literary bent (and access to the internet) to blog on the subject.

But then again, when we think of homeless folks, how often do we think of a college-educated single woman with four kids? Kids, I think, she adopted.

An anonymous reader pointed me to
"The Boxcar Kids"
blog and asked me what I thought. A guest poster at Get Rich Slowly wrote about her earlier, evoking both sympathy and blistering criticism from J.D.'s readers.

I somehow missed the post on Get Rich Slowly--lately I've been paying less attention to the blog because it contains information that is too general and not as personal as I prefer when reading financial blogs. I'm grateful to Anonymous for making sure I caught up with The Boxcar Kids. I read the entire blog (it's only a few months old) and it's a frightening lesson in just how close many of us are to being homeless.

Never did the author expect to find herself in her current position Then, again, she finds herself at the pinnacle of the homeless hierarchy--her family is not technically homeless since they have a 26 foot travel trailer in which to live.

In another frame of mind, it might be an adventure.

But for a single mom who spent 30 years with a job and a middle class income, the adventure palled some time ago.

Personally, I see the blog leading to a book contract which may, in the end, save the author's family. But I'm also guessing that a publisher will want a happy ending first.

I hope she gets one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Getting Back to First Base

My February financial figures look OK--Thank God it is a short month!

As you may or may not recall, I wound up January (thanks to Christmas bills that trickeled in late) $784.81 more in debt that I had been the previous month.

NOT a good direction for debt to go!

But in February, I managed to throw $1273.92 at my accumulated debt, thereby putting myself back in the black (metaphorically speaking, since I'm still WAY IN THE RED!) by $489.11.

I'm pleased to have returned to first base, but would really like to hit a home run by the end of the year.

And, uh, yes--that'll be it for the sports metaphors!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are We Failing If We Don't Apply All of Our Savings to Debt Reduction?

Beks, at Blogging Away Debt has decided NOT to apply her $3000 tax refund to her debts. Instead, she will use it to accompany her family on a European vacation, possibly the last big trip the family will take together.

Note that she is NOT planning to accumulate more debt or to use her credit cards for the trip. The point is that her tax refund could be applied to her indebtedness, but won't be.

Single Guy would get this. He recently bought a new computer that he didn't need and couldn't wait to purchase. His situation is a tad more complicated in that he put the purchase on a new credit card with no interest, intending to pay in full by the time interest would kick in.

Beks has the money in hand. Single Guy--not so much.

As one might expect, Mr.Tough Money Love has more than a few harsh words for Single Guy. I don't know what he'd think about Beks, but since he reads and responds to this blog, I'm guessing we'll soon know.

My question is, is there a problem saving up for, or using available cash for a financial spree at the same time one is reducing debt?

Personally, I think not, at least not if it doesn't happen all the time. Things do come up--friends or family have weddings; once-in-a-lifetime trips appear on the horizon (witness Grace's trip to Japan in 2008); the plasma TV bites the dust during the Olympic hockey finals; whatever.

If one can come up with the funds WITHOUT incurring more debt, then I say, Go for it! It may lack Dave Ramsey's "gazelle intensity" but it is NOT the death knell for eventual financial success.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Convention Freebies

Yesterday was my Saturday for conventions, or rather "Expo's."

The first was a diabetes "Expo." Entry was free and they were giving out H1N1 and flu vaccines at no cost. The shots were a major freebie so my friend and I both took advantage of them even though she is not diabetic. I am, and have been for some 11 years. It was also interesting going around to the exhibitors and collecting both information, and innumerable pens, keyrings, and pill cases.

Then my friend and I wandered over to an even bigger exhibition labeled a "Baby Boomer Expo." It, too, had no entry fee. I was interested in collecting information on long-term care insurance which I did. The freebies here were amazing--candy and cookies everywhere. [Yes, Grace does see the inherent contradiction in taking these treats, having just come from a convention for diabetics! But we're talking white chocolate, macadamia nut cookies here, not to mention Tootsie Rolls!]

The assisted living folks were out in force as were travel agencies. My friend and I were particularly intrigued with the furniture manufacturers and contractors--does every baby boomer need a new kitchen, a walk-in bathtub, and a recliner that literally throws you out when you want to get up?

A little sad to me were all the "health foods" and supplements being touted. Apparently I can insure against any future physical ailment provided I take Acai berries, Xocai chocolate, Nopales cacti, or organic coffee with mushroom extract. (The sampled coffee wasn't bad until I was told about the mushroom!)

My favorite exhibit concerned raised (like four feet off the ground!) garden beds that could be accessed by wheel chair and didn't require much stooping or bending to reach. It was a clever idea even for the non-handicapped.

All in all, a good and cheap day out, complete with presents.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Good Time to be Poor?

I had an interesting discussion with friend this week-end. We were dining at a trendy local restaurant during their "Happy Hour," (4 pm to 6 pm) taking advantage of the daily $5 cocktail special, the $4 Fontina Burger, and the $2 sweet potato fries.

She is 66 and thinking of retiring in another year or so.

She was comparing her financial situation to that of a much older sister who retired in 1999. Both have limited savings. Both have reduced lifestyles.

But my friend says it is much easier to be poor these days. When she suggests having dinner during "Happy Hour," as she did with me, folks no longer pity her or object. Like me, they are happy to comply.

But her sister had to watch her pennies at a time when no one else was. Her sister's friends were flying to Tahoe to ski, had vacation homes, and travelled at will. They either had no money worries or refused to acknowledge them. Either way, her sister felt like she was the only one behaving frugally.

Nowadays, frugality is practically the national pasttime. My friend is not seen as cheap, but smart.

I found her point of view interesting and, quite possibly, correct. I do know that I am less envious than I used to be of those with money. It seems like the recession has equalized the playing field and I don't feel as much the "odd person out."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cool Couple

The Boston Globe profiles retirees, Claudette and Manny Wise, who, at ages 71 and 83, have concerns about their retirement funds.

We should all have such concerns!

Since they only get $20,000 a year in combined Social Security, I assume they didn't have spectacular earnings. (This makes sense when one considers that Manny is a former bandleader.) But they have over $900,000 in retirement funds, which means they did some spectacular saving during their income-producing years.

My question is why they don't want to invade their principal--why save it at their ages? The article doesn't mention children so I'm assuming they don't have any.

I was also interested in the financial planner's take on annuities. I still haven't figured out what I think about them or whether they would be useful when I retire.

At any rate, while the Wises have concerns, I was impressed to see how well set up they really are in their retirement.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tax Man Cometh

It was a depressing week-end.

It was the week-end I set aside to do my taxes.

I always get money back--anywhere from $1000 to $5000.

I knew this year's refund would be lower since I no longer have any exemptions other than myself and I now have to file "Single" as opposed to "Head of Household."

But never did it occur to me that I was going to have to PAY!!!!!


The Feds will give me $45 back, but the state wants $165.

So much for my plans to set up my emergency account (which currently has $54 in it) and maybe pay off one of my credit cards.

Color Grace bummed!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Credit Cards, Seriously

An anonymous response to my last post called my credit card debt "disgraceful."

Uh, tell me something I DON'T know! It is indeed a disgrace, and I have to settle down and get serious about eliminating it.

I have six credit cards, with a total of $24,125.06 in debt. The interest rates range from 0% on two cards to a high of 13.24% on one card.

I try to follow Dave Ramsey's snowball, paying minimums on all the cards with the exception of the lowest debt (in my case, a credit union VISA on which I owe $1763) where I pay more than the minimum.

Given that this year I have a car payment, and a significantly larger mortgage PITI payment, finding money to pay on the lowest card is going to be more difficult. I still don't know, and won't for another or so, if my wages will increase.

But I have no intention of retiring with credit card debt of any kind. Good thing retirement is not for eight years down the road.

My fallback plan, should I still have credit card debt in 4.5 years when my mortgage is paid off, is to then throw all of the money previously used for the mortgage toward the VISA/MasterCard indebtedness.

But who wants to carry around that debt for more than 4.5 years?

Certainly NOT moi!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Post Christmas, Post Paris Reality Round Up

So I did my end-of-the-month financial check up.

Not a good idea for my peace of mind!

My total indebtedness is UP (say what?) $784.81. That's the result of a couple of Christmas bills coming in late. I will wipe it out with my income tax refund, and then get the debts started back in a downward direction.

All of my debts, including my mortgage, add up to a nauseating $100,319.86. Credit cards alone account for $24,125.06 of it. And, of course, the new-to-me van. But I have to say, it does feel good not to freak out every time my vehicle makes a strange noise.

Overall, January was a wonderful month. But financially? Not so much!