Friday, October 28, 2011

Punch Drunk Finances

I'm up!

I'm down!

Mostly, I am very, very confused.

My October update is good. I decreased my total indebtedness by $1,574.80. But since I had INCREASED my debt in September, the net decrease is not quite that high--$1141.80.

Still, I'm glad to be back on track and to have the debt once again heading downward.

It's been a roller coaster watching my retirement funds--up, down, up, down, down, down, and now in the last couple of days, on the way up again.

I moved a couple of credit card balances around when Chase Slate offered no-charge balance transfers, and a 3.99 interest rate for the next year and a quarter. I make sure that I never go over 50% of my credit limits on any one card. For reasons I don't quite understand (personally, I'd never lend to me!) most of my cards have limits of $15,000 or more. The good news is that now the card with the highest interest is only 8.95% and most of my debt is either still on the introductory zero-interest or 2.99% or 3.99%. More of my hard-earned money is going toward the debt, not the interest.

So much for October. November and December are always expensive months but I do have a Christmas fund, which, with any luck, will cover my holiday expenses and allow me to keep reducing my total debt.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Drop in Lifestyle Is Not Necessarily A Drop Into Poverty

I'm feeling a tad unsympathetic.

A good friend of mine, who has been earning over $200,000 a year as the head of a public relations firm saw her business go belly up a couple of months ago when her two best clients decided they could no longer afford PR services.

So she's going from $200,000 to zero, right?

As it happens, not exactly.

She brushed off her resume and five weeks later, has landed a position in another firm.

BUT (trust me, this BUT is bigger for her than it is for me), the new job pays $115,000 per year.

She hasn't stopped whining about it since.

Hmm--but maybe she has a lot of debt? Maybe she can't afford a pay cut?

Guess again. She paid off her student loans years ago; her two sons are grown, educated and on their own; Her home is paid for (though her beach house isn't); So are her two vehicles. Not to mention retirement funds that are in excess of two million (except maybe in the last month).

So what is the problem?

It's her lifestyle.

It's a two hundred thousand dollars a year lifestyle and she's ticked off to think that she must now muddle through on a mere $115,000. It's not that she can't live without her personal trainer and her beach house and her part-time chef (I am NOT kidding!) but that she REALLY doesn't want to. And she resents that she will not end her career as the head of her own agency, but as the 'underpaid' employee of someone else.

We've had our "everyone loses in a recession" talks, but I'm not in mood to equate her circumstances with those of my more truly poverty-stricken clients, any five of whom would gladly share that $115,000 per year that she now finds insufficient.

I think what I most resent is the apocalyptic tenor of our conversations. She believes her life is over. I think it's just in for a downsizing. Actually, since she's just 54, I think she still has time to take over her new firm! And who knows how much she might be making then.

But in the meantime, can we just agree that though her income is greatly reduced, she is not exactly a baglady? Puhleeeeez!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The REAL Way to Stick It To Bank Of America

I've been a Bank of America customer for over thirty years. It happened by accident, when I first opened a checking account as I headed off to college. That first account was at a local bank that got swallowed up by a regional bank that eventually was taken over by Bank of America. The names changed, but my account continued on.

When Bank of America announced they plan to charge $5 per month for debit card use beginning in early 2012, I figured our relationship was over--that I'd take my checking account, my two savings account and my credit card and go elsewhere.

For some reason, I thought that would show 'em!

But my retired banker sister has set me straight.

The truth is, Bank of America doesn't want me as a customer in the first place. I don't have $5000 in any of my accounts. In fact, I don't have $5000 even if you combine all three accounts. My mortgage is within 2.5 years of being paid off. More to the point, it's at a different bank. So that's the bottom line--Bank of America would be happy to see me go.

Forget that! I'm not in a mood to make Bank of America happy.

So--what to do?

It turns out the answer is easy. My account at Bank of America is free because I have a direct deposit from my employer made to it. I can continue that, but I can also easily transfer part of that money (the part that I refer to as my 'walking around money') to another bank--a credit union that does not plan to charge for debit card use. In the meantime, I can keep using the online bill pay that Bank of America provides for free, as well as the free savings accounts.

And if Bank of America doesn't like this?

Too bad. So sad.

I do recognize that some day the bank may figure out a way to get rid of me.

But that debit card charge won't be enough to do it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Making Frugality Permanent. Or NOT.

Morrison at All Doors Considered has a post wherein she posits that our forced frugality of the moment may and should become a permanent mindset.

I'm not so sure about that.

I recently commented on of Sharon's posts in Musings of a Midlife Mom--telling her, quite accurately, that the moment I get my debts paid off, I intend to rehire a weekly housekeeper. Actually, I have a mental list of non-frugal items I intend to add back into my life, including two-ply toilet paper and non-generic English Muffins (Thomas, here I come!).

Some days, that list is what keeps me going.

Still, I expect that Morrison is right about some things--I don't see myself giving up the bargain hunting or the coupons. I've learned to rely on my local library for books, movies, and audio CD's. Even when I become able to purchase these items, for the sake of my very cluttered home, I don't plan to.

The biggest lesson I hope to take away is to stick with cash and give up the credit cards. Having been down the debt road for the majority of my working life, and now learning to live without it (OK, without incurring MORE of it), I see the ways in which I hope the new frugality becomes a permanent way of life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seniors, Health & Lessons to be Learned

It appears to me that when one reads about seniors and health, it's either dire (cancer, heart attacks, limited mobility and even more limited health coverage) or unealistically optimistic ("84-year-old climbs Mt. Everest"). I hardly ever see myself in these stories, even though I suspect I'm pretty normal when it comes to my health care needs.

I'm 62. I feel fine. I tend to rate my health as "good" but when I look at my health history, it may be that it is more in the "fair" range. I had a quadruple by-pass 2.5 years ago. I'm diabetic and have been for 12 years. The only reason I don't have high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure is that I religiously take medications that keep both within normal ranges. Ten months ago, I bowed to pressure from my nurse-practitioner and started to use insulin. It was a very good decision that has dramatically decreased my glucose levels, and, as it turned out, those who told me that the shots wouldn't physically hurt, were correct. That, too, is a good thing since I'm an utter weenie when it comes to injections.

I find myself surprised by those my age who are somehow proud of themselves for NOT taking cholesterol or blood pressure medications--as though admitting the need for them is, in itself, a failure. (Obviously, I'm talking about those of us who do have elevated numbers, not those fortunate enough not to need any medications.) This goes triple for diabetics moving from medications to insulin. I understand the latter since I, too, felt like taking insulin was an admission that I wasn't able to control my diet. Duh! I WASN'T able to control my diet. Call it what you will--lack of willpower, whatever. While I was ditzing around, promising to get my diet on track, my glucose numbers were ever-increasing. Insulin takes care of the problem. It could have taken care of the problem years before when the medications began to lose effectiveness (as they usually do after 6 to 8 years of use).

All of which leads me to Grace's Lesson for the Day--if what you're doing isn't working, FIND ANOTHER WAY!

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a lesson that would work in my financial life as well as for my health.