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AP news article + other bits-n-pieces

December 29th, 2008 at 10:00 pm

The AP had an interesting article today titled "Fallout begins after dismal holiday season." It said that some experts predict we will see more stores closing than we've seen in 35 years, with "thousands of stores and whole malls" closing down. It also said analysts expect the dramatic changes in shopping behavior could linger for another 2-3 years.

About 160,000 stores will have closed this year and 200,000 more could shutter next year, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group. That would be the industry's biggest contraction in 35 years. In March and April of next year, Flickinger expects 2,000 to 3,000 malls to shutter.

Wow.

In that vein, I am proud to say that I just got through my first Christmas EVER with NO NEW DEBT!! Now, THAT is an awesome feeling!! It's an even bigger feat when you take into consideration that I spent $533 on car repair and inspection fees on Dec. 22 ... which I also paid cash for! YAY ME!!! Smile (Of course, now I am flat broke and payday isn't until Monday ... but we should make it okay.)

On the employment front, my company's CEO sent out a statement a couple of weeks ago that merit increases for all employees (which were expected in February/March, as in past years) will be suspended in 2009. My initial reaction was "Of course, because it's my first year to be eligible for one!" (after 15 months of employment) ... but my prevailing thought is that I am SO grateful to have my job! I got a salary increase in September when I got my promotion, plus we will still receive our bonus for 2008 at the end of January, so it's not all bad news! I'm not sure yet how much the bonus will be, but hopefully enough for me to get my baby EF built back up AND have enough for a deposit and moving expenses so I can get out of the rental house I am in (which seems to be falling down around me).

In other financial news, I am back to fretting over the future of my regular child support payments ... my ex got laid off from his most recent position so he's job hunting again. I really feel for him because he's had such a run of bad luck job-wise in the past several years. The company he'd been with for 20+ years (which paid to send him back to school) eliminated his position shortly after he got his Masters degree, then he got into a franchise business which went belly-up after its first year or so and he had to declare bankruptcy. After that he worked for another company for a year or so, but it was a family-owned business and when family relations went south the company divided and he lost his job. It took him awhile to find something else, and when he did it lasted less than a year (the company decided he wasn't the right "fit" for the job -- after about 9 months!). His most recent position (which only lasted a few months) was as a landman for an energy company, but with the decline in oil prices they've had massive layoffs and my ex was among them. I hope he can find something stable very soon. Even though paying child support is at the top of the list of the bills he'll need to pay, if he doesn't have the money ... then what?? I just don't want to find out. Plus I really don't like to see him in this situation; he is a good person and a very smart man, and he would make an excellent employee for any company! Hopefully he will get some good news soon, because I know he is aggressively looking.

I went ahead and updated my CC debt total and my pie chart a couple of days early, since all the accounts have been updated for December. I paid off almost 16% of my debt in 2008 without incurring any new debt, woo-hoo!! I plan to look at the numbers in more detail over the next couple of days and set a goal for how much I want to pay off in 2009.

Big day -- I voted AND got a flu shot!

November 4th, 2008 at 07:11 pm

I fully intended to vote early, but never seemed to get around to it (think I procrastinate much?) ... so I left work an hour early and went to do it. It went really smoothly -- there was only one person in front of me, and she opted for a paper ballot so I got to use the one-n-only electronic voting machine without waiting, woo-hoo! Quite a few people came in behind me, and most of them chose paper ballots. So, a quick and easy voting experience for me, what a pleasant surprise! I also got my flu shot at work this morning. My company gives them to employees for FREE, so you know I was all over that!

I updated my CC totals on my sidebar, and I've paid off 13% of my CC debt so far this year. I'm encouraged by that, even though it's not much, because I knew that it would be slow going in the beginning. I did begin my debt snowball, and guess which CC I am directing my next payoff at? Why, good ol' WaMu/Chase, of course! I owe $1,684 on it so it will take a little while, but with the extra from the paid-off card I'll be paying a minimum of $73/month towards it, and hope to pay $100 most months. I also plan to rework my budget in about 5 or 6 months (after I get my bonus and merit increase at work, and hopefully a tax refund), and I should be able to start paying more towards my CC debt then.

I got my $100 bonus in my "Save Yourself" account, since I have been having $50/month deposited in that account for over a year now. Woo-hoo!! Good thing, too, since I've been whittling away at my ING account since my child support decreased 5 months ago. The new position I got at work a couple months ago brought with it an increase in salary, so that pretty much brought me back to where I was before the child support went down. Now I am anticipating that merit increase at the beginning of 2009 so I can make some more forward strides again! It's been almost a year since I started this blog and, though I don't post frequently, I think it's really helped me to stay on track with everything ... not to mention that I read all of your blogs almost daily, and get such great inspiration from them!

I got the job!!

September 14th, 2008 at 07:57 am

In my last post I mentioned applying for another position within my company. I interviewed for it last week, and learned on Friday that I got the job! I'm excited for the promotion, and for the extra money I will be earning as a result! My salary increase is 12%, and I will get a merit increase in February or March as well (as a percentage of my new salary, not my old one). This will make up for the child support decrease which took effect in June, and get me back on track. Woo-hoo!! Smile My first order of business, as soon as my raise shows up on my paycheck, is to get my savings built back up ... baby EF has taken a hit with the decrease in child support, and I need to get that built back up to at least $1,000 ASAP.

I think I have mentioned on here that my ex has been unemployed for a little while, and I've been worried about his financial situation. Well, he got his own good news yesterday, and he starts a new job on Monday. The bad news is that it requires a LOT of travel, and he will only be home once a month, so my daughter will see him even less than she does now. The thought also occurred to me last night that this alters my moving plans somewhat ... I was thinking I would move into a 2-bedroom apartment with my daughter, and when my son comes home from college for breaks and in the summer, he can stay at my ex's most of the time, and we'll "make do" for the time he wants to spend with me. (My ex lives about 30 minutes from me.) But if my ex isn't home, my son will not want to be there with just his stepmom ... so now I may be in the market to move into another 3-bedroom place instead. I will look at the prices of the 3-bedroom model at the apartments I'm interested in, but I know that option won't be feasible for me because the prices of the 2-bedroom models are on par with what I am currently paying to rent my 3-bedroom house ... so the 3-bedroom apartment will no doubt be out of my price range. This is going to require some more thought, as well as some conversation with my son.

I have family (my dad and stepmom) and friends down in the Houston area who have been somewhat affected by Hurricane Ike. I have talked to my dad a couple of times, and he said they don't have any damage to their home but that their yard is a huge mess. They also still do not have power, and haven't since Friday night (when all they had were the very beginnings of the high winds which were to come). My friends do not have their power back yet, either, and they had minimal damage (their backyard fence is down). Here in Fort Worth we had a day of rain yesterday, but today we have sunshine and wind (which is normal for here, LOL). I grew up in Houston but I do not see myself ever moving back down there; I just cannot imagine going through all the storm preparation and the clean-up and inconvenience in the aftermath ... and Houston isn't even ON the coast, it's further inland. Galveston is really a mess. Frown And this morning I saw on TV that the midwest is getting incredible amounts of rain from Ike, bringing them all sorts of problems. Hugs to those of you who have been affected by Ike, and Gustav before that!

Really wanting to move, and a ? about auto insurance

August 24th, 2008 at 08:37 pm

Yesterday we were struck with plumbing issues again, one day shy of 3 weeks since the last occurrence. I called the landlord and got his voice mail, then finally reached him after a second voice mail left one hour later. (I planned to leave one every hour, even through the night, until I reached him!) He came out and spent 3 hours here (after spending 4 hours here the last time) w/a rented "snake" (I guess that's what it's called) and we are back in business again, but for how long this time? He replaced the toilet in the kids' bathroom a couple of months ago, and it had a slight leak so he was going to put some sort of wax sealant on it, which he brought with him last night. So after he snaked the toilet in the master bathroom, he went to the kids' bathroom to put this seal thing on that toilet. Half an hour later he tells me he broke the toilet and he'll have to come back today and repair it or replace it again. He showed me what he'd done, and he'd literally BROKEN the toilet ... there is a big hole in the bottom of the tank!! I have no idea how he did that. Anyway, he was supposed to be here today at 5:00 to take care of that job, and he didn't show up ... didn't even call!! I am pretty sure the reason I will get when I do talk to him is that he forgot. That is the reason I got countless times last year when we had a huge portion of a tree lying across our back yard, dead, which he was supposed to come cut up and remove. (It was struck by lightning in June 2007 and he finally came and cut it up and hauled it off in May 2008.) I was SO fed up last night that I was ready to go sign a lease on an apartment today!! This morning, of course, I realized I really cannot pay for an apartment and moving costs right now ... unless I don't pay my rent for next month. Plus I still have a lot of stuff to get rid of before I can move. But I am SO ready to be out of here, done with all the plumbing issues, and done with that landlord!!! My daughter and I went last weekend to look at the apartments I referred to in my last post, and we really like them a lot. Last night I'm sitting on the couch (while the landlord snaked out the toilet for the umpteenth time) planning ways I could perhaps move out of here next weekend!! Realistically I know there is no way I can do that. But it will be very interesting to see how long it is before we have more plumbing issues ... I am saying two weeks, tops. And if he doesn't get back out here to replace the toilet he broke, we will not even have a back-up toilet!! I really will NOT be happy then!!

My auto insurance questions are: When do you give up collision coverage? What exactly is comprehensive, and when do you give that up? My car is 8 years old (less than 70,000 miles) but I still carry full coverage. I only do that because I'm so nervous that as soon as I drop it, I'll have an accident!! I need some of you to talk some sense into me!! HELP!!

As an update to my child support situation with my ex, he did receive his severance the day after I posted and I was able to deposit the child support check. Now it's due again this week (Wed.) and I'm on pins and needles wondering if I'm going to receive it. I went ahead and kept the $400 from my EF to have on hand and readily available as long as the child support is in limbo, so my EF in ING is down. Frown

The kids both start school tomorrow ... my daughter in 8th grade and my son as a college freshman! My daughter and I went to see my son on Friday because I wanted to see his dorm and just know where he's going to be living for the next school year (my ex moved him there a few days prior). He seems to have really settled in well and has made a bunch of new friends, so I am thankful for that. Now if we can just get our living situation here at home ironed out as well, life will be more pleasant all around!

Discouraged

August 12th, 2008 at 08:01 pm

I'm not sure if I mentioned this previously or not, but several weeks ago my ex lost his job. He'd been with that company less than a year, so I'm sure his severance package was quite small. Tomorrow I am supposed to receive the second child support payment due since the direct deposit from his job switched off. I asked him to send a post-dated check home with my daughter this past weekend, which he did ... and today I got an email from him saying as of today's mail he's not received his severance package so the check I was planning to deposit on my way to work in the morning is rubber. My checking account was pretty much at zero, my savings account (in brick & mortar bank) is my remaining challenge money of about $100, and everything else is in ING. We need some groceries, I put half a tank in my car yesterday, and had made payment arrangements with the cable company to pay my bill (which was due last Friday) this Friday (with a $4.95 late fee tacked on, which REALLY ticks me off) ... so I really need that check to be good! Ugh. Rather than face the prospect of going into the weekend with NO money, I decided to transfer $400 from my EF in ING, so it should be available in my checking account by the weekend. Hopefully the ex will get his severance tomorrow and I can just transfer the money back to ING ... but then I get to start stressing over whether the child support two weeks from now is going to be paid. He's never not paid (well, except for once when we were in the thick of the divorce negotiations and he was ticked off ... but that was 10 years ago!) and I know he will pay it if he has it, but I'm afraid if he doesn't get a job soon he won't be able to pay. I'm struggling as it is with the reduction since my son's graduation 2 months ago ... having NO child support at all would definitely mean getting a second job, and probably working 7 days a week! Well, I can't worry about that, worrying does no good ... I just have to have faith that it will all work out. I do feel for my ex, I really do. He had almost 20 years with one company, and they'd sent him back to school to get his Bachelor's degree, then paid for him to get his Master's degree, then eliminated his position shortly after that. Since that time he has had a failed business franchise and had to declare bankruptcy, then got this other job less than a year ago, which he just lost. Sadly, his financial situation sounds a lot like mine. It's a shame our kids have such deadbeat parents!! Frown

In a different vein, I have really been thinking seriously about moving. For the past few years, I've been commenting to my daughter that we'd look into moving to a 2-bedroom apartment when my son went off to college. Now the time is here, and there is a fairly new (2-3 years old) apartment complex less than a mile from where I currently live which, if we moved there, would allow my daughter to finish in her current middle school (one more year) and then go on to the same high school my son just graduated from. For the past year or two we've had repeated plumbing problems in this house which, of course, are not our responsibility to repair but it's SUCH a hassle to have to deal with over and over again. Overall, this house needs a lot of repairs ... nothing major, so the landlord doesn't want to spend the money. I won't even go into how badly it needs a few upgrades ... the house is 25 years old and I swear it's still got the original carpet! Anyway, it would just be a perk to have something newer and nicer for a change. (I know, that's a WANT, not a NEED!) My main reason for wanting to move is so that I don't have to deal with the lawn maintenance (since my son is moving, and he's always done the yard work)! Also, we'll have a pool if we move to an apartment, which would be nice during the long scorching Texas summers! Since I looked at apartments before I moved into this rent house 5 years ago, I knew that I couldn't expect to reduce my expenses by moving to an apartment; they were about the same as houses for rent at that time.

Last week I looked at the website for the apartment complex I'm interested in, and their 2-bedroom apartments are advertised at $1200/month, which is $200/month MORE than I pay for my rent house ... so I pretty much put that idea out of my head right then and there. Then I was talking to a girl I work with about it, and she hooked me up with an apartment locator, something I never even knew existed! I guess these apartment locators can get better pricing than just a person coming in on their own. She sent me some prices for these apartments that were over $200 less than what was advertised on the website, or about the same as my current rent! Cool!! So I got all excited about that. Plus, the deposit on the apartment ($250) is MUCH less than I paid for this house ($1,000). So today I asked her some questions about the pet deposit, and availability of the floor plan I'd like (the only 2-bedroom floor plan w/a garage). Turns out the prices she sent me were for floor plans without a garage, because they have none of those available (nor do they foresee having any in the near future). So I have no way of knowing how much those are running until one becomes available, and the prices may have gone up quite a bit by then. (Apparently the prices change frequently.) As far as the pet deposit goes, it was listed as $150 ... but it's actually $300, half of which is refundable. (Totally misleading, I think!) Also, that $300 is PER PET ... so, since I have two cats, my pet deposit would be $600. BUT, the security deposit would be $125 instead of $250, because I work for a "preferred employer." Okay, there's another perk from working for my company ... cool, I will take it! So that brings the move-in to $725, which is still not as bad as the $1,000 I was thinking I'd have to come up with. True, the rent would probably be about the same as what I pay now, but surely the utilities would be less. (I know the water would be, what with all the plumbing issues we've had here!!) Oh, then I also found out today that my monthly rent would be $10 more per pet as well, which really ticks me off. Have y'all heard of that before? I haven't. Granted, I haven't moved much in the past 10 years, and I haven't lived in an apartment since I was in college, but still ... that's just crazy!!

So, I guess I will just plan to TRY to save up the money to move (for deposits, movers, whatever), depending on whether or not I continue to get child support, what kind of raise I get at the end of the year, whether Murphy stays away, etc. and I'll just keep checking with the apartment locator periodically to see if an apartment with a garage comes available in that complex. It's probably just as well, since I have a TON of stuff to get rid of in order to be able to move into a 2-bedroom apartment, so I know I will have to have some garage sales. That's something I've needed to do for a long long time anyway, and it will make me some extra money, which I definitely need! (I will just have to wait for cooler weather!) Oh, one other good thing about moving to the apartment is that it's got ALL the appliances in it already, including a full-size washer/dryer, and ALL the kitchen appliances ... so I could sell all of my appliances!

Murphy came to visit me - how rude!

July 9th, 2008 at 07:59 pm

He KNOWS he was uninvited and is NOT welcome here!!

I posted last week about my refrigerator making a noise and not cooling well, following a power outage we experienced. Well, the noise has gotten worse ... it's just awful! And now we've noticed that the drinks in the fridge are not as cold as they should be, so it's not just the freezer. The strange thing is that the ice maker is still making ice, but it isn't making very much so I guess that just indicates it's taking the cubes a long time to freeze. So I have to buy a refrigerator. I've been looking on Craigslist for a few days, so hopefully I will find something soon. The money will have to come from my emergency fund, unfortunately. I'm trying to find something for $150 or less, so hopefully the fund won't take too hard a hit.

I was told an hour or so ago (by my daughter, via text message) that my ex lost his job today. I don't have any details yet, but she is supposed to call me later. She was riding in the car with him and my son at the time, on their way to drop her off for a visit at her grandparents ... from there, my son and ex are going to a new student conference at Texas A&M, where my son will be attending college. It's disappointing news about my ex's job; he hasn't had it very long, so I can't imagine what happened unless his company is suffering from the effects of the economy like so many others are. Obviously this worries me as far as getting my child support payments on time, since they were coming direct deposit from his company when he got paid every two weeks. He's never not paid me, though, so I need to not worry about it. I just hope he can find something else really soon.

Speaking of jobs, I've been giving a lot of serious thought lately to getting a second job. I think it would be fun to work at Starbuck's ... what do they pay, does anyone know? I'm assuming it's minimum wage. Of course, with them having to close stores now, I probably can't get hired on there. Well, it's a thought. I have nothing to lose by filling out an application!

CUTTING back ..... yep, it hurts!!!

June 24th, 2008 at 07:06 pm

Man oh man, this is the first month I've gotten the new (reduced) child support, and I can sure feel it! I got myself in a funk this past weekend, just poring over the budget numbers again and again, trying to figure out more places to cut ... while still trying to pay down my debt and save too. It is hard, and that word "cutting" describes how it feels, LOL!! But then I reminded myself that I am in a much better place today than I was a year ago:

1. My current salary is significantly higher than it was at my previous job, and I am able to contribute 6% of that to a 401K (with a 3% match). Before, I didn't have a 401K. Oh, and I also contribute to a health spending plan, and my health insurance is great.

2. A year ago I had NO savings at all. Today I have almost $2,000 in various accounts (see sidebar), to which I have been able to contribute regularly.

3. A year ago I had to use my credit cards every month to make ends meet. Today they are in a block of ice in my freezer, and I have not touched them in months. (Granted, most of them are maxed out because of all the charging I did until I froze them, LOL!) Not only am I not adding to my CC debt, I am able to pay the minimums on all the cards ON TIME, which is slowly but surely whittling down the debt. As soon as the dust settles on this latest financial change, I hope to start snowflaking, too!

So I can see that I am making tiny steps now, and as long as I can continue to keep moving forward, no matter how tiny the steps, eventually this process will get a little easier. I should get a salary increase (as well as some sort of bonus) early next year, too. So I just have to be patient, and this will gradually get easier. As long as Murphy stays away and I can avoid touching my EF, I'll be okay. Looking at things that way, it seems like where I am right now is probably the most challenging (painful) point ... at least, I hope so!

There was a comment made to my last entry about starting a savings account for the purpose of Christmas shopping this year, and I think I've about decided that's what I'm going to use my Smarty Pig account for. The $25/month automatic deposits won't add up to the amount I'll need by year-end, but it will give me a start. I also just remembered that I will get the $100 bonus in my "Save Yourself" account in October/November, so maybe I will earmark that $100 to add to my Christmas fund in Smarty Pig.

So now I feel somewhat better ... actually, I feel immensely better than I did this past weekend! Now I just have to figure out where the money is going to come from to buy my son the things he needs to go off to college and live in the dorm come the fall semester (which will be here in the blink of an eye)! Well, his dad will definitely have to help out ... especially since his monthly income has gone up by the same amount mine has gone down!! Big Grin

I hate credit cards!!

June 14th, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Okay, we probably all hate credit cards. But I had finally reached a point of acceptance and I have been taking action by paying down my old debt while not incurring any new debt. I have even made some progress ... so I'd started to feel encouraged, and maybe even begun to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Then I got a couple of my CC bills this month and noticed the balances had gone UP instead of DOWN ... and I knew I had not charged anything (my cards are still in a block of ice in my freezer)!

Upon closer examination of the bill from the first card, I saw that it has an annual fee of $39 which was charged to me this month ... which I am sure I knew before I got the card (obviously about a year ago) but have forgotten. In fact, I am sure I not only knew about the annual fee but I didn't care about it at the time; however, I sure care a LOT now!! Ugh. To make matters worse, when I originally got this card it had a 0% APR, which went up to 14.9% in February. That same month I was also late paying my bill ... so in March the APR went up to 29.49%!!! Dang!!

As if all that weren't bad enough, the closer look at the second card (to see why my monthly minimum payment went up) revealed that this company also raised my APR this month, from 15.99% to 24.99%. I emailed to inquire about that and got the standard reply about how they can raise the APR if I pay late and/or go over my limit ... but I've not gone over my limit at all this year (quite the opposite, in fact) and I have only had one late payment, also back in February (Christmas killed me). So why is my APR just being raised NOW for a late payment back in February?!! ARGH!!

It's just SO frustrating to finally be making noticeable progress, then have a couple whammies like that come from out of the blue. And of course these things have to happen the same month my child support is reduced!! It's discouraging.

But I do have a couple of positive things to report! So far this month I have four no-spend days, which is awesome for me! I also opened up an account with Smarty Pig, and I'm doing once-a-month auto transfers of $25 into that!! So I need to concentrate on my positive actions and not the negative circumstances that have developed this month. I know if I can persevere through this rough patch and continue to pay my minimums plus whatever small amounts I can manage to scrape up, soon I will have another card paid and I'll be able to apply that amount to another card, and my snowball will gain some momentum!!

I got my first Pinecone check!

June 1st, 2008 at 06:03 pm

I received my very first Pinecone check on Friday! That will bump up my challenge fund balance to $225.09. It's so funny how excited I am over a $3 check. Big Grin

The kids have two days of school left; well, my son is actually finished because he is exempt from all of his finals. So he will be working more, and it remains to be seen if he eats at home more often or less often (I'm thinking about food expenses here!). Hopefully the food bill will stay about the same; I will have to buy more, but I won't have to give the kids lunch money. We'll see.

My son's graduation is coming up on Saturday, and family is coming in. It was decided that my ex and his wife will host a cookout at their house afterwards for both sides of the family, which is a relief to me financially. It will be the first time my dad/stepmom have seen my ex's parents in 10+ years (the dads used to be the best of fishing buddies), so I think it will be a good gathering. I'm grateful we are all on such good terms and able to do this type of thing, for my kids' sake.

I updated my credit card debt total for the end of May, and I have shaved off just over $1,000 from my total debt since the beginning of this year, woo-hoo! Now THAT excites me! Now the real challenge begins ... trying to keep everything paid up on my lower income, since my child support has now gone down. I am seriously thinking about getting a second job. It would be great to get a big raise at work ... but I don't think I can expect one quite THAT big!

BIG Income Cut Approaching

May 17th, 2008 at 01:47 pm

My son graduates from high school in 3 weeks. According to the terms of my divorce decree, that is the point at which my child support will decrease. That means this is the last month I will get the amount of child support I have been used to receiving for 9 years ... $1,319. Beginning next month, I will be receiving $795, or a decrease of around 40%. Since I have only just begun to get a grip on my financial situation this year, I have not planned for this event. I'm starting to feel some fear!

I did get my car air conditioning problem repaired, although it might just be a temporary fix. I went with the mechanic who gave me the third opinion on the problem, because he actually took the time to LOOK for the real problem, his estimate was reasonable, and he actually seemed to be leveling with me honestly. The first mechanic told me to take the car to a dealership because he thought there was a problem with the car's computer and he did not have the proper equipment to diagnose/repair it. (I heard "computer" and equated that to $$$.) The second mechanic told me I needed a new evaporator core, which would necessitate removing the entire dash of the car, which would mean a charge of over $900 in labor alone! I decided to get a third opinion because the first two were different, and I couldn't see spending my entire baby EF only to find the evaporator core or computer was not the problem to begin with! The third mechanic, after spending a LOT of time looking, found a wire that wasn't connecting to the compressor, or to something else connected to the compressor. He also added freon because it was low. Why do I say this might be a temporary fix? Because I might have a leak somewhere in the system, since the freon level was low ... it might be a slooooow leak, or I might find myself back in the shop in a couple of weeks with no A/C again. So far, so good (it's been just over a week), so I am hopeful that IF I do have a leak, it will be one of those slooooow ones.

It just seems like it's always something, you know? At least I had my stimulus money this time, so I was able to use that for my repair bill and I didn't have to dip in to my baby EF!