Thursday, September 16, 2010

Credit Report Check


Yesterday I ran my credit report. It had been a solid year since I had run my allowed one annual credit report by each credit reporting agency at AnnualCreditReport.com (this is the only truly free report - don't be fooled by other companies). The last time I ran it, I found one wrong social security number and eight wrong names listed on my report. I "reported" them all to be corrected. These in no way affected my report, but I did want all of the info to be right.

This year I decided to split up the three agencies and run one this month, another in January, and then the third in May so I can keep an eye on my credit report throughout the year and still get it free each time. I have put reminders on my work email calendar so they will pop up and remind me. =)

This time I chose Experian.

What did I find? All of the previous year's incorrect items have been corrected. Hooray!

I found that all of my accounts are still in good standing and nothing looks suspicious.

I found that I understand the report a lot more now than I did one year ago when I was almost clueless about our own household financial status.

I found two open accounts that I didn't want to be open. An old Sears card and an old Victoria's Secret card. I called and closed them both. No big deal really, as I had no idea they were still open.

I did find out though that there is one company that is running our report once a month for the last three months. It's a credit card company. I have called and asked them to stop, as we are not interested in carrying their card.

So that's it.

Boring.

Just how I want my report to look.

Have you run yours in the last year? If so, did you find anything unexpected? If not, it's time!

Photo credit: lusi

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Things Dave Ramsey Didn't Tell Me...

If you're visiting via Carnival of Personal Finance #274: I Love NY Edition over at DanielleLiss.com I want to welcome you. Things are a bit crazy around here right now because I've got a big giveaway extravaganza going on. However, I do have plenty of other reads going up as well. Stick around and read some. Or enter some giveaways, or both.

Just less than a year ago, I read The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and became an immediately believer. Chip had given me the book and although he has only read part of the book, we are followers of the plan. We could definitely be better at it, but we're working on it and we've made a lot of headway. In fact, we have increased on net worth by almost $27,000, including paying off over $17,000 in debt since last October. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

However, there are things that I just didn't expect after reading the book. Here is the list of things I didn't see coming:
  • There will be roadblocks. Now I didn't think that the path would be free from all hindrances. I knew there would be some bumps. But I didn't know that some months our debt repayment would be completely derailed. I mean, there have been two of the last three months that we paid nothing but the minimum payments due to some other setbacks.
  • There will be foreseeable circumstances that I won't see. As in birthdays. I know when our family has birthdays. I know they require money. I like celebrating them and try to do so inexpensively without compromising the focus. However, I still get frustrated that this does not allow me to send as much to the credit card companies as I would like.
  • Buying a reliable used car is not always as easy as it sounds. Chip got tired of the minivan. I get it. So we sold it and he found another car that he liked. He drove it, he looked under the hood. All seemed well. A month later the problems began. We still need to have work done on it to make it run better and not do things like leak oil. Frustrating.
  • It gets old. Real old. I can get fired up when I see the balances decreasing. I can get fired up when I type something like, "paying off over $17,000 in debt since last October." It doesn't make the absence of new clothes or less frequent trips to eat in restaurants any more enjoyable though. I know...I am truly blessed that I can afford to eat outside the home at all. I am blessed that I have more that enough food to eat every single day. But I'm spoiled. And as wrong as it is, it makes this path to financial freedom tough.
  • I am weak. I should have gathered this by the fact that we were in the mess that we were in. But I've always been a strong person. A fighter. A winner. And to realize that I'm not is humbling and painful. To realize that despite really, really wanting to beat debt, it does not always win out over grabbing lunch with a coworker makes me disappointed in myself. And I hate that.
  • The timeshare will not just disappear. I hate that thing right now. I know it isn't anyone's fault but ours that we "own" it, but I still hate it. If I hadn't have been swindled out of money trying to get rid of it, I would probably feel less resentful towards it, but I just want it to be gone. I would even give it away if we could just stop sending money in to pay for it. If you know a real way to get rid of one of those things, please let me know!
  • It is sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's kinda' where I am right now. I can look back and see how far we've come. And I look forward and see that the destination is still farther than we've already come. And since repayment has been slow lately, it makes getting there seem so much realistic. I know I'm in the middle of it, but I feel stuck there. Instead of feeling good about how far we've come, I focus on the fact that it is not enough, and I get discouraged. And it doesn't seem to matter that our setbacks have been justified. It doesn't seem to matter that we've done well with our situation in those setbacks. It just seems far away still. I need a windfall to get me motivated again.
  • Those windfalls don't usually come. In the beginning, those giant leaps were so easy. We sold a lot of stuff we didn't need. We got a huge tax refund. We made some major changes. Now those changes are made. We don't have a lot of big stuff left to sell. We changed our tax withholding so I don't know what our refund will look like this year. It was easy in the beginning to think "this is easy." But now that we are left with nothing but plugging away to do, it does not seem so easy.

And there are probably plenty of others. These are just the ones I am feeling while I sit here and type.

What about you? What pitfalls did/have you hit? How did you overcome? Are you looking for inspiration too?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WFMW - Flashing Lights? Pray

As soon as I catch a glimpse of flashing lights while driving down the highway? I pray.

No.

I don't mean when I see flashing lights behind me I pray that I don't get a ticket.

If they are behind me, I typically keep alert to see what their intentions are and pull to the right side/lane of the road.

I mean anywhere.

If I see an emergency vehicle flying down the road, see flashing lights ahead on the interstate, hear a siren cry out somewhere unseen, I pray.

I don't know what is going on, but it warrants an emergency response. There is the real possibility that someone is in trouble. And I pray.

This prayer is quick and usually identical to the last time I prayed it. But it is sincere. It goes something like this:

God, whatever is going on, please be with the people involved. Be with their friends and family as they receive the news of whatever has happened. And be with the emergency personnel who are working with the situation. In Jesus name, Amen.

It's nothing fancy, but it is real. Sometimes if I come upon the situation and can be more specific I am, but God knows my heart. He knows my well wishes for those involved. I am teaching this to Patrick as well (as I will to Abigail when she gets older), because I think it is important to pray.

To pray for a dangerous situation. To pray for the hurting. To pray for the sick. To pray for the families that might need comfort and peace. To pray for the safety of the emergency personnel. To pray for their hands to be helpful and for their emotional protection.

Praying for the unknown works for me. I hope it works for someone else too.

Go on over to We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else over there!

Photo credit: (nz)dave

Monday, September 6, 2010

8 Financial Benefits of Being a Parent

In the final leg of my three part series entitled Financial Benefits of Being...
we're going to cover being a parent.

So what are the financial benefits of having children?

Ha ha ha. Seriously?

Whew! Let me wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes because that one really cracked me up.

You want the truth? There are none.

Yes, you get tax credits and deductions that you don't get without the children, but not more benefit that what you spend on the little creature throughout the year.

But you know what? Having a child is worth far more than any money that it drains from your pocket.

There is a love and pride that you cannot experience outside that of being a parent.

There is a sense of responsibility and frustration that do not otherwise exist.

There is a smile that does not cross one's face until a child makes it appear.

There is a sense of accomplishment when you see your child becoming the person you are struggling to help them learn to be.

There is the benefit of having another person love you so unconditionally that you feel forever blessed and in awe of how this amazing person was allowed to enter your life.

So I cannot think of a single financial benefit to being a parent.

But I can tell you...it allows you to experience a completely different type of wealth. One that money could never buy.

photo credit: syposinc

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #11

So, another month has gone by and here I am to confess our successes and our shortfalls.

INCOME:
$530 over budget. Hooray! This is a result of Chip's biweekly paycheck depending heavily on biweekly bonuses. We never know exactly how much his check will be for until it arrives. Obviously he and his store have been doing well this month.

UNDER BUDGET:
Auto Service/Parts: $54 under our $30 budget. This is a rolling budget so although Chip did buy the stuff to change my oil this past month, we were already so under budget that it made no impact. I like that this one rolls from month to month though because we will need it to. Like for September when Chip is having some work done to his car.
Baby Supplies: $210 under budget. Yet another rolling budget. I set it up to be $50 a month to cover diapers, baby food and other baby essentials. Now that Abigail is older and doesn't need anything but those diapers, I have changed the budget to be $20 a month. I think that should cover diapers since I get good deals on them. =)
Make-up/Toiletries: $5 under budget. We spent nothing in this category (we budget $5/month in this rolling month-to-month category), but had $16 roll over from July, so we were "officially" $11 over budget. We'll just sit a while and let this one work itself out in a couple of months.
Clothing: $40 under budget. I budget $40/month for clothing and we spent nothing this month. Plus we had $8 credit from July, so we'll have $48 extra rolling into September.


ON BUDGET:
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Television: No surprise.
Term Life Insurance: Just as expected.
Alarm Monitoring: This is a new item in our budget because when we bought the system we paid up front for 3 years of monitoring. That time has passed, so now we'll pay it monthly, but it will be a regular no-change charge, so this will appear as a regular in this category.
Pest Control: Once again, nothing unusual here.
Hair care: On budget. We have a credit in this column because this budget rolls from month to month, but in this month alone, we used the amount allotted for the period.

OVER BUDGET:
Gas/Fuel: $189 over budget. Chip now has a commute much longer than he did, so if he is going to be staying at this store, we will have to re-evaluate the gasoline budget because this one just isn't cutting it.
Mobile Phone: $3 over budget. This is another one that rolls from month to month. This month in particular we were right on target, but last month we were $3 over, so that overage rolled into this month. Maybe next month we can cut back and allow that overage to be eaten.
Power Bill: $20 over budget. I budget $200 for utilities (water and power combined). This month our power bill alone was $220 (welcome to the South). Our water bill did not clear until September. And our power bill for August (paid in September) is going to be outrageous when it shows up here next month. But it will even out again in the fall. This one is a rolling budget as well.
Coffee Shops: $5 over budget. I took Patrick and Abigail to the coffee shop after church one weekend to get some chocolate milk and a muffin as a treat. It had been a rough weekend and we all needed a treat.
Eating Out: $118 over budget. I know. I'm truly ashamed. We did so well in July and then blew it in August. I really plan to do better in September although it will be hard during the road trip (see comments below).
Groceries: $48 over budget. I have no explanation or excuse. I just went over.
Doctor: $60 over budget. We budget for one copay a month. Chip had one regular $25 copay and one $60 copay (urgent care) this month because he had a severe bout of strep.
Pharmacy: $17 over budget. This is a great example of how a rolling budget works. We actually had over $55 in pharmacy costs for the month, but had "credit" in our rolling pharmacy budget because we hadn't used it all in previous months. And it paid off. We don't need the pharmacy every month, so I budget $5 a month. Then it usually evens itself out.
Home Supplies: $39 over budget. Our budget includes $5/month for "home supplies" which includes anything to run our household. This month I spent $44 on stamps just to have some around the house. They should last for a while because I hate finding myself without them. It's another rolling budget though, so it should work itself out eventually.
Mortgage/Rent: We were over budget this month to the tune of exactly one monthly HOA fee. That's because both August's and September's payments cleared in August. Therefore, September will be exactly that amount under budget and it cleans itself up.
Childcare: $170 over new school budget. This was an impossible to budget month in this category. The kids changed schools and moved to a school that had different tuition rates. Plus Patrick now is only charged the "after school care" rate since PreK is free. However, although our weekly rates are lower at this school, we had to pay 2 weeks at the old school, two weeks at the new school plus registration fees at the new school. It was impossible to estimate, so we came in $170 over the budget with the budget based on the new school rates. However, the budget for this category is now $280 less than it was when we were at the old school. Hooray!
Taxes: $422 over. Because we don't budget to pay income taxes monthly. But thanks to a mistake on our part, we had to pay some taxes from 2008 plus the interest.
Gift/Gift Shipping: $74 over budget. We had a birthday party to attend and another gift to buy. Plus 5 birthday cards to mail. And I shipped photos of Abigail's 1 year photo shoot to family. And I mailed out 3 baby gifts that I've been needing to ship.
Pet Grooming: $67 over budget. We really need to add this to our budget. Maybe $30/month?

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:
  • After our Income Tax Fiasco of 2010, we have now paid up on our taxes. Hooray. We're $2100 poorer after paying the federal and state taxes, interest and penalties, but we no longer owe anyone. And we did it without putting a penny of it on the credit card. I am really proud of us. A year ago we would have had to put it on the card (due to lack of emergency fund and discipline) and probably would not have fretted a lot about it.
  • We revived our emergency fund completely. It was $1500 before the tax thing. After the tax problems and trying to make do during that time it got done to $25. However, it is back at $1500 now. Yippee!
  • We were able to send $250 extra to credit cards (above the minimum payment). It isn't as much as I like to do, but since we sent $422 to the state for taxes and restocked our emergency fund, I can't complain too much!
  • The kids and I are going to take a trip to my mom's house for Labor Day weekend. We wish Chip could go, but he has to work. And since she hasn't seen the kids since Memorial Day weekend, I need to take them. That means our gasoline charges and food charges will be up for the weekend. I'm going to try to offset the food costs the rest of the month. The gasoline will already just have to fall where it does because it already needs to be re-evaluated.

And that is August in a financial nutshell at our house.

How did you do this month?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

WFMW - Pick a Size Paper Towels

During one of the last trips to the grocery store there was a sale on some higher end paper towels. The ones we usually don't get. The ones we can't afford. You know...the ones that feel more like towels and less like paper.

Anyway...the sale was on the type that have more perforations per roll and allow you to "pick a size" of paper towel.

I grabbed them up. Not because I'd been dying to try them, but because they were less expensive that our usually lower-grade brand.

You know what?

I love them.

I truly do.

The funny thing is, I rarely pull off more than 1 of these, which is 1/3 the size of a regular paper towel. You know what that means, even with the same footage on a roll, these will last me almost 3 times longer than my usual brand. Because I obviously don't NEED as large of a towel as I used to get.

And that makes me and our bank account happy.

So although it isn't as green as going to using just dishcloths and dish towels, it works for me. Go visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else. They are having a back to school tips edition. Since I didn't have any back to school tips, I thought I'd just share this one. =)

Photo credit: striatic
 

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