Doing the cha cha

“An optimist is one who figures that taking

one step back after taking two steps forward

is not a setback, but the cha-cha.”

— Robert Brault.

 

This quote just so happens to be posted on the wall at my favorite local coffee shop temporarily serving as my internet headquarters, and it is a lovely summary for the second month of my year of austerity/debt repayment/unnecessary expenses fast.  (If you recall, I started out calling this something else, which was inspired by Anna Newell Jones’ blog And Then We Saved.  I quickly learned that the name has been copyrighted, so I can no longer refer to it by that name.  It really shouldn’t matter, but I kind of want to find a catchy, descriptive name for my own plan that won’t put me at risk of copyright infringement.  The last thing I need is to be sued for money! So, any ideas, dear readers? Austerity plan sounds a little too much like the financial disasters in Greece and elsewhere, and I’m looking for something more hopeful and motivational.)

OK, back to February, which is quickly passing into March.  What qualifies as my two steps forward took me about two weeks to accomplish, despite repeated and persistent attempts.  I just have to say that bureaucracy is a HUGE pain in the ass, particularly that of the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loans.  I started my attempts to contact them on February 5th, or at least that is when I began in earnest to document my many attempts.  No, seriously- I got so irritated and bored waiting on the phone that I recorded every single automated “we are experiencing a high call volume at the moment, your call is very important to us, blah,blah,blah…”, but I’ll spare you the nasty details.  It took me until February 20th to finally reach a human being who was able and willing to discuss my 6 student loans which are now in default.  Thankfully, I got lucky that day, and the woman I spoke with was incredibly helpful, patient and willing to answer my bazillion questions, after asking if I would be paying the full amount due, of course.  Hey, she had to try, right?

To make a long story short, I owe a total of $24,796.84 to the D.O.E., of which $1666.62 is interest at this point.  I’ve entered into their monthly payment loan rehabilitation program.  This means I must pay a minimum of 1% of my balance on time monthly for 9 months, at which point my loans will be removed from default and my account will be back in good standing.  I have to admit, it was pretty painless, considering other interactions I have had with creditors.  These loans were the last of the loose ends in my debt repayment plan, and it feels soooooo good to have it back on track.  Obviously, I’m not proud of having let it go that far, but it feels good to be doing something about it now.

So that was my two steps forward.  The one step back has been further vet bills for my cat, Jack.  Unfortunately, his eye infection is taking a really long time to heal.  It’s heading in the right direction, but did require more laser treatment and tests to help the process.  Again, I have to admit, I’m glad to be in a place financially that I am able to pay for these things.  It has just been a good reminder that the best laid plans don’t always work the way you expect, and you need to take the unexpected into account.

Less admirable has been my realization of how addicted/dependent I am on my piece of crap smartphone!  Remember my goal was to cancel my Verizon service in order to save money?  Well, I still haven’t done it.  I have some really great excuses, like my new metroPCS dumb phone is horrible for internet access, and I apparently have little to no reception in my house, even for texts, rendering it pretty much useless.  You get what you pay for, I guess.  However, I am still determined to simplify and find ways to save.  So, I plan to buckle down and just cancel the damn thing, go without daily/hourly facebook and craigslistand Grumpy Cat access –oh my!!- and use the money I save to order a landline/internet bundle for my house.  So, I may have sporadic internet access yet again, but in the end I think I’ll be happier and so will my bank account.  Wish me strength.  I can do this!

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Jeeps in flames, ulcerated corneas and a pay raise, oh my! Or, my second month of austerity begins.

I bet you thought I gave up, didn’t you?  It’s mid-February, about the time most New Year’s resolutions fade out and are forgotten, after all.  Nope, not mine.  I have too much riding on this plan, so I’m not giving up just yet.

Thanks for hanging in there with me as I’ve had some internet issues that have made it tough to get my posts uploaded.  Hopefully that will be resolved within the next few weeks.  Until then, my posts may be a little sporadic.

I had planned to write a review of one of the books on finance I’ve been reading, but I’m kinda bored with what I wrote, and decided it would be more beneficial for me to write a bit about how it’s been going the last few weeks.  It has certainly been a mixed bag full of ups and downs.

First, I’ll give you the hard and fast numbers and a recap for January.  Compared to what I spent in December when I began tracking every penny, I spent:

$41.25 less on gas,

$130.74 less on groceries,

$299.20 less on my “wants” list,

-and I paid $607.11 toward my debts!!

Whew-not a bad start, if I do say so myself!  There are some easy explanations for spending less in January, mainly the fact that the holidays were over, and I didn’t spend money on gifts or shipping and postage.  I spent less on gas in January mostly because I had the (mis)fortune of having my Jeep engine go up in flames on Christmas Eve.  Yep, Santa apparently thought he’d help me out by eliminating one of my monthly expenses by becoming a pyromaniac.  The crazy thing is that this is actually my second vehicle to go up in flames- the first was a lovely lime green ’73 Ford pickup that spontaneously combusted summer before last.  I think the automobile gods have been trying to tell me something, don’t you?  While I was ready to scream and pull my hair out at my ridiculous car karma, I have been choosing to look at it as a blessing in disguise.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.  I no longer have to pay for gas, maintenance and other costs, and I’ll be getting more exercise by running errands on foot or by bicycle.  Grocery trips are a bit tricky, since I live about 10 miles from the discount grocery stores I prefer, but the occasional shopping trip with a friend and quick trips to my local store on the way home from work seems to be doing the job.  I’m definitely no stranger to bicycle commuting and errand running, as I was without a vehicle for the first few years after I returned to school in 2006.  I’ve been spoiled the last few years, though, so I’ll have to pump up those tires, grease the chain and get back in bike-worthy shape.  Thankfully, my employer provides a work truck for me, so I don’t have to worry about getting to and from work.

I have other great news about January.  Despite being told by everyone in my local office that I shouldn’t expect a raise –if any- until May, I asked for a raise with my last performance evaluation, and got it! (I work as a utility forester for a contractor to a major utility company.)  While my job has some great perks, the pay leaves a bit to be desired, particularly for someone with a college degree in the field and loans to re-pay, so I was thrilled to get even a small raise.  I realize the economy is less than great right now, so on some levels I am just thankful to have a stable, full-time job.  And yet, I refuse to give up hope of finding work that I love and that pays me what I’m worth.  Call me a dreamer, but I know it’s out there.  In the meantime, I plan to expand my skills and knowledge and work on getting closer to finding (or creating) my dream job.  This brings me to more good news from January…

One of the perks of my job is that the company encourages their employees to further their skills and training by reimbursing the cost of becoming a certified arborist, and gives a substantial bonus after certification.  So, I’ve scheduled my exam for April 6th in Medford, Oregon, and I’m hitting the books right after signing off here.

Another good step for January was to get a metro PCS cell phone account with the free phone a co-worker gave me.  It includes all of the same service my Verizon account provides, for 60% less!! Unfortunately, I can’t access the internet very easily, as the phone is pretty old, so I haven’t yet cancelled my Verizon phone.  Now that I have more reliable internet access via the neighborhood coffee shop’s Wi-Fi (available even when they’re closed, so I won’t be spending money on lattes.), I’ll have to cut myself off the Smartphone cold turkey.

In spite of such a great start in January, February has proven to be a bit more of a challenge, mostly for reasons out of my control.  My cat, Jack developed an ulcer on his cornea a few weeks ago, and the process of trying to figure out the cause and treatment has resulted in quite the drain from my bank account.  Part of the issue is that he is nearly 17 years old with some past medical issues and was overdue for his annual exam and blood work, so I decided we may as well do it all at once to save future appointment fees. Well, that and the fact that his ulcer isn’t healing as quickly as expected have translated into over $450 spent on veterinary care, antibiotics ($36 for ONE tiny tube of eye ointment!!!)  and laser treatment.  His blood tests revealed another major flare-up of pancreatitis, so that means more money for pain-killing and supportive meds and supplements.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am actually happy to be in a place in my life that I have the money to cover these expenses.  Jack has been with me for over 15 years, we have been through so much together, and I feel like I owe it to him to give him as comfortable and healthy a life as I can, given all the crap I’ve put him through.  Call me a crazy cat lady if you want, but my animals are family to me, and I want to do the best I can for them.  That said, I have to admit, I hadn’t planned for these expenses, and it reminds me how much I really need an emergency fund.  I’ll have to work on that.

In other crappy news, after much back and forth with the Department of Education’s Direct Loans office, I have learned that my $24,000 in loans is in limbo between default and going to a collections agency.  Maybe I’m nuts to be writing so candidly about this, but I think I need to in order to stay honest with myself and stay on track.  I could write on and on about my reasons (or lack thereof) for letting things go so far, but for now I’ll just say that it’s a key step for me to take control of  the situation and turn things around.  I have 90 days to “salvage” my loans before they are sold to a collections agency and my credit history takes yet another hit.  I’ll be calling every day until I can negotiate a repayment plan that saves my loan and gets me headed in a better direction.  It’ll take some real patience and persistence, as the D.O.E. has proven to be a real pain in the ass to deal with.  Who would’ve figured trying to give money to a creditor would be so difficult?!

All righty, I think I’ll stop here with my two goals for the coming week: 1-save my student loans by creating a repayment agreement/plan and 2-cancel my Verizon account.

Thanks for reading!  Hopefully my next post will come sooner rather than later…

 

Technical difficulties…stay tuned!

Unfortunately, I am having internet issues that I need to resolve before I can put up my latest post. It’s written, but I’m having connection issues with my laptop, and posting via my phone (as I’m doing now) is less than ideal. So please bear with me and I’ll get my latest update up as soon as I get this figured out.

In the meantime, I’ll just say that January turned out to be a great month-my first full month of my self-imposed year of austerity . I made a good start in paying off my debts, reduced my spending, AND got a raise! Not a bad start.