That Wagon Thang

 

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Now I really know what it means to fall of the wagon. I’ve heard that phrase all my life. I tried to imagine someone falling off a little red wagon into a pool of booze. I couldn’t quite visualize that. Now I can visualize something else: someone falling off the wagon train, oblivious as everyone else keeps pulling ahead, and finding oneself a year later at the back of the trail.

Yes, that’s me. It all started when I stopped listening to my favorite debt snowballing podcasts and got into something else. That other thing was my health. Last summer I started feeling just awful. I couldn’t string together one thought to the next. I could barely make it up my driveway to get the mail. I was a holy mess. So I went to a functional medicine group, shelled out most of what was in my savings account, and then continued to spend and go into debt even more to take care of my health. That did pay off healthwise. I feel great now. I’ve got energy. I’m getting fitter. I’m happy about that.

I have also continued to cash flow two kids in college. They are not going into any debt unless they do something stupid on their own.

But as far as credit card debt, I’m right where I started a year ago. Now let’s see if I can hitch a ride on another wagon train.

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My Sassy Wardrobe

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I started this blog on New Year’s eve, December 31, 2017. I had two resolutions.

  • a year of no shopping for clothes, bags, jewelry, or shoes
  • a food and drink budget of $900 a month.

The second has been spotty at best, but the first one I am rocking. In desperation, at times, I go to try on clothes from my favourite designer. But so far every time I walk away emptyhanded. I don’t want to let myself down. And so far nothing tempts me enough to do that.

There is not a single item in my closet purchased in 2018. Left with what I have, I decided to pare down even more, so I moved out all the clothes that are not quite right, no matter how pricy or lovely. If they don’t work for me, they are banished. So I’ve pared down what I wear to a hanging clothes rack for jeans and sweaters and two linear feet.

Most everything is black. There are a few shots of colour, like an amazing pair of wine-coloured Fluevogs that I just had refurbished at the cobblers. Everything goes together. Everything can work at a night out or in the classroom or taking the dog for a walk. Everything is easy, elegant, and still sassy.

A year of no shopping has its frustrations, no doubt, but also the gift of minimalism.

Congratulations, you’ve been selected for PayPal Credit!

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Seriously? I’m being congratulated for the opportunity to go into debt with you and make you money? You must think I am an idiot who would believe this is an honour. It’s not.

When did the ability to borrow money become a badge of honour? Yes, there is a difference between the  people I’d lend to and people I’d never lend a dime. But the former are hardly worthy of respect just on that account. Anyone needing to borrow anything is in a rather degrading position.

I now reflect back to the times in my twenties when I went to people asking to co-sign for a loan because I was in dire straits. That was more humiliating than I could actually acknowledge. It was horrible.

But now the debt advertisers woo us with notions that being able to borrow means you are elite. Yeah, baby, plunk down that gold card on the table. Show up all your colleagues. You must be cool.

I am now so proud and happy when I pull out my debit card or, better, cash to pay for my part of a dinner with friends, or groceries or stuff at the drug store. It’s even so much better to pay with cash on hand for huge expenses. Paying with credit now feels shameful. As it should.

So I am increasingly appalled by all the credit scam come ons…  Like for a HELOC so you can upgrade your kitchen or go on vacation.

Seriously?

Let’s fry some eggs

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In grad school I learned about externalities. Those are the things we might not pay for immediately but all of us pay for in the long run. Like right now it might be cheap to buy a dollar meal at McDonald’s, but in the long run this will play havoc on our individual and collective health care costs. Same with most any industry today. The immediate costs can be low but the costs that society has to bear for the environment, social welfare, and medicine are huge.

Have you ever wondered why it is such a sure bet to go for a career in health care? It’s because we are all so sick. I’m surprised that so few seem to notice this. Health care is a huge part of our economy precisely because we are so sick.

And why are we so sick? Lots of reasons: the industrial food complex, the medical complex that has sold out to big pharma and big food, to our gullibility with the food pyramid. I believe that ultimately we have been sold a bill of goods in the USDA food pyramid that puts grains as the foundation of what we should be eating.

If what I am saying sounds strange, you can start to understand by reading some of Gary Taubes work or watching Cereal Killers.

I am now skipping the grains and flipping the rest of the pyramid. Eating: Fat first. Then protein. Then all the cool carbs like leafy greens, avocados, nuts, and such.

People, we need to think for ourselves and eat like our ancient ancestors did. That’s really not so hard. When you go to a grocery store, skip all the aisles and shop the perimeter. Pretty much everything in produce and meat and eggs is fine. But when you get to the dairy section, skip anything that is touted as low fat and go for full fat.

There’s no price difference between low fat milk and high fat milk. So that’s good. All the way around the grocery store, you can find whole foods. It may be cheaper in the short run to stock up on chips at Aldi’s but in the long run we’ll all be so damn sick.

We already are. But this can change. Drop the crappy carbs. Melt a slab of butter in the skillet and fry yourself some eggs. You will live to tell us about it.

Ladies and Women

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Yes, I do love Dave Ramsey. I listen to his podcasts in any spare moment.  I forgive him for being a gun-toting, government bashing, conservative evangelical dude.  I have lots of friends like that from way back He also is apparently not a racist. I do in fact see in him values here that the left lacks: like loyalty, actually giving to one’s own community (instead of asking the government to do it), and civility (which the left does have and all sides should do more for).

But honest to God I’ve had it with “the ladies.” He never refers to women as women. They are always ladies.

Ramsey has two product for budding entrepreneurs: “entre leadership” for people seriously intent on starting or furthering their own businesses” and “business boutique” ostensibly for women trying to create a new side-hustle.

Okay, fine. But why is it that whenever men call in with a problem about starting a new biz, however much a side hustle,  they are directed to entre leadership and women, no matter how serious their biz, are directed to Christy Wright’s Business Boutique?

And the women are always referred to as ladies?

For christ’s sake, ladies can be women too. They can be serious entrepreneurs. Let’s please, oh please, stop with this sexist shit.

Dave, please…. You’ve got no excuse.

Budgeting for Reality

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Contending with reality, as I faced headlong in my last post, I think I’m off to a good start for July 2018. I’ve got the budget nailed down to the penny, including the big chunk of change for one my loved one to go into treatment plus money for fall college tuition for two kids.

I barely recognize myself — I’ve got money in the bank to pay for things now. I don’t need to put a thing on a credit card. The money is in the bank. I can write a check. What a concept.

Shocking — until now, even though we make a quarter million dollars a year, we never had anything in the bank. It was always a scramble at the start of every month to put as much as possible toward paying off previous months’ — and year’s — debts. So there was nothing much available to pay for the coming month’s expenses.  How stupid is that?

I’ve got two master’s degrees and a PhD  — but somehow I never got a basic education on handling money.

Thankfully now, having woken up,  I am wiser. At the start of the month I set aside what I realistically need for the coming month (mortgage, utilities, food, insurance, car loans, parent load, minimum credit card payment), plus whatever I need to set aside for coming college costs, and only then do I allocate money toward my debt snowball. I then put as much as I can that is left over toward paying off debt. The difference now is that I don’t have to use a credit card for a thing.

Tbis morning, I withdrew $1200 cash from the bank to cover the coming month’s groceries for the family of four and the pocket money for the two of us. I then went shopping for at Aldi where three huge bags of pantry staples that should last the month cost me $42. Okay, not organic, but how amazing is this??? Then I went to the little organic shop to get some specialty things and that cost $35 for five items. I’m going to rethink specialty stuff, like maybe I’ll make my own seitan. Then later I went to the regular grocery store for Peet’s coffee and some other basics I can’t get at Aldi’s, and that cost about $78. I also went to the liquor store and used some of my pocket money to buy a case of wine.

So all told that’s a big outlay for one day, but I’ve found that this is the best way to start the month. There will be fewer runs to the grocery store, more cooking at home, more staying on budget.

And I’m still looking at getting out of credit card debt within one year, paying off car and parent loan by January 2020, and maybe even paying off the house by January 2025.

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Image: Pierre Koenig’s  Case Study House #21

 

Reality and Its Discontents

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It feels like I spend half the day with my head in my hands. It’s getting tough now, friends. I’m not at this moment the chipper cheerleader teaching you how to shop on a budget. I’m now the bedraggled parent trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to do everything I need to do — especially now that it is clear that one kid, a very young adult, needs treatment for major depression and anxiety. Which may mean $28,000 per month.

I’ve applied for financial aid.

I’m not even going to go to what-the-fuck-did-we-do-wrong-to-create-this-mess. As one revered psychoanalyst put it, the child is the symptom of the parents.

That aside, how to handle this? Insurance may cover some — and they should but they won’t cover it all.  I still need to budget for this kid going to college in the fall in case that miraculously works out. And I’ve got another kid starting college. At least they have some sweet financial aid, but still the bill is going to be ten grand a semester for that one, easily 20k for both.

For a moment I thought about just plunking down a credit card on which I’ve got a few tens of thousands of dollars of credit available. But the thought now is so incredibly painful that I’m simply not going to do it. It’s already horrible enough that the current credit card debt has been hovering in the low 80-k’s for a few months. Holy hell, I’m not going to go back to over 100k in credit card debt.

And to make it worse, on my recent travels, I lost my iPAD. Every time I turn around I want it, but it’s not there. And I can’t bear to plunk down nearly a thousand dollars for it and all the accoutrements.

Yes, this is what financial reality looks like. This is the kind of thing I previously avoided in my fantasies about how I made so much money and could just put whatever on a credit card. Now I know we’re broke and can’t have everything. And I feel the pain when what we really terribly need may be out of reach.