The Taxman

I’m getting back a $9,000 tax refund. Woo hoo — right? Wrong.

The taxman got to use $9,000 of my money last year costing me about $1,400 that I could have avoided in interest charges on credit card debt.

Not next year. By then I will have set aside a tidy sum in an interest bearing account that I can use to pay for any tax shortfall. And today I adjusted my withholding so I will have a bit more each month for my own expenses.

What is now obvious today before wasn’t even a thought. Now that I’m getting my priorities straight, everything looks so different.

So, no, my friends, you do not want a big tax refund — though you do need to be prepared to pay for any shortfall by April 15.

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Caveat: for self-employed folks, do not take this advice too far. If you don’t make adequate quarterly payments for more than one year you’ll get penalized.

Credit Card Debt Whittling

Here’s a progress report of credit card debt since November, the very worst it had ever been. This is from $106k to $87k

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The madness hit me when I saw $106,000 in credit card debt in November. At first I had hare-brained ideas like, oh, I’ll just quit shopping. Soon I realized I needed to be on a serious budget and grow up.

Now three and a half months later it’s down $19k. Nice! Pat on the back!

But I can do better. And I will. I’m waiting for a consulting income check and a tax refund to knock it down further. Plus I’m going to start setting aside money to pay for kids’ college.

Oh, if only I’d had my head on straight 20 years ago. Regrets. But more important now is conviction and action.

Hosta Awakening

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I totally forgot what happens to me when the buds start budding, when wee hostas start peeking through the dirt, when daffodils sprout out in all their yellowness, when the dead earth starts to come alive.

I suddenly want to go shopping — for plants. I am suddenly overcome with the imperative that I need more  pine bark mulch, new hostas, maybe some new azaleas, perhaps some otto luykens, coral bells, anything that flourishes in the shade. Maybe some new patio furniture, clay pots, maybe even a new patio.

Last year I did all that, including a patio that I think actually cost nearly $10,000, maybe only $5,000. I wasn’t paying close attention, which was exactly my problem.

Today I decided I really do need five hostas for a particular spot — next to that new patio. Home Depot didn’t have any hostas yet, and I also noticed that all their plants still seem to have nasty pesticides. Then I went to the local fancy Ace Hardware. Each pot was $15.  Holy hell, I realized; five hostas was more than a week of groceries.

Nah.

I went home and surveyed the back yard. There were these errant liriope that didn’t work where they were. I dug them up and put them in that spot by the patio. I also dug up some hostas that had been wasted way back in the yard and transplanted them to more propitious spaces.

What surprises me most is not my ingenuity in transplanting what I already had but my horror at buying five little hostas that would have cost me what is nearly a week’s worth of groceries. Suddenly I realized what a horrible idea that was. And I left.

Lunch money, honey

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I’m nailing down grocery shopping on the cheap such that I can make a meal for three for less than five bucks easily. But the problem comes when I’m on campus and need to grab something to eat. A salad or a sad little sandwich can run easily between six and ten bucks. Add a coffee and I’m at $15 a day. Doing that four days a week is easily costing me $250 a month.

So let’s slam on the brakes!

Time to pack a lunch, even something as pedestrian and fattening as a pb&j sandwich, which I can make in two minutes and carry around in my bag all day. And if I’m walking a lot I’m burning off the calories.  I can even toss in an apple. Lunch will then run me about $15 a month, saving over $2,000 a year, which now will go toward paying off debt and later fund a month every year on a Mediterranean island, where I happen to have a house debt free.

Yes.

Spring Wardrobe

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It happens every spring: suddenly I need to clean out the closet and switch from winter to spring. That happened today. But I was totally astonished by the amount of clothes I have. My spring closet is now super loaded.

Of course, I’ve got the debt to attest to it. Those clothes probably cost me many thousands of dollars. At least had the sense to buy Eileen Fisher clothes, which are sustainable and timeless, and so I can wear them for many years.

So I have zero need to buy any more clothes. I might suffer in terms of t-shirts and cropped jeans, but I’ve got at least 7 Eileen Fisher dresses, loads of light sweaters, croppd pants, and tanks. I’ve also got plenty of button down shirts. The amount of clothes I have is actually ridiculous.

In our time, clothes are less about need than about longing. Like something will be met if I get this one more thing, But of course the thing never meets the longing and on it goes,

So now that I am dealing with this gap between longing and need, I am left with a lot of clothes,

I am going to rock that gap wihout buying another damn thing.

My Brain and Other Problems

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I am trying to keep this blog focused on just one thing: managing money. But of course there’s a person behind it with all the complexities involved in being a person, much that has little to do with money. So keeping it focused on money is awfully artificial as a general premise. But I try.

But now it looks like I am about to be diagnosed, again, where I previously tried to ignore it, with a form of epilepsy. I generally don’t lose consciousness; I don’t have motor problems; but I do go to a very dark place. And the medication to treat it also sends me to very dark places.

Okay, so I have to figure this all out. But for this blog the big issue is that I can’t drive. So all my intricate planning on where to shop for what to get the best deal is pretty much shot. I made the fella drive me around today to try to maximize minimal spending, but that was excruciating in itself.

So I think I’m going to look into making better use of my Amazon Prime membership, free shipping, good for the epilectic who can’t go shopping.

yeah, I’m blue. you would be too.

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Image: Le Corbusier’s LC4 Chaise Lounge (1928).

Still Not Shopping

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Per my new year’s resolution, I’m still not shopping for clothes, shoes, bags, and jewelry. Little did I know when I made that resolution that this was going to be hardly any big deal at all. I’ve had maybe a total of ten seconds thinking “I need that!”

Mostly I had no idea that I was about to turn my life upside down to go further and get out of massive debt. I wasn’t even thinking about all the debt — total denial about the mess we were in (see sidebar).

Now my goals are much higher, namely in the next few years to cash flow kids’ college and get out of all debt, from credit card to car loans to a home equity loan and a big chunk of the home mortgage. It can be done. It just takes a big shovel (e.g. a big paycheck, which happily we have) and determination, focus, and intentionality. I’m finding that my own intentionality — with the fella on board — has given me that, but mostly a new kind of calm, patience, and happiness with what I have now. And I’m just not in that big of a hurry to get the new fireplace, or bathroom, or the whatever stuff we don’t really need. We’re actually pretty good with what we’ve got now.