Becoming Jill: Adventures in Adulthood


Odds and Ends
June 28, 2010, 10:19 am
Filed under: Updates | Tags: ,

Instead of the articulate, well-thought-out post you’ve come to expect (I kid), today I shall be providing you with an assortment of random thoughts. Fasten your seatbelts!

***

– I am giving myself an extra week on the dishwashing thing. I was sick for most of the past week, and while I did really well on the first few days, once I started feeling really bad, the dishes began to pile up. I got them all washed yesterday, though, so a fresh start this week! I’m considering giving myself a sticker each time I wash the dishes… whatever works, right? 😉

-We had some pretty severe weather here over the weekend. Pip and I enjoyed watching the quarter-sized hail bounce around in the yard, but Kitten hid under the bed. He’s brave like that! Luckily, Boris the Blue seems to have escaped serious hail-damage. I am sure that the vibrancy of his Blue aura acted as a protective shield.

-My laptop died! Cause of death is yet-to-be determined, but Karen’s wonderful husband Jeremy is coming over this afternoon to take a look at the damages. I haven’t backed the thing up since January (oops) so I am hoping he’ll be able to get my data off the hard drive.

-Due to above laptop death, I now have a new laptop. I am pretty pissed about the whole thing, because a new laptop definitely wasn’t worked into my shoestring budget. However, I really have to have a computer to find a job. Grr. The dead one is too old to be worth paying to repair, so in the sense of long-term finances, a sensibly priced new computer makes more sense, but I am too annoyed by the unexpected expense to have much excitement over the shiny new laptop I got on Saturday.

-I know I said this the last time I had a computer die, but this time I mean it—BACKUPS EVERY MONTH FROM NOW ON. Sigh.

-I am really looking forward to having a Real Job some day so I can build up an emergency fund for just such occasions. Ah, dreams…

-Speaking of which, I found a great job opportunity that I feel I might actually have a shot at getting! Cross your fingers and toes, please! As soon as Jeremy retrieves my files, I’ll be sending in my resume.

-I successfully re-lit the pilot light in my oven for the second time ALL BY MYSELF. If you’ve ever seen me try to do anything at all involving tools, you will understand my sense of accomplishment. You really CAN learn how to do anything on YouTube!

-I am generally unhappy with my genetic heritage these days. Not only did I get a double-dose of depression, but each side of my family also lovingly gifted me with arthritis, too! With all our bizarre weather this month, I have spent a lot of time with sore joints.  Feeling better today, though, hooray!

-My fluffy cats generate a LOT of hair. Seriously. It’s taking over the apartment.

-Since I can’t work on my resume, I guess I’ll clean up cat hair in case my parents get to visit next week.

***

There, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Happy Monday!

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Progress Report: Week One
March 16, 2010, 12:23 pm
Filed under: money | Tags: ,

So, I’ve been at this whole blogging and accountability thing for a week now, so I figured I’d let you all know how I’ve been doing with getting my life in order.

Happily, there’s a lot of good news to report!

As I wrote earlier this morning in my cathartic rant, my food support was re-established! This is great news, as until I had my inaugural trip to Aldi’s last week, I hadn’t gotten food since early January. I am looking forward to once again being able to have fresh food and veggies in my diet on a regular basis!

I found a cheaper cell plan! My friend Chandra helpfully commented on my earlier post, and told me to look into Credo Mobile. I had never heard of them, so I did a bit of investigating, and came up with all kinds of good news. Credo is paying the fee to break my contract with Verizon ($155!), giving me a free phone (with 2-year contract), and reducing my bill by about $60 per month. They lease air space from Sprint, so I am not concerned about having bad service. I’ve spoken to their customer service people about 5 times this week, and every single person has been very polite, knowledgeable, helpful, and a native English speaker! I am really excited to get started— my new phone should arrive in the mail tomorrow. I will miss my fancy Android phone, but beggars can’t be choosers! 😉 Another great thing about Credo is that they donate a percentage of their profits to non-profit organizations, and the users get to vote for their favorites!

My forbearance request on my student loan was finally approved! I am not quite sure why it was never approved the previous two times I applied, but hey! If it saves me 80 bucks a month, who am I to argue?

I did my taxes all by myself! This may not seem like a big deal, but I have never done my taxes before. I always thought it was scary and complicated, but it’s really not, especially if you don’t have much income! I was able to e-file my federal taxes for free, but I have to do my state taxes by hand to save money. Karen says that I don’t get to spend money to make my life easier, and since she’s the financial guru, I have to do what she says… I was putting off doing the taxes because I was afraid I would owe a bunch of money I couldn’t pay (sound familiar?) but instead I actually get a pretty nice refund! Minnesota refunds renters a percentage of their rent payments, which helps. Go Minnesota! Instead of just throwing my refund at my credit card bill, I will divide it by 12 and use a portion of it each month to pad out my budget.

There’s a little bit of not-so-good news, too, but the good happily outweighs the bad. I was hoping to sell plasma to earn a little bit of extra cash each month, but when I went in for my first appointment, I was rejected because my veins are too small! It was quite frustrating, because I was really counting on using that money to balance my budget. Unfortunately, I can’t really will my veins to increase in circumference…

I still have two big tasks on my plate: I haven’t gotten in touch with my car insurance company yet to discuss lowering my rate, and I haven’t figured out what to do about my credit card. Karen advised me to leave the credit card to the last, as I would need to have all my ducks in a row and know exactly how much I could afford to spend each month on a payment before I negotiated a lower interest rate and monthly payment. So, after I talk to the insurance people, I’ll be ready to start on that.

I’ve been looking at several options with the credit card. At first, I considered working with a credit counseling agency, but decided not to, as they all charge a monthly fee. At the suggestion of my fellow VISTA Desirée, I am considering applying for a personal loan. I could pay off the credit card in full, and then pay back the bank or credit union at a much lower interest rate. I’d love to hear more suggestions!

OK, I am sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of right now… Thanks for all the great suggestions I have gotten so far, and please keep them coming!



Chapter One: In which I create a budget. Pizza is eaten. Tears are not shed.
March 11, 2010, 5:22 pm
Filed under: money | Tags: , , ,

After making the choice to turn around my life, I instantly realized that I was going to need some help. Now, I have never liked admitting to needing help, or asking for it. I prefer to do all things well, and to just not DO the things I don’t do well (which, as it turns out, is a bad idea). I realized that I had an amazing resource in the person of my best friend.  After I worked up the courage to admit to her that I was in over my head, the lovely and amazing Karen generously agreed to be my financial guru and sort through my monetary pit of destruction.

After I made some attempts to figure out my sources of income and expense, we sat down together for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. I learned all KINDS of things!

  • Who knew that one could include annual expenses like car tags and gasoline for trips home in one’s budget and save for them all year long? Amazing!
  • You can negotiate things like credit card payments. Again, who knew? Not me. I just don’t pay them!
  • If you eat cold feta, garlic, and tomato pizza before working on your budget, you will be in a much happier mental place to work on said budget than you were when you were starving!
  • I am actually capable of discussing money without crying. Hooray!

We made a fancy Excel chart to track everything, and now I have a clear idea of how much money I need to devote to every area of my life, every single month. It feels so grown-up and official! The end result of all this math was realizing that my expenses currently exceed my income by about $300, which could explain why I was having to pay my bills on a rotating basis… In order to make up the short-fall, I will be

  • Rethinking my current cell phone and plan. I bought a smartphone last fall, not realizing that you are unable to turn off the data plan and just use it like a regular phone, so I am currently paying $30 per month on top of the regular plan. I still have a lot of research to do in this area before I decide the best path to take. It would be pretty pricey to break the contract and switch to another carrier, so I am looking at purchasing a used basic phone and downgrading to a basic plan without a lot of minutes. Anyone have any brilliant suggestions for affordable cell phone plans?
  • Calling my credit card company to try and negotiate my interest rate and the minimum payment so that they are more budget-friendly. I am feeling pretty apprehensive about this, as I have never attempted anything like it. Ideas?
  • Calling the loan company that refuses to put an educational loan into forbearance, despite the fact that I am volunteering for a year with AmeriCorps VISTA. All the other companies cooperated, but Great Lakes Financial Services refuses. Sadface! I could certainly put that 80 bucks a month to good use, like PAYING THE RENT or something!
  • Trying to negotiate a lower premium on my car insurance.  Again, no experience with this. When I got this policy, I was told that the rate is higher because I only live a mile or so from downtown St. Paul, which apparently costs more. Boo!
  • Getting my food support re-established. AmeriCorps members are eligible for foodstamps, and the $200 per month has made all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, I am having to re-apply, and haven’t gotten any benefits since December. Beans are good?
  • Getting my taxes done and figuring out if I will get a rebate, which could go towards rounding out the budget.

Based on how all of these negotiations work out, the amazing Karen and I will looking at the budget a second time and making adjustments. Hopefully we will be able make it balance! As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I am not allowed to earn any money outside of my monthly living stipend, which makes it a bit more difficult. I think we are up to the challenge!

PLEASE let me know if you have good tips for negotiating these kinds of things— I can use all the help I can get!



Moment of Truth
March 8, 2010, 8:24 pm
Filed under: money | Tags: , ,

Have you ever had a moment where you see your life in an entirely new light, realize that it sucks, and that it’s your own damn fault? I have. Welcome to Becoming Jill.

***

Reality has always been a scary place for me, and I’ve tried to avoid it at all costs. I even spent 4-5 years in grad school, mostly because I was afraid to leave and face the “Real World.”  My denial has lent itself to all areas of my life, but perhaps most disastrously to my finances.  After all, who wants to look at a bank statement when there are books to be read? Typically, I had a fairly vague notion of my income and expenses, and just hoped it would all come out right in the end. Whenever disaster would strike, my parents would give me money and a lecture (thanks guys! sorry I didn’t pay attention) and I would guiltily decide that something had to be done. I felt terrible about taking handouts from my parents, who couldn’t easily spare them, but every time I would think about figuring out just exactly where my money was going, panic and dread would set in, and I would read a book instead. As the guilt and panic spiraled out of control, I redoubled my powers of denial (which are powerful, indeed) and tried to pretend everything was ok.

But everything wasn’t ok. I was waking up in the night with my heart in my throat from dreams of being evicted. I purposely kept conversations with my mother short so that she wouldn’t ask about my bank balance. I worried about how to repay my best friend for the bridesmaid dress she bought me so I could be in her wedding. I stopped answering the phone when I didn’t recognize the number, fearing it would be the credit card company (sorry, guys). I didn’t check my voicemail for days in fear of the same, and didn’t open any mail that appeared to contain a bill. I didn’t want to know, didn’t want to deal. I was afraid I had gotten in such a deep hole that I could never climb out.

***

It all came to a head last week. The rent was due, and I had reason to believe that there wasn’t enough money in my account to cover it. I screwed up my courage to check the balance, and luckily there was enough to pay the rent, plus a little extra. As long as the automatic payment for my car insurance didn’t go through until after my next paycheck was deposited, I would be in the clear! Of course, I had no idea when the bill was scheduled to be deducted… I closed my eyes, hoped for the best, and wrote the check.

Several days later, my phone rang and I checked to see if it was the credit card company calling (again). It was my landlord. In a blind panic, I hit the “Ignore” button, as a sea of acid washed around in my stomach. Had the rent check bounced? If it had, where in the world, was I going to find the money to pay the negative balance and fee AND the rent? For about an hour, I ignored the blinking voicemail light, and restlessly surfed the internet, looking at anything that might distract me from the issue at hand.

At last, holding my breath, I checked the balance. Victory! $71. I had avoided disaster this time, but as I logged out of my account, I had an epiphany— I hated the way I was living my life in constant fear and dread. Finally, after nearly 30 years of repeatedly screwing myself over by refusing to face up to reality, I had had enough— it was time to GROW THE HELL UP.

***

This blog will document my journey. It’s going to be a long, hard road to adulthood and financial solvency, and I’m going to need some support. My wonderful best friend Karen, without whom I would be adrift in a lonely sea of financial confusion, has agreed to be my advisor. The daughter of an accountant, she’s been financially responsible pretty much from the womb. She’s taking me in hand, helping me create a budget, stick to it, and repay my debt, all while providing the occasional night of pizza, wine, and girly fun! I think you’ll agree that she’s pretty much amazing.

I’ll share my adventures with you, and hope you’ll all chime in with advice and stories of your own. Growing up is hard work—but I’m glad I have decided to finally do it.