The Phil Wells Dot Com

I Got A Big Mouth

Tag: debt

Spending and Consciousness

My friend Jen has been trying the envelope method to corral her spending this month and she’s had some success.  Of course, I think that’s great.

It makes me think that the way I spend is as if I haven’t spent most of my life earning the money I’m throwing around.  For a guy who relishes down-time and freedom as much as I do, you’d think I’d more closely equate my spending with the amount of time I spend at other people’s desks.  It comes down to a matter of consciousness.  Successful budgeters will take every transaction as an opportunity to be reminded of the work that went into earning whatever’s being bought.  Was it all worth it if you’re blowing your money on something you don’t need or really even want?  On a habit?  On making someone else content?  On anything that’s going to limit your freedom down the line?

Sometimes I want to write how many hours of work each one of my dollars is worth, right there on the bills themselves.  Short of doing that craziness, though, the envelope method is one of the best around.  Way to make it work, Jen!

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Moonlighting

I should say right off that this is one of those blog posts that could spark an urban legend by getting its author, me, canned. But probably not.

I’ve taken a second job. It seems in a year I’ve gone from hating all forms of work to filling every day of the week with someone else’s idea of how I can be useful. Honestly, I kinda like it this way.

These two jobs are polar opposites. On weekdays I’m using my left brain, making courageous decisions, managing others and myself, attending meetings, and taking on a lot of responsibilities. On weekends I’m standing in one place making sure people can get into a building.

What’s so nice about that, you ask? Well, for one thing, every full weekend I work is another hundred dollars off the debt. Snowflaked! The debt is starting to look pretty feeble. At this rate I’ll be back at zero before my wedding in February.

On top of that, I’d been looking for a way to tell the world that I need roughly 16 hours a week to just be somewhere with my thoughts and a pen and paper. At 20 lines an hour, I’ll be able to crank out 320 lines of poetry every weekend. And now that I’ve got a little momentum, 20 lines an hour bursts out of me pretty easily.

Yeah, I’ll miss lazy weekends. There will be times when I feel cranky and defeated. I’ll ask myself why I’ve done this. But then I’ll add up my debts and see how they’ve dwindled. I’ll flip through my notebook and see the way all those lines are flush in the left margin and zigzag on the right, the way a big long poem is supposed to. And when my goals are met and people ask where I found the wherewithal I’ll say it wasn’t easy. I’ll say I worked two jobs.

Paying Bills Is Like Drinking

I spend hundreds of dollars every month on things I bought a long time ago.  The creditors are getting way more than their minimum payment out of me.  And that’s how I like it.  Or, you know, that’s how I have to convince myself that I like it.

I’m working on cultivating a feeling of pride and contentment whenever I get an email saying that $100 has been taken out of my account and automatically mailed to the credit card people.  My initial though is along the lines of “Gah!  I’m ruined until my next paycheck.  I’m cash poor because I couldn’t control my spending in another lifetime.”

But that sort of thinking doesn’t help me.  I need to rationally see the benefit of climbing $100 higher out of this pit I’m in.  It’s a situation similar to a night of drinking and its resulting hangover.  I can say to myself the party is over and be miserable and sick about it now.  Or I can flip that on its head and think of sticking it to the credit card companies as my party time and the lack of cash as a recovery period.  If I didn’t have to eat and live somewhere and carry on a life of raucous dignity, I’d send those bastards all the money I ever see and tell them to choke on it all.

I may be living lean now, but it’ll only be a year or two until there’s nothing left to pay at all, and I’ll suddenly have a few extra hundred dollars every month.  I’ll have a mortgage and be building equity.  And soon after that I’ll be working on a degree and maybe even getting some stuff published.

Having No Cash Is Stressful

I’m out of cash again, and that’s always sad.  I’ve been accused of stoic coolness in the face of adversity as well as in times of abundance.  Like the book says I’ve got two settings: Off and Super Cool.  But when money gets tight, that’s when I really start to feel the pressure and it affects my emotions.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Everyone has heard the statistic that most fights in relationships are about finances.  I’m willing to bet most of those arguments are based in not enough to go around and not in the misappropriation of large chunks of money.  No one likes being broke.

Today I’m taking mom out to a movie and dinner, but my cash is at zero, and so I’ve had to swallow my pride and resign myself to charging the day’s activities to my credit card.  I hate this.  Charging meals and entertainment stirs up such visceral bile in my gut that I need to sit down and breathe deep just thinking about it.  Hate hate hate.

However, I’ve just looked at my credit card balance and I am crushing this thing.  It’s lower than I’d imagined because I’ve been automatically clobbering it in addition to all the little snowflakes I’ve been tossing its way.  I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m clearly catching up.  So I’ll charge a little today and pay it off right away on payday.  Just this once, for mom’s sake, it isn’t the end of the world.  The money’s  taking care of itself, and my stress level is less  affected than I’ve let it get in this situation before.

The truth is the credit card company doesn’t know me, and that will be their downfall.  They mail me slips of paper with their recommended minimum payments because they think I’m just another simple consumer who’ll pay the minimum.  But that’s not me.  I know that isn’t how you claim victory over the vultures.  You pay big.  You pay quicker than they’d accounted for so their interest rate can’t work its treachery.  I’m a savings-snowflaking, quit-drinking-till-it’s-paid, lunch-packing force of willpower and patience.  I’ve got a family to start and a home to create.  I don’t have time to trifle with some loan sharks out of Wilmington.  My plan has accelerated.  What I had aimed to achieve in three years, I now will achieve in one.  By 2010 I will owe zero dollars to Visa, to Chase, and to the government.

Hunger, which yesterday was my enemy, shall be the tip of my spear.

Taxes

I just got my taxes did and I ended up owing a few hundred to the government. That was pretty much the last thing I needed. Last year I got a decent refund so I figured this year would be basically the same. Too bad Uncle Sam (and Uncle Albany?) disagreed. I was gonna totally snowflake that refund.

Well, shit.

Snowflaking v Debt

I’m still at it with this tedious, relentless, regenerative debt.  I’m paying it off in pretty good time, and I still have a realistic goal of being free of high-interest (read: non-mortgage; more on that later) debt by the time I’m 30.

One of the weapons in my arsenal in the war against debt is this method known as snowflaking.  I’m hardly the first guy on the Internet to talk about this.  The idea is pretty simple: if you’ve got a little money sitting around (or can earn a little bit extra) and nothing that you really need to buy at the moment, use that tiny amount to attack your debt.  Do this often, like several times a week.  Little bits really do add up.

For this to work, online banking is your friend.  If you have a bank account without an online component, or you have online banking but rarely if ever use it, remedy this situation quickly.  I’ve got my accounts set up to send regular big payments to my credit providers, Verizon, and the old student loan (which is near death).  I’ve become so used to these payments that I don’t even notice the damage they do to my assets.  In the case of bills, it saves me some stress.  In the case of finite debt, it’s going to be like a pay raise once the balance is even and I can stop the payments.

Make your regular payments bigger than the minimum recommended by your credit card provider.  Those boys just want to keep you in debt with that petty nonsense.

With the scheduled payments all set up, snowflaking is just a matter of logging in to the account and sending a check.  Let’s try a for-instance.

Today I had brunch with some improv buddies.  Since I gave up drinking for Fake Lent I had zero beers at brunch instead of what would easily have been a two-beer affair.  That’s, what?  Ten dollars?  Okay then.

Ctrl-T, and a new tab is open in FireFox.

I’ve logged into my bank account.

I’ve opened the “Bill Pay” tab.  Time elapsed so far: 45 seconds.

Boom!  I’ve scheduled $10 to be sent to Visa.  All in all it took maybe a minute and a half (my computer is  basically run on steam and cogs at this point).

Wednesdays are usually my big drinking days so I send maybe $20 on a Wednesday night.  If I bring  lunch to work, I send the savings.  If I forego Starbucks and drink terrible, nasty office coffee, I send $2.  Really, I will send $2.

(Don’t worry, Curran, it’s a paperless transfer).

Aside from the benefit of, you know, paying my bills, I get a little dose of victory every time I pay it down just a little.  It keeps me sharp and looking for ways to be the total cheapass that I have become.  One day it will all be worth it, and until then it’s worth it a little bit each and every day anyway.

Close

I’m whittling it down.  I’ve only got two full paychecks-worth left to pay and I’ll be completely debt-free.  I keep pondering how close that is and wondering what I can do to earn it all this week.  But there isn’t a way.  In these past months I’ve looked over every get-rich-quick scheme advertised on the net.  They’re all too shady and there are never any proven results.  The only way I’m going to get through this is to work it off and wait for it to end.

It’s not even the sobriety that is killing me.  It’s the ceaseless march of days where all I can do is scratch together a living and pay it off in small doses.  I’ll be happy to drink, but I really just want to be able to stop thinking about being done with this.  I’m tired of this debt defining who I am.

This month I need to work hard.  I’ve got big spending events coming up this month.  Two birthdays, Mother’s Day, and a few trips.  Money just gets spent so easily.  This month I have to pack lunch or eat ramen.  I have to cash in all my loose change.  I have to ask myself before  each purchase “Do I really need this, or is this just something that I want?”  This month I only pay for what I need.

I’m so close.  Let this nightmare end!

Withdrawal

How many times do you go to ATM’s that charge withdrawal fees? A lot of people are good at avoiding this, but I’ve never been one of those people. In fact, I’d estimate that I visit the “bad” ATM’s at least 10 times a month. At $1.50-$2 per visit, that can really add up.

That’s what drew me to Charles Schwab. They have this checking account that’s free to open, comes with a stock-investing account, and gives you an ATM card. Any time you withdraw cash and incur an ATM fee using their card, Schwab refunds the fee! If that deal isn’t sweet enough, they also pay over 3% APR on your checking account. Compare that to your bank’s interest rate for a free checking account. 3% is huge; almost as good as the interest on my student loans is bad.

Once this debt thing is beat, I’m going to take advantage of being a Schwab member with some bangin investments. CD’s and Index Funds out the ass, biatch!

Bu- .. Bu- ..

I can spend whatever I want, as long as I can pay the rent when it’s all done. I can buy lunch for myself twice a day if I’m hungry enough, as long as I make rent. There may be cab rides, movie shows, big bouquets of flowers, a personal robot dog, and I can pay for all of it as long as I’m not overdrawn at the end of the month.

The plan I’m on to eliminate my debt by the end of the year has essentially doubled my rent. This is the pressure. Money is sort of nebulous for me; it always has been. I don’t keep track of what I have on me. I only make sure there’s enough to cover rent. It’s dawning on me that I may need to consider the dreaded “B word.”

I’ve never drafted a personal budget. I don’t know exactly how much I spend on food, transportation, or entertainment. I think if I’m going to make this work and somehow survive, I’ll need to pay closer attention to my own finances. And so, it is with a heavy heart, that I am surfing over to Fool.com and reading up on how to draft a budget.

Wish me luck.

Rice and Beans

In my quest to pay off my debt, I’ve been bringing lunch instead of buying it.  One dish that I eat at least once a week is my famous rice and beans.  Here’s how I make it.

Ingredients:

1 cup brown rice (uncooked)

2 1/4 cups water (cooked)

1 can Goya black beans

1 chug-a-lug white vinegar

1 dash garlic powder

1 assload Goya chicken Adobo

3 shakes red pepper flakes

Maybe some oregano.

Cook the rice in the water.  When that’s all cooked, add all the other ingredients and mix that shit.  Voila:  rice and beans!  I eat half for dinner then bring the other half for lunch.