Thursday, June 20, 2013

Getting out of the rut

So far, 2013 hasn't gone exactly as planned. That's both good and bad. I had been in a huge rut. And I was using my budget and efforts to get out of debt as an excuse to stay well entrenched in that deep groove.

There's been an evolution in job duties, which has given me new things to do at work. But there was no change in pay -- up or down -- so that hasn't affected by budget, for better or worse.

But the biggest change was deciding to move into a new apartment. The change of scenery has done wonders for my mood. I hated the place I was living. I felt stuck there, but had been planning to stay until I got out of debt. I won't bore you with the details, but the living situation became untenable and I really needed to move. So I found a place I love, but it costs a bit more money for rent and I am paying a little more in other household expenses each month. And it cost me a little bit to get moved.

Then my computer died. While I have not been a very dedicated blogger, I spend a great deal of time on computers, at work and at home, so I needed to replace the old laptop. In doing so, I was weak and put the expense on a credit card. I am not proud of that, but I didn't want to wipe out my emergency fund. So, I did a bad thing and charged it.

The good news on the financial front is that I am down to three debts now and should have the next one paid off in three or four months.

But the bad news with resetting my budget is that it may take me into next summer, or even longer, to be completely debt free. I have chosen to pay more to have a bit better living situation and I have committed to helping a family member financially too, which will cut into the budget and extend the debt payoff date. I am not happy about that stretching out the timeline, because this process feels like it has already taken far too long. But I can live with it. I can now afford to make some financial choices when necessary. I don't have to stay holed up in my apartment studying my budget spreadsheets for entertainment. I have decided that having my finances in order, while an admirable goal, will be a bit hollow if I have no life. And I had stopped living there for a long time.

So, I have loosened up my budget a bit to spend a little more on things besides debt. I have actually had a date, and have another one planned. I didn't realize how much I was using my finances as an excuse not to connect with people. I was in an emotional rut too, perhaps even deeper than the financial one.

I made a lot of bad financial choices in my life. I don't always make all the right one now either. But I am making much better ones. Breaking some bad habits. Speaking of that, I am trying to quit chewing again too. I'm still getting my nicotine through gum, but I haven't dipped snuff in nearly 4 weeks now.

These feel like choices that can help me live longer, happier and financially healthier.  That may be a rut out of which I may never want to climb.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Even a sad story can be too good to be true

It was all a cruel, terrible, hoax. But was Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o one of the perpetrators of the hoax or the victim of it?

I don't know. But I can believe that he was the victim. I can relate and I empathize. revealed the hoax today. I didn't hear the story of Te'o girlfriend's death during the football season, so I didn't feel deceived by Te'o or the media that told and retold the story, spreading the legend. But when I read Te'o statement it read like something I could have said or written myself. I found more than a kernel of truth in the words at which many critics are scoffing. I have been there, so I don't doubt another young man could get there too.

I have avoided the topic here for many reason. The woman I was involved with in an online relationship knows about this site and got quite upset when I wrote about it in the past. Plus, I felt ashamed and foolish.

It was really only after our conversations ended that I began to understand something of the extent to which I had been deceived. I still don't know what all the lies were. At this point, it no longer matters. I was too trusting. Too willing to believe. I don't know if there was any intent to harm on her part. I don't really care.

But there are parts of what Te'o said in his statement that ring true based on my experience. It's hard to explain an online only relationship to family and friends. I left out details. I patched over inconvenient parts because if there was a chance that we would have been able to bring the relationship into the real world I wanted family and friends to not judge.

I should have judged more myself, though.

Every time we were close to meeting, something always came up. There was a last-minute crisis. An emergency or an illness prevented the rendezvous.

She didn't want to talk on webcam. I never saw her face, in spite of years of off and on contact. Eventually that became a big problem for me but I have to admit that there was a freedom in it too. I was more confident to say what I was really thinking about things. I just blurted or typed them out and didn't get sidetracked by visual cues that might have led me to bite my tongue.

For the longest time, there were no photos shared. Then, after lots of pushing and prodding and nagging on my part, there were finally a few photos shared. I later learned that the photos were actually of someone else. No, that couldn't be, she insisted. Well, maybe a few pictures of someone else got mixed in with ones she sent. That lie was exposed too.

I don't know if she was just trying to hide something or if she was pathological. I wanted to know why for a long time. I wanted to solve the mysteries. Now, I count myself fortunate that the experience didn't cost me more in some way. I didn't suffer the same public embarrassment and criticism Te'o is currently facing from sports columnists and bloggers and Twitter critics. I just had my own private torment. And the loss of an online companion and confidante who I used to talk to nearly every day. She helped me get through a bad breakup. She helped me start to envision and even crave a committed relationship again.

I can believe that Te'o grieved the death of his online girlfriend. I grieved the loss of the relationship I had too, no matter how dysfunctional and deceptive it was.

I can't say Te'o story is true that he was the one deceived. But I, for one, believe that it is possible. It rings true from my experience.


But all too possibly true.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Did Santa push you over a fiscal cliff?

Were you able to avoid a personal fiscal cliff with your holiday spending?

It is awfully tempting to pull out a credit card -- or several of them -- to buy all those perfect gifts for families and friends. I am anxiously awaiting payday, because I admittedly busted my holiday spending budget.

I spent more than I wanted to or should have between the gifts, gasoline to travel to various family gatherings, several meals out around the holidays and a simple lack of discipline. However, I am proud to say that I didn't spend for anything on credit. It was all funded by cash pulled out of my growing debt snowball.

I estimate that I set my payoff plan back at least a month. But it felt good to be able to spend a little money for fun stuff, rather than just sending it all off each month to pay for fun stuff from yesteryear. Maybe that will hold me over for a while with all that pent-up desire to cut loose and spend some money. Hopefully, it won't lead me to make a habit out of pulling money out of the debt snowball on an ongoing basis.

I am so tired of the debt. I am ready to be done. But I am probably still a year away. That is, if the changes in my withholding this year doesn't slow down my debt snowball. I know I will have to tweak the budget because monthly pay is going to drop, probably more than $100 a month. Remember how President Obama and Congress changed our social security withholding rate a couple of years ago? Yea, that's done now.

So our take-home pay is going to shrink. This at a time of year when utility bills are up for most of us to heat our homes for winter. And if you have to deal with all that, and used credit cards over the holidays, you will also be paying higher minimum payments on the higher balances on those accounts tapped for holiday purchases.

A few years ago, those factors combined would have caused me a lot of anxiety, because I was struggling to pay even the minimum payments.

I don't have that anxiety this year. While I am still paying minimum payments on all my credit accounts but one, I am paying way more than the minimum on that one. So I may have to shrink that bigger payment by more than $100 a month due to the change in withholding plus another $50 or $75 a month due to higher electric bills in the winter. That may slow things down, but I am no longer afraid. I also don't keep the thermostat set so low that my living room could serve as a vegetable crisper.

I am warmer, happier and far less stressed this new year than I was in 2010 or even 2011 or even 2012.

The last Congress couldn't find much money to cut from its budget, is still spending liberally on its credit cards and was stretched out over the edge of fiscal cliff before taking a sideways step to avoid economic catastrophe. I can empathize with that. I used to do that myself.

I stopped. The new Congress won't.

I had a wonderful holiday season. I got to spend a lot of time with family and friends. I have $20 to last until payday, some groceries left in the kitchen and all the bills are paid. There are no big surprises coming in the mail this month. So far, 2013 is starting off OK.

No cliffhangers here.

The End Debt Daily