10.18.14

THE GIANT AND THE DWARF - A Book Review

Posted in Book Report at 2:21 pm by otherdeb

I recently received copies of Dov Yanai’s THE GIANT AND THE DWARF to review. The story idea itself is interesting: in carrying his young sister, who is a dwarf, a boy becomes psychically enmeshed with her, until he can no longer put her down. He goes through an inner quest to understand both her and himself, and in doing so, reduces the burden he has taken on.

I really wanted to like this book, but it needs serious editing. The story is nice, but we really don’t learn much about either character that will let them resonate with us. The telling is a bit heavy-handed, although that may be a plus with young kids — there is no way to miss the points the author is trying to make.

While this is clearly a mixed review, on the whole I would recommend this book for young kids — if it will be read by their parents, who can inject some life into the characters.

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I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

02.15.11

It’s Been Way Too Long…

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:02 am by otherdeb

In the past year and a half, I have lost 77 pounds, gained back 40 pounds, retired from my job, become a freelance writer, lost my fiance (he lost his battle with leukemia), lost my oldest friend (he lost the battle to keep his lungs working), gained several thousands of dollars worth of yarn, (thanks to a wonderful newish friend who was destashing), completed NaNoWriMo and signed up for WriYe2011, signed up for the Year of Stash Socks 2011 challenge, survived the “Snowpocalypse” (there has been snow on the ground here in Brooklyn since 26 December 2010), had a bunch of opportunities open up out of having done NaNoWriMo that I never expected, and gotten back into debt thanks to my sister, the roomie, and my own poor choices.

So, here I go again.

Primarily, with regard to the weight and the finances, I feel broken.  I have been half-heartedly trying to get back on program, but it’s just felt like too much.  Until my pension kicks in (all $157/month, or so the union tells me it will be), I am dependent on the roomie and the writing.

I hate being dependent on others.  The ex has agreed to suspend my paying him back what I owe him until after my pension kicks in, which is very helpful, but I am afraid that I am going to have to apply for food stamps.  Part of the problem with applying for food stamps is that the city wants to know the income of every person in the apartment, and my roommate is unwilling to provide that information, so I either have to lie and risk getting caught, or do without something that could enable me to buy proper food for staying on program.  I have the papers filled out for free meds for two of my three prescriptions, but I don’t know what to do about the third, since it’s a generic.  I know that once I am more established as a freelancer, there is insurance I can get through the Freelancer’s Union, but it will cost me.

I am not feeling sorry for myself, here.  I am just catching up before going forward with this blog again.  Am I happy?  Mostly, but not entirely.  Am I moving forward?  Yes, but way too incrementally for my taste.  Am I going to survive?  Most likely.  I am not given to failing at that, after all.

The good thing is that the job stress is pretty much gone.  I no longer wake up dreading a two-hour commute to a job I had grown to hate because of the administrators (I loved, and still love, most of the kids).  I am building a good reputation on the site I am picking up clients from.  I am learning new skills that I will be able to apply both to the freelancing and to my personal writing.  I’ve sold two articles to an online writer’s magazine.  I am working on figuring out how to counteract the getting broken with regard to weight so that I can get back on track.

So, things are not looking too horrendous.  And there is progress.  I can see it with every article that gets accepted on a platform such as Associated Content/Yahoo!Contributor Network, and every pair of socks/scarf/hat/pair of mittens/shawl I complete.  Now, I just have to stop sabotaging myself in the areas of weight and money, and I can really soar.

12.26.10

I’m Ba-ack…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:06 am by otherdeb

Thanks to the efforts of J Spencer Love, this blog has been resurrected.

I’m glad to be back, and am looking forward to sharing lots of information in the New Year!

01.24.09

La plus ça change…

Posted in Perspective at 9:46 pm by otherdeb

My roommate was supposed to deposit her share of the rent into my bank account on the 17th. Given the weather, and that neither of us went out that weekend, she asked if it would be okay if she deposited it on Tuesday the 20th. Tuesday, she told me she hadn’t had time and would do it on Thursday, when she doesn’t have to be at work until 12:45 pm. Thursday night, I received an email stating “I didn’t get to the bank today–everything ached this morning and it took me a good 2 hours to get moving. I’ll do it tomorrow.” Yesterday she said nothing. I checked my balance this morning, and she had not done so. I asked her today (when she got home from work) what had happened. She claimed that when she got to the bank yesterday to take out the money, she found it had already been withdrawn by a creditor toward an old debt that she had forgotten about.

Fortunately, I do not have to write the next check until the first of the month. Equally fortunately, I am in a very different position financially than I was when she was pulling this on her mother on a regular basis.

I was able to remain calm, and we discussed it. She has agreed that if she cannot get to the bank with her share in a timely manner in future, she will get the cash out of her account and hand it to me to deposit. I also pointed out to her that this is just one reason that it is vital that she get her free annual credit reports…had she done so any of the last few times I suggested it, it’s likely she would have — at least — known there was an open account.

I think the worst part of it isn’t that it happened…I am familiar enough with all the dirty tricks collection agencies use to know that this is part and parcel of being in debt and in denial. To me, the worst part is that if she had not been so strongly afraid of looking the whole mess in the eye, this probably could have been avoided. Or, if not avoided, she could have ascertained whether or not she really did owe the money the creditor had taken.

While it pains me that the roommate is still in such a bad state, and while I am certainly not happy about this happening, the reality is that it underscores the progress I have made toward recovery.

01.23.09

Dealing with Collection Agencies

Posted in Recovery, debt at 3:39 pm by otherdeb

Okay. I know I have been talking a lot about getting rid of all my credit card debt. I also know that a lot of those companies that claim to negotiate down your debts, consolidate them into one payment, and pay your creditors on your behalf are full of, ahem, nonsense.

So.

Here is how I dealt with the agencies and paid off my bills.

The first thing is that I did not dodge their calls. When an agency would call, I would talk to the person, and see what they claimed I owed and who they claimed I owed it to. This is important at every step of the process, by the way, because collection agencies can sell your account to another agency, who will try to dun you for the entire amount. If you don’t keep an eagle eye on this sort of thing, you can end up paying much more than you really owe.

Then I grovelled. I explained to them my situation, and asked what kind of a plan we could work out. At this point, unless you can pay the amount in no more than two payments, don’t even ask about reducing the amount you owe. The rep needs to get to know you first. Seriously. Work out a plan and stick to it, with one exception: if, in any given month, you can toss more than the agreed amount at the debt, call your rep and arrange to do so as a one time thing.

Also, do not arrange for the money to automatically come out of your checking account. If one payment doesn’t go through, you will kill your credibility. Instead, set up a payment plan…most agencies will set up to either six months or a year of payment dates/amounts. When you have the money for the month’s payment, call the agency and set up the payment. You will have to give your account information each time, but — believe me — it’s a hell of a lot better than to have an automatic payment bounce.

After you have made several payments, you can start asking (each time you speak with the rep) how much it would be if you could pay the debt in full now, and how much it would cost if you could pay it in two payments - half now, and half the next month. At some point, that amount will be something you can do without giving up things like food, rent, and transit, (and it might even be lower than the amount you originally owed) and at that point you should pay that sucker off. Ask your rep to send you a letter stating that the debt has been paid in full, too. Generally, they will be agreeable to giving you one.

Now, I mentioned above that agencies can sell your account to other agencies, who might then try to dun you for the full amount of the debt.
I know this happens because it happened to me. I was about 3/4 of the way through paying one bill off, and the agency sold the account. Fortunately, my rep and I had created such a rapport that, when I called her and told her what the second agency was trying to do, she not only sent me sent me a written record of what I had paid the original agency, but told me how to pursue filing a claim against the second agency.

While paying off huge bills is not easy by any means, especially these days when you might be making significantly less than you were when you incurred the debts, it can be done.

Have you made a list of what you owe and to whom? Have you gone to annualcreditreport.com and gotten copies of your credit reports, so you can see what the reporting agencies claim you owe and to whom? Even though looking at the amounts in black and white can be scary, it’s really the first step in getting your act together.

01.20.09

A Pleasant Surprise

Posted in Perspective, Recovery, credit at 11:27 pm by otherdeb

I went yesterday to get an electric blanket (I was sleeping in full sweatsuit under four blankets and was still freezing). I got the blanket I wanted, at half-price (and a pair of boots I needed badly, reduced from $129 to $30), but the big surprise was when I got to the register and pulled out my previously unused Sears card. They asked me if I wanted to upgrade to a Sears MasterCard, as it would give me even more of a discount on the blanket. Since I don’t use credit cards as a rule (and had only been planning to use the Sears card this once, and to pay it off from my next paycheck), I bit.

Well, they not only approved me, but gave me a $6,000 credit limit! I didn’t use the “shopping pass” for anything else, and the card will go into my wallet where it will stay unused except for once a year, to keep it active. Next year, I will probably close out the original card. But since part of your FICO score is your outstanding credit balances/your total credit limit, this should improve my FICO score a nice bit.

What felt nicer, though, was the cashier’s freaking out over how much credit I was being offered. We then had a discussion of how I had managed to become debt-free, and she told me she was using one of those debt consolidation services. I told her that she would have to really stay on top of them to make sure her payments were getting to her creditors, and she almost started crying. Seems she had signed up with them in November, and has not yet seen any results. I suggested that she call her actual creditors and see if they had been contacted by the service and if any payments had been sent by the service. And I suggested she call the service and demand to see records of any disbursements they have made. And call her bank to ascertain that the service has received and cashed her checks. She asked how I managed to do it without using one of those services, and I told her the steps I took and in what order I took them.

It was hard to see her fear, but the look on her face when I told her how I managed to do it without one of those services, and when Marc, who was with me, backed me up on what I told her (he’s lived through far more of this recovery than anyone other than me should have had to) was so totally worth it.

It’s interesting to have come from being so far behind I thought I would never come up for air to be in a place where my story, even though I’m still not completely free, gives hope to someone else. (And, just for the record, I will not consider myself completely free until I have the following: no debts [except maybe a mortgage], not even my student loans; a one-year emergency fund; a fully-funded Roth IRA, a savings account for non-emergency purchases, and my documents in order for when I pass on.)

Still, even though I have a long way to go, I have clearly come a long way!

01.16.09

Catching Up

Posted in challenge, debt, looking forward, personal finances, planning at 1:41 am by otherdeb

So.  I should really go over what I have accomplished last year (and this year, to date) in my quest to become debt-free.

I managed to totally clear up my credit card debt, and, to my surprise, when I sent for my free annual credit reports, and ordered my FICO scores, I found that it had improved, over the time I have been working on getting debt-free, from about 340 to 751 from one reporting agency and 753 from a second. I also managed to reduce one of my personal debts (the roommate) by half by helping her this summer when she got scammed.

To my surprise, I received a windfall in December. One of my uncles had passed away, and had left a request with his daughter to send me the legal tax-free amount. (For the record, I would much rather have my uncle be alive, but he was 96; had a long, good life; and was not doing well physically — still, he was my favorite uncle.) $1,200 of that has gone to pay off some of the smaller personal debts, and $1,000 of it went to the more substantial debt I owed my ex (including some money he loaned a friend that I had him add to my bill so that when I paid him back I would have, effectively, paid off the loan my friend had made me years ago, and she would be off the hook. with him). I also managed to pay my years-old debt to Verizon, so when I get a new apartment (eventually) I will have the option to have a landline, although I probably will not use that option unless I want to continue with the DSL service I am curently using (which may end up being more convenient than having to change my email address).

I took advantage of Suze Orman’s Save Yourself plan, as outlined in her book, Women and Money, and, in November, I completed the twelve months of payments into my TDAmeritrade moneymarket and received the promised bonus. While I am investigating higher-interest alternatives to that account, I am continuing to make a payment each month.

I have put aside $1,000 for an everyday emergency fund, and have opened two accounts at ING Direct, a regular savings account, which will become my long-term emergency fund, and a 6-month cd. In three months, I will open another 6-month cd, so that I will have two laddered cds, thereby having some liquidity in case of an emergency that needs more than I have in either savings account.

I also closed the credit card that had not only an annual fee, but a monthly one, but only after I had called them and tried to get the rate reduced and the monthly fee removed. They were not willing to do either, so I decided it was worth the small ding to my FICO score. Following Suze Orman’s advice, I only closed the one card last year. This year, I am opening one card…I hae successfully applied for a Discover card. The goal here is that I eventually have a VISA, a Mastercard, a Discover card, and an American Express card, but will have gotten rid of the four store cards I own. Until I do that, the plan is to make one purchase a year on each of the store cards, and pay it off immediately.

The one down side for the year is that my Target card is listed as a bad card, and will be until 2015, all because I was late on one payment in December of 2007. SO, A WORD OF WARNING TO ALL: Whatever you have to do, do not miss a payment, even if it does mean paying a card off in two installments instead of one.

I am shifting more and more of my payments for things to either my debit card, which comes directly from my checking account, so as to not incur more debt, or via the bill pay function at my credit union. The benefit of this is that I only get charged for the bill pay service if I do not use it during a month.

I am now writing the checks for the utilities (other than Sue’s phone), so that they don’t get turned off. and I made sure that I had my name added to both accounts. I will also be calling Con Edison and National Grid to see if I can get us on a level billing plan, so that we don’t get killed in the summer. We are still sharing a Verizon DSL account for internet service, since $18.95/month for two computers is not bad.

I did make a couple of purchases with the windfall I got: I replaced my tv, which was over 15 years old and on which the color was dying, with a Toshiba HD tv/dvd player, and added DVR to my basic cable service. I also replace the Dell laptop, on which the keyboard was getting wonkier with every passing day, with a new HP laptop. Given the nature of the laptop, and the newness of the HDTV technology, I did get service contracts on both items, but still ended up spending about $300 less than I had planned.

My actual splurge was yarn for a sweater I wanted to make. I enjoy working with good yarns, but often use lower-end yarn for large projects for two reasons: 1) it fits my budget better, and 2) there have been enough advances in the technology that there are some lovely not too expensive blends that work very nicely. I shopped wisely and got the good yarn (Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds in Steel Grey Suffolk) on sale, with the pattern being free. I’m about 3/4 finished with the sweater, btw, and shall include a piture when it’s finished.

I have taken on a challenge project in my other journal. It’s called Project 365, and the idea is that you post a picture every day for a year. I’d tried this once before, but that was the year I had my surgery, and I fell way behind and gave up. BTW, that journal is friends only, but if you are on LiveJournal and want to see it, drop a comment at the end of this post with your LJ handle and I will friend you. If not, I will also be creating a set for these photos on Flickr, and will post a link when the set is ready. I want to replace my camera this year, and I did some looking, but the one I wanted was out of stock and I did not appreciate the salesfolks at J&R trying to pressure me to buy something else, so that will wait. I am using the camera in my phone for pics so far, because I have no way of getting to the pictures on my good camera since the cable seems to have vanished, and I have not been able to find a replacement.

I am also looking to replace my cell phone, and change service providers, but that’s a lower priority, and will also wait until my contract has run out, since I have no wish to pay *any* early termination fees.

The offset to all this is that, instead of making a dent in my student loans, they are in forbearance for at least six more months. The plan there is that when I have gotten rid of all the smaller personal debts and made more of a dent in the three larger ones, I will pull the student loans out of forbearance and start aggressively paying them off.

I do understand that most folks would go for the student loans first, then the personal ones, since the student loans do accrue interest. The thing is taht, with the economy tanking, and job security being what it is these days, I am more concerned that my friends who supported me at crucial moments get paid back so that when they need their money it’s there for them. This is a choice I have made, understanding the ramifications thereof, and I stand by it.

Also, as I think I noted elsewhere, I have begun taking steps so that I will have an additional income stream from writing, and have started taking online courses in html, to be followed by other online courses in webpage design and structure, so that I can do some of that as an additional income stream in future.

So, I am starting 2009 in a really good place compared to previous years. And it is my intention to continue paying off things, and getting closer and closer to my goal of being totally debt-free!

01.01.09

For 2009

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:01 am by admin

I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous New Year, filled with happy occasions, lots of the music of your choice, and all the love you can give and receive!

12.31.08

A Good Day

Posted in budgeting, planning at 2:53 am by otherdeb

Okay.  I said I wanted to replace my TV with an HDTV, and my old computer, which was nothing but a hard drive and a case.  The budget I had set for replacing both was $2,000.  And I had not factored in service contracts on either item into that figure.

Since my ex was home and willing to drive me, I called P, our favorite salesman at the local P.C. Richard, which was haveing a blow-out, end-of-year sale.  I ended up getting both items, 5 year service contracts on both, a coupon for a $150 rebate on the computer, and a coupon for a free upgrade to an HDTV/DVR box from my cable provider for under $1,800.

Nor did I give in to temptation and buy an iPod Nano.  Not that I wouldn’t like one, but it would have to be a much better price before I find it worth the expenditure.

For the record, the TV is a Toshiba, and the computer is an HP Pavilion dv2000.  It’s going to take a bit of time to learn all the fancy features, and to figure out how to do all the timeshifting stuff, but at least I will no longer have to beg friends to tape things for me.  And the computer keyboard is large enough that it’s easy to type on.  Still, it feels funny to be able to actually see the shows I’m watching, instead of dark backgrounds with, maybe, outlines of people.

This evening was spent getting everything set up.  I’m pretty sure I will need to do something or other differently to get my VCR to speak to the cable box and TV, but that’s relatively minor.

The only expenditure now waiting to occur is the yarn for the aran sweater shown hereThe Point is one of my two favorite knitting stores.  Part yarn store, part small cafe, it is the most welcoming place I’ve found to sit, knit, have a cup of tea, and make new friends.  While the yarns are more high-end than my other favorite (Smiley’s ), the staff is willing to work with you, and is always friendly and helpful.

So, I am still on track, and looking to do even better in 2009!

How have you done sticking to your plans this year?  What things are you going to have to budget to acquire or replace in 2009?

12.30.08

“Personal responsibility is the price of liberty.” — Michael Cloud

Posted in Perspective, Recovery, looking forward, personal finances at 8:32 am by otherdeb

So.  I was going to write on responsibility.  Then life got in the way a bit.

First, I’ve been taking on some paid writing assignments and knitting commissions, which are eating up a substantial amount of free time.  This is my choice, as I want to be able to walk away from my day job when the position goes away in two years.

Second, the school year is now in full swing, and my hours are longer.  I’m not complaining about this.  I wanted them to be longer.  The extra money will make clearing up old debts that much easier.  However, my sleep cycle has been greatly thrown, so until it adjusts, things will probably be a bit wonky.  It will also help me start to build a real emergency fund.  Like Item One, this is my choice.

And that really does lead into what I wanted to say about responsibility.  If there is one thing I have learned from this process it is that unless you take responsibility for the choices that got you into the hole, you are going to keep making those choices, no matter how good your intentions are.

See, if you don’t accept that what got you into the hole were your choices, even if those choices were driven by circumstances that you perceived to be beyond your control, you won’t really believe that you have control over your actions, so when those options arise again — and, believe me, they will — you will react the same old ways.

For example, I recently got a small windfall, due to the death of my much beloved Uncle Ben.  When I have gotten similar windfalls in the past, I would pay off all my bills, then poceed to un up new ones.  I never thought to put some away.  I never thought to use the money to enhance a sane bill-paying progam.  I never planned how I would use the money.  I just paid eveything off, got new credit cards, and started spending again. And the result each time was that I ended up in a deeper hole than I had begun from.

This time is different.  I have paid off several small pesonal debts, and made a small dent in the largest one.  I have planned a few specific purchases - a real replacement for the laptop, a new TV, and yarn for a sweater.  I have put aside money into my regular savings account for expenditures that will be coming up, and taken out the first of what will be two "rotating" 6-month cds.  I have started a savings account at a higher rate online, which will be my emergency fund.

Next steps include starting an IRA, and rereading my copy of Suze Orman’s excellent Women and Money .  I am detemined to continue this journey and become debt-free and thriving.

It has been said that the true mark of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting the results to be different.  If you want different results, you have to choose to act differently.  It’s not easy to do, by any means, especially in a society that encourages to spend without regard for the consequences.  But, as my debts go down, and my self-respect and sense of accomplishment increases, it feels more and more worth the efforts.

What financial actions do you repeat while expecting different results?  What can you do to facilitate changing those actions to ones that really will begin to produce the results you want?

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