Monday, December 22, 2008

Update Thursday: Early Edition

This is liable to be my last update for a while, and I’m even early on it…  We met with a personal finance advisor on Saturday, and we have some tweaking to do that really makes sense, but it will delay the time that we are out of debt by a bit.  On the flip side, it will also mean that our emergency fund will be established when we are out of debt, so that puts these updates to “I stockpiled some more cash this week”…  not a particularly interesting topic.

It has been encouraging to see my balances drop drastically on the credit cards, however, and I’m very excited to report that, as of Christmas Day, we will have less than $40,000 total debt and less than $2,500 left on the credit cards, meaning we beat our goal by about $500.  That puts us at nearly 92% paid off in 2 years!  Not too shabby!

The financial planner we met with suggested a few changes, and I’m still mulling over those changes before going ahead with the bulk of them.

First of all, he suggested that my wife and I get a will in place – this is a no-brainer, for sure, so we are sitting down right after Christmas to do just that.

Second, he suggested getting the foundation of income and asset protection in place prior to debt snowballing.  This means getting 3-6 months worth of expenses into an emergency fund, and getting term life insurance in place.  The term life will run us about $100/month – not a pleasant thing to think about, but, at the same time, were something to happen to me, my wife would be taken care of for a while.

Third, he suggested paying off our debts differently.  Rather than paying of the lowest balance first, he suggested paying off debt that frees up monthly cash flow the fastest, which, in our case, happens to be the truck, then car, credit card, and finally the student loan.

I don’t know that I agree with a couple of things about the approach, but I’m also not discounting his process as a whole, either.  Mainly, I’m ready to be done with the credit cards – I’m ready to just pay them off as quickly as I can.

The emergency fund confuses me a bit, since it must be higher now than it would need to be after we pay off debts.  The reason is simple…  Right now, we have a total debt repayment of nearly $700/month, which wouldn’t be required were we to be out of debt.  So a 3-month emergency fund must be at least $2100 higher now than it would need to be after we get everything paid off.  The other way to look at it is that I’m getting a good head start on a 6-month emergency fund at the beginning of the process, rather than waiting until the end.

He encouraged us to just start piling up cash for our next meeting (sometime in February or March), and hopefully accumulate enough to start working on the debt by having our emergency fund in place, but I’m tempted to cheat just long enough to be done with the last credit card, then start working the plan his way.  The last three debts aren’t going away in the next 6 months anyway, but I’m just ALMOST there with the credit card, and I want the emotional boost of being DONE with the credit cards.  (In fact, I just almost cheated and put all the money we have towards the pregnancy against the last credit card to just be done with it by the end of the year.)

I’m getting a full week and a half off starting Wednesday, and my wife and I have decided to set that time aside as an opportunity to set some goals for 2009, get our wills in place and figured out, and basically get set for the coming year.  Of course, no vacation would be complete without a little R&R in there, so we are planning on doing some local things that we haven’t done to this point – go to the aquarium, check out a museum or two – things like that.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year!  Thank you for all the support you have given me over the past few months, and I’ll return from time to time to give updates as I have them!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Update Thursday: 3rd Week of December

This week went better than expected, mostly due to a bonus that we weren’t expecting from my wife’s primary job.  That will help when she doesn’t work from Christmas until after the new year, but we went ahead and used it to help pay down the debt a little extra.

This week, we came to within $300 of our goal by reducing our debt to the tune of over $575 this week.  We still have a paycheck coming next week from my secondary job, and then my normal paycheck and my wife’s primary paycheck, so we should be sitting pretty good next week and easily beat the $1500 goal we had set.

We are also meeting with a financial advisor on Saturday to see if there are some places we might be able to trim.  I’m interested to see just how much he’s going to be able to accomplish, since I consider myself fairly balanced when it comes to saving for the future vs. paying down existing debt.  We’ll see, though.  At least he doesn’t charge for this portion of his services…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Update Thursday: 2nd Week of December

This week went a little better, but still not as good as it should have…  We ended up paying off a straight $500 this week, bringing our total credit card balance to less than $4,000, and our total debt picture to under $42,000.

We had our first sonogram yesterday, so we spent a little money getting that done, but all in all, we are keeping expenses down this holiday season.  We still have about $900 left this month on our goal of $1,500 (nothing like last month, for sure), and I think we might just make it.  I did find out that I’m getting a *very* healthy bonus this year, but my current plan is to bank it for the baby, just in case it is needed.

Within the first week of next year, we won’t have a single debt over $15,000, and when we started this two years ago, we had a debt that was over $23,000, and another that started at $15,000.  It is somewhat depressing to see that we’ve only paid $1,000 off the student loans in 2 years, but that plan will probably accelerate midway through the year next year.  I’m not planning on putting a whole lot of our extra money on debt during the pregnancy, but I still want to do more than the minimums, even if it is only a little bit.

Once the credit card is paid off, my blogging will probably drop to nearly nothing, since we won’t be as active in our reducing debt, and be working more to piling up cash.  All in all, I’m not unhappy with the progress we have made, and there is always room for improvement, but the blog has more than served its purpose.  This blog has been an incredible motivator for me – really pushing to squeeze every dollar I could so that I could report back positively.  We’ve really upped the ante, and paid far more off per month since the blog’s inception than previously, and I’m very happy about that.

All that to say that I appreciate your encouragements, and know that they have played no small part in my progress.  Thank you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Update Thursday: 1st Week of December

Well, this week stands in stark contrast of the previous weeks.  Typically the first of the month is where we make huge gains on our credit card debt.  This week, we made just over $100 against the last credit card.  This was mostly due to the “loan” against this week’s income to pay off the AmEx last month.

We got the monthly bill from AmEx yesterday, and it was for just under $8!  I can’t tell you how long it has been since that card had nothing on it, and this month is the last time that I will pay interest charges on that card!

All in all, I’m not disappointed that we only made $100 worth of progress against our credit card, but after several weeks of $500+, it does feel a little anti-climactic.  Next week will be better, with us getting three paychecks next week, and now that we’ve paid back the extra we used to kill off the AmEx.

I guess I’m coming to realize that the debt snowball will sometimes act as an avalanche, but sometimes there’s enough in the way of it coming down the mountain that it just stops.  Even as powerful as it is, it isn’t more powerful than the mountain.  But we’ll pick up steam once again, and continue our journey…

Monday, December 1, 2008

December Goals

This month, we start saving more than we pay off debt, since the birth will cost a decent amount, so our goals will be simpler.  In addition, I am seriously considering dropping my second job this month, and my wife has already quit her second job.  As well, her primary job may be somewhat thin this month due to the holidays, so her primary income may see a decrease.

With Christmas coming up later this month, and all the parties, gift-giving, and added expenses that will inevitably hit, I’m going to set what I feel to be conservative goals, and don’t really plan to spend any more than that.

The goals for this month are simple:  Get the last credit card down to a balance of $3,000.

To do that, we will have to pay off approximately $1,500, less than half of what we paid off in November.

I am still flip-flopping between paying the student loan off next or attacking the next smallest debt, which would be the truck.  Of course, my updates may get fairly sparse, since most of our extra income will go to saving up for the baby, rather than debt reduction, especially after the last credit card is gone, and possibly starting as early as next month.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fourth Week of November Update: Thanksgiving Edition

Well, it is done.  Three thousand two hundred forty-nine dollars and sixty nine cents later, we have PAID OFF THE AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD!!  This was the card with our highest balance, over $10,000, when we started this process less than 2 years ago!

We have so very much to be thankful for – in a time of economic distress around the country, we were able to hold down two jobs each and totally blow away our goals and completely pay off a credit card!  We now have less than $4,500 worth of credit card debt, and have less than $43,000 combined.

With the wife pregnant, and her second job disappearing, I expect that our last 4 debts will take a while to knock out, but it is worth it to just get rid a card that I have carried a very high balance on for over two years.

We beat our goal this month by over $1,200, due mostly in part to our secondary jobs making more than anticipated.  Probably sometime after Thanksgiving, I’ll write down our December goals, but I can already tell that it isn’t going to be near as aggressive as November was.

Stay tuned & Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Third Week of November Update

This was a pretty good week, in that we paid off $356.00 worth of debt, but it was an even better week, as we passed several milestones.  For the first time in forever, our credit cards have less than a $6,000 balance, and our total debt is now under $44,000 total.  That means that in 23 months, we have paid over $34,000 in debt.  That’s only averaging just under $1,500 a month, and with these updates, you are seeing the phenomenal progress we are making now, so that tells you just how little progress we were making at the beginning of this…

We got some news yesterday about my wife’s primary job.  She’s a nanny, and with the Thanksgiving break coming up, she won’t be needed the entire week next week, so that will cut our progress in December, but with all our income considered, we should still pay our American Express Credit card off this month!  (If we get within a few hundred dollars, I’m going to preemptively send the money in, just to avoid having an interest payment to make in January…)

This month, so far, we’ve paid $1,967.39 off of the American Express.  We will break $2,000 easily this month, and will approach $3,000 by the Thanksgiving update!  That is definitely something to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Changes…

Well, my wife put in her notice at her second job, so she’ll be done the day before Thanksgiving.  I think that will allow us to pay off the AmEx before her checks are finished coming from that job, and it was only an extra $150/week, but it does slow some things down.

You will notice that we almost got within $100 of our goal for the month this week, meaning that next week’s checks are mostly gravy.  We would have beaten it this week, but I re-arranged our finances to go ahead and start allocating money towards the pregnancy, rather than throwing everything at the debt.  I only pulled back a little, though, so our AmEx should be taken care of by the second week in December – still an accomplishment in itself.

I’m getting very tired, and really look forward to the time that I don’t have but a single job again, but I know that pushing forward and really dealing with our credit card debt is going to have us going into the new year in a much better position than last year was…  And don’t get me wrong, in this day with the economic downturn, weakening economy, high unemployment, etc., I count my blessings – I’m just ready to quit paying “stupid tax”.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Second Week of November

This was an excellent week!  We made HUGE strides towards our goal, mostly through the combination of getting checks from both of our secondary jobs in the bank in time to make the payments this week.

I hadn’t considered that my second job wasn’t really going to slow down for a couple of weeks, even though I changed my availability, so I have already made more than I thought I would, and I still have another paycheck this month to apply against it.  My wife also got a pretty good paycheck, so she only has $100 left to earn this month from that, and she should beat that, probably by $100 or so.  Alternatively, however, I didn’t take into account Thanksgiving, and the effect that would have on her primary job, so there may be some reduced income there.  We should still beat our goal, even if only by a few hundred dollars, but we’ll see…

So here’s our Debt Reduction Update:

We started the month with a balance of $3,249.69 on the American Express card, and worked it down to $2,721.30 last week.  This week, the balance on the card is $1,638.30, meaning that we have paid $1,083 off of the card this week!!  This is, by far, our biggest week in debt reduction EVER!  It helped to have 4 paychecks and a vehicle reimbursement check hit just right, but we have already absolutely SLAMMED the American Express and paid off 50% of the balance left on it, and we’ve only had two weeks worth of work on it!

Of course, next week won’t be as drastic a reduction as either week 1 or 2 was, but we should still see at least $300 worth of progress, and that puts us within just a $150 or so of our goal for the month.  Then, week 4, Thanksgiving week, we should see another spike in our payoff (again with 4 paychecks) and that should be another $600-700, beating our goal by $500 or so, and leaving less than $1,000 on the credit card.  The first week of December should pay that off, and then we can re-evaluate where to go from there.

My current thought is to begin socking money away, rather than paying off the final credit card, but a lot of effort to this point has gone into getting rid of the cards, and I hate to leave that last one lingering, especially if we can take it out in a couple of months (which, given the progress we’ve made the last two, that sounds like an achievable goal.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

How Did We Get Here?

Most of my posts of late have been detailing the measure of success we have had eliminating our credit card debt.  Today, I want to focus not on the progress we are making, but how we got to this point.

When our process started, my wife wasn’t working hardly at all  (part time retail).  We made all the minimums, but not much more than that.  At best, we threw an additional $100 each month against the cards.  Then several things happened…  First off, we moved from a $750/month apartment to a $680/month apartment.  The added benefit to this was that it was about 10 miles closer to work for me, and it was a newer complex, with smaller square feet.  End result:  It was much cheaper to live there than in a larger, less efficient apartment further away.  Rather than adjusting our lifestyle up, we adjusted down.  Then, every time I got a raise or a bonus, We treated it as an opportunity to put more money against debt.  No major lifestyle changes were allowed.

One of the pitfalls we fell into along the way was when my wife got a full-time, but temporary, job making pretty good money.  We adjusted our lifestyle a little to allow for her working.  We had a weekly trip to Cracker Barrel on Saturday mornings, and we ate out at least one other time every week.  We bought a new TV, which was a GREAT deal, but it still slowed our progress.  We bought a new computer.  All of these things added up, not adding to our debt, but merely slowing our progress.  The amount of progress we are making now, we could have made back then, but we lacked the commitment.  We were committed to getting out of debt, as long as it didn’t hamper life in any way.

That changed earlier this year.  My dad passed away, and I saw the shortness of life, and how important it was for him to have spent his last few months with my brother, still at home, and my mom.  And what I saw was that, as long as I didn’t commit wholeheartedly to getting rid of my debt, I would be forever stuck in the cycle of paying on debt, and halfway living life.  I don’t want that for me, or for my wife, so the cycle had to stop.  Focus was what we needed, and intensity.

This blog has been one of the most important resources to keeping the intensity.  The fact that I have readers who watch our progress keeps me motivated to make progress.  My wife has been 100% behind me and continuously encourages me to keep intense and focused on eliminating our debt.

Those two factors are probably the reason why we are as far along as we are.

Over the next few months, given the recent news, I’m sure that our focus will shift.  One thing that will happen first, however, is that the American Express will get paid off.  As much progress as we’ve made on that card in the last two months, I think the biggest motivational move is to be completely done with it.  I would have liked to be completely out of credit card debt before a pregnancy, but we are very, very close to the end of it now.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Game-changer

This morning started as any other morning in our little apartment.  The cat napped around us, and then, at about 5 in the morning, decided it was time to wake us up.

My wife got up, and I followed soon after.  The thing that was different about this day was the positive result from the pregnancy test that she took.  We are going to have a baby!

Of course, she will take another test in about a week, just to be sure, but the tests are 99% right, and almost never show a false positive, apparently.  As well, there are several other indicators conveniently explained by pregnancy, so we both feel the test result is right.

This means that our current plan to pay off debt may change somewhat.  Of course, it is never a bad thing to pay off debt, but we don’t want to just return to the place we just came back from.  So I am in the process of thinking through what we will do, and what our plan will be.

Dave Ramsey’s plan would entail paying nothing but the minimums on everything, and immediately begin stockpiling cash.  I really believe this is a good plan, but I also really, really want to be done with the credit cards, so my current plan is to stick with paying the American Express off, and then re-evaluate from there.  We are only talking about a month from now before the AmEx is paid off anyway, and that should give us enough time to really think through what we should do.

All in all, not a bad week.  Anniversary, got the AmEx below $3,000, and found out we were going to have a baby.  Life’s not so bad…  :-P

Thursday, November 6, 2008

First Week of November Update

Well, the first week of November has hit, and our debt reduction wasn’t nearly as impressive as the second week of October, but we should see a much better second week due to the extra paychecks from our secondary job.

This week, we paid $480 against the American Express, but our bill came due as well, effectively cutting our progress to $463.39.

We started the month with a balance of $3,249.69, and we are now sitting at $2,786.30, leaving us with $1,636.61 left to pay to reach our goal.  We are still on tap for paying off the AmEx by the middle of December, and by next week’s update, our total debt will be under $45,000, meaning that we will have paid off over $33,000 in under 22 1/2 months.

I know that updates have been scarce lately, but time has been as well - as you can see, we are hitting our debt very hard, so free time is more of a luxury and not as available as either of us would like it to be.

We did end up spending some money over the weekend, since we had our second anniversary, but we had put money aside for it, and the two meals easily cost less than a trip would have.  We still spent less than $300, so all and all, we are happy with that.  Besides, we were ready for a break, and needed something to just go crazy on, without hurting our budget.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Results

Google is attempting to provide a gadget that provides live updates on the election results…  Below are is the available chart, complete with Presidential, Senate, and House race viewing options, updated in real-time…

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November Goals

As you know by now, my main concern is to get the American Express paid off by the end of the year.  December is always a more expensive month with all of the Christmas “extras” that come up, so I want to pay down as much of the AmEx as I can in the month of November.

I have cut down my availability at WalMart.  I’m just not able to keep up the pace, and am feeling continually tired and on the verge of collapse.  I will no longer be working on Saturdays, so that should give me some “recoup” time.  The flip side to this is that I will only be available to work one 8-hour shift per week, so I expect that my hours will drop, possibly even significantly.  With two paychecks in November, I don’t want to set the goal too high.  At the same time, my wife should have two (possibly three) paychecks from her second job as well, so that will help there.

We are back down to a 4-week month, so I am setting the goal to have debt paid off as following:

  • $600 from my primary job
  • $800 from my wife’s primary job
  • $300 from my secondary job
  • $400 from my wife’s secondary job

That means that our goal is to pay off $2,100 this month.  That will leave less than $1,200 for December, and should be easily dealt with, even with the added stress of the holidays.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fifth Week of October Update

Well, the extra week in the month really seemed to pay off.  We made our goal!

We started the month of October with $5,802.24, with a goal of paying it down to $3,400, and the hope of getting it down to $3,302.24.  Today, we are at a balance of $3,249.69, leaving us with less than $1650 per month to pay the entire AmEx off.

That means that we paid $527 off this week, and $2,552.55 for the month.  We have paid over $3,200 against all our debt this month!

The American Express was a credit card that started with a balance over $10,000, our largest credit card debt, and we now owe about a third of that balance.

All in all, October was a very successful month, and we haven’t had the opportunity to apply any of my wife’s second income against debt (some problems with the first paycheck).  That should help things out a bit, and raise our ability to pay by a few hundred dollars per month.

In my next post, I’ll go over the November goals.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fourth Week of October Update

This week marked the week where our total debt dropped below $47,000.  If we stay on track next week, our balance for the credit cards will drop below $8,000.

Having started the week with $4,335.69, we paid $559 off the American Express to end up with a balance of $3,776.69.  To reach our goal of getting the balance down to $3,400 this month, we need to pay another $376.69, which should be doable.  Next week marks another paycheck from Walmart, in addition to a check from one of my wife’s jobs, and there’s always what I put against it every week anyway.

Since the start of the month, we’ve paid off $2,025.55 in 28 days, meaning we’ve been throwing over $72 every day against the credit cards.  That still falls far short of the $120 or so we’d need to pay off both credit cards by the end of the year, but we are on track for paying off the AmEx by the 15th of December anyway.  That means that we should be completely done with credit cards by the middle of February.  I wanted to be done with the credit cards two years from the start of our debt snowball, but we really don’t miss that by much at all.  And that’s still almost an extra $15,000 per year against those.

We now owe less on the two credit cards than we do on my truck, and in about two weeks, we’ll owe less on all three of those than we do on the car.

One of the amazing things is that we started the year with 3 credit cards, one with a balance over $3,000 and two sitting at about $8,000, and we will end up with one credit card having a balance of about $4,000.

As you can imagine, I’m very anxious to see the end of the year.  A chapter in my life is fast drawing to a close, and I can’t wait to experience it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How is the government spending bailout money?

I found a website yesterday that provided some insight as to exactly how the $700 billion bailout is being “distributed”.  Perhaps not with as much “transparency” as was originally promised.  But, then, does that really surprise anybody?

If you are interested in seeing where the dollars go, check out the Bailout Sleuth

Count the Cost

This week is slated to be a better week than last week was.  If all my payments hit on time, we’ll make almost twice the progress of last week, and we have a whole extra week to keep paying down.

I’m beginning to adjust to the new work schedule.  Its rough, and has me extremely tired, but if I can just continue to tough it out, then it will speed our process of eliminating credit card debt.  But how much will it speed the process?  And at what cost?

One thing that I didn’t take into account with the extra jobs was extra expense.  I immediately assumed that all monies earned could go directly against the debt, which is, in fact, false.  Due to our schedules being so packed, we are spending more on food because we are eating out more.  We are also spending more on gas (mainly me, since my wife’s second job is on the way to her first), but these are factors I hadn’t considered with the extra job.

So instead of putting an extra $800 or so a month against debt, I’m only able to contribute about $600 a month.  That’s $150 per week, for an extra 28 hours of work.  That means that I’m making less than $5.50 per hour of work to get debt paid down.  I’m not sure that it is worth it.  Given the amount of energy it takes to hold down the second job, I know that my performance at my primary job isn’t quite what it was before the second job.

So, if you were in my situation, what would you do?  Would you keep the job, since it is decreasing my debt, even at a slow pace, or would you turn in your notice, and be done with it?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Third Week of October Update

Well, as predicted, this week lost most of the momentum gained over the past two weeks.  The good news is that our bank balance is back up over $2,000 again, and we were able to drop below $9,000 in credit card debt.  Beyond that, we had a balance of $4,581.69 going into the week, and we now have a balance of $4,335.69.  That means that we paid off just $246.  My wife did get her check in the bank, but not in enough time for this update, but we’ve been spending a lot more in gas (even with the price coming down), and on groceries (medicines, yogurts, etc.), so even though her check was higher than normal, about 2/3 of it had to go to cover the extra expenses we’d incurred, so there really wouldn’t have been much there anyway.

So the reason we got $246 in this week was solely due to my paycheck, but last weeks didn’t hit until last Friday, and this one hit today, so that means that the coming week will be completely from our alternative sources of income.

Month to date, we’ve paid off nearly $1,500, and we’ve managed to keep our payoff rate at higher than the $60/day that is required to pay off the AmEx by the end of the year, but nowhere near the $110/day required to pay both off.

I’ll have to see what my check looks like this week from Walmart (which will only have one week’s pay on it), to see if we are going to be able to really ramp up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sick Time

Ugh.  The flu season has hit full force, and today I'm home from work not feeling good at all.  Fortunately, I was off work last night and am off tonight, so I'll have some time to recover (another 16 hours or so) before I have to get back at it.  To be honest, I don't know if I'm cut out for the 70+ hour work weeks, so we'll see how long the second job lasts.  We are really making such good progress even without the two second jobs that it wouldn't disappoint me too much to see at least one of them go.  On the other hand, if we can get out of credit card debt this year (or by first quarter of '09), I'm sure the extra effort will be worth it.

I have been trying to sleep most of the day (and all last evening and night), which has put a damper on debt reduction this week, and my wife's been working enough that getting by the bank has been difficult, so this week's update may end up being a fairly small one.  However, I get paid at Wal-mart this week, so there will be some extra for next week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Second Week of October Update

We had a pretty good run this week. A lot of our bills came due, so, for the first time in several months, our checking account just dipped below $1,000. It’s back up again since I got paid today, but I’ve been so focused on squeezing every spare bit of change out of the budget to throw against the debt that there just isn’t as much play in the balance as I’d like. Perhaps after the first of the year, I’ll work on building up our emergency fund a little more and insulate our account just a little more…

So we started the week with $5,357.69 on the credit card, and we finish the week with $4,581.69, paying off $776 this week! We owe about the same amount on both cards now, and by next week, our total balance should be well under $9,000! This means that our total credit card debt is rapidly catching the truck loan, and should be under that in a week or two.

In the two weeks that we’ve been working on paying the American Express down this month, we’ve paid a total of $1,220.55. That’s rapidly approaching last month’s total, and we are only in the second week! Of course, the big drops for us always occur at the beginning of the month, so most of our “extra” money is already spent, but that means that we’ve been paying down debt this month at a rate of about $87 per day, which will not only allow us to get the AmEx paid off, but also get within a month or so of paying off the other one as well! If we could manage to squeeze just a little more, we should have both credit cards paid off by the end of the year! Of course, that means that we’ve got to pay over $110 a day against the cards, but with the two extra sources of income, that just might happen!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Banner Day!

Today marks the day that the last of our loans dropped below $16k!  And in less than 1 year and 11 months, we have paid off over $30,000 of our original debt!  That’s nearly 40% of our debt gone in less than two years!

Right now, we are absolutely kicking it!  And, with my extra income and my wife’s extra income, we should see our progress increase substantially.  I’ve done some conservative estimates which indicate somewhere in the range of an extra $300-$400 per week!  Of course, until we actually see the paychecks, I’m not counting on it, but once they start pouring in, we’ll be taking out our debt about twice as fast as we are now!

Also, I’ve added a column at the top of the debt chart to show our overall progress in conjunction with each category dialed down.  This should give us a little better idea from month to month how much, percentage-wise, we are decreasing our overall debt.

Monday, October 6, 2008

And so it begins…

I worked about 12 hours over the weekend getting all of my computer learning and orientation for Wal-mart out of the way, and tonight I go in for 4 more hours of training…

My wife goes in for orientation tomorrow for her new job, so we have officially begun the busy season.  But I really feel that, at the end of it all, we will feel the effort was worth it.  Getting rid of the credit cards has been a very long process for me, and we are so very close now.

Updates may drop a little, but I’ll try to at least keep up with the weekly debt reduction updates – as you can tell from the chart over there –—>  this week is going to be a big one…  (and we don’t even have either of the two extra jobs income yet)

Well – I have to be at work in a few, so I’d better jet.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

First Week of October Update

Many, many things happened this week, so this is one of the biggest updates I’ve had to date.

First of all, we dropped below the $10,000 in credit card debt threshold!!  It has been about 8 years since I’ve had less than $10k in credit card debt, so this is a HUGE deal for us!  We are VERY excited about getting our debt paid down, but also very relieved and fired up at the progress we are making every month now.  We are really, really seeing the results of the snowball at this point!  Every week we are making as much progress as we made in a month when we first started.  Several factors have helped this – the income increasing has been a major factor in that, but staying focused on getting out of debt, and keeping the budget lean has been as much help as anything else, too.

So, we started this week with a balance of $5,802.24.  We got hit with the bill, so interest charges hit, but we dropped our minimum payment by about $25 last month.  Not too bad, but I hope to do much, much better this month.

We are now sitting at a balance of $5,357.69, meaning we’ve paid $444.55.  That’s a pretty good jumpstart to our plan, since we have 5 weeks in the month.  If we can keep pace with that, we should pay off just over $2200, and that brings us within about $200 of our goal.

I got the part time job at Wal-mart, and go in for orientation for a full day on Saturday.  Also, my wife got a full time job at Panera Bread, working mornings, Monday through Friday, so that is really going to help things out!

This is already shaping up to be a MUCH better month than last…

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October Goals – and other things

Well, I went for an interview on Sunday @ Wal-Mart, and they offered me the job (part-time cashier) pending background check and drug test. Could be called in for orientation as early as Saturday. The way I figure it, that will bring an extra $100 or so per week to the table, further reducing our debt. My wife has an interview tonight, so we’ll see if she finds something extra on the side as well.

I got another credit line increase with one of my paid off credit cards. I’ve been hesitant to cancel the cards, because I’d really like to get into a house before I start messing with my credit, and I’ve got the self-control not to turn back to the cards. Its absolutely insane that I have as much credit available to me as I do – I could buy a small house purely on credit.

Anyway, on to the October goals… There should be some extra income for both of us, and we have 5 weeks worth of time to reduce debt. This means that our goal should be somewhat easier than September's. I’m going to put it down that I want to cut our credit card balance on the American Express by more than a third this month. Starting with $5,802.24, I’d really like to see our balance drop below $3,400 this month. Somewhat aggressive, but we should be able to beat that if both of us are working extra. Last month, we would have paid off just over $2,000 had we not spent that extra $700, so with an extra week, we should be able to get close to $2,500, without any extra work. If we are trying to get the AmEx paid off by the end of the year, this will put our goal to just $1,700 in November and December, which should be easily achievable goals.

The Common Sense Fix

For those of you following the Congressional bailout for Wall Street, check this out:
Dave Ramsey’s Common Sense Fix
The dude is right on the money on this one, in my estimation.  Write your Senators and your Representative and let them know.
If there was EVER a time to let them know what you think, now is it.

EDIT: He even mentioned on his radio show today that this isn't his idea, its just that he has a "pulpit to preach from" on it...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fourth Week of September Update

Well, I had forgotten that I was going to be out of town part of this past week, so I was away from blogging and just about everything else on Thursday. So this is a couple of days late, but better late than never, eh?

Our balance on the American Express card starting the week was $6,118.24. We had a payment on the other card come due, and with my trip out of town, there were a few miscellaneous expenses that ran just a little higher than if I'd stayed home, so we were able to make some progress, but we still fell quite a bit short of our goal, which was to get the AmEx down to $4,600. Our current balance is $5,802.24, a full $1,200 less than what my goal was. True, we did have the extra $700 worth of expenses this month that would have allowed that balance to drop even more, but it would have been nice to at least within $1,000 of our goal. Perhaps I set it a little aggressively.

Still, we paid off $1,309.83, and that works out to about $43 per day. Not too bad, but it could have been better. We would have just broken the $2,000 barrier if not for the $700 worth of expenses, so, all in all, it was a really good month. We are within a week of having credit card debt under $10k, and I'm VERY excited about that - I can't even remember the last time I only had $10k worth of credit card debt. It must have been at least five years ago.

I'm excited about the progress being made, but am so very ready to be completely debt free. The cards will be a major part of that, since I see them and the student loans as being the only "bad debt" that we have.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Debt Reduction Strategy

Jim over at My Debt Blog asked me on one of my September updates what our strategy is going to be for paying our debt down.

Here is what I am currently thinking about:

The credit cards are getting absolutely pounded, and should be dealt with by Summer 2009.  That will leave student loans and two car payments.  One of the car payments is at 0% interest, so we are just going to let that one pay out as it will.  By August ‘09, I’ll have 3 years left on it.

The truck payment will be the lowest balance left, but the student loans will be the highest interest rate (and balance).  At this point, there may be a pregnancy involved, so our current plan is to just start piling up cash.  Once I get a good emergency fund going (somewhere around $12,000), I’ll probably re-assess where we are, and go from there.  One direction I’m considering is attacking the student loan after the credit cards and emergency fund, since it is the largest financial drain on our finances (interest-wise).

On the other hand, I could eliminate a car payment by paying off the truck, then drop the Comprehensive & Collision insurance I have to carry (or at least raise my deductible), and trim the amount of money going to insurance.  This will also allow us to add another $200 or so per month to our student loan reduction.

At that point, barring a change in living circumstances (no house, no pregnancy, no increase in rent), we will be able to lump over $900 per month against the student loans, paying them off in about a year and a half.  When the student loan is paid off, there will be an avalanche of less than 6 months, and we’ll be finally debt free…

This Just In!

Got a call today for going to interview to work at Wal-mart on evenings and weekends, at least through Christmas…  Everything I earn there can automatically get thrown against the debt.

I’m not going to place too much on this, but that should also help lower our grocery/consumables budget with any employee discounts I would get…

It will be rough going for a few months, but I believe it will be well worth the sacrifice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Blue Card from American Express

I noticed something the other day on my American Express “Blue” Card statement.

A while back, I got a very low interest rate, and the rate was good for the life of the loan.  I had about $300-$400 on that card already, but went ahead with the transfer.  By January of 2007, the balance was just over $10,000.  Today, it is just over $6000, meaning that I’ve paid over $4,000 off the card in the past 20 months or so…

I looked at the individual balances on the two lines of credit, and nearly $700 is on the higher rate.  Not only has that amount not dropped, it has almost doubled!

I looked again, and saw what was happening.  Every statement, they assess interest charges.  The charges for the interest get applied to the line-item.  When I make a payment, however, I don’t pay the interest charges, I only pay down the lowest interest item.  So every month, my “great rate” credit card gets just a little worse off…

So definitely be on the lookout for those cards that advertise low interest rates, and be sure to see how they apply your payments.  Does the payment get applied to all loans equally, or does it go against the lowest interest?  Do you pay the interest off first, and then the rest is applied to principle, or does it hit your balance first?

These are important things to know, especially when you decide to transfer a balance to a card that already has a balance.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Third Week of September Update

Well, good news is, we recovered from the previous weeks, and are back on track, but the entire process took a week longer than expected.

All in all, we were able to reduce our debt a little more than last week, but not by much at all...

We started the week at $6,358.24, and now our balance is $6,118.24, just $240 lower than last week.

So, since the beginning of the month, we've paid $993.83 off the American Express.  Next week will signal a fairly decent decrease, and should reduce our debt by at least $300 more.

During August, by week 3, we'd progressed $1,531.94, so we are running about $540 behind where we were last month, but we also had an extra $700 worth of expenses that were out of the ordinary, so we would actually be about $150 ahead of last month - which is pretty encouraging, in spite of not really feeling like we are accomplishing much.

Also, October hails a 5 payday month, so we should be able to recoup some ground there.

With as much as is happening in the financial news around the nation, I really wish I had more time to put thoughts down, but work has me absolutely swamped.  That coupled with everything else really has me out of the loop.  Although, if all I have time for is chronicling my climb out of debt, then I really have fulfilled my original purpose for this blog.

We aren't there yet, but we keep pushing closer.  And every step makes the next step that much easier.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Want a chance at extra moolah?

Out of Debt Again, one of my first, if not the first, readers of my blog has decided to have a contest and offer a few prizes in celebration of her one year "blogoversary"!

So head on over there and check out her site (its full of tips, tricks, and life), and enroll in her contest (ends September 27th)!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Second Week of September Update

Well, there is some good news – the flat got fixed at Discount Tire for $0.00.  Zip, zero, zilch, nada!  Another tick in the column of why I don’t even bother to shop around when I’m looking for tires.  They have my business, and it isn’t worth saving $20 or even $30 a tire somewhere else after the level of service I get from those guys.

And the rear brake light was a $5.00 bulb/installation, and the inspection on my wife’s car went through without a hitch after that got fixed.  So, all in all, we spent about $45 that day, instead of the $500+ I was expecting.  I still need to get new tires on my wife’s car, but they’ll last another month or two, and give me some time to save up for it.

As to the debt-reduction progress we made this week, I accidentally sent a $75.00 payment to the wrong credit card, so we dropped our total balance, just not on the one that I wanted to drop.

So, we started the month with 7,112.07 on the American Express.  Last week, we dropped it to 6,590.24.  This week, the balance is $6,358.24, meaning we paid $232 this week, or just over $33 per day.  Our monthly total is still over $750, but to make our goal of just over $2,500, we’d need to have at least $1,250 paid off at this point (probably more than that, actually, since I get a vehicle allowance check at the beginning of the month, over and above my regular salary).

So, while we haven’t been completely shut down by the extra $700 worth of expenses we encountered so far this month, it has slowed our progress considerably.

My wife has some side work this evening, and she worked a little more this week than last week, so we’ll see how much we can reduce our debt next week.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001

I’ll return tomorrow with an update, but I’m taking a break from my personal finance blogging today, and encouraging all Americans to remember.

Never forget!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

When it rains...

So I posted my latest post, and less than an hour later, I got a call from my wife...  Turns out she had a flat.  So now we get to deal with that tomorrow morning.  And the rear driver's side brake light.  And the inspection.  On both vehicles.

double blah.

cherry pits don’t taste good.

Today, I’m very bummed. I was pretty bummed last night as well. First of all, its a fairly dreary day with the rain, anyway. But a call I got this morning didn’t help much.

The home builder denied the request to refund even part of the $500 in earnest money. Apparently the lender that sent the pre-qualification over didn’t paint as black a picture for the builder as he did for me. I like the builder, I think they are fair, and do a good job, but I think they have a mortgage lender they work through who is either a flake or a crook. I’ll definitely be using my own guy for our mortgage, whenever the time comes.

The check for the refrigerator hit this week, and the the earnest money hit last week, so that’s $700 in expenses that I wasn’t really anticipating slowing my progress this month. I still feel that I got a good deal on the fridge, but if I’d been thinking about it a little more, I might have passed over the opportunity to get it. Still, what’s done is done.

As it sits right now, we, in a backward sort of way, have a $500 incentive to purchase from the home builder now (I was at least informed that they wouldn’t double-charge me the earnest money, for a while, anyway). Still, though, it sucks that I just didn’t learn my lesson fast enough on that one.

The whole deal is really throwing me for a loop. I haven’t gotten a call back on the evening/weekend positions I was trying for, and my wife hasn’t heard back from anybody, either.

So, raising our income doesn’t seem to be doable at this point, and we’re stuck in this rut of making a little progress, but it just doesn’t seem to be going fast enough. I’d like to call a “re-do” on my finances from the time I turned 17.

what an absolutely depressing day.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

First Week of September Update

About the only good thing with this week is the fact that it was so short.  They cashed our earnest money check, so that dropped our debt reduction by $500.  Hopefully, they cut us a check for at least part of that, since we really didn’t get far in the process at all.  I’m not questioning the decision, just bummed that I got $500 ahead of myself on the deal.

So, on to the progress made this week.  We started the month with $7,112.07 on my American Express.  Interest hit on the first of the month, so with the payments I sent in, we are now at $6,590.24, or $521.83.  So, if the earnest money hadn’t been spent, we would have gotten through the first week reducing our debt over $1,000.  I’m half tempted to just float the earnest money among other accounts, or as part of our emergency fund, just to really get to dropping the balance on the card.  Still, since I’m counting last Thursday as the first day in September, we were still able to reduce our debt by $74.54 per day.  Not bad, but I would have liked to do better.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

“Playing House”

There was a guest post today over at Get Rich Slowly.  I love that blog, because there’s always good content there.  Anyway…

The post had to do with the process of preparing to buy a home.  Eventually, I would really like to own a home, and my wife would like to see us move into a home sooner rather than later, but the preparation has to be there as well.

One of the things that stuck out from what Jim had to say was to “play house”.  Set aside what you think you can afford every month and live off the rest, sticking that amount in a savings account to help with the down payment.  That way, you can tell whether or not you can actually live with the payment before taking the plunge.

I’m doing that, in a way, right now.  Except that rather than socking it away in a savings account, I’m using the money to hit the debt.  Plus everything else that we get, everywhere we can scrimp, all of it is going against the debt.  I think, however, once the credit cards are paid off, I will be adjusting my strategy just a bit.  I think I want to increase my emergency fund, and begin the process of saving for a down payment on the house.  Of course, I still want to attack debt with intensity, but I think that ridding ourselves of credit card debt is the main goal, and the other debt, while not “good” debt, isn’t as harmful/detrimental.

What do you think of the plan?  Am I looking at the debt (other than credit cards) with too kind an eye?  If you currently rent, at what point (if any) do you plan on buying?  If you own, did you “take the plunge” at the right time?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Weekend Update

My entire purpose of this blog is to track my progress out of debt, especially in consideration with the income that I had starting out.  True, my income has increased since I started my climb, but the debt is still there – only one of the four major debts that I have is over 50% paid off.

And then there’s the house.  It is an absolutely wonderful looking house.  One that would serve our needs possibly for the rest of our lives.  We would be able to pick the colors, the layout, everything.  It is a shiny new object that flashed its smile so beautifully that it captured the heart and ideas of my wife, and gave me a fever.  Unfortunately, the cure was not simply more cowbell.

My readership, though small in number, can be quite eye-opening.  First, Jim posted his thoughts on the news.  And I was taken back.  I really hadn’t opened my eyes to see what I was actually saying.  Then I turned to another reader and directly asked for their opinion – what they would do in my shoes.  Of course, I realize that perspectives are different, and that I might not take the same course of action that someone else might, but there is strength in numbers.  There is a certain validity to multiple people holding the same opinion.  Not that it is necessarily right, but it certainly carries more weight.

Then there is the hesitance of the man who would make money from the transaction, the lender.  If he is hesitant to grant the loan, and he has a vested interest in selling the loan, then I should allow that to weigh in.  His reluctance seems to be in stark contrast with his own goals.

I even went to two other lenders, one with a specific mortgage company, and one who basically shops mortgage companies, and both informed me that the deal was doable, but not, perhaps the wisest move I could make.

As long as nothing goes wrong, and nothing big happens for a while, we would be fine with the loan.  Or if our emergency fund was sitting around $10k higher than it is, we would be fine.

So I signed the note that canceled the deal.  We may or may not be out our $500 earnest money check, and we may or may not be able to go back in January and work a deal.  Most of it will depend on how much progress we can make.

The important thing is, the advice of my readership to take another look at what I was doing helped me out of an emotional decision.  Sometimes these mistakes are costly, but better $500 now than a foreclosed home later.

So, Jim, David & Miss Kate, thank you.  Thank you for your thoughts and your willingness to speak up.

Friday, August 29, 2008

September Goals

As I alluded to in my final August Update post, I am planning on shifting my debt reduction strategy. I want to keep the same intensity (or increase it), but I found something out through the house deal that I didn’t realize. Typically, credit cards report the minimum payment to the credit reporting agencies as the “monthly debt obligation”, but American Express doesn’t do that. In fact, it looks like they report about twice the minimum payment. So, in an effort to keep up the progress I’m making, but multiply the effect, I’ve decided to shift my efforts to the other credit card.

So, starting out September with $7,112.07 on my American Express, I want to drop that amount to an even $4,600, or by $2,512.07. (I’m attempting to get the card lower than my other one) There are only four Thursdays in the month of September, so my goal is pretty aggressive, especially considering that I don’t have any extra consulting work coming in, at least, that I know of. My wife is looking for some extra work, and I’ve started applying for night and weekend work to try and catch up, but that’s still over $80/day worth of debt reduction, more than I’ve ever been able to do before. I also don’t have the Revolution Money Exchange or any other “hidden” pockets of money where I can make up for lost time.

I’ll continue to provide weekly updates on our progress, and we’ll see just how far we can get!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fourth Week of August Update

I really wanted to get my response to “The News” done before I did this, but there are several things still in process with it, and the story isn’t over.  Suffice it to say that I really appreciate my readers’ comments, and for helping me to see what I was doing – acting in an emotional state.

I don’t necessarily see getting a house as “wrong”, but it is important for me to see getting a house for what it is – a major roadblock to our getting debt free, and a very strong want – not a need.

I’ll continue to keep you updated as things happen.

Now on to the debt reduction stuff.  This will conclude the August updates, because I am shifting my strategy a little, even though I will still be VERY focused on debt reduction, especially over the next 4 months.

So, here are the final numbers:

We started the month of August with $6,551.07 worth of debt on our lowest balance credit card.  By the end of the first week, that number had dropped $444 to $6,107.07.  The second week, we were able to increase the amount to $445, bringing our total to $5,662.07.  By the end of the third week, we dropped an astounding $642.94 to bring our total to $5,019.13.  For the fourth week, we dropped an additional $315 to $4,704.13.

So, from start to finish, we were able to pay $1,846.94 off in 28 days, which brings our total to $65.96 per day.

When we started the month, my goal was to get to $5,000, and we beat that number by almost $300.

So, what a successful month!  I like the idea of goal-setting my debt reduction each month, so this is liable to be a regular feature…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The News

Well, on Sunday, we went and signed the builder’s contract to get started on the house we’ve selected…  We filled out a prequalification worksheet for the builder’s suggested mortgage company, but then I also had a couple of lenders that I wanted to get involved into the mix, just to have several different eyes looking at it.

I haven’t gotten the information to the lenders I’ll chase down on my own, but I got a call yesterday from the one the builder suggested.

Apparently, right now, we wouldn’t qualify for the house, because our DTI (debt-to-income) ratio is too high.  About 8% too high, to be exact.

I think he’ll put the prequal through anyway, but we basically have to eliminate our credit card debt (at least the highest balance card), and have several thousand in the bank by the time we close, or we’ll have trouble getting the loan.

So, over the next 4 months, I’ve got to make $12,000 worth of progress towards debt elimination/house savings.

As noble a thought it was to go ahead and get the lower balance credit card knocked out, apparently the way the higher balance card (American Express Blue) reports my debt obligation is inflated.  Right now, they are reporting my monthly minimum at over $350 (about 5% of the existing balance) vs. what my minimum payments actually is (about 2% of the existing balance).  This is unfairly inflating my DTI, and is the major source of the problem.

So, in order to rectify this, I will be slowing to minimums on my lower balance card, and start attacking the American Express as much as possible.

Also, to help this process along, my wife and I will more than likely be putting in applications at various retail stores in the area for extra work.  If we can really push here in the next few months and make the progress that we need to make, the sacrifices that we make now will be completely worth it.

Also, I’ll be talking with the other two before the week is out, and game plan with them.

I pretty much know now what has to be done.  The thing left to do is actually do it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Third Week of August Update

I’m both excited and disappointed with this week.  If we hadn’t gotten our unexpected check, we might not have put anything against debt, with the extra trip out of town, etc.  Of course, my wife didn’t work last week, so that means that this week, there was no money to send from her income.  And even though the Revolution Money Exchange money came in, we had several expenses that required attention – gas, eating out, etc. took a lot more than I thought it would.

So, here’s our progression so far:

August Start:  $6,551.07

1st week: $6,107.07

2nd week: $5,662.07

3rd week: $5,019.13

So, total progress made:  $1,531.94, or $72.95 per day.

Without the extra $600, our debt would have decreased by less than $43.  I also thought that I was going to make the $5,000 mark this week with the extra, but it didn’t quite make it.  A statement came out, charged me interest, and pushed me just over the mark.  Next week’s update should have us down below that, although I’d like to see next week with somewhere in the range of $4,500.  My wife will get paid on Monday for this week, so that will help.  and I’ve got another week’s worth of debt reduction to go against it.

When we started, back in January of 2007, we were paying very, very little more than the minimums.  Since that time, We’re now in a position where we can make payments at about $100 per week over the minimums.  That means that our total debt reduction strategy is somewhere around $300 per week.  If we stayed on this plan, we could be out of debt in just under 3 and a half more years, making my $78,000 debt paid off in a 5 year plan, or at a rate of over $15,000 a year.

Of course, the house, if it goes through, will change all of that.  But still, it is exciting to see how close we are right now…

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How much money does it take to be “rich”?

I heard this question posed on the radio the other day, and have been thinking about it pretty extensively since.

Some of the responses were “cute” answers:

  • One dollar more than what I owe to others
  • Money doesn’t determine rich, circumstance determines it.  As long as you are surrounded by those you love and are comfortable, you are rich.

Some of the responses were what one would expect:

  • $1 million dollars in the bank
  • $500,000 invested with no debt

Richer than me is simply having no credit card debt.  But what does it mean to be truly, and more importantly, achievably rich?

First of all, I think rich means that I have no debt.  To clarify further, I would own dependable vehicles, have no credit card debt, and have 6 months to a year’s worth of expenses in the bank.  I think that would be baseline rich, as in, just barely making it to the category of rich.

To carry the idea further, I would have investments that would eventually be able to take care of basic expenses from the interest earned on them.

Everything on top of that just gives fullness to the richness…  :-)

If I had to put a dollar to it, if I was given $200,000 tax-free, I would achieve the “baseline rich”.  Another $500,000-$1,000,000 would take care of the rest of that.

So, how much money does it take to be “rich” to you?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Federal Housing Tax Credit for First-Time Home Buyers

I found this website yesterday, and have been looking through it to find out more about this credit, and it really has a lot of information available.

One of the most interesting things that I found was located at question #21 of the FAQs:

Is there any way for a home buyer to access the money allocable to the credit sooner than waiting to file their 2008 tax return?

and the answer is:

Yes. Prospective home buyers who believe they qualify for the tax credit are permitted to reduce their income tax withholding. Reducing tax withholding (up to the amount of the credit) will enable the future home buyer to accumulate cash by raising his/her take home pay. This money can then be applied to the down payment. Buyers should adjust their withholding amount on their W-4 via their employer or through their quarterly estimated tax payment. IRS Publication 919 contains rules and guidelines for income tax withholding. Prospective home buyers should note that if income tax withholding is reduced and the tax credit qualified purchase does not occur, then the individual would be liable for repayment to the IRS of income tax and possible interest charges and penalties.

Basically, all I have to do is adjust my W-4 to an insane exemption number, and I’ll get a portion of the money without having to wait on filing my taxes next year.  This will give me a good jump-start (roughly $2,000-3,000) to apply to closing costs, down payment, moving, etc.

My current plan is to adjust my W-4, and take the excess out of my account, and store it in a savings account.  This extra money won’t go against debt, but it won’t be spent, either.

What do you think?  Would you take the exemptions and start building up a down payment?  Or would you pay down debt?  Or would you leave things as is, and just take the entire credit at tax time?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Unexpected

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had several phone conversations with a friend of mine that I’ve done some consulting work for in the past (he lives out of town, so on-site service is difficult).  One weekend, he brought his computer by the apartment, and I worked on it.  Got everything transferred in about 30 minutes.  Add to that another hour or two of phone consulting/troubleshooting, and I’d spent a little time on his stuff, but not exorbitant.

Once he got everything working, he called me for my home address so he could send a check to compensate me for the time I’d spent.  I was thinking that the extra $50 or so would go straight against debt, and thought no more of it.

This weekend, with the funeral and everything else going on, we ended up not getting the mail checked for several days until late Saturday night.  And, there, in the mail was a check.  But it wasn’t $50.  It wasn’t even $100.  It was $600!!

Incredible!  and well timed!  We’ve focused so heavily on debt reduction this month that I was going to have to float a few payments – the electric bill came in for about $50 higher than I had money budgeted for it, and my wife’s cell phone bill came in, and we had to pay the startup, plus 2 months worth of charges.  As well, we were able to cover the added expense of two unexpected trips in a week’s time.

As it sits, we’ll still be able to reduce our debt by $450 out of that check, so that’s where we’re spending the money… 

But the basic idea I’m attempting to communicate is that it is good to have a plan for the unexpected, even if the unexpected is good.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Second Week of August Update

This week was a lot tougher. While we still were able to squeak out some debt reduction, our progress was hampered. My wife had her two sisters in for the week, on into the weekend, and so we made the 3 hour trip to return them on Sunday. Of course, we ate lunch on the way ($25), and then we called some friends of ours that live that direction, and had dinner with them ($30). And there was the gas to get us there and back (about $50). So Sunday saw $100 over our normal budget disappear. Also, on Saturday, we wrote a $500 check for earnest money on a house. That will hold the lot until we figure out the specifics. (They don't cash it, just hold it)

I’m not exactly sure if now is the right time to be buying a house, but it seems to be as good as any economy-wise, and, although it will slow our debt reduction to a crawl, it will also keep us motivated to reduce our debt as quickly as we can between now and then.

Plus, the house is a new one, so it will take 4-1/2 to 5 months to build, so we have some time to really buckle down and focus.

So, with all of that said, here’s the new numbers…

We left the credit card with a balance of $6,107.07 last week. Today it is sitting at $5,662.07, for a total difference of $445, or $63.57/day.

When we started the month, our credit card had a balance of $6,551.07, so we’ve paid it down $889 in 14 days, or $63.50 per day. There were several cheats that I employed this week to keep the balance coming down, however. First off, we used a vehicle reimbursement check to jump start, and my wife got paid early for some of her work, so we lumped that in as well. I’ve got the $200 set aside for the refrigerator, so we don’t have that to worry about.

Now we come to the rest of the month. On Monday night, we got a call from my wife’s parents letting us know that her grandmother had passed away. This will mean another trip for the funeral. Also, my wife is a nanny, and they are on vacation this week, so while she’s been able to work on the apartment, etc., there isn’t any income along with that.

I have some money that I’m transferring from Revolution Money Exchange (for referrals, etc.) and Prosper to be able to push against debt on, but this is only about $200 all together, and once we do that, the stream is dried up.

It will be interesting to see what we can do in the next 7 days. It looks like we will get to $5,500 pretty easily, which is exciting, but I’m really, really wanting to get it to below $5,000 if we can swing it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

UPDATE: Revolution Money Exchange

Part of my plan on paying down debt was to transfer the money that my wife and I have made on referrals and opening our account at Revolution Money Exchange. As I mentioned about 2 weeks ago, my account was locked for fraud protection, and I couldn’t get anybody on the phone to see what was happening. Fortunately, 15 minutes later, my account was unlocked. The result, however, was that the funds never transferred. So, on August 1st, I requested another transfer of $50 to my verified bank account. The process is supposed to take 2-3 business days, and so I attempted to contact them again to see what was happening yesterday. I found out that there was no problem with the transfer, so it had to be something internal, but the finance department had already closed, so I would have to make the call today to find out.
I did so, and after about 10 minutes of being on the phone and on hold, we got the situation worked out. They informed me that it would take about 5 hours for the funds to show up in my account. However, to this point, no funds have hit my account, so I’ll be calling them again tomorrow morning.
As with any new system, there will be hiccups. I completely understand that. Two weeks ago, I got an answering machine. Yesterday and today, I got very courteous customer service reps who were able to assist me in a timely manner, and, when necessary, explain the direction I would need to take when they couldn’t resolve the issue. I am somewhat leery of trying a new system, but Revolution Money Exchange seems to be a decent alternative to PayPal, provided they actually transfer the money.
Also, I have yet to receive my MoneyExchange card, which will allow me to use the funds in my account as a debit transaction at several stores, including CVS and Walgreens, which is something that I don’t believe PayPal does… And I get a $10 bonus every time somebody signs up for the service (however, you no longer get the $25 bonus for signing up... :-()
As soon as they’ve completed the bank transfer, and I’ve had a chance to try out the “debit card” part of the system, I’ll report back, but so far, I’m impressed with the courtesy of their customer service reps, and that’s refreshing, even if I have to deal with the occasional bump.

UPDATE 8/14/08 7:15am: The account updated this morning. And that, honestly, could be the way that Wells Fargo handles the transaction, vs. Revolution Money Exchange. So hopefully the next transfer I request will happen in a more reasonable timeframe. I really can't complain too much, though, since this is all referral and sign-up money... :-)

Monday, August 11, 2008

NOW! vs. later

Growing up, and even still today, I heard about people giving advice to begin saving today, rather than putting it off until later.  But I’d never really thought about it until I started talking to my 16-year-old brother, and giving him the same advice…

If he makes a commitment to start saving $10/week now, in a year, he will have $520, even if he makes no interest on it.  If he socks it away in a “horrible” 3.5% APY savings account, he will be losing a little due to inflation, but he will still be ahead of where he would be if he waits to save…

If he waits a full year, even if he finds an investment vehicle that he can get 12% return on…  it will take him over 5 years to recoup the $520 he saves this year, even if he’s only getting 3.5% on that money…

Sure, compounding interest helps…  but what helps even more is getting started now, rather than waiting until later.

How does this relate to debt reduction?  Well, I started down the negative equity path very early in my twenties, and I’d accumulated about 8 years worth of debt before I started slowing down.  I actually didn’t start paying debt down until January 2007.  Somebody who didn’t jump into debt $8,000 the first year after they moved out is not only in $8,000 better shape, they are in $8,000 + the interest on the $8,000 + the amount they could have invested + the interest rate on the investment.  It probably looks more like $12,000.  That is HUGE!  Just one year of overspending set me back that much, and I have a similar story for several more years in there.

The key is, the sooner you begin to make a move in a positive direction, the better off you will be.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Debt Collectors

I've noticed that debt collection agencies are beginning to put the burden back on the person.  They have an automated line dialing a number several times a day, leaving recorded messages...  Which, I guess, is fine.  But the fact that I had to sit on hold for 10 minutes to inform them that they had the wrong number got irritating really quickly.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I really don’t see this technique as helping an agency collect a debt.  If I know I’m behind on a debt, and have no intention of collecting, then I’ll simply not answer the phone when the call comes in.  And even if I answer, since the call is a recording, I’ll just not take the initiative to call them back.

On the other hand, I can see where it would help a company weed out wrong numbers quickly.  I spent the time to call them, sit on hold, and inform them that they were repeatedly calling the wrong number.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

First Week of August Update

Well, we are now 7 days into August, so I figured I’d do an update on the credit card reduction, just to see how much I’ve accomplished so far.

The credit card I am working on paying down started the month with more than I thought: $6,551.07.  Right now, the card is at $6,107.07, so I have paid down $444 in 7 days, or $63.43 per day.

That’s good, but the first of the month is always where I get my big debt-reduction push, so I expect that number will begin to drop off as the month progresses.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to set aside $200 for the refrigerator, so that will slow the reduction down a little, but even with that, I hope to get the card down to $5500 this month anyway, meaning that I will have put a (personally) astounding $1050 against that single debt this month.

I plan on doing another update on the 14th to see how much progress is made the next 7 days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reason #4 why I like living in Texas…

There are really many reasons why I enjoy living in Texas as opposed to other states, but this article makes me very happy to be located in a pro-business state…

I wonder what would happen if people started electing the representatives that actually looked out for their constituents.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The best of intentions...

Well, August is already beginning to shape up as a bad month financially. Not really from the perspective of losing ground, it just looks like there isn’t going to be much in the “gaining ground” side…

I helped a friend of mine move over the weekend. He was leaving his house behind due to foreclosure, but, fortunately, had a good place to go and wasn’t all that broken up about it. He did, however, have an extra refrigerator. So, since we are looking for a house, I told him that I’d buy it. So there’s a couple hundred that wasn’t in the budget…

Now we come down to the real expense. It is beginning to look as if we have found a house that we’d like to have built. It will require a $500 deposit, and then it will take about 4-1/2 – 5 months to build. During that time, we will more than likely put our debt reduction on hold, and begin storing up cash. We’ll see, though…

These are some exciting times, to be sure. I’m in the process of reworking our budget to see what kind of difference the payment will make in our finances…

More updates soon!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Revolution Money Exchange… Developing…

My account with Revolution Money Exchange has been suspended due to suspicious activity.  Yesterday I sent a request to send the money that my wife and I have made for signups, etc. to my bank.

I called to the company to see about getting it unlocked, but couldn’t get anybody on the phone.  So I left messages, then emailed their customer service.

I’m wondering if somebody tried to hack into my account, or if they just don’t want to pay the money…

I’ll keep this post updated as I get information…


UPDATE (3:40pm):  My account has been unlocked, but I must resubmit my requests to withdraw money.  This time, rather than transferring the entire amount, I’m requesting $50.00. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

August Goals

As we approach the end of July, I realize now that my hopes of having one of my final two credit cards below $6,000 is not going to happen.    It is a bit of a bummer, but as I started thinking about it, I realized that I didn’t tell anybody of what my goal was.  There was the nebulous “get farther out of debt than I am currently” goal, but that gets accomplished every month, even if only by the minimum payments.

So I’m going to treat August differently.  I’m going to set some goals, and see how close I can get to them.  I’ve got 31 days to start paying it down.  The credit card I’m paying down will have a balance of about $6,400.  I should see it get down to $5,800 from my budget standpoint, but I want to stretch and see if I can get it down to $5,000.  That’s $1,400 in 31 days, or just over $45 a day, including weekends.  So we’ll see how successful I am at that, now that I’ve made it a public notice… :-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008

I want to go over one of the provisions of this new bill, but I’m going to skip over most of the bill, because it doesn’t really affect me.  Be sure to give it a good read to catch those parts…

I.  Assistance for Home Buyers and Home Owners

Refundable first-time home buyer credit

If you are a first-time home buyer (which I would be), and you make your purchase between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009, you get up to a $7,500 tax credit (not deduction, credit – very important difference here), to be repaid at the rate of up to $500 over the next 15 years.  This assumes that your AGI is under $75,000 or $150,000 filing jointly.

Basically, you get up to $7,500 in interest-free loans.  So, for instance, I could take advantage of this deal and completely be out of credit card debt by the time I get my refund.  That frees up over $200/month in minimum payments, and about $400/month in debt reduction (if I were to quit the snowball).  That creates a lot of space.  A LOT.  This is something that I’m thinking about very seriously…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I got a RAISE!

Sure, it was only 6.25% (but whose counting, right?), but that will help out with the ol’ debt reduction schedule.  Right now, I am able to put 75% of the minimum monthly payment against my next snowflake every week…  With my wife’s added income, we should be able to increase the speed with which this next-to-last credit card is paid off.

We are showing to be out of credit card debt by 12/14/2009, if we keep paying like we have in the past.  But that isn’t in the plan.  We are going to pay that down faster.  We’ve got to pay that down faster.

It will get there.  This is just a long road 10 years in the making, and I realize that years of stupidity and mismanagement aren’t undone overnight.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


IKEA is a great store, but, unfortunately, the closest we get to it is about a 45 minute drive.  We like the prices on the furniture, and we like the decorating ideas we get when we go.  Someday, when we actually purchase a house and get around to the remodeling stage, I’m betting our IKEA budget line will skyrocket…

Anyway, in a move to save on electricity, we decided to go last night and grab a FROST drying rack.  We wandered around a bit, looking at all the new displays, and ran across a different drying rack right next to the FROST.  This one looked a little bigger and sturdier, but it was also more expensive.  After much evaluation, we decided to go with the larger one.  I’ll report after we’ve tested it thoroughly.

We got up to the checkout, and I noticed a new promotion.  If you make your purchase via debit card, they’ll give you a gift card worth 3% of your purchase for your next trip.  Since we don’t make it out there too often, I opted to put it on the Discover Card, where I make 1% (or maybe 2%, can’t remember) in cash back on the card.  But, whenever I go to remodel the kitchen, guaranteed I’ll be taking advantage of that deal…

Quick Update

My sponsored PayPerPost entry has already been approved, and I’m already showing that I’ll be paid $20 before long…  SWEET!

So, here’s an encouragement to you people that have a subject-related blog – jump out there and sign up!

Mid-July Updates

Well, it's after the middle of the month, and I've now got my debt figures updated.  Not exactly a surge forward in debt repayment this month, but with all the "extras" we've purchased in the past month and a half, I'm almost surprised that we didn't backtrack, so I guess it could be worse.

Hopefully between now and the mid-August report, I can really buckle down and get some of that looming credit card debt attacked...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pay Per Post

I have now signed up for a new service to hopefully provide me with some more content for my blog, but also toss a little extra change my way.  It is called PayPerPost.  Basically, the service is an opportunity for bloggers to meet advertisers on a common website and allow advertisers to get support for their product or service through online word of mouth.  Although I'm hoping that this will give me a chance to earn a little extra income, I'm just as interested in seeing some of the new products and services available in the area of personal finance/debt elimination and having the opportunity to write about them.

I found PayPerPost through Chicky Finance and decided to give it a try after seeing her glowing review of the site.  While I admit that my readership is small, and I'm not a full-time blogger, (two things that will limit the number of opportunities I can take advantage of) I'm still excited about the potential it has to help grow my readership, and make a little side dough while I'm at it...  Of course, having good content is a must for any blogger, and this will also hopefully give me some ideas to spur me on even further in my seemingly never-ending quest for the elimination of debt...

Also, any post that is sponsored by PayPerPost will have the following icon at the bottom of the post, so you can distinguish a sponsored post from an unsponsored one. In addition, I will also fully adhere to the blog ethics required by PPP...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Life is What Happens When You are Busy Doing Other Things

This past weekend, we had a family reunion, which was good, and somewhat sad at the same time.  I hadn’t been in three or four years, and several of the older crowd didn’t make it.  Some didn’t make it because they weren’t feeling well enough to make the trip, but some didn’t make it because they have left this life.  I barely recognized some of the kids, now that they are grown up.  But that’s life, isn’t it?

In other news, for the past two weeks, either my wife or I have been sick with something – more than allergies, but not a full-blown flu or cold necessarily…  Whatever it is, it was miserable.  This week, I’m hoping to catch up on my financial situation, since I haven’t looked at anything in about two weeks now.

I made another purchase the other day.  A friend of mine got out of his film camera, a Canon Rebel, for which he had various lenses, a flash, and other accessories.  I think the price I paid was a good deal, I just have to be careful that I don’t drive us to the poor house getting good deals.  But now, I think we can really buckle down and get some things taken care of.  We don’t really need anything else (big-ticket items, anyway), and everything that we have is in good working order.

So, all of that to say that I know that I need to update the debt chart, and I’ve got some catching up to do…  It’ll happen soon, though…

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Rich Are You?

I found a website that put it all into perspective… Making my “David Income” look a little more substantial… Not on par with Goliath, but still…

So, check this site out, and gain a little perspective about just how good you have it…

I'm loaded.
It's official.
I'm the 145,217,392 richest person on earth!

How rich are you? >>

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Free Budget Workshop

While perusing my daily e-mails, I ran across this article.  Apparently, Consumer Credit Counseling is offering free workshops in the Eureka, California area this Thursday (July 17th).

For one, this started me thinking that I might attend were I in the area, or if they had one locally.  But, on the other hand, I’ve got a handle on my budget – I know where I’m spending money, and I know how my total debt picture is looking, so I wonder what good it would do to attend one of those.

Has anyone been through their program?  What are the ups and downs of it?  Is the free seminar worth the time?  Or is it one of those “free” seminars where they try to convince you to buy into the system?

Monday, July 14, 2008


Scour is a “social search engine”, meaning that results are basically aggregate results from Yahoo, Google, & MSN searches, but also with reviews and feedback from other members.  As you rank items in a search, you are given points… then, once you’ve accumulated at least 6,500 points, you can redeem them for a Visa Gift Card…

Pretty cool, and sort of a different way to help yourself and others all at once…

Lifehacker, once again, came through and clued me in on this deal…

I’ve now signed up for it, so I’ll keep you posted on the results…  :-)

Friday, July 11, 2008


Today, 7-Eleven is giving away free Slurpees (from 7am to 11pm)…  That’s neat, to be sure…

For those of you with a smaller amount of self-respect, Chick-Fil-A is also giving away free combo meals, provided you dress up like a cow…

So, there you go…  cheap lunch and afternoon snack…  :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What’s Your Biggest Financial Vice?

I read a post this morning over at I’ve Paid For This Twice Already, which was referencing a post over at Five Cent Nickel

So, the question is where are you the least thrifty?  What do you continue to buy, regardless of the value of it?  What must you pour money into continually?

My answer is the same as nickel’s…  Food.  I go out to eat for lunch almost every workday, spending from $6-$12 every single day.  I feel bad about not going, because we are a pretty close office, and we all load up and go to lunch together a majority of the time.  Sometimes, the food is purchased via company credit card, but, more often than not, we are on our own.  This accounts for an extra $200/month or so in expenses.  Granted, not all of that would be recouped by eating on my own, but a good portion of it could be, freeing up at least $100/month to put towards debt reduction…

I really need to buckle down and cut some of these extra expenses.

So what’s your biggest financial vice?

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Holiday

I took a week-long break from blogging over here, mainly because I wanted the time to reflect, relax, and just not think of new topics and posts..

The unwinding time was good, and now I’m ready to gear back up.  Coming soon, I’ll have an update on the debt, but after looking at our finances last week, I’ve decided that it would be very easy to just slip back into the old pattern of accumulating debt.  Of course, that wouldn’t be a good thing to do, but it would be easy.  The mounting cost of everything, coupled with the fact that my income hasn’t risen along with the increased cost of living, tends to be something of a drag for me.  I had hoped to see some very positive changes, but, in reality, the change was pretty insignificant.

June saw several bills come in from the various doctor/hospital visits I had back in April.  All of them are late, but I was thinking the insurance hadn’t kicked in yet, but apparently it has, so now I’ve got to go through the process of understanding why the insurance says one thing, and the bill says another.  Whatever that amount ends up being, the bank account is going to feel it…

Another thing I noticed is that we went on several trips, in addition to buying new tires for the truck and getting the 30k service done on the car, so we WAY overspent our “Gas/Oil/Maintenance” category last month.  Right now, I’m sitting with a negative balance of $511 in that one.  Its ok, because there are several accounts that offset the negative balance, but at the current rate, it will take over two months to recoup that cost (the tires were about $450 of that, and I wasn’t really expecting it to hit).  As well, I’ve got to get the truck inspected in August, and that one is coming up quick.

According to “My Portfolio” with Bank of America, we came out $164 better last month.  In May, that number was over $1,000.  Hopefully July will be a better month…

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Bucket List

Once in a great while, there is a truly remarkable movie worth watching, and The Bucket List is one of those.

and now you’re thinking, “wait a sec… this is a personal finance blog, not a movie review site!”, but bear with me…

In the movie, (which, btw, is absolutely worth watching, and I not only recommend it, but HIGHLY recommend it), Carter (Morgan Freeman’s character) told Edward (Jack Nicholson’s character) a story about the Egyptians’ theory of death… and it goes something like this:

Basically, when you die, you are taken to the gates of Heaven and asked two questions. How you answer those questions determine whether or not you get admitted…

The first question is “Have you found joy in your life?”

The second question, and the more poignant one, is this: “Has your life brought joy to others?”

Regardless of my particular beliefs, I still feel these questions bear asking. So in considering these questions, the easier to answer of the two is obviously the first one; although, I am realizing that the burden of debt seems to decrease the amount of joy I find in life.

But what about the second one?

Is the joy that I bring to others limited because of my position financially? I believe that it is.

The key is, I can’t let this be the over-riding factor in my life. But I think it is still good to realize how much better I can be, and allow that realization to spur me on to further accomplishment.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Site Changes

I did the 3-column layout a few weeks ago, but I wanted to get a few tweaks in there.  First of all, I’ve wanted to have a visual representation of my current debt picture posted so that I can remind myself that people can look and see my progress every month.  I made a few changes to my spreadsheet, so now I can run the numbers very quickly whenever I need to edit it.

I also have added a blog list – a new feature in blogger – on the right side.  This will have the most recent post of the blogs that I stay up-to-date with.  Well, the blogs that pertain to personal finance, anyway.

Since my advertising is pretty minimal anyway, I’ve decided to move that over and below the blog history on the left.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Thoughts on Dave Ramsey

Rich over at Richer and Better (an excellent blogger, btw, you should definitely check out his thought-provoking site) asked what my take on Dave Ramsey was, so here are my thoughts:

  1. I believe the man knows exactly what works good for him, and he sticks to it, and recommends that others do the same.  So, while I may disagree with him on a subject, I still have the utmost respect for him.  He, obviously, has been more than successful at employing his methods, and so I value his opinion highly.
  2. I agree that intensity is more important that mathematically figuring out the most effective way of paying down debt.  I really feel that it is 80% attitude and 20% math.  I do, however, have a few differences from his plan that I employ:
    1. I have not sold my vehicles to drive beaters.  I am pretty “car-heavy” right now, given his thoughts on how much car you should own, but I have decided to own more expensive, reliable, and newer cars simply because of my extreme bad luck in cases where I’ve driven beaters.  The beaters end up costing me as much or more than a new vehicle, and I spend less time worrying/fixing the newer vehicles.  I still adhere to the philosophy that the “cheapest car I can drive is the one I’m in now”, for the most part.  Hopefully, I’ll pay off the vehicles faster than their life, and have enough time to purchase my next vehicle outright.
    2. I have a credit score, according to Credit Karma, of 821, and that’s up 4 points from last month.  Although I know that Dave refers to this as an “I love debt score”, I’m really not willing or ready to sacrifice that yet.  Prudent use of credit cards, if it is possible, will end up saving me more money than not having a credit score will.  (My wife’s cell phone is what jumps to mind first)  Now, if you are the type that is prone to abuse credit cards, I recommend staying away from them.  I take the same stance on alcohol.  I don’t feel there’s anything inherently evil about alcohol, but if you are prone to being an alcoholic, its probably best to stay away from it…
  3. Beyond his debt-reduction strategy, I don’t know too much, because I’ve not gotten to that point personally.  However, I do have some sub-thoughts that I’m willing to explore a bit further…
    1. He is a big fan of term life vs. whole life/cash value insurance.  I haven’t investigated this fully, since I intend on getting life insurance after we either a) pay off all credit card debt, or b) the first kiddo comes along (whichever is first).
    2. I’m not sure about his investing ideas, although he seems to do well by them.  I know less than I really should about stocks, mutual funds, etc., but, then, I’m not out of debt yet, so I don’t really need to be spending my time thinking about investing.  Right now, my best investment is the elimination of my debt.
  4. “If you live like no one else today, tomorrow, you will be able to live like no one else.”  It makes sense.  If I am willing to limit my spending today, and, rather, invest that money, it seems to be reasonable to assume that later I will have more to spend than the ones who didn’t live on less than they made.

Bottom line, I respect Dave where he’s gotten in life, and I value his opinion for where I am in life.  Do I disagree with him in some areas?  Sure.  But there are very few people that I agree with on everything, even within a given subject.

As to his ELPs, (Endorsed Local Providers) I’ve never used their services, and don’t know if I will in the future or not.  I don’t know that I’ll buy insurance from Zander Insurance, or subscribe to, or buy into whatever his next endorsement is, but, at the same time, I don’t fault him for endorsing products/services, and promoting people who follow his line.

I hope that answers your question, Rich…  If not, just let me know what you’d like answered more specifically and I’ll get to it…  (This was just too long of a reply to leave it in the comments section… :-)