Thursday, May 31, 2012

Troubling times at work

I moved up to Boston (from Florida) almost exactly a year ago for a job.  Life in Florida had been giving S and I a rough time ever since the recession began especially since both of our careers are so highly dependent on the economy (me in the construction industry and S in the non-profit arts education industry).  My job in Florida had been on the verge of collapse for a couple years with all the joys of pay cuts, hour cuts, benefit cuts, and furloughs... and layoffs all around me.  When S lost his job and then house we knew it was time to head to higher ground.

I was ecstatic to find the position in Boston... it pays great, solid benefits, and the type of company I really wanted to be with.  So we packed up the moving van and headed up the coast hoping for a better life.  And in many ways we've found that life, we've made some new friends, the area is amazingly rich with things to do, and we've both got great paying jobs.  On the other hand, neither of our jobs are going the way we had anticipated they would.

Shortly after I started working I realized that my company has an extremely high turn over rate of employees... within the last year I've seen 4 full time employees go and a handful of part timers (the place only has 12 full time employees on any given day so you can see how disproportionate that is).  And it's not because we don't have the work, new hires have come in immediately and we're all extremely busy.  At first I only though it was odd but as time passed I started understanding the many reasons behind the high turnover rate.  And most of these many reasons have at some point smacked me in the face.  

Let's just say that my boss has a knack for forcing people out if she decides for any reason that they aren't performing up to her incredibly high, unrealistic standards.  If the person doesn't leave on their own after a period of her applying her tactics, she just fires them.  And even though this sounds like the paranoid ramblings of discontent employees, I can assure you this is actually something she has proudly stated to me.  Now I'm not sure where I fall on her spectrum of discontentment but I have noticed an increase in particularly passive-aggressive behavior over the last month so I'm starting to worry that I've made it onto her list.

Also, I'm just not used to feeling so discontent at work, I love my profession and have generally enjoyed every job I've had in the field.  Most days at my current job are a struggle to get through with composure and there have been more than one occasion over the year that I've eaten lunch in my car so I could cry without my co-workers seeing me.  

I am going to be working on my resume and starting to feel around for other opportunities but the whole thing has me wondering if I should be focusing more on building a savings account just in case.  How many months worth of expenses should I have socked away?  It took 6 whole months for me to find this job but that would mean needing $13,500 or so in the bank to support me if it took the same amount of time again.  I'm not going to get anywhere near that kind of money socked away in a short amount of time and it would mean I would have to stop paying down debt beyond the minimum.  I'm feeling really uneasy about the whole situation and the stress of dealing with this person day to day is starting to wear me down.

I guess the best I can do right now is try to quit with the "what if scenarios" until I have a little more time to think over the best approach :(

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oops! I did it again... but will undo it ASAP!

S and I were using our extended holiday weekend to get done with a ton of household chores.  One of those tedious chores was to run errands... the pet store, the hardware store, the grocery store, etc.  We were doing great until S said the magic words "oh, I just need to stop by Target for some things".  Target is possibly my biggest enemy on this new quest to get rid of debt and live a thriftier/ simpler life in general.  It doesn't matter if I walk in there armed with a list and resolve by the time I leave I have managed to pick all sorts of random crap that I "need" that I didn't know I needed until I saw it.

But we were already out and it seemed silly for me to just sit in the car while he ran in to get his stuff.  Right now I'd love to tell you that I made it out without spending a dime but, sadly, that's just not the case.  I made it so close but we were literally walking to the register when a new sports bra and a gift for my bff's daughter ended up in my hands.  I would also love to tell you that I realized I did not "need" these items before it was too late but again that's just not the way it happened.  It wasn't till I opened up the bag at home and looked in that I realized I had mindlessly purchased more stuff that I don't need (although my bff's daughter would look really adorable in the jumper I bought).

Instead of shamefully cutting off the tags and promising myself it would never happen again (which is sort of my routine) I put the items back in the bag with the receipt to be returned ASAP!  In the process I also remembered a shirt I had bought for a gala but didn't end up wearing that still had the tags on it and the receipt... those went into the to-be-returned bag as well!  And all of that stuff went immediately into my car so that I can do the returning some evening on my way home from work (and to help me avoid the temptation to just cut off the tags and accept them into my home!)

One more teeny tiny step towards making real habit changes.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thrifty shoppping trip

I've been getting better and better about making a shopping plan for our weekly needs.  Making lists comes pretty naturally to me so for years I've made a weekly meal plan.  I've done well at cutting the grocery expenses just by making a thrifty meal plan.  The part I have trouble with is hunting down the best deals for the items on my list.  I usually end up at the most convenient grocery store, which is not the cheapest one near me, and just pick up everything I need at once because I'm always rushed for time.  I do buy store generics but the weekly grocery tab has really been nagging at me.  I know I can do better at reducing what we spend on groceries and toiletries by getting better deals.

This weekend I put together the meal plan and wrote out the grocery list, added all of the other household items and pet supplies we were running out of, then sat down at the computer to deal hunt.  I'm amazed at how easy it was to find good deals for almost everything on my list!  Just by going to multiple stores (all within a very reasonable distance from one another) I was able to pick up everything we needed for at least 30% less than I would normally spend!  I even ended up with a $10 gas card from CVS for spending $30... and those $30 only went to items on my list.  It did take significantly more time to get the weekly shopping done but I'm hopeful that once this sort of pre-planning will become second-nature and I'll get better at cutting down the time.

I know I've got a long way to go in changing my spending habits so I can get out of debt but it's shopping days like today that I realize that I've already made a lot of progress in my attitude towards the money I have to spend.  Just because I have to buy something essential doesn't mean I can't spend a lot less on it than I used to!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Contemplating my faults

When I started this blog I thought it would be a good way to document my progress at tackling my debt including the methods I was using to get there.  I envisioned myself writing about things like switching to cold water washing or using less electricity.  You know, easy things to change.  Buy bulk, on sale, with coupons, etc…  What I didn’t realize is that through this process I would start to confront a lot of uncomfortable behavioral issues with myself.  That part of the process has been a lot more painful than I would have expected.

I guess no one really likes to look deeply into their own faults but I should have known going into this that just making surface changes wasn’t really going to work in the end.  And it’s not that I’m surprised that my debt issues stem from something quite a bit deeper than just forgetting my coupon wallet or not switching my light bulbs to compact fluorescents sooner.   It’s just so dang uncomfortable to be honest on here when I’ve spent so much of the last ten years lying to myself about my habits.

Really what I’m saying is that my goals through this process have kind of evolved.  Obviously Goal #1 is still to pay off my debt but I’ve realized that in order to achieve Goal #1 I’m going to have to confront some really personal issues about the way I deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.   I feel like by making the decision to tackle my debt I was also unwittingly making the decision to face some qualities about myself that I’m not quite sure how to deal with.  Not sure where this is leading me but I have a feeling that the outcome could change my entire life not just my credit score.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Working overtime

First off, let me just say that I have a decently good salary at my career job.  It is enough to cover my bills and pay down my debt in a reasonable amount of time plus there are bonuses from time to time that I can shovel towards the debt.  However, I am still struggling with some of my worst spending habits like dining out because I am too busy rushing to my well-paying job to make food or using retail therapy to ease the stress from my well-paying job.  I am making OK progress at kicking those habits but I decided I need to bring in some extra dollars to make up for the extra spending I haven't been able to completely kick yet.

Thankfully, I can sew and  from time to time I list my sewing services on Craigslist when I'm strapped for cash.  So I posted my ad and quickly lined up several large jobs which seemed manageable when I took them on but....  I also bring in a little extra money from my Etsy shop but it's never been very significant.... until recently which has sent me scrambling to make orders to ship!  Add to that my actual real job has been demanding way over 40 hours for the last couple weeks with no end in sight and you've got one incredibly stressed out girl!

And unfortunately this girl runs right back to old bad habits when stressed out and strapped for time.  So in my quest to earn a couple extra bucks to cover my habitual bad spending decisions I've actually set myself up for complete and utter failure and increased my bad spending over the past two weeks.  sigh.  I will eventually get this right, it's just frustrating to keep getting in my own way.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cheap pet food experiment is officially over

When I first started this journey to eliminate my debt, one of the first things that got axed was pet costs.  S and I have a rather large pet family (three dogs, two cats, and two lizards) so you can imagine how expensive taking care of them is each month.  I created a spreadsheet and logged in each pet’s food, vet, vaccines, and general care costs… plus the amount of money we were spending spoiling them rotten.  My portion of the expense was somewhere in the $115 a month range which I got down to about $65 mainly by switching to the store brand dog food and cutting out the treats and toys.

After 6 months of this, I have come to the decision that the cheap food is absolutely not worth the other expenses and headaches that have come along with it.  Since switching, all 5 pets have experienced some sort of food related illness including food allergies, dull coats and dandruff, and some very nasty digestive problems that I’m not going to describe to spare you the gory details!   After 6 months of dealing with sad, unhealthy pets, messy accidents in the house on an almost daily frequency and ridiculously expensive vet bills I am officially convinced that nutritious and quality pet food is NOT one of the areas in my budget that can take a funding cut!  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New friends/ Expensive City

I have been in Boston for almost a year now and am still sadly short on friends here.  It’s not the first time I’ve moved to a new place, far away from family and those few steadfast friends, and had to create a new network but it is the first time I’ve tried to do that on a budget.  Coupled with the fact that I’m working non-stop, live in a bedroom community, and other than my professional society don’t belong to any groups, I’m finding it really challenging to get a network going here.  And a network of people I can trust in the area is really important to me… I’ve realized that the one thing that has always made it ok to be so far from my family and close friends is making some new connections!

I have been able to reconnect with a woman that I met a few years ago in Florida.  We are in the same profession and met at a conference, subsequently we worked for the same company in different offices and stayed in touch periodically.  Although we were never more than acquaintances in Florida, when I stumbled upon her name here in Boston I was thrilled to see a familiar name and sent her an e-mail. Since then we’ve met up a few times for happy hour, which is sort of expensive with the commute and high drink prices but I figured worth it if it would help me connect here plus she’s genuinely fun to be around. 

Last week she invited me and S to meet up for brunch at a restaurant near her house, which I gladly accepted since it would be the first time our partners would meet, a sure sign of friendship!  I was also partially relieved since brunch is the least expensive meal of the day so how bad could it hurt the bottom line.  I found out the hard way that brunch can indeed hit the wallet hard.  When I first opened the menu I just about gasped out loud at the prices and pondered if I could just order water and a cup of $8 yogurt and pretend that I wasn’t starving to death while everyone else ate full meals.  In the end my hunger and desire to just enjoy the time with new friends won out.  S and I left the restaurant $70 poorer but with new friends by our side and some good lessons learned…
  1. When someone has invited us out, check the online menu first so we can make a better decision about whether to go or not
  2. If the other party is open to it, suggest another place that is more affordable
  3. Eat a little something before going so our stomachs aren’t overruling our decision to stay financially solvent
  4. And lastly, be the inviter not the invitee… during brunch the couple mentioned having never gone on a bike trip along the river or picnic at one of the public parks both of which are very affordable and fun things to do here in Boston so I jumped on the chance to invite them to do that with us soon!
Other than those things how else do unmarried, childless, 30-somethings make new friends in a big city without breaking the bank?  I’m at a loss but I think I should make it my May goal to find out… 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Successful finance talk with my partner

This will be a short little update as I'm running really late today but I wanted to get this out there before it becomes old news... I was finally able to bring up finances with S without going to battle!  Because of his new job we had talked about splitting the household expenses more equitably but we still hadn't ever sat down and actually figured out what that meant.  Almost every time finances have come up between the two of us in the past, we've left the discussion (argument) with a sour taste so I was dreading having to hash out the new household budget.

Thankfully, I've been doing some reading on talking finances with your partner and some of the tips were pretty easy to handle.  The first tip, not waiting until your angry or bitter about the finances to talk to your partner, has generally been my biggest stumbling block in the past.  I wait until the last minute, as in when our landlord is on his way over to pick up our rent check last minute, before I bring it up with S.  By that point I'm so irritated that S didn't take the initiative that I explode (and yes, I do have a temper).

To minimize our financial outbursts we've tended to stick with a once-a-month hand-off when our rent is due. Instead of waiting until today to bring it up I forced myself to bring it up a couple times calmly and casually over the last week so he knew it was coming.  Then two days ago after we'd had a nice relaxing morning, I brought it up again very casually.  I had come prepared with my excel spreadsheet totaling up our monthly expenses and the division between the two of us.  He wasn't really interested in anything but what he owed (which is another issue that I'll have to write about later) but I firmly asked him to review the household expenses, asked him if he felt like all the amounts were correct and if the division was fair, he wrote his check and with that, our first successful financial discussion was over!

The whole encounter lasted 5 minutes so it seems ridiculous the amount of time I spend dreading having to talk about it.  It gives me hope that with time, effort, and understanding we may just be able to handle our finances together after all.