Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Personal Finance Update

Well, obviously I haven't blogged here much for a while, although it's interesting that the site gets a small but fairly consistent number of hits even in the absence of new content, more so than my other blog so what do you know about that? Anyway, I've been thinking of trying to get some more content up here, but don't want to make any promises I might not be willing to keep!

I thought I'd give a little update on our family financial situation. The big important news is that DW is working more consistently now. She has a job as a para at an organization that works with kids with severe communications difficulties, and although the pay isn't great she's working a good number of hours, 25-28 most weeks. Then she's still working at Sylvan learning center 4 hours a week, as well as teaching Hebrew school. So there's some more income there.

What this means is that we're more or less breaking even every month, so we are no longer consistently digging into reserves to make the nut every month. That is good news. The ability to pay down debt hasn't really magically appeared, though.

I consolidated my student loan with the Department of Education because there's supposedly a new provision that if you work in the non-profit sector your loan will be forgiven after 10 years. I had to give an income statement to qualify for it and because of DW's increased income our payments actually went up, which threw our budgetary balance off a bit. Unfortunately it's 10 years from the refinance and not from graduation so it's almost like starting from scratch, and who knows if this provision will even exist in 10 years?

We still owe a touch under $6K on my card, which is 19% interest, and almost $9K on DW's, which is at about 10%. Getting them down has been tough; mine was a little under 5 at one point but then my car needed almost $800 in repairs so there went that. We also owe about $10K on DW's car (dumbest purchase ever made, next to the house) and of course there's my ridiculous $60K student loan, which I prefer not to think about. We pay $400 on my card, $200 on DW's card, $340 on the car and $500 on the student loan every month, meaning that, as ever, debt service adds up to about 1/4 of our monthly income.

Given that we're at the break even point and can't expect any more income we really need to find some place to cut expenses if we want to dig out any faster. (Plus, DK1 still needs braces.) The likely candidates for excision seem to be cable TV and my old frenemy, the Sunday New York Times.

I was intrigued by this story in the Times about watching TV without cable - not rooftop antennae, but rather streaming either from your internet connection or through a device such as a Boxee. There's a small initial investment involved but after that it's essentially free unless you up for some premium content (like baseball), but even then it's a lot less than cable.

My man Phil P. is a tech guru and he tried to dissuade me, saying that cable was more predictable in terms of both content and technology, but that $50 we're spending every month is looking mighty enticing. We never had cable before we moved to Wichita and DW would be just as happy to be rid of it, believe you me. She thinks I'm watching too much TV, and most of what I want to watch (Colbert, for instance) I can watch on-line anyway. So it might take me a couple of months to work out the technical arrangements to a level of comfort, but I think that's the way we're going to go.

As for the Times, the land subscription gives me full access to their website, which is good, and if I call them to cancel they'll just offer me a discount for a couple of months, which is what they always do when I get to this point. And I do love it, it's like the only thing in my life that reminds me of my connection to New York. Still, it's $32 per month, which is a lot.

I did raise my payment on the car by $40 a month in the hopes of saving myself a little interest on the back end.

On the plus side, our housing situation is stable, the people who own it aren't going to be back for an extra year, which means we could be here for 4 or 5 years, or longer than we lived in the house in Illinois. (This is probably a topic for another day but I am not eager to get back into the homeowning thing after our experience there, not that I have the credit to now but if I can live in a nice house for rent and have someone else make the repairs why would I do otherwise?) I'm enjoying my work and of course the longer we stay here the more I meet people in town and the more interesting things I get involved in. I'm blogging for a political site now and that's gratifying. But I sure do wish we could work off this debt and get on the upside for a change. That's got to be more important than the Sunday Times, right?

Monday, January 18, 2010

National Thrift Week

Did you know there was such a thing as National Thrift Week? Neither did I, but here's a story about it from Education Week. And guess what? It's this week.
National Thrift Week had a 50-year run in our history before being dispensed with in the 1960s. It began on Jan. 17, 1916—the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, the “American Apostle of Thrift”—and soon spread to more than 300 communities. Everyone from the YMCA to the Jewish Welfare Board to the National Education Association sponsored the event. Indeed, educators, partnering with financial institutions and businesses, played a key role in promoting thrift during the week.
They apparently had essay and poster contests, and states sponsored savings accounts for kids at community banks.

Three bullet points in favor of thrift from the article:
  • Thrift builds good character, through delay of gratification,
  • Thrift encourages generosity, and
  • Thrift encourages a wise use of resources.
Nowadays we're as likely as not to hear that thrift is a threat to the economy, because so much of our economy is dependent on consumer spending. That's an argument for another day, but here it can suffice to say that spending beyond one's means does no one any good, save the banks and credit card companies who can charge interest and fees on our largesse.

Here are a couple more webpages on the subject:, and the same group's Facebook page.

(h/t Michelle Weiss Persons)