Friday, September 26, 2008

Suze Orman on Oprah

I don't watch Oprah very often, but I always try to catch it when Suze Orman is on. She talked about the current financial situation in the country, as well as individual problems and issues with money. I love how honest she is, how she will call people on their bad financial decisions, in a no-holds-barred kind of way. She read the riot act to one couple with 90,000 in credit card debt, who were trying to justify to her how they could still afford their house even though they were $2000 in the hole every month. She talks a lot about the spiritual side of money problems too, and how ALL of our attitudes and behaviors in life can be reflected in our money situations. She always reminds me of the connection between clutter and debt, and inspires me to get rid of the clutter in our own house. Again. So this weekend, we're doing just that, and tackling one of my least favorite jobs - cleaning out the kids' toy room. We're going in armed with lots of trash bags.

Here's the link to highlights of her appearance on Oprah

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Earning Money Online (or, Every Little Bit Helps)

A few years ago, I saw one of those ads for making money at home by doing online surveys. This particular ad was for a site that charged a one-time fee - around $30 - for a list of sites. I decided I didn't need to pay any money for this information, and looked around on my own for free survey sites. I did in fact find some, signed myself up... and promptly gave up when nothing materialized.

Earlier this year, I saw another similar ad and thought I would give it another go. This time I decided to treat it like my own little research project. Again I didn't pay any money, instead searching for free lists of sites that paid for surveys. That in itself was a lengthy process, I'm not going to lie. Once I had a good list going, I signed up for them one by one, taking careful notes in a notebook that I used just for that purpose. I jotted down my login information, how they paid, what kinds of online activities they paid for, and what (if anything) I actually earned from them. When all was said and done, I'd signed up at over 60 sites, and still occasionally sign up for more when I hear of them.

So how many ended up being good, legitimate sites? I have around 10 that I deal with regularly, and another 10 that are great, paying sites, if a little more sporadic. The rest of the 40+ other sites... a complete and total waste of time. I've posted the links to the keepers if you want to check them out for yourselves. They are ALL free to join, and I've received paychecks or Pay Pal payments from all of them (from some of them regularly.) They won't make you rich by any means, but are great for spending money or extra cash to pay down debt!

Here's my very own top five tips for making money through surveys, learned through the old-fashioned process of trial and error;

1. Create an email address (yahoo, hotmail, or gmail are all free) just for surveys and survey-related emails. Sign up with that email, and check it every day. You will get a LOT of email. What I do when I check my mail is first delete any spam, check the highest-paying offers next, then quickly scan everything that's left, one by one. Sometimes I have to pick and choose if time's an issue.

2. Don't discount the sites that offer surveys for points instead of cash. When I first started doing them, I was ignoring the emails that didn't list a dollar amount. I wasted a lot of potential money that way! Opinion Outpost, Global Opinion Panels (Synovate), and Creation Rewards are just a few great sites that award you points that you can then redeem for cash.

3. Make sure you do all your screening surveys and profile questionaires when you sign up. A lot of them pay you just for filling them out, and they make you eligible to receive more surveys.

4. Keep a spreadsheet of your sites to keep track of your earnings, when you're eligible to cash out, etc. Also, make a list of sites to visit daily, whether you received emails from them or not. Some sites simply send you email invitations when they have surveys available. Clear Voice, My View, Your 2 Cents, Mindfield, and Survey Spot are a few of my favorites that send email invites. Some never send emails, but always have surveys available on their sites. At Cash Crate you can do two a day for $.80 each. Quick Rewards lists over $2.50 in surveys daily. Creation Rewards, Send Earnings and Inbox Dollars all also post daily surveys. They add up!

5. Don't limit yourself to surveys. A lot of these sites pay for reading emails, viewing ads, sign-ups, taking quizzes, and shopping. I've done product evaluations for more than one site too. They send me something to try, and I answer a follow-up survey. Those are fun and pay well too! Right before I started this blog entry, I got paid $1.30 to sign up for a Home Depot club (completely free of course) and take a quiz on how well I knew my Grey's Anatomy trivia :)

And a bonus number 6.... ASK someone, such as yours truly, if something is confusing. I wish I'd had someone to ask when I was blindly signing up for my 78th useless site.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Phone Calls and Balance Transfers

I'm glad I married the man I married. And sometimes I'm really glad I married the man I married. At the risk of sounding completely cheesy, he really does complete me. Together we're one smoothly running, unified team instead of two separate halves of a whole.

Case in point:

A week ago, I got an $800 dental bill in the mail. My first inclination when I get dental bills is to whine and cry about it (at least figuratively) then stick them up in the mail holder, and eventually suck it up and get them paid. Now we don't actually HAVE $800 just lying around - if we did, there would be no need for this blog - so it would have gone on a credit card. I never doubted we owed it though. I've had a lot of dental work done lately. A lot, a lot. And those root canals and crowns aren't cheap. So I'd pretty much resigned myself to an $800 step backwards in our debt repayment efforts. But then my groom came home, took one look at the bill, and said "We don't owe this. We already paid our portion." The next day he made some phone calls, the insurance was re-billed, and we suddenly don't owe $800 anymore!

It works both ways too. Just a few days after the bill from the dentist, we got one of those balance transfer offers in the mail. I generally just ignore those, shred them up and throw them out. I opened that one though, and read it carefully. It was an offer from a current card, NOT an offer for a new card, and the interest rate for transfers was much lower than that of our smaller balances cards. I read the fine print, and I read the fine fine print (so important), and we decided to go ahead and pay off and transfer the balances from two of our cards. I have to stop right here and say that we never would have done it if we weren't well aware of the two major caveats of such a transfer: 1) we won't use the paid off cards again, and 2) we won't make any late payments! The lower interest is in effect for the life of the balance transferred, and since we aren't spread over 3 cards anymore, that means that even making the same exact total payment every month our debt will come down faster. Awesome.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Grocery Cunundrum

There are a countless number of ways to cut back costs in the monthly budget, but I'm finding that groceries (if you want to eat healthfully, and especially if you have a family of 6) are fairly inflexible. We're going to spend a certain amount on groceries no matter what. I admittedly make it even harder when it comes to groceries, because there are certain things that I won't compromise on. I won't buy eggs unless they're cage free. I won't buy milk unless it's organic. I won't buy bread unless it's 100% whole wheat.. you see where this is going. We could certainly save money buying the cheaper milk and the cheaper eggs, and we could certainly save money serving the kids Oodles of Noodles and canned vegetables. Some things are worth spending more on. We clipped coupons for awhile, but eventually had to admit that it wasn't saving us any money. The coupons are for brands we don't use, things we didn't need to be buying anyway, or just plain junk.

Still, we've been slightly shaving down the bill over the last few weeks. We're back to eating 99.9% vegetarian again (we compromised on turkey sausages to go with our Saturday morning breakfast), and we're trying to be creative and actually use what's in our pantry. We bought a big bag of rice and have been making beans and rice dishes again, or tossing it with stir-fried or steamed vegetables. Cheap, easy, and at least marginally healthy.

If we could just figure out a way to keep the dog from stealing food (a $5.00 bag of cereal yesterday!) we'd be in pretty good shape.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Law of Attraction

The law of attraction basically says that like attracts like. Whatever you think about, whatever energy you give off - be it positive or negative - is returned to you. This concept applies to all aspects of life, including health, relationships, money, career. It's mentioned numerous times in the Bible, and there are countless books on the subject. The Secret is arguably one of the most well-known, but there are many many others.

I'm thinking about it now because I have been watching it manifest itself in my own life over the past few days. I decided to do something about our financial situation, and I announced it to the world (well, maybe not the world, but to my half dozen readers) I believed things would change. Tuesday I got an unexpected $3.00 check in the mail from one of my survey sites. Later that day Fed Ex came with a package, a product for me to test and review (for pay) for yet another survey site. Yesterday, our swim teacher had an unavoidable appointment and had to cancel our lesson, saving us another week of fees. And when we got the mail? An out-of-the-blue $250 check from an insurance error in our favor... from Everett's hospital stay 15 MONTHS ago.

Call it coincidence if you'd like. I choose to believe, and I cannot wait to see what God and the universe have in store for us next.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

There IS such thing as a free lunch

Last night Mike and I went to a Diamondbacks game (to watch them lose, as it turned out) and it didn't cost us a dime. We had awesome seats, free parking, and plenty of food. Mike had won the tickets in a trivia contest at work, so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to go. They came with a free parking pass too, for the parking garage right across the street. We thoroughly enjoyed the night out, the game... and our overpriced pizza and hotdogs and soft pretzels, all paid for with money we'd gotten selling some stuff on Craigslist. It was a great night, made even better by the knowledge that we didn't go further into debt to do it.

And so as not to shatter my illusion of perfection, I'm pretending we didn't drive our gas-guzzling SUV to get there.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The End of an Era

I cancelled my TV Guide subscription yesterday. I cancelled my People subscription too, but that wasn't nearly as traumatic. I have been a TV Guide subscriber since 1992, ever since I got married and realized what a necessity it was. Now, 15 years later, I say goodbye to my friend TV Guide. I have to admit that I don't need it in this day and age of the internet, and the $80 renewal would just mean less money for scouts and baseball and art supplies and car payments, and well, food! Ditto for the $115 People renewal. Yesterday, I cancelled my magazines. Today, I start saving money.

We were in debt before - lots of it - to the tune of 40K+ in credit cards alone. I'm not proud of that, but I'm not ashamed of it either. It was what it was. Being under that much debt is like living under a dark cloud, the weight of which is enormous and indescribable. That fear is always there, that fear of "What if Mike loses his job? What if someone gets sick? What if there's an accident? What if something happens to the house?" The what-ifs were terrifying. Making the changes necessary to pay it all off was terrifying too, but we did it. Three years ago we moved to Arizona completely debt free, the weight on our shoulders gone.

Two years ago, we bought and remodeled a house, fully intending to live in it for a year then flip it for a profit. Of course as everyone well knows, God had other plans, and the market changed - NOT in our favor. That was the start of our new debt. Then the "what-ifs" we'd feared before started to happen one by one. I needed my wisdom teeth pulled, Spencer had eye surgery and oral surgery, Everett spent 3 days in the hospital with a stomach virus. And then the pregnancy! No less than half a dozen ER visits, the birth, and a 5 day hospital stay 3 months later to remove my gall bladder. After that it was back to the dentist for me, for two root canals and two crowns and counting. The debt ticked up, up, up.

So here we are, no worse for the wear, with a few less teeth and no gall bladder.... and a beautiful baby girl who was worth every second of it. I am thankful that we're in much better shape financially than we were the first time, and I'm thankful that Mike's job, while boring at times, puts food on the table and clothes on our back. I'm thankful that we're in this together, and that I'm not married to someone who feels the need to "keep up with the Joneses."

But it's time to ditch the debt. All the time, I hear people say "I'm debt-free except for the mortgage and car payments." I want to be debt-free, period, with no qualifiers. I want to get off the merry-go-round and get out from ALL the payments. Today, right now, on September 1st, we have $324,564.07 in debt. That includes our two mortgages, our cars, and our credit cards. I share the number because 1) it makes it real, and 2) it keeps me accountable. It's going to go down, and I'm going to document the journey.