No Spend September: Day 2

Another successful day on the mission to only spend on Needs for a month.

I walked to the Max to get to work and had several meetings that filled up my day.  Our office provides coffee so when I can’t get coffee at home, I can get it at work.  I ate leftover roasted red pepper and tomato bisque for lunch because Andy ate the spaghetti with meat sauce I was dying to eat.  The sacrifices we make for love…

After cleaning out the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, I realized I HAD to go grocery shopping.  I initially thought I was only going to get a couple of things, but I ended up stocking up so that we would be able to eat for a minimum of two weeks.  For tips on how I shop for maximum savings with maximum sanity, see Saving on Food, Part 1: Groceries.

For dinner, I was inspired by this post on Smitten Kitchen:

I cubed a large cucumber, a ripe avocado, and two heirloom tomatoes and mixed them with a large dollop of plain nonfat Greek yogurt.  I stirred in a little of a dill dip mix that Andy found at the farmer’s market.  Then I chilled it for a couple of hours in the fridge and let the flavors meld.  OMFG, this salad is a game changer!  Andy and I agreed that it would need to become a constant in our fridge.

Because we can’t live on salad alone, I also made a pizza with whole wheat crust (the kind in a tube because ain’t nobody got time for homemade crust on a weeknight), heirloom tomato slices instead of sauce, a generous sprinkling of basil, fresh mozzarella (thanks, half-price manager special!), some shaved parmesan, sliced uncured jalapeno cheddar bratwurst (again, thanks, half-price manager special!), and some artichoke antipasto from Trader Joe’s.  Andy said, and I quote, “This has to be one of the best pizzas you’ve ever made, and it’s not like your other pizzas aren’t great.”  I would call that a win.  Unfortunately, I don’t have photo documentation of the pizza, so I’ll just have to make it again.

We play Geeks Who Drink on Wednesdays so that was an activity where I knew there would be some temptation to spend money.  The whole reason bars and restaurants do Geeks Who Drink is to bring in people who are going to spend money on a normally slow night.  I usually try to order either a beer or an appetizer or something, but I stuck with club soda.  I like the carbonation and taste, and it’s hydrating.  If no one at our table had been purchasing food or drinks, I would have felt bad about not buying anything and taking up space at the restaurant.  However, we’re there every week, Andy tipped extra for the service I received, and the other five people at our table ordered food and at least two drinks each.  As soon as No Spend September is done, I’ll resume buying something during trivia because I like to support local business, but for now I’m sticking to the goal at hand.  Bonus: I won a beer so I can use that to save some $$$ when teacher training is done!  And our team won by 10 points!

Day 2 verdict: Success!

Spending: $153 on groceries, and I only used my car to go to the grocery store.

Income: $.60 interest income

 

 

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Digit Update: Real, Tangible Savings

Digit update

Holy crap! Digit has saved me over $250 since I’ve joined!  I currently only have about $8 in my Digit account because I’ve been transferring every $50 to my savings, but that is real, tangible savings that I never missed from my checking account and wouldn’t have saved on my own.  Digit is now offering bonuses if you leave your money in their account (they use the interest they earn on users’ money to pay themselves), but I get a better return rate on my savings account.  If you haven’t tried Digit yet, you need to do it.  I never miss the money and it’s a nice surprise to see how much has accumulated when I get the handy account balance texts.  It is also so SO easy to use.  All commands are done via text so you don’t even have to log into the account online.  I only do it when I need a screenshot to post.  Digit is phenomenal.  Do it.

Our Washer Died, or How I Experienced the Worst Experience of My Life Thus Far

As I mentioned previously, I just got to drop $700 on a new washing machine because ours stopped working.  Here is the saga in detail:

I came home from work and was going to throw the load of towels that I had washed at lunch into the dryer before heading off to hip hop, but the washer was still completely full of water.  I kept hearing shuddering whenever it would try to drain and it wouldn’t work on any cycle or setting.  I call Andy in and, in true Andy fashion, he totally overreacted about how the world was ending because he had no clean clothes.  I calmed him down and we started watching tutorials on how to diagnose what’s wrong with a washer that won’t drain.  Then Andy went off to work, where he thought about how going to a laundromat once is not the end of the world, while I did every diagnostic thing I felt comfortable doing, with the washing machine doing its death shakes the whole time.

I found the paperwork from when the washer was purchased and, lo and behold, it’s 14 years old (aka I’m not spending money on repairs because they are going to be major).  I called up Sears anyway about getting a repairman to come out.  A. It will be almost $100 just to have someone come look at it.  B. No one is available for almost 2 weeks.  C. The woman in Asia fielding phone calls asked about my “dishwasher” no less than 6 times.

So then I did what every responsible adult does when faced with a challenge: I called my mom, who then told me to call my dad.

After talking it through with him, and then my mom when she called back, I was convinced I needed a new washer.  Conveniently, all appliance stores were starting their Labor Day sales.  Thanks for that, at least, stupid Kenmore washer.

I start out googling best washing machines and quickly realized there is no way I’m dropping $2k on something that will just die and crush my soul again.  After extensive internet research, exploring what was available in town, braving the terrible Fort Collins Sears that’s in liquidation, and finding out who will install for free, I decided on this beaut:

LG High-Efficiency Front Load Washer with Steam in White, ENERGY STAR

On sale, excellent reviews, qualifies for a $50 rebate from the utility company, free delivery, free haul away of our broken one, and best of all, they will install and make sure it works for free.  I was surprised to find that most places will deliver and haul away for free, but Home Depot is alone in offering free installation, including leveling and testing.  SOLD.

But there was the issue of emptying the broken washer.  As much as I didn’t want to, I knew I was going to have to siphon the water out, especially after talking to my dad.  THIS IS WHERE THE MOST HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE OF MY ENTIRE LIFE THUS FAR OCCURS.  I get the a hose out, clean it off, put a plastic bag with a hole cut in it on the end so my lips don’t have to touch garden hose, and start sucking.  I get some water out, only a bit gets in my mouth, and I leave it to run, but then it stops.  I repeat the process again and I suck a foreign object into my mouth.  I immediately spit it out on the patio and realize THERE WAS A DEAD SPIDER IN MY MOUTH.  I’ll let you sit with that a moment.

SPIDER CARCASS.  IN MY MOUTH.

Please kill me.

Needless to say, I rinsed my mouth out and brushed my teeth more times than I can count.  And the siphon stopped halfway through and I said eff it.

The next day, Andy has the audacity to ask, “Did you know we have two auto-siphons for brewing?”  NO.  IF I KNEW THAT, I WOULDN’T HAVE EXPERIENCED WET, DEAD SPIDER IN MY MOUTH.  And now guess who gets to be in charge of draining the rest of the water.

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Debt and How to Deal

While I have thankfully never had to carry much debt and I have never been in the position where I have felt overwhelmed by the debt I have, or been unable to pay back my debts on schedule, a large portion of our society is not so lucky.  Learnvest posted this infographic from Debt Consolidation that shows exactly how debt can affect a person and offers some suggestions for how to cope and get debt under control.  Terrifying, but not surprising.  If you or someone you know is facing debt that is causing overwhelming stress or depression, there are solutions to help you get through it and come out successfully on the other side.

Building Credit

What I really wanted to title this was “Building credit is a giant pain in the ass and sometimes you have to cry on the phone to get what you want.”

This terrifying finger puppet is probably what credit would look like if it had a face.

This terrifying finger puppet is probably what credit would look like if it had a face.

Now that I am like an adult or something, I have decided I need to build my credit.  While I started my interest in personal finance after doing Financial Peace University and watching Dave Ramsey‘s show, I have since concluded that while I do believe in not carrying “bad debt,” I am not going to swear off credit cards or loans for some things.  It’s necessary in our society to have and maintain credit and use it responsibly.  Would I like to be able to pay for things outright all the time?  Of course, but that’s not always an option.  Sometimes you need a more reliable car or a furnace.  The trick is to be smart about credit and loans.  Part of that is making sure credit is available when you need it, and thus comes the credit building process.

I have always had excellent credit, but not much credit history.  I started out with a few store cards and a mortgage in my previous life.  Then I got a car loan, and with the history with my previous mortgage and car loan, I was able to get a mortgage for our current house.  A few months after buying our house, the furnace went out and I applied for, and received, an American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.  I chose this card because of the sign up bonus and the cash back rewards on groceries and gas–what I primarily use the card for.  It is also interest free until 2015!  While it does have an annual fee, the sign up bonus was twice that and the cash back rewards easily cover the fee in about three months of my regular spending with it.  Half the furnace was paid by my emergency fund, and half went on the card so that I wouldn’t completely drain my emergency fund.  My one complaint with having an American Express card is that it’s not accepted everywhere because of their high merchant fees.  I can’t depend on this one card in my wallet if I happen to have some sort of emergency while I’m building my emergency fund back up.

I had thought a lot about getting a Visa or Mastercard credit card so that I would continue to build credit and have something more widely accepted in case of an emergency.  I knew, though, that I wouldn’t be approved for a new card until the furnace was paid off because my credit utilization percentage was high and was knocking my credit score down.  Once the furnace was paid off (Wooooo!), I decided it was time to find another card.  I read up on the best cards on sites like Nerdwallet, and picked the Chase Freedom card as the next card in my credit arsenal.  It has a great sign up bonus, good rewards (not as good as my Amex card, but still pretty ok), and has a cash back option.  It also has no annual fee, no interest for a year, and is generally available to people with limited credit history.  So I applied online.

Rookie mistake #1: I failed to realize that it takes American Express about a decade to report to the credit bureaus so it still showed I was carrying a high balance in relation to my credit limit.

Instead of getting the “congrats, we’re sending your new card” message I was expecting, I got the dreaded “your application needs further review because we’re too polite to just say you got denied” message.

Another ding to my credit score as a hard inquiry on my credit report and nothing to show for it.  But as it turns out, according to my good friend Google, many people have had success calling credit card application reconsideration numbers and talking to a real human.  I called the Chase reconsideration line, followed all the tips, and tried to charm a lovely girl who confirmed that she was denying me also.  But she did say that American Express tends to be late in reporting and I should call back in a week or so because they keep my application open for 30 days.  I tried to explain my situation and that it was all paid off.  Then she quizzed me on why I no longer use my Maurice’s card or my Victoria’s Secret card.  Because I’m not 17 anymore and I’m all good on undergarments, thanks.  (Pro tip: Never mention you only got the card for the discount back when no one thought about those things and then never used it again.)

Rookie mistake #2: calling back too soon, but not soon enough.

I read forums about other people’s experiences with Chase reconsideration, practiced my plea, called back after about a week, and talked to another lovely customer service agent who once again denied me because of my lack of history with credit cards and a high utilization rate on the one I do have because Amex STILL hadn’t reported updated info to the credit bureaus.  I explained my situation once again, and emphasized that I already have an auto loan with Chase that I am paying back ahead of schedule so I was already deemed creditworthy by them once.  The lovely customer service agent told me that that did not matter because they only look at actual credit card history.

THIS IS WHY BUILDING CREDIT IS A GIANT PAIN IN THE ASS.  You can buy a car and a house, but we don’t think you’re responsible enough for a card.

Because I had called back before Amex had reported, but after their last credit inquiry had expired, I had another hard pull on my credit.  Goodbye, halfway decent credit score.

I used Credit Karma to then monitor my credit report to see when Amex finally reported.  And my new credit utilization ratio came through at the beginning of the month!  Hurray!  I celebrated by pulling my credit reports from Transunion and Experian to verify that they both reflected the change as well.  Then this week I got brave and called back.

Rookie mistake #3: thinking there is anything logical about how credit card companies work or that they have access to up-to-date information in the digital age.

I talked to a third customer service agent who confirmed that she would have to pull my credit report again (that’s three hard inquiries that will be dinging my credit score).  That’s ok!  I checked and it should be all good now!  WRONG.  Their systems evidently need an ADDITIONAL 15 DAYS to get access to updated reports because they are on the slow boat from Transunion headquarters and then they depend on a really unenthusiastic cat to type the report into their computers whenever he gets around to it.

It looks a little something like this.

So what did I do?  That’s right, I cried on the phone.

Pro tip: If you EVER cry on the phone with a customer service agent make sure to say, “I know this isn’t your fault and you’ve been really helpful.”  This will get you everywhere.

I said the magic phrase, explained the entire saga, as well as how I have a loan with Chase and I am just trying to build my credit with a company I already trust (remember, you have to charm them), and she responded with, “I know this is frustrating.  Let me see what I can do.”

Less than 30 seconds later, she gets back on the phone and says, “Congratulations!  I was able to approve your application and you’ll receive your card in two weeks.”

Holy hot damn!  Not only was I approved, but I was approved for a higher limit than I ever expected.  I told her that she just made my week, thanked her profusely, and hung up so I could celebrate with some awkward dancing and arm flailing.

Pro tip: PERSISTENCE.  Bother them enough and you’ll get what you want, or something like that.

If you aren’t using Credit Karma, sign up now.  It is a free and secure way to access and monitor your credit report and score.  It also has a credit score simulator so you can see how certain decisions (both positive and negative) will affect your score.  My score at the end of this whole debacle is projected to be a 718, which is respectable.  I won’t need to apply for any more credit anytime soon and I’ll have the tools in my wallet to build my credit, so it will only go up from there!