Thursday, April 30

Friday Freebies

Friday Freebies is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. Check it out, and enjoy the following deals!

Vive Mejor is offering free samples of the Caress Skinwear Collection, Pond’s Rejuveness, Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise, and the Degree Women Fine Fragrance Collection. is offering a free personalized 5X7 folded paper card when you use the promo code CARD4MOM.

Join the Pedigree Puppy Program to receive $10 in instant savings, a subscription the Pedigree Puppy Scoops e-newsletter, a downloadable Puppy Care Guide and a special gift for your puppy when he reaches adulthood.

Dots is offering a printable coupon for $10 off your next purchase of $10 or more when you take a short survey.

Kids can earn a free book from Barnes & Noble when they read 8 books this summer.

Stonyfield Farm is offering a free subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine. The offer is available to US residents who are myStonyfield Community Members. To join the community, click here.

The Home Depot will be having a free Yard & Garden Do-It-Herself Workshop focusing on outdoor spaces. This will take place on Thursday, May 14, 2009 from 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Click here for more info and to sign up for this event.


Wednesday, April 29

Sorry, but credit cards don't suck

Free From Broke has a tremendous post entitled, "Credit Cards Suck!" As rants go, it's a purty one. Lots of reasons to hate those mean old credit cronies. All sorts of duplicitous maneuvering.

But, and this may make me unpopular with the PF crowd, I have to disagree. Credit cards don't suck. Not by a long shot.

Yes, I understand that they can be deceptive. That's why it is up to us to read all the pamphlets and notices they send us. (Do I practice what I preach? Not always, but I accept that any fallout from that is my fault.)

Of course, there are genuine cases where credit cards treat customers poorly. I understand some have randomly assigned monthly fees just for having an account. And others are randomly cutting lines of credit. Awful practices, but you can still look around for other cards. We're back up to the usual number of card solicitations in the mail again. Clearly, some companies are looking for new customers. And even if you don't have that option, the card companies don't have to know that. Find out about a deal offered to someone else and quote it to the company.

So, okay, there are times when anti-card rants are justified; but, by and large, the cases that FFB points out are due to consumers' willful ignorance. He mentions the old appliance store trick: the 0% for 12 months. In this case, if the entire amount isn't paid off within the 12 months, retroactive interest is charged. I've known about this little ploy for years. So whenever I sign up for 0% anything, I find out if those terms will be used.

Even if you didn't know to ask, that fact was certainly in the terms and conditions. You just didn't read it. In fact, most of us don't read the pamphlet the card companies send out. The print is tiny, the wording is difficult and we're just not interested. So we agree to terms we don't know. Then, when those terms are enforced, we are outraged and feel that we've been wronged. More importantly, we feel that the card companies are the ones who have robbed us -- not our own disinterest in legalese.

Frankly, I think a lot of the anger directed at card companies is a disguised form of entitlement -- the same entitlement that led so many people into debt in the first place. It's almost as though people seem offended by card companies getting money from them. I sometimes wonder what they expeected to happen. Perhaps they thought the company would make them an exception?

Here are the facts: You signed up to get a card; the card charges interest; you will be charged interest. Why is that such a crime? Why do people get to get so angry, if they're not somehow expecting special treatment?

I'm willing to bet these complainers weren't always so anti-plastic. When they got their first cards, they probably loved them. They loved the credit card companies. It was a pure romance, unfettered by nasty realities like ability to pay and interest rates.

But eventually, the tide turned. The relationship wasn't as beneficial to them anymore, and they're angry. While they dig themselves out of debt, they begin to blame the card companies -- to hate them, even. How dare the card companies offer credit with a low introductory rate, specifically set for a finite time?! How dare the companies extend credit further as the people got themselves deeper in debt?! Clearly, the companies should have been holding their hands and acting only in the consumers' best interest, profits be damned!

Don't get me wrong: I know some companies violated consumer rights. They should be punished. But a lot of so-called "abuses" I hear about are nothing more than standard business practices.

For example, FFB complains about credit card companies setting up on campus and offering free t-shirts or other items. As though students are incapable of resisting the lure of a cheaply made, logoed bauble. Yet, plenty students do. Most of my friends avoided that trap. It wasn't exactly an irresistible force, against which we had no will. Some people simply chose not to exercise it.

That said, I understand why some people would sign up for such a meager reward. It's because credit cards are sexy. They're a status symbol, first of all -- especially when you're young and cardless. Beyond that, they're sexy because they give us power. And power, as Kissinger once observed, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. With the cards, we have the power to spend money we don't have. (Maybe we'll have it later, maybe not.) They give us the power to push responsibility and logic into the future, the power to get cool stuff right now.

This credit lust blinds many people to the basic facts. I cannot count the number of times I've read a blogger or blog-reader lament that credit cards are just out to make money off you. You can practically see the venom dripping from this statement.

But why is that such a surprise? Why is that such a bad thing? Credit card companies are businesses; businesses exist to make money. It thus stands to reason that credit cards exist as a way to profit off their customers. If you're a customer, that means you.

My parents were always very clear about that growing up. They had credit cards. They used them. Heck, maybe they even carried balances. I don't know. But I got the message loud and clear: Credit cards are tools, not manna from heaven. So maybe I don't understand because I entered this Faustian bargain with my eyes wide open. Honestly, I have trouble understanding, especially in this day and age, anyone who didn't.

Credit card companies entice you. Sure. No argument here. But, then, so do retail stores. They dangle pretty things on the TV screen or in windows at the mall. They advertise sales to get you in the door. Are they evil too? Are they out to screw you over? Or is it only when they offer you a store credit card that they sink into the pits of hell?

I guess, in the end, I'm not angry because I always knew it was a game. Frankly, I think the companies have always been pretty clear about that. Sometimes we win, when we can afford to pay off the balance in full and avoid interest charges. Other times, the companies win and we owe them some hefty interest charges. Just because the terms aren't in your favor, doesn't mean that the game is fixed. Not when you belly up to the table voluntarily.

So, FFB: Sorry, but I refuse to see credit cards as evil entities trying to suck the marrow from the corpse of your credit score.

I'm not saying I haven't paid plenty of interest. Sometimes it was as a result of not doing enough homework before deciding on something. Other times, it was a purchase I couldn't afford, but needed, such as my medication. Perhaps my options were limited, but there were still options. I could have gone without my medication. That wasn't a good option, but it was still, technically, an option. Instead, I chose to charge it. I accepted that interest would accumulate. So I really can't blame the companies.

Actually, I am grateful for credit cards. They have saved my hide many times.

  • I was able to get all the medication I needed. Without Effexor, I would be in severe pain, as the body has a very severe withdrawal reaction. I would probably also have tried to kill myself. I'd have preferred to be able to afford the medications without credit cards, but that wasn't always an option.

  • Without credit cards, who knows when we could have afforded Tim's dentures? The surgery alone cost $6,000. It took us ages to pay that off. And he had already been on a no-solids diet for months by the time he got his new smile. He had been exhausted all the time from a lack of calories and nutrients. He was also in pain from several exposed roots. I didn't want him to wait a moment longer than he absolutely had to.

  • By signing up for US Airlines credit cards, my mom and I were able to get enough points for two free tickets anywhere in the U.S. So Tim and I were able to go on a honeymoon, despite limited funds.

I'm sure there are plenty of other items I'm forgetting.

The point is that credit cards are a tool. If you lose sight of that, who is really to blame? You're the one who approached the table offering a free shirt. Or bought the appliance on a store card, without thoroughly knowing the terms. So if everything boils down to a choice you made, why is it everyone's fault but yours?


Monday, April 27

The state of things

I realized that I haven't posted much of an update since my rather dark, dire post a couple of weeks ago . So I wanted to give you all an update to let you know how things are going.

At last check, I had been searching for a psychiatrist to help me handle my meds outpatient. So I looked up some on the Medicare website who were relatively close. I left 5 messages. I got zero calls back. (And in the messages, I asked them to give me a call back, even to let me know if they simply weren't taking on new clients.) It just seems like psychiatry is a strange profession if you're not timely with calls. Most people only start seeing a psychiatrist when they truly need help.

So I decided to look for a psychiatric nurse. I couldn't tell from the Medicare website how to distinguish between regular nurses and psychiatric nurses. Instead, I worked backwards. (Generally a good tactic with bureaucracy, since that's generally how you feel you're moving anyway.) I googled "psychiatric nurse seattle" and found a whole association. I then found one half a mile from me, and looked her up on the Medicare webpage. Voila!

I lucked out, actually. April is very nice and really listens. She asks a lot of questions, too. I saw her today for the second time. I told her that, overall, my functionality is getting better. I don't feel as reluctant to leave the house; I can accomplish tasks without feeling overwhelmed. The sadness feels more transitory, too. It doesn't feel endless or all-consuming.

But on the other side of the equation, my mood swings are still terrible. They might even have gotten worse. It's hard to tell, since they're not something Tim and I catalog. Usually, I'm grumpy and easily irritable. But these days it's practically a flash-flood of emotion. I'm fine, right up until I'm not. The angry mood swings almost feel like PMS: everything drives you insane and makes you want to hurt someone, even as part of you knows that it shouldn't be such a big deal.

The flash depression is almost scarier. On Saturday, I was a little antsy all day; but Tim came back from a Magic event around 9 p.m. and I was happy to have him and our friend Seth there. Then Seth needed to go home, and Tim walked him out. In the 10-15 minutes they chatted, I became forlorn. There's really no other word for it. By the time he got back, I was knee-deep in malaise. I was sad and distracted, but couldn't (as I usually can) pinpoint why. I couldn't talk through it and come to a reason, either. I simply felt sad and lost and low.

Listening to all this, April decided we should try a mood stabilizer called Lamictal. There is a very, very small chance of a serious side effect, so if I get a rash I need to see a doctor immediately. Otherwise, she's going to slowly raise the dosage every two weeks until we find a level that works. If it helps me get to a more even keel, I'll be thrilled. It's terrifying to be a spectator in your own emotional outbursts.

I also had a blood draw so that April could check my thyroid and my Vitamin D levels. Let's hope that tells us something, though my thyroid has always checked out in the past.

After that appointment, I went to see my regular GP down the street. I had wanted to talk to him about weight gain. I constantly want to eat. And willpower doesn't seem to be kicking in at all. I'm up to 210 lbs, which is alarming for me. It's the heaviest I've been in several years and close to the heaviest I've been ever. (I should point that I've been told 175 would be a good, healthy weight, given my overall stature: big hips, big bust, thick bones. And Tim has threatened to sleep-feed me if I ever get close to my 1500-calories-a-day-and-jogging-most-mornings, skinniest weight of 155-160.)

I had considered trying Alli, but was taken aback by the cost ($60 for the starter pack). I read up on it and discovered it is actually just a half-strength version of Xenical (Oleostat) which helps block fat absorption. I reasoned that it would be cheaper to get a prescription than pay for the over-the-counter thing.

I wanted it, not only for the extra help in losing weight, but also because taking that stuff guarantees that unhealthy eating has an immediate consequence. I figured it was what I needed. If I knew that I would undergo severe "intestinal distress" (to put it politely), I would be unlikely to indulge in sweets and fatty foods.

Unfortunately, it appears that I'm overreacting. Which is to say: I need to eat better and lose some weight, but the gain hasn't been as drastic as I thought. Apparently, I've only gained about 3 pounds in the last two or three months. And back in September, I weighed in around 207, too. So this seems to be a case of my not acknowledging reality.

At any rate, my doctor said, given these facts, he wouldn't recommend Xenical. Too many side effects -- which was why I wanted it, of course. Still, based on the facts he was looking at, I probably wouldn't have written a prescription either. (Assuming, of course, that I could write legit prescriptions.)

Still, I got pretty upset, tearing up. I guess just because I hate to feel so out of control. Which, when you get right down to it, is a strange turn of phrase. I'm not sure we're ever really "in control" of ourselves. It makes me think of taming and training, that there are right and wrong emotions. I guess that mindset isn't really a very healthy one either.

At any rate, I feel unable to effect change, which isn't giving myself enough credit.

  • I found a psychiatric nurse and even go willingly to her appointments. (I am prone to find reasons to cancel or skip medical stuff.)

  • I'm taking walks relatively regularly: 3-4 times a week for the past three weeks. I have to say that making it more of an adventure/challenge (find cans to pick up and recycle) definitely makes it easier to get out of the house.

  • I took out some yoga DVDs from the library. Nothing intensive. I finally tried the first one yesterday. I did the "Stress relief" part, which was mostly gentle stretching and loosening. The most intensive pose was downward-facing dog. Next, I want to try the "Stress prevention" chapter. If I like the DVD enough, I may try to find it cheaply on Amazon.

So I am able to affect change. Just not as quickly or effectively as I might like. But that's a Type-A personality for you. It's a reminder to accept what I can and can't do. (I've decided the word "limitations" is too negative for the moment.) To accept myself as whole and not in need of fixing. But that's a major flip from my usual mindset. So it will take time.

Did I mention I'm not a patient person?

In other news, Tim -- Mr. "2-liters-of-Mountain-Dew-a-day" -- is now off soda completely. The citric acid in that much Mt Dew would flush the Adderall out of his system. So he had to quit, cold turky. But he started chugging water like it was, well, Mt Dew. He refills his 62-oz water bottle about 4 or 5 times a day. It's insane. But he managed to avoid any headache the first day, getting one at bedtime the second day and a slight one on the third day. So, as long as he avoids water poisoning, I'm happy.

Now we just have to figure out how to return the Mt Dew stockpile we have without a receipt. There's always a new adventure in our household...


Saturday, April 25


I admit it. I'm a convert.

On Wednesday, I brought home

  • 6 Betty Crocker cookie mixes

  • 1 Betty Crocker blueberry muffin mix

  • 4 boxes of instant mashed potatoes (the good kind)

  • 2 boxes of Fiber One bars

  • 1 package of Reynold's foil

  • 16 10-oz boxes of cereal

for a grand total of $31.85. (Technically $28.86, since Mom sent off for a $2.99 rebate on the foil.)

Thanks to a good sale at Albertson's (on select merchandise, save $4 on every $10 you spend) and some carefully clipped/saved coupons, I was able to get a ton of bang for my buck. For example, the cereal was on sale 4/$10. But, by spending $10, you save $4. So it was really 4/$6. Then I had a $2-off-5 coupon, a $1.50-off-3 coupon, and two $1-off-3 coupons. In all, the 16 boxes were $18.50, or $1.16 each.

Granted, I'm still learning my way. But I think that's not bad for an amateur. Especially since I used to scoff at coupons. Okay, well not scoff at them, per se. More like, I had given up on the idea of my being able to consistently use them.

I always had every intention of using them. Then I would find myself at the store, coupons still at home, under a magnet on the fridge. Mocking me. I'd swear that next time I would remember. Most coupons would be long past their expiration date by the time I finally cleared them off the fridge. It seemed hopeless.

So, while many of you frugal folks out there are probably old hands as the couponing biz, I'm offering up this post to any of you who think coupons and you will simply never work out. Don't give up just yet!

Get organized

This is the essential step. It's what finally turned things around for me. My mom made me a coupon organizer for Christmas. She just grabbed a bag (with a zipper, that's vital!) and some tabbed index cards. She typed out some label names, printed them, cut them up and glued them onto the tabs. Voila!

You can use just about any kind of bag that closes. Be creative! Go to the thrift store and look around, or just dig through your closet.

I wish I had saved the link, but I read a great post by a PF blogger who had made herself a coupon binder:

  • In front, a plastic, card-organizer sheet to keep all of her store loyalty cards.

  • A calculator in the front pocket, to better compare per-unit prices

  • Her price book for quick reference

  • Of course, her coupons. I can't remember how she stored these in a binder. I want to say clear pencil pouches? One for each grocery section? It was probably something better and more orderly than that. But you get the general idea.

  • I would add one other item to this list: conversions. Other than 16 oz = 1 lb, I can never remember how many of X are in Y. So I would write up a list and stick that in the binder. It will make price comparisons a lot faster.

Other folks use boxes, binders -- one even uses a briefcase. Get some ideas here, at Hot Coupon World. Though I am willing to bet that if you did a search for "organizer" on A Full Cup or Coupon Mom, they would have good suggestions as well!

If you are dreading the hassle of creating your own system, eBay has some good deals on organizers (ie, under $7). Just be careful. Some lunatics are, for reasons entirely beyond me, trying to charge $30 for coupon organizers. I think the rationalization is that they come with tons of coupons in them. But I hardly see the point in paying for coupons that other folks thought were worthwhile. Especially with those three couponing sites so accessible.

Pay attention to prices

You probably already have a vague idea as to what constitutes a sale. There are certainly a lot of promotions wherein the savings are almost insulting. I have seen "sales" taking a whopping 20 cents off. And these are the items that no one considers a necessity.

Sure, you can combine that with coupons for better savings. But it makes more sense (cents?) to save those for the better sale prices, to really get a deal.

To do that, you need to get a feel for the cycle of sales. Every grocery store has one. Most are every 3-4 weeks. It's one of the major reasons frugal folks stockpile during sales: It gets us through until the best prices come around again.

I like Coupon Mom's ebook for a good explanation of how to create a price book. There are actually three different ebooks, so check out each one!

        Plan it out

        I hope that it goes without saying that you should be planning your meals/grocery shopping based on weekly sales. If it doesn't, well, then I just said it. Works out, either way.

        Each Tuesday, when the food ads come out, I sit down and circle the items of interest. Based on how many each store has, I decide which I'll actually visit during the week. Because of my energy situation, I also prioritize them. Usually, there are at least a couple items at each of the three stores. But I rarely get to more than two. Some weeks, I only get to one.

        Then I pull out a small notebook and list the item, the sale price (so I can find the right one/request a rain check if it's out) and any other notes I need. For Wednesday's little success, I had grouped each set of items into the $10 amounts, figured out the end price, then noted which coupons I'd use, so that I could determine the price I'd actually pay. It can be helpful to do this for complicated sales. Grocery stores are awfully good at making prices sound more impressive than they actually are. So I usually check the math (and usually, at the store, I check the usual price, to find how much I'm "saving.")

        Once I know what items we're buying that week, I get online. My first stop is (via MyPoints, since each redeemed coupon gets you 10 points). I print out the ones relevant to our purchases. It's actually worth noting that you can print out a coupon twice at any given IP address.

        If I still haven't found as many coupons as I'd like, I do web searches. Usually, there are a few dead ends, such as expired coupons. But I have had success, too. I've found $1-off coupons for Bertolli Oven Bake Meals. I found out that, by signing up at Betty Crocker, you can print out even more copies of coupons. (Which is how I came to have 6 50-cent-off coupons for cookie mixes.)

        I need to start making better use of the coupon sites, too. I'm working on it, slowly. If you're just starting out, I would start with Coupon Mom. Her site matches various sales up with the best coupons. You don't have to sit down and do the math. It's done for you. Some of the coupons are printable, others simply reference the day/source. In that case, you need to start saving all of your Red Plum/Smart Source coupons. Yet another good reason to get an organization system going.

        When it comes to coupons, though, there are a couple of extra tricks that you may or may not know. The easiest is to make friends with non-coupon-using newspaper subscribers. My aunt gives my mom a second set of Sunday coupons. Most people who consider coupons a nuisance are actually happy to give them out. They seem to feel better knowing that, this way, the coupons will actually see some use.

        Another trick is to visit coffeeshops, IHOPs and other leisurely Sunday places. These sites tend to have Sunday papers lying around. And, generally, the coupons are more of a mess and hassle for customers. If you ask, you can usually walk away with free coupons. (I've never heard of anyone doing this at libraries, but I suppose that's an option, as well.)

        Often, store circulars will have coupons, but these tend to have limits: 2 lb cheese $4.99, limit 3. Early in the week, most stores will have extra circulars. So go up to the service counter while you're there and ask if there are any. This way, you can buy the limit, drop the items off in the car, and go back in for more. (It's usually best to use a different teller, for discretion.)

        If you live in an apartment building like me, you can usually find plenty of extra circulars in the front lobby's trash/recycling bin. This is how Mom loads up on double coupons, when Albertson's offers them.

        I think that's about it, as far as my knowledge goes. But I'm sure there are more hints out there. What are your top couponing/sale-searching tips?

        Labels: , ,

        Thursday, April 23

        Freebie Friday

        Each Friday, The Freebie Blogger is kind enough to send over her top freebies. Check these out, and be sure to check in with her throughout the week for all sorts of goodies!

        Walmart is giving away a free sample of Nivea Touch of Happiness Body Wash.

        Sign up to get a free sample of The Biggest Loser Protein

        L’Oreal has free samples of Advanced RevitaLift Deep-Set
        Wrinkle Repair
        . Just click on "Banish Wrinkles" at the bottom of
        the page.

        Walmart is offering a free John Frieda Root Awakening

        Whole Foods has a printable coupon for a free reusable lunch bag
        good through 4/26/09.

        Get Restore Fuel System Restorer free after mail-in rebate
        at Autozone.

        CVS is offering a free sample of Aveeno Nourish Shampoo and

        Toys R Us will be having a free Thomas Play Date event on Saturday, April
        25th from 11AM to 1PM. Click here for more info.

        Sign up to receive a free o.b. Trial Pack and

        Get a free copy of “Seven Habits of Highly
        Effective People”
        from Trade Pub.

        Click here for a free Guide To Controlling Diabetes.

        During Yankees games, text GILLETTE to 56418 and you’ll receive a code
        redeemable on to receive a Gillette Fusion Razor. The
        offer is available to the first 1,000 each game.


        Wednesday, April 22

        Convenience tax

        The other day, I paid a $1 premium for a gallon of milk.

        It's not that I particularly like overpaying. I could have driven to Fred Meyer's and gotten the gallon for 99 cents. Instead, I got it from Albertson's for a much steeper $1.99. I actually paid more than twice the cheapest rate. Not something I'm proud of.

        Given the circumstances of that day, though, the premium was worth it.

        The closest Fred Meyer to us is just over 3 miles (and copious traffic lights) away. The streets I'd take would all have been heavy with traffic. It would have taken me an absolute minimum of 20 minutes to just get there. Comparatively, Albertson's is just over a mile away, with just three lights in between.

        Add to that supreme fatigue that day, as well as the depression that has been reasserting itself lately, and you have an understandable reason for overpaying. I was so worn down that even just going across the street to Grocery Outlet for 50-70 cents savings was simply not an option.

        So the extra money was worth it, even though I usually try to avoid paying for an item when I know it's cheaper elsewhere. But sometimes I have to.

        You don't even need to have health issues to appreciate the difficulty of all this. You're tired, work was hell, the kids are screaming in the back, and you still have to get home and cook. Who wouldn't be tempted to pay a little bit more -- or even stop by McDonald's?

        So when is it acceptable?

        The answer to this will vary from person to person. It depends on the value you place on your free time. Or time spent with your family. Or simply not in grocery stores.

        I think one of the best ways to avoid this is to change the way we think about price differences. Rather than think of it as a 50 cent difference, which we often can rationalize through gas and time spent getting to multiple stores, think of it as a tax. A convenience tax, if you will.

        After all, that's essentially what it is. You ever actually look at prices as you go through a convenience store? They're astronomical. Why? Because the store is banking on your unwillingness to seek out a better price. These stores profit from our desire for instant gratification.

        So it's not too much of a stretch to think about grocery store price differences in the same way. When you pay 50 cents more for a can of green beans, to avoid a second store, you're paying for convenience. And if there are multiple instances of this convenience tax, it can quickly make you rethink your process.

        Of course, this won't deter everyone in every situation. And it shouldn't. There is something to be said for valuing your free time and energy. You wouldn't expect a sick person to visit several stores looking for the best price on Nyquil. It's a special situation, where we decide to value our physical needs over our frugal ones.

        In a less extreme example, we've all orderered delivery food from time to time. It may be to celebrate; more likely, it's because we just can't bring ourselves to cook. We don't do it frequently, because in better times, we prioritize money over our desire for prepared food. But from time to time, it's worthwhile to take it easy on ourselves.

        So framing it as a convenience tax won't always stop you from paying more for products. But it does give you a more realistic look at the situation. You can't claim that your real concern is gas. At $2.30 a gallon, the stores would have to be pretty far apart to make that rationalization work. You can, though, decide just how much convenience you're willing to pay for.

        Convenience tax of 50 cents? You might or might not bother. It depends if you need it right away, whether you'll be in the other store soon enough anyway, and how valuable your time and energy is to you. But as those "taxes" add up? To $2 or $3... or more? You may just start to rethink your shopping practices.

        Labels: ,

        Sunday, April 19

        Someone agrees with me!

        Okay, obviously many of you readers have voiced your agreement with my opinions from time to time. And other times have even politely disagreed in ways that were thought-provoking and created an interesting dialogue.

        But every so often it's just awesome to have a renowned personal finance writer write about many of the same ideas you've had/written about.

        Enter Liz Pulliam Weston, aka the Web's #1 personal finance writer. She was once a coworker of my mom's up at the Anchorage Daily News, before she went back to school and became a PF writer.

        Liz makes some statements in her latest piece The 0-Dollar Emergency Fund that pretty much coincide with some points I've made in previous posts.

        She discusses the opportunity cost of saving for an emergency fund while you have credit card debt.

        It makes no financial sense, for example, to have money sitting in a savings account earning 2% or 3% for years while you have credit card debt accumulating at double-digit rates. Paying down your credit cards not only lowers your interest costs, it also frees up space on your credit lines that you could use again in an emergency.

        This is something I discussed in both Why I Won't Save an Emergency Fund and Emergency Fund Vs Debt -- the Eternal Debate.

        Of course, I didn't have my arguments as prepared as Liz does. In the first article, I wrote about why it made no sense for Tim and I to save an EF while our credit card debt accrued so much interest. We, however, were speaking from a strangely secure position of financial difficulty. After all, Tim has no job to lose, and unemployment has been extended for the foreseeable future. I have disability payments and contract work that is pretty much assured through September, unless my performance utterly tanks.

        Many of you wrote in asking how I proposed other people could pay bills. Truthfully, I hadn't thought the position through past my own situation. I was simply pointing out that there are times when traditional priorities such as an EF are actually detrimental to debt reduction.

        Looking at the situation mathematically, it makes more sense to pay down credit card debt now. Then, if emergencies occur, you put them on the card. In the meantime, your balance is lower, thereby accruing less interest -- especially important given the popularity of the double-billing cycle.

        But several of you wrote in to remind me that -- duh -- you have things like mortgages that can't go on a card (usually). So what to do? Well, Liz suggests a home equity line of credit. I'll wait for you to finish cringing.

        We are all anti-debt. I know. The knee-jerk response is why anyone would want to take out a HELOC. Liz points out that the maintenance costs on such things are very low. The trick is to only use it if necessary, such as in an extended period of unemployment. This and credit cards will help many people stay afloat long after the traditional EF has run dry. Especially as unemployment averages stretch beyond all previous imaginings.

        I have only one real fault with this idea: availability. Liz doesn't cover what to do if you're turned down for a HELOC. My guess would be to keep building your credit score up and re-apply. It's something you hope you'll never have to use anyway, so the only real goal is to apply before you need it. Still, credit is still tight, and we're waiting to see if the government's plans will actually get banks to loosen their stranglehold on lending funds.

        To be clear, Liz doesn't seem to be saying you should ignore the EF altogether. She's simply reminding us that saving up for an EF may hinder your debt-reduction efforts. In addition, emergency funds may not keep you as safe as you had hoped. When you sit down and crunch the numbers, it makes more sense to throw the money at debt than into a bank.

        I'm guessing a lot of people will try to repudiate this advice. Liz is finding cracks in a PF ivory tower. People love their emergency funds because it's soothing to have money in abeyance. It makes them feel less vulnerable, especially in such turbulent times. What's more, it's pretty hard on the ego to go further into debt. When you've worked so hard, for so long, to lower credit card balances, it's disheartening (to say the least!) to charge them up higher.

        What do you think? (And feel free to agree with me -- apparently all the cool PF kids are doing it!)

        Labels: ,

        Friday, April 17

        Friday Freebies

        This is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. In addition to being a great source of all things free, The Freebie Blogger is holding a giveaway for free business cards. Go check it out!

 offers free samples in exchange for your product reviews. Click here to learn more.

        Rewards Gold is offering a free two year subscription to Parents magazine.

        Sign up for a free recipe book with an attached coupon for discounts on Holland House Cooking Wines.

        Nature Made is offering a free TripleFlex Liquid Softgel Sample.

        Get a free sample of Better Than Ears Dog Treats from Walmart.

        Gillette is giving away free razors every day for a month to the first 500 who request one. is offering a free download of the audio book “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet.

        Kids ages 10 and under can get a coupon for a free kids meal when they sign up for the California Pizza Kitchen Kids Club.

        Walmart is now offering a free sample of Prilosec OTC and a pack of Brett Favre trading cards.

        This Earth Day, try Reynolds Wrap Foil from 100% Recycled Aluminum FREE with mail-in rebate. Other Earth Day freebies include free gift from Disney Stores and a free CFL light bulb from Home Depot (taking place on 4/19). As always, call first to make sure your local store is participating.


        Wednesday, April 15

        Up, up, damned Xbox!

        As I mentioned, Tim's Xbox 360 sputtered and died recently. To be exact, the console stopped showing video. That sort of ruins the gaming experience, from our point of view.

        This was actually pretty upsetting for Tim. It was his favorite Christmas present... ever. His parents and I had gone in together on it 2 Christmases ago. Unfortunately, when they bought it, they didn't get him an extended warranty.

        In retrospect, I should have insisted. But I had my mind on other things. It's kind of irritating to me that we missed this obvious idea. After all, it cost $300 total and lasted just about 2.25 years. That's $133 a year. A little higher than I would have liked. On the other hand, that means we were paying less than $3 a week. So I suppose it's how you look at it.

        That said, I was hoping we could salvage it. So Tim called Microsoft. Unfortunately, they only fix it for free for 1 year after purchase. That warranty was completely over.

        For a mere $119, we could have Microsoft take a look. The operator told Tim that no promises were made about whether it could be fixed. What a deal!

        That idea was nixed immediately. I did a little research online and found that the lower-end consoles are only $199. We can buy the basic one, since Tim's current console already has a hard drive.

        But I was still hoping that we could get away without buying anything. So Tim used a Microsoft support gift card we had. The people really couldn't tell us much of anything. We were told it might be something as simple as a faulty port, it could be the A/V cables or it could be a problem with the motherboard.

        So we did a few at-home trials. We tried the Xbox on a different television. Still no video. So it wasn't the ports on the TV. Well, I was convinced, anyway, but Tim thought both TVs were pretty old. So he took it to a friend's house to triple check. Sure enough, it wasn't the ports. If it had been, we could simply have used the TV in the bedroom -- or kept an eye out for another TV on Freecycle.

        Then we got some new A/V cables from Gamestop. That didn't help. And, just to be thorough, we checked them on both TVs. We decided it definitely wasn't the cables either. If they had been the problem, it would have been optimal. These would have been the cheapest "fix," since they cost $16 after sales tax. (As it was, Gamestop has a liberal 7-day return policy, so it cost us nothing to try.)

        Unfortunately, that left only problems with internal hardware. Still, I didn't give up. I got on to the Microsoft FAQs section and checked if there were any answers there. (There weren't.) But it reminded me that there are entire forums devoted to Xbox problems.

        A few keyword searches later, I found some references to the no-video problem. Apparently, it was a relatively common problem with a specific batch of Xbox 360s. This reminded me that, about a month after Christmas, Tim's mom called to say that Microsoft was willing to fix/replace the problematic batch that had come out. But Tim was reluctant to part with his gift so early on. Over time, he forgot. (Let others learn from our mistakes... When there's a recall, take advantage of it!)

        From what I could glean, Microsoft used "X" bindings (appropriately) that put strain on the motherboard and video chip. It's relatively fixable, if you open up the console, take off the bindings and reglue them. The materials would cost about $20-30. There are even step-by-step YouTube video instructions.

        This is a good reminder to us all. We're a consumer society. When things break, we're more likely to replace it, rather than attempt to fix it. But often with a little research, you can extend items' life indefinitely. Our first VCR lasted over a decade. Whenever it would begin acting up, my mom would take it apart, clean the wheels, and put it back together. When the pipes froze in the winter, rather than call a plumber, Mom would dutifully plug in a hair dryer and start thawing them herself.

        But my favorite story was our toaster. As Mom got ready to leave for college, she was given a used toaster. It was just sitting out in someone's garage. Well over a decade later, the toaster started to falter. After some investigation, Mom replaced the cord and used it happily for several more years. It finally died for good when I was in college -- at least 20 years after she received the toaster... the used toaster.

        Her general attitude was: If you are going to replace it, why not stop and try to fix it first? It worked out more often than not. Of course, I should add that Mom is the same person who used my old cloth diapers as rags until they wore out completely. That was somewhere after my 20th birthday. "Waste" isn't really in her lexicon.

        Given all that, it may seem strange that I have decided to replace the Xbox rather than fix it. Certainly, that was my first impulse. Tim and I sat down and watched two of the five videos. It didn't look too terribly difficult, however it was time consuming and required a steady hand.

        That takes me out of the equation instantly. I have an essential tremor, like most of my family, and so my hands shake pretty much all the time. And in this particular scenario, a shaky hand could easily scratch the motherboard.

        So it would be up to Tim. I floated the idea by him. He was reluctant. First, it's time-consuming, which isn't terribly ADD-friendly. Second, he was pretty sure he'd end up hurting the motherboard, too. Either he would scratch it or somehow spread glue on a vital part.

        But the real clincher was that I've pledged to be more realistic and less demanding of myself when setting goals. Logically, it shouldn't be that difficult of a task. We could follow logic and tell ourselves that we were going to fix it. We'd truly mean to. Then, I'd be too tired to go get the materials, or Tim wouldn't have the attention span for it on the appointed day. The console would gather dust, right along with our good intentions.

        How do I know this? About 6 or 8 months ago, Tim got a bike. He doesn't trust plastic pedals, so he got metal ones. The plastic ones, though, are on there tight. After quite a few tries, he decided he'd get a friend to help him out. He forgot several weeks in a row, then the friend disappeared off the face of the earth (new girlfriend). The hardier pedals are still, patiently sitting on the desk, covered by bills.

        So, while there's part of me thinking that it's far more frugal to fix the damn thing, there's a more realistic side that's butting in. Just because, objectively speaking, something should be easy, there is no guarantee it will be. This is especially true when you're fighting depression. I have trouble with a lot of very (seemingly) simple tasks.

        So I'm trying to accept that we're not good at completing tasks that we set for ourselves. While I want to work on this trait in the future, I don't think that change can happen right now. We're exhausted and worn down -- both physically and emotionally. So, we're trying to be nicer to ourselves, and part of that is setting ourselves reasonable goals.

        Unfortunately, fixing the Xbox ourselves isn't one. Part of me keeps insisting that it should be. But I've had enough experience to know that this attitude only adds to my difficulty in completing tasks, since I then have the added layer of guilt.

        I guess, in the end, it's a basic question: Where is the line between trying to better ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure?

        I'm convinced that a balance does exist between between self-improvement and a realistic acceptance of limitations. I'm not, however, convinced that I'll ever get it quite right. And given our current load of worries, I think it's smarter to err on the side of caution. That means keeping goals small and the pressure low.

        In the meantime, I can look around online to see how much we can get for a broken Xbox 360. We'll add it to the replacement fund.

        Have you ever tried to fix something on your own? How did it turn out? When it comes to fixing things, where would you draw the line? What is asking too much of yourself?

        Labels: , ,

        Tuesday, April 14

        Road to rewards revenue: Xbox 360 here we come!

        About three weeks ago, Tim's Xbox 360 died. To be more exact, it stopped showing any video -- which is, arguably, a large obstacle to enjoying video games.

        First we tried to determine the problem. (I'll actually do a separate post about our troubleshooting and research because it's important to know how to try and fix things first.) When it became clear we could not fix it, we agreed to replace it.

        Of course, given our financial situation we cannot afford to buy one. This weekend, I got a Keynote evaluation opportunity. If you've never heard of this, it's a cool little program. From time to time (maybe 1-4 times a year) you can try to qualify for a survey. It usually takes about half an hour. You check out a website and are asked to give reactions. If you complete it, you're rewarded with $10 in Amazon credit.

        That made me realize how well our current rewards program efforts are going. Here's how I'm finding the three top programs I'm working on.

        Swagbucks Success

        I'm really loving Swagbucks. I signed up Mom and Tim. Each time they get a Swagbuck, I get one, too -- up to the first 100. Even without their help, I got over 100 in the first two months. A month later, I'm at 179.

        The $20 Target cards are only 220 Swagbucks. We can also get $5 Amazon e-cards for 45 Swagbucks, which we'll use to buy Target cards on Amazon. Yes, I'm truly that Machievellian.

        One thing I like about this program is that you can get rewards so quickly. There are plenty of things you can get for under 100 Swagbucks. And the variety of merchandise is pretty wide, if slightly eccentric.

        I like it so much, in fact, that I got a special Swagcode for those of you interested in signing up. By using the code IPICKUPPENNIES, you'll start off with 5 Swagbucks instead of the normal 3. So just by signing up, you're 1/9 of the way to an Amazon gift card!

        To get the points to accumulate fast, here are a few tips:

        1. Download the toolbar, which will remind you to do searches.
        2. Check the blog/Facebook page for extra codes.
        3. Use Twitter to enter for the daily 20-buck giveaway
        4. Be sure to do your searches on Friday, when more are given away.
        5. Offer up poll ideas. If one is accepted, that's an instant 10 Swagbucks.
        6. And, if you feel comfortable doing it, get others to join. You'll earn Swagbucks right along with them. C'mon... All the cool kids are doin' it! (Which, by the way, should be the line you use.)

        There are plenty of other ways to earn Swagbucks, so check out the site for all the details.

        Just don't forget to use "IPICKUPPENNIES" when you sign up. And do it soon: The code expires on Thursday, April 16th, midnight PST. (If you miss the deadline, don't beat yourself up. You can still get 3 Swagbucks as a new citizen of the Swagnation.)

        Multitudes of MyPoints

        Of course, Swagbucks is still a relative newcomer to the rewards program scene. Probably one of the oldest and best is MyPoints. I've been with this site for more than 8 years now. I've gotten tons of gift cards from it.

        MyPoints is terrific. Why? There are several ways to earn points without spending anything or completing free trials. They go from easy (email) to more in-depth (searches and coupons). No matter how you do it, you're on your way to fast rewards!

        Personally, I get around 3-5 emails a day. With most worth 5 points, I could cash in for a $10 gift card (1,450 points) in about 3 months. Just for checking my inbox.

        I like to go a bit further, though. Here are a few tips if you want the points to accumulate quickly:

        1. Choose the maximum number of topics in each category of your profile. The more interest you have, the more emails you'll receive.
        2. Print out your coupons through MyPoints. For each one redeemed, you get 10 points. If you redeem 10 or more in a month, you get an extra 25 points.
        3. Download the MyPoints search toolbar. It's a quick 100 points. Plus you get up to 75 points a month for searches.
        4. Visit the homepage. Fill out the "Tell Us & Earn" section for a quick 20-30 points. These refresh every 1-2 days.
        5. Act quickly on the survey offers. If you actually want to participate in one, they fill up quickly.
        6. Don't refer people right away. Seems counterintuitive, right? But every 2 months or so, MyPoints offers double points for referrals. So, once again, good things come to those who wait.

        When you first register, you'll get between 60-100 points for signing up/filling out a profile. That will put you on your way to your first reward.

        So, on the off-chance that there are still people on the Web who aren't MyPoints members, here's a link to the site. If you do sign up, please consider using me as a referrer:

        Memolink Merits

        Finally, I'm working on Memolink. After about a month of concerted effort, I'm at nearly 9,000 points. That's about half of what I need for a minimum reward.

        I think that may actually be what initially detracts from this program. Compared to MyPoints, you need a lot more to get as much as $10. In addition, the emails pay only one point more (6 vs 5). So people may give up too easily on Memolink.

        But I can say that I've had some decent success here. I don't know how viable it is in the long-term, but at least for now I'm making good progress.

        Memolink has the distinction of offering you cash rewards, in addition to gift cards. That could certainly intrigue some people. More importantly, the program offers a few items that really let you rack up points:

        1. Memolink Lotto. Through Lucky Surf, you get a double reward here: points and a chance to win money. You can play up to 10 grids a day (only the 10th has a cash prize) and each one gets you 10 Memolinkpoints. Now that I have the routine down, it takes me about 3 minutes. Total points: 100 points.
        2. Homepage. There are four "Videos of the Day" (2 pts each) and one "Site of the Day" (3 pts) that you can click through. Total points: 11 points.
        3. Memolink Surveys. These refresh daily. None should take more than a couple of minutes to complete. You get anywhere from 3-10 points each. (If you qualify for the daily survey, you'll get an additional 720.) Total points: 30-50.
        4. Easy Points. These include "surveys" that are really just excuses to get you to look at ads. One caveat: If you've ever completed Big Bucks Surveys and/or Eversave with the same email address, don't bother with those; they won't credit points. But there are still usually 8-15 quizzes from Quiz Jungle et al that will give you the points. (I've gotten credit for at least three or four, with others still pending.) They take around 3-5 minutes each, once you start to memorize where the "No Thanks" and "Skip" buttons are. Simple, free. Total points: 200-500 each.
        5. Store ratings. Each time you get credited for a store, which can also include the easy point surveys, you can obtain 5 points for reviewing the experience. This is located in your account, under "Pending Store Ratings." Total Points: 5 each.

        Of course, with any of these programs, you can ramp up points and rewards faster if you shop through the portals or do free trials. But Tim and I are trying to keep shopping to strict necessities, and I'm dealing with enough stress right now. So, I'm approaching these programs from the viewpoint of someone refusing to spend any money. And I think I'm relatively pleased with the results:

        For Swagbucks, Tim should have at least $5 in Amazon e-cards. If Mom is feeling generous, she'll probably have $10 of Amazon e-cards. Between those two and my own searches, I should net a $20 Target card and $10 of Amazon e-cards. That would be a total of $45 worth.

        For MyPoints, Tim and I each are approaching enough for a $25 Target card. So that will be $50. (We both last cashed in around Christmas, so that's about 3 months' effort there.) Mom has graciously offered up some of her MyPoints. That's between $50-75.

        I should have enough in another two or three weeks to get a $10 gift card from Memolink.

        Combine that with the successful Keynote Panel $10 reward, and that's already $115-140 of the $250 ($200 for the basic system, $29 for the extended warranty, $11 for sales tax) that we need for the replacement Xbox 360.


        Sunday, April 12

        Carnival of Debt Reduction

        Thanks to all for joining me for for the latest Carnival of Debt Reduction. I must have been feeling slightly nostalgic for the bad kids movies of yore. So this is the The "Honey, I Shrunk the Debt!" edition.

        I've broken up the posts into various groups. The thing to remember is that debt isn't just one stage. It's a set of steps. And even those of us in the midst of it can use refresher courses from time to time.

        With that in mind, read on and enjoy!

        The rewards of a job well done.

        Editor's "pet" posts

        Patrick discusses How Do You Improve Your Credit Score When Credit Companies Close Your Account? posted at Cash Money Life. According to him, "Many credit card companies are jacking up interest rates or closing accounts, which makes it difficult for people to repay their loans as quickly."

        Peter at Bible Money Matters reminds us, "Sometimes we just need someone to knock some sense into us when we're making bad decisions." He details this in his post Accountability: Sometimes You Need Someone To Slap You On The Back Of Your Head.

        DR gives us examples of easy-to-use, green technology in Get Your Green On–13 Energy (and Money) Saving Gadgets posted at The Dough Roller.

        Feel like you're drowning in debt?

        Now's the time to take action

        Okay, if you're looking to start out on the debt reduction path, you need to know the basics. The Digerati Life gives us a good overall primer in The Dave Ramsey Budget: Budgeting Tips For Successful Savers.

        Big Cajun Man at Canadian Personal Finance Blog offers some Advice for New Grads. He offers some tips, not just on getting rid of debt, but also about building a lifestyle to facilitate debt reduction.

        Len Penzo gets biblical in My Ten Commandments of Personal Finance posted at Len Penzo . Com. While the Internet isn't exactly a set of stone tablets, these are good overall rules to build your debt-reduction upon. (For those already in the process, it can be a good refresher course.)

        Those who are swarmed by debt may be tempted to try a debt-reduction program. These are can be regular companies or organizations preying on people's desperation. Billeater gives a very important set of guidelines to Avoid Debt Reduction Scams. There are some good rules of thumb in this post, so be sure to check it out.

        From what APR is, to the very basic tenets of debt reduction, Jesse Michelsen gives it all to you in The Most Important Part Is Starting: Debt Recovery over at Personal Finance Firewall.

        Back on solid ground

        From here to there, one step at a time

        Ralph Jean-Paul talks about Building Self-Discipline. In this post, he reminds us about overall discipline (vs willpower). This is an important theory for those of us struggling to deal with temptation while on a budget. Check it out at Potential 2 Success.

        Destroy Debt reminds us to stop being so wasteful. Just because you can't squeeze any more toothpaste out, that doesn't mean the tube is empty. Check out the various ways to get ever last bit of your products in Good Til The Last Drop: Use it Before You Throw it In the Trash posted at Destroy Debt.

        Another Money Blogger talks about his success with saving spare coins. Check out The Power of the Pocket Change Jar.

        Here! Take it already!
        Throw money at debt

        Fabulously Broke the City gives us some ideas to lower grocery bills. These are ranked as easy, medium or hard. (A good reminder to try one or two at a time!) Check out her 10 Tips to save on Groceries each month.

        Laura asks What Have You (Totally) Eliminated From Your Spending? For real results, most of us have to make some sacrifices. This lets us make bigger payments on our debt. So, what have you given up? Tell her at No More Spending.

        J. Money at Budgets are Sexy offers "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" - Review. Get his opinion on this guide to both debt reduction and wealth-building.

        Two heads are better than one
        A closer look at your finances

        Christian Debt Help admits to past financial ignorance -- and it wasn't bliss. Read (and learn from) his "oops" story in Money Mistake: Not paying attention to interest rates.

        FMF asks, "Is payiing off debt always the best option?" Read his exploration of this question in Pay Down Your Mortgage or Sock Money Away for Retirement? at Free Money Finance.

        On a similar note, Pinyo at Moolanomy asks what many people in the midst of debt reduction wonder: Should You Pay Off Your Debt Before Investing?

        Green Panda Treehouse discusses Two Ways To Wisely Spend Your Tax Refund. According to GPT, "Using a small windfall like your tax refund is a great way to take a huge chunk of of your debt."

        For those of you still struggling with your mortgages, Madison at My Dollar Plan reviews the Making Home Affordable Program Details. Learn more about this program and how it could help you.


        Well, folks, that wraps up this edition of the Carnival of Debt Reduction. Hope you enjoyed the reading!

        I know all the authors put a lot of effort into their posts, so be sure to stop by their sites and give them some kudos!


        Friday, April 10

        Finally, the economy affects me

        I need to see a doctor. Or an ARNP. Or a psychiatric nurse. Stat.

        I have been going off the deep end lately. Emotions are too strong for what they should be. I am starting to feel hopeless. Tim and I both agree that the Lexapro just isn't cutting it.

        Last night, after screaming at him for wanting to go to bed at 10:30 -- I just couldn't stand that he was yet again more tired than me... I know that makes no logical sense... I knew it at the time... but I was just so tired and so angry and so over-ridden with emotion -- I wept. And I wept some more.

        I had kicked him out of the bedroom to sleep on the couch. And the general disproportion of everything made me realize the last couple days weren't a fluke. I've been having a harder and harder time coping. Yet again.

        I had hoped it was a brief interlude from stress. But it's the illness, the depression, asserting itself over and above the medication.

        I felt hopeless. And lost. And exhausted from the fight. And ashamed of how much Tim has had to suffer it lately.

        And that's when the thought came. Unbidden. Scary. He is a deep sleeper. I could go out to the kitchen and grab a knife and cut my wrists and he probably wouldn't even wake up.

        Then I really started to cry.

        I don't want to go away. I don't want to die. I certainly don't want to experience the pain of cutting myself. Or the mess of blood when inevitably the attempt failed. (Yes, sadly, cleaning up after my own suicide attempt was a logical argument against it. I guess I'm more of a neatnik than I thought.)

        Mostly, though, I didn't want to die. And I didn't want to leave Tim. And I really didn't want to leave Tim all alone.

        Yes, it was just a stray thought. It slipped in twice during one weeping session. But even once is a bad sign. Perhaps it was a random iteration of a brain flooded with ideas, like so many monkeys at typewriters aiming for Shakespeare. But I'm not willing to take that chance.

        I think even one suicidal thought is one too many, depressive or not. It's not a good sign that it's ever a possibility. I don't care how you explain it away. It's not something that occurs to a person who can manage on his own.

        So I called the North Seattle Health Clinic. I was prepared to make an argument for triage so that they could fit me in somewhere. With someone. My own doctor doesn't work on Fridays. (The plan was to start looking for a psychiatric nurse or psychiatrist next week.)

        I got this message:

        "Due to budget cutbacks, the North Seattle Public Health Clinic is closed Friday, April 10th. We will reopen Monday, April 13th."

        So, at last, the economy affects me. Kind of strange that it took a stray, suicidal ideation to do it. But, strangely, it actually makes me feel slightly more connected to everyone. Is that weird? It's probably weird. But, frankly, dear Scarlett, I don't give a damn.

        I'm off to try and find someone who will take me. I will probably end up at the doc-in-the-box up just outside the city limits. (Seattle's border is 145th St NE. The clinic is on 147th.) There's a long wait, often. And you'll rarely see the same doctor twice. But I have to get this taken care of. For Tim. For my mom. For me.

        I don't want to go anywhere. Literally or figuratively. But I also don't want to struggle through the weekend with these peaks and troughs. It's unbearable. And I don't want to have anymore stray thoughts about hurting myself. Even for the completely isolated, forlorn, hopeless folks, they tend to be terrifying rather than a relief.

        I honestly don't know what the doc-in-the-box can do. I'm already on three antidepressants. In the end, I'll probably have to be weaned off some of them. And both Lexapro and Effexor have severe mental repercussions.

        But I have to do something. I'm actually proud that I know that. No, scratch that. I'm proud that I feel that. It's a sign that I haven't completely been lost yet to this illness. Because I'm not just staying alive for other people. Last time, it was for my mom. Probably the only time an overactive guilt complex worked in my favor.

        This time, I'm doing it for me. Because I plan to have a long, if somewhat tumultuous, life with Tim. And while certainly he and my mom are a factor, I am not ready to abandon my future for present pain.

        So I may come back on a fourth antidepressant. As a stop-gap until I can see someone more regularly. Who knows. But I will have done something.

        And just so that this also personal-finance relevant: I have to do something before I have to go in-patient. Medicare covers only 190 lifetime days in a facility. and the first 60, I'd be responsible fora $952 deductible. The next 30 days, it's $238/day. Then $476 a day until day 150, at which point, all costs are covered. (This is the same for inpatient hospital care.) Anyone else find it hard to believe that this is the system for folks on disability and retirement -- aka "limited income"?

        I'm sure Medicaid would help out with some. And that a well-written letter/filled-out application to the institution's financial aid center would help. But frankly I don't need the further workload. Or headache.

        Medicare also wants me to pay a $135 deductible for outpatient mental health care. And then it will pay 50% of the fee (the one that Medicare deems fair, anyway). So that's not really ideal, either. But my GP simply isn't enough at this point. And it can take a month to get in to see him. So I will find a psychiatric nurse, who charges significantly less than a psychiatrist, and figure out the money part of it later. Or perhaps over the weekend. I'll need to keep busy then anyway.

        Perhaps this all proves my point: It's more exhausting to be sick than to be a normal, full-time worker.

        I'll go ahead and post Friday Freebies either later today or on Saturday.

        Don't worry, folks, things will get better. And for a change, I'm not just saying that to convince myself or to shoo away the terror I know this talk creates in other people. I actually know (and feel) that this will be dealt with. And it will improve.

        That, in itself, is huge.

        I'm honestly not sure if it's a good or bad sign that money is a factor in my decisions about my mental health.

        Monday, April 6

        Carnival of Everything Money

        I am so excited to host my very first carnival! It was great to read through my fellow bloggers' thoughts and ideas. I discovered some new folks and overall had a great time setting this up.

        I hope even more people will participate in the future. And don't forget to check back in a week, when I'll have yet another carnival up on the site!

        Please take some time to peruse the stories offered up for your reading pleasure:

        Editor's picks

        FFB had a terrific, thought-provoking post asking Should The Government Use The Stimulus To Bailout Madoff Ponzi Victims?. He debates the pros and the cons of this idea. Even if you think you already know the answer, read it anyway. It's up over at Free From Broke and it may just give you some food for thought.

        While I'm not a terribly religious person, I found Matthew Paulson's piece, Personal Finance Tips from the Bible to be a really unique viewpoint. There are some great excerpts that show just how far back PF advice goes! Check it out over at Fine-Tuned Finances.

        Len Penzo takes a strange -- but fascinating look at What It Really Feels Like To Be A Millionaire. He compares how much big purchases would cost for the average person, if we had the buying power of, say, a baseball star. Go take a look at Len Penzo . Com.

        In a short, but insightful commentary piece, PF Credit Cards points out that Credit Cards are Evil Just as Knives are Sharp. When people complain about credit cards being evil or money-sucking, they need to remember that they chose to get the cards and to run up a debt they could not immediately pay off, and so are at the very least, enabling said money-sucking card companies to continue. This post is up over at PF Credit Cards.


        RB offers one of the most basic -- and timeless -- piece of personal finance advice: Want to Cut Costs? Learn to Do Without. As he points out, "One of the best ways to save is to learn how to do without those expenses that you just don't need." Check out the full piece, posted at his truthfully-named blog Recessions Blow.

        Kathryn points out that, despite being so careful with money these days, many of us are wasting money without even realizing it. Check out her list of Top Ways to Waste Money on Your Home posted at Out of Debt - Christian Finances and Debt Help.

        Revanche has a thought-provoking piece about her own family's way of doing weddings, in an aptly named piece, Weddings. After these items, she also lists some wedding-related posts in the PF blogosphere. Check out her thoughts over at the uniquely named A Gai Shan Life.


        KCLau wonders, "Are we doing the right things when it comes to managing our finances? Ask yourself five questions to know if you’re on the right track." He explores this question in 5 Ways To Take Charge Of Our Finances posted at KCLau's Money Tips

        JC asks the all-important question Are you paying too much for your rent? Check out his own experience in negotiating lower rent, and the useful links over at this blog 6Bubbles - Grad School, Money, Life.

        Jim over at Bargaineering offers a useful look at the top checking and savings accounts online. Check out Best Savings Account.


        Fabulously Broke tells us how she got $25 from her credit card -- no strings attached! Check out How now brown cow? posted at Fabulously "Broke" the City

        Mr. CC discusses how your credit score is affected by making payments, over time, on medical debt. It's not a common question, but the answer was very useful, nonetheless! Check out Doctor Bills And Your Credit Score over at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog.

        Consolidator presents a pretty even-handed look at debt consolidation in, Are Debt Consolidation Loans Good For The Long Term?. There is a decent case here for the loans... In very specific circumstances. Check it out over at Debt Consolidation Loans For Beginners.


        Investing School provides a great reference for those of us who are newbs at options trading. Beginning with Options Trading. "Options can be an amazingly easy way to protect yourself and reduce risk. However, it can also be very dangerous if misused." Very true! And so the explanation of options-trading terminology is very helpful to folks like me. Go take a peek at Investing School.

        Silicon Valley Blogger presents Best Online Stock Brokers For Cheap Stock Trades. A lot of you will probably be happy to get these useful links, so get yourself over to The Digerati Life.

        Frank Vertin explores ways to avoid high fees on index funds. Read up on wh you should Just Buy Index Funds Directly posted at Low Cost Index Fund.

        The Smarter Wallet offers some advice that most of us can use: Investing In The Stock Market? Rules To Help You Sleep At Night. If you're an anxious investor, go check it out at The Smarter Wallet.

        On a slightly more optimistic front, comes Steve Patterson's US Indexes Are Clearly in the Green. He foresees an imminent rally, as he explains over at FastSwings.

        Mark Foo goes to the guru in Value Investing: 15 Nuggets Of Wisdom From The World’s Greatest Investor - Warren Buffett. In it, he expands on these quotes and explains them in context of investing strategy. It's thought provoking and interesting. (Plus, you can use it to cite Warren Buffett at parties and sound erudite!) Check this piece out, over at The Big Dreamer.

        Walter W. Fouse has a thorough overview of no-load mutual funds in 7 Ways to Pick the Best Noload Mutual Funds and ETFs. This piece is so complete, it links to seven other articles explaining things such as low management expenses and other no-load fund topics. Check it out at his website about no-load mutual funds, named (you guessed it!) Top No Load Mutual Funds.

        ifvat gives this useful advice: "Knowing your risk tolerance will help you establish an investment style and help you feel confident when you and your broker make investment decisions." So check out the piece The Beginner's Guide to Stock Market Investing Risk Tolerance on ifvat.


        Larry Russell gets frank: "Many investors ignore or are unaware of the opportunity costs of their sub-optimal investment behaviors." He explores the opportunity costs of this in Most Individual Investors Are Poor Personal Portfolio Managers posted at Personal Investment Management.

        eTrades offers up a great overview of penny stocks Basic Guidelines On Investing In Penny Stock That Matters. This is posted over at eTrades.


        John Howshall offers some advice for What To Do With Your 2009 Tax Refund. He lists several options and, always important in my book, reminds people why refunds aren't a good thing. It's up at John's Investing Tips.

        Peter asks When Will We See An Increase In Our Paychecks Due To The Stimulus Package? This is surely a question many of you are asking, so check it out over at Bible Money Matters.


        Dough Roller presents 10 Tips to Declutter Your Finances. In this piece, DR takes a personal finance spin on Leo Babauta's Power of Less. DR says, "In his new book, Leo Babauta, describes 'the fine art of limiting yourself to the essential . . . in business and in life.'" Check it out over at The Dough Roller. "

        Bank Savings Review discusses the banks that have already paid back TARP funds. I guess some of the bailout money was a good investment after all? Read more in Four Banks Give Back TARP Already posted at Bank Savings Review.

        Miss M has been doing a terrific and informative series for first-time homebuyers. This particular piece, The First Time Home Buyer – During Escrow, is part of that. Check it -- and the rest of the series -- over at M is for Money

        The David offers "Tips for exceeding expectations at your first job - or any job for that matter" in 26 Tips for Surviving Your First Job. Check it out at Pimp Your Finances.

        ChristianPF gives us "A few reasons why 2009 is a great year for first time home buyers." Take a look at the post, First time home owner? This is a great year for it!, up at Christian Personal Finance Blog.

        Michael asks How Much Car Insurance Do You Need?. While this post doesn't hold any hard and fast answers (really, it's too individual of a subject for that sort of thing) it does have some very useful information and good questions to ask yourself. Check it out over at Vital Motion.