From the Blog

Getting My Money House Clean

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I will sometimes get a fit of enthusiasm for an idea or a project that makes me mildly obsessed. It happens a lot. It can become distracting. Like long ago, when I had a shitty, terrible boss who seemed to just want to break my proverbial balls (I’m a girl), I used to drift deep into an elaborate fantasy about building a straw bale house somewhere near Joshua Tree. I thought about the floor plan, the building materials, and the most awesome piece of land I could find with my fantasy money.

So that was an escapist fantasy coping mechanism, though I still want to build a straw bale house one day. But I will happen upon a fascinating idea and it will sometimes become an obsessive mental toy. These can be good projects or goals, like “I want to be a graphic designer!” or “I want to open a business!” or “I don’t want to be a soulless accountant anymore for crapsakealready!” I try to take care and nurture these bursts of inspiration, because I can sometimes have the attention span of a fruit fly.  And before I’ve even moved from the excited! mental! development! stage of an idea, to being productive and actually doing something, I’ve forgotten the former and I’m off onto the next “Ooh Shiny!” idea.

So my current obsessive little mental toy is Getting My Finances In Order. I’ve been reading more of this blog and I put this book on hold at the library and was 40th in line to sign it out. Gah. It finally came up after two months of being on the waiting list. They gave me three weeks to read it. Gah, again. It takes me half a year to finish a book. So, I have to hurry up and read and get my brain to follow along.

I’m not super broke. I live day-to-day just fine. But I took a $23,000 hit to my yearly salary a year and a half ago, moving from California to Portland. And it’s not like I made over six figures before, and $23k is some paltry fraction of what I was making. It was a BIG fraction. And in the meantime, incredibly, my expenses did not go down. Rent, car, groceries, everything is the same.

As a side note, it is always with a bit of trepidation that I say I moved from “California” to Portland. I’m one of those people. By moving here, I have caused ALL of Oregon’s problems. Every last one of them. So, you know, sorry. But I also like to mention that I grew up in Massachusetts and my sensibilities are well suited to the Northwest. Not like those Californians. Those people.

The allure of Portland is that it has a more affordable cost of living. And you know, there are fewer Californians. But not by much. Those people. But I was not expecting such a severe cut in pay to live here. And I was not expecting such a non-existent reduction in my cost of living. My first few months here were a bit rough.

I have a bit of a financial equilibrium now, by sharing expenses and shacking up with my boyfriend, and living in sin. Which is awesome. But I have no savings to speak of, and I am not contributing more than 1% to retirement right now.  And ha, I’m not getting a raise this year because, you know, the economy sucks. And my health insurance deductible just went up 200%.

I’ve never been good at having a handle on where my money goes. I always have a vague idea of what’s in my bank account, what I’ve been writing for checks, and when the exact moment my paycheck is deposited. But when I look back at the month, or the year, or my whole life, I don’t know where the money went. This is a problem. And some people call me an accountant.

Like a week ago, after getting into this book, I realized I have a lot of stuff that I carry around with me that I don’t want, but still has value and that I could sell. Why do I keep this stuff? If I get rid of it, there will be less to break our backs with the next time we move. And it will create empty space. Which is super valuable. So, a heavy white leather couch can go. My old laptop can go. A DSL modem we no longer use can go. A 19 3/4 inch picture frame from Ikea that didn’t fit our poster because it’s an odd Swedish alterno-dimension can go. Swedes. Those people.

You know what else can go? All the Hard Rock Cafe pins I wore when I waited tables there 10 years ago. There’s like, a whole seedy underbelly of people who are nutso for Hard Rock Cafe pins. I had to put them on my uniform as “flare” when I was wearing a little white dress and waiting tables there. Five years, I worked there. Waiting on Bob Seger fans. I qualify for sainthood. So those pins might actually be worth something. We’ll see.

And any proceeds are going into the art/business/property fund. The “Future Fund,” basically. Which ever happens first. Art, business or property. Something is going to happen.

The other thing I am doing is getting all my accounts in order. I collect bank accounts. I have at least four. Some of them, I don’t know what’s in there or how to even access the account. Some I could close, but others I may start sending little bits of money for other types of savings. An emergency fund, a holiday fund, a “fun” fund. Also, there are two local credit unions that are offering accounts with 3% checking. So I will open an account there. But I realize how hard it will be to do any “deep” saving in a day-to-day checking account. Perhaps that is their plan. Big banks don’t even try to have good interest rates on savings. If my money is going to be in a bank, it seems like a waste to be getting .1% on it.

I’m also looking at IRAs and rolling over my various 401k’s. No, I won’t stop talking about this. I started a 401k while waiting tables in my early 20’s. I think it got up to $21,000, mostly from tips from Bob Seger fans. Aerosmith fans, too.  I think that fund is probably below $10,000 now, ten years later. The economy is fun!

Finally, my ongoing project has been to cut my expenses. We make most dinners in. Dave is good at getting store brand groceries, which I appreciate. He turns over the ingredients list to see how they compare. Because “they’re the same thing anyway,” and “they were probably even packaged in the same factory.” If I ever have kids with this man, I swear these phrases will be etched into their little heads. And when they get to be adults, and when they have blogs of their own, they will write all about how the “store brands are the same thing” and “they were probably made in the same factory.” They will probably also be sure to turn off the clothes dryer before leaving the house because it’s dangerous to leave it on unattended.

I have less than $1000 in debt, plus my car loan, which is considerably more than that. In the past few months, somehow, I stopped getting student loan bills. They’re paid off. It was only $50 a month, but it’s been the past 15 years of my life. Student loans = done. I got rid of my data plan on my phone a while ago, so now it’s a big phone with a qwerty keyboard that I just use for texting and calls. With an employer discount, that bill went from $80 a month to $42 a month.

And just yesterday, I called my car insurance company because it was time to renew my policy. I got a few online quotes from other companies that were cheaper than my renewal rate. Then I got an online quote from MY OWN insurance company, and it was significantly lower. Like, $200 less for a 6 month policy.  Goddamnit! I called them up and told them they were quoting much less online than what I was paying. They looked up my quote and sure enough, I did qualify for that rate. And my deductibles even went down. Wo-tothemotherfucking-hoo, y’all. $50 less a month. I did a dance at the end of that call.

All the little reductions create a some monthly breathing room, which in the past, would have justified getting an iPhone. Or some other toy or monthly expense. But now, I think about putting that money towards paying down debt. Or sending it off to savings. I want to feel like an adult, instead of a kid collecting toys. I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not get more stuff.

I’m hoping this current mental obsession has some staying power. Because it won’t have long term impact if it falls out of my brain and I’m off to the next “Ooh, shiny!” idea.


  1. Yay for you! It’s, like, growing up or something. I’m trying to do the same thing by lowering my rent so I can save more. Sigh…

  2. Right. Okay, I got a new account at one of the credit unions offering 3% checking. Great. I was going to open an IRA also, but my alarm went off and this is first thing I thought about this morning.

    My 401ks are currently in stocks, and like everyone else, they lost over a third of their value in the past 8 months. They are slowly coming back up, but I’m thinking I should leave in the stock market and let them recover a bit more before I put them into an IRA that makes 2%.

    But I don’t know anything!

  3. Californians! Awesome! Now I have someone else to blame.

    I moved from the Midwest so I’m one of THOSE people. The solid, feet-on-the-ground, kind, hard-working sort, of course.

  4. We should hang out.

    I just accepted a part time job with my current employer (in a different department, where I used to work and can do the ob blindfolded). I’m giving notice tomorrow.

    I am prone to compensatory daydreams. Including having a strawbale house. I also have it all planned out in my mind.

    I will be debt-free except for student loans on August 5. I have paid off nearly $20,000 in credit card debt in the past five years.

    I’m currently living with my boyfriend of 5 years, and he is 200% on board with the whole part-time-work plan. We want more TIME, not money.

    Props. You are an inspiration.

  5. I know this is an old post, but I’m about to get my first real (grown up) job, and I’m trying to juggle the student loans, car (not had one before), rent and all the stuff about ISAs and bank accounts and retirement plans… Thanks for posting about all this; it’s got my brain going, mentally crunching options and numbers. :)

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