Motivation

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Some New England style house...The lack of a financial goal for 2009 is sorta making me worry… I mean, I set all of those very specific financial goals for 2008 and worked hard all year long and pretty much accomplished them all.

This year, I’ve got nothing.

I’m saving up for a home improvement project without a price tag.

It’s too, um, fluffy for my tastes.

So, in a desperate search for something more specific that I can keep track of — and after reading Frugal Dad’s resolution about downsizing his home (and concluding that while it will work out well for him, it would be a horrible idea for me), I’ve been toying with the idea of hitting the mortgage hard.

Over the past two years, my debt attacking strategy has knocked around $25k per year off of my combined debt balances. At a pace like that — now, finally, with no other debt besides the mortgage — I could theoretically pay off the house in 4 years.

I mean, just last year, when I set out to overpay the mortgage by $6100, I instead ended up knocking $11k off of the principle, almost double, while still paying down the credit cards and an auto loan.

I can totally “afford” to do this.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s dumb to pay off your mortgage early… But I think it’s even stupider to downsize a home that you can easily afford, while likely taking a loss on it as well.

Now, Frugal Dad intends to pay off his future mortgage (for the smaller home) in 10 years time. Maybe that means that I didn’t fall into the bigger is better trap of the last decade because, if I pay mine off in the next 4 years, I’ll essentially be paying it off in 10 years as well.

Regardless, the thought of being just 36 years old and owning my home free and clear (with no other outstanding debt) kind of outweighs the stupidity of it all. Different strokes for different folks.

Still on the fence about it though…

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Alphabetical OrderI seem to have a special knack for making connections with people, almost instantly, that have ended up pushing me up the social and financial ladder…

Maybe everyone gets that feeling, but for me, it seems to happen on a pretty regular basis and often times from the least expected sources…

The first one that I can recall was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Nancy Jones.

We’d just moved to town and I joined the class a few days into the new school year. It was awkward enough being the new kid, but being the new kid who missed the first 4 days of school made it that much more uncomfortable…

Very early on, probably by the second day, it was apparent that my Midwest “edumacation” wasn’t going to cut it in stiff and preppy New England.

I could read, yeah, and I could write just as well as the other kids. I was up to speed in the math department too, but there was one thing that totally baffled me.

Alphabetical order.

To this day, just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. Really. I’m not kidding.

See, each morning when we’d come into the classroom, there would be a list of maybe 10 vocabulary words on the chalk board (remember those?). The first task of the school day was to print them out in your neatest handwriting in alphabetical order.

Say what?

For the first few weeks, I faked my way through it. Obviously, that didn’t work and the teacher, Mrs. Jones, called me back to her desk one afternoon and confronted me about it.

I flat out lied to her and said that I’d just messed up that morning and I’d put them in the correct order tomorrow.

Well, the next day, I threw a few sideways glances towards my next-desk neighbor Jacquie Ainslie’s desk, you know, to copy her order of the words.

“Brainy,” growled Mrs. Jones from the back of the room.

BUSTED!

I got up from my miniature desk and walked back to her BIG desk, scared out of my mind.

As I neared, she grabbed my arm, got in really close — we’re talking right in my face, looked me in the eye with and icy blue stare and through gritted teeth said, “You need to tell me when you don’t understand something. You understand me?”

I nodded as I bit the insides of my cheeks.

You’re better than this. I know you can do this,” ask she shook her grade-book around for added emphasis or something.

Then she proceeded to fill out a “white card”, which in our school was what all of the troublemakers got for, well, being troublemakers.

If you were really bad, you got a “blue card”. I’d have died if I ever got one of those… Either that, or my parents would have killed me.

Basically, they were the elementary school version of detentions and suspensions. Not really harsh, nothing more than a little printed index card, but still not something you wanted to take home and ask your parents to sign… I’m pretty sure the office called your parents about them too — you know, to make sure they were aware…

Anyway, she snatched my paper from my hands, smiled in a scary sort of way, patted me on the head, and told me to go sit back down.

Later that day, as our class headed towards the cafeteria for lunch, Mrs. Jones pulled me aside, discreetly this time, and told me to head to room P-7 after lunch instead of heading outside for recess.

Now I’m thinking she’s going to beat me up or something. Really, I was afraid. I wasn’t real keen on this new school to begin with and things weren’t going like they had in my old school. I’d had just about enough, really…

I headed to the classroom during lunch actually trying to avoid any sort of intersection with Mrs. Jones — she was still eating. I opened the door to P-7, and one of the other 2nd grade teachers was inside with a few other kids that I sorta knew but not really since they weren’t in my class (and I was new).

These other kids were, sorry if this comes across as obnoxious, but they were dumb. I don’t know how else to describe it. I mean, these weren’t only the troublemakers, they were the morons too.

Now, being that I couldn’t alphabetize anything to save my life, perhaps I was just as much a moron, but it really opened my eyes…

Mrs. Jones was right — I was better than this. I didn’t belong in this room.

(An ego was born…)

I missed two recesses total hanging out in that classroom after lunch. That’s all it took before I had a firm grip on what the concept of alphabetical order was all about.

Now I know that a lot of people will just say that Mrs. Jones was just a good teacher doing what good teachers do.

That may be true, but I wasn’t the only kid who struggled in that classroom…

I was, however, the only kid in her class that year that she wouldn’t let fall behind.

She picked me for some reason…

She even stayed on my ass until I moved on to junior high. She didn’t forget. It sucked, actually…

Amazingly she’s still teaching the second grade at that very same school. Hmmmmm, maybe she really is just a great teacher?

Sometimes I think about stopping in but, honestly, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to face her even now!

I mean, what if she told me again, “You’re better than this!”

[I’m never really very good at keeping up with “series” postings, but I’m gonna try harder on this topic. This is the first of at least 15 super awesome people — not related to me — who should probably get some credit for the successes and failures I’ve made and my way of going about, well, everything…]

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Pierre CullifordGetting to the elusive debt-free mark was supposed to free up all kinds of money, wasn’t it?

So far, I’m finding that it hasn’t.

Okay, more accurately, it doesn’t feel like it’s freed up anything.

My checking account is still hovering where it’s always hovered.

My savings, well, sure, it’s growing, but not at nearly the rate my debts were falling just a few months ago.

It feels… slow.

One this is for sure, I’m certainly not getting rich like I thought I might…

Seems each month has some unexpected expense come along.

My auto registration was due this month. Last month, I had to pay a huge internet hosting fee. I’ve got that homeowners insurance premium looming. And let’s not forget the bill that is sure to come from the landscape company picking up my leaves

I know, I know, everybody says that.

Unexpected expenses will always be around the corner and should be expected…

I know that.

None of these were unexpected. They’re nothing new, but in the past they never seemed to hold me back any. Just throw them on the credit card and continue to plug away paying down the debt. Simple as that.

Now, though, when I see my credit card balance swell to over $400, it’s like a crushing blow to my month-to-month plan (which I have yet to detail on the site.)

It shouldn’t bother me, really, it shouldn’t.

Back on this date last year, my credit card balances totalled over $15k. This morning, they top out at $103.

But you know what?

Ridiculous as it may seem, it does bother me.

I’ll get over it… I should, anyway…

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Scion xA Series 2.0I did it.

I’d claimed that I was going to finish off the car loan on a slow and steady pace but, this morning, I fell back into my old ways: Red Zone Finances.

It has been driving me crazy for a few weeks now seeing a $1k balance just sitting there waiting to be wiped out.

As today was a pay day, and there are no remaining bills for the remainder of the month, I had the funds available to take action.

This was the first car I purchased where I’d actually made a sizeable down payment. It was also the first car purchase that I had a car to trade-in too.

Even still, back in July of 2005, I financed $15210.32.

Wow — thinking about that now — Scion xA’s were/are really expensive…

But it feels good, you know, now that it’s paid for.

But it’s not just the auto loan that I can put in my rear view mirror…

The original snowball plan that I started back in November 2007, which had a total balance of $23085, and included the auto loan, can now be put to rest. All of it. Done.

I’ve had the “schedule” taped to my desk under my keyboard at work so as to keep it fresh in my mind five days a week.

This morning, I peeled it off and replaced it with a picture of my wife. She costs me *way* less money… And less worry too.

The original end date on my debt plan was set for October 2008. Two thousand dollars per month was going to go towards debt. I thought that was being a little too optimistic when I started, but I stuck to it.

Then, after a few months, I didn’t exactly stick to the plan…

I paid a few of the credit cards out of order…

I “broke up with” my highest paying client that was essentially funding the whole debt payment plan in the first place.

I started putting money into savings instead of towards debt…

I increased my 401k contributions when I couldn’t really afford to…

I even blew through tons of cash on vacation — and that was just a couple of months ago…

And who could forget all of the money that I foolishly threw at the mortgage (which was never even part of the snowball plan)? Yeah — that worked out well… Not.

But even though I strayed way off course, the concept of a year long debt plan got me pointed in the right direction, and look, here we are in September 2008 and I’ve already hit the target. A whole month early.

Okay, fine. A whole week early if you want to be technical about it… Sheesh…

Right now, Thursday evening, the only non-mortgage debt I’m carrying is an $824 balance at 0% on a Chase credit card. Yeah, the remaining balance from that ill advised birthday check I wrote to myself to further initiate the elimination of PMI from my mortgage. (more on that here)

But still… It feels good.

It’s like I’m coming out of the water or something. My top half is dry and warming up in the sun. That pig up in the top left hand corner of the screen, yeah, his snout is dry. Oink!

It blows my mind that, on short notice, I can get my grubby hands on over $5000 (checking, savings, and i-bonds) and the only money I owe is $824 total to a credit card company.

I’m not sure I’ve been on this side of the zero line before. Definitely not in the past 11 years.

I mean, I’m in the black, not just on paper, but for real.

That feels awesome.

I’m not sure I thought this day was even possible when I was carrying $32k in high interest debt on January 1, 2007…

Looking forward to when that $824 balance is gone too…

(Declining markets and home values of late aren’t bothering me in the slightest — neither affect my day-to-day, month-to-month, or even year-to-year finances… Sure, my net worth might be dropping like a brick, but my finances are in better shape than they’ve ever been!)

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Brittany from The Biggest LoserI admit it. I watch The Biggest Loser on Tuesday nights. All two hours of it. Every week.

I remember when the show first started a few years ago. I didn’t watch it back then.

I often wondered, who would want to watch a bunch of shirtless people go to Fat Camp? I mean, if Richard Simmons isn’t involved, what’s the draw?

Am I right?

But last season, for reasons unknown, my wife and I watched the first episode. I was hooked. Even had a television celebrity crush on Brittany — that’s her pictured. She was one smokin’ fat chick.

Anyway, we watched it religiously through the entire season. It blew my mind to see these huge people morph into, well, people you wouldn’t even consider overweight (though in most cases, they were still a little heavy.)

Then, as with most weekly elimination reality shows, the wrong person won. That left a sour taste in my mouth — the show is stupid.

But this past Tuesday, my wife and I watched the season opener and guess what? I’m hooked again. No television crush this time, I just like the show.

I hate Jillian — not a fan of screamers. I realize some people need that type of treatment to get off their, um, fat asses but I find that I’m more motivated by someone with Bob‘s approach.

The whole thing kinda reminds me of running track in high school. We distance runners would all go up to the weight room and try to hold our own among the fat guys who threw heavy things (shot put and discus). They spent a lot of time in there. We, being walking stick men, obviously did not.

The top priority while in there pumping iron was to not embarrass yourself. That was it. More important than building up some muscle — just don’t embarrass yourself.

They, the chuckers and hurlers, had their own coach who was, well, a yeller. You know, screaming at them and calling them degrading things in an effort to get them to do more. I’d say he got mixed results.

Our coach, Kurt Fioretti, infrequently even came into the weight room, but his approach was a lot more like Bob’s. Always encouraging. He made us think we could do anything — and often times it was successful.

I’ll never forget at an elite invitational meet where I didn’t really belong, way outclassed, and he handed me my race number — you know, the stickers you see some runners stick to their bare legs whenever track & field is on television.

Distance RunnerWell, those numbers are seed numbers. If you’re expected to finish first, you get the number one. Second, you get number two, and so on…

He handed me number 3.

“Number 3?! Are you kidding? Have you seen the field?”

“Yeah, I told ’em you run a 4:09 mile,” he said with a sly grin and a wink.

Now, at the time, the fasted I’d ever run the mile was maybe 4:56. That was a decent time for a high school miler in the early 1990’s, but that kind of pace at this specific meet would put me a distant last.

Just being there, I was at risk of embarrassing myself.

No, make that, I was at risk of humiliating myself and the town name emblazoned across my chest.

I remember lining up at the starting line and having that uncomfortable feeling of those around me wondering who the “new” guy was.

The first lap wasn’t a problem — I’d never had a problem hanging with the studs at that point. The pace was faster than I was used to but I had it in me to stay up front — leading actually.

By the second lap, I knew I was out of my league. I was still leading but there was no way I’d be able to maintain this type of pace.

My coach was running back and forth across the infield so he could cheer me on the back stretch and the home stretch (something he’d never done in the past) mispronouncing my name the whole time, “C’mon Breeny! You’ve got this… Stay strong, you’ve got this Breeny!”

In the end, I didn’t finish first.

I didn’t even finish third like I was supposed to.

I finished sixth with a time of 4:18.

I was ecstatic — I’d knocked 38 seconds off of my personal best. That’s over 12%. That’s HUGE!

After that, I never looked back — and that’s what I see on the show, primarily from those being trained by Bob.

Some motivation, a little encouragement, some shocking results, and then you’re off and running on your own.

It’s a good feeling, even if you’re feeling it vicariously through some really fat people while you lay on the couch with your pants unbuttoned eating ice cream.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking for a little encouragement for say, hmmm, how about putting more money in to savings, this show is a pretty good start.

No, it’s not about money (though there is the token cash prize at the end), but it’s not really about losing weight either.

It’s more about changing your ways to reach your goals. Some people need to be yelled at Jillian-style, others just need to be encouraged Bob-style. There’s a little something for everyone — just insert your own goal in place of losing weight…

(Now can someone get NBC to speed up the weigh-ins? Seriously, they draw that out for half an hour each episode… Totally unnecessary…)

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Train DerailedI’m in one of those zones of funk where clearing my debts is within sight, but for some reason, after month after month of progress, it suddenly doesn’t feel like I’m getting any closer.

In distance running terms, I’ve hit the wall.

But, hey, I know what the problem is. That’s a start, right?

The additional money I’ve thrown towards the mortgage while trying to get the PMI eliminated has most definitely derailed my plans. Without a doubt. I know that.

So far, I’ve paid down my mortgage an additional $3k more than I thought I had to. And half of that was put on a credit card. That type of maneuver will derail any payment plan…

It was back on October 31, 2007 that I kicked off my first and only debt snowball plan. Through the Happy Rock, I stumbled upon a great debt repayment calculator and it got me excited to make an attempt at a more structured plan than what I’d done in the past.

Looking at my “schedule“, my last non-mortgage debt was to be paid off in October of this year. Having the numbers right there in front of me made it look so easy.

While I didn’t exactly stick to this payment plan all the way through, I was often times over a month ahead of myself. That felt great. My debts were falling by over $2000 per month. Then I hit the wall.

The good news is that it still appears that I’m ahead of schedule. Basically, without asking you to actually look at the chart, I’m supposed to have a balance of $3535 right now. My actual balance on those accounts is $2547. Just the auto loan.

I’m ahead by $1000. Not as great as I’d hoped, but not bad.

Of course, that’s pretending that the new credit card balance doesn’t exist… which means that I’m actually $500 behind.

Oh yeah, and I just booked $772 worth of airline tickets. Make that $1272 behind.

See what I mean?

I’ve hit the wall.

I’m out of gas.

I dropped the baton.

My train has derailed.

Use whichever disaster analogy you are most comfortable with.

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Camera Equipment — Before it was catching dust…I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it in the past before on PIAC, but since I quit my photographer position last November, I’ve had around $30k worth of camera equipment essentially collecting dust in the corner of my, ahem, jersey room.

While the lenses and the lighting equipment hold their value, the actual camera bodies certainly do not — and they make up for at least half of that $30k total. Definitely a depreciating asset…

So, having noticed a blog that my wife frequents regularly has a “daily photo” section and that I’ve got tons and tons of expensive camera equipment doing a whole lot of nothing, well, I thought I’d start doing “picture of the day” posts here too!

It probably won’t be popular.

It probably won’t be nice to look at.

And it probably won’t generate any comments either but I can’t fathom selling the equipment off and it hurts to watch it go un-used.

Maybe I’ll even use January 2007’s “Dumbest Purchase”.

Not sure when I’ll start…or even if I’ll start.

It’s just an idea at this point.

Game Worn Edmonton Oilers JerseyLast year I mentioned that I had a hobby — an expensive hobby.

I collect game worn hockey jerseys.

I sure some, actually MOST, are saying, “What? There’s a market for such a thing?” Amazingly, yes. And they’re expensive. Really expensive.

The “best” one in my collection right now would pull in nearly $10k at auction right now. Think about that. That’s crazy!

Back then I said that I’d spent well in excess of $75k on this hobby over the years. And though I never mentioned it, it was also about that time that I put a soft cap on my spending to try to curb the excessive amount of money I was throwing into it.

The limit was two hundred dollars per month. Hardly frugal, but most often times not enough to purchase anything that would interest me.

For a few months I went well over that spending limit, but I was always telling myself in the back of my head that $200 was the limit. Try not to go over $200. You can’t afford it.

It didn’t take long for me to start making deals with myself. Well, I’ll spend $350 now and then next month I won’t buy anything.

Of course, that didn’t work at all.

Something would peak my interest on eBay or in a memorabilia auction, often times less than a week later, and I’d plunk down another $750 for some dirty and torn polyester.

Still, it was progress. I was, in fact, spending less using this wishy-washy method.

Then as I saw my debts falling (and the credit card balances evaporate), I started to think, “Wow, in a few months, when I reach my goal and I’m totally debt free, I’ll be able to blow like $2k per month on hockey jerseys!”

That was in May.

May was also the last time that I purchased a jersey.

This is the first time since the summer of 1997 that I’ve gone an entire month (let alone TWO!) without acquiring anything.

Now, this shirt-less streak originally started because I was reminding myself of the reward (the $2k budget) at the end of the tunnel. That kept me from reaching for my wallet (and keeping tabs on what was on the market).

But now, since it’s been so long since I’ve been active in the buy/sell/trade world of the hobby, I’m finding that I don’t really miss it all that much.

That isn’t to say that I’m abandoning my collection or that I won’t still actively pursue certain jerseys that I’d like to acquire, but I’m no longer salivating over a sweet $2k/month budget either.

For my future finances, that’s a good thing.

And you know what? It’s a good thing for my collection too.

Can You Dig It?

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