Success

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Bullwinkle J. Moose — My Goals CheerleaderHaving just submitted payment for my auto insurance this morning (via an e-payment), all of the bills are now paid for the month of March.

Nothing due to come in until the second week of April.

Best of all, I only have $500 left in credit card debt and payday is this Thursday.

Wow.

Looks like I’ll be crossing off this goal for 2008 by the end of the week:

Eliminate all credit card debt by the end of June 2008. Current credit card debt is $10318. I’m aiming to achieve this goal slightly ahead of schedule, by about a month, according to the snowball plan I started in November.

The auto loan is in my sights now…

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Dragging DebtWhile paying down my debts, I’ve noticed that there is one thing that stands out more than anything else as being responsible for my success.

I’ve been doing some calculations recently on how I’ve managed to pay down my debts as rapidly as I have.

What I’ve found is that the pace seems to exceed my income — I mean, I can’t believe that I made $4615 in payments to credit card companies during my January 2008 billing period, but I actually did.

The secret?

Weekly payments. More specifically, automatic weekly payments.

Some will say that the difference it makes in finance charges alone is reason enough to go the weekly route (or the often mentioned twice-monthly mortgage payment), but for me, it’s just easier to part with, say $100 each Wednesday than it is to part with a big number like $400-$500 once a month.

That’s a big noticeable drop in the checking account for people like me who generally only have between $1000 and $2000 in there at any given time. $100 is like a new outfit or something — I dunno, it’s totally a mental thing, but it really doesn’t hurt the wallet as much as a huge one time payment.

The $4615 “payment” in January is admittedly very high for me and I’m not usually able to make payment even close to that.

It’s also a little deceptive because of the way my credit card due dates overlap — January isn’t just 4 weeks, it’s more like a time period of 6-7 weeks depending on when each billing period begins and ends.

Besides the down payment on my house, and a couple of the high priced renovations, I have *never* written a check for even close to $4615 dollars. I don’t have the funds available to write checks that large.

But let’s divide that $4615 by 7…

$4615 / 7 weeks = $659.29 per week

Still a high number, and not an amount I’d like to part with, but it’s an amount that I’m at least capable of parting with.

Yeah, it’ll bring my checking account balance down by over 30% with each payment, but on a short-term basis it won’t wipe me out before the next pay day comes around.

It’s this process that allowed my debts to fall so quickly.

I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been mailing in $1000 each month to the credit card companies (that’s a hefty sum), but $250 per week? Well, that’s not so bad.

So that’s what I did.

And you know what?

It worked.

I’m in debt up to my eyeballs…During this lull in my finances, instead of looking ahead one month at a time, I’ve been extrapolating the data out farther and farther to try to set a plan for the future.

I used to think there would always be bills to pay. No end in sight. That’s just the way it was — and I think a lot of people think that way.

I have to admit, that sort of feeling really sinks in when you grow accustomed to carrying a $20k credit card balance from month to month. It almost became, dare I say it, comfortable?

There was no end in sight, but you know what? That was okay.

Keyword being *was*.

Though I find myself broke today, and a little uncomfortable as a result, I’m not carrying a 5 figure balance anymore. That feels good.

That’s better than comfortable.

It’s been a, for lack of a better term, crappy 3-4 years trying to get rid of my credit card debt, but now that I’m on the last leg, well, things feel great.

The line, “I’d rather live for a few years like most people won’t, to live the rest of my life like most people can’t,” really applies here.

I look at some of the things I’ve put up with over the last few years, and while I’m not struggling, compared to those around me and those with similar income, I’m practically camping in comparison.

Last week, I saw CleverDude’s photo of the inside of his home and laughed out loud at the comment where someone called it “ghetto”. I was thinking the same exact thing.

The funny thing is, he’s a guy who’s got his finances totally in order and is headed in the right direction — someone to look up to really.

So then I go home and see that I’ve got cheap shower curtains hanging in my doorways and think, “You know, this looks bad but I’m just a couple of steps behind CleverDude. I’ll get there.”

Side note: while his “doorways” are to prevent heating unused parts of his house, mine are for dust control. Adding insult to injury, my living room has piles of crumbled plaster all over the shredded and unfinished hard wood floor and exposed knob-and-tube wiring all over the place. You could say we’re in the midst of a construction project, but it’s looked this way for nearly six months.

See, told you it was ghetto. ;0)

I truly have been living the life most people won’t. Thankfully my wife has gone along with it.

But that’s the thing, I’m *that* close to being able to start living the life most people can’t.

Some may interpret that quote differently than me, thinking the “good life” is the one where you buy your own tropical island, but I tend to think things through on more realistic level.

As I said earlier, it’s almost the norm to carry huge amounts of debt these days. Finance everything. Enjoy now, pay later. The premise of the good old Lending Tree “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs” commercial.

Now that I’m on pace to be debt free in a matter of months (excluding the mortgage), I’ll already be living the life most people can’t. That’s exciting. I mean, I’ve almost grown accustomed to piles of broken plaster right inside my front door but I certainly wouldn’t mind a whole nice new room instead.

Pretty soon, I’ll be able to do it. And be able to afford it.

For real.

That’s the good life.

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11 Years at the Same JobToday marks 11 years at my current job.

I think that by today’s standards, for a Generation X’er, that’s really rare.

Most of my friends have had, oh, say 5-6 jobs since we stumbled into the real world. Every two years it seems that they’d start sending out resumes talking up their accomplishments at their current workplace in search of a better job.

At times, it has worked for them. They’d somehow worm their way into a higher paying job with each step using the “fake it ’til you make it” method.

But more often than not, they’d be exposed as a fraud, or out of their league, within, well, two years or so. And then it would be time to look for another job.

Kind of a revolving door situation.

Me? Fresh out fo school I applied here — started the next day making $6 per hour. Around a year later, I was moved from hourly to salary. The next year, I was invited to join the 401k plan.

Fast forward to 2008… well, as far as I know, I’m making a lot more than any of my friends and I have a much more stable job.

Could I have started throwing resumes out there every so often?

Sure, but as far as I’m concerned, rewards come more consistantly to people who are honest and work hard rather than people who try to “trade up” every chance they get.

I’m comfortable where I am. I didn’t get this job by saying I could do something that I actually couldn’t. I’m good at what I do. I work hard at what I do.

I don’t have to walk into work each day hoping that I’m not asked to do something that I really truly don’t know how to do. That weight isn’t on my shoulders. And for that I’m thankful.

I’m also thankful that tomorrow is pay day. ;0)

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IRS LogoBeing the end of the year, it’s time to start thinking about taxes…

In some ways, I’m looking very forward to February when we’ll file our taxes and get our nice big refund like we do most years but right now, I’m looking to change my filing status for 2008 on my Form W-4 so that I don’t have so much taken out of my regular paycheck.

In the past, I’ve filed single with zero exemptions, with an additional $50 taken out of each paycheck. This was due to the fact that I was earning more than $1000 per month from the hockey team without having taxes taken out so I was trying to cover that through overpaying from my full-time job. It worked out, or more accurately, I still over paid because I’ve received a large refund each February shortly after I filed my return.

But with that job done and gone now, it’s time to reassess things for 2008.

PayCheckCity.com has a nifty calculator, and one that I’ve been seeking for a long time, that calculates what your net pay will be based on how you file. Best of all, for me, it was accurate to within $0.74 for the 2007 tax year.

I plugged in numbers for 6 different scenarios for the 2008 tax year just to see how each change would affect my bottom line — the net pay that I’d take home.

Filing single, married, zero exemptions, one exemption, two exemptions, 10% for 401k, maxed out 401k, that sort of thing…

I settled on the most conservative option (because I still have a fear of owing money to the IRS) by switching my federal filing status to married (from single), and switched from zero to one for the federal exemptions.

I also maxed out my 401k. It was just under 10% — as of my next paycheck, it will be 15%.

Bottom line? Well, it’s one of those wacky scenarios where by saving more, I’m giving myself a raise.

My net pay increases $85.78.

It’s not a huge increase, but the 401k increase is quite large.

Best of all, it’s not even 2008 and I can already cross off one of my goals for the year. How about that?

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No, not a Robert Frost reflection today…

Something that’s been making it’s way around the PF Blogosphere since October is the list of “the 5 most expensive addictions“.

They are listed as:

Alcohol. Estimated annual cost: $166 billion. Binge drinking hits the unemployed harder on a per capita basis — 10.4%, vs. 8.4% of employed people. It is most prevalent in small metropolitan locales, rather than big cities or rural areas. The $18 billion spent on alcohol and drug treatment last year represented 1.3% of all health care spending.

Smoking. Estimated annual cost: $157 billion. The tab includes $75 billion in direct medical expenses, with the rest in lost productivity from ill patients missing work. Given the low-tax (or no-tax) underground cigarette economy on the Web and on Indian reservations, it’s unlikely that sales and usage have dropped much over the past decade, official government statistics notwithstanding.

Drugs. Estimated annual cost: $110 billion. Like alcohol, illicit drug use is more prevalent among the unemployed. Most addicts are also heavy drinkers, though only a small minority of alcoholics are drug abusers. Crystal meth has followed marijuana, cocaine and heroin as the drug of choice among the young set.

Overeating. Estimated annual cost: $107 billion. Overeating increases the risk of many health problems, including heart attacks. Obesity causes 14% of attacks suffered by males and 20% of those suffered by females, the National Institutes for Health says, and fewer than a third of adults get regular exercise. The bulk of the $107 billion is the direct cost to treat heart disease, osteoarthritis, hypertension, gall bladder disease and cancer.

Gambling. Estimated annual cost: $40 billion. Addicted gamblers often feel compelled to chase after bad bets with more money in the hope of winning back their losses. And some who catch the fever develop the need to periodically raise the betting stakes to keep the same thrill. Also, addicts often face job loss, bankruptcy and forced home sales, and they are at greater risk to commit crimes like forgery and embezzlement.

Now, I think the “annual cost” they list for each sin is bunk. They’re roping in the healthcare costs associated with these addictions. What would be more interesting would be to see the costs on a more personal level.

I dunno, like, if you smoke 4 packs of cigarettes per week, casually drink on weekends, eat out 3 times a week, snort a little blow now and then, and make an annual pilgrimage to Vegas, you’re throwing away such-and-such a number of dollars per year. You know, that type of thing, with a few different scenarios that readers might be able to relate to.

What struck me about the list was how they pointed out that the people that have these vices in their lives are stereotypically un-employed or low income folks. They’re kind of screwing themselves over two-fold. Living a dingy lifestyle with the job to prove it! Hooray for losers!!!

I hate it when, on some message boards (cough, MSN!, cough), someone comes along looking for advice on how to better themselves financially, and the ‘regulars’ all chime in and say, “get a better job!” in unison. I know from experience that that’s not always an option. And it’s a really obnoxious thing to tell someone.

But I will say, when you go to the grocery store, or really any retail outlet where the employee wage hovers around minimum wage, have you ever noticed that nearly every employee is a smoker? And many of them look hung over or, even worse, a little stoned? And the dead-to-the-world cashiers gossip about what happened at the bar last night while ringing you up? I know you’ve all been in that situation at your local Walmart.

Walmart EmployeeIt’s funny though, from my point of view — they don’t realize that their money problems, while they do relate to the job they hold, aren’t *really* due to the fact that they work at Walmart and make minimum wage. The real problem is the lifestyle they’ve chosen for themselves. And it’s not necessarily the costs of their addictions. Outside of their job, they’ve lined themselves up for low wage employment.

I started at $6/hour along side the typical low wage group. Difference was, I didn’t take smoke breaks because I didn’t smoke, I didn’t come to work drunk or smelling like a brewery, I didn’t go to have a few brews over the lunch hour, and I never came in with a black eye from the bar brawl I was in last night. Really, actual co-workers of mine did and continue to do these exact things regularly.

I took my life seriously — and as a result my wage increased. It didn’t take long for my employer to notice that I wasn’t like some of the zombie-losers around me. Sometimes I wish I could snap some of these people out of wasting their lives away.

I used to feel bad for them. I even tried to help a couple of them, but it’s a battle you have to want to win yourself. They thought they were happy and now they’re jealous… apparently having forgotten that we started in the same place. The difference, the only difference is that we chose different paths OUTSIDE of the office.

CigarettesAs for me, I don’t smoke. I tried smoking out once in 4th grade. I dabbled in it a bit in high school too, but it didn’t stick. Even then, the real “cool” kids weren’t smokers, just the mean kids that smoked in the bathroom. I didn’t want to hang with that crowd. I’d venture to guess that they staff the Walmart in my hometown now. Either way, if I had the urge to smoke now, the costs involved would sway me otherwise. My home state recently up’ed the sin tax on cigarettes to $2/pack. Adding that to the regular price, well, it’s like lighting dollar bills on fire every hour or so. No thanks.

AlcoholI don’t drink alcohol either. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s wrong, or whatever, I just don’t really like the taste, or even the “buzz”, for that matter. I like who I am and how I am; no need to lower my own standards in the name of fun. I’m not really keen on feeling like crap afterwards either — it’s just not worth the so-called reward. And, like cigarettes, it’s really expensive. To think, we’ll shop at a different store to get Coca-Cola on sale, but even at full price, it costs $2-$3 less than a case of Budweiser… And I like to think I have better taste than that.

VicodinDrugs aren’t for me either. Like drinking, I don’t feel the need to change the way I am, even if it’s just temporary. I’ve also seen what they can do to people — and it makes you wonder why anyone would do drugs. Different strokes for different folks I guess… No clue on what the going rate is on whatever the trendy drug is these days, but I’d bet it’s safe to say that it’s not cheap.

Big TummyOvereating? Hmmm… I do tend to eat until I can hold no more. But I’m not overweight. To relate this one to my own habits, I guess we eat out a little bit more than we should — and that’s one of the few remaining things that we could work on to save more money. Thankfully we generally don’t go out to sit-down full-service type restaurants, so the bill rarely tops $20 for the both of us.

GamblingGambling…I guess I’ve always seen it for exactly what it is. It’s throwing money away. Giving my money away for the chance of *maybe* getting more back, with the odds against it, doesn’t sound like a good gamble. It also doesn’t sound like fun. It’s no wonder that when you see people plugging away at slot machines that they often have a drink in their free hand… Mixing the two, or three if you count the cigarette often dangling from their lip, is hardly a road to riches.

So I guess all I saying is that if you find yourself guilty of one, or more, of these “addictions”, well, being successful is going to be an even steeper hill to climb. Good luck with that.

As for me, I’m just thankful my hill is low grade… by design.

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Morgan, a friend from my high school days, that I’d lost touch with, has a blog of his own with some great motivational content. I’m pretty sure we haven’t crossed paths since the day we graduated from high school. I don’t recall whether or not he attended the ten year reunion — I doubt it though as I’m sure I would have put forth an effort to catch up, if only for one evening.

I remember him as being a genuine type of guy. He wasn’t the greatest student, he wasn’t a star athlete, and not to pin a negative label him, or anything, but he was far from the “everything-comes-to-me-easily, homecoming king, captain of the football team with the head cheerleader on his arm” type.

But, even then, you could tell he was the type that would obviously be up for any challenge thrown his way. You had to respect that. He was going to be successful, no matter what. Of course, in high school, things like that weren’t really traits that gained you popularity.

Anyway, his main theme is thinking positively and working towards success as a goal. I can’t claim to have ever been a real positive thinker, but success has always been a goal, and sometimes motivation quotes just get the juices flowing.

From the looks of things, life is going great for him — and that too gets me excited to follow his lead.

Here’s quote he recently went over on his blog:

A definite purpose backed by a burning desire for its fulfillment.
A definite plan, expressed in continuous action.
A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences.
A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage [you] to follow through with both plan and purpose.
— Napoleon Hill

The goal, as he says, is to make these four steps habit. No matter what we do on a day-to-day basis, dealing with the humdrum of everyday life, we need to make sure that we have these four elements constantly working for us. We need to take the time to set them in motion and then help them pick up steam.

This same philosophy applies, I believe, to the four steps essential for success. There has to be constant and continuous effort to make the four steps part of the every day. They don’t work if you come back to them on the occasion of a burst of energy or epiphany. They need to be part of the fabric of your every day life.

Do not forget them in the din of the everyday – put them at the top of your list of daily activities. Water them and watch them grow in to the success you want.

I’ve no idea who this Napolean Hill fellow is, but I couldn’t agree more.

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