Archive for money

The Simple Dollar tackles privilege and advantage

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/24/2015 by Fox

Well, well, well. Looks like I haven’t been the only one told that my story is due to “privilege.”

“The other day, I received a note from a reader who informed me that the only reason that my story of financial recovery was even possible was due to my own ‘privileges.’

“In the end, life deals you a hand of cards. Sometimes that hand of cards is good and sometimes it isn’t, but the game isn’t over after the deal. You choose how to play your hand and make the most of it.”

This idea that Trent or I only did what we did because of our (unspecified) privileges is toxic. Yes, disadvantage is real. Privilege is real. But telling people that their success was possible only through privilege is just as oppressive as telling people that success is only for the privileged. I’m white, I pulled my ass out of debt. If I did so only because of my privilege, does that mean that someone who is Latino or physically handicapped or transgendered can’t pull themselves out? That their “disadvantage” makes it so that they can never hope to achieve what I have?

Last time I checked, that was called “racism.” See also: “offensive.”

You don’t win even when you win OR I got called a “classist” for insisting that actually, most people could get rid of their debt

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 07/21/2015 by Fox

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.
~Jim Rohn

Bulkiest post title in the history of the blog, guys.

So in a comment thread on another website, I mentioned that actually, I’d paid my loans off making about minimum wage and that most people could do it…if they really wanted to.

I got called “classist” and “class collaborator.” I got told that “not everyone has bootstraps.” I got told that it’s not possible “if you’ve ever had even one period of longer than a couple weeks on unemployment [and/or] had to pay all your own expenses.”

Nevermind that during the time I was in debt I spent two months unemployed and I received no substantial aid from any quarter.

Of course a lot of this is the Social Justice Warrior mindset. Gotta stick up for the little guys, even against other little guys. Oh, wait, I’m white, dammit, that means my opinion is invalid. Shit. But I digress. While it’s impossible to tell, given the following of this particular website, no doubt these are most likely youngish, affluent, white females. They probably have no idea what it’s like to not be able to afford a new bath towel set in the fabric and colorway they prefer, nevermind not being able to afford a bath towel, period.

But I’m the classist prick because I insist that yes, most people can pay off their debt and they don’t because they don’t want to. God forbid they give up their lattes and apparently buying a new shower curtain liner every month is mandatory for the rest of humanity. I did not realize this. I change mine when it’s gross. At no point during my comment did I say that everyone can do this. I know for a god damn fact that there are people who cannot, for various very good reasons. My comment was that most people can, and that a lot of the bitchers don’t want to give up the bitching. It’s fashionable to be in debt, and god damn there’s a post I’ve been meaning to write since the blog’s inception.

These people think they’re being socially conscious. They think they are sticking up for the little guy. They honestly feel that getting out of debt or making do is impossible. And they think this because they’ve never lived it. They’ve never been without that latte or that new shower curtain liner or the new bath towel set. They’ve never gone without and minimalism is this big crazy thing that’s completely new and fresh and it’s all about sticking it to The Man and saving the environment and looking good and organic bamboo free-range yoga pants and they forget that some of us have been practicing minimalism for completely different reasons and sometimes for a very long time. Only it’s not cool when we do it, because we look like hobo Goodwill shoplifters and not cool fashionable people who practice White Buddhism.

And if we make it, well, we’re just a fluke. It’s where you live. It’s your employment history. It’s where you went to college. It’s your parents or your significant other. If you didn’t have all that, where would you be then, so there.

No, the Social Justice Warrior has to swing down from the fucking heavens with manna and name-brand shoes. You can’t have your great American story about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The new great American story is the affluent taking pity on the lesser beings.

When do we encourage and inspire people to pull themselves up? Where do you draw the line between valid excuse and failure to take personal responsibility? When do affluent white people stop getting into other peoples’ business?

Life really doesn’t need to be that complicated

Posted in simple living with tags , on 04/04/2015 by Fox

In the long run, I believe that honesty is definitely the best policy. One can get away by being dishonest for a short term, but ultimately, honesty is what pays.
~Kapil Dev

When I began actively looking into buying a house, I visited my credit union to inquire about how much I could get a loan for and the general interest rate I could expect. I had exactly enough credit history to apply for a loan. The broker said “You must live a very simple life.” I replied with “I don’t like debt.”

And it’s true. My life is drama-free and relatively simple. The key is being honest with yourself and with those you deal with.

My neighbor is losing his house. He’s moving into an apartment, and he wondered aloud to me what would happen if he left the utilities in the complex’s name. I told him he’d probably be fined by his complex and then evicted if he didn’t take care of it. Then he decided to put the utilities in his roommate’s name so he didn’t have to pay the balance he owes the utility company. Now he’s going to stop paying on one of his rent-to-own furniture sets because he doesn’t want it anymore.

This is exactly the sort of dishonesty that gets people into these situations. He is, sadly, not the only person I’ve seen work as hard at not paying as some people do at just making the money to pay what is owed.

But being honest with others is easy. The hard part is being honest with yourself.

You have to know what your weaknesses are. You have to acknowledge when you’re making excuses in order to stop making them. Admitting that “I’m going to just buy shit and that’s just the way I am” is failing to be honest with yourself. “I’m just going to buy shit and I don’t have control over my finances” is much more truthful. There are times to just buy shit, but those should be few and far between, depending on your financial situation. Eventually you know when and where to spend and how much to allot yourself to indulge your particular weaknesses. You don’t stress out about your purchases because you know it’s okay. You’ve got it covered.

Being honest with yourself is realizing your mistakes and correcting or mitigating them. It’s knowing that you’re losing your home because you’ve chosen to spend your money on rent-to-own furniture, DVDs, and late payment fees. It’s knowing that buying that thing isn’t the best move, but you’re not going to lose your home because your mortgage payment has already been sent out for next month, you’ve got everything else covered, and your emergency fund is rebuilding itself nicely.

Trying to fix your mistakes is costly, trying to prevent them is hard, but trying to get out of them dishonestly will bite you in the ass every time. What I didn’t tell my neighbor was that the utility company requires the name on the lease to match the name on the account. The digital age will ensure you pay your pound of flesh, there’s no way around it.

“Rewards” credit cards are scams

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 03/18/2015 by Fox

When I was young, people lived from paycheck to paycheck. Today, it seems like they live from credit card payment to credit card payment.
~Robert Kiyosaki

I know I’ve said it before (and I say it a lot more often in person), but “rebate” or “rewards” credit cards are scams. Not in the overt sense, but in more subtle ways.

One is the simple fact that it costs retailers to run cards. The more people who use cards, the more clout credit card companies have to set pricing for card readers. I work for a company that doesn’t regularly deal with the general public, and we don’t have a card reader. I had someone try to pay for something in our shop and get pissy with me because we didn’t have a card reader. Fuck you, too, dude. He was an old guy, which surprised me. Cash or check, the old fashioned way.

The more cards get used, the more retailers pay to accept payments, the more prices for goods rise to compensate. You will pay for those airline miles, one way or another. So will I, and everyone else.

The other way is more direct. I was recently offered a credit card that supposedly would “help reduce [my] mortgage principal balance by making everyday net purchases.”

Let me tell you internets, that’s actually kind of tempting. Then, being a tightwad and not a fool, I ran the numbers. The rebate (after the bullshit introductory period, which should never even be considered in such things), is one percent of purchases. Disbursements to your mortgage payment only occur once twenty-five dollars are gained in rebates.

I would need to spend $2,500 to earn $25 back in “rewards.”

In the meantime, if I carried a balance like 34% of Americans do, I’d be charged about 20% APR.

One percent cash back.
Twenty percent APR.
Does that seem worth it to you?

My biggest reason for not doing this is the temptation aspect. If I wanted rewards, I’d need to use the card for more than just the occasional internet purchase. And then I’d lose control and fall off my financial tightrope. I’m not a financial god, and if I was, I’d be some flawed Greco-Roman version. I fail (often, recently) and my main mode of financial control involves using cash to promote artificial scarcity. I’d have to become MUCH more stringent if I used a card for everyday purposes, and that’s hard for me. The system I have now works great. Fucking with it for a mere one percent rebate applied to my mortgage would be catastrophic.

There are a few situations in which credit cards are viable options, and in those situations, a rewards card (if the APR and other detriments were comparable) may be ideal. If you can manage to budget despite using a credit card and pay off your balance monthly, sure, get the card you want. But I’m not going to be able to get past that 1%/20% thing. That’s past Sketchytown and right smack dab in the middle of Areyoufuckingkiddingmeville.

What a real minimum wage budget looks like

Posted in simple living with tags , on 01/18/2015 by Fox

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.
~J. K. Rowling

I’m far too late to discuss McDonald’s idiocy regarding what it’s like to make minimum wage. But I want to touch on it a little, anyway.

I should start off by saying that I don’t believe raising the minimum wage is going to do shit. The issue is systemic and requires a top-down solution that would go against American cultural and political ideals.

The budget I’m about to set down is an approximation of the budget I used for several years while hauling my ass out of debt. I’ve no doubt forgotten some of the exact details, but it should get the idea across to anyone who hasn’t been stuck in a dead-end minimum-wage job for years. Keep in mind, too, that this is a budget set in Texas. In this area, we have very low cost-of-living. I also had a roommate with whom to split rent and utilities. We did not live in a nice apartment, but it wasn’t in the ghetto. I worked two jobs, sometimes as much as fourteen hours a day, and I did not utilize any form of community assistance or welfare programs.

Job 1: $800/mnth
Job 2: $200/mnth

Monthly budget:
Rent: $250
Utilities: $50
Car note: $300
Car insurance: $50
Food, clothing, cat supplies, gas, toiletries, fun money, etc: $200
Emergency fund/Debt reduction: $150

I did not have health insurance. Buying clothing, going to the movies, or taking the cats to the vet removed money straight out of my food budget.

This is not fucking sustainable. Even with my emergency fund, a sudden serious issue could have ruined me. As you can imagine, selling possessions or Christmas gifts isn’t a solution. I was already eating less.

I got lucky in that my second job was willing to take me on full-time and, in time, pay me a living wage (or what is a living wage when you’ve become as frugal as I). The worst part of living on a minimum wage budget is the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that come with that sort of life. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the beginning fades, and eventually it’s dark all around and you don’t feel you’re making progress. You could be going backward for all you can tell.

And as long as the people at the top are willing to alienate and exploit those at the bottom, raising the minimum wage will do nothing. Prices will rise to match, and a living minimum wage will never be achieved.

Just paying the bills isn’t enough

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 01/01/2015 by Fox

I’m working so I won’t have to try so hard
Tables, they turn sometimes
~The Strokes, “Someday”

My co-worker just wants “to make enough money to cover the bills.”

In my mind, that’s the attitude that will get you where my mother is right now. Working and working and working with no light at the end of the tunnel. My co-worker also said that she doesn’t want to buy an old house, because of all the hard work she hears another co-worker and I doing to update our own houses. (Which is hilarious, given how much work my bosses have done to their far newer homes. Don’t like work? Stick with apartments.)

Buying this house and updating it is, to me, integral to my ultimate financial goals. Rather than locking me into a mortgage, it frees me up a bit financially. I have a second bedroom to rent out, should things go south, and once the major updates are complete, the value of this home will increase in case I do need to sell. My “rent” will not go up (aside from property taxes and insurance), and honestly, I’m paying only a touch more than I would for a decent apartment. The only reason my rent was cheaper than my mortgage before was simply due to the shitty nature of the places I was renting. My last apartment didn’t even have hot water in the kitchen, and only barely had it in the bath.

I also honestly enjoy tinkering about with the house. I have a FUCKING AWESOME backyard that will be even more awesome when I have the funds to xeriscape it properly (I’m lazy and don’t plant anything that can’t survive on its own). Part of the appeal of an older home is getting to learn how to do minor electrical work, how to patch drywall, how to nail in baseboards without a nail gun, and other nifty things. My own labor is far cheaper than someone else’s. The exception is painting. I hate painting.

But the house is Step One in my ultimate takeover of the world (or at least my part of the neighborhood). In a couple more years I anticipate beginning to save up the down payment to buy either one of the neighboring units and thus hopefully have a second income independent of my day job (in addition to controlling the occupants of said units). This takes more than “just paying the bills.” It takes foresight, and planning, and hard fucking work. Retirement funds also take foresight, planning, and either more hard work, or a willingness to go without.

I’m working so I don’t have to try so hard. Tables, they turn sometimes. Don’t I fucking know it.

Humana/Cigna scams customers with “admin fees” and monthly payments

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 12/16/2014 by Fox

I think anyone who’s ever gone through adolescence and wanted something from their parents knows the basic tenets of a con.
~Matt Bomer

I’m not allowed to pay my health insurance in six-month chunks anymore. According to my insurer, this is because Obamacare. As best I can figure, the Act (you know which one) has gotten rid of the old year-long system of health insurance in favor of month-to-month coverage.

Unfortunately, this drives prices up because customers are theoretically less stable. You sign a year-long contract, they’ve got you for the year. This is why long-term leases on apartments, etc, are a thing. You commit yourself long-term, you get a discount. That’s not a thing with health insurance anymore.

Two, it means I can’t pay for my insurance the way I want to. I liked paying my insurance six months in advance. Pay it and forget it.

Three, it means I will pay an extra $100 a year in “admin fees.” Why? Because I get paper bills, and according to Humana/Cigna, paper bills cost $10 a month. I call bullshit.

Sure, they’ll wave that fee…if I get my bill charged to a credit card (NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE) or allow them to draw the money straight out of my account.

Does this smell fishy to any of you?

It does to me, but maybe that’s because I spent an hour today on the phone trying to figure out what kind of sorcery happened to my insurance payments. Somehow their computer system randomly moved me from bi-annual payments to quarterly payments and then I was forced onto monthly payments. My only warning was a letter I got a year ago that stated I would be forced to move to monthly payments, no date given as to when, and no hint that some bizarre quarterly payment thing would happen.

This is why you shouldn’t do automatic withdrawals, people. If I hadn’t been getting paper statements, I would never have known that I was suddenly getting charged a monthly payment.

Humana/Cigna wants me to trust them enough to give them access to my bank account, but at the same time, they make themselves completely untrustworthy. The bills I get have no worthwhile information on them, the two employees I spoke with today could barely understand my question, nevermind sort out what the hell was going on. And they have the gall to request unfettered access to my checking account.

This reeks. It smells like a scam. Of course, my other options are to find a new provider (and have the same fucking problem) or drop health insurance and pay the fucking fine. The older I get the riskier going without insurance gets, and the fine is probably more than the fucking fees.

You can’t win this game. No one cares about you. The guy on the phone doesn’t care about you. The guy at the top doesn’t care about you. The guy in Washington doesn’t care about you. So just bend over. Here comes Humana/Cigna.