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Stop Worrying and Take Control of Your Finances

It seems that every day we’re given new reasons to worry about our finances. The news is replete with stories about budget cuts, inflation, people declaring bankruptcy. The average cost of living is rising faster than the average working wage. It’s all a massive stress and most of us are affected by this stress. And yet, strangely, most people still don’t pay enough attention to their finances.

Why is this? Well, it can be a complex and unfun business. Even though we know we need to worry about our finances, actually going in and taking a look at our finances is something we often avoid. All the numbers can make our brain feel a bit jumbled. And looking at ourselves in relation to these ever-changing numbers is actually quite overwhelming. So as long as we’re not in obvious financial difficulty, we tend to just leave things as they are. We adopt an “everything will take care of itself” attitude.

Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches
photo credit: teegardin

But, as I’m sure you know, things don’t tend to take care of themselves. No matter how you feel about your current situation, you ought to review your finances. Get to know how you’re doing financially and you’ll be prepared for whatever the near-future throws at you.

What do you want to do with your money?

It’s important to have a good yardstick against which to measure your personal finance. So ask yourself: is there anything I need right now? Or even just anything I really want? Let’s say the computer right now has been around for a few years. It’s cooling system sounds like an aeroplane taking off, it takes ages to load anything, it sometimes crashes. So you need a new computer, right? Maybe your car is on the fritz, too.

Whatever it is, you need to figure out what you want to do with your money. I’m going to suggest something that you’ve no doubt heard before in other contexts. You should write a list! Never underestimate the power of sitting down and handwriting lists. So get your wanted purchases written down and arranged into needs and wishes. If your refrigerator is broken, getting it fixed is a must. If you want a new games console, then you probably recognise that that isn’t a need. Put that PlayStation 4 you have your eye on in the ‘wish’ category. (Sorry.) You may even find a midsection between need and wish. That old computer may be a pain, but can you still do what you need to do on it for now, at least?

iPhone and credit card
photo credit: Visual Hunt

You should also arrange things into short-term and long-term goals. Do you want to buy a house? That falls into the latter category. And don’t forget the ultimate long-term investment: retirement!

Estimate how much each item will cost you. You now have an expenditure projection! By seeing the relative importance of each item, as well as their cost, you can make smarter decisions about your money. You see? It’s still cool to write out lists!

Find out where you are financially

Once you know what you want to do with your money, you should be looking at your debts and finances accordingly. Do you owe any money on student or home loans? On your credit card? Write all of that down. Then you should work out how much your lifestyle is currently costing you. Get yourself a mobile app for tracking your spending. Keep an eye on your spending for about a month to get a good idea of your average monthly expenditure. Be sure to include all your expenses like your rent, insurance and debt repayments.

shopping receipt
photo credit: Visual Hunt

Once you’ve done all that, you’ll know how much you’re spending each month. Calculate this as a percentage against your monthly income. This in-and-out data should now be used as the backbone of all your financial decisions.

One more thing: you should also see how you look through the eyes of others. That means getting a credit report and seeing how your credit score is doing. Even if you don’t see yourself ever needing a loan, you should keep your credit report looking strong. A good credit score is a good indication that you’re doing most things correctly! But what is a good credit score? It’s a score that tells companies that you can be trusted. A good credit score will also help you get good rates on a credit card. And if your expenditure is looking too high, you may want to consider one of those!

business expenses logged on iPhone
photo credit: Visual Hunt

Use this information to create a budget

There are plenty of people out there who don’t even bother to check their bank account on a regular basis. It’s not necessarily because they’re rich. It’s just because their spending hasn’t gotten them into trouble yet! They’re not frivolous spenders; they may run low every now and again, but usually it’s just before payday.

Thanks to credit and debit cards, this is quite a widespread mindset. Money no longer seems like a tangible thing, something you hold in your hand that decreases in weight as you use it. They’re just numbers on a screen. This has turned money into a very fluid, almost abstract thing. But it’s important for everyone to think hard about their expenses.

Even if you don’t think you need to, you should create a budget. This is the ultimate way of getting your money to work for you. The fact is that everyone should be saving money. If you don’t have a budget, saving money can be pretty difficult.

stacks of gold coins
photo credit: Visual Hunt

One thing you should consider is opening another account with your bank. Most banks will allow you to have several for no additional cost. As soon as you get your paycheck, put the money for your monthly expenditure into one account. Then, put at least 20% of the remaining figure into a savings account. This will get the ball rolling. By placing all those sums into separate sections, your financial situation will be much easier to understand.

Don’t let your money become a nebulous thing you only pay attention to during troubled times. Get to know every cent in your account!


Filed under Articles
 

The Crazy Cat Lady’s Guide to Bringing Home a New Cat

We’ve been a multi-cat household for some time now. When we bought our home in March of 2007, we had just two cats: Blueboy (then seven years old) and Kirin (then just a kitten – he is one month younger than Ryan, who was just eight months old at the time).

In 2011 we went to four.
In 2013, six.
In 2015, seven. Then came Odin (8) and Freyja (9), and finally Quinn, which puts us at ten.

Having ten cats — indoors-only cats, mind you, as we do not believe in allowing cats to roam outdoors where they are vulnerable to illness, injury, and death — sounds daunting, I know. And it is. But thankfully it was a gradual thing – looking back, I laugh when I thought I was overwhelmed with four. Pfft. Four is nothing. Multiple cats really are like multiple children… it doesn’t make much of a difference if you go from three to four, or four to six.

However, ten is definitely a lot, and unless you have at least one work-at-home/stay-at-home adult, it just isn’t feasible due to the work and care involved.

cats

But with all that said, since I am often asked what my tricks of the trade are in terms of introducing new cats to one another, here is what has worked for us and our tribe of kitties (currently a mixture of 8 males and 2 females; old and young, FIV+ (four) and non-FIV):

 

ISOLATE THE NEW CAT.

Put the new cat in a small room — a bathroom, pantry, or laundry room is perfect — where he can be confined and kept away from the other cats in your household. Provide the cat with essentials: dry kibbles, plenty of water, litter box or pan with shredded newspaper, and a towel or pillow for comfort. Assess for injuries and whatnot, and make arrangements to take the cat to a vet or a clinic for a physical exam and vaccinations (and be sure to schedule sterilization surgery!).

 

BATHE AND GROOM THE NEW CAT.

Cats rely on all of their senses, but they are especially sensitive to smells. One of the quickest ways to get my cats acclimate to a new addition is by making sure that new addition smells like our home. So, with that in mind, give the new cat a bath. Gently clean his ears and eyes if he’ll let you, and try to clip his nails. The more you’re able to safely touch the new cat, the better – this not only makes him smell like you and your home, but also helps him adjust to you.

 

MINGLE THE SCENTS.

This sounds silly, but I swear by it: take some of your existing pets’ toys and other items, such as a dog bed or a chew toy, and give it to the new cat. Likewise, after the new cat has been in your home for at least 24 hours, take some of the items he has been interacting with, and put them out for your existing cats to smell.

 

INTRODUCE YOUR NEW ADDITION.

This is the important part. You want to quarantine the new cat until he has been cleaned up, rid of fleas, ticks, and worms, and checked out by a vet. Once you’re certain that the newcomer does not pose any health threats (such as the transmission of fleas or an upper respiratory infection), it’s time to begin the introductions. You’ve already started this by transferring scented items between your existing cats and the newcomer, and surely your existing cats have been crowding around the closed door that separates them and the newcomer. And likewise, the new cat is most likely very interested in seeing what’s on the other side of the closed door. But make sure to go slow:

  1. Bring the newcomer cat out to meet your other cats – this ensures he continues to feel safe in your home by having his little “haven” (the small room you’ve kept him in) all to himself. Try holding the new cat in your arms (firmly so that he cannot wriggle free or scratch), or sitting on the floor with him in your lap. Let the other cats come close, but minimize physical contact between them – instead, let them observe one another. Dole out plenty of pets and verbal affection to all of the cats – this shows all of them that you’re not playing favorites.
  2. For the first 48 to 72 hours, limit the contact to you holding the newcomer cat while the others come close to him. Aim to do this at least every two hours in order to acclimate the cats to each other.
  3. After a few days of this kind of interaction, try going into the room where the newcomer cat is, but leave the door open a crack – don’t be surprised if your existing cats come in to see the newcomer and check out his digs.
  4. At this point there may be a bit of hissing, growling, and tail twitching, but so long as there is no actual physical fighting, you can allow the newcomer cat to leave the closed room he’s been in – but follow along with toys, treats, and verbal affection to keep the tentative peace between him and your other cats. If you have to leave the house or will be going to bed, put the newcomer cat back into his closed area to ensure no fighting while you’re out of the picture.
  5. After a few days of this interaction, so long as all of the cats continue to behave with one another, you can let the newcomer join the ranks. Be on the lookout for potential squabbles, but generally — and this is with our experience of the ten cats we have now, plus half of a dozen others who were re-homed or who are deceased — all of the cats will have oriented themselves to their new companion/s.

 

GIVE PLENTY OF LOVE TO EVERYONE.

I can’t emphasize this enough: make sure nobody is feeling left out. While you may initially spend a significant amount of time with your new cat in order to familiarize yourselves with each other, it’s important to minimize the risk of jealousy (and jealous behaviors such as marking or deliberate destruction of your personal property). Give lots of pets, sweet talk, and treats all the way around.

 

I hope this helps! Happy cat rescuing.


Filed under General
 

A very much overdue thank you

The internet is an amazing thing. I remember being 17 years old and using my mom’s 1998 Gateway computer and AOL dial-up connection to design and write online journals, connect with new friends and acquaintances on community websites (shoutout to Bolt and Kiwibox!), and download pictures of my favorite movies, actors, and bands (#TeamBackstreetBoys). I also remember my grandmother criticizing the amount of time I spent on the computer, and saying “it’d be great if you could make money doing something you clearly love so much”.

I’ve been able to do just that. And just as importantly, I’ve met and created real friendships with people from all over the world. Gone are the days of “online friends” and “IRL” – now everything is very intricately connected and intertwined – the online world and offline world are very much wrapped up in each other.

And it’s thanks to that Gateway computer and slow-as-molasses-rolling-uphill-in-January dial-up connection (never faster than 26.5k, despite having a 56k-capable modem) that brought me to the internet, instilled a passion for writing and web design, and gave me close friends, good friends, and awesome acquaintances that I would have otherwise never known the existence of.

In July, Ryan’s beloved four year old iPad finally gave up the ghost, and Dan and I panicked about how we’d be able to replace it on such short notice. With him being disabled subsequently out of work for several years, and me struggling just to fully cover our expenses, there was no way we would have been able to get Ryan the replacement iPad he so desperately needed for calming and coping.

So I reached out and humbly asked for help. And you replied, and replied quickly. Less than 24 hours after I published a post about Ryan’s iPad and his need for a new one, you kindly and generously funded and actually doubled the GoFundMe pot. And we were able to not only order a replacement iPad for Ryan, but get a newer generation (iPad 3) with a larger storage capacity (64GB), an extended warranty, a new cover, and a $25 iTunes gift card — and there was still a bit left over for some new clothes to replenish what he had outgrown during a recent growth spurt.

No lie: I was embarrassed to ask for help, but did so anyway because Ryan is my son and you put aside pride and dignity along with anything else necessary to remove from the picture when it comes to meeting your child’s needs. And I cried at every donation notification. I was so touched by your kindness, so very grateful, and so very relieved.

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Thank you for doing something so generous for my son:


Filed under Parenthood
 

Relief never tasted so good.

I have blogged more in the past 24 hours than I have in the last 24 days. This is entirely my fault, of course… I have a tendency to shut down and withdraw whenever life gets to be overwhelming. Life is still overwhelming. But talking about it, even just on my blog, feels good. It’s also nice to blather at somebody other than Dan, my mom, or Jason. I’m sure they get tired of hearing the same crap over and over and over.

Today is a good day. And at the risk of sounding like a social drug seeker, today is a good day because I was able to pick up my liquid Oxycodone prescription from the pharmacy with absolutely no hassle. But here’s the thing: like I just blogged about, my baseline pain level is anywhere from a 6 to an 8. Even with narcotic pain medication administered on a fairly regular schedule (3.75mg to 7.5mg every 6 hours; when I was taking Oxycodone in pill form the dose was higher and more frequent – to the tune of 5mg to 7.5mg every 4 hours) my pain level never drops below a 5. On a good day my stomach is twingy and my back pain is semi tight and throbbing. But on a normal day? My stomach feels like there’s a blow torch being held to it, and my back feels like it was set on fire and then put into a vise.

Anyway, the prescription I had filled this morning was actually written last Tuesday. That’s one week. Seven days. 168 hours:
Last Tuesday: the pharmacy said to come back on Wednesday, because they had to order the medication.
Wednesday: the pharmacy says — after I called them in the afternoon because I was getting impatient — “oh no, your insurance says it’s too soon and to come back for the fill in 15 days. Bye!” I took my last dose of Oxycodone, a 3.5mg dose, at 7:30pm.
Thursday, 28 hours after that call: I head to the pharmacy with a revised prescription that dictates an increase in dosage (normally the insurance would then cover the prescription), only to be told “nope, still too soon. Come back in five days. Bye!”
Saturday: the pharmacy calls. “Hey, we talked to your doctor and figured out you’re not a junkie, so we’ll let you pay out of pocket for your prescription. It’s $591.00, or $291.00 if you want to buy half now and half later.”
This morning: SWEET BABY JESUS INSURANCE-COVERED RELIEF IS ONLY A TEN MINUTE DRIVE AWAY.

(Insert reminder about baseline pain being a 6, 7, and even an 8 at times, from two sources: abdomen and back. Oh, and food hurts my stomach. So do liquids. But you have to drink water at the very least, and protein shakes are a good recommendation just to get sustenance down.)

Anyway. I’m running on about three hours of sleep, but I just want to plow through the rest of the day and then get a very restful night of sleep tonight. That’s my goal, anyway.


Filed under General
 

Dan and I made the switch to FreedomPop, so now we pay just $21.98 per month for two cell phone plans!

FreedomPop logo

Disclosure: While I am a paying FreedomPop customer, this post does contain affiliate links.

Long title is long – but I really want to drive the point home: FreedomPop is awesome. FreedomPop is a mobile service provider that piggybacks on Sprint’s network. This means you can bring a Sprint phone to FreedomPop, or purchase a new or certified, warrantied refurbished phone from FreedomPop for as much as 85% off.

^ But let me put that in simple terms with numbers: a few weeks ago I ordered two Samsung Galaxy S5 16GB phones from Groupon for just $159.99 apiece. Samsung Galaxy S4s are currently available through FreedomPop for $99.99. Samsung Galaxy S3s are under $75! Alyssa and Ryan each have peppy little LG smartphones that were just $29.99 each.

In terms of service, you can have 200 minutes + 200 text messages for FREE, or jump to a talk/text/data plan with FreedomPop’s Premium 500 plan for $7.99 per month, which offers 500 minutes and unlimited text messages. On the data front, you get 500mb for free, but you can always add more with one of FreedomPop’s monthly data plans, which start at $19.99 per month.

Daniel has had FreedomPop service for just about a year now. Full disclosure: we originally discovered FreedomPop via a product review opportunity, but we loved the pricing and service so much that we decided to keep it! And as of December 2015, I too have been a FreedomPop customer. We each pay $10.99 per month for the unlimited talk + text + 500mb of data, and if we find ourselves running short of data we can send anywhere from 25mb to 100mb of data to each other, or we can share with other family members (I’ve talked my mom and both of my brothers into using FreedomPop as well – it’s definitely a family thing).

FreedomPop isn’t without its cons, of course. While the data service is superb, sometimes calls are dropped or my phone won’t even ring – I only know someone has called when a voicemail pops up. And on that note, Google Voice doesn’t work with FreedomPop’s service currently – you must use FreedomPop’s voicemail app. Oh, and you must use their messaging app as well, which, while it works, it’s rather bare-bones in terms of features.

Overall I give FreedomPop a 3.5/rating, with most of my disappointment being with the issue of occasional missed calls, and being locked into their voicemail service, and their voicemail and messaging apps. Also, their support can be a little slow – your best bet is to post on their forums for assistance.
But on the flip side, $21.98 per month for two separate cell phone lines? Count me in! Oh, and Alyssa and Ryan each have FreedomPop service too – I snagged two LG Optimus F7 refurbs for just $29.99 apiece, and both phones have the free 200 minutes / 200 texts plan.

If you’re interested in switching to FreedomPop, but you don’t currently have a Sprint phone, here are some exclusive FreedomPop deals that are worth checking out – and now that I have purchased a total of five cell phones through FreedomPop, I can vouch for their great prices, fast shipping, and just-as-described, perfectly-functional devices:


Filed under Commercial Break