Wednesday, December 19, 2012

lemons part 2

In the seemingly unending car saga that is our life, we have had not one, but both cars putz out on us within the last week. Can it get any better?

At the beginning of last week, my car's transmission started making the dreaded clunking noise. It wasn't terrible, as long as I could accelerate slowly and gave it ample time to warm up in the morning, but still, it's just one of those sounds that you know is bad news.
Then on Wednesday night, I'm out running errands in The Hubs' car when it won't start. I know it's not the battery because we just had that replaced about a month ago, plus all the lights are on in the car and the radio works. It has to be the starter. (His response when I call him and tell him: "is this a joke?") I call AAA and I wait. And wait. And wait. It's just about the end of their allotted time frame for when they could show up when I tried to start the car again. Miracle of miracles, it worked. I hightailed it out of that parking lot and back home before it could fritz out on me again. Of course, after I got home, the car wouldn't start again.

On Thursday, we both took off work so we could get the car looked at. After a few tries, it started and we were able to take it to our mechanic in Absecon. As suspected, it was the starter. The Hubs was able to borrow my mom's car on Friday to get to work while it got fixed. Another $300 down the drain. I also took my car for an oil change in the hopes that it was just low transmission fluid causing it to turn over so hard. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and the car still has problems switching between first and second gear. I'm taking it in for a full transmission service on the 27th, which will switch out all the old fluid and filter, but there won't be any major repairs done. A new transmission will cost more than the car is worth, so the plan is to just to drive as little as possible until it totally gives out.

In response to all this, the hunt for a new car for The Hubs has been renewed and I'm hoping by the end of next month, we'll have found one that's smaller, more fuel efficient, and, most importantly, more reliable. The Hubs owes more on the car than I thought (about $9,000), but I did an online instant trade-in offer on Auto Trader and got a quote for about $6,500 on the trade-in value. I think that number is a little low, so I'm hopeful we can get between $7,000 - $7,500 for it, especially now that we did so many repairs. I've used a few online calculators to figure out if we get a car between $15,000 - $17,000, his car payments will be approximately the same as they are now for the same amount of time (five years). We're going to my in-laws this weekend, so I'm going to try and push him to go car shopping in the Leigh Valley region either Saturday or Monday.

As for me, it's a bit more complicated (isn't it always?). I haven't had a car payment since 2010, and, as you probably know from reading this blog, my current finances sometimes don't allow for me to go grocery shopping in a pay period, let alone make a car payment. I also have zero money set aside for a down payment and (obviously) my car is worth virtually nothing as a trade-in. The only way I could afford a car payment right now would be to buy another older vehicle, and honestly, what's the point in that? I run the same risk of a different older car breaking down that I do with the one I currently own. I've found one dealership nearby that is offering a $4,500 "cash for clunkers" program and I plan to check them out, but I'm not getting my hopes up. The plan is to buckle down and get a second job (hopefully one close by), so I can sock away some extra money for a heftier down payment. I've also been whispering sweet nothings to the engine and rubbing the dashboard creepily loveingly to keep it moving. Totally normal, right?

I know my brother-in-law and his wife recently had a similar circumstance happen to them, but Stephanie is waaaaaay more fiscally responsible than I am, so they were able to weather the storm a bit better than we are.

We did have one sliver of good luck (money-wise) this week - The Hubs won his fantasy football pool at work and came home Monday with $1,100! Football season is one of the only times I'm grateful I married a sports fanatic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I totally spaced on Saturday and bought Wawa before my newphew's championship football game. Did not even remember about the challenge until Sunday night - whoops! Back on track.

Bought food at our work cafeteria yesterday, even though I brought leftovers for lunch. Trying to just acknowledge the shortcoming, but not beat myself up over it. No more buying food this week!

The Hubs and I signed up to be Secret Santas for a local child in need. He's six years old and only asked for essentials like socks, pajamas, and t-shirts, which makes me think his family might have lost everything in the storm. He also wrote he liked Jake and the Neverland Pirates, so last night I ordered the VTech J&NP Learning Laptop for him as well as our nephew whose birthday is the first week of January. Hopefully, it comes in time (we're supposed to turn in the presents by Saturday).

In bad news, my car's transmission has taken to clunking when shifting into certain gears. It's most notable if I accelerate quickly and when I put it in reverse. So far, I've been able to avoid driving except when necessary, but obviously I can't avoid travel all together. There's really nothing I can do about it, anyway, since we don't have the money to get it fixed and I definitely don't have the money for another car right now. It's mostly just frustrating.

Anyone want to contribute to my car fund? I'll chauffer you around in exchange for your donation ;-)

Friday, December 7, 2012

friday noir

Who forgets to talk about Black Friday on a personal finance blog? Me, apparently.

I shied away from talking about the sales before "the day", because you could've found that in every corner of the internet. The problem with that is then you forget the whole thing, as in this case.
While I had every intention of going to Wal-Mart for their 10 PM Thanksgiving night sale, I was thoroughly exhausted after cleaning and cooking all day (it was my first year having people over for Thanksgiving dinner), that I barely got through my glass of wine before passing out on the couch.

For me, Black Friday tends to be a day where I spend money on myself or the house. The best deals of the day were definitely at Macy's. I wasted a lot of time in morning looking for a new work suit when I really should've been in the home department. The morning specials were crazy good! I ended up getting a 4 quart stainless steel saute pan for $11 and I've used it at least ten times since then. I love it. I also picked up a 5-piece roasting set (pan, rack, baster, & lifting tongs) which was on sale for $20, then I had a 15% off coupon bringing the total price to $18. Unfortunately, the 15% off coupon only worked on regular sales and not the morning specials, so that was the only item I was able to get a deeper discount on.

It seemed like every time I was in the line waiting to check out, I would see something else I wanted (like the above roasting pan). On my second go-round of the home department, I scored a 53-piece flatware set for only $32 (regular price: $80). Obviously, The Hubs and I have every day flatware, but we only have service for four. It doesn't make a difference to us whether we eat dinner with a salad fork or a dinner fork, but in prepping for Thanksgiving dinner, I realized I didn't even have matching flatware for my family of five. Now I won't have to borrow my mom's silverware to have a dinner party. #grownup.

Lastly, my big purchase of the day was a Ninja Professional Blender. The Hubs and I have been looking for a nice blender since we got married. First, we had one of those "blend and go" little machines which smelled like melting plastic when you would run it and couldn't chop ice at all. Gross. Then we got a basic Kitchen Aide blender, which was better, but still didn't crush ice like we needed. My mother-in-law got us a Magic Bullet set she found at a yard sale, but still no dice on the ice. I called The Hubs and he gave his blessing on the Ninja purchase. I hoped I would be able to use a $10 off coupon as well, but, unfortunately, that didn't work. $90 later, we have a blender that can in fact "turn ice into snow" and I've been able to enjoy my green smoothies once more. Yipee! The rest of the mall was a bust that Friday, but that's what long weekend are for, right? I, for one, appreciated the extended Black Friday sales and was able to pick up some actual gifts on Saturday. Of course I took advantage of Cyber Monday sales as well.

All in all, I was able to wrap up (pun intended) most of Christmas shopping in one weekend. I have two more actual presents to get, then the rest of family has asked for cash.

How are you doing with your Christmas list? Have you gotten any good deals lately?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I think I've told you all about how I've been tracking my daily expenses in a notebook, right? If I didn't, the concept is pretty simple: buy a small notebook, carry it everywhere, & write down everything you spend money on. Last week, I filled my first notebook. It lasted from just after Labor Day (September 4) to the end of November.

The problem I ran into was categorizing what I wrote down. It would've been pretty difficult to go through by hand and see where I spent the most money. I was unsure of how to create my own Excel tracking sheet, but I found online (of course I can't find the link to now), which was easy to use & I could customize my own categories as well as my method of purchase (auto-debit, credit card, check, etc).

I spent most of the day Friday organizing my notes into the Spreadsheet. By lunchtime, I was thoroughly depressed by how much money I was spending needlessly. Even though I was writing it down, I guess I had become desensitized to the process - just writing my spending didn't mean anything anymore. But seeing my monthly shortfall in big red numbers sure did.

That process spurred this month's challenge: No Wawa for one month. It is downright embarrassing how much I was spending on food at Wawa on a monthly basis. $22 in September, $31 in October, and $59 in November! More than $100 in three months. It was probably just because I didn't feel like eating whatever lunch I brought that day, or we hadn't gone food shopping so I needed breakfast. This was in addition to the other money I spent on food/eating out (but not groceries). Ridiculousness.

We're only five days into the month, but I'm doing good so far. I did buy an orange juice there on Saturday morning before we went to my in-laws (& I bought The Hubs a breakfast sandwich, but he's not included in the challenge), but I drank half & saved the other for another morning. The Hubs was kind enough to go grocery shopping on Monday afternoon so now we have food to eat at dinner (and consequently, leftovers for lunch the next day).

An informal and totally non-scientific poll of my co-workers found that most don't track their spending on a daily basis, but log in weekly/monthly to make sure everything is hunky-dory. Even though PNC's Virtual Wallet can do the tracking for me, I've realized I'm the type of person who needs to do everything manually, otherwise my brain just doesn't register that money is flying out the window.

What about you?