Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Returning to School

I took the plunge and enrolled in online classes. I've been at it since August 31, taking 4 classes consisting of a total of 13 credits. So far, so good. But this one class - Excel - is demanding and extremely time consuming. I doubt I will ever use Excel simply as a way of thumbing my nose at it once the semester is complete.

I enrolled in these classes because I have found technology is passing me by at an astounding rate. Instead of sitting back on my haunches, I decided this was the best alternative. And frankly, I've surprised myself.

I wasn't sure I could still learn. Once you reach a certain age and place in your life, structured class learning isn't something you expect to embrace. But I am thoroughly enjoying this. I find myself eager to learn and this is a wonderful change from my youth.

Back to the books....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

World Unemployment Rates Are Up

My liberal friends tell me that wealthy American corporations are creating jobs overseas while taking them from the US. This report by the Associated Press tells a different story.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Taxation In Sweden

The following is copied from Wikipedia's link to 'Taxation in Sweden'. Seems many liberal lefties in the US feel the Swedish system of cradle to grave is admirable and would be wonderful here. Read on....I think you may feel differently after reading the example.

Taxation in Sweden may involve payments to three different levels of government: the municipality, the county council, and the central government. The payments are collected by the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket). In addition the Swedish Tax Agency collects a church tax from members of the Church of Sweden. The tax rates in Sweden are commonly cited as among the highest in the world.

Sweden has a taxation system that combines a direct tax (paid by the employee) with an indirect tax (paid by the employer). In practice, the employer provides the state with both means of taxation, but the employee only sees the direct tax on his declaration form. The compilation of taxes that compose the final income tax (2009): tax on gross income from the employer: 31.42% (indirect, fixed), pension fee on gross income: 7.00% (indirect, fixed), municipal tax on gross income less pension tax and a base deduction: ~32% (direct, varies by municipality), state tax on gross income less pension tax and a base deduction: 0%, 20%, or 25% (direct, progressive)[1]. In addition, an earned income tax credit applies for gross income, effectively reducing mean income tax.

Although the pension fee is stated as 7.00%, it is effectively cancelled out through an income tax credit for the entire pension fee sum assessed. Pension fees may not exceed 28800 kr/year.

[edit] Example

(Assumptions: Income tax (Direct - 32%), Employer social fee (indirect - 31.42%))

From a pay of "100", the Employer first pays "32" in Income tax (direct - 32%), on top of that the Employer also pays an additional "31.42" in Employers social fees (indirect - 31.42%).

Thus, from a pay check of "100", 63.42/131.42 (i.e. 48.3%) is paid as income taxes. This effective rate may be lowered by for example earned income tax credits and private retirement savings contributions.

[edit] Value Added Tax

The value added tax (mervärdesskatt or moms) rate in Sweden is 25%, with exceptions for food and services like hotel room rental fees (12%), and for sales of publications, admission tickets to cultural events and travel within Sweden (6%)[2].

[edit] References

1. ^ ''Belopp och procent - inkomstår 2009/taxeringsår 2010, Swedish Tax Agency (in Swedish)
2. ^ ''Momsbroschyren (SKV 552), Swedish Tax Agency (in Swedish)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Stand Up

This country is on a scary downward spiral. I think it important that all of us as Americans stand up and ask the important questions: Who knew about Van Jones and what he stood for? Was he vetted? Who else has the ear of the president with beliefs that are extreme and anti-American?

People are praising Glenn Beck for his exposure of Van Jones. Lefties are criticizing him for getting him fired. The truth is, Beck didn't bring Van Jones down....Van Jones brought Van Jones down.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Family told by NHS: Alzheimer's is not a 'health condition'

This is from The Telegraph in the UK. It is precisely why I am so adamant against a government run health care in the US.

By Nick Britten
Published: 4:28PM BST 18 Aug 2009

NHS Worcestershire ruled that Judith Roe, 74, did not qualify for NHS funding because her condition was a "social" rather than "health" problem, even though she was so ill she could not make a cup of tea and regularly left the stove on.

She was forced to sell her £200,000 home to pay her £600-a-week nursing home fees, which would have been funded if she had been categorised correctly.

Mrs Roe's family appealed to the Health Service Ombudsman, which ruled that Mrs Roe's assessment had been incorrect and her treatment should have been funded by the NHS. NHS Worcestershire has now reimbursed them for six years of care.

Her son, Richard, 40, urged other families in a similar situation to fight for the care they are entitled to.

He said: "The way the health trust behaved was scandalous. It has been very stressful.

"All the time we were told we were wrong while believing we were right.

"They told me I should count myself lucky because there are people that are more ill than my mother, which was an outrageous thing to say.

"I want anyone else going through a similar experience to know they may be entitled to care. Even if they're being told they're not entitled, they should fight for it.

"With us, they made a mistake. They did not carry out their duties properly."

Mrs Roe, a retired church warden and school teacher, was diagnosed in 2002 with severe Alzheimer's and Parkinsons.

Under English law, elderly people must pay for their own residential care unless their needs are deemed health-related.

She was assessed but her needs were regarded to be social rather than health, meaning she did not qualify for funding.

In August 2003 her family paid for a social worker to visit her twice a day and in 2004 she moved into a nursing home because she was too ill to stay at home.

In 2007 she was moved into another home because her condition had deteriorated.

Despite being bedridden and requiring round-the-clock care, NHS Worcestershire PCT refused to pay a penny towards her fees.

Throughout this time Mr Roe wrote dozens of letters to the PCT asking them to re-assess his mother.

He said: "I wanted to know just how ill my mother had to be before her condition was deemed a health issue.

"The NHS doesn't want to admit elderly people have health issues because then it falls to them to pay for their care."

He added: "We made the difficult decision to sell her home because we were under the assumption that older people sell their houses to pay for care.

"It was only when we started to look at funding and ask the PCT what funding was available that we realised that she shouldn't have had to self-fund."

Finally, in May 2008, on the recommendation of the Ombudsman, two social workers from the PCT assessed Judith and agreed she qualified for continuing care and paid for her fees at the home until she died in October.

However, the Health Services Ombudsman said she should have had continuing care from 2002 and NHS Worcestershire agreed to pay.

He said: "It should never have got to the point where I had to write to the Ombudsman.

"The PCT did not follow the correct procedures and as a result we had to sell the family home and use her savings for care which should have been funded by the NHS.

"We became very angry because the primary care trust was very arrogant and unhelpful."

Paul Bates, chief executive of NHS Worcestershire, said: "Decisions around eligibility for continuing NHS care are extremely complex and difficult even though we have national guidance to assist us.

"The line between the need for healthcare and social care is a very thin one indeed, but the impact for the individual is the difference between free care and care which is means tested.

"We would not wish to see Mr Roe's experience repeated and there are clearly lessons for us to learn."

Each NHS trust has its own criteria for interpreting the Government's guidelines on who qualifies for free nursing care.

Andrew Harrop, Head of Policy for Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "The system for deciding where the line is drawn between free NHS Continuing Care, and paid for social care has been a mess for years.

"We are still very concerned that older people may wrongly be forced to pay for their care when it should be free.

"We strongly encourage anyone who believes they are unfairly missing out on NHS support to fight for their rights."

The Health Service Ombudsman concluded 53 cases of continuing care last year having investigated them. 75 per cent of cases were either fully upheld or partly upheld.

A spokesman refused to comment on the case, other than to say its role is to assess whether the strategic health authority's decision was based on following correct procedure, rather than the need of the patient.

In 2006, a government review revealed that one in five elderly people were being wrongfully denied free care.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Adult Hockey Clinic

Dave, Brian and I spent the last three days attending an adult skills seminar with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Well, Dave and I watched while Brian participated. There were several guys in attendance from the Penguins organization, but the two most seen before the camera are Mike Yeo and Phil Borque. Phil Borque played for the Penguins during their run for the cup in the 1990's. He's a really nice guy who reaches his students quite well.

Mike Yeo is an assistant coach with the current team. He is extremely knowledgeable about stick handling and skating. He taught a great deal to Brian. We attended the same seminar last year, but unfortunately coach Yeo taught from the bench and couldn't be on the ice due to an injury. This year we got to see him in full glory - wow can this guy skate!

The seminar was held at the Penguins practice facility in Washington County, about an hour's drive from home and about a 30 minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh. The facility is beautiful. There is a restaurant above the ice with huge glass windows to view the on-ice activities. Dave and I had dinner while watching Brian take part in the seminar.

The first night of the seminar, Dave and I were seated in the observation area of the restaurant pretty much at center ice. Shortly after we sat down, two women with three children were seated two tables away. The ladies were chit-chatting away while their three children turned the restaurant on its ear.

The kids looked to be about 8, 6 and 4 - all certainly old enough in my mind to have some basic table manners. The youngest, a boy, yelled when he spoke. He was obviously looking to be the center of attention and when he didn't get his way, he turned the volume up even higher. The middle child, a girl, tossed her straw paper at the oldest and they then proceeded to slap each other across the table.

In all fairness, I don't know if the three kids were siblings and if so, which of the women was their mother. But, neither said a word to correct the behavior. It was very distracting to the rest of the diners.

After the children were finished eating, the youngest got up from his chair and ran up and down the aisle between the tables. At one point, he stretched his arms out to block the way for the waiter to pass. I looked at the women - again, not a word.

Dave and I began to talk about the years when our own children were young. We often had sibling issues at the table - Nikki would blow her straw paper at Brian or Brian would chew with his mouth open to make Nikki crazy. They were always given one warning with a stern look; stop it now or be removed from this restaurant. Nikki usually yielded the warning, but Brian would push just a little further!

And Brian was frequently removed from the restaurant by his dad or I.

The conclusion we came to is that the women were more interested in having dinner and chatting to each other than to see the situation for what it was. Not only were the children rude and distracting to the rest of us in the restaurant, but it became a hazard when the youngest was blocking the way for the waiter. If that same waiter had spilled something on the boy, he could have been seriously injured.

And let's face it - the restaurant could have been liable. In today's litigious society, they could have been sued.

Where is the common sense with these parents? What was so important that they ignore the rude behavior and grant the kids free reign in a restaurant? Where is the consideration for others?

I am beginning to wonder if we as a society have all but abandoned common sense...

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Helping Hand

This picture is worth a thousand words.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Health Care Chaos

I understand the Democrats don't like this chart. After reviewing it, I can certainly see why. Maybe it is too hectic and chaotic, but the facts are there. Any government run health program will resemble this insanity.

Health care needs a lift in this country, but this proposed bill is not the lift it needs. An old friend of mine has taken the time to break the bill down line by line. You can read his entry from the link to the left or click here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Importance of Adjectives

Yesterday afternoon, I stopped at one of those 'no appointment needed' national chain hair salons. My hair was in need of a trim and in an effort to save money, I chose this option. I have gone to this same salon several times before and been satisfied with the cut.

There was an older woman sitting in the waiting area when I wrote my name down on the sign-in sheet. I took a seat not far from where she sat and glanced at a magazine. A young stylist appeared from the back room and called her name. When she stood up, I noticed about a third of her hair was missing at the crown of her head. As the stylist shampooed her, I overheard the woman say she had been on dialysis and as a result her hair had thinned a great deal. She went on to explain she recently received a kidney transplant and the anti-rejection meds did further damage.

Not long after, my name was called and I took my place in a different stylists' chair. I explained I only needed a trim on the overall length, some long layers and my bangs trimmed. She nodded and began spraying some good smelling potion into my hair. She told me it was a conditioner - and my hair desperately needed some conditioning. I glanced in the mirror and didn't really see the desperate part, but agreed because I figured it couldn't hurt.

She combed all through my hair and began to cut. When she got to the long layers part I requested, she asked why I wanted them. I told her that my hair tends to just hang if there isn't some sort of layering effect. Her exact words were, "Yeah but your hair is so bushy!"

Bushy? I have never thought of my hair as bushy. I know I haven't met any of my readers in person, but I can tell you that all my life my hair has been thick with a natural curl. It tends to curl more in humid weather or when I get caught in a rain storm, but I have never been told my hair was bushy! In fact, most hair stylists compliment my hair.

When the stylist finished my cut, I stood up to leave and pay. The stylist told me I had "quite a head of hair, but she wasn't sure she could live with it." I smiled and told her there obviously wasn't much I could do.

Here's the worst part - I gave the girl a decent tip! The cut was $14.95 and I handed her a $20 bill, mumbling that she could keep the change! I have replayed this instance over and over in my mind and I continue to ask myself why I gave her a $5.05 tip! Most likely, I just wanted to get out of there. So much for saving a few dollars!

On a positive note, I followed the older woman with the kidney transplant out the door. I realized it was a good thing I got the stylist with a limited vocabulary (as Brian said must be her problem) instead of her. The stylist with a lousy vocabulary may have really hurt the woman's feelings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 photos hung on the walls of my pale yellow bedroom when I was a girl. I eagerly awaited the new issue of Tiger Beat magazine and the free pull out posters. The Osmonds were my second favorite and I had their posters displayed, too.

When I was in college, Michael Jackson ventured out on his own. I had lost interest in pop music by this point, but I still enjoyed his music when I heard it on the radio. When Thriller hit the charts, I bought a copy. It's still around here somewhere - vinyl, of course. I had never seen anything like his music videos, which were more like a mini movie than a short video. His dancing was incredible. It was as if he were made of rubber bands with the way he could move and you could tell he felt every beat - every note - in his soul.

I didn't pay much attention to the trials and tribulations of MJ, but like most everyone else, heard about his lawsuits and strange life happenings. Everything with him became a circus act and I would often shake my head in disbelief. I don't know if he was truly guilty of what he was accused, nor do I really want to know. This is between he and God.

I choose to remember him as an incredibly gifted entertainer who had an uncanny ability to wow his audiences all over the world.

No doubt we haven't heard the last of Michael Jackson, his estate or his children. As was the case in life, his affairs in death remain a circus act. I have strong opinions on what I think should happen with his children, but I will also reserve those comments.

Today the world mourns the loss of a gifted entertainer. I pray the man can finally be at peace and for strength for his children to carry on. To the world he was a freak, but to those three children, he was their father.

Regardless of who you are, loosing your dad is a horrendous event.

Below is a link to one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs. The dialogue and angel, I think, is appropriate today.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I've Had A Blast

The above is a good explanation of a large project we were fortunate to get. The video gets weird later, but the first few minutes are very informative.

This bridge stood over a street where my dad grew up. I remember playing under it as a child when we visited my grandfather and my aunt and uncle. My aunt and uncle's house was just a few blocks from my grandfather's home. Davis Avenue, where the bridge was located, was a block from the house where my mom grew up.

I found the whole experience to be rather surreal.

However, I did enjoy spending the better part of two weeks in those neighborhoods again while we worked. I even met a few people who remembered my dad and his brothers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Change - this seems to be the catch phrase of the moment. While admittedly some change is good, there is also change that isn't so good.

Nikki and Tony moved back to Pittsburgh over the Easter weekend. This is clearly a good change. I'm thrilled to have them back! They are living temporarily in Mom's addition. My parents would be delighted it is being put to good use. It's gone pretty well all in all, but there is always some little rifts to any change.

Tony is 3/4 of the way through the acceptance procedure to the PA State Police Academy. He has passed everything so far with flying colors. I know he will make a fantastic State Trooper. He's hardworking, honest and has a good grasp on right and wrong. He follows laws and procedures to the letter. We're really proud of him. The only drawback is that our wonderful governor has decided to hold this incoming class off until December. We really thought he would start the Academy this summer, but budget cuts dictate differently.

Nikki hasn't had a lot of luck finding a good job, though she scans want ads and job sites daily. I have hope she will find something to her liking soon. She's bright, hardworking and incredibly organized (the organized part definitely didn't come from her mother!). We're equally proud of her - always have been!

All in all, the move has been a positive one even though they are finding it difficult to find places to store all their things. It's fun to see their little space all set up with their furniture and pictures, as well as to be greeted by their kittens when I stop over for a visit. It's also great to have someone else to help with the horses. Nikki is enjoying just spending time with them and from their expressions when she enters the barn, I'd say the feeling is mutual!

The change that isn't so wonderful around here is the soon to be Cap and Trade policy currently up for review from the Obama administration. I find it really hard to understand how ANY American politician can bankrupt an entire industry in good conscience. Cap and Trade will destroy the coal industry. There are tens of thousands of hardworking Americans who will be laid off as a result. Dave's and my business will be harmed greatly by this. Forty-five percent of our clients are coal related.

But hey - CHANGE is the catch phrase of the day, right?

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Today is blustery and cloudy - almost like a fall day. Since Friday, I have been putting off my weekly trip to Wal-mart. Wal-mart has the best prices around for kitty litter, pet foods and supplies and paper necessities like toilet paper, paper towels and tissues. Despite the chilly temperatures that would normally keep me inside, Dave and I made the trip together.

While there, we bumped into a girl I worked with years ago. We worked in the custom drapery and window blinds industry - I sold the products and Terri sewed many of the fabric draperies or bedspreads. This was before I had Brian, and Nikki was very young.

Terri asked about the kids. I filled her in. Then she asked about my parents. Again, I filled her in. I really hate filling folks in about my parents. The response is always one of shock and I can tell they are genuinely embarrassed they asked.

When I asked Terri about her family (her dad has been gone for years, and thankfully I remembered this), she said her mom has dementia. She began to talk about all the stress she felt and how she is burning the candle at both ends. She is still working from home as a seamstress and had to take on a part time job to bridge the financial gap.

From what I could gather, she has no idea where to turn. She had the familiar expression we all wore while in the throws of care giving. Her mom refuses her medications, won't bathe, barely eats and refuses to leave her home. She still lives alone. My heart went out to her.

As she talked about all the things her dementia mom was doing, she began to cry. I hugged her and I tried remembering some of the wisdom I had gained from all of you - let the small stuff slide, remember the dementia patient isn't themselves anymore, when they say horrible things, it's the disease talking. It all came back so easily. I also shared the Alzheimer's website with her and told her it was the best place to start for information.

Anything you all think I left out? If so, please share it here. I intend to keep in touch with Terri, at least offering her an ear. I've been there, done that with dementia. We all have.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I've noted in my blogs before that my family didn't have a lot of money while I was growing up. We weren't poor - we had enough - but there wasn't a lot left over once the bills were paid.

My parents had a favorite drive-up ice cream place. It was several miles from our home and it was a special occasion for us to go. The whole family would pile in our '68 Ford Galaxy every few weeks or so and head out for ice cream. The real name of the place escapes me, but my dad called it Dipsy Do. I have no idea why, but we all knew that Dipsy Do meant a delicious treat.

Mom was big on vanilla cones with sprinkles, my brother preferred chocolate and dad and I salivated as the girl behind the glass window piled the hot fudge on our sundaes. Some of my best memories are of dad and I eating hot fudge sundaes together. The sundaes at the Dipsy Do tasted better than anything to me in those days. I practically licked the bottom of that paper cup.

I remember Dad would eat his sundae at the red lights. There were four lights on the way home and he'd take huge bites then hand it back to Mom to hold when the light turned green. I don't know why he didn't enjoy it in the parking lot. There was always some reason we had to get home, I guess.

One warm August evening, we made our family jaunt to the Dipsy Do. We all got our usuals and off we went. When we stopped at the final red light, dad reached into his pocket for a paper napkin. The car was hot and Mom's ice cream was dripping down the side of the cone and all over the front seat. When dad brought his hand out, he found a $5 bill rolled up with the napkins the girl had handed through the window when he paid.

"Where'd this come from?" he asked.

"That's your change," Mom replied as she wiped up the sticky mess from the red vinyl seat.

Dad looked puzzled, stole another bite of his sundae and drove the rest of the way home in silence. When we pulled into the driveway, he turned to my mom and told her he had been given too much change. He said he remembered paying with a five and the girl must have made a mistake.

I'd like to say I would do what he did next, but I don't know if I would have.

Dad reversed out of the driveway and drove all the way back to the Dipsy Do. He went to the window and explained the mistake to the same girl who had made our sundaes. From my place in the back seat, I could see her expression and how much she lit up in appreciation.

My dad was a very honest man - that's fairly evident. He took great pride in being truthful. I think this was one of his finest qualities.

Considering I can recall this story with such clarity, he was obviously a wonderful example to me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Forced Volunteerism

This is the 13th Amendment. It states:

‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime… shall exist within the United States of America.’

Volunteerism is supposed to be done on a voluntary basis, not forced upon us. I've had enough of this Marxist agenda. Have you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


There is a grassroots movement taking shape in America and I am proud to say I am a part of it. It's called The 912 Project and it has been put together by Glenn Beck. Basically, it is the acknowledgment of nine core principles and 12 values:

The Nine Principles:

1. America is good.
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

12 Values:

* Honesty
* Reverence
* Hope
* Thrift
* Humility
* Charity
* Sincerity
* Moderation
* Hard Work
* Courage
* Personal Responsibility
* Gratitude

Beck asks that you accept 7 of the 9 principles. Personally, I believe in all of them and have been trying to live my life by these simple rules for a very long time now. It's how I was raised.

There is a website but it has been down since the Beck TV program Friday evening. I haven't had a chance to fully explore it, but I look forward to doing so. Apparently there were so many visitors logging on at the same time that the site crashed.

This movement is not political. There is no partisan crap. There are politicians from both sides of the aisle who have broken these principles and values. The point is to remind them who they were elected by and what their responsibilities are. If they can't play by the rules, they are to be voted out.

Part of the 912 Project is to remember how we felt the day after September 11, 2001. There was a resolve in this country, a sense of brotherhood and comradeship. We vowed to stick together as Americans and help each other out. There were stories of people getting in their cars and driving across the country to help the victims in New York and at the pentagon. Flight 93 crashed about 50 miles east of where I live. I was ready to head over there to offer my services (whatever that would be) only to learn there was nothing left of the plane and there were no survivors. But the feelings after September 11th resonated deep within.

Where has that gone? What has happened to us?

Personally, I refuse to allow the basis of this country to go by the wayside. I refuse to allow it to become no different than socialist Europe. I have friends scattered throughout Europe - Great Britain, Sweden, Germany and Slovakia. They have all, at one time or another, told us of how fantastic this country is. They marvel at the opportunities here. Sink or swim, America is the land of opportunity. All you have to do is roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Guaranteed success? Certainly not. But you are guaranteed the opportunity to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. That's what I intend to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Free Music

Over the last few days, I have become increasingly agitated with our new way of life in this country. People seem short tempered, curt and just overall nasty.

In Pittsburgh, we have been known for our friendliness. We hold doors open for strangers, greet and smile at neighbors we don't know and wave another driver on in traffic. All that seems muffled and lost these days. It's downright irritating.

I find myself longing for the simpler times. For me, that was a time when the responsibilities of daily life were as simple as what music we would listen to for the evening.

I have found a pretty cool music website that is free. It's called Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Credit Card Warnings
Dave and I have one credit card. We have kept it because apparently your credit report looks bad if you don't have any credit cards. We put a few things on it from the weddings and were paying more than the minimum payment. Our balance was low. We paid it at least a week before its due date without fail, every month.

Last week, the credit card company dropped our credit limit and raised our interest rate. Dave was furious. He called the company and was told it was an across the board decision - every one of their cardholders experienced the same thing. He asked to speak to a supervisor and was told the same thing.

Dave was so angry he pulled the balance out of savings and paid the card off. He said he wants to cancel the account, but I worry that will only look bad on our report. It doesn't seem fair that we would receive a bad mark, but according to various financial experts, that would be the result. We're still not sure what we will do.

We were acting responsible - paying more than the minimum on time every month. Yet we were penalized.

Fair warning folks. Watch your accounts carefully.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Personal Responsibility

Dave and I will be married 25 years this April. We married young - very young. In fact, I was a few months shy of legal age to toast my own wedding. I have no idea why we were in such a rush, but we were and there was no stopping us. It has been quite an adventure and I know in my heart of hearts, I made the right choice for a lifelong partner. He has always been there for me. A great guy....truly.

During the early years of our marriage, we were a typical young couple. We never seemed to have enough money. Instead of tightening our belt between paychecks, we whipped out the plastic and went shopping. Or we went to dinner. Or...whatever. But we very quickly ran up balances on our credit cards. That was our first mistake.

In August of 1985, Nikki was born. What a wonderful and joyful time for us! But talk about responsibility! Yikes! In 1986, Dave lost his job. Poof. No more income. I worked, but it barely covered the rent and utility bills. We were forced to buy diapers, formula and groceries on credit cards. Mistake number two.

Dave soon found work and luckily, we never found ourselves without an income again. There were lean times as the kids grew, but we still had our incomes. When Brian came along in 1989, I was fortunate enough to stay home full time with him. We realized the money I was paying a sitter was just a little less than I earned. I took part time work in the evenings or weekends to help bridge the gap but it was during the hours when Dave was home to stay with the kids.

We made some smart decisions and some not so smart decisions financially. We bought our first house when Brian was a baby and sold it six years later for a profit. We used the profit as a down payment on the house we are in now. The mortgage on this house is higher than the first so there have been some times when we really reached to meet it. But we did. The only problem - the credit card balances were still growing because we could only afford the minimum payments. We weren't charging anymore, but we weren't making a dent in the balance either.

As our kids got older, their expenses grew right along with them. Nikki became involved with horses and Brian with hockey. I often joked that my kids couldn't settle for a simple passion such as knitting or baseball. We had to go for the big stuff! But as my mom reminded me, pay now or pay later. Kids should be encouraged to find their passions and follow them. She was right - their activities kept them out of trouble.

In 1999, my friend Susie became ill with cancer. I was working with Dave at the time and I took advantage of being able to miss work and spend time with Sue. Not that this was her fault, but as a result of my involvement with her care, I let some of the bills slip and they didn't get paid every month. This was the worst thing we could have done. As a result, the collection companies came calling and we were in big trouble.

In the early 2000's, Dave and I refinanced the house. We used the equity in the house to pay off all those nasty credit cards. We canceled them all and vowed to each other we would never run balances up again. It felt great! Free at last of almost 20 years of debt! The problem? We refinanced with one of those predatory lenders who have dominated the news lately. They were the ones who wrote our loan with very few questions asked. At the time, we didn't realize it. But by the fall of 2005, Dave did.

Dave sat down and crunched the numbers. The mortgage was to reset at a higher interest rate in January 2006. He came to me and said he didn't think we would be able to meet the mortgage each month once it reset because it was free to go higher and higher every few months. We were terrified.

So we set to work finding a reputable lender who would refinance us again. We were desperate to get out from under the predatory bank. We knew we were headed for disaster. In early December, we refinanced at a set rate - a rate we could afford, and we were relieved. In fact, the day after my dad died, the appraiser came to appraise the house. Most of that process is a blur to me now, but the lender wrote us because we never ran debt up again. In fact, the banker praised our responsible attitude when we went for the closing. I'm sure our responsible actions with debt was the deciding factor for us getting the loan.

We are in a much better financial way now than before, but it took us years to get here. We work hard - really hard - to acquire the things we have. Since the early days, we have never run up high credit card balances again. Our mantra - if there isn't the cash to buy, we don't buy. Period.

When I look at the news today, I am horrified at how many people are upside down in their mortgages. I feel sorry for them - to an extent. We were upside down. We were in a mess. But instead of waiting for someone to fix it for us, we took control and fixed it ourselves. Even during the worst possible emotional time for us (the death of my dad), we still stayed focused. This is personal financial responsibility. Nobody made the mess but us. Yes, we were taken in by a predatory lender, but instead of waiting for a hand out or bail out, we bailed ourselves out. And as the banker said, we did it ourselves. We learned from our mistakes and never ran that kind of debt up again.

I am sickened by the amount of Americans who are waiting for our government to fix their financial lives. It is the most un-American thing I can think of. What has happened to this country that folks expect their messes to be fixed for them? Where is the personal responsibility?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It Really Adds Up

One of the most familiar memories to me as a child was the sound of my dad emptying his change from his pockets into the brass dish he kept on his dresser. I didn't realize it then, but many times that spare change was used to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Dad had always been careful with his money, but there were times when we just didn't have enough left in the checking account to see us through to pay day. Those were the times the brass dish was emptied.

When he died and Mom came to live with us, I found a large glass jug behind his dresser. It was filled to the top with coins. I guess after my brother and I grew up, the need for the brass dish wasn't as often so he transferred the change to the jug. This jug was what brought my mom hours of joy during the thick of her disease - she counted, sorted and rolled them for weeks.

After Mom's death, I placed the empty jug here on the floor beside my computer desk. I placed coins in it each day. Some days there were a lot, some days not so many. But it is a comforting thought to know there is still some money here should the need arise.

My coin stash was nowhere near what my dad's was, though.

I started keeping a record of my daily spending. It proved very wasteful. I'd spend a few dollars on a coffee or a fast food lunch. I bought gum at the corner gas station or, my favorite, 16 ounces of sweet tea. I love that stuff - sweet tea. Sometimes I wonder if it's got something addictive in it!

Anyway, I realized once I started keeping better tabs on my spending that I was tossing a lot of extra money around. It wasn't much each day - maybe $10 to $12 - but that really does add up by the end of the week.

I'm making an effort to be more like my parents. I now take my lunch to work instead of buying fast food and I brew my own coffee at home. I make my sweet tea and I buy the packages of gum at Wal-mart instead of the single packs at the gas station. By buying the lunch contents at the grocery store, I have saved about $6 a day. Making my own tea has saved almost $2 a day. As a result, I can now pay my jug $8 a day! I figure the cost of homemade lunch products, tea and sugar is costing approximately $2 to $4 each day. If I remain disciplined and continue to pay the difference into my jug, I am saving a minimum of $200 a month!

I encourage all of you to get a small notebook and record your spending for a few weeks. Be honest and record everything. Then get yourself a jug and start paying it. The extra money may just be enough to splurge on something special! If nothing else, it is comforting to know there is some extra money if it is ever needed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It seems our economy really is in a bit of a pickle. My own retirement fund took quite a hit - which is disconcerting. Fortunately, I'm still a good 20 years away from retiring so I have some time to make up some loss.

I know big government is encouraging us to spend, but frankly I just can't bring myself to do so. My confidence in our federal government is shaken. I've begun my own saving plan and will share more about it in another post.

I have also begun to search my memory, as well as the internet, for money saving ideas.

During the winter months, I tend to store some extra pounds. I'm blessed to be small framed, but the older I get, the more my body stores extra fat. I don't get fat so to speak, but my jeans feel tighter. Along with trying to control what I eat, I thought maybe it time to hit the gym - until I saw the prices! My grandmother believed that performing household chores was a much better use of time than spending money on a gym. I think she could be right.

A google search yielded a chart that I find interesting:

So by this formula, I can burn off my lunch by shoveling snow for an hour. I guess cleaning horse stalls would yield similar results. I'm going to give this a whirl and see how I feel. We have plenty of snow to shovel and plenty of manure to muck!

Anyone else want to join me?