Wanderlust

Wanderlust

Friday, May 9, 2014

FINANCE FRIDAY: How to negotiate balance transfer fees or how to NOT EVEN PAY for them at all!

I still remember as a college sophomore walking through the campus during that first week of school.

There was no shortage of Greek booths recruiting for rush week; club booths to just be there; clothing and jewelry vendors who would've rather been a mall kiosk; kids (who probably didn't go to school there) with clipboards who were either with Greenpeace or making sure you were registered to vote; and oh yeah, credit card booths.

I only remember one that day and it was CitiCards.  They were offering free t-shirts but had ran out of mugs.  I would've preferred the mug, but hey, what's another sleep shirt right?  Heck, maybe they never even really had mugs to begin with!  Hm.  Clever.

I don't remember the spiel, but I do remember a lot of smiling on the other party's behalf.  Young guy.  Dark hair.  Bright eyes.  A salesy type.  Might be making 6 figures by now. 

And there I was, a naive girl who thought she had life on a handle and was responsible enough to get a credit card despite her father's warnings.  This is the thing, my dad would only say, "Don't get a credit card, it's bad.  People get into debt with it.  It's bad."  And I don't remember my mom ever really talking about it.  And that was that.  There was never any real full depth discussion about personal finance, credit cards and its workings.  It was like telling me, "Don't eat junk food.  It's bad.  People get fat.  It's bad."  I ate plenty of junk food, especially as a McDonald's aficionado, but I never gained weight.

I figured, how bad could it be?  It can only be as bad as the person using it and clearly, I was responsible enough to have a credit card.  I was walking 4.6 miles to and from my Limited Too $8/hour sales associate job everyday, duuuuh.  I'll be fine, I thought.

Fast forward a bit, I was in debt for $7000, paid it off.  Then got back into it again for $10,000.  And that was just on one card.  I never had any other cards to deal with.  I wasn't fine, I wasn't responsible enough...therefore, I didn't deserve to have another credit card.  If that was my situation for just having ONE card, I was afraid of what might happen if I had SEVERAL of them.

And that's why I was so hesitant about doing balance transfers in the first place despite it being one of the most common steps people take to get out of debt. 

With a balance transfer, you're basically paying off Credit Card A with Credit Card B.  If you're truly serious about paying down your debt, it's a great way to do it.  If you're going to do any new spending on it, then, well, kinda defeats the whole point of getting it in the first place, no?  So CUT those new cards as soon as you get them in the mail.

If you're going to go for it, then here's what I did.

DON'T PAY A BALANCE TRANSFER FEE

Most cards will transfer balances for the cost of 3-5% of the balance or $5--whichever is greater, they say.  (I laugh aloud every time I see that by the way).  But there are only two offers that I know of that don't charge any kind of balance transfer fee which I've personally used myself:

1.  CHASE SLATE:  0% APR for the first 15 months and no balance transfer fee for the first 60 days.  So you can potentially, transfer balances several times in the first 60 days without paying for a fee.  

2.  CAPITAL ONE PLATINUM:  0% APR until January 2015 (8 months) and no balance transfer fee but it's 22.9% APR after that time period and there's a $39 annual fee on this card.  

When I had the Capital One Platinum, I didn't have an annual fee, so this might be new.  But I would try to waive it actually, doesn't hurt to ask.

WHAT IF I DON'T GET APPROVED?

I have a funny story about this which has made me realize that when a credit card says "NO", it really means, "NO FOR NOW".  I got approved for the Chase Slate immediately but only for about $3000.  I googled other offers and found Capital One and called in right away. 

Me:  Hi there!  I found your balance transfer offer online for 8 months with 0% APR and no balance transfer fee and would like to apply for it.

Capital One:  Great!  I would be more than happy to help you with that.  Let me get some information from you.

She grabs what she needs from me and a couple minutes later...

Capital One:  Unfortunately, you were not approved for this offer.  But I can offer you insert terrible balance transfer offer.

Me:  Oh.  I see.  Well, actually, I was interested in the first one because was there no balance transfer fees, do you have anything else similar to that?

Capital One:  No, we don't.  

Me:  Okay then, thanks for your help!

I was bummed out but guess what.  A few days later, I get in the mail that I was pre-approved for the SAME offer I had inquired about and was supposedly not approved for.  I did this with Discover (except theirs wasn't a no balance transfer fee deal) and same thing.  As an experiment, I recently inquired with Citi Cards about a balance transfer offer that they used to offer but no longer do.  On the phone they told me that the promotion is over, but in the mail, somehow the promotion was back on again for me.  Oh happy days.

NEGOTIATE

If you can't get approved for a "no balance transfer fee" offer, then negotiate the balance transfer fees.  ALWAYS ASK!  Just like how I ask for discounts wherever I shop, I always ask if I can lower or waive fees altogether.  I don't do it in an entitled manner, but more like a curious, inquisitive sort of way.

It's slightly more uneasy than say, reducing your interest rate (see previous blog entry), but it's not not possible.

Most cards will transfer balances for the cost of 3-5% of the balance or $5--whichever is greater, they say.  (I laugh aloud every time I see that by the way because are people really transferring over $167?)

Ask if you can get a cap on your fee.  Know that there are places that have caps on their fees but the majority I have seen nowadays don't.  For example, if there's a cap, they'll charge you 3% of your balance but only up to $75.  So technically, your total balance transfer fee can potentially be less than 3%.

If I were to do this, I'd ask the rep: 


"I'm planning on doing a balance transfer and was hoping to get a reduced balance transfer fee.  The thing is, I want to pay down my balance from my other card.  But at the same time, I want to take advantage of the 0% APR promo rate because I need to make a large purchase very soon and will do it on the same card as well."

First of all, let's get something straight here friends:  you are NOT making a large purchase on this card.  You are simply giving off the idea that you are not just there to sign up for a card to do balance transfers.  You are giving them an incentive to lower your balance transfer fee because new spending will offset it.

They are more likely to take a chance on you knowing that you have been paying interest before on another card and that you're just as likely to do it here too with the new spending.

If they say no, ask them:

"I understand.  Could you look into setting a maximum cap for the balance transfer fee then?  It looks like I would be paying $90 if I were to transfer $3000 and American Express offered to cap it at $75 but they have higher annual fee"

If they say they can't, ask to speak to a supervisor and repeat the dialogue.  It's all about persistence.  If they simply cannot budge, I'd say hang up, wait a week to see if you receive anything in the mail, and if you don't--call again.  If the same situation happens, then just go for the lowest balance transfer fee with no annual fee on the card.

By breaking up my debt with more manageable rates, I was able to pay down the amount faster and so will you.  Be confident and good luck!


Monday, May 5, 2014

MONEY MONDAY: Get to know your credit score NOW and how to raise it INSTANTLY.

I signed up for Credit Karma after Dennis had found out about it from his friend.
And then shortly after that, Credit Sesame.

With these sites, you can constantly check your credit score for free and I became addicted.  I had a girlfriend who never knew what her score was but she only had one credit card that she was on top of. I urged her to sign up for it ASAP and both her and I were shocked to when we saw her account.

First of all, she had a higher score than mine (and I thought I had it pretty good already) but secondly, she actually had TWO CREDIT CARDS in her name.

One was, of course, the one that she had but according to Credit Karma, she has had the second credit card for 15 years!!! That means, she got it when she was 8 years old!  How's that possible?  Well, I told her that sometimes parents will open cards in their kids' names to build their credit up and not tell them about it and this might be one of those situations.  She went home and asked her parents and guess what, it was exactly that situation.

Lucky for her, I've heard horror stories.  You know, the ones where kids don't realize until they're adults that their parents opened a credit card in their name and then defaulted in their name as well. This woman was already a homeowner at 25 years old, but on paper, she has been a deliquent since she was in the 5th grade! 

Her mummy dearest bought the house in her name.  Identity theft is already bad, but when it's your own parents that commit the crime?  That's the worst kind of identity theft there is!

Which brings me to my next point, you should always know your credit score and why it is the way it is.

I never really knew what my FICO score was or what it even stood for.
(FYI it's Fair Isaac Corporation.  The firm that invented the formula.  Just saved you a Google search)

I didn't think it mattered because it's not like I was planning on buying a house in college.  But it's pretty much your report card for life.  Let's be real here, it's not the best report card out there. 

I know people who have never had an any debt, don't have any credit cards, pay cash in everything and have a terrible credit score.  It's flawed on that count in true responsibility, but it's how people and institutions will determine how responsible of a person you are based on what they can actually keep track of.  It's how landlords will trust that you'll be paying rent on time or how you'll figure how much you'll really be paying for your car in the end.

These days I use my credit score as a persuasion tactic and to sign up for credit cards for bonus airline miles.  After all, you want a good, healthy credit score to get the best rates in town for whatever it is that you need.  If you have a poor credit score, you become even poorer!

Let's use a 30 year fixed mortgage in California for $200,000 as an example from myFico.com's Loan Savings Calculator.



A poor credit score will cost you an extra $69,784 from the best credit score's rate!  That's 4 years of only one of your kids' college tuition!  That's an extra year and a half of working full-time!  That's 69,784 reasons to keep up a good score.  

And what's considered a good FICO score?  I've taken this range from here.

 

But I do feel that mint has the best elaboration on the score range.  
I just wished they made a better graphic out of if.


A lot of people have these misconceptions of what lowers their credit scores and so below is a chart that sums it up quickly and then my elaboration on it.


35% of it is based on how many on-time payments you make.  You make one late payment and this will ding you.  SO DON'T BE LATE!  It's that easy.  Automate your payments.  Even if it has to be the minimum.  I used a simulator of what would happen to mine if I had a 30 day late payment and it knocked it down by 56 points!  I did it by 60 days, it was still 56, but with a 90 day late payment, it jumped down by another 47 points to a total of 103.  OUCH.  (By the way, these are my numbers, yours may be different based on your score)

30% is your debt-to-credit ratio.  In other words, the total amount of your debt (from credit cards and other loans) compared your total credit limit.

15% is the length of credit history.  They actually use the average of all of your credit cards' ages.  The oldest one I have is now 9 years, there's no way I'll ever close it only because of that.  However, because it's only worth 15% of my score, if I was to close it, it would only lower my score by 5 points.  Not that big of a deal for me.  If you're going to close any other card, close your newest accounts first because if anything, they'll help your average.

10% are based on the number of hard credit inquiries you've had.  Every time you apply for a credit card or loan, or even for housing situations, you'll have an inquiry show on your credit report.  Too many of these and it sends a red flag to lenders that you're credit happy and cash sad. 

If you're looking for a house, your real estate agent may have even told you to not apply for anything to avoid hard credit inquiries because it'll affect your credit score which will in turn affect how much you can afford a house.  True, during that sensitive process.

But of course, this has a really low impact on your score.   I've had 3 inquiries this past year and it's only dinged 2 points each time.  The fact that I've made consistent on-time payments (which remember, accounts for 35% of my score), it offsets my inquiries.

And thanks to Suze Orman for this bit:  Let's say you're shopping around with 5 different mortgage lenders and each one of them is going to ask to check your credit. It doesn't mean you're going to have 5 different inquiries on your report.  If you do it within a 2 week span, it'll show up as ONE INQUIRY.

10% is based on the mix of credit cards and loans that you have.  The more diverse, the better.  As in, student loans, credit card loans, mortgage, auto loans, etc.  I know, you would think it's a bit counterintuitive.  However, in the lenders' eyes, they see it as how you've obviously been soooo fiscally well-behaved, that you have been approved before for other fun things.

On a somewhat irrelevant but analogous note, this reminds me of how as a model, clients and agencies love to see a portfolio full of tearsheets (published work that you tear out of magazines, hence "tearsheet") rather than a portfolio full of pretty photos.  Because what that means is that you've been hired before, and they'd rather go with someone who's experienced and has been seen as desirable.  Even if you didn't get paid for certain tearsheets, lol.

FIND OUT YOUR CREDIT SCORE FOR FREE

1.  Sign up for Credit Karma:  http://www.creditkarma.com 

This checks on your TransUnion score and updates it weekly.  Its shows you a report card of how you're doing in all the categories above and my favorite feature on the site is the simulator.  You can see how your credit score is affected by selecting different scenarios, whether it's closing your oldest credit card, adding a new loan, being on time with your payments, not being on time with your payments and so forth.

2.  Sign up for Credit Sesame:  http://www.creditsesame.com

This checks on your Experian score and updates it monthly.

There are 3 different credit bureaus:  Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  Some places will check one, some will check two of them, and others will check all of them.  Knowing 2 out of 3 scores will give you a general idea of where you are.  There's a 22 point difference between both of mine.

These sites are secure and checking on them will not incur any hard inquiries on your report.  They're merely soft checks and a close reflection of what your FICO score is.  And use these as reference guides.  For example, if I was to buy a new car and had to take out a loan, I'll negotiate based on those scores.  But if I was gearing up to buy a home, I would buy my actual FICO score (a compilation based on the information from all 3 credit bureaus) so I would be armed with the actual number for better negotiation.

AND, they're truly FREE.  Can't beat that.

HOW TO RAISE YOUR SCORE INSTANTLY

MANIPULATE YOUR DEBT-TO-CREDIT RATIO:  This formula accounts for 30% of your score.  Pretty meaty.  This is the one thing you can control right away because it's simply a numbers game.  If for example, on a card you have a $7000 credit limit but you owe $5000 on it, you're using 71% of your credit limit.

You want to ideally be using less than 30% across all of your credit cards.

So call in your credit card(s) and ask them to see what's the max you raise your credit limit to.  This DOES NOT give you permission to spend more, otherwise, it's defeated the whole point.  The whole point is to make it mathematically advantageous for you.

So if you raise it to $10,000 with the same debt of $5000 on it, now you have a 50% debt-to-credit ration.  The lower the ratio, the better.  Pay it down more now and help it out.  And I've been there.  So I'm going to throw in a screenshot of an old e-mail and attachment I sent to my boyfriend about my debt-to-credit ratio at the time.




Also, if you do a balance transfer, you're also manipulating your debt-to-credit ratio by default because you've given yourself more credit limit to work with.  But go with a balance transfer that has 0% APR and no balance transfer fee such as Chase Slate so you don't have to pay any interest or any fees to do this.

OTHER TIPS FOR A HIGHER SCORE OVER TIME

PAY ON TIME:  If you're late on a cell phone bill, your credit card will still know about it.  If you're late on Credit Card A, Credit Card B will raise their interest on you even though they're separate entities.  That's just how it is. 

To avoid this, automate all your payments a week before it's due.  All of my bills are automated.  I still look over them to see if there are mistakes, but I'd rather call in about the mistake and have them refund me money than to be late and owe them the money and some change.  The more consistent, back to back, on-time payments you have, the higher your score will be because this accounts for 35% of your score.

DON'T CLOSE YOUR OLDEST CREDIT CARDS:  The older the card, the better.  Keep it.  Once you close it, you wipe away all that history.  Sure, it might have not been a pretty history for you but you might as well make the most of it because over time it's what's going to help you.  My 9 years with CitiCard hasn't always been the best, but now it is and lenders can see that.  If I close it now, lenders can't anymore.

However, when I started doing balance transfers, I had all these new cards that hurt my score a bit.  But because I was paying off my card on-time, it offset that by a lot.  And then when I was done with those cards, I noticed that when I closed my newest card (it was only 9 months old), it actually HELPED my credit score because now the average age of my credit history was higher.  I thought that was interesting.

So now when someone asks you what your credit score is, you'll know exactly where you stand.
When I became aware of my credit score, I felt more sure of myself and confidence is just one of those things that helped me thatmuchmore in chipping away at my debt.

Thanks for reading and check again every Finance Friday and Money Monday. 
I'll be honest though, I'm about ready to throw in a random fun entry in between.  Till then!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

FINANCE FRIDAY (aka Sorry Saturday): I've lowered my interest from 21% to 9.24%. And in 13 minutes, from 9.24% to 7.99% The script you should be using.

A very belated Friday entry.
If this was a credit card payment, my interest would've went up to 29.99%.  Ha.

At a former job, I once had a co-worker who mentioned that he was burdened by his credit card debt but in the calmest manner.  The kind that's like, well, I know I have debt, but what's the big deal when everyone has debt.  IMPO, I think that's an even more dangerous school of thought than ignoring your debt altogether.

Because in this situation, he acknowledged the debt but didn't feel the urgency to do anything about it.  I figured that maybe the only reason he didn't feel the need to was because he must've had a super duper lower interest rate.  When I asked, "If you don't mind me asking, do you know what your interest rate is?"

He replied, "I'm not really sure, I think 18%.  Not too bad huh."

NOT TOO BAD?!?  I was freaking out in my head FOR HIM. 

Suuuuure, it wasn't too bad when you compared to the highest I had ever paid for interest (which was 21%).  However, by the time this conversation took place, my interest had been lowered to 9.24%.

I was excited that I could share with him how he could lower his interest rate, but he didn't seem to care.  I couldn't tell if it's because he thought 18% was an average interest rate one could have, or if it  really was indifference, or maybe just hubris at play.  Either way, it's hard to help someone if they want to help themselves first.

Do you know what you would be paying in interest over time and how long it would take?!
Use this nifty credit card calculator for an idea.  However, if you've signed up for Mint.com like I had talked about in my last entry, their calculator works with your numbers and you can make it a goal for it to track your progress.

If I had my $10,000 debt at 21%, this is how much I would be paying:


It would have taken me 10 years and I would've ended up paying more in interest than what I would have actually owed!  No wonder my $200 payment a month barely made a dent.  Then I was able to lower it to 15%, which made a difference:


I saved myself 3 years of time down to 7 years and the interest is now a little over half of what I owe.
(Just so you guys know, over time, I went down from 21% to 15% to 12% to 10% to 9.24%)

So how did I go from 21% in interest to 9.24%? 

Easy.  I just asked the credit card to lower it.

If you pay regularly, and it's been at least a year since your last late payments, it's really that simple.  You know that saying, "You never know unless you asked?"  I almost think it was invented for these situations!

At first, I used scripts to talk to credit card reps.  There's plenty out there.  The first time I came across one was from Oprah's Debt Diet

I've modified mine over time and have used improv skills to get super creative, so I'll post my dialogue here too.  In no time, you'll see how fun it is to see how low you can get away with it.  I do love a good game, especially one I can win at.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

1.  Awesome credit card offers:  Either get these from your junk mail or look up a few online.  These should either say something along the lines of 0% APR for the first 13 months.  Have it in front of your face.  Or you can make it up.  Let's be real here, EVERYONE has these offers.

2.  Confidence/improv skills:  Think...THEATRE.  You can make up whatever scenario you need to get what you need.

3.  Your sweetness: The person on the other side is just like you.  He/she probably has credit card debt and is working to pay off that debt.  They have a family and maybe a few kids.  Little ones.  With super cute puppy eyes.  And maybe their mom is living with them because she recently got into an accident.  Be nice to them.  People are more likely to help you if you sound relatable, down to earth and you mean well in life.

4.  Your current APR:  You've got to know the exact number that you're trying to lower here.

5.  15 minutes of your time:  I swear, it doesn't take long.  For the purpose of this entry I actually called CitiCards to see if I could lower my already really low interest rate.  Below is a screenshot of how long the conversation took--13 minutes with 2 reps.

If this was past Isabelle, I just saved myself $629 in interest paid for every minute I was on the phone with them!  (I breakdown everything in my life like this now by the way, lol)


THE CONCEPT: 

What you're going to do is call up your credit cards and tell them that you've had other credit card offers (be specific) and you were thinking of transferring over your balance to them.  But before you want to do that, you wanted to see if you could lower your interest over here first.  They'll look over your account and if they say no, you ask for the supervisor and repeat the conversation.

THE SCRIPT & 2 GATES OF THE CUSTOMER REPS: 

I've done my share of cold calls on the phone and when I first start out, I would write out what I would say beforehand and then use it as a reading reference.  Notice how I say "reference".  Try your best not to read it word by word off your script only because you want to sound natural and not like you're reading off of a prompter here.  Feel free to use my basic script.

To me, there are two gates within the credit card customer service realm.  The first is within their outsourced call center, usually the Philippines.  I've come to realize that they're really not authorized to lower your interest.  I've never ever gotten my interest lowered with my first rep.  Sure, they'll say they've spoken to "their supervisor", but they too are also in the same call center and don't have that power.

The supervisor you'll want to speak to afterwards is someone they'll transfer you to in the States--your second gate.  I usually always get South Dakota or Kentucky.  And this is where I always have my interest lowered.  I have a feeling that this person usually doesn't have any higher of a status of the previous rep, but because they're on the home turf, they have more authorization.

BASIC SCRIPT: 

So again, feel free to use the following.

Credit Card:  Hi there!  How are you doing today?

You:  I'm great!  How are you doing? (I always ask about the other person even if I know the answer)

Credit Card:  I'm great!  Thanks for asking!  What can I do for you?

You:  I actually recently received an offer from the Chase Slate card that offers 0% APR for 15 months and no balance transfer fee.  I was thinking about transferring over my balance over there.  But before I do that, I wanted to see if I could lower my interest over here first. 

***BONUS:  If you've had this credit card more than 2 years or have been paying it on time for at least a year, say this:  "I've been with your guys' credit card the longest actually" "If you look at my account, you can see that I've been making regularly on time payments"

Even if it really isn't the card you've been with the longest, say that they are anyways.  The reason why you would bring this up is because it shows loyalty and gives them more reason to trust that you'll stay with them and continue to pay.  And like any business, they like that.  They'll be more likely to lower your interest.

Credit Card:  Unfortunately, it looks like I can't lower it anymore.  I'm not authorized to do so.

You:  I see.  The thing is, we both know that after today you guys will send me another offer for a lower rate.  Could you look into it again or ask a supervisor?  (Repeat the BONUS statement sweetly to kindly remind them of your loyalty)

Credit Card:  I've asked and it looks like we can't do anything about it, insert their explanation here.

You:  No worries, I'd like to speak to a supervisor please.

They'll transfer you to the second gate, and you repeat the above conversation.

IF THEY REALLY CAN'T LOWER IT.

It's rare, but maybe a recent late payment or low credit score may be a factor.  If they really really can't lower it, then two things you can do:

1.   Call again in a month.  They might even say they review accounts every 6 months and may lower it then, but no-- take this into your own hands and call every month.  I did this and I went from 21% to 15%.  15% to 12%.  12% to 10%.  10% to 9.24% where it's been pretty stable. And I still do this pretty often even with no balances on my credit card.

2.  Time to transfer some or all of your balance.  And depending on your numbers you should do this anyways even if you do get approved for a lower interest.  When I say numbers, I mean:

Interest paid in (# of months) of the 0% APR offer from the other competitive credit card offer
>
Balance transfer fee paid to transfer from Credit Card A to Credit Card B

Right now, the best balance transfer offer is Chase Slate's 0% APR for 15 months and no balance transfer fee whatsoever for the first 60 days.  Typically the fees are 3% of the balance, so to not pay a fee and no pay any interest on it for 15 months is AMAZING and RARE.  By the way, I'm totally not getting a kickback for advertising that. (I wish!) I'm only mentioning it because I've personally used this card myself to help me get out of credit card debt.

MODIFIED SCRIPT:

Below is a conversation that took place yesterday.  Don't use this if you're trying to lower your rate on your current balance.  The sole purpose of this dialogue is to show you guys that you can easily negotiate your rate with credit cards for whatever reason or situation you want.  Get them to work for you.

Nowadays, I'm pretty confident with my credit card negotiation skills and with no balance, I omit things in the above script.  Some people are satisfied with their already low interest rate and assume that it can't get any lower.  Oh yes it can people.

You'll see that I'm more vague because it gets them to ask me questions.  When that happens, it means you're the one who's in control of the conversation.  And that's where it gets fun, you get to play house.

GATE 1:  Hi there!  How are you doing today?

Me:  I'm great!  How are you doing? 

GATE 1:  I'm great!  Thanks for asking!  What can I do for you?

Me:  I wanted to call to see if I could lower my interest rate.

GATE 1:  Sure.  I could look into that.

Me:  Thanks! (I hear typing on her end)

GATE 1:  Ma'am.  You're aware that your prime rate is 3.25% and that the bank's margin is 5.99% giving you the variable rate of 9.24%, yes?

Me:  Yes.

GATE 1:  Okay, let me see what I can do.  (more typing, silence, more typing)  Ma'am, I have exhausted my resources and unfortunately that's the lowest it can go.  You have no balance on this card, is there a reason why you would want to lower it?

She realizes that I'm not here to do a balance transfer.  The lower your current balance is, the more curious the other party will be about as to why you'd want to lower your interest rate.

Me:  The thing is, I'm getting ready to make a big purchase and I'm calling all of my credit cards to see what the lowest rate is.

By saying this, I will pique her interest that there will be money to be spent on the card regardless.  Which equals, money to be made for the company.  But at the time same time, she knows that I will spend it with the card that has the right rate.

GATE 1:  Oh, what kind of big purchase are you trying to make?

Me:  I need to buy new furniture.  And so far Bank of America has given me 8 and something percent but I wanted to see if I could get anything lower than that even.

I say furniture because 1) it's a big purchase 2) it may mean that I'm a new homeowner and I say BOA with 8% because it's a realistic lower rate from my current rate at this point. 


GATE 1:  I see.  Well, what I can do is this, we have a promo offer right now where I can send you a check and you can use it to pay whatever you like with it for only at 1.99% APR for 8 months.

Me:  Yeah, no, it's okay.  I don't want to get involved with that.  That's okay, thanks for your help.

Just as you would haggle at a flea market, pretend to "walk away"


GATE 1:  Actually, let me transfer you to my supervisor, maybe he can help you.

Me:  Great, thanks!

GATE 2:  Hi there Isabelle!  This is Andrew from the call center in South Dakota.  How are you doing today?

Me:  I'm great Andrew!  How about yourself?

GATE 2:  I'm great, thanks so asking.  So I heard from my rep that you were planning on making a big purchase and you wanted to lower your rate.

Me:  Yes.  And I called around my other cards and Bank of America gave me a lower rate.

GATE 2:  If you don't mind me asking, what was the rate?

Me:  I can't remember it decimal wise, but it was 8 something percent.

GATE 2:  Okay.  I see.  Well, what I can do is this.  I can't do anything about your current balance because it's already at 0.  But I can offer you a promo rate of 7.99% on any new purchases for the next 6 months.

Me:  That's perfect.  Sounds good to me.  Thanks so much!

Voila.  I went from 9.24% to 7.99% in 13 minutes.  And why would they do that?  In this situation, it's because they'd rather have me pay a large balance at 7.99% over time than a $0 balance at 9.24%. 

In your situation (and Past Isabelle's situation), they would lower the rate because they'd rather have you pay the debt at any interest rate than to lose you as a customer altogether to another credit card.

If I had other cards with balances on them, I would actually go to them and use this new rate of 7.99% as ammo to see if I could negotiate even something lower than that.  You should already be doing this in life anyways.  Whether it's car washes or an electronics store, see if people can match their competitor's pricing.  You'll be pleasantly surprised that they will.

And there you have it.  Try it and see what you get.  And call again in a month. Break a leg!

Come back on Money Monday for another personal finance entry!

Monday, April 28, 2014

MINT.COM MONEY MONDAY: What if someone took $25 from your pocket each month and you didn't even know it?

If you got a chance to read my entry "Finance Friday:  My $10,000 debt story", you'll know how terrified I was to open my mail and to just simply look closer at the numbers of what I owed.


WORST. THING. YOU. COULD. DO.
In this entry, I'm going to give you two kinds of scenarios that I've personally dealt with:

1.  Getting charged a fee for something that I forgot that I was enrolled in (my fault)
2.  Having magical "accidental" charges that appeared from  out of nowhere on my credit card (not my fault)

There are so many fees that you could miss that shouldn't have happened in the first place.  And right there my little hamsters, is how you'll save more money without compromising your much needed daily morning coffee from the overrated Starbucks.  (By the way, the Vietnamese in me says go get a Vietnamese iced coffee for half the price and double the energy)

GO THROUGH YOUR CREDIT CARD BILL & BANK STATEMENTS LINE BY LINE

When Suze Orman instructed me to do this in her book, I racked up my courage to do it.

And she was right.  I had a big fat $40 charge on my credit card.

It was for for what was called credit card protection, or something to effect.  The previous month it was slightly less than that, maybe around $30-something.  And the month before THAT a little something less.  I scoured through my past statements and found that this charge had been growing monthly.

(Keep in mind, I've never had a late payment as much as I was in debt.  That was probably the most responsible thing Past Isabelle kept up with, but if it weren't for automated payments, this last sentence would cease to exist.)

I was confused.  I didn't understand what these charges were exactly for and why I had them so I called up Citi Cards to inquire about them.  Apparently, I had enrolled myself in this credit cart protection and the reason why I was getting charged more and more was because it was based on how much my debt was.  And my debt was growing because I kept spending, spending, spending.

But wait a minute.  I don't remember enrolling in something like this?!

And then it clicked.  I did enroll in something like that.  But it was such a distant memory.

You know how when you're shopping at let's say, Von's or your local grocery store, and you're at the conveyor belt with your items because you're finaaaally done with the shopping list.  The cashier is ringing you up and when they're finished ringing up your pack of Lunchables, they ask if you would like to donate to a children's charity or to buy a reusable bag for future supermarket trips.

That's an upsell.  They're trying to get you to add-on to your purchase.

I don't know about you guys, but I have plenty of reusable grocery bags.  Problem is, I bring my groceries in and I leave the bags at home and never back to the car and thus, I never have them when I need them at the supermarket.  Lame.

Well, that is the perfect analogy for my Citi card situation.

I was on the phone with Citi Cards in regards to a different issue and after the rep had resolved it, she asked if I wanted to enroll in the credit card protection which was at no charge to me for the first something months.

Me:  Nooo...it's okay, I don't think I'll need it, thanks anyways."

Citi Cards Lady:  "But Miss, something something something about PROTECTION blah blah blah ID THEFT something something something FRAUD something something something FREE CREDIT SCORE."

Me:  "Yeeeeah...I don't really want to commit to anything though."

Very-Persistent-Citi-Cards-Lady:  "Something something something you can cancel at anytime for no charge something something TO JUST BENEFIT YOU something something something JUST TO TRY OUT TO SEE IF YOU LIKE IT."

Me-With-White-Flag:  "Okay, okay, fine.  Sign me up.  But I'll probably cancel it right after!"

Will-Probably-Get-Promoted-Next Week-Citi-Cards-Lady:"Thanks fine, Miss!"


But I never did.  We all have our human flaws and mine is my poor ailing memory.  I totally forgot to cancel it and so I was charged monthly without ever even realizing it.  It was such a nonchalant and casual moment that I never made the mental note to myself.  Yes.  Shame on me.

When I did try to cancel it, they put on another spiel to convince me to NOT cancel.  After what seemed like an hour (but was probably only really 5 minutes), they pretty much BRIBED me to stay.

With $50 worth of pre-paid gift cards. 

I figured, HEY, why the hell not and recouped some of what I had paid.  I got my $50 pre-paid gift cards in the mail, waited a week and then FINALLY cancelled.


HOW MANY FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS DO YOU HAVE?
And how many usernames and passwords have you made up to log in to check on every one of these?
  • Checking
  • Savings
  • Credit cards
  • Student Loans
  • Investments
  • 401k/IRAs/Retirement
  • Auto Loans
  • Personal Loans
  • Mortgage
I even put my PayPal account on there.  All of these would be hard to keep track, no?

HERE'S THE FIRST STEP TO KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR DEBT:  JOIN MINT.COM

This is like having your very own personal assistant/bookkeeper, I promise!  You enter in all of your accounts' information in there and now you only have to log into ONE place to see ALL of your accounts. 


 
It's FREE.  EASY.  Your information is SAFE & SECURE.  And it's CONVENIENT

I have been actively using this since 2012 and this is where I turned my fear around.  I was no longer scared to look at my finances, in fact-- it was the opposite.  I became addicted to looking at my finances and seeing how it improved.

Mint.com does the legwork for you.  I was able to see how long it would take for me to pay off my credit cards, or how it would be affected if my interest rate and monthly payments went up or down.

I made budgets for myself.  If I allotted $100 for clothes shopping per month and I overspent it by $30, then next month it says I only have $70 in my budget.

And here's where I started to really appreciate Mint.  They would give me alerts BEFORE the financial institutions I had accounts with would give me alerts.

Here's what I mean.  I had an online personal savings account with American Express for a year that had an APY of 0.90%.  Mint sends me this e-mail:


I never received any notice from American Express.  But recently last month (about a year later from that other e-mail), Mint sends me this:


Again, I never received notice from American Express.  But it doesn't matter because of this:


"Rates are subject to change at any time without notice..."  Yup.  They stayed true to their word.


I would've noticed eventually looking at my statements but how nice is it that Mint alerts me immediately? 

Here's another scenario.  My Bank of America credit card is paid off and I have a $0.00 balance on it.  Mint e-mails me this:


Wait.  Why was I charged $1.50 in interest when I have a $0.00 balance?  I called BOA and they apologized for their mistake and quickly took it back.


Imagine if this was Past Isabelle.  (Well, Past Isabelle wouldn't have had $0.00 on her credit card but for example's sake here)  She would have not looked at her statement and realize that $1.50 was taken out of her account to pay for a non-existent interest charge.

Next scenario.  Something to keep in mind is that I'm enrolled in automatic payments.  I noticed that Bank of America had withdrawn $25 from my checking account, despite having had a $0.00 balance.

Again, if it weren't for Mint, I wouldn't have called Bank of America to return my $25 back into my checking account.  And then about 2 weeks later, the same thing happened!  They took out $25 from my checking account again!  So I called and got my refund.


I asked them why this happened and the rep that helped me seemed confused himself and mumbled about how being enrolled in e-bill is different from setting up automatic payments and that I would have to cancel for it to not happen it again.

I thought that was strange because I thought that automatic payments or not, if you have $0.00 balance on your credit card, nothing should taken from your checking account to "pay" in the first place.  None of my other cards did that and I still have them automated to pay the full balance at the end of each month now too.

Plus, why would it happen in span of 2 weeks?!

This is the thing, there will be mistakes and accidents can happen.  And we, ourselves, need to be on top of things to catch them.  This could have happened to ANYONE.

And if you're too scared to look at your finances, then you would've been out of $51.50 within 13 days.  That's a tank of gas right there!  Well.  75% of it at least, lol.

Now it's your turn to stay on top of it!

1.  Sign up for http://www.mint.com and start inputting your accounts.
2.  Download the app onto your phone (I check my Mint on my phone more than my laptop actually)
3. Watch this video for a QUICK over explanation of how it works and how to use it:




4.  Set goals, budgets, monitor your spending as you go, see how your net worth changes!  Start making it a habit!  You'll find yourself addicted in no time.

Also, if you're wondering how Mint makes money, they offer ways to save money or suggests credit cards and accounts to sign up for and gets kickbacks basically from these services.  You are not obligated whatsoever to sign up for these.  But if you are interested in signing up, definitely do as much research as you can outside of Mint before doing so.

Feel free to post comments on the blog and ask any questions you might have! And finally, thank you for the kind words, support, and love and sharing what I've posted so far.  It means a lot to me!

For more of my personal financial stories and strategies I've used, come back to my blog every Money Mondays and Financial Fridays!


Friday, April 25, 2014

FINANCE FRIDAY: You might be richer than you think. I found $ 200 for a co-worker, $ 400 for my best friend and $ 500 for an old boss.

Around 2006 or so, I was hired as a waitress at RA Sushi in Corona right before their grand opening.  Training was for a week and consisted of (I kid you not) consuming healthy amounts of sushi, sashimi, entrees and sakes from their menu.

 (Wait, getting paid to EAT???  SUSHI?!?  Ummmmm, hellloooo, how could a poor college student say no?)

But after a week I realized that the commute was too far and decided to quit.
Prices of Gas > Sushi Consumption

And for some reason, whether it was the embarrassment of not going through with the job and so I didn't follow up; or my assumption that I had to forfeit the pay because I didn't commit to the job-- it simply slipped my mind that, well, I never got paid.

Trust me, I know what you're thinking-- dumb, right?
I agree.  You couldn't exactly label me as "fiscally responsible" at the time.
And I stayed like that for awhile.

--> In 2012, my boyfriend Dennis who is fiscally wiser than me, tells me that I had about $43 in my name on the State Controller's Unclaimed Property website.

Turns out, it was the pay from my short stint with RA Sushi!

And although it really was my money to begin with, I was excited because that's $43 I didn't have before.

(I once found a $50 bill in a purse I had stopped using and that was like, winning the lottery until I realized how the hell I could've missed $50 in the first place, sighs)

I printed out the paperwork, sent it in, and got a check for $43 about four weeks later.  I got sooooo excited that I decided to look up my co-workers, friends and family.  For one of my co-workers, I found about $200 from stock dividends.  For my best friend Brittany who lives in Houston, Texas, I found about $400 from the Texas State Controller website.  Both were over the moon and that made me genuinely happy that I could be a part of that.

The biggest score though had to be my old boss.  I found $500 from old rental properties.  I was so excited that I told them the next day.  With a smoker's raspy voice, they urged me to show them quickly what I meant.  They ignored me and I tried to pipe up with a joke about how I should get a little spiff (finder's fee) for find it.

And to that they responded,
"I ain't giving you shit."

Well then! 

I think I may have left with an awkward chuckle but I was more frustrated that they weren't as appreciative as other people.  I'd like to think that they were joking but they never even said "thank you".  It slightly made me wish that I hadn't shown them that too.

That's one of biggest pet peeves by the way, when people don't acknowledge your efforts.  Listen, I'm not looking for a ceremony here, but thank you's are common courtesy and I would have been just satisfied with that.  To this day, I can't forget how they never said thank you.  But whatever, there's a reason why the universe does these things.

Most recently in March, I spent a weekend at my dad's in San Jose and he handed me a letter from the State Controller's office.  He received it in early January.  AAA had my premium refund of $63.61.  It's been awhile since I've lived in San Jose and it never showed up on the website for me to claim so I was surprised to even something like that.

Luckily it was still with AAA and not the State (not that that's a big deal, it just takes a little longer to take your check). I wrote in to send the check to my new address with a smiley face and faxed it in.



And here's the check!  Yay!  I got it in 2 weeks!


So what's unclaimed property?  All you really need to know is this:  it's your money that you need to claim.  Sometimes it's an overpayment to a business, or refunds, royalties, or if you're lucky-- inheritances.  It could be a number of reasons, really.  And then people move all the time so businesses couldn't get in touch with you but you never realized that you needed to be in touch with.  I know, I know.  Governments.  They're not going to go out of the way to track you down to GIVE you back your money but they will however track you down if you OWE them money.  Ha.

Where does my unclaimed property go?  The business will hold onto it for a certain period of time.  After that time period, they have to turn it over to the State for safekeeping until you realize, oh hey, I've lost my money aaaaaand I kinda want it back.


Now it's YOUR TURN to see if you have any lost money you need to claim.
Who knows, maybe you have thousands from a lost inheritance.
But don't be disappointed if you don't though, it just means you're on top of things.
(My dad has $1.95 from Paypal he's not planning on claiming, lol.  I would've solely on the principal that I like to stick it to the man though, but whatever.)

1.  GO TO HTTP://WWW.UNCLAIMED.ORG and click on your state.  

Usually these will take you to the State Controller's or Treasury website.  You want to find "SEARCH UNCLAIMED PROPERTY" on their sites or keywords to that nature.  You could also go onto http://www.missingmoney.com to search all states if you've lived in multiple states over your lifetime.  However, I've tried to cross reference them with individual state records and they're not always accurate.  As in, I know that someone's missing money in California but their name didn't show up on the missingmoney.com website.  I'd say the best thing to do is to just look up records for each state.

If your name is unique enough, you'll find your record quickly.  If your last name is like, say, I don't know, Nguyen, and you're from California, be prepared to go through pages of results.  Match up your middle name, maiden names, and all the addresses you can think of that you've resided in the past.

2.  FILL OUT THE PAPERWORK & SEND IT IN:  It's short and easy.  I promise you.  It looks daunting at first but listen, it's money that you're getting back for a few minutes of filling out blanks.

3.  AND NOW WAIT:  How long you wait for your beloved check depends on where your unclaimed moola is located.  So if it's still with the business/organization that is responsible for the claim's origin, then it'll be quicker 2-4 weeks.  But if it's being transferred to the State or it's with the State, then it may be longer.  But who cares.  Clearly you waited for years for it without even knowing about it in the first place.

4.  PUT IT INTO YOUR SAVINGS OR CHIP AWAY AT YOUR DEBT:  Don't treat it like how every American treats a tax refund and spend it on new fixings for a car or as an Amazon gift card because apparently you get 10% on top of your return, FREAKIN' SAVE IT or reduce your debt with it.  It all adds up!

5.  NOW GO LOOK UP PEOPLE YOU KNOW & BE A HERO:  You know that feeling you get when you find like a dollar bill on the ground or when you even win just $10 from the lotto?  Well, you can pay it forward to someone else with those warm, fuzzy, feelings!  People can always use an extra dollar in life, right?

Plus.  It's hilarious when you find a friend's old address and start out by asking them like,"Hey, did you live on 637 Hamsters Road, Cute City, California, 78787?" and they freak out because they wonder how the hell did you know about their old address and why are you stalking them.  If you're a cute girl, you can get away with it.  If you're a guy (cute or not), I'd say resist.

And there you have it!  Hopefully some of you guys have hit the jackpot.
If you guys found something good, post it in the comments, that would totally make my day!

FINANCE FRIDAY: My $10,000 debt story.

  I’m taking this blog to a new direction.

At the beginning of 2012, I was in a little over $10,000 in credit card debt, spent everything I made, I had no savings whatsoever, all while living abroad in Vietnam where the cost of living is already low for expats, and it burdened me greatly.  Suze Orman wrote what is now my Bible “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke” and I was just that – young, fabulous and broke.




I don't even know how it came to that point.  Scratch that.  I do and I don't.  It's almost like a blur when you're in debt.  You don't want to admit to it and you don't want to look at the damn thing.  Heck, you can't keep track of anything even though you have somehow foolishly tricked yourself into believing that you can mentally keep record of it all.  And worse of all is the delusion that you'll always make more money to make the minimum payments.

You know what's sad?  Being so deathly terrified of opening your mail because of the numbers inside.
You tell yourself, "Yeah, I know the ballpark estimation of what I owe" but you just don't want to see with your two eyes the exact number to the decimal.  I had automated my payments anyways so why would I need to see the physical numbers.

I had letters upon letters.  99% of them not being anything at all actually. In fact, quite of few them were to announce that I was OWED money, not the other way around.

I had one from David's Bridal where they wanted to pay out restitution to their former employees after a settlement.  Because I didn't open it in time, maybe a good year afterwards, I missed the deadline and so I didn't get anything.

Then there was the check from AAA, a reimbursement of dividends or some sort, and it was past the 90 days you could take it to the bank.  For that I was actually able to request for another check printed and eventually got my money-- but the point is this:  I continued my vicious cycle of being fiscally irresponsible because I let my fear of debt take over. I avoided questions I should've asked.  I avoided resolutions that could've helped.

You couldn't ask me what I was paying in interest at the time, because like I said, I turned my face away from all of it.
Later on, when Future Isabelle decided to step in, she found out that she had been paying for Past Isabelle's 21% in interest.  Ridiculous.

You might be wondering, "What were you spending your money on?!"   

For me, it wasn't clothes or shoes.  If it was, I would have already ebayed them by now. Looking back, I lived quite minimally actually, but there was definitely a "Keeping Up with the Jones" mentality, or as the kids these days know it as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.  I modeled in Asia and lived there for 4 years.  People assumed that I lived this glamorous life abroad and I wanted to keep up with appearances.  Most people didn’t realize that I barely making money and just scrapping along.

Here in Southern California, your friends might say, "Hey!  Let's go to Vegas for the weekend!" because it's the closest party destination they can think of. 

In Vietnam, because you're within Norcal-Socal distance to neighboring countries, your friends might say, "Hey!  Let's go party in Hong Kong for the weekend!  Come on my business trip to Korea!  Visit me in Singapore!"
The lure of free accommodations made it that much more convincing.  And people tend to justify their instant gratification.

Oh?  All I have to do is take care of airfare?  Okay!  I can charge it.
Foreign fees?  Small price to pay for a fun trip.
Excursions?  Well, I'm not just going to sit in the hotel all day.
Food?  I want to try as many exotic and local cuisines as possible because this is authentic as it gets.
Treating your friend out as a thank you for the free accommodations? Gotta show my gratitude.

Some people have designer bag collections, I wanted to collect experiences. 
Travel and cultural experiences.

Not a bad thing to spend money on, but what's the point of having fun on a once-in-a-lifetime trip if you're going to be depressed about how broke you are afterwards.

And then of course you had the miscellaneous charges here and there.  The ones that didn’t cost much on their own but added up before you knew it.  You know what I’m talking about.  We all have them.  

For some of you, it’s that darn Starbucks coffee you just HAVE to have before you head into work.  Or the lunches you have with your co-workers on the daily because you were too lazy to make/bring your own food.  The cigarettes (that’s two demerits right there, for your health and wallet).  That bag of chips.  New manicure.  The latest issue of Vogue.  Valet parking.  Just plain parking.  One more beer.  Another drink for the lady. 

When I look back though, I think being down and out is when I was the most creative.  You have no choice but to BE creative to get by.  That should be a whole 'nother blog entry in itself.

I made the decision to move back to LA for both financial and personal reasons. 

I regretted it at first and dealt with a second culture shock of coming back to the States.  I was so used to paying $4 a week for my motorbike's gas in Saigon that it made me question if I financially made the right choice to be back and pay $3.85/gallon in LA.  Ouch.


 Me + Goldie, my Yamaha Nouvo I bought for $400 off of Craigslist

I was bitter, frustrated, antisocial...I felt dumb, ashamed and like I somehow got demoted in terms of lifestyle.  It's silly thinking back about it because those feelings stemmed from pride--no, more like, hubris.  I had to let go it.  Took me awhile but I had to realize and appreciate the fact that I was still a healthy person with working limbs and a roof over her head.

 LA is a trying place.  Everyone’s dream is to become an actor of some sort and in reality, they're mostly broke in trying to do so.  The mileage, the headshots, the classes,  the networking, the rent…how’s that for miscellaneous costs adding up.  The ones who don’t make it, I’ve seen go into production, move back home to the Midwest, end up bartending or serving more than they actually act, or resort to getting a full time job.  I ended up doing just that.  I was offered to do sales for vacation resorts but I needed my real estate license.  And so, I started in marketing with the mental note that I would only be there for a year—max—until I was finally stable. 

I started saving 20% of everything I made.  I chose that number because one, that’s what they say you should be saving and two, the average American was only really saving 10-15% of their income and I wanted to be above that.  Maybe it's my Asian American upbringing, but I've always had a need to be above average in everything I do.

In the meantime, I dated here and there and made it very clear that I didn’t want to be in a relationship. 

I had my issues and didn’t want to tangle another party into it.  What I had left of my pride wanted me to resolve it on my own once and for all.  I needed to commit to myself as a person before I could commit to another person.  That was the thought process.  And a healthy one at that too.  

Things eventually became more serious with Dennis, who I had been platonic friends with for 8 years at the time.  I don’t know why I never noticed it before, but Dennis and I were so ridiculously similar to one another.  (Cue for Beauty and the Beast’s musical number “Something There”)  Especially when it came to our personalities and values.

However, there was something I had differed from him.  He was on track in life and like every adult should typically aspire for—responsible.  Not to sound weird, but Dennis reminds me so much of my dad. Logical, practical, dependable and fiscally savvy.  He used to be in public accounting for one of the nation's top firms and is now currently a financial planner for an e-commerce company.  Being around him motivated me.  It’s not very often I feel this way around other people.  

I couldn’t bear to tell him the source of my frustration and so I didn’t.  For 7 months. 
When I finally confessed to him, part of me felt relief. 




And the other part of me felt guilty as hell.  Why? 

Because I lied about how much I was really in debt.   

I told him that I had 40% of what I really owed.
Since that fib, I made it a goal to pay off my debt by my next birthday and THEN tell him the truth of my actual number as a birthday gift to myself.   It was my only goal, all the other goals were merely steps towards it.

When I passed my real estate exam the first time taking it, I felt more proud of myself than ever.  It had been awhile since I had some sort of academic achievement and I started sales finally.  I became even more aggressive with my savings and saved 35% of what I was making.  I chose 35 because I found an infographic comparing what people from other countries were saving on average and that Chinese people saved the most out of everyone at 30%.   

And per usual, I wanted to be above that.   
(When I find that infographic, I’ll post it up on here)

 I learned to embrace being frugal and took to heart the saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned"
  • I always asked for discounts and rarely pay full price for anything.  
  • I did credit card balance transfers that had no balance transfer fee whatsoever.  
  • And then I would cut up those cards because those accounts were purely to pay down my balance.
  • I would sign up for bank accounts for the bonus offers.  
  • I eBayed everything I didn’t need or use
  • I only bought clothes in the same amount that I had just sold on eBay.  
  • I downloaded apps that earned me points, cash back and gift cards  
  • I used websites to get cash back when shopping online.  
  • I started taking advantage of credit cards for airline points.
  • I took surveys.  I recycled.  I only went out for special occasions.
Just like how all those miscellaneous charges add up, the coffee, the magazine, the parking valet adds up – SO. DO. THESE.  In fact, I kept an excel sheet that I named “FREE MONEY” that kept record of free money I received during the year.  Not how much money I had saved but FREE money I had gotten from my random things I did.   

My goal for that was $500 by the end of the year.  I accomplished that by 8/21/13 and at the end of the year, I actually made $540.81.  


Keeping Up With the Jones Kardashians

I had a girlfriend who scoffed that she didn’t bother with recycling for coins because it’s such little money and that she’d rather not be seen at those places.  I get it.  Image, right?  We usually associate recycling with the derelict.  But isn’t that better than begging. 

Usually a comment like that would have embarrassed me years ago, but rather than embarrass me, it offended me and if anything, I felt sorry for her.  She was in more credit card debt than I was, along with her student loans, and was constantly talking about struggling financially.  Her expenses exceed both mine and Dennis' combined.  I see this all the time.  Where people prioritize having a luxe life with all of its high-end accessories and fixings in lieu of practicality and a safe financial foundation for themselves.  In this day and age, it's hard not to when everyone looks to spy on your instagram and believes everything on it.

You know what though, that’s on her.  I’m not going to say no to 5 Mr. Benjamins in cash and some change while being green to Mother Nature.  That could be someone’s one month share of rent.  Or 2 months worth of gas or groceries.  A year’s worth of school textbooks.   If that means I have to head out to the recycling center a few times, then who the bleep cares.

Anyone you don’t want to see you there won’t be there to see you anyways! 

They’re too busy frontin’.

Like my dad says, he respects the guy who owns a pre-owned, older model of a BMW OUTRIGHT than the guy who has rent–worthy-car-payments on the latest, year ahead BMW.

There’s a miniscule part of me that’s a bit hesitant in posting something like this online.  But that’s the Isabelle that lied to Dennis about how much debt she really had.  The reason why I want to be honest about debt is because I’ve realized that there’s too many of us out there who’s dealing with it.  And there’s the same amount of us who’d rather pretend that they’re not.  I can hang with "faking it till you make it" but not at your own expense.

OWN IT.  
It’s funny because when I talk to people, they’ll brag about this and that and everyone starts chiming in about their own brags.  When I talk about debt with the same people and more specifically about my own debt, all of sudden it’s reeeeal talk and everyone’s trying to one up each other on their debt struggles.

And I can’t judge.  I get it.  There needs to be more forums where people feel like they can talk about it and I hope that my blog can do just that.  I used to secretly stalk and scour debt diet blogs too.  Hey, there’s a reason why they exist – it’s because someone else has been there and were able to overcome it.

Your pride-- as Elsa would sing it, “Let it go”

Wouldn’t you rather be more proud of being debt-free?

Or would you rather be proud of your constant fine dining, lavish nights out and the high number of likes on photos that show these things off while your bank account shows off zero?

You could still do the latter with being debt free. 
There's nothing wrong with living an amazing life, that is, so long as you can afford it.
Like Dave Ramsey (another favorite financial guru of mine) says:  delayed gratification.

Am I completely debt-free?  No.  I’m prettydamnclose though.  The only thing I have left are my student loans of $10,275.21.  And I’ve already decided that that’ll be next year’s birthday gift to myself. 

But I figured hey, let’s du this together. 

Here’s to us becoming debt-free and many more Finance Fridays!