Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

New Year's Eve is always bittersweet for me.  Now that I have kids, I mark each passing year with a bit of sadness at the fact they'll never be these ages again...yada, yada.

But I always look forward to what the new year holds.  Trips are already in the works for next year.  Only 359 days left till Christmas!  2012 is going to be great!

Some people don't make resolutions.  I'm a geek.  I make new ones every year. 

Last year, I made three.

1)  Eat new foods.  This was a fun one that I will be repeating.
2)  Become debt free.  Check.  January 14, 2011 we became weird.  One of the greatest days of my life.
3)  Lose one dress size.  No comment.  :)

As I go into next year, I am still making goals.  Buy fewer shoes.  ;)  (Then again, maybe not.)  Save more.  (If we could ever get our heat pump to act right for more than 6 weeks this may be possible.)  Give more.  Still lose that dress size. 

You have to have goals.  I hear Dave Ramsey say it all the time, "A goal with no deadline is just an ambition.  A goal must have a date."  And that's what's great about the new year.  Setting goals

So what is your, "By this time next year   ____________________________"

If nothing else, we can be thankful we are here to ring in the new year.  For me, everyone I hold dearest is here to celebrate with me.  That counts as success to me.

Happy New Year everyone! 

Be safe tonight!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are These Checks Separate?

This is my favorite question at a restaurant.  Sometimes, it’s easy.  Other times, it can be awkward. 

When Mr. DDA and I go out on a date, we never get asked this question.  However, if we go out to lunch while he’s in uniform, we get asked the question almost every time.  Like a cop never takes his wife out or something…

I recently heard about a couple who was planning a vacation and I heard the wife say that she had to pay her husband back for her plane ticket.  When you’re married, it’s no longer his money and her money – it’s their money.    I’m a firm believer in this.  I don’t believe married people should have separate finances.

I can’t imagine having to bicker over who has to fill up the tank with gas, who has to buy the groceries, having to buy separate movie tickets.  Marriage isn’t about being fair. Marriage is about combining your lives.

Now, sometimes I understand there are outside circumstances.  Such as trust issues or financial infidelity. But 99.99% of all functional marriages, should combine their income. 

There should be one account that both checks go into and one account that all the checks are written out of. 

While Mr. DDA and I each have our own separate “fun” money, but we have one budget.  He doesn’t pay some of the bills with his check.  We pay them all. 

On the same note, there should be one debt.  Even if you had $0 debt when you were married and your spouse was up to their eyeballs in it – it’s now shared.  Money can go so much further when combined.  And burdens can be so much lighter when shared.

You’re one.  According to God, the law, and the government – you are one entity.   

As in the words of Melanie Smooter Carmichael (aka me,) “But honey, I thought you said, it’s our money.”

Friday, December 9, 2011

They Found the Words

Just in case you haven't seen it, there is an amazing post here that express all the things I couldn't.

There Are No Words

I have this thing on my blog that tells me where my readers are from.  Not who you are, just the city & state where the readers are from.  I love it.  I know there are people in Georgia, California, Texas, even the UK & India.  I don't know how you get here, but I love that you do.

If you don't know me, I come from a small town in the mountains.  Blacksburg, Virginia.  Home of Virginia Tech.  I grew up thinking it was a quiet town.  The town revolved around football.  Nothing much exciting happened.

My dad was a deputy for the sheriff's office.  When I was a child, he was shot in the neck, but by the grace of God (and a millimeter) he survived.  It made headlines.  I remember that day.  Even as an 8 year old.  There are images and memories that I will never forget.

I remember when I was a teenager, one of my dad's co-workers was killed in the line of duty.  I can still see him coming in and tearing the shroud off his badge and saying to my mom, "I hope I never have to wear that again!"  And then I watched the man, who I believed was made of steel, cry like a baby. 

Knowing that, I still married a cop.  Despite what they say, most days we police wives don't get up and think about them not coming home.  We just wonder how late they'll be. 

Five years ago, I got my first taste of what it's like to do the "police wife wait."  You know something is going on.  And you wait for a phone call or for a text, and you pray to God your doorbell doesn't ring.  And for the first time, I saw my husband have to put on the shroud.  For the first time, I saw him weep over losing an officer he loved.

Then, on April 16, 2007, the unthinkable happened in my small town.  Virginia Tech made headlines for all the wrong reasons.  But the Hokies are strong.  While we didn't forget, we were able to move on.

Yesterday, tragedy once again struck my little quiet town.  And a policeman's life was senselessly taken far too soon.  All I could think was, "Not again.  Not here.  Not now."

There are no words to express how I feel.  You name the feeling, and I've felt it over the last 24 hours.  There are no words to express my condolences.  We can never repay his service or his family's sacrifice.  All I know is that the only thing stronger than a policeman, is the grace that God gives his family.

To learn more about this brave officer, vist the Officer Down Memorial Page.  Virginia Tech has also set up a memorial fund for the officer or you can donate here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Doesn't Happen to Me

So, I got so completely wrapped up in all the wonderful Thanksgiving festivities last week, I completely forgot to actually post on what I'm really thankful for.

A month or two ago, our preacher told a story about how even though his fairly new vehicle was out of warranty, the manufacturer stepped up and paid for his $5000 transmission.  I sat there...a little grumpy. 

That stuff doesn't happen to me.

Earlier in the year, I heard someone testify about how they never paid a single bill in college.  Just every month, someone paid their bill.  I sat there...a little grumpy.

That stuff doesn't happen to me.

Actually, that doesn't happen to most anyone I know.

When I was growing up, when my parents ran out of money, God provided a credit card application.  As a newlywed, when we needed money, my husband would get an overtime shift.

Money doesn't rain on me, or my family.  Never has.  Sure would be nice if it did.  We got where we are by hard work, sacrifice, and deprivation.

I was complaining about this fact to my sister the other day and she acknowledged it and changed the subject.  She told me about a lady she works with that never went into labor.  She was induced but it didn't do any good.  Finally, she was taken back for a c-section.  Turns out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck twice.  God's hand of protection on that baby and that family.

And that story reminded me of something that did happen to me.  Something greater than getting $5000 or getting my school bill taken care of.

Meet Hannah.

Or in our circles, Han-wah.  (My two year old can't quite pronounce her name.)

Hannah was a surprise.  A big one.  Scientifically, she shouldn't be here.  In fact, I cried for days over it.  I'm almost ashamed to say it.  I just couldn 't understand why I was having another baby - this would make 3 in three years - when there were other people desperate for babies.

I eventually got over my shock.  And the time came for little Hannah to arrive.  I had this in the bag.  I knew exactly how to prepare and what to do.  During labor, I was informed there was a prolasped cord.  This wasn't good.  Every contraction resulted in a lack of oxygen to the baby.  Even as I laid in the hospital bed, I could tell by the flurry of nurses & doctors that this was serious.  Deadly serious.  (No pun intended.)  I was scared.  I could see in Mr. DDA's face, he was scared.  (And he doesn't scare easily.)

Within minutes, and I mean minutes, I was rushed for an emergency c-section...with only an epidural.  (Yeah, not fun.)  Mr. DDA wasn't even allowed in the OR.  The anesthesioligist sat there and held my hand like we were life partners.  (When she came out, he told me she was perfect and beautiful.  I almost expected him to count her fingers & toes.)

Later, the doctor's told us that Hannah not only had a knot in her cord, but it was wrapped around her neck.  A natural birth would have likely killed our baby girl. 

I get so wrapped up sometimes in money, and finances, I forget the priceless things that God has given me.  Sometimes I need a reminder that just because I don't get anonymous checks in the mail, God provides more than I could ever ask for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Turkey Day Eve...Eve

These next few days, I'm going to write about 5 different things I'm thankful for.  Don't worry - They will get more serious the closer to Thanksgiving we get...

1.  The Virginia Law Enforcement Memorial license plate.

First & foremost, $15 of the annual fee go to a fund to support fallen officers's families - which I'm all about.  Secondly, these plates tend to be purchased by law enforcement officers & family.  And maybe, just maybe, while I don't know this for 100% fact - it may have kept me from getting pulled over once or twice.


This is my secret vice.  I know it's not Christian-ly correct to love ghost stories, but I do.  I love ghost stories, I love ghost hunts, I love ghost tours.  Love!  Love!  Love!  When I become famous, I am sooo asking to go on a hunt with these guys.  I will cry like a baby and may mess my pants, but it would be a dream! 


I can seriously inhale some turkey & gravy.  I love it so much, my mom would make it any weekend I could come home from college.  My grandma would make it for my birthday.  Now that I'm grown, I only get it on Thanksgiving.  I'll skip every side dish on the entire table for 2nd & 3rds (and maybe 4ths) on the turkey & gravy. 

4.  Amoxicillin

This is the greatest thing in the world.  Ear infection - CURED.  Strep Throat - CURED.  Black Plague - CURED.  Where would we be without Amoxicillin?  Who knew a little mold could fix so much.  :)  How did the pioneer women do it without Amoxicillin?  I'm a paranoid, hypochondriac mother as it is now - I can't imagine not having antibiotics.

5.  The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special

I love all things Charlie Brown.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Christmas 2, love them all!  Except this one really sad one I watched when I was a kid about Snoopy who visited this little girl with cancer.  Very heavy for a 10 year old to understand. 

So, there are my 5 Frivolous Things I'm thankful for.  As I said, I'll get more serious the closer we get to the big day.  It's good to be thankful - in all things - even turkey!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas Day Scrooge

Our local radio station has started their non-stop, Christmas music.

At first, I was a little resentful.  (I know, Mrs. Claus herself.) It was 70 degrees yesterday.  Hardly put me in the Christmas spirit. 

But seeing my kids head-bopping to “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” has turned my mood around.  (I’m a Christmas junkie – doesn’t take much.  And it’s saved me from the 1,372th watching of Care Bears.)

Even though I have almost every classic Christmas movie on DVD, I still record them when they come on each year. There is something about the commercials I love.  I still remember the Wendy’s & Toys ‘R Us commercials from the tapes where my mom recorded Rudolph.

One of my absolute, favorite Christmas movies is “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott. 

It was my first movie purchase as a newlywed.  Growing up, I remember watching it over and over with my parents.  I loved it and was scared of it all - at the same time.

Of course, being a money-chick (actually I like to refer to myself as being money-chic.  Like that?  Thought so.) I kinda like Ebenezer.  Well, maybe I should say, I feel for him.  The man spends his whole life working for the almighty dollar – even giving up the love of his life, only to realize at the end of it, he’s got nothing to show for it.  Aka – the Christmas Eve Ebenezer.  And then, we all know the story, by Christmas Day, Ebenezer Scrooge is a whole new man.

A lot of people think that Ebenezer’s money is what ruined him.  I disagree.  It’s the love of money that ruins a person. You can be poor but love money and it will ruin you.  Having, or not, having money doesn’t ruin a person.  It’s where your heart is.

I enjoy having money – the little bit we have.  I enjoy being debt free.  And I know there have been times that the love of money has ruined me.  But I’ve tried to learn to learn from those mistakes and move on.  Don’t get me wrong.  We all know I enjoy a new pair of shoes, or bag, or concert tickets. But I think I enjoy more when we are able secretly giving someone some money and get to watch their joy from a distance.  Spontaneous giving is really what Dave Ramsey means when he says, “Give like no one else.”  

Money is just paper.  I once saw a quote from Prince Charles that said, “Money doesn’t mean that much when your mum’s picture is on it.”  I thought, yes, I guess that does put things in perspective.  Money can certainly make life easier and make things fun.  But the love of it can ruin a family, can ruin a soul. 

This time of year can be hard to stay on track with our Baby Steps and our penny pinching.  

But let’s not get so focused on the numbers.  

Let's try to look up from the checkbook, see the people around us and be the Christmas Day Ebenezer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day

Just wanted to a moment to say Happy Veteran's Day to all our veteran's and their families.  Your service & sacrifice will not be forgotten.  Thank you for all you do!

No go out and enjoy all the Veteran's Day freebies you've earned!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

No, I'm not dead.  Thought I was going to die, but I pulled through.

So...last week, someone told me, "I'm too broke for Christmas."

This thought popped in my head...


Did it sneak up on you?

I gave you 11 months warning!!!

Christmas comes every year - on the same day!  Not like Easter; I get that...Easter may throw you for a loop.

So what do you do if you are too broke for Christmas?  Here are 5 suggestions on how to afford Christmas quickly - WITHOUT USING CREDIT!!!

1)  Read here how to earn $1000 quickly.
2)  If you use credit cards in the past, check your rewards balances...if you have rewards.  You may have 1000's of points that could be redeemed for gift cards. 
3)  Start immediately using Swagbucks.  You can do surveys, searches, games, etc. to earn "Swagbucks."  Those points can be converted into Amazon gift cards...among other things.  My sister has earned $150 in Amazon gift cards THIS MONTH ALONE.  You can buy almost anything on Amazon...even toilet paper!
4)  Sell your kids clothes/toys.  We always complain about space right after Christmas.  So before Santa arrives, clean out your kids' toys.  Sell the gently used ones to a consignment store.  Or if you don't have kids, sell your unused clothing to a consignment store.
5)  Re-gift.  Aaahhh!!!  Huge faux pas, right?  Not so.  If you have something 1) you've never used, 2) that someone else would LOVE (key word: LOVE) don't be afraid to regift.  Try not to regift in the same circle of friends/family.  But if you got gourmet coffee for your birthday and you hate coffee, but your mother in law loves it - REGIFT.

You've got 6 weeks till Christmas.  Don't despair!  It can be done!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy November

I can't believe it's November already.  I apologize for the lack of posts.  I've been fighting some wicked flu-like crud for over a week.  With all this down time you would think I would have caught up on my blog and have some amazing, life changing info.  I don't know if I have anything valuable to offer right now.  Especially since I'm heavily medicated. 

Halloween came and went with much excitement in our house.  We went all-Disney this year.  :)

The kids racked up on the candy haul.  Much to my waistline's dismay.

Oh - did you hear, Kim Kardashian is getting a divorce?  There's a shocker.  Someone who got paid to get married didn't make it.  I was stunned. 

(Told you - nothing of value.)

With all this time in bed, I've gotten addicted to two new tv shows:

Person of Interest


Once Upon a Time

Both are fabulous, and I think the first non-foodie shows I've watched in a long time.

Also, my cousin's husband was featured on a video series by the NRA.  With Veteran's Day right around the corner, it nice to see a well-deserving veteran and fellow law enforcment member get some recognition.


Thanks for bearing with me.  I promise I'll be back with more debt dumping, shoe craving, budget friendly material in no-time. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Have's vs. The Have-Nots

I've tried to ignore the Occupy Wall Street protest hoping they'd fade away.  Just last month, these idots were part of the Occupy My Mother's Basement movement.

I saw this quote by Dave Ramsey and immediately posted it to my Facebook page.

"When someone takes my money and gives me no say in the matter, that’s called theft—whether they’re using a gun or the government."

The OWS movement is all about economic inequality.  They are basically saying, "The rich have too much money and the government needs to take some of it away and give it to me."  Redistribution of wealth. 

But what they don't get is if you take money away from the rich to make every one even, there is zero motivation to better yourself.

Without motivation, there will be no more Steve Jobs', Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg's.

There will be no more rich.

Everyone will begin to depend on the government.

And eventually there will be no more revenues.

And what then?

Revolt against the government and then, eventually, total collapse.

Yes, this is a very Glen Beck-esque, doomsday rant.  But it's the truth.  It's the same pattern followed by every socialists government in history.

And it's what's we're facing if we cave into the Wall Street Brats.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Difference 1% Can Make

Rather than spending precious bed time writing a Whatever Wednesday post, I'm going to post a link to an editorial in today's Roanoke Times.

I pretty much abhor this left-leaning newspaper.  (Don't you love that word?  It clearly conveys the exact feeling.)

But the editorial has it right-on.

Before you jump on the "Tax the Rich Bandwagon" read this and think about it for a minute.

They do alot for us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Those Pesky Bank Fees

My feathers are ruffled.

I know.  You're suprised.  I can tell by the look on your face.

I'm pretty ticked off at the moment.

At the bank!
See, apparently banks made billions upon billions in overdraft fees last year. 

And some of those fees, came from me.  (Remember the red dress saga?)

Consumers eventually grew weary of the banks' schemes when it came to making the most out of an overdraft.  (Such as structuring transactions from largest to smallest and holding deposits longer than debits.)

Congress finally stepped in and reined in the bank's pyramid scheme, fee-ala-palooza. 

(So not technically a pyramid scheme, but you get the metaphor.)

Banks whined about losing billions of dollars.

If you know anything about banks, you know that while they'll play poker with your money and lead this country headfirst into economic equivalent of the Rotovirus, they don't want anyone messing with their money.

They're not going to lose out on their profits.  So they jacked up their processing fees.

Every time you swipe your credit and/or debit card, the banks charge the store XX amount.  It's why most Mom & Pop gas stations require you to buy $5 worth before you can use your card.  Otherwise, they'd actually be losing money to sell you that product. 

After screams of torture from these very same Mom & Pop stores, Congress once again stepped in and put a stop to the bank's free-for-all.

And banks began to whine again.

(Again - I go back to these are the very same institutions that put our country in the mess we are in...yet we're supposed to ensure that their billions are secure...while we're seeing 40% drops in our investment accounts...  That and a couple of elected officials that have the business sense of asphalt!  Cough.  Cough.)

So now (Yes, it's taken me this long to get to the point.) banks have come up with another ingenius fee.

The debit card fee

$5 per month for every customer who uses their debit card.

My bank is said to be considering this.  When they do, I'm out.  100%. let me get this straight. 

You gamble away OUR money on high-risk loans given to people who should have NEVER had a mortgage in the first place.

Then, you push this country the edge of economic collapse when this all unravels.

Then, you nickel & dime your consumers.

Then, you nickel & dime your customers.

And now, you want the people who allow you to use their money to pay you to use their money?

My head hurts from this nonsense.  It's the most bass-ackward thing I've ever heard of.

And it ticks me off.

I know banks have to make a profit.  I get that.

FYI - banks, in the words of Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls

"You're working fer me."

(Fierce reference, I know.  Banks are shaking in their boots.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Favorite Movie Ever

They wrote a movie about my life.

You didn’t know that?

I’m surprised it hasn’t come up here before.

Yes, I’m famous; I try to keep it quiet.

But yes, a movie was written entirely about my life.  Well, maybe it was based on my life.

Ok, so I’m not from Alabama.  (I told you, it was a loose translation.)

If you have lived in a dark, deep hole and never, ever seen this movie – first, you must immediately stream it.  (Or search for it on your program guide.  It comes on USA, TNT, or CMT at least once a week.) 

The synopsis of the movie is as follows (from Newegg)  Melanie Carmichael, a rising New York clothing designer suddenly finds herself engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor. But this is no fairy tale romance for Melanie. She has skeletons in her fashion-filled closet that include Jake -- the backwoods husband she married in high school who refuses to divorce her. Determined to end their marriage and sever all ties with her past once and for all, Melanie returns to Alabama. But home starts to tug at her heartstrings, and what she thought she wanted may not be what she wants at all.

Again – loose translation – work with me here.

During the movie you fall in love with both of Melanie’s parents (Earl & Pearl Smooter) both her husband (Jake Perry) and fiancée (Andrew Hennings), and her friends.  And the movie is filled with classic one liners from the Southern dictionary. 

I will translate some of the classics for you.

·         Earl Smooter (her father):  C’mon, let’s not let all that bought air out.”      Means “Shut the door.  We paid to cool or heat this house.” 
·         Melanie walking through a civil war battlefield, “Anybody seen Earl Smooter?”  Random soldier perks up from playing dead, “He’s about to surrender!!!”  Now this has a special place in my heart.  See, every weekend from June through October my family packed up and went to some random Civil War battlefield to watch my father and his friends play dress up.  (Well, that is basically what it is.)  They would reenact Civil War battles.  And every weekend we would go, camp out, wear the dresses, hoop skirts, the whole deal. 
·          You look tired.  Are you tired?  Maybe it’s just the way you’re wearing your hair now.”  Pearl Smooter (the mother) to Melanie when she arrives home for the first time in five years!  Ok – so even if the movie was a stretch, I know this character was based on my mother.  I had a horrible, awful, terrible, very bad hair cut my sophomore year in college.  I came home sobbing.  And my mother looks at me and says, “You look awful.”  Yeah – thanks, Mom.  Knew that.
·          Well, aren’t you a big, fat liar?”  Spoken by Bobby Ray (a friend) to Melanie.  My personal favorite that I use daily.
·         People need a passport to come down here.”  Spoken by Melanie.  Um…in some parts of the South, yes.
·         You’ve got a baby…in a bar.” I’ve actually said those words.  No lie.
·         You can’t ride two horses with one [BEEP}, sugarbean.” Earl Smooter to Melanie when she was trying to decide between Jake (the ex-husband) and Andrew (the fiancée.)  Means you can’t have it both ways.  I believe those were my father’s exact words to me when I had a big decision to make in college.

There are a handful of other one liners that are a part of my repertoire that I probably can’t put on here.  J 

At the heart of the movie is the same struggle a lot of us face.  We want more & better for our lives but love our home, what we know, and what we are.  I remember too well how it felt to be torn between men, places, and goals. 

And I have to say Melanie & I picked the same paths.

In the end.

But I don't wanna spoil it for all I'm gonna say is...

Yes, the movie is a loose translation of my life. 

You should know that. 
You dumb, stubborn, redneck, hick.

Oh, sorry, I didn't mean'd have to see the movie to get it.

So seriously, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Employee Expenses

In case you've forgotten, Mr. DDA is a policeman.

And he comes home with wild stories of tax preparation from the department.

You didn't know that police officers also double as tax preparers?  No?  Just ask them.  They'll gladly tell you all the deductions they're "allowed" to take.

All I can say is that there is a reason you go to your local police department for car seat checks and NOT tax preparation...that pretty much sums up my opinion of their tax advice.

The reason for our contention is the Employee Business Expense deduction.

Many of us are not self-employed and are not entitled to deduct all of our business expenses.  However, the IRC (Internal Revenue Code) does not exclude you entirely.  If you have expenses for your job that are required and not reimbursed, they are an extent.  (As is everything, right?)
Pay parking?  It's deductible.
Mileage/Travel?  It's deductible.
Union dues?  It's deductible.
Uniforms?  It's deductible.
Equipment?  It's deductible...maybe.

Basically, anything you buy for your business that you are deducting, has to be 100% for your business.  Parking - typically is at an office building so obviously is for business.  Mileage travel - if it's not reimbursed and your business does not reimburse, then yes.  (You cannot choose.  If your employer reimburses, even if you don't take it, it's not deductible.  Ever.  Period.)  Union dues - self explanatory. 

Clothing/Uniforms - if it's something you cannot wear anywhere else, it's deductible.  Think scrubs, mechanic jumpsuits, steel-toed boots.  Not suits & ties; you can wear those somewhere else.  (Even if you don't, if it could be worn somewhere else, then no.)

Equipment - Here's the catch-all category.  The thorn in my flesh.  See, policemen have this idea that they can deduct ANYTHING!!!  Like a gun - not their duty gun - just a new gun.  This is my favorite.  Hear it every year. 

Side story:  Mr. DDA actually came home to me and said, "So-n-so said police officers can deduct one new gun a year under the tax law."  And he actually questioned me when I laughed and said no.  (I think I'm going to start telling him traffic statutes.)

See to deduct the equipment, it has to be REQUIRED for your employment and not provided by your employer.  (If you know of a police department that requires you to have anything they do not furnish, I'd like to hear it...cause in almost 30 years of being a law enforcement family member, I've never heard of it.) 

Another biggie that I hear of is computers.  If your business requires you to have a computer and they do not furnish it, it better be used for the business 100% and you should be able to prove it.

I don't have a tax prep business, so I'm not peddling for business.  But if this situation applies to you, seek the help of a professional. 

And no, a police officer is not a professional!!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Money, Money, Money, Money

Yes, I am singing the song in my head.

So, have I gotten anyone watching Til Debt Do U$ Part

I love this show.  LOVE. 

Each episode, Gail Vaz-Oxlade teaches different couples how to manage their money, create a budget and debt repayment plan, and stregthen their relationships.  (By the way, it now comes on daily on CNBC.)

She basically has the same approach as my main money man, Dave Ramsey, with a few small differences.  One big difference is that the show is filmed in Canada, so alot of government programs are different.  (Such as they get paid maternity leave and there is such a thing as stress leave.  STRESS LEAVE!!!  I could use that every week!)

The couples spend 4 weeks in Gail's budget boot camp.  The first week, she shows them all their numbers.  How much they're overspending, their projected debt in 5 years, their interest rates, etc.  She takes away all credit & debit cards. 

They're given jars for food, transportation, clothing & gifts, and other.  (She usually comes in with an initial budget budget prepared for them.)  They're given their weekly allowance and the Budget Binder.  They're instructed to put all their receipts in the binder.  Between those receipts & the cash in the jars, it should always equal their weekly allowances. 

Then the couples are put through three challenges.

The first week is usually their Financial Planning Challenge.  And usually it's one of two things.  If it's a clueless couple, she makes them do their own budget.  I'm always shocked by the number of couples who say they've never done a budget!  Aaaggh!!!  If it's not that, then they're usually instructed to earn an extra XXX number of dollars per month to make her budget balance.

The second weeks is the Life Lesson Challenge.  Whatever their vice is - shopping, cars, eating out, etc. - Gail tries to teach them a way around it.  Sometimes it's been to hold a yard sale, or sell a car, or take cooking classes.

The third week is the Relationship Rescue Challenge.  As we've all heard, financial problems is the number 1 reason couples split up, so inherently, these couples usually have relationship problems.  These challenges are so creative.  Sometimes it's an obstacle course; I've seen them have to stop people in the mall and explain compound interest, it's usually creative and bonding.

At the end of the four weeks, Gail comes back to their home to see how they've done.  If they've met all her goals, stayed in their budget, she gives them up to $5000 to pay down their debt.  If their attitudes were poor or if they didn't complete a challenge, she'll give them less.

The show is really fascinating to me.  I'm always amazed at the people's reactions.  And while you probably won't learn anything earth-shattering, I think it's always good to learn. 

Side note - can I please have this job when I grow up?  Come in and beat people up over money and then save the day with a check?  Pretty much the best job EVER!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Confessions of a Cheater

So, I have some groundbreaking news.

Actually more like a confession.

Mr. DDA - I am cheating on you.

I know, a blog is not the place to spill the beans, but I figure this way if I go missing, the entire world will know it was you.

When I went away on my business trip, I saw them...  (THEM - yes, more than one.)

Lusted after them...

Took them home with me...

And slept with them...


However, the next morning, I was overwhelmed with remorse...

And guilt...

So I took them back to where I picked them up and we parted ways...

But Mr. DDA, as much as I love you, I confess, I am still in love with them...

Perhaps we can have an open marriage and they can move in with us.

If not, we've had a wonderful 10 years together.  Thanks for the memories!

PS.  Mr.  DDA - Christmas is less than 3 months away.  I wear a size 40 in European shoes...just in case you were wondering!!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How I've Missed You

So sorry.  I've been away for a while.  I've kinda avoided the whole blogging thing for a while because:

1.  I was on a business trip.  Didn't even take a computer and it was amazing.

2.  I've had some serious fun.  (In case you missed it, Jason Aldean came to town and everything pretty much stops in my world when that happens.  He held his 6th Annual Concert for the Cure and raised $315,000 for our local SGK Foundation.  I'm now debating whether I can write off my tickets as a charitable contribution.  Lol.  Just kidding.)

3.  I've had some serious writers block.  Not that I don't crunch other people's numbers all day every day and should have plenty of material, but I'm actually at a loss for words right now.  The most amazing tax tip I can give you today is to pay them.  Plain and simple.

4.  I feel kinda stupid writing about my love affair with shoes when I think about all the women (and men) are at home alone tonight while their spouse is overseas fighting for our country.

5.  At the moment, I kinda feel like my whole life is in limbo.  We're trying to sell our house.  (It's awful out there...I don't recommend it.)  I'm trying to decide on a couple of career path choices.  I'm literally counting down until Thanksgiving so I can look forward to some serious time off work.  :)

Maybe I should start cooking my through a cookbook so we'd have something interesting to talk about.

Oh wait that's been done.

Maybe I should move to Texas and blog about a city girl becoming a country girl.

Oh wait, that's been done too.

And I was never a city girl.

Hmmm... guess I'll have to stick to money.

I'm off to go find some...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Christmas Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a pregnant princess was told she must stay in her castle

in bed, for 6 weeks. 

Now, as much as this would be a wonderful respite for the now mom of 3 kids under 4; alas, she had no children – other than the one she was carrying.  

Therefore, she became very bored…very quickly.

She found solace in HGTV.  

Her husband...

The prince, soon grew weary of all the painting and redecorating she was doing from her throne bed and forbid her from partaking in any more HGTV entertainment.

She became very sad until one day, her mother, the Queen, told her of a very special event.  Beginning July 25th, a home shopping channel began their Countdown to Christmas.

You see, Christmas season was the Princess’ absolute most favorite time of the year.  She loved the sweaters, the soup, the shopping, the football (yes, even Princesses like football.), the happiness, the music...She loved it all. Most of all, she loved celebrating her Savior’s birth. 

So on July 25th she tuned in.  And fell in love with the magical elves selling their Christmas goodies and the dream-like sets sparkling in their Christmas best.  And she did again on August 25th, and September 25th, and October 25th, and November 25th.

It became a tradition for the Princess to watch the Countdown to Christmas year after year, month after month.  And although the Princess rarely, if ever, purchased anything, it (along with a Pandora Christmas station) put a Christmas Carol in her heart and a bounce in her step...even on a dreary September day.

And reminded her that Christmas wasn’t so far away…
And that she’d better get on the ball with her Christmas shopping…
And her Christmas budgeting…

And thus, the Princess and her Prince lived happily ever after.

And fully prepped for Christmas.

The End.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Birthday Party Dilemma

September is a big month in our house.  I turned a year older.

This little girl turns one today.  Yeah - it's a big deal around our house.

This little guy turned 4.  He made it a big deal in our house.  (As all good 4 year olds do.)

And every year I wrestle with the same dilemma. You see this little guy gets invited to a lot of birthday parties.  Some we go to, some we don't. 

And every year, the parties get bigger...

and Bigger...

and BIGGER! 

And every year we struggle with the appropriate size party to have. 

Growing up, I did not have a party every year.  For one reason, we just couldn't afford it.  But also because my parents were smart enough not to spoil us.  We could always have a friend spend the night and they'd usually take us out to dinner or something.  We only had bona fide parties on big birthdays - 6, 10, 13, and 16.

You know?  The ones where you invite your classmates, your sunday school friends, your family, basically every one you know.

And so when we started having birthdays in our house, that's kinda what I went with.  We just invited family and our best friends.  Even that usually ended up being about 20 people.

So last year, I had what I considered a "BIG" party for my son.  We even rented a bounce house.

(Never mind we got it ridiculously cheap through the police department.)

It rained the entire time and the kids were soaking wet, but they had a good time.  We even had a theme cake made.  And I prided myself on actually having a "big" birthday party. 

But then the next birthday party we went to, was this...

Ok, so I'm exaggerating a teeny bit
When it comes to birthday parties, I feel I'm in a constant state of failure.

I really shouldn't care.  It's not a competition.  (Sure...all mom's say that.)

And yet, a part of me will always wonder if I am doing my children a favor or if they will be in therapy twenty years from now complaining about how their mother was too cheap to give them parties comparable to their friends' parties.

Pleaser tell me I am not alone in this plight?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is $250,000 Enough?

Despite what the President thinks, more taxes are not going to solve the financial problems of this country.  This is an interesting article about the "rich," aka those making over $250,000.  And although I'm sure if any of us were given the chance to live off $250,000, it does make the point that it still wouldn't be enough for the average family to live care-free.

This article was reported by Karen Hube for The Fiscal Times.

In the ongoing debate over whether to use tax policy to help resolve the nation's massive deficit, a single number has emerged from the crossfire: $250,000. It's the annual income that President Barack Obama and others have used to define what it means to be "rich" in America today. And while the Bush-era tax cuts were temporarily extended to 2012, when their deadline comes around for the second time, $250,000 will be etched in the minds of policymakers and pundits as the number that separates the middle class from the wealthy.

By most measures, a $250,000 household income is substantial. It is six times the national average, and just 2.9% of couples earn that much or more. "For the average person in this country, a $250,000 household income is an unattainably high annual sum -- they'll never see it," says Roberton Williams, an analyst at the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

But just how flush is a family of four with a $250,000 income? Are they really "rich"? To find the answer, The Fiscal Times asked BDO USA, a national tax accounting firm, to compute the total state, local and federal tax burden of a hypothetical two-career couple with two kids, earning $250,000. To factor in varying state and local taxes, as well as drastically different costs of living, BDO placed the couple in eight different locales around the country with top-notch public schools, using national data on spending.

The analysis assumes that this hypothetical couple -- let's call them Mr. and Mrs. Jones -- both have professional positions at their companies. They take advantage of all tax benefits available to them, such as pretax contributions to 401k plans and flexible spending accounts for medical care, child care and transportation. They have no credit card debt, but Mr. Jones racked up $40,208 in student loan debt in undergraduate and graduate school, and Mrs. Jones borrowed $22,650 to get her undergraduate degree (both amounts are equal to the national averages for their levels of education). They also have a car loan on one of two cars, and a mortgage for 80% of the value of a typical home in their communities for a family of four, which includes one toddler and one school-age child.

The bottom line: It's not exactly Easy Street for our $250,000-a-year family, especially when they live in high-tax areas on either coast. Even with an additional $3,000 in investment income, they end up in the red -- after taxes, saving for retirement and their children's education, and a middle-of-the-road cost of living -- in seven out of the eight communities in the analysis. The worst: Huntington, N.Y., and Glendale, Calif., followed by Washington, D.C., Bethesda, Md., Alexandria, Va., Naperville, Ill., and Pinecrest, Fla. In Plano, Texas, the couple's balance sheet would end up positive, but only by $4,963.

Taxes take a hefty toll. Everything from property taxes and the alternative minimum tax to the taxes added to cell phone bills and the cost of gasoline, when combined, takes a massive bite out of earnings -- in some cases even more than the federal income tax. And it's not likely to get better soon. States and municipalities have been steadily raising income tax rates to help close gaping holes in their budgets. Property taxes are also increasing, even though real estate values have cratered. And sales taxes are hitting record levels, in some areas nearing 10%. Gas taxes, alcohol taxes and hidden surcharges on everything from airline flights and ferry rides to vehicle registrations, rental cars and even sodas have also been stealthily rising.

On top of that, additional tax increases for couples with salaries of $250,000 or more (and single people earning $200,000 or more) are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 under the health care bill passed a year ago. Plus, the Democrats, who supported legislation to raise income tax rates for higher earners last year, will probably push for the same measure when the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012.

Thinking about tomorrow

Being in the red on a $250,000 annual salary may still seem surprising. But taking responsibility for their retirement and their children's future is costly. The Joneses are maximizing contributions to two 401k's and to all flexible spending accounts available to them, and they are squirreling away $8,000 a year for their kids' college educations. And their spending is conservative, based on national averages for professional couples with two children. Not included are those hefty run-of-the-mill payouts for charitable deductions, life insurance premiums, disability insurance, legal fees -- or monthly sessions at the hair colorist, or membership at a gym.

As educated professionals, the Joneses buy books, newspapers and magazines; they own computers and pay for Internet access. But they don't take lavish vacations, don't belong to a country club, don't play golf, don't drive luxury cars, don't have a swimming pool, don't buy designer clothes, don't own or rent a second home and don't send their kids to private schools. They don't even shop at high-end grocery markets. (They spend what the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a "moderate" amount on food for the average family of four.) In short, they're not "wealthy," even if they're in the top 5% of earners.

In reality, to make ends meet, this squeezed couple would have to cut back on discretionary expenses -- take a pass on a new suit, skip an annual vacation and drop some of their children's activities. Unfortunately, the family would also probably have to save less, at the ultimate expense of their retirement or their kids' educations.

Taxes of every kind

Consider the tax profile of the Joneses when they're based in Huntington, a suburb of New York City. Thanks to all their smart pretax contributions and a fat deduction for mortgage interest and state and local taxes, the couple's federal income tax is only $29,344. But what often goes overlooked is the toll taken by state and local taxes. In this case, it exceeds that of the federal income tax bill: $31,066.

State income taxes, taken alone, are just $10,557. But factor in the gas tax ($2,679), property tax ($15,222), phone service taxes and surcharges ($350), and sales tax ($2,258), and the picture looks far different. Their total tax bill, including the AMT and payroll taxes: $78,276.

"When most people think about taxes, they think first about federal income taxes, then maybe about sales taxes, but there are a lot of taxes out there," says Mark Robyn, an economist with the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax research group in Washington, D.C. "It's eye-opening to step back and take a look at the whole picture."

Location is critical

Moving to a state with no income taxes or low taxes in general would help the Joneses' bottom line. In Pinecrest, Fla., a suburb of Miami, they would owe zero state income tax, and pay an annual $10,976 in property taxes, $1,833 in sales taxes and $350 in phone service taxes, for a total state and local tax burden of $13,476. Because they would have no deduction for state and local taxes on their federal tax return, they would have to pay Uncle Sam more than they did in Huntington: $31,768. Still, the total tax burden would be significantly less: $61,621, versus $78,276 in Huntington and $71,683 in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles.

But for most people, moving to a low-tax state in midcareer is difficult, if not impossible. People are generally bound to their high-tax states by their jobs. And often it's tough to find high salaries in low-tax states like Florida.

How far the 'big bucks' really go

The $250,000 threshold was first mentioned in a campaign speech by Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008. "It's an historical accident," Williams says of the number's importance. "I don't think there was any thought given to why $250,000 -- it became a mantra." Whether or not $250,000 represents affluence "depends a great deal upon where you live," he says.

Consider, for example, the tab for the same assortment of ground beef, tuna, milk, eggs, margarine, potatoes, bananas, bread, orange juice, coffee, sugar and cereal. In Twin Falls, Idaho, the cost would be $23.41. In New York City, you would have to shell out 72% more, $40.29, according to The Council for Community and Economic Research. That higher percentage carries across all expenditures, from child care to haircuts.

Of course, housing costs are among the biggest variables. In Glendale, the Joneses can live reasonably well -- but not extravagantly -- in a three- or four-bedroom home valued around $750,000. In Twin Falls, they would need to spend only about half as much for an equivalent home.

After covering taxes and only essential expenses for housing, groceries, child care, clothing, transportation and their dog, the Joneses would still be in the red by $1,787 in Huntington. In Plano, they would have $27,556 to spare. Factor in common additional expenses for a working couple with two children -- music lessons, day camp costs and after-school sports, entertainment, cleaning services, gifts and an annual weeklong vacation -- and the Joneses get deep in the red in Huntington, to the tune of $23,178. In Plano, the best-case scenario, they would still have money to spare, but just $4,963.

Some of the expenses incurred by couples like the Joneses may seem lavish -- such as $5,000 on a housecleaner, a $1,200 annual tab for dry cleaning and $4,000 on kids' activities. But when both parents are working, it is impossible for them to maintain the home, care for the children and dress for their professional jobs without a big outlay.

And costs assumed by the Joneses could be significantly higher if their circumstances changed. For example, if they worked for themselves, they would have to foot the bill for all their medical insurance premiums, which average $14,043. As it is, they pay 30% of the premiums, and their employers pay the rest.

The bottom line: For folks like the Joneses -- who live in high-tax, high-cost areas, who save for retirement and college, who pay for child care to enable them to earn two incomes and who pay higher prices for housing in top school districts -- $250,000 does not a rich family make.