30 January 2007

For those wanting to dig out, here's my shovel

In typical fashion for this blog, I get emails 'offblog'...i.e., comments that are sent privately and not posted for general consumption here. Some of them never cease to amuse, some have made me see red, and still others are very supportive of my writing. It's always a bit interesting reading the email, as I never know exactly what I'm going to get. (For the sake of ease, I've finally added a link to the page here itself, check the right hand column. Sorry, I know I've been promising that forever, but I finally found the time the other morning to tinker with the code.) As my readers here know already, I don't do the big 'blog promotion'...I write because I want to write, not because of some financial need to do so. (For better or for worse, I run my online radio station the same way...deal with it, please.) I can appreciate those who do promote their blogs successfully enough to make money on them, but I have a full-time job already (which, most days, I enjoy), and I'm working on developing a full-time life. I do appreciate the comments about this, though...it's just not 'me' right now.

My recent posts, though, about taking better responsibility for my past financial snafus generated some requests for some additional information. While I appreciate the kind words, I have to admit I had no clue on how to start, either, when I first began. Many a late night hour and light bulb was burned trying to make something work for me...and, more specifically, determining how quickly I would see progress to 'the bottom line'. I found I had to be realistic about my goals, though...it didn't take me just a day to get into my financial mess, and it would take more than just a few days to get myself out. But it's vital to examine the bad behaviours (or circumstances, in my case) that got me here...and let the guilt and anxiety go, and just get to work on resolving the problem.

Some highlights:

  • I did not do a debt consolidation or debt reduction program, as I had heard enough about these to make my blood run cold...in many ways, they actually hurt the same clients they are trying to 'help'. Any group that takes your money to 'solve your old debts' but doesn't report your payments to the credit bureaus is not doing you any favours at all in the long run. Truly, if you buck up, there is nothing that they can do that you (or you and some financially-responsible friends helping you) cannot...and you'll do it much, much cheaper.
  • Instead, I did it the hard way: weekly budgeting, financial and traditional calculators, a big 3 month planner, and worksheets from several different sites. Specifically, the worksheets from Budgetbetter. While I found the Budgetbetter downloadable worksheets only last fall, they are nothing if not fantastic and are my preferred choice...and all I have recommended them to have raved about their effectiveness, too. Make sure you read the instructions once thoroughly, but once you do...it's very easy to track your progress and it takes hours off your 'calculation' time. The 'snowball payoff calculator' is very effective in helping draw up a 'game plan' on which bill to pay first, and how much.
  • I also started to read everything I could about my financial dilemma, and I am a big supporter of the Suze Orman books and TV show, as well as the common-sense, 'no holds barred' style of financial advice from Larry Winget. Jean Chatsky has some good books, too, and a lot of people know her from her TV appearances on Oprah. (All of these authors are in wide enough print by now that you can purchase one, or all, cheaply at a used book store.) My best success, though, was following Mr. Winget's 'no sugar-coating' approach...but that could be because I have a soft spot for fellow Okies who hate bullshit as much as I do.
  • Clark Howard may be one of the smartest men in America. If you can't listen to this consumer and credit affairs guru on the radio, check out his web site and dig through there...tons of information there. His recent battle with Bank of America's policies is something to read, although technically it's now complete...with BOA losing more than $50 million (USD) in deposits.
  • Get to know your credit score from all the credit bureaus. You can request a copy from all three, one copy per year, from Annual Credit Report. This site, unlike so many others that claim to be free, actually is. See where you're at and get to work: i.e., learn about the statue of limitations on old debts in your state, contest errors on the reports (1 in 3 will find an error), have creditors you have good history with report updates to the agencies, etc. (Read Clark Howard's whole discussion on credit reports, bureaus, and scores here.)
  • A huge issue with almost all people in financial disarray is poor bookkeeping and information tracking...i.e., any bill not wanted doesn't get opened or gets 'lost' or gets dumped into the trash upon receipt. In my case (when I started to look at my credit reports and started to contest the errant information), bad bookkeeping skills came back to bite me in the ass. It's vital to get the bills together, to open them, acknowledge the ones that are legit, contest the ones that aren't (generally within 30 days, or creditors consider the alleged debt 'valid'), and organize them. If you're overwhelmed about what you need to keep on hand, check out these guidelines from the great folks at LifeOrganizers (fabulous site, chock full of useful information).
  • And, for God's sake, buy a good cross-cut shredder for all the financial papers, unsolicited credit card offers, and miscellaneous junk mail that comes your way...don't just dump them in the first available trash can for others to pull out later. In addition to doing a regular check on your credit reports, be especially vigilant with your credit and financial information...people with lackluster and/or poor credit are frequent targets to scams and fraud. Criminals figure out very quickly who's being watchful with their credit...and who isn't...and target the weaker group.

    Final bit of advice?? Get smart, get busy, and get proactive.
  • No comments: