Monthly Archives: April 2009

Who Needs Reality TV When There’s a Recession?

As recessions go, this one really bites. It’s affecting virtually every aspect of my family’s life: going out to eat, grocery shopping, taking vacations, keeping our jobs, educating our children, even where we buy socks. And then there’s recession stress. I’m stressed, my husband’s stressed, and that makes our marriage a stressful place to be. It’s bad enough when I feel guilty about spending money on lip gloss. Does my relationship with my spouse have to suffer as well? You betcha. I think the phrase “toxic assets” has more to do with our monthly bills than with any floppy sub-prime mortgages. Since the economy started its descent into the toilet, we alternate between ignoring the elephant in the room and talking about it until we’re shouting at each other. Neither scenario really works.

The reality is that this recession is affecting nearly everyone, even Warren Buffett, even those of us who are well educated, financially responsible and good enough at what we do to command a respectable wage. Here’s the rub. We have two kids in private school, and we’ve worked hard to be able to keep them there. But now we’re faced with having to take one of them out next year and put him in public school, unless we can pull a financial rabbit out of our collective hat in the next nine months. I’d rather eat beanie-weenies for a year than deprive either of my children of a top-notch education. But have you seen how expensive beanie-weenies are these days? Never mind private school tuition.

This piece first appeared in Daily Worth, a financial therapy website for women.

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8 Ways to Cut Your Credit Card Debt

This piece was written for DailyWorth.com

If you’re overwhelmed by nausea every time you even think of using your credit card, you’ve probably been on the “charge it” carousel just a little too long. Time to get off. But can you possibly climb out of that sizable debt hole you’ve dug for yourself over the past few years? You’ve racked up a $14,000 bill across three credit cards, and you only pay the minimum balance on each one. What’s worse, the interest rates range from 16%-18%, so you always pay more than you owe. It’s a demoralizing cycle that leaves you feeling like a hamster on a wheel, running as fast as you can but getting nowhere.

Don’t cry. There’s good news. You can pay down your debt, even pay it off, if you’re willing to put a little effort into it. After all, what’s a little work when you’re faced with years and years of irritating credit card payments?

  1. Figure out what you owe. To successfully dig yourself out of debt, you need to know how deep the hole is. Are you in it for $2,000 or $20,000?
  2. Keep track of what you charge. Every time you swipe. Sounds like a headache, but once you have a better idea of how much you’re putting on the plastic, you might be inspired to cut back.
  3. Pay the balance in full. If you can do that, you’ll avoid getting screwed by late fees, minimum payments and all the other sneaky ways that credit card companies and banks (remember, we’re bailing them out!) have for convincing us that it’s okay not to pay all we owe, all at once.
  4. Pay more than the monthly minimum. If you can’t pay your balance in one shot, pay more than they’re asking for. You’ll reduce your debt more quickly, and you won’t just be flushing your income down the high-interest-rate toilet.
  5. Apply for a new card. That’s right. No-interest, low-interest, no-annual-fee cards are out there calling your name. Finding the right card means that you can move your debt across town, and save a ton of money in extra monthly charges. It does not mean that you can go wild at Nordstrom’s semi-annual sale.
  6. Out of sight, out of mind. Choose your favorite credit card, and cut up the rest into itty-bitty pieces. Bury the chosen one in the backyard, stick it in the freezer, or ask your husband, boyfriend or best friend to hide it. Maybe under the poopy newspaper in the bottom of the birdcage.
  7. Use your debit card. It comes out of your checking account in real time. If your balance is on the brink, the little machine will tell you.
  8. Ask for help. If you’re really up to your eyeballs in debt, get in touch with an organization that can help like Consumer Credit Counseling Services, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Credit.org.

Follow these sometimes painful steps, and you’ll beat your debt senseless. But let’s face it. The easiest no-hassle approach to credit-carditis is to use cash. It’s a radical idea: Buy only what you can afford. If you can’t pay cash, you can’t have it. Try it. You may not like it at first, but it will work.

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