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Photo by: nromagna

I know I wasn’t the only person who read about or watched the news of Wall Street’s chaos and felt completely confused about what happened, how it happened and why it mattered to me. To be honest, I’m still getting a grasp on it. But as I hoped it would, my favourite podcast This American Life has tried to explain it in its latest episode, “Another Frightening Show About The Economy.”

In this podcast, journalists Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson detail the financial crisis in plan English. They start with the day the market died, specifically examining the fall of the commercial paper market, which is explained as “an industrial sized I.O.U.” They also discuss credit default swaps and examine whether the $700 billion bailout bill signed last week was a good or bad deal for the average American.

This isn’t something you’ll want to listen to while grocery shopping. It deserves your attention if you’re interested in how this affects you, which it will–even if you’re a Canadian watching the situation from north of the border.

You may also be interested in listening to Alex and Adam’s older episode “The Giant Pool of Money” which examines the American housing crisis, one of the reasons Wall St. is in this mess to begin with. Download the latest podcast for free now and stream (or pay $1 to download) the archived episodes of TAL.

If you have other resources for simpletons like me, please share them in the comments.

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Photo by: Andrea Chiu

OK, I ended up going on that vacation which is why I haven’t written a new blog entry for a few weeks.  Sorry for the lack of entries and thank you for your input on my last post. I want to continue on this topic of whether you or me deserve a vacation while in debt. As we can see with all your comments, everyone’s got an opinion and they’re pretty diverse.

I asked Gail whether she thought a girl like me deserved to go on a trip and this was her response:

For a girl who calls herself an Unspender, you’re doing a lot of shopping: there’s the trip to Hong Kong, the new laptop (yeah, I know, the ipod was free), the wedding in Calgary and now the trip to Vancouver. Only you can decide if these are worth the long-term costs. It’s your money and your life. But don’t delude yourself. If you are spending money you haven’t yet earned, you’re not going to be in a Happy Place when a crisis hits. And if you think having a 5-year-old laptop was a crisis, think again. You may think you NEED a vacation, but you WANT a vacation. You NEED a roof, enough food, and clothes to keep you warm. You NEED to be able to get to and from work. (Okay, if you work on the new laptop, it might be a NEED, but only if you couldn’t work on the old laptop.) I’m not going to tell people they shouldn’t take vacations when they have debt. I do believe you shouldn’t spend one iota on unessentials until your debt is repaid — and while your vacation is a frugal one, you seem quite resigned to being in debt for a long time. Hmmm. Little Debt Fatigue rearing it’s ugly head? Have you calculated what it’d take to be out of debt in three years? Two years? One year?

Now I don’t disagree with Gail. I know the difference between a need and a want, but I don’t agree with the idea that a person in debt should not spend any  money on any unessential things until they’re in the black. That approach may work for some people and I tip my hat off to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s realistic for me to exclude occasional trips to the movie theatre or a round of drinks with friends. That just isn’t living to me and I know I would be very unhappy and overwhelmed. I think many people feel the same way.

Reader and fellow-blogger Nancy Zimmerman has an approach I agree with much more. She put it well when she left this comment:

What worked for me in the long term – and this goes against almost all financial planners – was to pay just a bit more than my minimum debt payments, and just resign myself to that as part of my life for the next several years, and at the same time, start saving up for things and start investing.

That accomplished a couple really, really important things for me:
1. My money started being FUN and INTERESTING and ENCOURAGING instead of always only about the black hole of debt
2. I discovered what it felt like to save up for something, and go on a trip, and come back without having increased my debt.

Long term, the debt went away, and I still had the savings habit plus a portfolio.

Lots of people will say: don’t do anything but pay off your debt (often said with a judgmental tone!). That makes cold financial sense, true. But even more effective: doing.what.works. for you!

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Let me know, would you recommend Gail or Nancy’s approach to becoming debt free? Perhaps you have another way of attacking debt?

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Photo by: E-Rocks

After waiting it out, I finally booked my flight to Vancouver. In about 10 days I’ll be flying off for a week-long vacation. It’ll be the first vacation I’ve had in two years and the first since I returned from Hong Kong. Because of this, I’ve convinced myself that I deserve it. But after reading Gail’s blog entry, “How Did We Get Into Such A Mess,” I feel a little guilty. She writes:

There are also a fair number of people who feel entitled. “I work hard, I deserve a vacation.” If I had a dollar for every time someone has said this to me, I could cruise around the world…twice. People believe that just because they want something they have a right to it, regardless of whether they can afford it. That’s how Buy Now Pay Later became such a hit. “I want it. I have to have it. If I can’t pay for it, I’ll just find a way to get it without paying for it.” Then when the bill comes due at a whopping thirty-something percent, people whine about how rapacious the rates are.

Of course, we all know that Gail is right. But it’s not that I deserve a vacation less than someone who is debt-free, I just can’t afford it as much as someone else. To answer my own question, I feel like yes, I do deserve a vacation, but at what cost?

There’s a part of me that feels immensely guilty for taking a week-long vacation. Instead of spending $1,500 on a trip, I could be contributing that to my debt. But the sad fact is I won’t be out of debt for a few years still. Am I not supposed to go on vacation until I’m completely in the black?

This is when I think the “everything in moderation” belief comes to play. I’m not going to another continent and staying in expensive hotels. I’m going to British Columbia on a seat sale, staying at friends’ places/hostels and have a planned budget. If I pay everything off without paying interest, should I still feel guilty?

What would you do? Would you still go on vacation despite being in debt? Would you put your vacation money towards your debt?

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Photo By: Thomas Hawk

Until very recently, I didn’t discussed money with my friends. But when I decided to start taking my personal finances seriously, I began asking friends as many questions as I could–without being too nosey–and the friends I happen to be discussing this with happen to be men.

It seems the gentlemen in my life are much more open to talking about money. They even like talking about it. Most of my guy friends have no student debt, invest and even own property. When I discuss money with my female friends, however, it’s more negative. They more often complain about money management and debt. Based on my small sample of friends in their 20’s and early 30’s, I’m led to believe that in general, men are better with money than women are.

I’m not convinced that this is entirely true, though. I wonder if men are just more comfortable talking about about their net worth and money, whereas women feel they play down their financial success. Could it be for the same reasons that young girls act dumber in school so as not to intimidate the boys? Or like my partner has suggested, do women value having things over having money, whereas men value money?

What do you think? How do men and women approach money differently? Are there any differences at all?

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Photo By: acnatta

Frugal Dad shares the story of an American family that slashed its weekly spending from $660 to under $110. It’s a pretty impressive cut in expenses. In the video (MSNBC), Ellen Roberts, the mother says the key was just knowing where all her money was going:

“You just spend so much money on frivolous things, it adds up. You don’t understand how it adds up until you really see the numbers.”

It seems pretty simple, but even I’ve been surprised by how much more conscious of my spending I’ve become since recording where my pennies go.

Lesson learned: You can’t know how much money you spent, if you don’t write it down.

I’ve still got about a week of recording before I create a proper budget.Judging by my numbers so far, I’m not sure I could live within the budget of the Roberts’. Although Ellen admits she’s going back to getting professional pedicures,  I’m extremely impressed by their ability to spend under $110 for the entire family. As an individual, do you live happily under $100/week? Could you? Could you cut your spending in half?

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  • On Not Budgeting

  • Photo By: Brianware3000

    On this journey to financial freedom, I am not starting with a budget. I’ve done that already. My budget plans have lived on scraps of paper, Word documents, e-mails addressed to myself and little books I designated as my books of money. They have never lasted more than two weeks.

    The problem was not that I couldn’t stick to a budget. The problem was that I drafted them blindly. I never tracked my spending so I could not accurately gauge how much I would need to spend on food, transportation or entertainment. Instead, I guesstimated how much I would spend on each category and I was usually wrong. It was like signing up for a marathon before I knew how long I could run.

    It turned out I couldn’t make it around the block. I would often spend over what my budget allowed. Instead of being realistic, I wrote optimistic budgets that failed to account for birthday gifts, spur-of-the-moment concert tickets or dry cleaning. When I consistently overspent, I was discouraged and quickly abandoned the budget.

    This has gone on for years. I’m ashamed to admit that it’s only now that I’ve begun to track my money. To some, it seems simple enough. To others, it may be a dreadful chore. But when it comes down to it, how can you save money if you don’t know where it goes?

    I now keep my track of all my spending. From the $60 bar tab to the to $1.50 coffee, I’ve recorded all transactions from the past week. So far, I’ve found it to not only be a great way to see where my money is going, but to reign in spending. I’ve only been doing it for a week and a half, but I’ve already determined that I’ve spent too much money parking and entertainment. Perhaps it’s a little obsessive of me, but I have to admit, knowing where I’ve spent each penny is empowering. Dare I say, it’s even a little fun..