Taking another shot at Quicken

We bought Quicken Cash Manager 2007 quite a while ago, during the early dawn of my interest in personal finance. The budgeting module is simple and fabulous, and me love it long time.

The rest of it, however, left me flummoxed. I took one run at setting up all our accounts and labelling things, and promptly messed up the register so badly that nothing would balance out. I gave up.

I checked it out again this week around the same time Gail Vaz Oxlade wrote a post on her blog about reconciling banking accounts:

Once a month you'll receive a listing of all the transactions on your account for the previous month. The worst thing you can do is stick your bank statement in a drawer, ignoring it. Instead, stick it in your end-of-month-bills file. At the end of the month, gather the statement, your chequebook register/accounts book and receipts for the previous month. Sit down, sharpen your pencil and haul out your calculator. You are now ready to reconcile your bank statement.

I suppose it says something unflattering about me that I'd see this and think -- "do people actually *do* this?!" ... 'cuz I don't.

I gawk at my online banking transactions so often that I figure I'll notice anything unusual. Well, that, and that as long as there's about as much money in there as I expect, I figure things are alright.

But this week I've tried futzing around with Quicken again. I still haven't got it 100% figured out -- transferring between accounts without messing everything up has still got me stumped. Last night I decided to tackle "our" accounts, after trying things out first on "my" accounts.

I printed out some analysis of "our" chequing, spending and credit card spending. My partner noticed a $75 charge to a guitar shop. Well, "we" don't play guitar, but "I" do -- and I'd recently paid $75 to have my bass guitar restrung. Or so I thought. Turns out I pulled out the wrong credit card to make the payment, and it slipped right past her when she was paying the bill a month ago.

So, that extra set of eyes on the expenses helped catch it. Well, to be honest, it was her set of eyes -- I missed it, too. But the extra step of taking a sober second look at the moneys turned up something that would've otherwise slipped by into history.

Good for us, sucks for me. Now "I" owe "us" $75. Poop.

Bug in my broccoli

Bug in my broccoli, originally uploaded by BigAssSuperBlog.

What the hell is this?! It was in a bag of broccoli we bought at the Atlantic Superstore. It looks like some kind of caterpillar or something.

If Dr. Phil and Dave Ramsey had a Canadian cousin

Here's a quick shout-out and thank-you to Canada's gift to the financially illiterate, Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Gail is famous nationwide as the host of Til Debt Do Us Part on Slice. The show also airs on AmericanLife TV Network in the USA and on Zone Reality in the UK. She takes couples whose relationships are being undermined by financial difficulties and teaches them how to turn their lives around. Wikipedia has a thorough episode guide. Well, not really. They name and number the episodes. Big whoop.

Hey, there's also a Wikipedia article about Gail.

Gail has written some books, but you can get most of the financial coaching you need from her web site.

- http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/ -- the front page

- I read Gail's Blog every day

- A new section lets people share their success stories

- Browse a fine selection of articles

- Gail takes Questions and Answers them

She's also become quite an expert on divorce (see the Splitsville section), yet hasn't turned into a bitter man-hater.

Gail is fiery, knowledgable, direct, compassionate and doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Whether you want to cobble together a workable budget or just have someone kick your butt into taking action, drop by her site and start getting your act together.

I wrote a song

I've never written a whole song before. Sure, I've covered dozens of songs, re-written songs, re-arranged songs, done some song-fragments and song-ish things ... but I've never written a whole original song, start to finish.

Until now!

Yup, on Saturday afternoon, I sat down in BigAssStudios and wrote and recorded a whole song.

It's tentatively titled "Mister Clean". It's from the perspective of a germophobe with OCD.

Thanks to all the people who've encouraged me to do some originals instead of just covering awesome songs by other groups ... thanks to Deb, Desiree, Laura, Amanda and anyone else who's pushed me to try something new. More to come.

Feedback is welcome!


Download link: 2008-10-27 - BigAssSuperstar - Mr. Clean - Third mix.mp3

Credit card company sent me money

I got a cheque in the mail from Citi Cards Canada!


"To reduce the balance of your Citi MasterCard account to zero at this time," says a letter, "we are enclosing a refund cheque for the credit balance of the account."

Yup, after overpaying my account, I assume, I've not used my MasterCard for months. I took it out of my wallet to free up space and haven't used it since. I can use it online just fine, since I've memorized the number of my oldest CC, but I just haven't. So they sent me money.

One problem, though.

They didn't seal the envelope.

The cheque and letter came in a completely open envelope. Anyone who peeked inside could've snatched my credit card number. Boo!

I called Citi and a nice customer service man told me that this "happens from time to time." But he'll let someone know.

I'm tempted to just close the account and be done with it, but this is my oldest card with the oldest credit history.

$3.35! Oh, where to spend?!

Big Ass Fun Friday #2: Kitty Cat Dance

Yeah, I know it's years old, but it's worth implanting in your head for the weekend.

Saving 80% of your pay can pay off

How far could you get if you scraped back all the luxuries, worked your big ass off, scrimped and save so strongly that people thought you were crazy, and put 80% of your income into a goal?

Perry Goertzen did it. And it got his house paid off in three years:

Most people have trouble saving just 5% or 10% of what they make, but my wife Tiffany and I decided that it was worth living like paupers for a few years if it could give us a huge jump start on life. Saving as much as we did was challenging, but what we accomplished was amazing -- I still can't believe it myself sometimes. When we started, we had a rusty old Toyota Tercel, no house, few possessions and a crushing debt of $37,000. A few years later, we had two almost-new cars and a beautiful new four-bedroom house on a 46-ft lot in Milton, Ont. Everything was completely paid off -- we had zero debt. During this time, neither of us made much more than $60,000 a year at any one job, but by working several jobs and saving almost all of our income, our net worth increased from negative $37,000 to positive $420,000 in less than five years.

The article is up on the Moneysense magazine web site.

The author is clear that he doesn't recommend that anyone else take on the kind of workload he and his lady did. But was it worth it? Absolutely, he says. "Right now, I wouldn't change anything for the world. We're only in our 30s, but in a lot of ways, we're set for life."

Markets tank; net worth down but not out

I just added this month's entry over at networthiq.com.

Yup, things are down.

My Rogers stock is down almost 10% this month. It's really about 20-25% below the book value -- the average of what I paid for the stock. ($40.88/share vs $32.50 at close yesterday.)

My mutual funds are down a *lot* with the huge drops in the stock markets, but my overall RRSP portfolio is not, thanks to having the majority of my investments in money market funds. My retirement fund is down about 4% for the month.

My cash-on-hand position -- liquid, hands-on, grabbable money -- is up 25% over a month ago. Of course, that'll go down as I spend it.

Altogether, my net worth dropped 3.31% over the month. Not bad considering the panic going 'round.

Making my home into a subway station

I miss a few things about Toronto. My friends and family. The food. The clouds and lightning. And the TTC.

I was a big TTC fan and always curious about its history and decor.

Well, check out this feature from BlogTO:
Walloper is a collective of self-proclaimed "art geeks, design wonks and new-urbanist cheerleaders" and one of their current projects aims to bring a slice of the iconic TTC aesthetic to the home. TTC signage-inspired decals are available for purchase on the site, and a few sample photos demonstrate how they might be incorporated into your
home decor.

The National Post did an article about them, too. Another one at Torontoist. Even BoingBoing chimes in about the TTC wall decals.

Yes, very geek. Very nerd. But very cool.

I don't know which I like more: these TTC wall decals or these Space Invaders wall decals. Maybe I can do one wall of the future computer room with invaders, and the other with subway stuff. Or if we have a long hallway -- or the garage!!! Oh, this is fun.

Weird Al vs. the economy

I've been a Weird Al fan since before I could spell Yankovic. Some of his originals are better than the parodies, and his ability to mimic a genre or particular band's style ranks up there with the genius that is Ween.

Perhaps my long-term Al-doration has something to do with my tendency to record covers, tributes or re-writes instead of writing my own material. I dunno.

In any case, I'll join the crowd endorsing Al's new hip-hop venture. I've honestly never heard the original 'song' by T.I. (Texas Instruments? Makers of fine calculators and orphaned computer 99-4/A?), but the new version is fabulous, as usual.

The buzz is that's it's a reflection on the weak state of the economy, but it sounds to me like it's an inversion of the hip-hop style of extravagance and excess -- a groove from a cheap guy.

Check it out at Weird Al's MySpace page.

Big Ass Superstar is NowPublic

Every once in a while, the crowd-powered news service NowPublic gets in touch with me to use one of my Flickr photos for its news stories. I'm always happy to oblige. This week they're using a snap from New York City for their item about the US National Debt Clock:

Remember when gas stations ran out of the number "4" to put on their signage when prices skyrocketed? Well, there's a similar predicament in Times Square. The National Debt Clock has run out of spaces to display $10 trillion in red numerals.
By adding $100 billion to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and $700 billion to bail out banks and the credit market, there's no room for more zeroes.

See more stories at NowPublic, and more Big Ass pics at Flickr (where I continue to have bear-lovers tagging my photos as favourites, and my account as a 'contact').

I had a Livejournal account?

I totally forgot that I had a Livejournal account.

How? I mean ... gosh, if I forgot that, what else could I have not remembered? (Answer: oh, probably quite a bit from that particular chapter of my life.)

I was doing a tiny bit of inbox maintenance and sorted my Outlook Express by one of the columns, and saw a Livejournal account setup confirmation. Much to my surprise, I found a series of entries from January to March 2003.

The one that almost surprised me was from January 17, 2003:

"I fore see my credit card debt being paid off around the time of my first warm-weather sunburn of the year"

Well, why did I have a space between 'fore' and 'see'?

More importantly, why did I have credit card debt that would take months to pay off? That seems utterly incongruous with my current debt-is-evil outlook.

If I recall correctly, it's from the breakup with my chronically underemployed (Arby's, Tim Horton's) girlfriend-of-the-time. Shortly after a second vacation with her to her home province, I bought her a plane ticket to go back to her home province (and not come back), and she never fully paid me back. I think the debt came from that. Happily, I never paid less than the minimum on the card, and my credit rating came out shiny in the end.

Puttering around on the weekend

It's been a decent weekend. Nice weather in Halifax, with a few clouds, lots of sun, a breeze and cool temps.

I spent some time and muscle yesterday cleaning the balcony windows. It makes a good bit of difference -- until the next time it rains, anyway. With all those doors, though, I had a helluva time with streaks.

I've been spending quite a stretch browsing through a couple of good blogs:

- Unclutterer, which is making me think I should spend some time going through the boxes in the closet to see what I can sell on kijiji or ebay. I threw out a ton of stuff when I moved out here that I could've probably gotten some good coin for, if I'd had a bit more time and/or motivation.
- StopBuyingCrap, which goes along nicely with the concept.

Speaking of clutter, you'll now notice some ads on the site. I hope they're not too cluttery. As documented earlier, PayPerPost kicked me out of their network a while back. I got an email from them this week saying hey, your blog has been approved now and you can start taking ad opporunities! I wrote back and said hey -- I gave up on you guys 'cuz you gave up on me. What gives? No explanation yet. So now I'm running ads through Google.

My first overdraft

I was so thrilled with myself for making it to the end of the month and the pay-period without running out of money in my main account, *and* transferring a healthy piece over to my growing emergency fund. Oh, it was working *so* well. Tra la la, I was content with my handling of money this month.

Then, my $59.75 life insurance premiums were sucked out of my account on Wednesday. I forgot to anticipate that.

It put me $6.17 in overdraft. The idea of overdraft seems *wrong* to me. I mean, if I don't have the money, I don't have the money. It seems un-possible to have a negative balance in a bank account. Credit card, line of credit, sure, I get that. But the bank is the bank. You have money or you don't -- you don't have minus-money.

But I did, and they charged me a $5 overdraft fee. So with the initial overage plus the "stupid tax", I was $11.17 over. Of course, payday is today (Friday), so I'm really only out the $5.

Before I rolled around in the new injection of cash into my life, I paid out my biweekly share of the household budget/savings ($745). Balance gets smaller.

I figured this'd be a good time to make sure my credit card balances are paid up, so over I go to the Amex. $91 to Amazon for a selection of wedding books I bought for us and a Sony Vegas Pro video editing tutorial book I bought for me. $88 to Rogers for overzealously using my Blackberry during our New York City trip (roaming charges SMB!). And $107.37 for a $99 US purchase a few nights ago of a set of expansion packs for my PodXT guitar machine doohickey.

All told, Amex wanted $286.75. I paid it.

Well, now my bank balance is ... y'know ... a lot less. No room this paycheque for dumping money into savings. And I dunno if I'll make it to the next payday without dipping into the non-emergency-fund savings. But hey, I'm fully paid off on all my bills, so ... yeah ... 'ts no reason to cry.

So, that's the story of my very first overdraft! At least, the first one I can remember.

Happy 30th birthday to Amanda! Now you're in the same decade as me!

Today was my last day at work, and I'm okay with that

Today marks a weird spot on the calendar for me. It’s one of those landmarks that really doesn’t mean anything, other than to illustrate the...