Dumb Things I Sometimes Do

I've made great progress with my personal finances over the past year. I am paying off debt. I established an emergency fund. I even opened a Roth IRA. But I'm not out of the woods yet — I still do stupid things from time-to-time.

Spending for the sake of spending
For example, I just returned from a trip to the bank. I deposited a couple of checks which caused my balance to increase to what, for me, is an enormous sum. (Next week I'll share my dilemma over what to do with this money.)

Rather than come directly home, I had to stop at the comic book store. This isn't necessarily bad. I've been training myself to buy only comics I genuinely want, not to buy for the sake of buying. Today there wasn't anything that I had to have. I should have left empty-handed. I didn't. Instead I found a couple of books that looked mildly interesting. I spent $50.

This is stupid. I know perfectly well that the several new collections I want are due out later this month. I should have saved for them. But because I was feeling flush, I craved the rush of a new purchase. So I spent $50.

Past due
Last summer I wrote about paying bills as they arrive. This money hack has works well for me. By paying bills when they arrive, I don't feel pinched. The money goes to necessities first, so I know anything left over is mine to do with as I please.

This works like a charm. Mostly.

The one bill I haven't been paying as it arrives is the home equity line of credit. Instead, I wait as long as possible so that I can accumulate cash to throw at it. The problem is that sometimes I forget to mail it. Last month, for example, the bill was due on the 18th. On the 19th, I was sorting my financial papers for something else, and noticed my home equity bill had not yet been paid.

Fortunately, I was able to make a bank transfer that day, which meant the money cleared in time to avoid late fees. (I have some unknown number of days beyond the due date in which to pay.)

Again: this is dumb. I could easily have missed the payment completely, resulting in late fees or (worse) an increased interest rate.

Easy come, easy go
I have a lot of books. I'm sometimes reading five or six books at once. To mark my place, I usually grab whatever piece of paper is at hand. Sometimes, apparently, I mark my place with $140 checks.

In February, I was gathering a stack of books to return to the library. One book slipped and crashed to the floor. As it did, its pages ruffled briefly and a check fell out. It was a check I'd received in the mail the day before. If I weren't so clumsy, I would be $140 poorer. (And four years from now, some library patron would have opened the book to discover $140!)

Nobody's perfect
Everyone makes mistakes. The recovery process — moving from a life of debt and compulsive spending to a life of responsible money management — takes time. It doesn't happen overnight.

When I used to make these sorts of mistakes all the time, I'd let them get me down. Doing something dumb like spending $50 on comics that I didn't really want would have been enough to send me into a tailspin. I'd feel bad, which would cause me to spend, which would make me feel bad, which would cause me to spend. And so on.

These over-reactions are rare now. I accept the fact that I'm going to do stupid things. I trust that I'm on the right path, that my financial situation is improving. Little errors aren't enough to draw me off-course anymore. I have my goals, and I'm sticking to them.

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The Financial Ladder
The Financial Ladder
13 years ago

Speaking of comics, do you have any favorite comic company? i.e. Marvel, DC, Darkehorse, etc. As a fellow comic book fan, I’m curious why you don’t have a blog dedicated to it…

oftencloudy
oftencloudy
13 years ago

Hey J.D. could I borrow a book or two or three? 🙂
As long as you’ve learned your lesson you can take the right approach next time. Perhaps instead of going to the comic store, you can look online for the release dates of those you really want and mark them on a calendar. That way you can’t impulsively walk out with $50 of extra purchases.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

@FL

I used to prefer Marvel. I grew up reading Marvel/DC in the late-70s and early-80s. However, nowadays I only purchase collected editions, never actual comics. With time, I’ve learned that I love old comic strips (from before 1950) more than I do comic books, so that’s my primary collecting focus. And I do have a comics blog. I just don’t have time to write there. Since starting GRS, I’ve done a very poor job of writing about comics. 🙂

RJ
RJ
13 years ago

Over the past few years I’ve been able, for the most part, to conquer my impulse to spend for the sake of spending. My main area of impulse spending has been food and wine: some imported, sharp Gorgonzola here; some Spanish serrano ham there; a French pastry in addition; a $15 bottle of vouvray; and so on. I’ve been trying to lose weight recently, and this has helped me minimize the food and wine purchases. However, I still occasionally have the urge to spend for the sake of spending, especially since a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have opened nearby.… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
13 years ago

So return the books today and save the money for the comic books later.

Jennifer

Wesley
Wesley
13 years ago

heh, I’m with Jennifer! While that may not be possible, is there any chance you could turn your comic book fetish into something a bit more challenging and fun? For instance, the store where you typically shop, can you negotiate prices? If not, can you find a cheaper source? That’s part of the fun for my wife and me. Whenever we need something, it makes the process a bit more enjoyable if you can barter with sellers or find a cheaper (perhaps more creative) alternative. Heck, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir…this site and Ramit’s are what got… Read more »

Jim Shoe
Jim Shoe
13 years ago

I use an online calendar like 30boxes.com, have all my monthly bills on there, and have alerts sent do my email. I get an email saying hey you have this appointment which actually means Hey pay your bills you moron.

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

J.D. — does your library not carry comics??? My wife is a librarian here in New Mexico, the 2nd poorest state in the union, but even our libraries carry all kinds of comics, hardback collections, and even the regular “soft back” individual titles. Is it that you have to actually OWN the books? But why? I used to collect comics when I was a teen, but my collection was hidden away in my closet in these long white boxes w/ lids. I never even took those lids off to even look at the covers of those books again or even… Read more »

Elektra Vince
Elektra Vince
13 years ago

I just came over here from http://www.adistantsoil.com/blog

Comic book artist Colleen Doran is also blogging about money, only she is talking about money issues for creators. There’s a link to your blog, so this is the first time I came here. It looks like good advice all around. There is a lot to think about! Thanks!

Dickey45
Dickey45
13 years ago

Ah, JD needs to read Aslett’s books on collecting stuff 😉

Emily H.
Emily H.
13 years ago

I get about 95% of my books from the library, but I think that comics are a great splurge when you need a little treat– they’re a little bit frivolous, but that’s the point, and $5 (not $50!) isn’t much to spend for lying in the sun, eating a sandwich, reading a comic books, and feeling wonderfully frivolous.

m.g.
m.g.
13 years ago

Well I know all about being stupid with money, but things are MUCH better than they were a couple of years ago. Unfortunately because of past stupidity, our credit isn’t so hot, so one thing we are doing to try and re-build it is allow ourselves about $60 per month of splurge items, which we put on our credit card and then pay it all responsible and adult-like. We are boosting our credit score with the on-time payment history, plus, we get that little rush of “haha, I got something new, and I didn’t even pay for it!” Of course… Read more »

T-Wil
T-Wil
13 years ago

I’m going to the library today to look for checks!!!! Seriously though, I need to implement the paying bills when they arrive technique. Right now my bills get piled onto my computer desk…….. recipe for disaster. I have recently started pulling just the first page of the bill with the amount due and due date out and throwing the rest of the mess away. At least that way I don’t have envelopes and special offers cluttering the desk as well.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

@Dickey On the library queue, as I think you know. 🙂 @Emily I buy comic compilations rather than the comic books themselves, so my costs are higher. But still — you’ve got a point. For the record, the two books I went home with were the new Classic Alpha Flight and a Drawn & Quarterly book: Oh Skin-Nay! The Days of Real Sport, which is a fascimile of a book from 1913. The latter is awesome. I love it. Well worth the $25. (But then I’m a huge fan of pop culture from 1890-1920.) Oh Skin-Nay delves into the lives… Read more »

holli jo
holli jo
13 years ago

Thanks for sharing your mistakes! I’m a new reader of your blog, and I REALLY appreciate it. What I like most is that you share genuinely useful information, but you seem to be an average person. What I mean is that you aren’t some financial genius the rest of us can never hope to be. Your site makes me believe it is possible to learn what I need to know about finances. THANKS!

CoolHappyGuy
CoolHappyGuy
13 years ago

As far as timely payment of bills, have you investigated online payment services such as http://www.mycheckfree.com? This is a free service that I have utilized to pay my utilities. You can schedule your payment when you want and the service will deduct it from the account you specify. I’ve been using it for years, I love it! Also, Citibank is a great online bank (www.citi.com) that I have signed up with. The best deal is when you open up a checking and a savings account. That way, you get a savings account that pays you 4.75% interest with no minimum… Read more »

MyOwnMillions
MyOwnMillions
13 years ago

Good to hear that you are making progress in putting the right priorities in focus as there isn’t much that is more important than financial independence! One suggestion I would give is to open a savings account which you can put any extra money in. Try not to look at the balance of this account. That way, you are always saving and you won’t really feel like you have money to waste. Another is to open an index fund acconut that lets you contribute small sums without charging you crazy fees each time. If that doesn’t keep you from knowing… Read more »

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

@Dickey — one thing that I so, so LOVE about Don Aslett is how he even “warns” people against “motivators” such as himself … you know, when he talks about how “engines don’t run on starter fluid,” and that motivational books can become an addiction, like a drug, that people need “fixes” of all the time. I love how he tells people that spending too much of their time reading his books will actually KEEP THEM FROM ACHIEVING THE STUFF HE’S TALKING ABOUT. Amazing.

Casey
Casey
13 years ago

My vice is original art. A few years ago I started buying original art here and there. On average I probably go to an opening or two a month. Recently my wife and I have started trying to watch our spending much closer (she’s much better at this than I am) as we’ve had a kid and purchased a house. All that said I still slip up regularly. A couple months ago we went to an opening and the gallery had not only new stuff by the featured artist but a variety of other new stuff from artists I hadn’t… Read more »

Michael Langford
Michael Langford
13 years ago

Paying Bills as they come in? Why oh why? —————————————– People act as if this is an end all be all strategy for paying your bills on time. But we’re human. Machines are much better than we are at doing this sort of thing. Beyond Electric, Gas and Water, most bills are fixed these days (phone used to vary, but for most people no more). Make sure you have three bank accounts at your local brick and mortar bank. One we’ll call “Deposit/Variable”, one we’ll call “Check Cashing”, and one we’ll call “Savings”. Put $100 buffer into Check Cashing (in… Read more »

db
db
13 years ago

JD: I recently fretting on my blog about my impulse purchase of the complete DS9 series — I still feel guilty. They have arrived. They are sitting there unopened while I take a few days to contemplate a) returning them b) reselling them c) just enjoying them. I was able to pay for them with “found” cash — the issue is I could have also paid off debt with that found cash. Now, this is in the same month as having already put close to $2K at the debt so it’s not like I’m a debt-payment slacker. I think ultimately… Read more »

MFJ
MFJ
13 years ago

Of all of the bills you SHOULD be paying the day you receive it is probably should be your HELCO, seeing as how each day you wait to pay it the more interest that gets to accrue. I recently paid off my HELOC, but when I had it I would mark the day the bill was generated on my calendar and make the payment online that day to save interest expense. Also there’s nothing to say you can’t pay the bill the day you receive it and then send a 2nd payment when you got more cash available for it.… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
13 years ago

You might consider two things.

First, an allowance. So that “extra” money is not for spending, and every month you know how much you have to splurge or save up for things.

Second, a replacement for buying new things. For myself, looking forward to when new books and movies show up at the library works well. Also, if I didn’t find anything I want at the book store, stopping by the library if I don’t want to go home without something new to read.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

Michael – I love your system, and I’ll try to see if I can set something similar up through my credit union…

anonymous..
anonymous..
13 years ago

relax dude.. it’s only $50 =D

molly
molly
13 years ago

Well, sometimes I think you need to spend some money just to let yourself remember that you can–as long as it’s money you’ve actually GOT, and not revolving credit. Sometimes we get so caught up in NOT spending money and the thrill of saving and watching interest accumulate that we start feeling deprived when we’re actually not. In the long run, $50 on something you truly enjoy and will continue to enjoy for a long time (my husband is a comic collector, and often goes digging through the longboxes in the attic for something he’s read 40 times since 1986,… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
13 years ago

I would make a good habit of sticking any check into my wallet immediately 🙂

Francis
Francis
13 years ago

JD: I know how you feel about comics. If I happen to step foot inside a comic book store, I happen to gobble up any Jim Lee books I still don’t have in my collection. So what I decided to do is to limit my trips to comic book stores. But I know once SD comic con comes around, I can get better deals on books from the vendors there offering huge discounts.

I think it’s ok to reward yourself once in a while. For me, going to SD comic con is it. =) ’nuff said.

Jim Phelps
Jim Phelps
13 years ago

Bill Paying (not comics) I moved all our bills to be due at the same time each month. All of our bills arrive before the 28th of the month and they are due about the 15th of the month. We get paid on the first of each month. On the first, I pay all of our bills. This greatly simplifies the whole bill paying process. I called each of the companies and asked to have my billing date moved. The only one that was a (slight) problem was the gas/electric bill since they actually come out and read your meter.… Read more »

Sarah With an H
Sarah With an H
13 years ago

JD- For the comics, once you’re done with them, could you sell it to one of your comic-loving friends? If not, perhaps you could donate it to a hospital or something. I’m sure there are sick teenagers who would love to have something like that to read. I am really impressed with this post. It takes a big man to stand up in front of the entire internet and reveal your mistakes! It takes an even bigger man to not let those mistakes turn into huge failures. This is proof to me of your becoming more responsible financially. Thanks for… Read more »

MikeVx
MikeVx
13 years ago

I’ve been trying to beat my finances into shape. I’ve been reading this site for about three weeks now, and find it an interesting mix of strategies. My most recent example of dumb was being too rushed to write down an entry in my register when an ATM failed to print a receipt. This came back to bite me when I realized that I was short and my car insurance payment was about to bounce. I called my credit union and was able to set up an overdraft line of credit. I had to haggle a bit when they said… Read more »

Msminiducky
Msminiducky
13 years ago

And THAT is why I stay away from the shops, no matter how much I want a new TPB. It’s just not safe! As with Francis, for the most part my comic splurge is limited to Comic Con, otherwise the temptation would inevitably outlast my willpower.

Allie
Allie
13 years ago

Paying your bills as they come in only works if you open your mail. Unfortunately my husband does not open his mail. He just leaves it laying around in piles. This is one very big reason for us to have separate finances. 🙂

Heather
Heather
13 years ago

I’ve found that automatic billpay, free through my bank, has been a savior in the area of late payments.

On whichever debt I’m paying down, I set the billpay for weekly and make weekly payments that seem much more doable that one large monthly sum.

No more late payments for me and no more expense on checks or postage!

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