Friday, January 28, 2011

Interlude: Monkey Wrenches

There are precisely two steps virtually all debt experts will tell you to do BEFORE you start trying to get out of debt:

1) Build up a savings of $1,000 and
2) Destroy all credit cards.

You may have noticed I've glossed over those just a bit - particularly #2.

The reasoning behind these steps is quite sound. If you have savings to pull you through a minor emergency, you won't rely on your cards...especially if those cards aren't there to be relied upon.

How many of you have the "emergency credit card" for all things emergency? And those of you who do keep an emergency credit card, when was the last time you charged a non-emergency purchase on it?

Recently, a friend of mine told me how her son had gotten promoted but his new position required him to wear dress slacks to work...something he didn't have. So she gave him the go ahead to put the pants on the "emergency" credit card rather than giving him the cash to go buy pants. Why? Because she didn't have the cash to give him and he needed new pants.

Was this an emergency or a good reason to teach him the benefits of the Goodwill store?

I won't answer that. It's not my business to decide what is an emergency to someone else and what is not. Surely, I have no business pointing my bossy little finger in anyone's face when it comes to using credit cards improperly. But it does beg the question...what exactly is a credit card-worthy emergency?

Now, the reason why I jumped into the debt-reduction pool before I'd built up savings - against the advice of every financial expert living and dead - and began treading water for dear life prior to building up savings is because, just like with the purchases I've been known to put on my cards, I have a wee tiny problem with instant gratification. Impulse control. I made the decision to do this thing and by gum! I wanted to start Right. This. Second. The sooner I start, the sooner I'm done...right?

I figured hey! I'll build the savings a bit at a time while I'm paying down the debt and everything will be G-R-O-O-V-Y. You know this though, because I outlined it in Part II of my plan. Was that just yesterday?


I've known I needed new tires for quite some time. I've known it. I planned for it. And I was able to wait until there was a super duper sale on them at my local Firestone. So, this morning, I headed out to aforementioned Firestone to get my car some new rubbery goodness and to give her a good old lube job for good measure...also planned.

What I'd not planned on was hearing that I needed new front brake pads and how!

Jane: How long do I have?
Car Guy: A best. Maybe.

That's the kind of diagnosis no one wants to hear from a doctor or a mechanic.

So here I am. I've got no savings because I don't get paid until Tuesday and my budget's been honed down to give me just enough to toss $40 from that paycheck into savings for emergencies. Emergencies kinda like this one.

Luckily, this emergency isn't a whopper. The mechanic quoted me $160+tax for the brake pads and installation. I took it under advisement, left the store, got in my car, and panicked...just a little. What the hell am I going to do? After I luxuriated in that panic for a few minutes, I took a few deep breaths and said to myself, "OK, Self. What have we got to cover this? We've got that $80 extra payment you were going to send in to your card company. There! That's half of it right there. And we've got the $40 we were going to put into savings for just such an emergency. We're approximately $50 shy then. What now?"

I had 3 choices.

1) Take the $50 from the mad money budget which does have a bit of wriggle room...but not much.
2) Shop around for a better deal...if I can find it.
3) Drive up to where my cards are being stored and retrieve one in order to buy new brakes.

Ah yes! There it is - that #3. I'll bet you were wondering if I'd gone so far as to destroy my cards like a good little debt reductionist. And the answer to that? Is a resounding NO.

It's purely psychological and indicative of just what a hold those cards have over me. I am fully aware of it. There is this gnawing little voice chewing in my ear saying, "But what if there's a revolution? What if the zombie apocalypse happens? What if, gawd forbid, the Tea Party gains control of Congress?!" I'll tell you what happens...I flee. And I shall flee by using my credit cards without a second thought to it.

Photo Credit: Yet Another Dave

Those are real emergencies. And, as I've demonstrated, emergencies come up just when you least expect them.

So, I didn't destroy my cards even though I know I'm supposed to. They tell me credit cards are a safety net and I don't need a safety net. Clearly, these people have never been faced with the zombie apocalypse without a net.

Instead, I put my cards in an envelope, drove it to the "wilds" of the suburban north, and watched as my BFF, Matt, put them into his fire safe...and then closed the door with the sound of finality.

That's where the cards are. They still exist, I can still get them if I absolutely must, but in order to do so, I have to drive a fair piece, get past Matt, get past the other Matt, and get past the fire safe door. I'm fairly certain that's about as destroyed and inaccessible as they're going to least, for now, while I'm finding my footing and get more comfortable with the way things will have to be from now on.

Hopefully, the Matts won't be the first men down during the apocalypse...or the Tea Party revolution.

Back to my brake replacement options then. I eliminated #3 right away (VICTORY!) leaving myself with #1 and #2. While I am horrible at asserting myself and asking for better deals, it seemed to me I'd be best off learning how to meet these challenges head on and try to negotiate as much as I can to, hopefully, keep myself from derailing.

I let my fingers do the walking then. I made calls to a couple of garages, I comparison shopped around the internet, and then, in desperation, I put an inquiry out to a friend who'd just had her own brakes done by another of our mutual friends - a friend who is a mechanic and also owns the equipment to do this kind of work. Turns out, our friend is not only willing to help me out, he'll get me the parts at cost, and charge me a most reasonable amount for labor. I expect to save about $70. My appointment with him is next week. Crisis averted.

Thank goodness for a large circle of friends whose talents are many and varied.

Will I stop paying down debt in order to build savings, pushing my plan back an additional 4 months?


I'm sticking to The Plan.

But I may re-evaluate how much I set aside each month for contingency and split the extra payments in half for awhile to give myself a better cushion while still working toward the ultimate goal.

In spite of the panic, today was a good day. I got new, quality tires and a long-overdue oil change, I found out I did not immediately jump for my credit card, and I advocated for myself and didn't take the bad news lying down. Victory, at least in this first battle, is mine.


  1. I swear, you could drive a brand new car off a lot and take it straight to a tire/oil change place and they'd tell you that you were just 10 miles away from a fiery death.

    I was actually once told that if I didn't drop $800 right there and then, I could "explode" by sparking a potential oil leak with my brake pads.

    I told him that I thought that sounded very exciting.

  2. I agree with Lux, they always make it sound like it's dire and it very rarely is. I had one guy tell me that I needed a radiator flush or my car was going to severely messed up. I called my grandfather (who was a mechanic himself) from the auto place and told him what they said. Um, yeah there was some yelling, some profanity and an apology from the mechanic who made me worry. Apparently the flush he suggested was totally unneeded and they only wanted to do it to get 200 bucks out of me. Thank goodness for Mr. P and his ability to fix everything. Glad it all worked out okay!

  3. @Lux: You know, that would be kinda exciting...but that even possible?

    @Peej: That's why we're very grateful for those such as Mr. P. who, when they can't do the work themselves, can yell and swear at the mechanics for us.

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