Friday, December 26, 2014

Being the grinch...

Yesterday was Christmas for all the folk I know, but for me, it really wasn't.  I mean, what makes Christmas Christmas?  If it is food and fellowship, well I had neither.  If it is the Word, I had not that either.  What I did have is both hours and hours and hours of unrelenting and overwhelming nausea and this wimpy cold that has me felled.

I'm fevered now.  SIGH.

I wish I had better words for the waves and waves and wave of nausea.  It is hard to explain that I cannot read or text or talk or watch or listen when they are ongoing.  All I can do is try to not be in the moment so that I can get to the next moment.

I wish I had better written words for it.  I wish I had better verbal words for it. I wish, when I try to speak of it, folk would stop making suggestions for help (since they simply do not get that this is an autonomic nerve malfunction thing) or to tell me to "get better soon."  I know that is a well-meaning sort of thing, but I am not going to get better.  I am only—baring some breakthrough in the practically non-existent research on dysautonomia—going to get worse.  The nausea battles ... they are not like a cold that you can get over ... recover from.

But, to be honest, I have long had conflicting thoughts about Christmas anyway.  I mean, I have great guilt because I do not look forward to the holiday like others.  My childhood holidays were not ... good.  No amount of presents and tasty food can compensate for alcoholic rages and encounters with abusive relatives.  In that wonderful presentation on Lamenting as Worship, Michael Card talks about his struggle with being a second-class Christian, one who never seemed to have the same spiritual experiences and encounters and successes as others.  My struggles with the two main "holidays" of the Christian church are laced with such guilt that I wouldn't even dare consider myself a third class Christian.

But, just as heavy, are my thoughts about Christmas itself.  I mean, in America it is this consumer-filled day.  Period.  Even amongst the Christian families I've known over the years, the primary focus, calculated by conversation and time and effort spent during the holiday season, is presents.  And that just doesn't make sense to me.

I am all about presents.  Being in the financial situation I am in now, I am even more liking of presents.  Mostly, I like them because others will give me something I'd feel too financially guilty about getting myself.  For example, those beloved Taco Bell gift cards.  Without them, I'd be living a (sad) existence devoid of Taco Bell.  Meals out are not even in the band when it comes to budgeting, much less playing second fiddle to groceries, for example.  So, I am very (and greedily) appreciative of receiving them.

I will admit, candidly, this is the first "gifting" time where I received just one.  Since my birthday is a long, long, long six months away, I will have to be far more judicious and miserly with deciding if I should pick up my beloved bean burrito (no onions, add sour cream) and crunchy taco supreme (no tomatoes) order.  In the past year, that order has risen from $2.79 to $3.33.  That means each Taco Bell gift card actually contains fewer visits.

I even like gifts with strings attached, such as the sewing machine.  I'll give you this IF....  I am a good little consumerist.  I just don't think that consumerism ought to be a part of Christmas.

Logically, since the example of gifting in Christmas was to (for) Jesus, would that not mean the best way to continue that tradition be to continue giving gifts to Jesus (to the church)?  Seriously, our wretched economy has devastated churches all across America.  How great it would be if the Christmas spending by Christians (at least) was to churches and pastors and missions and missionaries?  If all the giving was geared toward honoring and celebrating (and supporting) the Word of God??

A foolish dream, I know. Just like my thoughts that the best way to celebrate the Reformation would be a read aloud of the Augsburg Confession ... not just food and drink fetes.

I very, very, very much dislike how it is not uncommon—encouraged actually—for individuals and families to go into debt for Christmas.  To add to their debt.  To spend more instead of reducing their debt.  To cut their own achilles.  To hobble their own well-being.

It's just plain nuts.

I know I've written this before, but the wild and crazy celebrating by gifting would be just fine at birthdays and other milestones.  And, to me, the bestest gift is the totally unexpected gift, the gift that comes for no reason.  The I-just-wanted-you-to-know-I-was-thinking-of-you gift.

Think about it:  What kind of "gifts" are gold, frankincense, and myrrh? They are gifts representing the purpose for God putting on flesh, gifts of kingship and deity and death.  They are a celebration of a life born to be sacrificed.  How does spending your way into debt buying your kids the latest electronic gadgets honor that?  Memorialize that?  Pass on the tradition of that?

Like I said, to me, the mad and massive spending at Christmas, from gifts to parties to feasts, makes no blooming sense.  So, not only am I the termagant (curmudgeon).  I am also the grinch.  SIGH.

I did discover another financial website built to help folk start dealing with their financial messes.  It is ... plebian ... which seems to irritate some of the commenters on different bits of it.  Those haters don't seem to understand that the majority of Americans have no clue about financial literacy and need the basics given simply and in language that is common.

I think that Feed the Pig is a great compliment to Better Money Habits, which I have written about a few times.  I particularly liked the emphasis on tracking your spending, with a very specific plan for doing so.

There are two types of spending: essential and discretionary. Your essentials are costs you can't avoid, like food and shelter. Your weekly happy hour fix? Sorry, that's purely discretionary. 
To keep track of your money, you need to get a handle on where it's going in the first place. Here's how: 
  1. Record each and every penny, nickel and dime of your daily output for the entire month. Even parking meters. If tracking for a month sounds like a huge task, start out with a week and go from there.
  2. Categorize what you spend into essentials and discretionaries.
  3. Commit to shaving off at least $2 a day from your overall spending next month.
  4. Repeat each and every month until...
At the end of the year, you'll end up with at least $730 in cumulative savings, which you can contribute towards paying down debt, surrender to the wonder of compound interest or set aside for the goals that really get you out of bed, no caffeine necessary. 
Once you get in the tracking habit, you'll be amazed at how many opportunities you'll find to save moneyreduce debt and achieve your financial goals. Still not convinced? Check out all our  tips to Feed the Pig and save big.

A key point drilled at Better Money Habits is that one of the pillars of budgeting is prioritization.  Tracking your spending, admittedly tedious, is paramount to establishing that pillar so that your budgeting can be successful.  I really like the idea above since you will end up with savings at the end of the year just by the small goal set.

Anyone who knows anything about interest is that magical wonder of compounding.  Of course, to fully savor the wonder, you have to keep your money where it has a good rate.  Bottom line, no local or national bank or credit union is going to have it.  Online banks will give you eons better rates, even on checking.  That's why I went with ING Direct years ago and stayed when it got bought by Capital One and renamed Capital One 360.  Of course, being wretched with change, I still used the old domain to log onto my account(s) until it was finally pulled down, ignoring the 1,001 warnings to make a bookmark to the new domain.

I was skeptical that my beloved ING Direct would still serve me well being owned by a credit card company, even though I am a fan of that credit card company and regularly use my reward points for prescriptions.  However, the services offered got better after the takeover.  Ally is another online bank that offers stellar rates.  I personally think that ING Direct was a better choice and never looked back.  In any case, for example, a money market account might get you an annual rate of .03% (Bank of America's current rate), my interest checking rate is .75%!  Even though I stink at math and cannot tell you how many times more the online banking rate is than the traditional bank, I am certain the difference will peal out in comparison of those two numbers.

In the old days, before the takeover, ING used to have a running total of your interest since opening an account.  That ticker is gone, but since 2001, I have earned several thousands of dollars in interest primarily by the practice of parking my paycheck in savings until it was time to pay bills.

The old Myrtle would gleefully look at interest earned as bonus spending money, as free money.  The now poor Myrtle doesn't give a single thought to withdrawing that interest.  [Okay, mostly doesn't think about withdrawing that interest.]  The now poor Myrtle, after selling off everything she could possibly sell to upgrade her technology last year, still opened up an interest free account to pay off that technology over 12 months, parking the money she saved into an interest bearing savings account, gleefully adding up the interest she made on the money she parked as the debt was paid down.

Man, does every penny count!

Of course, I do tend to think of unexpected interest as potential Taco Bell money.  But I do try to shove those tempestuous thoughts out of my mind as fast as they come.  I am weak, after all.

I did the same with the money I pulled out of retirement to cover the taxes incurred by pulling money out to pay off the mortgage as a means to try and live within the disability income by eliminating the interest payments on my mortgage.  Instead of sending it all to the government straight off, I set up the required quarterly installments and parked the money into an interest bearing account.  The interest paid year-to-date on that account is $42.53 as of yesterday.  Once the final installment is made, I will move the interest money to my main savings account.

That, really, is the joy of ING turned Capital One 360.  You can have unlimited savings accounts, all fee-free, with no real minimum balance.  With that loveliest of features, last January with all my financial shenanigans, I set up a small savings account for the car (automatically moving $25 a month into it) and for my real estate taxes (automatically moving $62 a month into it).  The fun part is that you can nickname them (long before other banks let you do that), so I can see discrete separations in my budgeting and planning, but still earn the same interest rate on all of it, despite the divisions amongst the accounts.

Bottom line, CDs and money-market accounts cannot come near the rates of online bank savings accounts.  That's important information to have when you are plumbing the depths of the joy of compound interest.  And when you are counting pennies.  And paying for ridiculously expensive medications.


With the steady increase in bouts of nausea, I have the sneaking suspicion that the efficacy of the erythromycin is falling off.  I'm almost at a year longer than the normal time for such to happen.  And I am torn about it.  I mean, I do NOT want to go back to the daily, near unbearable innards misery that I was in with the unaided battle of gastroparesis.  However, I would like to be free of the incredible financial burden that is the taking of erythromycin.

Despite my current nature, I am actively trying to be optimistic about it.  Yes, I am concerned that I have wild nausea after eating my first real meal of the day nearly every day, but I also am able to eat later without (mostly) additional bouts of nausea.  Plus, the other symptoms I am having point more toward my blood pressure than the contractions of my stomach.  By that I mean getting up in my mornings is so bloody hard and blood pressure plummets spark nausea (and clamminess and weakness and fadedness (faded is the best adjective for how I feel).  I am eating at the same time I am struggling to acclimate to being vertical.  And I am also, of late, working on trying to sit more than I recline, even though the former is ever so much harder than the latter.

In any case, I am a greedy, miserly, grinch, who currently is fevered and battles violent nausea nearly every day.

A last tempting thought:  Growing up, I learned that a good practice for children who receive cash gifts is to have them save at least half the money.  Teaching them financial discipline is literally a gift that keeps on giving.  Anyway, if I received a bit of cash, would it be ever so irresponsible if I spent half the money instead of adding all of it to my prescription donut hole account??  After all, I did apply the two Amazon gift cards I received directly to my bi-monthly subscribe-and-save order (toilet paper, dog food, breathe right strips, and two varying grocery items) instead of promptly buying the other two Michael Card gospel commentary albums.  Such discipline ought to count for something, eh?

[I'll give you one guess as to what I would buy.]

What a hypocrit I am.  Were I truly committed to a consumerless Christmas, I would not receive gifts, encouraging gift givers to have my gift be support of the Living Word.  But I did, happily, receive that Taco Bell gift card and some chocolate and some cash, and a few other things that I actually cannot even remember.

Amos, for the record, would like the world to know he does not share my opinion about gifts and is very thankful for the THREE babies he received, as well as the bag of dog treats.  He would, however, like for those who send dog treats to lecture me about how unfair it is that I break them into small pieces and dole them out over a long period of time instead of allowing him to enjoy the fullness of that sort of gift all at once.

I guess that makes me a grinch to my puppy dog as well.  SIGH.

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