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A step to improve the finances

Mrs. Micah issued a challenge to readers and bloggers to describe one step, no matter how small, that they are taking to improve their financial situations. As a matter of fact, I’ve come up with something but haven’t had time to blog about it, what with the past week’s technoadventures.

Thanks to a reader’s comment, I figured out how I could pool my biweekly paychecks so as to “pay myself” on a bimonthly basis. This ensures that there always will be enough money in the account that dispenses payments, by EFT, to the utility companies, the Renovation Loan lender, the life insurance provider, and the long-term care insurer, and it allows me to fund the “piggy bank” account for credit-card charges once a month: on the first, rather than on whatever cockamamie date a paycheck arrives.

First, I funded a dormant checking account at the credit union with my state income tax refund of $1340, almost as much as one of my paychecks. I added another couple hundred bucks to bring this bankroll up to the amount of a single paycheck.

July’s first payday happened quite close to the first. I put that check in the newly grubstaked “pool” account. This brought the balance to the amount of one full month’s pay.

From that I funded the “piggy bank” account for the credit-card budget and the account that dispenses automatic payments-not with half of what is needed but in full, for the entire month.

Friday, July 18, was this month’s second payday. The credit union, apprised of my new scheme, automatically transferred the paycheck into the “pool” account. That brought the balance back up to the equivalent of one full month’s pay. On the 31st, I’ll make my regular transfers for savings from the “pool”: to the Renovation Loan repayment fund, to the property tax/homeowner’s insurance/car insurance fund, and to indulgence savings.

In Quicken, I renamed all my credit union accounts so my titles jibe with what the CU calls them at its online site, simplifying the books and cutting the likelihood of making an error.

Next time I’m at the credit union, I’ll arrange to have automatic transfers from the “pool” made on the 1st and the 31st. Ta DAAAA!!! No more fiddling with online transfers.

Everything except paying the credit card bills will be done automatically.

No more fiddling with Quicken and manual transfers. No more worrying about whether enough cash will hit the credit-card “piggy bank” to make the monthly budget. No more hating GDU’s ever-changing bimonthly pay schedule.

Now that’s what I call stress relief!

If next payday doesn’t come…

Oh, but of COURSE our esteemed elected representatives will pass the state budget before the whole joint has to be shut down, right?

Right. Well, come July 3rd, we shall see.

While we wait, let’s consider an important question: Are you prepared if your employer can’t pay your next check? Are you prepared for a lay-off? Are you prepared to be canned outright? Not to harp on this issue (well, yes, to harp): emergency fund, emergency fund, EMERGENCY FUND!

There are only two ways to prepare yourself financially for hard times: one is to get out of debt as fast as you can, and the other, IMHO the most important, is to lay in enough money to tide you over a spell of unemployment or disability. I say building an emergency fund is more important than getting out of debt because you have to eat. If you quit paying credit card and student loan bills, all that will happen is your credit will tank and you’ll have nuisance bill collectors nagging you. If you quit paying on your car, it’ll be repossessed, but there’s always the bus, a bike, or Shank’s mare. If you quit paying your rent or mortgage, eventually you’ll be evicted, but it takes a long time to evict someone. But if you can’t buy food, you’ll starve before the landlord or the bank can toss you into the street.

In good times, the strategy should be to build the emergency fund and pay down principal, dividing snowflakes and snowballs between the two goals until you have at least six months’ worth of living expenses stashed in the bank. As the economic clouds roll in, focus on the emergency fund. Make your regular debt payments; quit charging on the cards, so as to avoid running up any more debt; but put all of your spare cash or sidestream income into accumulating enough cash to keep you going through a really bad stretch.

How much should you set aside for the proposed rainy day?

Opinions vary, from three months to a year or more. Personally, I think an emergency fund should cover at least six months of net pay. If you’re out of work, your income tax will drop to zilch, and so you ought not to need six months’ worth of gross pay.

That said, my emergency fund actually represents a year’s net income. In the first place, at my age I don’t have a snowball’s chance of getting a job comparable to the one I’m in. And in the second, it won’t be that long before I can collect full Social Security. I’m eligible for less-than-full SS right now, so if push came to shove, I could start collecting early. In effect, at age 62 Social Security itself becomes a kind of emergency fund for those of us who persist in doddering in to the office. For you younger pups, remember this rule of thumb: a laid-off executive can expect to spend a month searching for a new job for every year of job experience she or he has.

Alternative Emergency Funds

If saving extra cash is difficult or you don’t think you can stash enough before you’re likely to be laid off, here’s a secondary strategy: get check-bouncing protection from your bank or credit union. This is actually a line of credit. If you overdraw your account, the institution lends you the amount of the overdraft, protecting you from bounced check charges. The interest isn’t cheap. However, it’s less than a credit card costs and it could save you in a pinch. I have overdraft protection in the amount of one month’s net income.

Another strategy is to start developing other income streams now, while you’re still employed. If you have a hobby that can be monetized, start monetizing. If you have a skill you can ply as a side job, start finding customers now. If you’re thinking of starting a service business, consider whether you can begin offering the service in a small way, on a moonlight basis. While this income may not support you, it certainly will help, and often such work can be expanded to full-time equivalent when you can devote 40 or 60 hours a week to build it.

If you’re fairly confident you’re going to be laid off, then in addition to starting the job search right now, here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • Apply for credit now, since no one will lend you a dime while you’re unemployed. Get a line of credit at the bank; get another credit card. Don’t use either of these instruments, but have them at the ready in case they’re needed.
  • Pare back your spending. Streamline your budget so that you’re living much as you would if you were out of work. Put the savings into the emergency fund.
  • If you have a freezer, fill it with food.
  • If you don’t have a freezer, lay in extra nonperishable items such as beans, rice, flour, and canned goods. (Remember that whole-wheat flour must be refrigerated — it will go rancid if left for a long period at room temperature.) Clean out your refrigerator’s freezer and organize its contents so you can max out the space. Buy meat and frozen products to fill it up.
  • Plant a garden. Squash and tomatoes grow handsomely and cheaply in the summertime. If you live in a temperate climate, you can grow lettuce, kale, carrots, and beets during the summer. Least expensive strategy: grow from seeds. Learn how to can, preserve, or freeze vegetables and fruits.
  • Keep your gas tank full. At four or five bucks a gallon, it’s a lot better to buy gas while you’re earning than after you’re laid off.
  • Consider how you will get around with minimal use of your car. Know the bus routes, and if your area is safe for bicyclists, get a bike at a yard sale, thrift shop, or sheriff’s sale and fix it up so you can bicycle to nearby destinations.
  • On paper or on disk, prioritize your spending obligations. Write down the things you will need to spend on, in descending order from the most to the least important. Consider how you will cover these expenditures with the emergency funds or side income you already have in place.
  • Find out how to apply for unemployment benefits and food stamps, and see if you will be eligible for other forms of public assistance. Don’t get “proud” about this: you’ve paid for it with your taxes, and you get to use it when you need it.

None of us is ever fully prepared for an unplanned job loss. Expect to be psychologically stressed and possibly depressed, no matter how carefully you’ve laid plans and stashed emergency money. Knowing how you will feel (it doesn’t take much imagination), think in advance about morale-building activities to fill your suddenly free time. Scheduling a block of time for exercise will help your outlook a great deal, as will volunteering a few hours a week for a charitable cause. Also plan to attend meetings of trade groups or professional groups-join now, especially if you can get your employer to pay the dues. Regular exercise such as walking, running, or work-outs will protect your physical and psychological health, and activities that bring you into contact with people will raise your spirits and build business and job-searching contacts.

1 Comment left on iWeb site:

Anand Dhillon

Keeping an emergency fund is always a good idea. I also advise that people have multiple streams of income so that ifthey do lose their job, it’s not totally the end of the world.They take a lot of work to setup but extra streams can provide much needed financial security.

Thursday, July 3, 200810:27 AM

A Square Peg in a Round Hole: Biweekly pay in a bimonthly world

As advantageous as a biweekly pay schedule may be to The Man, it sure is a pain to us wage slaves. Creditors expect to be paid once a month, not whenever our biweekly paycheck shows up. Because biweekly pay dates precess throughout the year, they don’t coincide neatly with due dates for bills. No matter how accommodating your utility company or credit card provider tries to be, there’s no way you can schedule bill due dates to be sure enough money will be available to cover every monthly payment. Why? Because you’re never paid on the same date. Some months, the second paycheck arrives after bills start to come due.

The phone bill is due the first of the month, and Qwest, my only uncooperative creditor, absolutely will not change the billing date. All my other bills come due on or after the 20th. Most months, two paychecks have arrived by the 20th, providing enough to cover all my regularly recurring household and insurance bills plus the credit card charges for groceries and routine living expenses.

But a look at the Great Desert University’s payday calendar shows problems arise in April, May, June, and September. In April, GDU doesn’t disburse its second paycheck until the 25th. By then, an American Express bill is due; I budget $1,500 for food, household, yard, gasoline, and such, all charged on AMEX. Usually I spend about $1,100 or $1,200. Utilities and other regular recurring bills can run as high as $840, especially in the summertime, when the costs of water and electricity track the thermometer. AMEX closes on the 20th and the check needs to be mailed by the 1st. Visa closes before then (sometimes I’m forced to use Visa if I have a lunch meeting at a restaurant near the campus—few of them take American Express). Power, water, insurance, and the Renovation Loan are due on or shortly after the 20th. With as much as $2340 due, I need that second $1,522 paycheck by the 20th, not whenever GDU gets around to paying me.

Meanwhile, each month I have to put into savings $300 a month to cover annual property tax, homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, and car registration; $200 a month to put into the Renovation Loan payoff fund; and $175 for extras such as clothing and to cover emergencies such as vet bills, car repairs, and house maintenance. So in any given month, I’m disbursing up to $3,015 out of a $3,044 income. With $29 to spare, that’s too tight to cut corners.

But in April, we’re not paid until the 28th! That paycheck has to cover bills that have already come due and cover the $87 Qwest bill due on May 1. It also has to cover half the monthly savings setasides: $337.50. I don’t get paid again until the 9th, when again I set aside half of all the monthly expenses and savings. But this doesn’t cut the mustard: In May I again go unpaid until after my monthly bills come due. Same thing happens in June. And in September. And in October. In every one of those months, I wonder if enough cash will be available to pay my regular bills!

Another consequence of this annoying system is that I never know how much is left over from a month’s worth of pay, making it impossible for me to “snowflake” the Renovation Loan. With bimonthly pay, checks posted on the 1st and the 15th. Each check covered the same two-week period. So, on the 31st, I could look at my checking account’s bottom line. Any amount left after all my expenses were paid was mine. It either went into my diddle-it-away savings or, more recently, it went to snowflake down the Renovation Loan. But now the cash remaining in my account on the 31st has to last me until a week or 10 days into the following month. Who knows whether there’s any disposable money there?

I need to be paid on a bimonthly basis. I finally figured out how to swing that. If my employer won’t pay me bimonthly, I will.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Set up a savings account and a checking account.
  2. Try to get as many of your creditors as possible to bill you after the 20th-as late in the month as possible.
  3. Arrange to have all EFTs taken from the checking account, and pay for all other bills and living expenses from that account.
  4. Make an accurate estimate of all your monthly expenses. For amounts that fluctuate, such as power and water bills, use the largest amounts to figure these estimates.

Starting in a month when you get paid on or very near the 1st:

  1. Have your pay deposited to the savings account. (Or, if necessary, transfer the entire amount from the account that receives it into the savings account.)
  2. On the first of the month (or the payday that comes closest to it) pay yourself 1/2 of the estimated amount of your monthly expenses. Put this in the checking account, which serves as a “cookie jar” to hold funds to pay expenses.
  3. Bills that are paid before the 20th should be covered by this amount.
  4. When your 2nd biweekly check comes in that month, again pay yourself 1/2 the estimated monthly expenses. Try to pay yourself on the 15th. Because twice a year an “extra” paycheck arrives, your “pool” in savings eventually makes this feasible.
  5. Bills that come due after the 20th should be covered by this amount.
  6. On the last day of the month, transfer your monthly savings to whatever instrument you’re using (money market account, mutual fund, stocks & bonds, etc.)*

Now put your entire biweekly paycheck in the savings account as it comes in. Then pay yourself bimonthly from the fund that accrues in the savings account, by transferring the amount you need to live on from savings to checking and the amount you want to save from savings to the desired financial instrument.

The effect of this is that you should always have enough in checking to cover your regular expenses. If any money is left over from your monthly budget, you will see it in your checking account.

But because of the precession of the biweekly pay, over time extra money will also accrue in the savings account. You can determine this leftover amount ONLY in months where you get paid on or near the first. In my case, that’s January and July. It looks as though after about six months of this, something like $1600 of unused money should collect in the account that receives automatic pay deposits.

If you have my arithmetical skills, too, you can start paying yourself a bimonthly salary only in a month where you get paid on or near the first. Otherwise it’s impossible to make the transfer needed to cover the first two weeks of the month in any comprehensible way.

Here’s how this looks, over the second half of 2008:
Green type shows what is in the “Inflow” savings account. Black type shows what gets transferred to checking to cover expenses. I start in July, because we get paid on the 3rd, which is pretty close to the start of the month.

We’re not quite on track to “pay” me on the the 1st and the 15th, because GDU doesn’t cough up the paycheck until the third. In August we do get paid on the 1st. Not only that, but on the 29th we get a so-called “third” paycheck, which is not really three paychecks to cover a single month’s expenses but simply the check that, in a bimonthly world, would have been paid on September 1, arriving five days out of synch with the following month’s billing cycles.

In July, things are pretty tight. If I’m lucky, I’ll have $29 left from my July paychecks. Mercifully, in August a small miracle happens: we get paid on the actual first day of the month. So, that $29 doesn’t have to cover the $87 phone bill. This puts my monthly pay-me system on track. After I’ve paid myself on the 1st and the 15th, I still have just enough cash in the inflow savings account to cover the monthly savings setasides of $675; that amount isn’t actually coming out of the the August 29 paycheck, which now starts to form a “pool” from which I will pay myself bimonthly.

In September, things start to get interesting. After the three paychecks in August, we end up with $1,609 in the inflow savings account. We don’t know how much, if any, of that is “free” money, not committed to paying October bills, it has to stretch until September 12. The September paychecks, due on the 12th and the 26th, are totally out of synch with bill-paying reality, and so there’s no way for an English major to understand what’s what here.

Not until December do we see clearly how this is working out. All the December bills and savings setasides are covered by December 15, with $164 to spare. Then on December 19 another paycheck comes in, bringing the inflow savings balance to $1,684.

But… We see from the payday calendar that GDU cuts the next paycheck on January 2. In other words, January paychecks coincide with the actualities of monthly billing. The January 2 and January 15 checks will cover all January bills, and so that $1,684 is not needed to pay expenses! It amounts to six months’ worth of snowflakes, and it can be used to pay down the Renovation Loan or put into savings. w00t!

Not being an accountant or a mathematician, I have no idea how this works. Evidently forcing bimonthly pay from the biweekly paydays must capture one of the so-called “extra” paycheck every six months. When you disconnect your monthly “pay” from your biweekly pay, somehow you recover the 25th and 26th paychecks that otherwise would have to serve to cover their own two-week periods.

Biweekly paychecks come on or near the first of a month only a couple of times a year. But this is apparently the only time when you can be certain of how much unspent income has accrued.

It’s a damnable nuisance, of course, all the shifting of funds. But this system-pooling biweekly income to pay yourself bimonthly-works to cover your bills reliably. It ensures that the money to pay your recurring obligations will be available when it’s needed.

* Although in Quicken I “pay myself first” by posting transfers into savings and mutual funds on the first of the month, I delay making the actual transfers until the end of the month, so the cash will be there to cover unexpected budget overruns or small emergencies. Posting the transfer at the start of the month shows a balance after the savings setasides, which keeps me from overspending except in emergencies.

6 Comments left on iWeb site:

!wanda

I’m so happy I’m paid monthly.

Thursday, June 19, 200801:29 PM

Seeking Clarification

I’m confused by some of your terminology… “bi-” means “every other…”, and “semi-” means “twice a…” The title of your article is “Make bi-weekly pay work in a bi-monthly world” which says “Make an every-other-week payday work in an every-other-month world.” I don’t know many people who could get paid every other month and survive! Certainly not me! 🙂

Should that be “Make biweekly pay work in a semi-monthly world” meaning, get paid every other week, when twice a month would be more conducive to bill-paying?

Friday, June 20, 200808:45 AM

vh

Actually, in current usage “bimonthly” is correct. My Random House Webster’s, for example, defines “bimonthly” both ways: “2. occurring twice a month”; and “5. twice a month, semimonthly.”

A discussion of this usage appears with the entry for the prefix bi-. “Most words referring to periods of time and prefixed with BI- are potentially ambiguous. Since BI- can be taken to mean ‘twice each’ or ‘every two,’ a word like _biweekly_ can be understood as ‘twice each week’ or ‘every two weeks.’ Confusion is often avoided by using the prefix SEMI- meaning ‘twice each’ (_semiweekly; semimonthly; semiannual_) or by using the appropriate phrases: _twice a week, twice each month, every two months, every two years_).”

I usebimonthly to mean “twice a month” because that’s how my employer uses it and it’s how HR people and payroll accountants across the nation use it.

Saturday, June 21, 200806:30 AM

Sally

I just pay half of my bills each payperiod. I’ve been doing this with online billpay, and I’ve had no problems at all. The only thing it doesn’t work with is my rent. I have to save half of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 200804:14 PM

PKSublime

Okay I really don’t like your solution very much.There is a better, easier way to do this.
What you do is save ALL your paychecks from month 1 and then pay ALL your bills on the 1st of month 2 that will/are due in month 2.
The concept of “living off last months income” is a great way to operate, and is anthemed by followers of “The YNAB Way” over at http://www.youneedabudget.com./

Wednesday, June 25, 200801:45 PM

vh

@ Sally: It’s never occurred to me to ask my creditors if they would accept half-payments. Besides, how would you know how much to pay? Creditors send out a bill once a month, not twice a month; and except for the phone company (whose bill is always the same because I don’t make long-distance calls), every statement is different. The power bill ranges from $80 to $180, for example.

@ PKSublime: Unclear how what I’m proposing here differs much from YNAB. Over six months, you would end up with the equivalent of one paycheck residing in your account (a little more, if you spend less than you earn); over a year you’d have a full month’s worth. That would happen because of the payday precession, with no effort on your part. With YNAB, it appears that the amount you would set aside to pay down debt or build savings would have to go to build a month’s worth of extra living expenses. It would take you quite a while to accomplish that. The scheme above lets you start right now, with no waiting period while you build a stash. Personally, I’m put off by the blatant commercialism of YNAB: pay us and we’ll tell you our secrets (which appear to amount to “budget, pay off debts, live within your means, build savings.” Thanks…I’ll figure it out for myself.

Thursday, June 26, 200805:25 AM

Getting back on budget

[sorry: this is an old post from iWeb. i neglected to change the date on it]

I am broke, broke, y-broke!

The $1,012.53 the vets charged for Anna’s care over the past month and a half ran my budget into the red last month and did it again this month. Every week this month has ended in red ink. For the current week, which began the day before yesterday and runs through the 20th, I’m already $3.09 in the red. And I need groceries, dog food, gasoline, repairs on the irrigation system, and repairs on the pool cleaner. Getting back on budget before my financial structure implodes calls for some serious fiscal strategizing!

Here’s where we are now:

The first step in getting back on track with a budget is to figure out what you absolutely must purchase before the end of the limping budget cycle. Luckily, I have plenty of food in the freezer to carry me over for a week. I’m out of orange juice, but I won’t die without it, and besides, M’hijito has neglected to harvest the Arizona sweets on the tree in his back yard; before the hour is over, whatever fruit is still usable will be in my refrigerator. The repairs can wait-whether they can or not, they’ll have to. One is a minor fix that I tried to do this morning but found my hands were not strong enough to perform; with any luck I can get a male to do this for free. If not, the plants will have to live for a few days without water, or I’ll have to haul a hose around the yard.

So, this leaves us with only two genuinely imminent purchases:

With the van down a third of a tank of gas, there’s no chance I can make five round-trip commutes to the Great Desert University without refilling. A fill-up now exceeds $55, and so if I have to buy more gas between now and the 21st, I’ll be deep in the red. The little dog turns up her nose at Science Diet (which, despite the hype and the vigorous marketing to veterinary practices, really isn’t all that great for dogs-it’s full of meat “meal” [you don’t even want to know what that is!], corn, and brewer’s rice, baleful ingredients one and all). I found a canned food that contains real meat, brown rice, and vegetables, exactly what I would feed if I cooked her food myself, but as you can imagine, it ain’t cheap. Luckily, she doesn’t eat much. She’ll have to make do with the Science Diet I picked up when I got her, which I’ll use to stretch a can or two of fancy dog food. If I run out of quality canned dog food, she can eat cottage cheese with veggies and rice, which I have on hand. So, $55 for gas plus about $7 to $10 for dog food will put me about $68 in the hole at the end of this month.

That’s the best-case scenario. But there’s only five more days to go, and so it COULD happen. I might not even have to spend that much on gas-half a tank purchased on Wednesday or Thursday would take the car back and forth to campus for the rest of the billing cycle and cost about $30. So there’s an outside chance the budget may be only $38 in the red. Only. Argh.

ther expenses are pending. This situation requires me to list upcoming expenses, distinguish what is urgent and what can be put off, and how I will do without them.

So, let’s suppose that between now and next Saturday I manage to restrict spending to two or three cans of dog food and some gasoline. Where exactly will the missing $38 to $68 come from?

One source is the emergency fund. As I’ve remarked before, I keep $500 of my emergency fund in checking, to serve as a “cushion.” So in fact, even if I overspend my $1,500 budget, the cash will be there to prevent a check to American Express from bouncing. I could simply end the month in the red, put it behind me, and try to stay in the black next month.

But I’d rather not eat into the emergency fund unless absolutely necessary. Even though the breathtaking veterinary bills for Anna amount to a budgetary “emergency,” I’m close enough to the black that my regular diddle-it-away savings could cover the budget overrun. In fact, my “play money” savings account contains about $1,400, so I could easily convert the red ink to black right now. I could transfer the $368.53 deficit that ran this week’s apportioned budget into the hole from savings to checking. That would put this week in the black and cause me to stop grinding my teeth about this matter.

However, I’d rather use my diddle-it-away savings for something fun, not to cover the cost of my pet dog’s death. This is particularly so since GDU’s dratted biweekly pay schedule has reduced the monthly play-money savings from $200 a month to $87.50 a paycheck, meaning it took a long time to accrue $1,400.

The most sensible strategy, I think, will be to wait until the billing cycle ends, on the 20th, and then transfer the amount of the overrun from play-money savings to checking. If I manage to keep the red ink to no more than $70, that’s a lot better than a $368 bite. In fact, all I’d have to do is not make one of this month’s biweekly deposits to savings: the $87.50 would more than cover it.

So, to summarize: What are the strategies to deal with budget overruns?

  1. Establish and maintain an emergency fund!
  2. As the budget nears zero, list pending expenditures.
  3. Separate out absolutely necessary spending from purchases that can be put off.
  4. Describe in writing which spending to put off, and write down what exactly you will do to cope without these items or services.
  5. Calculate the amount of your shortfall, after necessary expenditures.
  6. Use discretionary savings to cover the shortfall, to the extent possible.
  7. Fall back on your emergency savings when you have to.

Month of extreme frugality (NOT!)

Wow! If there’s any question about whether Karma is mad at me, the laughable effort at a month of extreme frugality answers it! Not only did I fail to save extra money to apply toward the Renovation Loan Payoff Fund, for the first time since I started the weekly budgeting system, I ended the month-long cycle in the red!

I was $23.57 in the black on May 16 and thought I might make it to the end of the billing cycle, but just couldn’t do it. The main reasons were the dog and the astronomical cost of gas.

The dog went off her feed, causing her to barf up the meds. So I had to go by Sprouts to pick up some ground lamb and lamb neck bones to persuade her to eat; while I was there I got some hamburger for myself (totaling $15.89). Then I had to buy a new prescription antibiotic for her, relatively cheap at $26.80 but still more than I had left in the budget, even without the cost of food. These two trips consumed just enough gas that I wasn’t sure I could make the 36-mile round trip to the office on what remained in the gas tank, plus I had to come home the long way to go by a client’s office and deliver a completed project. My van gets 18 miles to the gallon, so I bought about 2 1/3 gallons at Costco: 13 cents a gallon under the going rate, but still $3.47 a gallon. These expenses put me in the red.

This compares abysmally with the first three months of this year:

Before this disastrous month, the worst I did when I wasn’t trying to save had me $151 in the black!

What did the job on my budget was the cost of veterinary care: $379.75 to my old vet and $278.08 to the new vet, plus assorted extra meds. Plus special food. The cost of gas didn’t help-really, if gas were not exorbitant, I might have ended in the black despite the dog headaches.

Luckily, I kept $500 of the previous months’ savings in the money market checking account used to pay these costs as an emergency “cushion.” So when the American Express bill arrives, there will be enough to pay it. But it frosts my cookies.

At this point, it looks like the only hope of getting the vet bills under control is to put the dog down. The vaginal infection is better, but the nose thing just keeps getting worse. She can barely breathe through her nose. Just the cost of diagnosing what ails her starts at $300, to X-ray her skull. If she has a tumor, then she should be put to sleep right away, because it’s terminal and there’s nothing effective that can be done: $300 + $379.75 + $278.08 = $957.83 that I might as well have run through the shredder. If she doesn’t have a tumor but probably has something stuck in her nose, they have to thread a lighted tool into her nasal cavity, which in a dog is an extremely complex maze, to try to fish it out. The vet said this would be “expensive.” When a veterinarian calls something “expensive,” you can be sure the term an ordinary mortal would use is “ruinous.”

So, it may be better just to put her to sleep now. She’s had a long run: she’s almost 13 years old, two years past the normal life span of a German shepherd. I hate to contemplate it: a stuffy nose shouldn’t be a capital offense. On the other hand, heavy panting and rapid breathing are signs of doggy pain, and with the vaginal infection pretty much healed, we know the pain isn’t coming from that. The fact that her nose doesn’t appear to be congested while she’s sleeping (i.e., unconscious) suggests the noisy breathing isn’t caused by a nasal blockage but indicates discomfort or pain. She keeps me awake half the night every night, and I have to get up and get out of the house by 7:30. I’m running on fumes myself at this point-this has gone on for a couple of months-and I’m starting to get sick from the stress and fatigue. If she’s in pain, at her age chances are the cause is cancer. It may just be time to say good-bye.

Poor old lady.

3 Comments left on iWeb site

Jennifer

What a tough call on the dog.We were in this boat a few years ago and you are right about when a vet says “expensive” that means it is ridiculously expensive.our dog had a thyroid tumor, i.e. cancer, that spread to her heart.Well once that happens there is no hope.It is sad either way, but it is important that the dog not suffer.And it is hard to tell if a dog is suffering because they can’t talk.Good luck with the dog, that is hard to deal with.

Tuesday, May 27, 200806:03 PM

Allergies

I went through the same thing with 2 family dogs.It sounds like allergies.I got a lot of help by going to the online medical sites for dogs and humans too.What the vet doesn’t tell you is that dogs can tolerate most of the same medications people do, just in lower doses for their body weight.I would try a childs brand and dosage. Todays dog foods are not very good for your dog.You are better off feeding them meats and oatmeal with fruits and vegetables.or meat and potatoes.An allergy may be to meat also because of the amounts of chemicals they treat foods with today.Have a little patience and you will find the right combination to make your dog feel better.

Friday, May 30, 200807:11 AM

vh

Alas, this dog isn’t given to allergies. When the Great Dog Food Scare arose, though, I started feeding her and the greyhound real food. They indeed do perform a great deal better on human food: dog food is substandard and provides substandard nutrition.

However, turning out 28 pounds of dog food a week is no joke. Unfortunately, I have a job and I have no partner to help me with shopping, food preparation, and cleanup, and so even if I could afford the cost of buying huge quantities of better food than I eat myself, converting my kitchen into a dog-food factory is not a practical option.

Subsequent trips to the vet show that what’s causing the manifestations of pain is pressure sores. She refuses to lay on her soft blankets–about the middle of last winter, she developed an aversion to dog beds, of which she has a half-dozen scattered around the house and back yard. Washing them did not help. Buying new ones did not help. She is so averse to a soft place to lie down that she will not even walk on them–she walks around them. Lay one down in the hall, and she treats it like a roadblock. As a result she lies on the tile flooring, which is throughout the house. The yard is desert-landscaped, and so there’s no grass to lie on out there.

Pressure sores are extremely difficult to treat, even in humans who can understand instructions not to lie on them. Eventually, they eat through to the bone. They are very painful. They get infected, and such an infection can and will kill the victim. Old folks in poorly maintained nursing homes routinely die of the effects of pressure sores.

There’s evidently nothing I can do about this. I tried tying an object to her torso so that it would force her to lie on her side. This worked for about 30 minutes, after which she just lay down on top of it.

Friday, May 30, 200807:28 AM

Stay on top of magazine renewals

“YOUR NEXT ISSUE WILL BE YOUR LAST ISSUE! IT’S ALARMING BUT TRUE…UNLESS YOU RENEW NOW!”

This message comes plastered to the current issue of Consumer Reports, the widely respected (off and on) self-appointed guardian of consumer interests.

Alarming, indeed, but is it true?

Well, no. My bill isn’t due for another three months. I paid for a one-year subscription in March, 2007. For this “alarming” message to reach me on January 5, it would have been mailed in December, four months before the actual renewal date.

Magazine hustlers—the august Consumer Reports included—rely on the twin probabilities that you don’t recall when you paid and that it’s more trouble than it’s worth for you to dig out your records to find out when you did pay. So you’ll pay a few months early. Each year you pay another month or two or even three early, and guess what-after a very few years, you’ll have paid for an extra subscription. An extra ten thousand $20 subscriptions represents a free $200,000 for the magazine. Sweet, eh?

A couple of years ago I realized my magazine subscriptions were coming due within a month or two of each other, after I had deliberately signed up for each at different times of the year so that I could afford to pay for the subscriptions without straining my budget. A Quicken search revealed that, yea verily, renewal demands were coming months ahead of the actual renewal dates.

If you have Quicken or a similar program, here’s an easy way to keep track of when subscriptions are actually due:

When you pay to renew a subscription, enter the amount you paid and then make another entry for the same month and day, one year in the future (or two or three, depending on your subscription’s length), showing when the renewal is due. For example, the account I use to pay subscriptions shows these entries:

1/7/08: Harper’s due
2/10/08: Scientific American due
2/10/08: Atlantic due
3/6/08: New York Review of Books due
3/6/08: Consumer Reports due
9/1/08: CR Money Advisor due
11/20/08: gift sub for Atlantic due

The reason two subscriptions are due in February and two are due in March—when I would never start two subscriptions in one budget cycle—is that I didn’t realize I was being herded into paying earlier and earlier until the due dates had been pushed forward, closer and closer to the beginning of the year, and finally began to coincide.

Just because a publication’s editorial policy seems sound does not exempt its circulation department from sleaze. Keep your eye on the rascals…no matter how venerable or upstanding the journal’s reputation!