Whoops, got busy with LIFE

August 24, 2009

What a difference a year makes! I was looking over this blog recently and realized just how long it’s been since I’ve updated. Whoops. Life kinda got away from me this last year but no complaints, it’s been a fun
ride.

In the last year I have
*bought a house
*paid off over $10,000 in debt
*accumulated over $6,000 in savings
*taken steps to achieving a literary “career”
*got laid off

Aside from that last one it’s been a great year!

Where do you want to be in one year?

If you’d asked me a year ago I never would have imagined all of this
happening.

My apologies, as the designated keeper of the blog (a thankless job by the way) I have been lax in the actual updating of this blog. 

<insert excuses here>

It’s not that writing has taken a backseat. Oh nooooo, in fact I (startsmart) have recently been added as a columnist covering features for a local paper and Firebird is submitting to some of New York’s finest for consideration. 

Oh, and we got a joint (paid!) freelance gig.  Takes a bunch of time to be mutually motivated and snarky and helpful and figure out how to post on a new site and all that jazz.

But we are assisted by a wonderful, talented, sour skittles loving editor and her fab team.  While this project is tangentially related to personal finance it does give us a foothold for our target audience: the fiscally uneducated teenager!

If you’re so inclined, check out our premiere column http://community.sparknotes.com/index.php/2008/09/16/snark-bite-words-of-wisdom-from-some-sassy-sparkers/

 

. From startsmart.

 

 

There’s a little bit of a voyeur in all of us.  We like to snoop in on other people’s lives and find out what they’re spending money on and what they do with their time.  It’s the whole “grass is greener” concept because everyone else must have more fun, more money and more exciting lives than we do!

 

The Good

 

On some level I enjoy reading about how other “normal” people strive to save money and pay off their debts.  I am not alone in this struggle and debt can become very isolating. However.  There’s a deeper reason for the constant perusal of personal finance writings across the blog-o-sphere.  For me, it’s to learn.

I’ve learned how to make my own laundry soap (though I’m stuck on finding a big enough pot for the brew), mix my own custom oatmeal flavors, how to negotiate the land of coupons and rebates, what it takes to apply for loans and how to improve my credit score.

 

I have watched a dozen people parent and hope I can be as wise if and when my own children come along (I’ve begun practicing on my pets but the puppy is more content to chew on my socks than put them in the laundry basket. Alas.)

 

I’ve learned, like my own life, others don’t have it all together all the time.  Life is not a Disney matinee.

 

The Bad

 

I must admit I do follow several blogs as I watch strangers mess up their financial futures.  It’s my own personal Kill Bill series: violent, messy, ugly and utterly addictive.

 

Whether I read about an author making six figures and stuck in a cycle of payday advance loans or someone who ignored student loans until they found out they owed $24,000 next week, I always learn something.  How about the guy who, by all accounts, hates his girlfriend and her spending habits?  I can’t wait until they break up and he asks for all his loans back.  This is better than soap operas folks!

 

While I won’t be posting links to these blogs (out of sheer kindness) one struck a chord with me as the author observed a relative making a series of bad choices ending with a vehicle repossession. This series:  http://www.chicawithissues.com/2008/07/28/observing-others-financial-choices/

showed us the glimpse into a family that lives up the high life on credit cards, loans and fingerhut.  For those of you unaware (and it’s probably a good thing) fingerhut and other services sell items that you pay back by the month, $10/month for an ipod for example.  It all seems well and good until you consider that if you practiced a little self control, saved up the money and recognized that delayed gratification would save you hundreds in the long run you’d have that iPod without the fingerhut bill.

 

To my knowledge no one ever died from not owning an iPod.

 

And the Ugly

 

This phenomenon is like being stuck in traffic due to an accident and you’re cursing the hundreds of drivers in front of you, “just drive! it’s an fender bender not NASCAR!” and then you pull up to the scene and slow down just for a quick glance.

 

Yeah, that’s reading a post from a blogger who will “absolutely without a doubt pay down this debt!!!” and six months later has updated, quietly adding their new car loan to the list of debts.  It’s the millionaire who complains about picking up a relative at the airport and decides to charge her children $10 each time they come for a visit for “taxi service”.

 

But it’s also the blogger who tracks their spending too obsessively for my tastes, registering a dime as “found money” in Quicken.

 

All of these bloggers are making their own choices, living their financial lives out in the open in relative anonymity.  Maybe obsessive compulsive financial tracking works for them.  Maybe their choices, which seem absurd to me, will pay off in the long run.

 

Why me?

 

So if part of my interest in financial blogs is to see what people do right and another part to know what people did wrong is that enough?  Why not just read and avoid adding my own suggestions to the blogging universe?  Well, it seems I simply cannot keep my mouth shut.  You know those days when someone on the train or at the next table or desk is just wrong?  When they’ve got some idea so messed up in their head you just want to shake them?  That’s how I feel about my generation at times when it comes to money.

And I’m not usually so involved in other people’s personal decisions but this one, this one will directly influence my life.  In my region a lot of folks are losing their houses after buying mortgages they could not afford.  The rental market is pretty tight and prices are increasing. Cost of living increases and a tight job market means more people resort to social services, services we all pay for with taxes.  Difficult times and desperate peoplecan lead to an increase in crime which impacts all of us.

 

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*this post from startsmart*

 

 

Some months ago I decided “snowflaking” was my word for 2008. Selfish, I know.  I first found the term in relation to novel writing and the process of taking a triangle and gradually subdividing each side until it resembled a complicated little snowflake.

 

 

Here’s what the process looks like:

 

*Source: Randy Ingermanson http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php

 

As you can tell by the pretty pictures, it takes something basic (like a plot) and gradually breaks it down into ideas, scenes, subplots, characters, dialogue and then all those details that make a novel compelling. 

 

 

The next time I heard about snowflaking it was in relation to personal finance, specifically to knock out a significant level of debt.  If you’ve heard of guru Dave Ramsey you probably know the “Snowball Method” now blogger PaidTwice teaches about using snowflakes (small amounts) to form snowballs (larger amounts) and knock out debt. 

 

*Source:

http://www.paidtwice.com/2007/10/12/snowflaking-a-primer/

 

Snowflaking is the process of collecting small bits of money and storing them away until you have a big enough snowball to make a decent dent in your debt.  PaidTwice has used blogging revenue, eBay sales, refunds, rolled coins, and found money to snowflake toward debt free living.

 

It was at this time that I decided this new buzzword was a great way to describe my progress in many areas.  Reading my way through my bookshelves is snowflaking, one page at a time.  Cleaning the house is dusting on room at a time, dustflaking I might call it.  Training the dog is a continual process, snowflaking with one command at a time.  I walk my dogs and slowly regain my strength after my accident by snowflaking, one block at a time.

 

When I sit and consider my life goals it seems like I’m staring up at Mount Everest and the odds are stacked against me.  But taking it one step at a time, collecting snowflakes as small victories I can make it. 

 

 

 

 

Debt, like many goals or challenges we face, can be that insurmountable peak that mocks our lack of progress.  Eliminating thousands in credit card debt can be intimidating.  But you don’t have to come up with $100, start by collecting a $5 snowflake, a $17 snowflake, a $2 snowflake and suddenly you’re on your way. 

 

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So many people have credit card debt and feel they have nothing to show for it.   A valuable exercise is to look back through the last year of credit card statements and look at your purchases (if you have no idea where those statements are look them up online and look forward to our post on organizing your financial records!).  The question you want to ask yourself is: What did I charge that I couldn’t pay off? 

 

BASIC LIVING:

 

If it was rent you need to reconsider where you live and why you can’t afford it.  When you take into account interest charges you could probably be renting a room in the Playboy Mansion without the added stress of crippling credit card debt.

 

If it was utilities or regular bills like cell phones, cable, gym memberships, Netflix, TiVo, or online clubs create a budget you can live with or cut your expenses.  FYI, cable is not a necessity. We promise.

 

If it was clothing sell what you don’t wear and make due with what you own. Hint: if your closet and dresser are too full to find something to wear you have too many clothes.

 

If it was eating out suck it up and cook at home. That $4 burrito will cost less than a buck homemade and you won’t owe interest. 

 

If it was school books, supplies or tuition apply for student aid, grants or loans which have much better rates and repayment options. Or buy used books, borrow from friends and survive without the ultra shiny space pen for note taking.

 

ENTERTAINMENT:

 

If it was movies, games and computer equipment sell what you can or use what you already own.  Trade items you don’t like with friends and buy used next time (with cash).

 

If it was books and magazines get a library card and use it.  If you must have subscriptions ask for renewals for your birthday or Christmas.

 

If it was music downloads and CDs pick up free music at the library or exchange with a friend.

 

If it was concerts buy a CD -they’re cheaper- and play it in your car at the local park.  Or limit your concert goings and stick to the cheap seats. 

 

If it was clubbing, drinks, cab rides and hangover cures go visit your local AA.  Just kidding.  Limit your recreational time to what you can afford.  That may mean one fabulous club a week or four dives a month.  And just say no to the age old question “would you like to open a tab?”

 

If it was a vacation or timeshare then create a budget that saves money for those events BEFORE you book them.  A vacation is a luxury, entertainment and escapism.  It is not necessary and not as much fun when you consider those seven days in “paradise” will result in seven years of credit debt hell.

 

MISC:

 

If it was purchases that can only be described as “stuff”, make up, action figures, decorative coasters, anything from the SkyMall catalog, then you need to find a support group.  Or give yourself a weekly or monthly allowance which you can spend on any thing you want, even Slurpees from 7-11 at 1:23AM, without tracking. 

  

If it was car repairs or other emergencies start an EF right now.  FWIW, ‘pimpin’ your ride’ is not a valid emergency nor a reason to whip out the Visa.

 

If it was groceries and alcohol stop eating OR create a simple list of food you need to survive and a budget.  You’re in debt.  This is not the time to pretend you’re stocking Emeril’s dream kitchen or host college frat rush week. 

 

If it was medical bills evaluate your medical insurance and then start a Hospital EF right now.

 

 

What did you charge on a credit card that you couldn’t pay off? 

 

Money and Vacation

July 23, 2008

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Note from the writers:  thanks for your patience as we were away this weekend, meeting in person and working on many writing projects.

What is it about vacation that prompts us to open our wallets and let cash fly from our fingers?  Personally we blame pickpockets and exhaustion.  And by pickpockets we don’t mean overpriced vendors but the real worry of any tourist that all our cash will be lifted from an unsecured pocket.

Because we fear pickpockets we compensate with travel wallets and luggage that promises to protect all our earthly belongings.  See, they even have prictures with the hidden pockets!  But yeah, most pickpockets can read or at least look at a picture.

What’s a nervous traveller to do?  Hide the cash!  Some in the front pocket, a little in the back, other bills hidden from the hotel staff and a little more in your shoe.  Which creates an entirely new dilemma when it comes to spending.  No, not how to dig the twenty out of your bra, actually lots of money in lots of places is rather hard to track.

Exhaustion comes into play as we push and push ourselves to get it all done until we end up acting like the cranky four year old being dragged our of Disneyland crying and kicking.  Very few people end their days on vacation by cataloging daily purchases and collecting cash from its forty-seven different hiding places.  Even fewer of us want to do this in public brandishing a wad of cash.  And have you tried remembering how much that drink on the street or trinket from a vendor costs?  Nearly impossible.

Inevitably we end vacation desperately scavenging through our luggage, pockets and new purchases for cash. Surely we could not have spent it all! There’s got to be a better way and with any luck a traveller more experienced than us will chime in with some tips.  Here are ours:

1.  Create a trip budget. Whether it’s $100 or $1,000, make a budget.  This allows you to mentally track if you’re spending too quickly.

2.  Consider where the money will come from if you go over budget.  Savings? Rent?  Will you need to carry a credit card balance?

3.  Consider where the money will go if come in under budget.  Will you print your vacation pictures and frame them?  Go out to dinner?  Begin saving for the next adventure?

4.  Divide money into envelopes either by day, event or category.  We recommend by day unless you intend on just one or two very expensive days it generally works best.

5.  Track receipts or at the very least write down purchases.  Our favorite trick is to email or text message your travel partner or use the note feature on your phone or in a planner.   Vacation is not a time to run, run, run.  Take time to relax, even if just to note how much lunch at the fantastic new restaurant set you back.

6.  Carry a variety of bills.  Don’t count on the ability to make change or get stuck paying for an expensive item with a huge wad of ones.  That’s vacation stress you don’t need.

A little more advice for tip #4:

Let’s say Monday is travel day #1.  You’ll want some small bills to tip any service people who help you on your way.  Maybe some additional cash for food as you travel, a newspaper or new book to read.  When you awake, bright eyed and bushy tailed, on Tuesday in a different time zone move any leftover Monday money to Tuesday.  You may also consider an In Case of Emergency stash.

One last tip for you, go to your own bank before leaving home.  If you want take some of their deposit envelopes for this exercise.  Also, if you’re wise, get a roll of quarters and feed the meter.  No one likes a parket ticket on vacation.

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Financial education is difficult so let’s start with some easy concepts.  By no means an exhaustive list, your friendly firestarters have compiled a list of things to remember in your journey:

A- Allow yourself to make mistakes. A common occurrence when trying to change your financial life is to expect perfection. Statements such as “I’ll never eat out again” or “I can live on $2,000 a year and pay off all my debts” only set yourself up for failure. You need to be realistic about your current financial situation and set reasonable goals. You will make mistakes. You will overspend, underearn or overdraw your account on occasion. But the victory comes in reducing the frequency and financial ramifications of these mistakes and learning from them.

 

B- Be aware of where and how you spend money. At least half the people  who express their financial problems have said at one time or another “I just don’t know where it all goes.” Take a good long hard look at your life. You are (presumably) an adult who works hard for the pay your company dispatches. Take responsibility for your earnings and budget your money according to your needs, future and wants– in that order

 

C- Command control of your financial life. It’s so much easier to sit on your friend’s couch and bitch about how hard life is. Your parents wouldn’t buy you a car when you turned sixteen. You had to go to college to get a decent job. Nobody told you how much you pay in credit card interest. Houses are just too expensive in your area.

Fine, whine then.

But for every minute you waste being a whiner you’re not getting a hold on your financial state and doing something about it. Mistakes are in the past, identify them, learn from them and commit to not making the same ones in the future.

 

 

X- (e)Xamine your (e)Xpenses.  Don’t be afraid to go after contracts, memberships, even your food budget with tenacity.  You’ll come away knowing exactly what you spend and where.  Looking at your budget should be an exercise in aligning your goals with your spending.
 

Y- Ask yourself Why often. This piggybacks on X above and should be utilized in a lot of common situations.

Why do I have premium cable when I work most of the day and then would rather watch movies?

If I talk an average of 300 minutes a month why does my cell phone plan have unlimited minutes?

Why am I considering sending a birthday present to a friend 300 miles away who I have not talked to in two years?

Why do I continue to bail out my friend/kid/husband/sister/father when they never learn and always come back for more money?

 

Z- Be prepared to Zig Zag toward your goal. A monthly budget that has consistent allocations for each category is somewhat of a mystery in my mind, somewhat akin to Bigfoot: very elusive. One month you may sock away a few hundred in savings, the next month paying double on a student loan, in six months you might be aggressively saving for your Roth. The goals business in personal finance is all about keeping the plates spinning. It’s easy to over focus on one aspect of your financial health and ignore the rest. Like people who refuse to eat carbohydrates but consume too much salt, fat and calories and refuse to exercise.
 
In addition to zigzagging along, making your goal one month and falling short the next, you should be tracking your progress so you know when to zig and when to zag. Remember, dollars are scarce and every $1 you use to pay a bill is a dollar that won’t go into savings. Every dollar in your savings doesn’t go to debt. It’s a constant battle. Some days you’ll feel like a triathlon athlete who gets it all done in perfect time. Other days you’ll feel like the American Gladiator atop that mushroom being beaten with a giant q-tip from every angle.
 

Take a deep breath. Relax. Just like a kid learning your ABC’s it takes awhile to get down the XYZ’s but you’ll get there eventually.

 

 

There’s a lot of talk about recession and economic decline on the horizon.  While price inflation is not a new phenomenon the increase in fuel and food prices have hit most Americans where it hurts: the wallet.  In such an economy it’s popular to talk about where we’re going to cut back, how we can save a buck or ten. 

 

This is not an article telling you how to wash ziploc baggies, use one square of toilet paper or how to sell your second jet, rent out the house in the Hamptons or even sell a kidney on eBay.  This is about any number of products of services we use and will continue to use no matter how bad the economy or our bank accounts look.

 

Enter the Sacred Cow

 

Without getting into a religious debate I’ll quickly describe the origin of this term and how it applies to our personal and financial lives.

 

Several faiths believe in reincarnation and teach animal worship since they believe animals have the souls of ancestors.  Despite conditions of drought, famine, personal hardship or impending starvation, the faithful people will continue to make food sacrifices to their gods and care for the animals.  Some have pointed out the dicotomy in values of a person living in perpetual want and hunger while suitable sources of food, like a sacred cow, are not slaughtered and even fed copiously.  Or allowing scavenging animals, like rats, to eat food that is needed to feed a family.

 

In this vein of thinking, often times when it becomes necessary to make budget cuts, to reduce our spending and live on less we ignore the Sacred Cow.

 

What do cows look like?

 

We see this all the times on the MSN Money Message Boards. It comes in forms of “my husband needs premium cable” or “I refuse to dress my children with hand-me-downs” sometimes its less subtle in the form of a personal trainer or expensive gym membership, a long awaited trip, the 4,000 sf home or shopping at the premiere market in town.  It’s not the amount that matters, it’s the mindset.  It’s the daily coffee from Starbucks because I need it to make it though the day.  It’s the second or third car that I have always wanted and proves I’ve “made it.”  It’s doggy daycare, designer purses, stinky cheese and the weekly wash & wax membership.

 

Simply, it’s the thing that you spend money on without question and believe you cannot do without.  It’s the last expense on the chopping block and the one we defend most rigorously.  For some people it is tied to religion in the form of tithing, providing scholarships or going away to a retreat or camp.  For others it is the religious experience of a concert, great meal, Dungeons & Dragons or golf outing.

 

But, but… I want it!

 

This is not about justifying your Sacred Cow as worthwhile. We need to identify our Sacred Cows and challenge their authority in our decision making.  To do so limits their power and empowers us for maybe the first time.  This is not to say you must cut the Sacred Cow out of your expenditures, just know when to say no more.  Or, absent eliminating the Sacred Cow in a bloody scene, identify replacement products or services. 

 

Instead of buying Starbucks get some premium coffee beans and whipped cream in a can.  If you’re not going for the coffee but for the socialization join a bookclub or host tea in your home. 

 

Instead of doing all your shopping at the best place in town try substituting products one at a time.  You may find the generic brand of bread, rice, or soda is good enough. 

 

Unfortunately it is sometimes easier for people to get another credit card, default on the loan or declare bankruptcy than risk losing the sacred cow.  Not the smartest financial move, kiddos, not the smartest.

 

Married to a Sacred Cow?

 

You know that awesome friend of yours who is dating Loser McLoserton?  Their relationship may be a Sacred Cow.  Holding something in high regard despite evidence that points to less than great behavior is just plain cow worship.  Symptoms include staying in a relationship in spite of physical, verbal or emotional abuse, clinging to a person’s good qualities which are few and far between or just plain staying with the wrong person for the wrong reasons.

 

Have you ever just wanted to shake your friend and scream, “S/he’s no good for you!  You’re not getting enough for what you’re giving and it’s tearing you down!  Give it up!”

Have you heard that from a friend yourself?

Now, are you sure they meant Mr. Not Quite Perfect or could they also be talking about your overpriced, too expensive SUV with payments that are crushing your finances? 

  

Cows at work 

 

Ever known a company to keep an employee that doesn’t work or poisons the environment?  Yet, for all the evidence it’s not good for the entity as a whole those in charge will not see anything but good. That’s a Sacred Cow.  Actually, this is how the theory of the Sacred Cow came to fruition when Startsmart observed undeserved preferential treatment again and again at the expense of others who were working much harder and being recognized less frequently.  Let’s not look like fools clinging to our Sacred Cows while the world crashes around us. 

 

What’s poisoning your life?  Not necessarily your finances either but maybe your life.  Maybe you can afford your timeshare but it reminds you of an ex-spouse who cheated and although you won it in divorce settlement it’s a constant reminder of something horrible.  Do you keep it just because you can?  Do you own something to spite someone else?  Repeat after us: I own my possessions; I will not allow them to own me. 

 

Startsmart’s Sacred Cow(s)

 

Unfortunately, I have several.  The first is my car.  It’s new(er) and pretty, practical and commands a large portion of my finances every month.  It signals my independence, my commitment to my family and carries to me work five times a week faithfully.  But if I am unable to make the payments on this car I know I can sell it for more than I owe on the loan and buy a very cheap car with the excess.  I’d likely be spending a whole lot more on unexpected repairs but I am prepared to sell if the situation calls for it.

 My second cow is my pets. The two dogs I own are my faithful companions even if they do eat like horses. I buy their food, treats and toys without complaint.  I take care of them because they have the enormous task of keeping me sane.  If I were to move to a location that does not allow pets I do have a backup plan for good homes for both animals but I would miss them terribly.  FWIW, my plan does include visitation rights.

Firebird’s Sacred Cow

Right now it’s my apartment, I live alone and do not want a roommate.  I’ve lived with roommates in the past and probably will again in the future but right now it’s a Sacred Cow.
What about you?
What’s your Sacred Cow?  What do you think you can’t live without no matter the economic circumstances? 

You need it, you love it, you want more of it!

 

We’re not exactly going to tell you how to optimize your earning potential and make enough money to bridge the gap that falls somewhere between the bank accounts of Paris Hilton and Donald Trump, that’s another entry and article entirely.

 

Let’s start with a simpler premise:  How to get started on the road to your financial recovery.

 

Maybe you’re okay with money, even have some saved for retirement.  Maybe you’re nowhere close to saving money and don’t know how to get started.  Regardless, most guys and gals our age, the early 20s crowd for those absent on Friday, never learned about finance in school and didn’t have a parent, sibling or friend who told them about money. At some point you’ll want to look back and figure out where you got your money values and who to blame but that’s another day. 

 

Now since most of us have never been taught about money we will need someone to tell us how this works.  And no, passing high school Econ does not qualify as a financial education, Macro and Micro economics have surprisingly little to do with how to reconcile a bank statement and save for retirement.  Lack of a solid financial education is dangerous and a major reason why we don’t talk frankly about money with friends.  Who wants to bring up a topic they know nothing about? We thrive on being the expert, on having the facts right and actions to back them up.  To our knowledge no great Happy Hour conversation has ever started with, “so…. Mutual Funds, what are those about, huh?”

 

So we, your kind guides, give you permission to reference us in all conversations regarding money henceforth.  And since “some people who might be arsonists from the internet say” is kinda long, let’s go with “a friend of mine…” because that’s what we are, friends.  Whether we call on Tuesdays after beer pong, kick you exiting the subway or work across from your gum-popping selves, we’re all friends here. 

 

And at the risk of sounding extremely self-important, we know what we’re talking about. Before reaching our respective quarterlife crises (25th birthdays) we have independently invested in retirement, worked hard at a variety of jobs, built up savings, paid off loans, balanced checkbooks and educated ourselves on money.  We look forward to a retirement that is not dependent on cat food and dryer lint stuffed pillows.

 

So, the question for the class is, drum roll please, what do you want to know about money? 

 

Maybe you don’t know enough to ask yet, and that’s okay.  Here are some questions to get you started:

·     What is a credit report?

·     Why is a credit score important?

·     How do I make a budget?

·     What is a budget?

·     Uh, retirement? Help!

·     What does APR mean?

·     Is it bad to have a credit card balance?

·     How do you consolidate school loans?

·     Should I lease or buy a car?  Power up a Vespa?  Rent a horse?

 

The purpose of this exercise is simple but hard.  Simply identify what you’d like to know more about.  Maybe it’s something you’ve always been curious about but never asked for answers.  Maybe it’s a topic you looked up on Wikipedia but the numbers made your eyes cross.  Whatever the motivation identify and write down at least one topic you want to learn about.  Now.

 

Put a sticky note on your computer monitor, email yourself, put it in your crackberry, tattoo it on your arm or paint it on your wall.  Whatever you do, do it. 

 

FYI, we recommend bookmarking this page and leaving a comment.  You might just get this new friend to address your question!

Starting Fires

July 12, 2008

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According to this article at Bloomberg.com: CA Fire

“Since June 21, a total of 1,781 fires have burned 675,631 acres throughout California and have cost $276 million to fight, according to state and federal fire reports.”

It’s funny how these things start.  An unusual summer lightening storm ignited wildfires that has impacted an entire state.  Just a few weeks before hundreds of fires began burning in California another spark was ignited and the resulting fire is still raging.

This is the story of our fire.  You see, we’re a little like arsonists cleverly disguised as writers.

In the Beginning…

On June 3rd MSN Money poster Firebird. wrote: “Hey, startsmart, you gave me an idea this morning reading your posts on Mia’s retirement thread.” (continued) “If I remember correctly, your main point was that there is an audience for what Mia has to say, and that you enjoy reading it even if she doesn’t have everything figured out.  I thought about the fact that you and I like to write and we’re both in our early 20s, and I came up with the idea of collaborating on an article for MSN that basically talks about smart, doable choices that young people can make in order to, well, start smart financially from the perspective of two people making them.  I’ve often felt like maybe our generation wouldn’t be quite so bad with money if they were shown how easy it is to make the right choices by someone their age.  So anyway, that was my thought.  Pointing myself out as one of the people who is doing some things right is where the self flattering part came in (though I don’t claim to have all the answers, by any means).  So anyhow, that was my idea.”

The idea was brilliant.  The ideal of teaching smarter financial choices early and often was brilliant.  Our brainchild was born.  The next logical step?

…we created the heavens and the earth

Well, kinda.  More like we laid the groundwork and discussed our dreams.  We got to know each other and our values.  This little project would certainly wither and die if we had widely different views on finances and life unless we got along really well and could do a little point-counterpoint deal without scratching one another’s eyes out.  As it turns out we have loads in common.  To aid communication and feel special we created our own email to help schedule writing times and exchange ideas.  By this time a single spark had grown into a full fledged fire and our email, weDIDstartthefire@gmail.com, went live.

Our wonderful moderator promoted our new email and asked the posters to send us stories of their own financial downfalls and recovery.  Specifically we asked what posters wished they had known in their 20s, what they would tell young people if those folks would listen and what they “coulda, shoulda, woulda” done had they known better.  The response was both overwhelming and encouraging.  The more stories we heard the more our ideas list grew.  The more people told us to write the more we found to write about.

Creating an animal…

What began as a two-article concept has become a full fledged zoo in chaos and the result is an inbred mishmash of ideas.  Two articles have beget two dozen (we’re talking rabbit style begetting here), an email address has beget an official looking website and during long nights and copious alcohol consumption a summer book tour has been planned (no book on the schedule yet, ironically..).

…conquering the beast.

As masters of our little piece of Eden, a wonderful land that closely resembles Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, we found that there was a simpler way to build our empire, uh um, literary career.  Our goal remains to publish a series of articles for the 20-something who wants to learn more about how to manage money.  This blog will hopefully provide us an avenue to do so.  How, you ask?  We have no freakin’ idea!  Who do you think we are?  Some kind of diety?  Don’t know where you got that idea, psssh!

It started with a spark…

Two chicks on the same message board living 3,000 miles apart with similar upbringing, shared geography, goals and mutual respect.  It proved to be a lightening rod that ignited an inferno.  The conditions were right and just like a wildfire out of control we are, well, out of control.  We can’t undo the spark of creativity and invention from that fateful June day nor do we want to.  By no means do we think we’re the first to write to the 20 year old financial novice nor the first to blog but we do know fires are contagious.  That’s our goal: mass infection.

…or was it a big bang?

At the date of this post, 18,954 firefighters are battling 323 fires that threaten 15,751 homes and buildings and have forced the evacuation of thousands, according to Bloomberg.com.  In some ways we feel a little like firefighters bouncing from one front to another tackling the devastation of credit card debt, negative loan amortization, financial illiteracy, budget meltdowns and premium subscriptions that threaten the house of financial security for millions of our peers.  We’re anxious to get started publishing and harness this amazing energy for the good of others.

In one week we’ll meet under smoke filled skies in California to plan the next stages of this beautiful disaster.  Until then, your friendly neighborhood fire starters are signing out.  We’ve got a fire to tend to.

Firebird. & Startsmart