Friday, August 21, 2009

The Inappropriate Magistrate

One day in July I was taking my usual highway to work. Only it was closer to 11. Blue skies, open road... do you see where this is going?

I was going fast (though not as fast as the man in blue said) and found myself in traffic 'night' court today. I say 'night' because it starts at 4:30. It was a pretty interesting cross section of our city, a little bit of everyone and with a fashion display that was just as interesting.

The setup is something like this: all of the people with our appointment time go into a somewhat sad looking courtroom, sitting in what would usually be the gallery. A bailiff calls roll, tells the men to remove hats, talks some more. The magistrate comes in, lets us know we can plead guilty/not guilty, going to real court if we plead not guilty. Plea bargains from the city attorney are also thrown in.

I promise I'm getting to a point.

So we sit and watch, listening to the charges, plea bargains, and sometimes stories of those that go before us. The judge calls a guy named JC up. Goes through the rigmarole and JC pleads guilty to the plea bargain. JC's full name is one of those names that sounds familiar in this town. A name of some big wig from before my time.

The judge asks JC if his father had the same name and he said no, his father was an EC as he starts to walk to the 'wait for the bailiff to hand you your bill bench.' The the magistrate, having distracted himself with his question, says 'Oh, Mr. JC, your fine is $201, though you look like you're pretty wealthy so that shouldn't be a problem for you.'

At this point my mouth literally fell open. Now Mr. JC, unlike 2/3 of the people in the courtroom, was dressed nicely. Guy's dress pants with a crease down the middle, polished dress shoes, a polo, and a pretty watch. His look reminded me of those offices where casual Friday requires dry clean only pants. So I guess when compared to the guy with paint splattered jeans with 5 holes, he looked like he has money.

But where on earth does a magistrate get the right to judge someones wealth? Especially in the current economy where we've learned that sometime the appearance of wealth is just that, an appearance. After my turn at the mike I sat beside JC. I gave him a look and he just shook his head. We shared our disbelief for a moment before he got called up for his payment slip.

I followed close behind, walking myself to the payment plan office. I didn't have my favorite cards with me, and if I'm going to be paying the city $200 I may as well get some airline miles out of it. I've also considerably slowed my roll, no matter how perfect the driving conditions may seem.

Monday, August 10, 2009

School Supply Challenge

It's that time of year again. Parents are counting down the days to their children being back in school. Millions of Kindergartners are getting ready to step on their first yellow school bus.* It's also a really expensive time of year for families. Back to school usually means new clothes and a long list of classroom supplies.

Back in the day I remember a notebook, paper, markers, glue, pens and pencils being on my list. Now lists include tissues, paper towels, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, storage baggies, pencils, sticky notes, band aids, dry erase markers and all sorts of other stuff to share in the classroom. That's in addition to the individual notebooks, pencils, erasers and folders. All of those things came from school supply lists for second and third graders at 3 schools in the school district where I live.

So my challenge. I'm going to take $20 and see what it can buy me over the next two weeks. The goal is as many school supplies for kids in my district as I can buy, using the back to school sales that have taken over the weekly circulars.

Care to join me?

*or city bus/train for the kids that grew up like me

Down to 3

This weekend we did something that I thought was very fun- we paid off one more debt! When we bought the house we did a 1 year 0% interest thing for our appliances. When it comes to 0% deals I like having my cash hang out and earn money. Last summer was also not the best for cash flow, what with the house buying, moving, wedding, moving his dad across the country and in with us, and general life.

We saved a bit towards this goal each month, though this was ususally the last priority if things were thight. On the other hand if there was a surplus we would throw a chunk into the savings account. Since May the account was sitting at 91%. After our last round of checks I put aside the last couple hundred and transfered what we had been saving at ING.

As we walked out of the Lowe's where we paid it off I did a little dance, making him laugh at me. I looked at him and said "Three- we're down to only 3 debts." Since those remaining debts are all more than $25,000 we'll be working at them for a while, but I'm happy to have one less place to focus.

Inspection time

Four months ago we did something that most in the PF would would consider stupid. We financed a car. More specifically we financed a brand new shiny expensive car.

The plan had been to buy him a new (to us) car late this year. We were going to pay off my car and start saving for a new one for him. Then his car stopped running on the highway, requiring an almost $5,000 repair for the identified problem. There were other things going on with the car that would have been even more expensive. We decided to speed things up a bit and buy him a car then since our jobs require us to each have a car.

We looked at a few small sedans, a crossover, a few hybrids and eventually decided on the Prius. Even though it involved debt it fit best with our mid term plan. We plan on cutting at least half (if not all) of my income out in the next 1-2 years, so we didn't want to pay $5,000 plus maintenance for a right now car then buy a new to us car 1-3 years later.

Then there's his job. Dave Ramsey's advice would have been to buy a beater until we could save up for a new car. In theory that's great advice. But he works in an image conscious industry. Two weeks he got a promotion which will include meeting a lot more clients in person.

Among his meetings today is a car inspection, performed by his boss to make sure his car is up to standard. This weekend he cleaned out the junk that has built up and planned to hit a car wash on his way in. From my nonprofit/education lens this is all pretty ridiculous, but the image he portrays to clients affects the sales he closes. Even more importantly his image affects the value of the accounts he gets. Since most of his salary comes from commission, though I think it's all pretty crazy, we play the game.

I'm also really happy that we settled on a Prius. When his office moved a few months ago changing his commute from 15 to 27 miles each way I was happy about the gas savings. Others in his new position report driving 250-500 miles a week to meet with clients, making the 43 mpg he's been averaging very attractive.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Last night we went out to dinner with one of my husband's college friends that is moving to the area. He and his wife looked at houses in our neighborhood until sunset and then we all met up. Over dinner I gave them the rundown on the neighborhood in general and different pockets.

They told us the size and square footage of a house they like and my husband and I exchanged looks. We told them the price seemed high- the price is a few thousand more than what we paid last July for 900 less square feet. We suggested a few different areas of the neighborhood for them to consider and then moved on to other topics.

When we got home I pulled up a local real estate search engine, plugged in our zip and asked for results less than $200K. Last year at this time there were 10+ pages. In January when I was freaking out a bit about home values it was the same thing. Last night- 2 pages. Only 78 houses in our zip are on the market. Down from more than 500 a year ago.

The news is a buzz with economic indicators that are improving. I'm happy that unemployment is down, but I'm even happier that my neighborhood is no longer hemorrhaging and our home value seems to be stabilizing.