Jul 07

Laughter is the best medicine

2899583679_fe44ac77e7_mI’ve you’re a regular reader you may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I’ve had a few great guest posts from fellow bloggers, but just haven’t had the energy to put together a post of my own. Long story, short, we took our cat Liam to the vet a few weeks ago and got some bad news. Like his brother, Patty, who passed just a month ago, Liam his kidney failure.

He also has a mass on his liver that may be cancer (they can’t tell from the biopsy, and even if it was cancer, it would be too dangerous to remove). Liam spent 4 days at the cat ICU, and we thought we were going to lose him. Thankfully he’s now at home, and with the help of our primary vet and the internal medicine vet, he’s comfortable and acting like himself.

IV Stand

Eric bought this IV stand online and it sure does make things easier

Basically, the “cat room” (our spare bedroom) has been turned into a cat infirmary. Liam gets subcutaneous fluids once a day and is taking multiple medications to help him eat, lower his blood pressure and keep his stomach acid under control (all things we just learned about). He’s an incredibly tough cookie and really has taken all of this in good stride. We are incredibly thankful to have him home and even if his time is limited (we’re not even sure how limited), we want him to be at home with his family (us and the dog).

OK, on to a humorous story, because laughter is the best medicine

When I was picking up Liam’s medication at CVS, the pharmacist asked me for his date of birth. It’s not a question I get asked frequently, so I had to think about it…2014-12=2002.

Basically, the pharmacist looked at me like I had three heads because I had to think about his birthday (I can only assume he thought I was picking up blood pressure medication for my sig other and didn’t know his birthday). I felt the need to explain myself and we both had a good laugh when I told him the medication was for our cat. I wasn’t laughing when I found out how much the medication costs, but I needed that little release.

Aside from a sick kitty, here’s what’s been going on in my world:

My sister finished her PhD and I flew out to North Carolina for her graduation party. My folks and my older sister also flew to NC and we got to spend the weekend together. I swam with my nephew and played with my niece and we all went to a Durham bulls game.

durham bulls

My Nephew eating a huge hamburger at the game

Eric was supposed to come with me, but ended up staying at home to give Liam his fluids. I left for NC the night after Liam came home from the ICU, so I was pretty nervous that Eric was going to have a hard time giving Liam his meds. When I got back from NC, he was already a pro at administering the fluids and showed me step-by-step how to do everything. When he was finished giving the fluids he kissed Liam on the head. It was such a sweet moment, I almost cried.

This weekend Eric has been in Michigan for his sister’s birthday. All weekend he’s been texting me photos and funny texts, and although I’ve been missing him, I’m so glad he’s visiting with his family. We spend a good deal of time with my family and I hope in the near future we’ll be able to spend more time with his family too (two of his sisters may be moving to the US very soon :-)).

What’s new for you? Did you do anything fun for the 4th?

Image: Sang Trinh

Jun 28

Frugal or Tight – Worst Ways to Save Money

Today I’m happy to share the following guest post from Glen. Glen is the owner of How to Save Money, a personal finance website dedicated to helping people save money and find financial freedom. Glen recently paid off over $300,000 in mortgage debt within 7 years, and he wants to share his money saving tips with others to help them get on their way to financial freedom.

There can sometimes be a fine line between what is considered frugal, versus what is considered tight. I personally believe that I am more of a frugal person than I am tight, but I do appreciate that some people need to save money wherever they can and this can lead to some interesting ways to save money.

The following are some of the enterprising ways I have seen people save money – let’s start with the most obscure.

The Toilet

Whilst I was studying, and when I used to work at the local shops, I met a guy called Nathan. Nathan was a stoner who wasn’t really all that interested in working, but he did love smoking pot. That love of smoking pot actually caused him to come up with a few unique ways to save money, the most unusual of these was on the throne.

tpYou see Nathan decided that he would try to avoid going to the loo while he was at home, so that he could go at the work toilets. Somehow he had it in his head that he was spending too much money on toilet paper and that by only going number 2 at work, he could avoid ever having to buy toilet paper ever again.

I’m not really too sure how much money he was saving, but he was committed to it.

Leftover food from work meetings

Another person I used to work with hates waste. He hates it so much that at the end of the work day he goes around to all the meeting rooms and doggy bags all the leftover catering that was unused throughout the day. He then takes it home so that he can eat it for dinner.

Some of this food would have been left out for quite a few hours, and was almost certainly not good for anyone to eat, but he never seemed to care at all, and to my knowledge he hasn’t ever been sick because of it.

Water theft

Another colleague (I still work with at the same company as this one) used to take a couple of big water bottles to work and fill them up so that he didn’t need to pay for water at home.

In my opinion this is theft and the money saved isn’t worth the amount of effort put in or the chance of losing your job.

Dumpster diving

My wife and I used to watch the show wife swap, and on one of the episodes a family that was living in a trailer used to go around to all of the local supermarkets and dumpster dive for food each night. They didn’t have enough money to buy food the way most people do, and they weren’t interested in working for a living, so this was the how they fed their family.

Cab Fare Dodging

Someone else that I knew when I was younger was a cab fare dodger.

We all used to go out to town on a Saturday night and when the night was drawing to a close we would all share a cab home together. This person used to always be one of the first ones to exit the cab as he lived the closest to the city.

Unfortunately he was a habitual cab fare dodger. He would get out of the cab and then conveniently never have any money for his portion of the ride, or worse, he would just get out and run into his house without even a look back. So it was always left to others to pay for his portion of the overall cab fare.

Needless to say, after a while we all stopped catching cabs with him, although I suspect he saved a few hundred dollars before we cottoned on.

Bringing food to a restaurant

Finally, one of the worst cases of being tight that I have come across was by an old school friend. He was courting a girl at his workplace and asked her to go out to dinner with him, she agreed and they setup a date and time.

They go to a restaurant and take a seat. The waiter comes over to get their orders and my old school mate just passes the menu to his date and allows her to order. Then when the waiter asks him what he wants, he just asked for water without a meal and says that he’s fine without food.

sandAfter the waiter goes away to get the water, this old mate of mine gets out a premade and leaves it on the plate in front of him to wait until the waiter returns with the girls food so they could eat together.

Now I wasn’t there, but I am told that she wasn’t even slightly impressed. Needless to say – it didn’t work out between them.

So there you have it – I know a lot of really tight people as it turns out.

I would love to hear about any stories you might have of people being tight, or doing unusual things to save money.

Notes from KK: #2 at work, not if I can avoid it. Catering from work, heck yeah! We rarely get catering, but if there is food left over my boss actually encourages us to take it home or give it to our clients so we aren’t wasting (I hate waste too!). My step-uncle’s wife used to bring her own tea bag to restaurants and ask for a glass of hot water so she didn’t have to pay for a tea. It probably wouldn’t have bothered anybody, but she had a nasty attitude which make her less than pleasant to be around (free tea or not!).

 

Jun 25

Charitable Giving While in Debt

poorHi Friends, today I’m bringing you a great guest post from Kayla over at Shoeaholic No More. Kayla is a mid-20s single girl living in the Midwest, USA. She is focused on paying off her consumer and student loans, while simplifying her life and closet. You can join her on her journey at Shoeaholicnomore.

When I first started contemplating getting out of debt, I borrowed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University from a friend of mine. One of the first things he said that really struck me was that you should NOT stop giving to charity while paying off debt.

I thought about this long and hard and in the end, I decided I was going to continue giving to charity while pursuing my quest to becoming debt free. Since I started my journey to becoming debt free, I’ve been giving to several fundraisers in my community for people who have been diagnosed with very serious illnesses, some are even terminal. I decided that if I stopped giving while I was trying to get out of debt, it’d be just that much harder to get started again when my debts were gone. Plus, giving makes me feel good!

Though I don’t give 10% of my post-tax income as Dave Ramsey suggests, I do allocate a small amount of cash each month to give away. Since I only give $10/month sometimes I wonder if this small amount is even worth it. Then I figured out that if everyone in my community gave $10/month to various causes, we’d have over $70,000 worth of donations made each month, and this is a conservative estimate! I finally decided that instead of being disappointed that I can’t give more, I should be excited that I give what I can.

Another key to my giving strategy is that I built it into my budget rather than just giving whatever I have “leftover” at the end of the month. Much like savings, I made putting money aside for charity a separate line item in my budget. This strategy really helps keep me accountable so I don’t spend the money on something trivial, like eating out or a new piece of clothing that I don’t truly need.

What about tax benefits? As I said before, I’ve been giving to fundraisers for individuals in my community, not qualified non-profit organizations with a tax ID number. To me, it’s worth it to give to these causes even though I’m not getting a “tax benefit” because I get to see the impact of my donation and the donations of other community members every day. Our donations are being used to pay expensive medical bills, hotel stays for the patients and/or their families, and in some cases are being used to help feed, clothe, and provide shelter since wages have been lost due to illness.

I’m sure if you try hard enough, you can find a few dollars in your budget to donate. Pick a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, one that’s important enough for you to make a few small sacrifices in order to save some money that can be used for donating instead of self-indulgences. Don’t get me wrong, I still splurge on eating out or a coffee every now and then, but I decided finding a little room in my budget for giving is important too.

I may not be able to give 10% of my income but I know I’m making a difference and once I’m able I want to give freely and willingly.

Do you think giving to charity is justifiable if you’re still in debt?

Note from KK: Giving is definitely a topic near and dear to my heart. I not only think charitable giving is justifiable, I also think it’s incredibly important. Although I couldn’t give a lot of money to charity when I was in debt, I could (and did) donate my time to a bunch of different charities and causes. I also donated clothing to a shelter for homeless women and used coupons to buy food for our local food pantry. If everyone gave a little the world would be a much better place!

 Image: Steven DePolo

Jun 16

Some Things are Worth Waiting For

3777205760_3e2af16512_m

I’ll admit it, I’m pretty impatient when it comes to waiting to buy the things that I want. For many years I was the queen of, “I want what I want, and I want it now!” Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t out buying expensive items or making big purchases spur of the moment (that’s just not my style). But if I wanted a little something here or there, I figured, “I’m worth it.” and I bought it. Usually those purchases were take-out meals, drinks with friends, mid-afternoon “pick me up” smoothies, clothing and make up.

I mean YOLO right? WRONG! so wrong. Those little purchases added up and before I knew it I had several hundred dollars worth of credit card charges at the end of the month that I didn’t budget for. What’s funny sad is I never really had anything to “show” for all that spending, except for a bigger pants size (boo!).

Waiting saves you money!

When I was paying off my student loan debt, I finally realized that my lack of planning and last minute impulse buys were killing me. So I made a strict budget and stuck to it. If I wanted to buy a new sweater and didn’t have enough money in the budget, I had to wait until it went on sale, or I enough money saved in my clothing budget. I gave myself a reasonable allocation for “fun” spending, and if I ran out of money before the end of the month, there was no more “fun!” Pretty simple and pretty effective.

Even though my student loans are now a thing of the past (thank god), I still practice patience when I’m trying to find a good deal. In the last month I’ve been waiting for a few photo gifts to go on sale. It’s never to early to think about Christmas shopping! In fact, I hope to have the majority of my shopping done by Thanksgiving this year.

Since I know photo gifts and prints almost always go on sale, I refuse to pay full print (or even half price) for photo gifts. With so many companies fighting for the same business, many of the major online photo competitors are constantly offering some sort of awesome deal.

Proof in point…around Mother’s day I received a coupon code for $20 off any purchase at Tiny Prints. I was super stoked and I put together a whole custom calendar filled with photos of pugs for my grandmother. When I was checking out, I realized the fine print of the coupon code said that I couldn’t use the code for a photo calendar because Tiny Print’s photo calendars are actually made by Shutterfly, crap!

pug calendarAsk for a discount, the worse they can say is, “no!”

So I did what any frugal-minded person would do. I chatted with customer service and asked if they could give me a discount. They said “no.” I said, “Thanks anyway.” and decided to “wait it out” until I could get a better deal. Sure enough, less than a month later, I found a code on one of my favorite coupon blogs for a free (yup completely free) calendar. So I opened up the calendar saved in my favorites, applied the code and happily paid less than $8.00 (for shipping). Now I have a custom calendar, complete with birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays, to give to my grandma this Christmas. Can’t beat a free gift!

If you’re curious, I used my Tiny Prints credit to buy some fun custom post cards that I’ll use to alert people of our new address if/when we move. If we don’t move they’re pretty generic and will be fine for thank you, or “thinking about you” cards.

Free photo gifts are abundant if you think ahead

In the past I’ve scored free birthday cards, custom photo mouse-pads, mugs and more. In fact, I haven’t paid for Christmas cards in the last 3-4 years. Everyone (OK, my mom) always comments on how cute our cards are and how expensive they must be (custom photo cards can be pricy if you actually pay for them!).

Another deal I frequently take advantage of, is the is the “free enlargement” deals. Like the photo calendar, I scour flickr (under the creative commons license), which allows me to print and reproduce, photos that other people take. I search all kinds of things, “Shih Tzu, NYC, Maine, Ocean, etc.” until I find photos that I like. I then save them to my desk top in a folder called “prints” and when a great free photo deal comes along, I print them and put them in frames. I recently enlarged this photo to an 8″ by 10″ at Walgreens for free:

columbiaHad I not waited for the free promo, it would have cost me $3.99. Not exactly a big purchase, but I prefer free! I also take advantage of the free collage prints that frequently are offered at Walgreens. My parents and grandparents love getting updated photos of their grandkids (my niece and nephews), and I always have easy access to those photos because my sisters upload everything to online photo sharing sites.

Do you wait for a sale to purchase certain things? What things will you pay “full price” for?

Image: Samira

Jun 11

Renal Failure in Cats: Losing Patty

patty computer

Patty always helped me with my blogging

Last week was a very difficult week in our household. On Sunday we noticed that Patrick, our 12 year old Himalayan cat, better known as “Patty the fat cat”, wasn’t acting right. He was laying in strange spots (in the bathroom on the mat, under the bed etc.) where he never sleeps and secluding himself. He wasn’t interested in cuddling humping his brother and we couldn’t even entice him to come out for his cat treats. By Sunday evening things took a turn for the worse when we noticed that he was walking funny (almost like he was drunk).

On Monday morning, I was on the vet’s doorstep as soon as they opened. They did a series of blood tests and took some x-rays. Sadly, the results were not good. The x-rays showed that there was no food in Patty’s intestines, his bladder was enlarged and his kidney (they could only see one due to the angle) didn’t look normal.

The vet was concerned that he was dehydrated, so the tech gave him subcutaneous fluids and tried to get him to eat a special high calorie food. He told me things didn’t look good, but he had to wait for the blood work to find out how we should proceed.

Around 5pm, I got the call I was dreading. The vet said that Patrick’s blood work showed that he was having serious renal failure. He told me our best option was to get him to an emergency vet where they could put him on IV fluids and do an ultrasound to see how bad the damage was.

It was horrible news, but we didn’t panic because we were hopeful that the damage was acute and he could recover.

patty tv

Watching other Himalayans on TV was one of his favorite past-times

As soon as Eric came home we rushed him to the Blue Pearl emergency vet, where he stayed until Thursday evening. What we know now, is the damage was chronic and he’d been sick for a long time. When the Internal Medicine specialist told me that his BUN levels were sky high, I felt like the worst cat mom in the world. How could I possibly miss all of the signs that he was feeling so bad?

I cried uncontrollably for a long time. Eric and my family tried to console me, but I was a mess. I couldn’t focus at work or at home and when I visited Patty each day in the cat “ICU”, it broke my heart. He was hooked up to a ton of machines and had an IV and catheter. When the nurses took him off the machines so I could hold him, he was disoriented and lethargic. He didn’t want to sit on my lab (Patty was the epitome of a “lap cat”) and would hide in the corner of the room.

Thursday evening, the vet called me and said there wasn’t anything else that he could do. He told me that we’d given Patrick every chance, but he didn’t think his levels would get any better. Furthermore, even if the levels got better, Patrick would not be the same cat he used to be and we’d only be prolonging a miserable life. That’s when we made the horribly painful decision to let him go to kitty heaven. Eric rocked him until he crossed the rainbow bridge while I had a meltdown in the lobby.

I know we gave him the best life a cat could ask for. But it still seems unfair we only had 5 years with him (he was 12, but we rescued him and his brother when they were 7). My parents had cats that lived into their 20′s, so 12 seems far too young.

What does this post have to do with personal finance?

Actually more things than you’d think. Throughout this process we’ve learned a bunch of things. I think they apply to both humans and pets, so here goes:

  1. Preventative medicine is almost always cheaper than treating a condition after the fact. If I’d been aware of some of the warning signs of renal failure (see below), I would have taken Patrick to the vet much sooner. If you can catch renal failure early there are a number of treatments that have been shown to be effective in slowing down the disease. That being said, I have been reassured by my vet (and Web MD for pets) that, “Cats with kidney diseases do not begin to show signs of uremia (renal failure) until about 70 percent of their nephrons are destroyed. Thus, a considerable amount of damage occurs before any signs are noted.”
  2. Research hereditary disorders and defects Himalayan and Persian cats are genetically predisposed to Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), which can lead to renal failure and death. We now know that ultrasounds, blood work and or x-rays can show abnormalities that would show warning signs for PKD. UC Davis also has a DNA test that will tell you if your cat has the PKD1 gene. Patrick’s brother Liam has a vet appointment this Saturday so we can do the appropriate testing to make sure that he isn’t showing signs of PKD. Our pup, Brooklyn will also be having a physical to make sure he’s OK (I can’t take another loss!)
  3. Consider purchasing health insurance. Thankfully, until now, I’ve never had a reason to think about pet insurance. All of our pets have been relatively healthy (a few expensive vet visits here and there, but no terminal illnesses). You can’t purchase pet insurance after your pet has been diagnosed with an illness (just like “people insurance”, pre-existing conditions are excluded). Hindsight is 20-20, but if I’d realized Himalayans have so many Kidney issues, I absolutely would have had pet insurance from the day we adopted Patty and Liam. The total cost of Patrick’s stay in the hospital was over $5000. Yup you read that right. I don’t regret the decision to take him to Blue Pearl and I’m incredibly thankful for their love and care to him during his final days. If Liam is healthy and doesn’t show any signs of kidney disease (we’re praying) we will sign up up for insurance immediately.
patty & liam

Brotherly love

Signs of renal failure in cats include: (according to Web MD for Pets)

  • Apathy and sluggishness
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • dry haircoat
  • brownish discoloration to the surface of the tongue
  • ulcers on the gums and tongue.
  • bad breath
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia

Thanks for listening and if you notice any of the above signs and symptoms in your kitty please get him/her to the vet right away to rule out Polycystic Kidney Disease and renal failure.

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