Friday, April 20, 2012

Paying the Bills

At least we are reducing the load.
Image by renjith krishnan

The last few days I spent quite a bit of time sorting through my stack of medical bills.  I had received a decent payment from the flash card project and decided that, despite my desire to use it on more entertaining endeavors, taking care of this mess would probably be a much better decision. 

We had recently received a notice from the Most Evil Collection Agency Ever (hence after referred to as MECAE), one that we had finally paid off before, but was now back.  I’ve (unfortunately) dealt with collection agencies before, and this company is the most aggressive, nasty one I’ve ever worked with.  Explaining the situation does not help.  They would be perfectly happy with you living on the street as long as they get paid.  They are also the agency that our primary medical providers work with.  Our providers don’t dink around either; as soon as you are late you get sent to this agency.  Fun.

After numerous phone calls back and forth and several hours spent on hold (no, I’m not joking), I was able to set up payment plans with just about every creditor we have left.  Do you know how good this actually feels?  The initial payments have been made and the remainder of the payments are scheduled.  The plan at this point is to finish this wave and then pull our credit reports and see what else is lurking out there.  We will also have receipts in hand to dispute any debts that have been paid and not yet erased.  I feel pretty good about this plan.

Here are the steps I took to sort through the mess and get it all straightened out:
  • Gather together all of the bills.
  • Open each one.  Yes, I hate this part, too.
  • Sort them into piles according to creditor. 
  • Go through each individual stack and try to eliminate duplicates.
  • If you have bills that have gone to a collection agency, try to link up the agency with the creditor.  You don’t want to accidentally pay the same bill twice!  You may need to call the creditor to find out which bills have gone to the agency and which ones the creditor is still holding.  Eliminate any duplicates.
  • If you have medical bills, scrutinize them carefully.  Have any mistakes been made?  According to Consumer Reports, 80 percent of bills from hospitals contain medical errors!  While errors are less frequent at clinics and labs, they are still possible.  Some of the most common errors you might find are procedures that were never performed or failing to bill to your medical insurance.  If you encounter an error, contact the number on the bill to straighten it out. 
  • Go through the remaining bills and pay off the small ones.  This will give you a great sense of satisfaction and prevent future problems. 

Once this is done, contact the creditors with the largest bills and make payment plans.  I know this part sucks.  It sucks for me too.  Some of them will threaten and try to coerce you into larger chunks, but others will be glad you called and will willingly work with you.  Use your nice, indoor voice and be polite.  This will actually work wonders, since they are used to dealing with people who are pissed off and nasty. 

The other step I took that helped me keep my sanity throughout this mess was to work in 25 minute segments and take a break between each segment.  I got up and walked away from the computer and the phone.  This helped to reset me for new phone calls and reduce the stress and tension I was feeling.  I think if I hadn’t done this I would have started getting snarly at the people on the other line and probably wouldn’t have made such good plans. 

Fun, huh?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Struggle with Entropy

Photo by Stuart Miles

For the most part, I have no beef with the natural laws.  I mean, gravity and I get into it every once in a while, but we tend to just keep a healthy distance and respect each other.

Entropy, on the other hand… entropy is my mortal enemy.  I do battle with it on a regular basis.  Sometimes I emerge victorious and you get several pictures of how nice the house looks, other times I take a break.  As soon as I do, that sly little bitch sneaks in and invokes chaos when I’m not even looking.  Then I take a peek around and wonder what happened to my nice clean kitchen.

How do people do it?  Without constantly cleaning, day and night, how do their homes stay neat?  How does entropy stay beaten back?  I’ve tried a number of schedules to get both the housework and my writing work done and caught up, but one or the other always seems to suffer. Limited number of hours in the day and all that.   My most recent attempt has been taking 15 minutes at the top of every hour to clean up, but I never seem to get any further than a load each of laundry and dishes and maybe the kitchen counter get cleaned up.  And the next day, that same area is trashed again.

It doesn’t help that the kids go behind me actively undoing everything I’ve done.  Plenty of systems are out there, but they never seem to take MY life into account.  The problem is that the people who developed these systems (think Flylady) now have lives that completely revolve around these systems.  Keeping their homes clean is actually their job; they are quite literally being paid to pick up!  I think the Flylady system started out really practical, but it’s gotten completely out of hand.  Her website is (ironically) a cluttered mess, her emails primarily pitches for her products, and don’t get me started on her philosophy (I’ll bitch about nobody helping me as much as I damn well want to, lady).

This blog is essentially about the steps I am taking to get organized and get my life in gear.  It started out just being about the financial aspect of that, but over time it has emerged into something larger.  Getting organized really seems to be at the heart of it.  And there is actually a financial aspect to this as well.  Being organized will save me money and allow me more time to get my work done – I’m sure of it.  But getting to that point is costing me a fortune in time. 

So here’s what I want to know:  How do you do it?  How do you keep up the house AND keep up with your work?   What are your tips for me?  How can I make this work?  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Harsh Reality

Basic Biology lesson -- Plants need sunlight.
Photo by Sura Nualpradid

This isn’t working.  Today is one of the first really gorgeous days we’ve had this year.  Full-on sunshine, temperatures in the 60s…  and I came to a sad realization.  The way my deck is situated allows for almost no sunlight during the day.  My poor plants!  I can feel them – reaching… reaching… trying to get to that sliver of sunlight.  Poof!  It’s gone. 

My radishes sprouts have all fallen over, the beans are looking a bit leggy (and really are reaching for the light), and my romaine doesn’t want to move past the sprout phase.  The blueberries are hanging in there (they’re zombies, after all -- it’s gonna take a blowtorch to take them out, apparently).  You can’t garden without sun.  Well, maybe moss. 

I’m looking forward to the move.  (Oh, I haven’t told you about that?  I should probably remedy that soon).  I’ll have a deck with full-on sun and no neighboring building to block it.  I might just have to hang in there until then and realize that container gardening in the dark isn’t an effective method of growing vegetables.