Too Thrifty Chicks

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Tidbit Tuesday: Operation Do Better 2.0

Now that summer is rapidly coming to a close, the Thrifty Chicks are in the mood for rapidly pulling back on spending. Yeah, we know we have said that we’re on the Operation Do Better train for the long haul, but even the the Thrifty Chicks fall off the wagon.

So, we are making yet another public declaration. It’s time to push pause on any form of unnecessary spending. What that means is Operation Do Better 2.0 starts Sept. 15 and we’d like to invite you to join us as we say no to spending that doesn’t help us achieve the things that we said were important to us when we started this whole thing, namely: giving, saving and debt elimination.

We picked that date because Ricks’ 34th birthday is on Sept. 13 and there will be a few festivities — scaled back though they are — to get through. Ricks’ also considers each blessed birthday she is allowed to see as her new year and an opportunity to re-evaluate and make necessary changes just as most people do Jan. 1 each year. Reese is a legit near-new year baby (Jan. 2) and part of her birthday celebration is one of the reason’s we’re talking about Operation Do Better 2.0.

We’re going to SOUTH AFRICA, y’all! Since the beginning of 2013, we’ve known that we wanted to celebrate the new year in South Africa.  We’ve been making necessary changes to how we handle our finances so that we could live better lives overall, but those changes also had to do with the short term goal of getting to South Africa.

As many of our regular readers well know, Ricks quit her job in June and is pursuing life as her own boss. The reality of that means that Reese is the only Thrifty Chick bringing in a steady paycheck. With a lot of communication, faith and support we’re making it, but December is no longer 12 months away. December is only four short months away. Yikes! In our favor is before Ricks left her job, we both purchased our round trip plane tickets with travel insurance. Now, the only thing we have to cover is lodging, food and in-country travel.

While the trip is important to us,  so is Operation Do Better 2.0.  This reduced income life is hard, and we will be sharing some of the things that we’ve done and are doing in posts to come. But what it means is refocusing on what we said was truly important when we started this whole thing almost nine months ago. We care about experiences, not stuff. We don’t mind working, but we don’t want to define our lives by what we do to make money. Living simply and sustainably isn’t something we want to TALK about, but BE about.

For us, Operation Do Better 2.0 means refocusing on the big three: giving, saving and debt elimination. And we invite to you to recommit to what you truly want out of life. Maybe it is owning a house, with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog. Maybe it’s seeing as much of the world before you die as possible. For you, it might be the satisfaction of knowing that you control your own destiny because you don’t owe anybody anything. Whatever it is, we invite you to join us in Operation Do Better 2.0.

Here are a few things to get you going:

1. Be accountable. If you don’t yet have someone to share your money triumphs and struggles with it’s time to find that person. This person should be someone who won’t judge, but will call you on your foolishness. It also helps if this person is willing to reciprocate. This person needs to be someone you trust enough to confide the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

2. Be real. When we say the whole truth. We mean the whole truth. Share your money story — all your hang-ups, the stupidest things you’ve ever done with your money, and why you want to get it right this time. Reese and I shared our stories this summer and it was eye-opening to say the least.

3. Be transparent. Reese and I instituted a weekly finance meeting. We talk about sources of income and how much is coming in. We talk about how much is going out. We talk strategy about how we can make adjustments. We also talk about how we’re feeling. These talks can be morose when money is tight so…

4. Be thankful. After too many finance talks that sounded like defeat, we’ve decided to put a praise report at the start of every Too Thrifty Chicks finance meeting. We want to give thanks for all the good things, no matter how small. We’re blessed and we know it. You are blessed too. Never forget it.

5. Don’t forget grace. There are going to be rough moments. We knew this going into Operation Do Better and you should know it too. You’re going to make bad choices once in a while and that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep your goals in sight. Write them somewhere you can see them and keep moving forward.

Stay tuned for more information about what we’re doing with Operation Do Better 2.0 and what we’re learning along the way.

— R & R


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Operation Better Don’t: Filet Mignon Tastes on a Do Better Budget

Remember when we told you about our YOLO month in April? Let’s just say we had that kind of month again in June. It wasn’t as bad, and we feel like we were at least conscious of what we were doing, but we still have some stuff to come clean about.

Reese and Ricks’ Good News: Reese was tempted to not do her charitable giving this month, but she did…and guess what? She exceeded the amount she  planned to give. This is the thing she’s most proud of from June. The other thing worth bragging about is she stayed within the $200 budget she set for the NYC trip…yeah! Ricks also stayed within her $200 budget and actually came home with money, like seriously $40! ::hits the running man::

Celebrating Ricks’s Last Day at Work: Celebrating Ricks’ last day at Air Force Times with friends was on June’s calendar. You can read about why she quit here. Reese planned to take care of that and other celebratory things.  Dinner, drinks, and mani/pedis totaled $163. Money well spent considering the magnitude of the event. The goal was to celebrate with no worries and lots of love. Mission accomplished.

Unplanned Expenses: Coffee shops, TJ Maxx, Forever 21, and a search for bowties got Reese this month. Total spent: $220. Ricks’ unplanned spending came in at about $350 with eating out, shopping in preparation for NYC and a brand- spanking-new pair of Chuck Taylors.

Groceries: We failed. Like forreal. We’re embarrassed to even tell y’all how much we spent. ::long pause while we hang our heads in shame:: OK. We’ll tell you. We spent $418 in the grocery store. SOH. That’s not going to happen again. Forreal. Never. We promise.

Moving Forward: Looking at the raw numbers, we know it could be worst. But it’s bad enough. This whole journey is about doing better, right? Here’s are our next steps:

  1. Weekly Finance Meetings: Every Monday, we plan to sit down on our thrifty couch, balance our checkbooks, talk about what we spent and why we spent it, and make whatever adjustments we need to make for the week. This, we hope, will keep our spending consciousness high and helps us stay accountable to each other.
  2. Grocery Shopping: We’ve noticed a trend: When we shop with cash, we’re much more conscious. At one point, we got our grocery spending down under $250. We’re aiming for that again. From now on, we’re going to the grocery store with cash only. What can’t be bought with what we have will have to stay at the store.
  3. Retail Fail? No More. Back to avoiding retail stores. We both fell short under the powers of funky sunglasses, studded tops, and cute pants. No more shopping alone. No more shopping without a list. Heck, no retail stores at all unless it’s an absolute need.
  4. Planned fun. We’re leaving ourselves some grace for spontaneous drives to Fredricksburg for a trip to the Sonic Drive-In restaurant [Don’t judge], and we allow a $20 allowance for spreading some good cheer in the neighborhoods we plan to visit for our Around Town series, which we’ve written about here, here and HERE, ICYMI.

There you have it folks. June in a nutshell. What are you doing to improve your financial health this summer?


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Around Town: Eastern Market

Faced with the prospect of spending Sunday on the couch — Reese is recovering from running the inaugural Ragnar Relay Trail race and I was just feeling blah post homemade waffles — we decided to shake off our lethargy, get our butts in gear and get out of the house.

OK, it didn’t actually happen like that. Reese cut my hair. I took a shower and she took a cat nap. I laid across my bed post-shower and Reese popped her head in my door to ask, “Are we really going out, or are we laying around the house?”

I’m pretty sure she was hoping I would say, “Let’s lay around the house.” But I was already dressed. <— See we love y’all enough to keep it REAL!

EasternMarket

We have been planning a trip to Eastern Market for a minute, but travel, work, life and our couch got in the way. We don’t apologize for erring on the side of chill mode. :: shrugs :: Being everywhere, all the time, really isn’t our ministry. :: shrugs again::

Eastern Market, is Washington, D.C.’s oldest continually operating fresh food public market, according to its website. Not only can you get fresh ReeseShaggyDogproduce, straight from the farm, but you will find a plethora of unique arts and crafts that you will want to take home. In the past — as in before Operation Do Better — we purchased jewelry, handmade soap and other odds and ends that we probably didn’t need, but never regret buying. You’ll also find amazing street food at Eastern Market like we did on this trip.

We broke one of our cardinal rules and went to Eastern Market hungry. We were so hungry, in fact, that the trail mix and peanut butter crackers we were noshing did not do the trick, so our first order of business was to get some grub. Our noses led us to one stand in particular that was serving up all things Indian food. Reese and I love Indian food and figured if the gentleman manning the station was making whatever he was cooking — it turned out to be veggies, butter chicken, lamb and chick peas — smell like that, we had just found our lunch.

IndigoSign2We learned that those mouth watering aromas and the food we ultimately inhaled — lamb over rice, in case you were wondering — is going to be front and center in a sit-down restaurant called Indigo DC. The owners, a husband and wife team, built up their business, their clientele, and apparently their confidence to go from street vending to providing a full-on dinning experience. All we can say is, “Right on!”The restaurant is slated to open at the end of June at 243 K Street, N.E. Washington, D.C. (Click the hyperlink to follow Indigo DC on Facebook and follow them at Twitter @INDIGO DC. We sure will!)

As we scarfed down our lunch, we discovered a truth: It’s warm outside and we want to spend money on the weekends. The Lambreality is, the strict no-spending limits we were able to impose in the winter have kind of flown out the window. Most of it has to do with the fact that we’ve reached a lot of our financial goals, which we will talk about at the beginning of July. The other IndigoSign1part centers on the fact that there’s no crappy weather to keep us indoors. We’re either going to spend that additional money on air conditioning, or we’re going to spend it outside the house. But reality is we’re going to spend it, so we might as well plan for it. We’re still going to cook our weekday meals, take our lunch and eat at home, but we’re going to give ourselves some wiggle room on the weekend fun budget.

We decided to put this experiment to the test right away. While we were at Eastern Market we put a $20 cap on our spending which meant, at $12 a piece, lunch almost wiped us out. But the universe smiled on us. As we were making our way through the market again, we noticed that vendors were starting to put away their wares and close up shop. It was almost 5 p.m. and little did we know that the most miraculous thing was about to happen. Produce Produce1vendors from Dunham’s Farms had an everything must go sale — cantaloupes, cartons of strawberries and peaches, all for $1! We went home with  fruit galore for $7.  Peach and strawberry pies are in the works and so is a summer sangria with drunken cantaloupe — that’s another story for another day, trust us. We had just enough Moo-la left for some fro-yo, capping off a lovely afternoon.  We hope you had a great weekend and spent some time around your town.

Until next time,

R&R

How was your weekend? Did you go anywhere especially cool? Is it some place we should visit? Post a comment and let us know, or hit us up on Facebook.

Ricks2 FroYo Ricks


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Back from Hiatus: Operation Do Better Updates

The Thrifty Chicks have been on hiatus…did you miss us? We missed you! The last three weeks have been a whirlwind , and we needed to step back to take in all that the universe wanted to share. But we’re back now and need to catch you up! A lot happened in three weeks.

Good news: We did much better with eating out in May than we did in April. We did eat out (Reese spent $37 bucks on fast food, Ricks spent $59), but for the most part, we continued with our cooking and eating at home….which was a struggle. We’re still figuring out what we like to eat and how to manage the cooking in the warmer months, because mostly, neither of us have huge appetites. However, with our love of running, eating popsicles and cheese for dinner is not gonna work out too well.

Not so good news: We went to Target…and you know what happens when you go to Target  ::insert Home Alone face here::.   Most of what we spent went toward necessities, but I’m pretty sure neither of us needed those super cute running skirts we bought. I’m going to leave that right there.

Charitable giving: In addition to what each of us commits to giving to our church, we were also able to donate to one of our favorite DC-based organizations, Critical Exposure. The students showcased their work and led discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline at their end of year showcase, and they were phenomenal! So happy to support an organization that not only develops students’ artistic eye but also their critical thinking and desires for social change. If you don’t know about Critical Exposure, check them out: http://www.criticalexposure.org/.

Reese’s unexpected expenses: I needed to get work done on my car and that cost almost $800. I wasn’t trippin’ though. It’s amazing how less stressful these things are when you know you have the money in the bank. I also bought a last minute plane ticket. Sometimes you just have to hop on a plane and go see people you need to see.

Ricks’ unexpected expenses: I went to visit my family in Philly over Mother’s Day weekend, which was a planned expense, but I missed my return bus home and had to buy another ticket last minute. It was $14 but I was still peeved at myself because it was money I hadn’t planned to spend for the trip. I also had a last minute trip to Kansas for a workshop where there had to be an outlay of about $50 for food, most of which I will be reimbursed. When I travel I tend to buy charms and I lost a pair of my silver studs and replaced them, so I spent about $39 on jewelry.

Reese revisits wants vs. needs: I suspect this is a theme that will come up time and time again. To be honest, the type of tunnel vision I had in January has waned. Could be because of the warmer weather. Could be because rigidity makes me break out in hives (not really, but I think you get the point). Mostly, though, I think it’s because at any given moment, the line between wants and needs is blurred. I thought a lot about that this month as there were things I felt I really needed to not only be functional but also to live the type of life I want to live. For example, we spent Memorial Day weekend in the Shenandoah Valley area. For someone else, that may have been categorized as a want. For me, it was an absolute need and I knew it. My spirit was yearning to be away from the city, communing with nature in a place where I wouldn’t feel guilty about shutting out the rest of the world. I came back with clarity and energy. Both of those things are invaluable and were worth the money spent on the trip. I think the tunnel vision we had in January-March was completely necessary. It gave us a solid foundation upon which we could structure the lifestyle changes each of us are making. Without those months, we wouldn’t have paid off the debt we were able to pay or save as much as we did. Now, while we’re still saving and paying debts, the focus is on how to determine needs and wants at any given moment, because circumstances change. Needs and wants change with those.

Ricks’ two cents: I think we’ve lost a little of our intensity because we’ve achieved a lot of our goals. I paid off my BOA bill and was able to refinance my Discover card bill with a small personal loan with the help of the good folks at Lending Club. I’ve got a better interest rate and the loan will be paid off in three years (but sooner if I can help it). The loan also means I technically have NO CREDIT CARD DEBT! :: insert praise dance::: The trip to Shenandoah was very necessary for our spiritual well being if nothing else. I went on those hikes with problems and came back with solutions. Money well spent IMHO. I also spent about $50 on books.  All and all, I spent way less than I did last month and that is right on time because there are going to be some big changes coming this month. Stay tuned.

How are you doing with your saving, spending, and giving goals? Any new revelations? Share them with us…we’d love to hear them!

Until next time,

R&R


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Sudden Loss: Are You Prepared?

Submitted by a Too Thrifty Chicks reader committed to Operation Do Better

What would you do if your current financial snapshot was suddenly frozen in place? What if you would never make any more than you already make? In fact, what if your income was to temporarily disappear and reappear only after the passage of time, and then only in greatly reduced quantity? Do you have a plan for how you would pay the mortgage or rent? Your credit cards? Is that emergency fund in place?

You leave for work one morning, and the whoosh you make as you pass by yesterday’s stack of mail actually blows one of the bills to the floor. Still, your momentum can’t be broken because you have things to do that day. “I’ll take care of this when I get home,” you reasonably think to yourself. Later, I would say “handle it right then” is the first lesson I learned on the day when I would fall at lunch, shatter a leg, and be wheelchair-bound for two months.

My doctor remarked on the number of times I’d fallen in less than a year and ordered an MRI of my brain after surgery to set the leg. Good risk management, I thought. Later I would view the scan with the heads of neurology departments of two major hospitals. Even I could see the neurological abnormality. Was I born with it, only to have it manifest in my last decade in the workplace? Or had I merely fallen one too many times? Only extensive testing could determine the age of the injury, and I had no time for exploration. I had to get healthy because I had a job to do. Or so I thought. Seven months later, I would lose that job shortly before turning 60 and, yes, a few months before vesting in the company’s defined benefit pension.

Let’s shelve the panic and gloom of losing your job just as you turn 60. Or 50, or any age. This calls for swift action What happened to me could happen to anyone if you view the hypothetical situation broadly. Regardless of how you get there, you may face a sudden (read: unplanned) absence from your job. Accidents happen. Illnesses happen. Yes, even to working people who think that their steady income is forever. My advice is to reform your thinking and spending now. Prepare now. Following are some bits of advice that I learned both the hard way–all by myself–and the easy way from the Too Thrifty Chicks:

1. Cut out all extraneous spending. Now. This includes, but is not limited to, cable TV, a landline phone at home, and wine with dinner. Learn to watch your favorite shows online. For example, it is no tragedy to watch ‘The Good Wife’ online on Monday, a few hours after the latest episode airs on Sunday. Eliminating TV service requires you to be intentional in what you watch. During football season, I hang out with friends on game day and watch NCAA football on their TVs. No landline means no robo calls or edgy charitable solicitations. No wine with dinner means you’ll lose weight without changing anything else in your life. Depending on your cable package and taste in wine–in one month’s time–you can re-capture up to two hundred dollars that you were spending unnecessarily. Put at least part of these funds in advancing step #2.

2. Build your $1,000 Emergency Fund now. Sell what you aren’t using or don’t love to fund it. Try pet sitting, dog walking, or babysitting. Brainstorm with your online community. I didn’t have an adequate Emergency Fund. When the inevitable happened–repair work on a car, a pet’s illness, new medical needs–at first I would use a credit card, vowing to pay off the expense the next month…and then another inevitable event would occur. You get the picture. Are you still working? Great. Do it now. I have come to view the Fund as the most important step, regardless of your income.

3. Consider renting space in your home, short-term. I took a deep breath and just did it. What I found was a delightful and steady stream of med school students, interns, and residents who needed housing short-term,( ex: six weeks at a time). I find medical professionals to be ideal tenants because you have a modicum of leverage over their behavior by virtue of having contacts in the admissions office. Medical school is all about advancing through the ranks by doing everything right. Your contacts with people in the medical school means you can retain a measure of control over your tenants’ behavior. So pay a visit to the admissions office for medical school, generally, and to the departments of medical specialties, where you will find out-of-state students who need a place to stay during their 6-week rotations. Yes, this requires a certain amount of bravado. Here, the risk is worth the rewards. Depending on where you live, this could create several hundred dollars per month.

4. Stop shopping. Undertake a spiritual journey towards a path of living in the moment. Try not to want anything. When you realize that you have enough to eat, adequate shelter, and clothing, you begin to realize how lucky you are to have your most basic needs met.

5. Re-define your needs vs. wants, and do so honestly. Realize you have resources to get what you need but don’t yet have. There will be another job. Really.

The author of this post wanted to remain anonymous, and we respect her wishes. We are so appreciative of her sharing her story and hope it inspires you to simplify your living, set up more savings, and be prepared for anything that might come your way.

Until Next Time,

R&R


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Doing Better: Christina’s Story, Part 2

Christina Walker is Doing Better and this week she’s sharing the part two of who she’s re-writing her financial history and changing her family tree. Missed the first part of Christina’s Story? Check it out here.

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First steps to freedom

In 2007/2008 I got my head together again.  Thanks to some sage advice, I moved my money from a traditional bank to a credit union and sat down with a financial adviser to talk about cleaning up my credit and becoming debt free. In 2009, I met my husband David Walker Jr.  Early in our relationship, we talked about working jobs that we loved and having the financial freedom to change our family trees and travel the world.  We both had a mindset of not wanting to be in debt before we met each other so there wasn’t much fighting over money.  We did have one struggle that led to our decision to merge our separate bank accounts.  We once took a trip and it was a hassle trying to see who would pay for what and out of what bank account so shortly after we had to figure out a new and better system.  Today everything comes out of one account. It’s so much easier with tracking and accounting.  His money is mine and mine is his. We even have wiggle room in our budget for our own personal ‘blow’ money.

We then started reading books by Suze Orzman, Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki and other personal finance gurus to develop a strategy to become millionaires.  With the help of our friends, we projected our goals for the next five years. We jotted that information down in a notebook that we called our “Goal Book” and we have worked to meet those goals every year since.  But the major thing we did was put ourselves on a budget for a whole year and kept track of everything we spent money on.  By everything, I do mean EVERYTHING! We kept receipts for all purchases, small or big, for a whole year so we could see exactly where our money was going. Each receipt was kept in its own envelope and in categories which helped a lot with our taxes and our knowing where we spent too much so we could ultimately cut back.

Mine + Yours = OURS

246589_4070503641194_1466817754_nDavid came with his own baggage but not much. He had student loans, bills and a car that just broke down on him. But he  lived in a family house that was paid for and didn’t use credit cards anymore.   So most of his overdue bills were small things like a doctor’s bill, which was  easily payable.  But since the universe likes to make things interesting, he got laid off and my car broke down, forcing us to shop for a new/used car.  Now, I was strapped with a car note again.

But we were determined and we loved each other very much. We also both really wanted to see each other be successful.   So with the help of our credit union, lots of financial books and reading financial blogs, we devised a strategy.   We wrote down every debt we owned, from smallest to largest, and decided to do a debt snowball. We redoubled our efforts to cut down on unnecessary spending and put any leftover money we had each month toward bills.  David worked really hard to get back in school and to find employment.  I worked two jobs at one point to pay down bills. He’s now working two jobs to pay down bills while I take a break.

Real sacrifice, real reward

There have been a ton of tough moments.  When we first started all of this, we stopped socializing when the events 228166_10150203044152720_5542172_nrequired us to come out of pocket.  Now, we can afford to eat out and go on trips but that’s not what our goals entail.  Our goals require us to be frugal and sacrifice so that we could do the things we want to do later. Once a friend of ours said when we declined yet another invite,  “Y’all ain’t broke. Why don’t you come hang out?” We stuck to our guns.   In our minds, we were broke.  Not poor.  Being broke, for us, meant we had bills to pay off and life ahead of us.  It mattered that we stop spending thousands of dollars on trips every year or eating out for every occasion or having a lavish wedding.

We paid cash for our wedding.  We only had 20 people in attendance because that’s all we could afford.   People were upset, especially family, but no one offered to pay for a bigger wedding so we made due with what we had.   It was better than we expected and it was classy.   We are always complimented on our wedding photos and we’ve even had friends use some of our ideas to plan their own small, inexpensive weddings.

Paying it forward

Throughout the entire process, I have encouraged my friends and family to jump on the “freedom bandwagon” many times. Some got really excited and started their own plan and some didn’t.   In the end some relationships fell to the wayside because it was either their time to end, or maybe we differed on how David and I were now living our lives.  But we were serious when it came to being financially sound and we wanted to make sure our lives reflected the walk we were talking.

Some of the best moments so far have been paying off our new $18,000 truck — yes, it was too high but we needed a truck to carry around our two dogs and other equipment. It took us less than three years to pay it off because we paid bi-weekly and made extra payments for two years. All of that culminated in us being able to make a final $5000 cash payment to pay the sucker off.  We got David’s student loans out of default and paid back my four 401(k) loans. We  paid off an old overdue but significantly high energy bill from David’s family house, paid off all credit card debt, increased our credit scores by 100-plus points and reduced the interest rate on my loft from 6% to 4%.

Envisioning a beautiful future

382994_10150416391337720_776731016_nSince 2009 we’ve paid off  a little over $67,000  in consumer debt.  That may not seem like much and we still have a ways to go, but  it’s been cash since then and we’re completely free from a lot of the burdens we use to have. Having  each other first and foremost as accountability partners helps a lot. Writing down our goals in our notebook and creating a vision board also keep us motivated.   We know that ultimately we want to open our own business and have children, and we want to make sure we are financially ready to do those things before making those big leaps.  So the beautiful future we envision keeps the fire going…

Want to know Christina’s secret to slaying debt and saving for the future? Check out the last installment of her story next week!


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Food For thought Friday: Burn, Baby, Burn!

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Dear Bank of America Loan ending in 7919,

You started out as a means to an end, but became so much more.

You were supposed to be my debt consolidation ticket to the good life, instead, like an idiot,  I was seduced into making you my constant companion.

You’ve followed me (stalked me) from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Sarasota, Fla., to Anniston, Ala., Montgomery, Ala., and to Alexandria, Va. dragging me down to a point where I never thought I would be free, but today I am free.

Like a demon, temporarily cast out, you came back not only stronger but with equally strong friends.

But today, we’re breaking up. And this time it’s for good. I can’t say I’m sorry to see you go because it really is you.  It’s no longer me.

Deuces,

Ricks

P.S. I’ll be showing your friend Discover card the door sooner then he thinks.  Tell him, raising my credit limit is not even the least bit tempting. I look forward to giving him a two finger salute next year. Peace!  :: singing::  “It’s over. I’m leavin’.”