Friday, October 31, 2008

To do list (Post ONB)


ONB means you have to put a few things off.

Here is my list of stuff i have to do when this is all over...

Donate $100 to 'kids with cameras' as a belated wedding present to Rachel and Chris

Give back the lost property goggles that the YMCA have let me use since i lost mine

Give back the lost property swimming cap that the YMCA have let me use since i lost mine

Buy my mum a better birthday present next year

Hmmm I think it is it for now, I might revisit this in a few weeks time and add to it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"With love from Gareth & Amy"


When you don't have much cash you can't dazzle people with expensive birthday presents. You can however dazzle them with thoughtful presents. Here's what we managed to put together for her niece who was 6 this month...

A certificate for a day 'Bug hunting with Gareth and Amy in Central Park'
Cost to Amy and Gareth - Free except from the food we will buy for an autumnal picnic

A magnifying glass for looking a bugs
Cost to Amy and Gareth - $7.99 we funked it up with a special 'Isabell' sticker on it

A bug spotting notebook for drawing what we find
Cost to Amy and Gareth - free, we are recycling a gift and again funked it up with a special sticker

A crazy bug construction kit
Cost to Amy and Gareth - free, left over from a project in May with Hasbro

She was over-the-moon with the present!!! It is going to be a fun day bug hunting!

For Amy's younger sister Susan we created a 'Grow your brain (not your ass)' kit - amy added the 'not your ass' bit to the title! We filled 5 test tubes in a test tube rack with little gift certificates. It looked brilliant.

Thoughtfulnss makes the difference between a good present and a great one and the best thing of all is 'thoughtfulness' is free!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Great Escape


If you have been a regular visitor to this blog then you will be well aware that Amy and I need a break from it all. And that's just what we are about to take.

Drum roll please - we are off to Costa Rica!!!!

I have to go there for work and Amy managed to find a return flight to San Jose from JFK for just $400 (that's easyJet prices!!). We are going to find a shack on the beach to crash. We've looked into prices and we should be able to get somewhere nice for $40 a night.

To fund the trip Amy has been taking on all the little bits of freelancing she can (making wedding invites and editing films) and all these little pieces have added up to a rather big amount! So off we go to escape our prison cell and the New York cold.

Here's to cheap food, cold beers and a big dollop of privacy.


We are going to collapse, relax, recharge and try, just try to do Costa Rica on a $20 a day budget...

Then we should be able to push tthrough the last leg of OBN!!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blasts from the past


The last two weeks has felt a bit like a reunion party! Lots of people i haven't seen in ages have popped up again in my life.

Orri was in town from Iceland. I haven't seen him in 18 months. He is now a dad and another one is on the way.

Amy, a very close friend who moved back to Canada 4 years, called me up having reconnected thanks to facebook.

Vicky, my old flatmate from London called to say howdee.

I'm not exactly sure what they made of the whole ONB scheme. I have always lead a bit of a nutty life so i don't think anyone was that surprised by it all.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"I think i'm going to cry"


We were talking last night about what we are going to do when all this is over and we shake of the $20 daily allowance like dead skin. I can't wait to go and see things - shows, exhibitions, bands, everything, i can't wait to eat in restaurants, i can't wait to go to bars and get wasted, i can't wait to go food shopping and not have to pick the cheapest things and do tons of sums in my head to make sure i haven't spent too much. Ultimately - i can't wait to actual feel like i live in NYC rather than be someone who is just looking in from the outside.

As we talked about this Amy said she was going to cry so we quickly changed the subject.

Saturday, October 25, 2008



Yep I did it. I worked out the sums and realized that if Gareth and I stay at my moms and extend ONB until April - one year exactly from when we started - we will have paid off all of the loans in their entirety.

Opps is right I think I sent Gareth into a tail spin once it popped out of my mouth,

I just thought, fuck how the hell are we going to pay off the final $39,000 once we've moved out and on?

Upside is - starting completely from scratch in April - 4 months from when we decided to crash out would save us potentially 2 years of giving away bonuses and tax returns etc.

Down side is - we might kill each other, get some spinal disease, or just completely snap if we don't move out in January!

I think we'll take it day by day, month by month and see what happens.

(Shhhh...Gareth turned purple when I proposed this to him..Opps)

April fools!


Amy has done some more sums - there are a lot of sums in ONB - and she told me that if we stayed until April we will have paid off the entire $180,000 debt.

My heart sunk. That is such a long way off. Have i got to strength to go the distance - it is a bit like entering into a half marathon and then finding out you actually have to run a full one.

Reasons to stay until April...

1. We will be 100% debt free
2. The housing market may have bottomed out so we can swoop in and start the next phase of our lives together
3. The Upper West Side is rather quite nice and safe - it is growing on me

Reasons not to stay until April...

1. We might go completely mental
2. We might be crippled for life from spending a year on an air bed
3. Amy's mum might not want us to stay another 4 moths, we've already extended it by 2

I think we should take it month by month in 2009 and see how it goes.

We are already a lot better off than we were. A little debt is easier to carry than a lot.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A poem for Amy...


Help me help me, I’m feeling all confused
Things are perplexing, my mind’s blown a fuse

My brains filled with jelly and my thoughts are a jumble
I can’t speak properly my words are all mumbled

I can’t concentrate on anything, not one thing
My hearts beating faster than a humming bird’s wings

My legs are all wobbly I can’t walk straight
All because of a girl called Amy, who’s my best mate

Wakey wakey


The thing i still miss most in the world of ONB is a good night's sleep.

I can fall asleep quite quickly at night but for Amy it is a struggle. To help her go off into the land of nod she watches TV until she passes out which means i'm now being awaken at 5am to the sounds of black and white westerns - "Get out of town" "BLAM BLAM BLAM" "Ohhh your my hero" "There's a trouble heading this way" etc.

I'm a bit of an early bird but these 5am starts are killing me.

When we get our own place we are going to buy a TV with a timer!

So so tired - Zzzzzzzzz

Thursday, October 23, 2008


To get round our ever expanding inflatable bed we now have to walk like a crab - there is now just a 6 inch gap to get round to the wardrobe.

You have to twist your feet out so they are pointing in different directions and shuffle along.

I swear my knees feel like they are going to snap.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free stationery


On the rare occasion we go out for dinner I have started keeping the pens they give you to sign the check with. Technically I don’t think this is theft as the pens are covered in restaurant logos and phone numbers. I’m pretty certain they want you to keep it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CNN Debt news


This woman had credit card debt...



Amy can’t stand going Dutch – she thinks it is cheap. I don’t have a problem with it as all the money comes from the same place – what’s mine is her’s and what’s her’s is mine. Perhaps it is a male/female thing.

I totally agree that all our money comes from the same place - making 'going dutch' worthless. I just hate the awkward moment when two people pull out of both wallets - always have. Also, I don't think I've ever been in a relationship where money is shared, so it's all a little new to me ;)

Monday, October 20, 2008


I wonder if the person who googled this was disappointed when they came to our blog!!!!

Staff benefits


I recently went on a work trip to Johnson and Johnson's headquarters in New Jersey. Before i left they kindly let me visit the staff shop - it was Operation Night Brace paradise! Everything they make was on sale for under half price - RESULT!!!

I brought huge bottles of mouthwash for $3.60, face cream and spot stuff for amy, loads of good quality toothbrushes for just $1.40. I walked away with a huge bag of stuff that should last us until Xmas and the bill came to just $53.80!

Lots of companies have staff shops so my advice would be to ask round your friends to see what deals they can get you if you are ever considering doing your own Operation Night Brace.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our new favorite meal


It has been ages since I posted a recipe so I thought I’d share this one that Amy and I have bee enjoying as the nights get colder.

Chirizo Bean Stew (can be made for about $15 and will last two people, two days)

Gently fry…
One pack of chirozos chopped up into pieces ($5.50)
One onion (stolen from Amy’s mum)
One green pepper (much cheaper than red, orange or yellow for some reason)

Stir in…
One tin of chopped tomatoes ($1.80)
One tin of black beans ($0.95)
One tin of other beans – whatever is cheapest
One sweet potato chopped into chunks
A sprinkling of chilli flakes

If you have some…
Add wine

If you don’t…
Add water

Cook until all the bits are soft. Serve with bread and enjoy.

This meal gets better over time so it makes a great packed lunch the next day.

Saturday, October 18, 2008



I receive an email every week from this guy who just got a book deal worth $23,000 if he sells 10,000 copies. Here is the summary of his book...

The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back Alan Michael Collinge. Beacon, $22.95. Think credit-card debt is a problem? Take a look at the lives ruined through the corporate thug tactics, usurious fees and vicious harassment employed by some of the nation's largest student-loan providers in this shocking exposé from Collinge, founder of The author had a manageable $38,000 in loans—until he missed a single payment. Fees and charges quickly piled up, and his debt mushroomed to more than $100,000. The author reveals that since lenders make far more money from defaulted loans than they do from borrowers in good standing, they go to extraordinary—and illegal—lengths to force borrowers into default. There are currently more than five million defaulted loans on record, and incredibly, student loans are the only type of loan in U.S. history to be nondischargable in bankruptcy. The author exposes the engineers (and profiteers) of this predatory system and urges Congress to restore standard consumer protections to student loans, concluding with a call to arms for progressive changes, refinancing rights and a plethora of practical advice for borrowers. Comprehensive and stirring, this extraordinary book is whistle-blowing at its finest. (Feb.)

Here is his mass email...

Hey Guys,

This is the link to the Publisher's Weekly thing about the book. Please comment on this article, this will encourage book people to put it on their shelves.

Im definitely not doing this for the money. I am pretty sensitive to that attack. My publisher has told me that if the book sells 10,000 copies, that would be considered a smashing success. Based on this "best case" scenario, I would personally earn about $23,000 for the effort.

Just so you all know...

Having said that, some very important policy makers may well read this book, if we work hard to get it our there. So I hope that you will keep it in mind.

Best Regards,
Alan M. Collinge

Thursday, October 16, 2008



October 31st is fast approaching. This was the original deadline for ONB but now we have extended it we have another 8 weeks to go. We can do it. We can do it!!! And rather than owing $100,000 at the end of it we will (hopefully) owe a paltry $40,000ish.

$38,200.00 to be exact (I'm the sums lady in this relationship ;)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008



Things are going a bit slow on the wedding planning front at the moment. We seem to have hundreds of other things that pop up and get in the way – I think they call it ‘life’. We have however compiled our own recipe of what will make a great “Amy & Gareth” wedding…

• Handmade and heartfelt
• Laughter and tears
• Unstuffy and stress free
• No wedding list - People’s presence will be the presents
• Simple not showy
• Elegant but fun

PS We have had an interesting offer for the wedding venue – our new office in the East Village!!! It would be free and is in a great location and simply beautiful inside. I’m game if Amy is. Watch this space.

PPS I came across an interesting story on the BBC the other day...

"A couple spent three months collecting and recycling litter to pay for their honeymoon flights.

John and Ann Till, from Petersfield, in Hampshire, took thousands of cans and bottles to a recycling centre at a nearby Tesco supermarket.

For every four recycled items, they earned a reward point which was then converted into BA air miles.

They amassed 36,000 miles, which they used to fly back in business class from their US honeymoon.
Enough rubbish

The Tills came up with the idea while buying petrol at Tesco in Havant, where an automated recycling unit that gives loyalty-card points had been installed for a trial period.

They had enough money for a Queen Mary 2 cruise to New York but could not afford the flights home, so the couple started scouring the streets of their home town for rubbish, clocking up the miles for their dream honeymoon."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008



I was recently away on a work trip and within two hours of getting off the plane I had two men trying to rob me at knifepoint. It was broad daylight and on a beach. I was a bit shocked – this was the first time anything like this had happened to me. I always wondered how I would react and now I know…

I was sitting down when the men approached me. As they grabbed me and pulled the knife I stood up and pushed them away. I’m guessing they didn’t think I looked as big as I am sitting down. They were a bit taken aback by my reaction and let me just walk away (rather quickly). My wallet was still mine and so was my camera.

When I told the clients I was there to meet about what had happened they couldn’t believe how lucky I had been. I realize that what I did wasn’t the smartest thing – they could have decided to teach me a lesson. Gulp!!! My reaction was pure reflex and born out of the fact that when you don’t have much (which is certainly what life is like on ONB) you fight for what you do have as hard as you can.

I’m still a bit shaken by the whole thing but there was one benefit… I told the American Airlines woman when I checked in for my return flight and she gave me a highly prized fire exit seat because she felt sorry for me. Woooo hoooo.

The Beast That Swallows Its Young


Monday, October 13, 2008



Last Friday I lost my wallet. But before I even knew it had gone the very kind person who found it had emailed me, posted a message on the blog and left me a voicemail!!!

What a very very kind person. They saved me from a weekend of canceling cards and replacing IDs.

Sunday, October 12, 2008



Gareth and I will have survived living in New York spending no more then $12,750 for the entire year!!! Thats including rent, food, doctors toiletries - all of it.

How I figured this out ... basically I totaled what Gareth and I make in a year after taxes.. subtracted the amount we will have paid off in April (I year from when ONB started) and then divided by 12. Which gives you $1,062.00 a month for two people = $17 a day on average - less then our proposed $20.



Saturday, October 11, 2008



My mum was right to be worried about us getting fat doing ONB because we are!!!! You’d think not having much money would make loosing weight easy but it is having the reverse effect for two reasons…

1. You don’t turn any offer of food down
2. You eat everything so as to waste nothing

These two things combined are a deadly combination. My dream of hitting 200lbs by Xmas is looking unlikely ☹

Pants - big elasticated pants!!!


When I met Gareth he said, 'We'll fatten you up, I'm a feeder!" AND HE MEANT IT! Both of us grab every little crumb we can get because we're not sure when the next crumb will appear. I pack twice as much food in the morning just in case I run out and I eat it all!!



Work means I’m away quite a lot at the moment. The best thing about this is that I’m having a lot of no spend days as things like meals are paid for. It also means I get to sleep in a proper bed. The only thing missing is Amy.

Sometimes i miss Gareth so much it feels like I could burst! But I am happy he is out an about having fun, changing the world, doing his thing.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Similar to the "he said/she said" thing we've got going on here, but if you check it out it's kinda genius...

Thursday, October 9, 2008



So far this month I have taken on 4 very small freelance jobs - none of them paid a lot but they added up!

$2,230.00 = EXTRA this month!!

Woo hoo!



I was on the train this morning being pushed an prodded, when I started thinking...I don't normally do that, normally I'm too busy jockeying for a seat before I can think about anything ;) Anyway, this morning I thought that when ONB ends, which is pretty near, my spending habits will probably NOT change that much.

The things I would like to spend money on are:

A cab home from a late night out
I'd pay for a meal out with friends
I'd buy a sweater or two for winter

Apart from the small things...I've learned that sometimes I spend needlessly - rushing about in busy New York.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008



Love is being somewhere truly amazing in the world and finding yourself wishing away every minute of it so that you can get home for a hug.


Love is also being somewhere miserable (like working late) and finding yourself wishing away every minute of it so that you can get back home for a hug ;)



Every time I phone home at the moment my mum, sister and dad are all asking: “Is Amy OK? She seems really miserable on the blog at the moment.”

To help put their minds at rest I decided to interview Amy…

GARETH SAYS… Are you miserable Amy?

Not at all - I can finally say 'I'm lucky in love :)' I have never been happier in my whole life.

GARETH SAYS… What’s the nicest thing that has happened to you recently?

Gareth bought a wood family home, a bracelet and a mug from his last work trip. They were all pretty cheap but filled with love.

GARETH SAYS… What have you got to look forward to in the near future?

Costa Rica - woo hoo. I am so excited!!!

GARETH HOPES the folks back home can stop worrying now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008



If you have ever seen footage of the polar bears that go mad in captivity then you’ll have an idea of how we sometimes feel in our bedroom/prison cell. It is so unbelievably small. I can’t believe we have been living in it since May 1st – just over 5 solid months in a room 3 meters by 2 meters. The average size of a prison cell in America is 8 feet by 12 feet but at least we don’t have bars on the windows. (5 months is how long Martha Stewart got sentenced to jail for)

I have made a note to do an MTV ‘Cribs’ style video of it and post it so you can see what life is like in our little backroom in the Upper West Side.


$14.05 a day in interest at %5.875 locked in fixed rate.

You know what this means?

On my $20 a day budget - I only have $5.95 a day left!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Call me naive, opps I meant, call me asinine, dense, dull, foolish, idiotic, ignorant, inane, inarticulate, moronic, mum, mute, pantomimic, senseless, silent, speechless, stupid, taciturn, unintelligent, unintentional, voiceless...RIGHT....or blockheaded, dense, doltish, hebetudinous, obtuse, thickheaded, thick-witted girl cause IGNORANCE IS BLISS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fairytales Vs nightmares


It’s weird…

I often think we are in a fairy tale – with heroes, love and romance.
Amy often thinks we are in a nightmare – with chains and nasty guards.

I have a tendency to look at the big picture and be blissfully unaware of the little things that Amy seems to focus in on.

I’m of the school of thought that if 90% is right then that’s pretty good.
Amy is of the school of thought that if 10% is wrong then that’s pretty awful.

Somewhere between the two of us lies the truth and what is really happening.

I guess we are on a quest for balance.

Monday, October 6, 2008



I've been trying to keep s under $100K but the interest keeps pushing us over. So every other day I pay the interest...approx. $10 and it moves back just under. I feel like I'm playing tug-of-war with the Government!!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008



I just read that JK Rowling makes £5 every second! She made $300 million dollars last year. There is gold in them there children’s books.

I have been playing around with a few kid book ideas myself. It’s been great fun and hasn’t cost a cent. I don’t think I’ve got a Harry Potter just yet, just a few weird poems that may or may not be suitable for kids. See what you think…

There once was a girl who tasted too good

Her ear wax was cheesy and her arms chocolate pud

Her fingers were fishy and her legs were like chicken

For a walking pantry was she often mistaken

When you taste so good you have to beware

Of hungry villagers waving forks in the air

A large group had gathered one night, quite late

Each with a fork and a large dinner plate

“Get off, get off. Get out of my way.”

“Please step aside – I am not a buffet”

“She smells delicious – she smells divine”

“She’s going to taste lovely washed down with some wine.”

“I’ve salt”, “I’ve pepper” and “I’ve got steak sauce.”

“We’ll start at her toes and work up course by course”

First toes, then feet, then ankle, then leg

Twas the most succulent banquet they’d ever been fed

“Stop stop, please really - you really must stop.”

“Please leave me one leg so at least I can hop.”

But would they listen? Would they heck.

They went on feasting right up to her neck.

Her legs, her arms, her stomach – all gone.

Didn’t they know eating young girls was quite wrong?

“Enough. Enough. Let’s call it a day!”

“Just leave me my head, turn around - walk away.”

“But the head’s the best bit – we’ve saved it to last.”

And with that they dived in and gobbled it fast.

The hair cotton candy and a nose made of toffee

“Burp” said a villager. “Anyone fancy coffee?”



Milestones are great things to have in a project especially one that seems never ending.

Here are the official milestones of Operation Night Brace…

Paid off the entire Private Loan – Done
Brought the debt under $100k – Done
Paid off half the original debt ($90k) – Soon
Brought the loan down to the original Public Loan sans interest ($86k) – Soonish
Got a zero in our balance – Long way off

Watch this space xx

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Japanese gardens


I heard a lovely fact yesterday but have no idea if it is true.

Apparently in the highly manicured Japanese gardens they deliberately leave one weed to make you appreciate just how beautiful the rest of the garden is.

In life you need the dark to appreciate the light, the cold to appreciate the warm.

The debt is our weed and slowly and in a weird way we are coming to love what it has shown us.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What's the secret?


The statistics on relationships are depressing: in California alone, the average marriage lasts just 5 years. Nationwide, 43% of marriages end within 15 years. Second and third marriages end in divorce 60-70% of the time. Clearly, how we handle our relationships is not working. And yet, 94% of young adults in one study said that having a good marriage is extremely important to them. So, what can you do?

We researched much of current the literature on relationships and have condensed the results into just a few key concepts. These principles seem to be the common denominators in happy, successful marriages. See how many you can identify in your relationship.

Here is the link to the 10 top tips: but check out the headliner ad next to the 10 secrets!!



If only we had been quicker we could have been rich!!!

Check this out.

It a cheeky but inspiring bit of cybersquatting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Project on student debt?


For Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds, borrowing has become a primary way to pay for higher education. The Project on Student Debt works to increase public understanding of this trend and the implications for our families, economy, and society. Recognizing that loans play a critical role in making college possible, the Project's goal is to identify cost-effective solutions that expand educational opportunity, protect family financial security, and advance economic competitiveness.

Borrowers Look Back
FACT – The percentage of former students reporting that they would have borrowed less if they
had to do it again increased from 31% in 1991, to 45% in 1997, to 54% in 2002.

FACT – More than 40% of college graduates who don’t pursue graduate school blame student
loan debt.

FACT – People with undergraduate debt are much less likely to get a PhD that those without
undergraduate debt. Nearly three fourths (72%) of U.S. doctorate recipients who earned their
degrees between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004 had zero undergraduate debt. Just 10% of
doctorate recipients had undergraduate debt of more than $20,000.

Fuck I still want to get my PhD at Harvard - I probably shouldn't be telling Gareth this ;)


I received this letter today...I couldn't have said it any better! Except for the sign off - "Please Donate" ;)

Hey guys,

I know everyone is in a panic, or near panic due to the recent attempt by the banks to get a $700 billion bailout from the federal government. We can expect that student loan companies like Sallie Mae will be holding their hands out for a piece of this free government money for making highly irrresponsible loans.

If anyone needs assistance from the federal government, it is us. Put it this way: $700 billion would pay off the student loans of EVERYONE in the entire country. Think of the econmic stimulus that this would create. Instead, the banks have hijacked Congress into believing that their interests should come first, and I fully expect this bailout plan to pass, if not tonight, then certainly in the coming weeks. Where does that leave us?

Now is the time for us to stick up for ourselves, guys. The banks have hijacked Congress. Their $100 million lobbying machine has descended upon Washington D.C. like a swarm of locusts, and we can fully expect that they will have their way. Both presidential candidates have said that they support such a bailout. Home prices have devalued by about 20%. If we all woke up one morning to find that our assets have devalued by 20% we would find a way to get through it without demanding a bailout from the federal government. Evidently, the banks ne4ed more help than the average American citizen.

Ok. Fine. That's great. I have no problem with the banks getting their bailout. However: This MUST come with a reinstatement of standard consumer protections for student loans. We hyave been victimized by the predatory student loan industry for far too long, and it is time for Congress to listen to US, not the BANKS.

Are you people hearing me?

Get out there. Call a reporter. Make them feel your paijnl. This is so important right now, I can't tell you.

Right now, all we have on the docket is a couple of pieces coming out in the Seattle Times on Sunday and Monday. That's all I know about right now. What can you do in your area to make a story happen?

Alan M. Collinge

Please Donate to the PAC, go to

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Do the math


I signed up blindly not fully understanding WTF I was getting into. If i'd only know then what I know aware and do the math!