Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey-free week

What I've spent the past two days:

We spent Thursday morning watching the parade from Peanut's Times Square office--it was great! (I'll try to post pictures later). I spent $12.00 on donuts for the "small" group of people we expected to watch the parade with. Turned out to be a dozen out of town relatives of Peanut's newest coworker, complete with three kids under the age of three. The donuts were a big hit.

After the parade, we stopped by the store to pick up the traditional Thanksgiving sides we wanted to make ($5 each). We didn't do a big Thanksgiving meal with turkey or anything, and we enjoyed our meal very much anyway.

Today, I went to the eye doctor and had my first real consultation for Lasik. I liked the doctor a lot, was told I'm an excellent candidate...and booked my surgery appointment! It will cost $3,960, or $1,980 per eye (as Peanut said, "Good thing I've only got two!") which I feel is definitely reasonable. My appointment is at the beginning of January so in five weeks I will be eyeglasses-less for the first time in more than 20 years. I AM SO EXCITED!!!!

After that, I came home and ate leftovers. We're going to run to the grocery store for tomato soup and make that with grilled cheese sandwiches, and I might do some online Christmas shopping, but otherwise, we are planning a quiet weekend in, just the way I like it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone--this is turning out to be one of my favorites ever.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stolen from One Little Fish and It's Like I'm...mmmagic:

What would I say if I could say it totally anonymously?

I would say:

* Your complaints about your job make me want to avoid you.

* You're being a jerk, too, dear--not just him.

* I am afraid of you.

* I'd like to just sort of...not be friends. Without having to say so.

* I'm sorry for the way I acted for years. I was immature.

* Your money doesn't make you better than me.

* I'm really worried about you.

* You inspire me.

* I want your job.

* Stop judging people and people will stop judging you.

* I don't believe you're going to do it. I've heard the same story too many times from you.

* I miss you.

What would you say?

Yay, I love spending money!

Ok, not really, but I love spending money on worthy causes.

Yesterday, I lost $.75 in a vending machine, which made me very sad. It wasn't so much the money, but I really wanted the coffee (and there were people around who KNEW the machine wasn't working, but they didn't warn me. Grump, grump, grump).

Today, I bought my sister a plane ticket! Granted, that's a bigger Christmas present than I'm giving anyone else, but she needs to get out of town and it's a gift to me as I'll get to see her! Plus it was a great deal--$146 round trip.

Other than that, I got paid by four mystery shopping companies, for a total of $91.50.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday, November 22

Today the only money I spent was at the Empire State Building--I had a mystery shop there!

Well, let me start from the morning. I made waffles from things we had at home while Peanut went on a drug store run from his roommate, who's come down with a bad cold. We went to Costco for a few things (granola bars, toilet paper, and of course I came home with their evil and oh-so-good spinach dip) but Peanut paid. Then we went to the Empire State Building to do my mystery shop which was pretty easy. But it was REALLY COLD up there and very windy, so we didn't stay long. That's ok with me--I've been up at least three times before and Peanut's not one to be super-impressed with tourist traps. Plus I like Top of the Rock better. Our tickets (which will be reimbursed) cost me $40.

For dinner, we went to our favorite sushi place. Peanut promised to take me there when he got his check from his France trip--it was a medical study that I found but didn't qualify for. I complained about it to him, then he signed up...and got sent to France! Dinner at JJ's was my finder's fee, and it was amazingly delicious. Now we're home and will probably play video games until bedtime. I know--it's hard to be this glamorous. :p

Daily tally: $40, to be reimbursed

This was supposed to be the last day of my spending tracking post, but I think I might try to keep it up. It's helped me remember to post every day, and I do need help remembering that sometimes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday, November 21

This week has flown by!

Usual bagel purchase. $.75 I would actually like to eat breakfast at home, but that would mean I'd have to get up earlier. I might make it one of my New Year's Resolutions maybe...but then my bagel guy would be so disappointed!

I had a lunch date with a friend who's going through a rough time. We went to a bar/lounge near work we'd never been to, and had a pretty good lunch for $18.20 each. I do not understand how people at my salary level can remotely afford to eat out every day.

After work, I had a spa mystery shop--a facial and eyebrow wax at a high-end spa. My expense limit was $150, but I spent $210 (including tip) and came home with skinny little eyebrows. I'm not sure how I feel about them. I have naturally thick eyebrows, and the thin arch looks so weird to me. On the other hand, even though Peanut KNEW I was going to get them waxed, and even though I asked him pointedly to see if he saw anything different on my face, he did NOT NOTICE the difference. He said they looked "neater" but that was it. So, whatever. The facial was lovely.

And something else was lovely--I came home from the spa freezing and hungry, to discover that Peanut and his roommate had cooked up a FEAST. Spinach salad, roasted asparagus, bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breasts and mashed potatoes (from SCRATCH) and ice-cream pie. !!!! What great boys! They'd even waited for me so we could all eat together. A delicious free dinner was a fantastic end to my week--I'd planned on eating ramen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday, November 20

Normal bagel routine followed. $.75

I had a lunch with a friend. We had agreed to meet at a deli midway between our offices. I packed a sandwich and intended to only get chips and a drink (I felt a little weird about this, but I didn't want to spend the standard $10-12 at this place). I ended up getting some steamed veggies as well for a total of $6.37. I could have done better.

Right before I left work, I bought my mom's birthday present off Etsy ($34.00) and then found my sister's Christmas present ($24.00), both paid by Paypal. The gift shopping, it has officially started!

I also paid my electric/gas bill for the month: $53.02. Seems criminal for how little time I spend there nowadays. And I got paid for several mystery shops completed last month: $42.00.

Peanut unexpectedly took me out for dinner and to a show for our seventh monthiversary. Actually, it just so happened that he found tickets at TKTS for a show we've been wanting to see, and it also happened to be our monthiversary (we normally don't really celebrate), but I teased him that this set a precedent and I will expect dinner and a show for every monthiversary from now on. He offered to compromise and only celebrate every seventh. We'll see. :)

Daily tally:
Spent: $118.14
Brought in: $42.00

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday, November 19

This was a pretty cheap day!

I spent $.75 on my bagel in the morning, plus $1.75 for vending machine necessities during school. And I wrote a check for $15.00 for my weekly copay with my counselor. Sometimes I'm not sure that going to therapy is worth it. I have a long and confusing history of depression and anxiety, though, and I'm really tired of it. I promised myself in January that I wouldn't stop when it got hard or boring--I would keep going until I had worked through some issues and developed coping skills to see me through the next phase of my life. And I'm going to stick to it.

I also got reimbursed $58.36 for a mystery shop I completed in October.

Daily tally: Spent $17.50
Brought in: $58.36

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday, November 18

I didn’t get cash yesterday so I had to borrow $5 from Peanut to get my morning bagel ($.75). Reason #32 why I like having a boyfriend.

I poke around for birthday presents for my mom but don’t buy anything. It’s Peanut’s turn to pick up the few things we need for tonight’s dinner, which he does...and then he MAKES me sit down and watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog on Hulu while he cooks. The man is perfect, I tell you.

A side anecdote about money: My workplace offers free flu shots at the beginning of flu season. I’ve never had a flu shot before but I intend to get one this year. When I went down on flu shot day, however, they had run out of the vaccine—more than twice as many people showed up than they expected. They’ll be setting up a second day when I’ll be getting mine, but I think the incident is interesting. Could this be evidence that people are worried about the economy? That they don’t want to have to pay office copays or for over the counter medications, or that they can’t afford to miss work (even with paid sick days) because they’re afraid of getting laid off?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday, November 17

I’ve packed my lunch today (leftovers from last night). My train gets all wonky one stop from work, so I end up having to walk the last 10 blocks. This means I miss my regular bagel guy. I try two different carts but neither has the bagel I’m craving (everything with butter). I am too picky and get to work with no bagel. And I’m late because of my train. I make a mental note to bring in a box of instant oatmeal to keep in my desk for days when this happens and decide to try to power through on an empty stomach. By 11, I’m lightheaded and spend $.75 on a granola bar from the vending machine. It’s what I would have spent on my bagel anyway, so I guess I’m about even.

I have a mystery shop at a trendy clothing chain during lunch. The pay is $8 and the reimbursement is $8, which doesn’t give me much room to actually shop. That doesn’t stop me from going a little crazy and spending $40.47 on a top and a wonderful grey cardigan. I don’t normally go over (at least not by a lot—maybe $1-2) on my mystery shops like this. It’s getting to be a trend I don’t like, all the more because I know it’s going to happen at least one more time this week.

I pick up my repaired shoes from the cobbler, but that's "free" since I paid for it last week when I dropped them off. They look like new!

I'm about to go to school, and I have a feeling I'm going to grab a sandwich or something from a deli. I'm starving. Normally I bring a snack with me for days I have school, but Peanut and I are out of our granola bars and haven't been to Costco in a long time. Also, I will be going to dance class tonight, so I need the extra energy. Boo. But I promise not to buy a soda.

Also, dance class is also "free" since I pay for 10 classes up front ($150). But for the purposes of this exercise, I guess I should report it. Should I also report my subway rides? Maybe that's taking it a little too far.

Daily tally: $41.22 plus whatever I spend at the deli. I have less than $5 in cash, and I don't want to use my debit card for this.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday, November 16

I have rehearsal in New Jersey today at 1. I’m running late because of the subway, so I skip buying a Dr. Pepper or snack (I had leftover spaghetti for breakfast, yuck) but I do stop to buy my bus tickets at the machine instead of paying cash on the bus. I prefer to do this so I have a receipt for tax deductions although the cost is the same with either method ($6.80). Unfortunately, the machine takes so long I miss my bus. By the time I get to the studio, I’m starving so I buy a Nutrigrain bar at the deli across the street ($1).

On my way home, I pop into Duane Reade to pick up some chapstick, my favorite face-scrubby thing, and something caffeinated. The store is out of the scrubby thing so I grab a Burt’s Bees chapstick and a Dr. Pepper. I don’t realize until I get home that the chapstick cost $4.99 which is ridiculous. I could have gotten regular peppermint chapstick for $2.19, but I really thought the sign under the Burt’s Bees said $2.99. I’m irritated, but I’ve already used the chapstick (which, of course, I don’t even like that much) so I’m just going to suck it up and use the entire tube. Total spent: $6.23

Peanut meets me at the grocery store so we can do our weekly shopping. We plan our meals at the store which sort of works—we can’t think of anything we want for dinner on Thursday so we decide we’ll pick something up that night. I prefer to handle this at home when we can look at what we already have, but it’s late and I’m cranky from an unproductive rehearsal. I also really need to do laundry. It’s my turn to buy groceries, so I spend $24.71 at one store and $9.69 at another to get almost everything we’ll need for the full week of lunches and dinners. We’ll pick up fresh produce tomorrow for the fried rice.

Daily tally: $48.43, $6.80 of which is fully deductible, $1 of which is half deductible

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In-depth spending tracking

In keeping with Fabulously Broke’s Money Diaries series and Saving Diva posting her daily spending on her blog, I’ve decided to list all the money I spend (and on what) from November 15-22. It’s entirely possible that this will wind up being an unusual week, if I do any Christmas shopping, but that’s ok.

Saturday, November 15
Peanut and I have a mystery shop at a chain restaurant in downtown Manhattan. We had originally planned to go to the Tenement Museum today as well, but the weather is ugly and the walking tour won’t be much fun, so we decide to just go to the mystery shop (I can’t reschedule it). This well-known chain doesn’t really stand out in any way, except for the price—we spend $11.02 on the required bar shop (for ONE drink) and $86.37 on the meal. We didn’t always stick with the cheapest options, but I don’t think there’s any way we could have stayed under the $60 reimbursement cap given all the things we had to order (drink at the bar, appetizer, salad, two entrees, dessert, soft drinks). I think it’s despicable that the chain restaurant jack up their prices in tourist-heavy areas—It’s NOT that expensive to eat in New York City, at least not at any local options that would have had comparable (or better) food than the chain. Total spent: $60 that will be reimbursed, $37.39 that won’t.

Then we went window-shopping at J&R Computer World—Peanut is planning to build a second computer for me to use at his apartment and is looking for parts and a monitor. We didn’t buy anything but priced some stuff and I played with HP’s touch-screen monitor.

We stopped in at my favorite shop in Chinatown, Kam Man, and I bought a package of lichi gummies and some Ferrero Rocher chocolates. They are much cheaper there than anywhere else, but still, I didn’t need them. Cost: $7.02.

On the way home, I picked up a head of broccoli to include with our pasta dinner, and then forgot to use it. Broccoli is expensive! $2.50

Total spent: $106.91, $60 of which I’ll get back next month. I might be able to deduct at least part of the $37.39 if there was really no way I could have spent under the $60 cap and still met the shop requirements.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wow, they inspired a rant!

The ladies over at The World of Wealth and Saving Diva have pretty well summed up how I feel sometimes--I just can't seem to get my act together. I want a perfect apartment, a perfect relationship, a clean desk every night when I leave work at 6 p.m. on the dot, straight A's in graduate school, a regular manicure and pedicure, hair that cooperates at all times, flawless skin, a great-fitting and modern wardrobe, overflowing bank accounts, a regular workout routine, and eight hours of sleep every night. And a healthy breakfast over the paper every morning.

Guess what? All of that is NEVER going to happen, especially not all at the same time. The best I can hope for is two out of however-many-wishes I just listed. And that doesn't make me a failure!

Sitcoms and movies have made me want more than is realistic, and honestly, more than I really, truly, actually want. If everything was perfect and easy...where would the fun be? Part of what I enjoy about my life right now is that I'm still figuring out how I want to make it. I'm just living on my own for the first time, and that includes figuring out my style and whether I want art on the walls or a sleeper sofa. I'm learning to balance school and a job and a relationship and time with friends. I'm figuring out whether I want to be sophisticated modern chic or bohemian artsy-funky and how to squeeze an extra $50 out of my budget for those to-die-for shoes. The challenge is in the learning, and the making mistakes, and the getting things right, and I wouldn't want a life without challenges.

That's easy to say, for the most part. It's still not getting me to the gym for a yoga class. Baby steps, that's all I can manage. When I feel like I've taken on too much, I just have to step back and let things fall where they will. The world will not fall apart if I say no. The world will probably not bat an eye if I say, "I'm not perfect and I don't apologize for that". I'm way too hard on myself, harder than anyone else, and I'm still learning to give myself permission to just be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gettin’ Things DONE

I’m on a roll!

I dropped off two pairs of shoes at the cobbler and paid up front ($24) for heel repairs and a good shine. Not too bad, although I could completely replace both pair for the price (one is a $13 payless pair, the other I got for $5 at a shady discount store). However, I like both and they’re perfectly broken in. It seems like a good investment.

I made almost all the arrangements necessary for Peanut’s birthday extravaganza surprise. I still need to arrange transportation, but that can be done the day of. Yay! I’m so excited I just want to tell someone what I’m doing, but I want this to be a big surprise to him so I’m keeping my mouth shut.

I got another spa mystery shop and booked my appointments for a facial and an eyebrow wax. I’m a little ambivalent about the eyebrow wax—the last one I got left my brows WAY too thin for my tastes, and I’ve been trying to grow them out ever since. But a waxing service is required for the shop, so I’ll suffer through. J I’m still trying to get the holy grail of spa mystery shops, the massage and body wrap. MMMMMM...

I got all my paperwork for 2009 benefits, including my health care reimbursement account, an d tuition reimbursement taken care of. Ah, relief!

Yesterday in the mail, I got an offer from my company that I can now invest in a Roth 401(k) in addition to a traditional 401(k) as part of my work benefits.

I debated signing up but I don’t think it’s as valuable as it might be.

1. I will probably be in a LOWER tax bracket when I retire, so it makes sense for me right now to use tax-deferred investment options. This is not the case for most people, and I can only hope I’m assuming this correctly. Yes, I’m at a fairly low federal tax rate right now, and I expect that it will increase as my earnings go up. However, living in New York City, I’m also subject to New York State and New York City income tax. I do not intent to retire in New York City; in fact, I will probably live in a state that has no income tax at all. So while my federal tax rate might be higher, I won’t be paying city and state taxes, and my overall tax liability will be lower. For that reason, I have a rollover traditional IRA in addition to my work 401(k) but I have not opened a Roth IRA and will not be opening a Roth 401(k) any time soon.
2. It doesn’t sound like there’s an extra match—I get a 6% match for contributing to my 401(k). I currently contribute 10% of my pre-tax income. If I could get an additional 6% match by contribution my after-tax income to the Roth 401(k) I would jump all over that—it’s free money! But it sounds like the company will only match 6% on my total income, so there’s no opportunity for more free money.
3. I won’t have the money next year. Unless Peanut and I move in together and cut living expenses, next year will be pretty tight for me. I allocated more than $200 per paycheck into my HCRA to pay for Lasik surgery and when I get reimbursed, that money can’t just go back into my regular budget—it needs to be set aside for student loan payments.

Friday, November 7, 2008

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals Recap
1. Again, spend less on food. We did not spend less on food, but we only spent $20 more than in September. $485 for two people for the entire month, including all eating out...I’ll take it.

2. Christmas gifts. I did not deal with this at all. Shame on me! Back on the list it goes!

3. Do some paperwork decluttering. Yes! I went through my entire filing cabinet and came out with an entire trash can worth of recycling stuff, and a good-sized stack of stuff to shred. I still need to do the shredding. This was a huge relief to get done.

4. Start thinking about MY Christmas list. I have been thinking about this, and there’s very little I want/need. Peanut is taking me to a show we’d both like to see, and he’s buying my ticket to his home for Christmas, so what’s more to ask for? I want to get him something nice, and I’d like a little something to open, but I want to put about a $20 cap on it. For everyone else, I’m still not really sure what to ask for...maybe gift cards to clothing stores. I want some new clothes.

5. Spend a little money on things I’ve been putting off. I didn’t do this and I wish I had. I have two pairs of shoes to take to the cobbler, and a pair of pants to take to the dry cleaner. I’m making that a priority this week.

November goals
1. Christmas shopping for reals this time! My goal is to get it all done before or during Thanksgiving. Also, my mom’s birthday gift (usually flowers or Edible Arrangements or something) and Peanut’s birthday present (I already know what we’re doing, just have to order it. I’m watching for a coupon code or something). And I need to pick up a little something for his parents, who I have never met (I’m thinking an NYC Christmas ornament or something, and then something like food or wine that I could get there). I think my entire Christmas/birthday gift budget (Peanut, his parents, my parents (4), my siblings (4), my friends (I exchange gifts with a couple), my grandparents, my superintendent/family, cards for everyone else, the book club white elephant exchange, and a food thing for my work peeps) will be around $600. It will be around $700 if I include what I spend on myself to enjoy some things (for example, one friend and I agreed to go to dinner and a show together as our Christmas gifts to each other. Do I count that?).

2. Take care of things I’ve been putting off. Those shoes, those pants, those Lasik consultation appointments. All of that gets done this month.

3. Get ready to batten down the hatches. I put $5000 in my HCRA for Lasik in 2009, which will decrease my paychecks by around $200 each (this is all before tax, so it will really be less, but I’m trying to be as prepared as possible). I will likely get a raise at the end of this week, but I don’t want to count on too much right now. Next year, things will be tight, and I may need to dip into savings to avoid going into debt. No time like the present to start practicing.

4. Use my gym membership. I got a free three month gym membership for mystery shopping a large chain. I enjoyed using it for the shops, but I’d like to take advantage of the yoga classes and other amenities I’m getting for free too!

5. Streamline my spreadsheets. Peanut took a look at my spreadsheets last night and pronounced them “way too damn complicated”. I’m sure they are. I am by no means an Excel wizard, and the spreadsheets I carry around on my thumb drive are a mixture of other peoples’ templates that I can’t modify too much and my own haphazard designs that keep getting built on top of one another. He knows Excel much better and has offered to put together something that will automatically update other portions (for example, when I transfer money from a checking to a savings account, both registers will be automatically updated—or when I note a tax-deductible expenditure in my spending tracker, it will update my taxes spreadsheet as well).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Personal finance miscellanea

First of all, let me say that I am so, so grateful for health insurance. I got food poisoning or the stomach flu last week (does it really matter which at that point?), and ended up going to the doctor ($20 copay) and getting a prescription ($25 copay) which brought me back to life. I totally missed Halloween—I didn’t dress up or even eat any candy. And I didn’t WANT any, which is the real sign that you’re sick. If I hadn’t had health insurance, I would still have survived, but I got better at least a few days faster thanks to the antibiotic and I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about how to pay the doctor or the pharmacy for what I needed. This country needs some plan where insurance or low-cost, quality health care is available to every single person. I hope that happens during my lifetime.

Second, I updated my Networth IQ (see sidebar) even though I considered not doing it this month. It’s very depressing. My retirement accounts lost 20% since last month, and overall for the year...oh, I don’t even want to think about it. They’re now worth less than I put in them.

However. I have a long time to go before I retire, and despite the economy, my personal savings are still going up. I am doing well.

Third, while updating my networth IQ, I noticed a charge on my credit card that I most definitely did not make--$125 worth of nutritional supplements (which I don’t use) from a website I’ve never heard of. I will be calling the fraud division and getting a new card, and from now on, I will be using a throwaway card number when shopping online. This is a big pain, and is the third time this has happened to me, I think. Someone needs to fix the system! It’s far too easy for credit card numbers to be bought and sold and used on the web, and while I’m glad that the fraud divisions are aware of it and will be dealing with it promptly, it’s still a pain—I have a mystery shop later this week that I would have used the card for, and now I’ll have to put it on my personal debit card, which loses me reward points, and also my checking account balance will be artificially low until I’m reimbursed (and oh yes—this is the mystery shopping company that I have to fight with to get them to pay me on time).

Fourth, another mystery shopping company stiffed me $2.21 in the check for a shop I did in September. That seems like a small amount, but it’s the principle of the thing--and if they're taking $2 from each shopper, they're making a bundle. I stayed under the max reimbursement, followed the guidelines, had an excellent shop there’s no reason for them to not pay me the full amount I spent completing the shop. I will fight for this.

And lastly, things upcoming: The final installment of Mystery Shopping 102: Taxes. October recap and November goals. Musings on what I’d do if my expenses cut in half, and how that might happen sooner than I’d expected—and if not, why I’m ok with that.

Non-personal-finance related: the trees on the roof garden across the street are a gorgeous fall display. I’m in a good mood.