Monday, December 29, 2008

Digging out from hundreds of emails

Peanut and I had a great time in the Midwest, when we finally got there. I saw colder temperatures and more snow than I've seen since I was too young to remember it. I met his entire extended family, tried lobster and scallops for the first time, missed out on his grandfather's famous fruit salad, and went shopping at a real mall. I had a lot of fun in general, but the best part was how much closer Peanut and I became during the week. It's hard to explain, but this past week cemented things even more--I am absolutely crazy about this guy, and the last eight months have been the best of my life.

In financial news, we didn't spend all that much since we were fed by all the family. I did just a little shopping with my giftcard from my boss--$75 goes really far at Kohls! I ended up with four new sweaters and some undies and socks. Very nice.

The best Christmas news so far came to me today--my lease is up next month at my apartment and I haven't received any renewal papers. I want to stay but didn't want to sign another year long lease since I don't know what next year holds--it seems pretty likely Peanut and I will move in together at some point. I called my landlord this morning and he agreed to turn my lease into a month-to-month rental--with no raise in price! I'm thrilled by this on a number of levels, and when I next move, I intend to first ask him if he has any bigger apartments in my building or any other building. I know landlords and management companies usually get a bad rap, and often deservedly so, but this man is a fantastic landlord. The building is maintained, the heat is on, the rent is fair, and he sees his tenants as people. Yay!

Hopefully this week I can start posting normally again, but we'll see. I have an old roommate and my sister coming to visit starting tomorrow, and that might throw me for a loop.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Travel plans: ha ha, just kidding!

Peanut and I arrived at the airport to discover flights being canceled left and right, due to weather in the great white midwest, and of course, ours was a victim. He waited in line for an hour to get us rebooked on the first flight available--MONDAY!

One of my very favorite things about Peanut is how steady he is, how difficult to ruffle or perturb. He remained calm and although disappointed that we will spend three fewer days with his family, was completely patient during the wait and kind to the ticket agent who helped us. When people around me are irritable or anxious, I pick up on those feelings and blow them out of proportion like WHOA. So it was wonderful to have this huge kink foul up our plans, and to be calm and okay with the situation, and to change all of our plans around with no fights or bad moods or anything. We even cheerfully helped two little old ladies out of a bus and across the street later (really!).

Also, while we were in the airport, someone broke out a violin and played Christmas songs to the waiting or stranded passengers. It felt a bit like a Christmas movie.

So now we are home, and have to go grocery shopping since we had made all these plans to empty the fridge and cupboards since we were going to be gone a week. We will probably hole up out of the weather for the next two days, watch movies and play video games, and try again very early on Monday morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Last holiday check in

Thing the first: Awesome! New rules are going to reign in credit card companies--some of the changes include
  • No more raising rates on existing balances
  • No more double-cycle billing.
  • Any payment above the minimum must automatically apply to the part of the balance with the highest interest.
  • Minimum time before notice of change of terms takes effect goes from 15 to 45 days.
  • Borrowers need reasonable time before a payment is due, at least 21 days
  • No excessive fees for exceeding credit limit because of a hold placed on the account
  • Subprime credit cards that have a $500 credit limit but a big upfront fee will have that fee capped at no more than 50% of the credit limit, and it can be paid off over a year, rather than immediately.
These changes don't go into effect for another year and a half, but it's good to know they're in the works. I have to say, I've never had any problems with a credit card company, but I know people who have and that's made me watch my money more closely.

Thing the second: My list of things to do is done, done, done!
All exams are finished, all projects are finished, all book club books are read, all performances/rehearsals/classes have been performed or attended, all birthday shopping and parties are done, all 2008 mystery shops are done, laundry is done, everything for my trip is purchased, and all my Christmas shopping is done and shipped (or will be, right after my post office run in five minutes).

I have a Christmas party this afternoon, a book club meeting this evening, and a suitcase to pack (and I have a list of what's going in it).

These last few weeks have been intense, but worth it, and I'm looking forward to my trip. I will probably not be posting again until just before the new year--hope you all have very happy holidays!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mid Month goals check-in

December Goals
1. Finish Christmas shopping by 12/15. I’ll finish today! I have to pick up two more things from the bookstore, and order three things to be delivered directly to the recipients. On Thursday I’ll make a post office run and that’ll be that. I also need to send out cards, which I’ll do tomorrow.

2. Bring lunch to work every day. So far, so good! And we have groceries to last us the rest of this week.

3. Rejigger my budget. Haven’t even though about this.

4. Look into a CD ladder. Haven’t thought about this either!

5. Get things done and try to stay sane. So far I have done the bolded of my huge list:
  • two final projects for school
  • two final exams one down, one tonight
  • three manuscripts to read for work and two presentations to prepare
  • two books to read for book clubs one read, one currently being read
  • two huge performances both done, both fun!
  • two birthday parties both done!
  • two corporate holiday parties one down, one to go!
  • two mystery shops (breakfast and dinner) both done!
  • to finish Christmas shopping and ship all packages to distant family and friends almost done!
  • do laundry and pack for my first visit to meet Peanut’s entire extended family laundry’s done, I have to pick up travel size toiletries tonight and start packing!

Things are going pretty well, and I only broke under the stress of all this once, and just for a few minutes (in the middle of all this, my radiator broke and was spewing water all over my bed. I didn’t think I’d have time to have it fixed, but luckily my super didn’t require me to be there, and he took care of it right away). Peanut has been wonderful in handling my comings-and-goings, and I’m excited to have a week away with him to visit his family and spend some quiet time together.

Thinking in lists really helps me keep my head one straight.

Oh! I think I promised to talk about what I did for Peanut’s birthday that was a surprise—I took him to Medieval Times, which is terribly nerdy and which we enjoyed immensely. Our knight lost, but the food was good, the atmosphere was silly and fun, and we had a great time. And I managed to keep it a surprise—he had no idea where we were going until he saw the castle!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

what's going on?!

The first budget period in December is total fail.

I don't even know what happened. I've been so busy with work and school and performances and sales conference and basically just trying to cash is gone, my bank account balances are lower than I ever let them get, and I have no idea what happened.

I've gone back through and it looks like I'm waiting on several mystery shop payments from last month that were larger than normal ($200 spa visit, three $70 dinners) which is why my credit card balance seems outrageously huge (not to mention the plane ticket I bought my sister for Christmas!). It also appears that I've not been keeping on top of things as well as I normally do--I entered a Paypal transfer in my checking account register and was getting concerned that it wasn't going through but it turns out I never actually scheduled it through Paypal. I've been eating out--cheap meals, sure, but they're still more expensive than packing lunch, which is why I have no cash.

I have to pick up a pricey prescription today as well as some other necessities (chapstick, mousse, face wash, conditioner, tampons...I hate it when all this stuff runs out at the same time and I feel like the checkout clerk thinks I'm some grubby person--it's just a coincidence!) and I'm going to have to put it on my credit card, which I hate doing. My checking account balances are just too low to risk using my debit card and then having a charge I wasn't expecting put me into NSF. I don't have overdraft protection and I don't want to pay any fees.

So. The plan from now on--spend nothing (other than on the things listed above and I'll grab a cup of microwave soup from the drug store for lunch as well) until all pending purchases clear and I have cash from my next payday. I have food at home to eat. My bills are paid for this month (rent, electricity, cell phone). Christmas shopping will get done this weekend, either in cash for in-person purchases (coming from a savings account sinking fund, so I can withdraw money for that) and credit card for online purchases (safer than a debit card if the number gets lifted). But other than that, I really don't need to do any shopping at all and that will help me feel a little more in control of things.

Oy. I will be very glad when this week is over. I knew it would be rough some ways it's been rougher than I expected.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You're a mean one...

I’m a bit of a Grinch right now. It’s not so much about Christmas, but about birthdays.

A friend’s birthday was this week, and she threw herself a big party, which I felt was a wee bit tacky (this is not a milestone birthday, either). I was aware that she was doing this, but figured it would be a reasonable event. Instead, she booked a reservation at a high-priced bistro as well as dancing at a place with a $20 cover charge and $10 drinks. This was in addition to a small lunch for the day after her birthday, where we would all pitch in for her (this is typically what we do for birthdays in this circle of friends). I went to both the dinner and the lunch, but bowed out of dancing due to the amount of dancing I’m currently doing and the number of finals and projects I need to finish this week (and, quite frankly, the price). The meals alone added up to more than $70, and I got stiffed $25 by the dinner group so I had to swallow that too (I put the meal on my credit card and everyone was supposed to chip in cash, but some one/ones cheaped out and I didn’t realize it until I got home). I don’t know who cheaped out; I don’t even know everyone who was there—otherwise I’d probably speak up to get the money back.

But THEN the friend sent around a Christmas/birthday wish list, to be coordinated with her best friend and her mom so she wouldn’t get duplicates of anything.

UM. ExCUSE me? At this point, I’ve spent more on her birthday than I did on my BOYFRIEND, the most important person in my world right now, and she ALSO expects me to get her a gift? Possibly two, one for Christmas and one for her birthday?! I realize this is a problem for those with close-to-holiday birthdays, but that’s not MY problem. We’ve not previously exchanged gifts for holidays or for my birthday earlier this year, and I don’t like feeling roped into it.

I’m not getting her anything else. As I’ve said, I’ve already spend more on her than I did on Peanut’s birthday, and I wasn’t expecting to. I also don’t really want to take our friendship up to the gift-exchanging level. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t like to exchange gifts except with my very closest friends, all of whom I’ve known for ten years or more. I don’t need the impersonal clutter that comes as acquaintance-friend gifts (smelly lotions and soaps, picture frames, candles...) and I don’t want to buy it for them. I feel like a nice dinner, split evenly, is plenty. After all, that’s time, which is definitely my most valuable resource right now.

But the fact that she included me on the list this year makes me feel like I need to take a stand at some point, with her and with other friends and groups of friends, indicating that I don’t want to buy into the commercialism of society. I don’t want to be given gifts, and I don’t want to be expected to give them. It doesn’t mean I don’t value the relationships—on the contrary, I want to have close enough friendships that wishes like this are respected and pointless traditions done away with.

How do you make this policy known up front without being rude? How do you handle it once you’re this far?

I also feel like this is sort of a girly problem. Peanut and his roommate say “happy birthday” to each other and leave it at that. Peanut asked me whether we should get him a Christmas gift, but he probably won’t get us one...(but what if he does!). Peanut doesn’t exchange gifts with any other friends, only family. Geez, that sounds great!

Perhaps I can make it “a policy”—or say that due to the economy this year, I’m making charitable contributions instead of buying Stuff. And keep it up next year and the year after. Maybe I can claim a religious aversion to commercialism and mostly-meaningless gift exchanges.

I don’t want to be an ungrateful recipient should someone give me something, but I REALLY don’t want to feel obligated to get them something in return this year. Due to the economy, I am feeling really pressured financially, and I don’t want the stress.

Thoughts? Advice?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ouch, ouch, ouch

I just got around to updating my Networth IQ (see sidebar). Oh, wow....

My rollover IRA from my former job is now worth HALF of what I contributed to it four years ago. My current job's 401k inexplicably continues to increase each month slightly, but I suspect that's because I'm contributing only a little more than I'm losing. I have to just keep telling myself, "I have 40 years until retirement. I can afford to wait this out." Oy.

I have a really high balance (for me) on my credit card right now--just over $600, which is a few mystery shops and Christmas presents. I'll still pay off the entire balance this month.

My company announced layoffs yesterday--2% of the workforce. My job is safe (for now) but someone in my department was let go, so it does hit close to home. I'm re-evaluating, again, how to plan for next year. Where else can I cut expenses? Where can I bring in additional income? How long are things going to be like this?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

chugging along

As promised, a photo of the view we had for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The best seat in the house! (And yes, we'll be in the same spot for the ball drop on New Year's. Sweet!)
On to other news.
I got my mother's Christmas wish list today, which very sternly ordered us to spend no more than $10 on her. I was struggling with ideas for her gift, but there are several things on her list I can get from a dollar store nearby, so I'll happily stay under her limit and get things she actually wants. She also said she wants to buy me nice bedroom linens and didn't want to ruin the surprise but wasn't sure what size bed I have, or what color/pattern preferences I had. I actually am very excited to get nice linens (something I won't buy for myself--I'm still using hand-me-up sheets that my brother got about TEN YEARS AGO).

I'm hoping to finish the rest of my Christmas shopping online tonight. I'd like to put it all on my credit card and then pay it off before heading out of town.

I am blowing right through my long list of Very Important Things To Do--I finished a manuscript and a book club book yesterday, and read 100 pages of the other book club book. I am half-finished with one school project (I'll finish it up now, during my lunch break) and am totally lost on the other (sigh...). I added another performance--a quick, easy one--this weekend, but it will get me up and out of bed early so there's really no down side. I hope. Rehearsals are over, I just need to work on two of the choreographies myself a few more times.

The only way I'm going to get everything done that I need to do is by not sleeping. Well, I'm not giving up sleep entirely, but I stayed up for two hours after Peanut went to bed to get some reading done. It's not ideal, but it's the easiest way to squeeze in some extra time for all these Must-Dos. Before Peanut, I stayed up a good deal later than I do now, so I know I can handle fewer hours of sleep, especially when it's for such a limited time. I also need to multi-task whenever possible (no watching TV without a needle and thread in my hands!) but watch out for when multi-tasking slows everything down (researching for my school project while Christmas shopping for others doesn't help either one get done!).

Monday, December 1, 2008

November Recap/December Goals

November just FLEW BY! Did it seem like that for anyone else?

November goals
1. Christmas shopping for reals this time! My goal WAS to get it all done before or during Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen—I got my mom’s and Peanut’s birthday presents, as well as my sister’s Christmas gift (plane ticket and something secret) and tickets to the show my friend and I are seeing in lieu of a gift exchange. And I did a lot of trolling the web to find gift ideas; now I just need to actually purchase these things! I’m aiming to do that tomorrow night after work.

2. Take care of things I’ve been putting off. Those shoes, those pants, those Lasik consultation appointments—DONE! Two pairs of shoes repaired at the cobbler ($24), a pair of pants to the dry cleaner ($4, but they’re not back yet so I don’t know if they’re fixed or truly ruined), Lasik consultation done and surgery appointment booked! Man, that feels good.

3. Get ready to batten down the hatches. Um, sort of. I’ve been thinking of it, but then I went and bought dance costumes and ate out more than I should have.

4. Use my gym membership. I didn’t go once. I’m terribly ashamed of myself, and very glad that it was a free membership instead of one I paid for. I think I’ve got six weeks left of it, so hopefully I’ll make it once more.

5. Streamline my spreadsheets. I decided to push this off to the beginning of the year. I’ve been using one system all year long, no need to change it up with only one more month of tax-related information left to go.

December Goals
1. Finish Christmas shopping by 12/15. This shouldn’t be a problem—I’ve actually picked out almost everything for everyone, and wanted to wait for more deals, although I won’t be able to shop during CyberMonday (Hmm...maybe I will do some at lunch?).

2. Bring lunch to work every day. I will have lunch provided next Monday and have a lunch date on 12/16, but other than that, I intend to bring my lunch to work every single day (which is only 15 days because of my vacation time).

3. Rejigger my budget. I forgot to do this after I got my small raise at the beginning of November—it’s a $20-50 difference per paycheck, and I want to figure out where to stash that money instead of letting it pile up in my checking account.

4. Look into a CD ladder. Frankly, this might not be the best time to start doing this since rates are low, but my $5,000 emergency fund and $5,000 tuition reimbursement could use any bump in interest that I can get my hands on. If nothing else, I’ll understand more about it, and when rates rise, I can take advantage of it then.

5. Get things done and try to stay sane. In the next two and a half weeks, I have:
· two final projects for school
· two final exams
· three manuscripts to read for work and two presentations to prepare
· two books to read for book clubs
· two huge performances (the holiday show for the dance studio, and a regular client who throws an enormous bash—this is my fourth year working for him)
· two birthday parties
· two corporate holiday parties
· two mystery shops (breakfast and dinner)
· to finish Christmas shopping and ship all packages to distant family and friends
· do laundry and pack for my first visit to meet Peanut’s entire extended family

No pressure, right? Well, not if I stay focused and just try to knock things out one at a time. The next two and a half weeks will pass regardless of my level of stress, so hopefully I can keep it low-key and just try to get things done that need doing.