Friday, February 29, 2008

Days 4 and 5 of February-March lunch challenge: Success!

I was taken out for lunch yesterday for my customary Thursday luncheon, and today I packed lunch and have my granola bars. The office has cleared out early for some reason, so I might dart out early myself and grab a slice of pizza or something on my way to school! Does that count as cheating? ;)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A State of the Union

In “Don’t Follow the Herd on the Economy”, Glenn Beck outlines five phases of the possible recession/depression we’re hearing so much about (based on a conversation with former treasury department advisor Nouriel Roubini (currently chairman of RGE Monitor and professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business). In brief (I recommend reading the entire article):

• DEFCONOMY FIVE
The housing downturn turns into a free fall, making it the worst collapse in our country's history. That not only triggers massive numbers of foreclosures and lost household wealth, but it also sets off another large wave of bank write-downs.
Odds of it happening: "extremely likely, even unavoidable" because of "the excess supply of new homes in the market is like we've never seen before." Prices need to fall another 10-20%.
• DEFCONOMY FOUR
Americans upside-down on their mortgages and unable to pay their home equity loans begin defaulting on other debt, like credit cards, car loans and student loans.
Odds of it happening: High. Roubini says that 8 million households are already upside-down on their mortgages and he thinks we could see that number go to between 16 million and 24 million by the end of 2009.
• DEFCONOMY THREE
A national or large regional bank finally collapses, triggering hedge fund failures and general chaos on Wall Street, potentially leading to a 1987-style market crash.
Odds of it happening: Very good. Roubini says that we'll likely socialize the losses, "effectively nationalizing the mortgages or the banks." He thinks the stock market will head south throughout the year as fears about a severe recession are confirmed.
• DEFCONOMY TWO
Most forms of credit (both to consumers and businesses) become virtually nonexistent.
Odds of it happening: Good. Silver lining: Without extra credit available, people might have to actually (gasp!) live within their means.
• DEFCONOMY ONE
A full economic meltdown results in a complete failure of the underlying financial system. What will be known to future generations as "The Greater Depression" has arrived.
Odds of it happening: Not likely. Roubini believes that this will be a "very painful and severe recession" that could last for 18 months or more, but it will be more like 1981 than 1929.

My thoughts:

Home ownership: I’m suddenly wishing I’d gone into a super-cheap share apartment so that I could be stockpiling half of what I’m now paying in rent. Despite the astronomic housing costs in New York, it looks like a few years from now is going to be a GREAT time to buy a home (house, apartment, condo, whatever), and I wish I could really save up for it. If nothing else, I think I’m going to start earmarking a portion of my savings for an eventual down payment, in hopes that by the time housing prices hit rock bottom I’ll have enough saved up to at least be considered for a mortgage.

Bankruptcy: I’m more glad than ever that I have no consumer debt. I pay my credit card off in full every month (it’s fairly common for me to have a month wherein nothing gets charged but automatic payments for things like my cell phone anyway). I just took out Federal Stafford loans for which I will be reimbursed by my job at the end of the semester—and I will be stashing that reimbursement in a savings account with the highest interest rate I can find, aiming to pay them off in full when I graduate (thus paying no interest). I’m going to continue not racking up any debt and living within my means.

Should I be worried about my bank failing? I don’t think so—all my accounts are at FDIC-insured banks (aside from my retirement savings in a 401k and Traditional IRA, neither of which are protected by the FDIC). I bank at a giant worldwide bank and also at a smaller one, as well as ING online. I might start paying attention if any of them suddenly starts making the news.

What about my investments? I will not stop contributing to my 401k (the IRA is a rollover from an old job, and I don’t actively contribute to it). It hurts to know that I’m losing money, but I’m buying more investments and when things turn around I will gain more in value than I’d “save” by not investing now. I have another 30-40 years before retirement, and this is all about weathering the storm. I have considered converting my Traditional Roth into a Roth IRA—I’m not making a whole lot of money now, so I might be in a higher tax bracket when I retire and begin withdrawing. However, I probably will NOT be living where I am now, where I pay city and state income tax on top of Federal—and if I’ve done the math right, I’ll have to be making so much money to even that out that I won’t care about the taxes.

In short—yes, things are not looking so great in the economy. I feel really bad for people who bought too much house or got themselves into debt over their heads. I’m glad that my family gave me enough of a financial understanding when I was growing up to prevent me from doing the same—and I’m still actively taking steps to maintain my financial security. I’m also glad that I’m interested in personal finance so that when something happens, I will have been sort of expecting it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Day 3 of the February-March Lunch Challenge: Success!

In fact, I didn't buy anything all day long. Attendance at an early meeting got me free breakfast (fruit, too, yum), brought my lunch, ate my granola bar snack...then home straight after work for a quick supper before heading to the old apartment to clean. It feels weird indeed to not hook up the Treo to sync up my spending tracker.

Instead, it's off to do homework and hopefully fall asleep a little early. The moon shines down on my money-free day.

Count the vanilla, count the vanilla

This is the kind of secret shopping I want to be doing!

Consumer Reports secret shoppers have lots of explaining to do (via Consumerist)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I wish it was raining like it's supposed to be

Day 2 of the February-March Lunch challenge: more fail.

I remembered my granola bars! But I forgot my lunch. *headdesk*

In my defense, Tuesdays are always my fuzziest day since I never get home before 10:30 on a Monday night. STILL. Lunch was made on Sunday and just sitting in the fridge waiting to come to work with me. Oops.

I picked up homemade soup and a roll for $2.25.

I realized yesterday that the tuition and fees tax deduction expires in 2007. Of course, I did not pay my share of tuition or fees for my grad program until AFTER January 1. It's possible they will reinstate this for later years, so I'm saving all my receipts just in case.

I got my first check from Pinecone Research in the mail yesterday. I didn't open it up to see how much it's for, but yay! I also followed up with several survey companies I used to take surveys for (Mindfield Online, SurveySpot, and OpinionSquare) and found happily that I have a few dollars in some of the accounts. This is not big money by any stretch of the imagination, but any little bit will help boost the efund at this point. And I realized I am due about $70 as a credit for the cable/internet at my old place, which means I'll have put $125 into the efund so far this month, plus the difference in March rent (I am getting a 10-day credit for the second month--another $300!). And hopefully I'll get my security deposit back on Saturday, so suddenly I'm feeling a lot more financially secure.

And, well, that's it. I'm trying to make the rest of the week (including today's lunch) on the $20 I currently have in my wallet. We'll see!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday update

Day 1 of the February-March Lunch Challenge status: Fail.

I did bring my lunch, so at least it was not epic fail. However, I forgot to bring my afternoon snack (that I purchased ESPECIALLY FOR THIS CHALLENGE) and ended up feeling weak enough this afternoon that I succumbed to a vending machine run. At least I ended up choosing something five cents less expensive than normal.

Commitment to self: Bring granola bar tomorrow. In fact, bring the whole box to work so you won't have the excuse of forgetting them again!

During my lunch break, I did a little bit of research into my current tax situation and realized that I might be required to begin filing quarterly estimated taxes this year. I'll know for sure this weekend (after I file my 2007 taxes) but yikes. I'm also thinking about changing my withholding options at my day job to reduce what I end up owing every year, but I'm very loathe to do that.

I put $55 towards rebuilding the emergency fund. Slowly but surely, we will rebuild!

I also found free ways to watch television shows on my computer (NBC offers full episodes for download when I have a steady connection, Amazon Unbox does the same thing. ABC and CBS both offer streams of many shows, but I'd have to sit at the coffee shop with headphones on, so that's sort of out). I'm going to try to go at least six months--until August 17--without paying for cable or Internet in my apartment. After that, if I think I can fit it into my budget, I'm free to research one or the other or both, but I think it would be a good exercise in challenging what I've come to think of as "necessities". This is especially interesting to me since when I was growing up, we did NOT have cable in my house--and we only had dial-up internet. I have lived with both for only just over four years, yet have come to think of them as utilities like electricity!

Also, I want to start researching how much it costs to own a pet--specifically a cat (adult, likely already fixed). Anyone have good resources (or anecdotes) for this?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Plan for Sunday

It's been a mostly money-free weekend. I bought a few groceries on Friday night, lunch at Wendy's and a chai at the coffee shop on Saturday, and so far, nothing today. I also "made" $50 when I met up with my old roommate and we settled out my share of the money we've brought in for stuff we've sold. We still have a couch set to sell which HOPEFULLY will go today, and that'll be another $175 for me (straight to the e-fund!).

Financial paperwork-wise, I spent a few hours at the coffee shop organizing my electronic records for taxes. It looks like I estimated well and will have enough to cover what I owe, but I won't hold my breath until I actually put everything into TurboTax. I'm still waiting on at least one more tax form, and I'm starting to get a little irritated about it.

Today, my plans include the following:
  • Organize hard copy paperwork for taxes--receipts, etc

  • Organize the box I've been tossing all my mail in through the move

  • Balance checkbook

  • Menu planning, grocery shopping, and make a price book


  • The grocery store closest to me is rather shockingly more expensive than I'm accustomed to (a can of beans I'm used to buying for $1.29 was $2.99, for example). There's another grocery store a block or two further in the other direction, but it's the same chain as the cheaper store I used to shop at, so I want to do some comparing between the two and start learning where's the best place to pick up certain items. There's also a fresh fruit/veg market near the other store, and I want to get some fruit for snacks during the week. The menu planning is especially important considering that tomorrow starts my official commitment to Give Me Back My Five Bucks' February-March Lunch Challenge.

    Right now, the only things in my refrigerator are:
  • half-used jar of pasta sauce

  • bottle of water

  • stick of butter

  • almond paste

  • lots and lots of breadcrumbs


  • In the cupboard, I have:
  • red lentils

  • two packs of ramen

  • box of cereal

  • jar of honey


  • Quite clearly, a real shopping trip is in order.

    Saturday, February 23, 2008

    Extreme Downsizing

    I love this.

    Family moves from 6,000 sq foot home into 370-sq foot recreational vehicle.

    Seriously, I love it. I used to want to live in a school bus in the woods (um, I was kind of a hippie for a while). I thought it would be so cool.

    Now, I'm a little more practical, as well as having realized that the ecological impact of a bus rusting in the woods would be, well, not friendly. My one-bedroom apartment seems like a pretty good size for the indefinite future. I couldn't imagine having kids in there, but for one or two people, it's just about right. How do I figure the square footage? I feel like it's not quite as easy as measuring each room and then adding it together...or could it be that simple? Anyone?

    I've spent the last five hours at a lovely little Starbucks knock-off coffee shop in an orgy of free wi-fi. I may need to redo my budget to include at least dial-up. Giving up the internet is proving to be painful, and I'm betting that $4 chais times several times per month is going to wind up more expensive than NetZero or something similar (on the other hand, at least here I get social interaction, which has more than a dollar value on it but...I digress).

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    The New "Renting"

    The Consumerist has a very interesting article (especially check out the comments!) about the "retail renting"--when a consumer purchases something knowing full well they will use it and return it for a full refund. Formerly a problem mainly of the formal wear department (prom dresses, etc), it's now affecting all retailers, from regular clothing to high-end electronics.

    Is it legal? Yes, it appears to be. Is it ethical? I don't particularly think so.

    I understand that corporations often seem like faceless entities, and we feel like we want to get something for nothing, or otherwise benefit from their unweildy operations and lax return policies, but come on, people. If you truly buy something and change your mind on it or it doesn't work out, that's one thing. But going into it knowing that you'll be bringing back something after you've used it--that's just cheap and tacky. And I, for one, am all about being cheap, but not when it's combined with tacky. :)

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    A mashup

    Mighty Bargain Hunter has a very helpful post about seven pairs of easily confused money terms. Very helpful! I've bookmarked it for my own future reference, since some of those terms (tax deduction vs. tax credit, for example) have confused me in the past.

    I'm debating taking my spending tracker and making it transparent--that is, posting it here. That's a little intimidating, frankly, but I think it might be more helpful than simpy dutifully entering numbers into my Treo and never doing any real analysis of what's going on. I've lived with a paper budget for so long now I think I've become a little lax and could use the motivation of having it open to inspection to be a little more strict with my budget categories.

    I don't have internet at my new apartment--at least, not reliable internet. I'd hoped that I'd be able to get on an unsecured network for basic email checking and such (there are enough cafes around me I thought it might even be possible to latch on to one of those instead of "borrowing" a neighbor's signal) but alas, that's not the case. There's one unsecured network that has a poor signal and only shows up sometime, so as yet, my internet needs are not being met in my apartment. I have already decided to not get cable, but to give up internet (!) is a much more difficult prospect. I am working on getting my Treo hooked back up as a modem, but even then, the speeds are dial-up quality. I wish AT&Ts naked dsl was offered in my area, but it's not. For now, I'll continue to do without and spend weekend days at a local coffee shop if withdrawal pangs get too bad.

    And, lastly, I've managed to bring in an extra $225 in cash this week (!) unexpectedly by qualifying for a couple of focus groups/market research studies. While this really should go straight into the emergency fund, I am keeping it aside since my sister will be visiting me in two weeks. Spending this cash money while she's here (it's expensive to have visitors!) will keep me from using my debit card, so really it evens out. I guess I'm treating it like extra mad money, but it's to prevent me realy blowing the budget since I see spending "opportunities" coming up. Now, if only I could keep this trend up and continue bringing in a couple extra hundred per month, I'd build that emergency fund back up real quick.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Joining the band wagon

    After Give Me Back My Five Bucks mentioned the money she was bringing in through referrals (as well as regular income from posting) using PayPerPost, I figured I would try it out myself. I had hoped, when I started this blog, that it would generate at least a little bit of money, though I never thought I'd suddenly be able to quit my day job (which I like quite well, anyway, thank you). I've been ambivalent about the whole Google adwords thing, because I think that sometimes the advertisements are pushing things that I'm not supportive of, like consolidating debt or tapping out equity in a home to pay off credit card bills.

    PayPerPost seemed like a good compromise, since I can pick which topics to write about and it looks like I can write what I *really* feel. The sign-up process was easy enough, although I'm finding it a little confusing now that my blog was approved and I can actually start posting for money (like this post, for example). If anyone knows of a tutorial or can help me figure out if I'm doing it right, that would be great!

    Any money that comes in through this new venture will be going straight into the emergency fund for the time being. If and when I decide to change that, I will let you know!

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    A different kind of eating contest

    This post over at Give me Back My Five Bucks has me inspired. It’s a lofty goal that I always have, to bring my lunch to work instead of eating out—but it’s also an intimidating goal (I have to PACK my LUNCH every DAY for the REST OF MY LIFE?!?!). I usually compromise by saying if I bring lunch three times a week, I can eat out the other two days, but that’s a slippery slope that I usually wind up sliding down.

    This is a much more doable goal: to bring my lunch to work every day until March 31. That’s only 29 work days. And of those, six are Thursdays (my traditional Lunch Ladies’ outing—I will end up buying once during this challenge), one is a book club meeting day (lunch typically provided—will have to check if that’s still the case), and I will be taking two, possibly three, vacation days. So that leaves only about 20 days that I actually have to think ahead and bring food to work with me.

    The harder part will be to stay away from the vending machine in the afternoons. Sometimes I just get a CRAVING for some peanut M&Ms. I’m going to work on it, though. This weekend, I’ll hit a nice little produce stand I found in my new ‘hood and see if I can get some apples or something—or just get some granola bars from the grocery store. If I’m going to be totally realistic, the only way to stop going to the vending machine is to make arrangements and have something else on hand to snack on, since I’m going to get hungry whether I pack or not.

    This is good timing, too, because my morning bagel vendors just today raised their price on my standard breakfast by 25¢ (a 50% increase!) and I won’t feel as bad about continuing to buy from them if I am saving money on food at other meals. (I can’t go anywhere cheaper for my bagel with butter—they just now became competitive with the other vendors in the area).

    What do you do when other people aren't honest about money?

    I moved this weekend. Moving is physically and emotionally draining, majorly stressful, and a huge expense. I hope to be in my place for a long time, and many things went better than I could have expected. However, I found myself in the middle of an ethical dilemma regarding money--and oddly, it's not my dilemma, so I'm not entirely sure what to do.

    I hired movers from a local website--basically, a guy with a big van and a buddy who do this on weekends to support their true artistic callings. They were great. They were fast, professional, cheerful, careful with my stuff, didn't damage ANYTHING (including the floors or walls at my cranky old landlords' place), and basically made that morning much less of a nightmare than it could have been. In addition, the cost came in under his quote (which was already under the quote of any other company I talked to), and I gave them a 25% tip on top of the total.

    At least, I meant to. What I actually did was give them the total, a 25% tip AND an extra $100, which I realized about two hours after they left.

    Now, I'm assuming they caught this earlier than I did--probably when the main guy divided the money up with his buddy. I also said out loud the total of what I intended to give him as I was handing him the cash, so when he noticed the extra $100 he would have realized I'd made a mistake.

    He hasn't called me about it.

    Now, is this an ethical dilemma? On my part, I feel kind of weird calling and asking him for the extra $100 back. Also, because that's the amount I took out of the ATM, that's about what I expected it to cost, so it seems like it works out to some extent. However, when he realized that the difference in what I'd given him and what I said I intended to give him was $100 in his favor, wouldn't he have an ethical obligation to give it back?

    I guess this is similar to being in a store and having the cashier give back too much change. It's happened to me a couple times, and when it has, I usually call it to their attention and give it back. Once, however, I missed it and didn't realize it till I got home--and, sad to say, I just kept it. It seemed easier to justify at the time because it was a big, bad, impersonal store. However, I'm disappointed that this mover (who I was otherwise thoroughly impressed with) didn't do the honest thing and get in touch with me over the difference. It even occured to me that if he called, to just tell him to keep it as a reward for being honest.

    I don't know. I'm out the $100 at any rate, because I'm not going to call him about it and it looks like he's not going to call me. I'll make a note to myself to not get distracted/flustered next time I'm exchanging cash money for a personal service, and carry on with my life.

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Valentine's Day, the morning after

    Since it seems to be a meme going around on the blogs I read, I'll post one, too.

    I went to work (it was traditional Lunch Ladies' day), went to school, and went to a friend's house for a singles Anti-Valentine's party. I ate yummy Trader Joe's chips of some kind, chocolate chip cookies and cheddar popcorn (which I normally hate). And drank some merlot. Had lots of fun chatting and looking at Etsy jewelry, decided to have my friend custom-make some jewelry to match a few of my costumes. Surprisingly didn't bash on men or anything like that. Actually had a lovely time, and made a new friend.

    Total cost: $6 (for entenmann's cookies, my contribution)
    Total enjoyment: quite a bit. And I didn't have to get all huffy about the commercialism, either.

    How to move to New York: a tutorial

    I got an email from a reader with a question that’s seemed to come up rather frequently in my life: How on EARTH do you just pick up and move to New York City?

    This is from a reader who I’ll call Florida Gal:

    Are you recently relocated to NYC? I am planning on moving there June 1. I am originally from Rochester but moved to Florida about 3 years ago to find a job. I have already ‘balls out’ moved before without anything lined up (Florida) and I faired quite well with $300 in my back pocket… but I don’t know if I just got lucky. I feel like I have more to lose now with planning on doing this again, mainly my job. The main reasons for NYC are

    1. I absolutely love the place and it has never left my mind,
    2. my family is 3.5 hours away,
    3. my long term boyfriend was offered a position there (he is a chef).

    So, with all that said, I am planning on taking the plunge and moving with him with about $6k saved up this time to run off for 2-3 months. He will have about the same saved. I do have some expenses, mainly my school loans from my undergrad, and I do have a car lease, but I am keeping the car at my parents in Rochester because I know it is dumb to have it there, and I am hoping my dad would eventually just put the lease in his name and keep the car for himself. I graduated from college in 03, and have been in the working world since then, how difficult do you think it would be for me to secure a job, and do you know at all what I can expect salary wise? (I have a BS in Business Administration, International Relations). We are going to have to sublet in the time being, because I think he is only going to be starting at around 50k and I won’t have anything, but I told him I would prefer to live in Brooklyn for the time being, not Manhattan.

    Well, FG, here’s my two cents on your situation.

    It depends on who you ask as to whether I’m recently relocated to New York. I moved here on New Year’s Day 2004, so I’ve been here just over four years. But I really feel like it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve come into my own in the city, and I know I still have a long way to go before I feel (or sound!) like a native.

    Moving “balls out” with nothing lined up is a terrifying, exhilarating, and (I think) worthwhile experience for everyone. While I had a temporary internship as the reason I moved, I knew that that internship would cover only my rent, would only last for six months, and, realistically, could have ended at any time. I didn’t expect that it would work out for me to stay longer, but I hoped that it would and I did everything I could to make that happen.

    My reason to move to New York was fairly simple: I wanted to. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at least once a year since childhood, and I wanted to live in the city the author described. I came to New York for the first time when I was 20, on a college sociology trip. I fell in love with the way the city looks, feels, and smells when it rains (this is so weird, but it’s true). I didn’t sleep for the entire week I was here, and I didn’t want to go home. There is a part of me that feels called by the pavement and the buildings and the people. So, so corny—and so true. I can’t help it. So your reason number one, I totally understand.

    Reason two is nice. I live at least a three hour flight away from anybody I’m related to, and that can be a little depressing. If you’re a family person, it’s really nice to have family close by. I’ve made a surrogate family of friends and keep in touch with my relatives via email and phone. It would be nice to live closer to them, but they’re not going to move up here and I’m not ready to move back!

    Reason three—well, I can’t judge this one. I’m recently out of a long term relationship that I really thought was Headed Somewhere, so right now I’m the first to say that there are no guarantees in relationships. Only you and your beloved can answer whether your relationship can handle this level of commitment. (A friend of mine moved to New York with her long term boyfriend, and they broke up two months later. It was rough.) Make sure you talk through EVERYTHING and when you get here, try to branch out and meet new people—don’t be each other’s only social outlet.

    As for your questions:

    Money and Work
    I think $12,000 to move up here with for two people is more than enough. You can probably find temp work quickly, and don’t be above working at Starbucks or some place similar just to bring some money in. There’s no shame in hard work, whatever the job. The job market here, for me at least, has very much been Right Place, Right Time. I found both of my professional jobs on sites like HotJobs and Monster.com, and it’s possible I actually answered a Craigslist ad for my first job (they posted it on both HotJobs and Craigslist). The standard job search advice applies: write extremely targeted cover letters, make your resume as appealing as possible, research the companies, be prepared for the interview.

    If at all possible, GET OUT OF YOUR CAR LEASE. Seriously. If you’re not going to be driving the car, why throw money away on the payments and insurance? Cars don’t do well sitting in driveways not being driven, especially in the summer (I’m not making this up, I ended up having to junk the car I left behind when I moved up here). If you can’t get out of the lease, consider bringing the car with you. It’s a bit of a pain to have a car in New York, but it’s not a nightmare (and it might enable you to live farther out in the cheaper areas of Brooklyn). One of my roommates in Manhattan had a car, and my roommate now has a car. It will need to be moved regularly for street cleaning, but you’ll be able to head to Rochester on your schedule and not Amtrak/Metro North (not sure which one heads up there), take big loads of laundry to a 24-hour mat with lots of machines and tables, pick up furniture off Craigslist without hiring a Man With a Van, do bulk grocery shopping, and more. I will never have a car in the city, but I sure like my friends who do!

    Housing
    I’d recommend not getting on a lease at first regardless of your income situation, because you won’t know which neighborhood you really want to live in, or which ones are convenient for work, nightlife, etc. Sometimes you can find shares that will accept couples (a share is when you move into an apartment that already has someone on the lease living there with you—as weird as it sounds, it’s quite common to live with strangers here). Don’t start looking for apartments until about six weeks before you get here—and I’m dead serious about that. The real estate market in New York is extremely last minute: it’s stressful to not know where you’ll be living until you’re under the wire, but that’s just how it works. Find a furnished sublet or share and be prepared to be transient for a few months until you find the right place. Even without you working, though, you and your boyfriend should be able to find a place on his salary. I make less than he does and qualified for my own 1BR apartment in Queens. You should definitely be able to afford something in Brooklyn. I lived in Manhattan for the first three years I was here, then I moved to Queens. Manhattan was cheaper, actually. (I lived in Morningside Heights and then Harlem/Washington Heights).

    This got fairly lengthy, so I’ll sum it up like this:

    If you want to move to New York, or any large city, or do a complete career change in your mid-twenties, or whatever your situation is: GO DO IT. Do not live your life in a way that you’ll always wonder “what if”. Change is scary and intimidating, but ultimately I think it’s worth it, and almost always the sooner the better. Planning is good, but don’t get stuck in planning mode. Make enough of a plan to have a framework, and then go follow your dreams.

    Could you start over with $25 to your name?

    Found this in a pennypinching community.

    Adam Shepherd, inspired by Nickel and Dimed, made it his goal to start with $25 from a homeless shelter and, within a year, have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in the bank.

    Entire article here. Impressive.

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Where's my clothing fund?

    I'm so mad.

    I just ripped a hole in my favorite pair of pants in the entire world, a softer-than-kittens pair of cargo-y khakis from Express. I bought them with a gift card I received from a friend for helping him plan his wedding. They fit perfectly, are worn in just right, and I love them...and now they're ruined.

    I'm irritated because I knew this was going to happen at some point, but it would have to be a pair of pants I like this much. There's a thing under my desk that I guess would have an under-desk keyboard tray thing put in--I've requested that it be removed several times, but it's never been done. That thing's got some sharp corners, and five minutes ago when I went to cross my legs under my desk, it ripped right through the thigh of my favorite pants.

    I might be able to turn them into shorts for summer but I'll still have to buy another pair of khaki pants now. (I prefer them to jeans for casual Fridays and almost-casual Thursdays, since most of my jeans look like ratty college-student gear.) Grrrrrr.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Is eBay worth it anymore?

    A few years ago, I made a KILLING selling no-value Starbucks cards on eBay. People are crazy, and will buy just about anything. My roommate, ex-boyfriend and I all worked at Starbucks, so we had a huge assortment of different cards, and apparently, people collect these things like Beanie Babies. I easily made $800 in a couple weeks, including one card that, all by itself, sold for more than $60. My mother had a successful eBay business for several years as well, so I’ve always been inclined to feel like it’s a great place to sell stuff I no longer want, and to pick up things for a good deal. Now, as small businesses have started taking the place of the individual seller, and eBay prepares to change seller fees, protection, and feedback options, I’m beginning to rethink it.

    As I prepare to move, I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering. I’ve taken at least three loads of stuff to the thrift store—clothing, cheap art, bags, odds and ends. But there were a few items that I wasn’t quite ready to let go of for free (I’ve not bothered to get receipts for these donations, as I know that I’m taking the standard deduction anyway, so it’s not worth my time to catalog everything). These items, mostly pieces I bought planning to use them as costumes, still have price tags on them, so I figured I might be able to do all right on eBay.

    I listed the following during the Superbowl: two salwar kameez outfits (Indian tunic and pants), a kameez (tunic), a sari, two handmade wrap skirts, an old prom dress which I love but will never wear again (even though, yes, I can still fit into it!), a brand new Gamecube controller, and a Metroid Prime Wii game. Everything but the tunic sold—one of the wrap skirts and the Wii game both went for more than $30 but everything else was piddling. Most items had a standard flat rate box priority shipping fee of $8.95; the video game components had different shipping options but included delivery confirmation.

    Total sales (including shipping fees paid to me): $144.56
    Total shipping costs: $63.21
    Total eBay fees (listing and final value fees): $7.76
    Total Paypal fees (for receiving buyer payments): 5.42
    Total net income: 68.17

    That’s sort of depressing, especially considering I spent $45 on the Wii game alone in December, and £30 (about $45 at the time) on each of the wrap skirts. I might even find that a few of the items garnered me less than $1 profit, but I’m not going to dig too deeply in case I don’t like what I find. It won’t make a difference, because, as of right now, I no longer feel like eBay is worth the time and effort, so next time I have things to get rid of, I’ll simply be dropping them off at the local thrift store.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    stimulating!

    A twist on the tax rebate situation: Debit cards for everyone!

    From the point of view of what the government is hoping will happen with the rebate checks, this is a spectacularly good idea. Fortunately for me, however, it doesn't look like that's what's going to happen.

    I'm going to do everything in my power to save the $600 I expect to get. It will be coming at a really bad time for willpower--I'll have just returned from my youngest brother's college graduation and will be desperate to go on a cruise a friend and I were planning before my money situation blew out of control. But I need to get my emergency fund back up to a full six months of expenses--which now, with a higher rent payment, will actually be higher than it was before. That mental security is worth so much to me.

    Having the funds on a debit card which must be spent in stores is probably something I could work around--spending what I would normally spend using the card and then transferring the cash from my budget into savings--but that would require a lot more willpower than simply depositing a check in my ING account.

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    eBaying

    I sold several items on ebay tonight--some beautiful handmade skirts I bought in London seven years ago and have never worn, a few salwar kameez outfits (traditional Indian pants and tunic sets) I picked up at Unclaimed Baggage this summer and haven't ended up needing for costumes, and some video game components leftover from my relationship with Mr. Ex Boyfriend (and which are not worth giving/returning to him for a number of reasons).

    All but one item sold, but disappointingly none of the sales were sniped or really interesting right at their ends. That's my favorite part of selling on eBay--the constant refreshing to see people outbidding each other on my old junk. Regardless, I made about $80 after shipping and freed myself from a number of pieces that had been cluttering up my closets and shelves, so I'd say it's win-win.

    I'm torn about the eBay sellers' strike next week. I used to be a very frequent seller, now I do several auctions in a bunch once or twice a year, so I don't know how much it will ultimately affect me. I've been getting more and more dissatisfied with eBay's fees and the way my things sold for a while now; next time I have something to sell I'll probably just put it up on Craigslist or donate it to a local thrift store.

    I have managed not to spend a lot of extraneous money for a few weeks now, as the reality of living by myself sets in, but today I treated myself to a carton of vanilla ice cream, so my roommate and I could make Diet Chocolate Cherry Dr. Pepper floats...and WOW were they worth it. I think they brought back my sweet tooth, as all I can think of now are hostess cupcakes. :) I'm not sure if I'm going to brave the wind storm here in New York to go get some--but it comforts me that in a week, I'll be living about a block and a half closer to a 24-hour bodega.

    Saturday, February 9, 2008

    On trying to earn back money I spent

    Ugh. I'm more and more glad that I'm moving right now!

    My roommate and I attempted to have a moving sale today to get rid of stuff we jointly purchased (couches, tv, etc). I've done this every single time I've moved, even when I didn't live in New York. I've picked up a lot of stuff at similar sales. We posted a description online a few places and gave the address to those who emailed with specific questions.

    My landlords had a COW. I mean, a screaming, threatening, "I'll ruin your credit for the rest of your life" cow, and I'm still not entirely sure why. They've told us we're not allowed to have anyone but the two of us in the building, and that it says that in the lease (not true). They've told us that we're not allowed to have anyone stay overnight and that it says that in the lease (also not true). They said we're not allowed to move anything up or down the stairs ever under any circumstances (wait, how am I supposed to move out?). They threatened to sit in front of the house and tell anyone who comes looking for furniture to "go to hell". They literally called my roommate "Miss Goody-Goody" and threatened to have money garnished out of our checks for the rest of our lives.

    This is complete and utter bullshit. I'm furious right now, but there's really nothing else I can do about it. We told them we're not agreeing to stuff that wasn't in the lease, that they need to calm down when they talk to us (threats are not OK), and that the apartment will be left in the same condition it was when we moved in, so until that time, they need to back off and let us deal with
    what needs to be done in order to move out.

    I'm not sure what it boils down to, other than that perhaps the neighbors were curious? I'm starting to realize that I have, in fact, been being WATCHED the entire time I've lived here, or at least that the neighbors pay far too much attention to my comings and goings. I never wanted to be in a private house to begin with, so I'm really, really glad to be moving out right now. I just keep crossing my fingers and praying for the week to fly by.

    On the other hand, I'm also wondering if now I need to do anything to protect myself. The apartment will be left in good condition. Any damage that's there, aside from the rug which is my roommate's problem, is normal wear and tear. I plan to come back after I move and make this place SPARKLE. I will be taking pictures of everything and all that. But after the blow up today (this is at least the third inappropriate blow up they've had) I'm very uneasy.

    *sigh*
    At some point, stuff's supposed to start getting easier, right?

    Thursday, February 7, 2008

    Welcome!

    Well!

    I guess most of the new commentors (and those of you lurking and not saying anything!) are here courtesy of my contribution to Madame X's New York Stories (I'm #11). Thanks to her for posting my story, and welcome to everyone who's clicked through today.

    Given some of the upheaval that's been going on in my life lately, I've not been posting as regularly as I would like to, but I'll be working on that in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully you'll stick around and hopefully I'll write stuff that's interesting and thought-provoking.

    As an update to my recent post about Taco Bell's new Fiesta Platters, I'm crushed to report that the Taco Bell listed as being near my new apartment is, in fact, closed. Thus there was no cheesy, crunchy, chewy goodness available for me when I went to pick up my keys earlier this week.

    And back to financial matters, a few things of note:

    I'm making a greater effort to bring my lunch to work again. I seem to go through phases of this, where I get sick of leftovers and go back to getting $7 salads and other extravagancies every day before I catch myself. However, I've also started having a regular once a week lunch with some of my female coworkers--I'm finding them wonderfully therapeutic, am making friends and learning a lot about networking and other career-type things (out of the five of us, I am not the newest to the company, but I am the newest to the industry in general). We trade off paying, so although I'm eating out five times in a row, I'm only paying for it once. I think it works out pretty fairly, and it's something that I'm going to consciously work into my budget.

    One of my friends has a Costco membership, and I've been debating getting one. I learned there's a Costco not far from my new apartment, so I could walk there and take a car service home, or even push my granny cart all the way there. However...will I find it useful? Most people I know who go to Costco stock up on meat, and I am a strict vegetarian. Will I find enough things to purchase for me as one person living alone that I will be able to save $50 per year over what I'd spend at the regular grocery store? I'm not 100% sure, but my friend has agreed to let me come along as a guest next time she goes, to see if I think it would be worth it. I might also see if I can split a membership with someone--I'm pretty sure I could save $25 per year by buying things like toilet paper and granola bars in bulk.

    Similarly, I want to start shopping at Trader Joe's. I've only been there once, but was impressed with the yummy things available for cheap, and I keep meaning to go back.

    And lastly, what I plan to do with my bonus:
    1. Pay for half my sister's plane ticket. My sister and I are very close. She is going through some rough personal issues as I have been, and we've been talking about her coming to visit in a few weeks. She's in law school and doesn't have a lot of money, and spending around $100 to fly her in for a visit will be a gift for both of us.
    2. Moving costs. I still need to book a moving company (I'm hoping to be able to do the move for around $200 including tip) and buy a few more things for the apartment--a toilet seat, shower curtain, bathroom rug, lightbulbs, and I'm sure other things. I'm bookmarking $300-400 for this.
    3. Emergency fund. Since I had been planning to move in with Mr. Ex Boyfriend, I had started saving to move, and had socked away $1,500. However, since I'm now doing it on my own, the total cost is going to be more than twice that, and I've pulled out quite a bit of my emergency fund (whether this was a true emergency might be up for debate, and I'm mulling a post explaining/defending my choice) in order to make this happen. But I'm raising my monthly expenses, and I want to build my rainy day fund back up to a full 4-6 months of expenses in the bank. So the remainder of my bonus will go a ways toward that.

    I do think that when you get an unexpected windfall, you should blow some of it so you don't feel deprived, and plan what to do with the rest of it so it doesn't get frittered away. "Blowing" money on my sister's visit is the best way I can think of to spend my money, and when I realized that's what I wanted to do with it, I felt like my employers gave me an even bigger gift than just a check.

    Tuesday, February 5, 2008

    Wow.

    I just got a bonus that equals just over one entire paycheck.

    This eases my financial worries SO MUCH. I can't even describe it.

    I may have to go in the bathroom and sniffle a bit.

    Monday, February 4, 2008

    I know where my eating-out budget is going!

    Despite everything that's wrong with it, and the fact that I am trying to eat only food that I cook, I cannot WAIT to try Taco Bell's new fiesta platters...and I just found out that there's a TB only a few blocks from my apartment.

    Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom....

    Friday, February 1, 2008

    For me, 2008 starts in February

    Two posts this week on my RSS feeds felt like they were written directly to me: It’s Going to Get Better over at English Major’s Money and When Times are Hard at Executive Assistant’s Toolbox.

    I feel like I’m taking two steps back in almost every area of my life. I recently went back to school (aren’t I supposed to be done with notes and tests?), my knees are busted and bruised from a new choreography (when do I quit tripping over my own legs? I’ve been in the company for almost three years!), I still live like a college student (my most expensive piece of furniture is a futon!), I just spent about half my emergency fund and I’m about to go back to eating beans and rice and having no money for anything all over again till it’s built back up and even then I’ll still be broke.

    The crux of most of this stress is that this morning I signed a lease on my own one-bedroom apartment.

    I should be celebrating that, and to some extent I am, but today was supposed to be the day that Mr. Boyfriend and I were moving in together, and instead I am moving in and moving on with my life alone. I went from a rock-solid (I thought) 3+ year relationship that was about to go to the next level, and in the blink of an eye discovered myself single, losing my boyfriend/best friend for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of. Pretty much five minutes later, for reasons that I understand a lot more, my roommate decided to move back home, so I was forced to stick to my moving schedule instead of having more time to save or just stay where I was.

    It’s amazing how violent change can feel. I really do feel like I’ve been physically hit every day during the last six weeks. The storm is passing—my broken heart is healing, I now have a place to move into, most of the distasteful conversations I’ve been dreading have been had, I DO have enough money to keep moving forward and I’ve been through leaner times than these, I found greater strength in myself than I expected, and friendships deeper than I realized—but it still helps to read that others in my peer group are facing the same doubts and fears that I have sometimes, and to find different ways of coping with them.