Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blissful moments in a new relationship: Serious Nerd Edition

Last night, New Boyfriend and I compared spread sheets.

We have my laptop set up next to his desktop in his apartment this week while he works on my hard drive and so we can play games (yes, sitting next to each other while our characters run around in the game together). Yesterday I needed to do some financial housekeeping and update some spreadsheets, and he opened up his and we compared. I have more spreadsheets (for tracking spending, dance jobs, and mystery shops, a ledger for my local bank and ING accounts [basically for creating sub-accounts], a budget, and a grid for me to keep track of taxes for the year) but his are more formula-heavy. We have completely different approaches to the way we keep track of things, but the important thing to me is that we're both on top of things and have similar values when it comes to how we handle money.

This is a stark contrast to some of my previous relationships, one of which I actually ended because my ex couldn't control his finances. He borrowed a lot of money from me (in the thousands, probably, over five years) as well as other friends and family, lived way above his means, and his idea of "paying himself first" involved buying video games the minute he cashed his paycheck and then being late with rent or doing a payday loan. It was really stressful. My last relationship was a little better--that ex didn't belive in debt, but didn't do any kind of budget or anything either. He was in better shape because at least he wasn't over his head, but he wasn't doing any kind of planning for the future either.

At one point, when I met some of New Boyfriend's friends at a cookout last weekend, someone asked me, "Do you know about his spreadsheets?!" And I got a little warm fuzzy when I realized that truly, that's one of the things I like best about him. He's got spreadsheets, and he's not afraid of who knows it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My dream wedding

Inspired by Meg's post about her sister's simple wedding that still wasn't cheap.


I do not want a wedding.


I don't mean I don't want a big wedding, or a church wedding, or anything like that. I mean, I do not want a wedding at all.


I don't think I'm going to be able to get away with it, however. As much as everyone says The Day is all about the bride and groom (though mostly the bride), I know from experience that's not true. Not only will my own mother and the rest of my family have expectations and preferences, but the guy I end up marrying probably will as well and I'm sure his family will. So compromises will have to be made, but here's some of what I'd like.


1. I will NOT be married in a church. This is pretty much non-negotiable to me. I am not religious, and don't see the point of being married in a church when I don't normally attend one. It's imperative that the person I marry support this. My last boyfriend was Catholic and would have insisted on a Catholic wedding, and I just couldn't stomach that.


2. I don't want flowers to carry or fancy chair covers or any kind of decoration. They seem pointless. I guess I sort of envision an outdoor ceremony, if there has to be a ceremony at all, so that's plenty of beauty right there. I'd prefer really that we just say some words with witnesses (no preacher, probably a friend who's a judge or something), sign some paper, and then go have a party.


3. I don't want attendants with outfits they'll never wear again. I don't really understand the point of attendants at all, and if I have any (which is debatable) I would have only two, my sister and my best friend. I'd really like to have them wear their very favorite clothes, whatever that would be (pajamas, a dress, jeans and a tshirt) so that they're totally comfortable.


4. If I had a dress (again, debatable) just for the wedding, it would be simple, not a wedding dress, probably not white. I wouldn't spend more than $150 on it, and it would be smashing and I could wear it again any time I wanted.


5. I don't want solemn music for any kind of processional or anything like that. I wouldn't have a DJ because my family won't dance and I perform on dance floors all the time so it would feel like work. It might be fun to have dancers, though--belly dancers, latin dancers, ballroom dancers, whatever. I love performers.


6. FOOD. Now, food there would be. Lots of food. Good food. All kinds of food. Plenty of it.

6b. Cake. Any cake is fine. I don't need a $600 cake. Seriously. I don't remember that any cake I've ever tasted at a wedding tasted any better than the homemade brownies I made this week.


7. Alcohol. My family won't drink it, and probably wouldn't come if I served it. Hrmmm...that might be a good idea.....


Hmm. It sounds like I want to get married in a food court!

Update: New Relationship Takes Over My Life Edition

Ok, it's time to get serious! I've been ignoring lots of my real life for the past few weeks as I've been happily immersed in a new relationship, but it's time to get things back on track. Here are my lofty goals for this week.

1. Begin researching prices for Internet access. I did not get Internet when I moved into my apartment, because I didn't want to become a hermit. Instead, I promised myself I would wait six months, which would mean I can get internet on August 16. Reasons to look into getting Internet early: My electric bill is substantially cheaper than I expected, so I can afford it. I'm suddenly all over an online RPG and can currently only play from New Boyfriend's apartment. I'm starting to feel a little bad about doing certain life-maintenance activities online at work (like checking my bank accounts and blogging. Which, yes, I'm doing right now). It would allow me to start mystery shopping with more regularity (I've had to cancel most of the shops I've scheduled in the last three weeks because I couldn't get ANY signal in my apartment, and couldn't rpeort the shops I did). Reasons to wait until August 16: I said I would. I'm not going to be home all that much over the next six weeks because of work, classes starting up again, and some major performance commitments. I think I'll wait until I find out exactly how much it will cost me per month before I decide for sure.

2. Automate more of my financial life. I make the same transfers from checking to savings and ING every pay period, but I'm still doing this manually. It's time to set it up to work automatically and just check to see that it happens.

3. Find more time for reading. I've been neglecting my book pile lately, and not only do I have a lot to catch up on (for my three book clubs) but I borrowed eight books from various friends over that last month. Time to get serious!

Friday, May 23, 2008

I'm back!

WELL.

I'm back from my brother's graduation, and still not caught up, but I figured I'd take a moment to blog anyway. I'm falling out of the habit!

My mini-vacation was successful, at least from a financial point of view--I got birthday money from a couple relatives, and my grandmother gave my sister and I enough cash "just because" to get us through the entire road trip (gas, meals, snacks, and drinks). I'm really glad my sister's car gets such great gas mileage, however--I'm not used to the price of gas at all anymore (it's been about a year since I did any serious driving).

I did some shopping while I was at my mother's house and spent about $150 on some fun new undies, a few tops, a ring, two pashminas, and a great pair of shoes. I had to stop myself at times, however--I automatically assume that things in the south are cheaper than things in NYC, even though that's really not always the case. Also, NYC has no sales tax on clothing, so even if the initial price is cheaper, it could wind up being about the same. Mostly, though, I was hitting stores I just don't have access to here in the city (like The Limited, Kohls, Ross and World Market).

I usually don't have a difficult time catching up at work after being gone, but I have been struggling this week. Part of it is just that this trip fell at a very inopportune time (had there not been an event, I would definitely not have taken time off right now, and in fact probably would have been working late recently). It's also compounded by this new relationship, which has definitely turned into an actual relationship, rather than that weird what-do-you-call-it type thing that happens early on when you start dating someone. I mean, I'm a girlfriend again and we've talked about it, but we're also still in that "I want to spend every single minute with you" phase so I'm just really not getting much accomplished and I'm not staying late at work. I had 45 minutes to myself yesterday which I used to frantically clean my apartment.

Luckily, he's a money nerd too so at least my finances aren't spiralling out of control!

I have lots more to write about but I'm going to have to do it in patches, I think.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How TurboTax kept my business

A comment on Friday's Weird Things post reminded me that I needed to give an update on the TurboTax situation and let you know how they kept me as a customer...probably for life.


I filed a complaint with them online and received a semi-auto-response that said my problem would best be dealt with over the phone. So I called and waited on hold for almost 40 minutes before a very nice representative came on the line to help me figure out my problem. He went through my return line by line with me until we discovered the problem--I moved from Manhattan to Queens in 2007, which is all within New York City. However, the wording of their software asked if I had lived in Astoria (my neighborhood in Queens) during all of 2007. When I answered honestly (that I had not) it automatically kicked me out of the system as a New York City resident, despite the fact that I have in fact been a resident since 2004. And there was no way for me to double-check this information. Their software should have asked whether I'd been a New York City resident for all of 2007, which would have reported New York City resident tax.


Clearly, their software was totally to blame for the problem, and the rep apologized. However, also clearly, their accuracy guarantee policy only covers penalties and interest, neither of which I was assessed with. I sat silently on the phone for about 15 seconds, waiting to see what the rep would offer me before I asked for what I wanted (a full refund of my state filing fees, which I figured was only fair). After that slightly awkward silence, the rep said, "Well, really all I can do is apologize and refund all of your filing fees with us in order to keep you as a customer." I thanked him sincerely and gave him the information he needed to put the refund in motion. I also asked him to make sure to forward the software problem on to whoever can fix it and he said he would.

I've since received email confirmation that Intuit will be refunding all my filing fees--for federal AND state. It amounts to almost exactly what I'm having to pay in state taxes, which is nice. This is the power of complaining in a nice, professional way and then shutting up--to see what they'll give you, which sometimes is more than what you would have asked for yourself.

Intuit also sent me a customer satisfaction survey via email, which I filled out as "very satisfied". They messed up, they admitted it, they apologized, they did something to make it right. They also just made a customer for life, and someone who's willing to spread word of mouth publicity for them.

Going local

I've been thinking a lot lately about my impact on my community and how to keep my money in my local area instead of spending it at corporately-owned stores where the money really only flows in one direction. I've also been thinking a lot about my health and what I eat, because despite being a vegetarian and slim, I don't really eat that well.

The two are somewhat related. I would like to make my actions match my philosophies a little bit more. I WANT to support local agriculture...but it's EASIER to buy whatever produce from the chain grocery store. I WANT to cook from scratch and make healthier meals...but it's EASIER to stop by a chain fast food place for a quick pick-me-up. I WANT to buy things from mom and pop stores, but it's EASIER to go to the big box, all-in-one-stop store and get everything at once.

I'm working on it. Maybe that will be my May challenge to myself--stop and think about what I'm spending and what I'm eating, and make sure they align with my values.

What really drove it home for me this past weekend was sending my mother flowers for Mother's Day. I went to one of the "big box" online florists and picked out something I liked (using a coupon code, of course) and went through all the steps of ordering it until I came to the final page, which gives the total price. The delivery charges were $30. That really seems excessive--my mom doesn't live in a major city, but she's only about a 20 minute drive from one, and I'm pretty sure there are florists in her smaller town as well (though I don't know if they work with FTD and 1-800 Flowers for sure).

I decided to do some digging around before I hit 'submit', and sure enough, I found a website that allows customers to find local florists and even order online without all the bogus delivery charges. I managed to pick out a much bigger and nicer arrangement with an $8 delivery fee for less than I would have paid through the major online florist--plus I was directly supporting a local business (I'm not sure they would have received even $8 of the $30 fee I'd have paid to the major online florist). PLUS, when I spoke with my mom yesterday, I found out that the flowers are incredibly fresh and beautiful--much nicer than what she normally gets when I use the major online florist. Better product, cheaper price, directly supporting local business--I'm pleased all around.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Weird things round up

Taxes--paying
Lucky me, I am not quite getting audited. New York state found some HUGE errors in my return, however, and I was billed $88 instead of receiving a refund of almost $400. Luckily, they did not assess interest or penalties, and I paid it yesterday online.

I've filed a complaint with Intuit/TurboTax, because these are very basic errors--they didn't report New York City resident tax, which my address would CLEARLY require be reported. Unfortunately, Intuit only guarantees accuracy as far as reimbursing penalties or interest, not extra tax assessed, so really all I can do is complain since they won't give me any money back.

I'm seriously debating whether I will use them again. This seems like a very basic problem.

Taxes--tax stimulus rebate
According to the stimulus payment schedule, my direct deposit should have posted today. It's not even pending, however. While it's not technically late, I'm wondering if the mixup with New York state will affect that. I don't need the money (it's earmarked for a cruise) so I won't be in trouble if I don't get it, but...well, you know. I'd like to be stimulated.

Electric bills
I just mentioned that I was a little concerned that it seemed like more than a month had gone by since I'd received my last electric bill. Well, it showed up the same day and was delightfully cheap. Then yesterday, I got another bill, for $75. Something is definitely not right, as I was billed for exactly the same time period. I can't figure out what the problem is, but I'm going to call them before I pay anything more. Someone needs to get things together, and I don't think it's me for once.

Credit card
My credit card payment is due while I'm on vacation, so I will pay it before I go. When I logged in today, it shows a balance due of $125.o5. However, the statement only shows one charge for $83.03 (cell phone bill) since I last paid the entire balance off, so something else is not right. Another thing to fix.

School bills
I think I'm all set as far as loans and everything for the summer, but I need to double check that. I also need to file for approval for tuition reimbursement for the summer and then as soon as I get my grades, submit the final paperwork for the spring. Yay, money!

And, as a total non-sequitor, I like dating someone who's as much of a money nerd as I am. It's fun. :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Inspired

Well Heeled With a Mission has a lovely post today about unexpected compliments and what a difference they can make.

I especially liked dogatemyfinances's comment--and I'm also going to compliment someone at work today.

Anyone else want to join in this challenge?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Musing

Quarterlifegirl investigates whose dream she's chasing and it really struck a chord with me.

We mature and become independent in stages, and I feel like I've finally started the final stage--realizing that I am not responsible for the dreams my parents had for me. My mother would like me to be married with children, and I'm not--and more than that, I'm not sure I want to be. I think I might like to get married someday, but I don't want a big wedding or really even much of a wedding at all. Right now, I'm pretty sure I don't want children. I like kids all right, but I don't have much interest in raising any of my own. Sometimes I feel bad that for years she's pictured me walking down an aisle in a white dress or handing her my first-born child for the first time, and those things haven't happened and might never. But it's MY life, not hers.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A few days late

I did all my financial transfers and tracker updaters and what not, and posted my new net worth in my side bar. How'd I do?

I went from $14,306 in March to $15,114 in April for a total increase of $808, most of which was in my 401k. Yay! It's a little misleading, though, because I just accepted $5,000 worth of student loans for the summer semesters--but I didn't count that money because it hasn't actually been dispersed yet.

I also just realized that I haven't seen another electric bill, and while I'm fine with that...it seems like it's been more than a month. I'll have to look into that.

My life has felt a little out of control this past week. I've recently started dating someone I like quite a lot, which is wonderful. Everything seems sunnier and there's a bounce in my step I haven't had in a while. I like the little shivery feelings when I think of him during the day.

However. My steady, predictable routine has been completely shattered. I'm eating out more, and will have to throw away stuff I have in the fridge (not to mention spending money eating out). My apartment is a wreck and I can't find anything, I haven't synched my phone and computer in more than a week--I didn't even remember to bring my phone with me to work today! I won't see him tonight because of dance class and hopefully it will give me a chance to pull some of this back together again. It's fun but it's fairly stressful too.

The biggest upside is that he's only slightly less of a money nerd than I am. On our second date, he told me about the spreadsheet he has on a thumb drive to keep track of what he spends, and I've basically been smitten ever since. I'm really glad our respective money nerdiness came out early on, because it's been easier to do cheap/free stuff, cooking together instead of eating out, and otherwise not feel as much pressure as we might otherwise.