Monday, June 30, 2008

Volunteering vs. getting paid, and the sacrifices I make for both

A few months ago, my dance company landed Thursday-Sunday shows for three weeks at a major venue, but it's volunteer position. We can sell merchandise but we are not getting paid for the performances (two per day). It's a huge publicity opportunity for us, and in addition, it's a lot of fun for there to be such a huge crowd available to perform to (not saying that the venue is full every show, because there's a lot of competing entertainment opportunities, but at the very least, the four shows that I've done have drawn people in from the minute we get on stage, and that's a nice feeling).

Anyway, I agreed to do these dozen or so shows for free with the understanding that I get booked for cushy paid jobs in return. The director of the company understands that it costs us time and money to do the free shows, and she really does try to reward us by booking us for jobs that will tip well or be quick and easy. And yet, I turned down the first one she offered me!

I'm still trying to figure out my thought process on this. I didn’t want to get home super late on a Sunday night, especially because work has been really busy lately. I guess I figured the volunteer show would be finished earlier than the paid job for some reason, but there was really no basis for me to think that, and I wound up getting home at 11 p.m. but with no money for working.

I'll take the next paying gig I'm offered. These volunteer shows wound up being more expensive than I thought they would be (both in terms of time and money, because I'm sitting around for hours between shows and the food options at this place are dreadfully expensive) so it would be nice to make the money to offset that. Plus, I have a costume set aside which will take me three jobs to work off, so I need to get on it (not to mention that I ruined my dance shoes last night in the rain and will need to buy more).

I can make my monthly bills on my day job income, but I don’t have a lot of room to ignore additional money-making opportunities, or to spend money on travel and food for a show I’m not getting paid to do (even if it is tax-deductable, I won’t see that savings until next April). I should have evaluated the jobs on the basis of the jobs themselves (roughly the same time frame, but one was paid and one wasn’t) and done what made better financial sense. This isn’t a game I’m playing, it’s a business, and I made a sort of dumb decision yesterday.

It just sort of fits in with how I’ve been running my life lately. I’m unwilling to admit that I’m not superwoman, and I’m definitely trying to do too much. I need to slow things down and start focusing on the important (a paid job instead of a volunteer position, time writing a paper instead of playing a video game, making a phone call instead of browsing the internet) instead of the easy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Meme

I saw this over at the World of Wealth and wanted to comment on it. I think it's important to set goals like this just to make sure you're pushing your own boundaries.

30 Things to Do Before 30 (I've done the things in bold)
  1. Take classes in an unfamiliar dance form (salsa, hip hop, classical, pole dancing...)
  2. Date someone more than 10 years your senior
  3. Take a spontaneous weekend trip (preferably somewhere "crazy" like Mexico or Vegas)
  4. Have visited at least 3 continents
  5. Fire a gun
  6. Volunteer somewhere other than the city in which you live
  7. Sleep in your car
  8. Post bail for a friend...or for yourself
  9. Buy something materialistic and unnecessary that costs as much as your rent
  10. Quit a job
  11. Buy a stock
  12. Have a credit card
  13. Get a loan
  14. Stay in a job long enough and do well enough to earn a promotion
  15. Gamble
  16. Hike or climb or bike or kayak for at least one day
  17. Read at least a 5 major works of literature
  18. Spend a day on a boat
  19. Visit our nation's capital
  20. Exercise your right to vote
  21. Try an illicit substance
  22. Attend religious services for at least two faiths other than your own
  23. Learn enough of a foreign language to try to use it (preferably in that culture)
  24. Drive a convertible
  25. Create something (a song, poem, picture, sculpture, play, story, movie...)
  26. Cook - or attempt to cook - a four course meal
  27. Arrange your weekend schedule around a hangover you plan to have
  28. Live alone
  29. Have a one night stand
  30. Make a list like this one - and start checking things off!

Most of the unbolded things I haven't done, I really have no interest in doing (Nos. 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 29) so here's a list of things I have done/think everyone should do before they turn 30.

  1. Have your heart broken.
  2. Fall deeply in love.
  3. Move across the country.
  4. Save a significant amout of money (even $1,000).
  5. Have a pet.
  6. See a quality live production (straight theater or musical).
  7. Fight a fear (public speaking, heights, swimming, whatever)

What do you think?

Oh, man, oh, man

Life is moving by me a little too quickly lately.

I have company in town, and again I'm reminded of how expensive it is to have people visit--maybe not quite what it costs to go see them, but expensive nonetheless.

I also had a spectacularly social weekend, which meant dropping a lot of money as well. Here's the breakdown:

Friday: Picked up visitors from the airport. $14 for a cab home. Visitors wanted to do some touristy sight-seeing things (my cousin has been here several times and knows her way around) so I met up with some friends at a beer garden. Dinner and several pitchers of beer: $0 (thanks to boyfriend who bought me dinner and friends who kept the pitchers coming).

Saturday: After a $5 bagel, headed to the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. I'd always wanted to go, and frankly was a little underwhelmed but I think we were in a bad spot and missed most of it. I still had a great time, walked on the beach and enjoyed being at Coney Island in a bikini in the summer (with only a very minor sunburn on one shoulder to show for it!). Assorted beach food: $20.

Saturday night: After going all the way back to Queens to shower and change, went all the way back to Brooklyn with a detour in Soho. Discovered Uniqlo, picked up two pair of clearance pants. $39.98 total, and a promise to myself to go back as soon as my rebate check clears. Then to a neat little restaurant in Brooklyn, where $20 got me some tasty food. Later, at a burlesque bar, a $6 drink didn't even get me buzzed, and I tipped the dancers $3. We split a car service home, and my contribution was $10.

Sunday: Made brunch at home for six (waffles, homemade hashbrowns and fruit salad--yum!) at no expense to me (lovely boyfriend bought what few ingredients we didn't have on hand). Hung out around the house for most of the day while my visitors did some more sight-seeing. Then headed to my very favorite Indian restaurant, Panna II, where I dropped $40 on dinner for my boyfriend and I (way more than I normally spend there, somehow). I love Panna, and I go frequently enough that they know me, and this time, right before we left, they turned off the lights and turned on the happy birthday techno and brought the birthday ice cream over to....our table! None of us had birthdays, and none of us had talked to them about it, but I guess they'd overheard me describing it to our out of town guests, and did it for us so we could see it. I was a customer for life anyway, but this little gesture just really made me happy.

total spent this weekend: $105.48. Ouch!

And that pretty much wipes me out until I get paid again on the 30th (unless my rebate check comes in before then). I had a lunch planned today with a work friend (which I'll be honoring) but after that I'm battening down the hatches for a while. Time to start packing lunch again!

However, I did get the good news this weekend that I do qualify for a rebate check of $600 and it should arrive by 6/27. Yay!

I also found out that my work discount for AT&T went up from 11% to 15%, which is good news. I've been thinking of downsizing my phone package so that I'm not paying quite so much (currently, just over $80 a month) for internet (currently, unlimited everything). I realized that I initially got the most internet I could because I was going to be using my phone as a modem for my laptop so that I wouldn't be paying for a separate wireless cable connection. However, I HAVEN'T been doing that--I'm having problems with the software and can't get it working. My goal for this week is to either fix that problem so I can use the phone as a modem, or downsize my internet package so I'm not paying for something I'm not using.

More news to come, I'm sure. I really need to start updating more frequently!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spam update!

I have an update to my most popular post, Spam Text Messages, from The Consumerist--the New York Times listed how to block spam text messages by provider. This is a fantastic resource for anyone who's annoyed by and/or doesn't want to pay for these spam messages. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Giving up vegetarianism

I haven't really talked to anyone about this yet, but it's been rolling around in my head.

I've been a lacto-ovo vegetarian my entire life (that means I eat eggs, cheese, milk and other dairy products, but not fish). My mom's a vegetarian, and that's how she raised me and my siblings. I am the only one who has been consistently a vegetarian--my brothers both ate meat for a while, although one is now full vegetarian again and the other eats meat rarely. My sister was am omnivore for a while, but now eats mostly vegetarian and only eats white meat when she needs the extra protein (she has some health problems that dictate this, I think).

I know for a fact that I have eaten some animal products. Caesar dressing and Worcestershire sauce are not vegetarian, for example, and neither is gelatin. Twinkies weren't always, either. Some of those things I ate knowingly, other times I'm sure chicken stock or other unknowns have gotten mixed in, and adults sometimes fed me meat as a kid (gravy at KFC, something terrible at a daycare center, chicken noodle soup) despite my attempts to refuse. I have tried a few bites of chicken and been fairly unimpressed.

I have gone through various phases of vegetarianism. When I was about 10, I begged for a hamburger, so I would be like everyone else (my mom's response was "fine, order one!" which I couldn't bring myself to do). When I was an idealistic teenager, I campaigned for animal rights and gave up milk because of the conditions diary cows are kept in (I tried to give up eggs and cheese too, but just couldn't; I still don't drink milk). Now, I understand that my abstaining from eating meat does not actually prevent any animals from being killed for food and sad to say, I'm basically only a vegetarian because, well--I always have been.

Now I'm considering giving it up consciously and altogether. I am for the most part pretty healthy and in good shape, but I often don't have a lot of energy and deal with this by going for sugar boosts (followed by crashes). My sister reports that her infrequent meat eating helps sustain her a little more and prevents the sugar cycle. I try to eat well, but meat substitutes are often full of sodium and preservatives, as well as being far too expensive for everyday use. The most common meat substitute for vegetarians is cheese, which is certainly not healthy.

I can't argue that I'm protecting animal rights when I eat eggs and cheese with no thought to how they were produced. If I do begin to eat meat, I would like to try to only purchase grass fed animals, but I would need to change my thinking on eggs as well to make this fully legitimate.

I am still thinking this over. I'm very afraid that I might get sick (I have in the past, both from knowing that I was eating animal flesh and from physioligical reactions when I didn't know I was eating it). I'm going to have to start slowly if I do it at all.

Is it cheaper to be vegetarian or to eat meat? I'm really not sure. I think I would probably only end up eating meat a few times a week, at most, and usually at restaurants (the idea of learning how to cook it makes me nervous). Vegetarian entrees are usually a bit cheaper, but not always by much. And if the additional protein filled me up faster, I might end up getting two meals out of one entree, thus actually saving money.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday update

**warning--this is going to be very disjointed!!

No Credit Needed realized that he'll save $350 a year by not drinking soda. I think his original post might have been the one that made me realize I need to quit drinking so much soda, too, but I was still a little self-righteous when I read his post. "Oh...well, I'll be saving my health but I don't spend that much money on soda."

Then I started to think about it.

In the last few days that I can remember (I have honestly not started trying to cut back), I bought a can of Dr. Pepper at the racetrack for $2 (ouch!). I bought a bottle on Sunday for $1.25. I bought a bottle last night for 1.64. I bought a bottle today--I'm not sure how much it was, exactly, but I think about $2. If this were a normal week, I would definitely buy another bottle on Thursday before class for another $1.50 or so, and probably one on the weekend at the same price. That's $9.89 spent in one week just on Dr. Pepper (more than I spend doing laundry!). If that's even close to average, I'm spending over $500 a year on Dr. Pepper!

Suddenly, I think it's going to be a little easier for me to cut back. Perhaps this is my latte factor--I used to be irritated by personal finance books that said to quit buying $4 lattes every day and you'd magically come up with a thousand dollars a year. I don't buy $4 lattes every month, much less every day, but while $500 isn't a grand, it's more than I need to be spending on sugar and water. I'm happy that I found something I can give up to save myself some money, and a little astounded that I developed such an expensive habit.

****
I had a forthright conversation with New Boyfriend last week and we now know exactly how much the other makes. This made it a little weird--he makes quite a bit more than I do, but I have my own apartment (he can't figure out how I can afford it). We had been splitting expenses fairly evenly, but now that it's apparent that our incomes (and expenses) are quite different, will we continue to do so? I don't like the uneven expectations regarding dates and money and whether anyone is obligated or not--and regardless of the fact that this is 2008, those feelings and doubts do still exist, no matter how hard you try to silence them. I prefer the part of a relationship where it's almost "what's mine is yours" (although you shouldn't REALLY have such joint money management until you're very, very committed!) but we're just not there yet. This is still a very new relationship, which I sometimes forget because I feel so comfortable in it.

****
The economics of a fun time out

I went to the Belmont Stakes this past weekend, the final race in the Triple Crown. I'd never been to a horse race before, but was excited about wearing a dress and heels and a big floppy hat (yep, we went all out). Tickets were $59, plus $11 roundtrip train tickets and of course overpriced food and drinks ($2 cans of soda, $4 slices of pizza).

When we got there, we discovered that our "discount" ticket broker actually charged us $59 for $20 general admission tickets with no reserved seating, so wound up sitting on the grass (in dresses, heels and floppy hats, with no blanket or anything), then standing behind a gate, then finally sitting on a hard wooden bench watching the race happening 200 yards away on a big screen television. My friends were most upset about this, but for some reason it didn't bother me. The money was a sunk cost at that point, and I was determined to have a good time. I did. I had a great time, and I would go again in a heartbeat, only I'd bring a blanket and a picnic lunch and wear shorts under my dress for more comfortable ground-sitting. And I'd buy my general admission ticket at the gate for $20 instead of three times that.

I am really glad that I have reached the point in my life where I don't have to begrudge that extra $39 and ruin a fun day by being pissed about having spent more than was necessary. The girl who bought the tickets has filed a complaint with the company, hoping to get at least some of the money refunded, which would be nice, but I'm not really worried about it.

On the other hand, we are now planning a beach trip and we're renting a Zipcar. I feel like this is a little foolish (I'd rather take the train or bus) but everyone else is so dead set on doing it I'll probably just go along rather than be a stick in the mud. Part of my reticence may be that they want to rent a convertible which will ruin my hair for the rest of the day (I realize that I'm going to the beach, and so shouldn't care what my hair looks like, but it doesn't FEEL good, either, to have one giant matted dreadlock of curly hair and between the wind and the salt water, that's exactly what I'm going to wind up with). I just don't think that renting the car is a justified expense (and I don't even have proof that it'd be cheaper to take the train). I wonder what the difference is between these two events?

****
I have been doing much better with cutting back on digital clutter and living more in the real world. There's still progress to be made, but it's a good start.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Streamlining more than just finances

I'm still not caught up on all my regular blog reading from my trip a few weeks ago and I decided that since I've sort of started breaking the habit, I might as well REALLY break the habit and start purging my daily "must read"list.

I waste a lot of time on the internet. I don't mean that I click around randomly, bored, aware that I'm wasting time. I enjoy the articles that I read, the knowledge (about personal finance and other topics) that I'm seeking, and the communication I'm able to keep up with friends. But it's eating up too much of my life, and I feel like I'm living in a digital world instead of the real one. So here's my plan:

Ruthlessly cull my Bloglines. I'm having trouble doing this because there are a lot of blogs I would be ok with not keeping on top of anymore, but I have articles saved that I want to keep for whatever reason. My goal over the next month is to review those articles and find a reason for keeping them. Most are book reviews, so I will add the books to my Amazon reading wishlist and then I don't have to save the post. Others are ideas for apartment decorating, and I will create a folder of bookmarks for those pages, save them, and unsubscribe from the blog. Many are recipes, and I don't know how I'm going to put those into one workable file. Doubtless I will find a lot of the articles not worth saving at all.

Delete some of my email addresses. I have several email addresses, going all the way back to the second one I used with any regularity (and I still have the log in information for the first, but I'm not sure if it works). Every time I've switched email addresses, there's always that ONE PERSON who continues to email me at the old address, so I keep checking all my old addresses rather than miss an email from that person. NO LONGER. Everyone has received sufficient notice of my new contact information, and I will no longer check any of the non-gmail addresses I have. The gmail addresses all forward to one main one, so I only have to log in once. I also will maintain (but not check daily--or even weekly) one of the older email addresses which I use as a junk email.

Change my social networking accounts to alert me if someone tries to contact me, but otherwise not log in on a regular basis. I went without MySpace for months at one point, which was really nice. It's great to keep up on my friends (15 are pregnant, and post belly photos and other updates) but this is getting to be too much.

And not worry so much if I get a backlog that I can't read through. No one can know everything, and that includes me!

Monday, June 2, 2008

May recap/June goals

I updated my Net Worth IQ button in the sidebar, and it looks so sad! My net worth just dived this month, because my next round of student loans were disbursed and I have to officially include them as money owed. However, what the bar graph DOESN'T show is that my retirement accounts went up by $200 and my regular savings and checking accounts went up by almost $1,000...so all things considered, I'm doing quite well. I'm also hoping to see my tuition reimbursement in my next check, so that should even things out quite a bit too. I might do a mid-month Net Worth IQ update when that happens. :)

Review of May goals
1. Budget for trip home. Done. I totally stayed under budget on this trip, but that was mostly because my grandmother gave me birthday money (expected) and also gave my sister and I $100 for the trip (unexpected, and much appreciated--that $100 actually paid for all gas and food for the entire road trip).

2. File paperwork for tuition reimbursement for my first semester of graduate school. Done. I also turned in the pre-approval paperwork for my summer classes. I need to follow up with HR to make sure everything is ready (they have an annoying habit of thinking that "no news is good news"--meaning they won't even confirm they've received anything; they'll only tell you if something's wrong with it).

3. Automate my finances a little bit more. Getting there. I set up auto-withdrawals to my main bank savings account and to my ING account for the first pay period of the month. I'll do the second pay period in a few weeks, and that should take care of my savings. I also put a reminder in my calendar to balance the trackers on the 3rd and 18th of each month so I'll remember to note the automatic withdrawals in my check register and account logs.

4. Quit smoking. So far so good! I can't exactly remember the last time I smoked, although I know I bummed a cigarette off a friend. Luckily, I feel guilty doing that without occasionally buying a pack to share with her, and I won't be doing that now that NY will be raising the cigarette tax another $1.25 (for a total of $4.25; packs will cost an average of $8.50 EACH) tomorrow. I feel a lot better, I smell a lot better, I taste better, I breathe easier. I still crave cigarettes at odd times, but I think the worst is past. I've been through this before though (I've quit for months at a time, only to go back to it) so I don't want to get too optimistic.

5. Take it a little easy. I don't know if I actually accomplished this. I've been sitting around playing a lot of video games, I set some firm boundaries with my mother while I was visiting her, and I've managed to finish a few books...but I also booked myself up through the summer with performances and other goings-on, so maybe not. I feel much calmer than I did a month ago, though.

June Goals
1. Get firm answer on when my tution reimbursement will arrive, and investigate the best way to save it. I want to put aside all the tuition reimbursement money I'll get for the next two years into some kind of high-yield (I know, that's a joke right now) account so that I can earn as much as possible on it before dumping it all into my loans the day after graduation. I don't need access to the money before then, but I do need the ability to put more money in when I get it (so I think a CD is out). I'll probably go with the highest-interest online savings account, but I'll need to do some research.

2. Cut out some of my other frivolous spending. If I had another expensive addiction besides smoking, it would be Dr. Pepper. I buy one almost every day. I'm going to try to cut back a LOT--not just for my wallet but for my teeth and my health. New boyfriend does not drink soda, and he reminded me of all the reasons I didn't for a long time, either. It's so much easier to eat or drink healthy when you're around someone who does it too.

3. Buy a new costume. I've started wanting a new costume so my next several jobs are going to go towards that (I can receive payment in goods instead of money if I want, though it makes no difference for taxes). I haven't had a new costume since February 07 or something, so I feel like I'm due. I think I want orange.

4. Plan and budget for two summer trips. Despite the price of gas and airline tickets, I have two goals for this summer: a last minute cruise deal, and visiting my sister in her new apartment. There's some doubt as to whether the cruise will happen, since my cruise-mate just moved and is also tight on cash. It would be wonderful, but I have my doubts. If we don't cruise, I might just make a point to go visit her instead. Seeing my sister is non-negotiable, and hopefully I'll find a cheap flight out to where she lives. They've been fairly easy to find lately, although on an airline I don't like, so I'll keep an eye open. I'm planning to go in early or mid-August.

5. Put $100 into my Lasik fund. This poor little fund has been neglected since I decided to do it. It's going to be the hardest of my sinking funds to fill, because there's no room for it in my regular budget (so only "found" money goes into it, if I don't spend it on other things) and it has such a far-off goal that it's hard to get excited about it. I probably won't get the surgery until 2010.

Weekend update

I had a fairly lazy and nice weekend, which I hope I'll appreciate since things are about to get busy.

Friday I did a little clothes shopping and meandering. New Boyfriend and I went to Smoothie King, since I had a buy one, get one free coupon. However, nothing looked good, so we decided to split a medium chocolate malt--which turned out to be nearly bucket-sized and cost $6! It wasn't even that good, so lesson reinforced--just because you have a coupon doesn't mean it's a good deal (no, I didn't use the coupon, but I wouldn't have gone to Smoothie King at all if I hadn't had it).

Friday night we cooked steak and potatoes (well, steak for him, spicy black bean burger for me) which were very yummy. I've been thinking about whether it's REALLY cheaper to cook at home or eat out in certain situations, especially in New York, and at least for this meal, it was definitely cheaper to eat at home.

Saturday we lazed around and played video games until I had to go to a dance job in New Jersey. The job itself went pretty well, although we went on much later than agreed. We got tipped but something weird happened--the father of the groom handed the two other dancers a $20 each, and handed me a $10. I don't think he did it on purpose (he seemed a little drunk) so I don't think it was a commentary on me or my performing, but it made me feel a little strange. I didn't mention it to either him or the other dancers. Is this a situation of being unwilling to stand up for myself? Or would it be bad manners to mention this, especially since this was a tip and not the fee I'm paid for performing?

I didn't mention anything to my fellow dancers because I didn't want them to feel obligated to combine all our tips and split them evenly. This is especially important to me because one of the girls drove, and so it would make sense to me that she should get a higher portion because of the price of gas (I am not sure, but I don't think she gets paid more for driving to the jobs, although she can write off more on her taxes). I'm not upset about it, but it was a weird thing and I wasn't quite sure what to do.

Yesterday after more computer games I went to a cookout at a friend's house and was fed delicious and copious amounts of food for the price of a pan of (from-scratch) brownies. Basically, my friend had a lot of food from Costco that she realized she couldn't use up herself, so she invited people over and we ate it all for her. Then we went to a pub quiz where we lost spectacularly.

It was a good weekend. I got to spend a lot of happy quality time with New Boyfriend, a few hours with some friends and good food, and plenty of time playing this computer game which is going to take over my life. I made some money, I spent some money, and mostly I was happy to be alive and in New York with friends and beautiful weather.