Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Updates, updates all around

Last night I did SEVEN PUSHUPS. wowwee! Actually, I did 23 total by doing the sets and resting in between for 60 seconds, but during the flat out max set, I did seven in a row. In good form, too. My arms are not as sore as I expected.

We've also been keeping up with our $2 dinner challenge. We've had tortellini with sauce, lots of pb&j sandwiches with chips and watermelon (soooo nice in the hot weather), mashed potatoes and beans, fried rice, ramen with stuff in it. I want to have baked potatoes and salsa, but it's way too hot to cook anything for that long.

One night this weekend we went out for dinner with his roommate and a friend, and spent $15 EACH...which was painful when we realized how many $2 meals that adds up to. I don't want to go overboard with being frugal, but I would have a LOT more money to save and to spend on other things if I paid more attention to what I spent just on food.

In other news, I decided mostly how to spend my $600 tax rebate. About $100 of it went almost immediately to a beach trip I'd forgotten I'd committed to. $60 of that was just for the car rental, the other $40 was for food at the beach and afterwards. Note to self: start cash budgetting for trips you commit to when you commit to them! (Like, Renn Fair next month. Star NOW.)

I gave myself $100 to spend on video games and my trip to see my sister.

I put $400 into a fund for health and beauty fund, bringing the total to almost $1,000 (I got the rest of the money by reshuffling my emergency fund as I mentioned in one of my previous posts).

I'm torn--and this is kind of weird to talk about. Despite the fact that blogging is typically considered a very exhibitionistic hobby, there are certain personal things that I'd like to keep personal, especially when they don't really relate to personal finance (example: you will never hear me bitch about PMS on this blog unless I end up in serious financial hot water because of it--and even then I probably won't tell you the reason). But this, um, delicate matter is definitely related to finance.

I'm a big fan of Spa Week. I get a one-hour full-body massage every April and October for $50 plus tip, and I usually do one other service too--eyebrows, facial, teeth whitening, manicure, etc. A while ago, I decided to try electrolysis for the bikini area. Shaving is uncomfortable for me, creams don't work that well and waxing is expensive, but some of the costumes I wear are, well, bikini-esque, so I do need to be neat. And, honestly...well, it's a personal preference too. Oh, jeez, I'm blushing.

Anyway, my ex had had electrolysis done on his back before we met, so I knew that it actually worked. In April of last year I had my first electrolysis treatment during Spa Week and LOVED the results. I had my second treatment in October, and planned to keep going every Spa Week until the procedure was done.

The problem, see, is that electrolysis is a procedure involving six to eight visits, preferably within a prescribed timeframe of visits every few weeks, and while both salons I visited offered great discounts on full packages with the first Spa Week visit, I didn't have an extra grand or so lying around to pay for such a luxury. By planning ahead for it this time and using that tax rebate, I could get it over and done with by Christmas.

However, $1,000 is also about 1/4 of what it's going to cost me to get Lasik surgery. That's a good chunk of change. Do I want to spend it on zapping hair (a total luxury) when it might mean an extra year before I get perfect vision (also a luxury, but arguably a better investment)?

I don't knooooooow. I want both, and I want both right now.

I'm keeping this fund growing as a means of paying for both services. I will probably get the electrolysis package in October if I can find the entire series for less than $1,000 with the Spa Week discount. I wonder how the economy will affect pricing on this--will they slash prices because people are cutting back on luxuries? Or will they not be able to afford discounts because people are cutting back on luxuries? I guess I'll find out.

I'm also going to make a hard and fast goal, though, to completely fund Lasik by the end of 2009. It really should be doable looking at my budget. It's just fewer than four performances a month. And if I change my health care reimbursement account to cover it, it would cost me even less theoretically. By tightening the belt and doing $2 dinners, bringing lunch to work instead of eating out, going to one less movie a month...I should be able to do this. I need to focus on the goal...and maybe put up a sidebar counter!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Goal setting

My boyfriend and I started the 100 Pushup challenge yesterday. I was not terribly surprised that I could not do even one "good form" pushup (including the "girl" version with my knees down). And I'm supposed to get to 100 in just a few weeks? Oi.

I'm going to stick with this, though. We've lately been on a pretty good "want to be healthy" kick, and it's sooooo much easier to do when someone else is doing it with you. I asked him to do this challenge with me because I want to tone and define my upper arms (the only area of the body belly dance doesn't work, it seems). He asked me to start running with him. I'm scared--I injured my knee snowboarding years ago which exacerbated an even older injury I had left over from working in a carpet factory in high school--and running has always seemed like a sure way to make it flare up. I don't have proper running shoes not to mention a knee brace. It's hot outside. I only quit smoking a few months ago, and I hate being out of breath and sweaty.

Blah, blah, blah. Lots of excuses. If I weren't so protective of my finances, I could see myself coming up with a lot of the same not-based-in-reality excuses to avoid whipping them into shape.

Anyway, I agreed to *try* running a few times and see if all these things prove true. I can use the sneakers I already have. I can use an ace wrap if I feel I need it. We'll go at my pace. I can give it a whirl and who knows--maybe I'll find something I enjoy.

In addition to running, this weekend we're also going to a free yoga class in the park, and we'll do day two of 100 Pushups. So far, all our "get healthier" plans are free--and free is well within my budget!

We'll see how much the rest of the weekend fits into our budget, though--a friend of his is coming to town for a week, so we might end up hitting some pricey trendy places to show him the town.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Things I'm Thinking

A fairly disjointed listing of some things that have jumped out at me lately from the blogosphere:

Quarterlife Girl talks about needing space in her relationship--not necessarily wanting more space, but needing some more independence. I term this "losing myself" in a relationship, and I find it happens fairly often especially among my girl friends. I'm proud of her for recognizing this and taking charge of her independence--and I wish her all the best in her belly dancing classes!

Trent over at the simple dollar talks about how inconsistent frugality is wasted frugality, which really hit home with me. I am frugal by nature, and driven to be more so at times, but it's easy to do things out of habit without keeping the goal in sight--and this means I wind up making a mistake (like considering blowing my entire tax rebate) that undermines my goals.

WiseBread told me how to buy all my movie tickets for the next six weeks--BOGO tickets at Fandango when paying with a Discover card. We don't go to the movies all that frequently (once a month or so, which is still expensive) but I think the BOGO savings makes up for Fandango's service fees. We might use it to see Hellboy 2 this weekend (I want to see Dark Knight also, but need to wait until I don't have to fight people for a seat).

Mrs. Micah talks about my grandparents' generation's mentality of "Use It Up, Make It Do, Wear It Out or Do Without!" which I LOVE. I hate living in such a diposable society, but being bombarded with advertising for the newest, latest, greatest, best whatever all the time makes it hard to stick with something old, dirty, or a little beat up. I love her laptop monitor slings, and I am going to look around my apartment to see if I have anything that needs to be creatively fixed to give it a new life instead of replacing it.

Tuesday night, my boyfriend and I were at his apartment when a car caught on fire outside. After the excitement of calling the fire department and watching them do their jobs, we saw the owner of the car (who was not home at the time) taking pictures of the damage. She seemed calm, much calmer than I would have been if my beloved little car had ever caught on fire. Similarly, Meg at the World of Wealth has much more perspective on losing her laptop in the airport on the way to Paris than I would have been! Perhaps I'm too attached to some of my belongings...

Another great post from Trent has me rethinking my entire current financial philosopy. Is an emergency fund a psychological negative? At what point do you say enough is enough?! Apparently for me...just about right now. I have enough in the bank for a little more than three months of living if I were unable to bring ANY money in whatsoever--I was aiming for a nice round number like $8,000 or $10,000--but realistically, if I have an emergency situation wherein I am unable to bring in ANY cash (from a part-time job at Starbucks, disability or unemployment payments, etc) for more than three months, I'd have to reevaluate my entire life, and I would probably give up my apartment and couch surf, sell everything I own or even (heaven forbid) move back in with my parents. So three months is good, for now, and I'm not going to save any more than that in my emergency fund at this point. I have other things I want to focus on, and now I get to--what a freeing feeling. I guess in my case, saving for the "worst case scenario" did turn into a bit of a psychological negative--I was so focused on getting to a semi-randomly-picked amount, I forgot the underlying reason for the saving.

I'll be reworking my budget in the coming weeks, but first up on my list is a goal I've had for several years and which Matt from Unclutterer addressed in a post a year ago--corrective lenses are clutter! I have no choice but to wear glasses 98% of the time I am awake (the 2% is times when I wear my contacts or--gasp--nothing when performing). Glasses, contacts, and solution cost money, not to mention the doctor visits--and I don't have vision insurance. So--Lasik surgery, here I come! I'd like to be able to get it done next year, and if I start planning for it right now, I might be able to put aside at least most of the $4,000 cost into my health care reimbursement account for 2009, thus paying for it tax-free. I'm finally free to start saving for it instead of constantly dumping extra money into my emergency fund!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Challenge update

First of all, thanks for all your $2 meal suggestions! We're definitely going to use some of them. Some things I should have perhaps said in that post: these meals have to satisfy a vegetarian AND a meat eater, which usually means that they're completely vegetarian or 90% vegetarian with some meat protein for him.

I'm still debating internally about not being a vegetarian. My compromise has been to have nibbles of something that looks or smells good, even if it's meat, to see if I actually like it before I decide whether to give up a way of life I've always had. Also, I'm trying other non-meat foods that I've always hated, just to push myself. I had a smoothie made with yogurt on Saturday (I didn't realize it had yogurt in it when I ordered, but drank the whole thing anyway) which is HUGE--I have always gagged at the smell of yogurt but the smoothie wasn't too bad. Cottage cheese is (maybe) next on my list.

We started our $2/person dinner challenge last night, even though it was a weekend (we originally said this was a goal only for the weekdays, although that doesn't give us license to splurge a lot on the weekends).

We realized that it's going to take a while for us to figure out exactly what meals fall into our categories, so we made up a spreadsheet that will help us figure out the exact cost per serving going forward. We are soooooo nerdy, and having a lot of fun with this.

Last night was tortellini with basil, garlic and italian cheese sauce. Tasty, but next time I'd like to try a different brand of pasta.

Also, boys thinks that girls eat the same as them, and, at least in my case, that's DEFINITELY not true. Whatever meal we're making, I think of it as 1/3 for me and 2/3 for him. He thinks of us splitting it 50/50, which just makes me laugh hysterically.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A July challenge

Wheeee!

I love dating someone who's as nerdy about money as I am. I gave him Your Money or Your Life to read and we've been having some great conversations.

We also decided to start having $2 (per person) dinners during the week for the rest of the month. It's mostly a challenge to see if we can do it, but we came up with a good list of qualifying meals so I bet we can.

Meals for less than $4 for two
Fried rice (slightly over $4 but makes leftovers)
Black bean burgers (for me)
Sloppy Joes (for him)
Pasta and marinara
Waffles with fruit
Ramen with stuff in it
Potatoes and...something

I wonder what else we can add to the list? I'm going to enjoy this challenge. I like eating out, but I really like cooking together.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Weighed Down

I hinted at this in my last post, but I need to do a good decluttering because of something that happened last week.

Basically, my hunter-gatherer skills wound up in me almost (possibly still) ruining some of my clothes--a very large container of laundry soap I bought at Costco ages ago wound up leaking and soaking about half my hanging clothes, my sheets, my towels, and everything else on the top shelf of my closet, as well as creating a huge, sticky mess on the floor (luckily it only puddled around the bottoms of my shoes and didn't drip on top of any of them). Among the potential losses are my two favorite skirts, which appear to have bled onto one another.

Ugh.

First of all, soap is one of the hardest things in the world to clean up, because it just keeps getting foamier and sudsier, not actually getting cleaned up.

Second of all, boy did I learn my lesson. Do not store something on a top shelf that has even the remotest possibility of leaking.

And thirdly...as I was separating what had streaks of detergent running down it from what didn't, I found at least three pairs of pants that I don't like. I don't wear them because I don't like them, but I've been keeping them until I replace them (using the great clothes shopping checklist of '08). But seriously? This is a waste of space and money. If I'm going to donate them, I'll have to wash them (waste of money at the laundromat). If I'm not going to donate them, that's a waste right there--they're in fine condition, I just don't like the way they fit me, but someone else could certainly benefit. What else is in my closet and dresser that I don't like and don't use? Why? If something happens and I had to clean all of it or inventory all of it, why am I hanging on to stuff I don't like?

This is also driven home by the new boyfriend. He's pretty much a minimalist. He has what he needs to live, what he actually uses, and not much else. He has about two shoeboxes full of sentimental or "just because" things. He wears about 80% of his wardrobe in frequent rotation (as opposed to my probable 20%). He and his roommate actually considered only buying service for two of everything in their kitchen, but thank goodness common sense prevailed and they bought a few extra of everything (although when we had brunch for six a few weeks ago, I had to bring over extra forks). Yes, their apartment feels like two bachelors just starting out in a lot of ways. But it also feels airy and free of clutter. It's not hard to find something you're looking for, because there's not a lot of stuff in the way.

I know there are things in my apartment I only touch when I move. I have a crochet project I've been carting around through four apartments, and I still don't understand how to read the instructions. I have a collection of shot glasses I began when I was in high school, and which I now only look at occasionally. I remember the travels without needing the souveneirs, yet they hang on my wall collecting dust. I feel weighed down by my things and the need to clean them.

It's time to embrace my minimalism, and with this, perhaps, a re-evaluation of the clothing and home shopping lists I made a few months ago. Maybe instead of acquiring, I need to divest for a while, to really figure out if I need what I think I do. And if nothing else, I can start removing items from my life without replacing them first.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

June Recap/July Goals

Well, I've updated my net worth tracker there in my sidebar, and yay, progress! I got my tuition reimbursement for my first semester of grad school, but my retirement accounts decreased slightly (less than $1,000). I'd say I'm about on track of where I'd want to be right now--overall, all of my savings accounts went up (emergency fund, sinking funds) and I'm managing to stick to my budget pretty well. I also have several hundred dollars coming in for mystery shops (I don't count those as assets because it's too much to keep track of!) and I owe for a costume, but all of that will probably be evened out by the end of the month.

Now, about those goals...
Review of June Goals
1. Get firm answer on when my tution reimbursement will arrive, and investigate the best way to save it. Sort of done. It showed up three pay periods after I submitted the paperwork and was direct-deposited into my checking account. I did a little poking around but did not decide what exactly to do with it once I had it. I want it in the highest interest bearing account I can find given the economy, so it goes back into July goals.

2. Cut out some of my other frivolous spending. Hmm....Well, I have not started smoking again, so I guess that counts. I did terribly with cutting out Dr. Pepper, so spent frivolously and drank too much sugar besides.

3. Buy a new costume. Done! I've let the director of the troupe pick out all my costumes so far, and she did another marvelous job. Basically, I just tell her I want a new costume in a particular color or shade, and she sets something aside for me. This one is gorgeous and fits me well, though it needs a little work to be truly performance ready. I still owe her three jobs for it, but she is willing to book me for them (I just can't turn them down!).

4. Plan and budget for two summer trips. I'm still planning on one trip, to see my sister. I need to book plane tickets this week. I did get my tax rebate, finally, but I think that cruise is looking less likely unfortunately. The money really could be better spent somewhere else.

5. Put $100 into my Lasik fund. I did not do this. I forgot all about it, and I spent all my "extra" income this month entertaining guests for a week.

July Goals
1. Find an interest-bearing home for that tuition reimbursement money! This will only require a few hours of online research and time spent opening the account and transferring the money over. I might even just move it into my ING account, unless there's a better interest rate out there. I plan to do that over this long weekend.

2. Decide what to do with my tax rebate. As I said, I don't think that cruise is going to happen, so I could do quite a bit with the tax rebate. I don't want to blow it all (so I haven't even cashed the check yet). I could put some in my Lasik surgery account. I could buy a video game and some new summer dresses. I could spend it on my trip to see my sister (instead of using my normal travel fund). I could get cable or internet with it ($600 should cover an entire year, right?). I could do a spa day. I could just beef up the emergency fund with it. Oh, what to do?!!?!

3. Recoup some of the expenses I've had for the volunteer dance jobs. I know I feel like I'm too busy as it is, but I need to do some more paid dance jobs. July and August are busy months for us, and I need to pay off my costume (3 jobs), recoup my travel and food expenses for these volunteer jobs (1 job) and put some away for taxes (2 or 3 jobs).* So I need to book 7 jobs as soon as I can. Buh-bye, social life!

4. In addition or instead of dance jobs, I'd like to bring in income in other ways. I've been doing paid surveys and trying to land a focus group, accepting more mystery shops, and otherwise trying to get more "passive" streams of income going again. I stopped looking at Pay Per Post options, since I decided that I didn't really feel genuine when writing such posts (and also had a really hard time getting any). I might look into the BlogHer network or something instead, although I know I don't put as much time into this blog as I "should" in order to feel like it should generate any money.

5. Sort of related to personal finance, do another good decluttering. I find the decluttering really makes me feel more stable and in control of myself and my life, and I could use some of that right now. I had a very startling discovery a few days ago which will necessitate a good wardrobe investigation (I'll write more about this later!) but I'm going to expand it to include all my things--clothing, books, odds and ends--and hopefully come up with a few more bags of stuff to take to Goodwill. Sometimes I just feel so encumbered by stuff.


*I normally try to put aside 30 percent or every third job's entire check into a sinking fund for taxes at the end of the year, but, um...I haven't been.