Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2010

For almost twenty years I have made New Year's Resolutions to coincide with the year (7 in 2007, 8 in 2008, 9 in 2009, etc). So here are my ten resolutions for 2010 (it was either ten or zero and I'm not a wuss--I'm not afraid of 10 resolutions!). However, I am doing something a little differently for the new decade. I wanted resolutions that can broken down into SMART steps: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. It took a long time to develop resolutions that fit the bill and weren't along the "get fit/lose weight/save money" line.

So without further ado:

Financial
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. It's not enough to max out a Roth this year--it needs to happen automatically so I can best take advantage of the compound interest.
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. That’s about $9,500, but I think I can do it. I guess it will come due in August, when I graduate--I'm not waiting the six month grace period or anything like that. Basically as soon as I get my last reimbursement from work, I'll start paying.
3. Give to charity. This is something that's really been missing from my  personal finance philosophy. I do give on a one-off basis when something really strikes me (like MoneyMateKate's Creative Christmas Challenge) but I want to do some research, find a charity/charities to support and pledge to give a certain amount or percentage per year.

Personal
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. I have till August but I want it done in May. I'll also be paying for the remainder of the degree out of pocket.
5. Read more than 100 books. I was so close this year--I read about 94 books in 2009. I've broken 100 books in years past (I've been keeping track for about six years now) and now that I'm done with the school-work intense classes for my degree, I want to get back to it.
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. This one's hard to make SMART, but I think it's necessary. I tend to look on the side of "The glass is half empty, and the water inside's probably polluted anyway, oh god, who cares, everything's terrible!" and it's tiring and irritating. I'm going to try to look on the brighter side, particularly in my trigger areas, like noises I can't control or getting frustrated while cooking.

Health
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. This is the single easiest thing I could be doing to be healthier. I already walk anywhere that's walkable, but I could climb four flights up and down every day at home, which is not insignificant! Unless I'm carrying lots of groceries or pushing the laundry cart, I pledge to take the stairs.Certain heels give me an out also, but I promise not to overuse that excuse.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Dr. Oz's seven minute workout (via the New York Times' realistic resolutions article) isn't just yoga--it incorporates push-ups and sit-ups into a pretty all-inclusive workout. And I can carve out seven minutes a day, at least three times a week to start.

Professional
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. I'd like to eventually be known as an expert in the industry and this is as good a way as any. Three to four posts a month to start is reasonable, probably developing to more like three posts a week.


Misc.
10. Make less of an impact. I just read No Impact Man, and am really inspired. I'd read his blog a few times and couldn't quite seem to get into it, but the book really stuck with me. As a result, in 2010 I'm committing to make less of an impact. I'll use re-usable bags more often, buy items with less packaging or buy used, turn off lights more often and take other steps to try to reduce my impact on the environment.

Well, there it is!

December Recap/January Goals

December Recap
1. Roll over IRA into Roth IRA, set aside taxes. Done! I converted my traditional IRA into a Roth and am just waiting on one more piece of paperwork to combine with my account at another institution. Also waiting on tax paperwork, but I have enough to cover it in savings.

2. Research and purchase an ereader. Done!

3. Another trip to Goodwill to donate. Done!

4. Look into laser hair removal. Done! A more detailed post to come about this.

5. Stick to budget with Christmas shopping. Done! I had a budget of $400 and spent $330.

Wow, that might have been the most successful month ever!

In 2010, I want to try to create monthly goals that help me achieve my New Year's Resolutions. It won't always line up properly but I'd like at least one of the monthly goals to directly help me achieve my resolutions. So, to that end:

January Goals
1. Max out Roth for 2009. I need to complete the paperwork for the transfer between institutions and add an additional ~$1,000 or so. I have until April 15 to do this, but I'd just like to get it out of the way.

2. Meet with my thesis advisor, pick a topic, and map out a research and writing schedule. Kind of a cheat putting this on my goals, since I'm pretty sure it's required that I do this, but I do want to focus on it. I'm hoping to complete the paper by May, although I have until August to turn it in.

3. Book plane tickets to Costa Rica/Los Angeles and request time off work. I have lodging in both places, so really the expense should just be airfare and food.

4. Not buy any new clothes. I really have everything I need, so I'd like to try to stay out of the stores and use that money for something else.

5. Pay for Spring 2010 semester out of pocket and submit paperwork for tuition reimbursement. Paperwork is filled out and waiting signatures. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reviewing 2009's Resolutions

In 2009, I made nine resolutions. How did I do?

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. Fail. I got on a good kick there for a while in the summer, but couldn't stick with it. I gained 10-15 pounds in 2009, thanks to being too busy for dance classes and a partner who's a great cook.


2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). Success! I eat breakfast at home every single day now, and I much prefer it to a bagel at my desk. I seem to have found a good schedule for going to bed and getting up, although I could always give myself a little more time in the morning, particularly since I want to try working out before work.


3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. Success! Well, if I'm perfectly honest, Peanut cooks more than I do, but I always do the dishes! This year we made bread from scratch, including bread bowls, several soups from scratch, and many tasty desserts. We also discovered a yummy pan sauce that we can make quickly and Peanut has perfected his pizza-making art. I have some more ideas, but I think this is firmly entrenched. We enjoy cooking and eating together and have started buying ourselves some quality tools (chef's knife, corian cutting board, dough mat, pizza stone) which we're using.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. I'd have to mark this one as "in progress". I'm out of therapy after twenty months and have a much more stable relationship with my entire family, and a much better insight into myself. I need to keep working on my relationship with my mother, but I feel like it will come and I'm looking forward to the discoveries we'll make together on that journey.

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. Success! I started 2009 with a 3.85 GPA and had one 4.0 semester, so my average is now up to 3.86. I only have a thesis to write, so I guess that's locked in. Woo hoo!

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. I'm doing better on this. Still room for improvement, but particularly at work, I'm able to focus on work and not on the shiny internets.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I'm doing pretty good with this. I have no grand aspirations to turn this blog into a money-maker, or get super high readership or anything like that. I'm so flattered that anyone reads it at all, and I love the insightful comments. I want to contribute to the PF blogosphere because I so enjoy reading.

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. Depends on how you look at it. I didn't stay under the flex spending cap, but I was close (I think $200 over?). I did stay under budget, in part because moving in with Peanut cut my expenses almost in half. I also got a big raise. At any rate, the only debt I acquired was student loan debt and my savings are building nicely.

9 Start saving for “future” fund. I have started this fund, and am excited about the possibilities. It's really open-ended right now--could be for a wedding, or a down-payment on property, or to pay off my student loans in one fell swoop or who knows what else. I've been saving with goals in mind for so long that it feels really cool to just be saving because I can.

Ten resolutions for 2010 are coming soon!

Getting ahead of the tax man

Today, with all my downtime at work (seriously, NO ONE is here!), I verified all my Schedule C tax information. I've been using Outright.com to keep track of income and expenses but because it's yet another place where I have to enter information, I went through line by line to compare it to my spending tracker, which is more reliable since I balance it against accounts and the cash in my wallet at least once a week. I found a few errors but without too much effort got everything to balance out to zero!
 
So I know today that my profit from mystery shopping and dancing in 2009 is $557.38 and I will owe around $141 in federal taxes, plus state and city taxes. Seems a bit ridiculous that for all the time and effort I put into mystery shopping, I came out ahead less than $600. Yes, I got a lot of free dinners, but this really proves that mystery shopping is no get-rich-quick scheme.
 
I am so relieved that this is the last year I will be going through all this nonsense. I can't wait to file a 1040-EZ and spend less than an hour doing my taxes. Still, Outright made things so much easier compared to last year--anyone who has any kind of side income and needs to keep track of tax information should really give this a try.

Last LinkFest of 2009!

As you know, I recently converted my rollover IRA to a Roth IRA, and there are a lot of reasons why that made sense. I'm nowhere near the income limit, but if you are, good news! It's going away in 2010. This article has lots of good reasons for converting, but also points out that it's the federal limit that's ending, so your state might still have one in place.

Lifehacker's most popular how to features of 2009. My favorites are How to Use Twitter, How to Properly Erase Physical Media, Definitive Guide to Finding Free Wi-Fi, Use Firefox to Fix the Web's Biggest Annoyances, and You're Backing Up Your Data The Wrong Way.

Lifehacker also talks about how to become the ultimate gift giver with Evernote. I'm not crazy about Evernote, but the same concepts could be applied to something as simple as a spreadsheet.

How Trent at The Simple Dollar finds the perfect gift--I did this to figure out what to get my mom, which wasn't obvious at first but she ended up liking it.

How Boston Gal finds holiday deals on Amazon--a great resource of URL codes for finding great deals, and this could work all year round!

Dog Ate My Finances and Living Almost Large had some interesting discussions about gift giving at work. I don't like office gift-giving, particularly for holidays and birthdays. My work friends and I go out for lunch for birthdays and don't exchange gifts. I don't have anyone to "bribe" the way Dog describes, so I don't do anything. I usually bring in a homemade treat for everyone, and that's it. This year, my boss gave me a lovely bottle of lotion and a $100 gift card--much different from last year (last year I got a card from her). She hinted that there will be no bonuses this year, which is what this was trying to make up for. It's much appreciated, but I don't feel a need to "gift up". Her assistant and I are getting her flowers on her first day back as a thank you for being such a great boss.

How to cook a latke--I'm not Jewish but I love latkes!

Quarterlife Finances talks about working as if it's your last week--clear out your personal files, keep stuff organized in case someone else needs to pick it up when you leave. I took that advice last year during our rounds of layoffs and took home anything sensitive. I still have some personal items at work, but they're obvious (photos, etc) and won't be a problem to take home quickly if the need arises. It's not just a matter of layoffs either--I ended up switching jobs unexpectedly a few months ago, and I learned some things about making it easy to transition that I'm keeping up with now.

Mmmmmm....hot drink recipes! I love hot drinks. Time to go make some chai right now!

Okay, now that I'm back, I ignored the urge to check my email--I've been trying to curb my constant email checking anyway, but then I saw this. If you check email every five minutes, you're doing it 24,000 times per year! I don't want to do ANYTHING that much in a given year, so I'm trying to scale back.

FruGal talks about relationships and money--I'm surprised that so few people combine their income and that so many people fight about money, but I guess I shouldn't be. I wouldn't have combined finances with my exes, and we fought about money all the time. I guess Peanut's just too perfect for words. We have a joint credit card and a joint checking account.

I'm sort of obsessed with small house living right now. Posts at Mother Earth News, Boston Gal's Open Wallet and Unclutterer really have me thinking about how small I could go. Maybe it's just because I've lived in apartments for so long, but a 900 square foot house sounds GREAT! Totally roomy but still cozy, and a house wouldn't share walls with neighbors and would have a little yard. Sign me up!

I really like this post at World of Wealth about how sometimes the best investment is something you just really want. I can save all my money and eschew entertainment and nice things, but for what? As long as it's not shopping for shopping's sake, I wholeheartedly approve of getting yourself something just because. I have a few things like that, which were great purchases and provided far more enjoyment or happiness than expected. A notable recent one was a $10 purple purse I bought from a street vendor. I totally didn't need it, but I loved the color and I've gotten compliments on it almost every day since. I really, really like that bag and it has made me very happy--it wasn't a super high quality bag and it won't last forever, but it was a good investment. I put travel and pets into this category, too. 

Essential year end money moves! I'm waiting to review my budget until the end of January, when I'll have an idea of what I'm bringing in (my paycheck will change again since I'm no longer contributing $5,000 to flex spending, so it's like another raise!). I bought my Sony Reader this month for the tax deduction. I converted my IRA to a Roth. I get my credit reports on a staggered schedule, but my latest one in December showed nothing unexpected. I'll be maxing out my Roth before tax day. And my renter's insurance renews in January, so I'm all set there. I did all of these things sort of automatically but I'm glad there was a checklist handy.

That's it for LinkFest 2009, I guess. More to come in the new year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sweet!

I think I just found my laser hair removal place. I've been there before, apparently, probably for Spa Week a few years ago. I'm going for a consultation tomorrow evening, and if I like them, I'll buy two packages--underarms and brazilian--for a spectacular price, covered by my savings and Christmas money.
 
I don't remember being there, but I'm in their computer. Over the last five years that I've been going to Spa Week events, I've made a point to always go to new places and try new services just to see what's out there. I've rarely had a problem and there's only one place I definitely wouldn't go back to, so assuming everything goes well tomorrow night, I'll just consider the search over.
 
Their prices are much more competitive than some of the other places I've been looking at, plus they have a 30% off two packages deal right now. At that price, I can afford to do both treatments right off the bat, and start funneling the money I've been saving for it to another goal.
 
Fingers crossed!
 

Thoughts on my visit down south

I come from down south. I'm not a super-southern girl, I don't bleed confederate or any of that nonsense, and I barely have a trace of an accent. My grandparents have lived there all their lives, but I was born a yankee and transplanted when I was 11. Still, I think my heart lies in Dixie.

It's beautiful there. The hills, the green, the animals and birds, the calm. The people are so nice, at least when they're not all up in your business. Everything just seemed a little more civilized.

In particular, I headed to my old hometown (my parents don't live there anymore) to visit with my best friend and her family--ALL her family, including her kids, husband, siblings, and parents, so it was kind of like going home again for me too. Southern cooking. Homemade barbecue sauce. Creamed corn made with corn from the garden. The kids gathering eggs. A nap after dinner (which is the midday meal).

I don't know. There are many reasons I don't want to live there ever again. I get along with my family best from a distance. My job is tied to New York, or at least major cities. There's a lot of prejudice, a lot of backwards thinking, a lot of religious intolerance. But I feel a little nostalgic for a place without the constant grind and materialism I see here in front of me.

Progress marches there, too. They're expanding the two lane road that runs to my old hometown into a four lane divided highway. Some landmarks along that path are completely gone. Others are so changed we didn't recognize them until we realized we must have passed them.

I'm sure I can carve out a life in the city with more calm, more quiet, less want. No one's forcing me to go out and spend money on clothes, on removing hair from my body that hardly anyone gets to see anyway, on takeout. I went shopping on Sunday to exchange a gift that didn't fit and had a really hard time finding something to replace it with. I didn't want to get something unless I really wanted it, but I couldn't seem to find anything in the entire store that really seemed to call my name. I ended up getting something just to get the exchange over with, but maybe that's a feeling I can work on getting used to--not feeling like I HAVE to take advantage of this sale just because it's a sale.

I really do have enough. I have plenty of clothes. I have plenty of jewelry. I have plenty of shoes. I want more, better, different of all of those things, but I have enough. It just seems easier to remember that surrounded by the south than by the city.

Monday, December 28, 2009

1800Flowers.com update

1800Flowers.com managed to redeem themselves after my mother's birthday gift fiasco. I guess they found my posts on here and contacted me apologizing for the problems and putting their executive customer service people on it. Once a person with the power to do something heard about my problem, she was fantastic about following up with me, even when I was difficult to reach due to my work schedule.
The second bouquet I ordered for my mom showed up a day late but it wasn't their fault, as I recall (she wasn't home when they tried to deliver). So I used the $40 promotion voucher and the $20 credit they gave me for the problems, and ordered my grandparents flowers and cookies for Christmas, both of which showed up right on time. The flowers were really pretty, in particular, and my grandma was "tickled pink" as she'd say.

So, not that I'm advocating complaining on a blog when a company fails to follow through on what you've paid for--but I think it's interesting that it seemed like the blog post got more attention than my phone complaints during the problem itself. At any rate, 1800Flowers.com has earned my repeat business. (And no, they didn't ask me to post this or anything like that; I just feel that I should report on how the entire situation unfolded, so here you go.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My stupidity almost cost me $50

I flew back from my mom's yesterday, and managed to leave my apartment keys and my work ID in the box I packed up for her to ship to me. My super has an extra key, but the likelihood of finding him on a Saturday night was not good. I was prepared to shell out around $50 of my Christmas money for a locksmith.

Miraculously, I was able to get ahold of the super, who was awesome enough to leave his other job to drive back to Queens to let me in. He went out of his way and it was totally my mistake.

I owe him something, homebaked cookies at least. Peanut pointed out that his willingness to help might have been due in part to our card with $60 in it that we put in his mailbox before we went on vacation, and that's probably the case. I still feel like I owe him something.

and we're back

Well, that was an unexpected intermission. Blogger seems to have eaten all my scheduled posts, so sorry for all that dead air!

At any rate, I'm back home, heading to work tomorrow. I had a lovely time with my family over Christmas, and actually made out like a bandit in terms of cash gifts. Total: $725! I'm topping off the first round of my electrolysis fund with it, which I'm very excited about. I have a coupon for $175 off that expires this week, so tomorrow I'll pop in on my lunch break and purchase the package.

I also got some nice non-monetary gifts and managed to get everyone on my list something special that was both well-thought-out and under budget. Looks like my total gift spending was $330.

I also started making a list of gift ideas for next year, since I always intend to shop throughout the year so that I'm not stressed around Thanksgiving. I usually start the list and then lose it, though. I hope it goes better this year. My biggest plan is a calendar for my grandmother made up of photos of her three grand-daughters (me and my sisters). I don't have a lot of photos of all of us together, and I actually don't have a lot of recent ones of either of them, so it'll be a project to get it all together.

Peanut and I agreed not to exchange gifts so I didn't buy him anything. I hope he sticks to our agreement (I'm pretty sure he will; we don't play games like that) but even if he doesn't I'm not buying him something just to buy it. I actually picked up my last gift at the sales today, but I think I'm officially done.

Hope alla y'all's holidays were as lovely as mine! (Can you tell I was in the South? whoo boy!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daily Miscellany, or what's kept me from posting

Inspired by FB, here's the rundown on my radio silence.
  • 3 day sales conference, which happened the same week as my final exam
  • 2 author events
  • Giant work projects that left me about two square feet of floor space in my office
  • Christmas shopping
  • Court date to face my ex-boyfriend regarding the restraining order I had against him
  • Lots of reading for work and book clubs
  • Baking/cooking for various Christmas parties
  • Sleeping
Here's what's left on my to-do list
  • Final project for my LAST CLASS OF GRAD SCHOOL
  • Wrap up odds and ends for work before vacation
  • Clean the apartment so it's nice when I come back from vacation
  • Snuggle Peanut until he can't stand me anymore, since we'll be apart for A WHOLE WEEK
  • Write lots of blog posts that have been simmering at the back of my mind
 

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Tax Writeoff--ie, my christmas present to myself

I bought myself a Sony Reader Touch this week. At $293 and change, it was a bit pricey, but it's 100% deductible and what the hell. It makes me more effective at my job and I will actually use it. And I like it way better than the Kindle.

My options:
The Kindle DX -- which I was beta testing for school and did not like. Which is to say, I liked some things about it (screen size) and hated pretty much everything else (feels flimsy, navigation sucks, web browser's a joke, case is heavy, and on and on). Not to mention the issues I have with a closed system and Amazon attempting to lower the perceived value of a book, ultimately threatening my livelihood. They ended up making the discount on this more than I expected, so much so that the Reader Touch ended up costing me more than keeping the Kindle would have. But with all those things wrong with it, I'd already decided against it.

Regular Kindle -- absolutely no interest. I wasn't impressed with their "impressive" version, so I didn't even consider the regular one.

The Nook (or nook, as it's officially written) -- early reviews of this are bad. Like, really bad. Not to mention that it's not shipping until January and in-store placement was delayed by a week, AND it's another proprietary system. I just don't think it's ready for prime time.

Sony Reader Pocket -- about $100 cheaper than the Touch but soooo tiny. The screen size was about the size of a credit card, and the case seemed huge around it. I tried to like it; I went to Best Buy twice just to make sure I really wouldn't be able to stand it.

Cool/Er and other models -- I couldn't find anything to love about them, and I couldn't find any to look at in person.

Old versions of the Sony, like the PRS-500 -- I was hoping to find one from a reputable retailer, but I couldn't, and I wasn't willing to go with an ebay find for this.

The rumors about an Apple reader are killing me, but I decided not to wait for one to come out. My experience this semester was that I read almost 50% more content with an ereader than without, and it was amazingly helpful as I started my new job. Technically, I'm supposed to receive one from my company, but I was approved in July and am still on the waiting list for a device, so I decided to just go ahead and purchase.

The Sony Reader Touch is a good size (slightly wider than a mass market paperback) with a good screen size (about the same as a mass market paperback). It feels sturdier than the Kindle, so I went without a case for now (it came with a neoprene sleeve for some safekeeping--cases cost $30!). I'm familiar with processing documents to load to it and if I have problems I can use my company's support staff to trouble shoot since they're familiar with it. I don't plan to use this for anything but work reading, so I don't care about having a content delivery system a la Kindle or Nook, but anyway, Sony's e-store has many, many options and they're using the industry standard .epub format rather than a proprietary one. And I believe I can use Adobe Digital Editions to access some library books, which is awesome and totally unavailable on other devices. Also, it came in black.

Drawbacks: the screen is a bit more reflective than the Kindle due to the touch screen, which is a little distracting, but I think I'll get used to it. Cases and accessories are ridiculously overpriced. The screen size is about three inches smaller than the Kindle--but again, I think I'll get used to it, especially once I'm no longer referencing a Kindle for class.

How I did it
I got a pretty good deal, all things considered. I discovered a semi-secret corporate discount that gave me $30 off the $299 price tag plus free shipping.

Overall, I'm pleased. I'll turn in my Kindle DX next week. The response from university students has universally been bad, and my professor declined to use the Kindle for her class next semester. Out of 27 students, only 3 were considering purchasing the device at a hugely discounted price, and I bet none of them do it.

I realize that this may seem like a weird purchase to a lot of people, but the value of it for my job is unbelievable. I can literally blow through three or four manuscripts per week with an ereader, which I can't do when I have to carry around all that paper. Yes, that's a book every two days! And when you're trying to catch up with a list as big as I'm facing, that's very helpful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finally

This past weekend I finally got around to converting my rollover IRA to a Roth IRA. I expect to take about a $600 hit out of pocket in taxes, but then that ~$4,000 will grow tax free forever afterwards. Yay! I'm just watching to make sure everything converts properly and then I will combine it with my other Roth IRA at a different institution. After the conversion, I'll have to kick in a bit more and then I'll have fully funded a Roth for 2009. Whoo hoo! And I've got everything figured out to set up automatic payments to fully fund it for 2010 and onward.

Finally, I'm getting my retirement accounts in some kind of proper order.

I chatted online with reps from both Vanguard and Fidelity while figuring how to do the process, and both told me they were impressed that I was taking this step at my age, and congratulated me on having a long term outlook. That made me feel good, but it also made me sad because apparently I'm unusual among my peers. To all you twenty-somethings (and really, whatever your age if you're not doing this) GO GET A ROTH IRA RIGHT NOW. Everything you contribute is after tax and so will grow tax free for the rest of your life. That is a HUGE deal. HUGE. Even if you can't max it out (right now, $5,000 per year), contribute whatever you can because compound interest is only your friend when you start early.

Yay me for getting one more thing crossed off my to-do list.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Scrooges

I've been seeing a lot of posts about how Christmas is so commercial and terrible and everyone should boycott it. And you know what, I get it--blah blah blah. Screw you, scrooges. I like buying Christmas presents for my family. We don't really do presents for birthdays in any big way, and we aren't outrageous, spending maybe $25 on each person. Every other year, my siblings and I all wind up under the same roof at the same time, and that's the most frequent it happens now. We don't have much in the way of Christmas traditions because our parents worked in the medical field and frequently were on call or at the hospital on Christmas day. Heck, my sister and I worked 16 hours together one Christmas, running a radio station in our hometown.

But we do have a small gift exchange, and we do really carefully picked out gifts for each person. Two years ago, my brothers got my sister and I the coolest gift--a giant travel mug from our state's college team, and filled it with things from "home" we might be missing--all kitschy and hilarious, and really, really touching. And I like it. And all you people with your anti-Christmas gift rants are bumming me out.

So pffft. I'm buying Christmas presents and if that makes me a cog in the corporate commercial machine, so be it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

LinkFest

A very cool look at author Robert Heinlein's "space age" house, featuring built in furniture, cork floors, and brilliant temperature control. Heinlein's one of my favorite authors, and this house is pretty cool, although now dated.

Peanut and I have been doing a lot of from-scratch cooking lately (including bread bowls!). I want to try these whole wheat tortillas sometime.

I so want to visit this soda shop! The owner clearly has a passion, and some of those sodas sound really tasty. I'm hoping to visit a friend in LA in 2010; this is definitely on the itinerary.

Online coupon use is skyrocketing--use increased 85% from September 2008 to September 2009. I'll be honest, I've always used online coupons. The last thing I do before I check out at any website is google the website and the words "coupon code". I usually find at least $5 off, sometimes it's as much as 40%, and I've been known to cancel the purchase entirely and go to a competitor if I see a better deal there. I'm glad the rest of the world is catching on to this--between the comparison shopping possible with the web and online coupon use, there's just no reason to pay full retail price for anything anymore.

Do you exchange gifts with your significant other? Peanut and I did exchange gifts last year, but we set a $20 limit. We’ve been talking about it this year and we might go in for something we want together rather than buy each other stuff. I loved having something to open from him (and he did such a great job getting me stuff I wanted and needed and stuff we still use all the time) but maybe we could skip exchanging gifts in general.

I like this post, about acceptance, priorities and balance—important to keep in mind about finances but about everything else in general.

Ramit’s guest blogger shares some really inspiring stories of how people tamed their workday to reasonable and manageable times. I’m struggling with setting a good schedule at my job lately—so many people want me in meetings and probably half of these meetings are not necessary (not just that it’s unnecessary that *I* be there, but they’re ENTIRELY unnecessary—“Let’s have a meeting to talk about that email!”).

I’m glad I got into publishing when I did, and I hope I can stay in it for a while, but this news isn’t good.

FB is stopping shopping! She's not buying any new clothes until December 2010. That's a commitment I could not make at this point in my life. Well, let me rephrase. I COULD--I don't really need much new stuff. But it would be very, very hard.

I love this cake!

I've only ever been to one of these "parties" and I totally walked away with some earrings. I would be really upset if this became a regular thing among my friends, though--I'd rather hang out than be sold something!

Interesting how rituals trend from the midwest to the urban east coast. Most of the people on Free Money Finance's list I won't be tipping, because I either don't have them (babysitter, pet-care provider) or have no idea who they are (garbage man, mailman). But I am expected to tip the superintendent of my building. I'm not sure how much we'll give him--he has a new baby at home, but we've had our stuff sitting in the middle of the bedroom for weeks waiting for him to come fix the water damage caused by a radiator leak upstairs. I hate this dance.

Good advice for this season on how to shop online safely.

How much do deal and rebate sites actually save? The answer is, of course, it depends. It's a pretty interesting read, especially the original NYT article.

From Get Rich Slowly, travel sites that save time and money. I hadn't heard of most of these and will be using them next time I book a trip.

I love New York, but I also loved watching New York get blown up, eaten, and washed away in this movie montage of New York destruction.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oops....

Peanut and I discovered, much to our chagrin, that we overdrafted our joint account last week. This is the first time either of us have ever overdrafted anything, and we're embarrassed and frustrated.

Basically, it was a perfect storm of unfortunate events. We paid all our bills and did all our money transfers on the 28th, which is pretty standard for us. Since it was a Saturday, the transfers didn't start until Monday, and our joint account bank is RIDICULOUS about how long it takes for transfers to process. But I put the rent in the mail on the 1st, as usual, and weirdly, they must have received it the same day because it cleared the bank on the 2nd, one day before Peanut's giant deposit cleared (my deposits appear automatically throughout the month). So the rent overdrafted, and then a credit card payment overdrafted, and then the deposit hit, and we were charged $70 in fees for the two overdrafts. I guess it's better that the rent and credit card payment cleared, because the fees for those bouncing would have been much higher and non-negotiable, but still. We discussed calling the bank and pleading mercy, but really, this was our fault. I should have held onto the rent check until I knew the deposit had cleared, even though they rarely cash the check until the 6th.

We're both a little sick about it, but I think this is a stupid tax that will make us pay better attention in the future.

Another update on 1800Flowers

That bouquet never got delivered.

I ended up cancelling it and placing another order on Friday, which was delivered today. I'm still not pleased (especially since I didn't get the credit I was promised, nor have I seen the $40 gift credit I was supposed to get from the promotion last month) but at least my mom now has a birthday present. I want to use that $20 credit plus the $40 credit plus my own money to get my grandparents a really nice something for Christmas, but we'll see if 1800Flowers can pull it off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update on 1800Flowers

Someone actually called me back!

Apparently ALL the florists in my mom's area are "out of flowers". I never did get clarification on whether that's in general or the bouquet I was looking for specifically, but since they didn't know when they'd be able to deliver a bouquet, I asked them to cancel the order and refund the charge. Which they're doing, plus they're throwing in a $20 credit towards a future purchase, although I don't know when I'll feel comfortable ordering flowers from a good-sized metropolitan area since they might, you know, not have any in driving distance.

So, anyway. 1800Flowers will get another shot, but only one more. I've ordered from FTD many, many times and never had a problem like this. This doesn't sound like it was 1800Flowers's fault, but *I* had to escalate the problem and no one contacted me about it, and that's not a good position to be in.

Anyway. Time for dishes.

November spending

Misc Income: $19.52 (interest and Pinecone payments)

Savings
General savings $910.65 (electrolysis, the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, etc--bigger than usual because I knocked down the padding in my checking account and moved it to savings)
Retirement $147.70 pre tax (company matches that)

Spending
Cell phone $77.64
Clothes $46.99 (and actually, that was all jewelry. Perhaps I need a new category...)
Entertainment $41.14 (mostly PaperbackSwap expenses and also 2012)
Dance Expenses $5 (picked up some new laces for my dance shoes)
Food—dining out $188.48
Food—groceries $194.87
Gifts $32.65
Household $93.23 (we bought art!)
Internet $16.98
Laundry $9.00
Medical $79.00 (dental payment and birth control prescription)
Personal $18.19
Rent $687.50
Travel $329.20 (plane ticket for Christmas)
Utilities $67.51

Total spending: $1,870.40


Food spending went up a bit while Peanut's friend was in town, we splurged on art for the apartment, and clearly I need to not go to jewelry parties or hang out at SilverJewelryClub.com (or make a new category for it!). Otherwise, not too bad, since more than $300 of my spending was for Christmas travel. 

Net worth updated--see sidebar. My retirement accounts gained another grand this month, phew!

The day after my birthday is not my birthday, Mum

(Peanut has been watching a lot of Flight of the Conchords lately).
 
1800Flowers has about eight hours to seriously impress me.
 
First of all, their $40 gift certificate promotion was fairly misleading--receiving a coupon "in a couple weeks" is not the same as receiving a coupon "within the first ten days of the following month". I mean, it COULD be, but the details could have been clearer. I still would have signed up for it, but I wouldn't have waited so long to order the bouquet for my mother's birthday, in hopes that I could get her something really really nice with that $40 coupon.
 
Instead, I waited until the last minute I felt comfortable, which was last Wednesday. I ordered a bouquet for delivery on Saturday (her birthday was on Sunday, but deliveries weren't available on the actual day). I went with 1800Flowers because they were the only site that even offered delivery for Saturday--I understand this was a holiday weekend, but if I receive confirmation that flowers will be delivered on a certain day (especially when "Holiday delivery guaranteed!" is plastered all over the site) then I expect delivery on that date.
 
Obviously that didn't happen. Before calling my mom on her birthday, I logged in to 1800Flowers to make sure that they'd been delivered, and all it said was "order placed 11/25" and "order confirmed 11/27". So I called, and the rep told me, "Oh, they called you on Saturday to tell you they couldn't deliver the flower". UM. No, they did not. I didn't even have a missed call on Saturday where they MIGHT have tried to reach me. He apologized, rescheduled the delivery for Monday, November 30, and offered me a partial refund for my trouble. I felt that was perfectly acceptable service and thanked him. I called my mom, apologized that her gift was late and told her she could expect it on Monday.
 
Guess what didn't happen yesterday? Yeah. Again, NO call, NO email, NOTHING.
 
So I called them this morning, and was put on hold for ten minutes while a different rep tried to figure out what was going on. No clue. He was very nice, but kind of unable to help me--he's at a call center somewhere, so it's not like he can go shake his finger in the florist's face, and apparently they're not answering the phone right now.
 
I asked him to escalate the complaint and make sure the flowers get delivered today, or I want a full refund immediately. So they've got about eight hours before I check back in, and if the flowers haven't been delivered, I'm going to be pretty upset. Although I know my mom will understand, I am not happy about sending her flowers a week after her birthday, when they were ordered and confirmed several days before.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oops

One would think that since I was hardly productive over a four day weekend, I might have got around to finally pulling together the Linkfests that are languishing in draft form, or otherwise come up with something to say on the topic of personal finance.

One would think, but one would be wrong.

I'll be back soon, I promise!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November Recap/December Goals

November Goals
1. Complete IRA conversion and set up automatic payments to max it out for 2009. Um, no. I did not do this.

2. Stick to my budget! I did okay on this...

3. Buy Christmas gifts! Not even started.

4. Handle 2010 health care contributions and flex spending. Done!

5. Spend some money on the apartment. Done! Peanut and I ordered a few pieces that we like and when they arrive we'll get frames and put them on the walls.

December Goals
1. Roll over IRA into Roth IRA, set aside taxes. I don't know if I have until April 15 to do this the way you can max out a Roth that late, but I'm going to trick myself into doing it this month.  Just to get it off my to do list!

2. Research and purchase an ereader. This is a tax writeoff for me, so I need to take care of it in 2009. Right now it depends on price--the price of the DX I'm currently testing for school or a Sony. I'd consider the nook but I want something I can take home with me during Christmas break so that puts it right out--they're now shipping after January 5.

3. Another trip to Goodwill to donate. I've given a LOT of stuff to Goodwill this year and I'd like to do at least one more run to include on my taxes. Maybe next year (my first year without mystery shopping!) I can do taxes the simple way.

4. Look into laser hair removal. I got a $175 off coupon from Completely Bare, and I have $575 in the fund already--might that be enough to do one of the locations I want to get done? I want to look into it before the coupon expires on December 31 anyway.

5. Stick to budget with Christmas shopping. I have just over $400 left in the gift fund and about 14 gifts to buy. My immediate family seems to stick to the $10-20 range so I should be just fine, but I do need to get cracking on it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

gobble gobble

Peanut and I did not participate in Black Friday, but we didn't exactly have a Buy Nothing Day either. We went to the grocery store and also a thrift store, where we picked up a like-new angel food tube pan for $4, which is in the oven baking some lemon poppyseed cake at this very minute.

Yesterday we went to the Macy's parade again, which was fun. We didn't make a big meal or anything--I already had Thanksgiving dinner and Peanut's not crazy about the traditional Thanksgiving foods, so we ended up having grilled cheese and tomato soup. I've been enjoying a loooong weekend with really no hard and fast plans at all.

Seth Godin says it best. This should be the best holiday of all--no gifts, just celebrating food and friends and family.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Unexpected weekend spending

I did end up buying wineglasses. But as Erika recommended, I popped in to Goodwill to see what they had and found a matching set of six, which cost me just $13. The glasses are either universal or red glasses, I'm not entirely sure, but I prefer red to white so it works. And I'm certainly not averse to serving wine in the "wrong" glass. I could have got an eclectic mix for as little as $8 for six, but I'm happy to have a quality matching set. I also bought two bottles of wine for $20, which weren't drunk as my Saturday party kind of turned into a friend coming over to watch a movie, and we didn't get to the wine. Oh, well, more for me!
 
I also went to a jewelry party yesterday, where I spent $25 on handmade pearl earrings. I wasn't intending to buy anything but what can I say. I really love them. That's my Christmas present to myself, I think. All of the pieces were exquisite and one of a kind--the designer began making jewelry as a hobby while recovering from a car accident, and she's got a lot of talent. She's on Etsy, but I don't know the name of her store. I'll post when they send it to me.
 
I'm trying to convince Peanut to let me take him out to eat. I have a Restaurant.com coupon that expires next month, and I want to use it up--it's $25 off a $35 meal at a restaurant I really love. He says I should just let it expire, because it's not really saving us any money since we wouldn't have gone out to eat without it. I completely agree with that logic, but I still want lobster ravioli. It might come down to me going there with or without him, which probably wouldn't matter to him but I would like to go there with HIM, not just anyone. Hint, hint, Peanut. :)
 
I signed up for the $40 gift certificate from 1-800-Flowers.com, but I haven't received my points or coupon yet, and it's been two weeks. I was planning to use this to get my mom's birthday present, and her birthday's now in less than a week. Hmmm.
 
 

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Year's Resolution Recap--sliding into home

Now that there's only about six weeks before I have to start thinking of 2010 goals, I figured I'd do a recap of my 2009 New Year's Resolutions.

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. I have not been keeping up with this. I was doing really well for about six weeks in the summer, but I just sort of lost momentum.

2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). This is second nature now. I have a pretty set bedtime, and I went from buying bagels every single morning to eating at home every day. I don’t even want a bagel anymore; I like my healthier breakfasts so much better and I stay full longer. I also started bringing a piece of fruit as a mid-morning snack, which is awesome.

3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. I think Peanut and I have this one pretty much covered. He’s definitely the better cook, and we’re pretty good about variety and healthfulness.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. I don’t know that this could ever be considered “done”, but I did wrap up therapy and I’ve made some big changes in my relationships with certain family members. It’s a work in progress but I’m able to both be more honest and maintain firmer boundaries.

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. I brought my cumulative GPA from 3.85 to 3.87, not including the classes I’m currently enrolled in. After these two classes, I’ve just got a thesis to write, so this is it!

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. I think I’m doing a little better with this. At any rate, I’m better with skipping over stuff that I’ve missed, not needing to read every single post in my reader after I’ve been on vacation, unsubscribing from stuff I’m not reading, etc.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I have been doing better about this, but could do better still.

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. The budget was no problem, although I did go over the flex spending cap with the unexpected dental work I had this year.

9 Start saving for “future” fund. Started, and growing monthly!

So overall, I’ve done pretty good on this year’s resolutions. I just need to get some sort of regular physical activity in my life.

Change of plans

Due to some glitch with the website, my company extended open enrollment by ten days, so I took one more look and decided to change my flex spending account contributions--I'd put in $600 but yesterday I upped it to $900. In my previous post about it, I said I didn't think I'd be getting another root canal and crown in 2010, but...sadly, I no longer think that's the case. I had a cavity filled almost two months ago that is still bothering me a lot. The filling was a last ditch effort to avoid a root canal (it will be my FOURTH), but it's so painful to chew on that side of my mouth I can't even chew oatmeal. And that's my "right chewing side"*.
 
I have now written "chew" so many times it's lost its meaning.
 
Anyway. So I upped my FSA contributions to cover this now-expected expense and I think I should be good. A few doctor visits, two dental cleanings, one root canal + crown, prescriptions and OTC medications should be covered by $900, I think.
 
I also got a coupon from Completely Bare to get $175 off a laser hair removal package before the end of the year. I have almost $600 in that fund, which I'm not sure is enough to cover it, but I'm going to look into it. I think that's like a session and a half free, which is a great deal.
 
*Does anyone else notice this? That you have a totally preferred chewing side, and when you get a filling or something and have to switch for a few hours or a day it's really hard to eat? Well, this has been eight weeks of chewing on the "wrong" side of my mouth. Of course, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, please move along.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm so predictable

My two recent posts caught up with me today--I was thinking about a little party I'm hosting on Saturday and started panicking. WINE GLASSES! I don't have any WINE GLASSES AND WE'RE HAVING WINE OH MY GOD EVERYONE WILL LAUGH AT ME!

You know what, these people are my friends, and if they can't handle drinking wine out of plastic glasses, they can go to their own homes and hold their noses up at me all they want. I mean, I'm putting wine glasses on my someday/wedding registry/when I've got the money list, but I am not going to freak out about it for three days. Nor am I going to rush right out and buy them.

It's good enough.

Good Enough

I’ve been having some mental arguments with myself over “good enough” lately. I keep stressing myself out trying to get things “right” or “perfect” and it’s just not worth it.

My apartment is clean enough. You might not be able to eat off the floors, but seriously, who does that?

My homework is good enough. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever put together, but it’s one assignment for one class for a degree that I’ve basically got in the bag.

My plans are good enough. I feel bad that I don’t get to see everyone I’d like to see on my visits home, and I should always stay longer but the truth is, I can’t. I have a life here to attend to, I make my plans known far enough in advance for people to make arrangements to see me, and frankly, if they can’t do that AND they don’t ever come to visit me, *I* shouldn’t be the one feeling bad about never seeing them.

There’s more. I just want to remind myself that perfection isn’t a destination to head towards—the journey is what matters.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EEEEEEEEE!!!!

Neil Patrick Harris is on Twitter, and he's totally hilarious and I love him.

Hosting

I had Thanksgiving dinner over the weekend. Not just a dry run, but my actual Thanksgiving dinner for the year. Some friends host a Thanksgiving For Friends (AKA People You Actually Want to Eat With) a week or two before Thanksgiving every year, and I attended for the first time.

It was lovely—much wine was drunk, much food was eaten. There were place cards and actual paced courses and matching dishes and utensils. We managed to fit fourteen people into a New York City apartment living room for dinner, which was amazing to me.

It left me thinking about things that I want to do. Peanut has been wanting to make our place a place where people can come and hang out. I feel like, Oh, our place isn’t good enough. It’s too small, too dark, too dirty, too juvenile, whatever. I see the cracks in the kitchen linoleum and the doors that don’t close right, things that we can’t control because we’re renting and things haven’t been remodeled in a long time.

But you know, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what Thanksgiving was about. It was about everyone bringing something to share, and us eating until we couldn’t move. It was about getting to know people and having a good time. And I think those are things that we can do now, regardless of how “not ready” we are.

Now we just need to go make some friends who will come to Queens. :p

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doing Stuff

Peanut and I are homebodies by nature. However, I also tend to overschedule myself, and then wind up exhausted and cranky. I did this all the time when I was belly dancing a lot—the jobs would end up taking eight or twelve hours of my weekend and I’d have a lot of other things going on as well. So I made a new rule that I can only commit to one thing on the weekend—one book club meeting or one brunch or whatever. But I think I’ve gone overboard in the other direction.

Since moving in together it seems like we’ve become little hermits, locking ourselves away for the weekend and playing video games or reading, venturing out only for food. On Halloween, I pitched a mini-fit when I realized I’d inadvertently agreed to go to a Halloween “party” (which wound up being five people playing cards and drinking beer—I thought we were going to pass out candy to kids and call it a night).

But Peanut’s friend has been visiting, so we’ve been pretending that we’re social animals and showing him some of the sights—we’ve been to some of our favorite restaurants, ventured down to Coney Island on a red flag day (very cool), saw the New York Aquarium and Nathan’s hot dogs, hit up the Lower East Side and St. Mark’s Place, sat on a big pile of rocks in Central Park and watched ice skaters, ventured into Times Square, had drinks at a beer garden, and without me, they walked to Roosevelt Island and visited the abandoned smallpox museum and took the tram over the river. And I’ve had so much fun. I’m a little jealous that they’ve still got two days ahead of them to go play and I had to come back to work.

I think it’s important to pay attention to one’s nature—I’m an introvert and I really do need time at home to center myself. But going out once a weekend to do something interesting, go to a museum or park or SOMETHING certainly wouldn’t kill me, nor would it be that expensive. I’d hate to move away from New York with a big long list of things I hadn’t done because I was so busy being at home every weekend.

So my new goal is to try to do something every weekend. Here’s a short list of things I want to do:
The Tenement Museum
The Transit Museum
The Museum of the Moving Image (when it reopens)
The Museum of Television and Radio
The Museum of Sex
Coney Island in the summer but not the Mermaid Parade
San Gennaro Festival

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How cool are these photos? I would love to rent an arch.

Yikes! QuarterLife Finance's thumb drive just died...and she didn't back it up. Makes me nervous and I think I'm going to back mine up tonight.

Ouch, Frugal Zeitgeist details the upcoming expenses she's expecting. I don't know how much of a gift we're going to give to our super, but it won't be $400 (of course, we've only got the one guy). I was thinking of getting a gift card from one of our rewards banks, so it would be free. But Peanut says that makes me cheap. And he might be right.

late bills

I really hate the way our utility company handles their billing and payment.
 
For one thing, they've spelled my name wrong for years. There are two ways to spell my name, and they've got it the wrong way--but it's also got letters reversed. It's not even a real name. I've tried to get it corrected, but to no avail.
 
Second, their bills say DUE IMMEDIATELY but when you go to pay online, it automatically gives you a "transaction date" three weeks in the future. Um....?
 
And third, and most importantly, Peanut and I definitely paid this bill last month. Definitely, definitely--it was in our spreadsheet, and I only enter stuff like that after I've done my part. But they didn't debit the account, and so this month's bill includes last month's total as well. You can't set up automatic billing but you can have your routing and account number saved on their site. So it's not like we typed in the routing number wrong or something.
 
Anyway, we don't seem to be charged any late fees, but I took a screenshot after making the payment last night and will be paying close attention this month.
 
Also, over the weekend the boiler in our apartment building went crazy and the heat didn't shut off for several hours. Radiators all over the building popped, including ours, and we have water damage in our bedroom ceiling. Luckily Peanut and I took some time off work this week already since a friend of his will be in town, but now we are trying to make sure that the plumber actually shows up and fixes everything.
 
What was kind of scary is that the radiator that popped and was spraying water is the one right next to the computers. Luckily nothing was damaged, but yikes, that could have been bad.
 
I'm tired of being a grown up this week.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stupidity

Why is it cheaper to fly from New York to COSTA RICA than it is to fly to Atlanta, Georgia?
 
Wow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Health Care

It's open enrollment at my job, so here's a look at how things are changing. Below is a grid showing the premiums or contributions I paid per paycheck for the last three years (2006 excluded because I was here less than two months and from what I can tell, it was identical to 2007's numbers) and what it will cost me in 2010:

 
2007
2008
2009
2010
Health Insurance
 $    21.13
 $    28.05
 $    28.85
 $    31.73
Dental
 $       2.86
 $       3.06
 $       3.20
 $       3.39
HFSA
 $    10.00
 $    10.00
 $  208.34
 $    25.00
Commuter Benefit
 $    76.00
 $    81.00
 $    81.00
 $    89.00
 
I left out my 401(k) contributions because they've been all over the map from 5-15% over the years as my economic situation changed. I have always contributed at least 5% to get the match, however, and I will continue to do so.
 
So what's ahead for 2010? Well, for starters, my health and dental insurance premiums both went up by a little. It's not too bad and those plans are still the ones that match my needs the best, so I'll stick with them. I didn't realize that the monthly subway pass had increased by $13 in just three years, but there you go.
 
My flex spending contributions are going way down--I'll get about $300 more per month (pre tax) than I did last year. I'm putting away $600, which should cover my standard copays for one doctor visit, two dental visits, a year's worth of birth control pills, and a little cushion for OTC medications and additional copays if I get sick or see a dermatologist. In 2009, excluding Lasik and therapy, I spent about $900 on medical and dental care, but I don't expect to get another root canal and crown in 2010, so I feel pretty good about the $600.
 
In addition to the premiums going up, a lot of other stuff changed with my health insurance though. Doctor visit copays went from $20 to $25. Therapy copays went from $15 to $20 (not that I'm paying that anymore, but I noted it). But prescriptions are where it really went out the window--my name brand birth control (for which there is no generic) cost $50 for three months in 2009. In 2010, the same prescription will cost $75 + 20% of the difference. Other forms of copays went up by $1 each (generic at retail pharmacy for one month went from $7 to $8, generic mail order for three months went from $15 to $16) but of course it's the one type that I'm on that took the biggest jump.
 
Clearly, it's time to switch pills. I was planning to do so anyway, actually, as I've developed some side effects I'm not crazy about, but for the economist in me, it's the price that really made the difference. I have one more refill this month, which I will get at the old price and then at my February annual exam I'll explore other options.
 
And lastly, in health related news, something weird is going on with my dentist. I had an appointment over a month ago, at which they said they'd bill me the final amount. I never got a bill, so I called them yesterday and they said I owe $58. Ok, fine, that seemed fair. So I logged into my dental insurance company to find the address to send the check to, and my explanation of benefits clearly says "Your dentist may bill you up to $29 for this work."
 
Hmm.
 
So I asked the insurer who has the final word on how much I owe, and now they're investigating with the dentist's office's billing practices. I hope it was just a mistake; I don't want to get anyone in trouble but I know the insurers set prices contractually and I don't want to pay twice as much as I should have been billed.
 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Question for Google Reader Users

Y'all have been so helpful with other stuff--I should have turned here a long time ago.

I've checked Google Reader help and all that, but I can't figure out how to quickly look in my reader and see which blogs are no longer updating regularly. I want to pare down my reader to get rid of blogs that post once a month with "OMG I am so bad at keeping up with this!" or blogs that have been dormant for months but I can't figure out an easy way to do that, aside from clicking on each blog and I have hundreds, so I don't really want to do that.

Help?

Yay!

Big thanks to Revanche who sent me code so that I can finally get some trackers up in my sidebar! Right now I have one for my emergency fund (which is done), the sunny beach vacation fund (with a goal of $1,000, although that's a continuous thing), electrolysis (I picked $2,000 out of my head; I think it will be cheaper than that but not by a lot) and paying off my student loans, which will start next year. When I have a better sense of where it will wind up, I'll add one for maxing out my Roth IRA each year.

I also updated my blogroll, mostly removing blogs that aren't updating anymore or that I've quit reading. If you'd like to be included, let me know!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Set aside some financial research time. I did this! I rebalanced my 401(k) and set up automatic rebalancing for the future. I also did some research and it IS worth it for me to convert my rollover traditional IRA into Roth IRA, and I will consolidate that with my current Roth IRA. That will give me about $3,000 in 2009 contributions and cost me $600 out of pocket in taxes. I just need to call Fidelity and Vanguard on Monday and figure out how to actually accomplish this. I still need to fill out the Will & Trust Kit and the Big Book of Everything but I intend to get to that today.

2. Build a new budget. Done! I upped one savings fund by $30 a month, set aside $416 a month for contribution to a Roth, and increased my clothing budget to $100 a month. I didn’t do anything about a gym membership yet.

3. Start looking for holiday travel deals. I’ve made my plans and am now just watching for deals. Flight prices jumped $100 in the last week! I’m going to keep watching but buy within the next week.

4. Keep being super-productive at work, but cut back my hours. Sort of…I’ve been staying till seven most nights, but my boss told me to take it easier and stop trying to get it all done right at the start.

5. Set and stay within budget for the wedding weekend. Done. My friend was so beautiful and her son is adorable and her husband is great. I didn’t spend all that much money—rental car was less than $100 and I spent around $30 on gas. The bachelorette party was my next biggest expense--$40 at The Melting Pot.

6. Make some budget Halloween costumes! We gave up. I’ve just been too busy to make costumes. We might pull something together out of our closets and hand out candy, or just boycott the holiday entirely today. I’m pooped!

November Goals
1. Complete IRA conversion and set up automatic payments to max it out for 2009. I’m pretty sure I can do this all online, but I’m unclear about one step, so I’ll call next week and get it taken care of.

2. Stick to my budget! No more clothing binges.

3. Buy Christmas gifts! I’ve scheduled some days off during the week so that I can get my Christmas shopping done when it’s not totally crazy out with everyone else. I’d like to get it all done by December 1, but I think that’s a little unrealistic.

4. Handle 2010 health care contributions and flex spending. The deadline is 11/13, so I don’t really have a choice, but I’ll put it on here as a goal.

5. Spend some money on the apartment. Painting, art, whatever. I’d just like to get it done in November.

October spending

Misc Income: $156.65 (Mystery shop and survey income.)

Savings
General savings $495 (electrolysis, the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, etc)
Retirement $147.70 pre tax (company matches that)

Spending
Cell phone $77.70
Clothes $159.01 (holy cow!)
Entertainment $65.71 (this includes movie tickets from Costco—we saw Where the Wild Things Are—as well as some books and taking an out-of-town friend out to eat)
Food—dining out $187.34
Food—groceries $151.74
Gifts $21.78
Household $32.17
Internet $16.48
Laundry $10.00
Mystery shop expenses $62.84 (the last shop…a dinner shop)
Personal $10.87
Rent $687.50
Utilities $34.06

Total spending: $1,517.20

Thoughts
I need to rein in the clothes spending! Although I do really love my new boots.

Net Worth IQ is also updated (see sidebar). My retirement accounts did not keep their $1,000/month gain I’ve been enjoying lately, but I guess yesterday’s Dow drop contributed to that. I want to set up some sidebars for my savings accounts, but I'm not entirely sure how to do that. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My 25 Frugal Things and 4 Spendthrift things

As promised, inspired by WiseBread.

My Frugal Things
  1. I quit smoking.
  2. I use drugstore cosmetics and toiletries and even get most of those at a discount cosmetics store. No fancy stuff for me!
  3. I shop for clothes on sale and using coupons.
  4. I drink free coffee and tea at work.
  5. I bring my lunch to work.
  6. I dye my hair at home, and get my hair dye from a discount store (<$3 per box).
  7. I get books from work, the library or Paperbackswap.
  8. I do my own manicures and pedicures.
  9. I walk or take the subway. My subway pass is a pre-tax perk option through my job.
  10. Shop at Costco for bulk items, but only those we'll actually use.
  11. Don't have cable or a home phone.
  12. I stay with friends and family when traveling whenever possible.
  13. I'm not an early adopter.
  14. I don't have a pet. Right now.
  15. Most of my furniture came used. From the street: kitchen table and chairs, bookshelves, over-the-toilet stand, desk. Bought cheap or got free from Craigslist or friends: kitchen cart, TV trays, bookshelves, entry way table, filing cabinet, couch, dresser, nightstand, bed, rug, plastic storage bins.
  16. We cook almost every meal at home, and they're almost all really cheap meals.
  17. We don't go out a lot in general--concerts, shows, movies, nights at the pub or whatever are all special occasions.
  18. I don't go crazy on gift-giving.
  19. Peanut doesn't drink at all, and I drink sparingly.
  20. I turned my hobby into a self-supporting business.
  21. We watch TV online.
  22. I got most of my jewelry from SilverJewelryClub.com.
  23. I track my spending--every single dollar. I've been doing this for five years now.
  24. We're inviting people over more instead of agreeing to go out somewhere.
  25. I pick up change off the street.
Spendthrift things
  1. I buy clothes new. Even using sales and coupons, I know this is a no-no to the ultra frugalites. Oh, well.
  2. I travel home to visit my family kind of often. Like, four times already this year. Granted, that's a bit more than usual, but I still usually go at least twice. And I rent cars. What can I say, I love my family but I need my independence for our sanity.
  3. I have an iPhone, and am essentially paying for double internet connectivity at all times (I have constant access at work and home, and I'm almost always one place or the other--do I really need it on my phone, too? Yes. Yes, I do.)
  4. We live in New York City.

What are yours?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Humpday LinkFest

The Financial Blogger gives three reasons to do asset reallocation at this time of year--good ones all around. My address problem has finally been fixed, so I'm going to take care of mine this weekend.

Publishing blogger moment: I LOVE this guy's idea of an e-book reader with a slot for an iPhone. Brilliant! I would totally buy one.
Scary--Dell asks a customer for all sorts of really personal information that they don't need trying to "verify an order". I don't know if it would have occured to me to hesitate and not give such highly personal information. I agree--I don't see any earthly reason why they need the information, especially considering he never GAVE it to them in the first place--so what are they verifying against?

I've been on a bit of a rampage to get off mailing lists and reduce the amount of personal information that companies have about me but it's not working very well. I'm getting a LOT of political advertising addressed to me this election season, but Peanut isn't. I can't figure out how that happened.

Jeez. Well, this knife just sent Peanut and me on an Amazon spending spree, and $60 later we're getting it, a salad spinner, and razor blades shipped to us. Way to be frugal.
I liked this post at WiseBread: 25 Frugal Things I do, 4 Spendthrift Confessions. My own post coming soon!
I have really been wanting to do something in our apartment. The walls are still pretty much bare--I've moved so many times (25 or so in the last ten years) that I don't do much permanent decorating. But since this is a place we're likely to stay in for some time, I've been itching to make it feel homey. Peanut had a great idea for a piece of art we can create ourselves, and I'm also on the lookout for full length mirrors (unbroken so I can see myself before I go to work, broken for another piece of art). Those things should be fun, but Peanut also said today that we can buy art. He's in charge of finding affordable original artists like Kevin Dart and Randall Munroe of XKCD and I'll order frames and we're going to have an apartment full of interesting great art.

I'm also going to paint an accent wall and I have to fix my closet, because our downstairs neighbor smokes and I can smell it through there. It's strong enough to wake me up, but I got some suggestions for blocking any cracks up, so I hope to do that this weekend.
Stacking Pennies talks about the relationship costs of living together. Across the board, my living expenses and Peanut's went down. Of course, I'm now in full on nesting mode and wanting to spend money to decorate and paint and get art and what not, but net-net, I'm still spending less and saving more than I was when I lived alone. Our food spending went down because we're not keeping two places stocked (and we're not throwing stuff out because we don't go to one place for a while). We buy more things at Costco and manage to use them up. The utility bills here are just a little more than they were at my old apartment and WAY less than they were at Peanut's old place. The joint account works perfectly smoothly and we're managing to build up a balance in there as well just by being cheap.

I'm really lucky though--unlike some of SP's commentors, my boyfriend is cheap like me!


Speaking of which, in regards to my How Much Would I Spend post, Peanut says I am crazy for being willing to spend $2,500 on a computer. Like, CRAZY crazy. He wouldn't spend that much on a computer, and he needs a fancy-pants one for freelancing gigs. So, I take it back. The most I would spend on a computer is whatever Peanut tells me to spend. And he is in charge of buying all the parts and putting it together and maintaining it all.

No kidding, when I have problems connecting to the wireless on my five-year-old, $2,500 laptop, I tell him to fix it. And he looks at me cross-eyed, but I say, "Hey, the error message says "Please contact your network administrator." Please administrate!"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just one word

Wow.

How much would I spend?

Inspired by similar posts by Krystal and FB, here's what I'm comfortable spending:
  • Purse: $50
  • Wallet: $15
  • Winter jacket: $150
  • A pair of knee-high boots: $200 (but see my caveat below)
  • A casual but not formal dress: $80
  • Formal dress: $150
  • Pants (inc. jeans): $75
  • Computer: $2,500
  • Phone: $250
Weird. This was very eye-opening.

I just went boot shopping and I had given myself a budget of $200 to spend on some quality knee high boots that will last me for a long time. But I only spent $60--granted, that was at DSW, so I'll give you that maybe the boots are technically valued at $80 or even $100. But still--did I cheap out? Am I going to have to replace these boots in a year or two, and should I have spent twice as much for something that will last much longer?

I can't tell. I don't think I've ever had anything as expensive as what I list above. I have a pair of $60 boots that I've had for six or seven years, and I'm hoping that this pair of boots will have a similar life.

My winter coat cost me $100. I've had it for almost two years and I don't like it anymore (I'm not sure I ever did like it, but I was reeling from a breakup and had no coat when I bought it so who knows what the hell I was thinking then). But it's still in practically mint condition, so I won't replace it.

My wallet cost me like $10 from TJ Maxx and I've had it for years--at least three or four. I've had to glue the strap back on a few times. Would a more expensive wallet last longer? Maybe. But I'm really picky about wallets and I happen to like this one. I'll keep gluing it back together until there's no hope for it.

What about formal dresses? First of all, the only formal dress I'm likely to own will be a wedding dress, if I even end up having one (and I'd rather not. The dress, that is). Hundreds of dollars on a dress I'll wear once? I just can't do it. This upsets my mother, but it's the way I feel. The highest I could see is $150 and even that would be difficult.

As for the other things--I get all the arguments about quality over quantity--I do. But I'd rather have six or eight $10 bags in my closet than one $100 bag. I want to switch things up. I want eight pairs of Payless heels under my desk, so I'm not stuck wearing the same old shoes day in and day out. And frankly, even if I don't like my $100 winter coat, it keeps me warm, and that's really the point, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm looooooosing!

Or at least I'm not winning!

Please vote for my bag over at WellHeeled!

steps to freedom

Today I closed the second checking account I opened to deal with mystery shopping and dance job payments. I haven't had any transactions on it for several months, and the few outstanding shop payments I am owed will be paid through Paypal. So on my lunch break I went and collected the $20 that was in there and closed out the account. One less column in my spreadsheet, one less statement in the mail each month, and one less thing to keep track of!

It renewed my desire to consolidate my retirement accounts, along with the fact that the company where my rollover IRA lives sent me another credit card offer over the weekend. I've been trying to get them to quit sending me these things, but that was sort of the last straw. I called the number to apply and opted out, but this coming weekend I'm going to find out how to transfer that rollover IRA into my Roth IRA and what the tax repercussions of that will be. That would be another account gone, one more statement I'm not getting in the mail.

I'm very much in a reduce-reuse-recycle mode right now.