Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday LinkFest

I got my second paycheck of 2009, so now I know just how bad it's going to be with the maxed out HCRA deductions. The result? It's bad. I officially can't afford to live on my takehome pay, so I will have to lower or possibly stop my retirement funding for the time being. I'm disappointed about it, but I just can't live on $300 for utilities, food, savings, medical expenses, transportation, clothes, and everything else. And right now, that's what I've got after paying rent.

Luckily this month I'm okay since I also got a $600 payment for some freelance work, which brings my paycheck to a normal level. But it's time to batten down the hatches real good.

The nice thing is, next year I'll be used to living on less than I was before, so I can max my retirement savings out to 6% for a 401k (the most they'll match) and dump another 15% into a Roth, and I won't even notice. Hopefully.

Now, on to the LinkFest!

Painfully Hip has a really excellent guide to thrifting. Ironically, I have found that thrifting is not so great here in New York, land of designerwear, but maybe if I follow her tips, I'll find some better deals.

FruGal and AskMeFi both discuss: Has the recession changed your shopping habits? I'd say the recession hasn't changed it so much as my own personal choices to withhold more from my paycheck, but my spending is definitely getting downsized.

I made this twice baked potato casserole from Cooking During Stolen Moments last weekend, and I heartily approve!

Seen at The Non-Consumer Advocate: February's challenge as a no buy month.
Despite my frugal leanings, I already know that's not going to work for me next month. Maybe I'll try to participate with a series of No Buy Days, but a month? Even with things as tight as they are now, it's just not going to happen. Here's a few reasons: Superbowl party (committed to buying snacks), Pub Quiz (contribute to the pot and buy a beer), dr. appt and ensuing prescription (would that count?), books to buy for classes, drinks with a friend/fellow student for networking, Dad coming to visit (maybe that would be a no spend weekend!), and so on. Okay, yes, I'm copping out. I will try to institute one full No Buy Day per week, how's that?

The Consumerist dashes my hopes but saves me from sending off lots of cranky emails by letting me know companies are NOT obligated to send my 1099s by Saturday, but by February 17. This is very irritating as I want to file my taxes ASAP (and in fact, NEED to--my university's priority deadline for FAFSA is February 15!).

Money Smart Life helpfully lists all the tax forms I need.

The Poor Skills community at LiveJournal discusses how to build credit: store card vs. secured card. I personally started with a secured card, then graduated to a store card, and now have only one store card (not used in three years) and one "regular" card. I remember being so frustrated that no one would give me credit because I had no credit. If I'd had BAD credit, I could have gotten something with a high APR, but having no credit was like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Here are two things I should explore more often: Making money with affiliate programs and creating passive income with niche sites. I have multiple streams of income, but not a single one is passive, meaning I don't actually have to DO anything for the money to come in. I want to focus on this in some future blog posts.

And one I probably spend plenty of time on as it is: The top ten paid survey sites. I participate in maybe half plus I think two that aren't listed there. I do make some money off them, but it's not more than $50 per year, and some of the surveys are very time intensive. I still might sign up with some of the companies on that list that I'm not currently working with.

MoneyMateKate asks for readers to nominate themselves for her blogroll--which is a great reminder that I should update mine! So, here's your chance. If you want to be listed in my sidebar, drop me a comment and let me know. I'd appreciate it if you'd add me in return, but it's not a requirement.

JD over at Get Rich Slowly is soooooo close! Visit his site to push him over one million unique visitors for this month. (My suggestion is not just a one-time thing either; I really like his blog and think you should read it!)

This neat little Lifehack allows you to email your transactions to Google Docs and track your spending automatically. Peanut and I already use a shared Google Doc to keep track of how much joint money we spend on food during the month, and we don't find our method burdensome so we won't be switching to this just yet but how cool! I love what Gmail can do for me.

CNN/Real Simple talk about 20 common money leaks and how to plug them. Some good ones you may not have thought of: paying for postage for almost anything, paying shipping for online purchases without searching for sites that sell the same item but offer free shipping, paying a fee for frequent flyer credit cards (I'd say for ANY credit card), paying fees for ATM withdrawals (that gets a "stupid tax" category in my spending tracker), and thinking that "all inclusive" means "all inclusive".

This is irritating, and if this recurring "valuable service fee" shows up on my credit card, I will be mad as hell. I thought Restaurant.com seemed shady, and although the one time I've used it so far it went very well, an unexpected $14.95 charge will have me blacklisting them and being loud about it.

I've now been reading Give Me Back My Five Bucks for a whole year! Last year's Feb-March Lunch Challenge got me hooked, and Krystal has a similar one up now: The February Food Budget Challenge. I'm hemming and hawing about signing up...think I'll have to make a decision by tomorrow!


Oy. That's it for now. I was going to go pick up a free desk chair tonight, but I'm beat, in desperate need of a (home) pedicure, and have decided to go sit in a hot tub instead. At least I emailed the guy to tell him I'm flaking out on him.

Monday, January 26, 2009

EVERYONE can file taxes free online?

If this is true, that would be great! I need to do some more research before I believe it though--I'm sure people who make more than $56,000 per year qualify, but do people like me, who need to file additional forms for independent contracting, also get to file free? Hmm.

There have been a lot of burglaries and muggings in my neighborhood lately. I confess, it makes me nervous. I'm not so worried about being burgled (the act of taking things from a home, as opposed to robbery, which is the act of taking things from a person) since I've had everything stolen before. It's just stuff. But being mugged or being home when someone breaks in is terrifying and actually causing me to lose sleep. It's not that far-fetched--like I said, there are more and more reports of this happening in my neighborhood, and last month someone tried to break into Peanut's apartment through the balcony door (which opens RIGHT NEXT TO the bed!!!). We weren't home but heard about it from a neighbor who poked her head out when a dog started barking and she saw the guy take off. Yikes! I suspect this will happen much more frequently as the economy remains stagnant.

This is a good reminder to get renter's insurance--I have had it ever since all my stuff was stolen while I was moving up here, but if you don't have it you need to go get it RIGHT NOW. It costs me only $101 for an entire year, and covers me in case of theft, fire, or if someone were to get hurt in my home. My friend who came to visit and had her car broken into--the car insurance covered the damage to the vehicle, but her renter's insurance covered the contents that were stolen. Think about that for one second--that alone makes it worth adding to your insurance stable.

EVERYONE can file free taxes online?

I just lost a whole post! Lame.

I'll try to recreate soon. GRRRRRR.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday linkfest

Original content coming soon, I promise!

I admit to being nerdier than the average bear when it comes to my finances, but here's a great bare-bones look at what everybody ought to know about their finances in today’s economy.

Mrs. Micah's timely post on W2s is full of helpful information. I haven't received any of my tax paperwork yet, and I like to get them done by Valentine's Day--which is not really that far away!

Cooking During Stolen Moments dissects one of Rachael Ray's recipes in 30 Minute Meals get Real. Bravo! While I don't have any kids distracting me, I also feel like her recipes aren't realistically achievable in only 30 minutes--but I have to confess I haven't actually tried it myself. I prefer things like grilled cheese and tomato soup--ready in four minutes!

The Non-Consumer Advocate has been counting down Thrift Week day by day:
What is thrift?
Day 1 Clean for Cheaper
Day 2 Food Waste
Day 3 Don’t Replace, Repair!
Day 4 Lower your fixed expenses
Day 5 Parenting
There's some good stuff there!

I would LOVE to start a frugal club, but I'm not sure how well it would go over. Dinner with a friend who's trying to trying to stop spending so much turned into dinner-and-drinks. Quiz night at a local pub with another friend trying to pay off her credit card debt turned into a pub crawl. Rather than saying no to all these things, I wish I could keep my friends really interested in keeping costs down.

I'd also like to start a personal finance or personal productivity book group, where we read and discuss everything from Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman to Lifehacker. Someday...

This is a great one for me: How to Keep your business writing clear and easy to read. During my last two reviews, this was the one thing my boss really wanted me to work on. I do proofread and edit, but apparently my business writing is not always clear and I write too frequently in the passive voice. Hopefully, writing more frequently in general, including here, will help me. Feedback please!

Mrs. Micah asks What kind of work is beneath you? I've done some weird stuff for money, but if I lost my job today I would go apply at Starbucks and McDonalds (well, honestly I would probably collect unemployment while looking for a job in my field and THEN go to fast food). There is honor in any job and it makes me so mad when people refuse to take a job because it's beneath them, as if they hand out vice president jobs to new college grads every day.

Anyway.

Umm...Now What asks whether her readers are scared of a number. My comment is there, but I have to say I am definitely not. Life has gotten consistently better as I've gotten older, and I'm actually looking forward to 30.

And finally,
FB and GMBMFB did it--here's my self-tagged survey meme thing:

4 Things I'm Passionate About:
· Dancing
· Reading
· Responsible personal finance
· Politics in general (I don’t mean to be, but I get pretty heated in discussions)

4 Words or Phrases I Use Often:
· Sure...
· KITTY! (from here http://www.xkcd.org/231/)
· Whatever!
· Thanks, Captain Obvious.

4 Things I Want to Do Before I Die
· Be rich—meaning financially secure AND being able to do what I want
· Get married
· Live in a place with a washer/dryer inside of it
· Write a book

4 Things I Have Learned From the Past
· I am stronger than I give myself credit for.
· Most of the time, a big deal now will not be a big deal in six weeks, much less six months.
· Don’t delay an uncomfortable situation, it will only get worse.
· The older and wiser I get, the more fun I have and the more I love life.

4 Places I Want to See or Visit
· India
· The classic European Cities (so far I’ve only seen London)
· A tropical island
· The southwest United States

4 Favorite Restaurants
· JJ’s (sushi place in my neighborhood)
· Zen Palate (vegetarian/vegan restaurant chain in NYC)
· Panna II (Indian restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side)
· Any Mexican restaurant in the South that has a fake-Mexican name and a sombrero on the wall

4 Things that Happened Yesterday
· I learned something very important that would have been really helpful to me six months ago, and decided to act on it anyway
· I bought organic veggies
· I talked to my sister on the phone
· I slept in my bed with brand new sheets and bedding and pillows—that was a GREAT Christmas present, Mom!

Self-tag or not, but if you do, leave a comment and I'll read your list!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday LinkFest

Money Under 30 talks about a tax credit I've never heard of: retirement saver's tax credit. You can be sure I'll be looking into this to see if it will help me--I contribute 10% of my gross pay to a 401k. Depending on whether the numbers posted are gross or net income, I could get a credit of up to $200!

Unclutterer shares 4 Clutter Choices that keep junk in our homes and in the way. I have been in a mood to Get Rid of Stuff lately, and applying these four rules is going to help me clear out a LOT of stuff.

15 Minutes to Riches details why tracking your spending is important. My recent realizations came about after I've spent years tracking my spending--so it's not only important to write down what you're spending but also to review it on a regular (yearly? monthly? weekly?) basis to help you improve your finances.

Via The Consumerist, seven states, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have sued to overturn the "health worker conscience rule" that allows pharmacists to refuse to provide services that conflict with their beliefs. President Obama has said he will overturn the ruling as well, though that could take a while. I want to support this as vocally as possible--if you become a pharmacist, you have absolutely no business refusing to fill a prescription for birth control or Plan B. I'm sorry--what other people do with their bodies and their choices are none of your business. And companies would be wise to make sure their employees are aware of this, because I (and I hope others as well) will refuse to do business at places that allow their employees to do this.

MoneyMateKate asks what's the weirdest job you've ever done? My comment is at the bottom, but to sum up: carpet blower, security guard at the Superbowl, music video extra, belly dancer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

LinkFest

I think I'm going to try to make this a regular feature--it's one of my favorite things to read on other blogs. I'll start with a fairly short one.

J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly links to free professional retirement advice. I need to look into this myself, to make sure my portfolios are balanced and I can start recouping the money I lost! We've got one more chance to participate, on Friday, January 30.

The PF blogosphere is buzzing with MEG's announcement that her wealthy family gives her money in a big way. I'm a bit surprised at all the hubbub, but LivingAlmostLarge had a good point that many PF bloggers might not be so honest about their actual socio-economic standpoint. To some degree, I believe that frugality can be a game to the middle class--I think it's certainly that way with me. I could be "normal", I could have a credit card balance, I could lease a car, I could make payments. If nothing else, I could certainly plan a little less, worry about Christmas presents at Christmas instead of saving for them all year. I could improve my standard of living right now if I wanted to. I don't use coupons because I can't afford food. I use coupons because I don't want to pay full price. There's a really big difference.

Along those lines, here's an AskMetaFilter discussion of how to eat on $25 a week. I think this might be a fun challenge to attempt some time, but I really don't have much time to plan and shop and cook when I'm working and going to school and rehearsals all the time. Still, I can certainly apply some of the ideas on that thread.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The ugly 2008 truth

So. A VERY rough snapshot of what I spent during 2008 would look roughly like this:

Blow money (not cocaine! Just mad money!): 897.41 Most of this was spent during the first quarter of the year when I was smoking. Disregarding that, this works out to less than $20/week spent on whatever I felt like, which I think is not too bad.
Cell phone: 976.58
Clothes: 708.22
Dance expenses: 1303.55
Dance income: 1353.00 Well, I thought I was in the hole but it turns out I'm not exactly. This is a little misleading, as it doesn't include the value of costumes received as payment and also some of the expenses are fully deductible (classes, transportation) and some are only partly deductible (meals). I'll be paying taxes on around $500.
Entertainment: 350.18 Movies, books, museums, video games, theater, etc.
Food—Dining out: 2885.57 This includes restaurants as well as everything bought while running about, including bagels from street vendors (daily), Dr. Peppers, granola bars, etc. It’s horrible.
Food—Groceries: 987.56 Peanut and I now split buying groceries since we eat almost every meal together. But still. I spent three times as much eating out as I did on groceries!
Gifts: 799.55
Household
: 95.32 This is things like dish soap, toilet paper, adhesive for when I knock the soap dish off the shower wall, cleaning supplies, etc.
Laundry: 108.50 I don't budget for laundry, as I pay for it almost entirely with quarters that I collect during my regular cash transactions.
Medical 183.99 That entire amount was reimbursed through my flex spending account, although it seems pretty low. There must be transactions I was reimbursed for but didn't record (maybe in February?).
Misc Income: 2120.00 This includes gifts, payment from Pinecone Research and focus groups, and things like when everyone gave me cash to put a dinner on my credit card. I need to figure out how to break this out more clearly in the next generation of spreadsheet.
Moving: 3452.00 This includes the broker’s fee, credit check fee, security deposit (but not first month’s rent), bank fee for certified checks, and the movers, who cost me $100 more than they should have.
Mystery shop expense: 2351.34
Mystery shop payment
: 2477.97 Small profit! As you can see, mystery shopping is NOT about MAKING money. But that's $2,350 worth of free merchandise or meals, plus a small profit, for not a whole lot of work. I prefer to make less of a profit anyway, since that keeps my tax liability very low.
Net pay from day job: $22,336.64. Wow, that’s a very small number compared to the salary I have on paper. However, I have deducted from my gross pay: medical, dental, vision, life insurance, 401k contributions, medical flex spending contributions, and my monthly metrocard for transportation. Best to keep the taxable income as low as possible anyway!
Personal: 310.53. This includes things like toothpaste, hair cuts, etc.
Refunds: 128.67. Stuff I changed my mind about, I guess! This might include some mystery shop things that I had to return as part of the shop.
Rent: 12608.00. (HALF of my net income!) So worth it. If I stayed with my roommate, I would have spent $10,500--If I'd realized the difference in yearly cost would be so little, I would have gotten my own place a long time ago.
Renter's Insurance: 101. Small price for peace of mind.
School: 383.91. This is out of pocket money for books and fees.
Stupid tax: 9.25. Library fines, ATM fees.
Taxes: 548.30. This is state and federal taxes (I had to pay both) as well as the fee to file through TurboTax (which is deductible off next year’s taxes).
Therapy: 570.00 Not too bad for the world of good it’s done me.
Travel: 1,366.82. This includes cab rides, plane/train tickets, car services and one-off metrocard purchases (for friends who visit or when I forgot/lost my own pass). It does not include my regular monthly metrocard purchase or travel to/from dance jobs.
Tuition reimbursement: 5,000. From work, non-taxable.
Utilities: 529.84 This is gas and electric, the only bill I have (no cable, no internet, water/heat included in rent). And actually, MUCH lower than expected! Yay!
Student Loans: 12,224



Total difference: ~$1,890 more in than out, not counting the student loans



So, what have we learned?



First, I need a simpler way to keep track of everything so that it's actually accurate. This is very helpful but I have no illusion that it's accurate. I can't wait to start plugging things in to Peanut's spreadsheet.


What went pretty much right:

The categories for Blow, Entertainment, Clothes, Household, Laundry, Medical, Personal, School, Stupid Tax, and Utilities seem pretty good.


Where I can improve:

Travel could be rounded down a bit. I don't plan to travel as much this year as I did last year. Cell Phone should also come down--I like having unlimited internet and everything else on my Palm, but it's really not a necessity. Gifts were also a little high, though I don't usually buy a plane ticket for my sister for Christmas.


The giant elephant in the room is Dining Out vs. Groceries. That's just Not Acceptable Anymore in my world. My goal for 2009 is to have a lower Dining Out category than Groceries. Some easy ways to accomplish that--stop buying crap like sodas while out and about (I'm trying to quit drinking soda anyway), eat breakfast at home instead of getting a bagel from the street vendor every day, and STOP GOING TO RESTAURANTS ALL THE DAMN TIME. I get to eat out pretty frequently with mystery shops; there is NO REASON for me to eat out UNLESS I'm getting paid to do so! I'll probably get suckered into eating out with the girls at work sometimes, but I need to step up and suggest some cheaper places when we do so (or suggest happy hours instead, which would come out of blow money--or is that cheating?).

Confession: I’m not hardcore!

This comes as a surprise to me, actually. Peanut created a spreadsheet to help pull my spending tracker into something we could use to analyze my spending per category by month with a yearly total. Come to find out, I have NOT been tracking my spending reliably. Ignoring February’s lost data, I still forgot to note paychecks and rent payments for more months than not—and if I forgot to log THOSE things, what else could I have neglected?! There’s no way to even tell.

I’m really bummed. I’ve been doing this for years, and I thought I was doing a good job. I even bought my Palm in large part so I could keep track of spending everywhere I went without waiting until I got home at night. I think that part of the problem is that paydays and rent payments are automatic, so I actually don’t have to do anything. So I could go with the assumption that I’m only missing those large transactions and that I noted all the small, day to day ones correctly.

But somehow I doubt that’s the case. My system is too complicated. Case in point:

I have one spreadsheet for tracking spending.

I have another for keeping track of tax-related transactions—income or expenses from either of my side businesses or other taxable income like focus group payments.

I have two checking registers kept as spreadsheets.

I have two sinking fund registers—tabs on each keep track of the mini-funds I’ve created inside the savings account. (Example, my ING is only one account, but that balance is made up of a “travel” fund, a “gifts” fund, an “emergency” fund, etc.)

I have a spreadsheet that keeps track of dance jobs including notes about the job, location, and client; when I was paid and how much and how, any relevant expenses like transportation or meals. I had to do this because I often take payment in costumes rather than cash, but I still need to figure out the value of each, or how many jobs apply to which costume. It worked for that purpose but has become a little clunky.

I have a spreadsheet for mystery shopping that also notes the company, date the shop was completed, the location, how much I spent, which part of that is reimbursable or not, when I was paid, how much and in what format, confirmation numbers and any other relevant data.

That’s EIGHT spreadsheets! And many transactions requires updating more than one spreadsheet (for example, a debit payment for a mystery shop would require me to update the spending tracker, check register, and mystery shop log). So I drew up a wishlist.

I want one spreadsheet, which keeps track of all spending and income. It should automatically reduce or increase account balances (including the mini-funds within each savings account) when credit or debit cards are used or deposits made. It should act as a checking register (meaning I can note payments as they are made and also note when they post). It should categorize spending and give me running monthly and yearly totals. It should feed to a tax spreadsheet or tab that allows me to see at a glance what my tax liability is for either side business. And it should be available to me as soon as possible so I can start from the beginning of 2009 and have one year of full, usable data.
I will still have to keep logs of mystery shops and dance jobs to make sure I am paid on time and correctly for them, but it can be more of a checklist than a spreadsheet. These could be reconciled when each payment comes in, or on a regular schedule (once a month, once a week, etc).

Am I asking for too much? Apparently not—Peanut says he can create this for me. I’m looking forward to getting it; in the meantime I am going to try to figure out some rough estimate of what I spent in which categories for 2008 so I can have a terrible benchmark to improve on.

Monday, January 12, 2009

December recap/January goals

Net worth updated (see sidebar). Ouch, ouch, ouch. My total retirement account balance continues to rise, inexplicably—but it’s only in one account, my current job’s 401k. My rollover IRA from my previous job is now worth about half of what I put into it. I need to figure out what’s going on—am I just contributing more than I’m losing in my current 401k? Did I get some incredibly lucky allocation, so that I’m investing in the, like, two stocks that are currently rising? (And if it’s the second, can I apply it to my IRA to quit watching that balance dwindle?!)

The new net worth does not take into account the nearly $4,000 reimbursement I am expecting from my health care flex spending account for Lasik, nor the ~$5,000 in student loans that will be disbursed to me sometime this month for the Spring 09 semester.

January goals
1. Start getting tax stuff together. I haven’t received any tax paperwork yet, but I am getting a little antsy about filing my taxes and my FAFSA (I like to do both before Valentine’s Day). What I can start doing is matching receipts to expenses so I know how much I spent on my side businesses. That’s the time-consuming part anyway.

2. Figure out 2008 total spending. I lost a month’s worth of data during a Palm crash, but I can still estimate pretty accurately. I haven’t ever done a “where my money went last year” post, and I’m curious. I’ve been tracking my spending for years but I don’t think I’ve ever done this kind of analysis.

3. Make dentist and doctor appointments and file appropriate reimbursement paperwork. Perhaps I’ll do a “spap” day, as a friend of mine does—dentist and all doctor visits in one day, followed by a massage and mani/pedi. Or maybe I’ll just space them out over a few weeks—I’d be nervous that a wait in one office might make me rushed and cranky the rest of the day.

4. Develop a new budget once I receive my January paychecks. I guess this could rightly be a February goal, but I will try to do it on January 31.

5. Evaluate the allocations of my rollover IRA and current 401k to figure out why one is making money while the other is losing. Re-allocate if possible.

December recap
1. Finish Christmas shopping by 12/15. I did it! I think I’m going to try to do Christmas shopping throughout the year this year as I see things on sale, but I don’t know if I’m going to be quite that organized.

2. Bring lunch to work every day. I am pretty sure I achieved this goal. It was a fairly short month work-wise, since I took so much time off in addition to company holidays.

3. Rejigger my budget. I didn’t do this, since I realized I’ll have to do it again in January.

4. Look into a CD ladder. I didn’t do this, either, but I have no good excuse for it.

5. Get things done and try to stay sane. Accomplished! I got pretty good grades on all the school-related projects, and I didn’t get sick from being so rushed. Great all around! I’m still reeling from the sheer amount of busyness, so I’m trying to learn a lesson and not schedule myself quite so much this month. Last weekend was the first “normal” weekend Peanut and I have had for weeks (and I still had a rehearsal) and we really enjoyed just lounging around and spending time together, baking, playing video games, watching movies. I want more of that kind of time, only with a yoga session thrown in.

Friday, January 9, 2009

When the Nice Guy Makes You Uncomfortable

Female readers, read this.

Geez, what a hot topic. This has happened to me--there's a night guard at work I avoid. He's probably perfectly nice, but within my first week of work, he said something about how the company was so incredibly lucky to have me, something overly glowing and weird, that it made me uncomfortable as hell. I avoid even making eye contact, and I feel bad about it.

This has happened to me so many other times too. On the bus--being complimented on my feet (?!). Being followed to a seat in the back so they can "get to know me better". Being joined at my table at Barnes & Noble and trapped into conversation. Being photographed on the train, or sketched in Starbucks (and given the sketch). Most of these things are hard to quantify as being inappropriate. Most happened when I was new to the city and afraid of being rude. I'm ruder now, but it still happens.

And thank god for Peanut. While my friend was visiting, someone next to her on the train put his hand on her leg and said something obscene, and Peanut almost pulled him out of his seat. I didn't even know what was going on, but I found out later this man had been making my friend uncomfortable for the entire ride and she was afraid to speak up. The moment she did, Peanut saw what was going on and threw around some testosterone. The guy got off the train at the next stop.

The comments on that article show how widespread this is. Nearly 800 comments, most of which are personal stories of this exact experience. It's so hard to figure out where the line is. My bagel guys know my order and have it ready when I walk up. They tease me a little, compliment my hair, ask where my glasses went. But they don't creep me out for some reason--maybe because they know about Peanut and ask me about him, too. They seem to be friendly flirting rather than leering. I don't know how to put into words how they are different from the guard downstairs, but they are.

New Year’s Resolutions 2009

From what I know so far, my income is going to be reduced—maxing out my flex spending will reduce my monthly income by a few hundred dollars a month, money I can’t really afford to lose. I will need to be resourceful and creative in my budgeting and learn to give up some luxuries I’ve taken for granted.

So here are a few goals, financial and otherwise that I've set for myself this year:

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. I can’t afford (time or money-wise) to take classes or go to the gym, but I CAN do yoga on my own yoga mat in my living room. I find it calming and exhilarating, and I want to incorporate both of those feelings into my life.

2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). This one is going to be tough, but at least I have Peanut on my side. I’m going to start slowly and do some make-ahead breakfasts. This will be an ongoing challenge throughout the year.

3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. This is about health as well as money. When I get bored with what I’m cooking, I want to eat out. But if I learn to make veggie sushi, for example, I won’t need to pay for delivery.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. There have been some upheavals in my family life in the last year, and there are still things that need to be said. I need to learn to speak my mind and set some boundaries. Therapy is helping with this but is expensive and doesn’t need to be ongoing indefinitely. I would like to start being proactive about resolving some of these issues now (like, this weekend), and stop going to therapy by June if I feel I can handle the changes on my own.

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. My current cumulative GPA is 3.85 (the same as undergrad!) and I will be taking a similar load this year. I would like to keep making A’s if I can do so without killing myself.

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. Despite the goal below, I would like to stop wasting so much time on the internet. I know there are blogs I read that I don’t need to keep up with and mindless surfing that doesn’t fulfill me.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I would like to stay on top of posting in a more regular way. I like having a blog to look back as a way of documenting my life, and I find it motivating when I need accountability.

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. This year is going to be a little tight—my actual income will be decreasing since I maxed out the flex spending, and I won’t know my monthly income until January 31. I’m sure I’ll still be able to manage it, but I’m not going to have quite as much play money as I did before.

9 Start saving for “future” fund. I really debated this one, since nothing is guaranteed, but I have a feeling I need to start this now regardless. Here’s the honest truth: I have a very strong feeling that I will be planning a wedding in the next two years. Peanut and I are already talking very seriously about moving in together in the near future. We are talking a little less seriously about the longer-term future, but just the other night for example we discussed whether I would change my name if we got married (it’s important to him!) and how many kids we thought we might have and when.

I would like to be married by the time I’m 30, and if things keep going the way they’re going, that suddenly seems like a very real possibility. A wedding funded by my parents comes with lots of strings attached, so I want to be prepared to pay for the wedding of MY dreams with my own money--and suddenly it is time to start saving for that.

(And if things don’t work out between Peanut and I, well...then I’ll have a nice-sized fund to take care of myself with!)

That's it for now--I'm going to also continue doing monthly goals, and I'll post a few for January here in a bit.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

2008 Resolution review

Before I post my 2009 resolutions, I want to take a look at my 2008 ones. When I wrote these, I had no idea how much my life would change—I moved unexpectedly, got my heart broken, fell in love, was stalked, saw a huge falling out within my family, lost some friends, gained some friends, started graduate school...in short, the end of this year looked nothing like the end of last year. I wonder how 2010 will look?

2008 Resolution review
1. Cut my living expenses. I planned to do this by moving into a cheaper apartment with my then-boyfriend. About four days after I posted those resolutions, he dumped me out of the blue. It sucked, but wound up being a great thing in many ways—I moved into my own apartment (a longtime goal) and met and fell in love with Peanut. So, not achieved in the way I’d planned, but it turned out better all around.

2. Continue with my on-paper, on-purpose budget. I managed to do this! While my net worth went way down thanks to the stock market and student loans, I lived within my means.

3. Add another $1,000 to my emergency fund. I did not do this. My emergency fund remains at about 3 months of no-income living, which is fine for now.

4. Begin setting aside money for Lasik surgery. Done and done! I guess I sort of cheated—I only saved about $2,000 and used my tuition reimbursement to pay for the rest, but since it’s being reimbursed as flex spending, I’m not exactly borrowing from Peter to pay Paul...right? At any rate, it’s done and paid for up front, and I’ve already submitted the reimbursement paperwork. Go me!

5. Pay for school. I’ve been paying for school purely through scholarship and loans—out of pocket costs have only been textbooks. I am stashing away my company’s reimbursement (which covers just under half of my yearly costs) to pay down a huge chunk of the loans when I’m finished.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my 2009 Resolutions!

In praise of Lasik

As promised, here’s some more information if you’re thinking about Lasik. If you are squeamish, you have been warned—there might be some ick factor here for you, though I’m not going to be too graphic.

Lasik is not for everyone and I am not a doctor, I am certainly not YOUR doctor, so take everything here with a grain of salt. In my case, I was a candidate for both Lasik (which creates a corneal flap, has a much faster healing time, and is a little more expensive) and PRK (which doesn’t create a flap, has an exponentially longer recovery period, and is slightly cheaper). I went with Lasik because I wanted to get this over with and move on with my life.

I saw the doctor during Thanksgiving break, went through all the tests and scheduled my surgery at that time. I took the first date available in 2009 so I could use this year’s health care flex spending, which overall will probably save me about 30% since the money comes from my gross income. On Monday, my long-suffering sister came along to help me get home (four years ago, she took care of me after my wisdom teeth were removed right before Christmas—I owe her a lot!).

So we got to the doctor’s office (they provided a driver for the entire trip) and I took the valium they’d prescribed me. Surprisingly, it worked really well and I was not at all nervous for the procedure. They did a few more tests, asked me when the last time I wore my contacts was, and took me in. I lay down on the table and they gave me a stuffed animal to hold. I’ll be brief here, because I don’t really know what happened—they used two machines and it took five minutes. At times my vision was dark, at times it was blurry. It did not hurt. Really. At all. It was definitely uncomfortable, in the way that going to the gynecologist is uncomfortable but not actually painful (until you get to the Pap part anyway). When it was done, my eyes were watering uncontrollably but I was fine. They smacked a Staples “That was easy” button as we walked out.

Then they gave me a pair of sunglasses and sent me home. I spent two hours sitting in the dark with my eyes continuing to water, and then I realized I could see the clock face across the room, which I haven’t been able to do since second grade. I started crying for real at that point. By evening, I was able to go out to eat (wearing my sunglasses in the restaurant since I was very light sensitive) and otherwise was back to normal.

The whites of my eyes are still very unhappy—I guess technically they’re bruised, and they’ll be like that for about two weeks. I’m using several different kinds of eye drops, none of which burn or sting, and I have to sleep with plastic things taped on my face to protect my eyes. I frequently have the urge to touch them in my sleep, apparently, because I keep waking up when my fingers poke the plastic. The medical tape used to keep those in place is leaving a residue on my skin that I can’t seem to get off—and I can’t submerge my eyes in water or let water run over them for another week. I’m scrubbing at it with a washcloth, so my skin is kind of raw (where it’s not sticky) and I can’t use any makeup or lotion until Monday. I also can’t work out or dance at all until next week (I think to keep sweat from dripping into my eyes, and also to prevent me from touching them without thinking). I still see some glare around lights at night, but it’s no worse than wearing my contacts used to be.

In all, it was a little uncomfortable and it’s now a little inconvenient, but overall, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. Total cost came to $3,960 plus maybe another $40 for prescriptions. All my visits and any touchups for one year are included in that cost, but it looks like I will not need any touchups since my vision is 20/15—better than the 20/20 they promised.

I wore glasses from around age seven, got contacts at 14, became unable to wear contacts for more than about four hours at a time around age 25 (due to astigmatism and my eyes not liking the toric lenses), and have fumbled with glasses again for the last two and a half years. I have spent thousands of dollars on disposable contacts and at least three pairs of glasses which I purchased myself. I spent summers with the oh-so-sexy look of sunglasses over regular glasses (as if that was better than the clip on sunglasses!). Now, it’s like a whole new world. I can’t wait to get some cute sunglasses for summer, to go to dance jobs not worrying about falling off the stage (I didn’t perform with glasses, but couldn’t always wear contacts either).

If you’re thinking about Lasik, I would recommend looking into it—all consultations are free (if not, run away from that doctor!) so you’d have nothing to lose. If you have specific questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try to answer them!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Welcome 2009

First post of the new year!

Apologies for being so remiss in posting over the last week and a half--but a lot has happened! Here's a quick rundown, in no particular order:

New Year's in Times Square
Lasik surgery accomplished--I went from 20/100 to 20/15 vision in FIVE MINUTES!
Sister came to visit
Friend's car broken into while she was visiting and the ensuing drama of getting a windshield fixed
Saw Mary Poppins on Broadway
Spent $200 eating out in the last week
Went to an art museum (the Frick Collection, a must-see if you come visit NYC)
Many, many viewings of Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog
Three books read, almost all for pleasure
Christmas credit card bill almost all paid off (waiting on a paypal transfer to finish it up)
AMAZING yoga class
Resolutions not yet made but thought about
Best friend eloped!
Getting back into the routine of work, taking lunches to work, making cheap dinners and being lowkey

Just to focus on a few things offhand.

My friend's rear windshield was smashed and a bag of clothes stolen out of her car while we were at dinner. Luckily, the thieves didn't search more thoroughly or they would have gotten her laptop, too! We were able to find someone to replace the windshield on New Year's Eve for $500. I have no idea if that's a reasonable price, but he did it that day and protected her car from snow and enabled her to drive home as planned. Her parents had given her an unexpected $500 for Christmas, so it was good she was able to pay for it although I'm sure that's not what they intended for her to do with the money.

Lasik--I'll do a more thorough post on this later, but so far it is the best $4,000 I have ever spent. The procedure was painless (really!) though uncomfortable. I'm still on lots of different eye drops and have to sleep with hilariously unsexy plastic shields taped to my face, but I can see better than I have in twenty years. Unbelievable.

I'm working on resolutions (nine of them, for the last digit in the year--something I have done with my best friend for almost 15 years) and I'll post those this week.

Hope you all had lovely holidays--I promise to get better about keeping in touch!