Friday, February 27, 2009

February Recap/March Goals

February Goals
1. Join Krystal's February Food Challenge. Yeah...not so much. We’re at $520 for the month, which is still considerably better than the preceding months, so I’ll live with it.

2. 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. I did take a look at this, but I couldn’t really make a lot of sense of it. I think the only real difference is that the money going into my 401k every month is more than the market losses, so there’s nothing allocation can do to help. I’m just going to bury my head in the sand for a while.

3. Investigate more survey or pay-for-action sites as well as some passive streams of income. I didn’t do this and in fact started rethinking my whole “more streams of income” approach. A post on that is forthcoming.

4. Figure out what the heck MoneyMateKate is doing at CVS and how I can get in on the game! Like the previous item, I sort of rethought the necessity of this. I don’t need a lot of extra toiletry items. I’m fairly brand-loyal when it comes to what I use, and I don’t use a lot of it nor do I have room to store it. I would like to donate the way MMK does, but I know myself and I know that frankly, I do not have time to spend two hours in a CVS figuring out how to get the best deals. For now, I have a Rite Aid card, a CVS card, and a Duane Reade card, and I’m following MoneySaving Mom’s weekly updates, so I can score good deals on stuff that I WILL use without getting in over my head.

5. File taxes and FAFSA paperwork. Not done. All my tax information is in TurboTax just desperately waiting to be filed and paid (I owe something like $500 between federal and state, if I remember right) but I am still waiting on my 1099 from the dance company. It’s now two weeks late, and I need to check in again. If I don’t get it by next week, I will probably file with my estimated numbers and append my taxes later when I get the official paperwork. I also realized today that I think I can file the FAFSA with estimated numbers, and I’m certainly close enough to do that this weekend.

March Goals
1. File taxes and FAFSA paperwork. Planning to do FAFSA this weekend and taxes by mid-March.

2. Consider opening a Roth IRA with my bonus. I’ve always wanted to fund a Roth IRA but I keep waiting until I can fully fund it. Well...why not just start it with $500 of my bonus, and later in the year when my living expenses go down, add more then?

3. Start looking for plane tickets. Peanut and I are going to go visit my family this summer (his first time meeting them) during Fourth of July. We’ve been tossing that date around for some weeks, and it seems like a good one, so I can start looking for tickets. He bought my ticket to go meet his family and I’ll be returning the favor (we’ll also be paying for a rental car and hotel while seeing my family, though, so I’m hoping to get tickets for dirt cheap).

4. Find a different way to approach two of my New Year’s Resolutions. I have not done yoga three times a week, nor have I been eating breakfast at home two days a week. I haven’t really even done anything at all towards either one, aside from writing them down in January. So in March, I’m going to take active steps by doing each one day per week.

5. File all receipts for flex spending reimbursement. I’ve spent a bit on over-the-counter meds for my cold this week, plus picked up a birth control prescription refill, went to the ob/gyn, and will be visiting the dentist for the second time in two weeks and will have to pay for the root canal and possible crown at that time. I want to get all this taken care of and reimbursed asap. At the rate I’m going, I’ll have used up all $5,000 of my spending well before June.

I'll try to post the month's spending analysis and update Networth IQ over the weekend!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Can't Win

Geez oh MAN.

Peanut and I agreed that we very much did not enjoy this February food budget challenge, and won't be doing one again. It's one thing to keep track of our food spending to know about it and entirely something else to feel like we can't buy an extra brick of cheese without "failing". For what it's worth, we are at $450 ($50 over the $400 goal) and there's at least one shopping trip not entered plus we will need to do another small grocery run to make it through the end of the week. We'd like to focus on keeping our food budget reasonable for groceries with less eating out, but apparently that $400 was a little unreasonable for two busy people in New York City.

So with that in mind, we feel that we want to try to focus on eating at home or packing lunch/food instead of eating out. So WHY IS IT that like twelve hours after we had that conversation, everybody wants to eat food with me in restaurants? I've now got a brunch and a dinner next week as well as a cafe visit for book club (it's my turn to host, and my apartment is too small). And that's just the first week of March; I'm sure other stuff will pop up.

Maybe part of this is me being bad at saying no to things, or truly wanting to keep up with people but not being much for having people into my apartment for a glass of wine. Maybe it's the cost of being young and living in a city.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Online Privacy

I’ve been getting a little fanatical about my online privacy lately. I've been paranoid ever since the nonsense started with my ex--he would leave rambling messages about my new MySpace photo (the profile is private but anyone can see the main photo) or be angry over something I'd posted in a forum, asking why I wouldn't just call him and tell him certain things (um, because I don't tell him anything about my life anymore and the question I posted certainly had nothing to do with him).Clearly he was googling me. And even Peanut googled me before our first date, and knew certain things that I didn't necessarily tell him that day, like the fact that I'm a bit older than him. (And that was not exactly fair because I didn't even know his last name, so I couldn't return the google-fu...which I certainly would have).

So now, I google myself every once in a while, and recently while doing so I found a new social networking site (Spock.com, not linked on purpose) that cataloged data that was available on other social networking sites—but this is weird. The stuff they were showing is in a profile which has ALWAYS been private, and they’re still linking me to my ex (we’ve been apart well over a year now, and thanks but I don't want my name linked to him at all). I've been removed from their listings now but had to contact them directly instead of using their removal form, which didn't work. It's weird that a site I've never heard of could index things from a private profile and display them there for anyone to see--not cool.

I also realized that I am no longer even comfortable with my Amazon wish list being public. I had already made my book wish list private (first, I don’t really want people buying me books – I work in publishing, thanks—and second, there are books on that wishlist that other people don’t need to know I want to read, for whatever reason). But I had a general wish list of things for my apartment or yoga DVDs that was public, and I've now made that private. It’s a little irritating that Amazon doesn’t seem to have any settings where I could share it with a select list of people, or send a link with a password to someone so they could see it. I will look into that a little more.

Some important internet security tips:

Realize that ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING you post to the internet is immediately out of your control forever after. Between corporate terms of service that you need a law degree to understand and search engine indexing, you cannot do a take-back. Photos, videos, posts—pretty much anything can come back to haunt you.

Google yourself regularly. Google different iterations of your name, and all of your screen names, as well as other identifying info like email addresses and telephone numbers. Take steps to remove things that are inaccurate or unflattering or that you don’t want available, like Spock. Many sites have a link to remove your information or you can contact the webmaster directly.

There are some things (old publications I participated in that I’d rather not be associated with anymore, for example) where the only way to “hide” them is to have better things appear higher up in the search results. You can do this by making legitimate and professional sites with your real name, and using some of the more popular/legitimate social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc).

However, if you're using those sites, be careful. Learn their privacy settings and make good use of them. Here are a couple great guides for protecting your Facebook privacy: Facebook Privacy and Dumb Little Man's Make Sure Your Facebook Profile Doesn't Lose You a Job. I think it's important to be plugged in to the social networking sites that are available, and I've gotten back in touch with people who now live on the other side of the world, but you need to be smart about it. Maintain an image that you'd be proud of in front of your grandmother, your boss, and your best friend, and you can't go wrong.

Also, see my identity theft post for a word about passwords. Seriously, people--if your email password, your Facebook password, and your bank account password are all still the same,SHAME ON YOU!

Monday, February 23, 2009

A great video in lieu of real content

I'm recovering from a sudden and unpleasant cold, and frankly haven't felt at all like writing or doing anything productive whatsoever. I'm on the path to wellness, though, so I hope to do some real posts soon--after I catch up on all my work emails, that is!

In the meantime, here's a neat video Peanut showed me which explains the mortgage/credit crisis in a very understandable way. It's part of the thesis project of Jonathan Jarvis, a graduate student dedicated to showing complex information through visual new media.


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I guess it's not so bad.

I got my manicure last night with a friend, who just found out she has to fire someone in her department (fire, not lay off) and this person happens to be a friend of hers. Then I went to book club, where one of our members is a massage therapist and works at a spa, a chiropractor and just opened her own office as part of a suite...but no one's called and it's been six weeks, and yesterday she found out the spa she works at was giving her a 50% paycut.

Then I talked to a law student who got exactly $176 more in aid than her basic living costs for six months. Her financial aid guy is apparently the biggest pain in the ass in the world, and won't help at all, and she just bought a netbook on credit and now she realized she won't be able to actually pay off her credit cards.

I have a job, and savings, and a boyfriend who can and is willing to help me. I have a friend in another industry who would hire me for a paid internship if I needed the money. I have a lot of financial know-how, I'm generally a smart cookie, a hard worker. I'll make it.

So...yeah. Back on track. With shiny nails and a more realistic outlook. Thanks for all your support; I have a few things to respond to in more depth that I'll get to another time.

In the meantime, peace out and enjoy your weekend! Peanut and I are making a conscious effort to get off the computer a little more, so aside from doing my taxes and some homework, I'm going to try not to log on.

This helps everything

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I think I need to take a break from personal finance stuff for a while. I just had a three hour state-of-the-union meeting with my team, and things are looking bad. My boss actually doesn't understand why any of us more than five years away from retirement would stay in the publishing business.

That's seriously depressing.

I'm already afraid of losing my job (worst-performing imprint in a company more than $20 million in the whole already for '09) and now I feel like my entire career choice is being pissed away by greedy bottom-line foreign conglomerates. My rent is more than half my salary, I can't afford to actually buy books since I work in publishing, and the Dow just hit a six year low because the entire economy's going to shit. I've got almost $20,000 in student loans for a degree specific to an industry no one thinks will exist in five years, and I'm tired of turkey sandwiches and tupperware. I've bit my nails off again and I'm terrified of being robbed and I am just so damn tired of all the doom and gloom I could scream.

So I'm checking out for a while. I'm going to eat out tonight and to hell with any kind of budget challenge. I'd like a manicure but I don't think I can do it without feeling guilty so maybe I'll order a banana split just for me and try to forget about anything else but the taste of chocolate ice cream just for three freaking minutes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yes, we know we left out the C

As inspired by DogAteMyFinances, here's my history with Dave Ramsey.

I started listening to Dave against my will in junior high or high school, while he was still basically a local radio show. My mom was a fan and listened to him every afternoon while picking my siblings and I up from our various schools. I usually got picked up first, so I wound up hearing pretty much the whole show.

I liked a lot of his no-nonsense attitude, especially back before he was shilling any of his own products (the only book he had out at the time was Financial Peace). Anyway, I listened and I absorbed. I eschewed credit cards and student loans, paid cash for my car, kept an on-paper, on-purpose budget and saved money every month. I was financially independent immediately upon graduating from college. I sent myself to Europe twice. I liked the way this was going.

Except I had no credit history, and that made me uncomfortable. So I got a secured card, and built some credit, then I got a store card and then a regular credit card. I joined Dave's website when it was in its infancy and was grandfathered in to the MTMMO forums, and was a beta tester for Financial Peace University online. I've recommended his books to anyone who wouldn't be offended by the hammer-over-the-head Christianity (I was surprised to learn while writing this post that all his books have been published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher, as opposed to a mainstream one).

Now I have student loans and I use my credit card all the time (but pay it off in full every month). I still save for regular expenses using sinking funds, but I've mostly given up a regular budget in favor of strict tracking of spending. I might be willing to take out a loan for a car (a used car, and a small loan). I'm still aiming to get 15% of my income into retirement savings on a long-term basis. I think consumer debt is a tool to be used wisely but mostly avoided.

The steps listed below are Dave's basic baby steps, with one small addition from the MTMMO forum members (they actually have a lot more specific additions, but these are the ones I'm focusing on).

1 Save $1000 In baby EF I started with $500 since my income was so low

2 Do debt snowball This never applied to me

3 Save 3-6 months EXPENSES in EF It took me about two years, although I'm not sure I was ever hardcore according to Dave's standards

3.1 Start sinking funds I did this while building my emergency fund

4 Contribute 15% to retirement Still working on this one

5 Save for kids college fund HA! Does not apply.

6 Pay off house Need to save for a down payment first!

7 Live like no one else since you have lived like no one else I'm already living like someone else--I don't have that cloud of debt hanging over me that many of my friends seem to have. I can live on my own while many of them still have roommates.

One of my biggest problems with Dave has always been the overt Christianity. But the bigger problem was that I always felt like I was on the outs. I never had debt to pay off; in fact, listening to him probably prevented me from making a lot of costly mistakes. But his whole program is so focused on the getting out of debt part that the "What do you do when you're debt-free?" question never really gets answered. It becomes, well, save money and "live like no one else". JD over at Get Rich Slowly and Trent at The Simple Dollar have both recently addressed this phase of personal finance, and I think they both do it better than Dave Ramsey ever did. Dave is great for getting out of debt--tough love, no nonsense, enough math that you GET it and enough psychology that you'll DO it.

My verdict? Read widely on personal finance until you figure out what you need. Jim Cramer's too rough for me, Suze Orman too saccharine. Dave Ramsey's a great motivator for getting and staying out of debt, building savings, and getting started with money management, but the personal finance blogs that I read every day provide more support, encouragement and ideas for living a financially responsible life in the long run.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mid-month review

Checking in on my February goals.

So...I think Peanut and I may have to revise our $400 food spending goal for the month. In addition to the surprise Valentine's dinner, we had two mystery shops in which we spent $20 more than the reimbursement (no way around it--Times Square chain restaurants are RIDICULOUSLY overpriced--think $4.95 for a soft drink).

We're currently at $368.28 for the month, and we will need to go grocery shopping at least twice more. errrrrg...I think we can stay under $450, maybe...I hope?

In other news, I have almost all my tax stuff ready to go, and will be taking care of that next weekend. I also printed out a lot of stuff to review for my 401(k) vs IRA and I'm hoping to have time to take care of that next weekend as well.

Today was a fairly busy AND relaxed day. I had off work for the holiday, but I had to do laundry, go to the gym, and get to the dentist for a root canal. I wonder what that's going to cost me. At least I found a way to use up my excess flex spending money!

Hope y'all had a lovely weekend!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Linkfest

I had a lovely yoga class this morning, then Peanut and I had a not-very-romantic mystery shop lunch at a chain restaurant, and spent the rest of the day running errands together. Right now he's making dinner for us and we'll watch old sci fi movies. These are my favorite times with my favorite person.

I also did a little bit of Rite Aid couponing--picked up some necessities with a $5 off $20 coupon and some manufacturer's coupons. Nothing fancy, but it's a start.

On to the links!

This very interesting report talks about what it takes to be middle-class in New York. I'm not clear what their metrics are for this--the size of housing, the independence of transportation (own car vs. public), the cost of food and entertainment--but Peanut and I wind up being almost, but not quite, middle class in Queens.

Do I feel middle class? I would guess so. We have two fairly nice apartments between us. We go out to eat more than we should but we can afford to go out to eat. We have Internet but not cable (by choice). We can travel home for holidays or other trips. We can afford necessary medical care and have enough to save. We don't have a whole lot of expendable cash, and we're focused on paying down student loan debt.

Awesome--two for one Broadway tickets! Blue Man Group and lots of other great shows are available--I'm totally taking advantage of this when Peanut's Mom comes to visit next month.

Another site to print coupons.

A great post of the online presence you should cultivate for yourself: This is really good advice, and I'm going to start creating mine. My boss's boss wants my division to have a Facebook page, and I've been tapped as an administrator on the page. This means my personal Facebook page needs to be super-professional, a little more so than I already kept it. I've been thinking about buying my personal URL as well as a URL for this blog. I'm already pretty concerned with privacy, but I think there are ways for me to handle having some information out there while being safe. I definitely want my career to go in the direction of online technology, so I need to demonstrate that I'm savvy. Peanut has an online reel but I could do the same thing.

If your lease is up for renewal soon and you're afraid your rent will be jacked up (and you don't have a reasonable landlord like I do) try this letter to get your rent reduced. Remember, you have to be prepared to move anyway, but it never hurts to ask nicely.

Now here's an interesting discussion. Apples and Telephones asks Illegal/OK?

* Downloading movies (torrenting - not paying)
* Downloading music (limewire or equivalent - not paying)
* Take extra packages of sauce/ketchup/salt, etc from fast food outlets to use at home
* Taking extra packaged/disposable utensils from fast food outlets
* Stealing metal cutlery from restaurants
* Taking pint glasses from pubs
* Keeping the free mini wine bottles/cola cans from airplanes to drink at home
* Looping past people on the street handing free things out to stock up
* Taking extra pens/pencils/stationary from the office to use at home
* Using the office printer/fax/scanner at the office for personal use
* Taking bathroom supplies from restaurants/fast food outlets/the office for home use (toilet paper, soap, etc)
* Taking all the toiletries provided in a hotel bathroom for use at home
* Buying things 'for donation' and not paying/paying very little (think votive candles at churches, poppies for Rememberance Day)
* Not correcting a cashier/salesperson when they forget to ring in an item/ring it in at a lower price
* Switching price tags on items to avoid paying the full price
* Using a student card to get a discount when you are no longer a student
* Taking extra ziplock bags from the airport booth (for your carry-on liquids) to use at home
* Paying for once movie and skipping from theatre to theatre watching movies all day on one ticket
* Working 'under-the-table' for cash.
* Lying to your supervisors about extra hours worked to make extra cash (lying about overtime, etc)
* Stealing sattelite T.V.
* Hacking (or plain ol' accessing) a neighbors unsecured wireless to do your internettin'.
* Dumpster diving for used items.
* Hitting the front of the local thrift stores before the store opens to loot through the donations people have left overnight (that the store hasn't claimed yet).
* Using 'free trial software' for the period specified (let's say 30 days), then uninstalling it and reinstalling it, or hacking it to work permanently.
* Shaking a vending machine until a candy bar falls free, for free.
* Buying an item in a vending maching from the same slot as a stuck item, so you get 2 for 1.


I don't think some of these things are a problem at all. Providing unsecured WiFi? That's like leaving cash on a park bench while you go to the bathroom. Stupid, preventable, and if you do it, it's your own fault if someone takes it. Now HACKING into my neighbor's WiFi, like guessing their password? No, absolutely not. I've used unsecured WiFi in lots of places, although I take care to protect my own computer.

Grabbing furniture left out on the sidewalk for myself? Totally fine (although I think dumpster diving in "off limits" areas is certainly questionable.

A big problem with today's culture is that we feel that digital content is not quite as "real" and therefore we shouldn't have to pay "real money" to use it/access it/have it. Especially with DRM--why should I pay for content that I can only use on one machine, or a few machines, or which might be taken away from me at a moment's notice? If I paid for it and truly owned it, I would be more comfortable purchasing it.

In terms of some of the other things...well, when I worked in fast food, we would toss any condiment packets or napkins that customers took and then returned or left on the tables (fear of contamination of some sort?) so I do take extras home with me, but I don't take extras with the intent of stocking up my pantry.

How do you feel about these things?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

10 Things I’ve learned about Love, Money and Myself

A very interesting post over at Well-Heeled about what we've learned from being in relationships and blogging about money.

10. Money IS important to me, and it had better be important to my partner. I tried to deny this for a while, after my ex complained that “all I cared about was money”, but the truth is, money=security and independence for me, and in order to feel secure in the relationship, I need to know that my partner is not going to go blow $3,000 on gifts for three family members while he’s unemployed (yep, this happened).

9. Money=security AND independence. I felt a very strong urge from a young age to be completely financially independent from my parents, because it gave me a lot more independence in all the other areas of my life. They can’t dictate my life if they aren’t supporting it. Likewise, I do not want to depend on a partner to support or even help me financially because our relationship would become uneven. The security comes from knowing that no matter what happens, I am able to take care of myself.

8. That said, it’s much easier to be flexible with the right partner. I have never had the level of financial transparency with a partner that I have with Peanut. We are on the same page when it comes to saving, investing, paying off student loans, and eventually what we’ll do with our millions. If, down the line, I were to be a stay at home parent for a little while, I would be ok with that because I know his attitude towards money would not make it seem like I’m a burden.

7. Lack of financial knowledge is endemic, but it’s not hard to go out there and learn. And I need to be with someone who takes that initiative.

6. I do not want a traditional wedding. Weddings are all tied up with money, particularly money from the bride’s parents, and money from my parents comes with strings attached. Therefore, I do not want a wedding which requires my parents’ financial contributions. Since it’s supposed to be MY day, I will pay for it.

5. I don’t want a pre nup. Peanut and I are in roughly the same situation financially (he has more debt but he also earns a lot more and will pay off his loans sooner, comparatively). A pre nup would, in my mind, be a way “out” and I have enough distrust of marriage lasting forever that I cannot afford to give myself that kind of out. Since neither of us have significant previous assets or children to protect, I don’t want to sign one.

4. I do not want to be a stay at home parent. This one’s not just about the money, although dropping to one income would make it harder to reach my longterm goals. Mostly, I’m ambivalent about the kids issue—I am not itching to have any right now, but I would consider it; also I don’t think my life would suffer if I don’t have kids ever. If I DO have kids, I’d like to stay home for a little while, maybe the first year, but after that I think I’m going to really need a part-time job at the very least, just for sanity’s sake. My best friend is at home with two babies under two, and I don’t know how she does it. I don’t think she knows how she does it either!

3. There is no “right” way to handle personal finances. One of Dave Ramsey’s pet sayings is “That’s why they call is PERSONAL finance” and this is so true. I don’t understand why some friends of mine have loads of credit card debt and aren’t freaking out, but it doesn’t make me “right” and them “wrong” much less make me a better person. As long as their finances don’t affect my life, it’s none of my business.

2. No one cares about my financial situation as much as I do. No bank, no lender, no job is going to care as much about my money as I will, so it is MY responsibility to stay on top of it.

1.Spreadsheets are fun! I guess that one’s self explanatory, but It might amuse you to know that the only D I ever got in my life was in an Excel class, and the test was open book.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Preventing Identity Theft

Protecting your physical belongings
I can't tell you a whole lot of new things here--be aware of your surroundings to avoid being mugged, carry as few cards as necessary, keep things in your home (extra checks, bank statements) secure, shred papers instead of throwing them out. Here are a few other things I do myself, and strongly recommend.

Copy your cards
I was inspired over the weekend to take everything out of my wallet again and give it a quick scan on the copy machine, in case my wallet gets lost or stolen. Lay out all the cards on the scanner and copy them front and back, then keep the papers in a safe place. If your wallet is lifted, you have the phone numbers and card information to call and report them stolen easily.

Lighten up
Speaking of which, clean out your wallet! You probably don't need to carry every card you own, especially store cards. I don't go shopping on a whim at Victoria's Secret (the only store card I have) so I leave the card at home in a safe place. If I happen to fall into the store and need to use it, they can look it up by my phone number anyway. The fewer cards you're carrying, the less hassle if something happens.

Don't carry your social security card with you. Just don't. You don't need it. Likewise, checks--how often do you use checks anymore? If you're not using your checkbook, don't carry it with you.

Online Safety
Passwords
Pick really good passwords. Don't use something that's easy to guess, or a word or combination of letters that someone could figure out. I use lines from movies, in code. For example, "Frankly My Dear, I Don't Give A Damn" from Gone with the Wind would translate to fmdidg4D (4 commonly stands for A in hacker-lese). Easy to remember, has a capital letter and a number in it, and let me tell you--NO ONE would ever guess that, because it looks like nonsense!

But you should have a password system, not just a password. Do not use the same password for your bank account that you use anywhere else. I have been guilty of this, but if you use the same password for every account, it could happen like this:
  • Your Myspace or Facebook gets password jacked by those stupid phishing things.
  • Now the thief's got your password and can find your email address.
  • They can probably figure out your username for ebay or almost any other site.
  • Now they're in your email account, and can find an email from your bank or credit card.
  • Now they can get into your financial information and do whatever they want with it.

And if they changed all of those passwords to something you don't know, well, good luck.

BUT. If you used
  • one common password for "low security sites", like MySpace, Facebook, forums that you read or post in.
  • Another password for email ONLY and make it supersecure.
  • Another password for medium security sites, like ebay and paypal, where there is some financial or legal risk to you.
  • And an individual password for each online banking site (using the example above, "fmdidg4Dwamu" and "fmdidg4Dcap1").

HOW on EARTH could someone hack into ALL your accounts and do anything? They might be able to post Nude Girls 4 U bulletins to your MySpace friends, but not much else.

Another hint: for all the "hints" questions, don't put actual answers (which are easy to figure out, just ask Sarah Palin), but use one common word like "chapstick" to answer every question. No one will guess it and it won't be that hard for you to remember (some sites will not let you do this, which is foolish, in my opinion).

Phishing
Delete or report as spam any email that seems remotely too good to be true. No one died and left you four million kenyan dollars (and if they did, they wouldn't be contacting you by email). You can't work from home for five minutes a day and make thousands a week.

Don't click links in unsolicited emails, like ones that look like they're from your bank or eBay or Paypal. Type the site name directly into your address bar instead.

Monitor your accounts regularly and track your spending
I check my online bank accounts several times a week, to make sure things are clearing when I expect them to. It helps to keep my spreadsheet up to date and has the added advantage of making it less likely that I will ever bounce a payment, and has allowed me to catch identity theft at least twice--once on a debit card and once on my credit card. In both cases, I noticed charges pending I was certain I didn't make (thank you, spending tracker!). I called the financial institution, alerted them to fraud, and asked that the card number be canceled immediately. In both cases, additional (and much larger) fraudulent charges were attempted later that day, but because I'd caught the theft right away, those charges didn't go through. Also in both cases, the bank or card company replaced the stolen money right away. I am still not sure in either case how my card number was stolen--it could have been a lucky guess, a shady waiter or online retailer, or data lost in one of those publicized cases like TJ Maxx. The hassle of getting a new card or account number was minimal, although with my credit card, I also had to totally replace the account number and online profile (I did keep my reward points).

Check your rep
Pull your credit report at the three major credit reporting bureaus using the links at www.ANNUALcreditreport.com. They are all slightly different, but I pull from one company every four months, getting a pretty good picture of how things look all year long.If you see something that doesn't look right, get it fixed.

If the worst comes to pass
For online fraudulent card use like I describe above, I'd just follow the steps that I detailed. The hassle really is minimal, and banks are used to dealing with this.

If your whole identity has been stolen or is at risk--say your entire wallet was stolen, with driver's license, social security card, and credit cards, or your home was broken into and your files were tampered with--file a police report and then place a fraud alert with each of the three bureaus. This will require potential creditors to contact you at a phone number/address you specify at the time you place the alert before issuing new credit. It also entitles you to a free copy of your credit report, in addition to the free annual report you are already entitled to.

There's one scenario in my mind that's a little worse, and that's when someone close to you has stolen your identity. This happened to a friend of mine, whose sister "borrowed" her Target credit card and had the mailing address changed, then open an additional card in my friend's name, then defaulted on both cards. It was a rough situation, because my friend did not want to cause family drama by filing charges, but that was the only way she could prove she didn't owe the debt. In the end, she and her sister worked out a payment plan, but my friend's credit is badly damaged. Here's my take: identity theft is a CRIME. If your family member would commit a CRIME against you, you should not feel bad about filing charges to protect your bank accounts and your financial reputation. I'm sure if I were actually in her position, it would be a very difficult thing to do, but that's what I hope I would do.

Be safe!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Surprise Valentine!

I don't like Valentine's Day. Never have, even though I've been with someone for eight of the last 10 Valentine's Days. I just find it a stupid commercial holiday that exploits couples, makes women feel insecure and men feel inadequate, to say nothing of what it does for singles. I'd rather have love shown in lots of little ways than one bouquet of impersonal flowers and a box of chocolates because someone is "supposed" to.

I told Peanut all of that, and let him off the hook. Heck, I'm working Valentine's night, so we won't even be together, and I'd rather have him make me lunch any day of the week than even mention Valentine's.

So imagine my surprise yesterday when I got home to find that he'd hung a flower over my doorway, had a vase full of flowers on the bookshelf, and had a sushi dinner ready for me, arranged in the shape of a heart. I was speechless. I've always wanted a boyfriend to sneak in and set something incredible up for me, but no one has ever done it, and Peanut just did it because he knew I had a rough day yesterday and he wanted to do something for Valentine's, even though I think it's kind of cheesy.

That sushi was the best I've ever tasted. And I still get a little teary-eyed thinking of him planning and preparing all of that for me, just because he loves me. I am so very lucky.

And now I'm totally thinking of some way to surprise HIM for Valentine's, despite my feelings toward the holiday in general.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Well!

Today got a little better.

I was able to recreate my homework and had Indian food for lunch ($8.62, ouch, but it'll keep me full until after school tonight). I also finished work on my presentation for tomorrow, and I feel confident about the meeting.

I called my landlord, who said I'm not the only tenant who's had a problem with returned letters this month, and he thinks there's a new mailman. He won't charge me a late fee, and asked me to leave the check with my super and he'll pick it up tomorrow, so I don't even have to use another stamp! While we were chatting, I asked him to start keeping me in mind for slightly larger one-bedroom apartments that open up in any of his buildings, and he said there's one in my building available for next month, and it's being gut-renovated down to the floors. He will show it to me in a few weeks. Now, Peanut and I were not planning on moving quite so soon, but I love my building, this apartment is one floor down and on the front of the building, and will be all brand new. Hmm. We'll look at it, and we're under no pressure to take it, but I feel like it's a good sign all around.

Also, I got a $1000 discretionary bonus from my job today! I was pretty sure that wouldn't be happening given the economy, and it's less than the $1500 bonus I got last year, but I am definitely not complaining. I'm just going to stash the cash for right now, and will probably use it for moving expenses when the time comes.

Oy.

I had a very busy weekend, especially yesterday, which wound up with me not getting home until 10 p.m., covered in beer and likely some broken glass. Thank you very much, friend who was making out with some strange guy at our table and knocked your entirely full beer all over me.

Then apparently I forgot to set my alarm clock last night, because I woke up this morning 10 minutes after I usually leave for work. This meant no time to make lunch so I'll have to buy something (wah, lunch challenge!). And I didn't even take time to stop for a bagel, so now I'm starving and cranky and unable to decide where to go or how to pay for it (cash? debit card?).

So I decided to pull out my thumb drive to see what shape my checking accounts are in and add in yesterday's spending, and realize I can't find it. I bet it's in another bag at home, so ok, I'll just deal with all this later, until I realize my HOMEWORK for tonight is on that damn thumb drive. So now I can either take my lunch break to go home and get it, meaning no lunch at all (after no breakfast!). Or I can go get lunch, and spend my lunch break as well as real work time trying to recreate the homework from scratch, for a lesser grade. (There's no option to turn it in late with this professor--it's now or never, even if I missed the class.) Keep in mind I have a HUGE presentation tomorrow for work, which I need to be working on instead.

I would like a do-over of today, please.

PS--also, my rent check was returned over the weekend; the landlord's address "unknown, unable to forward". It's the exact same address I've sent checks to for a year. Hmm...Now I have to call, and say I DID try to pay the rent, where do I send the check to?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Updates all around!

I've done some minor tweaks to the main page, mostly just colors and font and whatnot.

I also updated my blogroll, there on the left, which links to all the blogs I regularly read which are updated with some frequency. If you aren't included and would like to be, drop me a comment and I will check out your blog and consider adding it. It'd be great if you'd add me in return.

I've also added an email subscription option on the left, so if you'd like to subscribe via email, you're now able to do that.

And...that's been MY Saturday night!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Free stuff!

I have been a Dave Ramsey demi-fan for years (big on the finance stuff, less so on the overt religion) and as such I try to use cash for almost all purchases that can be made in cash.

However.

Yesterday I got an email from my bank--apparently, I have a rewards checking account, and they had some promotion where if I cashed in some of my rewards, I would get 1,000 extra rewards. I took a look, and ordered a $10 CVS gift card to get me started on this whole ECB thing. Ok, that was nice.

Then I remembered that my credit card is also a rewards card, and I have been sitting on $40 in cash back rewards. I wondered if I could trade it in for a gift card instead, so that Peanut and I can go out to eat without really spending money. Sure enough, I got a $45 gift card for Outback Steakhouse.

So. Now my dilemma--studies show that you pay more when you pay with plastic than when you pay with cash. But I'm not about to run to the mall and go clothes shopping. When Peanut and I go grocery shopping, we shop exclusively from a list and pick cheaper/on sale items almost every time, and we're about to start using manufacturer's coupons as well. So it's not really all that likely that we'll spend a lot more using plastic at the grocery store--but if I use my debit or credit card for all these purchases (and pay the credit card off in full each month) we could conceivably be getting gift cards for restaurants every other month or so. I

t's scary to stop using cash--ten years with Dave is a long time. But it seems kind of silly to ignore rewards that are available for the taking if I just shift one small thing in my mind. (Also, having a credit/debit card stolen is infinitely better than having cash stolen, and there have been a lot of muggings in my neighborhood lately.)

Do you use cash or cards more frequently, and for what reasons? Do you think you spend more with a card than with cash, or is that just a general statistic and an individual with greater self-control could just benefit from the rewards?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Live From New York...

It's Thursday LinkFest!

After reading Trent's post, I really want a crockpot! I'm a little nervous about leaving something on at home all day while I'm gone, and I'm pretty sure Peanut and I would not find a meal we could agree to eat, but it's worth looking into.

This is a GREAT recipe! We have been going through vanilla like crazy lately thanks to our baking spurt, so I think I'm really going to do this--maybe this weekend.

Not that I have much choice given my self-imposed salary cut, but I've felt a little guilty for being extra frugal in today's economy. Well-Heeled is right: what's good for the individual is not so great for the whole society.

Trent's hit the nail on the head here: It's about people, not things. Both money and people can keep you warm, can keep you entertained, can make things a bit more comfortable for you--but only people can love you back. The happiest moments of my life have involved others, not things. I want to remember that more often.

My Open Wallet points me towards this neat little interactive thingy that shows how long it will take your retirement accounts to bounce back to what they had in them at their peak. My retirement accounts are too piddly--it says I'll bounce back within a year, which is technically true but I've lost 20% as well as a year's worth of earning power on that money. It's also pretty indicative that I am NOT saving enough for retirement, but I think I knew that already. Oy.

Plan of attack: Move in with Peanut to lower living expenses. Graduate and pay off student loans like they've got teeth. Begin maxing out Roth IRA as well as company 401K for the match. Contribute additional funds to traditional IRAs until we have reached 15% of income being invested. It'll take us a few years to get there.

I'd heard of some of these great money-saving sites, like Freecycle, BillShrink, UPromise and ShopItToMe, but I could stand to investigate some of the others as well.

MoneyMateKate asks why are you frugal? My answer: I can't help it. I've been frugal my entire life, starting with when I was five and was given two cookies. I saved them both to show my dad, and then I ate one and saved the other for the next day. I'm just a natural saver, and I like the "win" of getting a good deal.

Sometimes this bites me--I've been known to do things like taking a train for two hours one way to pick up a rusty old granny cart for $5 instead of spending $20 for a new one from the store down the block (turns into $3.75 per hour plus the frustration of actually having an old, rusty cart instead of one that works properly: Not Worth It.) or overscheduling myself to mystery shop when I'd rather spend quality time with people I love (you can always get more money--never more time).

In college for a while, I pretty much gave up on frugality and wasted a lot of money travelling to visit a rather deadbeat boyfriend--I didn't go into debt, but I once tried to add up how much I'd blown and quit after it reached $10,000. Ouch.

All sort of related: Madame X talks about merging lives and money as part of a crisis plan, Dog Ate My Finances talks about the trust involved in merging money, and Make Love Not Debt has a super-involved chart reflecting how they merged their finances.

Since Peanut and I are already making plans to move in together, I think we'd just speed up the process if one of us were to lose our jobs. I'd likely move in with him and his roommate so we could all save money. That's not my ideal situation, which is why we're waiting to start packing right now, but it would certainly be an option in a crisis. Regarding trust, I think...no, I KNOW that Peanut is the first person I have dated who I would trust completely with money. I would be ok with giving him total access to my accounts, and I'm confident that he's being 100% honest with me. And knowing us, I think we probably will end up with a chart that looks like MLND's! We talked last night about whether we want to open a joint account (we've each got several already) or accounts, but we decided to let Future Peanut and Future LMM worry about that when the time comes.

I found two lists of coupon sites here and here. There's a little overlap, but you better believe I'm going to start visiting these sites to save money on grocery shopping!

And lastly, I did some googling about the crazy CVS couponing MMK does, and found a few good guides to getting started. I'm also now following Money Saving Mom, who puts up a great 101 Guide to CVS-ing and also puts up a list of savings each week. This is a really great start, so I'm going to start paying more attention and see what kinds of deals I can get!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What should we have for dinner?

Ok, readers, I need some help.

Peanut and I have half a twice-baked-potato casserole left, and we need to make something else to go with it for dinner--something proteiny.

We already have fixings for a salad.
I do not eat beef or pork, and Peanut probably wouldn't eat tofu.
We had marinated and broiled chicken breast last night, although I guess we could do something similar again.

What would you eat?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

January Recap/February Goals

January recap
1. Start getting tax stuff together. I have started to receive paperwork, but not everything I need. I did a lot of the legwork on my end in terms of double checking all my expenditures, but I still need to do some categorization and receipt-matching. And I can start entering some things in TurboTax and leave it saved.

2. Figure out 2008 total spending. Done.

3. Make dentist and doctor appointments and file appropriate reimbursement paperwork. Semi-annual dental visit, done. Appointment scheduled for follow up visit. Appointment with new ob/gyn made--I'm going to ask him for a GP recommendation. I filed paperwork and received reimbursement for Lasik surgery and related prescriptions.

4. Develop a new budget once I receive my January paychecks. Done--and I went ahead and reduced my 401k contributions once I realized how tought it's going to be.

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. Not done--I'm rolling this over into February.

February Goals
1. Join Krystal's February Food Challenge. I got Peanut on board and we're aiming to spend less than $400 in this short month. Over the last six months we've spent $649.05 (Jan), $517.72 (Dec), $607.12 (Nov), $485.56 (Oct), $463.24 (Sept), and $785.31 (Aug), so as you can see, this is a pretty lofty goal for us, and almost definitely means no eating out. We have three lunch mystery shops scheduled, so hopefully those will scratch that itch (that money does not count towards the food challenge, because it's entirely reimbursed).

2. 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. This is really only a weekend project, so I just need to sit down and do it instead of playing video games.

3. Investigate more survey or pay-for-action sites as well as some passive streams of income. Some sites I plan to check out are mentioned here, here, and here.

4. Figure out what the heck MoneyMateKate is doing at CVS and how I can get in on the game!

5. File taxes and FAFSA paperwork. I like to get my taxes done by Valentine's Day, and in fact the priority deadline for financial aid is 2/13--but my 1099s don't have to be mailed out until 2/17. If I can get all this done by the end of the month, that'll be good enough, I think.

January spending review

Okay!
I'm still trying to do a lot of catching up, but here's a start.

Misc income: $4,927.58
$3.898.10 of that was reimbursement from my Flex spending account.
$350 was gifts.
$1001.98 was miscellaneous work (including freelancing, mystery shop payments, dance payments and survey payments).
$17.50 was interest.
$10 was an ING bonus.



Savings
The $3,898.10 flex spending reimbursement went straight back into my student loan payoff account.
$145 was stashed away for travel, gifts and renter's insurance.

Total Savings $4043.10

Spending
Cell phone $81.10
Dance expenses $33.02
Entertainment $9
Food--dining out $347.33
Food--groceries $143.51
Household--$130.41 (this includes yearly renter's insurance premium, not normally so high)
Laundry $11
Medical $3,898.10 (Lasik and prescriptions)
Mystery shop expenses $109.01
Rent $1,100
School $32.36 (books)
Stupid tax $2 (ATM fee)
Therapy $60
Utilities $60.64
Personal $71.32 (this includes a $25 haircut)

Total spending: $6088.8

Net difference between income and savings/spending: About $140, which will sit in my checking account as padding for right now.

Net Worth IQ in sidebar has also been updated, ~$2,000 increase (although my retirement accounts are down again).

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 things meme

Self tag, if you'd like. I picked this up from Facebook but I've seen it going around the PF blogosphere as well.

1. I have shaved part of my head with a Bic razor. It was not on a dare—I really thought I looked cool.

2. Some of the unusual jobs I’ve had: factory worker, Superbowl and World Wrestling Entertainment security officer, dorm janitor, mystery shopper.

3. Peanut is the first boyfriend I’ve ever called by a pet name, and he’s the first boyfriend who’s ever called me by a pet name.

4. I surprise myself by how calm I am in emergencies (for example, when a car is on fire outside the apartment, when we think someone’s breaking in, or when a friend’s car window gets smashed). This is a direct response to the only car accident I have ever been in, during which I was not calm. The experience made me want to react calmly and rationally, so I’ve tried to do that.

5. I am addicted to chapstick and I don’t want to quit.

6. My first cat had an inappropriate name. He was very mean and we had to get rid of him because he bit me all the time.

7. I do not sing, even in the shower, even alone in the car, except for Dr. Horrible songs, which I will sing anywhere and at the top of my lungs. That’s the power of NPH!

8. I do not have an iPod, and I do not want one, thank you very much. Although I do think the iPhone is ooooohshiney!

9. My tattoo does not mean what I thought it meant when I got it, and it’s not even in the language I was told it was in. I am not going to have it altered.

10. I love socks, particularly knee high ones. I try to only wear socks that are interesting. Really, life is too short to not have cute socks. (It is also too short to have cold feet, so I have been known to wear more than one pair of cute socks at a time.)

11. I think of my eyes as blue, but ever since my Lasik surgery they are decidedly green/brown.

12. My favorite furniture came from the street in front of my apartment building (I’m looking at you, desk and kitchen table-and-chairs!).

13. I wanted to live in New York ever since my mom read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to me. I didn’t realize until I came there, though, that Manhattan is an island.

14. I had roommates from the time I was 16 until I was nearly 27. While some of them are perfectly lovely people and we’re still friends, I LOVE having my own apartment.

15. I love roller coasters but I hate ferris wheels.

16. I don’t really have any recipes I can whip up at a moment’s notice, but I’m working on it. I do know how to make a great frosting from scratch.

17. I took the ACT twice and the SAT once and each time got exactly the score I had in mind. I took the GRE once, and got ten points less than I was aiming for. I wish I had some pithy lesson about this, but I don’t.

18. Someday I want words painted on the walls of my kitchen. I don’t know what I want them to say yet, I just know I want it. (Inspired by my best friend’s kitchen growing up.)

19. I used to be a nail biter, and now that I’ve trained myself out of it, my nails grow faster than I can keep up with. It was easier to keep them bitten.

20. I hate yogurt. I don’t think it’s a real food. I think there’s some conspiracy with people who eat yogurt, and I don’t understand it. I can’t get near it. If I smell it, I start to gag. If I taste it...well, I just don’t taste it, ok? (Strangely, Indian yogurt does not have this effect on me, and I very much like it.)

21. I have mystery shopped everything from the Empire State Building and spas to fast food chains and real estate companies.

22. I keep obsessive track of my finances, and have used a written budget since my freshman year of college. I intend to retire rich. So, no, sorry—you can’t borrow twenty bucks.

23. I purposely chose purple as my favorite color—it wasn’t originally, but it was my favorite aunt’s favorite color and I wanted to be like her. Now, of course, it’s legitimately my favorite color and purple draws my eye in a way no other can. The choice process makes me wonder about a lot of human behavior, however.

24. I don’t know what I would have done if the Internet hadn’t been invented.

25. I love Superbowl parties but I don't care about the games. I just like the commercials!

Weekend update with Little Miss Moneybags

I had a pretty cheap weekend, starting with Thursday, when I found a fantastic kitchen table and four chairs on the street outside my apartment building. I snagged one of the chairs for my desk, then decided I'd regret it if I didn't get the entire set, even though I don't realy have room for them in my apartment, and I'd have to carry them up by myself since Peanut was at a meeting. I couldn't quite manage it, so I made friends with someone in my building who helped with the table. I now have chairs stashed around my apartment and a table blocking one of the fire escapes, but the set is really nice, in great condition, and I'll definitely use it when I move. I love finding free furniture!

Saturday began with a trip to the dentist (free for the cleaning, x-rays and exam) which wound up with the dentist telling me we're going to be spending a lot of time together over the next few months. An old filling has a problem with it, and I will need a root canal and a crown. Ouch! At least I know what I'm in for, although I had said that I wouldn't ever put myself through this again. In fairness, though--it's a problem with an old filling so technically it's not my fault this time. So now I know how I'll be using up those extra flex spending dollars!

After the dentist, I puttered around my apartment and then went to a free rape prevention seminar/self defense class with a friend. The New York Jiu Jitsu center offers these classes in hopes that you'll buy a regular class package, I guess, but I found the class helpful and confidence-building. I've been needing a lot of that lately--I don't like to talk about it on here, but my ex-boyfriend has been harassing and stalking me for about eight months. I don't think he's malicious or is planning to hurt me, and the police apparently agree because they were not helpful when I went to them about it. Last week, though, I saw him outside my apartment which freaked me out. My lawyer-father sent him a cease-and-desist demand, and if he violates it, I will be going to court for an order of protection and possibly suing him for civil damages. Anyway, given all that, I felt the self defense class would give me back some confidence in case he DOES turn out to be psycho. The fact that the class was free was a nice bonus.

After class, I went to Peanut's apartment and he took me out for sushi. His roommate came along which was great. The roommate likes to eat out a lot and we usually decline because of the cost, so it was a very nice change of pace for Peanut to suggest eating out and all three of us to go together.

Sunday I did laundry, went grocery shopping (but Peanut paid) and picked up some things for a Superbowl party. The party was a lot of fun--it's a yearly ritual with my old roommate--and I ate buffalo tofu and lots of other great stuff.

Now I'm trying to catch up on a lot of stuff, including a recap of January, figuring out how to rejigger my budget, updating my blogroll, and doing all the silly memes that are going around. Stay tuned!