Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ooooh, ebooks!

My professor showed us the Kindle app on her iPhone and I realized one of the downsides to such a tiny piece of technology--it's really easy to spend money without realizing it!

But this solves the dilemma I've had about buying a Kindle or Sony eReader for a long time. Is it worth it to buy such a single-use device at several hundred dollars?

I work in publishing. I read a lot. But I don't actually buy books that often. Part of it is that I can hardly keep up with my reading list just of books that my own house publishes that I can get for free. Part of it is the stereotype (which is true!) that I work in publishing so I don't get paid a lot, and don't want to spend all my money on more books (and have limited free time to read books for pleasure anyway). Part of it is that my apartment is small and I'm still moving every few years, so I don't want to have a lot of books to lug around (I keep a LOT of books at work). But the biggest part of it is that I'm a huge library user, and neither device is optimized for checking out library books--the Kindle does not support PDFs at all. The eReader does display PDFs but it's the least effective format to use--PDFs do not reflow, so the font size can't really be bumped on the eReader.

So it's not just a matter of an outlay of a few hundred bucks for one of the actual ereader devices--it's the fact that I would suddenly need to start BUYING ACTUAL BOOKS, which I don't do now. The price tag for one of these devices is therefore measurable in the thousands, not the hundreds, of dollars for me and I just can't justify it.

But if I used the Kindle app for iPhone, I'd have all the benefits of a reader device without shelling out lots of money for the actual reader. Except that I'd be limited to public domain books for free and have to start paying for all the ones I can currently read for free through the library--and I'd even have to pay to convert my work documents to a format the Kindle reader would recognize ($0.10 each...but still).

I don't think this will be a deciding factor one way or the other, but it's pretty much made me decide against ever buying either the actual Kindle or Sony eReader. If my job decided to give me one for free, however, I would use it every single day for work projects. Hint, hint. :)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ahhhhhh.....

Although Spa Week doesn't technically begin until the 13th, when I called to book my appointments only a few hours after the listings went up, the spas were so full I had to pick earlier dates--which means my appointments are NEXT WEEK!

I can't wait.

I booked an hour-long massage at a place I've been to before and loved. That's on Thursday. On Tuesday, I decided to go have some lasers shot into a sensitive part of my body for laser hair removal. Ugh.

I have a love/hate relationship with electrolysis. I cannot justify paying more than $1,000 to have a totally hair-free bikini line forever (and I have a suspicion it would cost me much more than $1,000 for 6-8 visits). But I really like the results, and I don't find the pain all that bad (in fact, I've been complimented on my "high tolerance"). So I'll be forking out another $50 + tip for the procedure (my...fourth? fifth?) and I won't have to shave until August or so. Yay!

I'm mostly looking forward to the massage though. The last time I went to this place I both fell asleep and cried, it was so good. I hope I'm not disappointed. That's another $50 + a very good tip.

Both visits will be paid for by the ginormous dance job I did last week.

End of March LinkFest

My thirties are staring me in the eye, but these financial commandments should really apply to everyone.

World of Wealth raises an excellent point--sometimes possessions DO trump experiences. I own certain things that I use pretty much every single day and which bring me much joy and value (laptop, certain books which I reread regularly, etc). Some of these things I got for free (I LOVE my desk, which I found on the street) and some of them I researched and paid for (my Palm). You can't pass on experiences to your descendants when you go. A very good counterargument to the "only pay for experiences" camp.

The MTA approved a 25% fare hike for New Yorkers. This is the third (at least) fare hike since I moved here five years ago. I still feel that $103 is an excellent bargain for all the transportation I have access to (unlimited bus and subway rides), but you won't hear me saying that when I'm trying to get into Manhattan on a weekend and have to take two trains for what is a fast 10 minute trip during the week. This fare hike will not faze me much since my metrocard is a pre-tax benefit from work.

I would love to have my own island!! Peanut is being a meanie and won't let me buy it. He also pointed out the need for a speedboat to get anywhere, so I guess he's got a point.

Time management that works for Trent. I agree with his multitasking point especially--multitasking only works for me when I'm a captive audience (reading or working on the subway, in a doctor's waiting room, etc). Otherwise I get too scattered.

I love this quote from Give Me Back My Five Bucks: Money is made to be spent. I fully agree. But spent on the things that you value.

I'd like to pay more attention to where my money goes. I could easily spend $10 a week on Dr. Pepper, or I could spend $10 on a streetcart lunch with Peanut one day a week. Which would I value more? (Or I could save that $10 a week and invest $520 per year into a retirement account, which at 8% over 30 years would be almost $69,000--this is not a fair comparison, because I'd rather have lunch with Peanut!)

Lifehacker hosts a great discussion in the comments on contract vs. pay as you go phones. Since the iPhone decision is tabled until June, I've been thinking more about getting really cheap phones, or even Pay As You Go phones and the iPod Touch instead. I don't know if it would be a good deal for me--there's quite a bit of texting that goes on for dance jobs, and I average 400-500 minutes per month (I think), but the comments are eye opening and I might need to look into it!

Not frugal but neat--literary tattoos! I have one tattoo, which I was told is the Chinese symbol for "change" but is actually not in Chinese and means something else entirely in Japanese (Too bad, or I could argue I have a personal finance tattoo!). Though I don't regret it, I will probably not get another tattoo--but if I did, this is an interesting idea!

Skype for the iPhone and iPod Touch is coming! This could be a deciding factor in my choosing a cheap pay-as-you-go phone--because I could use Skype on an iPod Touch for making unlimited free calls from home. Hmm.

I love watching the Small Cool contest at Apartment Therapy. There's no way I can enter this year but perhaps...perhaps it could be a goal for 2010? Peanut?

The yoga or pilates passbook is something I think I'd really enjoy...maybe. Would I really schlep to studios in Brooklyn or even Manhattan for a free yoga class? When I currently have a three month gym membership I don't use because the gym is inconvenient...and it's only blocks away from my apartment?

Lastly, I realized over the weekend that my student loan plan might not be the best. I will graduate next May with close to $30,000 in student loan debt, most of it subsidized (around 80%, I think). By August or so, I will have received $15,000 in tuition reimbursement from my job. I had intended to consolidate the loans, write one very large check to cut the balance in half, and then make crazy payments on them to kill them off in about a year.

BUT. Is that really the best plan? That $15,000 could be the beginnings of a down payment, particularly if locked up in CDs. Or they could fully fund several years worth of Roth IRAs. Or be tucked away for a super-serious emergency fund. (Or a Caribbean cruise! NO. NO.) Student loan debt is one of the few kinds of "good debt" to have, and the interest payments are tax-deductible, right?

Obviously, the answer to this depends on whether I can consolidate the loans at a lower interest rate than what I can earn on the $15,000 in a CD or money market account, which I can't know until next summer, when the economy (hopefully) stabilizes a little. If I didn't knock the loans in half immediately, I'd still intend to pay the loans off quickly, within two or three years--but in the meantime, I'd have a wicked nest egg. What would you do?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Seeing the sun again

I've been feeling a little overwhelmed lately and I think I've identified some of the biggest reasons.

1. Money stress. I'm feeling a little pinched of late, mostly from looking at the budget Peanut and I will be using after we move in together, which gives me a lot more breathing room, a clothing budget, an extra $200 or so into retirement, and possibly a fancy iPhone. I've been watching ticket prices for our trip down south, and they're not budging downward, and even though gas prices are cheaper than they've been for a long time, these prices are more expensive than I've ever paid to go visit my parents.

2. Time stress. I haven't had any weekends! I have been going to the dentist every Saturday for weeks to get dental work done (root canal and crown, cavity filling). Then I've had rehearsals every Sunday since early January in preparation for last week's Purim job--now that that's over, we're starting up with the summer shows. School is back in session after spring break, and one of my classes announced our final project--a major group presentation. All of my reserved library books showed up at the same time, and they all have other holds and can't be renewed so I need to get reading!

3. Work stress. I generally like my job a lot, but the economic situation is causing the money people to institute all sorts of inane policies designed to save money, while increasing my workload about 30%. At least my boss is on my side in this, but this week broke my spirit a little bit.

4. Stuff stress. Not sure how to really phrase this one. I feel like my apartment is really, really cluttered, but I'm not there enough/don't have enough time to do anything about it. I hate being surrounded by a bunch of stuff I don't love and feeling like I don't have room to spread out.

Not much to be done about some of these things. After tomorrow's rehearsal/photo shoot, I will be taking a break until school's over. I have two more dentist visits to finish everything up until my normal cleaning this summer. But as far as the money and work stuff, I'm just going to have to buckle down and get through until things get back to normal and Peanut moves in. In the meantime, I'm going to start small--finish up my computer stuff for today, read my book club book, and enjoy today's lovely day. Tomorrow I'll do some decluttering while the laundry's going.

All in all--it will get better!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When your mood matches the weather

I have been reading too much EscapeBrooklyn today. Between the racheting stress at work, the ugly weather, an impending trip down south where there will be clean air and hot sunshine, and massive frustration with my too-small apartment and horrible, horrible kitchen, I do not heart NYC right now.

I wanted to live in New York since I was about five years old. I had a poster of the skyline on my wall for years. Every once in a while, my breath catches when I realize that I did it, but right now, at this moment, I would trade it all in for the chance to drive down the road listening to the radio and walk into a living space with wall-to-wall carpeting. Somewhere with a Walmart where I could buy everything in one trip and where someone might smile and say hello instead of run me out of their way.

Am I losing my love affair with the city? And where could I possibly go next?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Real content! Sort of.

Peanut and I have decided to table the iPhone decision until June, when it's possible a new iPhone will be announced. I'm not sure how that might affect the cost of the phones or the plans themselves--did you know that the data plan for the original iPhone includes 200 text messages, but the data plan for the 3G does not (AND it's more expensive!)?

I'm getting antsy because I just feel like I'm waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting to graduate. Waiting for Peanut to move in or for us to find a new apartment together. Waiting for a new phone. Waiting for a cat. Waiting to have the money to invest more for retirement. I'm so sick of waiting!

There are a few concrete steps I can start taking, and I'm going to have to or I'll drive myself crazy going over everything in my head. Tonight we're picking up some free furniture from a friend who's moving, so I can sort through my books and hopefully find some to get rid of. This weekend maybe I will start decluttering my dresser and closet and come up with a big load of stuff to take to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Long Overdue LinkFest!

I saw a YouData link somewhere on the blogosphere (sorry, I misplaced your link--but I did use your referral!), and I was a bit skeptical but I signed up anyway. And I already got paid--twice! Ok, it amounts to less than $2, but hello, that's part of a PaperbackSwap credit for sure. It was easier than any survey and also InboxDollars. So, if you're interested, here's MY signup link. I get a penny when you get paid (from them, not you) so this is quite literally a "penny for your thoughts". Although it's not even your thoughts, really, you just look at some google-like ads and go on your way.

Alternative Livings talks about making some money with her blog. I'd eventually like to get to the point that this blog makes enough money to pay for its own domain name, but I'm not doing it for the money for sure!

In this rather long guest post by Ramit Sethi on Get Rich Slowly, he makes a good point about the psychology of passive barriers that I could apply to my current goals of eating breakfast at home more often and doing yoga several times a week. The point is to remove all possible barriers to doing what it is you want to do. I learned this from FlyLady as well--when you create routines, things sort of do themselves. Washing the dishes immediately after use means you don't have a sinkful of dirty dishes to avoid. Making the bed as you get out of it means you don't have to make a point of it later. Getting a membership to a gym that is directly on your way home means you have fewer excuses to avoid going.

Rebates are always tricky. I never got a $50 rebate on my first cell phone and didn't realize it until it was too late, so now I usually follow up several times on any rebates I send in, and since I started doing that, none of them have been "lost". I still prefer to get a discount rather than a rebate, but I'll take what I can get!

Stacking Pennies talks about how to make progress bars for your blog. I don't really keep track of my sinking funds in that way (since I have a full emergency fund, and intend to spend all sinking fund money within the year) but when I start paying down my student loan debt and saving for the Sunny Beach Vacation, I would like to add these to my own page.

Google Tip Jar, via Financial Nut. This looks interesting! I wish it had an RSS feed, since I prefer reading things in Google Reader as opposed to poking around on a specific website, but it's still a nice collection of great ideas.

The more I hear about this whole AIG thing, the more I am flabbergasted. Aside from whether Obama and Congress knew about this but felt they couldn't do anything, I am just astounded that any company gives out bonuses of 6.4 MILLION DOLLARS. I agree with a lot of the comments that this is really a drop in the bucket compared to the entire economy, but it's ridiculous in bad taste, and AIG will never, ever get my personal business in any way, shape or form (which makes me mad that they're trying to change the company's name and hide their location). As much as it hurts watching my retirement savings dwindle to nothing, I am sort of glad the economy is rebalancing itself. A world in which employees who run a company into a ground get multi-million dollar bonuses is not one in which I want to shop. (Update: I am glad to see that at least some of the bigwigs are returning their bonuses, although I'm sure a big motivator was being taxed 90% on them!)

I agree with ParanoidAsteroid that it's ok to spend money, particularly on things that make you happy and when you're doing the right things in the big areas. But I think Trent also has a point--we do have a mindset of needing to spend money to be happy (see eating out, vanilla lattes, cell phones and internet access, and pretty much anything someone would list on their Ten Things I'd Take With Me to a Deserted Island).

I understand that she doesn't find Trent's advice applicable to her own life, and that's fine--a lot of the stuff that he promotes I would never do (like melting the last bits of deodorant) or can't apply to my own life (living in an apartment means no garden, etc). But he's a big, name-brand blog because many, many people find his advice useful and applicable to their own lives. He's no Dave Ramsey or Jim Cramer saying "This is the only way". He's not forcing his beliefs on anyone at all. I'm baffled by those who take offense by someone else talking about what works for them.

People like PA and myself are frustrated because there's no blog out there "for us", which might be part of the reason that we started our own blogs in the first place. It's evident from this AskMeFi that many, many people are looking for a blog for people who are doing the right things, no longer in debt, not interested in being superfrugal, and looking to invest--63 users favorited the post, and only 15 had suggestions, many of which were duplicates.

This "Undo Send" would have been really useful to me several months ago, when I accidentally sent my mother an email that was an application for a liquor company focus group . My mother is religious and traditional, and thinks drinking is sinful--and I may or may not have slightly exaggerated how often I visit bars in said application in hopes that I'd make it into the focus group (I didn't). She's speaking to me again, but that little trick would have saved me several weeks of grief.

I AM TOTALLY DOING THIS. Granted, I am not keeping on a gardener or housekeeper who I can't afford because I feel guilty letting them go, but I do swing by the bagel cart a few times a week even though I'd prefer to eat something healthier and cheaper at home in the mornings. A big part of it is laziness/habit, but also the cart guy has a little crush on me and he always says something nice to me in the morning, and when I don't show up for a few days he acts all sad and teases me about Peanut. I feel bad thinking about never going there again, although it's not like my $.75 is really making or breaking their day.

A more realistic scenario is what happened when I was a teenager--we had a housekeeper who came once a week, leftover from when my stepfather was a single dad with two rambunctious little boys. My mother wanted to let her go when they married, but my stepdad drove her by the housekeeper's house--it was little more than a shack, very run down. She really needed the probably $200-300 we were paying her each month. My mother agreed to keep her on, and we did until she "retired". My mother also made us all clean our rooms and do our laundry the day before the housekeeper came, so there wasn't much left for her to do, and she could sit and rest her feet.

I agree with my mother's decision in that case (and we could certainly afford it) but the best quote from the WSJ article is "Relationships based on financial transactions are not true friendships." Worth remembering!

Speaking of my mother--she followed me to a movie too! I don't know that it was on purpose, but she snuck in right after the lights went out and sat across the aisle from my boyfriend and me. I was totally mortified. She left right before the credits rolled and drove up 20 minutes later, as if she'd never been there. She didn't know I'd seen her--she said she just wanted to see the movie! Hmm.

This cartoon (from DINKS Finance) is funny because it's true.

These reusable lunch baggies are GREAT!

I really like the point Trent is making here--that taking the routine out of purchasing can make the exact same purchase feel special and provide more enjoyment. Going out to eat is more fun and feels more special when it's less frequent. Buying clothes is more satisfying when I am looking for specific items to complete my wardrobe and I'm doing a careful search rather than flipping through the clearance racks.

That's it for this one--congratulations if you made it this far!

Monday, March 23, 2009

leftover money!

Peanut and I did a rough budget for our life after we move in together, and we were pleasantly surprised. Rent on a slightly-larger-than-my-current-place, food, savings for visits to family and vacation, food, electronics, clothing, rental insurance, utilities, transportation, internet, gifts, household/toiletries, laundry, entertainment, and a really aggressive student loan repayment schedule still leaves us with $450 unallocated--which means we can totally afford to get iPhones if we wanted. We're still debating this [will we use them for more than fancy fun phones? (maybe) do we need them? (decidedly not) is spending around $200 per month on cell phone bills a good use of this money? (hmmm...) do we want them? (ooh, yes, shiny!)] but we do know now that it's an option. We also did this entire budget discussion at the laundromat, and managed to include every single budget category currently in our spreadsheet. I think this definitively proves that we are nerdier than your average bear.

Looks like you guys might be in for some serious contrast/comparison of our choices between the iPhone and a few other fancy phones or simple phones and the iPod Touch. Any personal experience (particularly with the monthly cost, which is our biggest concern) is appreciated.

While writing all this, I also realized that we could join a gym with the additional money that we have leftover each month! I would love to join a gym that offers lots of yoga classes, is located on my way home (meaning I don't have to go out of my way to get there), and is as otherwise as basic as possible. I think we know the perfect place (and Peanut gets a rebate from his job!) but we'll do some investigation in the next couple of months.

For now, I have homemade pizza for lunch and need to do some research on gifts for 11-year-old girls. LinkFest coming up soon!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What belly dance has taught me about myself

QuarterLifeFinances talks about what belly dance has taught her about herself. Now this is near and dear to my heart! I wrote a similar post in a personal blog a looooong time ago about what I've learned from belly dance, and I'll reproduce it in part here.

I am too beautiful for chewing gum, for biting my nails or other unseemly habits. Things like this drive my troupe director up the wall, and she always calls us out on them. It seemed a little nitpicky at first, but she's got a point--when I notice someone (male or female) doing these things, I'm startled at their lack of awareness for the people around them and they kind of seem...gross. I can't imagine Michelle Obama or Princess Diana smacking gum or picking at their cuticles, can you? I'm still trying to break myself of all these habits, but eventually I'd like to be able to just sit without fidgeting. And I no longer like gum.

There is power in everyone in the room looking AT YOU—if you don’t shy away from it. The first time I had to do a solo, I was terrified beyond belief. I can't quite carry a room like the director or some of the more experienced girls in my troupe. But to know that ALL EYES ARE ON YOU, when you know what you're doing and you're thriving off the crowd's energy--it's really intoxicating. This applies to public speaking as much as dancing--when thrust into the spotlight, you have to own it. That's the only way to keep the crowd from noticing or criticizing your mistakes, your missteps, your stumbles.

Practice makes perfect--but you will never be perfect. Every once in a while, I will completely lose a choreography that I've been performing for year. I can do it hundreds of times, and still mess it up. However, the flip side is that it's really hard to overpractice or overprepare. Sometimes I will be frantically thinking, "What's the next move?! What's the next move?!?!" and my body will do it without my brain knowing what's coming next. It's muscle memory, it's habit.

Learn to read the crowd. We do a lot of audience participation in our shows, so I've danced with lots and lots of strangers. In most cases, we finish performing, hold the pose for pictures, and when the DJ starts playing "regular" music, we go out to the tables or seats and pull people onto the dance floor. The worst is to pick someone who refuses to get out of their seat, so you have to learn to read the crowd and find those who are dying to be out there on the dance floor, desperate to be picked, even if they're sitting still in their chairs. I've learned a lot about body language and how to trust my gut.

Professionalism really doesn’t vary from the office to the nightclub—it’s about backing up your word. We, as a company, are a bunch of classy, word-keeping women. We show up when and where we say we will. We dress to impress. We deliver what we promise, and often more, but we aren't pushovers. We don't do things we're uncomfortable with. (At one particularly memorable job, we packed up and left rather than acquiesce to a request (by a PARENT) to give a 13-year-old boy a lapdance. Hello, we are not strippers!) All of this can be applied to dancing, to work, to relationships, to life. It's about being real, meaning what you say, and only saying what you mean.

I can be glamorous. This one still cracks me up. I know myself as the person who sometimes crashes into doorways and doesn't shave her legs often enough. I was the girl with the bizarre curly hair and huge plastic glasses in junior high. But with just some lipstick and heels and attitude, I have made people blush and stammer, ask to take a picture with me, or thank me for making their day. I've been to some phenomenal parties with celebrities, and not as a hanger on--as the focal point of the night (!!). It's playing dress up and trying on another character for a few hours--a bit of what I imagine drag queens experience. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and I'm glad I have it as a part of my life.

I am strong and it's worth it to keep myself healthy. Dance gave me an awareness of my body that I never had before. I'm lucky to be naturally thin, but dancing has made me care about being healthy as well--to be strong and flexible, to stay injury-free, to pay attention to what I'm consuming and try to cut out the bad stuff like smoking, soda, and junk food. When I am depressed or angry, a class can help me lose myself in music and movement and I always, always feel better afterward. The ache of a good workout lingers a few days and reminds me that I can do something really cool and worth the time and effort to master.

What you put into something informs what you get out of it. I am a better dancer when I go to classes and rehearsals regularly, and when I practice on my own at home. I haven't had time to do that since I've been in school, and my dancing has really suffered. This is a skill you have to work to keep. As with other things, you have to do the time to get the reward.

A group of women really CAN be supportive and loving without getting catty and diva-ish. This is one of the first things we tell new girls--we don't have divas or princesses or drama queens or even principal dancers. We're a team. I have to admit I didn't quite believe it--I've never seen a group of women that are always, always nice to and about each other. But in the four years I have been with this company I have never seen anyone hurt anyone else, make fun of anyone else, belittle or gossip about someone else. I've seen us (literally and figuratively) support one another, back each other up, help one another, and care. These girls aren't my very best friends--aside from dance, some of us have little in common. But I trust every single one of them in ways that I can't trust a lot of people, and that's a really cool feeling.

Having a hobby that pays for itself is awesome!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Going home is expensive!

Peanut and I started making plans to save up for a "real" vacation, meaning not a trip where we go to visit family for a holiday. Somewhere with a beach, possibly (the mood we're both in now) or Europe or something. We'll start putting away $100 per month each when he moves in, and we'll have a pile of cash to take a relaxing, wonderful trip.

It turns out, however, that we might wind up taking a more expensive trip sooner than that, however--we're going to see my family in May (time to introduce him!) and it's getting more and more expensive the more I look at it. It's a little disheartening. Here's what it looks like so far:

We plan to go Memorial Day weekend or the weekend before, while I'm off school.

* two roundtrip tickets to Major Southern City (my parents live in a Not-Major Southern City two hours away from any given Major Southern City, which does have an airport but that means the tickets are more expensive and there are no direct flights)
* rental car for 4-5 days (since we'll be coming in so far away, and also to maintain some independence and not inconvenience my parents)
* gas for said car, driving to three cities in the South all of which are two hours away from each other
* hotel room for 3-4 nights (might stay with a friend on night, but we don't want to stay at my parents' house. They're traditional and religious, and would not be comfortable with us sharing a bed under their roof, which I respect but we'd rather maintain our status quo).
* Renn Faire tickets and/or white water rafting tickets (something to do)
* food (eating out and/or buying food to eat at my parents' house or in our hotel room)

Right now it's looking like $800-$1,000 for that, which is a bit more than we expected. We're going to have a chat tonight to talk about budget stuff for the trip, possible iPhones and/or iPod Touches, vacation stuff, and I don't know what all. We're one of the few couples I can think of who would cheerfully agree to a budget discussion and that makes me very happy.

It's time for my mom and stepdad to meet him, and they haven't been to visit me here in NYC in nearly four years and are not planning on coming anytime soon (I'd be surprised if they ever came again, honestly--my mom really doesn't like it here). It's been almost a year since I saw my grandparents, which I feel awful about--I used to visit them at least once a week, and I miss them. I want to be driving down a Southern highway with the windows down and a little country music on the radio. HA!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monday morning LinkFest

I compared my cell phone bill at both BillShrink and Validas and I can clearly get a better deal. My contract is up in about a week, and Peanut's is up next month--I think we'll look pretty closely at getting a family plan. I'm currently paying $81 a month for unlimited everything, but I don't NEED unlimited everything, so I can find something better.

This spreadsheet over at QuarterLife Finances reminds me of the spreadsheet that Peanut created for me which allows me to see all my balances at the same time. I use a different template for my savings accounts, maybe I'll show it off some time.

In conjunction with my post and FB's post, Lifehacker talks about some passwords you should never use. Despite my treatise, I totally use "password" as my password on a lot of accounts at work, but only for things that really make no difference.

The new-to-me Choystercash has a great play-along introduction to couponing!

I always like seeing Use It Up, Wear It Out Make It Do or Do Without at the bottom of posts from The NonConsumer Advocate. Here, they post a challenge about doing just that!

Get Rich Slowly lists 25 Useful Financial Rules of Thumb.

Credit Karma (which purports to estimate your credit score looks interesting but as MoneyMateKate finds out, it's not necessarily anywhere near accurate! Credit Karma's guesstimate was 86 points lower than her actual score! (Congrats to her, by the way, for resolving her apartment situation! The real estate market here in New York is just unbelievable and as much as I want a shiny new apartment, I dread the search process.)

PC Mag shows you how to delete your account at a lot of very common websites, including Friendster (rememer them?!), Classmates.com (which had to admit that really, no one is looking for you), eBay and Paypal, and many others. (Via TheConsumerist) It's a little scary reading through that list to see how many of those "unique" websites are owned by the same few companies.

Saturday update

I'm in the middle of midterms--both were takehome, which seems like a good thing, but one was a business plan and one is an 18-question test which requires several paragraphs per question. They're going well, but they've been taking a lot of time!

I got a little bit of shopping out of my system--I hit up H&M for a few costume pieces I need. I also picked up some strappy gold heels at Payless for $10 (originally $23). I just hope they don't kill my feet!

Thursday I went to Shecky's Girls Night Out here in NYC, which was an interesting experience. I paid $15.00 for a goody bag ticket through GoldStar (half price!), and I went because a friend said that last year she was carting home bags and bags of free full size bottles of products and samples, plus, hello, free booze and food! The economy has really hit the event, I think, because the goody bags were disappointing (and uneven--my friend got several things in hers that I didn't get in mine) and the samples were nonexistent. We did get a lot of free liquor, which more than made up for the ticket price, and also a free hand massage, which was nice. I didn't realize the event was basically a shopping bazaar, but I didn't purchase anything. Total spent: ~$20 (goody bag and I split a cab to the subway since the event was out on freaking 11th Avenue and it was COLD).

Honestly, I felt a little dirty and disappointed after the Girls Night Out. It was a huge group of women at their worst--catty, line-cutting, selfish, and nasty (there was at least one fight involving drink flinging, how classy). The security guards seemed almost beside themselves trying to control the masses of grown women, all there for free alcohol and samples and "deals" on jewelry and designer clothes. I feel about this event the way I feel about the running of the brides--sometimes, I am ashamed of my gender.

This weekend is fairly low-key. Peanut and I are going out to eat with a rewards gift card, and I'll make granola tonight. Tomorrow is the final rehearsal for this huge job we've been working towards, and I'm very happy about that. I have a LinkFest to work on, but in the meantime, here's how I stand on my March goals, midway through the month:

1. File taxes and FAFSA paperwork. I filed my FAFSA using estimated numbers and will pick up the last of my tax paperwork this weekend, and hopefully file during next week.

2. Consider opening a Roth IRA with my bonus. Roth IRA opened!

3. Start looking for plane tickets. I've got a couple fare alerts set up--Peanut and I moved our trip up to May so we can go during my break from classes and hit up a renn faire. I'm getting excited!

4. Find a different way to approach two of my New Year’s Resolutions. I was having a hard time doing yoga three times a week and eating breakfast at home twice a week (which is to say, I was doing neither) so my March goal was to do each once per week. So far I've been doing pretty well--I ate oatmeal at home one day last week and last weekend, we made a blueberry buckle which I ate a few days this week. I did yoga once last week but haven't done it this week. Maybe I'll try to squeeze something in tonight.

5. File all receipts for flex spending reimbursement. I have been submitting paperwork like I'm afraid some government agency is after me. I've got $60 currently pending at my bank and easily another $60 to submit before the end of the month, and I've been going to the dentist for a root canal/post and crown procedure so at some point I'll have all that paperwork to file too.

Things are going well!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I want something new!

I don't know what is going on with me lately. I have been craving something shiny and new. Like an iPhone, or a new wardrobe, or a new apartment. Or at least a new something in the kitchen, like a baker's rack or microwave stand. I can't quite figure out what's going on with me.

Peanut and I have been talking about getting a family cell phone plan which would mean phone upgrades for us both. I could upgrade my two-year-old Palm (which I have no complaints about) for a brand new Blackberry Curve or Blackberry Pearl. Or I could get an iPhone (mmmm, want...), which comes with all sorts of fun apps that aren't available for the Palm. I was even thinking about the Google phone, or perhaps a Palm Pre like FB is talking about. Ooooh, a new phone to play with, a shiny one that's all brand new and not scuffed up and, well...you know. Old.

Or new clothes. Yeah. New shoes, and sweaters, and some dresses for work now that it's getting warm enough. Knee high boots to replace the ones I don't like. More dress pants in varied colors. Ballet flats! Fun undies and socks! I'm just tired of a lot of my clothes and want to swap stuff out for new stuff.

I'm also really torn about apartments. There's an apartment on the floor below me that's being gut renovated and when I asked my landlord to keep me in mind for larger one bedrooms opening up this summer, he invited me to call him to set up a time to look at it. I peeked in yesterday morning while the workers were measuring and it's almost finished and NICE. New floors and everything. It would cost a bit more than my apartment, and it's about the same size but a different layout which might make all the difference.

We were not planning on moving until this summer. But every time I walk on my old floors and get bits of floor stuck to my foot, or have to look at my sagging kitchen floor or cabinets, I WANT. I loved my apartment so much when I moved in a year ago (when it was MINEMINEMINE), and I still love some bits of it to death (like my blue bathroom or the many windows)...but now I've got a very icky dissatisfaction going on. I don't know how to kick it.

Basically what this all boils down to (I think) is that I really haven't done any "fun" shopping since Christmas. I've gotten a lot of necessary things, like cough medicine and groceries and toilet paper. But I haven't shopped for anything "fun" like a funky clock for my living room, or seriously, boots to replace the ones that hurt my feet, or even just a new nail polish*. And of course, the fact that I'm fantasizing about new apartments and new phones and an entire new wardrobe means that I simply can't trust myself to go shopping, even window shopping.

So. What do I do about all this? I think I'm going to call the landlord and set up a time to see the apartment, just to see what he's charging for a nicer place than the one I'm living in. We are simply not ready to move, no way around that, but it won't hurt for the landlord to keep me in mind over the next several months. And maybe he'll tell me it's already been rented and end the wondering that way. I'm not going clothes shopping for pleasure, period. And Peanut is still in contract for another month or so, so we can look at phones all we want and figure out what we're going to do later.

I do have to buy some costume pieces this weekend--a short black dress (~$20 at Forever 21 or somewhere similar), a white men's dress shirt ($5-10 at Conway, or even Goodwill), and I might even go to Payless to see if they have gold strappy sandals. I already have some, but they have black heels (?!) and look really bizarre with the costume, since every other piece is gold and white. If I don't find them, no biggie. Maybe those necessary (and tax deductible) bits of shopping will help get this out of my system.

I am also going to try to do some major decluttering. I've been waiting to get rid of certain things (read: those damn knee high boots) until I find a better pair, but maybe it would be better to simply toss the stuff I don't like anymore and replace it when it gets replaced.


*And yet, as I write this, I think of the "emergency" manicure I got for myself less than three weeks ago, as well as all the free furniture I've picked up from the street over the past few months. What's up with my brain?!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Various income streams

I think to some extent I am giving up on this whole “need various income streams” thing. I’m talking about InboxDollars, survey opportunities, affiliate marketing, any kind of making money online and to a fairly large extent (for right now) mystery shopping.

Basically, I have not been getting a return that’s worth the time investment. All the online stuff pays such a paltry amount and I don’t really care about it. I’d rather try to wean myself off the computer than make money while I’m using it. I didn’t start this blog to make money. It’s not costing me any money, and it won’t get any kind of hosting of its own until it starts generating enough money to pay for said hosting.

And even mystery shopping...I don’t know. I just don’t care anymore. The paperwork and the logging of everything just made it not worth it, except for a few very specific restaurant shops that I will continue to apply for when they become available. At most, these will be two per month and even that’s not guaranteed. I think I hit a stretch of shops with ridiculously detailed instructions and/or longer-than-average reports, and had to battle for several hundred dollars’ worth of pay. Also doing my taxes—I realize that the point is to keep expenses high relative to income in order to have the lowest net income to pay taxes on...but I would also really love to have simple taxes. Or even just one Schedule C to file instead of three this year.

I’ve had this “must bring in money from other places” for several years now—I worked more than one job most of the way through college, partly to keep busy and keep from being bored and resentful, and especially right afterwards, when any one of my part-time, fairly uncertain jobs were definitely not enough to cover my rent and still allow me to eat. But my life is not like that anymore--and all of these additional income streams are ANYTHING but passive.

I have more than enough stuff to do (work, school, Peanut, friends, dance company, living in New York City) that I don’t need to be focused on dragging in $11 for an hour’s worth of mystery shopping work.So I’m giving myself (and my inbox) a break. I can support myself on what I bring in, and if necessary, tap into my savings. My living expenses will go down later this year (plus I’ll have my favorite person for a roommate!). I’m going to focus on school and work instead of making money from other avenues, and just see how that goes for a while. If I get too bored, I can always pick it up again.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday LinkFest

First off, an accountability report about yoga and eating breakfast at home: Success! I had oatmeal on Wednesday and cold pizza on Thursday before I left for work. Last night I did a 20 minute yoga CD. Now I just need to make these things habit!

This article at Amateur Asset Allocator does a great job explaining the different kinds of IRAs. I did a little more investigation and discovered that contributing to a Roth for 2008 will NOT make a difference in my taxable income and will not lower the amount I have to pay. I'm fairly mystified that TurboTax VERY CLEARLY stated that this might be the case, when it clearly isn't. Perhaps because they just lumped it in with traditional IRAs?

Interestingly, even Lifehacker mentions putting money into a Roth IRA to get a deduction. IT'S NOT TRUE! Oh, well.

Laundry tips for apartment dwellers! FINALLY people are recognizing that we can't all do a load a day and giving some great tips! I've been struggling with my laundry "solutions" for a while--I have a pop-up hamper whose handles ripped the first time I used it and two mesh bags that are threatening to fall apart at any second. I think I'm going to buy a normal, cheap plastic hamper or laundry basket and use IKEA bags to tote stuff back and forth from now on.

I also buy laundry detergent at Costco (one container will last me over a year!) and pour it into plastic or glass bottles to take to the 'mat with me. If you do this, just keep an eye on your giant container--there's an air valve that you need to use or the corners will crack and detergent will leak all over everything. I promise. (As a side note, do not store your giant detergent on the top shelf of your closet--massive amounts of undiluted detergent pouring onto them WILL ruin your clothes.

Likewise, Cheap Healthy Good talks about meal planning for singles, couples and working people--finally, people are realizing that it's not only budget-conscious families who are interested in saving some money! Her routine sounds pretty much like what Peanut and I do except for the circular shopping. We could probably get a better deal by visiting more than one store and shopping those sales, but we have to physically carry everything we buy, so we usually end up going to the grocery store nearest his apartment and not even looking for sales at the other two between there and the subway. We do check the circular for an out-of-the-way grocery store that carries Peanut's favorite frozen pizzas and has other really great sales but that's it.

We still waste food sometimes because it's hard to plan ahead as to where we're staying--all sorts of things make that decision change, but we can usually carry sandwich stuff back and forth and we do keep some duplicate items in each of our fridges. We're looking forward to an easier process when we live there. The comments on CHG's post are also really helpful.

Here's a coupon for a buy one get one sundae at Baskin Robbins!

Cabinets from old suitcases! I love this idea! I might start keeping an eye on the old suitcases that sometimes appear on trash night. Peanut and I are also thinking of doing shelves from salvaged drawers, like this.

More printable coupons. I am finding that more stores are accepting coupons printed from online, which makes me very happy.

Publishers are offering free ebooks! I recently read Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom which was released online under a Creative Commons license at the same time it was published, and it was great to have a book I could read on a screen (it helped that it's a pretty short and easy read!). I'm going to check out these new free ebooks--Red Mars in particular was recommended to me. I actually dreamed about the Kindle last night. WANT.

Something I'm going to try to use this month: steel cut oatmeal from Jamba Juice for $1.

Real Simple March 09 Issue Review

Full discloser: I received a copy of this magazine from a reader who works for Real Simple. She thought I would enjoy the cover article, and hoped I would write a review, but it was not a requirement and the fact that I received this magazine free didn't taint the review below.

First off, I'm a fan of Real Simple. I'm not a subscriber, but that's not a personal slight--I don't pay for any magazine subscriptions at all, but I do like to pick up RS in the laundromat or while browsing in a bookstore.

Now, to this particular issue--a few things jumped out at me right away. First of all, a lot of the 71 ways to live your life for less really didn't apply to me (spend $20 a week on flowers? Buy a blooming houseplant! Great idea, but I don't buy flowers). However, some of the stuff I can really get behind, like watching TV on Hulu.com instead of cable (that's how I do it!) and getting secondhand books from Paperbackswap.com. My wallet is not happy to find out that World Market has a website.

Peanut was excited about the warehouse buys article--five things you could buy at a warehouse store, prepare, and freeze for later. We didn't use any of those particular recipes, but we did renew his membership and go shopping on Sunday, stocking up on granola bars, baby carrots, peanut butter, paper towels, ziplock baggies, and a few other odds and ends.

The best thing about Real Simple, in my opinion, was that I did not feel like my brain cells were committing suicide from teh stoopid while I was reading it. Seriously, reading Cosmo makes me want to poke my eyes out with a fork, but Real Simple is an entertaining diversion that actually has tips I might use.

And thanks, reader-who-works-there, for sending this on to me! (Keeping your identity private in case you prefer it that way.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cry.

At least my mutual fund purchase in my Vanguard Roth IRA hasn't quite gone through yet--so when it does, I'll be getting more for my money.

**Must remember that that is an INVESTMENT, and if it goes down, that's OK. Have at least forty years until retirement.**

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rabbit Rabbit Linkfest

The Never Again File from Unclutterer is pretty clever. My Never Again File includes getting books from work for a certain person who's consistently unappreciative, the three wrong kinds of pizza I got for Peanut at Christmas, and definitely certain restaurants in New York City. Learning from our mistakes is important, but this is a realistic way to actually do so.

LivingAlmostLarge's I'm Not Frugal rant really struck a chord with me. This was posted around the time I first started feeling this cold, and Peanut and I were tired of haggling over groceries to the point that we weren't sure we could justify buying two bricks of cheese because it would almost certainly put us over the $400 monthly goal for the Food Challenge. We decided to toss out the challenge and focus on WHY we're being frugal. We have goals to focus on--live independently, pay down student loan debt, live within our means in order to save and invest in real estate or travel or something else in the future--rather than depriving ourselves of a $2.49 brick of cheese.

I have been meaning to try to make these Homemade hotpockets but I've wanted to wait until I'm not coughing all over everything. I think next weekend will be a cooking weekend--homemade hotpockets and homemade granola for Peanut's shakes. MMMMMM.

I opened a Roth IRA with $1,000 (my bonus and a bit of savings; I didn't realize you needed a minimum to do so) using information from this GetRichSlowly article. I opened my account at Vanguard, which also provides a pretty hefty discount at TurboTax!

I'm giving Outright a try based on this post at Money Under 30. I haven't paid estimated taxes since I try to keep the tax I owe under $1,000, but I've never actually KNOWN that that would be the case. Since I keep such obsessive track of these things, it makes sense to use a program designed for the purpose. I just hope it stays free in beta, although it's a cost I could expense.

I was all set to be like Pssh, whatever, I still don't like Suze Orman until I saw the second-to-last paragraph of this post. Taking care of stuff you love is ridiculously easy compared to taking care of stuff you don't like or just don't care about. It's a joy to clean my own apartment; it was a job to clean up any apartment I shared with a roommate. Perhaps Suze is on to something, but I'll wait and let Boostrap Budget do a review of Women & Money before I read it.

Apparently, Mrs. Obama's arms are being coveted by more people than just me. My exercise goals fall more in the realm of "fun" and "stretchy" than either "cardio" or "strength-training", but toned arms is definitely one of the areas of my body I'd like to work on.

Unclutterer and Yoga.com list a few ways I can find yoga videos online. I'll be using those to try to meet my New Year's Resolution of yoga several times a week, starting with once a week this month.

My kitchen is definitely the least favorite part of my apartment--the floor is uneven, the cupboard space is woefully inadequate, and the counter space is even smaller. So this article is very welcome, and some of the ideas it links to are really fantastic (a pegboard above the stove? Awesome! That would totally work for me!) I'm going to start looking at the kitchen with an eye for improvement rather than regretting what could have been.

February analysis

So, how did February go?

Misc income: $1032.46
Which includes
Bonus: $528.17
Interest: $17.61
Flex spending reimbursement: $107.97
Dance Income: $100
Mystery shop payments: $240.62
And assorted survey payments and cash from people in situations where I paid for a meal using a credit card.

Savings
$95 into savings earmarked for travel and gifts
Spending
Blow $29.38 (car service home from book club, Valentine’s candy on sale)
Cell phone $81.10
Dance expense $16.55 (transportation mostly)
Entertainment $30.85 (drinks at pub quiz, book at Goodwill)
Food—dining out $206.42
Food—groceries $77.31
Total food spending: $283.73
Gifts $14.06
Laundry $11.25
Medical $104 (various prescriptions and OTC meds plus a dr copay)
Mystery shop expenses $181.07
Rent $1,100
Therapy $45
Utilities $53.31
Personal items $30.48
Total spending: $1,980.78
Conspicuously missing is my monthly metrocard (unlimited subway and bus rides). This costs me $81 per month and is taken out of my paycheck pre-tax and loaded onto a transit—only debit card. I will probably never, ever remember to include it here since it’s such a weird situation.
Not too bad! My bonus has just been sitting in my checking account, and today I decided what to do with it. The additional $300 I'm getting per month after reducing my 401k contributions to the company match gives me enough breathing room to not need to worry (much) about keeping a large pad there--so I'm going to bite the bullet and open a Roth IRA for 2008. This will reduce my taxable income for 2008, so will reduce the taxes I have to pay to both federal and state, AND will mean that I finally have a Roth IRA (which I can then watch decrease into nothingness). I probably won't be able to contribute anything more to it before the April 15 deadline, but I will aim to also create to a Roth IRA for 2009.