Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Recap/May Goals

I'd do the networth and spending update today but I know I'm about to go spend a bunch of money tonight (groceries, toilet paper, hair gunk, book club milkshake, etc). In the meantime...

April Recap

1. Survive! Um, check? I had a very busy month but things have gone swimmingly overall. The end (of the semester, and of grad school as a whole) is in sight!

2. Use up some coupons. I got two free panties and a free lotion from Victoria's Secret, $45 off a New York & Co purchase, six months of shampoo and conditioner for $6, and some other deals using coupons. I'm still not that great about using them at the grocery store, but I think that a lot of things I typically buy do not come with coupons (like fresh produce).

3. Book trip down South, including plane tickets and rental car. Plane tickets are booked and although I spent more than I would have liked, prices have only risen since I bought, so I think that's good. Rental car not yet booked; I'm waiting to see if the flight prices drop enough to get me an Orbitz fare guarantee credit. Otherwise I will start Naming My Own Price--I hope to spend no more than $10 per day on the rental car. Also, a friend got us free tickets to the Renn Faire--yay!

4. Do some serious decluttering. I've been doing this sporadically and have bagged up some stuff--it'll roll over to May.

5. Not pay any library fines. Fail--I paid $2 in library fines. Two books X four days late X $.25 each. Oops.


May Goals
1. Give up soda entirely. For health, wealth, and dental-related reasons. I don't even drink that much--maybe 2-3 Dr. Peppers per week. But I still want to kick the habit. I stopped drinking soda for a year when I was in college and it was great--I slept better, didn't feel as bloated or burpy, probably didn't get any cavities...May is a good time to do it, since my classes end next week and I won't have that habit of popping into a bodega on my way to school. I, um, might cheat on my trip home. And if I do, I will not beat myself up over it. But I'm really going to try to quit drinking it altogether during "normal" life.

2. Yoga, yoga, yoga. I've been collecting short (~20 minutes) yoga videos to do at home, and I have some goals in mind (be able to do sirsasana [supported headstand] by the end of the year, be able to lay flat in Paschimottanasana [seated forward bend]). I have noticed a big difference when I manage to do a couple of these videos each week. I've also started lifting small handweights a few days a week to try and firm up that pesky underarm wobble. Since I don't have time to go to dance class or rehearsal lately, I'm not getting any exercise and I feel wimpy.

3. Get rid of stuff. I have been decluttering in anticipation of moving or having Peanut move in with me, but everything's sitting in bags under my desk. It'll be a few trips to carry it all to Goodwill, or maybe one trip in my granny cart, but there's also a fairly large piece of kitchen furniture I want to get rid of--but I do NOT want to just leave it on the street. This piece cost me a lot of money and headache to put together and move, and I don't want to just give it away for free. I've listed it on Craigslist but had no takers--at least if I take it to Goodwill I can write it off on my taxes. But I will need a friend with a car for this....Hmmm...

4. Develop a budget for my trip home and stay within it. Overall, it should be a fairly cheap trip. We'll spend two nights with my parents and two nights with two different friends, so no lodging costs. We'll be doing a lot of driving (probably 10-12 hours over the weekend) so the rental car and gas will be the biggest expenses. We'll have a few meals out. I'd like to pick up a gift for my friend--it's the first time I'll be meeting her new baby. Admission to the Renn Faire is free, but we'll still need to pay for food (I wonder if we can bring a picnic and leave to eat at the car? I don't remember.). I'll have to buy sunscreen down there, since we won't be checking our bags and I will need more than 3 oz of it! I think that's it.

5. Start looking for apartments but don't get my heart set on anything yet. It's too early to find anything for July 1 here, although we *might* find something at the end of the month. Which would be great since it would work out best for my giving 30 days notice at my current place. I spoke to my landlord today about another open apartment in my building, but it's "not as nice" as my current place (and he's asking more for it!). Since we've been seeing some really nice places pictured online, we won't bother to see it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ethical dilemma

remember my nosebleed from yesterday? I had another massive sudden one today which ruined my khaki dress pants. since I had dinner plans I swung by a store and grabbed a pair of clearance jeans. I was torn between regular jeans and some trouser jeans and ended up with the regular ones, which I now regret (i didn't sit down while trying them on--whoops!). I wore them for about three hours while out for dinner. they're still in pristine condition. would it be totally wrong to take them back and exchange them for the trouser jeans? I will never, ever wear them again if I keep them. $40 down the drain or a dubiously ethical exchange? what would you do? fwiw, I would have no problem buying jeans that had been in the same situation for this clearance price. but I hate the people who ''buy'' formal wear and return it for a refund after the event. is this like that or is it different? I am not going to simply return them--the store shouldn't have to loan me clothes for free. I just want to have something I'll wear again. help?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

RIP Pontiac.

I'm one of those who loved these cars. My 1991 Pontiac Sunbird was a fantastic little beast, and I loved working on her. The first car I ever bought, the best car I ever owned, many happy memories.

Trent said what I meant

I have been mulling over this post by Trent for a while. It resonated with me a little more than I expected, but I like the conclusions I've come to.

I've been accused of caring too much about money and being willing to get stressed out and sacrifice time with friends to make a buck. I've definitely booked too many mystery shops on weekend days, spent too many Saturday nights at the parties of strangers instead of with my boyfriend, and stressed about making it to focus groups or spent too much downtime at work on survey sites.

My free time has more value than my work time.

Yes, it does. Generating additional income streams isn't useful when they're not passive, and this is what I was trying to say in that post. These additional revenue streams aren't worth it when they're cutting into my free time--you have to pay me a LOT more to get my attention then. Three dollars for a 15-minute survey? No, thanks. Fifty dollars for a half-hour focus group? NOW you've got my attention, and possibly my lunch hour, but only if you're not too far away from my midtown office.

The value of my time is more than just dollars and cents

I don't think I'm quite used to the fact that I can, in fact, meet all my obligations and needs and some of my wants on the paycheck I bring home from one day job. Because that is the case, I can apply a different per-hour value on my time. The value of sleeping in, or lounging around with Peanut playing video games, or taking a walk in lovely weather, or reading a great book, or even reading blogs--these aren't wastes of time (unless I'm doing them unconsciously). The point shouldn't be how much am I making per hour, or how much am I worth, but how much enjoyment am I getting out of this time? That's part of the reason I chose my job to begin with--I have so much fun doing it and find value in it, that it doesn't matter (as much) that I'm making a pretty low salary. Not hating what I do all day has a value. Time spent not worrying about money (earning it, saving it, spending it) has a value. Love has a value.

While I might argue over $10 in a grocery store line, I won't stress myself out over $11 mystery shops and $2 surveys.

Recession hits close to home (again) and other miscellanea

I got a letter from my credit card company yesterday that they are raising my APR to 9.74% + the prime rate, which was 12.99% as of February 27 (why so long ago?). So that gives me an interest rate of nearly 23%. They cited "difficulties doing business in the current economic environment" as the reason for the increase.

And I don't care in the slightest that they've raised the rate, because I've never paid a penny of interest on my credit card, and I don't intend to start now. I don't even know what they raised it from.

In worse news, someone else was laid off at my company today--I heard rumors last week that there would be another round of layoffs, although this seems like an isolated case (it's a sales rep, and his account is basically running on fumes right now and expected to go out of business any minute). It sucks--he was a great champion of our books, and he'll be missed. So will the account that he sold to, when they inevitably disappear. [Edit: Just found out it was actually five people who were laid off, though I don't know the others.]

I randomly got a nosebleed at work this morning. Kind of freaked me out. I think maybe it's the bizarre weather we're having here in New York--unseasonably warm (like 20 degrees above normal). I'm loving it and I've been spending a lot of time in the sunshine but clearly it's playing havoc with my sinuses.

I submitted flex spending reimbursement paperwork for almost $700 worth of dental work. That's my $75 deductible plus all of my share of the pulpotomy, root canal, post and core and porcelain crown. I'm thiiiiiiis close to being all done with it--I have a terrible time doing the impressions/molds for the crown (my gag reflex makes me unconsciously keep trying to spit it out, and it wound up being crooked), so the first one didn't fit right. In two weeks, the new crown should be in and hopefully it will pop right into place. Expensive, though--I hope this is my last root canal and crown. I'll have nearly used up all of my flex spending for the year after this is over with. The rest of it will go to therapy and birth control pills, unless I get sick. I'll probably try to push everything else (regular check ups, etc) into 2010 to take advantage of that year's flex spending dollars.

harrumph

Peanut has informed me that the apartment wishlist I posted yesterday is not OUR wishlist but MY wishlist, because he is perfectly happy living anywhere "even if it just had a hotplate". So we will start looking at apartments but I'll have to make the final decision. I hope I don't panic like I did when trying to pick a Korean restaurant for our anniversary!

Actually, this makes me pretty happy--
  • I'm definitely pickier than he is (that bathtub request was mine, as was the kitchen, and allowing cats, and the walkup limit, and the laundromat location--although the grocery store is all him)
  • I've done a lot more apartment shopping in New York (this will be my fifth apartment here; it will be his second)
  • The last time I hunted for apartments with someone else, I ended up compromising on a lot of things I later regretted (location for parking b/c she had a car, private house b/c she thought it would be ok, 3 bedroom b/c she wanted space for her hamsters, no closet in my bedroom but it was "so big"). This way, all my desires will be met! Mua ha ha.
Interestingly enough, it had crossed my mind a week or so ago that if we had to look at apartments separately (for example, Peanut goes while I am in school), I would 100% trust him to put down a deposit on a place without my seeing it. Given that hotplate comment, I wonder if I should retract this feeling, however!

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's official!

Whee! Peanut and I have decided to start officially apartment hunting. While we're not planning to move until July 1, this will give us some ideas of what we can get for our budget. We're also going to ask both of our current landlords to keep us in mind for places they own that will be open at that time. We like both landlords and the way they keep/run their buildings, but we do need to move to a new place. His apartment is a two bedroom/two bath and is too big, expensive, and far from the train for both of us to live in. Mine is too small for the long term, but dirt cheap and as close to the train as you can get without hearing it. If we don't find anything we love by July 1, Peanut will move into my apartment and we'll stay month to month while we keep looking.

Our perfect apartment will:
  • Be on or one block from the avenue we already live on--for easy access to Costco
  • Be in an apartment building (I will NOT live above my landlord ever again--I'd only consider a private house if the landlord lives off-site but close enough to fix stuff quickly)
  • Be close to the train (less than five minutes' walk)
  • Be no higher than a third floor walkup without an elevator
  • Have a fantastic kitchen (meaning: more than two cabinets, enough grounded plugs for microwave/blender/toaster all at once, regular-sized refrigerator, at least six feet of counter space, room for a table, enough space for us to both be in there at once. Note what we're not asking for: dishwasher, granite counters, fancy anything.)
  • Have a large enough living room for Peanut to keep his comfy couch
  • Have newish hardwood floors
  • Allow cats (we don't have one, but I realllllllly want one eventually)
  • Have a bathtub (instead of just a shower stall)
  • Have lots of windows
  • Have two bedrooms, but one of those bedrooms can be very small (for company and/or office space)
  • Be $1,400 or less
  • Ideally, a grocery store would be between the train and the apartment and a laundromat would be within on block (I don't care whether it's in the building)
  • A balcony would be a great plus, but is totally not necessary
  • Not require a broker's fee
Actually, I think all those things are doable, according to a quick Craigslist search. I hope we don't find the perfect place right away and then lose out on it because we're looking too early. I hope we don't wind up paying double rent anywhere.

I'm not looking forward to moving during the heat of summer, but I will be very happy to be ensconced in one apartment with Peanut.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Change is hard!

There have been A LOT of changes at my job in the last two weeks. Yesterday, I was pretty sure that we were being shut down and laid off en masse, which didn't end up happening, but it's going to end up with two new high-up bosses and a new not-boss but someone who I will do a lot of work for. My direct boss seems very stressed--I know she's pretty close to retirement and I think she might leave soon, which leaves me wondering what to do next.

If I stay where I am now, I will be doing a lot more work. I have a legitimate case to ask for a raise, I think. And I know that they just axed twenty people, and I'll be taking on some of the responsibilities of three of them. It looks like I'll be doing direct-report work for another person, possibly two.

I do think I should ask for a raise. I'm not sure how much, and I'm not sure how I'll do it (and I don't even know who would approve it anymore, since all the high-ups are going to be new and not know me). I think I should go through with it though.

On the other hand, I could also use this opportunity to sort of jump ship a little, leave my direct boss and move to another division with someone I've worked indirectly for before. I'm really interested in that area, but I really like working for my direct boss right now, and had sort of promised myself I was going to leave these kinds of considerations off the table until I'm finished with graduate school just so I don't have to deal with it all.

And then Peanut and I are talking about longer in the future and moving someplace totally different, where I would have to start all over from scratch anyway.

I'm very confused and stressed about this. I don't know whether to look, leap, or just ask for more money and be happy that I've got a job. What would you do? Have any of you asked for a raise successfully (or unsuccessfully)? What were the circumstances?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can I afford this?

Single Ma has a post on whether you can really afford something.

These are some really excellent points. Peanut and other friends have expressed amazement that I can afford my own apartment at $1,100 a month on a $36,000 salary. My response is always that I'm very careful with my money, have a written budget, make sure I can afford the big stuff and cut out what's not necessary, like cable and internet. But just because I can afford it in terms of having enough dollars to pay for it each month doesn't mean I can actually afford it in terms of long-term goals and things like that. The 15 months that I've lived alone have been very well spent--I needed this time, I needed to learn how to live alone and I needed to detox from some damaging relationships. It would be very difficult to move back in with non-significant-other roommates at this point. But spending more than 50% of my income on housing is completely unsustainable, and I would probably have to continue living in the same apartment locked into two year leases for another decade before I remotely broke even. Looking at the retirement savings I've lost due to this decision, I canNOT afford my own apartment.

Similarly, my cell phone bill and considering an iPhone. Yes, technically I can pay the bill each month, and actually an iPhone would be cheaper than what I'm paying for my Palm Treo right now (by like $5-10). But is that really where I need or want to put my money? Does it help me meet my goals? Does it detract?

I'd like to apply Single Ma's three questions towards my purchases for a while--not pay money for anything without asking myself:
  • Will this purchase delay progress towards my financial goals?
  • Will this purchase result in consumer debt?
  • Will I regret this purchase in a month?
In the case of the iPhone, those answers would be Yes, No, No. (I assume on the third, I've never regretted my Palm, even though I've questioned the wisdom of it.) So how does that weigh? Ideally the answers would be No, No, No--so does two out of three make it an ok purchase?

Also, I think I need to get more clearly defined on what my goals actually ARE. They're a bit too vague right now: "Live within my means." "Have an emergency fund." "Save for retirement." What about setting actual dollar figures, or deadlines? Things like, "have $30,000 saved by age 30." "Have enough money for a downpayment in 5 years." "Pay off my student loans within twelve months." (I'm not sure any of those are definite, and some of them would definitely be incompatible.)

Hmm. I've got some thinking to do.

My Grade

Single Ma started it and FB continued it--here's my financial health grade.



Points were taken off for housing, life insurance, and retirement savings.

The life insurance one is totally bogus--I have no debt, no dependents, and plenty of cash on hand for burial costs. My company provides 2x my salary for free, which my sister is the beneficiary of (don't kill me, sissy!), which is, frankly, MORE than enough for my situation right now.

High housing costs are a legitimate worry, however. My rent is more than 50% of my take-home pay, and that hurts. When Peanut and I move in together this summer, however, I'll be well below the suggested 28%, so that's only...jeez, two more months of paying rent on my own. Wow!

I don't have enough in retirement, and I'm not saving enough monthly/yearly for retirement, either. When Peanut moves in, I will beef up my retirement savings by a lot (I'll start saving to max out a Roth IRA which is ~$400 per month--I already contribute the max that my employer will match to my 401(k)). I think I might need to revisit my budget to have a slightly better idea how to save enough.

Also, this little widget asked what my monthly debt payments are, but that's misleading in my case. I'm still in school so my student loans are deferred, and I don't know how to figure out what they'll be when I start paying them back. But in about a year, I'm going to have about $30,000 of student loan debt that I don't currently have to worry about.

I also realized that even if I don't get a raise this year (I'm really not sure how likely it is at all; right now, I'm glad just to have a job), come January it will SEEM like I got a raise because I'll drop my flex spending money down to $1000 or less, giving me an additional $350 pre-tax per month. That money could go directly into retirement without my noticing, probably.

If you want to see what your financial health grade is, go here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I know it's in the past, but...

I have been really stressed out lately about past money mistakes. It doesn't make any sense, because it's not helping me curb my spending now.

I blew a lot of money in high school and college. I've had a job since I was 15, and I don't really have a whole lot to show for it. I always saved, but not for the long term. In college, in particular, I wasted probably tens of thousands of dollars. For three years, I had a long-distance boyfriend and I went to visit him every single weekend. And we usually didn't do it cheaply--we frequently met halfway between our towns so had to pay for lodging. Restaurants for every meal, movies with popcorn, candy and soda, shopping at the mall of whatever town we were in. There are a lot of things I regret about those years, but the money is definitely up there. After the third year, he moved to my town, so we at least weren't spending money on housing, gas and phone calls, but we still went out to eat a lot and went to the movies all the time. Around the same time, we started going on bigger trips, like snowboarding for spring break, and he started losing a series of jobs and I paid for things a lot more often. Ultimately, money was a big reason we broke up. We were getting to the point where we either needed to get married or break up, and I realized I couldn't build a life with him because I couldn't trust him with money. There were other problems, but realizing that this was a person I couldn't have children with because I was afraid I'd starve while on maternity leave tipped the scales for me.

So I regret five years of reckless spending.

Then the next few years I lived in New York. I was working at Starbucks and a bookstore, barely managing to pay my exorbitant rent. I lived pretty cheaply for the most part, except that I was smoking and cigarettes were about $7 a pack. And I also went to Europe on my emergency fund and came back to no money in the bank whatsoever. I guess I figured I was about to leave New York and move home to my parents' house, so it didn't matter if I had no money. Then I changed my mind and had to start all over again.

Which brings me to today, when apparently I'm supposed to have $30,000 in my retirement fund by the time I'm 30, and I'm two years and $20,000 away from that, and it's not only the fault of the stock market. All the dollars I wasted on bad food and cheap hotels and cigarettes are gone, and there's nothing I can do about that.

But the most irritating thing is that it's not changing my habits now, today. Example: I have school two nights a week. I can't make it from work to school without some caffeine, but more than one coffee a day makes me shaky and sick, so I've been grabbing a soda. Except not one of the several caffeinated sodas I can get from the fountain at work (for free)--no, I would rather spend $2 on a bottled soda from the bodega, because that's the kind I like best. But that's winding up to $4-6 a week on soda when I totally have the option to get caffeinated for free. That's about $260 a year, in addition to being bad for my teeth and tummy pudge, and $260 a year at 8% interest for 30 years is ALMOST $35,000!!!!!!

What's my problem? Why do I spend money on something that means almost nothing to me, and I know I will regret it years down the road--or at least, if I don't regret it, I won't even remember or don't value what I've spend the money on? I understand that wealth comes from both saving on the big things (house, car, consumer debt) and the small things (spending consciously, consuming less, living responsibly) but it's like I just can't get my actions to match my words sometimes, and I seem to be unable to learn from my mistakes. It's very frustrating.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Paying for digital content

Book publishing is currently going through some growing pains similar to what the music and movie industries have already faced--consumers are clearly indicating that they want digital content, but they have a disconnect between having digital content and paying for digital content. It's frustrating from my standpoint as an employee of a major book publisher--I understand that we don't have to print a physical book, but there are other costs besides PPB (paper, printing, and binding) that go into a book. Things like the author's advance against royalties. Securing a copyright. Paying an acquisitions editor, a line editor, a copy editor, a managing editor, a production editor. Paying for art or a designer. Paying for marketing, advertising, publicity. Paying MY salary (my job is important to your book! I make sure all of our sales people know about it. If they don't know about it, they won't sell it to the bookstore buyers!).

The problem is that as a consumer, I totally see the disconnect. It feels very strange to pay for something you can't touch. I've downloaded movies, music, tv shows. My argument has typically been that no money has been lost--I wouldn't actually pay for these things, I would just do without them. So the content producer is actually winning, since I am one more set of eyeballs seeing their product, and possibly talking about things that I love. Friends and Dr. Horrible are great examples--I didn't like Friends that much, but I watched all the episodes I downloaded. I still don't really get it, and I would never purchase the box sets. However, I love, love, love Dr. Horrible and although it is available for free on the internet (legally!), Peanut and I own the DVD. Granted, that was a gift, but we had talked about buying it anyway.

It seems so weird to hand over money for something you can't touch and which is easily lost by a crashed hard drive. DRM makes it even stranger--I have a terrible aversion to paying for something I would never really own, that I would be restricted from transferring to any device I chose at any time. I'm not thinking about the production assistants or the sound mixers whose jobs and salaries depend on the money that comes from the purchase.

I'm torn--I realize that book publishing will have to change and join the digital revolution, and that some part of that is going to involve dealing with people who don't want to pay for digital content. We're going to have to figure out how to protect content as much as possible without making it difficult for people to own and have what they pay for. Perhaps advertising is the answer--I certainly don't mind it on Hulu. I'd rather be advertised to than hand over my own money any day.

How do you feel about paying for digital content? Does it inherently make sense to you? Or do you feel like you're getting cheated?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tomorrow is my birthday!

I love my birthday. Even though I share it with my brother (not twins!), my high school "nemesis" (we're friends now), my ex-boyfriend's dad, my dance teacher, my grad school teacher, and many others, I still think it's MY special day. :)

As a present to myself, I am not doing anything. Well, I had a dentist appointment already scheduled and also moved my focus group to Saturday, but I am not going to do one thing more than that. No brunches or dinners or drinks with friends. No social obligations at all. I fully intend to spend Sunday in my pajamas with dirty hair, watching movies and baking something delicious. (Peanut, if you have planned something that requires clean hair, please let me know in advance. No need to spoil the surprise, just hint that I should shower. Kthx.)

I can't wait.

And Monday is my anniversary with Peanut. It has been a really wonderful year, and I can't believe it's gone by so quickly. We don't really have plans and are not doing gifts, although we will probably go out for sushi or something to celebrate. I get so busy and caught up with work and school and book clubs and all the other things I feel like I need to be participating in that I need to remind myself that what's really important--and my favorite memories of the last year--involve just spending time with him. Reading on the couch together, playing Frisbee, making a meal, wandering and talking, hugging. So this weekend is my chance to give myself a gift and my relationship a gift and sort of shut out the world and re-energize.

I hope you all have as wonderful of a day on my birthday as I'm going to have!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Link, not a LinkFest

Cell phone taxes are really outrageous here in New York. We talked about having the bill sent to Peanut's parents' house in the midwest. We'd save a lot of money this way--maybe $20 a month. It's not really honest, but...where do you cross the line to save money? You could argue that the NY taxes aren't ethical either, especially since that 911 fee wasn't going to 911 services at all. And someone could argue right back that this, like rent and food prices, are just another cost of living in a major metropolitan area. And you could argue right back that when your phone number is out of state, you shouldn't have to pay taxes to another state. And you could continue arguing around and around and around.

It might be a moot point, since if Peanut joins my plan, it would still be "officially" in my name, and I've never lived at his parents' house. Or we might treat it like downloading certain movies, with the excuse that the movie studios aren't, in fact, losing money by us doing this, since they are movies we would NEVER, EVER pay for, and would instead forego watching altogether, and then wouldn't talk about them to our friends if we end up liking them after watching a pirated version. Sometimes I think I could talk myself into (or out of) just about anything.

In other money news, I was able to reschedule my $50 focus group to this weekend, since today was just bonkers at work and I didn't have a lunch break to speak of. I was surprised they were willing to reschedule me at all, so yay for making $50! I also requested a $21 check from SurveySpot. It takes a long time, but those surveys do seem to add up!

I am looking forward to a quiet evening, with hopefully very little time spent online. I want to do yoga, cook a delicious meal, and do some reading. I do not want to get sucked into the vortex of Google Reader, askmefi, or worse, check my classmate's progress on our final assignment and realize that they are STILL not posting, ignoring deadlines, and otherwise giving me an ulcer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Odds and Ends

Update on the double-charging spa: Success! I went by today during lunch and spoke with the woman in charge. She remembered me, and we figured out that the entire situation was an honest mistake--last week, the esthetician indicated that the higher amount was in addition to what I'd been charged initially when she really meant instead of. We ironed it all out today and they processed my refund with no problems (although they tried for several minutes to convince me to take a credit and come back for a facial instead). Whew--what a relief!

I got another haircut this weekend--I'd forgotten that shorter hair requires more frequent visits (I'll probably go 3-4 times a year instead of, um, once). It's more of an expense, yes, but I love it and I'm saving a ton of money on product, so I actually think it might balance out. For perspective, my friend/hairstylist charges me $25 per cut, and I went from hair that touched my waist when wet to hair that now skims my shoulders when wet. My current bottle of conditioner has lasted me since January--I used to have to buy a new one every month. So while I'll now be spending around $100 on haircuts per year, I'm no longer spending $72 per year on conditioner and $90 per year on mousse. And all the TIME that I'm no longer spending waiting around for it to dry...priceless.

I have a focus group lined up tomorrow during my lunch break--$50 to talk about cell phones. Not phenomenal, but I will take it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lazy Saturday

I was a little optimistic about the money-grubbing spa and their ability to refund the initial lower charge and accepting only the higher final charge. Both charges appeared on my credit card, and unfortunately they have two signed slips (one from before and one from after the service). I can't just do a chargeback.

I called them on Friday and spoke to two different people, neither of whom spoke enough English to understand what I was asking for. I explained the situation to each one, and they both tried to book me for another appointment. I'll have to go down there on Monday and speak to someone in person. If that doesn't work, I will appeal to the Spa Week organizers and attempt a chargeback through my credit card company. And if THAT doesn't work, I'll complaint to the Better Business Bureau and post an honest review of them on all the review sites servicing New York.

I hate these types of confrontations and I'm always afraid that they will cost me money, even when I'm in the right. It helps me be polite if I have a plan of action for escalating the problems.

I spent today failing at being a tourist in New York with a friend from out of town (actually, an old roommate from here). We tried to go to the MOMA (line was two blocks long), and then the Met (line was three blocks long, and doubling back on itself), managed to lose her train ticket and showed up to the Virgin Megastore after it closed forever. Oh, well. We had fun, saw an OK movie, and shared two great meals and lots of good chitchat.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Friday LinkFest

Define underemployed, please! I could have more responsibility than I have now, and almost everyone says they don't get paid enough. I've never seen a very good actual definition of "underemployed".

Related: I've worked more than one job many times, and often because I was just used to it. It started out as needing the money, but sometimes it's also because I don't want all my eggs in one basket, or I get bored easily, or I just like some of the weird stuff people will pay for.

I'm so glad I quit smoking. Cigarettes are now around $9 per pack here. My wallet and my lungs thank me!

An excellent post about getting "unstuck" from information overload.

I'd like to be a little more of a jack of all trades. I can already handle car problems (basic to advanced), do a little basic cooking, and general first aid. I'd like to brush up on first aid, be more comfortable about babies, chop veggies like a chef, and not kill every plant I've tried to grow.

Yikes! I've seen quite a few posts lately about card skimmers. I usually try to notice if anything's different, but I'm going to be extra vigilant when going to the ATM from now on.

Yes! Text message spam might get banned altogether.

Would you date someone who was unemployed? As my comment on Shtinkykat's post says, it would really depend on their attitude about it.

Financial Map

Inspired by Aspiration's Purse, here's my financial map:




Pretty interesting stuff!

In case anyone else out there hasn't heard of this

SPA WEEK SPA WEEK SPA WEEK

April 13-16 (many places extend the discount all month). It's not too late to book your service--the spa I went to on Tuesday was taking appointments while I was there.

$50 flat fee for many spa services that are typically much more expensive. Massages, facials, laser hair removal, spray tanning, hair services, acupuncture, microdermabrasion, teeth whitening, mani/pedis, body wraps, waxing.

**Please remember to tip your esthetician on the FULL cost of the service--they deserve it!**

(And it's in many major cities, not just New York.)

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Being vulnerable about money

Wherein I talk about my ladybits.

Yesterday, I had my Spa Week appointment for laser hair removal. Spa Week's deals are $50 flat for services that often cost more than $200--a significant savings, unless, of course, you weren't intending to spend that money in the first place.

I've had laser hair removal four or five times now, I think, all at different spas during Spa Week. (I feel bad going to the same place over and over again for such a discounted price, although I always tip generously and on the full price of the service.) Some places are better than others--last spring, the location was owned by two sisters and they didn't accept gratuities. Their machine was basically painless and they were the most thorough of any place I've ever been. I wasn't as happy with the overall results, however--the hair seemed to grow back faster than usual. Other places feel a little impersonal and money-grubbing, but the results are phenomenal--this is the type of place I went to last night. (Well, impersonal and money-grubbing, anyway--we'll see about the results.)

Laser hair removal is tricky because different spas mean different things using the same words. I've had hair removed from my underarms and bikini line. I've been focusing on the bikini because I have very sensitive skin and other forms of hair removal cause a lot of irritation that has actually led to scarring. I'll try not to get too graphic here, but...well, the very thorough place I went to last year zapped ALL the hair down there. Like, well...everything that I wanted gone. Think total Brazilian wax except for my preferred coiffure, and you've got it. Some of the other places that I've been to differ between bikini, extended bikini, and brazilian and charge accordingly, and the place I went to last night was no different. I thought I clarified everything when I called to book the appointment, but the esthetician didn't bring this up with me until I was pantsless on the table--"Oh, so this is the area you shaved? Well, THIS [indicating not nearly enough area] is the bikini--you need the extended bikini, and that's $50 more."

Now, what to do? I'm sitting on a medical exam table, wearing idiotic sunglasses, nude from the waist down with goose pimples. Do I argue with her? Wrap a towel around my waist and stalk out to find the guy who I talked to on the phone when I booked the appointment? Pay what I planned to pay and only get part of what I wanted done?

I ended up looking at the brochure where it is clear that what the guy on the phone told me was wrong, and the service I am expecting does cost more, and I'm getting it for a really good deal (about 30% of the full cost). Even though I was half-naked, I bargained a little due to the misinformation I was given, and settled on a price I can live with. I felt that she was thorough and careful during the procedure, so I tipped the esthetician well. And I managed to turn down a really good deal on a full package of three additional treatments (basically pay for one and a half, get one and a half free). It's just not in the budget, alas.

Now I just have to watch to make sure that my credit card is charged properly--I'd already paid the lower cost and signed the slip before the service, then they rang up the higher price when I was done and I signed that slip. So I need to make sure that the initial lower charge is reversed.

The experience made me think a lot about talking about money when someone is at a disadvantage or somehow vulnerable. Asking for money exposes a lot of vulnerability. Bargaining for a starting salary or raise feels a lot like sitting half naked on that table talking to a woman who was about to get all up in my business. Being caught at a checkout without enough cash or getting a credit card declined can be very embarrassing. Exposing our financial faults to loved ones is scary to think about. What about being in a situation where you just don't know a lot, like investing for retirement or applying for a mortgage? It's easy to feel taken advantage of when you don't know how to tell.

Mostly though, I hold to the motto that no one cares about your money as much as you do. The people at the spa last night did not care about getting my money as much as I care about parting with it. So it's important that I know what I'm paying for and why, even when I'm bare-assed. Even when you feel you're in over your head, you need to put on your big-girl pants (clearly metaphorical in my situation) and ask for some documentation. Be willing to pay what you owe, but do some research as well.

Hope that wasn't TMI!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mmmm, mushrooms

Twistie posted a great list of "mushroom caps" she's not going to stuff, and I love the metaphor. While I might *actually* stuff mushroom caps (yum, sounds good!), here are a few things I'm no longer going to bother with:

My life is too short to feel guilty for not wanting to be more social. I'm a homebody and I'm going to be ok with that.

My life is too short to not live it the way *I* want, and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

My life is too short to have anything in my home that I don't love. So--time to declutter!

My life is too short to stress about stuff that I can't control. Every once in a while, I get really worked up over where Peanut and I are going to live or how my mother will react to something or other, or something else that I really don't need to worry about, or at least don't need to worry about yet.

What mushroom caps do you refuse to stuff?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My first weekend off in a long time

The only set-in-stone appointment I had this weekend was a fairly quick dentist appointment. Afterwards, I did a mini-CVS bargain hunt: I picked up deodorant, mouthwash, a 3-pack of chapstick, and a Dr. Pepper, all for $3. I had coupons and a $10 gift card, so that was nice. CVS is kind of out of the way, and I was looking for a lot of other stuff (mousse, face wash, moisturizer, etc) and they didn't have the brands or exact product that I was looking for.

Then I went to Victoria's Secret, and picked up a free panty and a free mini body lotion using coupons that were mailed to me. Afterwards I went to New York & Co to use another coupon--I picked up two pairs of pants, a skirt, a cardigan, and five pairs of undies for abot $60. Nice!

For dinner, Peanut and I made a pizza using mozzerella we picked up at Costco for $13 for 5 pounds. We divided it up into 2 cup bags and froze it, and we're saving more than a dollar per pizza this way. Yay! Right now, we're making chocolate chip cookies, and tonight we might go to a movie.

Tomorrow I'm getting paid to go to a yoga class (one of the few mystery shops I've recently accepted) but otherwise I have no official plans. If the weather's nice, I might insist on a picnic!

Hope y'all's weekends are going well too!

Friday, April 3, 2009

What Should I Do For My Birthday?

You might remember that a few months ago, I was peeved when a friend of mine threw herself a birthday party and I ended up spending quite a bit more than I intended. (Another friend's birthday was last week, and I was thrilled to go out for a drink with her--it's the moneygrubbing I don't like rather than acknowledging a special day.) My birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and several people have asked what I'm doing, and when I said I wasn't sure, encouraged me to do something.

I guess I could do a happy hour or something. I have school the night of my birthday, and I'll be going to class, so it would have to be another time.

I don't know. I'd rather go home and have cupcakes with Peanut, or whatever wonderful thing it is he has planned (hee hee!). I don't want gifts. I don't want cards. I don't even want lots of drinks bought for me. I wouldn't mind having all my friends in one place that wasn't work, school, or rehearsal-related, but it seems like such a hassle (and an expense!). What do adults do for their own birthdays?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Goals

March Recap
1. File taxes and FAFSA paperwork. Done!

2. Consider opening a Roth IRA with my bonus. Done! I only got $1,000 in for 2008, but at least I now have a Roth IRA open, and no excuses not to add to it for 2009.

3. Start looking for plane tickets. I have started using Farecast and Kayak to research plane ticket prices for our trip to meet my family in May. So far, prices are way too high--I'm hoping to pay $150 per ticket, and they're at $218 each. It's still early, though.

4. Find a different way to approach two of my New Year’s Resolutions. Eh, sort of. I had a good streak at the beginning of the month with eating breakfast at home (or at least bringing oatmeal or granola to eat at my desk instead of buying a bagel) and I did yoga a few times. I'm not satisfied with my pogress.

5. File all receipts for flex spending reimbursement. I submitted one round of receipts and got reimbursed. All my dental work will be done by the end of April, so I will submit more receipts soon.

April Goals
1. Survive! I have two presentations and a group project to complete this month, as well as a two week long sales conference, my birthday, Spa Week visits, a school-sponsored lecture, my one year anniversary with Peanut, and a friend visiting from out of town. I'd like to make it through the month with as much calmness and sanity as possible, as well as not spending that much money on convenience food and/or retail therapy.

2. Use up some coupons. I have various coupons for free things (free panty and mini body lotion from VS, free product from Aveda, etc) and I don't want to lose them! Also, try to use coupons at the grocery store/drug store more often as well.

3. Book trip down South, including plane tickets and rental car. This will depend on ticket prices, but we're going in mid-to-late May, so the end of April is probably the last chance for good deals anyway.

4. Do some serious decluttering. I think it might be time to get rid of a contentious piece of kitchen furniture, and I definitely have a lot of other things--clothes, books, etc--that I am ready to say good-bye to. It's just time to sit down and pull them all together, take photos of them (for tax purposes) and cart them off to Goodwill.

5. Not pay any library fines. All my reserved books came available at the same time, and most of them are reserved by other library users so I can't renew them. I'd like to read them all and return them on time. We'll see!

March Analysis

Misc income: $475.60

Which includes a flex care reimbursement, a few YouData payments, a settlement check from the Airborne class action lawsuit, mystery shop payments, and a dance job payment.


Savings
$85 earmarked for travel and gifts
Retirement $1,000 (Roth IRA)

Total Savings: $1,085

Spending
Blow $4 (cab fare from the Shecky's event)
Cell phone $81.10
Dance expenses $77.28 (mostly travel, a few costume pieces)
Entertainment $24.35 (books from Amazon and refilling my Paperbackswap postage money)
Food--dining out $266.27
Food--groceries $123.94
Gifts $31.63
Household $15.40 (my share of a Costco membership; also a colander)
Laundry $13.00
Medical $112.48 (dentist, OTC medicines)
Mystery shop expenses $5.58
Rent $1,100
Taxes $504.66 (federal, state, and tax prep fees)
Therapy $60
Utilities $55.74
Personal $10.99

Total spending: $2,486.42

You'll notice that this is more than I actually brought in this month! But the taxes and gifts were paid out of sinking funds created for those purposes. Plus the medical and therapy costs will be reimbursed by flex spending dollars next month. Overall, not too bad, particularly for food--Peanut and I landed at $620 for the month, but he assured me he's expecting some reimbursement for meals during overtime. Our goal for when we live together is to spend $600 or less on food per month.

I updated my Networth IQ as well (see sidebar) -- WOW! My brand new Roth IRA made $108 in a month (up 10%) and my other retirement accounts are also up (overall, 24%). My credit card bill is up since I haven't paid anything off in this cycle yet (I will though, don't you worry)--I charged two books on Amazon, my tax preparation fees, and one of my spa week visits. I was under the impression that they're not actually supposed to charge your card until the service is provided or the goods delivered, but whatever. If something doesn't work out next week I can always do a charge-back.

Overall, I'm quite pleased that the stock market seems to have started rising back up--while I'm not where I was before the recession started, I'm actually improving again.