Friday, July 31, 2009

Apps I Love

I've had my iPhone for just over a month now, and I wanted to give a rundown of what I think of it.

First of all, my monthly bill is officially cheaper than my Palm, but five dollars and change. Yay!

Second, I've downloaded and installed a LOT of apps. I haven't paid for a single one, however--I haven't found it necessary. Here's a rundown of what I've found and enjoyed (these were all free at the time I downloaded them; no gaurantee that they remain so):

Google Calendar -- I'm using this as my main calendar now, which seems like a good idea since I can update it right from my Gmail but I don't like it as much as I liked my Palm calendar. It doesn't automatically set an alarm for new appointments and otherwise just doesn't work as well as I'd hoped. It will take me some more to get used to.

Flashlight -- awesome! It basically just lights up the screen one solid color (and you can change it) to give you an extra light source. Helpful when picking my way across the dark living room.

AroundMe -- Uses the GPS in the iPhone 3GS to find restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, etc, near your location. Interesting and I've used it a few times.

NYTimes -- my new favorite news app.

YogaTrainer Lite -- I have no excuse to not do yoga while travelling or anything!

NPR Addict -- Meh. It turns itself off fairly frequently, and doesn't work when there's no WiFi or cell signal, so I can't use it on my commute.

TapDefense -- Peanut likes this game quite a bit. I can't quite get into it.

Lightsaber -- a must for Star Wars fans. It makes the noises and everything!

Drop 7 Lite -- my very favorite app of all. This weird little game is sort of like tetris with numbers. The regular version of this app is like $2.99 or something, and I'm really tempted to buy it. That's how much I love this.

Free Booze! -- An app by MyOpenBar.com supposedly tells you what bars are offering free or reduced price food and drinks in New York. I don't go out all that often, but it seems neat.

ZenBoundLe -- a weird calming app. I like it just because it's so interesting and different.

Tap Tap -- Dance Dance Revolution for your fingers! The songs are lame but it's so much fun.

StoneLoops of Jurassica -- This is basically the flash game Zuma, which I like a lot.

Flixster -- gives you movie showtimes in your area.

Fluid -- this is the best app for showing off what the 3GS can do. Take a picture and this app makes it look like it's looking through a pool at the photo.

The Weather Channel Standard -- I use this almost every day.

I have a lot of other apps but I'm not using them all that much or haven't used them at all. Peanut's been pretty enamored of my phone and has put on a lot of stuff that he uses and I don't care about, like the Archers app. That's ok with me...until he gets his own phone!

Tracking spending

I had a conversation about tracking spending the other day. Miss Jones was complaining about how hard tracking spending is--she can stick to it for a week, maybe two weeks, but then something happens and it completely falls apart. She's tried doing it by hand and on the computer, using spreadsheets and money tracking software. She uses mostly credit/debit cards instead of cash, so in theory it should be easy to reconcile receipts or categorize where her money goes. This is not a woman who lacks willpower either--she's smart as a whip and making As in law school (which she's attending on a full scholarship!). I think she finds financial issues, especially tracking spending, boring. And it might be a bit of perfectionism too--if she loses track once, why bother to keep going?
I think that tracking spending is helpful mainly because of the Hawthorne Effect--simply paying attention to where your money is going helps rein it in. That's all well and good to say, though, and harder to implement. My suggestions were just to do it, every evening, and if she missed a day, to do it the next day anyway--even if she left stuff out, even if stuff was missed. After a while it becomes second nature and easier to keep track of. But I've been tracking every dollar for five years or so now--maybe I'm not remembering how I got started.
Do you have any other suggestions?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My current wishlist

As inspired by Stacking Pennies
  • New wallet
  • New bras
  • Handweights (5 pounds?)
  • Futon cover
  • Paper shredder
  • Tea Tree Oil facial cleanser and oxygenating moisturizer (I'm waiting until I use up all the stuff I have!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

LinkFest

Thanks for all the well wishes so far. I'm getting caught up at work and home and hope to have some proper posts soon. In the meantime, here are some things I've noticed around the blogosphere.

WiseBread has 30 uses for white vinegar. I love white vinegar! I use it on my laundry, but I’m going to try the floor cleaner recipe soon.

I loved this post on Wardrobe Oxygen, about how to look rich. Quality counts but not just in prices.

I Pick Up Pennies had a post about stupid things you don’ t need. I saw a similar article somewhere else recently, about what you could have saved if you hadn’t bought stuff you don’t even remember. I’d like to work on making every purchase important, so I don’t have stuff I don’t care about and don’t need.

I printed out the Big Book of Everything life affairs organizer and have been slowly filling it out. It's unnerving to leave quite so much information in one place, but I am leaving off account numbers and things and it's really handy to have everything in one place (like all my addresses in chronological order--it was hard to remember and now I don't have to worry about it again!). Via GetRichSlowly

Stacking Pennies' wishlist inspired me! Look for mine in an upcoming post.

My Money Blog talks about the Hawthorne Effect--that workers' productivity went up simply because they were being observed, rather than as a result of anything they tinkered with. I noticed this as well, when I first started tracking my spending. Withouth changing anything, the fact that I would have to write it down somewhere prevented me from spending money sometimes.
The Consumerist raises an issue about IKEA furniture that I thought of this weekend. I went to a bargain second-hand furniture store and was really blown away by some of the stuff I saw. Some of it was really ugly, but a lot of it was old--decades old--but still in completely usable shape. It was made out of real wood! There were actual backs on the bookshelves! Actual metal handles on drawers! I liked the feel of it so much more than the disposable furniture that comes out of IKEA. And now to know what kind of unsustainable enterprise they're running--I think I'm done with their furniture, thanks. I'll continue to pick up accents and things like that, but no more wood.
Unclutterer talks about working out at home without equipment. This is great! I've been trying to do pilates or yoga from home every day, but I really need to add in some arm training--my arms look pitiful (and no, I'm not doing 100 pushups again. I did it last summer, got bored, hurt my back and didn't see much difference. I'd rather do tricep dips with a chair.).

Monday, July 27, 2009

I've just returned home from a family emergency. Thoughts are rolling around in my head like boulders but it will take a bit for me to sort them out. I'm going to try to have a very low-key week--I'm bowing out of all my evening plans, except for a focus group which will pay at least $150. I'll do yoga or pilates every night, take lots of baths and go to bed early. At some point I might get around to a LinkFest or maybe even a proper post, but we'll see. It's a weird time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Quick post before bed

Last night I went to a mystery shopping seminar, which I've never done before. It was really weird to meet other mystery shoppers.

I keep wanting to start the 30 day yoga challenge, but I keep forgetting about it. Lame!

Peanut and I started a dinner calendar, inspired by this post at the Simple Dollar. The great thing about this is that not only will it eliminate our daily 4:30 “What’s for dinner?” discussion (I mean, I hope we'll still chat but it won't be about that!) but it’s going to ultimately be a great meal tracker—we’ll know when was the last time we had fried rice or potato salad or whatever, and we’ll be able to look back and find meals that we haven’t made in a while.

Peanut is adding me as an authorized user to one of his credit cards (the one from the same bank where we have our joint account). The credit card provides ridiculously better reward points, so we’ll use the credit cards for most everything and pay it off every month from the joint account. This is also good for me since I only have one credit card in my name right now which is not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard, and Bargaineering just talked about credit card diversification.


My new boss starts tomorrow morning, so I need to be at work early. I'm not sure whether I'm nervous--it's sort of like starting a new job, after all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Last night when I got home, Peanut had rearranged the bedroom. I'm not usually one for all the feng shui stuff, but the layout, while not one I'd choose aesthetically, makes more sense somehow and I did sleep a lot better last night.

Today I've got an hour to unpack everything I can get my hands on and then we're going out for a mystery shop dinner. And THEN we're going to Home Depot to look at paint colors!

Over and out...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ugh

I am just having a rough time of it today. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, was cranky at Peanut, have been completely ineffectual at work, have had a tummyache all day and would like nothing more than to crawl back into bed right now and maybe get a do-over.

I think it's due to lack of sleep and stress. I haven't slept a full night since we moved into this apartment, and I don't know whether it's from all the boxes that are still piled up, or because we can't seem to get it cool AND quiet at night, or because I'm just not used to it or what. It's starting to make me a little crazy--I'll try sleeping on the kitchen floor, or in the bathtub, or in a closet or anything, as long as I don't see every hour on the clock for just one night.

I'm stressed about work, stressed about the apartment, stressed about my family, stressed about my final, stressed about life in general. I can't seem to make my brain shut up.

When you get in a funk like this, what do you do?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Five Year Plan

This post over at Money Under 30 inspired me to come up with a few goals for my own five year plan. Here they are!

• Completely pay off my student loans
• Save at least $50,000 in retirement
• Make more than $50,000 a year

Specifics

• Completely pay off my student loans
I will graduate in May 2010 if all goes according to plan (which it will, because I hold a Ph. D. in horrible...oh, wait. Never mind.). When I’m finished, I expect I will have just under $20,000 in loans and will have received $15,000 in tuition reimbursement from my company (some of which will be used to pay cash for summer classes since I don’t qualify for aid for those). I’m not yet sure whether I’ll be dumping that $15,000 straight into the loans to cut the principal down, or doing something else with it (like meeting my savings goals and then just paying the loans on an accelerated schedule).

• Save at least $50,000 in retirement
I originally set this goal at $35,000, but I’m currently at ~$12,700, so I would have about $4,600 to save per year and I’m pretty sure that’s too easy! Right now I am contributing 6% to my company 401(k) which my company matches, and I put $1,000 into a Roth IRA for 2008. I’d like to keep the contributions at 6% for the company match, then max out a Roth IRA (about $416 a month to hit the $5,000 yearly limit). Doing both of those things puts me on track to save about $7,160 a year (not including the company match, another $2,160, and it assumes that my income stays exactly the same which it better not), for a total of $35,800, which would put me over my $50,000 goal. This also assumes the stock market even exists in five years and we’re not trading rocks for food or something.

Unfortunately, unless I drastically rework my just-reworked budget, I can’t afford to put that much into a Roth this year, thanks to my $5,000 medical spending withholding. What I promise to do is to put my bonus (assuming I get one) and any other “found” money into one, and save all extra money from budgeted categories for retirement instead of fun money. I’m so inspired by Moneyapolis and her aggressive retirement savings, but I’m waaaaaay behind her in dollars but not that much in age. I’d like to get a little more serious about it.

• Make more than $50,000 a year
I’m too passive about my career and what I’m getting paid, and my excuse for the last year has been that I’m in grad school and don’t want to go salary-chasing. But next year, I’ll have a master’s degree and six months later it will be time to move along if I haven’t been seriously promoted and given a raise. And it’s very realistic that I could (and should!) be making that much in the next five years. In fact...maybe I’m being too conservative here. But since it’s the one I have the least control over (and I work in publishing, well known for low salaries), I’ll leave it at that for now. Success as of April 2010!

So there you have it. Five year plan, or part of one.

Not Frugal: Decorating My Home

Peanut and I have been in our new apartment for about two weeks (maybe three?) and I have come to the conclusion that I hate the walls. They were freshly painted before we moved in, but with either a flat paint or a colored primer—something so flat and dull that it feels dry and almost sandy, and if you so much as look hard at it, it gets scuffed. And the Magic Eraser just makes things worse.

We’ll be in this apartment at least a year (see my recent rant about not moving again for a looooong time) so I’ve decided that I want to paint and do some actual decorating, and I want to do it sooner rather than later. I want to be cheap about it but I don’t want to be so cheap that I put it off and remain unhappy every time I open my eyes in the living room.

I’m still in the idea-gathering stage of things right now. I know this much: I want to paint the living room a color with eggshell or satin paint, and I want to use the frame-things on the walls to some advantage (I’ll try to post a picture—I don’t know what they’re called, but I’ve seen them in pre-war buildings before. They’re just random frames on the living room walls, I guess made out of plaster). I might do this by starching fabric inside of them, or maybe painting the insides different colors. I don’t want it to look like a box of crayons threw up, though. I want to paint the bedroom, too, and get a new bedframe or headboard or do something artsy to look like a headboard. And maybe I’ll paint behind the sink and stove in the kitchen, and do some sponge detail there or something.

All told, I don’t think this would cost more than $50 in paint and I’m hoping I could find supplies on FreeCycle or borrow them from friends. Of course, we’d do it ourselves to save money.

I haven’t put a whole lot of effort into decorating any place that I’ve lived because I view them all as temporary. But I think it’s worth it this time—if $50 will get rid of pretty much the only problem I have with this apartment, that seems like a small price to pay, especially amortized over a year!

If you live in rentals, what do you do to decorate and make it feel like home?

This is financial peace

Someone I love very much is having a very rough time. If I need to, I can buy a plane ticket and get a rental car with about five minutes' notice, and be at their side in a few hours.

If I need to, I can do that, and I will.

Please keep my loved one in your thoughts and prayers, if you're the praying sort.

New budget

Here it is—my new and improved budget!

Rent $688 (half of $1375)
Cell phone $74*
Renter’s insurance $10
Electric/gas $40
Internet $20
Food $250 (groceries and eating out)
Blow $20
Entertainment $20
Therapy $60 (out of pocket for the remainder of 2009)
Personal items $15
Travel home $90
Gifts $40
Sunny Vacation Fund $100
Electrolysis $125
Future $125
Clothes $60
Prescriptions $15 (out of pocket for the remainder of 2009)
Misc $40

*estimated, I haven’t received my first bill for the iPhone. If Peanut gets an iPhone too and we split it in half, I think it will drop to about $60.

I am most excited about my new budget categories: Sunny Vacation Fund, Electrolysis, Future, and Clothes. I haven’t had a clothes budget category in a while, which hasn’t really stopped me from buying any, but now I don’t have to feel guilty. :) The Future fund, as I mentioned in another post, could go for a lot of different things and I’m glad to have the wiggle room to save for something without defining it. The Electrolysis fund will cover a full round of electrolysis for my bikini line and possibly underarms—something I’ve said for years I wanted to do and have never placed enough importance on to save for. Depending on what deals I can find at October’s Spa Week, I might buy the package then and get it over with. I think both procedures will cost me about $1,200.

The Sunny Vacation Fund is really my favorite of all though. Peanut and I are each putting away $100 a month so that in about a year, we can take a great vacation together. My preference is for a beach or a cruise (hence the name of the fund!) but we might do something else entirely. I’m so excited to be actively saving for it!

Mid-Year Resolution Review

I just wanted to take a second to review how I'm doing with my New Year's Resolutions since we're already half-way (!) through 2009.

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. I have a lot of yoga videos, and I now have room to do them in my apartment, but I haven’t gotten around to doing it on a regular basis. This one still needs work.

2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). I’m actually doing better with this. I’m still eating breakfast at work mostly, but it’s often cereal or something that I bring in. If I eat at home, I still have to eat something mid-morning or I get faint, so it kind of makes sense to just eat at work. At least it’s healthier stuff than a bagel every day.

3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. Um, kind of? I made a new recipe last night that wasn’t that great. Now that we live in one place, I’ve noticed that we’re eating at home much more frequently.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. This has been going quite well. I initially wanted to be “done” with therapy in June, but more things have been coming up so I’m still going. I made some major progress though (for example, telling my parents that Peanut and I were moving in together despite knowing they would disapprove), and that’s been great!

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. My cumulative GPA is still 3.85. My summer class ends this week, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get an A in it as well.

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. So-so. Some days are better than others. I’ve been a little ruthless in clearing out my blogroll of blogs I don’t find as interesting, so that helps.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I think I was doing ok until the move, and then I sort of fell off the planet. I’m going to try writing and scheduling posts ahead of time (which I did with this post!) and see if that helps keep things interesting around here!

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. This is going pretty well—I revised my budget in January and again this month when Peanut and I moved in together. I’ve already spent more than $5,000 for the year on health spending—Lasik surgery, doctor/dentist/therapy visits, prescriptions—so the rest of my medical spending for the year will be out of pocket. I can’t wait for 2010 when I’ll essentially get a raise by having that money back in my regular paycheck!

9 Start saving for “future” fund. I was able to start this with my new July budget, and will be putting $125 a month aside. This could be for a wedding or a house downpayment or a car or to pay off student loans in one fell swoop or a number of other things. It’s not an emergency fund (I already have one of those!) but it could also function as that if necessary. I’m really excited to have enough wiggle room in my budget to be able to save for such things!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Well, that was dumb

I have been making a lot of dumb mistakes lately. I blame it to lack of sleep and being stressed about work. Here are a few examples:

Target
We went to Target a few weeks ago to get things for the apartment. We went to Target (a good haul away) specifically instead of the nearby discount/hardware store because I had a gift card from Peanut's mom. We picked out what we needed and got to the register. Peanut went to put the buggy away, and in the 10 seconds he was gone, I managed to put the purchase on my credit card and completely forgot to use the gift card (which I had to MOVE in my wallet to get to my credit card). Oops. So we had to make a second trip to Target specifically to use up that gift card. That was a $50 mistake, plus time wasted, although I guess we'd have spent the $50 anyway. We haven't bought anything we weren't planning on.

Credit Card
I paid my credit card bill over the weekend--this one was a doozy, since I was paying off my iPhone and plane ticket purchase (as well as the aforementioned Target purchase) and other random things. I had to update my bank account information as always (they only let you link one, and I pay for different things from different accounts--cell phone and stuff from checking, travel from savings, mystery shopping expenses from my business checking, etc). I've received confirmation by now that the payment cleared with Discover, but it wasn't showing up as being debited from my checking account. I just took a closer look, and realized that I mistyped my account number by one digit!

I called to find out what my options are, and basically I don't have any. The rep said maybe my bank would figure it out and pull the money from the correct account (ha! Yeah right) or that it would be returned and I'd get charged a $35 returned payment fee (ouch) and possibly another $35 late payment fee if it comes back after the due date on the 12th. On their end right now, it looks paid so they can't reverse it, and I can't pay more than the current balance (which is now zero) so that I'd have a credit if/when it gets returned. So this is a potentially $70 mistake. GRRR.

I'm just going to wait and see what happens, and if they charge any of these fees I will call them again and plead my case as having a dumb moment and see if they'll lower or remove them. This is the first time anything like that has ever happened.

And I'm also going to pay closer attention to numbers that I type on the number keypad--I ALWAYS mix it up with the phone keypad layout, which is exactly what caused this problem (I put a 1 where it should have been a 7).

And then I'm going to hide and try not to go shopping or do anything important until I get a full night's sleep.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Put it off for just one more day

Peanut told me a story he read about a guy whose grandfather had a “one more day” approach to major purchases. He drove an old beater car literally until it quit working because every night he’d say to himself, “Oh, well, it’ll last one more day.” It worked because he didn’t feel like he was stuck driving a junky car forever—just for one more day. And one day at a time, it stretched out until the car was really and truly no longer useful, probably saving him lots of money.

I’ve been turning this theory over in my mind for a few days and I really like it. Telling myself, “Oh, you can have it! But just wait one more day” doesn’t really feel like deprivation the way that “You shouldn’t buy that!” does.

Happy (financial) independence weekend

That headline is sort of an oxymoron. I got a little wild and crazy with the spending this weekend, although not nearly as bad as it could have been!

Thursday I got out of work early and considered going shopping—a cardigan I really want is on sale at NY&Co. But I didn’t. I just sort of wandered around in the rain, had lunch at McDonalds, and bought some buttons to replace broken buttons on a cardigan I already have. Yay! (I still want that NY&Co cardigan, and I’m just going to watch for it to go on sale more than it already is).

Friday Peanut and I opened a joint checking account! We’re going to each put money into this account every month and use it to pay for rent, household bills, food and any other joint expense. That way we don’t have to figure out whose turn it is to pay for what. We are still trying to figure out how to add it to our spreadsheets so that when I do my monthly spending reports, it’ll still be broken out into categories.

Friday afternoon I went out with a friend from out of town—he wanted to go shopping, and of course I went along and tried stuff on too. I ended up not getting anything at all, which I was very proud of. Then we went out for dinner with Peanut at an overpriced diner in Times Square where all the waitstaff are aspiring Broadway stars and they sing showtunes while serving your food. My friend loved it, but it was expensive ($80 for the three of us!).

Saturday night I went to a ballroom dance competition to watch my friend compete. My ticket was $55! Very pricey, especially considering that none of that money goes to the competitors—they have to pay to enter. I wonder who pockets all the money after renting out the hotel ballroom? It was standing room only, so they must have racked up a fortune. After my friend competed, I went out with him and his friends—yes, I partied with ballroom dancers! And yes, some of them were from Dancing with the Stars and Dance Your Ass Off and So You Think You Can Dance! I felt way too cool for myself.

We ended up at a private club watching the Gypsy Kings and a belly dancer and a drag queen. I wound up only buying one drink all night—my friend’s friends insisted on buying the rest since I’d paid so much to watch their competition. I’m not going to argue with that! I also took the subway home instead of a cab, since a) I’m cheap and b) subways right after last call are plenty full (of loud drunk people) and in my mind, safer than a black car service at that time. What could easily have been a $150 night cost me about $60.

Sunday Peanut and I spent more money at Target for stuff for our apartment—it just seems like we keep coming up with stuff we need. Moving is expensive!

I worked out a new budget for myself, which I’ll post soon. I’m going to be able to save a lot more money, which makes me very happy!