Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Set aside some financial research time. I did this! I rebalanced my 401(k) and set up automatic rebalancing for the future. I also did some research and it IS worth it for me to convert my rollover traditional IRA into Roth IRA, and I will consolidate that with my current Roth IRA. That will give me about $3,000 in 2009 contributions and cost me $600 out of pocket in taxes. I just need to call Fidelity and Vanguard on Monday and figure out how to actually accomplish this. I still need to fill out the Will & Trust Kit and the Big Book of Everything but I intend to get to that today.

2. Build a new budget. Done! I upped one savings fund by $30 a month, set aside $416 a month for contribution to a Roth, and increased my clothing budget to $100 a month. I didn’t do anything about a gym membership yet.

3. Start looking for holiday travel deals. I’ve made my plans and am now just watching for deals. Flight prices jumped $100 in the last week! I’m going to keep watching but buy within the next week.

4. Keep being super-productive at work, but cut back my hours. Sort of…I’ve been staying till seven most nights, but my boss told me to take it easier and stop trying to get it all done right at the start.

5. Set and stay within budget for the wedding weekend. Done. My friend was so beautiful and her son is adorable and her husband is great. I didn’t spend all that much money—rental car was less than $100 and I spent around $30 on gas. The bachelorette party was my next biggest expense--$40 at The Melting Pot.

6. Make some budget Halloween costumes! We gave up. I’ve just been too busy to make costumes. We might pull something together out of our closets and hand out candy, or just boycott the holiday entirely today. I’m pooped!

November Goals
1. Complete IRA conversion and set up automatic payments to max it out for 2009. I’m pretty sure I can do this all online, but I’m unclear about one step, so I’ll call next week and get it taken care of.

2. Stick to my budget! No more clothing binges.

3. Buy Christmas gifts! I’ve scheduled some days off during the week so that I can get my Christmas shopping done when it’s not totally crazy out with everyone else. I’d like to get it all done by December 1, but I think that’s a little unrealistic.

4. Handle 2010 health care contributions and flex spending. The deadline is 11/13, so I don’t really have a choice, but I’ll put it on here as a goal.

5. Spend some money on the apartment. Painting, art, whatever. I’d just like to get it done in November.

October spending

Misc Income: $156.65 (Mystery shop and survey income.)

Savings
General savings $495 (electrolysis, the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, etc)
Retirement $147.70 pre tax (company matches that)

Spending
Cell phone $77.70
Clothes $159.01 (holy cow!)
Entertainment $65.71 (this includes movie tickets from Costco—we saw Where the Wild Things Are—as well as some books and taking an out-of-town friend out to eat)
Food—dining out $187.34
Food—groceries $151.74
Gifts $21.78
Household $32.17
Internet $16.48
Laundry $10.00
Mystery shop expenses $62.84 (the last shop…a dinner shop)
Personal $10.87
Rent $687.50
Utilities $34.06

Total spending: $1,517.20

Thoughts
I need to rein in the clothes spending! Although I do really love my new boots.

Net Worth IQ is also updated (see sidebar). My retirement accounts did not keep their $1,000/month gain I’ve been enjoying lately, but I guess yesterday’s Dow drop contributed to that. I want to set up some sidebars for my savings accounts, but I'm not entirely sure how to do that. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My 25 Frugal Things and 4 Spendthrift things

As promised, inspired by WiseBread.

My Frugal Things
  1. I quit smoking.
  2. I use drugstore cosmetics and toiletries and even get most of those at a discount cosmetics store. No fancy stuff for me!
  3. I shop for clothes on sale and using coupons.
  4. I drink free coffee and tea at work.
  5. I bring my lunch to work.
  6. I dye my hair at home, and get my hair dye from a discount store (<$3 per box).
  7. I get books from work, the library or Paperbackswap.
  8. I do my own manicures and pedicures.
  9. I walk or take the subway. My subway pass is a pre-tax perk option through my job.
  10. Shop at Costco for bulk items, but only those we'll actually use.
  11. Don't have cable or a home phone.
  12. I stay with friends and family when traveling whenever possible.
  13. I'm not an early adopter.
  14. I don't have a pet. Right now.
  15. Most of my furniture came used. From the street: kitchen table and chairs, bookshelves, over-the-toilet stand, desk. Bought cheap or got free from Craigslist or friends: kitchen cart, TV trays, bookshelves, entry way table, filing cabinet, couch, dresser, nightstand, bed, rug, plastic storage bins.
  16. We cook almost every meal at home, and they're almost all really cheap meals.
  17. We don't go out a lot in general--concerts, shows, movies, nights at the pub or whatever are all special occasions.
  18. I don't go crazy on gift-giving.
  19. Peanut doesn't drink at all, and I drink sparingly.
  20. I turned my hobby into a self-supporting business.
  21. We watch TV online.
  22. I got most of my jewelry from SilverJewelryClub.com.
  23. I track my spending--every single dollar. I've been doing this for five years now.
  24. We're inviting people over more instead of agreeing to go out somewhere.
  25. I pick up change off the street.
Spendthrift things
  1. I buy clothes new. Even using sales and coupons, I know this is a no-no to the ultra frugalites. Oh, well.
  2. I travel home to visit my family kind of often. Like, four times already this year. Granted, that's a bit more than usual, but I still usually go at least twice. And I rent cars. What can I say, I love my family but I need my independence for our sanity.
  3. I have an iPhone, and am essentially paying for double internet connectivity at all times (I have constant access at work and home, and I'm almost always one place or the other--do I really need it on my phone, too? Yes. Yes, I do.)
  4. We live in New York City.

What are yours?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Humpday LinkFest

The Financial Blogger gives three reasons to do asset reallocation at this time of year--good ones all around. My address problem has finally been fixed, so I'm going to take care of mine this weekend.

Publishing blogger moment: I LOVE this guy's idea of an e-book reader with a slot for an iPhone. Brilliant! I would totally buy one.
Scary--Dell asks a customer for all sorts of really personal information that they don't need trying to "verify an order". I don't know if it would have occured to me to hesitate and not give such highly personal information. I agree--I don't see any earthly reason why they need the information, especially considering he never GAVE it to them in the first place--so what are they verifying against?

I've been on a bit of a rampage to get off mailing lists and reduce the amount of personal information that companies have about me but it's not working very well. I'm getting a LOT of political advertising addressed to me this election season, but Peanut isn't. I can't figure out how that happened.

Jeez. Well, this knife just sent Peanut and me on an Amazon spending spree, and $60 later we're getting it, a salad spinner, and razor blades shipped to us. Way to be frugal.
I liked this post at WiseBread: 25 Frugal Things I do, 4 Spendthrift Confessions. My own post coming soon!
I have really been wanting to do something in our apartment. The walls are still pretty much bare--I've moved so many times (25 or so in the last ten years) that I don't do much permanent decorating. But since this is a place we're likely to stay in for some time, I've been itching to make it feel homey. Peanut had a great idea for a piece of art we can create ourselves, and I'm also on the lookout for full length mirrors (unbroken so I can see myself before I go to work, broken for another piece of art). Those things should be fun, but Peanut also said today that we can buy art. He's in charge of finding affordable original artists like Kevin Dart and Randall Munroe of XKCD and I'll order frames and we're going to have an apartment full of interesting great art.

I'm also going to paint an accent wall and I have to fix my closet, because our downstairs neighbor smokes and I can smell it through there. It's strong enough to wake me up, but I got some suggestions for blocking any cracks up, so I hope to do that this weekend.
Stacking Pennies talks about the relationship costs of living together. Across the board, my living expenses and Peanut's went down. Of course, I'm now in full on nesting mode and wanting to spend money to decorate and paint and get art and what not, but net-net, I'm still spending less and saving more than I was when I lived alone. Our food spending went down because we're not keeping two places stocked (and we're not throwing stuff out because we don't go to one place for a while). We buy more things at Costco and manage to use them up. The utility bills here are just a little more than they were at my old apartment and WAY less than they were at Peanut's old place. The joint account works perfectly smoothly and we're managing to build up a balance in there as well just by being cheap.

I'm really lucky though--unlike some of SP's commentors, my boyfriend is cheap like me!


Speaking of which, in regards to my How Much Would I Spend post, Peanut says I am crazy for being willing to spend $2,500 on a computer. Like, CRAZY crazy. He wouldn't spend that much on a computer, and he needs a fancy-pants one for freelancing gigs. So, I take it back. The most I would spend on a computer is whatever Peanut tells me to spend. And he is in charge of buying all the parts and putting it together and maintaining it all.

No kidding, when I have problems connecting to the wireless on my five-year-old, $2,500 laptop, I tell him to fix it. And he looks at me cross-eyed, but I say, "Hey, the error message says "Please contact your network administrator." Please administrate!"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just one word

Wow.

How much would I spend?

Inspired by similar posts by Krystal and FB, here's what I'm comfortable spending:
  • Purse: $50
  • Wallet: $15
  • Winter jacket: $150
  • A pair of knee-high boots: $200 (but see my caveat below)
  • A casual but not formal dress: $80
  • Formal dress: $150
  • Pants (inc. jeans): $75
  • Computer: $2,500
  • Phone: $250
Weird. This was very eye-opening.

I just went boot shopping and I had given myself a budget of $200 to spend on some quality knee high boots that will last me for a long time. But I only spent $60--granted, that was at DSW, so I'll give you that maybe the boots are technically valued at $80 or even $100. But still--did I cheap out? Am I going to have to replace these boots in a year or two, and should I have spent twice as much for something that will last much longer?

I can't tell. I don't think I've ever had anything as expensive as what I list above. I have a pair of $60 boots that I've had for six or seven years, and I'm hoping that this pair of boots will have a similar life.

My winter coat cost me $100. I've had it for almost two years and I don't like it anymore (I'm not sure I ever did like it, but I was reeling from a breakup and had no coat when I bought it so who knows what the hell I was thinking then). But it's still in practically mint condition, so I won't replace it.

My wallet cost me like $10 from TJ Maxx and I've had it for years--at least three or four. I've had to glue the strap back on a few times. Would a more expensive wallet last longer? Maybe. But I'm really picky about wallets and I happen to like this one. I'll keep gluing it back together until there's no hope for it.

What about formal dresses? First of all, the only formal dress I'm likely to own will be a wedding dress, if I even end up having one (and I'd rather not. The dress, that is). Hundreds of dollars on a dress I'll wear once? I just can't do it. This upsets my mother, but it's the way I feel. The highest I could see is $150 and even that would be difficult.

As for the other things--I get all the arguments about quality over quantity--I do. But I'd rather have six or eight $10 bags in my closet than one $100 bag. I want to switch things up. I want eight pairs of Payless heels under my desk, so I'm not stuck wearing the same old shoes day in and day out. And frankly, even if I don't like my $100 winter coat, it keeps me warm, and that's really the point, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm looooooosing!

Or at least I'm not winning!

Please vote for my bag over at WellHeeled!

steps to freedom

Today I closed the second checking account I opened to deal with mystery shopping and dance job payments. I haven't had any transactions on it for several months, and the few outstanding shop payments I am owed will be paid through Paypal. So on my lunch break I went and collected the $20 that was in there and closed out the account. One less column in my spreadsheet, one less statement in the mail each month, and one less thing to keep track of!

It renewed my desire to consolidate my retirement accounts, along with the fact that the company where my rollover IRA lives sent me another credit card offer over the weekend. I've been trying to get them to quit sending me these things, but that was sort of the last straw. I called the number to apply and opted out, but this coming weekend I'm going to find out how to transfer that rollover IRA into my Roth IRA and what the tax repercussions of that will be. That would be another account gone, one more statement I'm not getting in the mail.

I'm very much in a reduce-reuse-recycle mode right now.

eReaders

 
It beats the Sony PRS and the Kindle in looks and share-ability. It beats both with the four color touch screen. It's reasonably priced. It's unfortunately named.
 
And it reminded me that I've not given a review of the Kindle that I've been beta-testing. I've even been interviewed for TV ("the PBS of Japan"), and I forgot to report back here.
 
Simply put, the Kindle is great but not perfect. (Sort of how I feel about my iPhone, honestly.) For speed reading, reading on the train, reading multiple books at once, lightening my bag, reading for work/school/pleasure--it's AWESOME. I'm reading almost a book a day for work on this thing, as well as plowing through Gone with the Wind. And of course, my assigned reading for school.
 
For notetaking and highlighting, it sucks. For web browsing (despite having Whispernet), it sucks. For durability, it sucks. I'm constantly afraid it's going to break--the case is as heavy as a hardcover book, but I have to carry that around because I don't trust it to be ok without it. (Consumerist recently posted a story about a guy who successfully won $400 from Amazon after their durability tests didn't live up to reality, so I'm definitely not the only one who believes the device itself is flimsy.)
 
Also, since I'm beta-testing, I'm having a hard time getting a real feel for how I might really use something like this. I refuse to purchase any Kindle versions of books--I'm supposed to give this back in two months, and I'm not going to pay to rent content for that short period of time. So the books that I'm reading on it are PDFs, which show up as an image and aren't searchable. (And yes, I pirated that content, but only for books which I have already purchased in hard copy--which probaby isn't a totally kosher line to draw, but it's where I'm drawing it.) I can't use the Kindle to "rent" books from my library, which would probably be a big way in which I'd actually use it.
 
While an ereader is unbelievably helpful for a voracious reader like me (and for anyone working in the publishing industry), I don't know that the Kindle is the best choice for me. But I can sum it up like this--the Sony PRS I'm supposed to get for work has been indefinitely delayed due to a stock situation. If I don't get it before I have to turn this Kindle in, I'm going to buy a device of my own. It's been far too helpful for work to go back to lugging around p-books.
 
I think I have the option to purchase this Kindle at the end of the beta test, but given some of the issues I have with it (useless keyboard, closed system, the hypothetical ability of Amazon to see anything I put on it, some of which are proprietary not-yet-published manuscripts) I'm not sure what I'd be willing to pay for it. Certainly not $489 (the current price of the Kindle DX). Not $300, the price of the Sony Touch Reader. But what about $250, the price of the Kindle 2, Nook and COOL-ER? What about $200, the price of the Sony Pocket Reader? The Kindle DX has a screen that's three inches larger than any of the other options. It's also the only one with a keyboard, as difficult as it is to use. I've yet to find an ereader device that meets all my requirements, so I have a hard time paying any of the going prices. On the other hand, I paid $200 for a novelty item that I basically use only as a telephone, so wouldn't it be worth paying at least that much for a device that I would use for multiple hours every day and which I could write off on my taxes?
 
I have to keep thinking about this.
 
 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Woo hoo!

I'm in the running for the $25 TJ Maxx/$25 Marshalls cards that WellHeeled is giving away. I hope I win!
 
Vote on my bag here!
 
Counting My Pennies has me totally shamed: she's already finished her Christmas shopping. Not only have I not started, I haven't even started THINKING about it, and only the other day realized that I'm going to have to figure out my travel plans pretty quickly. Which I promptly failed to do.
 
Every year I get stressed over Christmas shopping--I think maybe this is the year to take a major break from it and give my family and friends something other than consumable goods. Or maybe to go back to actual consumable goods, and do homemade, edible treats. Or something.
 
 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Odds and Ends

I made the list at Her Every Cent Counts! That's the Top 100 Female Personal Finance Bloggers list, that is--and I'm in some great company! I just went through and added all the blogs to my RSS feed that I wasn't already following, and I'm looking forward to some interesting and thought-provoking posts!

As for me, here's what my week has been like:

My harassing ex-boyfriend called me this week and left a message. That was way more intimidating than an email, so I backed up the threat my father and I made, and went to court to get a restraining order.

It was granted, and I was expecting to have to pay to have it served, but I discovered that in New York, police officers will serve papers for free. Yesterday, I got notice that he'd been served, so I picked up my affidavit and now if he contacts me again, he'll be arrested. We have to go to court in December, I guess to determine whether to make the order permanent, and hopefully that will be the end of that.

It's been pretty stressful and has cost me a lot of sleep but hopefully it's over now. I don't think he's the type to get violent over this, but I guess I'll find out.

Second, yesterday I was kind of robbed. I went shopping before we met up with a friend for dinner, and I got some stuff at NY&Co (on sale plus a coupon, because that's how I roll) and then I went to DSW. While I was trying on shoes, someone walked off with my NY&Co bag, and I didn't notice for about five minutes. After I realized it, I talked  to the manager and after about fifteen minutes of everyone calling around on their headsets but finding nothing, I wrote it off in my mind, left my phone number with the manager and went to pay for my shoes. I stopped back by the manager's desk on my way out, and lo and behold, they'd found my bag! I'd been able to describe exactly what was in it, and I guess the person carrying it hadn't. I kind of wish I'd got to confront them, but whatever. At least I got my stuff back. Lesson learned: Don't go shopping on a Saturday night, don't go to more than one store, or don't put my stuff down ever while trying on shoes.

Today Peanut and I spent a lot of money at Costco and the grocery store and we did a menu plan for the week and I feel pretty good about getting through this coming week with my sanity all in tact.

I also decided not to drop the class. I missed the deadline, so it would affect my GPA and I can't imagine what kind of nonsense it would cause to my loan situation. I also decided to pay out of pocket for my thesis seminars instead of taking out more loans, so my final loan tally will remain right where it is, just under $20,000.

And now it's time to finish homework, wash my hair, and clean the kitchen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dow 10,000 2.0

 
I remember the first time it happened. I was in a high school economics or social studies class, and we had to watch the news the whole class period. I didn't quite understand what was going on, which my teacher didn't understand since I got the highest grade in my stock-picking assignment (that was pure luck). I think I thought it meant that if you put money in the stock market you would get 10,000 times that when you retired, which was pretty cool.
 
It means something different for me now. It means that my retirement accounts will probably do well again this month (they've been rising by $1000 a month for a while now, many times what I'm contributing). It means that perhaps the economy is stabilizing in a real way, and people will stop pinching pennies by going to the library instead of buying books, which means that my job will be more secure. It means that my parents' retirement may not be in as much jeopardy as it was before, and they won't have to work far longer than they'd planned.
 
Strange what a ten year difference in perspective makes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

GRRRR

I have to complain for a second.
 
One of the courses I'm taking this semester is an online course, in Business Communication & Writing Skills.
 
This class is worse than useless. I was irritated enough that the professor doesn't seem to be giving feedback to us at all, but is instead letting other students critique and comment on our posted work. This would be fine, except that most of the students don't know what they're doing. We had to write pitch letters (which I write all the time) and the critiques are absolutely abysmal. Things like, "You should maybe open with an introduction of yourself" (no, thanks--I'm writing to someone with whom I have an established business relationship) and "I like how you used bullet points to show the examples". The introductory letters got critiques that "you shouldn't say where someone used to work, because that's private information". *headdesk*
 
Then I read the next installment of coursework the professor posted, and it's not only riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, but she uses bad netiquette too, shouting in all caps about how some people messed up the previous assignment by attaching their work as PDFs or word documents instead of pasting it right into the discussion board field--but her instructions for that assignment never said anything about it, and she didn't answer questions posted about it for three days, so people went ahead and did it how they thought was right in order to be on time with the assignment.
 
I don't know what happens if I drop this class, but I'm going to find out. It's a waste of my time.
 
 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Night Link Fest

Cate at BudgetConfessions confesses that she loves to sign up for free samples, even if it's not the best use of time. I agree! I love getting free stuff in the mail, and I use a plug in on my toolbar so those forms get filled out with one click--you can't get faster than that! I've gotten great stuff, including full size products and even some expensive stuff, like an electric toothbrush!

WellHeeled included me in her BlogHer article For Love Or Money, about spending money (and making money!) from your hobbies. This is the first year since I started performing that I will not turn a profit, but c'est la vie with school and a promotion. I look forward to just being able to go back to class right now, much less bring in surprise cash.

I have never been super crazy about the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks, but maybe it was the price--this recipe sounds awfully good and cheap! FrugalDreamer is one of three new blogs I stumbled upon this week (the other two are Not a Buddhist and Serendipity's Guide to Saving). Check them out!

Not at all PF-related, but what do you think Wikipedia flavor tastes like? I think it tastes a little bit like everything.

I will probably be a bit scarce for a few days--heading up to a wedding this weekend, which will require a four hour drive each way, which is more driving than I do in a typical month. And I'm coming down with a cold.

School conundrum

I just received the class schedules for the spring and summer semesters--my last two semesters of grad school!
 
I have completed the 18 credits of required core classes. I have also completed 15 credits of electives--only 12 are required.
 
I have two required "classes" left--a research seminar and a thesis seminar, one of which is offered in the spring and one in the summer. There are not really any additional classes I'm interested in during either semester.
 
The obvious answer here is that I should just take one class each semester. The problem with that is it disqualifies me from any financial aid aside from my scholarship--I have to take at least two classes per semester in order to get subsidized loans. Taking the extra class to take the loan doesn't exactly add to my debt load--the spring semester at two classes and one class in the summer semester all get covered by my company's tuition reimbursement policy anyway. But taking an extra class I don't need when there's nothing I'm really interested in just to get loans and full reimbursement? I'm not sure that's financially smart.
 
If I take one class each semester, I will have to pay $3,000 out of pocket with about a week's notice in December and another $2,000 in May. I'll get reimbursed in August, if I'm lucky. But I'll also keep that $5,000 out of my subsidized loan balance entirely, though I'm not sure that makes a huge difference--it is subsidized, after all, and I'm going to start paying it off with a vengeance the minute I graduate.
 
What would you do?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's in My Bag

I entered Well Heeled's contest, What's In My Bag.



My purple bag is a street vendor find! I got it from a guy with a table on 32nd Street for $10 a few months ago.

Inside is:
Amazon Kindle and case (free; beta testing for school)
Book, A Fortunate Age (free; advance reader's edition)
Staples notebook (Staples, 3 for $8)
Ikea tupperware (no clue how much it cost, it was my boyfriend's before we moved in together)
Work ID and metrocard in holder (holder was free from work, metrocard was $89)
Sandisk thumb drive, BestBuy $9.95
Chapstick, Duane Reade, 3 for $4.99
Revlon Colorstay lipstick, $1.99 at Cosmetics Warehouse on 39th Street
Hair clip, Duane Reade, 6 for $3.99
Generic cheap sunglasses, street vendor on St Marks Place, $5 (and they're awful, but I always break or lose sunglasses)
Covergirl compact, $2.50 at Cosmetics Warehouse
Wallet, $9.99 at TJ Maxx (I've had it for like six years and love it!)
iPhone ($199, AT&T) and case (generic, $7 from street vendor)

As you can see, I do a lot of shopping at street vendors!

It's weird, isn't it, that I carry a Kindle AND a regular book? I'm reading Gone with the Wind as well as my school books on the Kindle, and I'm starting to transfer work stuff to it, but I got really taken in by A Fortunate Age and I just couldn't leave it at home. I like to have lots of reading options, in case, I don't know, I wind up with hours and hours of free time and finish Gone with the Wind.

I also still carry a paper notebook despite having an iPhone to make notes and to do lists on. There's a pen in the Kindle case.

What I'd buy at TJ Maxx or Marshalls if I win:
New sunglasses
A fun clutch
Body lotion gift sets--I love those!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

At long last

My review for Burn the Floor.

This show was SO FUN. Ridiculously good fun, and I laughed out loud with glee several times.

There's no story line, just straight up dancing. The acts are divided the way comps are held, with American standard dances (waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and tango) and Latin dances (rumba, samba, cha cha, jive, and paso doble). Every single person in the cast has won multiple national and international dance awards, so you had better believe they were good (and oh my god so in shape!).

And the COSTUMES. There are no words for the sparklyness and hotness of their costumes.

In short, after about two minutes I'd decided to quit my job and become a ballroom dance superstar and my friend asked if he could use my iphone to look up any milongas (tango social dance parties) for later that night.

So fun! Thanks again to FB and Season of Savings--my friend and I had a BLAST.

And what's kept me from updating since then? Lots of little niggly things--homework, dishes, book clubs, happy hours for people heading off to different stages of their lives. And work--I've checked email multiple times over the weekend, which hasn't happened before and I hope isn't likely to be an ongoing thing--there's just a lot to do to get things started in a new job and my boss was out all last week.

And now it's almost time for bed, so I'm off to do the dishes! Good night--and cha cha cha!