Monday, November 30, 2009

Oops

One would think that since I was hardly productive over a four day weekend, I might have got around to finally pulling together the Linkfests that are languishing in draft form, or otherwise come up with something to say on the topic of personal finance.

One would think, but one would be wrong.

I'll be back soon, I promise!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November Recap/December Goals

November Goals
1. Complete IRA conversion and set up automatic payments to max it out for 2009. Um, no. I did not do this.

2. Stick to my budget! I did okay on this...

3. Buy Christmas gifts! Not even started.

4. Handle 2010 health care contributions and flex spending. Done!

5. Spend some money on the apartment. Done! Peanut and I ordered a few pieces that we like and when they arrive we'll get frames and put them on the walls.

December Goals
1. Roll over IRA into Roth IRA, set aside taxes. I don't know if I have until April 15 to do this the way you can max out a Roth that late, but I'm going to trick myself into doing it this month.  Just to get it off my to do list!

2. Research and purchase an ereader. This is a tax writeoff for me, so I need to take care of it in 2009. Right now it depends on price--the price of the DX I'm currently testing for school or a Sony. I'd consider the nook but I want something I can take home with me during Christmas break so that puts it right out--they're now shipping after January 5.

3. Another trip to Goodwill to donate. I've given a LOT of stuff to Goodwill this year and I'd like to do at least one more run to include on my taxes. Maybe next year (my first year without mystery shopping!) I can do taxes the simple way.

4. Look into laser hair removal. I got a $175 off coupon from Completely Bare, and I have $575 in the fund already--might that be enough to do one of the locations I want to get done? I want to look into it before the coupon expires on December 31 anyway.

5. Stick to budget with Christmas shopping. I have just over $400 left in the gift fund and about 14 gifts to buy. My immediate family seems to stick to the $10-20 range so I should be just fine, but I do need to get cracking on it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

gobble gobble

Peanut and I did not participate in Black Friday, but we didn't exactly have a Buy Nothing Day either. We went to the grocery store and also a thrift store, where we picked up a like-new angel food tube pan for $4, which is in the oven baking some lemon poppyseed cake at this very minute.

Yesterday we went to the Macy's parade again, which was fun. We didn't make a big meal or anything--I already had Thanksgiving dinner and Peanut's not crazy about the traditional Thanksgiving foods, so we ended up having grilled cheese and tomato soup. I've been enjoying a loooong weekend with really no hard and fast plans at all.

Seth Godin says it best. This should be the best holiday of all--no gifts, just celebrating food and friends and family.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Unexpected weekend spending

I did end up buying wineglasses. But as Erika recommended, I popped in to Goodwill to see what they had and found a matching set of six, which cost me just $13. The glasses are either universal or red glasses, I'm not entirely sure, but I prefer red to white so it works. And I'm certainly not averse to serving wine in the "wrong" glass. I could have got an eclectic mix for as little as $8 for six, but I'm happy to have a quality matching set. I also bought two bottles of wine for $20, which weren't drunk as my Saturday party kind of turned into a friend coming over to watch a movie, and we didn't get to the wine. Oh, well, more for me!
 
I also went to a jewelry party yesterday, where I spent $25 on handmade pearl earrings. I wasn't intending to buy anything but what can I say. I really love them. That's my Christmas present to myself, I think. All of the pieces were exquisite and one of a kind--the designer began making jewelry as a hobby while recovering from a car accident, and she's got a lot of talent. She's on Etsy, but I don't know the name of her store. I'll post when they send it to me.
 
I'm trying to convince Peanut to let me take him out to eat. I have a Restaurant.com coupon that expires next month, and I want to use it up--it's $25 off a $35 meal at a restaurant I really love. He says I should just let it expire, because it's not really saving us any money since we wouldn't have gone out to eat without it. I completely agree with that logic, but I still want lobster ravioli. It might come down to me going there with or without him, which probably wouldn't matter to him but I would like to go there with HIM, not just anyone. Hint, hint, Peanut. :)
 
I signed up for the $40 gift certificate from 1-800-Flowers.com, but I haven't received my points or coupon yet, and it's been two weeks. I was planning to use this to get my mom's birthday present, and her birthday's now in less than a week. Hmmm.
 
 

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Year's Resolution Recap--sliding into home

Now that there's only about six weeks before I have to start thinking of 2010 goals, I figured I'd do a recap of my 2009 New Year's Resolutions.

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. I have not been keeping up with this. I was doing really well for about six weeks in the summer, but I just sort of lost momentum.

2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). This is second nature now. I have a pretty set bedtime, and I went from buying bagels every single morning to eating at home every day. I don’t even want a bagel anymore; I like my healthier breakfasts so much better and I stay full longer. I also started bringing a piece of fruit as a mid-morning snack, which is awesome.

3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. I think Peanut and I have this one pretty much covered. He’s definitely the better cook, and we’re pretty good about variety and healthfulness.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. I don’t know that this could ever be considered “done”, but I did wrap up therapy and I’ve made some big changes in my relationships with certain family members. It’s a work in progress but I’m able to both be more honest and maintain firmer boundaries.

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. I brought my cumulative GPA from 3.85 to 3.87, not including the classes I’m currently enrolled in. After these two classes, I’ve just got a thesis to write, so this is it!

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. I think I’m doing a little better with this. At any rate, I’m better with skipping over stuff that I’ve missed, not needing to read every single post in my reader after I’ve been on vacation, unsubscribing from stuff I’m not reading, etc.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I have been doing better about this, but could do better still.

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. The budget was no problem, although I did go over the flex spending cap with the unexpected dental work I had this year.

9 Start saving for “future” fund. Started, and growing monthly!

So overall, I’ve done pretty good on this year’s resolutions. I just need to get some sort of regular physical activity in my life.

Change of plans

Due to some glitch with the website, my company extended open enrollment by ten days, so I took one more look and decided to change my flex spending account contributions--I'd put in $600 but yesterday I upped it to $900. In my previous post about it, I said I didn't think I'd be getting another root canal and crown in 2010, but...sadly, I no longer think that's the case. I had a cavity filled almost two months ago that is still bothering me a lot. The filling was a last ditch effort to avoid a root canal (it will be my FOURTH), but it's so painful to chew on that side of my mouth I can't even chew oatmeal. And that's my "right chewing side"*.
 
I have now written "chew" so many times it's lost its meaning.
 
Anyway. So I upped my FSA contributions to cover this now-expected expense and I think I should be good. A few doctor visits, two dental cleanings, one root canal + crown, prescriptions and OTC medications should be covered by $900, I think.
 
I also got a coupon from Completely Bare to get $175 off a laser hair removal package before the end of the year. I have almost $600 in that fund, which I'm not sure is enough to cover it, but I'm going to look into it. I think that's like a session and a half free, which is a great deal.
 
*Does anyone else notice this? That you have a totally preferred chewing side, and when you get a filling or something and have to switch for a few hours or a day it's really hard to eat? Well, this has been eight weeks of chewing on the "wrong" side of my mouth. Of course, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, please move along.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I'm so predictable

My two recent posts caught up with me today--I was thinking about a little party I'm hosting on Saturday and started panicking. WINE GLASSES! I don't have any WINE GLASSES AND WE'RE HAVING WINE OH MY GOD EVERYONE WILL LAUGH AT ME!

You know what, these people are my friends, and if they can't handle drinking wine out of plastic glasses, they can go to their own homes and hold their noses up at me all they want. I mean, I'm putting wine glasses on my someday/wedding registry/when I've got the money list, but I am not going to freak out about it for three days. Nor am I going to rush right out and buy them.

It's good enough.

Good Enough

I’ve been having some mental arguments with myself over “good enough” lately. I keep stressing myself out trying to get things “right” or “perfect” and it’s just not worth it.

My apartment is clean enough. You might not be able to eat off the floors, but seriously, who does that?

My homework is good enough. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever put together, but it’s one assignment for one class for a degree that I’ve basically got in the bag.

My plans are good enough. I feel bad that I don’t get to see everyone I’d like to see on my visits home, and I should always stay longer but the truth is, I can’t. I have a life here to attend to, I make my plans known far enough in advance for people to make arrangements to see me, and frankly, if they can’t do that AND they don’t ever come to visit me, *I* shouldn’t be the one feeling bad about never seeing them.

There’s more. I just want to remind myself that perfection isn’t a destination to head towards—the journey is what matters.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EEEEEEEEE!!!!

Neil Patrick Harris is on Twitter, and he's totally hilarious and I love him.

Hosting

I had Thanksgiving dinner over the weekend. Not just a dry run, but my actual Thanksgiving dinner for the year. Some friends host a Thanksgiving For Friends (AKA People You Actually Want to Eat With) a week or two before Thanksgiving every year, and I attended for the first time.

It was lovely—much wine was drunk, much food was eaten. There were place cards and actual paced courses and matching dishes and utensils. We managed to fit fourteen people into a New York City apartment living room for dinner, which was amazing to me.

It left me thinking about things that I want to do. Peanut has been wanting to make our place a place where people can come and hang out. I feel like, Oh, our place isn’t good enough. It’s too small, too dark, too dirty, too juvenile, whatever. I see the cracks in the kitchen linoleum and the doors that don’t close right, things that we can’t control because we’re renting and things haven’t been remodeled in a long time.

But you know, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what Thanksgiving was about. It was about everyone bringing something to share, and us eating until we couldn’t move. It was about getting to know people and having a good time. And I think those are things that we can do now, regardless of how “not ready” we are.

Now we just need to go make some friends who will come to Queens. :p

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doing Stuff

Peanut and I are homebodies by nature. However, I also tend to overschedule myself, and then wind up exhausted and cranky. I did this all the time when I was belly dancing a lot—the jobs would end up taking eight or twelve hours of my weekend and I’d have a lot of other things going on as well. So I made a new rule that I can only commit to one thing on the weekend—one book club meeting or one brunch or whatever. But I think I’ve gone overboard in the other direction.

Since moving in together it seems like we’ve become little hermits, locking ourselves away for the weekend and playing video games or reading, venturing out only for food. On Halloween, I pitched a mini-fit when I realized I’d inadvertently agreed to go to a Halloween “party” (which wound up being five people playing cards and drinking beer—I thought we were going to pass out candy to kids and call it a night).

But Peanut’s friend has been visiting, so we’ve been pretending that we’re social animals and showing him some of the sights—we’ve been to some of our favorite restaurants, ventured down to Coney Island on a red flag day (very cool), saw the New York Aquarium and Nathan’s hot dogs, hit up the Lower East Side and St. Mark’s Place, sat on a big pile of rocks in Central Park and watched ice skaters, ventured into Times Square, had drinks at a beer garden, and without me, they walked to Roosevelt Island and visited the abandoned smallpox museum and took the tram over the river. And I’ve had so much fun. I’m a little jealous that they’ve still got two days ahead of them to go play and I had to come back to work.

I think it’s important to pay attention to one’s nature—I’m an introvert and I really do need time at home to center myself. But going out once a weekend to do something interesting, go to a museum or park or SOMETHING certainly wouldn’t kill me, nor would it be that expensive. I’d hate to move away from New York with a big long list of things I hadn’t done because I was so busy being at home every weekend.

So my new goal is to try to do something every weekend. Here’s a short list of things I want to do:
The Tenement Museum
The Transit Museum
The Museum of the Moving Image (when it reopens)
The Museum of Television and Radio
The Museum of Sex
Coney Island in the summer but not the Mermaid Parade
San Gennaro Festival

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How cool are these photos? I would love to rent an arch.

Yikes! QuarterLife Finance's thumb drive just died...and she didn't back it up. Makes me nervous and I think I'm going to back mine up tonight.

Ouch, Frugal Zeitgeist details the upcoming expenses she's expecting. I don't know how much of a gift we're going to give to our super, but it won't be $400 (of course, we've only got the one guy). I was thinking of getting a gift card from one of our rewards banks, so it would be free. But Peanut says that makes me cheap. And he might be right.

late bills

I really hate the way our utility company handles their billing and payment.
 
For one thing, they've spelled my name wrong for years. There are two ways to spell my name, and they've got it the wrong way--but it's also got letters reversed. It's not even a real name. I've tried to get it corrected, but to no avail.
 
Second, their bills say DUE IMMEDIATELY but when you go to pay online, it automatically gives you a "transaction date" three weeks in the future. Um....?
 
And third, and most importantly, Peanut and I definitely paid this bill last month. Definitely, definitely--it was in our spreadsheet, and I only enter stuff like that after I've done my part. But they didn't debit the account, and so this month's bill includes last month's total as well. You can't set up automatic billing but you can have your routing and account number saved on their site. So it's not like we typed in the routing number wrong or something.
 
Anyway, we don't seem to be charged any late fees, but I took a screenshot after making the payment last night and will be paying close attention this month.
 
Also, over the weekend the boiler in our apartment building went crazy and the heat didn't shut off for several hours. Radiators all over the building popped, including ours, and we have water damage in our bedroom ceiling. Luckily Peanut and I took some time off work this week already since a friend of his will be in town, but now we are trying to make sure that the plumber actually shows up and fixes everything.
 
What was kind of scary is that the radiator that popped and was spraying water is the one right next to the computers. Luckily nothing was damaged, but yikes, that could have been bad.
 
I'm tired of being a grown up this week.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stupidity

Why is it cheaper to fly from New York to COSTA RICA than it is to fly to Atlanta, Georgia?
 
Wow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Health Care

It's open enrollment at my job, so here's a look at how things are changing. Below is a grid showing the premiums or contributions I paid per paycheck for the last three years (2006 excluded because I was here less than two months and from what I can tell, it was identical to 2007's numbers) and what it will cost me in 2010:

 
2007
2008
2009
2010
Health Insurance
 $    21.13
 $    28.05
 $    28.85
 $    31.73
Dental
 $       2.86
 $       3.06
 $       3.20
 $       3.39
HFSA
 $    10.00
 $    10.00
 $  208.34
 $    25.00
Commuter Benefit
 $    76.00
 $    81.00
 $    81.00
 $    89.00
 
I left out my 401(k) contributions because they've been all over the map from 5-15% over the years as my economic situation changed. I have always contributed at least 5% to get the match, however, and I will continue to do so.
 
So what's ahead for 2010? Well, for starters, my health and dental insurance premiums both went up by a little. It's not too bad and those plans are still the ones that match my needs the best, so I'll stick with them. I didn't realize that the monthly subway pass had increased by $13 in just three years, but there you go.
 
My flex spending contributions are going way down--I'll get about $300 more per month (pre tax) than I did last year. I'm putting away $600, which should cover my standard copays for one doctor visit, two dental visits, a year's worth of birth control pills, and a little cushion for OTC medications and additional copays if I get sick or see a dermatologist. In 2009, excluding Lasik and therapy, I spent about $900 on medical and dental care, but I don't expect to get another root canal and crown in 2010, so I feel pretty good about the $600.
 
In addition to the premiums going up, a lot of other stuff changed with my health insurance though. Doctor visit copays went from $20 to $25. Therapy copays went from $15 to $20 (not that I'm paying that anymore, but I noted it). But prescriptions are where it really went out the window--my name brand birth control (for which there is no generic) cost $50 for three months in 2009. In 2010, the same prescription will cost $75 + 20% of the difference. Other forms of copays went up by $1 each (generic at retail pharmacy for one month went from $7 to $8, generic mail order for three months went from $15 to $16) but of course it's the one type that I'm on that took the biggest jump.
 
Clearly, it's time to switch pills. I was planning to do so anyway, actually, as I've developed some side effects I'm not crazy about, but for the economist in me, it's the price that really made the difference. I have one more refill this month, which I will get at the old price and then at my February annual exam I'll explore other options.
 
And lastly, in health related news, something weird is going on with my dentist. I had an appointment over a month ago, at which they said they'd bill me the final amount. I never got a bill, so I called them yesterday and they said I owe $58. Ok, fine, that seemed fair. So I logged into my dental insurance company to find the address to send the check to, and my explanation of benefits clearly says "Your dentist may bill you up to $29 for this work."
 
Hmm.
 
So I asked the insurer who has the final word on how much I owe, and now they're investigating with the dentist's office's billing practices. I hope it was just a mistake; I don't want to get anyone in trouble but I know the insurers set prices contractually and I don't want to pay twice as much as I should have been billed.
 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Question for Google Reader Users

Y'all have been so helpful with other stuff--I should have turned here a long time ago.

I've checked Google Reader help and all that, but I can't figure out how to quickly look in my reader and see which blogs are no longer updating regularly. I want to pare down my reader to get rid of blogs that post once a month with "OMG I am so bad at keeping up with this!" or blogs that have been dormant for months but I can't figure out an easy way to do that, aside from clicking on each blog and I have hundreds, so I don't really want to do that.

Help?

Yay!

Big thanks to Revanche who sent me code so that I can finally get some trackers up in my sidebar! Right now I have one for my emergency fund (which is done), the sunny beach vacation fund (with a goal of $1,000, although that's a continuous thing), electrolysis (I picked $2,000 out of my head; I think it will be cheaper than that but not by a lot) and paying off my student loans, which will start next year. When I have a better sense of where it will wind up, I'll add one for maxing out my Roth IRA each year.

I also updated my blogroll, mostly removing blogs that aren't updating anymore or that I've quit reading. If you'd like to be included, let me know!