Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2010

For almost twenty years I have made New Year's Resolutions to coincide with the year (7 in 2007, 8 in 2008, 9 in 2009, etc). So here are my ten resolutions for 2010 (it was either ten or zero and I'm not a wuss--I'm not afraid of 10 resolutions!). However, I am doing something a little differently for the new decade. I wanted resolutions that can broken down into SMART steps: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. It took a long time to develop resolutions that fit the bill and weren't along the "get fit/lose weight/save money" line.

So without further ado:

Financial
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. It's not enough to max out a Roth this year--it needs to happen automatically so I can best take advantage of the compound interest.
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. That’s about $9,500, but I think I can do it. I guess it will come due in August, when I graduate--I'm not waiting the six month grace period or anything like that. Basically as soon as I get my last reimbursement from work, I'll start paying.
3. Give to charity. This is something that's really been missing from my  personal finance philosophy. I do give on a one-off basis when something really strikes me (like MoneyMateKate's Creative Christmas Challenge) but I want to do some research, find a charity/charities to support and pledge to give a certain amount or percentage per year.

Personal
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. I have till August but I want it done in May. I'll also be paying for the remainder of the degree out of pocket.
5. Read more than 100 books. I was so close this year--I read about 94 books in 2009. I've broken 100 books in years past (I've been keeping track for about six years now) and now that I'm done with the school-work intense classes for my degree, I want to get back to it.
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. This one's hard to make SMART, but I think it's necessary. I tend to look on the side of "The glass is half empty, and the water inside's probably polluted anyway, oh god, who cares, everything's terrible!" and it's tiring and irritating. I'm going to try to look on the brighter side, particularly in my trigger areas, like noises I can't control or getting frustrated while cooking.

Health
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. This is the single easiest thing I could be doing to be healthier. I already walk anywhere that's walkable, but I could climb four flights up and down every day at home, which is not insignificant! Unless I'm carrying lots of groceries or pushing the laundry cart, I pledge to take the stairs.Certain heels give me an out also, but I promise not to overuse that excuse.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Dr. Oz's seven minute workout (via the New York Times' realistic resolutions article) isn't just yoga--it incorporates push-ups and sit-ups into a pretty all-inclusive workout. And I can carve out seven minutes a day, at least three times a week to start.

Professional
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. I'd like to eventually be known as an expert in the industry and this is as good a way as any. Three to four posts a month to start is reasonable, probably developing to more like three posts a week.


Misc.
10. Make less of an impact. I just read No Impact Man, and am really inspired. I'd read his blog a few times and couldn't quite seem to get into it, but the book really stuck with me. As a result, in 2010 I'm committing to make less of an impact. I'll use re-usable bags more often, buy items with less packaging or buy used, turn off lights more often and take other steps to try to reduce my impact on the environment.

Well, there it is!

December Recap/January Goals

December Recap
1. Roll over IRA into Roth IRA, set aside taxes. Done! I converted my traditional IRA into a Roth and am just waiting on one more piece of paperwork to combine with my account at another institution. Also waiting on tax paperwork, but I have enough to cover it in savings.

2. Research and purchase an ereader. Done!

3. Another trip to Goodwill to donate. Done!

4. Look into laser hair removal. Done! A more detailed post to come about this.

5. Stick to budget with Christmas shopping. Done! I had a budget of $400 and spent $330.

Wow, that might have been the most successful month ever!

In 2010, I want to try to create monthly goals that help me achieve my New Year's Resolutions. It won't always line up properly but I'd like at least one of the monthly goals to directly help me achieve my resolutions. So, to that end:

January Goals
1. Max out Roth for 2009. I need to complete the paperwork for the transfer between institutions and add an additional ~$1,000 or so. I have until April 15 to do this, but I'd just like to get it out of the way.

2. Meet with my thesis advisor, pick a topic, and map out a research and writing schedule. Kind of a cheat putting this on my goals, since I'm pretty sure it's required that I do this, but I do want to focus on it. I'm hoping to complete the paper by May, although I have until August to turn it in.

3. Book plane tickets to Costa Rica/Los Angeles and request time off work. I have lodging in both places, so really the expense should just be airfare and food.

4. Not buy any new clothes. I really have everything I need, so I'd like to try to stay out of the stores and use that money for something else.

5. Pay for Spring 2010 semester out of pocket and submit paperwork for tuition reimbursement. Paperwork is filled out and waiting signatures. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reviewing 2009's Resolutions

In 2009, I made nine resolutions. How did I do?

Health/fitness
1 Do yoga three times a week. Fail. I got on a good kick there for a while in the summer, but couldn't stick with it. I gained 10-15 pounds in 2009, thanks to being too busy for dance classes and a partner who's a great cook.


2 Go to bed early/get up on time and eat a healthy breakfast at home (starting two days a week). Success! I eat breakfast at home every single day now, and I much prefer it to a bagel at my desk. I seem to have found a good schedule for going to bed and getting up, although I could always give myself a little more time in the morning, particularly since I want to try working out before work.


3 Cook more often and more interesting things in order to stop eating out so much. Success! Well, if I'm perfectly honest, Peanut cooks more than I do, but I always do the dishes! This year we made bread from scratch, including bread bowls, several soups from scratch, and many tasty desserts. We also discovered a yummy pan sauce that we can make quickly and Peanut has perfected his pizza-making art. I have some more ideas, but I think this is firmly entrenched. We enjoy cooking and eating together and have started buying ourselves some quality tools (chef's knife, corian cutting board, dough mat, pizza stone) which we're using.

Personal
4 Handle some things with my family and finish therapy. I'd have to mark this one as "in progress". I'm out of therapy after twenty months and have a much more stable relationship with my entire family, and a much better insight into myself. I need to keep working on my relationship with my mother, but I feel like it will come and I'm looking forward to the discoveries we'll make together on that journey.

5 Keep GPA above 3.8. Success! I started 2009 with a 3.85 GPA and had one 4.0 semester, so my average is now up to 3.86. I only have a thesis to write, so I guess that's locked in. Woo hoo!

6 Start stepping away from the internet a little more and focus on real life, specifically at work. I'm doing better on this. Still room for improvement, but particularly at work, I'm able to focus on work and not on the shiny internets.

7 Update this blog three times a week. I'm doing pretty good with this. I have no grand aspirations to turn this blog into a money-maker, or get super high readership or anything like that. I'm so flattered that anyone reads it at all, and I love the insightful comments. I want to contribute to the PF blogosphere because I so enjoy reading.

Financial
8 Develop and stick to a new budget and stay under flex spending cap. Depends on how you look at it. I didn't stay under the flex spending cap, but I was close (I think $200 over?). I did stay under budget, in part because moving in with Peanut cut my expenses almost in half. I also got a big raise. At any rate, the only debt I acquired was student loan debt and my savings are building nicely.

9 Start saving for “future” fund. I have started this fund, and am excited about the possibilities. It's really open-ended right now--could be for a wedding, or a down-payment on property, or to pay off my student loans in one fell swoop or who knows what else. I've been saving with goals in mind for so long that it feels really cool to just be saving because I can.

Ten resolutions for 2010 are coming soon!

Getting ahead of the tax man

Today, with all my downtime at work (seriously, NO ONE is here!), I verified all my Schedule C tax information. I've been using Outright.com to keep track of income and expenses but because it's yet another place where I have to enter information, I went through line by line to compare it to my spending tracker, which is more reliable since I balance it against accounts and the cash in my wallet at least once a week. I found a few errors but without too much effort got everything to balance out to zero!
 
So I know today that my profit from mystery shopping and dancing in 2009 is $557.38 and I will owe around $141 in federal taxes, plus state and city taxes. Seems a bit ridiculous that for all the time and effort I put into mystery shopping, I came out ahead less than $600. Yes, I got a lot of free dinners, but this really proves that mystery shopping is no get-rich-quick scheme.
 
I am so relieved that this is the last year I will be going through all this nonsense. I can't wait to file a 1040-EZ and spend less than an hour doing my taxes. Still, Outright made things so much easier compared to last year--anyone who has any kind of side income and needs to keep track of tax information should really give this a try.

Last LinkFest of 2009!

As you know, I recently converted my rollover IRA to a Roth IRA, and there are a lot of reasons why that made sense. I'm nowhere near the income limit, but if you are, good news! It's going away in 2010. This article has lots of good reasons for converting, but also points out that it's the federal limit that's ending, so your state might still have one in place.

Lifehacker's most popular how to features of 2009. My favorites are How to Use Twitter, How to Properly Erase Physical Media, Definitive Guide to Finding Free Wi-Fi, Use Firefox to Fix the Web's Biggest Annoyances, and You're Backing Up Your Data The Wrong Way.

Lifehacker also talks about how to become the ultimate gift giver with Evernote. I'm not crazy about Evernote, but the same concepts could be applied to something as simple as a spreadsheet.

How Trent at The Simple Dollar finds the perfect gift--I did this to figure out what to get my mom, which wasn't obvious at first but she ended up liking it.

How Boston Gal finds holiday deals on Amazon--a great resource of URL codes for finding great deals, and this could work all year round!

Dog Ate My Finances and Living Almost Large had some interesting discussions about gift giving at work. I don't like office gift-giving, particularly for holidays and birthdays. My work friends and I go out for lunch for birthdays and don't exchange gifts. I don't have anyone to "bribe" the way Dog describes, so I don't do anything. I usually bring in a homemade treat for everyone, and that's it. This year, my boss gave me a lovely bottle of lotion and a $100 gift card--much different from last year (last year I got a card from her). She hinted that there will be no bonuses this year, which is what this was trying to make up for. It's much appreciated, but I don't feel a need to "gift up". Her assistant and I are getting her flowers on her first day back as a thank you for being such a great boss.

How to cook a latke--I'm not Jewish but I love latkes!

Quarterlife Finances talks about working as if it's your last week--clear out your personal files, keep stuff organized in case someone else needs to pick it up when you leave. I took that advice last year during our rounds of layoffs and took home anything sensitive. I still have some personal items at work, but they're obvious (photos, etc) and won't be a problem to take home quickly if the need arises. It's not just a matter of layoffs either--I ended up switching jobs unexpectedly a few months ago, and I learned some things about making it easy to transition that I'm keeping up with now.

Mmmmmm....hot drink recipes! I love hot drinks. Time to go make some chai right now!

Okay, now that I'm back, I ignored the urge to check my email--I've been trying to curb my constant email checking anyway, but then I saw this. If you check email every five minutes, you're doing it 24,000 times per year! I don't want to do ANYTHING that much in a given year, so I'm trying to scale back.

FruGal talks about relationships and money--I'm surprised that so few people combine their income and that so many people fight about money, but I guess I shouldn't be. I wouldn't have combined finances with my exes, and we fought about money all the time. I guess Peanut's just too perfect for words. We have a joint credit card and a joint checking account.

I'm sort of obsessed with small house living right now. Posts at Mother Earth News, Boston Gal's Open Wallet and Unclutterer really have me thinking about how small I could go. Maybe it's just because I've lived in apartments for so long, but a 900 square foot house sounds GREAT! Totally roomy but still cozy, and a house wouldn't share walls with neighbors and would have a little yard. Sign me up!

I really like this post at World of Wealth about how sometimes the best investment is something you just really want. I can save all my money and eschew entertainment and nice things, but for what? As long as it's not shopping for shopping's sake, I wholeheartedly approve of getting yourself something just because. I have a few things like that, which were great purchases and provided far more enjoyment or happiness than expected. A notable recent one was a $10 purple purse I bought from a street vendor. I totally didn't need it, but I loved the color and I've gotten compliments on it almost every day since. I really, really like that bag and it has made me very happy--it wasn't a super high quality bag and it won't last forever, but it was a good investment. I put travel and pets into this category, too. 

Essential year end money moves! I'm waiting to review my budget until the end of January, when I'll have an idea of what I'm bringing in (my paycheck will change again since I'm no longer contributing $5,000 to flex spending, so it's like another raise!). I bought my Sony Reader this month for the tax deduction. I converted my IRA to a Roth. I get my credit reports on a staggered schedule, but my latest one in December showed nothing unexpected. I'll be maxing out my Roth before tax day. And my renter's insurance renews in January, so I'm all set there. I did all of these things sort of automatically but I'm glad there was a checklist handy.

That's it for LinkFest 2009, I guess. More to come in the new year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sweet!

I think I just found my laser hair removal place. I've been there before, apparently, probably for Spa Week a few years ago. I'm going for a consultation tomorrow evening, and if I like them, I'll buy two packages--underarms and brazilian--for a spectacular price, covered by my savings and Christmas money.
 
I don't remember being there, but I'm in their computer. Over the last five years that I've been going to Spa Week events, I've made a point to always go to new places and try new services just to see what's out there. I've rarely had a problem and there's only one place I definitely wouldn't go back to, so assuming everything goes well tomorrow night, I'll just consider the search over.
 
Their prices are much more competitive than some of the other places I've been looking at, plus they have a 30% off two packages deal right now. At that price, I can afford to do both treatments right off the bat, and start funneling the money I've been saving for it to another goal.
 
Fingers crossed!
 

Thoughts on my visit down south

I come from down south. I'm not a super-southern girl, I don't bleed confederate or any of that nonsense, and I barely have a trace of an accent. My grandparents have lived there all their lives, but I was born a yankee and transplanted when I was 11. Still, I think my heart lies in Dixie.

It's beautiful there. The hills, the green, the animals and birds, the calm. The people are so nice, at least when they're not all up in your business. Everything just seemed a little more civilized.

In particular, I headed to my old hometown (my parents don't live there anymore) to visit with my best friend and her family--ALL her family, including her kids, husband, siblings, and parents, so it was kind of like going home again for me too. Southern cooking. Homemade barbecue sauce. Creamed corn made with corn from the garden. The kids gathering eggs. A nap after dinner (which is the midday meal).

I don't know. There are many reasons I don't want to live there ever again. I get along with my family best from a distance. My job is tied to New York, or at least major cities. There's a lot of prejudice, a lot of backwards thinking, a lot of religious intolerance. But I feel a little nostalgic for a place without the constant grind and materialism I see here in front of me.

Progress marches there, too. They're expanding the two lane road that runs to my old hometown into a four lane divided highway. Some landmarks along that path are completely gone. Others are so changed we didn't recognize them until we realized we must have passed them.

I'm sure I can carve out a life in the city with more calm, more quiet, less want. No one's forcing me to go out and spend money on clothes, on removing hair from my body that hardly anyone gets to see anyway, on takeout. I went shopping on Sunday to exchange a gift that didn't fit and had a really hard time finding something to replace it with. I didn't want to get something unless I really wanted it, but I couldn't seem to find anything in the entire store that really seemed to call my name. I ended up getting something just to get the exchange over with, but maybe that's a feeling I can work on getting used to--not feeling like I HAVE to take advantage of this sale just because it's a sale.

I really do have enough. I have plenty of clothes. I have plenty of jewelry. I have plenty of shoes. I want more, better, different of all of those things, but I have enough. It just seems easier to remember that surrounded by the south than by the city.

Monday, December 28, 2009

1800Flowers.com update

1800Flowers.com managed to redeem themselves after my mother's birthday gift fiasco. I guess they found my posts on here and contacted me apologizing for the problems and putting their executive customer service people on it. Once a person with the power to do something heard about my problem, she was fantastic about following up with me, even when I was difficult to reach due to my work schedule.
The second bouquet I ordered for my mom showed up a day late but it wasn't their fault, as I recall (she wasn't home when they tried to deliver). So I used the $40 promotion voucher and the $20 credit they gave me for the problems, and ordered my grandparents flowers and cookies for Christmas, both of which showed up right on time. The flowers were really pretty, in particular, and my grandma was "tickled pink" as she'd say.

So, not that I'm advocating complaining on a blog when a company fails to follow through on what you've paid for--but I think it's interesting that it seemed like the blog post got more attention than my phone complaints during the problem itself. At any rate, 1800Flowers.com has earned my repeat business. (And no, they didn't ask me to post this or anything like that; I just feel that I should report on how the entire situation unfolded, so here you go.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My stupidity almost cost me $50

I flew back from my mom's yesterday, and managed to leave my apartment keys and my work ID in the box I packed up for her to ship to me. My super has an extra key, but the likelihood of finding him on a Saturday night was not good. I was prepared to shell out around $50 of my Christmas money for a locksmith.

Miraculously, I was able to get ahold of the super, who was awesome enough to leave his other job to drive back to Queens to let me in. He went out of his way and it was totally my mistake.

I owe him something, homebaked cookies at least. Peanut pointed out that his willingness to help might have been due in part to our card with $60 in it that we put in his mailbox before we went on vacation, and that's probably the case. I still feel like I owe him something.

and we're back

Well, that was an unexpected intermission. Blogger seems to have eaten all my scheduled posts, so sorry for all that dead air!

At any rate, I'm back home, heading to work tomorrow. I had a lovely time with my family over Christmas, and actually made out like a bandit in terms of cash gifts. Total: $725! I'm topping off the first round of my electrolysis fund with it, which I'm very excited about. I have a coupon for $175 off that expires this week, so tomorrow I'll pop in on my lunch break and purchase the package.

I also got some nice non-monetary gifts and managed to get everyone on my list something special that was both well-thought-out and under budget. Looks like my total gift spending was $330.

I also started making a list of gift ideas for next year, since I always intend to shop throughout the year so that I'm not stressed around Thanksgiving. I usually start the list and then lose it, though. I hope it goes better this year. My biggest plan is a calendar for my grandmother made up of photos of her three grand-daughters (me and my sisters). I don't have a lot of photos of all of us together, and I actually don't have a lot of recent ones of either of them, so it'll be a project to get it all together.

Peanut and I agreed not to exchange gifts so I didn't buy him anything. I hope he sticks to our agreement (I'm pretty sure he will; we don't play games like that) but even if he doesn't I'm not buying him something just to buy it. I actually picked up my last gift at the sales today, but I think I'm officially done.

Hope alla y'all's holidays were as lovely as mine! (Can you tell I was in the South? whoo boy!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daily Miscellany, or what's kept me from posting

Inspired by FB, here's the rundown on my radio silence.
  • 3 day sales conference, which happened the same week as my final exam
  • 2 author events
  • Giant work projects that left me about two square feet of floor space in my office
  • Christmas shopping
  • Court date to face my ex-boyfriend regarding the restraining order I had against him
  • Lots of reading for work and book clubs
  • Baking/cooking for various Christmas parties
  • Sleeping
Here's what's left on my to-do list
  • Final project for my LAST CLASS OF GRAD SCHOOL
  • Wrap up odds and ends for work before vacation
  • Clean the apartment so it's nice when I come back from vacation
  • Snuggle Peanut until he can't stand me anymore, since we'll be apart for A WHOLE WEEK
  • Write lots of blog posts that have been simmering at the back of my mind
 

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Tax Writeoff--ie, my christmas present to myself

I bought myself a Sony Reader Touch this week. At $293 and change, it was a bit pricey, but it's 100% deductible and what the hell. It makes me more effective at my job and I will actually use it. And I like it way better than the Kindle.

My options:
The Kindle DX -- which I was beta testing for school and did not like. Which is to say, I liked some things about it (screen size) and hated pretty much everything else (feels flimsy, navigation sucks, web browser's a joke, case is heavy, and on and on). Not to mention the issues I have with a closed system and Amazon attempting to lower the perceived value of a book, ultimately threatening my livelihood. They ended up making the discount on this more than I expected, so much so that the Reader Touch ended up costing me more than keeping the Kindle would have. But with all those things wrong with it, I'd already decided against it.

Regular Kindle -- absolutely no interest. I wasn't impressed with their "impressive" version, so I didn't even consider the regular one.

The Nook (or nook, as it's officially written) -- early reviews of this are bad. Like, really bad. Not to mention that it's not shipping until January and in-store placement was delayed by a week, AND it's another proprietary system. I just don't think it's ready for prime time.

Sony Reader Pocket -- about $100 cheaper than the Touch but soooo tiny. The screen size was about the size of a credit card, and the case seemed huge around it. I tried to like it; I went to Best Buy twice just to make sure I really wouldn't be able to stand it.

Cool/Er and other models -- I couldn't find anything to love about them, and I couldn't find any to look at in person.

Old versions of the Sony, like the PRS-500 -- I was hoping to find one from a reputable retailer, but I couldn't, and I wasn't willing to go with an ebay find for this.

The rumors about an Apple reader are killing me, but I decided not to wait for one to come out. My experience this semester was that I read almost 50% more content with an ereader than without, and it was amazingly helpful as I started my new job. Technically, I'm supposed to receive one from my company, but I was approved in July and am still on the waiting list for a device, so I decided to just go ahead and purchase.

The Sony Reader Touch is a good size (slightly wider than a mass market paperback) with a good screen size (about the same as a mass market paperback). It feels sturdier than the Kindle, so I went without a case for now (it came with a neoprene sleeve for some safekeeping--cases cost $30!). I'm familiar with processing documents to load to it and if I have problems I can use my company's support staff to trouble shoot since they're familiar with it. I don't plan to use this for anything but work reading, so I don't care about having a content delivery system a la Kindle or Nook, but anyway, Sony's e-store has many, many options and they're using the industry standard .epub format rather than a proprietary one. And I believe I can use Adobe Digital Editions to access some library books, which is awesome and totally unavailable on other devices. Also, it came in black.

Drawbacks: the screen is a bit more reflective than the Kindle due to the touch screen, which is a little distracting, but I think I'll get used to it. Cases and accessories are ridiculously overpriced. The screen size is about three inches smaller than the Kindle--but again, I think I'll get used to it, especially once I'm no longer referencing a Kindle for class.

How I did it
I got a pretty good deal, all things considered. I discovered a semi-secret corporate discount that gave me $30 off the $299 price tag plus free shipping.

Overall, I'm pleased. I'll turn in my Kindle DX next week. The response from university students has universally been bad, and my professor declined to use the Kindle for her class next semester. Out of 27 students, only 3 were considering purchasing the device at a hugely discounted price, and I bet none of them do it.

I realize that this may seem like a weird purchase to a lot of people, but the value of it for my job is unbelievable. I can literally blow through three or four manuscripts per week with an ereader, which I can't do when I have to carry around all that paper. Yes, that's a book every two days! And when you're trying to catch up with a list as big as I'm facing, that's very helpful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finally

This past weekend I finally got around to converting my rollover IRA to a Roth IRA. I expect to take about a $600 hit out of pocket in taxes, but then that ~$4,000 will grow tax free forever afterwards. Yay! I'm just watching to make sure everything converts properly and then I will combine it with my other Roth IRA at a different institution. After the conversion, I'll have to kick in a bit more and then I'll have fully funded a Roth for 2009. Whoo hoo! And I've got everything figured out to set up automatic payments to fully fund it for 2010 and onward.

Finally, I'm getting my retirement accounts in some kind of proper order.

I chatted online with reps from both Vanguard and Fidelity while figuring how to do the process, and both told me they were impressed that I was taking this step at my age, and congratulated me on having a long term outlook. That made me feel good, but it also made me sad because apparently I'm unusual among my peers. To all you twenty-somethings (and really, whatever your age if you're not doing this) GO GET A ROTH IRA RIGHT NOW. Everything you contribute is after tax and so will grow tax free for the rest of your life. That is a HUGE deal. HUGE. Even if you can't max it out (right now, $5,000 per year), contribute whatever you can because compound interest is only your friend when you start early.

Yay me for getting one more thing crossed off my to-do list.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Scrooges

I've been seeing a lot of posts about how Christmas is so commercial and terrible and everyone should boycott it. And you know what, I get it--blah blah blah. Screw you, scrooges. I like buying Christmas presents for my family. We don't really do presents for birthdays in any big way, and we aren't outrageous, spending maybe $25 on each person. Every other year, my siblings and I all wind up under the same roof at the same time, and that's the most frequent it happens now. We don't have much in the way of Christmas traditions because our parents worked in the medical field and frequently were on call or at the hospital on Christmas day. Heck, my sister and I worked 16 hours together one Christmas, running a radio station in our hometown.

But we do have a small gift exchange, and we do really carefully picked out gifts for each person. Two years ago, my brothers got my sister and I the coolest gift--a giant travel mug from our state's college team, and filled it with things from "home" we might be missing--all kitschy and hilarious, and really, really touching. And I like it. And all you people with your anti-Christmas gift rants are bumming me out.

So pffft. I'm buying Christmas presents and if that makes me a cog in the corporate commercial machine, so be it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

LinkFest

A very cool look at author Robert Heinlein's "space age" house, featuring built in furniture, cork floors, and brilliant temperature control. Heinlein's one of my favorite authors, and this house is pretty cool, although now dated.

Peanut and I have been doing a lot of from-scratch cooking lately (including bread bowls!). I want to try these whole wheat tortillas sometime.

I so want to visit this soda shop! The owner clearly has a passion, and some of those sodas sound really tasty. I'm hoping to visit a friend in LA in 2010; this is definitely on the itinerary.

Online coupon use is skyrocketing--use increased 85% from September 2008 to September 2009. I'll be honest, I've always used online coupons. The last thing I do before I check out at any website is google the website and the words "coupon code". I usually find at least $5 off, sometimes it's as much as 40%, and I've been known to cancel the purchase entirely and go to a competitor if I see a better deal there. I'm glad the rest of the world is catching on to this--between the comparison shopping possible with the web and online coupon use, there's just no reason to pay full retail price for anything anymore.

Do you exchange gifts with your significant other? Peanut and I did exchange gifts last year, but we set a $20 limit. We’ve been talking about it this year and we might go in for something we want together rather than buy each other stuff. I loved having something to open from him (and he did such a great job getting me stuff I wanted and needed and stuff we still use all the time) but maybe we could skip exchanging gifts in general.

I like this post, about acceptance, priorities and balance—important to keep in mind about finances but about everything else in general.

Ramit’s guest blogger shares some really inspiring stories of how people tamed their workday to reasonable and manageable times. I’m struggling with setting a good schedule at my job lately—so many people want me in meetings and probably half of these meetings are not necessary (not just that it’s unnecessary that *I* be there, but they’re ENTIRELY unnecessary—“Let’s have a meeting to talk about that email!”).

I’m glad I got into publishing when I did, and I hope I can stay in it for a while, but this news isn’t good.

FB is stopping shopping! She's not buying any new clothes until December 2010. That's a commitment I could not make at this point in my life. Well, let me rephrase. I COULD--I don't really need much new stuff. But it would be very, very hard.

I love this cake!

I've only ever been to one of these "parties" and I totally walked away with some earrings. I would be really upset if this became a regular thing among my friends, though--I'd rather hang out than be sold something!

Interesting how rituals trend from the midwest to the urban east coast. Most of the people on Free Money Finance's list I won't be tipping, because I either don't have them (babysitter, pet-care provider) or have no idea who they are (garbage man, mailman). But I am expected to tip the superintendent of my building. I'm not sure how much we'll give him--he has a new baby at home, but we've had our stuff sitting in the middle of the bedroom for weeks waiting for him to come fix the water damage caused by a radiator leak upstairs. I hate this dance.

Good advice for this season on how to shop online safely.

How much do deal and rebate sites actually save? The answer is, of course, it depends. It's a pretty interesting read, especially the original NYT article.

From Get Rich Slowly, travel sites that save time and money. I hadn't heard of most of these and will be using them next time I book a trip.

I love New York, but I also loved watching New York get blown up, eaten, and washed away in this movie montage of New York destruction.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oops....

Peanut and I discovered, much to our chagrin, that we overdrafted our joint account last week. This is the first time either of us have ever overdrafted anything, and we're embarrassed and frustrated.

Basically, it was a perfect storm of unfortunate events. We paid all our bills and did all our money transfers on the 28th, which is pretty standard for us. Since it was a Saturday, the transfers didn't start until Monday, and our joint account bank is RIDICULOUS about how long it takes for transfers to process. But I put the rent in the mail on the 1st, as usual, and weirdly, they must have received it the same day because it cleared the bank on the 2nd, one day before Peanut's giant deposit cleared (my deposits appear automatically throughout the month). So the rent overdrafted, and then a credit card payment overdrafted, and then the deposit hit, and we were charged $70 in fees for the two overdrafts. I guess it's better that the rent and credit card payment cleared, because the fees for those bouncing would have been much higher and non-negotiable, but still. We discussed calling the bank and pleading mercy, but really, this was our fault. I should have held onto the rent check until I knew the deposit had cleared, even though they rarely cash the check until the 6th.

We're both a little sick about it, but I think this is a stupid tax that will make us pay better attention in the future.

Another update on 1800Flowers

That bouquet never got delivered.

I ended up cancelling it and placing another order on Friday, which was delivered today. I'm still not pleased (especially since I didn't get the credit I was promised, nor have I seen the $40 gift credit I was supposed to get from the promotion last month) but at least my mom now has a birthday present. I want to use that $20 credit plus the $40 credit plus my own money to get my grandparents a really nice something for Christmas, but we'll see if 1800Flowers can pull it off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update on 1800Flowers

Someone actually called me back!

Apparently ALL the florists in my mom's area are "out of flowers". I never did get clarification on whether that's in general or the bouquet I was looking for specifically, but since they didn't know when they'd be able to deliver a bouquet, I asked them to cancel the order and refund the charge. Which they're doing, plus they're throwing in a $20 credit towards a future purchase, although I don't know when I'll feel comfortable ordering flowers from a good-sized metropolitan area since they might, you know, not have any in driving distance.

So, anyway. 1800Flowers will get another shot, but only one more. I've ordered from FTD many, many times and never had a problem like this. This doesn't sound like it was 1800Flowers's fault, but *I* had to escalate the problem and no one contacted me about it, and that's not a good position to be in.

Anyway. Time for dishes.

November spending

Misc Income: $19.52 (interest and Pinecone payments)

Savings
General savings $910.65 (electrolysis, the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, etc--bigger than usual because I knocked down the padding in my checking account and moved it to savings)
Retirement $147.70 pre tax (company matches that)

Spending
Cell phone $77.64
Clothes $46.99 (and actually, that was all jewelry. Perhaps I need a new category...)
Entertainment $41.14 (mostly PaperbackSwap expenses and also 2012)
Dance Expenses $5 (picked up some new laces for my dance shoes)
Food—dining out $188.48
Food—groceries $194.87
Gifts $32.65
Household $93.23 (we bought art!)
Internet $16.98
Laundry $9.00
Medical $79.00 (dental payment and birth control prescription)
Personal $18.19
Rent $687.50
Travel $329.20 (plane ticket for Christmas)
Utilities $67.51

Total spending: $1,870.40


Food spending went up a bit while Peanut's friend was in town, we splurged on art for the apartment, and clearly I need to not go to jewelry parties or hang out at SilverJewelryClub.com (or make a new category for it!). Otherwise, not too bad, since more than $300 of my spending was for Christmas travel. 

Net worth updated--see sidebar. My retirement accounts gained another grand this month, phew!

The day after my birthday is not my birthday, Mum

(Peanut has been watching a lot of Flight of the Conchords lately).
 
1800Flowers has about eight hours to seriously impress me.
 
First of all, their $40 gift certificate promotion was fairly misleading--receiving a coupon "in a couple weeks" is not the same as receiving a coupon "within the first ten days of the following month". I mean, it COULD be, but the details could have been clearer. I still would have signed up for it, but I wouldn't have waited so long to order the bouquet for my mother's birthday, in hopes that I could get her something really really nice with that $40 coupon.
 
Instead, I waited until the last minute I felt comfortable, which was last Wednesday. I ordered a bouquet for delivery on Saturday (her birthday was on Sunday, but deliveries weren't available on the actual day). I went with 1800Flowers because they were the only site that even offered delivery for Saturday--I understand this was a holiday weekend, but if I receive confirmation that flowers will be delivered on a certain day (especially when "Holiday delivery guaranteed!" is plastered all over the site) then I expect delivery on that date.
 
Obviously that didn't happen. Before calling my mom on her birthday, I logged in to 1800Flowers to make sure that they'd been delivered, and all it said was "order placed 11/25" and "order confirmed 11/27". So I called, and the rep told me, "Oh, they called you on Saturday to tell you they couldn't deliver the flower". UM. No, they did not. I didn't even have a missed call on Saturday where they MIGHT have tried to reach me. He apologized, rescheduled the delivery for Monday, November 30, and offered me a partial refund for my trouble. I felt that was perfectly acceptable service and thanked him. I called my mom, apologized that her gift was late and told her she could expect it on Monday.
 
Guess what didn't happen yesterday? Yeah. Again, NO call, NO email, NOTHING.
 
So I called them this morning, and was put on hold for ten minutes while a different rep tried to figure out what was going on. No clue. He was very nice, but kind of unable to help me--he's at a call center somewhere, so it's not like he can go shake his finger in the florist's face, and apparently they're not answering the phone right now.
 
I asked him to escalate the complaint and make sure the flowers get delivered today, or I want a full refund immediately. So they've got about eight hours before I check back in, and if the flowers haven't been delivered, I'm going to be pretty upset. Although I know my mom will understand, I am not happy about sending her flowers a week after her birthday, when they were ordered and confirmed several days before.