Friday, December 31, 2010

December Spending Recap

Misc Income: $331.72

401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)
Total Retirement savings: $443.10

Debt Repayment
Student loans $616.68

Alcohol $40
Business expenses $4.89
Electronics $32.65
Entertainment $63.28 (movie tickets, video games on sale)
Food—dining out $333.54
Food—groceries $344.28
Gifts $ 115.69
Household $95.61
Hygiene/Medical $219.19 (hopefully most of that will be reimbursed)
Laundry $21
Rent $1,444.69
Transportation $20
Utilities $249.11
Wedding $12.77 (photo printing)
Total spending: $2,996.70

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar).

WE DID IT!!!!! WE BROKE $50,000 NET WORTH IN 2010!!!!

You can't tell but I am doing the craziest happy dance you ever did see.

December Recap/January Goals

December Goals
1. Cancel Christmas. Done! This was the least stressful Christmas I've ever had. We spent $150 on all gifts and postage, didn't travel (and therefore didn't get caught in the blizzard), and had a lovely time together. I might do this every year!

2. Create sub-savings accounts. Done! One for travel to visit family, one for gifts, one for emergency fund, and one for student loan payoff.

3. Really, truly finish wedding stuff. So close - I'm still waiting on a few photo prints to arrive in the mail, and also for one of the photographers to send me the last of our pictures (why would they only send black and white pics of the photobooth? What's the point of that?). Once those files come in, I can share them with all our family and friends and be done.

4. Cancel Victoria's Secret credit card. Oops -- forgot about this one! I'll add it to January. 

5. For reals, use up my flex spending money. Well, I spent it, but I haven't been reimbursed. I've been fighting with the flex spending company for nearly two weeks -- they've denied the claim based on an error in their records, but my HR dept is on my side so hopefully this will get taken care of next week when everyone's back from the holidays.

January Goals
1. Cancel Victoria's Secret credit card.

2. Work on my resolutions -- that's enough goals for one month. :)

2011 New Year's Resolutions

Here are my eleven 2011 New Year's Resolutions. I will explain in detailed posts over the next 11 days how I plan to achieve each one.

1. Single-task.
2. Participate in The Happiness Project

3. Be able to do headstand in yoga. 

4. Save enough to hurt a little.
5. Change our net worth by the value of our student loans/increase our net worth by $31,000. 

6. Prepare to leave my job.

7. Declutter -- ideally, reduce our possessions by about 1/3
8. Organize digital photos and finish physical scrapbooks.

For Fun
9. Take up a crafty hobby. 
10. Create a bucket-list of New York adventures and start checking them off.
11. Read through my library.


I've just joined The Happiness Project.

What would make you happier in 2011? More sleep, less nagging, more fun?

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, is asking those questions and encouraging people to take steps to bring closer whatever aspect of happiness they want in their lives. Each month, she'll suggest an area of focus with concrete steps to help boost your happiness.

And the best part is that the project encourages each participant to make someone else -- just one person -- happy. Imagine the change we could make in the world if we all tried to make just one other person happy on a regular basis.

If you're interested, you can join here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolutions Recap

 Here's a final look at how I did with my 2010 resolutions.

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. Well, I started out the year automatically contributing and then maxed it out in September. I guess I meant that I'd rather do it as I went instead of all in one go just before the opportunity ended in April of the following year. A
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. I paid down about $8,000 before we decided to pay the minimums on loans and build up our emergency fund so Peanut could quit his job and freelance. A
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. I gave four times as much in 2010 as I did in 2009, which is still a pitiful amount compared to my income. But I didn't do it in a methodical manner, which was a point I made here. C

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. I was not allowed to turn in my thesis early (guess they want you to have to pay for that second class!) but I kept my GPA up and got an A- on the thesis, and I'm now guest-lecturing for my thesis advisor. A
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. And the final count is.....132! Some of them were "gimmes" like wedding planning books but still. I blew away my own record. I'm convinced that this is because of my Sony eReader -- I read about 20% faster on it, partly because I always have it so I can read at any opportunity, and when I finish one book I can start another. A+
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. I did pretty well with this, I think. There's still room for improvement, but I am a happier person than I was last December. B

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. I made it further into the year than I expected with this, but I still quit before the year was up. It got too hot or I got too tired or whatever, and I bailed. Still, I saw results -- last week when our elevator was temporarily out of service, I could walk up the four flights without getting out of breath, something that was absolutely not possible at the beginning of the year. C
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. The biggest fail of all -- I bailed on this in the first month. F

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. This is another abandoned goal -- I actually completely shut down that blog and don't own the domain anymore. My desire for privacy outweighed my desire to blog publicly. I don't consider this a failure, though, since my priorities changed so drastically. No grade.

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. I still have so much room for improvement here. I'm not doing the Fake Plastic Fish challenge or the 100 Things challenge or anything like that. Still, I've made a point to do the things I said, and I consider my impact on a daily basis. B

Incorporating these goals into my monthly goal recaps really helped me keep them in mind, so I will probably continue doing that. It's interesting to note how my priorities changed over the year (these were written when I was not yet engaged and now I'm married, for example) and also interesting to note that it was the health/fitness goals that had the worst follow-through. Those are some things to keep in mind for 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Katy over at Non-Consumer Advocate makes a great point about New Years Resolutions -- many resolutions make people feel bad about themselves in order to work.

You might know that I make New Year's Resolutions every year, corresponding to the last two digits of the year (for example, 10 in 2010, 9 in 2009, 8 in 2008, etc. -- 2011 gets 11 but I think 2012 will have 2!). I've been doing this for almost twenty years with my best friend.

I try to set goals that are achievable but a little challenging. I try to pick things that I'm striving for anyway -- rather than "get fit" or "look hot" things like "take the stairs whenever possible". I'm also ok with abandoning goals at any point, which seems like it's not worth the effort -- but it is! My resolution to do 7 minutes of yoga a day fizzled quickly when I realized how much I hated the program I'd picked. Instead, reviewing that once a month let me remember that I wanted to be more fit, and I wound up doing something every day to be more active. I lost almost ten pounds seemingly just by thinking about this resolution once a month.

I love the idea of starting over with a clean slate, of setting intentions for the year ahead. I'm not interested in resolutions that require me to buy something in order to meet them. But I do like goals to strive for.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? How do you make sure you can keep them? Or are you okay with letting them go at some point during the year?

Don't fret -- a post with my 11 resolutions for 2011 is coming up!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gifting Up: Revisited

Last week I asked do you give gifts to your boss(es) -- and you answered! Turns out most people don't, unless you have a special relationship with your boss.

Here's my answer: I don't. My boss and I have a great relationship, and she's always given me a little something, but a few years ago (just as things were getting really bad with the economy) she came by and told me emphatically not to give her anything for Christmas (this was just after a coworker gave her something quite fancy). She said the thought was lovely but the best gift I could give was to make sure I was financially stable, especially with the economy imploding all around us and our industry looking very dire. She also said that she had everything she needed, and as long as I kept showing up to work, she was happy. So I don't give her a gift. I give her a card every year, and a thank-you card for the chocolates or lotion or whatever she gives me, but I don't buy her a present.

I make sure to keep my relationships with my coworkers in the non-gifting range as well -- even the ones I'm good friends with outside of work. I suggest a group lunch or drinks instead of Stuff, something we can all enjoy but that won't clutter up our lives -- and typically something where it's easier for people to pay what they want (by drinking fewer drinks or suggesting a cheap restaurant). I do always give to hat collections for our support staff, but I just don't buy individual gifts for anyone at work.

7 important questions to ask before 2011

Inspired by Dumb Little Man, here are my answers to these questions:
1. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with 2010?
For the first time in my life, I can say 10. This has been the best, happiest and most satisfying year of my life, and I feel so confident about the future.
2. Why did you score that way?
Well, the obvious: I married Peanut. Every day with him is more amazing than the last. I survived wedding planning (something I was really worried about, actually). My relationship with my mother is stronger. Peanut and I have made lots of new friends., I got a promotion and a raise at work (doing a job I love on a daily basis!). I met most of my goals for the year. I feel calmer and more centered in myself as an adult than I would have guessed was possible at the end of last year. Looking back over 2010, I feel amazingly blessed, and for once, don't have the sense of foreboding that the other shoe is about to drop.
3. What are your biggest accomplishments this year?
I got married without causing a giant rift in my family. I compromised where it didn't matter to me, and stood up for myself where it did. In the end, I had a wedding that made me very happy, came in under budget, and didn't ruin any relationships with anyone.

I finished graduate school. I maintained a 3.86 GPA throughout, got an A- on my thesis, and my company paid for nearly half of my degree. Furthermore, I managed to pay down about 1/3 of my loans before I even got my diploma in the mail.
I got a raise and promotion after just six months at my job, and six months after that I am generating enough work that they are DOUBLING my department! I'm challenged but thriving, and despite the small frustrations, I enjoy what I do.  

4. What are the biggest lessons you learned this year?
If you want to be treated like an adult, you must act like one first.

5. What are your biggest goals that you want to achieve next year?
I'll be doing a post about my New Year's Resolutions soon, but in short: to have a more intentional life, to appreciate what's already around me, and to have some fun!

6. What new habits do you want to cultivate?

Mainly, I'd like to focus my attention more -- stop being distracted by email or whatever. I guess it's a habit of being present, or in the moment.
7. What are your immediate next steps to achieve them?

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, and it's starting to sink in. It truly is a habit -- every time I open a window to browse Twitter while waiting for a video game to load, or check email on my phone at brunch, I'm gently redirecting myself. Step one: notice. Step two: make a change.

What about you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gifting Up

Here's a question -- how many of you give gifts to your bosses?
I'll answer after I read some of your comments.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Random money thoughts

I'm kind of cranky about money right now. I'm tired of arguing to get back money that's already mine or to correct an organization's mistake that puts me at a disadvantage. I'm going to try not spending for a while and see if that helps. :p


I have a friend  in my dance company, I don't know her very well, but I have known her for a long time. She came back to class after a long time away -- because she had twins! And I never would have guessed if she hadn't said anything (only five weeks ago, and she looks like she did pre-pregnancy -- which was already amazing -- but with bigger boobs). Anyway, she has a 24-hour nurse for the babies right now and is looking for a full-time, live-in nanny.


This woman is close to my age, maybe a few years older but not much, and she makes enough money to support a lifestyle that includes owning an apartment in a shishi neighborhood AND paying someone's entire salary to watch her kids. She's married, and her husband probably does well too, but she was just made partner in some sort of financial firm. I knew she made more money than I do, but now I'm kind of staggered to wonder how much more. I can't imagine myself ever in my life making enough money to afford a live-in nanny.

I thought hard to see whether there's any jealousy underlying my reaction to her, but I don't think so. Anyone who has a live-in nanny has to deal with what I call the Fancy People, the people whose parties I perform at with my dance company, and who I sometimes have to deal with for work, and frankly that would drive me crazy. I don't like Fancy People, and I'm not a Fancy Person and don't aspire to be one. My definition of financial security involves me never having to keep a job I hate and being able to help send my kids through college. No live-in nanny required.

It still boggles the mind, though.


Also today, a friend was offered her dream job at a salary so ridiculously low I was speechless. Even for someone with no experience, it winds up being less than minimum wage at the hours the position unofficially requires. I know it's heartbreaking for her to turn it down, but as she put it, she'd like to eat meals occasionally. 


Peanut and I are getting up in just a few hours to try to see the lunar eclipse during the winter solstice. The last time this happened, Louis XIV was born and the Beijing Gazette was switching from woodblock to movable type printing. Not just a once in a lifetime experience!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

20 Financial Milestones

Get Rich Slowly links to 20 Financial Milestones You should reach in your Twenties. I'm doing pretty good (with a few months left in my twenties). Here's what I haven't accomplished:

# 2 – Pay off your student loans
Working on it!

# 6 – Make your first, and last, investment mistake
I don't think I've ever made an investment mistake and I'm not interested in doing so. I don't go for market timing or anything -- just set it up, look for investments that have low or no fees, and -- aside from rebalancing once a year -- leave it alone.

# 19 – Invest $1 for every $1 you spend
What an awesome idea!

# 20 – Start a 529 College Savings Plan
Can we do this before we even have a kid to attach it to? Maybe we'll do that right after we finish paying off our loans.

If you're in your twenties, how many of these goals have you accomplished?

Monday, December 13, 2010

I owe it all to J.

I did learn from J. Money's mistake! After I mentioned it in my linkfest in August, I changed my credit card PIN so it wasn't the same as my ATM card PIN.

Today I went to the ATM and tried three times to get cash out of the checking account, each time getting declined for the wrong password. I got very frustrated and then took a closer look at the card -- I was trying to use my credit card, not my debit/ATM card.

I don't even want to know what the cash advance fees or interest rate would look like. Thanks, J. Money!

(Everyone, go make sure your ATM cards have a different PIN than your credit cards. Most banks allow you to change your PIN online or over the phone.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Student loan payoff and emergency fund goals

If you click through to my main page, you will see two sidebar trackers for our big savings goals: student loan payoff and emergency fund. This is where all of our savings and focus is going from now on.

Because Peanut is self-employed, we feel the need for a big fat emergency fund. We settled on $25,000 somewhat arbitrarily -- it's a nice, big number, but it would also keep us afloat in conjunction with my job for a very long time, and for nearly a year even if we lost my income entirely. That's a nice safety net. With a few small sinking funds for gifts and travel, we're at $22,695 in that fund right now. All savings efforts will go towards beefing that up to $25,000 before taking on our second goal: student loans.

We're currently paying minimums towards our student loans every month. Our goal is to pay them down as fast as possible, ideally within one year. Once our emergency fund is fully funded, we will continue paying minimums on the loans while saving to get enough cash to pay them off in one fell swoop. The way things are going, that date will probably happen sometime next summer.

It would also make sense for us to just pay extra towards the loans each month. However, we're in an interesting kind of financial limbo right now -- Peanut is freelancing but is open to taking a salaried position if the right one came up. The right one, though, is probably located on the other side of the country where my industry hardly exists. There's also the possibility that we'll be moving somewhere in the middle of the country within the year, in order to settle in a family-friendly environment before we start trying for kids. Either of those possibilities means we'll want to have a lot of cash on hand, so it makes us more comfortable to give up a few hundred bucks in interest in order to build our cash reserves before paying off those loans. We can afford to go on paying minimums for a long time on just one income and our interest rates are low so while it's not the most financially smart move, it's not a terrible one either.

Once the loans are paid off, we'll have $25,000 in cash and no obligations at all, so that $25,000 is plenty for us to do anything we want: move across the country, quit our jobs and sit on the beach for a year, try for a baby. What an awesome thought -- and it's almost within our reach!

Tweet, tweet

Yes, I did it. I joined Twitter.

Come say hi!

Eating out: okay by me

Over the last couple of months, our eating our category has been inching up to sit comfortably over $200 per month.

I decided in the last week that it's fine by me. We've been eating out with friends -- brunch most Sundays, dinners with new friends and old, a few lunches with people who've moved away. And it's been actually really awesome. Way better than staying home and not being social. (We're not just going out, either -- we've been having some people over for meals as well, which is also cool.)

Basically, I'm no longer going to make myself feel guilty about spending less than 5% of our monthly income on doing something that enriches our lives.

Is there anything in your budget that you're okay with spending a little more on lately?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Owning vs. renting

Well, this list makes me never want to own a home.

Seriously, all my complaints about renting an apartment in a big building (noise from other neighbors, heat I can't control, no dishwasher or washing machine) pale in comparison to the things I love about living in a big building. Here's a partial list of things I love:

* someone will fix paint, toilets, leaks, cracks, breaks, appliances that stop working, and pest control. All I have to do is make a phone call.

* neighbors that are awesome who let me pet their kitties and share kitchens for big brunches.

* heat and hot water included in my rent.

* no yard work.

* no obligation beyond a lease -- which is totally breakable. If we want to up and move, we can.

I think I'll stick with renting for a while longer, thanks.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shutterfly review

So, as I mentioned, I was hoping to get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly. Well, I did! I ordered them last weekend, and they've already showed up!

Not only that, but they're gorgeous. The quality is perfect. I chose a design that shows three of our wedding photos (one on front, and then two on the top flap when you open it) and they look just amazing. I could not be happier.

I spent the rest of the week uploading a few wedding albums per night to Shutterfly so I can share them all with our family and friends who want them. I'll send those links out soon, and then my wedding tasks will be complete.

Full disclosure: I received 50 free holiday cards for the previous post, but wasn't compensated in any other way, and was not asked to do a review. These opinions are my own.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Close call

Last weekend, Peanut and I paid all our bills, including our student loans. I realized that I could close my ING account as soon as my student loan payment went through -- and then I realized that I better update the banking information so that next month I wouldn't do what I did with my credit card and try to make a payment with defunct account information. So I logged back in and updated my bank account information.
I didn't realize that doing that canceled the payment I had still pending.
Luckily, I checked in today to see whether things had cleared so I could close ING, and went digging when I saw that it hadn't. Lucky because today is the last day I can make a payment without being late, and I need 12 months of on-time payments to qualify for $250 in rebates.
ING account closed, student loan payment made, disaster averted. This is why I try to stay on top of my finances on a near-daily, at minimum weekly, basis.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November Recap/December Goals

November Goals
1. Finish decluttering. I went through a LOT of stuff, but I definitely have more to get rid of. Also, the give away pile is sitting by the door ready to be taken to Goodwill...just waiting. And waiting.As if it'll just walk there by itself.

2.  Buy new cookware. Fail -- we did not have time to get to the Bowery Restaurant Supply together. Maybe in December.

3. Make a dermatologist appointment. Success! I made the appointment, had the mole removed, got stitches for the first time in my life, and my health insurance covered all but the co-pay. That's $50 against my $300 flex spending!

4. Start Christmas shopping.   Half pass/half fail -- see December's goals for why. 

5. Consolidate into one savings account. Almost done! ING finally allowed me to add another account after changing my name, so I can move all the money over and close the account. I'm just waiting on the interest payment to go through tonight and I'll call them tomorrow. I liked ING a lot, but our brick and mortar bank beats their interest rate by almost a full percent, and my loyalty is as flexible as interest rates right now. Someday we may be back.

December Goals
1. Cancel Christmas. My mom has forbidden me from getting her and my stepdad anything for Christmas, as she has all of my other siblings. While Peanut and I are able to afford Christmas this year, we'll abide by her wishes -- and I've suggested to my siblings that we simply exchange cards this year and save presents for years that we're all together (or ideally, for the next generation). My siblings are in various stages of graduate school/beginning their careers and should be focusing on their own lives rather than my "need" for Christmas gifts.That leaves my youngest sister (who's still a kid, and deserves a present) and just a handful of others, mostly the "chocolates and cookies" crowd.

2. Create sub-savings accounts. Now that Peanut and I are fully consolidated into one savings and one checking account, I can set up sub-savings accounts for emergency fund, student loan payoff, and sinking funds. It's so discouraging watching our student loan payments not make a dent in our debt snowball, but watching that payoff account grow will make up for it. (As a reminder, we're keeping cash on hand due to the instability of Peanut's freelance work and only paying minimums, but we're continuing to sock away what we would otherwise be snowballing against the loans. Ideally, we'll be able to pay off the entire balance before our one-year anniversary next September and we're currently on schedule for that.)

3. Really, truly finish wedding stuff. One of our registries has a "completion event" where we get 20% off anything left on our registry that we didn't get -- and we can use up our gift cards at the same time. Likewise, get that cookware from Bowery Restaurant Supply. Also, upload and share all photos, order albums and other prints, frame and hang everything, and provide reviews for the photographers.

4. Cancel Victoria's Secret credit card. I haven't used this card since I opened it six years ago, don't even have a physical card anymore, can't remember my log in, and have my maiden name on the account. I don't care enough about the part of the credit score it helps to have it open -- I'll never use it again.

5. For reals, use up my flex spending money. The end of this month is my deadline -- that's $250 I need to spend on OTC stuff.

Not-so-new monthly feature: New Year's Resolution Recap
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. Done!
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. Not going to make it due to our new strategy -- but I went from ~$19,500 to ~$12,000 which certainly isn't bad.
3. Give to charity. In progress.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. Done!
5. Read more than 100 books. Done!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Doing better!
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Oh, please.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Pshaw.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Canceled and deleted.
10. Make less of an impact. Working on acquiring less, in order to have to reduce less.

November Spending Review

Regular day job income: $5,512.80
Misc Income: $2,201.10 (Pinecone payments, interest, refund of deposit from bakery)
Total income: $7,733.90

401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)

Total Retirement savings: $443.10

Debt Repayment
Student loans $616.68

Alcohol $17.80 (I'm going to start breaking this out from my food spending -- it's all my consumption, Peanut doesn't drink)
Business expenses $2,862.06 (Peanut's new computer--deductible)
Clothing $142.30
Dance Expense $25
Electronics $10.95 (canned air)
Entertainment $6 (Peanut found video games on sale!)
Food—dining out $287.34
Food—groceries $191.10
Gifts $92.94 (flowers for my mom's birthday, plus a few great deals on generic chocolate type gifts)
Household $19.67
Hygiene/Medical $85.97 (Two co-pays for the dermatologist and one flu shot -- all reimbursable, plus some hair stuff)
Laundry $20 (MUCH better than last month!)
Rent $1,444.69
Transportation $40 (Peanut's metrocard)
Utilities $332.57 (Peanut upgraded his phone, but will get the full $100 as a rebate)
Wedding $107.85 (photo albums for parents)

Total spending: $5,686.24

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar).We're so close to a $50,000 net worth! I wonder if we can achieve that by the end of 2010?


World of Wealth says you shouldn't have a budget forever. I totally agree! I used to live strictly on the envelope system, then loosened up a bit, and now our budget is sort of like the Pirate Code -- more what you'd call "guidelines" rather than actual rules. Our savings goals are strictly adhered to, but once we cover that, whether we spend money on groceries or eating out or electronics doesn't really matter to us.
Christmas present idea roundup:
10 gifts under $10 (love that wine stopper suggestion! I'm going to use it for any white elephant parties this year)
Unclutterer's 2010 Gift Giving Guide (hint: keep it practical)

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Questions updated over at Formspring -- feel free to ask me anonymous questions there!

I've taken something of a digital sabbatical -- I've been on the computer a lot, playing video games and sorting wedding photos, but spent less time reading blogs and (obviously) posting on my own. It's been nice and now I feel like I have more to say.

Financial items of note:
* I was dumb and didn't update my bank info with my credit card last time I paid it, so the payment was supposed to come from my old checking account which is closed. I got charged a $25 fee. Oops.

* ING has confirmed my new bank account, so I can transfer all my money on Monday and close it out (yay for higher interest rates!). When that's done, all of my accounts will be streamlined and consolidated.

* I've been calling American Express (which issues my corporate card) for two months trying to get my name changed. Every two weeks I've asked for the name change form, which I'm told will arrive in three to five days. Yesterday I got two forms on the same day. *sigh* If these are the first I've requested, they took six to eight weeks to arrive, not three to five days -- and I've got at least two more showing up eventually.

* My Discover card increased my credit limit - probably from all the wedding expenses I put on it. That's nice. I doubt I'll ever need to put anything so expensive on there again, but it's nice to know that I could. I'm pretty sure they offered that extension before I paid with outdated bank information.

* Peanut and I have been spending quite a bit eating out this month. Oy vey. Our wrap up is not going to be pretty.

More soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

green with envy

I've been trying to ignore all the news about e-readers being the IT Christmas gift this year -- if you remember, I bought a Sony Touch less than a year ago and it cost me $260 ($299 with a $30 coupon). The same device now sells for $169.99 and will probably be further discounted with Black Friday deals. Not to mention the Kindle's only $139, and the Nook is $99.
This is the cost of being an early adopter, I guess. I was able to deduct the entire cost of the reader off my taxes last year, since I use it for work, but I didn't really notice that much of a difference in my taxes due to that deduction.
I've never really been an early adopter, and after this experience, I think I'm done.

Monday, November 22, 2010

If I Were a Boy: On Being Female in Publishing

I work in trade book publishing, an industry generally dominated by women. Some divisions are filled with more men than others -- the business office, IT, much of upper management, in particular -- but the fields people most think of when they think of a publishing house are, in my experience, predominantly made of women -- editorial, copyediting, even sales and the publisher's office. I work for a major imprint (sort of a mini-publisher) of one of the top four or five publishing houses in the country -- my boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman, and her boss is a woman. In fact, my imprint is one in my house with the best representation of men, and we have five men -- out of a team of about 30. So it's pretty different from many industries in that there are more women employees than there are men, and that there are more women in higher positions of power.

Interestingly, the publishing industry pays very little -- many entry level positions start around $28,000 (in New York City!). I can't help but wonder if these two things are related.
Yes, book publishing is like any other media industry -- thin margins, long hours, unpaid internships, and one of the first things consumers cut back on when money gets tight. But we've all heard that women ask for less money up front, women are less likely to negotiate salary when being hired, women are less likely to ask for a raise. In an industry that mostly hires young women, should it really be surprising that most entry level employees don't negotiate their starting salaries, and therefore spend the rest of their careers trying to catch up?

It's great to work in an industry dominated by women, where I'm surrounded by great women to look up to and I can truly aspire towards positions of power. In general, it's an industry that welcomes having a family and working from home (most actual editing is done there anyway), and at least in my experience has been very understanding about people needing time off for maternity leave, children's schedules, and even provides day care on site. But I can't help but wonder what it would do for general pay levels if more men were coming into the industry on an entry level basis. Would they be negotiating for better starting salaries, therefore raising the norm for all employees?

According to PayScale, I am making right about the average for my position -- but I also know that my predecessor was making 50% more than I am now. She had about five years more experience than I do, so ideally my raises each year will put me on pace to earn that much in another four years or so (I have been in the publishing industry for four years, but my current position only one). I know that a former colleague with my same job title definitely did negotiate for his salary AND for his subsequent raises -- and while I don't know what he ended up making, I know that to live in the neighborhood he did, he must have been making twice what I am now. So I know that it works.

When I was offered my first job with this company, I negotiated my salary. I didn't do a terrific job of it, I guess -- I accepted a whopping $500 more annually than I was originally offered. I was desperate to get my foot in the door, and I was still getting a small raise from my previous job. From where I sit now, I know that that is the top end of the salary range for that job title. It just didn't occur to me to ask for a slightly better title for the same job. That slightly better title would have given me about $4,000 more -- something I got after less than a year, but still. Had I asked for it up front, maybe I would have gotten another $2,000, and each raise and salary-based bonus after that would have had just a little more oomph. Would a guy in that position have done so? I suspect the answer is yes.

I love my job. I love books, and I love book people, and while I'd only do the reading part for free, I'm generally happy with my job and how I'm compensated. I know my supervisors value my work, and they've shown it at every review and year-end bonus period. I worry sometimes that my tendency as a woman to not negotiate and not directly ask for a raise are keeping me from money I could be earning. It doesn't bother me enough to spur me to action, which is perhaps the problem with working in such a female-dominated industry in general -- of the 80% of the workforce that's female, probably 75% are content to accept what is given and not ask for more, thus ensuring we all get less than we could.

"If I were a Boy" Carnival

This post is part of a series of bloggers sharing their candid experiences or observations about women in the workplace which is not at all meant to be a male-bashing expedition whatsoever.

Please head over to these other wonderful bloggers and read about their experiences.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shutterfly holiday cards

I heard from our other wedding photographer that we should be receiving her disk of photos this weekend -- they're almost here! I basically wanted the wedding in order to have photos to show our eventual kids, so I'm so excited that this final holdover from the wedding festivities is almost in my mailbox.

I've been thinking about what to do with them, since we didn't buy a print package, just the rights to the photos. The obvious answer: holiday photo cards! My Christmas card list basically just doubled, with the addition of Peanut's family, and what better way to say happy holidays than with a picture to remind people of the wonderful day they shared with us, or to give people who weren't able to make it a glimpse of what it looked like. I always send Christmas cards, but my life is not quite interesting enough to warrant a Christmas newsletter. I think a photo card of our first Christmas as a baby family is perfect.

I'll be ordering from Shutterfly -- they have cards but also photo gifts -- the keepsake box is a particular favorite of mine, as is the puzzle. They also have regular photo ordering services (and you can pick photos up at Walgreens, Target, and CVS!!) which is perfect for sharing them with everyone else who wants to order photos as well.

Full disclosure: this is a submission for the 50 free holiday card promotion from Shutterfly, but I will be using Shutterfly for my wedding photo orders.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wedding stuff

Got one CD of photos in -- one more to go! It's hard to tell the overall picture at this point since we have a random half of the pictures. Did I mention on here that our photographer team has split up since our wedding and apparently aren't talking to each other anymore? So I've been speaking to them separately, as they each had different sets of photos.

Anyway, I got one CD and no complaints, and then I found a Groupon deal for today for a $50 deal at Mixbooks photobook printing site for only $15. I've been collecting all sorts of deals and coupon codes for this, since our deal with our photographers was only for CDs with a non-commercial license for printing. So I'm on my way to having a complete set of wedding pictures by Christmas.

I'm also hoping to get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly -- watch for a review if I get it!

And lastly, check out the guy who wrote a bunch of letters to companies asking for free products -- and what he got! So neat. People write to me at work all the time asking for free books. I love how organized he was with his spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Weekend update

This article at RowdyKittens reminds me of a random toddler who greeted us with a huge smile and a wave while we walked to brunch with some friends yesterday. So cute!
This morning I went to the doctor -- and I got stitches for the first time in my life! This is the appointment I made to use up some flex spending dollars -- I wound up getting a mole removed and sent in for a biopsy. I don't expect anything to turn up, but the mole had been bothering me and now it's gone (and so is $25 of my flex spending money, yay!). I have another appointment next week to remove the stitches and do a full-body skin cancer screening, and might have a copay for the lab tests. I don't think I've successfully used up $300 with these appointments, but I did take care of something that needed to get done and maybe spent around a third of the money that needs to be spent.
I also got a flu shot last week, but it turns out my health insurance covers that 100%. I have really good health insurance -- which I'm not keeping for next year. I looked at the open enrollment details that my coworkers were complaining about, and the premiums are almost doubling, from $57 to $98 per pay period. Peanut and I just can't justify that -- we have enough in savings to semi self-insure by dropping to the lowest tier health insurance, which has a $1,500 annual deductible and covers 75% after that up to $4,000 max out of pocket per person. My annual physical remains covered at 100% and my prescription coverage doesn't change, so it would only come into play for unusual illnesses or an accident. We'll be saving $40 a month by dropping down to this plan, and it doesn't seem like we'll really be losing anything.
I may not contribute to the flexible spending account next year. All annual checkups (doctor and dentist) are covered at 100%. OTC medications will no longer be covered thanks to the new healthcare plan. I don't anticipate needing additional dental work. My birth control prescriptions come in under the $100 minimum contribution, and I'm not sure we could spend enough to actually save anything. I'll be calling my dentist to get his opinion before I make my final decision (and to see if there's anything I can get done in 2010) but I think we'll be skipping this option this year.
When Peanut and I meet with the certified financial planner this week, I'll be asking about life insurance -- my company provides a policy equal to my annual salary for no cost, but I wonder if that's enough, and what our other options are. I've never really looked into this before -- I've never had someone else's financial life tied up in mine, and Debt Ninja's recent post got me thinking about that. Any other married people care to weigh in?
When I make my final 2011 open enrollment decisions and lock them in, I'll post an update on how things will lok!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Growing up

Paranoid Asteroid, Fabulously Broke, and Give Me Back My Five Bucks are talking about how they all feel out of place and out of touch with people just slightly younger than them or even their own age. They don't get the shows (Jersey Shore) or the music (Justin Beiber) or living paycheck to paycheck and they're busy worrying about 401(k) contributions and care more about getting enough sleep than staying out on the town. These things make them feel insecure, awkward, and strangely juvenile.

To which I say: welcome to adulthood! Just in the last year or so I realized: grown-ups played a huge joke on us when we were kids. They seemed to have everything figured out all the time, and it turns out they totally didn't! My mom -- even my grandma -- doesn't feel like an adult yet. They still don't know what they want to be when they grow up. They worried about things like retirement and paying bills because if they didn't, no one else was going to. When I was a kid, I thought 23 was SO OLD. Seriously. I thought if I wasn't married by 23, it would be totally over for me, who would want such a hag after the age of *gasp* 24??!?!?!

Turns out I got married just six months before I leave my twenties behind forever, and I still feel like a kid who shouldn't be allowed to dress herself in the morning. I've been on my own for almost a decade and I've got more street smarts than my own mother. I can manage money and stand up for myself and define my life however I want, and with that comes the insecurity of being allowed to manage money and stand up for myself and define my life however I want.

So basically, PF pals, we're all doing exactly okay. We'll probably feel this wonder at being out of touch with the "youth of today" for the rest of our lives. We'll might always feel like at any moment someone will "catch" us playing at grown-ups and send us back to study hall. And that's exactly how it's supposed to be. All the other adults feel that way too, so we're doing it just right.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How to apologize

Not like this: "We're sorry we got caught -- wow, the Internet is mean to us!" (via Gawker)
But like this: "We goofed -- have a refund AND a free future cruise" (via The Consumerist)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

random PF updates from Casa Moneybags

* Open enrollment is here! I need to sit down and take a look at the damage -- I overheard some coworkers talking about how our part of the premiums have gone up, so I'm prepared for a surprise.
* Peanut spent $2,500 on the fanciest computer I've ever seen in my life. He needs it for his freelance work and it's tax-deduction but wowza. It cost twice as much as my car.
* My wedding dress donation is now costing me bank fees. I sent a check from my personal account along with my dress to cover the costs of cleaning and processing, and six weeks later they still haven't cashed it. I transferred my direct deposit over to our joint checking account shortly after we got married (because I didn't think it would take a non-profit six weeks to cash a check!), and now my personal acount bank is charging me $12 a MONTH for not having direct deposit. I've contacted the foundation several times to make sure that a) they received the package and b) that they plan to cash the check soon. I can't close the account because I KNOW that there's an outstanding check, so I'm stuck paying $12 a month until the foundation gets their act together. Grrrr.
* Next week, Peanut and I are attending a personal finance seminar hosted by a CFP in our neighborhood. It's designed to go over things like how much insurance you need, how to make sure you've got the right withholdings on your taxes, estate planning, and saving for retirement vs. kids' college. I'm sure he's trying to drum up new business, but hey -- Peanut and I were looking for someone to talk to about these very things as well as taxes for his freelance work. Kismet!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chores by gender

Cate's recent post over at Liberal Simplicity got me thinking about how Peanut and I divide up chores. It's not strictly on a gender basis, but more along the lines of who likes what. Here's a breakdown:

Peanut's chores
* Cooking
* Floors
* Growing stuff
* Grocery shopping
* Systems administrator
* Co-Chief Financial Officer

My chores
* Washing dishes
* General bathroom/kitchen
* Straightening
* Dusting
* Laundry
* Grouter and caulker of things that need to be grouted and caulked
* Customer service dealer-wither
* Co-Chief Financial Officer

This is a little simplistic -- sometimes I go to the grocery store, and Peanut doesn't need to do as much straightening because he usually puts stuff away as soon as he's done using it and doesn't leave it scattered about. Also, sometimes I cook and sometimes he does dishes. In fact, I have been shirking my dish-doing duty lately as he's at home all day working freelance and I'm out in the corporate world and somehow that seemed fair (but it's not). I do a little more of the scrubby-clean work because I get tweaked out by dirt earlier than Peanut does.

I'm interested to see how our future chores break down along gender lines.We don't have a car or a yard at this point. I've taken an automechanics class and love working on cars. I had to mow my parents' 2 acre yard as a kid, but I don't like it as a chore. I'm not really sure about his preferences for those outdoor chores that we don't currently have.

How do you divide up chores with the people you live with, whether they're a roommate or a significant other?

Flex spending

Help me spend my flex spending!
I signed up to have $900 withheld from my paycheck for 2010 for my flexible spending account. I anticipated some dental work (yet another root canal and crown) plus my standard copays for regular office visits and prescriptions.
Well, it turns out this whole flossing thing works, and I didn't need the dental work after all. Due to my Life Event in September, I was able to cancel the flex spending contributions for the rest of the year, but that means that I put away $712.50 into this use-it-or-lose-it pre-tax account, and I really only needed about $200 of flex spending money.
What do I do now?
I have stocked up twice on every OTC medication I can think of using before it expires (after this year, OTC medication will no longer be covered, so it's nice to be able to stock up, but on the other hand, medications have an expiration date so there's no point going too crazy). I've stocked up on things like band-aids, Ace wraps, and other non-medication supplies. I spent more than $100 each time. I've purchased sunscreen. I've made two visits to the dentist. I've made my annual visit to my doctor, and have purchased all the birth control I'll need until next year.
I still have $300 to spend. In less than two months.  !!!!
I made an appointment with a dermatologist to have a mole removed, so that will use up $25 for the copay. I am pretty sure the procedure itself will be covered in full. But how else do I spend this money? I do not want it to just be absorbed by whoever gets it if I don't use it -- it's MY money and I worked for it. The thing that makes this so sticky is that the rules (laws, even) are very clear about what the money can be used for, including WHO it came be used for (IE, it has to be used for me and my dependents -- I can't just go buy a bunch of OTC medications and give them away).
Has anyone had a similar situation? How did you use up extra flex spending money?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Clothes shopping

I've been doing very well about not doing a lot of clothes shopping lately. Now that I'm wearing some of my winter clothes, though, it's rather painfully obvious that I need to--some of my warmer things are rather worn out, and not appropriate for work anymore.
Needs to be replaced
-Big warm black turtleneck sweater. It's started to pill something awful, and it also seems to have shrunk so it's kind of too short to wear with any of my work pants.
-V-neck sweaters. One's got a hole in it, the other's just worn out.
-2 3/4 length cardigans. I got them at a cheap place for any amazing price, and it shows. Missing buttons, pilling, ugh.
-Black pointy-toe heels. I noticed yesterday that they're cracked and scuffed in a way that's not likely to be repairable.
-Black knee-high boots. I just had a whole discussion on boots a year ago, about how much I would spend -- I said $200 but then I went and bought a $60 pair, and low and behold, they've got a hole in them and let in water only a year later. Grrrr.
Other things I want to get
-Work pants. I have the hardest time finding pants that fit where I want them to, are long enough, and don't make me look pregnant. I have one pair of black pants that are perfect, and I love them and I've had them for so long I'm worried they'll wear out before I find another pair I love as much. They're an off-brand and I don't remember where I found them and I haven't found anything by googling! Three more pairs of work pants (black, grey, and khaki or patterned) would serve me well.
-Long sleeve cardigans. All my cardigans are 3/4 sleeve, and my office is too cold in winter for that.
-T-shirts for layering. My t-shirts are all looking kind of grungy and old. And they are old. I don't want to tell you how old, but if they were a sibling, they'd have an interesting personality by now.
-Tights to wear under winter dresses and skirts.
-Winter dresses.
-Sweaters in general.
Things I do not need
-Underwear or bras
-Shoes other than what's mentioned
-Tank tops
I have a bad habit of being a little too cheap when it comes to clothing. I try to shop at H&M or NY&Co, but I also end up at off-brand New York City stores where cardigans are like 2 for $10 and I'm so excited except then they only last for a season before they look really bad. I want to avoid that this time around. And darn it, NYC has reinstated the clothing tax.
I've signed up again for deal emails from NY&Co, H&M, and JC Penney. I also feel like I should step it up a notch, like J. Crew and Ann Taylor, but I'm afraid my money won't go as far there. Maybe there will be some good sales for Black Friday coming up. If you had my shopping list and $500, where would you go?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Maxing out 401(k) contributions

Peanut and I had a fun little exercise yesterday, seeing what it would take for me to max out my 401(k) contributions. While I'd be contributing $1375 per month (to hit the $16,500 limit for 2011), my take-home income would only go down about $800 -- that's $575 going straight to retirement instead of taxes!
We are already each maxing out a Roth IRA each year, but because he's just starting a freelance business, my 401(k) is really our only option for pre-tax retirement savings (we'll look into SEP accounts and other freelance options later, once his income levels out). However, because he's just starting a freelance business, there's no way I'm tying up our only reliable source of income like that. I'll leave it for now at the 6% I'm contributing, which my company matches. Maybe when he gets a long-term contract, I'll up my contributions temporarily, but I think until our loans are paid off, that's a goal that will have to wait. Still, it'll be fun to aim towards that!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Guest post over at Mystery Shop Maven

I have a guest post today over at Mystery Shop Maven: My Life as a Mystery Shopper. I talk a little about how I got into mystery shopping, what it was like when I shopped the most, and why I cut back so much this year. There are lots of benefits of mystery shopping, so if you're interested, you should check out Mystery Shop Maven -- it's full of great information to help you get started.


I just found out that New York State still has not processed my name change for my voter's registration back when I got my new driver's license a month ago.
This means I am likely ineligible to vote this evening like I was planning to. I can bring my old passport with holes punched in it, my marriage certificate, and my new photo ID, but I wonder if that will be enough. I've had bad experiences with them before, even when I had all my paperwork in order and they didn't have theirs right. I'll probably give it a try anyway, but it's frustrating.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh, Evil Internet Corporation. I hate you.

Here's a rather bizarre situation that might be stressing me out more than it's worth.
Back at the end of June, I noticed that the promotional rate on our internet service had run out, nearly doubling our monthly bill. I called and said this was unacceptable, and was able to get another promotional rate applied to our account for another 12 months.
Here's something to know about New York City apartment buildings: some of them contract with a cable/telecom company, so tenants have no choice about who to use for service. It's Evil Corporation or nothing. My building is one of those. I can't threaten to switch to another company, so my leverage is almost nill.
Now, I was pleased that Evil Company agreed to lower our monthly bill again (since technically they didn't have to) and wasn't too upset when they seemed to have double charged me in July, since I could see how giving me this promotional rate would wind up resetting my due date, effectively making me pay the bill twice in the same month.
Only it didn't really work out that way. When I was billed again only a few weeks later, I took a close look at the bill, and discovered that they weren't actually double-billing me -- they'd just extended the payment period, so instead of paying for the one month of service coming up, I am paying for two months of service coming up. (For example, my October bill covers December -- because I paid an extra month back in July.) So, now I'm paying them early rather than having the money in my account earning me interest. That's rather annoying.
So I've called. I've chatted online. I've spoken with supervisors. I've been told that this is a problem they're aware of and they'll fix it. I've been told that the dates would be corrected on my account, and I'll get a bill for $0.00 one month. I've been told that I'll get a refund of one payment, and the dates will stay the same. Exactly none of this has come to pass, and I have no leverage whatsoever other than cancelling my internet service (and then fighting with them to keep it on through the time I've atually paid for it.) And also, cancelling internet isn't something I actually want to explore! I asked them could I just skip a payment and they'd figure it out, and they said no -- if I skip, they'll cancel service and send me to collections - even though I've already paid in advance for service!
So my options are to keep fighting with them about it, or to just make a note to myself to watch the bills when we plan to move so that I don't pay for service when we're no longer living there. I'm organized enough to be able to remember this, but I kind of feel like they should just FIX it.
What would you do in this situation?

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Wrap up elements of getting married. Mostly done! I'm waiting on new health insurance cards, a deposit refund from the bakery, and the  professional photos from the photographers. Also still getting used to saying and writing a new name.
2. Develop married budget and savings sub-accounts. Coming along!

3. Catch up at work. Done!

4. Get my diploma. Done!

5. Declutter and stock up. In progress! I've done a lot of decluttering, and our pantry, fridge and freezer are now well stocked again, as this month's grocery budget can attest. 

November Goals
1. Finish decluttering. I have a list of the chests, closets, and cabinets in our apartment that still need to be cleaned out, and I'd like to go through all of them and donate all giveaway items to Goodwill by the end of the month. 

2.  Buy new cookware. The only thing we're still missing from our registry is cookware, because a few weeks ago I heard of the Bowery Restaurant Supply company, from which we can buy restaurant-grade cookware at 1/10th the price of any housewares store (see this article about stocking an ENTIRE kitchen for $200!). It seems that they're only open during the week, though, so it's a little tricky to get down there. 

3. Make a dermatologist appointment. I have a mole that's acting kind of funny, and when I had my free skin cancer screening at work a few months ago the doctor advised me to come in and have it removed (it's already been biopsied, and is nothing to worry about, just annoying). I need to make that appointment by the end of the year in order to use 2010 flex spending!

4. Start Christmas shopping.   This year is a Christmas-spent-here year, so I'll have to mail all my Christmas gifts to friends and family. Incentive to get it done early! I've already started keeping my eyes open for things people might like.

5. Consolidate into one savings account. I had to wait 30 days after changing my name and email with ING before they'll let me do anything else, like add a new bank account. We found a pretty decent interest rate at a brick-and-mortar bank, so I'd like to consolidate our two ING accounts and my "regular" savings account and start earning some moolah!

Not-so-new monthly feature: New Year's Resolution Recap
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. Done!
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. I've paid $7,647 towards a $19,568 debt.
3. Give to charity. In progress.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. Done!
5. Read more than 100 books. Done!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Doing better!
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Oh, please.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Pshaw.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Canceled and deleted.
10. Make less of an impact. Working on acquiring less, in order to have to reduce less.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Spending Review

This is my first spending recap with fully integrated finances. Yippee!

Misc Income: $3,189.04 (Pinecone payments, interest, wedding gifts of cash)

401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)

Total Retirement savings: $443.10

Debt Repayment
Student loans $666.68 
Business expenses $16.06 (Peanut set up a website for his new freelance business)
Charity $40 (donation along with my wedding dress)
Entertainment $31.69 (computer games and re-upping my Paperbackswap money)
Food—dining out $209.72
Food—groceries $298.98
Household $59.77 (mostly stamps and a few other items)
Hygiene/Medical $20.43
Laundry $44 (ouch!)
Rent $1444.69
Transportation $199 (New passport for me and a metrocard for Peanut)
Utilities $257.73 (this now includes two cell phones, internet, and electric/gas)

Total spending: $2,622.07

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar).

Halloween Linkfest

Happy Halloween!

Rather thank stuffing your pillowcase or jackolantern head with sugary treats, here are a couple of fabulous things around the blogosphere I'd like to share with you. 

Budget yoga tips

Very interesting discussion of the social security wage base over at My Dollar Plan. I never knew anything about this before!

A post on what financial paperwork you can toss, and what you need to keep and for how long, via Consumerist. Thanks to this, I shredded an entire shoebox worth of old bank statements today!

World of Wealth talks about how it looks like the long-term stock return expectation has been lowered -- not a good thing for those of us who'd like to retire someday. 

The most amazing Halloween costume I have ever heard of -- something I'd like to do when I live in an area where kids go trick-or-treating door-to-door (here they go to the shops on Halloween afternoon, and sometimes within apartment buildings if arrangements are made ahead of time).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I don't think I had ever explicitly stated it here, but I had a goal of saving $30,000 in retirement accounts by the time I was 30. I heard somewhere that that's a good thing to shoot for in terms of making sure you're on track.

Today Peanut and I paid bills and balanced the spreadsheet, and I am at $29,832.44. SO CLOSE!! Unless something really terrible happens in the stock market, I should hit my goal by the end of the week with the next payday.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

No Spend Days

I would really like to get to the point of having no-spend days on a regular basis. It's not something we've been focused on, and as a result, we don't have many.

Granted, we're not, like, going shopping. Our spend days are typically when we spend money at the grocery store or something. We don't tend to do all of our grocery shopping in one lump trip once a week, but instead pick up a few staples at the beginning of the week and then get milk, produce, and other items as needed.

Peanut points out that no-spend days don't make much sense. We won't really be spending less money, just spending the same amount all at one time. Still, it would make keeping our spreadsheet up to date a little easier. And I'd probably end up paying all the bills on the same day, instead of how I do it now, as they come in.

But as with paying off debts in the smallest-to-largest balance, I like the idea of immediate feedback, of seeing all those days were I'm NOT spending money just pile up. It sort of reinforces the idea that I'm being frugal, in a way.

Do you focus on no-spend days, or do you figure as long as you're not shopping for the sake of shopping, you're doing okay?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Serendipity's Budget Survey

Serendipity's "First Annual Budget Survey" is underway -- I emailed her my answers, but thought I'd post them here as well. Check out her original post for other answers.
1. Do you actively follow a budget? Yes! Oh, yes. I've followed a budget for nearly ten years now, and it's the reason I was able to survive in New York City on such a ridiculously low salary.

2. Do you use any budgeting software such as Mint, Quicken, etc? No -- Peanut and I had developed our own individual Excel sheets, which he combined when we got married. It tracks our savings, acts as a check register to show outstanding transactions, handles a budget, and shows our net worth. (Plus it's not stored on a website or software vulnerable to hacking.)

3. What percentage (or amount) of your money is divided up into expense and variable expenses? I guess I'd say that we can live on half of our income (or my salary) for our budgeted expenditures (which includes some savings for annual expenses), and the rest we use for debt repayment and long-term savings.

4. How much of your budget is spent on living expenses (rent, utilities)? Rent is 24% of our income, electric/gas is about 2%, internet and cell phones are 2.5%. So 28.5%.

5. How much is spent on auto expenses/ transportation ( payment, insurance,gas, toll fees, bus passes) ? Less than 1%. My monthly unlimited subway card is a perk from work, Peanut's was $89 per month before he went freelance; now he'll pay per ride-- probably $40 per month. We don't take taxis.

6. How much of your income is spent on the following categories:
A. Alcohol -- we don't track this as a separate item. Peanut doesn't drink at all, and I have a glass of wine or a beer only two or three times a month. The cost is negligible.
B. Eating Out -- We spend about $300 a month eating out (including alcohol), which is too much in my opinion! We're part of a brunch group and most of our book clubs meet at restaurants, though, so it's hard to avoid. We eat out only as a couple for birthdays or special occasions.
C. Shopping ( books, clothes, wants not needs) -- Not much. We get books from the library, buy clothes only two or three times a year...I'd say we spend less than $100 between the two of us on not necessary stuff that's not food (we spend more than we need to on groceries, I do know that--I guess that's our "shopping" category).
D. Debt Repayment -- Here's the rub! Nearly half of our income right now is going to debt repayment, so we can pay off $35,000 of student loans in one year.
E. Entertainment -- About $50 a month. We like going to movies, but we get discount tickets at Costco.
7. Does following a budget make you feel anxious or more in control of your financial well-being? In control. It allows me to reach my goals and it's easy to tell what I could do to cut back in case of an emergency like a job loss.
8. Age? 29, Peanut is 27

One category we have that wasn't mentioned at all was retirement. Peanut and I max out a Roth IRA each year, and that's a category we include in our budget. I also contribute to a 401(k) at work. When we're done with paying off our student loans, we'll be able to do more in this category, in addition to freeing up tons of money for fun stuff like saving for a house or a crazy vacation.

This was fun! I look forward to seeing the results, and of course, I hope I win the gift card. :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010



I feel so acquisitive, for lack of a better word. Peanut and I were blessed with lots of gift cards and store credit after the wedding, which I've been trying to use up quickly before we forget about them. So last weekend I made two trips to Target, and this weekend we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond AND I went shopping on Amazon. But the list of things we want seems to keep growing, not shrinking!

It's irritating because shopping at these big box stores is a giant pain in New York. We have no car (and are too cheap to take a taxi) so we lug all of our stuff in the granny cart on the subway, up and down stairs, and over blocks and blocks of uneven sidewalks. All for some canisters and garlic presses!

We've been living together for over a year, so it's not like we were missing any essential item from our life. We had sheets, towels, knickknacks, cookware, silverware, etc. But now we have some much nicer sheets and towels, some additional knickknacks, and we're upgrading silverware, drinkware, cookware -- it just sort of makes me want to upgrade everything all at once. Matching dishes! Service for 20! Tableclothes and placemats and cloth napkins, oh my!

I think the worst is over. I still have about $25 on a Target gift card, but we'll use that at some point. We also have a whopping $2.25 on a BB&B gift card, but I had HAD it with the store by the time I realized that and I would have paid them $2.25 to let me leave, so I'll just carry it around and next time I happen by one, I'll pop in for some candy or something. Or not, and I'll call it a wash. I used up all my Swagbucks giftcards on Amazon. We still have a few "non-denominational" gift cards and one for Best Buy, which Peanut can spend to his liking. And we'll spend maybe $200 out of pocket at the Bowery Restaurant Supply to upgrade all of our cookware -- hopefully next weekend.

And then, I would like to be done shopping until Christmas. Seriously. It's not really in my nature to be a shopaholic, but once I get started I get a little crazed. I hardly recognize myself, even though so far we haven't spent any actual cash money, just gift cards. Who is this person who finds herself trolling Amazon just for funzies?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sole Salaried Breadwinner

So, Peanut quit his job two days before the wedding.

He had my full support and encouragement to do this. He's been wanting to go freelance to do some more interesting versions of what he'd been doing at his salaried position. He'd been applying all over town, and finally got enough legitimate interest that he felt comfortable giving notice. We'd already been planning to have him join my health insurance coverage, so really there was nothing holding him back.

However, this has changed up all of our plans for student loan repayment.

We can live off of my salary, including making minimum payments on all our student loans. There won't be much left over to save, but at least we won't be hurting. His freelance earning potential is a lot greater -- if he works two days a week, he'll be making what he was making while salaried, so there's a LOT of upside there!

However, he's now completely dependent on various companies for contracts, and these are short-lived contracts: one day, three days, maybe a few weeks if we're really lucky. And they often don't book until the day before. So our "security gland" needs are a lot higher than they were.

Our new plan is to use my salary to pay all the day-to-day bills (ha, ha, I'm SUPPORTING YOU, darling!) and bank all of his income. Once we've saved enough to both maintain our emergency fund ($10,000) and pay off our loans in one fell swoop, we'll do so. This will still probably happen within our one-year timeframe.

It also might change our plans for staying in New York. We do have a plan to leave the city to settle somewhere else before starting a family.When Peanut was employed in his salaried position, we were waiting for me to pass the six-month mark since my last tuition reimbursement disbursement, so I don't have to pay that money back. Now, if things go really well for him, we might stay here longer so that he can continue adding awesome stuff to his resume.

I'm a little disappointed that we won't be killing loans on a frequent basis. We'll also be paying a little more interest than if we made higher payments every month, but it will be in the tens of dollars, if that, rather than the hundreds. However, I'm thrilled that Peanut gets to do something super-creative and great for his resume, and with the potential to make a lot more money (if he gets booked on longer contracts).

So, new budget, new savings plans, new debt killing plans, and more to come!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Transporation costs going up...maybe

So apparently New York's MTA is going to raise fares 17% on the monthly unlimited subway card, starting in January. Practically that means my transportation costs go from $89 to $104. I do get this as a pre-tax perk, which is nice but still a hefty jump.
I may start counting my subway rides to see if it would be cheaper to do a pay-per-ride card -- I'm not clear whether the bonus* that goes along with those cards is going away.
I am glad they're going to start allowing the monthly cards to be refilled and reused.
Sometimes I look forward to leaving New York. Even though $104 per month for all transportation is still way cheaper than owning a car, it still kind of feels like I'm getting ripped off here. They discontinued one of my train lines, are running older trains in bad condition, removed station booths and corresponding station agents, and they're still raising fares? How does that work out?
*The bonus currently works like this: if you put $8 or more on your card, you get a 15% bonus, so your $8 buys you $9.20 on the fare card. You have to work out where it actually works out to free rides, though, since the fares are $2.25 each way (that'll be increasing as well).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I hated those biodegradable bags for SunChips -- and so did lots of other people. The company has stopped making them and will investigate other options.They truly were horrible -- Peanut and I stopped buying them after I got such headaches from opening them. Consumer power!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

September Recap/October Goals

September Goals
1. Get married! Done! And I did in a low-stress way (at least for me).

2. Have a wonderful, under-budget honeymoon. Done! It was wonderful AND under budget, which makes it like twice as good.
3. Deal with all paperwork relating to changing my name. I don't know why I thought I could do this before we got back from the honeymoon, but I gathered a lot of links and set myself up nicely to handle it in October.
4. Combine finances. In progress! Literally (bank accounts, health insurance) and figuratively (spending tracker, spreadsheets).
5.  Dump a pile of money on student loans. More to come on this!
6. Update blog to show the new direction we're going in. I didn't even get close to this. Onward!
October Goals
1. Wrap up elements of getting married. Change my name everywhere (DMV, Social Security/IRS, and banks to go), combine all bank accounts and close old ones, send thank you cards, donate dress, buy remaining registry items.
2. Develop married budget and savings sub-accounts. Big plans...secret plans. Secret until I get around to writing about them, anyway. 
3. Catch up at work. Being gone for two weeks wreaked havoc on my office. Time to buckle down -- and I've got no schoolwork or wedding planning to distract me!
4. Get my diploma. Once again, Graduate School of the Paperwork Maelstrom strikes again -- my diploma was supposed to show up in September, or at least a letter telling me when and where to get it, and it didn't, and now my student account shows that I never applied for graduation. And this despite receiving TWO graduation audits in July and August which proved that I was MORE than eligible. And being told to look for that letter. I shouldn't be surprised really, as they've managed to somehow screw up, make a mistake, destroy, or otherwise fumble some paperwork every single semester. I can't wait to be done with these people. 

5. Declutter and stock up. Peanut and I will be purchasing some additional items off our registry, and as we do that, I want to do some heavy duty cleaning and decluttering. 
Not-so-new monthly feature: New Year's Resolution Recap
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. Underway!
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. I've paid $7,400 towards a ~$20,000 debt.
3. Give to charity. I have a Goodwill donation pile that I STILL need to take in.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. Done! My diploma is ready for pick-up the day after the wedding.  Ha! Right.
5. Read more than 100 books. Done!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Doing quite well right now.
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Oh, please.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Pshaw.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Still not updating that one anymore. I need to cancel and delete it.
10. Make less of an impact. Taking cloth bags more often -- we actually started to get very low on plastic bags, which we use for garbage bags. I'm also making sure to wash my grocery bags now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Honeymoon expenses

Here's the rundown of our fabulous few days in Niagara Falls, the honeymoon capital of the world.

View from the American side of the Falls
$168   Amtrak tickets
$209   Food and tips
$350   Accommodations
$22     Taxi and bus from/to train station
$107   Tourist things (Adventure Pass, Butterfly Conservatory)
$7       Mousse
$7       Souvenir (fudge)
$870   Grand Total

Not too bad!

I'd never been on such a long train ride. The ride up was fun, entertaining, and quick. The ride back was crowded, three hours longer, and I got motion sick. Overall, though, I would totally do another long-haul train trip. I'd just come a little better prepared with a blanket, more food, and never across an international border (we spent hours at customs both ways -- going across solo is much faster).

We stayed on the Canadian side, in a hotel that might once have had a view of the Falls, which had a great deal that included three hot breakfasts and one two-course dinner. The touristy area is REALLY touristy -- we could not find a decent sundries store within walking distance and I finally had to pay $7 for a can of hair mousse which I'm still irritated about. We also couldn't find a place to buy snacks for the train that didn't cost what they cost on the train's dining car. Food was really expensive in general, but at least each meal included a lot of food. We might have been overtippers -- we tipped 20% standard, as we do here in New York, but on our last day I noticed that the tip whenever it was automatically included was always only 15%, whereas here it's at least 18%. Canadian readers, what's the standard tipping percentage for you?

We bought one tourism package, the Adventure Pass, which includes four attractions and two days of free transportation on the Peoplemover, for about $44 each. That seemed like a pretty good deal, and the transportation in particular was great. (Niagara is VERY hilly, and I got tired of walking quickly.) We did the water things on the day it was kind of raining, which was great because we already had ponchos on and got wet anyway. The next day it was sunny and a little colder, and we spent that day walking to the American side and wandering around Goat Island.

I had a great time, and took hundreds of pictures. I'm so glad we took a few days to ourselves, and even happier that we came in under budget!