Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Recap/February goals

January Goals
1. Max out Roth for 2009. Not quite--I didn't realize I would not get paperwork aside from my tax papers, but now I know what I've already contributed and can add the $1100 and change to max that out. It's going to happen this week, for sure. 

2. Meet with my thesis advisor, pick a topic, and map out a research and writing schedule. Well, sort of. This seminar is actually in an online class structure, with peer review and stuff, so it's not as self-directed as I expected. I'm participating in the classwork, though.

3. Book plane tickets to Costa Rica/Los Angeles and request time off work. Not done. I'm watching ticket prices but haven't seen any deals.

4. Not buy any new clothes. Half fail. I did buy new clothes (two pairs of yoga pants and a pair of jeans) but I didn't spend "real" money on them--I used a gift card that I got from credit card rewards points.

5. Pay for Spring 2010 semester out of pocket and submit paperwork for tuition reimbursement. Done!

February Goals
1. Set up a new budget now that I know my monthly income. My income went up by a few hundred dollars a month again, since I'm not maxing out my flex spending account this year, so I have to rejigger my budget. 

2. Set up automatic Roth payments for the rest of the year ($227.27 per paycheck!). Also max out the Roth for 2009 since I didn't do it last month. 

3. Do my taxes. I'm still waiting on some paperwork but I started entering what I know and I'm getting a refund this year! I'll have to pay state taxes, but a change in the tax code for this year will get me the Lifetime Learning Credit, which gives me a really big refund from federal. Very cool!

4. Pay for and attend yoga and dance classes. Working out on my own just doesn't happen. I'm no longer taking school classes that conflict, and I've found a new, close, and reasonably-priced yoga and dance studio, so it's time to just fork over some money and go to classes!

5. Keep up the trend of spending more on groceries than eating out. I was very happy to realize that happened last year, and I want to keep things heading that way.

New monthly feature: New Year's Resolution Recap
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. See above!
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. Still in school, but I've got a plan!
3. Give to charity. I gave something for Haiti this month but I still want to set up a plan for the year.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. I wonder how possible this is going to be now that I found that the seminar is peer-reviewed and structured and not a self-directed study. At any rate, I can keep my GPA up.
5. Read more than 100 books. Well, we'll see. I'm reading a lot for work and I went to I think five book club meetings in January, so I'm certainly working on it.
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. So so. Actually, I've struggled with this sometimes but I try to keep it in mind.
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. About 70% success. I've made a point of telling people that I'm doing this so they keep me accountable. And I've seen a big improvement in my stamina climbing those four flights which is very cool.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Such a total fail I don't even want to think about it.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Meh. I've done a few posts but I just haven't had time to focus on it.
10. Make less of an impact. Trying. Peanut and I make a point to carry reusable bags to the grocery store and I've also just started declining bags when I forget to carry them. I keep forgetting to take my reusable mug to work, but I'll make a point to do that tomorrow.

January spending recap

Misc Income: $9 (Pinecone payments)
General savings $525 (the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, travel and gifts sinking funds)
Retirement $295.40 pre tax (company matches that)

Cell phone $77.65
Charity $100 (to Doctors Without Borders for Haiti, and my company matched that)
Clothes $0 of "real" money, but about $60 on a gift card that came from credit card rewards points
Entertainment $7.21 (I actually spent $47.21, but the joint account reimbursed me $40 for previous Paperbackswap purchases)
Food—dining out $154.66
Food—groceries $214.92 (the numbers reversed! I spent more on groceries than eating out!)
Gifts $35
Household $111.62 (the annual premium for our renter's insurance* and some misc purchases)
Internet $16.93
Jewelry $24.99
Laundry $17.50
Personal $65.91 (miscellaneous purchases and laser hair removal tips)
Rent $687.50
School $2009
Utilities $41.78

Total spending: $3,631.67

Networth updated (see sidebar). Despite contributions, my retirement accounts had no gain, and actually lost about $100 thanks to the stock market drop this month. Coupled with a $2,000 out of pocket payment for this semester, it was kind of a sucky month for my finances.

*If you don't have renter's insurance, GO GET IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously. It's fairly cheap--less than $100 per year for us in New York--and it's seriously important. It protects your stuff in case of theft, fire, water damage (in some cases) and other bizarre unexpected happenstances. It will cover a hotel if you can't stay in your apartment, and it provides emergency medical care if something happens to a guest in your home. My sister's insurance company covered her textbooks, which were stolen out of her locker at school--not even in her apartment! Next to an emergency fund (or maybe even before an emergency fund), renter's insurance is a MUST for your financial security.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I love spending "free" money!

Thanks to putting this semester's tuition on my credit card (and paying it off immediately), I built up a pretty good reward points balance. I cashed it out as a $75 Discover gift card, which I used to purchase two pairs of yoga pants and a pair of jeans from Old Navy. I also used two $5 Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks and the balance of the Discover gift card to purchase a set of 5-pound hand weights and a fan for Peanut's computer (it was a little more complicated than that, since Amazon won't let you do partial payments with credit cards, so I used our joint credit card (paid in full every month) to pay Amazon and will use the $12 balance of the gift card to buy groceries or whatever else we need for the apartment from a place that can handle different type of payment).
Before yesterday, I had one pair of yoga pants and one pair of jeans. I only wear jeans to work on Fridays, sometimes, and pretty much whenever I'm at home, I wear yoga pants. But I've been doing more yoga or dance classes lately wearing the yoga pants, which make them unpleasant to lounge in, and then I spilled salsa on my jeans and had to do laundry in my nice black work pants, so things were getting a little, um, bare around here. I didn't really want to go spend "real" money on more clothes, so getting them with rewards points was a nice bonus. But that's definitely enough clothing for a while.
I've been maintaining some radio silence because I've gone and done that thing again where I overextend myself by committing to more things than I can possibly hope to accomplish (see: events after work every night plus two or more events each weekend day--what happened to my promise to not make more than one weekend commitment?). As such, I've been really hard on myself because I'm always tired and cranky, short with Peanut, distracted at work, and unable to live up to my own expectations. I wish I would just learn to quit stressing myself out.
To that end, I've decided to ignore January goals and New Year's Resolutions for a few days and give myself a chance to get out from under the burden of Things I Must Do, realizing that actually, in point of fact, the world will not stop when I buy my lunch today, and neither will my future children's children be deprived because of that choice either. Once the next couple days of heavy commitments are out of the way, I can refocus on how I want to shape my life.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 21 of the Lash Boosting Test

I completely forgot to update about this last Sunday! I'm entering week 4 of the 4 week challenge and here's the rundown. 

As a reminder, Day 1:

Day 8:

 Day 21:

 As you can change whatsoever from this serum stuff. The biggest changes I can see in my lashes come from my trusty eyelash curler, and the two-step mascara.

The two-step mascara consists of a white lash extender and a black mascara.



I'll continue the 4 week lash boosting serum challenge through next week to give it the full chance, but I really doubt I'm going to see any difference whatsoever. I'm also mystified as to why it needs to be used at all, since tonight I noticed that the mascara tube has the lash boosting serum listed as included. Why the extra product then, L'Oreal?

I still like the mascara quite a bit. In addition to actually working, it stays put all day long without running all over my face, doesn't make my eyes water at the end of a long day, and yet still washes off effortlessly with water and cleanser. I don't have to scrub at my eyelashes to get them clean, and I'm not left with raccoon eyes either. I rarely have to swipe underneath them with a q-tip the way I had to do with my previous mascara.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oh boy, oh boy!

I got my official email announcement that I will be marching in the May graduation ceremonies.
Woo hoo!
Now there are all these formalities to go through and decisions to make. My cap and gown will cost around $70 (I may look into borrowing a cap and gown, if the colors are the same). Should I order announcements as well? I remember doing that for college and high school, but I kind of feel like it'd be weird to announce a graduate degree. I'm not looking for gifts or anything like that, so what's the point? Also, they're expensive.
I get four tickets for guests, although it just occurred to me that those are tied to the order of a cap and gown, so I'm not so sure that I can get them unless I pay for the cap and gown. I'll have to find out--and I have a sneaky plan about how to handle that. Who do those four tickets go to? Peanut, obviously, gets one automatically. I know my mom is planning to come for graduation, and I think my dad might too (eek, oh god, I never wanted them in the same room at the same time again. Maybe Peanut and I should just elope while they're here so we never have to deal with it again). And my sister, maybe? Which leaves no room for my step-parents or any friends. Well, nothing I can do about it--I guess I'll just give everyone fair warning and let them figure it out.
Ok, so my sneaky plan for getting four tickets without paying for cap and gown is thus--they have a special pin that graduates can wear if they voluntarily pledge to be socially conscious in their daily lives and at work, and attempt to cut down on waste and so on. So I was planning to take that pledge anyway, but what if I argue that borrowing a gown from someone who's already used it is a socially conscious act, so they shouldn't punish me by forcing me to purchase something that I will use ONCE just to get tickets for my family to come visit? I'm actively using that pledge!
Well, first I'll see if there's anyone who has a cap and gown I can actually borrow. Then I'll try that angle.
Anyway, WOW, the end is in sight, my thesis seminar starts tomorrow and I'm officially primed for graduation. I can't wait to start paying off those loans!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lifehacker read my mind!

Your passwords aren't as secure as you think they are.

Fairly timely, considering my recent post about security.

How Long I'm Working For What

Inspired by this post on Lifehacker, this is how long my stuff owns me. Included in the calendar below are the non-negotiable things I can't avoid paying for post-tax: housing, food, medical and personal care things like toothpaste, household requirements like electricity, and clothes including purchases and cleaning. It's a very rough estimate based on the entire year and I just realized I left out my monthly transportation expenses but all of this is post-tax and that's a pre-tax work perk, so I don't even want to figure out how I'd display that.

Without further adieu:

I'm doing pretty good! Only half the days I work for things I can't get away from paying for. The rest of the time I'm actually choosing what to spend my money on: travel, gifts, cell phone, etc.

Here's another way to look at it (by actual budget categories, so it doesn't match the calendar exactly):

This was a very interesting exercise. I wonder how it will change when I'm paying off student loans?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Security in the new year

Most people, myself included, seem to want to do some housekeeping, literal or figurative, in the New Year or for springtime. Here are a few things to add to that list:

Take precautions against a hacked Google account. Google accounts are notoriously difficult to get back if they get hacked, but here are some things you can do now to make reclaiming that account easier if it happens. I just did this for my accounts.

Clean out your wallet. Please don't carry your social security card around with you! Leave it in a safe place at home unless for some reason you're taking it in on your first day at work. Take out any credit cards or debit cards you don't use frequently and slim down by tossing out reward or loyalty card programs you don't use, or use a program like Just One Club Card to get all those bar codes on one card. Put in a photo of a kid or pet for supposed better luck getting the wallet back if it's stolen. Slip some emergency cash in a never-used part of your wallet for cab fare out of a dangerous situation or something along those lines (a sale is not an emergency).

Photocopy the front and back of all your credit cards so that in case your wallet is stolen, you'll have the phone number and full card number to report it stolen. Obviously, keep this paper in a safe place. I'm overdue to update mine, so I'm going to do that this week.

Get your free credit report at  Not that other site. I get mine on a staggered basis--one in April, one in September, one in January. If I see something unexpected, I'll pull the other two, but that hasn't happened since I started doing it like this.

Update the virus protection on your computer. Delete accounts you don't use anymore--old email addresses, old social networking or dating site profiles. There's a LOT of information hanging around on some of those sites. Take a look at Facebook's new privacy settings and set your profile as private as possible.

Google your name and commonly used screennames every once in a while. When you apply for a job, someone will do this, so you should know what they see.

Change your passwords and security question answers. You should have a password system--never, ever use your email password for anything else, and keep your Facebook password separate from your banking password, for example. Some people use the same answer for all the secret questions everywhere, which is ingenious to me--I can't ever remember whether I abbreviated the name of my high school or capitalized my best friend's first and last name. Plus identity theft is usually committed by someone who knows you, and most of those questions are pretty easy to answer by someone who knows you pretty well. Some sites won't allow you to make the answer to all those questions "asparagus", but many will.

I  haven't gotten to everything on this list yet this year, but I will. Next up is deleting some old site profiles and changing my passwords, as well as photocopying my cards.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The future of my industry

Lucky me, I picked the eReader that MacWorld picked as the best one. (You have to click through to all the articles to see the marks; to save you the time it's the Sony Touch.

This also comes on the heels of a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that takes a look at how the different eReaders can spy on their users and report data back to the parent companies. Again, lucky me--Sony can learn nothing about me unless I purchase books through their bookstore, and they don't maintain any data that they could turn over to law enforcement agencies (not that I'm worried about that, but I think it's important that we're able to use these devices to read all sorts of different types of material for any reason without reprisal). They have a handy chart here.

Lots is changing in the world of book publishing. Honestly, I'm so thankful to have a job in it right now, because I don't know if it's going to be around in ten years, at least not in any way that resembles what it is now, to say nothing of what it was ten years ago. More than once last week I felt like I'd been transplanted into the world of iPhone apps instead of books anyway, since that's what I spent the majority of my time on.

Despite getting a degree in this niche, I'm ok with starting a new career later on if I have to. I feel like my guiding life philosophy, if I have to narrow it down, is to take any opportunity that my grandkids won't believe. So I'll just sit tight and see what happens for now.

Do you still read books? Are you interested in reading books on a digital reader? How much do you think digital books should cost? Do you know anything about publishers, or are you only familiar with the authors? Do you use your local library?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 8 of the Lash Boosting Test

As I mentioned, I'm testing a Lash Boosting Serum and Double Extending Mascara for BzzAgent. Today marks one week since I've been using the products, and here's an update.

I've used the serum every morning before mascara and every evening after washing my makeup off. I find the applicator a little tricky--it's sort of like a mascara wand but not exactly (I'll post a photo next time!) and I keep getting gloops on my face, which isn't a pleasant experience when I feel all clean right before bed.

But is there a difference?As a reminder, here's day 1:

And here's day 8, with better lighting:

I can't really tell a difference. Can you?

I do love the mascara, though. It's the two-sided wand thing, with a white concoction going on first and the black mascara going on second. I like it a lot--I'll post pictures of that next time too.

I'm so proud!

Peanut just maxed out his Roth IRA for 2009!

He's gonna be so rich. And that's hot.

2009 Spending Totals

Payday income (after taxes) $22,803.36
Misc income (varying tax implications) $11,796.36

Total income that crossed my bank accounts $34,599.72

Blow $449.47
Cell phone $1,095.81
Charity $60
Clothes (includes shoes and some jewelry) $848.49
Dance expenses $503.22
Entertainment (includes my Sony eReader, although that's tax-deductible) $918.76
Food--dining out $2,674.90
Food--groceries $1,690.99
Gifts $661.09
Household $431.71
Internet $144.84
Jewelry $46.99
Laundry $141.42
Medical (out of pocket, not counting flex spending reimbursements) $299.48 (so, $5,299.48 total)
Moving $1,499.85
Mystery shop expenses $1,102.65
Personal $1,284.59
Rent $11,000
Retirement (post tax, in addition to 401(k) contributions): $1,000
School (in addition to loans and less $5,000 in reimbursement) $3,042.47
Stupid tax $138.94
Taxes (from 2008) $504.66
Travel $1,886.79
Utilities $552.14

Total spending $31,979.26

Difference in accessible net worth: $2,243.41

Total 401(k) contributions (pre tax) $2825.13
My company matched most of that, for a total annual contribution of $5,354.82.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Spa Week Giveaway

Oooh, Spa Week, how I love you. As I've mentioned on here before, I love Spa Week.

Spa Week happens in cities across the U.S. twice a year, where spas discount certain services to just $50. This includes everything from hour-long massages to bikini waxes to facials, laser hair removal, mani-pedis, haircuts...pretty much everything you can think of. (Please tip on the full cost of the service!).

Anyway, Spa Week is hosting a sweepstakes--a winner in each of 28 cities will get a fabulous day at the spa package. I entered for the New York prize, which is a 30 minute ginger scrub, 60 minute European facial and 50 minute massage. Ahhhhhhhh.....I hope I win that! I feel relaxed just thinking about it. Take a look to see what's near you and enter to win! (At least if I don't win, the April Spa Week isn't too far away...)

This is NOT a sponsored post. They sent me a promotional email about this but have not paid me or given me anything to write this; I just happen to love Spa Week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

today only!

Free ebook download of Start Over, Finish Rich by David Bach, (via WalletPop). I'll be reading this on my Sony reader, but you can read it on your computer as well. I always like his stuff, and just yesterday added this to my Amazon wishlist anyway.


I will be so glad to be done with school, and not just because I won't be in classes anymore!
More stupidity from the financial aid office:
I've been calling them since last month regarding my bill and why it didn't list my scholarship and instead showed me owing the total amount of the semester in cash by January 8. I left messages but nothing on their end indicated that the office was closed (which I'd expect it to be, during winter break, but not before classes were even out for the fall semester!).
Finally I spoke with a real person today, who told me that the scholarship doesn't apply unless I'm taking at least two classes, and I'm only registered for one in the spring. This is mentioned NOWHERE in my documentation.
And the more irritating thing is that I don't NEED another class. I'm at 33 of 36 required credits, so this 3-credit class makes up the final requirement. Most people take two seminars to write their thesis; I plan to take one, which means that yes, I will be DONE in May. Are they really going to require me to register and pay for another class, just to get a scholarship that doesn't list this as a requirement?
And at any point were they intending on informing me of this?
Right now, I've asked for an official review of my transcript so that they'll at least apply half the scholarship when they determine that I do not in fact need any more classes. I don't know when that review will be final but probably in time to either make my payment for the semester late, thereby assessing me a fee OR after I've already paid to avoid that late fee, meaning there will be a credit on my account that I won't be able to get back until I have a diploma and fight them for it.
It would be easier to just register for another class and put the whole semester on loans. Which is probably exactly why they do it this way.
Oh, grad school. I cannot wait to bid you adieu.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wherein I become a guinea pig

I've been a member of BzzAgent since 2006, and I signed up to try their L'Oreal Paris Last Boosting campaign.

I just got my package in the mail. I got a tube of lash boosting serum and a tube of mascara that has a primer and a mascara wand in it.

The instructions are for me to use the serum every morning before using the mascara and every evening after taking all my makeup off. I'll document the progress for four weeks, and see what difference (if any) the products make.

Here's day 1:

I don't see a change so far! The serum was pretty easy to apply

Just to make it perfectly clear, I am not being paid to do this. I got the products for free and I'm trying them out, and I'm pretty bad about sticking with stuff unless I am held to some kind of accountability, especially by people I don't know (see all my goal posts!). I'll post a few more updates about this challenge, but please feel free to skip if it's not your thing.

The serum retails for about $12.49 and the mascara for $10.49, or the set for $21.99 (per

With any luck, I'll wind up with huge full floaty lashes, but we'll see. I'm a pretty skeptical consumer. Actually, I think it might be really interesting to do a whole series of posts testing out products that I use every day to see what I think of the truthfulness of their claims.

Friday, January 1, 2010

December Spending Review

Mystery shop payment $60 (the final one!)
Misc Income: $677.53 (interest, Pinecone payments and cash Christmas gifts)

General savings $525 (electrolysis, the future fund, the sunny beach vacation fund, etc)
Retirement $147.70 pre tax (company matches that)

Cell phone $77.65
Charity $60
Clothes $105.21
Entertainment $149.52 (Paperback Swap, Nutcracker ballet tickets, renting movies and buying books while on vacation)
Food—dining out $291.30
Food—groceries $91.55
Gifts $336.53
Household $63.35 (the joint account owes me some reimbursement for this but I'm going to figure it out later)
Internet $16.98
Laundry $10.00
Medical $5.80 (dental payment)
Personal $971 (hair removal services and miscellaneous purchases)
Rent $687.50
Stupid Tax $39.50 (bank fees)
Travel $62.19 (gas while I was on vacation)
Utilities $52.50

Total spending: $3,020.98


At least the biggest jumps were expected and saved for (hair removal, travel, gifts). Looking forward to getting back to normal, though!

Networth updated (see sidebar). Another gain in my retirement accounts, to the tune of $800. 

Also updated are my sidebar trackers. I revised the laser hair removal tracker to reflect the full cost of the services ($910) plus tips ($40 per visit, six visits=$240) for a total of $1,150. I had saved $700 towards this and will throw $450 of my Christmas money towards it, so it's complete! When the charge hits my card, I'll pay it off in full and transfer the remaining money to my checking account to be used for tips. 

I also added a relatively arbitrary $10,000 as the goal for the future fund which currently has $1,566 in it. The sunny beach vacation fund will be depleted soon as Peanut and I are planning a trip to visit my brother in his new beachside abode in Central America (free lodging! translator! chauffeur! and cook!).

Bye bye, unwanted hair!

My consultation at the hair removal place went very well so I bought the packages I wanted. For $900 total, I will have six sessions each of IPL for bikini and underarm.

Yes, that is a phenomenal price. My initial estimates put the cost at more than three times that.

One of the reasons this place has such lower prices is that they're using a slightly older machine. The Alexandrite machine is the newest machine but the results aren't that much better (for me, anyway) than IPL. But spas that have purchased newer machines are still trying to recoup the cost so they charge much higher prices. The IPL machines work just fine on me, and the spa has been in business for many years so they're not as concerned about making back what they just spent on some fancy machine.

I like the spa--it's convenient, clean, nice, and the technician was very knowledgeable. We set up my first appointment for about a week from now (I was, um, unprepared at the consultation, since I figured they wouldn't have time to do me then). One thing I forgot to take into consideration was tips, so I'll have to figure out a rate per visit and add that amount to the fund. Touch-up sessions after the initial six visits are $10 per minute, and run an average of $100 per year for two or three years before most people have enough hair loss that they quit coming in.

So, all told, the six rounds plus touch-ups plus tips will run me, total, less than $1,500, and I was originally expecting $2,000 to be the base, plus touch-ups and tips. And now that I've purchased the package and scheduled my first appointment, I'll be done with the series by bikini season 2010. I'm thrilled!