Sunday, February 28, 2010

February Recap/March Goals

February Goals
1. Set up a new budget now that I know my monthly income. Done! My new budget allows me to max out a Roth, set aside money for student loan repayment AND save more in the future wedding fund.

2. Set up automatic Roth payments for the rest of the year ($227.27 per paycheck!). Automatic payments are scheduled! The first one has shown as pending in my account already.

3. Do my taxes. Done! And I paid my state taxes and received my federal refund.

4. Pay for and attend yoga and dance classes. Done--I've been going to dance class once a week and yoga once a week. I'd love to do both more frequently but this is more realistic.

5. Keep up the trend of spending more on groceries than eating out. Sadly, not quite. We did spend a LOT less on food in general this month though, I guess thanks to menu planning (and it being a short month).

March Goals 
1. Set up wedding budget, book location, finalize guest list. We're doing this wedding in a hurry (around six months) but once these bits are out of the way I will be able to relax--everything else can fall into place later.

2. Budget for trip to Costa Rica. We're going to Costa Rica at the end of the month to visit my brother (and get our engagement shots taken on the beach by his fabulous photographer girlfriend!). Our expenses will be low--mostly food--but we still need to budget for it. I want to bring them a gift for the photos, too, since she won't let us pay.

3. Buy and send a card or gift for birthdays. One of my brothers has a birthday mid-month and my youngest sister's birthday falls during our trip. I don't want to forget them!

4. Take it easy. Wedding planning has already been very stressful on me--I'm picking things that are much more traditional than I always claimed to want, I have total sticker shock from the prices of everything, I'm dreading the awkward family interactions already--I want to forget all of that and just celebrate the fact that Peanut and I are getting MARRIED.

5. Perform twice. I have a dance job booked next week and an opportunity to perform later in the month if I can get my act together. I want to do both options!

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 have paid off the unsubsidized loans and interest in full, and I have just over 20% of the subsidized balance saved up. I'm putting $250 per month aside for this purpose, and will get another $5,000 in tuition reimbursement by the end of the year--I'm in really good shape for this!
3. Give to charity. I didn't do this yet.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early.  Well, I'm on schedule to finish my thesis early--the 2-3 page outline I just turned in was 10 pages long, about a third of the finished product. Woo hoo!
5. Read more than 100 books. I've read a lot of wedding books so far!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Actually doing better on this!
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. It's not that I've forgotten about this...it's that it's been cold and snowy and my boots are heavy and I'm full of excuses. If the elevator's not handy, I take the stairs. If it's handy...
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Total fail. I actually decided I hate that seven minute routine (god, I HATE pushups) so I consciously gave up on it. I'm trying to do a yoga routine at home a few times a week, which goes ok depending on how crazy things are at work. I need to get my arms in shape for a wedding dress though!
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Total fail, oh geez.
10. Make less of an impact. I took a reusable mug to work and have been using that. I've been careful to ask for no bag if I forget my reusable ones and my purchase is small. Also recycling more at home.

February spending recap

Misc Income: $541.87 (Pinecone payments and my bonus, after taxes)
Tax refund: $1321
Savings
Travel $90
Gifts $40
Sunny Vacation $100
Student Loan Repayment $260
Wedding $280

Total savings $770
Retirement
401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)
Roth IRA $454.54 (monthly transfer)
Roth IRA $1133.74 (maxing out the Roth for 2009)
Total Retirement savings: $2,031.11

Spending
Cell phone $77.86
Dance Expense $170 (class cards at both dance studios)
Entertainment $6 (I bought a snack at a movie--we paid for the tickets in January)
Food—dining out $133.50
Food—groceries $108.27
Household $18.31 
Internet $16.98
Laundry $15.00
Personal $40 (laser hair removal tip)
Rent $687.50
School $293 (paying off the unsubsidized loans and interest)
Stupid tax $3 (got charged $3 for doing a bank-to-bank transfer with Peanut)
Taxes $655.67 (state taxes plus TurboTax fees--the fees are HIGH for the home & business version!)
Travel $708 (ticket for our sunny beach vacation and a metrocard)
Utilities $59.03

Total spending: $2,992.12


Networth updated (see sidebar).Not altogether a bad month, although not remotely typical--between the bonus and tax refund, I had a lot more coming in, and between maxing out my Roth for 2009, beginning automatic contributions for 2010, and buying a plane ticket to a tropical beach, I also had a lot more flowing out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Our engagement

Oh, my goodness! Thank you, everyone, for all the well-wishes and congratulations. This is truly one of the happiest times of my life.

 

But I know you want more information than that!

 

Well, to start off—no, it wasn't exactly a surprise. Peanut and I have been together nearly two years, and we knew right away that this was a Serious Relationship. We started talking marriage a few weeks ago, and he told me I should start looking at rings and pick something out. I found a designer on Etsy and we commissioned a custom ring—amethyst and white topaz in sterling silver. (Yes, there will be pictures!)

 

I still wanted a proposal of some sort, so I knew for about two weeks that he had the ring and I was just waiting for him to officially pop the question, which was torture.  I wanted to see that pretty sparkly ring, but I didn't want to see it until he was officially proposing!

 

On Sunday I went to do laundry as usual (I do the clothes, he does the food, it works out). When I came back, I opened the door and could see that the table was set with the nice glasses, and there were flowers on it and I KNEW it was happening. Then I came around the corner into the living room and he was all dressed up! I totally squeed out and cried, "Wait, I have to hang up the wet clothes!" (very smooth of me, yes).

 

Anyway, then he had me sit down at the table and brought out our dinner of edamame and sushi, which was on the plate in the shape of a heart with the ring box in the center (but elevated, so it didn't get sticky). Peanut made me eat my whole dinner first and then he gave me the ring box and told me to open it.

 

But there was no ring inside!

 

Instead, there was a fortune from a fortune cookie, which says "Accept the next proposition you hear". And then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. And I said yes.

 

YAY!

 

So now we get to plan a wedding. It's been two days and I'm already overwhelmed by all the details but we have talked a lot about what we each want the day to be like so I think we'll be fine. Tonight we're going to sit down and do a preliminary guest list and figure out what our budget will be, then figure out how long it will take to save that much, and then (maybe) pick a date and location (city, not venue). Oh my god, you guys, I'm getting married!

 

 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Student loans

I got a letter in the mail today alerting me that my six-month grace period for repaying my student loans has kicked in--even though I'm still in school!

I was under the impression that the grace period extended until graduation, but since I am only taking one seminar class this semester, I'm considered less than half time so my six months has started. Tonight I started looking into consolidation, and what I found was very interesting!

(A lot of this might not be new to some people, but I was very lucky and had no student loans in undergrad, so it's all new to me.)

First of all, during my grace period, the government will continue to pay the 6.8% interest on my subsidized loans (which total $19,568) until June or so. They won't pay the interest on the $263 I have in unsubsidized loans (also at 6.8%).

Now, if I consolidate, I can lock in the "fabulous" rate of 6.875%--.075% HIGHER than the rate I have currently. If I elect to do electronic debit, I shave off 0.25% for a rate of 6.625%--but then I'm stuck with the minimum payments (I think...I could probably make additional payments but I'm not sure that the .25% "savings" makes sense compared to the plan I'm about to outline).

I currently have $3,941 in the tuition reimbursement fund and I will get an additional $5,000 for 2010, plus I'm putting away $250 a month for repayment. I will have to pay another $2,500 or so for my final summer seminar out of pocket.

So my plan is to begin repaying my loans today--I'll pay off the $263 in unsubsidized loans and knock them out entirely. Tonight. Then, I'm going to take advantage of the fed's generosity and leave my $3,941 in ING where I'm earning 1.15% (ooooouuuuucchhhhh--that used to be nearly 5%!). The day my grace period is over, I will drop the entire student loan repayment fund onto the balance, and start paying what's left back on an aggressive, accelerated schedule (at least double the minimum).

I'll keep checking in on the consolidation options and see if the interest rates get any lower and give me additional savings, but I think this is a pretty good plan.

What do you think?

Monday, February 15, 2010

TurboTax Update

After 41 minutes on hold, I spoke to a person who, after another 19 minutes, was able to give me a workaround to get what I needed. We never did figure out the glitch, but the workaround works just fine.

Long weekend!

I had a productive but mostly relaxing long weekend.

Productive
I confirmed that I wouldn't bet getting tax paperwork for any of my side income because I didn't make more than $600 from any one place--at $600, the companies are required to send a 1099-MISC to the IRS and the independent contractor; at less than that, they likely still report those payments and I claim it regardless, but now I know I don't need to wait for any paperwork. My records show exactly what I earned, so I went ahead and e-filed with TurboTax. The Lifetime Learning Credit gets me a return of $1,300!!!!! It's either going in the student loan repayment fund, or the future fund.

This is by far the largest return I've ever received in my life, which is very cool. I have to pay $550 for state taxes (thanks to my IRA transition), and a little over $100 in TurboTax fees (I have to use Home & Business due to my Schedule Cs). I've been on hold with TurboTax for twenty minutes right now to get answers to a very confusing question--normally when you e-file you don't need to print and mail anything to the government, but for some reason I got a very stern, boldface warning that " Even though you e-filed, don't skip this paperwork. These are items required by the government to complete your return." Except when I go to print the paperwork, I get a summary with no forms and no address to which to send anything.TurboTax's community forums are worse than useless (all the answers by TurboTax "experts" say "The information is right there in your return blah blah" except it's not and I'm not the only person asking the question. Maybe if a real person ever answers I'll figure it out.

Their hold music sucks.

Also productive
Laundry, clean bathroom, menu planning and grocery shopping for the week, book club book read.

Relaxing
Lots of downtime to lounge about with Peanut, a trip to see The Lightning Thief (totally entertaining, but not the same story as the book), hour long massage and lunch with a friend, browsed through all the magazines I have lying around.

Peanut and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day in any traditional way. I might pick up some half price chocolates tonight when I go to dance class, but that's the extent of it.

I also got a nice surprise--my new birth control pills showed up today. I had to get a new doctor (my old one left my neighborhood and I wasn't willing to follow) and a new prescription (insurance company stopped covering my old brand-name prescription). Both ended up being great choices! The doctor is great, and even better, my prescription is now FREE. Yes, that's right--I went from paying $50 for three months of birth control (which would have gone up to $200+) to paying $0 for three months. Fabulous! I'm now on a preferred generic, so I guess that's the difference. I had no idea I could get free birth control!

And with that, it's time for dinner. I've been on hold with TurboTax for 34 minutes and counting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Linkfest

Eyelash Report: I forgot to update after the challenge was over, so here it is:














and the final report is.....no change. I like the mascara a lot, but don't bother with the lash boosting serum on its own.

73% of people use their email password for their bank password--don't do this!

Unclutter talks about setting limits for a super simple month--I'm taking some of this advice.

You Look Fab talks about tattoos--how do you feel about them? I have what I like to call an "executive tattoo"--it doesn't show when I'm dressed for work. Maybe I should have thought about it a little more before I got it...it does show when wearing most bridesmaid's dresses, for example. I don't regret it, and I doubt that I'll ever pay for removal. I think I'd just tell my 22-year-old self to go for what I really wanted, which was white ink. It would hardly show up.

Speaking of removal...I had my second laser hair removal appointment yesterday. The results from my first appointment were fabulous--well over 50% hair loss and the hair that grew back was finer, thinner, and much easier to shave off. This is something I definitely don't regret paying for!


And lastly, shoes! Inspired by Krystal at GMBMFB and Revanche at A Gai Shan Life, here are my shoes:













Back row, left to right: snow boots (which I'll be wearing tomorrow!), flats from Target, Chuck Taylors, black flats from Payless, knee high boots from Aerosoles.
Second row, left to right: sneakers, purple flats, brown Skechers (had 'em for years!), brown flip flops, silver ballroom dance shoes (in plastic because they cause glitter explosions)
First row, left to right: These are all dance shoes. Hermes sandals, red peep toe Bandolinos (a steal from DSW), black character shoes, black strappy heels, silver strappy heels, gold strappy heels.

Sixteen pairs of shoes, seven of which are solely used for dance jobs.

And, um...this is not including any of my heels that live in a box under my desk. From what I can remember, there are three pairs of black heels (different heights), a pair of red loafer heels, and a pair of pinkish plaid heels. And a pair of slippers for when I get tired of the heels.

Two surprising things at work

First of all, I just discovered that I have a Roth 401(k) option within my company retirement plan. I never knew that! I don't know if I'll be taking advantage of it this year--I'm already maxing out a Roth IRA and contributing 5% of my pre-tax income. If, towards the end of the year, I seem to have some extra cash, I'll contribute. It's something I should really consider, since I believe the company match applies to any money I contribute to the Roth 401(k) post-tax, which is basically free money. Something to think about!

Second, I got a bonus yesterday! Completely unexpected--book publishing has taken a big hit in this economy and my company is no exception, and I didn't think they'd be giving out bonuses this year. Also, I was only in my division for three months of last year. It's a small bonus but much appreciated. I'm just going to stash whatever's left after taxes in savings. Woo!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just saying no

It's a good thing I realized I was getting in over my head in terms of overscheduling myself--I wound up getting a huge project dropped in my lap that took up two full days of last week and most of today. Now I'm trying to catch up with everything else that fell to the wayside.
 
On my previous post complaining about how I've overscheduled myself, Laura said she'd be interested in how I plan to combat that--so here's how I'm doing it.
 
1. Picking and choosing. I'm in five book clubs, and I like all of them for different reasons. Four of them meet once a month, and one meets every other week--that's at least six books per month that I have to read, not including anything for work or pleasure. I don't like to go to meetings if I haven't read the book, because it's difficult enough to get a reading group to stay on topic of discussing the book for more than half an hour or forty-five minutes, so I don't want to go and not contribute, or pull that "Oh, no, don't talk about the end! I haven't read it!" I had just as much time as everyone else, so if I haven't read the book, I don't go to the meeting. For this month, I have pre-emptively decided I'm only going to one book club, so I have taken the other books off this month's to-do list and the meetings off my calendar.
 
2. Delaying! I have a performance opportunity towards the end of the month--I'd like to do it, but I need to develop and practice my own choreography, which takes time. I don't have to give an answer on this until much closer to the date, so I'm just delaying the decision. If it turns out that I don't have any time to practice, I won't perform and there's no pressure because I didn't say I would. Also, normally I like to get my taxes done by Valentine's Day. I am missing some paperwork, but rather than stressing out and trying to track it down this month, I am delaying this until March. If it shows up and I have time to do it, cool. If not, no sweat.
 
3. Just say no. I've been trying to actively turn down any non-essential invitations or obligations for the rest of the month. Some things are unavoidable--a friend's moving-away party is not something that can be made up next month, so I'll be going to that. But "just catching up" lunches, drinks or whatever--that stuff can wait until I have some breathing room.
 
4. Get organized. Peanut and I did a meal plan for last week that worked very well. Last Sunday, we went shopping and added reminders to our calendars of what we were having when and what we needed to pick up fresh. The rest of the week went very smoothly (until Friday when we both got incredibly lazy and agreed to do takeout rather than create a three-dish meal). We didn't have time to do that this weekend, but we did plan the first few meals so we don't have to think about it until tomorrow, when we'll (hopefully) do a plan for the rest of the week. I'm also being very careful to make notes about everything--anything I promised to do at work, deadlines for homework, etc. I know that my mind is too full to keep track of this stuff, so I'm putting it on paper so I don't have to worry about it--this includes stuff that goes on a very eventual to-do list, like "fill out Couchsurfing profile"--no priority there, but I wrote it down so it's not on my mind.
 
5. Take care of myself. I've been making sure to get enough sleep, drink enough water, and do some yoga when I feel like it (no pressure!) to relieve the tension that builds up in my back when I'm under stress. I'm also making sure to have cuddle-time with Peanut--other things might be stressful and urgent, but let's not forget what's really important here!
 
 
 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Productive Saturday!

Well, have *I* ever had a productive day!

So far today, I've transferred money to my Roth to max out my 2009 contributions and set up automatic contributions to max out my Roth for 2010. I changed passwords, updated all my trackers, backed everything up. And, most exciting, Peanut and I bought tickets to Costa Rica!

We're going to visit my brother next month, and I've been watching ticket prices for nearly two months. They haven't changed much, so we figured out a time that worked, and spent the money that we have been putting aside in the sunny beach vacation fund. The rest of our expenses should be minor--we'll stay with my brother and his girlfriend, just a five minute walk from the beach. I'm so excited!

The last thing on my list is to apply for ING's blogger contest.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Linkfest!

Get Rich Slowly talks about how to plan a debt free dream vacation. It's a little obsessive to me, but not a bad idea!
 
This Thrifted Life talks about the 3/50 project. Key points: 
  • what three independent businesses would you miss if they disappeared? 
  • If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate $42.6 billion in revenue. 

I would miss the local hardware store, a local sushi restaurant, and a local coffee shop. I wish I could say I would miss my local independent bookstore, but I haven't gotten a warm welcome there and can't ever seem to find anything inside so I don't regularly shop there. I also patronize a fruit and vegetable stand. Oh, and the local yoga/dance studio! I'm going to keep my eyes open for opportunities to buy at local independents that I would otherwise take to chain stores or online.

I'm not sure if you've followed the Amazon/Macmillan situation that developed over the weekend with any interest, but it's made me really think twice about doing business with Amazon. If you're not familiar with it, Macmillan decided that Amazon had to honor a certain minimum price on e-books (a reasonable $15.00) and Amazon disagreed (they want to charge their $9.99 bestseller Kindle price). Then Amazon yanked ALL Macmillan books, physical books and e-books alike, and as of today they are still not available for purchase directly from Amazon, although Amazon claims the dispute has been resolved. Macmillan has every right in the world to set that kind of minimum price for their products (it happens in retail stores all the time) and Amazon's reaction didn't just hurt Macmillan--it hurt the authors and the customers. This kind of "our way at any cost" mentality is not something I want to support with my money.
 
The New York Times details three Facebook settings you should change right now. I am the most paranoid person I know regarding my Facebook privacy, and I thought I went through things with a fine-toothed comb, but there were STILL a few things that were open to "Just Friends" that I didn't want showing at all (my religious and political beliefs, for example). This isn't just important in terms of whether my friends can see these things (my friends probably know my stance on politics and religion, after all) but those fields are up for consideration by advertisers, and I don't want them to have that information about me. Since it's clear Mark Zuckerberg thinks that my profile should be open to the world (even while he's closing off his own), I'm glad I saw this NYT article. 
 
Madame X details seven years of tracking spending. I can't wait to do this! I've been tracking my spending for about five years, but I think I really only have usable data from 2009, maybe 2008. So I've got a while before I'm able to do this, but I find it really interesting.
 
Trent talks about how to save money on reading. I hope you'll still buy new books occasionally because I like my job and want to keep it, but I get a lot of books from the library and Paperbackswap, too.
 
A hilarious spoof on book piracy!

Some interesting quotes: We are what we repeatedly do, via Happiness Project, and We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs, via MoneyMonk.

A Family of Geeks expounds on reading and understanding your warranties. Very good ideas. I'd add to always check the return policy on a major purchase before you spend anything.

Peanut and I've been talking about doing some kitchen windowsill gardening (via Penny Go Lightly). Maybe we'll get that started this weekend. We don't get a lot of direct sunlight to our windows, so I'm not sure what we can grow (also, I have a black thumb).

I have to admit that this post about the mysterious adventures of a 26-year-old wallet kind of freaked me out. It was all fine and good until the bit about the new bills...someone cleaning out his conscience is just creepy to me. Very interesting nonetheless! I wouldn't have had a wallet 26 years ago (I was not quite three) but my 13-year-old self's wallet probably contained school photos of my four best girlfriends, a surprising amount of money (not huge, but like $30 or so....the name Little Miss Moneybags has a long history. I'd eat cookies at lunch and squirrel away my lunch money.), and a library card and maybe some jewelry that I snuck to school and put on when I got on the bus.

And related: what to do when your wallet or purse is stolen from Money Ning. If you photocopied your cards, it's not as difficult to get in touch with your CC companies, but otherwise very good advice!