Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Money on my mind...

Well, I just paid out $2,000 for my LAST GRADUATE SCHOOL CLASS EVAR!!11!

I still have another $889 to pay but I broke it up into two payments to avoid going over my credit limit on my credit card. The first charge hit my card, so I just set up the payment from my school sinking fund and as soon as it clears I'll pay off the rest of the semester. I love putting tuition on my credit card and then paying it off immediately. Oh, sweet rewards points!

It did make me wonder, though, why after years and years with Discover, they've never raised my credit limit. Not that I really need it, aside from situations like this, but you know. I still wonder.

In much more awesome news, I got a lovely surprise in the mail yesterday. It came in the form of a check with several zeros on it from my dad--a gift to put towards the wedding. No strings attached.

This is very, very cool, and it gives me enough of a foundation to start a proper wedding budget--with what Peanut and I are contributing plus this, pretty much anything my mom contributes will be totally gravy. It also gives me a little more freedom to purchase some things that I might have otherwise skimped on or done myself (like putting together centerpieces, ugh). So. Wedding budget post will be forthcoming.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Living off one income

Last night Peanut and I talked about whether we could live off of one income, either before or after we fully combine our finances. We both make pretty good money, and our salaries are now almost even.

 

We started this project at 11 p.m. last night, so we didn't get too deep into it, but it appears that we could not, at this point, live off of one income and still maintain our goals of paying off student loans at an accelerated rate and maxing out our Roth IRAs. In terms of costs of living, though—rent, food, utilities, etc—we could pretty easily do it if we became a little stricter with budgeting.  

 

It's something I want to strive for—while kids are still a few years away for us, we want me to be able to stay home and/or work from home or part time for the first few years. We want to have our loans paid off before the kids come along (which would enable us to easily live off one income). We want to be prepared in case of layoffs, or in case one of us wants to take a very low-paying dream job, or if one of us gets a job offer across the country and the other can't find work right away. And if we both stay gainfully employed for a longtime, how great would it be to save literally HALF of our income? Hello, early retirement or traveling the world or whatever we want.

 

To get there, we will have to really rethink the way we spend our money. Right now, I have a budget that works like the Pirate's Code: really more like "guidelines" than rules. Peanut has no budget (he just doesn't spend money on anything but food!). We have automated Roth contributions, and he pays his student loans back at twice the minimum payment (mine are still in deferment but will also get paid at twice the minimum as soon as my grace period is up). But to be able to save one of our incomes (or use it to really aggressively pay off the loans, and then start saving it), we'll have to be very intentional with budgeting. We'll have to carefully weigh trips home to see family, gifts, even grocery spending. We'd probably get less fancy phones when our contracts are up. We'd cut way back on going out to eat (Peanut says we have to stop eating out entirely, I say that's setting me up for failure).  

 

But you know, I think we can do it. And even if we only did it for a year or two, that's many tens of thousands of dollars right in the bank for our future—a very worthy goal.   

 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to Earn More Money

I wish I had read this post at Her Every Cent Counts about six years ago.

Her point is that the easiest way to earn more when you're in your twenties is to ask for it--by telling yourself that while you may not have a mortgage or family right now, you should act as if you do, and don't accept a low salary just because you can get by on $35,000 today.

I made *exactly* that mistake when I was looking for my first job in New York in 2004. I tallied up my rent and grocery bills and figured out the bare minimum that I could get by on ($24,000)...and then I asked for that as the salary of the first job I got offered. When they came back with $3,000 more, I was overjoyed--I didn't even negotiate! When they replaced me two years later, they offered my replacement $35,000. THAT's how much I had talked myself down.

I think this is probably a problem that women face more than men. Peanut negotiated himself a cost of living increase when his company moved him. He didn't NEED the cost of living increase--his costs are pretty much the same no matter where he lives. But he was right that the company would pay it if he asked for it. So he did, and he got it.

Now, my recent raise is just to get me in line with the new title I got. I wouldn't have the guts to have asked for this much of a raise so soon after my big raise last summer. But I'm going to try to keep this post in mind when I go looking for my next job, and anytime I give anyone advice about their first job.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On names

Red muses about changing her name, which got me thinking I should do my own post about it. I love the way she handles a very sensitive issue, and I agree that we can discuss this and agree to agree, or agree to disagree, or agree to call anyone whatever they prefer without needing to sling mud like they do in a lot of bridal forums I've seen.

 

I am taking Peanut's last name. I may keep my current last name as a second middle name, but I will be using his last name socially, legally, and probably professionally.

 

Some of the commonly stated cons about changing my name include the hassle of actually doing so and losing the identity I've had for my entire life up to this point. But I disagree on both points – changing my name doesn't sound any more difficult than changing my address, and lord knows I've moved often enough to have that down to a science. Secondly, I know who I am – and I am more than just my name. Having a new last name won't change how I see myself, or how the people who know me interact with me. It won't erase the person I was before the wedding day, nor will it turn me into someone different. It'll just change what I write on the credit card receipt, and that's not that big of a deal, especially compared with the pros I see in it for me.

 

The pros

1.       Peanut wants me to. I was surprised that he feels so strongly about this but he does. If I really felt strongly about keeping my name, we would discuss it, but I don't. He wants the name change, I want a wedding. We're both getting what we want.

2.       Kids. I grew up with stepfamilies, and it was very difficult for me as a kid to have a different last name than my mother. Very difficult—I can't even put into words how or why this was. But I have friends that today still reference how adamant I was as a kid about last names and who was related to whom and how. It was hurtful to be called by the "wrong" name or have someone assume that my mother was just a carpool mom and not my mom. Later when I'd warmed to my stepfather and considered him family, it was difficult to get people to recognize that relationship because of our different names. I want our family unit to have one cohesive name—a brand if you will. J

3.       Uniqueness. Peanut has a unique last name that's more difficult to spell and say than my name. Which seems like a bad thing until you realize that there's no one in his family with my first name—I'll be the only one! Right now, there are eleven other women on Facebook with my same first and last name (spelling and all). I'm related to at least one of them distantly, and we've been battling each other to get FirstnameLastname email addresses, Facebook URLs, Twitter handles, etc. It will be awesome to be the only MyFirstName Peanut'sLastName!

4.       Ease/expectation. My family tormented my sister when she was married but didn't change her name. My mother would send them letters to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, until my sister started returning them as "no such person at this address". Now, I don't think that family approval is a good reason typically to do anything, but since I've got so many other reasons to do so, it just makes it that much easier on me. I'm picking my non-traditional battles here.  

 

The only cons I see are the following:

1.       In November, I purchased the URL for my current first and last name for three years. I'll have to change it over, but hopefully I can get my money back pro-rated.

2.       His last name is a little harder to pronounce and spell. I'll also be moving from one end of the alphabet to the other, which is weird.

3.       People are going to be snarky at me either way.  Either I'm too feminist or not-feminist enough. I wish people would just mind their own beeswax.

 

So that's where I stand. I decided to take Peanut's name long before we got engaged, and I'm sticking to it. I am NOT, however, changing the name of this blog to Little Mrs. Moneybags. That seems like way too much work!
 
 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cookbooks!

I'm not really a very good cook. I don't use spices well and I get frustrated when things go wrong, and bored when things go right. I'm working on it, mostly by helping Peanut, who's a very good cook (and an EXCELLENT homemade pizza chef -- he makes everything from scratch--sauce, dough, the whole nine yards).

But I got two cookbooks that might help --

I got an early copy of Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens and I'm so excited about it. We seriously have a crappy little kitchen--galley size, with a weird old-fashioned stove (it has a cabinet in it. Seriously, who puts a cabinet in an oven--everything in it gets hot!), a fridge that sometimes defrosts itself, and cabinets too tall for me to reach. So a cookbook that recognizes that I may not have a stand mixer or a dozen mixing bowls or even a normal-sized oven is fabulous. In addition to really delicious looking recipes, there's a whole section of advice about space-saving devices, stuff you really don't need, and pantry must-haves, even in a small space. At some point, I'll actually have time to MAKE one of these recipes, and I'll let you know how it goes.

The second cookbook is one that I actually got a while ago--several months, if I remember correctly. Oops. It's the Eat Well, Save Big cookbook put together by AllYou magazine, and how cool is this, it's got coupons in it! AllYou has some connection to WalMart, but the cookbook is useful regardless of where you shop (there are no Walmarts in New York). The biggest selling point here is that the meals are all under $2.50 a serving--that's huge! The recipes look really easy and the photos look REALLY tasty. Again, as soon as I make a recipe out of this book, I'll do a review of it here.


Disclaimer: this post is not sponsored. I did receive copies of these books for free from the publishers, but it was not contingent upon a review--I think they both look useful, and I do plan to use them. And I have every intention of becoming a better cook, even though Peanut will probably always wear the apron in this family.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Promotion and raise!

I got a promotion and a raise today!

Actually, I got the raise on Friday, and I pretty much knew the promotion was coming, but I didn't want to jinx myself by posting about it here. Basically, last August when I accepted the transfer/promotion, I skipped a couple of levels--I went from a coordinator to assistant manager, even though I was doing the job of the manager (I certainly don't "assist" anyone--it's just me). My boss just couldn't get permission to give me the full title right off the bat in this economy, but told me that at the April review, I would "most likely" get the full title and salary. I worked hard to make sure there would be no reason not to get it, and it paid off!

This raise came to just over $6,000, so in total I am earning $16,000 more than I was just seven months ago. Very cool! It also means that Peanut and I are earning within $1,000 of each other, AND we are a $100,000+ household. AWESOME.

In real terms, my raise is just over $300 more per month which I'm using to....start a car fund!

Yes, we live in New York City, and no, we would never buy a car while we live within the five boroughs. But someday we're going to move, either to the suburbs or to who knows where, and we'll need some wheels. Just to set an arbitrary goal for the sidebar, I've put it at $5,000 for now, and will put the whole $300 in it each month, meaning it'll take about a year and a half to save up that amount.

We thought about putting it all against student loans, but it's really possible that we'll need a car before we're even close to paying off student loans (3-4 years) so it makes sense to save it up for now.

And while the promotion wasn't really a surprise, it was very nice to have a review with my boss of how I'm doing and where I can focus my energy. I love working with her (I followed her when she changed jobs) but the rest of the team can be frustrating--it's a MUCH faster-paced environment with major communication issues, but on the other hand, I had my first #1 hardcover debut novel with this group, and we have no less than three titles on the NY Times bestseller's list in any given week, which is amazing.

So that's my big news--I've got all these posts half-written in my head and just need to get them into the computer!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Honesty and Money

This story on Ask MetaFilter just breaks my heart.

Basically, a woman has realized that her husband has been lying to her about money for the entirety of their relationship. Perhaps she should have seen this coming (early on, he stole her ATM card and took out $100; only confessed when the police were about to pull the security tape), but at this point, they've had electricity shut off twice due to his not paying the bill and lying about it, and she just discovered $4,000 in credit card debt that's gone to collections.

It's not as bad as it could have been--he hasn't opened cards in her name and run up huge balances and it doesn't seem like the money's been spent on other women or drug or gambling addictions. But still.

Makes me really thankful for Peanut. One of my old boyfriends had money management habits that were as bad as the ones in this story; there but for the grace...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

First wedding payment down

I've made the first wedding payment! I booked the venue where we're having the ceremony and reception. It cost $300. That's almost the whole fee too--it covers the room rental entirely. In addition, we'll have to pay a $50 ceremony fee plus food and alcohol costs.

That's exciting!

You're not confused, though, if you think that maybe you've missed a wedding budget post. You haven't. I haven't done one--because I haven't done a budget yet!

I know, I know--how could a pf blogger admit to such a thing? I have a pretty good idea of what I can spend on what, but without talking to my mother about what she'll contribute, I can't allocate actual dollars. And she won't have this discussion with me over the phone, so it'll have to wait another month until I see her. In the meantime, I am only booking that which I know Peanut and I can pay for ourselves with my $5,000 and his contribution (TBD). So far, that will easily cover everything planned right now--place, food, photography. Nothing else is really necessary (well, maybe the marriage license fee and the officiant fee, but those aren't huge).

In non-wedding related news, I panicked today because I realized that I forgot to register for my summer thesis seminar, the very last and only thing required for me to complete my master's degree! I've been so busy writing away on the thesis and calculating student loan repayments that it never crossed my mind, and registration opened two months ago. I applied for it today, and hopefully will get confirmation that I made it in next week. This also means that I'll be paying $3,000 out of pocket in a matter of weeks and registering for my last tuition reimbursement payment from work.

And in non-personal finance related news, today is my birthday and I'm going to get off the computer and do something fun!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Holy Schmoly

Red from Girl with the Red Balloon has set her wedding date--30 days from now!
 
I am just not that brave (or that crazy!). If I weren't working on my thesis at the same time, and if my sister weren't graduating from law school in about a month, I'd consider it, honestly. But I gots my limits and I'm stickin' to 'em.
 
Good for her though!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wedding Planning Post

Here I am, the girl who said she wasn't going to have a wedding, planning one.

 

For the last five years or so, I have terrorized my mother by saying that I wouldn't have a wedding, or at least not a wedding with a white dress and bouquets and centerpieces and all that. I meant it, too. Only now that it's actually here, I find that I do want something—not a big, traditional thing, but something to commemorate the day.

 

It sounds so easy when it's summed up like that, doesn't it? The truth is, the first month Peanut and I were engaged was awful. I cried more days than not, trying to figure out ways to accommodate everyone and still get everything I wanted, and I couldn't figure out how to do it. I read all the wedding planning books that are out there, especially the offbeat, anti-bride type of books, which all made me even more stressed out about how if I wanted things non-traditional I was going to have to do everything by hand myself. I worried about how I'm going to break the news that the girl who didn't want a wedding but is now kind of doing one STILL isn't going to make her mother's wishes come true. I stressed about who's going to pay for what, and whether some of our non-negotiables are going to make people refuse to come (alcohol remains one big sticking point). I argued with Peanut that despite how unhappy all the planning was making me, I DO want to spend thousands of dollars on this one day, and that that's just how much things cost and there's no getting around it. I tried to have a budget conversation with my mother, who flat-out refused to talk dollars, asking me to wait until we see each other in person two months later, when I needed to book a venue NOW since we're planning on such a short schedule. I worried that ultimately it was going to suck, that the people I wanted most to be there weren't going to be able to come, and that I was going to turn into Bridezilla and start having all the things I swore I didn't want.  

 

And then we had our engagement pictures taken, and I read a couple of books: Altared, A More Perfect Union, and One Perfect Day.

 

And things sort of fell into place for me.

 

Having the pictures taken was FUN. Flat out, ridiculous good time fun for me. They are so amazing, so glamorous and beautiful—I was there and I still don't believe that it's us. (And best of all, they were free, which makes everything taste better!) Between that experience and the books of women who were finally raising the same issues I felt, I started to get a clearer picture of what I wanted for our day.

 

1.       Casual. I don't want a formal day. I don't want a formal gown. I don't want Peanut in a tux. I don't want a formal sit-down dinner. I don't want a DJ announcing anything, I don't want planned toasts.  I don't want a first dance or a bouquet or garter toss.

2.       People. I want all the people I love to be able to come. This eventually meant a change of cities for us, which was disappointing but it's the only way my grandparents will be able to come, and they are so important to me. It's looking like Peanut's family is also willing/able to travel, so that's even better. And some of my friends have promised they will do everything they can to be there, which makes me feel awesome.

3.       Convenient. I'm planning this wedding from a distance, while working full time and writing my thesis. I do not have time to worry about favors, centerpieces, coordinating bridesmaid's dresses, or renting chairs. Not only that, I don't care about any of that stuff. I do not care what color the napkins are. I do not care what kind of flowers are in a bouquet. I do not care how the chairs are arranged. I do not care where people sit. I do not care, and I don't want anyone to bug me about it. I want to show up and that's it.

4.       Good food. We have a big contingent of vegetarians coming, and I want to make sure that they get tasty food. (I want the omnivores to get good food, too, but vegetarians are so often overlooked or expected to make do with a salad and a baked potato.)

5.       Cheap. We will not go into debt, nor will we let our parents go into debt, to pay for this wedding. My high budget is set at $10,000; I expect to spend more like $5-7,000 and am really hoping to hit less than that.

6.       Pictures. I want pictures of the day that make us look as happy and in love as we do in our engagement photos and that capture my family and friends looking happy.

 

That's it. I really don't care about much else. And once I sort of narrowed that down, I was able to pinpoint a location very quickly, which I booked yesterday. It's cheap, pretty, available, all-inclusive (except for centerpieces), easy to get to, and judging from the line of people out the door the day my dad went to check it out, the food's great.  

 

So that's the first thing done and everything else will start falling into place. There will be more hurdles ahead—I still have to have a conversation with my mother about the budget in person next month. I'll have to stick to my guns on refusing to have or do things I don't want (like professional hair and makeup, getaway car) and things I do want (alcohol, non-religious ceremony) and I'm sure I haven't shed the last tear over this wedding yet. But I'm done fixating on the difficulties of wedding planning.  

 

Wow, Spirit!

Spirit airlines is now charging up to $45 to CARRY ON a bag.
 
Yes, you read that right--charging for carry ons.
 
I guess this was to be expected, since everyone started carrying on their bags when all the airlines started charging ridiculous fees to check baggage. Where will it end?
 
It's too bad for me, because Spirit generally had pretty good deals on flights between NYC and my family in the midwest--in fact, I'm pretty sure I booked with Spirit for my trip next month! (I won't have to pay the fee to carry on because it's effective today, and I WILL be fighting it if they try to charge me). But their prices are no longer a good deal if I have to fork out another $45 to carry my bag on, so I'll be forced to go back to Northwest/Delta, who I was boycotting for customer service reasons.
 
At this rate, air travel is going to be too expensive and too complicated pretty soon, and it will make more sense to rent a car and drive across the country than to set foot in an airport.
 
 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Joneses

Has anyone seen this trailer?



I can't wait to see this! It looks like a hilarious social commentary.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Flex spending changes

The new health care reform bill makes a number of changes to flexible spending accounts, most of which I don't like.

For example, it sets a federal limit of $2,500 for annual contributions (previously, there was no cap, although most companies and the state of California set a cap of $5,000) and it removes over the counter medications from the list of eligible reimbursement. OTC medications have made up a big part of my flex spending purchases.

The changes go into effect in 2011 (for OTC medications) and 2013 (for the contribution cap).

March Recap/April Goals

March Goals 
1. Set up wedding budget, book location, finalize guest list. Ha ha ha ha ha! I'm so cute. Fail, but not for lack of trying and thinking about it.

2. Budget for trip to Costa Rica. Success!

3. Buy and send a card or gift for birthdays. Done!

4. Take it easy. Not so much. Wedding planning is stressful and I wigged out a couple of times.

5. Perform twice. I performed at a job but not the free performance. I just got too busy.





April Goals
1. Book venue for ceremony/reception. That's ALL I have to do this month in terms of wedding planning. I have a place pretty much picked out and they're holding it for me. I'm doing it all from a distance, so as soon as someone checks it out in real life, I'm putting down the deposit.

2. Keep optional expenses low. This means eating out, toiletries (I've got lots of sample-size stuff I can use up), books/entertainment, etc. I'm not sure yet if it includes skipping Spa Week. The wedding budget is an Issue, and I want to be prepared to pay for the whole thing ourselves, which means saving tons of money for the next six months. 


3. Chill the freak out. Wedding planning has stressed me out to a ridiculous degree (I promise, there's a post coming about this) and I want to focus on what's important and let go of a lot of the crap. That's part of the reason I haven't written off Spa Week--the wedding might benefit much more by me spending $50 on a massage than on centerpieces. In addition to wedding stuff, this goal also serves to warn me against  overcommitting my time.

4. Cook a new dish. My brother made us a delicious Indian potato dish, and Peanut and I discovered "doubles" at a street cart so we are determined to learn how to cook these amazing treats. 

5. Do some decluttering. Spring cleaning is in the air, so I want to get rid of some stuff. I have so many books, and I can probably find some clothes to take to Goodwill. We also have a gigantic spare television sitting in the bedroom (it's a long story) and I'm pretty sure I remember Peanut giving me permission to post it on Craigslist. 

 
 
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'm putting $250 per month aside for this purpose, which, combined with the additional $5,000 in reimbursement from my job, puts me ahead of schedule. I'm in a grace period until July or so.
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.  I have seven pages written and plan to do a few more this weekend. The final thesis is 25-30 pages long.
5. Read more than 100 books. Going well!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. I didn't do so well on this in March.
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Pretty much fail.
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Last month I changed this to doing yoga at home a few nights a week in addition to going to a class (I decided I hated Dr. Oz's routine because of all the pushups). I don't think it went that well in March, since I'm not sure I remember doing yoga at home a single time. I did get some 5 pound hand weights and I even used them once!
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Success! I've posted a few times on it, although I discovered that my ex-boyfriend (yes, the stalker) has been retweeting some of the posts, which is pretty creepy. I'm ignoring it for now. (I don't think he knows about this blog.)
10. Make less of an impact. I removed a corroded snorkeling mask and a fishhook from the ocean in Costa Rica, but later I lost my sunglasses when I got hit by a wave, so I guess I'm about even there. I'm making a point to recycle paper more at work.

March spending recap

Misc Income: $29.30 (Pinecone payments and interest)

Savings
Travel $105
Gifts $40
Sunny Vacation $100
Student Loan Repayment $260
Wedding $280

Total savings $785
Retirement
401(k) $295.40 pre tax (company matches that at 50%)
Roth IRA $454.54 (monthly transfer)
Total Retirement savings: $897.64

Spending
Cell phone $77.86
Dance Expense $169.75 (class card and travel for a job)
Entertainment $10.21 (books)
Food—dining out $181.20
Food—groceries $112.03 
Gifts $39.20 (brother's birthday, sister's birthday, future MIL's birthday, host gifts for other brother)
Household $129.47 (renewed driver's license, assorted household needs, and there might be some Costco movie tickets in there as well)
Internet $16.97
Laundry $18.00
Personal $50.38 (laser hair removal tip, assorted grooming needs)
Rent $687.50
Travel $255.16 (expenses from our sunny beach vacation and a ticket to the midwest for my sister's law school graduation)
Utilities $38.78

Total spending: $1,786.51


Networth updated (see sidebar). I had a 10% gain in my retirement accounts! Combined with a little less spending and a little more saving, I had a $3,000+ networth gain this month. Awesome!