Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Drive-by updates

--Got rained out of Yoga on the Great Lawn last week. Too bad. I did get a delicious brownie and a free yoga mat out of it, and helped break a world record.

--Thesis is due in one week. I sent it for final reviews to an editor, a literary agent, a lawyer and an MBA. First responses indicate that it's very good and people would like to share it with other publishing professionals. Awesome!

--NYC is disgustingly hot. I don't want to see our a/c bill for the rest of the summer. We've only got one in the bedroom, and we're only keeping it at 78 and only when we're in there but still. I don't want to see our ice cream bill either.

--Wedding plans continue along. I have started addressing invitations and hope to finish them over the long weekend. Things left to do: choose ceremony with officiant, ask friends to read something during the ceremony, finalize details with florist, book hotel blocks, get dress altered, and figure out centerpieces.

--I think I figured out a way to be less overwhelmed at work. We'll see.

--Peanut and I finally sold most of our extraneous stuff -- TV, stereo, camera, DVDs, game systems, books. Apparently you just have to list it on Craigslist repeatedly until people realize you're serious. We've got a few more decluttery type things to do, and might swing by a Tekserve event to recycle some old electronics.

Hope you all are hanging in there!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

catching my breath

Work is gangbusters this week. I mean, to the point that I'm going to have to ask for some help or an intern or something. I was at my desk for a total of two hours between Tuesday 9 a.m. and Wednesday 6 p.m. How am I supposed to accomplish all these things we talk about in meetings when I'm always in meetings?

My final thesis is due in two weeks. I have survived one professor review and one peer review. I have four more people lined up to review it before I turn the final in.

The weather here is horrid and disgusting.

I can't wait for my life to calm down a bit.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tips for effective money management

Get Rich Slowly solicits tips for effective money management. Mine are in the comments but I figured I'd put 'em here too.
-Automated savings. My 401(k) comes out pre-tax, obviously, but my Roth IRA payment is deducted automatically from my checking accout a day or two after payday. I don't have time to forget it. Then regular savings (car fund, wedding fund, travel fund) is automatically taken out a day after that. It takes a number of additional steps for me to stop saving.
-Digital bills. All of my bills come to me by email, I leave them unread until I pay them, and I pay them online. The only physical bill I get is for rent, which is slipped under my door a few days before the end of the month.
-Track spending. I track every dollar. I'm not very good about doing it every single day anymore, but I catch up at least once a week. My fiance made a fabulous spreadsheet that helps me keep track of the balances in all my accounts and the cash in my wallet.
-Receipts. Receipts go in the "pickle jar" which is where we keep our household cash. If you take money out of the pickle jar, you have to either leave a receipt or an IOU.
-Regular meetings with myself. I have regular finance maintenance meetings with myself once a week. They take only about 20 minutes -- balance the spreadsheet and compare to accounts, pay any bills, call and cancel promotional mailings from any company that's still sending me junk mail, stuff like that. Keeping on top of it regularly helps the meeting not last so long, which makes it not as intimidating to do.

What are yours?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Practice

Practice makes perfect. I've been thinking a lot about practice lately.
 
I am in rehearsals with my dance company. We mess up a lot. So we do it over and over. We drill. We repeat. We practice.
 
I have been making more time for yoga classes in my schedule. It's difficult to fit in a one hour class a few times a week, but I've been really trying to do it. I try not to beat myself up when I fail. When I'm on the mat, I try not to compare myself to others, or even to myself on previous days, when I might have been more limber or more calm (or less!). If I fall out of a pose, I try again. I try to experience only my body and my breathe. It's hard, so I'm practicing it.
 
Today, Unclutterer had an article about practicing simple living. What great phrasing. Small steps, repeated decisions and actions, habits that form and require maintenance, trying again when you mess up -- that sounds like practicing the piano, right? It can also apply to practicing a simple life. The decision to turn off the television and tune out advertising. The decision to not purchase. The habits of recycling, reusing, reducing. The learned enjoyment of simple things. If I forget, or get lazy or careless, I try again.
 
And this guest post on Get Rich Slowly about the personal finance continuum reiterates the same thing -- successful personal finance is a practice. You practice saving. You practice spending less. Neither one will work all the time, so you hitch up your britches and try again. You practice making some decisions until they become second nature, and then you work on something else. Like yoga, personal finance is a practice.
 
A practice is another way of saying journey. You'll never be perfect (at yoga, at simple living, at personal finance). You just do it, and do it again, and keep doing it. You practice.
 
That's a lot of relief, actually. You're not focused on the destination. You're focused on the journey, the practice. It allows you to always try again, to always try not to make the same mistake a second time, to make small corrections or changes. There's no failure in practicing. The very act of practicing is a success.
 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Linkfest

Awesome! Kayak has started a search engine that allows you to search first by price: Where can I fly for this much money?

Revanche reminds us that the time to update your resume is BEFORE you need it. Good advice--I didn't get to it this weekend, but it's on my calendar for next.

Remember how Spirit airlines is now charging for carry-on baggage? Their pilots have gone on strike. Pretty sure I've lost all faith in them. It doesn't seem like I mentioned that on my last flight with them, I determined that they are now too cheap for me. The tickets are relatively inexpensive, but having to pay $3 (on a credit or debit card!) for a cup of WATER and having to pay for carry-ons makes them no longer a good deal.

Apparently New York state is facing a government shut-down since there hasn't been a budget since March (the governor has been passing week to week budgets to keep things functioning). I don't rely on the government for much (no food stamps, no welfare, no section 8 housing) but this could really hurt those who do.

And lastly, a weekend update. I had a pretty inexpensive weekend--tried to go shopping for shoes, but ended up returning what I got since when I got home, they no longer fit (what's up with that?!). Peanut and I made some money as people are finally starting to bite on some of the stuff we've got for sale (bye-bye, bed and Xbox!). I went to free yoga in the park (love it!) and won tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, which I skipped because it's been so rainy. Looks like they didn't cancel the show, but I've sat in the theater in the cold June rain before and was miserable, so I'll try again later in the summer.

We ordered the cake, invitations and address labels and booked the officiant this weekend. Still to do: pick out flowers. I am dreading this job, which is why I keep postponing it. I also need to book a hotel block so I can include that information in the invitations. Our wedding is almost three months away, which is freaking astounding.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eye-opening

I got a statement from my student loan company and it's really eye-opening.
 
My full disbursement was $19,831 for two years of graduate school. So far, I have paid back $$262.52 in principal and $30.48 in interest (therefore entirely paying off the two unsubsidized loans I took out). My current balance is $19, 568.48 at 6.80% interest.
 
If I paid only the minimum payment ($225.20) it would take me ten years to pay off and ultimately cost $27,023.05.
 
!!!!!!!
 
That increases the amount I'd pay by almost a third! Not to mention I'd be dealing with a stupid bill every month for the next decade.
 
Um, no thanks. This entire loan will be gone within a year, two at the most. I expect to pay less than $1,000 in interest.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Linkfest: Goals edition

It's time for The Baglady to update her goals page -- and she talks about how they've changed in the three years since she made them. Particularly with long-term goals, it's important to be willing to re-evaluate when your life changes.

Dumb Little Man talks about setting minimum goal standards. This is brilliant! Rather than overhaul your whole life and promise to do yoga for an hour every day and only eat fresh organic produce and be on time to everything for the rest of your life, how about you commit to doing at least two sun salutations, eating at least one piece of fruit, and spending five minutes at night getting stuff together for the following day? Would that make it easier to follow through? I totally think so, and I'm going to try to keep that in mind for next month's goals.

Lifehacker talks about intentionally creating a decluttered life by choosing classic designs -- cast iron skillets instead of woks, safety razors instead of disposable and the like. Just in time for our registry planning! I had already decided that I wanted to stick with a simple plate design--the plain white Corelle. They'll go with everything, they can be easily used for either simple every day dinners or fancier dinner parties, and we never have to worry about the pattern going out of style.

Amazing quote over at Frugal Babe, which I've never heard before: Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. Wow, could that be true for me. I have had a phenomenal background compared to most of the world: health, plenty to eat, access to education and parents who were willing to pay for it, and much more. Any success I've had must be attributable to more than just my own brilliance and amazingness.

One of the things Peanut and I have talked about doing right before or right after we're married is visiting a financial planner for a quick check-up that we're starting our married life off on the strongest foot possible. Get Rich Slowly has a great guest post on finding a fee-only advisor, which we'll take a closer look at when we get close to that point ourselves.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Retry: Also, Seriously?

This billboard "poots out" the scent of charcoal and pepper during rush hour.


Pepper Steak Scented Billboard from Todd Turner on Vimeo.

What is advertising coming to?

PineCone Research is recruiting!

PineCone pays a small amount ($3-$5) for surveys and product tests. I've been a panel member for about a year, and I find it a lot of fun, and best of all it's legitimate. They pay via Paypal (quickly, too!) and I consistently get stuff from them. They don't have open membership, so if you're interested in joining, click here.

This is not an affiliate link, and I don't get anything for referring you. I just figured if you want an extra couple of bucks each month and you're on email all day anyway, you should sign up.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

It's gonna be weird

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a direct quote from Peanut about filing our taxes as a married couple. (He's retracted that, and now says, "It's gonna be AWESOME, that's what it's gonna be!")

That's because we've been trying to sell stuff, and we're not having any luck at all. Here's what we've got:

150+ books
100+ dvds
two stereo systems
27 inch television
digital camera
Playstation 2 with games and controllers and guitars
original Xbox with games and controllers
Pizza cutter
double bed (mattress, box spring, frame)

We haven't got a single little nibble, so we're probably going to end up donating it all to Goodwill which is a giant pain, and I'm afraid it might not actually make a difference in our taxes (I mentioned this to Red the other day--think hard about the tax implications of donating anything. If you don't itemize, it probably won't make a bit of difference for you. I learned that the hard way, after donating my beloved car.)

Our selling spree was sparked in part by Peanut's coworker--he's moving in with his girlfriend and offered us some of his furniture--a queen sized bed, a bookshelf, a kitchen cabinet thing. In order to make way for the new stuff, we've got to get rid of some old--and most of it is stuff we haven't touched since we moved into this apartment a year ago. It's all priced to go, but I think people are not as interested in buying other people's junk as they used to be.

In other news, Peanut suggested that we start spending a bit more on groceries per month. We've had a pretty static menu for a while consisting of mostly homemade stuff but all sort of one-shot meals (pizza, buffalo chicken wraps and/or salads, fried rice, turkey sandwiches for lunch). We decided to look for more "grown up" meals that have more components and are a bit more well-rounded. Tonight for dinner, for example, we made oven-roasted salmon with new potatoes and asparagus. It was AWESOME. I officially love dill. It was easy to make, and it's a one-dish meal--starch, veggie and protein all roasted in one pan. We're looking for more recipes like that, so if you've got any, please share them!

The only downside was that it was a LOT more expensive than our usual dinners. The salmon alone was nearly $4 per serving--we can very likely find it cheaper but we'll have to do some hunting. We'd like to keep it around $3 per serving total (we were at something like $3 per meal, which is awesome but you know, we can afford to spend more than that).

Here's a great example of making personal finance personal--Revanche weighs her company's 401(k) in the balance and finds it wanting, so she's not going to contribute to it. She's got good reasons and other options.

And lastly, I'm itching to balance out the types of blogs in my google reader--I want more pf posts than wedding posts! So recommend to me your blog or any other blog that you read and think is great. Take a look at my blogroll and tell me who I'm missing!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bits and pieces

The book publishing industry has one huge perk--summer Fridays. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, I have half days on Fridays. I LOVE this. I usually come home from work, eat lunch, and then do "life maintenance"--pick up packages from the post office, clean, deal with any random administrative household stuff. One big thing is collecting all the junk mail I get throughout the week and calling the companies to get off their mailing lists. I don't get the huge volume of junk mail I used to, but I still get far too much. A side effect of signing up for free samples, I think. Anyway, today I got off three mailing lists, and one of the requests was, frankly, a lovely experience. The rep on the other end of the phone was pleasant and cheerful and polite and I kind of wish we could meet up and have coffee.

Today I'm also checking on our internet bill--Peanut and I have officially shared an apartment for a year this month, and that means we might be about to lose a promotional rate for our internet bill (the only one we have that might vary like that--we don't have cable). It happened to Peanut in his previous apartment and their bill doubled with no warning. So I'm just going to give them a friendly little call and make sure that doesn't happen. I'm also going to do some research since AT&T made an announcement regarding iPhone data plans--I wonder if it might save me a few bucks to downgrade my plan.

In wedding news, today I wandered around Bed Bath and Beyond with a scanner gun and started our second registry. It's really exhausting work! I have to go back through it online and check reviews for a couple of things, and make sure I didn't scan any duplicates between that one and the Target one. And, um, I have to show everything I picked out to Peanut and make sure he approves.

Also in wedding news, the bakery has cashed my check for the deposit but not returned my emails for two weeks. Grrrr. I'm going to send my sister to have a "chat" with them if they don't respond by next week.

And if you're an animal lover, please send my family some good pet-thoughts. In the last two weeks we've lost our family cat (old age), one of my sister's cats (had to be put down for health reasons), and one of my brother's cats (hit by a car). Each loss is devastating, and as a whole, it just really, really sucks.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quick linkfest

Over at MoneySavingMom, is it frugal to shop at wholesale clubs? I think this really varies depending on one's purchasing habits, but for Peanut and I, it definitely is. We get toilet paper, movie tickets, frozen chicken breasts, peanut butter, granola, baby carrots, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mozzarella cheese, acai berry juice, salsa, cereal, and a few other staples at Costco regularly and save a lot of money. The movie tickets alone save us the cost of the yearly membership--ticket prices in New York are $12.50 for a standard adult ticket, and we get a pair for $15.49. We're careful not to go crazy on fun stuff at Costco and to use up what we buy.
 
Frugal Babe talks about creating a life which needs no escape--YES! That is certainly not my situation right now in a fairly high-stress, fast-paced job and living in a high cost of living area, but someday, I dream about creating a home and a life where we don't feel the need to leave to relax or enjoy ourselves.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May Recap/June Goals

May Goals
1. Complete a draft of my thesis.....I HAVE TURNED IN MY FIRST DRAFT. 'Nuff said.

2. Wedding plans: finalize budget with mom, pick baker, pick florist, pick officiant. Budget finalized, baker picked, florist picked, wedding ring purchased. Not much movement on the officiant front--I asked my dad if he knew anyone locally who can perform weddings, and he's kind of clammed up. I sent quote requests to two officiants I found online; only one has written back so far.

3. Do up a new budget. Done! New budget allows me to save nearly $600 plus maxing out a Roth.

4. Not buy any new clothes. Fail--I bought a pair of capri-length yoga pants and a skirt. I got rid of some items in exchange. I also went shopping a lot more than that, actually, and didn't find what I was looking for, so I didn't take home anything I didn't love.

5. The 100 pushup challenge. I think I've learned my lesson--no posting fitness goals on this blog, because it basically guarantees I won't do them.


June Goals

1. Pick officiant, identify flowers I want, get final quote from baker, find place to alter dress (which also means picking shoes), order invitations, call state clerk's office to verify requirements and figure out if I need to make an extra trip there to apply for the license. I'm so ready to be done with wedding planning. Peanut is designing our invitations now and we've picked the place to order them from. Once they're in the mail, I won't be able to back out--I'm seriously debating with myself every day whether to cancel the whole thing and just go to the courthouse. I won't. But I kind of wish that's what we'd done.


2. Finish thesis. Now that my first draft is turned in, I get to revise. Maybe I can be done with the whole thing by the end of the month--I think the "class" ends July 13.


3. Declutter! Peanut and I are acting like we're about to move--we sorted through all of our books and found 150 to get rid of. He also has a whole shelf full of DVDs to sell, and we've got a TV to get rid of, and I'm starting to eye everything in the apartment with how fast it can go.


4. Go shopping without spending any money. Or, in other words, set up the wedding registry. I have one started at Target and will be setting one up at Bed, Bath and Beyond this weekend. That should cover our "needs".


5. Try to chill out. Literally and figuratively. I've had a rough couple weeks (nothing bad, just super busy and stressful) and I could use some down time.

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. My loans are currently at $19,568.48. Peanut and I have talked about considering all our loans as one joint project and paying them down by interest rate. This would mean attacking one of his while paying the minimums on mine. Still thinking about this.
3. Give to charity. I sent money to the Nashville Red Cross to help with the flooding.
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. First draft turned in. Based on 15 pages, my professor has given me an A-.
5. Read more than 100 books. I’m at 60+ books read in 2010, and not yet halfway through the year. Woo hoo!
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. Not so good this month.
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. Every time I walk into the building, I think about this and get on the elevator anyway. I do take them down, though…
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. I quit this in February or March in favor of weekly yoga classes. I love them.
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. Still not updating that one anymore. My stalker ex freaked me out too much by retweeting my posts. I'm debating canceling the domain name and getting a refund for now.
10. Make less of an impact. No change from April--trying for reusable stuff as much as possible and recycling what's recycle-able. You'd think grocery cashiers would be used to this by now and wouldn't give off so much 'tude.

May Spending Review

Misc Income: $3,803 (Flex spending reimbursement, birthday/graduation gift from grandparents, Pinecone payments and most significantly, $2778 in tuition reimbursement for the spring semester)
Savings
Travel $105
Gifts $40
Sunny Vacation $100
Student Loan Repayment $3,038
Wedding $3280
Car $150

Total savings $6713 (!!)
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 $77.96
Charity $100 (Nashville Red Cross)
Clothes $32.27 (new yoga pants and a new skirt--despite my goal)
Dance expense $23.34 (laces for my shoes, travel to rehearsal)
Entertainment $36.43 (books, movie tickets)
Food—dining out $128.48 
Food—groceries $190.23
Gifts $233.64 (cards, my sister's graduation gift) 
Household $30.65 
Internet $16.96
Laundry $15.00
Personal $93.53 (laser hair removal tip,other necessities)
Rent $687.50
School $889 (last payment for summer class)
Utilities $41.45
Wedding $111.94 (wedding ring, cake deposit, florist deposit)

Total spending: $2,708.38

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar). I don't even want to talk about what the stock market is doing to my retirement accounts. I'm basically only ahead this month because of the tuition reimbursement.