Friday, December 31, 2010

December Spending Recap

Misc Income: $331.72


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

Debt Repayment
Student loans $616.68

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

Networth IQ updated (see sidebar).

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

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

December Recap/January Goals

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

2011 New Year's Resolutions

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

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

Health
3. Be able to do headstand in yoga. 

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

Professional
6. Prepare to leave my job.

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

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

Happiness

I've just joined The Happiness Project.

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

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


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

If you're interested, you can join here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 New Year's Resolutions Recap

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

Financial
1. Max out a Roth IRA automatically. It's not enough to max out a Roth this year--it needs to happen automatically so I can best take advantage of the compound interest. Well, I started out the year automatically contributing and then maxed it out in September. I guess I meant that I'd rather do it as I went instead of all in one go just before the opportunity ended in April of the following year. A
2. Pay down at least half my student loan debt. That’s about $9,500, but I think I can do it. I guess it will come due in August, when I graduate--I'm not waiting the six month grace period or anything like that. Basically as soon as I get my last reimbursement from work, I'll start paying. I paid down about $8,000 before we decided to pay the minimums on loans and build up our emergency fund so Peanut could quit his job and freelance. A
3. Give to charity. This is something that's really been missing from my  personal finance philosophy. I do give on a one-off basis when something really strikes me (like MoneyMateKate's Creative Christmas Challenge) but I want to do some research, find a charity/charities to support and pledge to give a certain amount or percentage per year. I gave four times as much in 2010 as I did in 2009, which is still a pitiful amount compared to my income. But I didn't do it in a methodical manner, which was a point I made here. C

Personal
4. Finish graduate school while maintaining a 3.86 GPA and turn in my thesis early. I have till August but I want it done in May. I'll also be paying for the remainder of the degree out of pocket. I was not allowed to turn in my thesis early (guess they want you to have to pay for that second class!) but I kept my GPA up and got an A- on the thesis, and I'm now guest-lecturing for my thesis advisor. A
5. Read more than 100 books. I was so close this year--I read about 94 books in 2009. I've broken 100 books in years past (I've been keeping track for about six years now) and now that I'm done with the school-work intense classes for my degree, I want to get back to it. And the final count is.....132! Some of them were "gimmes" like wedding planning books but still. I blew away my own record. I'm convinced that this is because of my Sony eReader -- I read about 20% faster on it, partly because I always have it so I can read at any opportunity, and when I finish one book I can start another. A+
6. Cultivate a more positive attitude. This one's hard to make SMART, but I think it's necessary. I tend to look on the side of "The glass is half empty, and the water inside's probably polluted anyway, oh god, who cares, everything's terrible!" and it's tiring and irritating. I'm going to try to look on the brighter side, particularly in my trigger areas, like noises I can't control or getting frustrated while cooking. I did pretty well with this, I think. There's still room for improvement, but I am a happier person than I was last December. B

Health
7. Take the stairs whenever possible. This is the single easiest thing I could be doing to be healthier. I already walk anywhere that's walkable, but I could climb four flights up and down every day at home, which is not insignificant! Unless I'm carrying lots of groceries or pushing the laundry cart, I pledge to take the stairs.Certain heels give me an out also, but I promise not to overuse that excuse. I made it further into the year than I expected with this, but I still quit before the year was up. It got too hot or I got too tired or whatever, and I bailed. Still, I saw results -- last week when our elevator was temporarily out of service, I could walk up the four flights without getting out of breath, something that was absolutely not possible at the beginning of the year. C
8. Seven minutes of yoga per day. Dr. Oz's seven minute workout (via the New York Times' realistic resolutions article) isn't just yoga--it incorporates push-ups and sit-ups into a pretty all-inclusive workout. And I can carve out seven minutes a day, at least three times a week to start. The biggest fail of all -- I bailed on this in the first month. F

Professional
9. Develop a regular posting schedule for my "real name" blog. I'd like to eventually be known as an expert in the industry and this is as good a way as any. Three to four posts a month to start is reasonable, probably developing to more like three posts a week. This is another abandoned goal -- I actually completely shut down that blog and don't own the domain anymore. My desire for privacy outweighed my desire to blog publicly. I don't consider this a failure, though, since my priorities changed so drastically. No grade.

Misc.
10. Make less of an impact. I just read No Impact Man, and am really inspired. I'd read his blog a few times and couldn't quite seem to get into it, but the book really stuck with me. As a result, in 2010 I'm committing to make less of an impact. I'll use re-usable bags more often, buy items with less packaging or buy used, turn off lights more often and take other steps to try to reduce my impact on the environment. I still have so much room for improvement here. I'm not doing the Fake Plastic Fish challenge or the 100 Things challenge or anything like that. Still, I've made a point to do the things I said, and I consider my impact on a daily basis. B

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gifting Up: Revisited

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

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

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

7 important questions to ask before 2011

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

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

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

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

6. What new habits do you want to cultivate?

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

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


What about you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gifting Up

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

Random money thoughts

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

***

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

!!!

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

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

It still boggles the mind, though.

***

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

***

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

20 Financial Milestones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

I owe it all to J.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Student loan payoff and emergency fund goals

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

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

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

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

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

Tweet, tweet

Yes, I did it. I joined Twitter.

Come say hi!

Eating out: okay by me

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Owning vs. renting

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

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

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

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

* heat and hot water included in my rent.

* no yard work.

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shutterfly review

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Close call

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