Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolution Recap

Well-Being
1. Single-task. This is going to be a work in progress, probably for the rest of my life. I've gotten better, but in many facets of my life I still try to do too much at once.
2. Participate in The Happiness Project. I left off of doing the project publicly on my blog, but I have been doing very well at creating space in my life for happiness. I don't beat myself up if I don't post here regularly. I turn down invitations to events when I'd rather stay at home and read. I have given myself routines that make me feel better, especially around getting enough sleep. I have finished a lot of the nagging items on my to-do list.

Health
3. Be able to do headstand in yoga. I sort of ignored this one until December, and I've been working on it daily all month. Once I'm up in headstand I can hold it for several breaths, but I still have to kick up against a wall. I am really enjoying this (being upside down seems to give me better perspective on all sorts of things!) so I'm going to keep working on it.

Financial
4. Save enough to hurt a little. Peanut and I have spent the year as a dual income family, but we've always lived as if we're a single income family - and we've lived on the lower income, stashing the higher into savings. First for our cross-country move, then for a house, and now for all the other costs of buying a home. A more specific goal would have helped here - I haven't really felt like we've been hurting, but we have saved a lot of money.
5. Change our net worth by the value of our student loans/increase our net worth by $31,000. This one goes down in history as a near-miss. We're only off by $3,000 which coincidentally is just about how much it cost us to move across country.

Professional
6. Prepare to leave my job. Well, obviously, that was a success!

Home
7. Declutter -- ideally, reduce our possessions by about 1/3.  I did a really thorough decluttering before we moved, and while I don't know that we dropped by 1/3, we lightened our load considerably.
8. Organize digital photos and finish physical scrapbooks. Mostly done. There's a little more organizing to do on our digital photos, but the physical scrapbooks are as done as they're going to get and I got rid of all the supplies. I have been working on the digital photos in the evenings and don't have much longer till that's done. I'm also being WAY more careful about categorizing and organizing them when uploading new ones.

For Fun
9. Take up a crafty hobby. Success! I have started sewing/quilting and cooking, both of which meet my goal. I felt like my entire life revolved around the computer and internet and I wanted something to do with my hands, something that would produce something at the end of the time I spent on it.
10. Create a bucket-list of New York adventures and start checking them off. Mostly success. I didn't get to a few of the things on my list, but I feel like I wrapped up my eight years in New York in a really lovely fashion, and I'm excited to go back someday as a tourist.
11. Read through my library. Hmmm...this one depends on how you look at it. If the goal was to get rid of some of the books that I own, I did a pretty good job of it. We donated more than an entire bookcase of books when moving (though we still had about 40 boxes of books afterwards...). As far as reading through books I already own, however, I'd have to call this a big fat failure. I read a lot of new books instead - books for work, books for review, books for friends, books from the library. I definitely broke 100 books for the year but I didn't so much make a dent in the hundreds of books I want to read and pass along. Oh, darn - something to keep working on. :)

Resolutions for 2012 are coming up!

How did you do in your resolutions?

December Spending Review

Alcohol $21.14
Business expenses (reimbursable) $650
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $30.06
Clothing $53.85
Entertainment $40
Food—dining out $412.90
Food—groceries $243
Gifts $162.75
Household $68.50
House $450
Hygiene/Medical $121.25
Mystery Shop Expense $14.92
Rent $830
Sewing/Quilting $48
Student loans $403.83
Travel $88.88
Utilities $175.93
Yoga $40

Total Spending: $3,858.90

Things of note: 
Not a bad month overall! Despite a week long trip, travel, and Christmas gifts, this has been one of the cheapest months we've had since we moved.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in Review

Inspired by Money Beagle's 2011 in Review, I'm going to do one of my own!

January

I started the year by making 11 New Year's Resolutions for 2011 - an ambitious list! I struggled with spending money on drinks at brunch and yoga and dance classes. I got a pretty significant hair cut (over a foot!) which was also the most I've ever paid someone to cut my hair (verdict: worth it, but I prefer it longer). Behind the scenes, Peanut and I started seriously thinking about leaving New York.

February

I explored what I'm really saving for and the type of person I want to be. While privatizing my blog a little, I learned a lot about the excuses I used to make that kept me from saving more. I copied Cordelia by officially listing some quits - things that stuck with me all year long! (Maybe it's time to make some more!)

March

I opened up about being shy about how much I make (which garnered me a link from The Simple Dollar!), I found classes available for barter, and disclosed why I think automating your finances is a terrible idea. I stumbled upon the How TV Ruined Your Life series from the BBC and was really gobsmacked by it. Behind the scenes, Peanut and I officially decided to leave New York as soon as he got a job...and then he got one a week later.

April

I began two months of living alone, while packing up everything we owned and quitting my beloved job. I announced our plans to move in a series of hints. I attended a super swanky Spa Week event (my first perk from being a blogger). I turned 30.

May

Peanut and I started paying dual rent on our respective apartments, an experience that I am hoping not to repeat. I hoped that after moving cross-country, we'd move again in a year or two with less stuff than we had before. The Little Miss Moneybags that's currently packing up all the same things just SIX MONTHS LATER is quivering with joyless laughter.

June

We moved! I started my new job. I talked about how frugality carries over to spending other people's money as well as our own, reported on hiring full service movers and debated four scenarios for handling our debt/savings priorities.

July

I ran the costs on our new-to-us car. I explained how I earned money while in school and why wardrobe items aren't investments. I discovered that Minnesota summers include some of the most consistently gorgeous weather I've ever experienced. Because of that, the entire state government shut down for most of the month to enjoy it - that, or there was some sort of budget negotiation break down, I can't remember exactly. :)

August

Bored of money (our motto: we earn, we save, we wait), I talked about the free things I did this summer. I expressed conflicting emotions about Groupon (I've still never bought one, though I did buy a Living Social deal this fall). I wondered who the "real me" is and why I'm not living her life - and then I gave up caffeine so I could try to get her life after all. (I will drink regular tea now, but not coffee, and I prefer uncaffeinated tea when it's available. I sleep SO MUCH BETTER.)

September

I complained about deceptive junk mail and defined myself by something other than "consumer". Behind the scenes, we attended five weddings in five weeks and celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

October

I overscheduled myself (again) and questioned the costs - both financial and time - of some of my hobbies. After taking the bus to work one day, I considered the cost of public transit. My student loan company made gigantic errors switching platforms, double charged me and got me hit with an insufficient funds fee from a bank account I'd revoked their access to. I praised skepticism and talked about spending within our means. I made lists of things to do with time off and to my car. We applied - and got approved - for a mortgage! I spent the entire month researching dental insurance.

November

We bought a house! Since it was sooner than we'd originally planned for, I got a little defensive about putting only 10% down and paying PMI - but ultimately I realized that it shows how little I really know about financial situations I've not yet faced.

December

I started focusing on the one resolution I basically ignored for the previous eleven months. I spent money to save money, realized I have the world's sharpest left elbow, and stressed about becoming a grown-up. I survived taking a significant other home for the holidays for the first time ever and managed to have a nice time despite my nerves.

In Summary

2011 has been, in general, a year of high points. I'm happy, healthy, and in a good place in my life. My thirties are turning out to be so much better than my twenties would have indicated, and I plan to enjoy the hell out of the rest of them.

For 2012, I hope for more of the same. We'll move into our house and discover the joys of homeownership. I have plans to travel with my mother and sister as well as for work, and I am working on some goals that will create more time and space to really enjoy where I am in life. Peanut and I will continue living off of one income while using the other to save and pay down student loans and mortgage debt. Of course, as I can see from 2011, anything can change in a year's time - but hopefully even if the circumstances turn out differently than we would have predicted, everything will be all right - or better - when the dust settles.

How was your 2011? Do you have any big hopes for 2012?


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Linkfest: Holiday Edition

Peanut and I have been traveling, visiting and otherwise making merry this holiday season and I have to say it's been lovely. The $3 gift challenge was a lot of fun and we got and gave some fantastic gifts for such a small price. This is something I will keep in mind for the future - if there's creativity and thought involved, gifts can cost less than a cup of coffee!

In observance of the holidays, I have been taking a lot of time off from the internet - no tweeting, writing posts, or otherwise spending time plugged in. It's been really nice to "mark all as read" without even a twinge of guilt.

Even so, I've managed to collect a couple of links that I wanted to share.

Peanut and I have been talking about how to pay off our mortgage (because paying the minimum forever isn't an option) and this might be one way to do it: Frugal Babe and her husband are putting the extra into a bond fund to use as an extra emergency fund. Our focus is on our student loans at first, because they have a higher interest rate, but once those are gone, we'll shift to extra on the mortgage - and this might be a way to do that.

A great rundown on 5 myths of T&E deductions. I would clarify one thing - none of these items are deductible if you were reimbursed by your employer. I saw one of my former colleagues learn that lesson the hard way.

Peanut teases me about this a lot: when free is too expensive. "Just because it's free doesn't mean you need it!" I'm a sucker for free samples, programs where I test out products, surveys for tiny cash payments, and so on. I need to remind myself that sometimes free just isn't worth it!

Target date funds have much higher fees than other funds - hmmm. Most of my retirement savings are in target date funds, which I thought compared favorably to other options...but I think maybe I need to take another look.

The Money Pros Index Fund challenge (via Debt Free by Thirty) looks like fun! I've signed up, and my picks are Chipotle, Starbucks, and Ecolab, a cleaning supplies company.

Fabulously Broke asks, "Are you upgrading your lifestyle or spending for quality?" They're not mutually exclusive, but they can be hard to tell apart.

Drive a free car on your next road trip! Completely ignoring my advice from the "when free is too expensive" item above, I think this is so incredibly cool, and I'm totally looking into it the next time we travel.

Consumerist lists ingredient substitutions for cooking or baking. Did you know any of these?

The Happiness Project on goals vs. resolutions. It's a good distinction and one that I will be making when I post my 2012 resolutions later this week.

Did you see anything good around the blogosphere in the last week or so? Share links in the comments!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Houses and cars and...when did I become a grown-up?

I've been feeling a little stressed about money lately.

I mean, I'm only about to write the biggest check of my life - I can't imagine why that's making me nervous. :)

Our closing date is scheduled for the first week of January. We'll have to wire $21,000 for the remainder of the down payment, and then several thousand more for all the associated fees, taxes, and so forth. That part of buying a house is SO MUCH MORE expensive than I thought it would be. I had asked around, and people said, oh, it's only like two grand.

Uh, yeah. Try like four times that. Even with getting a discount from the mortgage officer and a free house inspection. (Wow, does it pay to have relatives in real estate!)

Anyway, once we've closed, we'll also have the following expenses:

Moving costs
Rent (we have to pay through the end of April or until they find a new renter, whichever is sooner)
Lease-breaking fee
Furnishings for new rooms (guest room, mainly - everything else can wait)
Higher utilities (electric and gas)
Water, sewer and garbage (currently included in our rent)
Homeowners insurance (NINE TIMES more expensive than renter's insurance)
and the biggest: a second car

That's right, ladies and gentlemen -- Peanut and I, who just six months ago were blissfully car-free -- will be buying a second vehicle in 2012.

I'm torn about how I feel about this. I envisioned us remaining car-free when we moved to the midwest. Then I compromised and envisioned us lovingly sharing a car for grocery shopping excursions and visits to family, driving to work together when the weather was bad. I think I've accepted the fact that, while some admirable people can go car-free out here - like Moneyapolis and her DH - or share a car indefinitely, Peanut and I are not cut from the same cloth. Our work schedules don't line up nicely enough for us to reliably ride together both ways on a daily basis. The house will be far enough from public transit that winter commuting will be awfully miserable. And biking - not a chance. I thought I'd give it a try, I really did, but I think I'd have a panic attack riding in traffic before I got to the end of the street.

At any rate, we'll continue sharing a car until we've saved up enough to pay cash for a second one, and the one we have now will still be the "nice" one - so that means the "not nice" car will probably cost less than $5,000.

Fortunately, even with all the extra things we have to pay for, we kept our mortgage payment to around 21% of our monthly income, so we'll still have some money every month to set aside for everything on that list as well as saving for retirement and building a larger emergency fund (since our potential for emergencies will get that much bigger).

It's weird - looking at the numbers, I KNOW that this is not out of our reach. I mean, our mortgage payment will still be smaller than rent on our NYC apartment, and we did fine on less than what we're bringing in now! Still, it's nervewracking - even though our ability to handle this is clear on paper and in practice, it still makes me bite my nails.

Why is that? Please tell me I'm not the only one!


Monday, December 19, 2011

GRRRR

I just found a hole in the left elbow of the third sweater in a row - in less than six months!

All three sweaters are from New York & Co - so I'm wondering, is this a failure of their merchandise or something weird about how I sit at my desk? Nothing's changed in the latter, so I'm suspicious.

How on earth do you fix a hole in the elbow? Turning these sweaters into short sleeve cardigans is a possibility, but not ideal - Minnesota winters require long sleeves. I am not a professor so I'm not keen on elbow patches. Any other suggestions?


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#pfbookclub post!

Life got in the way of....well, everyone for #pfbookclub, but I wanted to get my thoughts down anyway.

Shortchanged was heavy on statistics, light on prescription. The author is clear from the beginning that this is not a financial how-to book or a guide to changing the status quo - I guess she thinks that shedding light on the situation will be enough to start making some changes. I can't say whether that's right, but here are my impressions:

From the first chapter, I was shocked at how widows are affected financially by the death of their husbands. I had no idea, and it's particularly scary because even when you do everything right by saving for retirement or paying your mortgage off, medical expenses can wipe out any advantages and leave you, as an elderly woman, floundering. A terrifying thought. The only way I can think of to combat this is to pay particularly close attention to life insurance and maintain health insurance whenever possible.

The second chapter really struck home for me in terms of the general population of women, even if it isn't true to my particular situation or the situation of most of the women I know. Women suffer from financial disparity with men in two ways: lower income and lower wealth. Women earn $.78 for every dollar men earn, with the youngest members of the workforce earning $.95 to every dollar their male counterparts earn. So we're making SOME headway in terms of the income gap. But the bigger problem is the difference in wealth (a combination of income potential, expenses and savings). Women are nowhere near men in wealth, and there are a host of reasons:
  • More women than men work in part-time positions, which not only pay less, but offer less benefits, including health insurance (leaving women to pay out of pocket or buy private health insurance), retirement funds with or without employer matching, paid sick leave, access to flexible spending accounts or other ways to reduce their tax liability.
  • Women change jobs more frequently, losing out on vesting opportunities. What's more, they are also less likely to roll their retirement savings into another vehicle, opting instead to cash out to pay down debt (this is about the only example from this list that is a bad choice - everything else is out of most women's control).
  • Women are more likely to leave the workforce in full or to drop to part-time work due to children.
  • Women tend to choose lower paying jobs in service industries.
  • Women are less likely to have union jobs with unionized wages and pensions.
  • The IRA limits for non-working spouses affect more women than men, since women are more likely to stay home - this reduces a woman's overall retirement savings ability.
  • Men own more homes and can deduct mortgage interest, while women are more likely to rent.
  • Women are more likely to receive welfare and food stamps, and are more likely to resort to bad debt like car loans and credit cards to make up the shortfall in their monthly expenses.
  • Women are less likely to invest in the stock market (although when they do, they tend to get better returns than men).
  • 84% of custodial single parents are women.
Um. Ouch.

Peanut pointed out that along with the way women are catching up to men in pay and the way men are becoming parodies in popular culture ("the eternal adolescent"), it's possible that at some point in the future, the perceived helplessness of women in regards to finances may reverse. It's possible, and I'd say overdue, but I think it'll take a long time for that to happen.

My favorite chapter was about marriage and how men and women choose to divide up financial responsibilities. Peanut and I fall into the category of sharing everything together - we share all accounts and even all passwords - if one of us were to be incapacitated for any reason, the other is fully capable of taking charge of our finances. I tend to pay the bills and update the spreadsheet a little more than him, because I have this blog to update :), but the spreadsheet lives on Peanut's computer and he writes the rent check, so we're both involved at all times. I realize this is unusual, but I can't imagine it working any other way for us.

The last chapter really drove home some of the things that I didn't realize were true for American women. I knew that my job requires me to be here for one year before I'm eligible for maternity leave; I didn't realize that's the bare minimum of what the law requires - and that the law allows for that leave but it only protects your job and isn't paid leave. I thought we were way more enlightened that that!

In terms of the proposed policy changes, my only question is "Where does the money come from?" Our government's budget is already dangerously overdrawn, and I don't believe it's the government's responsibility to help us financially support our families. Instead, I think it's the government's responsibility to help create an environment where we are able to support our families independently. Mandating paid leave time instead of just protecting parents' jobs would be a great step in the right direction, and could be handled the same way unemployment benefits are currently handled, as an expense to the company. In addition, requiring benefits to be offered to employees working twenty hours per week or more, instead of full time, would enable many people to create flexible work arrangements that would benefit both corporations and families.

As a side note, it occurred to me this week while listening to NPR that we are headed right down the road for socialized medicine, and it is entirely likely that my kids will have an entirely different medical treatment experience than I have had. I hope it's better, but with medical costs skyrocketing, I fear that will not be the case.

Overall, the book leaves me with a grim understanding of the future of my family. First, while this information may not be enough to change my mind on positions like staying home with a baby*, it has armed me with the ammunition to try to deflect some of the dangers that face many women. For example, maintaining a retirement account for a non-working parent,

Second, I am just so, so thankful for Peanut, whose attitudes on money are so similar to mine we might as well be the same person. Because of our joint involvement with our finances and our shared goals for life, parenting, and retirement, I am not as afraid of the future as I would be were I single or, worse, still with any of my exes.

* Right now, our plan is for me to continue working after having children, up until the point where daycare costs exceed the lowest salary in our household, which will probably be mine. At that time, one of us (probably me) would stay home for a few years. We'll see how close we stick to that when a baby is an actual, rather than theoretical, reality.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spend Money to Save Money

Normally, I am very much NOT a proponent of spending money to save money. Sometimes, however, it works, and I'm relieved to find that it worked for me this morning.

You may remember the great dental insurance debacle of 2010, wherein I realized that my dental insurance was so poor that it wasn't worth spending money on, so we decided to cut it entirely. I was nervous that the dental discount plan offered by my dentist wouldn't actually be worth it, but yay - I saved $200 this morning!

Back when I originally was told the cost of the work, it was $1,480. My old dental insurance would only cover $1,000 of that - and then nothing else for the rest of the year, so we'd be out the $2,200 in annual premiums plus $480 just for that service. I suspected that with their dental discount plan and no insurance, we'd at least come in under $2,000 and I was right. This morning I signed up for the discount plan, which costs $85 per year, and then I called to get a new quote on the service so I can bring payment with me. My total is now $1152. Even including the cost of the discount plan, the total is $243 than what I would have been billed if I still had insurance.

Dental discounts for the win!

Now, we'll see how happy I am having to pay out of pocket for cleanings - but it's still going to come in way cheaper than paying premiums for crappy insurance.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Linkfest

I have a someday list! I call mine "I'M BORED" but it serves the same function - it's a list of things I want to accomplish someday, that I can work on in small steps whenever I find unexpected time on my hands.

A great video on our "culture of consumerism".

I've never heard of attempting to reach high-deductible health insurance nirvana. That looks like a great idea! I don't think it will work for our health insurance because Peanut's employer doesn't contribute to the accompanying health savings account - they just pay the full premium for the insurance. Still, something to look into!

Another reason I don't use Amazon: their new price comparison app designed to turn independent storefronts into Amazon's own showrooms. Katy at the Non-Consumer Advocate gives them a boo-hiss award - entirely deserved!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Linkfest

This reader's story at Get Rich Slowly really tugged at my heartstrings. I unexpectedly lost a friend in childbirth over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I worry about her husband and how he's handling the practical aspects of her death, as well as coming to terms with his grief and suddenly being a single parent to twins. In her memory, I have started creating an In Case of Emergency file so that, should something horrible happen to me or Peanut, our families will at least have access to information about how to deal with the day-to-day things.

A year-end financial self-audit is a really good idea - and here's a great breakdown for how to do it step-by-step.

Interesting barstool analogy of how taxes work. I think the bigger problem we have is that the tax system is inherently broken, particularly with regard to the way corporations are treated.

Um, this is kind of scary - most honey on grocery store shelves isn't really honey.

Get Rich Slowly has the best books about money! This is a great list.

Buy your groceries and other things "European style" - as you need them, instead of the American habit of buying in bulk. Things I'll continue to buy in bulk: frozen chicken, nuts, canned soups, toilet paper. Things I prefer to buy as I need them: toiletries (no CVS game here!), perishable food, alcohol.

Another reminder about the importance of secure passwords. Changing all my passwords to unique generated keys (that even I won't know) is one of the things on my Mondays-off to do list. When was the last time you changed your passwords?

I caught this interesting discussion during the week - today's women burning out at age 30. So much for having it all! But when you consider that most US workers don't take all their allotted time off, how can you blame us for burning out? I'm a big proponent of a more realistic work-life balance and extended vacation time, but it's a hard sell in a country where most people don't get around to using the time they already get.

If you click on only one link from today's Linkfest, make it this one: the Wall Street Journal investigated the top 101 iPhone apps to determine what kind of information the apps accessed and shared, and with which third parties. Important and scary reading! And a great interactive presentation of the information to boot.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

November Spending Review

Business expenses (reimbursable) $35.64
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $826.46
Clothing $144.19
Entertainment $534.16
Food—dining out $303.44
Food—groceries $251.60
Gifts $66.96
Household $20.32
House $2,450
Hygiene/Medical $4.40
Laundry $40
Rent $830
Student loans $403.83
Travel $781.80
Utilities $206.07

Total Spending: $6,992.76

Things of note: 
The car fund is only so hideously high because we paid the next year's car insurance premium up front, plus filled up twice and got a car wash, and for all the winter preparation stuff. Ouch! But we got a good discount for paying the insurance up front, and will actually get a small refund after we move - our new address has a cheaper premium than our current address.

Clothing includes my winter boots and gloves, and some odds and ends.

Entertainment is so high because I ordered a bunch of tickets for a group of friends to go see a Broadway show. I'll get paid back the night of the play.

We did pretty good on food spending, considering the holiday! I've been so consistent in taking lunch to work with me that I can't remember the last time I ate out. Very proud of that.

The House fund shows our first significant payments for the closing process - the earnest money and appraisal fee. I'm considering this as the amount of money we would have moved from checking into savings for the house this month - so although I didn't actually make a $2,000 transfer, I'm calling that goal reached!

I'm hoping that $40 quarter exchange is the last time we'll buy quarters for laundry machines. In less than two months, I will have my OWN washer and dryer. The mere thought leaves me speechless.

November Recap/December Goals

November Goals
1. Sell two costumes. I have the costumes set aside but I did not get around to actually offering them.

2. Get more critical. This was really hard to measure! And probably something I can still work on.

3. Complete my car winter preparedness checklist. Mostly done. I just need a flashlight - I bought one, but then reconsidered so I need to return it and get something else.

4. Do a work-at-home day. Success. I had three business days off (plus the holiday) in November, and I used them to get a lot of things done regarding the house and other things that work better when taken care of during business days. I have two days more to take advantage of.

5. Book all holiday travel. Success!

December Goals
1. Sell costumes. This means: take pictures of me wearing the costumes, send an email and Facebook message to my old company. If no one bites, post to ebay.

2. Finish "In Case of" file, research wills and medical directives, and make any arrangements to finalize them. Tragedy struck close to home last weekend with the very unexpected death of a friend, and getting this finished is now a major priority in my life. At my request, Peanut has signed up for life and disability insurance (his company doesn't offer group plans) and has had the exam that goes along with it. If anything terrible happens, we are better off than we would have been two weeks ago. I do this to honor my friend's memory.

3. Stand on my head every day. This was one of my New Year's Resolutions, and it's the one I've struggled with ignored the most. I've been doing it for a few minutes every day this week, and I can already tell a huge difference! I still need to kick up against the wall, but I am getting the hang of the balance aspect, and I'm coming out of it more gracefully, so I think more practice will help me do it like this:

(Just the first part - I'm nowhere near scorpion yet!)

4. Stay under budget for Christmas, including gifts and travel. I haven't actually set a budget yet, but I want to get a number in mind and stay under that amount. One side of my family has limited gifts to $3/person, which will help for sure.

5. Start packing - to move into our HOUSE!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Best Financial Advice Learned from Movies


This is a guest post. George Gallagher is a writer and blogger.  In his past time he helps graduates find not-for-profit student loan consolidation options.

Sitting down to watch a good movie can prove to be entertaining – but in some cases, certain films can be fairly eye-opening in terms of a good education on money as well. Over the past few years, several big screen events have made movie-goers walk out thinking about finances in different way.

Greed Is Good?

Few movie-goers from the 1980’s aren’t familiar with Gordon Gecko’s famous line, “Greed is good.” Although entertaining, this story line focuses on corporate raiders of several decades ago and on how they profited tremendously at the expense of the rank-and-file employees of their investment targets. It also ends by showing that greed isn’t really all that good after all.

It Pays to Stay Healthy

Michael Moore is the guy that many people love to hate. However, in his film “Sicko” it becomes easy to see that those who think they are doing the right thing in purchasing health insurance can still find themselves in a financial quandary.

“Sicko” exposes just how expensive it can be for those who acquire serious illness or injury, and although it doesn’t really present a solution – other than moving to a country where healthcare is free – it can make watchers think differently about how they coordinate their health and well being in terms of their financial decisions and saving for emergencies.

Taking Advantage of Great Offers

Most of us have received tons of junk mail over the years sent to us by our friends at the credit card companies. After watching “Maxed Out,” however, you won’t be able to get to the trash can fast enough to pitch these “great offers” as soon as you possibly can.

This film examines just exactly how debt – by individuals as well as entire governments – can quickly spiral out of control. If nothing else, this movie could save you thousands of dollars and a great deal of heartache as it relates to borrowing too much money.

Even Smart Savers Can Be Dumbfounded

After watching “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” viewers can get a better idea of how to invest – as well as how not to invest – their hard earned funds. This movie examines the massive fraud that was perpetrated by the top executives at Enron. Both employees and investors alike lost loads of money after being led to believe that the company – and its financials – were doing fine based on its inflated stock price.

Unfortunately, the only ones who made a profit here were a small group of top brass at the company. This was undertaken, though, primarily at the expense of Enron employees as well as investors in the company – many of which lost their entire retirement savings. Lesson here – don’t put all your investable assets in one basket because the basket could break.

A Primer on Financial Affairs

For those who are new to financial concepts, one of the best educational films that can help get you up to speed is “The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World.” This movie offers a great overview with regard to the current financial situation in the United States today as well as at how the country got into this predicament in the first place. This one could require extra popcorn, though, as its running time is at the six hour mark.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Linkfest

A Practical Wedding is the only "wedding" blog I still read after being married for more than a year. That's because it has transitioned into something far more important than a simple wedding day blog - it's important as a forum for discussing what it means to be married in today's world, as a woman, as a wife, as an adult. This article from last week has been read and "kept unread" in my Google Reader pretty much every day since it was first posted - an excellent example of the power of setting goals and what that does for your life. While I am nowhere near as, well, practical about actually writing down where I'd like to see my life go in terms of larger life goals and milestones, this blog sort of serves that purpose with the monthly goal setting and general themes of where I'd like to see my life head. Peanut and I had some goals in mind when we got married, he quit his job, and we moved across the country to set ourselves up in the lifestyle we wanted to be in before having children. If we hadn't thought ahead, we might still be living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment working 70-hour weeks.

Still - now we're here, closing on a house and thriving in new jobs. What's next? It might be time for us to start thinking of that, or of thinking both broader and deeper.

What amount of money will you haggle over? My comment on that post details the great deal I got last week - I saved $30 by waiting 10 minutes for a manager to determine that she couldn't match the online deal but could order the shoes for me and have them delivered to my door. They arrived just three days later, and that was worth it to me.

This is a great round-up of what to do during open enrollment. My open enrollment period started six weeks late this year, because my employer was negotiating pricing on our health insurance premiums. Even after such a delay, they are increasing by 12% - so I'm really glad we're switching over to Peanut's high deductible plan, for which his employer covers premiums 100%. Still, there are other things we'll be taking a closer look at:
  • Retirement contributions. Because we switched jobs, we haven't been able to contribute. We're now out of the trial period and are both able to start taking advantage of employer matches. (We already each maxed out a Roth for the year).
  • Heath savings account. We'll take advantage of this to cover the high deductible insurance plan, and to cover dental work for which we are no longer insured.
  • Reviewing life and disability insurance. I recently read Insurance for Dummies, and was ASTOUNDED when I realized how terribly underinsured we are.

I plan to meet with an insurance agent during our open enrollment period to review homeowner's insurance as well as do an audit of our existing car insurance and employer-offered life, health and disability options. I can manage on my own, but it'd be nice to have a professional check-in for once.

The must-read list of personal finance books. 

Krystal talks about the cost of hobbies over at GMBMFB. Last year my hobbies were pricey! But then we moved, and I no longer have dance classes, costumes, makeup, or accessories to buy. 

My family has put a $3 limit on gifts for each other this Christmas. That means getting creative, so things like this homemade sugar scrub sound just right!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weekly Money Check-Up

Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on plane tickets for our trip to visit my family at Christmas. Just over $300 each, which is more than I wanted but less than it could be!
2. Today I am thankful for a day off! I took today and every Monday for the rest of the year off to use up my vacation time and deal with some things that need to be dealt with during business hours. Today was super-productive, and I'm feeling good.
3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was attend a conference for work. Okay, it's not like I really had a choice in the matter, but all my expenses were covered and it will help me be better at my job.
4. I will consider this week a success if I make a decision about home owner's insurance and sign up for a policy.
5. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving! Five days off in a row - what a luxury!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Update on the house-buying process

Man, when things rain around here, they really pour.

So, 18 days ago we got pre-approved for a mortgage. Eight days ago we found a fantastic house. Seven days ago our offer was accepted and we put down earnest money. Five days ago we passed inspection with flying colors. Three days ago we discovered our scheme of delaying closing per the sellers' wishes wasn't going to pass muster so we agreed to a rent-back option (yes, making us defacto landlords on the first house we own). Yesterday we got revised numbers from our mortgage broker and were asked to decide whether to finance the mortgage insurance, pre-pay, or pay it monthly. Today we locked in our interest rate and have written the check for the appraisal fee. This week, I guess, we get the results of the appraisal and do some more paperwork, and start shopping for homeowners insurance so we can finalize the rent-back agreement. Then, I think we just sit on our laurels until closing, which will happen right after the holidays.

Oh, except for all the time I'll spend on virtual makeover sites seeing what the rooms look like in different colors.

The process is still going very smoothly and fairly quickly, but it's in the middle of a whirlwind of other things, including a weekend-long sales conference for me that's left me hardly able to type in complete sentences.

This whole homebuying experience has taught me that I really know nothing. Earlier this year, I said a 20% downpayment was a necessity for Peanut and I to buy a house, because I was really morally opposed to paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI. I really had no idea what PMI was, exactly, except that it was something only suckers -unqualified buyers- got dinged with and something to be avoided at all cost, probably about a 20% fee on your annual payment. Turns out, it's a charge on the sales value of the home that enables you to go in with less of a downpayment, and the cost of it varies by the amount of your downpayment - in our case, less than half of one percent (not the violently evil charge I was expecting!). Trent's article at The Simple Dollar explains it well.

Yes, Peanut and I could have waited until we had 20% to buy a house, which would have taken us another year or so to save up. In the meantime, we would be putting the rest of our life plans on hold, and possibly paying a higher interest rate a year from now - meaning we wouldn't be much further ahead anyway (and that increase would be over the life of the loan, not until we'd eared another 10% equity). As it is, we are putting down 10%, which is apparently a very good number since the housing crash a few years ago. We'll still have a healthy emergency fund in the bank, and our monthly costs will be less than our rent in New York, for THREE TIMES as much living space. It'll still make more sense to pay back our student loans on an accelerated schedule before attacking the mortgage to get rid of the PMI - 6.8% and 5% are way more evil than 0.49%. (Trent explains this philosophy here.) We'll be able to handle the mortgage payment on either of our salaries alone, which was a big requirement. And with two incomes, we'll have enough money to sock away a healthy chunk each month for quicker student loan payments, an eventual second car, new furniture, and so on.

Just goes to show that what you think you know about finances, when you haven't actually had to make these decisions or looked at the numbers close up, isn't necessarily an accurate portrayal of reality.

So. I'm Little Miss Moneybags. I'm a personal finance blogger, and I will be paying PMI. I also put all my monthly expenses on a credit card, took out loans for graduate school, closed my oldest credit card, merged all my accounts with my spouse, and only contribute to a 401(k) up to the company match. Sometimes, I buy shoes just because I like them - even if they're not on sale. If those things bother you, oh, well. That's why it's called personal finance. :)

What was a financial term or decision you thought you understood, but when you faced it personally, you felt differently?


Friday, November 11, 2011

Linkfest

Interesting discussion of city mouse vs. country mouse over at Get Rich Slowly (the comments are great). I'm definitely a city mouse, although I grew up a country mouse and it wouldn't surprise me if I retire to be a country mouse. Andrea at So Over Debt covered living in a small town last week as well.

Trent has a saving pennies or dollars post today (love that series!) about saving money by driving under the speed limit - and it saves dollars!

Spend your money where you spend your time - so true! Peanut and I have discussed getting some nice computer desks and chairs for our house - we really spend more time there than anywhere else, so we should make sure we're comfortable! Likewise, spend your time AND money where you reap the most rewards - should be a no-brainer but sometimes I need that reminder to let things go.

Money Saving Mom is doing 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. I'm using my Mondays off for the rest of the year to accomplish a similar goal.

7 Ways to Simplify Your Life from Pick the Brain: I especially like the note about noticing when a task moves from list to list and figuring out if it's really worth doing based on that.

GREAT points on this post about managing vs. micromanaging your money.  I frequently fall into the "micromanaging" category, which takes up more time - and as we all know, time is money.

I read this article about improving home security with great interest. I think a house is much more likely to be broken into than an apartment, so there are some things for me to think about in there.

JD at Get Rich Slowly asks the readers how much money you need before you have kids. Great question - I think you're never truly prepared, but if you know it's something you want in the future, you have to take steps (including saving) to make it easier on your future self.

I want more winter clothes! So this post on how to update your winter wardrobe on the cheap was very well timed. I do need some warmer things, living in such a colder climate, but I don't need to get them new/full price.

I'm thinking of suggesting a Yankee Swap for Christmas with my family. I managed to cancel Christmas last year, because we weren't traveling and I didn't want anyone to ship us anything. This year, all my siblings and our SOs will be together under my parents' roof, so I don't think the idea of canceling all together will fly. But we could draw names and shop that way - fewer gifts to buy, less time spent shopping, more time together. Has anyone else switched to a Yankee Swap for Christmas? How did it go?

If you've read any great posts this week that you'd like to share, please leave them in the comments!



Sunday, November 6, 2011

I've had more stress over which grocery store to go to

So Peanut and I bought a house this morning.

I don't think I've even had time to do a post about the mortgage preapproval process, which we completed a week and a half ago. Yesterday we went out house-hunting for the first time, and came across a house that was within our budget, in our desired neighborhood, had all the big things on the list and some we didn't anticipate, and is super cute to boot. Realizing that there were absolutely no drawbacks to it, we put in an offer last night, and lo and behold, it was accepted this morning!

We'll have the inspection and appraisal this week, but we expect everything to go very well. The house is in really great shape (new roof, new siding, new trim, nice carpet or hardwood throughout, updated appliances, lovely landscaping) so it'll likely pass both with no problems. We've scheduled closing for just after the new year - the sellers need to find a house, and we weren't expecting to find anything until January or February, so we're in no hurry to move. The longer we wait, the more money we can sock away for moving expenses, furniture, etc. Also, the sellers agreed to lock in our mortgage rate, so if rates go up between now and closing, they'll pay for it - a great bargain for us!

This whole thing was the least stressful thing I have ever had to deal with in my entire life - finding our current apartment was more stressful than this. Planning my wedding was way more stressful.  Going to the grocery store is frequently more stressful than finding and buying this house!

Of course, the deal could still fall through for any number of reasons - which is fine, actually. We looked at enough houses to get a good sense of what we want and what we don't, and we know we didn't see everything out there. If we have to start looking again, no problem.

On the other hand, we won't wonder "what if" for the rest of our lives if we do get it - we definitely saw enough houses to get a feel for things, and I can't think of anything I'd change about this one. We're in the best negotiating position we could be in, although since they took our first offer, there isn't much to negotiate on.

I'll post update as they come in - in the meantime, I've got to go return all the "Home Buying for Dummies" books I checked out of the library last week!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Linkfest

Life insurance is one of the things I'll be investigating during my day off in the next few weeks - here's a great rundown of why term life insurance is great.

I love Beks' plan for Black Friday, as inspired by Cosmo. I'm right there with you!

Is it possible to live for for free? Coupon Mountain tackles the question and determines which items you never have to pay for again.

When is rental car insurance worth it? I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tomorrow Peanut and I are spending the day house-hunting. Fun times!

What are you doing this weekend?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: The Nametag Principle

I recently got the chance to review the book The Nametag Principle, by Scott Ginsberg - a guy who's been wearing a nametag for the last 10+ years. In the vein of Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, and Ramit Sethi, Scott has boiled some truths about marketing and branding down to their very essence, and compiled them into a book of daily thoughts about how to connect with people in a real, authentic way.

Some of my favorites are as follows:

January 20: Be not humiliated by having others see you truly.
"My clients hire me because I'm a person - not a personality."

February 2: Bother to do things.
"To come. To call. To stay. To ask. To reply. To say hi. To clean up. To give it some thought. To include people. To learn their names."

February 9: Calm comes from experience.
"There's nothing more calming than communicating your mutual humanity."

February 20: Come out swinging and you'll be perceived as a threat.
SO TRUE! This is one I've had to learn repeatedly in my own life - my instinct at having been "wronged" means I go firing off to a company or colleague or loved one, only to find that there's just been a mistake or miscommunication. Oops.

Note: I did read through the entire book! It just so happens that most of the anecdotes that really stood out to me were at the beginning. Part of this reason is that much of the book is repetitive, sharing the same idea in a different way. This is to be expected - even desired! - in a title that's intended to be read in short bursts, every morning or evening or whatever. (Unlike the way I read it, in two sittings.) That repetition helps to drive home the point, and many of these points are really good. I work in marketing and I've done a lot of these types of branding brainstorming sessions, webinars, and workshops. Much of it is nearly impossible to put into practice, because it ignores what Scott drives home again and again: it's about people.

The only downside about this book is some language - it does come off as authentic (if a bit immature), but it's unnecessary. It distracts me from the message, and would make me think twice about sharing the book with some people who I think could use it but who I know would be offended. I don't consider myself a prude, but I also don't like the use of profanity, vulgarity, and slang in books for professional growth. Otherwise, I thought it was a neat little book full of useful ideas presented in an interesting way.

If you like books about using marketing/branding as a tool for connecting with people or using your brand to connect with your customers, this is a good book for getting ideas percolating.


Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy to read. I was not compensated in any other way for this post, and my opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Weekend projects! Done-ish. I did finish our Halloween costumes, and they turned out great, but I didn't really go to the rest of the list - in fact, I effectively extended it by starting to search for a house!

2. Try some new crockpot recipes. Done! Unfortunately, we didn't really like most of them, but I did try them.

3. Save another $2,000 to the house fund. Done!

4. Up our student loan repayments to $500. Done and then some, thanks to Direct Loans screwing up my payments.

5. Change the oil in our car. Success - I took it to the mechanic, which turned into an ordeal, but it ended up only costing $25 and introduced me to public transit here.

6. Speaking of chilly, here's a bonus goal: buy winter boots. Fail - it didn't get cold enough or rainy/snowy enough to need boots so I put it off. Snow is forecast for tomorrow, however, so I'll be getting some this weekend!

November Goals
1. Sell two costumes. I may never get back to dancing, at least not in the sense of joining a company and performing regularly. There are some costumes that I will never wear again because they are so specific to my old company, so I'm going to get rid of them. I'll start by offering them to new members of the old company, and then stick 'em on ebay if no one's interested.

2. Get more critical. That seems like a weird goal, right? I've noticed over the last few months that I feel like I'm getting stupider. I blame it on reading blogs and short form news stories, skipping over things that bother or challenge me, reading unedited books for work. Really ever since finishing grad school, I haven't tried to do much of anything that's very mentally taxing. I'd like to continue to hone those skills, and that means being more critical. To achieve this goal, I'll be seeking out more difficult reading (fiction AND nonfiction), attempting to think critically about what I read or see (instead of "Oh, I liked it"), and trying to cut down on entertaining media in favor of educational media. I'll also be attempting to be more thoughtful and critical in my own writing.

3. Complete my car winter preparedness checklist. Pretty self-explanatory!

4. Do a work-at-home day. As I mentioned last week, I've got some stuff to take care of that I just can't get to during evenings and weekends. I've picked my day and am starting a list of everything that needs to get done! If you've got any suggestions, leave 'em in the comments.


5. Book all holiday travel. I should have done this in September or October, but I just didn't get to it. I'm sure prices are outrageous already, but we're still figuring out when we can be off work and when we need to be back and - it just needs to get done.


What are your goals for this month?


October Spending Review

Business expenses (reimbursable) $3,583
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $143.27
Clothing $33.93
Electronics $51.48
Entertainment $55.72
Food—dining out $318.14
Food—groceries $326.17
Gifts $102
Household $52.15
House $25
Hygiene/Medical $407.66
Mystery Shopping $59.80
Rent $830
Sewing/Quilting $133.46
Student loans $629.03 ($225.20 more than normal)
Transportation $10
Travel $99.57
Utilities $207.59
Yoga $40
Total Spending: $2,899.83
 
Things of note: 
New categories: sewing/quilting and house! The house fund includes expenses related to the house search and eventual purchase; this month was a credit check fee that will eventually be applied as a credit at closing. The sewing/quilting category is for my newly rediscovered hobby and our Halloween costumes. Many of those expenses were one time things that I'll use repeatedly (self-healing mat, rotary cutter, patterns) and some were just for the costumes (fabric, thread, trim). I don't expect it to be very high in general.




Take a look at all those reimbursable business expenses - can anyone say POINTS with me?! I get reimbursed very quickly, too (if I file quickly, that is) and so far I've been reimbursed before the bill comes, so I'm liking this arrangement quite a bit.

I also brought in $76.75 in mystery shopping income, and our retirement accounts had an EXCELLENT month - almost $5,000 in gains! We are within $500 of our highest net worth ever right now, and that's after moving across the country and buying a car, so I am quite pleased. We also had the third cheapest month this year in terms of cash outflow, and I'm proud of that. It seems like the effects of the move are officially wearing off, and while I'm not sure we can keep it up through the holidays, we really seem to be back on track. I made my house savings goal for the month, too!

How'd your month go?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekly Money Checkup


Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies.

1. The most I've spent this last week was on credit card payments. We pay them off in full every month, and I'm now putting work expenses on there for the points (and getting reimbursed in time to pay the bill!) so it's a pretty big transaction to authorize! We also transferred more money into the house fund, which made me happy.

2. Today I am thankful that I moved out of New York in time to avoid Halloween Octsnowber. :)

3. Money can't buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was rearrange our living room. Peanut fixed my computer (which wasn't free) and we moved it out to sit next to his instead of being in a different room. I feel much better about the arrangement (we spend a lot of time on our computers), even if it's not the prettiest.

4. I will consider this week a success if I finish a presentation for work - I've been trying for weeks to get it done, and it's due next week, but I haven't been able to get the information I need. I made kind of a stink about it to the people who are delaying me this morning, and I'm finally getting some responses. Hopefully I'll get everything I need, and soon.

5. This year for Halloween, Peanut and I dressed up as Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup from The Princess Bride. I've been working on these costumes all month long, and I'm really pleased with how they turned out. They weren't as expensive as buying costumes, but given all the time I put into them, we will wear them for several years just to make it worth it! :) We wore them to a party on Saturday night and will wear them again tonight to pass out candy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dental Insurance Search - and so much more

Pearly Whites Dental Clinic
Whether or not I have insurance, I've got a date with this chair.

As you may know, I've been on the hunt for private dental insurance. Because of the way our employers offer plans, this turned into an audit of our health insurance, too. To recap, Peanut and I are lucky to have access to two health insurance plans - one is a high deductible medical-only plan with premiums covered in full by Peanut's employer, and the other is a more traditional medical + dental plan with premiums shared by us and my employer - our share is about $2,300 per year at 2011's prices.

The medical part of my plan is okay, but the dental part has an annual cap of $1,000, which I used for 2011 in a single day, and I've got an appointment January 2 that will use up the cap for 2012 in a day as well. So we decided to do some looking around for private dental insurance. Several of you asked me to document the process, so here goes!

I started by googling for "individual dental insurance" and "private dental insurance". It's totally overwhelming. A lot of what I saw looked either scammy (cheap, crappy basic websites) or too good to be true. I also found a number of sites that appeared to be for insurance but a closer look showed that it was NOT insurance - there's something called a dental discount plan, which I'll get to in a little bit.

Then I started looking up insurance companies that I already know (Aetna, Delta, UHC, BCBS) to see if they offer individual plans that don't have to be attached to a medical plan. Turns out that most of them do, but not in my state.

So then I started googling state name + dental insurance, and found a few companies that do offer actual individual dental insurance in my state, but they have a waiting period that would disqualify the appointment I have in January.

During this time, I did not enter any personal information into any of these sites. If I could get away with just giving an age and zip code or something, I entered it, but I didn't put a phone number, name, or email address in any of these sites, ESPECIALLY the scammy looking ones.

The next step was to start googling some more basic things. I find Ask Metafilter to be a great resource for helping me answer these types of questions that college didn't quite prepare me for, and it didn't disappoint: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 questions full of relevant answers. I also found this article about the difference between dental insurance and a dental discount plan - basically, dental insurance works the way health insurance does, with copays and deductibles. Dental discount plans SEEM like insurance, and it behooves the companies to present them that way. But really, they just provide discounted prices for you to pay out of pocket, sort of like what insurance companies are able to do for themselves. Dental discount programs typically have some sort of monthly or annual fee, and sometimes there is a waiting period before they go into effect.

With this knowledge, I created a full list of all the different insurance companies and dental discount plans that were available to me. Most of the options were not great - the fees were certainly lower than ~$200/month for the combined dental and medical we'd pay through my company, but most of the caps were about the same ($1,000/year), plus all the options had a waiting period that would have affected the dental work I need done in January. Then I started thinking narrower. I like the dentist I'm seeing now; why research a ton of options just to find something that he doesn't take? So I called the billing office and laid out the situation.

That sure made it easy. My dentist's office takes most of the insurance I uncovered, but they accept only one dental discount plan, which they are affiliated with. The annual fee was lower than all the other discount plans I found, and there's no waiting period. It offers 25% off all preventive and restorative services including cleaning and x-rays.

So that was a pretty easy solution - just go with that. I have one more phone call to make to verify that everything is as it seems, but I expect that to be the case. So I'll be canceling our medical + dental insurance and signing up for this dental discount plan to go into effect January 1.

This means we'll go with Peanut's employer's health insurance, which is free to us on a monthly basis but has a $3,200 deductible before kicking in. Once we've paid that much, they cover in-network 100% and out of network 80%. We also get access to a health savings account, which allows you to keep any funds not used in the year for future medical expenses (as opposed to a flex spending account, where you lose those funds at year's end).

The high deductible plan makes sense for us - our medical bills are usually quite low (so, lower than the $2,300 we'd pay for my plan) although if we got pregnant next year, they'd suddenly be much larger than ever before (large enough to make the $3,200 deductible kick in, and then insurance would cover everything after that - again cheaper than $2,300 in premiums plus our share of whatever my employer's insurance wouldn't cover). Money Beagle talks about high deductible plans this week, too. Of course, all of these plans make sense according to the 2011 details, which may or may not change significantly for 2012 - I expect that paperwork any day and will be verifying all of it before signing anything.

The solution for us definitely wouldn't make sense if we were eligible for a dental plan that wasn't tied to medical (through employers, those are usually very low-cost), and a high deductible medical plan doesn't make sense for anyone who doesn't immediately have the deductible on hand and who isn't at the sweet spot for either low expenses or high expenses in a year.

To sum up, if you are researching private dental insurance, I'd recommend starting with your dentist - this would have saved me a ton of time! Find out what insurance your dentist takes and find out if any of them offers private policies. Ask about dental discount plans - some of my research indicated that you could use both - ie, insurance for all covered expenses and a discount plan for anything out of pocket (though you'd have to make sure you are saving enough to justify the annual fee for the discount plan).

I hope that helps! Any questions?

Photo via dbgg1979