Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Have I mentioned on here that I gave up caffeine a few weeks ago? I did, and I've now become one of those annoying evangelists to get other people to do it, too.

I've always been an insomniac of sorts - I'm a very light sleeper and have always had a problem both falling asleep and staying that way. I've never ingested a huge amount of caffeine on a regular basis - maybe a cup of coffee per day. A few weeks ago after three weeks of work wherein I drank double the amount of caffeine I usually do, I wound up with a caffeine withdrawal migraine and spent a Saturday in bed, and decided that I was not going to be beholden to a beverage to be functional. So I gave it up cold turkey. The first couple days were unpleasant, but ever since then it's been amazing! I sleep SO much better and have virtually no problem staying asleep unless I'm actually woken up by something like thunder or the garbage collection or whatever. I don't have a problem waking up in the morning, and I don't get that afternoon crash.

However. This weekend being so busy, I had some caffeine and I really didn't like the way I reacted. Saturday night I felt like I was skimming the surface of sleep instead of actually getting there. (Could have been the alcohol, too, but my last drink of the night was rum and coke, so there was caffeine in that.) Then Sunday I got a coffee to try and wake up for the Ren Fest.That worked out okay, because it was so early in the morning that it was out of my system by the evening.

But what it really reminded me was that I like coffee. I miss drinking it in the morning, but I'm not willing to give up the amazing clearheaded feeling I've got without it. Decaf could be an option, but the pot is always full of regular. I could drink tea, or one of those substitutes like Teeccino or something like that.

Do you drink something other than coffee or caffeinated tea in the mornings? What would you recommend?

Monday, August 29, 2011

My wallet is crying!

This weekend was an expensive one!

First, I went to the Minnesota State Fair on Friday. I had never been before, and it's, like, kind of a big deal here. I went with a friend since big crowds of  people eating expensive fried food is (generally) not Peanut's idea of a good time (see exception below!). My friend and I spent about nine hours there, people-watching and animal-watching (we saw a baby chick hatch!), eating fried foods and drinking root beer floats and apple cider and wandering around looking at things. It wasn't an inexpensive afternoon, but I did a couple things to make it a little better. We planned ahead for this trip, and picked up the only discount tickets I was able to find, which are only available before the fair starts. We took public transportation there and back to avoid parking costs (it was still cheaper for us to ride the bus both ways than for us to park one car there, yay!). I ate lunch before I went and was circumspect with what I bought foodwise, making sure I really wanted to EAT something, not just TASTE it. I tried to avoid buying any beverages, but it was really hot and I was starting to feel sick, so I did buy one bottle of water, which I filled up at drinking fountains after that. Still, I spent $30 on food and rides in one afternoon, plus $9 for the ticket.

On Saturday, I went to a bachelorette party for one of Peanut's friends. It was so nice of them to invite me, but I was also kind of nervous because I didn't really know anyone very well, and I didn't know most of the other women at all. I'm also not a big drinker and didn't want to have to run around with penis straws or other paraphernalia and act like an idiot. Luckily, it wasn't that bad - the bridal party had rented a party bus, so we BYOB'd most of the drinks and drove around to different places to go dancing (and they'd picked places with no cover, which was even better!). The whole evening cost me my share of one party bus, one drink at one of the venues, and one gift. And I had a lot of fun!

Then on Sunday, Peanut and I and some friends went to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. (This is the exception to Peanut's crowds-and-expensive-food rule.) We LOVE the Ren Fest and go every year. This year was middlingly expensive. We had coupons (one for $5, one for $3 off) and ate before we left. We didn't buy a ton of food, and I brought an empty water bottle with me to fill up but unfortunately couldn't find any potable water to fill it with, so I had to buy a bottle there. I could have had free beer if I'd gone to the beer tasting, but I decided to go to a knife-throwing show instead - I had enough alcohol on Saturday to last me a few weeks. We tipped the performers we liked but avoided buying any souvenirs or anything else. I did that my first two times at the Ren Fest, and now I've got some weird jewelry I can't wear with my normal clothes and that kind of gives me away as a Giant Nerd. I went in a costume put together from pieces of clothing I've actually worn in my real life, and we got rained on, and generally had an excellent time.

Most of our weekends are full of things like laundry and grocery shopping (both of which, believe it or not, happened this weekend also!) so it was nice to have such a busy, social weekend for a change. But I'm glad that's a rarity, because I'm still tired from all the walking, and I don't even want to add up the total we spent from noon on Friday until last night.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: The Vigilant Investor

I was recently given the opportunity to read and review The Vigilant Investor by Pat Huddleston, coming out in October. From the product description:

Making sound investments is tough enough without having to worry about unscrupulous financial advisers and outright frauds. But recently strengthened laws aren’t enough to stop the “professionals” intent on profiting from—or just plain stealing—your money. 

As an Enforcement Branch Chief at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Pat Huddleston witnessed countless people lose their life savings to reckless stockbrokers and fraudulent schemes. Now an SEC-recommended Receiver and CEO of a securities and investment fraud investigation agency, Huddleston has intimate knowledge of how scam artists and bad brokers operate. In The Vigilant Investor, he explains WHY we fall for investment scams, HOW con artists play on our emotions, and WHAT we can do to protect ourselves from predators. With its unique look into the science of financial decision making, the book blows up the popular myths and simplistic “do’s and don’ts” of investing while sharing techniques anyone can use to perform due diligence even better than the “experts.”

With gripping stories of actual cases, Huddleston sheds light on the dark corners of the investment industry and teaches investors and professionals alike how to spot fraud and guard themselves against financial catastrophe.

Being taken advantage of in my investments isn't something I've been concerned about, despite AIG and Bernie Madoff and Lehman Brothers and all the other stories you read. I thought my investments were safe because we use major companies like Fidelity and Vanguard for our retirement funds. I'm probably pretty safe, given that we're currently only investing in target date funds instead of individual stocks, but I learned from this book how truly simple it is for a rogue broker to take advantage of even that situation. 

This book is written for the smart layperson - someone who has enough money to invest a little, but who is not only clueless about the prospect but embarrassed to admit that he or she is clueless. The case studies vary from the mundane (a broker starts out trying to cover up a mistake and it spirals out of control) to cases of repeat offenders (including some guys who themselves keep getting scammed and losing their marks' money!) to the truly outrageous (Bernie Madoff), and are interesting. They read like thriller stories. None of the content is dry at all, and yet I still feel like I learned a ton. 

The book starts out with an explanation why even smart people - maybe especially smart people - fall for scams, frauds, and deals that are too good to be true. As with most financial situations, it's 90% psychological - the con man flatters you to the point that you don't want to admit that you don't understand what he's talking about. The author then goes on to explain in detail the way a number of different scams work, including how the con man makes money off of you, so that you can recognize the scam for what it is and ask the pointed questions that will scare off the scammer. He then goes into the securities industry and why the existing oversight infrastructure often fails to protect investors from scammy brokers. He repeatedly encourages the vigilant investor to report scams (with instructions for how to do so) to protect future investors.

The end of each chapter details steps that the vigilant investor can take to do their due diligence on an investment opportunity or a broker. The steps are broken down in plain English and even provide scripts for passing up a high-pressure deal or cold-call. The book ends with a focus on watching out for the baby boomers who are now the most likely to be scammed out of their retirement savings as they get older. The script for talking to older parents about money was particularly good, and while it will be a couple years before I need to have those conversations with my own parents, maybe I can start having conversations with them now that won't make that such an awkward experience for both of us. 

Overall, I found this book very informative and helpful. However, most of the advice focused on catching an already rogue broker AFTER something had happened to your money, like an unauthorized trade or something like that. I wish there had been a chapter on "how to check your current investments and make sure they're in the best position possible". I'm also not entirely clear whether mutual funds like target date retirement funds are as susceptible to fraud as regular stocks, and I wish there'd been a section to clear that up (I am assuming they are not, because I feel like this book was really thorough and would otherwise have addressed that). 

Bottom line: if you're currently doing ANY investing in stocks, bonds, annuities, or anything in the stock market, this is mandatory reading. And if you're at all planning to someday have enough money to invest, this is strongly recommended reading.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Real Me

Do you ever have one of those moments where you look around and you're like, "This is not the real me!"

The real me goes to yoga every day, no excuses.

The real me lives in a house, not an apartment.

The real me never runs out of groceries.

The real me doesn't have any debt.

The real me always calls people on their birthdays, not the day after.

The real me goes to bed on time.

The real me takes an afternoon off work to go to a theme park!

I had this weird little revelation walking home from yoga today, that the real me is really there - I just need to let her out more often. This is how I quit smoking: I told myself I'm a non-smoker. Non-smokers don't smoke. Therefore, I don't smoke. So the real me is there, underneath the lazy me that wanted to stay home from yoga - but the real me went to yoga, and all the me's are happy about that tonight.

Who's your real me? How often do you let him or her out?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Win Free Textbooks from BookRenter

BookRenter, a textbook rental company, is giving away free textbooks to their facebook fans -- $100,000 worth! They've saved college students $101 million off their college textbook costs, and have given more than 75,000 books to deserving children through First Book, an organization I'm personally very fond of.

I've never used BookRenter's services, but if you need textbooks or know someone who does, this is a very cool promotion that can save you some money. The giveaway lasts until the money runs out or October 1, so hurry over to their Facebook page and click like!

I was not compensated in any way for this post, and I have no business relationship with BookRenter. But I do like textbook rentals, First Book, and especially free money for college students, so have at.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


A delicious selection of options for cheap and healthy lunches. I generally take a salad (lettuce, sliced gala apples, bleu cheese, a handful of mixed nuts with raspberry vinaigrette) but some of the options listed by chefs there sound like a nice changeup.

Trent breaks down the dollars and sense of unplugging devices like the microwave when not in use. Clearly, it's valuable in small increments and depending on your own situation. I'm going to take a look around to see what can be unplugged in my own home.

Here's another one for the "weekend project" file: an in-case-of folder, and don't forget instructions for your digital life in there!

I quit drinking caffeine after a withdrawal migraine at the beginning of the month ruined a housewarming party for me. I'd like to not develop a habit again, but I expect that I'll drink coffee occasionally. This article will help me take advantage of the power of caffeine when I decide to use it in the future.

Here's an interesting look at the common costs that are only going to rise in the future. Fuel doesn't just mean gas for your car -- airline tickets have been increasing rapidly, and are going to continue in that direction. It won't be long before it makes more sense for me to drive to visit my family than to fly. 

If Wells Fargo extends checking account fees to our state, we'll be moving to another bank. It looks like you can have the fee waived with certain circumstances, but I feel like, I'm loaning you my money in the first place by keeping it in your bank, and your interest rate is pitiful. You want to charge me fees on top of that?

Cordelia guest blogs at Brazen Careerist, where she talks about how to be an awesome employee in a less-than-awesome job. 

To get to the root of a clutter problem, declutter your fantasy self. You know - do you think you are the kind of person who is crafty, but in reality,  you'll buy a blanket before knitting one? So get rid of the yarn and needles!

Sad - 64% of Americans can't pay for a $1,000 cash emergency. That's a deductible, right there, and most people can't afford to deal with it without resorting to credit, cash advances, or selling some of their belongings to cover it.

And, most fascinating, I know now why going to the grocery store after work makes me want to cry: decision fatigue. The article is long, but really interesting. It's another example of those theories that everyone sort of knows, deep down, but now science has some testable evidence. 

I hope you're all have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Yay! I got confirmation that I have achieved the rebate for making my first 12 student loan payments on time! This amounts to a bit more than a monthly payment, so I'm very excited to have it applied to my account.

Boo. I don't know how it gets applied to my account - and I had to ask to get the review to make sure I qualified in the first place (even though every time I've logged in there's been a big 'YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE REVIEWED BY 8/14 TO MAKE SURE YOU QUALIFY FOR THE REBATE'. I had to ask for the review, and now I have to ask how it gets applied).

Yay! Peanut has maxed out his Roth IRA for the year (I did mine a few weeks ago) so we've now contributed more than 10% of our annual gross income to retirement, not including company plans.

Boo. The stock market is making me queasy. I'm trying not to watch, but every now and then a thing slips in.

Yay! I like my job and my apartment and the weather and everything else about Minneapolis. I have a very slight tan for the first time in EIGHT YEARS, because I'm spending so much time outside.

Boo. They just started construction at BOTH ENDS of my commute. Tomorrow, I find a different route.

Yay! I guessed the right number in an online contest, and I was the first person to guess that number.

Boo. Even though I guessed first, they awarded the prize to someone who guessed the same number two hours later. Other people have pointed this out to the contest organizers, but it looks like they're going to ignore it. I'm disappointed and not really sure how to handle it, but I'm not going to make a big stink about it. (I popped into the thread to thank the people who pointed out that I was first, but so far, the organizers haven't said a word about it.)

How's your Thursday going?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How do you feel about Groupon?

I don't know how I feel about it. I've subscribed and unsubscribed from their emails, and I've received one as a gift, but I don't think I've ever purchased one myself.

In May, I found out a lot about how they work from the retailer's end, and now I feel kind of guilty buying one. We'll use a bookstore as an example (because that's the type of retailer I was speaking to). Let's say that the retailer offers a Groupon for $10 worth of merchandise for $5. Not bad, right?

Except Groupon keeps half of the $5 that you the customer pay - so basically, the retailer is offering $10 of merchandise for $2.50. A 50% discount is sometimes at cost, so that's possible for a retailer to swallow, but a 75% discount now makes the promotion actually cost something for the retailer, even if it does bring in new business. What makes the cost different from advertising is that it can grow virally, costing a retailer much more than expected if an offer suddenly becomes hot - even with ppc (pay per click) advertising, you can set a daily dollar limit to avoid exceeding your budget. (Groupon may have that in place now, too, but the retailer I spoke with in May had been burned this way to the tune of $7,000 - a big problem for an independent bookstore).

And then there have been some reports that suggest that the new customers Groupon provides are just that -- Groupon's customers. They don't become loyal to the retailer since the store can't maintain a 75% discount all the time. They're almost-freebie hunters, trying anything at a discounted price but never sticking around to support a local business - the kind of customer that businesses are supposed to "fire". (Note that most Groupons require you to be a new customer - this isn't a way to reward your loyal fans, but to hopefully gain new ones. Only it doesn't seem to be working.)

With all of those factors, I now feel guilty considering any Groupon that requires the retailer or service provider to take a loss - but the deals aren't usually good enough for me to consider unless they're 50% off or more. So I skim the emails and delete them without clicking anyway. I will use up the Groupon I was given as a gift (tipping on the full cost of the service, a massage) but I think I'm going to unsubscribe. Again. I just don't think I want to support a service that requires independent retailers to take such a hit, in order for me to score a bargain.

What do you think? Do you use Groupon or a similar service? If so, are you loyal to the new businesses you discover that way?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Laundry Costs

Of course, as soon as I post that I have nothing to write about, a ton of things come up.

For example, our cost of living decreased across the board after leaving NYC, with one exception: laundry. The laundry machines in our building cost $0.25 less per load than the ones at the laundromat in NYC, but they are single loaders, whereas before we were using double loaders. The dryers here run on a fixed $1.25 per load, but in NYC I could get by at $0.75 or $1 each load (and again, the machines were bigger).

Not only that, but I have sort of forgotten that the size of the machines are different here, and stuffed them too full once or twice, requiring a second run through to get them fully dry (I already line-dry a lot of stuff; this is for towels and things).

Lastly, doing laundry here requires more planning. The laundry room is open during certain hours and has only three washers and three dryers. One of the washers unbalances frequently and will stop working, so I don't use it. Two of the dryers go for an hour, or nearly, and one goes for just 45 minutes and generally doesn't seem to work as well, so I don't use that one either. That leaves me two options for both washer and dryer, to share with the entire building, during certain hours. So far I have had to pull people's clothes out only a few times, but it's a few more times than I ever had to do in NYC (I waited 45 minutes each time, and if you don't show up for TWO HOURS after putting your clothes in the dryer, you deserve wrinkled clothes sitting on top of it. And I'm not your mama, I don't fold your underwear.) And, on top of THAT, I have to plan way ahead and get quarters for the laundry here. In NYC, our laundromat had a change machine, so I could go with whatever cash I had on hand, and they would break large bills if I needed it. Here, we end up buying quarters at the bank or grocery store, but if we run out and can't scrounge up enough....we have to wait.

So these are reasons #318, #422, and number #67 why I want a house with my own washing machine. On the upside, however, I am only traipsing down (well, and up) four flights of stairs instead of walking three blocks outside to get to the laundry, so that's a bonus. (And I guess considering that we're paying like 60% of the rent we were paying in NYC, we're pretty close to breaking even!)

I just noticed this because there are certain essential things that I just hate paying for, and laundry is one of them. Others include service fees of almost any kind and feminine hygiene products. Just one of those line items that bugs me.

What are some products/services that you hate paying for, and why?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Money For Nothing

I am so thankful that we're at the point we are. We have a fully funded emergency fund. We have two stable jobs, bringing in plenty to cover our living expenses. We have a paid-for car in great condition. We track our spending - every dollar. Our only debt is student loans, which we pay on time every month. We pay our credit cards off in full every month. We max out a Roth IRA each and contribute to 401(k)s up to the match every year. We've officially started saving for a house, and it doesn't even require that much sacrifice. If I wanted to leave work for a few years to raise children, the only downside would be that it would delay repaying our student loans at an accelerated rate for that time.

Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much to write about. It's hard to write about money when there's not much going on with it. I haven't lost motivation or interest - I just haven't really had to think about money lately. I wish time would speed up a little so we'd have enough money saved to start house-hunting already, but other than that, I've been letting other things occupy my mind and time. It's been nice, but I guess not so great for the old blog.

So instead of talking about money, I'll talk about free things - as in, the ones that are all over the freakin' place here in Minnesota:
* Irish Festival (Irish dancing! Bagpipes! Kilts! Free!)
* Greek Festival 
* Sitting on the beach at the lake and splashing in the water
* Free Thursday nights at the art museum, where I saw an exhibit curated by John Waters, and the most interesting display to me was one where they showed all the invoices and bills associated with creating the exhibit.
* Yoga in the park
* Walking in the park
* Movies in the park
* Music in the park
* Going to my in-laws house to swim in their pool
* Game nights at home or at friends' homes
* Reading books I already have
* Gaming on a platform that I already purchased and have no ongoing fee for
* Sleeping. I gave up caffeine last weekend and I have been sleeping SO WELL ever since.

Basically, all the things associated with spending money are kind of a drag in comparison with the fun I can have for free. Driving to get there, finding parking, lugging around a wallet, comparing quality or prices, waiting in line, getting home and discovering I got the wrong size or color or whatever, finding a place to put it, and eventually forgetting all about it - boring. Walking two blocks to the park holding just a book and a water bottle is SO much more fun.

Are your summer plans working out to be free, too?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Linkfest: Not many links edition

This should not be legal! The flavor of your OJ is probably fake. What else is fake too?

I'm also a big fan of becoming the expert at work.

I've been feeling like the coupon game isn't worth it, too, and I never was all that crazy about it. (I haven't gotten anything for free, for example, much less made any money on anything.)

I think I might try for a no-contract deal on my next cell phone, too.

Fun thing to watch for next week: my student loan rebate ($279) should be approved. That's a little more than a full payment I don't have to make!
I have found myself spending far too much time online lately. Between traveling, a work conference, trying to run a couple of blogs and keep on top of all the things I'm interested in, I've been sort of losing touch with real life. Here are some steps I'm taking to end that feeling:
  1. If I read a blog post in Google Reader and I can't remember the previous post by that blogger, or I find myself scrolling by even once, they get removed from the list. Likewise, Twitter.
  2. Trying to get Real Life done before Online Life. So, dishes need to be washed, living room straightened, etc. before I get on the computer. If Peanut wants to go for a walk, that's more important.
  3. Deal with emails once. Read and respond, or don't read, but don't read and then marked unread to get back to it later.
  4. Considering giving up the iPhone. I've been un-enamored of the iPhone since about a month after I got it, and I'm now out of contract. Do I really still want to keep paying for this fancy phone when I can just get one that's good for making phone calls?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Weekly Money Check-Up

( photo credit via My Pretty Pennies)

 1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on a vacuum cleaner! My mother-in-law found a good deal on them, and knew we'd been looking for one, so she called up Peanut and asked him if we wanted it. He checked with me and said YES! It's a $500 vacuum that we got for $273. We brought it home and promptly vacuumed every surface in the apartment. It's amazing!

2. Today I am thankful for Peanut. We just had a lovely, wonderful weekend and I'm so very happy to be married to him.

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy was watch the movie Tangled in a city park.

4. I will consider this week a success if I make it to two yoga classes. This might be a cheat, since I've already been to one, but that means I only have to go to one more to make it a win!

5. This time last year I was planning our wedding! How much has changed in a year - job changes, cross-country move, we now own a grown-up vacuum cleaner.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July Spending Review

Alcohol $18
Business expenses $18.89
Car (gasoline) $118.77
Clothing $133.84
Dance expense $18
Entertainment $53.68
Food—dining out $307.15
Food—groceries $255.09
Household $70.83
Gifts $8
Helicopter $75
Hygiene/Medical $2
Mystery Shopping $35.36 (mystery shop income: $25.00)
Rent $900.44
Student loans $403.83
Travel $577.82
Utilities $164.44
Total Spending: $2,757.31

Things of note:
Over our $2,000 spending limit by nearly $800. Almost $600 of that is my trip, some of which my mom said she'd pay me back for since she didn't get me a birthday present (long story). 

I also maxed out my Roth IRA for the year, so $5,000 but it's not really spending. Unless you look at what's happened to the stock market since I did that, which I've purposely not been doing. Let's talk about it again next month.

And lastly, business expenses. In my new position, I'll be incurring up to $2,000 a month on a regular basis in credit card spending. My company got me an AmEx for that purpose, but I realized after receiving it that I'll have to float the payment before the reimbursement shows up (ie, pay the AmEx out of my own checking account in order to not get late fees - which won't be reimbursed, even though the T&E policy is the reason for the lag time). It doesn't look like I have to use that card, though, so I think I'm going to use my regular credit card which gives me rewards points. At the very least, since I'm essentially giving the company an interest-free loan, I should get something out of the deal.

I had a corporate AmEx at my old job, too, but they handled paying all the bills directly and I could submit expenses electronically as they hit the card, making sure I never had a late fee and also never had to cover the bill myself. I'm not thrilled about this new situation, but it'll be fine - we've got the money to cover it, and the points will be nice to have.

July Recap/August Goals

July Goals
1. Develop a new budget with savings goals. Done-ish. Which is to say, we've got a spending limit (as opposed to a budget) and we promptly ignored it for the month of July. There were a lot of reasons for that, some of them reasonable and some of them not so much, but it is what it is.

2. Further bring down food spending. Done! We spent nearly $200 less this month on food than we did last month. That's heading in the right direction, although it's still too expensive in my opinion.

3. Create a weekend project grid and start some of the projects. Not done.Completely forgotten about, in fact. Rolling over into next month!

4. Get some consistent blogging done. Doing better although I'm not sure that I'd call it "consistent".

5. Book my trips. So-so. I booked one (that I'm in the midst of as you read this) but haven't done anything about the other two.

August Goals
1. Book my two September trips and weekend project grid. Two plane tickets, one rental car, two wedding presents. Just bleeding money out the window.

2. Spend less on food. I want to be under $500 for the month for both groceries and dining out. I think this will require some more dedicated meal planning than we've done for a while.

3. Set up savings tracker. Now that I've got a goal in mind and a way to achieve it, I want to set up a tracker to help keep me on track to meet it. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to share it here (when we discovered some family members were reading this, we became a little more leery of spending income and savings balances) but I might show percentages without numbers, maybe.

4. Buy nothing new (except food). This might be a cheat, because I don't really have anything in mind, but that's exactly my point. I didn't have anything in mind to buy in July, but I wound up clothes shopping and shoe shopping and who knows what else. Also, we bought a vacuum, which we needed and had been planning on, but I am kind of reeling from that fairly large purchase.

5. Find a local dentist, make an appointment, and transfer my records from my old dentist. Self-explanatory.