Monday, January 31, 2011

January Recap/February Goals

January Goals
1. Cancel Victoria's Secret credit card. I tried! But for some reason, they have no record of me in their system. The rep I spoke with said it's probably just so old (I haven't used it in over seven years) that it was automatically closed but the credit reporting agencies didn't get the memo. I can take it up with the or I can forget about it. I'm voting to forget about it -- it's probably my oldest credit item, and challenging it might downgrade my credit score.

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

February Goals
1. Make doctor and dentist appointments. It's that time of year again. For the third year in a row, I will have to find a new doctor because they've left my insurance/left the office/office has closed. Annoying!

2. Finish clearing out filing cabinet. This is something that irritates me almost every day and I just haven't focused on it.

3. Stay under budget for my trip. Plane tickets, rental car, gas, maybe one or two meals out -- this shouldn't be an expensive trip.


Resolutions Update
1. Single-task. This has been a struggle. Especially focusing on Twitter -- how do you guys do it? Do you tweet while doing other things or do you stay only on Twitter?
2. Participate in The Happiness Project. Going well!
3. Be able to do headstand in yoga. I've been....lackadaisical in practice, but I've been thinking about it. (It's like the Silent Piano!)
4. Save enough to hurt a little. I'm making sure to transfer money to our savings account as soon as we notice our checking account is looking healthy. I need to make some plans to cut back on spending in concrete ways, though. 
5. Change our net worth by the value of our student loans/increase our net worth by $31,000. Working on it!
6. Prepare to leave my job. We've hired a new person and I'll begin training them this month. That will help a lot.
7. Declutter -- ideally, reduce our possessions by about 1/3. I've started a new Goodwill bag!
8. Organize digital photos and finish physical scrapbooks. In the process of transitioning from old computer to nicer computer, and I'm starting with those files.
9. Take up a crafty hobby. Um...utter fail.
10. Create a bucket-list of New York adventures and start checking them off. Seeing Blue Man Group with NYCGO's buy one, get one promo this month!
11. Read through my library. My new plan for reading is one book for work (fiction or non-fiction), one book club book, and one book off my shelf (ie, no library books I just want to read). On the other hand, I haven't stopped collecting books at work, since I keep seeing great ones.

January Spending Review

Misc Income: $409.84


Retirement
My 401(k) contribution $214.54*
Company match $128.72*
Total Retirement savings: $343.26*
*pre tax amounts

Debt Repayment
Student loans $4,708.68

Spending
Alcohol $50.70
Business expenses $3.89
Electronics $86.97
Entertainment $102.55 (tickets to Blue Man Group -- one of the things on my NYC bucket list!)
Food—dining out $295.35
Food—groceries $328.01
Gifts $9.04
Household $11
Hygiene/Medical $95.32 (my haircut!)
Laundry $24.00
Rent $1,525.69 (normal rent plus $81 annual renter's insurance premium)
Transportation $20
Utilities $234.75
Total spending: $2,787.27

Networth IQ updated as well as student loan repayment tracker (see homepage).


Notes
Our networth keeps increasing at a good clip mostly thanks to Peanut's continuous freelance projects -- the checks keep rolling in! It looks good now, but it might be a bit painful at tax time next year.

Our student loan repayment looks extra heavy this month -- and it was. We decided to change things up just a little bit, to cancel family obligations. When Peanut was an undergrad, his parents took out a loan in each of their names for him, and he's now paid them both back. We still have three loans -- two for him, and one for me.

I now have a complete picture of what my take-home pay is, after downgrading our health insurance and stopping flex spending contributions: a $90 pre-tax difference makes a $50 post-tax difference. I almost wish I'd just funneled it into my 401(k) instead.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Paying for classes

I've been struggling the last few weeks, wanting to go to dance or yoga classes but really not wanting to spend money to do so. Doing a practice at home has never worked out well for me, but I think I finally figured out my reluctance to part with cash for classes -- around the time Peanut and I got married, we decided to focus on paying our student loans back on a really tight timetable, and we cut out all extraneous spending, specifically including those classes. Our goals and plans have changed at least twice since then, but I'm still feeling guilty about wanting to spend money on these classes. Maybe I should rethink that.

We're not being hardcore in other ways -- like brunch and haircuts -- so why deprive myself of something that would actually be good for my health? There's a yoga studio not far from me with $5 classes -- one or two a week is quite cheap. Dance classes, at $17 a pop, are a bit harder to justify but if I perform at all this year I can write the cost off on my taxes.

I've talked before about being an underbuyer -- someone who almost-but-not-quite deprives herself of things that are, if not necessary, legitimate purchases. I've committed a number of the underbuyer criteria in Gretchen's post this week alone (run out of deodorant, talked myself out of a purchase for now, gone shopping for something seasonal after it's mostly sold out). Personal care costs, like yoga classes or (heaven forbid!) a gym membership, definitely fall prey to my underbuying tendencies.

But I'm worth it! Yoga helps me feel better physically and emotionally. It helps balance my life. I work hard for my money but I can't take it with me -- why not spend just a little on improving my life now?

I think I'll pay for a yoga class this coming week. Now, to make time for it...

Linkfest

The key to happiness, according to the Huffington Post: play.

I followed the author of that post to his blog home, where I found this gem of a post: why effort is key to satisfaction.

Did I mention that I recently won a crockpot? I did! One of the first recipes that I'm going to make: homemade apple or pear sauce.

A very cute blog header tutorial! (via MoneySaving Mom) I'm going to need to take some new pictures, but I think I might do one of those myself.

Small Steps for Big Change details the preview night of Financial Peace University. She shares an anecdote it took me a while to learn -- a woman focused on building her emergency fund has her car break down, and she complains to Dave that she doesn't know how she'll pay to fix it. He says, "But don't you have an emergency fund now?" Ding! That's what the money's being saved for!!!

There've been a few times in my life when I needed to break into my emergency fund -- to fly home on a next-day ticket or whatever. It feels weird to spend the money and not care about the price, but that's truly what it's there for.

Sponsored Facebook posts turn your profile into an ad space for which you're not compensated. I can see how someone thought this was a good idea, but I sincerely hope that the rest of the world disagrees and refuses to post brand names into their Facebook statuses. I pledge to make fun of any friends of mine doing this.

Miss Minimalist gives up perfume. I have a number of bottles of perfume and body spray that I don't use because Peanut's sensitive to the smell and I forget to use them. But her point about toxic chemicals made me think maybe I should just give them to Goodwill -- I'm never going to use them anyway. Do you use perfumes or scents?

mnmlist is not a brewer. I think that might be how I eventually quit my job.

Your 1099s may be late this year. Our tax paperwork has been trickling in -- so far we've received what we were expecting from salaried and freelance work, but not from banks. Maybe we can go ahead and estimate based on our own records (since we track interest as income) and not wait for them to show up.

The Frugal Girl details five blogging mistakes -- one of which is choosing Blogger over Wordpress. Hmmm. You all were pretty unanimous that I should switch in my recent post and I'm thinking more about that. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hair! (Not the musical)

I just booked the most expensive haircut of my life.

I have massively thick and curly hair, which is currently 3/4 of the way down my back (between my waist and bra line when dry) and driving me crazy. It's great and I love it, but haircuts are a really scary thing for me. For the last five or six years, I've had a friend (a former stylist) cut my hair two or three times a year for the bargain price of $25. But she's not available, so I got some recommendations and will be going to a kind of fancy salon this weekend for an $85 haircut. Yikes!!

I'm okay with it. First of all, I got a coupon for 15% off. And I set a budget for myself of $100 including tip, which is totally do-able, especially with that coupon. Second of all, the stylist is a curly-hair expert, trained at Devachan, the famous curly-hair salon in Manhattan that I can't possibly afford. He's got rave reviews, and when I made the appointment, I was given instructions on how to arrive with my hair done as usual, with product, but not in a ponytail or pulled with clips, so that he can see the natural shape and style of my hair. So I think he really does know his curly-haired stuff.

This should be fun. I hope to wind up with hair above my shoulders again -- and I hope, for $100, that this is the best haircut I've ever had.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happiness Project: Yes or No Resolver

This week's Happiness Project resolution is to determine whether you are a "yes" resolver or a "no" resolver -- meaning, do you respond better to resolutions like "Always do this" or "Do more of this" or to resolutions like "Stop doing this" or "Avoid that".

I'm not really sure where I fall. Many of the resolutions I make (and keep) are "yes" resolutions -- but I also do very well, actually, with "no" resolutions. One of the things that helped me quit smoking was to think of myself in the negative: I am not a smoker. Non-smokers don't smoke. Therefore, I don't smoke. This also worked when I was saving up for an emergency fund and didn't go out to eat: My policy or resolution was that I can't (or won't) go out until I've saved up $X.

The thing about "no" resolutions is that it's kind of depressing, even for a person who responds well to "no", to see a list of don'ts and shouldn'ts and no longers. I prefer to keep my resolutions positive and growth-oriented, even if I respond well to "no" resolutions.

Perhaps I can think of it both ways: Resolution 4: Save Enough to Hurt a Little could turn into "Don't spend on non-necessities until I've put an extra $200 in savings". Resolution 11: Read Through My Library could become "Stop going to the library until two shelves in my apartment are cleared off." Resolution 7: Declutter could be "Never go to bed without putting something on the Goodwill pile."

Hmmm.

Are you a "yes" resolver or a "no" resolver?


Festival of Frugality

The 264th Edition of the Festival of Frugality is up at Spruce Up Your Finances!
 
Another article that jumped out at me is 5 Ways Facebook is Costing You Money -- so true!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Carnival of Personal Finance is now up

Living Richly on a Budget hosts this week's Carnival of Personal Finance; my video game post is included.

Other articles I loved there were 11 Things I've Never Heard Anyone Regret and 12 Meaningless Time Easters in Your Day.

Over at Casa Moneybags, Peanut and I are stumbling around fatigued and sleep-deprived. The boiler in our building malfunctioned last night, and while the heat remained on, the pipes clanged at startling volume every twenty minutes...all night long. Imagine being awakened on such a consistent basis by a large man standing next to your head beating a pipe with a hammer. That's what last night was for us. I can now legitimately imagine what it might be like to have a newborn.

The problem seems to have been fixed during the day, which is good. There was no getting away from that sound in any corner of the apartment and earplugs + pillows over the head did nothing to dampen it.

I spent today at a conference about digital publishing, which I found mostly fascinating and then tremendously boring when my second workshop presenter had us do a 20-minute breakout session that lasted for over an hour. Bored and freezing, I left early and went shopping. I got such a fabulous deal on jeans at the Gap that the sales clerk asked where I'd found them. They were marked down 60% and then were an additional 50% off after that -- so I got two pairs of nice comfy jeans for $23 total. Yes! Best of all, I spent no "real" money on them, as I used a gift card left over from Christmas.

I might have them taken in slightly -- they're flared, which I'm normally fine with, but I was hoping for something I could tuck into my boots, and these won't. Even if I get them altered, they'll be cheaper than even one pair at normal price.

Here's hoping for a sleep-intensive night before the rest of my week. I might go to bed right after posting this!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Linkfest

Check out the Festival of Frugality #263 over at Free From Broke -- "Brunch!" is included.
 
Small Notebook describes her "perpetual giveaway box" -- Peanut and I do this, too. Right now, we have only one thing there, but any time we have something to get rid of, we drop it in a specific place and then anytime we head towards Goodwill or the Salvation Army store, we take it with us.

World of Wealth heard radio DJs talking about how you shouldn't ask how much your boyfriend makes. I couldn't disagree harder. I still remember the conversation Peanut and I had about how much we each make and then another where we showed each other our spreadsheets. Since it's so important to a healthy relationship to be on the same page about money (whether or not you join finances) how can you NOT share this detail?

A great round up of tax time tips from MoneyNing. In general, the answer to "Do I have to report X?" is always YES!
 
FB talks about culling your RSS feeds at Everyday Minimalist. I LOVE the trial folder idea and I've totally implemented it. 

A fascinating paper on the correlation between money and happiness. It turns out that money CAN buy happiness, in small increments -- so why doesn't it? The answer: because people are spending it the wrong way.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dilemma

I want to go visit my family over a long weekend in February. I've been watching ticket prices for nearly a month. When I first looked, they were $190 round trip. I wasn't sure which weekend I wanted to go, so I didn't book them. Ever since, they've been between $315 and $350 -- Farecast keeps saying prices will drop, but they haven't, and I'm getting antsy about booking now or the price going up even more.

Reasons to go:
1. It's been over a year since I was there.
2. I want to see my grandparents.
3. I want to meet my friend's "new" (six-month-old) baby.
4. I've been asked to speak to my alma mater and I could do it in person instead of via Skype (unfortunately, there's no chance of them kicking in money towards the trip -- they did ask me to Skype in the first place).

Reasons not to go:
1. Tickets are $150 more than I wanted to pay.
2. I have to rent a car on top of the plane tickets. (This may seem like an un-needed expense, but it turns out that my parents and I only get along when I don't rely on them for transportation. Also, if I drive myself I won't miss my flight back--I've missed every flight in eight years where I relied on my mother for transport. Alas, the airport is two hours away, so I don't have many friends I can call on instead.)

Reasons to throw all caution to the wind:
1. I have nearly $700 in my travel fund, but I was hoping to make that cover two trips (flight + car) since I won't be adding to it anymore until we pay off the student loans.

What would you do?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happiness Project Update

I finished reading The Happiness Project over the long weekend, and I have to say I'm very inspired.
 
I consider myself "very happy" at this stage in my life -- I've got a good, stable job, a loving relationship, a varied group of friends, hobbies and interests. However, you can always be happier, right? There are a number of things that I would like to do to improve my state of happiness -- tone down the critical voice in my own head, improve my productivity by not wasting time on the internet, let go of many things that don't help me.The point of The Happiness Project is to determine what things in your life make you "feel bad, feel good, and feel right, in an atmosphere of growth". Decrease the things that make you feel bad, increase the things that make you feel good and feel right, and cultivate an atmosphere of growth -- it makes sense!
 
This week's Happiness Project video is about picking one word to set the tone for the year. My word is FOCUS. It ties in neatly with all of my 2011 New Year's Resolutions and has an added ring to it of peace and mindfulness. All things considered, I like it.

What would your word for 2011 be?
 

Why is it...

Why is it that I'll walk three blocks out of my way to avoid a library fine ($.50) but won't walk three blocks out of my way to save the same amount on tortillas? Can someone please explain this to me?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Video games can be a frugal hobby

It seems like the stereotype of a gamer is someone who has no life outside of their game, sports pale skin from never going outside, and spends all their extra money upgrading equipment or even buying virtual content with physical dollars. Peanut and I play video games -- not something you probably think of as a frugal hobby. I submit to you evidence that gaming is, in fact, a frugal hobby.

First things first, we don't play console games (xbox, playstation, nintendo). Console systems are expensive and so are the games. You beat the games quickly and have to upgrade the systems frequently and buy additional components, like guitars or joysticks or other apparati. Instead, we play PC games. We each have PCs anyway -- I doubt we'll ever be a one-computer household, because Peanut's computer is often tied up with his freelance work so we like to have another to use, or so we can both play games at the same time. Peanut buys all the parts for our computers direct and installs them himself to save additional money, and we don't have super-fancy gaming computers (his work computer is fancy, but our "regular" computers have never been). While it's a splurge to have more than one computer, it's something we'd do anyway, not a direct cost of gaming.

Second, we buy games on sale. Peanut watched Steam (a social network for games and gamers) like a hawk at the end of December and picked up dozens of popular games for a fraction of the cost -- I think all told he spent about $30 and wound up with games that all together will take him years to beat.

Third, the one big game we play most often, GuildWars, is a real commitment. Peanut has played for more than 1,095 hours (or 45 days) over four and a half years. I have played for probably 600 hours (or 25 days) for two and a half years (it's harder to estimate, because my account is an old account of his friend, so the hours played aren't all by me). The storylines and character builds are almost unlimited and the game is a one-time cost -- none of this monthly fee nonsense employed by World of Warcraft. We can play together or separately, or with other people (my sister plays, and we have another friend who plays with us sometimes -- divided by distance, we can hang out, talk, and play together online). We've bought all four existing campaigns (on sale, of course). We've spent about $100 each, so $200 divided by 1,600 hours of gameplay is just under $0.12 per hour. And that cost goes down with each additional hour we play!

Even if computer gaming isn't your thing, $.12 an hour IS a pretty frugal hobby -- there's not much else I can do for that cheaply.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brunch!

I may have mentioned that Peanut and I brunch. Generally every week -- we have a group of friends that all show up on a mostly-regular basis and we try out new or favorite brunch spots in NYC. It's not as expensive as meeting up for dinner and weekend mornings are a time that's usually open for everyone -- and late weekend mornings are even an option for those who have late weekend nights!

One of the main reasons brunch is not as expensive as dinner out is that alcohol is usually included in the price. Many places we go have a prix fixe menu, say, $15 for coffee or tea + one mimosa/bellini/bloody mary/screwdriver + one of a dozen or so meals like eggs and potatoes or brunch burgers.

This weekend we brunched at a place that had fairly pricey a la carte dishes ($9 and up) and nothing was included -- coffee was extra, booze was extra. But I've become accustomed to having both alcohol and caffeine with my brunch, and so ordered both, more than doubling the cost of my entire meal.

Hmmm. My $9 meal jumped to $20.50 (plus additional tax and tip) all for the sake of BEVERAGES? Do I enjoy the caffeine and alcohol at brunch enough to justify that kind of increase? I mean, I could make coffee at home for nearly free, and I certainly don't need champagne every weekend. It's just something I do because at this point, I'm used to it. Kids, that's what you call lifestyle inflation.

I mused aloud on this on the walk home from brunch with Peanut. He doesn't begrudge me the splurge even though all he ever drinks is water. He pointed out that we can easily afford this small luxury if it's something I enjoy. And I do enjoy it, but do I enjoy it as much on a weekly basis as I would if it were more sporadic, and therefore more special?

I think I'm going on a beverage detox for a couple of weeks. I'll order a drink (coffee and/or alcohol) if it's included in the price of the meal, but otherwise I won't order anything I have to pay additional for. (Peanut and I don't pick the restaurants, so I won't be swinging the vote here, either!) This will save me money and deflate my lifestyle inflation a little bit.

What do you think? Is there a little splurge you have that's worth the price -- or would you cut out your "brunch bevs" too?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Assorted updates

I am still fighting with the flex spending company to get them to reimburse my $250 OTC medication/supplies bill. Now my HR rep has gone radio silence too. GEEZ.

I had a fairly traumatic/sad week, which is kind of ridiculous in a way because nothing happened to ME, just to someone that I know. It's still really upset me; hence my disappearance from non-scheduled posts and Twitter. On the upside, I have been extremely productive at work to try to keep my mind busy.

I have a really unique opportunity coming up at work that I'm excited about. I've been taking a lot of training sessions and seminars, and I feel like I'm getting to a very cool point and about to take it to the next level (how's that for a lot of corporate speak?!).

I've been culling my RSS reader, removing blogs I always skim past or don't care about reading. Twitter has introduced me to too many excellent blogs to read two-sentence updates that only come every other week. My goal is to get to the point where I can check blogs only two or three times a week and not be overwhelmed.

Long weekend coming up! I plan to read The Passage -- what are you doing?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Check out the Festival of Frugality today!

Craigslist edition

Great picks! My post "I don't want to want" was included.

Blogger vs. Wordpress

Okay, blogger friends. Talk to me about the differences between Wordpress and Blogger.

Thing the first: I wanted to do a neat little 2010 round up of all my traffic and whatnot for 2010, but Blogger tells me I had no pageviews before May of 2010. If you have not noticed, I've been blogging since 2007, so that's weird. Most of you with those fancy year-end stats posts have been using Wordpress, I noticed.

Thing the second: Blogger has been a pain in my derriere regarding social network sharing at the footer of posts. If you look on my actual blog pages, you will now see such a thing, but that literally took me three weeks to set up. Why? I don't know. It's pretty easy, right there in the back end of things. But it would. not. show. up. Now it's showing there, but not in the RSS feed or feedburner email service. It's there on the back end. But not showing up in the posts. Am I doing something wrong? Does Wordpress handle this more gracefully? I want you to be able to tweet me!

Thing the third: I really like that Blogger is attached to Gmail and AdSense and all that. Is Wordpress awesome enough to make up for that?

Thing the fourth: I tried Wordpress for my now-defunct real-name blog last year and found the back end very confusing. Any suggestions?

Thing the fifth: transferring a blog from Blogger to Wordpress. Am I just crazy-pants?

I've already registered Little Miss Moneybags over there, so that's not a worry. But the rest -- what do you use for blogging? Why is it awesome? Should I stick with Blogger or move to Wordpress?

Resolution 11: Read through my library

The eleventh of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to read through my library.

I have SO MANY BOOKS. I mean, there are over a hundred on my book giveaway shelf alone! (We have a bookshelf by the front door and require visitors to go "shopping" before they leave, so we don't have to trek them out to Goodwill.)

On my to-read shelves, books are now stacked two deep and on top of one another. Rather than order new books from the library or re-reading books I love, I'm going to try to read through the new books I already have so that I can get rid of a lot of them. And I'm going to try not to collect so many from work.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Giveaway!

Twenty-something money is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card -- check it out here!

Linkfest

 Just in time for my New Year's Resolution about organizing our digital photos comes this gem from Lifehacker. Good points, all of them, but the one that jumped out at me the most was the need for curation. With film cameras, you never knew how many shots would actually turn out good, and you had to physically buy the film so you were judicious in its use. I wound up with many fewer pictures of a given event with a film camera. Now we just click away and don't even bother to delete the bad ones -- just take a few more shots and transfer them all over. As with physical clutter, my first step in organizing our digital photos will be to CULL.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who's ever made headstand a resolution -- and she achieved it in less than 6 months!

YES. I want the kind of life that means "emergencies" are really "inconveniences", at least in terms of finances.
 
Cordelia says "never feel guilty." This is so something I've been dreading. How do you tell someone that you don't want their life? In effect, that's exactly what I'll be saying when I give notice at my job. I'll be saying "no thanks" to the corporate publishing world in New York City, where people dream of my opportunities, for the chance to experience something else -- maybe some travel, maybe some stay-at-home-momming, maybe a whole different career. It's weird to think about.
 
Five Cent Nickel talks about the payroll tax holiday and why you may not see a difference in your check. WiseBread has some hints for how to take the best advantage of the extra money in your pocket.  What should I do with my 2% -- should I increase my 401(k) contribution or use the money for my Roth IRA or future savings? I think the answer will depend on the fees I'm paying for my 401(k) and Roth IRA (and also whether I'm one of the ones who actually sees an increase in my check) -- more to come after payday this coming Friday. 
 
My boss said last week, when speaking of some authors who self-published a cookbook and made millions, "You only need one good idea." Ramit's discussion of how the market will pick what that good idea is helps you figure out what yours might be!

The Consumerist details new debit card fees. I rarely use my debit card, and I'm wondering if it'll be such a standard thing for me to have in the future. I always use my credit card and pay it off at the end of the month, except at Costco (where if I didn't have a debit card, I could also pay by cash, check, or corporate AmEx). Do you use your debit card?

I loved this interview with youngandthrifty about her grocery shopping habits. Peanut and I have started making some "odd" things at home that we'd normally buy, and they're way better than store-bought. Our grocery store habits have changed a lot.
I'm still stuck on wanting new cookware. Peanut talked me out of the Bowery Restaurant Supply run that I'd been wanting to make since September with the very good point that all of our pots and pans already work just fine. There's no sense in replacing something just for the hell of it. So I'll stick with my cheap-o pots and pans until they literally fall apart, and then I'll replace them with restaurant-quality stuff. Here's my shopping list of the 7 most essential pots and pans.

Resolution 10: Create a bucket-list of New York adventures

The tenth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to create a bucket-list of New York adventures and begin checking them off.

My time in New York feels finite, which is bittersweet. I moved here because it was a dream I'd had since I was a little kid, but it's been an aggravation in many ways. I'd rather leave before I hate it rather than staying too long, though.

There are a lot of things I have done: Shakespeare in the Park, Thanksgiving Parade and New Year's in Times Square, ice skating in the parks, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, walking across the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn, Broadway shows, watching movies or TV shows be filmed (on location or in studio), fancy restaurants, dive restaurants, restaurants only locals know about, Red Hook ball fields, water taxi, going up the Hudson River Valley (by train and by convertible Mini-Cooper), the Met Museum, the Guggenheim, the Frick, the MOMA, the NYC Ballet, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Rockettes, ImprovEverywhere, Halloween Parade in the Village, and a zillion walking tours, etc.

But despite living here for seven years, there are a lot of things I've never done. Here's a list of the things I still want to get to:
  • The Museum of the City of New York
  • The Tenement Museum
  • The Museum of the Moving Image
  • Manhattanhenge
  • Saturday Night Live (a long shot!)
  • Anti-gravity yoga
  • Blue Man Group (went 2/2/2011)
  • Stomp
If you've been to or live in NYC, what would you recommend that I do at least once?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Resolution 9: Take up a crafty hobby

The ninth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to take up a crafty hobby.

My mom and sister are amazingly crafty people (quilting and crocheting, respectively) and I'm jealous. I already have a sewing machine, and my mom sent me a starter kit, and I'm going with her to a quilt show in April, so I'm going to start with quilting. (I made a doll-sized quilt in high school, so I know what I'm doing at least.)

We'll see if this fizzles out the way scrapbooking did. Mainly, I want a productive hobby that allows me to create something useful that doesn't exist within the confines of a computer. I also want a hobby that allows me to do something mindless yet productive with my hands so I can catch up on some movies & TV shows I want to watch. There is a legacy of quilting in my family (including both practical quilts and award-winning decorative ones) so it will be nice to dive into that a little.

(And, at least to start, it's free. I've already got a machine, and now the fabric for a baby-sized quilt, and my mom has batting and hoops, so there's no start-up cost. Free: the best kind of hobby.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Resolution 8: Organize digital photos and finish scrapbooks

The eighth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to organize our digital photos and finish my physical scrapbooks.

I started scrapbooking right after high school graduation and I have regretted it ever since. I'm not a very crafty person, and the cutting, pasting, stickering, decorating and designing are like punishment. As such, I've got one almost-finished scrapbook and one half-finished scrapbook and a shoebox full of supplies. If I could just focus on it for a little bit, I could finish both and get rid of the supplies.

Along with this, I'd like to organize our digital photos and other files and develop a naming convention for them (we have a good backup system, but there's no point in backing up stuff we don't care about). Peanut has been given the task of combining and organizing all of our music files.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Resolution 7: Declutter

The seventh of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to declutter, ideally getting rid of about 30% of what we own.

I did pretty good in 2010 but we still have excess stuff. I would like to own nothing I do not find to be beautiful or know to be useful, particularly in my closet. Given that we plan to leave New York within the next few years, it makes sense to get rid of stuff now rather than wait until D-day.

Using the "beautiful and useful" mantra will also keep me from buying lots of superfluous stuff, because really -- how often do you LOVE the things that you're buying, as opposed to just finding them okay?

Specific areas to focus on include:
  • My filing cabinet
  • My bookshelves
  • My closet

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Love Drop


So. Love Drop. The brainchild of J$ from Budgets are Sexy and his friend Nate. It's a brand-new organization that aims to make a difference in people's lives by bringing them what they need -- not just in a financial sense (although of course that helps) but with an outpouring of love from their community that may or not be local.

The first beneficiary of Love Drop is Jill, a woman who has faced some tremendously difficult circumstances while staying amazingly positive.







As soon as Paypal sorts my name change out (grrrr...it's only been over three months!), I'll be signing up for one of the monthly donation subscriptions. From there, I'll be able to access the forums that includes a list of what Jill needs and what others are pledging to do for her. I encourage you to help Love Drop if you can, and also to look around and see what you can do in your own community. There are Jills everywhere.

The official details

What Love Drop is
Love Drop is a micro-giving network of people who unite as a community to help one person or family a month. By subscribing to the team for as low as $1, they make it easy for their members to change lives in a fun and tangible way. Each month Love Drop delivers a unique combination of unexpected financial gifts, personal encouragement and the support of local and online communities.

Every month the Love Drop community comes together to raise as much support and awareness as we possibly can. It starts on the website - LoveDrop.us, gets spread across our entire network of blogs, continues through the forums where all our members are brainstorming, and finally lands on the front steps of our recipients. Literally.

At the end of every month, Nate and J$ show up in the town the people live in to deliver this pile of goodness. The money, the gifts, the services, everything! It's all on film, and it all ends with an amazing outpouring of love. And then it starts all over again the next month. Help them, and their flagship partner, Kona Grill, make this drop in Chicago amazing!
How you can help
This project is all about coming up with creative and fun ways to make a difference for someone. Here's what you can do to make our first Love Drop special for Jill and her family:
  • Join the team - Become a member by paying whatever you want. Even $1.00.
  • Join our blogger network - Blog about our Love Drops once a month! It's easy, it's rewarding, and it REALLY helps spread the word (which in turn helps the families!). Love Drop will give you all the content you need.
  • Give a gift or provide a service - Gift cards, household goods, football cards/jerseys for the boys, web design services, pampering gifts for Jill, etc. (email all ideas/questions to team (at) lovedrop.us, and they'll make it happen)
Do you have any creative ideas for how to help Jill and her family? I'm hoping on that list that I'll be able to see after I sign up to support Love Drop will be a list of books that they'd like to read -- that's something I can quickly pull together. I'm wracking my brain to come up with something else I can do besides send money as well.

Resolution 6: Prepare to leave my job

The sixth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to prepare to leave my job. 

Before anybody freaks out, I don't have any plans to leave just yet, but I know that it's coming. Peanut and I do not want to live in New York forever, and we'd like to start having kids in two to three years. Before I get knocked up, we'd like to move somewhere totally crazy for a short time or settle down somewhere we feel comfortable raising a family (preferably both). Which means, realistically, that I will be voluntarily leaving the job that I love within two years at the very longest.

Preparing to leave my job means developing systems and creating how-to documents to help ease the transition, taking away any guilt I might have about leaving to go live my life. It means getting really, really organized. It means training people to do some of the things that I've been doing because it's easier than getting them to be responsible for it (these things are their job anyway; I wouldn't be shuttling off things that are actually my responsibility). It means cleaning, sorting, creating processes, and streamlining.

It also means beefing up my resume, developing contacts that can help me find a job in the future, and building skills that can transfer to a new place. And, honestly, it means trying to increase my salary so that I have that to bargain with in my next interview.

There's a lot to unpack within this resolution and it's going to be done with mixed emotions. But I can see it coming, so I'd rather prepare for it than stick my head in the sand and pretend it won't be a big deal. And if, for some reason, we don't end up leaving New York within a year or two, hey -- I'll be even more organized at work!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More on wanting

As I read through the insightful comments on my post I don't want to want, I am struck by two things.

One is that it's not enough to consciously limit our exposure to advertising and stores and products and learning contentment with what we already have. It seems that the desire for new is truly innate. I mean, the experience that made me think of all this was a time when I was avoiding temptation. I was walking home from work, watching the ground in front of me, hurrying to catch my train so I could get home. I was just out in the world because I had to get through it to get where I was going, not open to a sales pitch or anything. In fact, if the merchant had spoken to me, it probably wouldn't have penetrated my consciousness. It was the shopper's reaction that first pricked my ears and then my interest, all before I had time to have the conscious thought of whether I need or even want whatever it is she's looking at. Perhaps it's a strategy humans developed to make themselves more competitive -- the desire to want might make you more ambitious, more likely to have more kids or something. I don't know.

Two is that it's not at all logical. We want more, new, better, different of things we already have, like SS4BC's television anecdote and Michelle's "preference for variety". This is something that's been plaguing me -- coming up in June is the end of my current cell phone contract, and I'm torn about replacing my phone. I actually don't want something nicer or fancier than my iPhone (I am not impressed with the iPhone and certainly won't be upgrading it) but I want something DIFFERENT. Maybe simpler, maybe back to a regular flip phone instead of a smartphone. Still, it'd mean buying a new phone and signing a new contract, two things I don't want to do. But I'm already thinking about it, because I'm not happy with the phone I have and there are so many options. I can't rationalize the fact to myself that this phone could last me many more years before it "needs" to be replaced.

How do you turn off an instinct? I find that most instincts that I have are essentially good -- my inclination is usually towards healthier foods, towards more and better relationships, towards enough sleep but also towards rewarding work (in whatever aspect: housework, job work, busy work -- I like to be productive). But this instinct for wanting -- I don't know what to do about that. It goes beyond being content, because logically, I am content. I want for nothing. I have shelter, clothing, food, entertainment, excess. I have no basic human need I cannot meet on demand, and it could be said that I'm so far up the hierarchy of needs that I've turned self-actualization into narcissism by blogging about it. It goes beyond avoiding advertising -- I don't have cable and watch network television for author appearances, I don't window shop in person or online, I re-route promotional emails right to the trash, I install ad-blocking software on my browser, continue to declutter in order to refrain from bringing home more junk I don't need, wait on larger purchases to make sure I really want something. I got a gift card for Christmas that I have no plans for because I don't actively want anything. And yet the moment someone else showed active interest in a piece of junk, my lizard-brain was all over it. "Ooh, how much is it? Can I have one too?"

I recently read Super Sad True Love Story, which illustrates in a frightening way the extent to which this wanting could (and likely might) take us. In the not so distant future, we're indebted to China, our government asks invasive questions of its citizens via beaver, and we go shopping on our phones even while sitting at a table with our friends. We live-blog and live-stream everything in acronyms and forget how to connect with other humans or even ourselves. In my moment of noticing things for sale on the street, I felt exactly like a character in the book, bewilderedly shopping without even knowing I had an option not to.


Resolution 5: Increase net worth by $31,000

The fifth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions WAS to "pay off our student loans by our one-year anniversary in September". After a discussion with Peanut over the weekend, though, I'm changing it to "change our net worth by the value of our student loans". As of this writing, that's about $31,000.

Peanut's concern is that I was setting us up for failure by specifying that we pay off the loans entirely in just under ten months. He wants to be able to take advantage of some opportunities that might come our way that would require us to have liquidity rather than using all of our cash to pay off the loans, which are at very low interest rates.
Given that our married finances require input and agreement from both of us, I'm rephrasing resolution 5 to be something we both agree with and want to work towards. If nothing comes to pass, we'll save up every month and pay off our student loans in full as soon as possible. If things go like they might, we'll have some crazy adventures and hopefully be able to save and invest $31,000 along the way.

(If you prefer to think of things by numbers, this makes the end-of-year net worth goal $84,000.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I don't want to want

While walking to the subway from work, I passed a table on the sidewalk where a vendor was selling knock-off bags. I see him nearly every night, and never stop to look. (I prefer the $10 bag vendor, myself, where they don't even both putting a fake logo on the bags.)

However, this particular night, a woman walking in front of me glanced at the table and then darted right over, asking the vendor "How much for this one!?" Her excitement was almost contagious, I felt myself slowing down and glancing over, wondering what it was she was so excited about and whether I should be excited about it too.

I snapped out of it pretty quickly, but as I walked away I realized what my biggest personal finance pet peeve is: that I want things, and I don't want to want them.

Not wanting new clothes would mean not buying new clothes. Not wanting a new phone after two years would mean not spending money on a new phone. Not wanting would mean not being interested in products just because they exist.

Alas, I am only human.

Then I watched the movie Objectified, made by the same team that made the documentary Helvetica. Objectified is an interesting look at how products are designed for our use and what that means for us as consumers. 

One of the things that really jumped out at me was how the designers all want to create something that will never go out of style, that will last longer than all those other "old" things out there, but they all talk about the need for consumers to want new things in order to keep them in a job. There's a lot of other interesting bits in there, about Ikea and Apple and Target and how great design should cost less rather than more, but also about how design will be a huge marketing characteristic in the future.

And really what it boils down to is that, in my opinion, the desire to acquire is one of the leading causes of unhappiness but it's almost impossible to eradicate.

How do you temper the desire for things with the desire to not want desire? I know that avoiding advertising is one (really effective) way, but how else?

Resolution 4: Save enough to hurt a little

The fourth of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to save enough to hurt a little.

We've got some pretty audacious goals and while we're able to pay all of our bills and meet our savings goals with no problems, I'd like to get back to the point of saving until I'm a little uncomfortable -- of sacrificing, if you like. This is hard to quantify, partly because it'll depend a lot on Peanut's freelance income. We can live off of mine and save his, but could we live off of mine, save some of mine, and save all of his? What would that look like?

Here are some steps that will help accomplish this:
  • For every purchase, ask "do I want this item or do I want to be rid of those student loans?" If possible, transfer the cost of that product to our student loans fund. 
  • Look for snowflake opportunities and transfer that money twice a month to the student loans fund. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolution 3: Be able to do headstand

The third of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to be able to do headstand by the end of the year.

This means focusing on core strength -- something I am lacking. It'll mean taking yoga classes but also developing a regular home practice. I'm kind of lackadaisical about yoga lately, but maybe having a goal to work towards will help.

Here are some concrete steps I can take to achieve this goal:
  • Do core strengthening three times a week. No rules on whether it's morning or evening or even how long it is, but I need to do something often to strengthen my core. Dance classes easily fall into this category as does any yoga class.Otherwise, it's a home practice session.
  • I have a step-by-step video series that breaks down the move with assistance from a wall, so that will help. I should do this video at least once a week, starting with the first in the series.
If, somehow, I manage to achieve this goal early in the year, I'll move on to crow.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolution 2: Participate in The Happiness Project

The second of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to participate in The Happiness Project.

I've been following Gretchen Rubin's blog for...well, a really long time. Probably since the book came out last year (which, sadly, I haven't actually read yet). And now she's got a Happiness Project campaign over at ThePoint.com, which encourages people to actively pledge to participate in The Happiness Project and get others to do so as well (I joined!). So I'm not really sure what's in store for me with this, but I'm going to actively follow and at least try everything that's suggested -- who doesn't want a little more happiness in their lives?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Spending Totals

Here is my 2010 snapshot -- this recap treats Peanut's and my finances as joint for the entire year, even though we did not fully merge finances until after we married in September. I did this because we have the data, I just had to do some finessing to get it all into one document. From now on, I can always look back at this as the first full year of data for our joint net worth.

Spending
Food - Groceries: 3,265.92
Food - Other: 2,926.34
Rent: 16,924.58
Utilities: 3,069.68
Transportation: 861
Household: 861.52
Entertainment: 443.58
Hygiene/Medical: 825.76 (includes yoga, massages, makeup, toothpaste & such)
Laundry: 309
Gifts: 800.96
Clothing: 329.80 (I mostly bought clothing with gift cards this year, but even so, probably spent only around $500 total for myself)
Electronics 67.78
Taxes Paid: 418.60
Travel: 2,519.04 (includes a trip for two to Costa Rica, one trip for one to visit family, and one trip for two to visit family, but not our honeymoon or travel related to the wedding)
Business: 2,883.01 (tax deductible)
Gardening: 25
Alcohol: 86.80 (not accurate, I started separating this out only a few weeks ago)
Charity: 240
Wedding/Honeymoon: 3,452.43 (our out of pocket costs after 8,413 in family contributions)
School: 5,311
Total spending: 45,621.80



Retirement Contributions
401(k) contributions: 6,103.90 (matched by our companies at 1.5%)
Roth IRA contributions: 13,633.47
Total retirement contributions: 19,737.37

Student Loans
Student loan payments: 18,858.73
Student loan interest charged: 4,046.43
Difference in debt load: 14,812.30

LMM's Side Hustles (hat tip to J$)
Dance Expenses: 629.34
Dance Income: 135 (I am still owed for another job, but won't get paid until 2011)

Mystery Shop Expenses: 70.37
Mystery Shop Income: 60

As you can see, I came out in the hole for both of my side hustles. This was not by design but I have to say I'm kind of relieved. I think this is my last year doing these gigs, which will make my taxes easier. They're just not worth it anymore.

Things of Note
Re: food -- YAAAAAAY! Despite brunching weekly for half the year, we spent more on groceries than we did eating out.
Re: rent -- despite the high cost of living in New York City, Peanut and I are within the "safe" range of less than 30% of take-home pay for housing advised by experts.
Re: Roth IRA contributions -- Peanut and I each maxed out a Roth IRA for 2010. However, we also topped off our contributions for 2009 before the April deadline, which is why this is higher than the per person per year limit of $5,000. 


The Big Picture
Peanut and I live well within our means. We are currently focused on student loan repayment, retirement savings, and emergency fund growth.

Resolution 1: Single-task

The first of my eleven New Year's Resolutions is to single-task.

There's a lot of news out there that multi-tasking doesn't work, and I can see the evidence in my own life. I find myself easily distracted, especially online, where I've always got multiple windows with multiple tabs open, following Twitter and blogs and email while simultaneously playing an MMORPG with my sister and updating our financial spreadsheet. Or eating breakfast while watching the Today Show and checking the weather on my phone. Or eating lunch at my desk while browsing blogs and answering emails and phone calls as they come in.

No more!

I don't want to do two (or more) things at once and have both things suffer. Here are my guidelines:
  • Only one piece of technology at a time. No checking email on my phone while watching TV. 
  • On the internet, focus on one thing at a time. Either blog, or tweet, or play games, or balance accounts, but not all at once.
  • At work, check email at designated times and not on a constat incoming basis. Turn off sound and pop-ups that alert about new email. (This will be going against corporate culture, so we'll see how I do with it.)
  • Meals should focus on food. There's a new breakroom/lounge at work, so I even have a place to take my lunch that's not in front of my computer. (I might fudge this one to allow for reading a book while eating, as that's always been a pleasure for me.)
Things like reading while on the train or doing laundry is fine.  That's really the only kind of multi-tasking that's valuable anyway.