Saturday, February 26, 2011

Little Miss Moneybags' Quits

Inspired by Cordelia, here's a list of my recent quits:

I've quit reading books that I don't like. I recently started a book that's a feminist investigation of motherhood and the conflicting messages sent to women regarding whether they parent, how they parent, and how they should be parenting. The topic is interesting but the tone of the book was simultaneously whiney and strident, and I just couldn't take it. My bookshelves are full to bursting, so there's no point in forcing myself through something I'm not enjoying. NEXT!

I've quit saving things I think I should save but don't want to. Once upon a time, I bought perfumes and body sprays and received them as gifts. Peanut hates scented things like that as they irritate his sinuses, and frankly, I seem to have less interest in wearing them in the last two years or so (perhaps there's some truth to the idea that women wear things like makeup and perfume to "catch" a man, but not once they've "caught" him...). I've felt bad getting rid of those bottles, even though I know I will probably never, ever wear them again, and some of the scents are quite dated. They're going to Goodwill! Likewise, a tube of Burt's Bees toothpaste. I love a lot of Burt's Bees stuff, but this toothpaste just makes me hate brushing my teeth. I'm tossing it.

I've quit reading blogs that I don't feel a connection with. I've been trying to identify the blogs I read by their writing style as opposed to the header -- if I can't identify the author, I delete it from my reader. Either the author is really bad at having a personality shine through (in which case, why would I want to read?) or I'm just not connecting with them (in which case...you get the idea), but my time is now too precious.

What have you quit lately?


LinkFest

Miss Minimalist talks about adding warmth to a minimalist home without adding Stuff. Love it! I just came back from visiting my parents - and I have to say, my mom's home feels very home and warm but it's also SO cluttered and full of Stuff!

We check email 17 times a day because we like to get high (via Cordelia).

Penelope Trunk says salary flattens out at 40. Do you agree? I'm not sure I do. Many of the people I work with get promoted into positions of real power (and presumably real earning power) after 40.

Why my plane ticket was more expensive than I wanted it to be - turns out the price of gas DID go up!
My favorite line from this Happiness Project interview: Overdoing leaves insufficient time for savoring.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Odds and Ends

Things have been quiet here on the blogging front because, truthfully, I'm bored with money. We earn it, we save it, we plan for what to do with it in the future. We certainly don't seem to be spending it. Our goals seem far away and almost within reach at the same time -- far away because the one big thing we require for reaching them is time, and within reach because we've achieved the self-discipline and income to save up for them in an aggressive manner. There's not much more to do at this point but wait.

*****

In the last few weeks I have re-read every post I've made on this blog, cleaning them up a bit in terms of spelling and removing a few lines that I feel impose upon my privacy too much and/or would cause some issues if  someone in my family stumbled across it, and in potential preparation for the move to Wordpress I haven't done much more than consider. During this exercise, I was really surprised to notice how difficult it was for a long time for me to bring my lunch to work. I repeatedly set tiny goals, like "bring lunch to work twice a week" or "don't buy a lunch that costs more than $5". And that was at a point when I was earning about half of what I'm earning now -- I really couldn't afford to be eating out!

I had all sorts of excuses for why it was too difficult to bring lunch to work on a regular basis. None of them hold water now. I bring lunch to work about 19/20 days per month, and the anomaly is 95% of the time a day when lunch is being provided for me by my company or someone taking me out. Not only do I remember almost automatically to make lunch the night before, but if I somehow forget, I always have something quick and easy I can take with me at the last minute, like ramen or cheese and crackers and fruit. I don't feel like my grocery buying habits have changed, so it must be my willingness to see lunch in a different way.

Mostly I found it interesting that I always felt so broke, and thought I could justify buying lunch on such a small income, whereas now, when I make more, I couldn't possibly justify that kind of expense for myself. Not to mention that heating something up in a microwave instead of waiting in line somewhere gives me that much more time to read during my lunch break!

*****

Recently while talking to my mother, it somehow came up that Peanut and I live off of my income alone. He's working, yes, and he actually earns more than me, but we've just been banking every check of his that comes in to go towards taxes and then student loans/retirement savings. My mom, being the Dave Ramsey nut that she is, was just SO impressed with us. She just kept exclaiming, "OH! Well, that's just great. Just GREAT. Good for you guys!" I'm not sure if she's happy that we're focused on goals she agrees with, or if she thinks I make way more money than I do.

*****

I don't think I'm going to get a bonus this year. I've received one every year for the last three years (and I was one of only two people in my department to receive one last year) but they've always been given by mid-February, so I guess it's not in the cards for this year. Well, that's a bit disappointing, but I know that a bonus is exactly that, and shouldn't be counted upon for any reason. I'm still as thankful to receive one as I was the first time (although maybe with fewer tears) so not getting it is disappointing...but only disappointing. Not remotely devastating.

*****

Perhaps I'll be inspired to do some real posting soon. I hope you're all doing well!

Monday, February 21, 2011

LinkFest: Traveling Edition

I'm on the road this weekend, but here are a few links that caught my eye during the week. And clearly, the weekend has passed, but the post didn't post!

Well-Heeled Blog has one of the most creative carnivals I've ever seen, and she included me in the round-up! Carnival of Personal Finance: Cupid Edition.

I think this is part of what I meant when I talked about the type of person I want to be -- Why I No Longer Worry About Having a Personal Style. Except I'm not quite at the "no longer" stage.

Almost Frugal talks about the reason we're all fired up about having an emergency fund -- so that when an emergency happens, you can be there.

Good advice here about how to quit your job.

Trent details how it's actually harder to get started today than it was in 1970.

What's not worth making from scratch? Peanut and I agree that bread isn't really worth us making from scratch right now -- we don't eat it fast enough. Chinese and Indian food, for us, involve a lot of ingredients that we don't normally buy so we prefer to buy it, along with ice cream. We do make pizza sauce, pizza dough, pickles. Stuff like that.

How to quit your job and move to Italy.

How to get more done while being interrupted less.

This week's Happiness Project resolution: Ask yourself, "Who do you envy? What do you lie about?" GREAT questions. I've been doing some soul-searching on these two questions, and I'm not sure I'm ready (or ever will be) to have this discussion publicly, but it's been really great food for thought, and might help me change some habits that are not useful in my life.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Paying for Placebos

I'm coming down with a cold -- and it couldn't be worse timing. This week promises to be tiring and stressful anyway: my new coworker starts tomorrow and I'm responsible for training her, plus I'm traveling at the end of the week and speaking at two universities. I really can't afford to get sick.

So on the way to brunch this morning, I bought some Airborne. There's been a lot of controversy about Airborne and whether it's a legitimate aid to curing or reducing colds. In fact, it was part of a class-action lawsuit that netted me a small reimbursement for false advertising. Here's my take: extra vitamins and minerals may not help, but they probably can't hurt. Not only that, but it seems like it helps. There's some evidence that placebos may help just by virtue of the patient thinking they work. It seems true for me with Airborne.

So yeah. I spent $7.79 on something that might be a total crock. Even though I'm normally an underbuyer and don't do things like that, I think this was worth it.

Let's see if I stay well and prove it...

Do you knowingly spend money on something that may or may not do you any good?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Linkfest: a day late edition

Zen Habits for a Highly Efficient Mind. I'm doing pretty good on these except for the exercise component.
J$ asks how much cash should you carry on you? I usually have somewhere between $8 and $60 on my person, but I also carry a secret $20 bill in a hidden pocket in my wallet which is for emergencies only. Starbucks is not an emergency. Groceries are not an emergency. A sale is not an emergency. This $20 is for getting me out of a bad situation -- it'll cover a cab ride from anywhere to a safe spot, if not all the way home. I have only had to use this emergency $20 once, coming home very late at night when I stumbled upon a shady situation.
The only thing that doesn't work about the whole scheme is that if I get mugged, the $20 is gone along with my purse. But it's better than keeping it in my coat pocket and losing it, or not wearing my coat when I need it. Do you carry emergency cash for such a situation?
The carnival of personal finance - 7 Deadly Sins Edition - is out. My post about space (and perspective!) is included.
17 Ways to Be the Early Bird - I hate the one about getting up earlier, but I like the rest!

Bite-sized yoga -- ways to do yoga throughout the day instead of in one giant chunk!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Frugal Valentine's Day: Moneybags' Style

Here's Peanut's and my plan for a frugal Valentines Day:
 
Don't celebrate it.
 
I know! How boring and unromantic! How frugal-to-the-point-of-crazy! How LAME!
 
Oh, well. It works for us. Valentine's Day isn't a real holiday; it's a marketing gimmick, and it's one that reinforces gender stereotypes, encourages idealized notions of what love is, and generally perpetuates unrealistic expectations for relationships. I'd rather celebrate the life that Peanut and I share together every day in small ways, like saying thank you and speaking nicely of each other, than go out for an overpriced meal and share some overpriced chocolates afterwards. Don't even get me started on roses.
 
(Guess who's going to be first in line on the 15th for half-price candy, though?! Now THAT's something to love about V-day.)
 
 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Happiness Project: Imitate a Spiritual Master

This week's Happiness Project resolution is to imitate a spiritual master.

Who is my spiritual master?

I have No. Idea.

I am not a religious person, and I'm not one of the "not religious but spiritual" types either.

Probably if I had to pick one person whose philosophy I'd most like to follow, it would be Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Much of it involves learning to fly by throwing oneself to the ground and missing, but a more general view would be that much of life is absurd and therefore it should be mocked.

Today's Happiness Project post about false choices also very much resonated with me -- I constantly frame situations with false choices. The post gave me a lot of food for thought about how to stop doing that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Type of Person I Want to Be

Red posted about her second shopping ban slip (no judgment! I don't do shopping bans precisely because I know I would slip up a lot, so how can I judge?). However, the thing that jumped out at me the most was this line:

 I want to be the kind of person who cuts her own hair and goes without makeup and grows her own vegetables (and actually eats them). But that's not who I am. And I'm not sure how this challenge is supposed to turn me into that person.
 
Wow, did that resonate.
 
I want to be the type of person who is active every day and looks and feels strong instead of thin. Instead, I'm the type of person who hates to sweat and is lucky to have a good metabolism.
 
I want to be the type of person who doesn't have a bunch of extraneous clutter lying around her home. Instead, I "collect" free stuff and continue to buy clothes while not wearing everything in my closet.
 
I want to be the type of person who has a nicely designed home, where things match or at least look interesting, and with cool art on the walls. Instead, I have no sense of design and read Apartment Therapy and get frustrated with people who do. Even if I'm able to come up with a theme or a plan, I have a hard time spending the money on something so "frivolous".
 
I want to be the type of person who has experience a lot of cultural things in her city, who goes to museums and understands what she's looking at. Instead, I spend my weekends at home playing video games.
 
I want to be the type of person who is creative and makes things, whether it be food or crafty things or whatever. Instead, I spend my time trolling the internet.
 
The thing is, none of these desires are truly out of my reach. Each one of the bullet points above could be achieved with a few simple, identifiable steps. Do ten minutes of yoga every day. Declutter one or two items every day. Go to a museum once a month. Make something -- anything.
 
How much of blogging is us publicly trying to achieve goals like this? I've noticed at the beginning of any given month, many of my fellow PF bloggers post fitness, weight loss or health-related goals in addition to their financial goals. Are those of us dealing thoughtfully with money more likely to be interested in health and fitness? Or is it that those of us who blog are more likely to envision being a particular type of person and therefore we talk about it - in all its facets - in an open forum? We create challenges for ourselves in order to achieve these perfect selves, but what would happen if we got exactly what we wanted? We'd have to face the fact that we'd still want something more, something different, something better. Or to BE someone more, someone different, someone better. 
 
But that's only normal, right? We humans are always trying to better ourselves, and that's what gave us fire, and cultivated agriculture, and the iPad. So it's fine to set goals and challenges for ourselves (and to do it in full view of the anonymous internet) but as Red points out, we have to carefully consider how we go about it. Is Red's challenge going to turn her into the type of person she wants to be, or is it simply going to be a ban on non-necessary spending which will give her more money to throw at debt? Neither option is wrong, but complications ensue when we set out to do one thing without realizing that we're actually doing another or subconsciously wanting some other outcome. 
 
I've been thinking a lot about my future lately, and what I want that to look like. Much of it involves a better version of myself, someone who is physically stronger, emotionally calmer, and weighed down with less stuff. When I did my New Year's Resolutions, I envisioned a version of me who can do headstand and owns less stuff, but I failed to take into consideration that the type of person who can do headstand is the type of person who does yoga on a regular, committed basis. Am I willing to be that type of person? The type of person who has a crafty hobby is the type of person who spends time on that crafty hobby. My time feels more and more pinched and precious with every day that goes by -- am I willing to be the type of person who spends time sewing quilts? Or do I just like the idea of it?
 
Maybe a better way of doing this, for me, rather than posting goals, is to think of myself as already the type of person I want to be. When I'm debating between getting on the internet and doing a few sun salutations, I know that the type of person I want to be am goes for the yoga. When I'm in a store, I remember that the type of person I want to be am already owns two black cardigans, and even though this one has different buttons or whatever, I don't need it. There's no perfection in this life, but maybe that's a way to both get closer to my end goal and end the frustration of getting there.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

401(k) matching increase

I got an email from HR this week that my company will be increasing their matching from 3.0% to 3.5%, up to 5% of my gross income.


It amounts to about $250 and is given in the form of company stock (as is the rest of the match) which I rebalance a few times a year into regular mutual funds. Yippee?

But hey. Free $250. Better than a kick in the pants.

Friday, February 4, 2011

LinkFest!

Peanut and I make fried rice all the time! Our standard recipe includes eggs, green onions and mushrooms. YUM!

Amber at Blonde & Balanced talks about Passion Vs. Money. I happen to have a job that I'm mostly passionate about -- I'm working on a much longer post about the specifics, but my general point here is that I'm PASSIONATE about books. I LOOOOOOOOVE books, (to steal Amber's phrase). I can talk about books all day -- as long as I'm not reading them, that is. I don't feel like I sacrificed money in order to work with books, either. My degree was in journalism, and everyone knows that pays peanuts too. :)
 
The Happiness Project quiz: Are you drifting? There have been times in my life when I felt like I was drifting -- that I was living someone else's life, or that mine hadn't started yet. I no longer feel like I'm drifting, but right now I feel like I'm waiting -- waiting to see where we'll wind up, waiting to start a family. But it's not the same as drifting. I'm waiting with a purpose, and mindfully enjoying the wait.

For those of you doing your own taxes, don't forget to look for discounts for the most popular tax software, like TurboTax. Five Cent Nickel mentions one for AmEx customers. Your credit card company may offer one, your company may offer one if it's a big corporation, I believe Vanguard offered one last year -- take a look around and do some googling to save some money.

Two posts from the FearLess Revolution: decompartmentalizing our values and the launch of COMMON.

J$ asks would you rather get five million dollars or the ability to teleport. My first question is whether the $5MIL is before or after taxes, because that affects my answer. Assuming it's after taxes, I'll take that and buy plane tickets to wherever I want to go. Now Peanut...well, if the teleportation option extended beyond the atmosphere, he'd take the chance to go into space in about one hot second.

O.M.G. The new Starbucks Trenta holds an entire bottle of wine. I don't even have words for this.

What are you saving for?

(via)
Peanut and I have had a couple conversations over the past few months about a few things that he really, really wants. I mean, REALLY wants, the way a kid wants something at Christmas when he or she still believes in Santa. One of those things is a pricey remote control helicopter, and another is to go into space. Yes, like on a rocket ship to the international space station. It's believable that space travel could be commercially available within our lifetime, so we've been talking about when to start saving for it.

Because this is the kind of thing I want to save for. It's not just that he's my husband and I love him, and therefore I want to give him everything he wants. It's that this is a BHAG - a big, hairy, audacious goal, and that's really what life should be all about. Saving for a house and retirement and kid's college is all fine and good (and will happen first) but you can't take the money with you, so why not put it towards something you want on this massive of a level?

FWIW, when I asked Peanut why he wanted to go into space, he replied, "Perspective". There followed a few moments of silence, wherein I was contemplating all of the amazing feelings and thoughts that being in space would generate, and the kind of cosmic oneness you might feel, and what it might teach you about life and death and peace and happiness, and wondered if that kind of distance is needed to achieve that perspective and how Peanut knew that. Meanwhile, he was imagining holding up his thumb and forefinger so that, from his perspective, it looked like he was pinching Earth between them. The discussion following those silent moments was perhaps one of the funniest I have ever had in my life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lame-o!

I kept watching and watching and just did not get a good deal on my travel plans for later this month. Prices jumped up a to higher than the $315-350 they were the last time I posted about this but I got a coupon offer for 10% off American Airline flights from Kayak, and luckily (?) my credit card company is offering 5% cashback on travel expenses this month. So I effectively got 15% off my ~$400 ticket, which is about where I was two weeks ago. I bought the ticket today as I can't imagine prices going down within the two weeks before I leave.

I also booked my rental car, and it's not absurd although it's higher than I'd like. Less than $100 for four days -- I probably could have Name My Own Price'd it down a dollar or so more per day but at this point I just wanted to get it over with. So there goes nearly $500 of my $700 travel fund just on one trip.

Well. My mother did say that my Christmas present to her was one plane ticket to come visit her. I was planning to use it for my trip in April (since that one's all about her and this one's mostly about my grandparents) but if she offers for this trip, I'll take it.

But I'm not seeing any deals for the trip two and a half months from now, either. Maybe plane ticket prices have just jumped up a lot lately and this is the new standard. Did fuel prices increase and I didn't know about it? Maybe this is the new normal and I need to just get used to it.

At any rate, the money is now spent and non-refundable, and I will be spending a lovely weekend with some family and friends, including meeting a friend's baby for the first time. Hopefully the rest of the weekend will be fairly inexpensive.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February's Love Drop

Jill's Love Drop last month was an amazing success -- J$ and his pal Nate rounded up a bunch of people on the Internet and raised more than $2,500 to help Jill and her family.



This month they're doing it all over again to help 2 kids with severe autism -- Ethan and Alex.

From the Love Drop Team
Our goal is to raise $13,000 so we can get them a highly trained service dog. And if possible, two iPads so they can speak again (they can't even say "I love you" to their mom -- these iPads allow them to get their voice back).

Here are 3 ways you can help:
  1. Join the team - This is the best way to help out, and all it takes is $1.00.
  2. Join our blogger network - Blog about our Love Drops each month like I am :) It's easy, it's rewarding, and it REALLY helps spread the word (which in turn helps our families). Love Drop will give you all the content you need.
  3. Give a gift or provide a service - Gift cards (iTunes would be great!), two iPads (so we can help the boys speak again!), and anything else you think could help out.