Thursday, March 31, 2011

And the winner is....


Which makes Quarterlife Finances! I hope you get a refund to put towards your car loan. Check your email!

Thanks to everyone for entering!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What do you spend on gifts?

You've Got Mail!

MAIL CALL!

A great follow up question from Tricia


Also, what do you think is the appropriate amount of money to spend on gifts?
- wedding you attend locally 
- wedding you attend but must travel 
- wedding you don't attend 
- bridal and/or baby shower you attend locally 
- bridal and/or baby shower you don't attend locally 
- bridal and/or baby shower you don't attend b/c out of town but were invited to
- birthday no event required
- birthday with an event you attend (ie. dinner, drinks, etc) 

I know each situation is different but just a ballpark number. What is your rule of thumb?

Here goes:


- wedding you attend locally 
I'd try to get something off the registry (they made it for a reason!), probably between $50-$100 depending on how well I know the couple. Sometimes I get something inexpensive and clear, like a pitcher or vase, and fill it with crumpled up one dollar bills. It seems silly, but twice I've been effusively thanked for providing the happy couple with spending cash for their after-wedding run to a fast-food place because they were STARVING. 

- wedding you attend but must travel 
Also between $50-$100 depending on my relationship to the couple. If I have to fly I'm probably ordering something from the registry to be delivered right to them, so I don't get to do my clever gift trick above. (I'd try to get free shipping.)

- wedding you don't attend 
I have only turned down a wedding invitation once in my life, when it was utterly impossible for me to attend and I was flat broke. I sent them a very pretty $10 candle. I felt small about it, but it was truly all I could afford at the time. If it were to come up now, I'd probably stick with $50-$100.
 
- bridal and/or baby shower you attend locally 
I go a little smaller on shower gifts -- maybe $25-$30. And if there's a theme, I try to stick with it! 
 
- bridal and/or baby shower you don't attend locally  and
- bridal and/or baby shower you don't attend b/c out of town but were invited to
I don't usually give a gift for a shower I don't attend. (It's not required.) If I'm not attending, I'm probably not that close to them, particularly if it's local, and if I'm traveling for the wedding, I'll bring or send a gift for that.

- birthday no event required
I do not exchange birthday gifts with my friends, the majority of my family, or my husband. The exceptions are my youngest sister who is still a kid and my mother who gets flowers. I do send cards to the rest of my parents/in-laws and siblings. (I also no longer exchange gifts with my adult siblings for Christmas, at least if we're not in the same state at the holiday.)
 
In my opinion, birthday gifts are for children (who I am happy to buy for) but for grown-ups it seems superfluous. My friends can buy themselves whatever they need and want and they'll do a better job of picking it out for themselves anyway. 

- birthday with an event you attend (ie. dinner, drinks, etc)
If there's a birthday outing, I will happily chip in to cover the birthday person's dinner or buy them a drink or whatever. But I don't bring cards or presents.
 
 
Of course, all of these stances are my opinion. What do YOU do in the situations above?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bullets from my life

  • (Hat tip to Fig for the bullet point update meme)
  • I don't want to talk about how Peanut and I basically ate out for almost every meal last weekend. We were just extremely social and wound up having some very tasty food for the majority of our meals.
  • I found an app for my phone that allows me to scan the barcode of all the books I own so I quit bringing home duplicates or adding things to my Amazon wishlist that I already own. I've done one bookshelf so far, and I have 190 books in there How am I ever going to read all of these? And I still have a bookshelf to go, plus all the books I have at work.
  • I discovered the website Yapta.com, which watches airline fares for you AFTER you've bought your ticket and will alert you if the price drops enough that your airline would honor a refund or changed ticket price. Now that's pretty cool!
  • And lastly, but not leastly, who else is sick to death of winter weather?!?!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

GIVEAWAY!!!

So Peanut and I finally got around to doing our taxes this weekend -- another year of paying although luckily we didn't have to pay any penalties for self-employment taxes, just the taxes themselves.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might remember that I won a code to do our taxes for free on TurboTax Online Deluxe from My Next Buck. Unfortunately, Peanut's freelance business meant TurboTax kicked us out of Deluxe and into Business...so I've got a code to give away!

TurboTax Online Deluxe is recommended for returning TurboTax customers or anyone who has a lot of deductions to maximize (like if you own a home or are not taking the standard deduction or whatever).  Anyone in that boat?

To enter, leave a comment here and tell me what you're hoping to do with your refund. You can get a second entry for tweeting about the post and linking to @lilmsmoneybags in your tweet. One random winner will be picked on Thursday, March 31. US only (sorry!).

PS - rather than pay the full TurboTax fee, Peanut and I did some searching and found that our bank offers us 25% off the fee to file federal. Lots of institutions do this, so if you haven't filed yet look for a code before you do!

Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Split a Check at a Restaurant, Moneybags' Style

Mailing Junk back to Junk Mailers
MAIL CALL!

Reader Tricia asks

I was curious about how you deal with splitting the bill with a group of people in a social setting. For example, dining out, bar/club when all drinks are on one bill, or bachelorette/birthday type situation. Do you bring cash? What do you say? Etc....

Great question! Depending on your circle of friends, this can be a really tricky situation. There was a recent post about this at the Awl which got linked all over the internet last week: How to Split a Check at a Restaurant by Neel Shah. The main point of his article is that if you're over 25, you divide the bill by the number of people at the table, regardless of who ordered the filet mignon and who ordered the veggie plate.

I have to say I totally disagree with him. The economics of that approach encourage everyone to order more expensive food and drinks under the assumption that someone else will pay for it. You can see how the bill can skyrocket out of control pretty easily. That doesn't really sound like my idea of a good time.

Luckily my friends are reasonable, and when we go out for brunch or dinner or whatever, people pay for what they order. We pass the receipt around and people are great about putting in more when they've ordered an additional drink or appetizer or whatever. Everyone's also really good about putting in enough for tax or tip -- we often end up leaving a very nice tip or shoving singles back at people who were too generous.

However, what about those situations when you're with people you don't know so well or a situation where you're facing one very large bill? I have definitely been there.

Let's go through the two places this plays out in most frequently: sit-down meals and bars.

At bars, it's frequently possible to open a separate tab for yourself with no problem - you can always tell the server that you may need to leave earlier than everyone else and want to make sure he or she's taken care of. Bachelorette evenings involving table service may be more difficult, so if you're concerned about it, it's perfectly reasonable to check with the host and let them know what they expect the expenses to be and let them know if your budget won't allow. Etiquette forbids a host from setting up an evening that is too expensive for the guests to handle, so this is one situation where it's perfectly acceptable to have a real conversation about money.

For sit-down meals in restaurants, this can be a little harder - some restaurants won't split checks or handle different types of payments, and it's often hard to know ahead of time whether a group prefers a split-it-evenly or everyone-pays-for-their-order division. And because of the economics described in the Awl link above, the prospect of splitting things evenly means a lot of people order that second drink or pricier entree, so sticking with water, salad, and an appetizer doesn't mean you'll save any money.

It's a little awkward, but it can help to break the ice by mentioning this at the beginning of the meal, as everyone's looking at the menu and before ordering. You can semi-jokingly ask whether you'll be dividing the bill equally, because that $25 steak sure is looking great tonight! If you can get everyone to agree to how to pay before the bill arrives, people may be more inclined to order circumspectly if they know they'll be paying for every single thing they order.

I do try to bring cash to these situations, because it's easy to say, well, this is all I'm ordering because that's all the cash I've got on me. (Just make sure to bring enough!) Whatever you do, don't offer or agree to put the bill all on your credit card and have people give you the cash - you could get burned like I did at a friend's birthday dinner a few years ago. Try to at least split it between two credit cards so you're not stuck picking up all the slack from stiffers, or take a moment to do the math and be sure everyone has pitched in enough, whether you're dividing it equally or by what everyone ordered.

Since then, to be honest, I've avoided situations where this might come up again. I show up a bit later or leave a bit earlier than everyone else at a bar, thus needing a separate tab. I meet everyone at the restaurant for dessert instead of for the whole dinner. I still get to celebrate with my friends but my wallet's not screaming at me and I don't feel taken advantage of.

Lastly, if you have a friend who regularly puts you in these situations, evaluate the friendship. If it's worth keeping, tell them you can't afford to keep splitting meals in a way that means you pay for more than what you really ordered.


Question 2 from Tricia coming up over the weekend!

Linkfest

Somehow this fell off my previous Linkfest - I really enjoyed this article by Well Heeled about the rise of Lifestyle blogs and being okay with being average - or at least being okay with not wanting to live out of a backpack in Thailand. I totally agree.

Likewise, I agree with Trent's admonishment to watch out for the fear of missing out - living life wondering if something better is going on wherever you're not is no way to live.

7 types of unnecessary insurance over at Adaptu.

Awesome - my electric and gas bills are going up 4% next month. Again.

EE Musings talks about work/life balance.

Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks shows her work/life balance - yowza! I admire all the time she sets aside for blogging and freelancing. I'm not that dedicated at it, but I also have three more hours per day going to my day job and commuting, so maybe I shouldn't feel too bad.

Do kids hurt careers? from Living Almost Large

Carnival of Personal Finance #301 includes my board of directors post - thanks!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Automate, detonate

Many financial bloggers, authors, and gurus promote automating your finances. Stop receiving paper bills! Set everything up to auto-pay! Never be late again!

I say, however, that automation is good only up to a point. What if some additional charges get added on to your credit card, or even your phone bill? This happened to LivingAlmostLarge, and it took her a few months to catch it. If you automate your bills, how long will it take you to catch something like that?


My recommendations:
1. Turn on electronic billing and read the emails. 
There's no need to get paper statements anymore. Digital statements don't kill trees and they don't take up storage space. What's more, most legitimate companies that you're doing business with will NOT share your email address with anyone else, so at most, you'll have to make sure you don't sign up for promotional emails from them. However, you DO need to read the emails every time they come in. It doesn't take that long.




2. Automate only bills that remain the same on a monthly basis - but still read the statements before the charge goes through. 
I have no problem automating bills like my cell phone bill, my internet bill, the hosting for Peanut's website - those charges should be the same every single month, so it's very simple to quickly glance at the e-statement when it comes in and make sure there's nothing unexpected there. Then I don't have to worry about it; it gets paid automatically.

3. Only automate payments to a credit card - never to a checking or savings account.
One bill I do NOT automate is our electricity/gas bill, because the company requires it to be paid directly from a checking account. I don't know how much it will be from month-to-month (~$70 in winter to ~$200 in summer) but that's not what worries me. What worries me is what if they make a mistake - what if they accidentally charge me for the common area electricity charges, or add to my bill charges from three decades ago, or decide to ignore the agreement we have in place? It's all happened before. In that case, I'd rather have the time to argue with them about it than let them have full access to draining my account.

4. Review your credit card statement carefully every month before paying it. 
If you have all of your automatic payments charged to your credit card, you'll see them a second time when you review your statement for the month, along with any other purchases. This gives you one more chance to find anything weird and dispute it with your credit card company - they're usually great allies in fighting bogus or unauthorized charges.

5. Track your spending.
If you track all your spending, eventually you will have a very good idea of where your money is going on a monthly and yearly basis, and you'll quickly be able to notice fraudulent charges as well as trends.

6. Read the fine print.
I've said it before. Don't sign up for any kind of automatic renewal or payment without reading all the fine print.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Depending on our parents

During a recent dinner out, a friend mentioned thinking about buying a place with his fiance but mentioned that they'd have to get the money for a downpayment from his parents. It got me thinking.

My friend and his fiance do all right for themselves, I think. They have interesting careers, they tend to buy nicer things than we do and spend more money when we go out but overall they're probably ok. From discussions with them, I don't think they're focused on retirement at all, although I know they do save for bigger purchases. I also know his parents are quite well off.

But this to me is weird. They're thinking of buying a place but haven't been saving for it. They're just going to rely on his parents, who did not inherit their money, from what I can tell - his dad worked hard, started a business that ended up doing well, and now in his later years has money to help out his kids.

But my friend, we'll call him Alex, has not been making the same decisions all his life in a way that will enable him to help out his future kids in the same way that he expects his parents to help him out.

How is that cycle supposed to continue?

It was true in my own family, too - my grandfather started a business, invested wisely in real estate, worked hard every day of his life until just a few days before his death. He financially helped out all of his children in various ways - mostly by helping to pay for or providing housing or vehicles. My aunts and uncles expect this now (my mom doesn't but she did accept the help when she was a newly single mother with low-earning prospects). And so my aunts and uncles did nothing to save up for themselves or their children., and my cousins were raised to expect the same - only there was no money left to help them! In three generations, this family went from millionaires to welfare. Yes, quite literally.

Peanut and I expect no help from anyone. We don't expect to inherit money from anyone, and we're certainly not counting on it. When we buy a home, it'll be paid for with our savings, and we are saving with those kinds of purchases in mind. The help our parents can offer is practical, not financial - advice, the loan of a car when we come to visit. We plan to raise our kids the same way.

But when we were discussing Alex's comment later that night, we pointed out that most of the people we know DO get help from their families for non-emergencies. One friend's parents gave her a downpayment for a house. Another friend has been living at home ever since college, rent-free and not holding down any job for longer than a few months. Another friend has been employed by her father in one of those daughter-of-the-president type of jobs. Yet another was given a car as a random gift, just because.

My mother adamantly wanted to help with my wedding, and my father did too. I felt uncomfortable about it, but I did end up accepting both of their offers as wedding gifts - not as loans, and certainly not because we needed it (we paid for everything out of our savings up front). Aside from the traditional wedding assistance, I simply can't imagine having my parents help us out with anyone from now on - and I really can't imagine ASKING for them to give me a downpayment!

What do you think?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Free netbook!

Well, if you win Couple Money's giveaway that is - go over and check it out!

Five Things That Make Me Happy, and One Thing That Pisses Me Off

Taking a line from the Non-Consumer Advocate, I thought I'd try my hand at this. Who knows, maybe it'll become a weekly feature!

Five Things That Make Me Happy, and One Thing That Pisses Me Off
  1. Having the windows open!
  2. A weekend with no firm to-do list.
  3. Lots of ideas for upcoming posts - that doesn't always happen.
  4. Getting a book randomly in the mail that stopped me short with how gorgeous it is. I hope the inside is as good!
  5. I've got a voucher for a movie AND a coupon for free small popcorn in my purse. Oh, the possibilities!
My downstairs neighbor smokes cigars and for some reason, the smell leaks into our apartment but ONLY into my closet. If I keep the door closed, my clothes smell like smoke, but if I crack it open, my apartment does. Ugh.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Linkfest

From the New York Times, mapping the nation's well-being. This is a fascinating look at happiness around the country. Peanut and I were surprised that they asked no direct questions about money!

Make sure you're prepared for disaster with a 72-hour kit. Are you? We're not. We probably have enough food to last for any 72-hour period, but I'm not sure we have enough water. I save plastic bottles, fill them halfway with water, and stick them in the freezer for taking to yoga classes or whatnot, but I don't think that would be enough for two people's needs for a few days.

These four tips will help you stop accumulating clutter. I especially like number 1 - be immediate. I have had to start putting things in a Goodwill donation bag as soon as I decide to donate them, or they never wind up there.

GRS writer April warns about changes to your checking accounts. We're lucky to have a checking account that's linked with a credit card rewards system, so we get points whether we use debit or credit (or checks, for that matter) but I wonder how long before that'll go away?


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Board of Directors

I spoke with a friend the other day who told me of a genius plan, and then I forgot about it until Lucy's comment on my salary post reminded me.

Both my friend and Lucy have some people who tell it like it is -- people who can be both brutally honest and totally supportive. It's more than a group of friends. It's also a group of mentors, coaches, drill sergeants, headhunters, therapists, advisors, bs-detectors, and brainstormers. This group of people is a board of directors.

From wikipedia: A board's activities are determined by the powers, duties, and responsibilities delegated to it or conferred on it by an authority outside itself.

In my friend's case, she literally had a group of women with whom she'd meet up about once a month at a downtown restaurant or bar. They'd discuss their careers, their love lives, their finances. They'd write up plans of action and make mind-maps with post-it notes. They bluntly told one another when they were being underpaid, when they were settling for a guy, and when they were being a bitch. It was a no-holds-barred but because-we-love-you truthfest.

Interestingly, I know someone else on my friend's board of directors, completely unrelated to how I know her. In my opinion, both of these women are With It. They're Smart and Going Places. They're Kicking Butt and Taking...well, you get the idea. Is that a coincidence? I don't think so.

I don't have a formal board of directors for my life, but I'm thinking of forming one. Here's my list:

President: Peanut. As my husband, he has to help me guide this ship. His advice weighs more than anyone else's.

Board Members

Friend A. I've known her longer than anyone except my siblings, and she has always been the first to set me straight, particularly about relationships and when I get stuck wallowing in something.
Sister. Luckily for us, my sister and I are good friends. In addition to having someone understand where I came from, I trust her judgment on things. Also, it's nice to have a lawyer in the family. :)
Blogger-friends. Money is a fairly taboo subject among my circles of friends, so I've really appreciated the bloggers that I've been able to befriend around the blogosphere. More than once I've had a problem that I wasn't comfortable posting about, but the bloggers I reached out to were available by email to brainstorm and weigh in with their experiences.

While I'm not sure I'll ever set up a formal board of directors for my life the way my friend did, I'm certainly going to keep it in mind to actually reach out to people who I feel can offer me advice on my life, and ask them for their input.

Do you have a board of directors in your life? Who's on it?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guest post over at Grocery Alerts

Have you always wanted to see what the inside of my fridge looks like? Click over to GroceryAlerts.ca and read the post where they interview me about our grocery shopping! That was a totally fun project.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sisterhood of the traveling financial book

Cate over at Liberal Simplicity is giving away the copy of Wealth Watchers that she won in my post last summer. Skip over to her blog and enter to win it!
 
I really enjoyed this book. I liked her forthright manner, and especially her emphasis on the fact that personal finance must be personal. (Her family voted on which habits to keep and which to dump, which gets everyone on board.)
 
Let's see how many times we can re-gift this little book! 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How TV Ruined Your Life: Aspiration

Last night, Peanut showed me this really amazing series on the BBC, "How TV Ruined Your Life" (I know - ironic!). Anyway, the third episode is REALLY interesting and disturbing. Here, take a few minutes to watch it:




What I love so much about this is how it so eloquently explains the phallacies of the modern mindset - that we're all supposed to be beautiful, rich, perfect beings, because of the people inside a little box that have handlers making sure they appear beautiful, rich, and perfect while they're posing for endless re-takes by a camera and have editors standing by in case somehow real life intrudes. Because we're not capable of living in this perfect world, we hide from it, spending ever more time watching television (or browsing the internet...that could be a whole new series for the BBC to explore).

I didn't grow up watching a lot of television. My parents didn't get cable until I'd moved out of the house, and what I could watch on the broadcast networks was pretty heavily censored (I didn't see Friends until I was in college, during the very last season) and ridiculed (as a family, we watched SeaQuest, which my parents made fun of endlessly until we kids gave up and went to our rooms). Peanut and I don't have cable, so we tend to hear about shows with real sticking power and watch them in marathon sessions (like The IT Crowd, Downton Abbey, and Mythbusters) but without advertising. We don't really have a television - one of our computer monitors doubles as a TV but that means in order to use it, you can't be online, and we almost always would prefer to be online.

As an adult, I've never willingly had cable - I only had it when I lived with roommates who insisted on it. And I've noticed a correlation with dissatisfaction with my life during times when I've had cable. I'm a sucker for makeover shows like What Not To Wear - but the more I watched them, the more unhappy I felt with my own looks and wardrobe. I considered getting a haircut by Nick Arrojo at one point, even though it costs about the same as one of my rent payments in a Manhattan apartment.

How TV Ruined Your Life has made me extremely wary of having a television in my home when I have kids. I used to think that my parents' heavy-handedness over what I watched was unfair and restrictive, but I also think that the shows then were a lot better than today's Cribbed and Jersey Shore. I think I'll be just as strict with my kids.

If you're interested, here are the other episodes in the BBC's series:
How TV Ruined Your Life: Fear
How TV Ruined Your Life: The Lifecycle
How TV Ruined Your Life: Love
How TV Ruined Your Life: Progress Part 1 and Part 2

The last one will air later this month. Wikipedia

Friday, March 11, 2011

Linkfest: short edition

My Nex Buck talks about mastering the art of being resourceful.

Not that I need this quite yet, but here's a post about the thrifty art of cloth diapering.

Zen Habits has a  simple guide for a mindful digital life.

Rules for leftovers from Cheap Healthy Good. Yes!
 
Also from Zen Habits: the little habits make a difference. Some of mine are:
  • Floss.
  • Coat gets hung up as soon as I get home.
  • Dishes done, clothes laid out, lunch packed or planned before bed every night.
 
 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Million Dollar Meme

I love this meme that's going around the blogosphere! Give Me Back My Five Bucks did it, and so did Fig. Here's what I'd do if I won a million dollars today:

1. Pay taxes (estimated at 30%): $300,000
2. Pay off student loans: $35,000
3. Max out two Roth IRAs for 2011: $10,000
4. Max out 401(k) for 2011: $16,500
5. Max out SEP IRA for 2011: $10,000? (It's a percentage of your net profit for the year)
6. Buy property: $150,000
7. Remodel property: $100,000
8. Take a really amazing vacation: $30,000
9. Invest the rest: 348,500

I wonder how many of those items Peanut would agree with me about?

Peanut gets paid

It's great that we're living on my income alone, and it makes me feel all useful and contributory towards our joint life, especially during monthly wrap-ups like February's, where I was the only one bringing cash dollars into a bank account. But then Peanut's freelance checks come in with a gagillion hours of overtime and my eyes kind of bug out of my head. And I'm sure they'll bug out of my head again when we have to pay taxes on them! :)

I'm still in a weird, boring place with money. We earn it, we save it, we wait. Not much to say about that.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bartering for knowledge

I found this website for New York City where you can sign up to take a class for free, and the instructor tells you what they need/want you to bring in exchange - anything from help moving a table to a can of soup to subscribing to their blog.

Check it out!

What an awesome idea! I'm thinking of signing up for one of the classes simply to see what kind of people show up. This is one of those only-in-New-York experiences that I love.


March's Love Drop

Last month's Love Drop was amazing - everyone came together and we raised $13,000 and not one, not two -- but THREE iPads to help those two little boys get their voices back. Here's the video of J$ and Nate bringing a bunch of love their way.



March's challenge is to help Katie, a single mom in Dallas who's battled one brain tumor already and is fighting another. Love Drop's goal is to put a dent in her medical bills, and bring the spirit of the Blissdom conference right to her.




Three Ways You Can Help
  1. Give $1.00 - This is the best way to help out and join our team at the same time.
  2. Join our blogger network - Blog about the Love Drops each month like I do. It's easy, it's rewarding, and it does help 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 are always helpful. Places like Target, Safeway, gas stations, etc would definitely help them out. If you have a specialized service to offer, whether it's legal advice, accounting help, or mad dog-walking skills, they're welcome, too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

LinkFest!

I've been daydreaming lately about packing up and moving across the country or the world in only two suitcases, getting rid of everything else I own. What freedom! What lightness! So I'm kind of jealous of Laura, as profiled on Miss Minimalist.

I wrote up a whole post about whether you need rental car insurance and scheduled it, but then 20somethingfinance's post came along, and it's better than mine. So go read it there! (From now on, I'm going to sit on all my good ideas for two days, hoping you lovely bloggers write the posts for me, and then I'll just link to them and I won't have to write them. :p)

16 great tax deductions Peanut and I probably overlooked...and you might have too!

Small Notebook posted 10 ways to simplify without becoming a minimalist. This is probably a post I'm going to refer to over and over again in my life. Also, that cup thing? Brilliant!! I'm implementing it on myself now.

Trent details how to downgrade your job without downgrading your life. This is something I secretly fantasize about doing when I have kids -- I don't want to work 60 hours a week with babies at home to play with! (Although I'm pretty sure I want to work at least part-time, even with babies.)

What a new baby really needs (no, I do not have any news to announce!). I think it's so interesting how it's like BABY! MUST BUY PLASTIC STUFF! When really, you don't need all that much.

J.D. Roth on developing systems that work - lots of good stuff in the comments, too!

Yikes! Random Anny shows a new eBay/Paypal term of service that's worth opting out of. She tells you how. I haven't been selling or buying anything on eBay for a long time, but I still opted out.

When traveling or moving across country or just carting valuable stuff with you, disguise your valuables! I think this is brilliant although Peanut laughed at me when I showed it to him. Whatevs - I even know that it works. A friend came to visit and bundled all her stuff into garbage bags with a few carefully placed trash items like discarded burrito wrappers and fast food cups on top. While we were at a show, someone smashed her windshield and grabbed the only thing not in a trash bag (her overnight bag) but they didn't get her laptop!

It's Small Notebook's three-year anniversary. I have to say, this is one of my very favorite blogs - so happy birthday!

I love Money Maus's really big to-do list, and the reason for it!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Happiness Project Week

Two great posts from The Happiness Project this week.

One, get enough sleep. This is a problem for me under the best of conditions - I'm a very light sleeper and I have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. I have vivid dreams, particularly when I'm stressed, that make me wake up feeling as if I didn't sleep at all, just worked all night. I could be better about my sleep hygiene though - I could set a more consistent bedtime, I could create a set of routines that help prepare me for sleep (currently, my routine is something like, oh, crap, I wanted to be in bed half an hour ago, turn off computer, wash dishes, set out lunch and clothes, brush teeth, get in bed, ask Peanut to turn off the computer and the light and snuggle and have laughing fits about perspective and the universe and then eventually fall asleep only to realize I forgot to plug in my phone and/or turn on the alarm. Not conducive to sleepytime.)

I especially like the comment on that post that says to treat bedtime like the BEGINNING of the day -- go to bed to give yourself a good foundation for the rest of your day, not for tomorrow. Interesting thought!

And then there was this post on preference cards! This is basically what I've wanted to carry my whole life, only I've never been important enough for anyone to care about them even if I did make one. But I am going to list my preferences and I'm going to try to create them at every opportunity.

Here they are:
LMM prefers to have an orderly to-do list with priorities clearly marked, for both work and home.
LMM prefers to get to work a little before everyone else so she has time to drink her coffee uninterrupted and deal with both urgent and pleasurable emails.
LMM prefers to have a seat on the train, so be sure to leave for work in time to let one or two go by so that can happen.
LMM prefers to feel like she's accomplishing something at all times, so rather than watch reruns or listening to the radiator while washing dishes, consider listening to a new episode of This American Life (which I'm trying to work through).

I just love it!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Being shy about how much I make

I went out for dinner last night with two friends in my field, and had the most bizarre realization that I make way more money than they do.

I've never been in this situation before. For whatever reason, I tend to "friend up" and so all of my friends have generally been more professionally successful or in the industry longer than me, and so it could be safely assumed that they made more than me. Of these two friends, one has been working longer than me (about three years longer) and one has been working for the same length of time. And yet I make more -- quite a bit more in one case -- than both of them.

The way I found out is that one friend is interviewing for a job with my company and asked me how much I thought the job paid, and flat out told me what she's making now (which is quite low -- $15,000 less than me). The other friend was complaining that her younger brother, who lives in the midwest and has only been in the workforce for two years, is now making more than her, and she named a number which is $6,000 less than what I make. These conversations happened separately, so as far as I know, I know what friend A makes and what friend B makes, but friend A doesn't know what friend B makes and vice versa, and neither know what I make nor that I know what the other makes. Got that?

Both of these friends work full time. Both of them also have part-time jobs on the side, working evenings and weekends in service-type jobs. Both are single. One lives alone, the other lives with her parents outside of the city, where she owns a car and has a crazy expensive commute. Both are older than me by a year or two.

I want finances to be an open matter -- that's why I blog, even though it's anonymous. I want to be in friendships where we can discuss things like this. And yet, I feel very strange telling my friends how much I make since it's substantially more than them. I feel weird telling them that Peanut and I live off of my income alone, and bank his larger income for the future.

Why do I feel so weird about this?! I can't figure it out. We're in different jobs that have different salary expectations. We handle money differently (they both ordered appetizers with dinner and looked at the dessert menu; I did not). I work hard for my salary and I'm good at my job. I'm not ashamed of what I make and I intend to make more still, but I don't want to make them feel bad by saying out loud that I don't have to worry about money at this point in my life.

I also felt like geez, it's not really fair. I know how much they make, and they don't know how much I make. My salary never came up, as the conversations were pretty specific to their situation, and injecting my number was irrelevant. But it seems like introducing how much I make into the equation would make the friendship unequal, especially given how thrifty I generally am during outings. Would they think me a cheapskate for only ordering one drink, if they knew that I earned more than them? Would they feel like I should pick up more of the dinner tab, because I could? Should I, especially if I do the inviting or pick the restaurant?

If a more general salary discussion came up, I'm not sure what I would have said. Would I have told them the truth? Would I have demurred and said nothing substantial? Would I have lied to my friends to spare their feelings? Honestly, I don't know.

Do you earn more or less than your friends? If you're on either side of the situation, please weigh in and tell me how you prefer it to be handled. I'm really stumped.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February Recap/March Goals

February Goals
1. Make doctor and dentist appointments. Half done - I made and went to a doctor's appointment, but haven't yet made a dentist appointment. I need to do this.

2. Finish clearing out filing cabinet. DONE! And what a relief.

3. Stay under budget for my trip. Done! My plane ticket was more than I wanted to pay but that and the rental car were really the only expenses. The only meal I paid for was in the airport on my way out of town, and my parents had given me money for that. (How cute!)


March Goals
1. Make and go to dentist appointment. No more procrastinating!

2. Plan and execute a birthday situation.  My youngest sibling is going to become a teenager this month. OMG you guys! What do you do for kids nowadays? As this is a milestone birthday, I want it to be something cool.

3. Get things under control at work. I am not in control of my work life. I'm frustrated and tense and dreaming about work every night (when it's not keeping me awake, that is). I'm not sure whether the solution is to stay late or come in early or on weekends or delegate...but I need to figure it out and make sure something gets done to fix it. I hate feeling frantic. I also feel like with five or six dedicated hours, I could get through everything - so maybe a weekend is the answer.

4. Keep up this way-under-budget trend. I'm liking this! It's fun knowing that Peanut and I can survive -- even thrive -- just on my income, and I'd like to keep stashing that money away right now. We didn't feel at all deprived last month, so how long can we keep that up?

5. Try a new recipe. I'm collecting recipes and cookbooks like it'll save my life on a sinking ship, but I'm not using any of them! What's up with that?

Resolutions Update
1. Single-task. Still struggling, and to be honest, I'm completely ignoring it in the mornings. I'm totes watching the Today Show while reading email and eating my breakfast.
2. Participate in The Happiness Project. Going well!
3. Be able to do headstand in yoga. Oh, it's like I didn't even make this resolution.
4. Save enough to hurt a little. Well, we're saving some of my income and banking all of Peanut's and it's still not hurting. How far can we take it!
5. Change our net worth by the value of our student loans/increase our net worth by $31,000. I am shocked that we've already maxed out a huge emergency fund AND saved 32% of what it will cost to wipe out our student loans. SHOCKED, I tell you.
6. Prepare to leave my job. Considering I don't even have my daily life under control, this is decidedly not going well.
7. Declutter -- ideally, reduce our possessions by about 1/3. I've started a new Goodwill bag! I'm thinking about a closet cleanout in the near future.
8. Organize digital photos and finish physical scrapbooks. Sort of...okay, I foisted this one onto Peanut. He had some time, so he's been organizing the files, and then I'll go through the photos and oh, god, the scrapbooks, I haven't even thought about them.
9. Take up a crafty hobby. Hey, maybe the scrapbooks can be my crafty project!
10. Create a bucket-list of New York adventures and start checking them off. As soon as the weather's nice and Peanut's off work, I want to go to one of the museums on my list.
11. Read through my library. I am doing very well at this (I read five or six books-off-my-shelf in February) but I also brought home at least that many to add to the shelf. So - middling.

February Spending Recap

Debt Repayment
Student loans $453.83

Spending
Alcohol $19
Business expenses $3.89

Dance expense $18
Entertainment $13.38
Food—dining out $195.06
Food—groceries $296.51
Hygiene/Medical $32.95
Laundry $20
Rent $1,444.69
Transportation $20
Travel $506.27
Utilities $234.08
Total spending: $2,803.83

Misc Income: $332.61

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


Notes

- Miscellaneous income this month includes interest, Pinecone payments, and finally, my flex spending reimbursement from December! I have to say we've got a really great interest rate at our bank right now (which is like 1.5% -- nothing like the 5% of yore) and we've got a very healthy balance in there right now as we save up to pay cash for our student loans this year. It's nice to see double digits roll in every month in totally passive income.

- The difference between transportation and travel is really the frequency. Transportation includes subway passes, bus fare, cab fare, etc. Travel includes plane tickets, rental cars, gas for rental cars or when borrowing a car, etc. Transportation is day to day, travel is vacation. It doesn't mean much on a monthly basis, but it does in a year-end view.

- As I said a few days ago, we've not really been spending a lot lately. We've been really busy and it shows in our balance sheet, luckily.

- If we can keep things going as they are, we will totally hit our resolution of changing our net worth by the value of our student loans - and my unofficial resolution of paying them off by our first anniversary!