Saturday, July 30, 2011

Linkfest! Debt Ceiling Edition

So there's lots of talk about the debt ceiling and what that will mean for the United States and its citizens. I listened to one radio commentator ranting about how if the debt ceiling isn't raised, our credit rating will drop (not to mention we will default). This would "damage our reputation" and "cause problems getting additional funding" not to mention being a "huge embarrassment".

NEWSFLASH: That's how it's supposed to work. Our country does not have enough money to pay its bills. Maybe we need a little drop in credit rating in order to get it - we have to spend less than we bring in. It will suck if the credit rating drops, because it will affect all sorts of things, but let's not pretend it isn't perfectly fair and reasonable for that to happen. We don't deserve infinite credit when we are making bad decisions with our money.

Trent has written The Post on life insurance. Seriously, this is the best point by point description of the different policies I have ever seen. I understand it now!

The federal government's woes mean that airlines won't be collecting or paying sales tax for a while, so what do they do? Raise prices of course! Now not only are they pocketing the sales tax difference, but they're charging more. I just checked and the ticket I'm watching for September went up by $7 for each leg. Greedy jerks.

Oh come on. Now they're making relaxation drinks - to help you come down from your energy drink-induced high.

I have to say, I'm rather glad that the UK banned this super photoshopped ad of Julia Roberts. Advertising is necessary (probably) in our society, but it doesn't have to be deceptive. Maybe the ban will get advertisers to be a little more realistic.

Add a "snooze" option to Gmail. So cool!

Complaint contact info for major companies. Very useful!

My love affair with Smart, Pretty & Awkward continues. This post's how to be smarter is about to become my anti-procrastination mantra.

Lastly, I am traveling this weekend, and I emailed Air Tran about getting the federal tax that I paid and which the FAA currently has no authority to collect refunded. Looks like it's possible - although the IRS clearly said they have asked airlines to handle the refunds, but if they refuse, they'll issue guidelines for requesting refunds from the feds at a later date.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Now I want a house

Or more accurately: I want a house, now.

We just helped some friends of ours move into their first house, and then we went to their housewarming party over the weekend. It's a small house, but cozy, and with nice amenities including a big deck and a nice sized backyard. And it's driving me crazy.

I just moved here, and while I love it now, I wonder how I'll feel after six months of winter. We have student loans to pay off. We've been at our jobs only a couple of months, hardly long enough to qualify for a mortgage. We don't have a 20% downpayment saved up. Our apartment is right downtown, where Peanut can walk to work. Everything is taken care of for us by our management company.

I know all of these things, and they don't matter. I am totally house crazy.

I just want to live in a place where I don't share walls with neighbors. I don't want to hear anyone walking above my head, unless I know them, and I don't want to ever hear anyone having sex through the floorboards again. I want a private outdoor space where I can go sit and read. I want to pick out my own wall colors and flooring type. I want a washer and dryer that I can use when I please, instead of waiting on other people or pulling their now-cold clothes out of the dryer after waiting for twenty minutes for them to not show up. I want a place for company to stay that's not on the couch in my living room. I am anxious to get started on a family, and I want to be in a house before we bring a squalling newborn home. (There are NO babies or children of any age in our apartment building, which is weird, and I don't want to be That Family.)

The plan right now is that we're going to start saving really hard for a house and start looking in the spring. How hard is really hard? Well, we're going to try living off of 2/5 of our joint income and saving the other 3/5. We'll keep paying minimums on our student loans, but we will max out Roth IRAs for the year and contribute the max to receive the match on our company retirement plans. This still may not be enough to have a good-enough down payment on the kind of house I want by next summer, but it's the most aggressive and realistic plan we can come up with. And frankly, I'd be content to rent a house instead of buying, but the increased monthly cost plus moving costs would ding our ability to save to buy.

What to do?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Shopping Online: Credit or Debit Card?

This is  a guest post by Matt, who writes about managing money at, which is a comparison service for credit cards based in Australia.

People have the option to make their online and offline purchases with either a credit card or a debit card. One may be better than the other for consumers because both have positives and negatives associated with their use. Below will be an examination of the benefits as well as the possible consequences of using either a credit card or a debit card.

The Credit Card

The Pros of Using a Credit Card Online
  1. The Fair Credit Billing Act states that a purchase made with a stolen credit card will not be the responsibility of the true card owner. It also relieves the card owner of having to pay for products that were damaged or never arrived. Only credit cards are covered under this law.
  2. If the cardholders have a disagreement with a retail store, they do not have to negotiate with these merchants at all. They may call their credit card companies and they will reimburse the cardholder, in some cases, immediately.
  3. Credit cards allow for people to make emergency purchases that they do not have sufficient funds in their bank accounts to cover at that moment. As long as card holders are sure that they will have enough money to cover the amount when the bill comes, this option is a positive for card holders.
  4. A credit card can be used to rent a car online, and it offers the cardholder collision coverage. This eliminates the need to purchase the car rental company’s insurance policy which can add $7.00 to $14.00 to the rental car’s price for each day.
The Cons of Using a Credit Card Online
  1. Credit card companies offer low interest rates to their new clients in the beginning, but after this initial period has passed, the rate increases. This has caused many people to fall into serious credit card debt.
  2. In the event that a credit card holder is unable to pay the monthly bill, some card companies have been known to raise the interest rates on these accounts between 20 and 30 percent.
  3. Sometimes, the card holder will default on another account that has been issued by the same credit card company. The credit card company can consider the card holder to be in universal default even if they have not defaulted on all of their credit card accounts.
  4. Credit card companies may raise their clients’ interest rates whenever they see fit to do so.

The Debit Card

The Pros of Using a Debit Card Online
  1. Using a debit card forces users to only make the purchases they can afford at that moment. This prevents people from building up a credit card debt that may take them years to pay back.
  2. Those who would have difficulty obtaining a credit card because of their lack of credit history or poor credit history can obtain a debit card which allows them to make purchases online.
  3. Because the transactions using a debit card are so immediate, merchants do not have any difficulties accepting debit cards when they have the capability to process them.
  4. Debit cards are much easier for online retailers to process than electronic checks. Online merchants receive payment within a couple of days, while payment by a check would take weeks.
The Cons of Using a Debit Card Online
  1. The debit card is not subject to the Fair Credit Billing Act, but it does fall under the Electronic Transfer Act. This law is not as strong as the credit card law because it requires people to report a fraudulent transaction before six days have passed. Failing to do so leaves the cardholder without any protection.
  2. When people have a dispute with a retailer over a purchase made with a debit card, they are obligated to contact the merchant before they can file a complaint with their debit card issuers.
  3. When using a debit card to reserve a rental car, the rental company will, most likely, place a hold on a large sum of money within the account associated with the card. This prevents the cardholder from being able to access these funds while on a business trip or vacation.
  4. Debit cards do not, generally, offer substantial rewards programs for their use.
As can be seen from the lists above, credit cards offer the card holder more conveniences when being used online than the debit card, but they also can make the card holder vulnerable to falling into debt. Using debit cards completely eliminates this worry, but they are not as well protected in the event that a fraud occurs. Overall, those who are currently experiencing credit card debt would benefit from using debit cards, and those who are currently managing their money very well may see credit cards as the better option.

Friday, July 22, 2011


How much do you think you'll put down on a house? Is 20% still relevant? It is for Peanut and I, to avoid PMI, but I realized that we'll have to save more than 20% to cover closing costs. Boo, hiss.

I kind of thought this post about what brands that might disappear next year was stupid, until I saw that they correctly predicted Blockbuster, Borders, the T-Mobile merger, and Radio Shack's problems for 2011.

Ads for new products are being digitally added to old re-runs. Um. Do not like.

The Two-Income Trap - this is why Peanut and I are trying to live on one income (the lower of the two) consistently.

A guide for choosing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Now that I've kind of gotten back into it, Matter of Cents described how she got started in mystery shopping.

One less thing: microbeads. I never thought about how truly bad these things are for the environment. I sure won't be buying anything containing them ever again.

I love this "less awkward" tip: if you're not sure whether to do something, imagine both outcomes and go with the one that doesn't bother you.

Here's how the new debit card rules might affect you.

I love Friday takeout date nights! I told Peanut we are copying The Frugal Girl when we have kids.

Back-up meals are definitely important. Mine are scrambled eggs, and I try to keep black bean burgers in the freezer at all times.

Zen Habits has an inspiring rant about not playing the game.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is open for business!

Monroe or Einstein: Do you need glasses? Luckily, my LASIK surgery is still doing what I paid for it to do.

I've been cranky lately about the amount of time that meal planning and shopping has been taking. A friend sent me a book called The Stocked Kitchen, which looks like such a cool concept - and then here's a post about the benefits of a well-stocked pantry. I may change my grocery shopping/menu planning strategy for a while and see how it goes. What do you think about stocked kitchen planning as opposed to planning what you want and shopping the sales?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why You Shouldn't "Invest" in Wardrobe Pieces

I hate articles like this one: 6 Work Wardrobe Staples to Invest In. Here's why:

1. Investment means to put money in an asset, ie, something whose value is going to increase. Clothing that you purchase to wear is not going to increase in value. There are very rare occasions where couture clothing, perfectly preserved, may increase in value, but that's not what's going to happen with clothing that you buy from department stores or designer stores that you plan to wear to work. Don't be fooled.

Obviously, the intended assumption here is that you're going to spend money on clothing that will help you project an image that will help you earn more money. That may or may not be the case, but I feel that you can get that job/keep that job/get that promotion while buying clothing that's not considered "investment" pieces, so why not save the money you would have spent, put it in the bank, and earn interest on it -- thereby, actually investing it.

2. I have a problem finding clothes that actually fit me really well. My weight is pretty stable. I'm an underbuyer, so I don't go shopping for fun - I go with a mission, a purpose, a list. I now have a defined style, color scheme and rules for clothing so I'm not buying willy-nilly while I'm in the store. And STILL. I will buy something that fits fine in the store, meets all my needs, and then realize after a few wearings that I hate that item. It's bad enough when I've spent tens of dollars on the item; it's even worse if it's hundreds or thousands of dollars.

And I don't believe that more expensive clothing will not have this problem. I've had it with items from all price levels; in fact, the most expensive piece of clothing I've ever owned was the worst about this - my wedding dress, which is supposed to be all sentimental and whatnot, was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever worn in my life and the moment I took it off, I knew I would get rid of it as soon as possible. Also, my favorite pair of work pants came from Kohls and probably cost $24.99 and have lasted me years, so price does not necessarily indicate how well fit will hold up for me. It seems like lately, "quality" is simply a selling point to up a price, not a real feature.

3. Upkeep costs are higher with more expensive clothes. Dry cleaning, tailoring, etc - I don't have those costs with cheaper items. Investments shouldn't cost anything additional to be maintained.

4. Styles come and go. Heel heights and widths, toe box styles, hardware on bags, silhouettes, skirt lengths. If you spend a lot of money on a piece, even one with "classic" lines, it will eventually go out of style - and then you're stuck with clutter in your closet or looking out of date.

5. Stuff you don't need. I don't need a suit. No, really - I don't need one. I haven't worn a suit on a job interview in eight years, and I get job offers just fine. I will never wear a suit to work, and I will never wear a suit to a conference or trade show or whatever. It's not appropriate for my industry, and no matter how good the quality or the deal, a suit is not a good investment for me. "Investment" pieces are frequently things you don't really need - suits (unless you're in law or finance), trench coats, cocktail dresses. Dressing it up as an "investment" is a way of selling you something you don't need.

My solutions
I shop infrequently. I'm really picky about what I buy, and I pay attention to the items I already have and try to mimic them where it makes sense (ie, silhouettes, draping, etc). I have a uniform of sorts and I have a color scheme. I always shop at discount stores, on the clearance racks. I haven't had a chance to check out thrift stores here (they were a bust in New York) but that would be an option as well. Once I find something I like (a cardigan, pants) I go back and buy multiples and rotate. By doing so, I extend my wardrobe more than I would buying one signature, expensive piece. (Hint: if you find something you love and it's no longer available in stores, check e-bay!)

What do you think? Are 'investment pieces' worth spending more on? Are the risks of finding actual quality pieces worth the costs of the duds?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Everyone's Running a Racket

I came home to a very welcome surprise in the mail today: our security deposit from our New York deposit, refunded in full. Yippee!

I had expected a fight in order to get that back, as I've had to do with every previous New York landlord, but they sent it very quickly and within the terms in the lease.

One thing they didn't include, which is required by New York state law, is any interest earned on the money during the two years it was in their possession. Landlords of apartment buildings with more than six units are required to keep deposits in individual interest-bearing accounts, inform the tenants of the bank name and account number of those accounts, and return the interest earned annually or at the end of the lease term, less a 1% fee for administrative costs. That 1% is based on the deposit total, not the interest earned, and in our case, it looks like our security deposit earned exactly 1% each year, meaning they got to keep the entire interest earned as their fee (note, however, that we had to pay taxes on that interest!). Most likely, based on my rough calculations, we're probably owed an additional buck or two - which is not really enough for me to go through the trouble of writing a letter or filing a complaint form with the attorney general's office.

I'm not totally complaining - we did get the deposit back without a fight, and sadly, 1% is not a terrible rate to earn in this economy, but we found higher rates than that without much looking. A powerful entity owning hundreds of apartments (and therefore managing hundreds of accounts that are totally stable on an annual basis) could probably throw their weight around to get a better deal than that. And an unnoticed $2 on each of those hundreds of accounts each year winds up being quite a bit more than the company bowling party would cost, you know?

At any rate, $1400+ of our money has been returned to us, and will go into the eventual house fund, so on the whole, it's something to celebrate!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Well then

At my in-laws' house this weekend, my mother-in-law showed me a stash she's started - of BABY STUFF. A bouncy chair, cute little outfits for baby girls. She's finding the stuff on deep clearance at Target, and using her employee discount to get an even better deal.

Whose baby is this for?

Oh, yes. Peanut's and my still very-much-hypothetical child.

Have I mentioned that my own mother has had a crib in her home for several YEARS? And that for last Christmas she gave me a quilt-making kit for a baby quilt? (Or, um, that I have made most of it already?)

Happily, these anecdotes are not meant to be complainy - Peanut and I have been married not even a year, and while everyone's asking when the babies are coming, no one is pressuring us or making us antsy. In fact, I'm thrilled - thrilled that all of these people are already planning for our eventual progeny and starting to stock up (at good deals!) on stuff that we'll otherwise have to register for - and between One Frugal Girl and Blogging Away Debt, I definitely see the value of getting the necessary stuff out of the way cheap and early!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Personalization: At What Cost?

For whatever reason, I saw a number of personalized license plates yesterday, and it got me thinking: why are we so determined to "personalize" and "customize" almost every little thing in our lives?

I understand that things like your username, your radio station, your twitter background, your social circle are some ways that you can be your authentic self. Those things are free (generally). I even understand spending money on expressing yourself through things like your clothing or your haircut, your personal sense of style. But why would you pay money to show your personality through license plates? I mean, when was the last time you actually LOOKED at your own license plate? Here in Minnesota, I found out, it costs $100 to get a personalized license plate. That's $100 to tell the entire world how you are JSS GRL or that you love ROK ROL. Don't even get me started on things like truck balls.

Other personalization things that I don't understand spending money on: skins or custom cases for ipods/ipads/kindles/macbooks. those little dangly charms some people have on cell phones. necklaces that spell your name. the ex knife stand.

Some personalization things I do understand: tattoos. handmade items. experiences.

How do you feel about personalization? Do you think such things are worth spending money on?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How did you earn money while in school?

Adaptu asks, "How did you earn money while in school?"

Rather than answer in their thread, I decided to post it here - because it turned into something way longer than a comment!

My parents made me a deal for college: if I went to their church-sponsored school, they would pay for all tuition, room & board, and I would be on my own for personal expenses and books. If I went anywhere else, I was 100% on my own (at age 18! And I didn't qualify for any financial aid!). This was before there were any online college courses available out there, and I didn't like the school, but it was a good deal to know that I'd graduate debt-free, so I took it.

The first year I was there, I earned money by working as a janitor in my dorm. It was not actually a bad job - I wasn't cleaning bathrooms - but the hours were terrible. I could only get about five hours per week at minimum wage (then about $5), which didn't give me much in the way of pocket money. The second semester, I worked at a cafe on campus which gave me around 15 hours a week, and I was actually able to start saving some money. That summer, while living at home, I worked at Taco Bell.

My second year, a friend got me and another girl a job at McDonalds off campus - and provided transportation there and back, since we didn't have our own cars. We pitched in for gas money for her trouble, and the three of us closed McDonalds five nights a week for most of the year. Sometime in the middle of the year I had to quit because we got in a fight about something, and she wouldn't drive me to work anymore. (I don't remember any of the specifics, but it must not have been a huge deal because two years later we wound up being roommates. I remember being PISSED about having to quit though!) During the summer, I moved back home and worked at Taco Bell again. I also got a job at a local radio station as an on-air DJ, a job that two of my siblings followed me into.

My third year, I had a car, so I got my own job off campus, working at a clothing store in the mall. Despite making the most I'd ever made in my life, I was now spending the majority of it on clothes with my employee discount. I started writing a column for the weekly school newspaper, which paid a little bit. I also worked a few afternoons a week as a grader in the communications department. That summer, I stayed in my college town and worked as a personal assistant for one of the professors in the business department. This was my first experience with a 9-5 "real" office job and I was partly bored out of my mind and partly thrilled.

My fourth year, I was the editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, which paid enough that I didn't have to get another job - not that I had the time. I was in the newspaper office from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. whenever I wasn't in class, I ate all my meals there, and I probably earned less than a dollar an hour. Because I'd changed majors, I knew that I had one more semester to go so I was able to take a very light class load. That summer I moved home and worked at McDonalds and the radio station again, while also taking summer classes at a local community college.

When school started in the fall (my fourth-and-a-half year), I took only the required classes I had left and worked nearly full-time at a fancy womens' clothing store where I used my employee discount to buy business suits for my upcoming job. (I ended up losing nearly all of those suits, first when my belongings were stolen on the move up to New York, and second when I realized that a) no one wears suits outside of lawyers and investment bankers and b) the store's image was WAY too old for me - I should've been shopping at Express.)

It was during my college years that I also got into some of my more interesting job opportunities: mystery shopping, guerrilla marketing, and security. A friend of my boyfriend got us jobs as security guards at some arenas in a nearby city, so we would do that on weekends - mainly concerts, football games, things like that. I'm not big or intimidating, so my job was mainly directing people to the bathrooms or the lost-and-found, but I got to meet some interesting people and see some interesting shows that way, and the pay was better than anything else I was qualified to do.

I didn't make all that much money in college, and I spent a lot of it really frivolously (one of my only life regrets is the way I spent the money I made in college). But I had some neat opportunities and I always, always had at least one job, supported myself per the agreement with my parents, and graduated from college with no debt. And that's what I'd recommend to today's college kids: get a job, any job. Earning your own money is SO freeing, so empowering. If at all possible, do something to earn some money to provide for your basic needs and use loans only for educational expenses, not living expenses.

How did you earn money while in school?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Quick "Moneymaking" Idea

Do you have a rewards credit or debit card? If so, when was the last time you checked on your rewards situation?

I have a rewards credit card, and Peanut and I share a checking account and credit card that earns points - since we put everything on our credit cards and pay them off every month, we've built up quite a large rewards number, and this weekend we cashed everything in. We "made" $255 in cash and $50 in a Target gift card (the gift card/cash combo at one bank was the best way to maximize the value of what we were getting back). We try to let the rewards points build up to get the best value for the reimbursement, but not leave it too long because the bank can change their policies and you just lose all of it.

I also transferred most of the money in my Paypal account to my checking account, because Paypal has such a nasty habit of deciding that transactions are "iffy" and then locking down your money for as long as they want. I'd built up over $130 in Pinecone payments, so I decided to move them somewhere I can actually use them.

What will we do with this money? We'll go out to eat! We're looking forward to going to some restaurants that are normally outside our budget, and having a nice date.

When was the last time you went and found "free money" hidden in your accounts?


Stacking Pennies asks what would you take if you had to evacuate your home due to flooding or some other disaster. I'd take our computers and backups (or at least the backups), my scrapbooks, and then I'd try to pack sensibly -- our birth and marriage certificates from our files, maybe a couple other files of medical history type stuff, and two suitcases full of all the clothes we're likely to need for a few more weeks. Maybe a box/bag of nonperishable food and things like a pot or pan, a can opener, some utensils. Our phone chargers. My ereader so I'll have something to do. And a camera to document the damage when we can return home.

This list of ways to save money with your smartphones is where I found the app that tells me where the cheapest gas is around me.

A great weekend project - how to organize all your data into a worst-case-scenario document.

Gretchen Rubin asks how your happiness project is going. The happiness project was one of my new year's resolutions, and I haven't been updating here about it at all lately. I have been reading her blog posts and following along with it, but truly, I think the thing that made the biggest difference was this move. I am just SO HAPPY to be with Peanut. I'm also so happy to be out of New York City - I didn't realize while I was there how stressful it was to work and live there. I may sing a different tune come winter, but I'm delighted with Minnesota so far. 

Oh, the shame of your first online handle! Mine was a nickname my high school roommate had given me that sort of sounds like my first name - but could also bring to mind a long-dead famous musician, who I'd never heard of. I got a lot of comments about how I must be such a big fan of [musician] and then I'd be like, Um, what? No, it kind of sounds like my name.

Some things are okay to keep just as hobbies! This is a great message and one I've taken to heart for a number of my hobbies - I don't need to have them all as side jobs, too. It requires so much effort that sometimes it takes the passion out of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Five Easy Ways to Save on Your Next Big Move

This is a guest post. Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to

There are few things more stressful in life than a big move (or even a small move for that matter). Not only are you typically spending a large chunk of money on the move, the new place, and everything else, moving is also time consuming and completely exhausting. While moving is always going to be stressful and tiring, it doesn't have to be the loathed event that many of us consider it. Many people get caught up in the panic and disorganization of moving and overlook easy and obvious steps to save some time, money, and stress during their move. Try these five simple tricks and tips to save money and relax a little during your next move.

  1. Plan a Moving Budget: One of the most important steps in you moving process is making a careful budget and moving plan. As with most anything in life, carefully devising a game plan can help things run more smoothly and help you to avoid any unexpected expenses. Gaining a general understanding of the amount of money you can expect to spend during your move will help ease the frustration and stress of moving. Create a moving budget that takes into consideration the moving company fees, additional insurance fees, mileage and gas, pet care, packing fees, storage fees, and anything else that might cost something during your drive. Dedicate a specific amount of money to your moving budget and stick with it. By understanding just how much your move is going to cost you, you will be less stressed and caught off guard by expenses throughout the process. With a budget plan made, you can now find ways to save money in specific areas.
  2. Never Pay For Boxes: It can be easy to spend a lot of your moving budget on boxes alone. However, it's fairly easy to find sturdy boxes for free from places other than the moving company or the grocery store. Try visiting your local recycling center and getting some boxes there. Most have tons of boxes that are just up for the grabbing. This way you can avoid wasting money on moving boxes and avoid being wasteful in general by using recycled boxes. If you do not have access to a recycling center or your local center doesn't have boxes, there are several other places that you can explore for free boxes. Many stores will give you the boxes they receive their merchandise in for free if you ask them. Some of the best places to try are shoe stores, grocery stores (though this can be hit or miss), bookstores, and medical offices. Oftentimes, these places will just give you the boxes that they would otherwise throw away.
  3. Don't Waste Money on Packing Supplies: A lot of money can be wasted on bubble wrap for your fragile items. Rather than shell out a large chunk of change on pricy bubble wrap, try packing your thinks in your clothing, linens, or towels. This way you can protect things that need to be packed and moved carefully, while also packing your other things that need to be packed anyway. Another great trick for packing delicates is using old newspapers. These are cheap and easy find. However, do be careful what you pack in newspaper when you are packing up. The ink for the newspaper can rub off onto dishes and decorations and be nearly impossible to remove.
  4. Get Rid of Stuff: Moving is the perfect excuse to do some spring cleaning. Go through your things and decide what items you actually need in your new digs. If you haven't worn a dress in the past six months, it's probably a perfect time to put it in the giveaway pile. Don't stop with just your clothing though. Think hard about exactly what furniture you might want in your new living situation. Consider the way things will fit (or if things will fit). If there are large items that you really can't think of a place for, you can save a significant amount of money just getting rid of them rather than trying to move them. Also, be sure to do your spring cleaning in an efficient and effective way. People often try to have a huge, blowout garage sale before their move to make a little money and get rid of stuff. Garage sales often take up a lot of time and cause a lot of added stress, without successfully getting rid of your unwanted things. Instead, try donating your things to Good Will or some other charity. This way you can easily get rid of your unneeded things and write off your donation on your taxes.
  5. Mail Things: Many people dismiss using the post office to help them during their move because they assume it's going to be more expensive to ship things. While this can obviously be true for several of the things that you will have to move, sending some boxes through the mail can be a great way to save money and relieve stress during your move. The U.S. Postal Service has a special rate for shipping books and magazines known as the Media Mail rate. Lugging around large boxes of heavy books is a surefire way to rack up some moving costs and make things more difficult for you. Send your books through the mail at a lower price. While shipping takes a bit longer than it would to move the boxes yourself, it can be done relatively inexpensively.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Recap/July Goals

June Goals
1. Complete move in a calm, non-freaking-out manner. Success! There was no freaking out, no crying, no fighting, and very little stress overall.

2. Leave apartment in shape to receive full security deposit. Success, I think. I mean, I left it clean, so I should get the full deposit back. I'll know in 6-8 weeks probably.

3. Buy a car. Success!

4. Aside from moving expenses, rein in the spending. Overall, pretty good. We curbed our eating out spending a lot.

5. Enjoy living with my husband again. Success!

July Goals
1. Develop a new budget with savings goals. Per my life decisions post, we've decided what to do with the money we have saved up (post coming!) so we need to implement that and then make a plan for how to handle the money we have coming in.

2. Further bring down food spending. Truly, what we spend on food for two people is obnoxious. I've been able to do a lot more couponing here already, so I'll keep that up, shop the sales, and hopefully we won't go out to eat all that frequently.

3. Create a weekend project grid and start some of the projects. Looking through my old link fest posts, I have shared a number of links for projects or ideas that I like but haven't implemented. Time to systematically go through them!

4. Get some consistent blogging done. I took a much-needed break from regular blogging during the move, but now I'm ready to get back in business.

5. Book my trips. I have a couple trips coming up that I need to book. I don't think tickets are going to get any cheaper, so I might as well bite the bullet.

June Spending Report

Business expenses $3.89
Car $9575.46
Clothing $10.77
Dance expense $37
Entertainment $79.93
Food—dining out $394.12
Food—groceries $347.34
Household $139.37
Gifts $141.36
Hygiene/Medical $31.70
Laundry $43
Moving $3,384.29
Rent $928.33
Student loans $2917.70
Taxes $277
Transportation $25
Utilities $256.86
Total spending: $15,674.42

WHEW! Well, once you take out moving and car expenses, it's not really so bad.

Rent - we count the check that we write at the end of the month in that month - so while we did pay dual rent for June (two apartments) that was counted in May. This recap represents the check we wrote IN June FOR July. Our apartment rent includes our parking space, which is doubled for this one time, so that's not quite normal just yet, either. 

Utilities are so high because we had to pay a set-up fee for the internet service, as well as the annual fee for new renter's insurance (we got a pro-rated refund from the New York company). Interestingly our rates here in MN are higher than in NY for the same level of coverage.

Household is higher than usual because we're buying stupid things like plungers and ice cube trays for the new place.

Laundry is so high because we "bought" four rolls of quarters since our laundry room doesn't have a change machine. But we shouldn't have any laundry charges to report for a few months!

Gifts - we had a wedding to attend this month. That's not so bad - we also have one in August, three in September, one in October, and another in May. OY.

Taxes: quarterly estimated payments for 2011.

I'm glad to see the close of this expensive month!

Moving Update: Buying a Car

Peanut and I are officially car owners, so it's time to figure out what that's costing us. Here's a rundown of our 'start-up' costs.

$8,700 2005 Silver Mazda 6
$565.60 Sales Tax
$30 Assorted registration fees
$223.84 Insurance policy
$56.12 Gas

$9, 575.46 Total

We paid cash for the car. Well, technically, it was a cashier's check from the bank, but same difference. Here's how my week arriving in Minnesota went:
Tuesday - arrive at midnight
Wednesday - search Craigslist all day for cars to test drive. Go to bank to get my name put on Peanut's local account. Drive two cars. Decide we like the second one and make an offer over the phone that night. Offer accepted!
Thursday - Go to the bank and get $8,700 cashier's check, after being on the account for less than 24 hours. At lunch, go pick up our new car! Learn to parallel park very quickly. Check email and find out the movers will be arriving tomorrow. Back to the bank for ANOTHER cashier's check for $3,000 and change for final moving fees. I've only been on the account for a DAY and I've now basically cleared it out. I wonder what they must've thought.

PF confession time:
Something you'll notice missing from that list - we didn't get the car inspected by a mechanic before we bought it, and it was a private sale, so no warranty for us. Yeah. Exactly what you're not supposed to do, right?

Oh, well. I've taken auto mechanics classes and I'm fairly knowledgeable about how cars run and what kinds of things cause problems and when. This one had all the maintenance it was supposed to have had, with bills/receipts to prove it. The guy who sold it to us was the only owner, and he was upgrading to a car his parents gave him - he wasn't looking to make a ton of money so that he could replace the car. He priced it fairly, actually under Blue Book value due to some cosmetic wear and tear on the inside, and he was forthright about everything. The car drives fantastically, has slightly-lower-than-average mileage for its age, and, well - I'm confident in it. We even found a service that will send a mechanic over to look at a car that you're considering and give you a report - but we still felt comfortable going without.

Other things to note:
Minnesota charges 6.5% sales tax on private sale vehicle purchases. WHAT?! That was a fun surprise. The other fees were minimal - $8 for this and $4 for that, but sales tax - ouch.

Our car insurance costs went up from our non-owner's policy to an owner's policy (and also when we changed states). We have liability but not comprehensive or collision. Our emergency fund allows us to self-insure to the point that, if we needed to go out and replace this car entirely with one of equal value, we can afford to do so. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!

And lastly, on gas mileage - we've had the car three weeks and have had to fill up only once. That's including what I expect will be fairly average driving - my daily commute, some in-town errands or visits, and a couple of trips out to the suburbs to see Peanut's family. We'll probably spend $85-100 on gas per month if prices stay where they're at for now. I found a free app on my phone that allows me to find the cheapest gas near me, so that's useful.

On parking - well, I included the parking permit deposit ($10) on the other post and maybe it should've gone here. Our parking space at our apartment costs us $55 per month and is GREAT - parking in our neighborhood is a nightmare, and our spot on the waiting list opened up the day after we bought the car. Good timing! Peanut's downtown parking spot is free (for now) and parking at my job is free, and so far I've managed to find free parking everywhere I've driven in town. I have a roll of quarters in the car for metered parking, and I'm not sure how I'll keep track of that because we don't include coins in our spending tracker, but maybe I'll jot a note down in the notepad we're using to keep track of mileage.

It's weird being a car owner again. I have a lot more freedom to come and go, and I enjoy driving. But it's a lot of responsibility as well, and it's cut into my reading time - no more sitting on the subway and reading for a half hour each way! Another unexpected financial impact: I find that I need to drink my coffee at home, before I drive on the freeway, so I will have to start buying coffee most likely. Previously I drank it at home sparingly enough that I could make it off of free samples and what people have given me as gifts. No more, I think.

We had budgeted enough to spend up to $13,000 on a car, but I'm happy that we came in well under that amount, even with all the other costs included.