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Archive for January, 2007

Winter Bills Blahs

January 31st, 2007 at 02:18 pm

It's a big surprise comparing cost of living between where I used to live, North Carolina, vs. New Jersey. I had a 700 sq. ft. apartment with water/sewer included for $605 down in NC; here in NJ, I could barely find any apartment for less than $1000. Not to mention utilities are hardly ever included in Jersey rents, plus a lot of places want you to buy insurance, insist you cover your floors with carpeting or rugs, and a whole bunch of fees that make me go, Whaaaaaat?

Anyway, I am getting used to paying the water/sewer/trash and electricity bills, though I still want to know what is the "norm" for an apartment my size. Talking with neighbors, it seems I'm in the same ballpark. I honestly don't understand the water bill; my actual water usage is pretty decent (at most $5) but the sewer portion of the bill is always $25 or more. What exactly am I paying for? The amount of times I flush toilet?

As for electricity, sigh, winter bills amount to about $50-55 per month. Just for heating my stupid little apartment. On one windy day I noticed the blinds lining my balcony door were blowing around wildly, indicating there's a crack somewhere. Closer inspection revealed my sliding door does not shut entirely. I've had a service call in but they really can't do much, the door shuts "all the way" according to them. Sigh again. My dad told me to buy those sealing strips but it seems weird, sealing up a doorway, but maybe it'll help to insulate.

Winter is really affecting my wallet and my mood....

Future gazing

January 30th, 2007 at 12:58 am

Months ago, I thought my goal was to own a house by August of 2007. Now it seems my mind has changed. Argh! Why is it so hard for me to make financial plans? I keep saving for "it" but I haven't identified what "it" is. I'd been stashing my savings into easier access money markets and CD's, because I'd anticipated needing to make the large down payment on the hhouse this summer; now I want to start putting more money into my long term accounts- the Roth IRA, brokerages, 401K.

If I had a crystal ball, I'm sure gazing into it would be like trying to peer through swamp water.

It's so easy to say, "I need to pay my car insurance now," and then reallocate funds to pay it off in one quick payment. Or I can think, "I'm going to take a vacation in three months" and then I start up a short term "vacation fund." Short term goals are a cinch, but long term goals? Since "House 2007" seems to be falling through, should I just rename it "House 2008" and try to shape my savings plan around that?

$20 challenge weekly roundup

January 30th, 2007 at 12:41 am

This must be called the challenge because it's hard enough for me to remember. Geez, last update was two weeks ago. I can't remember that far back so I'll recap just lats week:
Sun-8 miler = +.72
M,T,W and F, 6 miles/day = +2.16
Sat and Sun, 8 miles/day = +1.44
Reached water goal each day! = +9.73
Subtotal = $14.05
Grand total = $74.70

Festival of Personal Finance is Up

January 29th, 2007 at 02:14 pm

The Festival of Personal Finance is now up. Get some reading in as you drink your fourth cup of hot tea/coffee on this cold, cold morning.

Since I'm always up for a good chuckle on Mondays, I got a good laugh from Frugal vs. Cheap by The Stubborn Capitalist. Do you save money by not paying your bills? Do you help yourself to your neighbor's magazines, newspaper, heck even their veggies? Guess what, you may be cheap.

I contributed my say about commuting to the festival. A word about my little ventures; I've made an overall vow to develop writing into a hobby. Contributing to this personal finance forum, as well as these festivals, is a good form of writing exercise. My hope is to work on developing more of a personable style, as well as to experience writing in different genres. My daily work consists of writing for medical journals and FDA documents, which is very technical and academic. Therefore, it is interesting (for me, at least) to compare my work-related writing to my hobby-related financial blogging, and hopefully I can learn to be a better writer overall from all this!

Musings on Commuting

January 28th, 2007 at 07:44 pm

Despite the fact my workplace is 5.5 measly miles from where I live, I still commute using my car. I've racked my brain trying to figure out alternatives, but each option gets blocked by things that are beyond my control. Public transportation? No route that goes even remotely near to where I work. Running? In addition to logistical problems, such as no showering facilities and the fact I need to wear a suit most days (or I could meet clients wearing my jog togs and get a kick of their reaction), there are no sidewalks on the road, no shoulder, no grassy margin, heck even no ditch to run in, but there are lots of blind corners and crazy fast drivers. Biking? No bike rack at work, no elevators either, and no place to hide the bike from clients in my office ("Why don't you hang your coat here on my bike, Yamamoto-san?").

Carpooling would be the only feasible option, though everyone at work seems to live in their own little world of different work hours/habits. And quite frankly, I don't want to be the one holding up the carpool at 6PM....or the one waiting in the lobby impatiently.

So I drive that short distance, and I feel bad and spendthrifty. But the purpose of a car is to drive it, correct? In the meantime, I do pay attention to the conventional bits of wisdom about conserving gas. I don't put the pedal to the metal the instant the light turns green. I keep vigilant gas price watch on the three local stations. Since my commute is so short, I don't bother adjusting the temperature in my car; in summers I open windows rather than use a/c, in winter I use elbow grease to scrape clear the windows rather than blast the heater. And though I hate doing it, I check the tire pressure every once in a while, since I've learned the hard way that if I just relied on my own eyes to judge, then my tires would be flat before I took notice.

In the end, driving to work may gnaw on my conscience, but it is the only reasonable option for me. I should look on the bright side and sing praise for the fact my commute time is so short and unstressful. Besides, driving to and from work does have one hidden perk- I get to sing along with the radio as loudly as I want!

Netflix vs. Blockbuster

January 27th, 2007 at 03:47 pm

In the on-going battle for DVD-by-mail supremacy, Netflix seemed to always have an edge over Blockbuster. As a previous Netflix subscriber, I was recently made aware that Netflix will soon be offering customers the option to download and view movies online. When this becomes available, Netflix thus becomes a "movies on demand" type of service. Compare that to Blockbuster, which at first had the advantage of "instant" gratification in that if you really couldn't wait, you could go to the actual store and obtain a movie by simply trading in your mailer. Now you can be an ultimate couch potato and just point and click your way to a movie on your computer via Netflix.

Blockbuster still has one slight advantage, but this applies only to gamers. You can rent video games for Xbox and Playstation at the stores. By being a subscriber to the DVD-by-mail program, you receive ecoupons which you can redeem in-store for a video game. Given the, ahem, episodic (re: addictive) quality of certain games, and depending on whether the "no late fees" applies, this could be a very good deal (though I have the feeling that is not the case). But if your thumbs were aching for a quick fix for Madden NFL 200-whatever, then Blockbuster could be your cure.

Pricewise, Netflix and Blockbuster are neck in neck. I don't know how prices will change when Netflix unveils the downloading service, but people may be willing to pay a little more for the convenience. Blockbuster would have to drastically lower prices to get people's attention.

I have personally tried both Netflix and Blockbuster and experienced no delays receiving DVD's in the mail from both services on a timely basis. There's no handy listing of the distribution sites, but perhaps some people in non-metropolitan areas have experienced shipping delays. My friends and I have received cracked/unplayable DVD's from Netflix a few times; can't say anyone really minded, though, because there were always other movies to watch and things to do. And WOW, Netflix let us return it with no problem or charge. Guess it's impossible to finger who's to blame.

Ultimately, the thing that draws me (and my friends) to Netflix are the 2-week Free Trials. For awhile, a group of us would take turns applying for the free trial membership, then we'd all get together to watch the movies. After three rounds of this, we did all chip in to pay for a subscription (we felt bad). When we canceled, Netflix offered ANOTHER free trial period to keep us, so we took that. Then we ran out of movies to watch =) But, my point is that FREE is always a big plus.

Still hesitant to give Netflix a try? Enter this code: 80004745 for a 4-week Free Trial Bring on the popcorn!

Use Autopay- but don't turn off your brain

January 26th, 2007 at 05:41 pm

In this day and age, almost everything is automated- car washes, cappuccino machines, even sidewalks now move for you. There's even Auto Bill Pay, where you can set up financial transactions that will occur on their own on a regular basis. In the words of that rotisserie commercial, "Set it, then forget it!"

That's all well and good, but I've always eyed Auto Bill Pay with much caution, mainly because I feel that, if I sit back and let the utilities and other companies automatically take deductions (which could vary month to month) from my checking account, I might become lax about double checking the actual bill. There's always the possibility of a mistake, and, should an error occur, it's much harder to fight the company for a credit (once they have my money, they're usually reluctant to return it). There have also been many situations where automatic payments have still gone through despite having cancelled the service.

On the other hand, you could use Autopay to help in your investments. The whole concept of "pay yourself first" is simplified when you set up an automatic deposit from your paycheck into your IRA or savings account. You can also choose to deposit a set amount each month into investment accounts such as Sharebuilder or Buyandhold, which then purchases fractions of ETFs or stock. The drawback here, though, as I learned the hard way, is that sometimes linked accounts/brokerages are slow to transfer money, meaning that sometimes although it says they withdrew money on XX/XX date, the balance doesn't show up until day(s) later. I ended up not having sufficient funds in my checking account because I thought my brokerage had already taken out the amount. Grrrr.

In summary, automatic bill pay can be helpful but I wouldn't put 100% trust into it. You still need to put in the effort to keep track of when your billing periods end, so your scheduled payments fall within the deadlines. It's just like driving on cruise control; you don't have to keep the foot on the gas pedal but you still need to stay alert for the bumps on the road =)

The Festival of Under 30 Finances is Up

January 26th, 2007 at 01:43 pm

This is my first time participating in The Festival of Under 30 Finances, hosted this week by Golbguru. Check it out at http://www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com/2007/01/26/207.html. I haven't had time to peruse the extensive list of entries but the main topic of discussion was how to handle debt in our 20's. Judging by the short descriptions, it looks like there's quite an interesting variety of answers from all us *young* bloggers (weren't we once referred to as Generation X or Next?).

Since it's going to be a cold weekend (at least here in the Northeast) why not settle down for some good financial reading? And as a personal favor (and "shameless" self promotion, harharhar) let me know your thoughts on my entry- if there's any ways I could improve in my writing style or tone. Thanks, and Happy Weekend to All!

My mind is on investing

January 25th, 2007 at 02:25 pm

It's strange; the other day I went shopping with a friend and though I saw some nice cashmere sweaters on sale, I talked myself out of buying them. And yet, a few days ago I contributed $1000 to my Roth IRA and also put $5000 into my brokerage account to purchase some mutual funds. That's $6000! It's not exactly pocket change (well, for me it's a huge sum).

Why is it I would hesitate so much on $100 worth of clothing but not think twice about putting $100 into an IRA? Either way, the money is out of my hands and spent, but I think with investments, I am pretty confident that money (and hopefully with added interest)will still be there for me to use at a later time. It's just money put on hold while a sweater is money gone bye-bye into the hands of Macys or whatever store. That money is gone. Poof.

While it's very noble of me to have a good sense of investing for the future, what I am slowly becoming more aware of is the negative impact it has on my spending for the Present. In one instance, I recall hesitating to buy toilet paper, of all things!, even though I needed it, because it wasn't on sale. Yes, call me a Stingy Scrooge because in that situation, I was being a Miser to the extreme.

Investing is great but sometimes you have to spend money for the present. There's basic living needs that simply must be met! Otherwise, it's like I'm thinking too much for the future and not living in the Present.

"2 for Tuesday" deal- Petco

January 23rd, 2007 at 01:40 pm

For today's two-for deal, ebates is doubling the cashback at Petco, for a grand total of 12% cashback. That's gonna plump up your "Big Fat Check" quite a bit. In case you are an online shopper who isn't familiar with ebates.com, I highly suggest you check it out (that is, unless you like spending extra money on stuff)
*****

I wanted to thank everyone who commented on my long rant yesterday. It feels good to vent sometimes....

I do think that when I go to drop off my rent check this week, I'll casually inquire about the installation of satellite dishes, just to see what the real policy is (though that's really more for my own curiousity and vindication).

Would you have done differently? (long rant)

January 22nd, 2007 at 02:06 pm

I think I may have made an enemy of my downstairs neighbor. We moved in around the same time (late August) but have just been "nodding acquaintances." She's also Chinese, though probably about 5-10 years older than I am. I initially made friendly talk but she didn't reciprocate so I left it at that. Her parents live with her and they also don't speak to me if we happen to run into each other.

A few weeks ago, my parents came to visit and I think my neighbors heard me speaking Chinese, because suddenly my neighbor began to speak to me, just a bit, but in Chinese. She still wasn't buddy-buddy or anything, but she'd say hi and how was your day? type of stuff. Until this weekend, that is. Unexpectedly she came knocking at my door and I invited her in. She seemed nervous and kept making small talk, so I tried to be extra friendly and offered tea and snacks.

Then she came to the heart of the matter; she asked if I would mind if she had a satellite dish installed, so they could receive Asian cable TV stations. I said that was a matter to ask the apartment complex people, not me. Then she said, would I mind having the dish installed off MY balcony?

My immediate reaction was, if she were a close friend or relative, then I wouldn't hesitate to say Yes. But she's a relative stranger, and to me, asking that sort of favor, which involves me as a third party including all sorts of responsibilities, is really pushing the "kindness to strangers" policy too far. I first asked her if she'd tried placing the dish just outside and seeing if she could receive signal. She said my balcony was blocking the sky; I told her to try moving it out from under my balcony. She said I was higher up so I should receive better signal. I then blurted out that no matter what, satellite signal comes from teh sky no matter what, doesn't matter if you're on the ground or the 6-10 feet higher up where I am on the second floor.

That sort of pissed her off, me being direct (and she probably thought I was being obstinate). Then I said I wasn't comfortable with having people enter my apartment to install the dish. She said they'd use a ladder and do it outside. Then I asked what things I'd be liable for. She didn't understand the word, and I couldnt' really get the point across because I was using Chinese; I was trying to explain possible legal issues and stuff, like if the dish broke or fell off my porch, what in the contract would prevent me from being blamed, stuff like that.

then she tried to appeal to me personally. She said her parents were bored and really wanted to have that cable TV installed. Sure, I felt badly; one of my priorities is to take care of my parents. Still, using that tactic was a bit sneaky, makes me look like a total bad guy. I asked her more about her parents and then she revealed they were returning back to China at the end of next month! So she'd only be having dish satellite installed for one month? Yes. I then told her there were options to download/watch Chinese broadcast TV and movies online, or they can rent videos from our local Asian grocery store and library. She then got angry and said I was not a considerate person.

Did I do the wrong thing? My main concern was the basic issue that, since my property (balcony) was being involved, then no matter what, I would have some responsibility of whatever was on it or attached to it. Never mind the fact I felt it was rude for the neighbor/stranger to presume she could pressure me into agreeing, and then for her to result to pity and then bullying tactics. Still, I tried to say No nicely and I still end up feeling like the bad person. Makes me just want to throw up my hands and scream (Aiya!!!).

Welcome to your "Twenties:" Big Financial Shifts Ahead

January 20th, 2007 at 04:35 pm

So you've made it through your undergrad years and, if you're crazy like me, you went back for more edjumacation so you'd have some letters to stick after your name, but FINALLY you've emerged, blinking and confused, into the Real World. Time for your first test:

"Assume you are an average 25 year old with $25,000 debt (on account of your student loan) You have been given a lump sum $10,000 and the following four choices:

1. Invest it for your retirement funds.
2. Save/invest it for your future home.
3. Save/invest it towards your child’s/children’s future college education.
4. Pay part of your student loan debt."

Wow, is there a fifth choice- "Depends on your personal situation?" Take a look at your 20-something yr old buddies; some of them are married, some of them have kids already, and some are still chilling in grad school. Even myself, I don't fit in to the "average 25 year old" as defined since I don't have any student loans.

So how would I answer the question? To quote my parents, "No debt is good debt." I was taught at a young age that the big consequence of borrowing money is you have to pay it back eventually. And with interest rates and late fees, you may end up owing much more than you originally borrowed. Sure, loans such as student loans and mortgages are viewed by some as "good debt," predicting that the ends will justify the means (education will get you a higher paying job, a house will turn out to be an investment that appreciates in value over time) but there's still going to be that negative value hole in your financial balance sheet.

If I had $10,000, then I would definitely use it to repay any outstanding debts; though I have zero student loans, I'd then choose to pay any high credit card balances, since credit card APRs are notoriously high. But in the spirit of this question, I would choose #1. I'd max out my Roth IRA and 401K contributions, then spend the rest balancing my stock portfolio. My reasons? I feel that I should contribute towards my retirement, now, while I have less priorities in my life. I don't have kids and I just started a new job, so for now, to put it bluntly, I only have to take care of my monthly bills/expenses, and the rest can go towards investing towards retirement. Eventually, the time will come when I need to change my financial goals, to pay for my childrens' living, education, housing, etc.

Credits: Much thanks to Golbguru, for hosting the Festival of Under 30 Finances!!! Check out Golbguru's awesomely funny and honest personal finance blog, www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com to learn more. Sometimes there's cool giveaways, too!

My (secret) Money Saving Tip!

January 18th, 2007 at 01:54 am

Sometimes, you can save money just by speaking up and asking flat out for a discount. Don't believe me? Try it out and you'll see. Don't just limit yourself to yard sales and flea markets; many brick and mortar stores may offer you a discount as well, especially on open-box items, high-price items, or items with visible dents/blemishes (of course, first check to see if it works). If you buy in bulk or you shop/eat often at that store, ask for a bulk discount or if there's a frequent shopper/diner card.

Still tongue tied? If you are a college student, ask if there's a discount for students. Belong to AAA or AARP or any affiliation? You might qualify for a discount as well.

Don't be mean or demanding! Ask in a nice, polite manner and remember to smile. Even if you get denied, don't take it personally. Thank the merchant and then go on with your business. In the end, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so...just ask!

Whoops, don't forget the $20 challenge

January 16th, 2007 at 01:38 pm

Old total: $56.70

Saturday: Laundry, did pilates with mom (seemed more stretching than the physicalness I'm used to from running- but my tummy hurt!), drank tons of water including at the restaurant, so I'll kick in $1.39

Sunday: Ran/walked 6 miles. +.54
Monday: 2 mile walk. +.18 and drank three thermoses of water! (I was being a desk jockey) +1.39
Tuesday: 5 mile run. +.45

New total: $60.65

Two for Tuesdays: Rite Aid Watch Continues!

January 16th, 2007 at 01:33 pm

I'm starting to feel like a Rite Aid cop! There's one within walking distance of my office, so it has become one of the staples of my lunchbreak walk. I don't always go in with the intention of buying, but after perusing the aisles, I must say that there's great prices and sales to be had. And if you've been paying attention to my entries, my last one was a bit of a *rant* against Rite Aid....I take it back! Yesterday I noticed the confusing price tags had all been replaced. In fact, it looked like every sales item now had it's own shelf tag; all of them had the same wording/jargon. Even more eye-catching was the sales items were grouped together on the shelves, so you couldn't help but notice them. I did do a bit of policework and poked through the tags but nope, there was no case where the tags were hiding the prices of non-sale items. So good job, Rite Aid!

With that said, I will now kick-off my Two for Tuesday series by mentioning some of the deals I saw a la Rite Aid. The "2 for 1" sales expire 1/20/07, but the 50% Off (essentially the same deal) sales look to be running "while supplies last!" Some things worth considering:

-Finesse (my fav! yay!) shampoo/conditioners
-Aveeno lotion and body wash
-Neutrogena cleansing products (they rock)
-Cosmetics, though the 50% off nail polishes looked, err, crappy (ever see the layers separate? not a nice sight). Actually, I would hesitate to buy some of the foundations, too, since most contain SPF nowadays, and many sunblock ingredients lose potency over time. Those discount cosmetics have obviuosly been sitting around for awhile, so buy at your own discretion
-Banaids (I stocked up here)
-Certain L'oreal anti-aging products: though I don't use them myself, I did read an article/expose that revealed drugstore brand lotions are just as, if not more, effective than those department store brands. So don't scoff at buying anti-wrinkle cream at Rite Aid instead of at Nordstroms! (though the best best best skincare will always be sunblock)

And, of course, Christmas items were 75% off. Some cute stuffed animals that were tempting even for an "adult" like myself!

A Tale of Two Households

January 13th, 2007 at 03:10 pm

Great weekend reading at MSNMoney. Two articles, one in which the author chooses to live below her means (12K income) and another that chooses to live above their current means (150K income):

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
A reporter choose to divorce, return to school, and reduce her yearly income to 12K. And yet she continues to donate $20/month to church because she realizes there are those who live on much less income than she does.

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
"Scraping by" on $150,000/year? Read about a family of 5 who have trimmed away the premium cable, the STarbucks latte, the soccer camps- but still want to keep the horse and the two vacation rentals. They seem a nice enough family, but to me, if they choose to keep those luxury items, then they should be prepared to make even more severe cuts in their other spendings. Still, an interesting comparison to the first article.

Confusion at RiteAid

January 10th, 2007 at 04:59 pm

The other day, I was in RiteAid when I noticed some confusing sales tag in the aisles. Certain skincare items were on sale this week; to promote these items, there were yellow shelf tags reading "$1.50 savings" posted (more or less) below the item.

But what happened when they attempted to do double coupon savings? RiteAid often has clip-out coupons within their print ads; if you're lucky, your desired sale item might get this additional discount. This week, for example, Eucerin lotions price were cut by $1.50; there was also an in-ad coupon for additional $1.50.

You'd think RiteAid would print one sticker that read "$3.00 savings!" but instead, RiteAid got lost in confusion. I saw one sticker which read the following:

$1.50 savings
-$1.50 In-Ad savings
---------
0.00 total savings

Eh????

What it should've read:
$1.50 savings
+ $1.50 In-Ad savings
----------
$3.00 total savings

I saw yet another tag (on the same shelf, no less):

-$1.50 Less
-$1.50 Less with In-Ad Coupon
XXXXXXXX (no total "less")

Why all this tagging variation? Why the emphasis on being Good Student and adhering to the rules of addition/subtraction of negative numbers? Or is RiteAid following the strict rules of English rhetoric that say the words "less" or "savings" imply subtracting from a number?

It seems RiteAid is being a bit too smart for their own good!

Fun Money Memory- 1

January 10th, 2007 at 12:14 am

Can you still recall the very first thing you bought with your own hard-earned money?

For me, I started babysitting in 7th or 8th grade. Wasn't concerned so much about the amount I got paid then by the fact I had a job! After a few sitting jobs I had $50. I couldn't wait to spend it, and the timing couldn't be better- it was my parents' anniversary. I hopped onto my bike and pedaled to the nearest shopping plaza, which contained a Hallmark store. Went inside and for whatever reason, the very first thing I bought was a candle for my parents. A candle, of all things. For my parents who I've never seen light or enjoy smelly candles. I can't even remember the smell other than "generic perfumey-ness." It was pretty, though, and blue (my favorite color) and about $20 bucks. I carried it home proudly.

When it came time to present the gift to my parents, I realized my mistake. They were pleased, sure, but even I could not miss the "huh??" look on their confused faces. If I had to do one of those "Mastercard commercial" interpretations of the whole scene, it would be something like this:

Price of candle: $20
Price of card: $3.95
Inherent worthniess/appropriateness of gift (from parents point of view): $-000000000000
Fact that daughter spent her own money for a gift to parents: Worth putting the candle onto the coffee table as centerpiece for the next 6 years (until daughter broke it by accident)

Target Pricing Policy

January 9th, 2007 at 01:06 am

For you jolly good time Target shoppers, here's a fun tip regarding the pricing for Target clearance items (you know, the ones hiding at the ends of shelves):

- Target's full prices end in 9. So the first price tag will be $14.99 or $27.99, something like that. Then, every time Target discounts the product, the final digit of the price drops. The lowest the last digit will drop is 4. If you see something you want at Target and the price ends in 4, buy it. The price won't go any lower. (credit: http://consumerist.com)

From personal observation, can't confirm if that's true. Also, the cynical part of me is thinking, "Hmmm, ok full price is $9.99, first sale price is $9.98, next sale price is $9.97, then $9.96...." (just kidding, Target, we know you are capable of better discount slashing than that)

Anyway, thought this might be helpful for those of you who might sometimes be on the fence about buying something from Target....if the price ends in 4 then that's as low as it'll go. But, of course, the best savings advice would be to not buy the item!

Isn't supposed to be winter?

January 7th, 2007 at 08:32 pm

Saturday's temperature reached 69 degrees! Sunny but very windy.
Sunday was mid-50's with plenty of lovely sunshine, no wind. Couldn't resist and went out for a run. Glad to see many other people taking advantage of the great weather, too.
If this is Winter, bring it on!

Miles run = 6.5
$$$ added to the challenge = 0.585, heck round up to 0.59 since I walked/did lots of errands Saturday
New total = $56.70

Budget Time!

January 7th, 2007 at 08:20 pm

After all those years of being satisfied that I'm able to tie up loose ends and pay off monthly credit card statements, rent and utilities, I finally sat down with my Quicken software and designed a budget. Hey, might as well take advantage of Quicken. I don't even have the current fancy schmancy version, but boy, was my 2004 version good enough for me. I am a visual person, so the ability to graph my monthly expenditures was well worth it. By further breaking things down by category, I finally got a grasp on where I've been spending all my hard-earned money.

Well, no big surprise, Rent has been the big money-sucking monster, accounting for 50% of all expenses. Close behind that was auto, which included fuel, insurance, and repairs. But one big eye opener was how much I've spent on groceries. Last year, I spent $1900 on groceries! Now for the first half of last year I was living with my at the time boyfriend, which would explain the ~$150/month for groceries, but sadly, in the past few months where I am living single (Sept-Dec) I have still been spending more or less $150/month. Part of it was due to the restocking of pantry supplies, but to be honest, my grocery bills have been going up because I've been buying more prepared foods, out of convenience. Ai ya!! *slap on the wrist*. But something I can work on.

Another unexpeted budget buster has been clothing. I spent $100/month on clothing, accessories and cosmetics last year alone, and let's remember, I was in grad school, not exactly the most glamorous of positions, for half that year. So now that I'm working in the corporate world, where appearances matter, I am worried that expense may start to creep up.

But with the power of Quicken I was able to keep track of my savings. Even more encouraging was to see the rising trendline of my net worth over the years. I was impressed to notice it has more or less increased by $10,000 with each year, even throughout grad school, when I was living off the modest student stipend. Hopefully I can continue that upward trend!

Budgeting isn't always fun, but I'm glad I went through with it. As silly as it sounds, it really feels like a rite of passage of sorts....my journey into adulthood, ha ha.

Too much STUFF!

January 6th, 2007 at 06:58 pm

How in the world did I accumulate all this? And not just talking about the pile of purses or closets of coats and clothes, but about the rest of this "stuff?" I have about 6 large boxes of random stuff which I can't believe made the trip up from North Carolina with me when I moved. I mean, these boxes are filled with gift wrap, bags, pens and pencils, empty notebooks, random funny artifacts, postcards, more random artifacts, batteries (do these expire?), and old computer parts (zip drive, anybody?)

I honestly have to start using up this "stuff" or else have less emotional attachment to it. It's actually a bit upsetting, to be honest, lots of these items are replacable, like candles, stationary, envelopes, office supplies. But when I was moving, I sold off things such as kitchen appliances and furniture which I now regret selling. Those bulky items were sold for the sake of being able to pack my apartment into my car without renting a Uhaul. Sure, they are replacable, but did I need to fillup my cargo space with those other items?

Free Lunch (sort of)

January 5th, 2007 at 04:30 am

Nothing in life is free, eh? I was pulled into an emergency meeting that lasted the entire morning, then had to do a teleconference with the FDA, who then wanted a resubmission with additional info. Oh they wanted it this afternoon. Yay, deadlines. Though yes, my boss was kind enough to order some Wegmans sandwich platters. I guess that nets me the $5 I would've otherwise spent grabbing a meal at Subway.

Also ran today. Another 5 miler since my knees are killing from the fall I took. 45 more cents to add to the challenge.

Previous total: $50.66
New total: $56.11

Happy Returns

January 4th, 2007 at 01:30 am

Tonight, I made a stop at Target to buy some new sweatpants since I found a large hole in my old ones (actually I'd tripped and fallen but that's another tale of klutziness for later). Grabbed a pair on sale for $17, went to purchase and the durn things rang up at $29.99. Whoops, I'd already run the credit card through. So I got sent to the Happy Returns line.

They should call it the Anything BUT Happy Line. There were only two cashiers facing a phalanx of customers. I overheard one ask the other, "Did you call for backup?" and the reply was, "You think someone's gonna come help us???" True, I think working the returns registers, especially the week after Christmas, is one of the least desirable places to be on Earth.

But to be honest, the line moved slowly, but people were patient and seemed to be getting their returns. I noticed everyone was clutching a receipt in their hot little hands- VERY important, as we shall see. Now, the lady in front of me was exchanging a purse, did NOT have a receipt, not even a gift receipt. From what I overheard, they tried to process her return using her drivers license. Uh uh. Nope. The lady turned red. The cashier asked if the license had expired. The lady turned a darker shade of red as she showed them it was still valid. The cashier then asked if she'd made other returns using her license. Yup, turns out she'd made two prior returns (at Target, I think).

Warning bell! Target has some sort of policy against allowing people to make returns without a receipt, something like only two returns per year. Sort of a big slam in the face for not keeping your receipts. The policy sounded a bit harsh to me, but who knows, stores need to protect themselves against shoplifters. But boy oh boy, would I hate to be in that poor lady's shoes right now. She was upset, but she also made a rather funny comment about her addiction to buying ugly purses.

Moral of story: Treat your receipts like Gold and hold on to them.

****
$20 challenge update: Ran 5 miles (tripped and fell, resulting in hole in sweatpants and truncated run) in the morning and walked 2 miles during lunch. So 7 x .09 = .63 added to the pot. I did drink three thermosfuls of water but bought a soda at Target, so that doesn't count.
Total: $50.66

My Two, err, Three Cents

January 3rd, 2007 at 01:48 am

Found some pennies in the parking lot to add to the challenge; hey, every cent counts!

Current total: $50.03

Some more "rules" for my challenge:
- My car averages about 25mpg. The last price I paid for gas was $2.25/gallon, so that means for every mile I run or walk, I've saved 9 cents of gas consumption! That'll go into the pot.

- One of my vices is buying a soda at work instead drinking (free) water. I have started bringing my thermos to work and drinking hot tea at my desk, so I'll kick in $1.39 (the price of one soda bottle) for every work day I drink at least two thermos-full servings of water.

This challenge is addicting! Glad to see so many people getting on board!

The True Cost of Joining a Gym

January 2nd, 2007 at 10:52 pm

Every January, people surge to the local gyms, determined to get a jump on their vows to get in shape for the new year. Gym memberships spike sharply in January, bolstered by the legions who are out to lose those holiday pounds (and then some). As I was stopping by the pharmacy last night, I glanced across the shopping plaza at local NYSC, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the big banner which read, "JOIN NOW FOR $20.07*!!!"

"WOW that is a phenomenal deal!" was my first reaction. But what was the catch? I went home to dig around some more on the internet and boy was I surprised to learn the true cost to joining the local NYSC:

$20.07 is just the cost of "joining." Remember that little asterik? The very, very fine print revealled, "Monthly charges and $49 processing fee also apply." Hmm, so it costs only $20 to say you'll become a member (isn't talk supposed to be cheap?) but then $49 to sign and push around papers? And what about those monthly charges? Not too surprising, the NYSC website did NOT have an easy-access page that listed monthly fees, but after a Google search, I finally discovered it to be $89/month.

So, in total:
$20.07 + $49 + (89*12) = $1137.07 for a 1yr gym membership! And who knows what other hidden fees lurk within? Locker rental, personal trainer or dietician fees, daycare, not to mention the penalty fee should you decide to break the contract.

$20.07? I think I'll run clear of that "deal."

2007 Off to a New Start!

January 1st, 2007 at 04:51 pm

First day of a new year, first day entering the $20 challenge! This is a good way to keep track of miscellaneous out-of-pocket spending, while keeping in mind the Big Picture Goal which is my 2007 New House Fund. Yes, this is sort of like comparing a guppy to a whale, but a lot of little things can add up to something substantial.

My first entry into the challenge is $50, which is the portion of the money my relatives gave me for Christmas that I haven't yet allocated into savings. Ironically, yesterday I went shopping with my aunt and cousin and we went into Sephora aka cosmetics heaven. My cousin went on a crazy spending spree there, and I was sorely tempted to pick up a random eyeshadow or mascara here or there. But I have several unopened tubes acquired as freebies (never hurts to ask the ladies at the cosmetic counters for freebies) as well as too much makeup sitting around on top of my dresser (thanks to previous duty free spending sprees). So I held off the makeup bug and contented myself with playing and sampling instead of buying.

I think once the banks reopen, I'll deposit that money and save it for some other day. Here's to the New Year and New Savings!