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New month, new budget

March 1st, 2007 at 02:02 pm

After discovering my electricity bill was 4-times what I'd been expecting, I finally picked myself up off the floor and resigned myself to paying the bill in full (of course). There is definitely enough in my checking account to cover the electricity bill, but I did find I had to juggle around my usual money-allocating plans. As nerdy as it sounds, it was actually sort of interesting. Each month, I typically put $500 into my roth IRA, and then $500 into various investment accounts. I'd already done that, so the electricity bill will get paid off by my "bonus" money- rebates and bank bonuses- which I'd been hoping to put towards something more fun....but the bills have to be paid first. Thus, the kitchenware I'd been planning to replace will have to wait.

Wow. Money maturity moment! I am able to plan for my expenses and shift spending to make I avoid debt and pay off bills in full. What an "adult" thought! =)

The good, the bad, and....

February 27th, 2007 at 12:09 am

The Good: Got two rebates this past weekend, and not just for a couple of bucks; one was the long awaited Comcast rebate for $89.95, the other was $26 for a flash drive. Nothing like more money in the bank.

The Bad: Was this close to making a purchase online at smartbargains.com. They're having a suit and shoe sale, and I actually do need a suit for spring/summer, but geez, three items in the cart and it's already zooming upwards of $200. The only thing that prevented me from making the purchase was the 15% coupon code I tried to use wouldn't work. So I didn't buy anything....which might actually be construed as "good." But this just goes to show, it takes months to save but mere minutes to spend.

And now, The Ugly: My electricity bill came and it was $189. No joke. For my ridiculously small apartment. I had been trying to get away with not using the heater, but when I started shivering while in bed (and bundled beneath two comforters, a flannel blanket and my heaviest winter coat) I started keeping the temp at 62. I did raise it as high as 65 when my parents visited (and they still complained about the cold), but basically have kept it somewhere from 60-62. What this month's elec. bill is telling me is, in order to keep my apartment at a temperature that is barely tolerable, then I have to pay the price. And what a painful price to pay....

(I did do the plastic window wrap thing, blocked the draft beneath the front door, in case you were wondering. Is it possible there's just something intrinsically wrong with the heater itself, and could I ask the maintenance to "fix" it- whatever needs to be fixed?)

I miss North Carolina!

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....

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!

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.

Last Gift- the Big One

December 15th, 2006 at 01:59 pm

I'm done with my Christmas shopping, and boy did I save the Big One for last. I decided to go ahead and buy my dad a GPS car navigation device. Usually he is satisfied with anything related to golf but this year he has been laying down the heavy hints about how much he wanted a GPS. As in, "You know, a GPS would come in handy with these roads," or "If I had a GPS I wouldn't get lost driving your mom to _______." So I am assured he'll like this gift.

Yes, I did spend $600 for the GPS. Yikes! I could have gone with a less-expensive version, but I decided to upgrade for several reasons:

- Did my research and chose to stick with Garmin, one of the more reputable brands, based on user reviews
-Chose to purchase a warranty so my parents would have no problems getting a replacement from a brick/mortar store (since electronics have a sneaky way of suddenly going kaputz)
-Wanted a device with text-to-speech feature, a screen that can be read in direct sunlight/low light, and one with volume that adjusts to car speed- safety features that reassure me that my dad won't be fiddling around with adjusting the device instead of focusing on his driving
-Simple interface/user friendly so my not-so-techie mom can figure it out when she plays the role of navigator

Definitely splurged on that, but I am willing to pay that extra $$$ to ensure peace of mind. And worse comes to worse, at least I know I can return it for no extra charges. But I think he will enjoy it (for many years to come, too!)

A New Way to Look at Money

December 13th, 2006 at 01:56 pm

To those who commented on my last entry- THANK YOU!!! It is really amazing how much my mind felt at ease after reading your ideas and words. Sometimes it does take one sentence or thought to change your outlook on things.

In short, I feel I've been looking at money the wrong way. As many of you pointed out, "spending" the money on my future house is a form of investing as well. And not to mention, an investment I'm sure to enjoy and have fun improving.

And quite frankly, what exactly is money? Money is really just a means to an end; you save money towards some goal and then you spend it. That's all it really is. Not to get all philosophical, but if I ignore my own values and needs, I'll start to see money as something to amass and collect, rather than to put to use (in a good way).

To illustrate the need to be able to see money "as it is", in a recent episode of "Survivor" the contestants were given $500 each to spend at an Island Auction. Money? On a deserted island? You can already see the irony. One of the contestants, Jonathan, realized the money for what it was "worth" in that context- playing chips, nothing more. He therefore bid rather freely and ended up with some good eats and beer. In the real world, spending what he did for a pizza and beer would seem ridiculous, but in that gameshow situation, it was well worth the price. What else could you do with that money, bribe the ocean to spit out some fish for you? Another item up for auction was a mystery item that "would give you power in this game." One contestant, Yul, instantly recognized the worth of that word, "power" and thus encouraged his teammate to bid away for that item. When the teammate ran out of money, he lent her some of his. I was rather surprised that no one else seemed willing to use their cash. And why were they hoarding? I suspect many still thought of money as $$$$ and wanted to save as much as they could.....but again, when you're stuck on an island in the Survivor situation, what good will money do for you?

Scared to Spend Savings!

December 12th, 2006 at 04:15 pm

I took a real look at my savings and investments and was plesantly surprised! I'm not a millionaire by any means but I do like the idea that, if I really wanted to, I could go into a decent car dealership and pay for it with cash, in full. Not that I'm looking to abandom my dear Toyota that gives me 30mpg =)

Anyway, I've been putting much thought into purchasing a house, or a townhouse, next summer. I am very frustrated with apartment living. I've done the math and found that, indeed, costwise what I'm paying in rent could be much better spent towards paying off a mortgage for a REAL house.

All said and done, even if I don't touch my retirement savings (I only just started a 401K and roth IRA), I can definitely put down a 20-30% downpayment towards house in the $200-300K range. Yet....I can't believe this, but after all these years of saving, I am scared- yes, scared!- of tapping into my savings funds. Why? Aren't savings meant to be used eventually? Am I having First Homebuying Panic? It sounds so silly, but I really have to readjust myself to spending money!

Cash in my Wallet = Danger

December 12th, 2006 at 02:31 am

Unlike many people, I end up spending even more money if I pay for things using cash than if I use credit card. This odd phenomenom started during the two years I worked in NYC. There's always delicious street vendor foods or some deli/coffee shop along each block- multiple chances to duck in and grab a little something something. Now, if I yank out my purse and realize all Ihave are credit cards, I pretty much can't buy those tempting goodies, since those stores tend to have a minimum amount for credit card transactions (and street vendors don't take cc's). But if I have the cash....off it goes towards buying the random snack and coffee, and before I know it, the cash is all gone.

Even now, when I"m not working in New York, I will use my credit card to purchase groceries, but then I'll end up brownbagging lunch and/or cooking most days of the week. If I don't use the credit card, then I'll tend to shy away from making "large" purchases (each grocery trip is about $30-40) with cash at the grocery store and instead buy lunch every day (minimum of $5/meal) and also stop off at some restaurant/take out place on the way home from work every night and purchase a bunch of food (minimum of $10/dinner). So that means about $75+ worth of meals if I don't do the grocery shopping but keep cash in my wallet. But that's just my mentality.

Airline Tickets

November 11th, 2006 at 09:33 pm

Just a personal observation; the price of airline tickets seems to be fluctuating like crazy these days. I think that's a good sign since thus far, it's been a downward trend. I have to book a flight to Detroit in December and I'm hoping to spend less than $200 total. Seems feasible, since I saw AirTran advertising a price of $183 (for November, though). I don't think Michigan is a "hot" Winter travel destination....I should probably stop procrastinating and book my flight already!

Whoops

October 29th, 2006 at 11:22 pm

A "big" spending weekend; always hard to plan how much cash I should carry when I go into the city. I try to charge whatever I can (train tickets, meals) and save the cash for cover charges, drinks and tips. My friends and I usually try to plan our night out by going to restaurants and clubs that are within close proximity to each other, saving on subway or cab fare; not to mention, one of them is always smart to check the club's schedule and find out when clubs are having no cover and/or drink specials). I ended up staying overnight at my friend's dorm. Checking my wallet, I was pleased to see "total damage" was only about $50 give or take (plus the $18 train ticket charged to credit card). I returned back to NJ by train, only to discover my car had gotten ticketed for being left overnight in the train station parking lot. Grrr. Now, I shouldn't have gotten ticketed; there ARE certain parking lots (the commuter ones) that have signs up prohibiting 24hr parking (then again, you could argue and ask them how they know it was 24 hrs and not just 12 hours/overnight). But the place I parked was the remote, overflow lot, where there are no such signs posted; I've even parked here in the past and left it overnight (even two days once when I had to go on a trip). So this ticket makes me upset. Most likely I'll get it revoked, but after long phone calls and tons of waiting on the line for a real voice to speak to.

It's beginning to feel a lot like....

October 19th, 2006 at 11:50 pm

I've decided pretty much against buying the aforementioned "lust item" $600 handbag. Mainly because it is getting close to the holiday season and I would feel a lot of guilt and anguish knowing that, on top of the gift-spending, I blew a huge chunk of money on a totally non-essential item.

Anyway, my goal this year is to be one of those people who finish their Christmas shopping early...or at least start early enough so I can keep my eye out for some good, early online deals. At least then I'll have time to cmpare prices for things.