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Bought more "me" stuff

November 20th, 2009 at 01:42 am

Sigh. As if this month I hadn't already spent so much stocking up on favorite lotions, cosmetics, etc thanks to all those Friends and Family sales.

Today I was surfing the web during my lunch break (yes, I know, bad me) and ended up buying a new MP3 player. My old one has been acting up, and though it will work ok after I hit it enough times (ha ha), it isn't able to play my audiobooks. So I decided I'd replace it someday...didn't know it would be this quickly.

Anyway, it only dinged my wallet $20 or so, which is why I bought it. But, it is another ME purchase. Which brings me about $200 total over my usual alotted amount for "Me" shopping per month. Ugh.

With so many Black Friday deals on the horizon, I'm wondering if this is just the beginning of more spending...

Update on personal finances

November 18th, 2009 at 01:49 pm

Boy, housebuying experience last year really jump-started me into being serious about finances. Before house I was really on cruise control, just saving nearly half my paycheck and blithely paying the bills.

Now, there really is a place for every dollar, and for every dollar it's own place. I have to set aside appx $2000 each month for combined mortgags, taxes, insurance and association fees.

$500 is set aside each month to pay bills and such, though that number is flexible. I used to put nearly all leftover money into my brokerage, but now that I am a "slave to the house" I feel the need to have money at hand in case of house emergencies. And yes, I've discovered house accidents (overflowing toilet was the latest) do happen. So I try to keep a minimum $1000 in the local bank.

I also started making regular contributions to my Roth IRA. I'd taken out $10,000 to go towards homebuying, and the automatic contributions(something I probably should have started long ago)started because I wanted to "repay" my Roth IRA.

For whatever money is leftover, I was putting it towards rebuilding my emergency fund. I'm happy to say that I've reached my goal of saving $15K (or about 6 months expenses). Now, any leftover money goes into my brokerage. It's not too much, but I do feel confident that over time I'll have more money that can go towards investments.

Yikes, it has been awhile

November 17th, 2009 at 05:55 pm

...not that I imagine anyone lost any sleep over my hiatus from blogging (myself included).

Seeing the year 2007 from my last entries sort of takes my breath away. The biggest change is that I became a homeowner! Though that experience was horrific and I never want to go through it again, I did learn a whole bunch of lessons about finances and homebuying that maybe someday I'll be brave enough to write about.

Work is the biggest part of my life right now. I was promoted and my boss's words after "congratulations" were somewhere along the lines of "good luck, you're going to need it." I'm sure most people are familiar with the challenges of a promotion...yet another topic I'm sure I'll blab about some point in the future.

Financially, I'm doing ok, or at least I'm not worrying too much over paying the bills. Again, there's so much to cover. I guess I'm really just brainstorming here (and eating up space). My latest "weird" financial habit has actually been keeping a Wishlist of items. Yes, on a daily basis, I jot down in my little notebook a running list of items that I have been wishing for. This is a bit of a stall tactic that I employ, and it actually works. The thing is to write a new list each time, and then to see what items keep showing up, and which drop off the list over time. My current list is just 3 items as follows:

coffee maker
toaster
leather jacket

Now the interesting thing is that my list was much MUCH longer just a month ago. Items such as flannel sheets, cashmere sweater, gloves, sunglasses, silver necklace (and more items) have disappeared. Why? Not because I bought them, but because they were just passing whims. I quote the sunglasses as an example. One weekend in September I was shopping at the outlets and was tempted to buy a pair of Ray Bans. But I paused because I wanted to go online to compare prices. I never got around to doing so, and now they're totally off the wish list.

Try keeping a Wishlist running for a few weeks. It really is interesting to pare down your list of "wants" to a few items. Then you can really focus on looking for good deals on just those few items.

Taking "Free" too Far

July 19th, 2007 at 01:04 pm

Yesterday, I saw an embarassing sight. While shopping for groceries, I witnessed an entire family gathered around the bakery counter, where they have the free samples. The family was literally stuffing their faces with these samples. Not just that, they were blithely having conversation while continuously biting into and reaching for more pieces of bread/cake/doughnut, like they were at a restaurant. I was standing in line for about five minutes and the family was still eating when I left.

Does anyone else see something wrong with that picture?

Another example would be those who "rent" items for a weekend from Walmart or Target. I admit that once upon a time, like during college, I had friends or roommates who purchased a dress for a party but did not cut off the tag. After the event, they would go return the dress. At the time I thought they were being smart, but now I question the act. Recently, I watched some father, still decked out in flip flops and smelling of suntan lotion, return a whole bunch of beach gear to a rather peeved Walmart associate. The cooler looked in ok condition (though I wonder if the inside still contained ice or water) but the umbrella still had sand on it. He even shook it out (all over the counter, too) and then proudly showed his receipt. Wow. All I can say is, he had some guts.

Again, I wouldn't do it- I'd feel too guilty about purposefully buying stuff that I intend to use and then return. But are these people smart or stingy? There's some moral line here that I feel is being crossed...

First financial goal- almost there!

July 2nd, 2007 at 12:34 am

July is the best month for me because my birthday is in July, hehehe. But what might make it even sweeter is if I end up hitting my net worth goal of $50,000. Back in October, I'd estimated that I'd reach this magical number in October of 2007. Now wouldn't it be great if I could beat that prediction by 3 months? Stay tuned!

Spending spree is over

June 16th, 2007 at 02:01 pm

Long time no see! I guess I took a break from keeping up with finances because my money habits took a quite different turn these past few months. But now that things have calmed I can explain myself.

First, the good news: I got a raise! I passed my 6-month "anniversary" at my company and my boss quietly took me aside to tell me she was pleased with my work and congrats, my salary has been bumped up a few notches. Woo! I decided to celebrate by getting a facial and massage (not-so-good service, unfortunately; next time I should research into spas rather than go to the nearest one) and a handbag, or two...

And then, vacation happened. I usually go to visit my sister in the summer, when her kids are on break and she's not teaching. But my parents, who had planned to take an extended trip throughout Asia during May, generously offered to buy me a plane ticket. Since it is a rare opportunity for our entire family to be together (oh sister, why did you move back to Taiwan?) I agreed. Even though I didn't have to pay for the ticket, there were still all those sundry "vacation expenditures" that just popped up- primarily, the procuring of presents for family. And then the duty free shopping. And then the costs of travel, eating, and more shopping in Taiwan.

After all in said and done, I added up the bills and found that I'd very rapidly spent whatever excess in one monthly salary my raise has earned. Aside from feeling cheated by wasting money on a horrible facial, I don't feel the rest of the money spent was reckless or wasteful- in fact, I would give anything to be able to see my nephews and niece again. So after I pay off- in full!- my large credit card bill this month, then it will be back to normal money habits.

This is pretty preliminary, but I thought I'd list some money goals (and hopefully stick with them):
- Increase net worth to $60,000 by end of year.
- Limit monthly clothing spending to $100.
- Use up airplane frequent flier miles** ok this isn't really "money" but now that American Airlines has set an 18-month expiration date for unused miles, I am going to see if I can arrange some sort of mini-vacation. Or else I will try to gift them to my parent's account. It would be a shame to lose all my miles, it really does feel like losing $$$...

Spring Cleaning my Closet (even though it feels like Winter)

April 9th, 2007 at 08:24 pm

It's April, but this past weekend (and this week) it feels like mid-January. ***Interlude: mindless ranting sessionI wish it were warmer! I miss North Carolina weather!***

Anyway, as the wind blew like crazy outside, and as my annoying loud heater cycled on and off, I decided to do some "spring" cleaning. But since I was in a bad mood, I decided to tackle the kindest area of my apartment- my closet.

Closet cleaning, or as I sometimes refer to it as Shopping my Closet, is both fun and somewhat embarassing. For example, during one session I opened a suitcase and discovered no less than five handbags. Add that to my pre-exisiting collection and I am really pushing handbag overkill, especially since I obviously had, at one point, purchased those bags but did not use them to the extent they could get hidden away and I never missed them. Sigh.

This weekend's closet shopping turned up no less than four black dress pants (of various lengths and fits, so that's ok), three black skirts (two were wool and identical length! but then again, I had combined my sister's old wardrobe with mine when my parents moved), and two black blazers. Now I understand why I have always hesitated about purchasing a black suit- my mind somehow knew I could put one together from pre-existing pieces.

I "rediscovered" a bunch of skirts and dresses that had been hiding in the back, and the nice part is that has quenched my craving for new spring dresses, at least for now. An extra bonus is I can mix and match them with my neutral colored blazers and have nice work outfits.

I did gather up a bunch of sweaters that I haven't worn in years...but I still don't have the heart to bag them up to Goodwill. They're all really nice sweaters. What I would love to see happen is to have a clothing swap or exchange with people. I don't have enough friends who are interested in clothing here in New Jersey (honestly, I have no shopping buddies, how sad) so maybe I'll hunt around on the internet to see if such clothing swappers exist.

All in all, closet cleaning/shopping didn't put me into a better mood. But it did satisfy my OCD and I now have clothing arranged by color. Plus it killed about 1-2 hours of time on a lazy weekend!

The Most Overlooked Job-Hunting Strategy

April 5th, 2007 at 01:42 pm

You've spent hours preparing for the interview, you even had your answer to that trick question "What are your weaknesses?" memorized, and now you've made it through the grueling interview day where you sat through 6 face to face interviews with a bunch of execs and managers asking you to repeatedly talk about yourself and your skills. Congratulations! But this is only the first step. After a day or two, dig out all those business cards, get on the phone or start typing those emails. And don't forget to say those two magic words: "Thank You."

Surprised? Think that writing (or saying) that Thank You letter is an obsolete practice? Guess again. A Thank You note is guaranteed to improve your chances at getting that job. It cannot possibly hurt you...unless you write to the manager at Merck exclaiming how much you look forward to working at Pfizer. So please please have the contact information ready before you write.

When compiling your Thank You list, a rule of thumb is to try to write to every person you spoke with. At the very least, write to the person to whom you will be reporting (your future boss). Another very, very VERY crucial person to write to is the Human Resources manager, the person who probably first contacted you to set up the interviews. In many companies, the HR manager acts as the "screener" who sizes you up prior to even handing off your resume to the execs. If the HR manager gets the sense you are not a good fit for the job, then your job hunt prospects at that company are pretty much over.

When composing your Thank You letter, try to add in as much details as possible. When writing to your future boss, mention the actual job title/role for which you interviewed, then mention a couple of specifics that were discussed. Don't try and get *too* personal ("I thought your wife looked hot in that picture on your desk!") but something along the lines of, "I was excited when you mentioned drug XYZ was in Phase II trials. I look forward to participating in the research to bring this drug to market in the next year." Not only do you prove you were paying attention during the interview, but you imply you know of the company's future direction, AND you remind them of how you'd be a good fit to the company.

Writing to the HR manager can be strategic as well, mainly because you can get away with saying certain things that you fear may be too bold to mention to your future boss:
"Dear HR Manager: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with Dr. X, the Director of Drug Development in your company, Pills Inc. I would like to take the time now to remind you that I am extremely enthusiastic about this job. As per our discussion, I look forward to hearing from you in the next few days. I also wish to take the time to remind you about the signing bonus; I would request the red BMW but would settle for black or silver."

Ok, kidding about the signing bonus part. But you can see how your little Thank You note to HR can also include that extra *push* of reminding them how much you'd like to hear from them (cough cough) sooner, rather than later. You might also mention things such as the salary range you are hoping for, or even a general feel of a starting date. Many times, HR has already asked you these questions during the initial screening interview. While you don't want to tie yourself down with a set salary or benefits package, you also don't want to be too vague, which might give HR reason to believe either you don't care or you're not going to negotiate/complain if they start you at the lower end of things. You should definitely include your phone number (not as a pickup line!) and stress how you look forward to hearing from them.

And it's as easy as that. As "old fashioned" as the Thank You letter may seem, I really think it's a small gesture of courtesy that goes a long, long way. At worst, you will get no reply. No one is going to vilify you for giving thanks. In many cases, during my second or third round interviews, people have actually mentioned the fact I wrote the letters. It seemed to surprise them in a good way. I think the problem with a lot of new job hunters is they go into job interviews with the feeling that they deserve the job, or the people should be begging/wanting them to take the job. Although it is good to have the confidence prior to a job interview, it should not be expanded into "I'm a Rock Star!" status. You are the job seeker; you are the one out promoting your skills and vying for the job. In most cases, the company is not out to woo you, even if you look like a rock star.

Lest we forget, it is also those rock stars who do extra things for fans, by giving thanks and charity concerts, who seem to have the most success.

Whew! Time flies!

April 4th, 2007 at 10:12 pm

It feels like a century since I last visited this forum, but luckily it hasn't changed a bit =)

Same could be said about my job. Today I got called in by my boss and next thing I knew, she was saying, "Congratulations!" It turned out to be my 6-month performance review! Luckily, it was quite positive and I got a raise. Yeah! It really is comforting to finally have a job I enjoy, and one where I like my coworkers and boss.

As for the raise....sure, lots of goodies swam through my head, stuff I could "treat" myself with. But I think the extra money will probably go into savings for a rainy day (or the House Fund I've been accumulating).

Am I the only person...

March 13th, 2007 at 07:00 pm

...who owes taxes this year?

Obviously, the majority of people I know are still graduate/professional students of some sort, who will be getting hefty refunds. My working friends all seem to have student loans and/or mortgages to write off. Aside from the tuition credit or deduction, I can deduct moving expenses (for work) and possibly that phone tax thing, but that's it. So why do I owe taxes? The main reason is because prior to my current job, I did a stint at a pharmaceutical marketing company, who hired me as a freelancer. Meaning I got paid straight, no deductions. Hence, I pay the price come Tax Time.

The second reason, which is more minor, is that my parents sold some funds that they held under my name, so there's taxes owed on those gains. But at least my parents have promised to pay me back for that.

Another Happy New Year

February 19th, 2007 at 07:46 pm

Sunday, February 18th, was Chinese New Year. Since my parents have decided I'm now an adult (agh!) then I did not receive the traditional "red envelope" lucky money, which is fine with me, honestly. I have more bad memories of me as a kid, gawping at how my older sister would receive more than me, because she was older. I think my fussing was the reason my mom became the person who collected the lucky money for us kids!

Anyway, 2007 will be the year of the Pig. Rather than being seen as sloppy and filthy, the pig is actually thought of rather fondly in our culture. My mom showed me that the Chinese character for "house" is actually a combination of the words "roof" and "pig." Hmmm....so home is where the pig is, hehe.

According to my mom, this is going to be a so-so year for people financially (the pig brings wealth upon people but the money will be spent quickly on frivolous items). I thought that was pretty interesting, at least for me, because my goal this year is to save enough for a decent down payment on a house. So in reality, I will be hoping to just break-even this year, too. Hope I can control my habits and focus on "paying the pig" as in, the piggy bank!

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year to all, and Best Luck with Health, Happiness, and Fortune!