Sunday, April 30, 2006

Why I love staying at hotels

Who doesn't love staying in a hotel? Lucky for me, I get to stay at 3 star/4 star hotels for business 3 nights a week. Since I am always staying in the same hotel, I have become friendly with the staff. I found out that the 3rd floor has upgraded rooms, which I now request upon check in. I usually get it. This means the room has fluffy robes for me to use while I'm staying there in addition to free slippers, body wash, mouthwash, a sewing kit, and the current Newsweek magazine. I love to take this stuff home with me. For my friend's bridal shower, I handed out party favors that consisted of my free toiletries from my hotel stays.

Things I take home every week:
1 pair slippers
6 bars of soap (I get 2 per night and I save my soap from the week before to re-use)
2-3 bottle of shampoo and conditioner (I use one bottle every 2 weeks)
3 bottle of lotion
3 bottles of mouthwash
3 bottles of body wash
3 boot buffers
3 sewing kits
3 body basics kits (cotton swabs, cotton balls, nail file)
3 shower caps
unlimited bottled water - I normally take this to work so I don't actually take any home with me

Friday, April 28, 2006

Getting kicked when you're down

Right now I am so busy! I feel like life just keeps on piling more and more stuff onyo my plate. Now that I'm at home, I never want to leave. We just sold a huge project for work. Yippee. Now we're getting to the hard part - delivering. Plus wedding planning is getting busy and I'm going to New York in 2 weeks for a 10 days vacation (working remotely for 3 of the days). During that time, I am going to fly directly from my client in LA to NY and back to the client so I need to be prepared to be away from home for 3 weeks and working for 2.5 weeks. Will try to post again sometime next week.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

eBay a way for me to save money

After reading about Her Coupon Coup on Make Love, Not Debt, I thought long and hard about type of coupons I could use. Finally I zeroed in on some of my travel expenses - Starbucks and Quiznos. I know most pfbloggers talk about bring lunch to work, but it's simply not a feasible idea for me as a traveling consultant. I only buy Starbucks when I'm out traveling. I ended up getting a gift certificate as a discounted rate. My co-workers and I go to Quiznos at least once a week for lunch - it's the closest lunch place and we all like it better than Subway.

I decided to take a chance and buy some coupons from eBay. I accidentally won 3 auctions, totally $15 with shipping. I now have 58 coupons expiring in December. Each one will save me between $3-$7. I will also split some of the savings with my co-workers. I've used two coupons already. Total savings: $4+$2 (my co-worker saved $4 on this one). After two more weeks, I should definitely break even and then it will be pure savings from then on. Yippee!!

Later I will talk about my Ann Taylor buying strategies.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Awesome Free PDF program

There is a great free pdf program that will allow you to create and edit pdfs. I have been using PDF995 for some time now. You install it and then you can turn all of your files into PDFs. You can also combine pdfs if you download the editor program. When combining files, I did find that I needed to download 2 more programs in addition to the edit program.

This has been such a lifesaver. Since it's free, it's just cheaper than the paid version of Adobe. The only thing is it takes a bit longer to create pdfs and you have to look at their ads. I think it's worth it!

Pre-Marital Financial Information

In less than 5 months, I will be a married woman. I've read all sort of articles on what you should know about your partner's financial condition before tying the knot. It's really hard to get information from my fiance since he doesn't know the information and he doesn't really see a need to get it.

His mom takes care of the finances in his family. Since he's been a student for the past several years, my fiance told me that she's contributed to his Roth IRA. I know she looked up his credit score when it became free for us Californians to do so. She mentioned that he had the highest score of his family (mom, dad, sister, and him) since he had the least number of credit cards I think the main issue is he's too lazy to find the information himself and he trusts his mom to make good decisions.

I know about how much my fiance has in taxable accounts (this is our house fund). I know how much he makes since he doesn't have a job. =) I will know how much he makes when he gets a job.

I do not know his credit score nor the balance of Roth IRA (no 401K). He carries no credit card debt, but tends to be more of a spender rather than a saver. I'm not sure if I need to know more or if I should be content with the knowledge I have.

$191.01 for my cell phone bill!!!!!

I almost had a heart attack when I saw that my cell phone bill was $191.09 for one month. My phone bill is usually around $55/month for two lines. This month, I somehow managed to go over my minutes by 409. $.35 * 409 = $143!!!

The problem is that I have been at home for most of the month, rather than traveling. My mom's home phone doesn't work well when I am using the internet, so I have been using my cell phone for all my calls. I have 1,000 minutes, plus free mobile to mobile (which is great for calling my fiance) and unlimited nights and weekends. Yet somehow I still managed to go over by 409!!!!

Previously when I have gone over my minutes, I have been able to sweet talk them into giving me a credit. I'm not sure if I have a good excuse this time, and I'm not sure if it's worth it to try. . . .

Incidentally - my company pays for most of my cell phone usage. Because of their rules, I normally have to pay about $30/month They will reimburse me for up to $125, so this month I will have to pay about $65.

The lesson here is to check your cell phone minutes during the month if you think you're going to have a high usage month.

I'm excited . . . .

that my site meter number is higher than my clicks number on I had myself added to before I added my site meter. This means that some other readers are finding me elsewhere, I have returning visitors, or people are clicking off my comments! All of the other clicks can't be coming from myself.

I've been a bit lax on the posting last week and I think that is how my typical schedule is going to be. When at traveling for work, we have to pay for internet at the hotel we stay at. Normally I pay once or twice a week. We actually might move to a cheaper hotel with free internet. The cheaper hotel is definitely not as nice, but I think my project manager is going to have us stay there to save money. I would care if it's my own money, but since it's not, I want to stay at the nicer hotel!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Saving Money on the Movies

Of course the best way to save money is to not go. But for those of you who can't wait for it to come out on video, here are some places to get discounted tickets. When I lived in NYC, I couldn't believe it was $10 to buy a ticket (it was $7-$8 in the Bay Area). That weaned me off being the first to see movies. Some of these tickets have special restrictions, like the money can't be too new.

1. Work - at my brother-in-law's company they will sell you discounted tickets
2. School - if you're a student in college, there is sometimes a student life center that will sell discounted tickets.
3. Working Advantage or Student Advantage have discounted tickets. Be careful of shipping! I'm not sure if your company has to pay in order for you to participate in the program
4. The Entertainment book. Get a copy for half off and half price shipping here.
5. From Costco. Not sure if other discount wholesalers have movie tickets, but it's worth a try.

Any one else know of a good place to get discounted movie tickets?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More Weekend Wedding Thoughts

Immediately after the recessional, the wedding party was milling around in the courtyard. Then I looked over at the bride's father. He was wiping away tears. Simultaneously all 4 bridesmaids and the bride started crying. See that made me remember what's important in life and it also made me long for my lost relationship with my father. I don't think he will be invited to my wedding.

After my parents got divorced while I was in college, my father wrote me a letter every month and sent me a check (this past part of the divorce agreement). For graduation, I got a check for much more than I expected. Then I moved to NYC and my contact with my father grew more and more infrequent. I don't think I've seen my father in the past 3 years (ever since I started dating my fiance). Part of the reason I don't want to get in contact with my father is because there is still a lot of bitterness in my mother over their relationship regarding the things he did, the way he treated her, and the mistakes (financial) that he made.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I had a great weekend

This weekend was so much fun! It's awesome to be a bridesmaid in a wedding where you really care about the bride and groom and have a lot of mutual friends in common with them. On Saturday, my friend said to me at the end of the evening "you've been a really big help today" I could tell that she really meant it and I'm glad! Having been in a wedding party before and being an upcoming bride, I think the most important thing a honor attendant can do it make the bride or groom's life easier. Also since I was helping to clean up, I get to keep all the tulle (the white lace-like fabric) that they used to decorate the aisle. I asked my friend what she wanted me to do with it and she said she didn't care, so I asked if I could have it. Good deal!

Of the three other bridesmaids, one of them has paid me back (the one I don't really know). I'm pretty sure the other 2 are planning on paying me back as well since they both mentioned it.

Since I'm back on the job and at the client site, not sure how much I will be able to blog, but I will try to do so at least a couple times a week!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My Biggest Financial Mistakes

Seeing Financial Reflection's recent post on money mistakes made me think about my own mistakes. I am lucky that I haven't made any large financial mistakes that have put me into debt. However, I do think there are a few mistakes that I made that has set me back financially.

The first mistake I made was accepting my first "real" job post college/grad school without negotiating. I had been unemployed for some time, originally looking for work in the nonprofit world. When I decided to try to apply for some business jobs, I got the first one I applied for. When presented with the offer, I was ecstatic to have a job offer from a company with an excellent reputation. The salary was higher than I would have made at a non-profit, but nothing to write home about. In hindsight, I realize that those in my group were not paid that well, me especially.

I was doing a great job, however, there were some management changes. With these new changes, came new responsibilities for me. I decided to ask for a raise. The mistake I made here was not writing down what I wanted to say and presenting my new boss with the reasons why he should give me a raise. I was told that I would have to wait until the end of the year. I was already unhappy with my job and the management changes, so I decided to accelerate my search. In hindsight, this wasn't that bad of a mistake. It allowed me to find a position at my current company, where I am happy and I think I have the opportunity for much more upward mobility.

The next big mistake I made was not negotiating a higher salary at my current position. I think I was hired at the right level (hoping to get promoted in June and my boss has expressed support for this as well), but at the lowest salary for my level. Once again, I was euphoric about getting this new position and the opportunities it would afford me. That blindsided me into making a hasty decision and giving up some benefits (starting salary, relocation costs, signing bonus). Since my new job provided less benefits that my first job, I actually don't think I even got a pay increase in changing jobs.

As you can see, this is a pattern of never asking for what I know I am worth. While to some people, this might seem petty, but over the course of my career, it can add up to several hundred thousand dollars since a lot of raises are decided as a percentage of base salary (rather than a dollar amount raise). I am hoping to make up for lost ground in this upcoming year (hopefully mid-year and end of the year).

There have been other financial mistakes I have made, but none that have impacted me as much as the items listed above. Some other mistakes

- Moving to NYC and paying $1,000/month plus utilities for a tiny bedroom in a 3 bedroom place -my room couldn't even fit a full size bed in it. Luckily I was offered campus housing next semester and I was able to pay about $700/month for everything (rent, high speed, electricity).
- Holding my money in cash after the stock market crash. My mom picked out several mutual funds for me during the dot com boom. Since I bought many funds at their peak, I ended up losing several thousand dollars - probably more than half my net worth. That made me gun shy to buy anything else, but the best time to buy is when the market is down.
- Not maxing out my Roth IRA each year, even though I had the money to do so

There have been several other choices that I have made that have hurt me financially. I do not consider all of them mistakes. Many of them were based on choices I made, which in hindsight proved to be the wrong thing to do. However at that time, more education or more knowledge about personal finances would not have swayed me to make a different decision.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Millionaires Only

I saw this article in this morning's paper. In the state of California, you need to have several millions in order to even have a shot of winning the governor's race. I guess if you have that much money, you might as well try to be one of the most powerful politicians in the U.S. It's also a good starting ground to becoming president since California is such a large and well known state.

Not sure how much I will get to post between now and Sunday. Hopefully I will have time to do at least one tomorrow or Sunday. It's so great to have some readers!

Expensive Weekend up Ahead

This is the weekend where I will be a bridesmaid in a good friend's wedding. I can tell that I will be spending quite a bit of money. Here is an estimate of what I will be spending:

Leaving tonight to drive down to LA.
Dinner tonight: $0 - finance is going to make us all sandwiches
Breakfast tomorrow: $0 - will eat at friend's place
Lunch tomorrow: $10
Dinner tomorrow: $20 (wedding related)
Hotel tomorrow: $50 (wedding related)
Friday lunch $10
Saturday makeup $50 (wedding related)
Saturday hair $50 (wedding related)
Saturday lunch $10
Sunday lunch $10
Sunday dinner $20 (expensed)

Total $230

Actually not as bad as I first imagined. Hopefully things won't end up being more expensive than this!

Blog Updates

Last night, I spent a lot of time updating my blog and I discovered blogrolling. OMG, this makes things so much easier! I added a bunch of blogs that I read and I will probably be adding some more soon. Any other tips out there for a new blogger like myself? Are there any services that you pay for? Do you think it's worth it? I know readership is low on my site, but if anyone has suggestions, I would appreciate it! But please, no hard suggestions that require me to do the coding myself!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

All Amazoned Out

Since I've been a customer for Amazon for years, I thought it would be nice if they gave me something back. I experimented with their different links and I think I'm happy with how this looks. To be honest, one of the reasons there are so many Amazon links is I need to fill up some of the side space on my blog. I was going to have 2 area with book pictures - I didn't mind the look since I love books, but then I decided my site would be too Amazon and not enough calgirlfinance.

As I learn more about blogging and the tools that come with it, I will add in more links and maybe take out some of the Amazon stuff. Is there anything missing on my blog that you would like to see?

Great Tips for Frugal Living

I'm not going to provide my own tips, rather I'm going to mention a website I haven't seen any other PF Blogger mention (although I have seen one PF Blogger contribute articles). Maybe everyone already knows about it so there's nothing new to say. The website is the Dollar Stretcher

I found this website when I was in grad school and at my lowest point financially. Granted I still had a positive net worth, but I was bleeding money like crazy living in NYC ($1,000/month rent with roommates) and no income.

I love to get their tips on living better for less. Readers contribute their own tips and there are some brief articles as well. If you need help with something you can write in and get other readers to submit their answers.
Here are some examples.
Lunches to Love
Reader's Tips
Dry Cleaning Tips

At the top there is a topical index so you can find all previous entries related to the things you're interested in.

Working at a large company has its benefits

I used to work at a large company, one of the top 5 banks in the U.S. There were a lot of good benefits from working there.
1. Cheaper Health Benefits - it because my employer was more generous, or it might be because they got a better deal since they have so many employees
2. Employee Discounts - from the bank itself, from 4-5 different cell phone companies, museums, etc. (Now I work for a much smaller company and we still get cell phone discounts, but only from 2 carriers
3. Established Retirement Program - my company administered their own retirement program, so the money went in much quicker (right now it takes a couple of days to post - I'm not sure if this is because of my employer or our retirement program administrator)
4. Easier to change jobs without changing companies - the main reason this is a benefit is if you have 401K money that needs to vest or a pension plan. I had several co-workers change jobs within the company.

When evaluating a new job offer, don't forget to look at the benefits. They can add up to a lot over the long run.

Monday, April 03, 2006

To Buy or Not to Buy a Home

I'm living rent free thanks to the generosity of my mom and sister (I split time between their houses), but in exactly 5 months I will be getting married. Since my finance is also living with his parents, we will need to find a new place to live.

Now the question in my mind is whether we should buy a house/condo or now or later. We plan on living in the Bay Area for the rest of our lives(both of our families live here, good economy, usually good weather). We may move to a different home once we have kids, but that's in about 5 years. We can probably afford an $80,000 down payment if we bought in the next 3-4 months. If we put 20% down, that would be a home that's $400,000, which could only get us a condo now (the Bay Area is super expensive). If we waited, prices will probably go down as interest rates go up. The major benefit is we would be able to save a much larger down payment since my finance is still finishing up his graduate studies.

Any thoughts?

Weddings are Expensive

Yesterday I posted about attending my friend's wedding. It is a great honor to be chosen as one of her bridesmaids, but it is still expensive. Also, I forgot to include transportation cost. My fiance is going to drive down to LA and back for the wedding (about 600 miles round trip). I am hoping that I will be assigned to work in LA next week, so I can reimburse him some money for the trip (if I end up working Monday after my trip, I can expense a portion of the drive down). He is driving some of my friends as well, so they will help with gas expenses. Luckily he has a Prius (last time we drove down, we averaged 40 mph).

For my own wedding, we've tentatively set a budget for $20,000-$25,000. It looks like we will be at the upper end of the amount and this doesn't include the honeymoon. Here are some of the main items
Reception $12,000 (includes site,food, and alcohol)
Photography $4,000
Videographer $1,000
Wedding rings $3,000
Dress and Alterations $1,000
Hair & Makeup $800
Wedding Site $500
Invitations, etc. $600
Cake $500
Chair Covers $500

As you can see, we're almost at $25,00 already. One notable thing missing from my budget is wedding flowers. That is because I have a good friend who is a florist and he going to give us the wedding flowers as a gift. I have another friend who is going to help on labor (I'm going to help with her wedding flowers as well). We will probably end up spending $200

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April Goals

I think setting goals are extremely important in moving forward. I'm often lazy and don't set goals, which is not good.
Here are some goals for April
1. Finish my taxes . . eek . .can't believe I still haven't finished them
2. Get all the addresses for my save the date cards (wedding in September)
3. Donate clothes from my closet (I've already culled out some that I really don't wear, now I need to stop off at Goodwill
4. Donate my car (see posting from March 31st)
5. Get my financial house in order. I am a fan of David Bach , who has a good formula for this, although it looks like he has a decent (not great) reputation among PF Bloggers. I skimmed his book The Automatic Millionaire, heard a sermon at church that mentioned him, and a light went off. I could do so much if I just did it automatically (I'm pretty lazy).
6. Tithe at least $700. I quite behind on my tithe. I wish I could catch up more, but my wedding costs are starting to add up.

Wedding Costs Adding up

This weekend, I am going to be a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding. The costs are starting to really add up.
$150 present (from me and my finance)
$40 bridal shower gift
$50 bridal shower (I should be reimbursed $150 from the other bridesmaids)
$45 bachelorette party hotel room (I should be reimbursed $135 from the other bridesmaids)
$25 bachelorette party dinner (estimate)
$40 wedding makeup (I am getting my makeup done at the mall, but purchase required)
$50 wedding hair

$400 total if I get reimbursed by the other bridesmaids
$685 total if none of the bridesmaids reimburse me

I got my friend a more expensive wedding gift than I normally would have since I thought it was so nice that she was buying our dresses (typically my finance and I spend about $100). However, I think we are paying for our own hair and makeup, which costs about the same as the bridesmaid dress. I could even do my own hair and makeup, but I feel obligated to go with the other girls. Yikes, this is not good for my budget.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Yesterday was a bad day for my car

I was driving home to work, on my way to pick up my bridesmaid dress for a wedding next weekend. Since there was a ton on traffic on the freeway, I decided to exit early. As I was braking at the traffic light, I felt my whole car vibrating. When the light turned green and I accelerated, the car seemed fine. At the next light, more vibrating. So I decided to drive a couple of blocks to Big O Tires. After waiting about 30 minutes they told me that I blew a gasket and that I should put my car out to pasture since it would cost more to fix my 10 year old American car than it was worth. I pressed the guy asking him how much it would cost and he said the high $2000s. Yikes. Big O was very nice and they charged me $0 for the whole consultation. While I was there, I also heard them call a woman and ask "Who told you that you needed new brakes? Your brakes are fine."

Throughout the experience, I was incredibly calm because of one main reason. My mom just bought a new car 3 weeks ago and she had enlisted my finance to help her sell the old one. My finance hasn't gotten around to it, so the car was sitting at his house.

It was the car my parents bought for my sister, but I inherited it after she graduated from college. It did have a lot of body damage (but nothing too serious) and I was a bit embarrassed to drive my coworkers around in it for that reason.
1. Cracked back fender and taped up tail light - someone hit my car while it was parked on the street. Since I used to only drive my car occasionally, I didn't know when it happened.
2. Scratches on one sides from when I hit the side of my parking lot entrance twice (yes I'm a bad driver)
3. Dent on the trunk from when the garage door fell on my car

My mom and my fiance had been bugging me to get a new car every since I moved back to California. For now, I will drive my mom's old car for a bit and then probably buy a new used car. Even if I didn't have my mom's old car to fall back on, I do have enough money in my emergency fund to get a new used car.