Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Free Upgrade

I'm am super excited since I just got the largest hotel room! It's much much bigger than my old apartment that I had in New York and probably bigger than the place I will move to once I get married.

I stay at this hotel every week. For some reason they didn't have my rewards number on file, so the check-in girl looked extra hard to get me a good room.

So this week rather than getting just the standard king size bed, I got a 1 bedroom suite with a living room, dining table, french-like doors, 2 tvs, king size bed, shower, and bathtub. Yippee!

The lesson here - it helps to be nice to people!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

How much do you spend on wedding gifts and shower gifts?

Yesterday my fiance and I attended our first couple shower. It was the first co-ed shower I had ever been to. We decided to purchase something off the couple's registry that totaled about $50. Most attendees were family members. There were only 5 non-family members (1 of the 5 was the best man and another one was his girlfriend).

Normally I spend around $50- $75 on the wedding gift. If my fiance and I are giving a joint gift, we will double that amount.

On shower gifts, I normally spend between $25-$50, depending on how close the friend is and what I can find.

As a soon to be married couple, I think money would be the most useful gift for any couple, even though it is considered tacky. My old college roommate said that she thought you had to give more when you give money versus a present. I actually probably do the opposite and spend more on a gift than I would give in cash. I also always am on the lookout for registry items on sale, but typically I am only able to get sale items at Macys. I still prefer the act of shopping and wrapping at item to give to the couple, rather than giving them a check despite that fact that I would prefer money. I just love to shop and wrap presents.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tax Refund - Not Direct Deposited

Okay, so I know everyone in the PF world is done talking about taxes and tax refunds. This year I got a fairly large refund - my withholding adjustment was not enough! I ended up getting quite a bit back- $400 from one state, $80 from another state, and around $1700 federal. Well I signed up for direct deposit (going to my ING Direct account) and I got checks back from all three entities!

I copied and pasted my direct deposit info from work (my paycheck gets direct deposited there twice a month) and double checked the numbers, so I'm not sure what happened.

I am a bit confused about how my tax return ended up being as large as it was, but I think it might be due to the capital gains losses I ended up taking. That really increase my NY state refund and maybe my federal one as well.

I will have to review my current tax withholdings and the irs withholding calculator soon.

Is pfblogs.org becoming too elite?

If it weren't for pfblogs.org I would probably have 0 visitors. I got the temporary gold star for 2 months for having the pfblogs.org blogroll. I would donate to pfblogs.org since I think it's a great website, however, the privacy concerns prevent me from doing so. Are other donation methods accepted?

I think it's a great boon to have friends of pfblogs.org posts highlighted, but to me it also strengthens the divide between the members and the nonmembers. It makes membership more elite and signifies the divide between friends and non-friends.

I want to be part of the in crowd too.

Credit Card problems . . .

This is not about my own credit card problems - rather it's about a front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Americans are paying more of their credit card debt down, which is reducing the profits of the credit card companies. Go American people!

Typically in a time of rising interest rates, credit card debt will start to creep up. Hasn't happened yet.

Don't worry. We have no need to feel sorry for the credit card companies. They still make money off each transaction we make and annual fees (don't get a card with an annual fee).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The $100 Jeans

The most I have ever spent for a pair of pants is $100. That money wasn't spent on suit pants or anything of the sort. Instead, I splurged on a pair of Lucky Brand Jeans. $100 is a lot for me to spend on any article of clothing, especially something non-work related. But I couldn't resist. After searching on and off for 2 years, I finally found a pair that fit well, wasn't too long (serious problem when you're short), and was a good color. Since I purchased them earlier this year, I've worn them every week, several times a week. I've probably worn them about 50 times already.

Right now the price per wear is getting much lower. I found that whenever I used to buy clothes from cheaper stores (like H&M), I would wear the article once or twice and then decide that I didn't really like it. However when I buy clothes from more expensive places, I will wear them again and again. So for me frugality lies in making the right choices to buy things that will really have lasting value.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Friends, Roommates, & Money

I had the pleasure of spending half of my New York City week with my friend M. M is a very generous friend and had allowed me to stay with her rent-free in her mid-sized studio apartment 2 years ago. Originally after grad school, I decided to move back to California. But after about 4 months of being unemployed, missing my boyfriend (now fiance), and wishing I were back in NY, I decided to move back. M graciously offered to host me for as long as necessary. It took me some time to find a job, but then even after I found a job, M ask me to stay for a bit longer. All in all, I was there a full 6 months.

During the week, when I referred to M as an old roommate, she mentioned that she never considered me a roommate since I never paid rent. (I did offer to pay rent on more than one occassion). This comment caused me to reflect on our relationship. Being roommates can strain a friendship, depending on the financial situation of those involved and the timliness of monetary reimbursement.

Since I never paid a dime of rent, I found myself bending over backwards to accomodate M, leaving on the weekends, packing her lunches, doing the chores, etc. In the end, after I moved out to my own apartment, I also gave M a substantial monetary gift (I gave her the choice of us going on a trip together or her going on a trip by herself - she decided to go to London). This non-obligatory arrangement allowed us to both be generous, in different ways. In the end, I think it strengthened our friendship and allowed us to grow closer.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Rihgt now I am NYC and having an awesome time! However, the budget it taking a beating. More on my trip will be posted on Sunday

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My FICO Score

Last weekend I decided to pull one of my credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com. For some reason I always have trouble loading that page. I'm not 100% sure that I have the right link, but it's the link on Bankrate and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) website. Well anyway, over the weekend the link worked. I have heard of a couple of strategies of how to best utilize your free credit reports. In the first one, you review credit reports from all 3 of the major agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) at the same time. Using the second strategy, you review one every 4 months so you can check to make sure that no fraud has occurred. I decided to go with the second strategy. The last credit report I pulled was in September of 2005, so this report was a bit overdue.

Since I'm thinking about buying a house in the next couple of months, I decided to go for the sales pitch and buy my FICO score as well. That cost $8. I know I can get all 3 for about $40. I was happy to see that my score was 781. Last time I pulled my credit scores was in 2004, when I was looking to rent an apartment in NYC. At that time my score was 730-760. I see this as validation that I am moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Quick decisions about buying a house

Today my co-worker informed me of a dilemma he was facing in which he had to decide by tomorrow whether or not he wanted to buy a townhouse (worth around $600K). The townhouse was owned by his future sister-in-law who had just purchased a new house. Due to some sort of tax implications (I didn't get all the details) she has to put her house on the market tomorrow or sell the house to him and his fiancee. If my co-worker and his fiancee decide to purchase the house directly, they would save the commission ($36K).

I directed him to Bankrate, since they have a lot of good calculators on how much house you can afford. After punching in the numbers, he told me that he cannot afford the house without help. I will get an update later this week on his final decision.

As we were talking about this, we talked about how many people we know end up getting help from parents for the down payment. I'm not sure if this phenomenon just occurs frequently in the Bay Area, or if this is what always happens in middle-upper-middle class families . Are these people getting the help spoiled or lucky?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friends with Class

Madame X at My Open Wallet has a great
post about a couple of articles in the NY Times. The post I linked to discusses the differences among friends with vastly different amounts of money. I think the issue of socieconomic inequality amongst friends is something that is starting to develop around us. As my friends and I get older and more established in our careers, we are starting to move apart in terms of our finances. I have a friend who just graduated from law school, working at one of the big law firms in SF. I'm sure she's making around $170K based on some recent articles I've read. I also have friends who are social workers, still in school, etc., getting further into debt or making a much smaller incomes. Right now we're still fresh in our careers, but I don't know how things will change as more of us get married and start having families. Will the economic differences drive us apart? Will we still be able to remain friends? As for myself, I think I am in the middle. I'm not making a lot of money right now in my career, but I have the potential to make a great living if I stay in my current occupation. I doubt I will work in consulting long term. I see my fiance and myself as being the "poor" relatives in relation to our other family members, but that's okay with us. We'll be doing things we enjoy, even if it's not as economically rewarding.

Friday, May 05, 2006

TurboTax's Refund Bonus Program is a hassle

I filed my taxes late this year(finished then 4/15/06) and I decided to get some gift cards through Turbo Tax's Refund Bonus program. You order some gift cards at a discount - typically 10% off the face value of the card plus a shipping fee of $15-20. Today I got the 5 gift cards I had ordered via FedEx. I ordered 2 Bed Bath and Beyond gift cards worth $25 each, 1 Starbucks card worth $25, and 2 American Express cards worth $200 each. I was super excited since it meant I could get my friend's wedding gift before visiting her this weekend in New York. The American Express gift cards are only valid at certain stores, but that includes some stores that my friends commonly register at (e.g. Crate and Barrel). I decided to check the balance of my gift card before driving down to Crate and Barrel. Good thing I did since my cards have a balance of $0!!! I'm glad that I didn't waste my time and the gas driving to the mall (I do have some other things to do in the area, but they're not urgent).

Apparently they haven't been activated yet and it will take 3-5 business days to resolve the issue. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed. Since taking on my new job, I am lacking in patience since my time at home is so limited.

Thumbs down to Amex and Turbo Tax for this snafu. I also checked the balances on my other gift cards and they are what they should be.

Good Tip to Save on Your Wedding

It seems that there are a quite a few Bloggers out there in a similar situation as myself - engaged to get married or seriously considering it. My fiance and I were able to find a good way to save money on some wedding costs. We are renting chair covers (which may be considered a waste by some) and so are our friends who are getting married in June. We simply asked vendors if we could have a discount if we referred someone else. Originally most vendors would give us a discount, but when we pushed, most were willing to give our friends a discount as well. We ended up with a 10% discount for both of us, saving each of us $60.

In looking for a wedding cake, we've asked the same question and most people have been willing to say yes. This would probably work with almost any other vendor as well.

In the wedding industry, there isn't much incentive to do a good job since most brides are one-time customers. However when you bring you friends into the mix, there is more incentive to make sure you're a happy customer.

April Goals - Follow up

In the beginning of April, I posted here about several things that I wanted to accomplish that month. I think one of the most important thing about a goal is to track how well you progress.

Here is my follow-up.

1. Finish my taxes. Finished 4/15
2. Get all the addresses for my save the date cards Finished 4/5 - As a follow up goal, I need to do a quality control review of the labels I printed versus the addresses I accumulated. I was using mail merge and I think I may have missed a couple.
3. Donate clothes from my closet Not done, will try to do tomorrow
4. Donate my car Not done due to delays, appointment to have car picked up 5/9/06
5. Get my financial house in order. Done
6. Tithe at least $700. Not done - however I just got my federal tax refund($1700) so I should be able to apply almost all of that.

As you can see, I achieved success on some of my goals, but not all of them. A midpoint check might have helped me along in getting all of them accomplished. None of them were overly difficult. Once I wrote the list, I largely forgot about what was in it.

David Bach talks about the importance of making a list of financial goals and placing them somewhere you can see them everyday. This will help you remember what you're working for and help you to get on track to achieve your goals.

Later today I will come up with some goals for May. On Monday I will be traveling to work in LA as usual, however, I will be going to New York City for 10 days and then back to work in LA for 4 days. This means I will be leaving home 4/8/06 and returning 4/25/06. It might make it difficult to accomplish some goals, but I have to accomplish some things this month!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Festival of Frugality #21

Wandering Indian Monk has posted the
21st Festival of Frugality. This is special to me since this is the first time I've been featured in any sort of festival or carnival.

On that note, Seattle Simplicity has an interesting post on things that she naturally does. This sparked a discussion about soap slivers and hotel soap. Previously I would use 2 bars of soap per hotel visit (one for the shower and one for the sink). Now I have a ziploc baggie that I used to save the soap and I use it weak after weak, giving me 2 additional bars of soap to bring home every week. I started doing this because I wanted to save my hotel soaps to give as part of a bath gift set for a bridal shower I hosted. Now it's just habit.