Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Giving Gifts

I believe the gift giving is inherently not a very good economy of exchange since the best person who knows what you want really is you and I am quite picky; but I love to wrap and give presents. I also like to receive presents. I don't care so much about the presents, but more about the anticipation of receiving the presents. I think that's one reason I love Christmas - the ability to look under the tree and wonder what's there.

This year I made my husband of pretty large list of things I want. Some of them are fairly expensive, but others are pretty cheap. The most expensive thing on my list is a road bike and the cheapest is a reusable water bottle from my alma mater.

I'm not sure how to solve for the fact that I'm picky, I don't want my husband to waste our money, and I want to be surprised.

I guess we'll see if my experiment this year works (providing the list with a lot of different items).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Apparently I Write Like A Man, But I Am A Woman

I found this link from Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme. The site thinks that I write 76% like a man.

According to the votes on the website, the website is correct only about 54% of the time, so I don't feel too bad.

But after the website thought that I write like a man, I thought it might be my job. I do work in an industry that is predominantly male so that might influence my writing style.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Accepting Myself and My Talents

A few weekends ago I was walking through a park with a friend when we stumbled upon an art exhibit. As we walked through the art exhibit, my friend remarked that she found some of the work overpriced since she could easily produce similar pieces herself. While I agreed with her that much of the art was overpriced, I knew that there was little to no chance that I could produce something similar.

This made me think back to a training that I recently attended. After the training, I sought feedback on my performance (the training consisted of a week of role playing our in regular jobs, facing a specific problem) and I got great feedback. There was hardly anything negative said about me at all. Contrasting that feedback I received compared to facing my own artistic limitations made me realize that we can’t always be good at what we want to be good at. Of course, one can improve their skills in certain areas, but some careers or some skills are just a much closer fit than others.

I have always wanted to be more artistic, and I know that I can improve my talents in that area with practice. But that does not come to me with the same fluid ease that it does to others. That's ok, it's just who I am. We all have different talents and we should try to showcase and utilize the things that we enjoy and come easiest to us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Random Thoughts

Work has been super busy!

C and I have been doing a good job of keeping track of our expenses for this month. I have a spreadsheet that I update every night and I bug him about what he spent. I might be missing some of our reoccurring bills that automatically get charged and paid by our credit card, but that will be easy to reconcile later.

My client right now has a $0.25 for everything vending machine. This means that I'm spending WAY more on snacks than I normally would. I can't figure out if the vending machine is a good thing or a bad thing. A lot of the things end up being cheaper than what I would pay at the store.

Should I wait until I get my next raise (early next year) before leaving and looking for a job or should I start now?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

November Challenge: Record What We Spend

Ok, so up for the month of November is a tried and true challenge.

Record every penny my husband and I spend!

Before I didn't have too many vices, but I just started working on a new project. At the client site there is a vending machine. Everything in the vending machine is $.25. They have a lot of good stuff I like there. There also have a large variety of sodas for $.25, more than beyond the usual cola stuff.

The past few months we've been in months with "unexpected" expenses, so I want to see how our spending compares to previous months. Last time we tracked all of our expenses, it came to about $5,000.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Unexpected $$$

Earlier this week, I was happy to receive 2 checks in the mail; one addressed to me and one addressed to my husband. Each was for $85. Totally unexpected, without any letter of explanation from a medical group.

I figure that this medical group overcharged us from some shots we got before our big vacation! I paid $100 for each of us, so I am assuming that the $85 is a reimbursement above our co-pay of $15.

I still haven't figured out exactly how much we spent on that vacation of ours, but now I get to subtract $170.

Every little bit helps!

Monday, October 20, 2008

How Do You Combat Laziness?

This weekend, C and I didn't have much planned. In fact, on Friday night, we didn't have anything planned. There were two things I wanted to do over the weekend - do the first exercise in Your Money or Your Life together and go through our closets to find some clothes to donate. Tomorrow there is an organization that is picking up used clothes, toys, etc. in our neighborhood and both C and I have been pretty disorganized in our closets. After getting our new bed (Cal king size), the other rooms in our house are overfilled with stuff. If our closets were cleaner and more organized, we could store our extra stuff there (unless we're able to get rid of it).

Well this weekend, C and I went to the gym, went to the Farmer's market, went grocery shopping, saw a movie, went to church, went on a bike ride, and visited some open houses. I also did a lot of cooking after the Farmer's market and C did a lot of dishes after I completed my cooking.

Around 9 pm on Sunday, I realized that we still hadn't done those two things that I wanted to do and I just didn't have the energy to do them. I think next time, I'll just have C and I clean out a few drawers, rather than our whole closets. Maybe smaller goals will help us be more successful in our goals?

How do you accomplish the chores that you're not excited about, but feel that you need to do?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Geez I Need a Budget . . .

Recently C and I have been spending a lot of money.

We spent quite a bit on our 4 week vacation. It was a once in a lifetime trip that we wanted to take before we have kids (thinking about having kids in a few years).

Then we just bought a new bed from Costco. This was sorely needed since we had been sleeping on a bed purchased from craigslist 2 years ago for only $25. In this case, I really do think we got what we paid for. The bed totally sagged in the middle if we put it on a metal bedframe, so we had to leave it on the floor in order to not wake up every night with back pain. We only woke up occasionally with back pain, but it was becoming more frequent, so time to pull the trigger. Incidentally we had received a wedding gift of cash with the stipulation that the money was for a new bed, so you can consider this an expense that we had money allocated for.

We just had some semi unexpected auto repairs. Unexpected since you never know what your car is going to break down, but only "semi" since the car is 12 years old.

Now C is making noises about getting a new computer. Granted, right now we don't have any working computers that we own. Both C and I have work laptops, that we also use for personal needs. I agree we need a computer, but on top of all of our other recent expenditures, it seems like a lot! This will be especially critical if I want to seriously explore my career options.

Of course, we are against going into debt to purchase travel/consumer goods, so that's not an issue. I'm just worried that we're not saving enough for our house down payment.

I think I'm going to ask for Quicken for Christmas!

Friday, October 10, 2008

1 Mistake I Made in Light of the Market and 1 Thing I Did Right

Well, everyone has been posting a lot about the economy. How can you not with the wild fluctuations going on? In light of what's going on, there is one thing I did that I can identify as a mistake and one thing I did that I can identify as a good decision.

My Mistake
The mistake I made was in not distributing my 401K contributions evenly across the year. Had I done so, I could have taken advantage of dollar cost averaging. Instead, I maxed out my contributions mid-September, meaning that my account is not going to be taking advantage of these new lower prices. I knew that I was going to max out in September but I decided to do so anyway since I thought it would be nice to have extra money for Christmas and potential year end vacations. I also thought I might be switching jobs so it would be easier if I maxed out my 401K at one employer rather than trying to figure out the exact amount I would need to contribute in my new employer without going over the maximum contribution limit. Now it looks like I won't be switching jobs in the near future. Since I work in financial services consulting, it just feels too unstable to be looking for something new. I'm also well respected in my current job and I enjoy it for the most part.

My Good Decision
The good decision I made was in deciding to hold our home down payment funds in cash. I began saving in earnest for a home about 3 years ago. It was always my intention to buy a place in 2007 or 2008. After getting married 2 years ago, my husband and I were able to significantly increase our down payment fund. It's pretty disheartening to see so much of your money only early 3% when the rest of your money is earning 7% or 10%. But we stuck to traditional wisdom and kept that money in an ING Savings account. I never even opened a CD since I was never really sure when we would find a house that we liked and pull the trigger on the purchase. Now I am so glad that we didn't risk that money since we want to use it in the short term.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Overhead . . .and Seen

Two notable things I overheard and saw this past weekend:

Overheard: "I take cash, check, and credit cards . . ." - homeless guy in downtown Philly

I thought the comment from the homeless guy was pretty fun. I just thought I'd share that.

Seen: My two seatmates on my flight from Philly to the Bay Area both were reading library books.

I was pretty shocked to see both of my seatmates reading library books since I don't think I've ever seen anyone else on a plane reading a library book, except for me and my spouse. I haven't been to the library for a while so I'm wondering if it's more crowded now. Is all this talk about practicing frugality really taking root? Or do people feel that it is more acceptable to be frugal, so they're more open about it?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Hard to Get Back into a Groove

I've been back from vacation for about a week and a half, but I'm still not back to my regular schedule since once again I've been on the road (since Friday). I'll get back home later this weekend.

I can't believe what's going on with the economy! While everything really surprised me when I first heard about it, it's sinking in so that as I look back upon everything, it seems like it was inevitable. We just have too many short-sighted people who don't think through the consequences of what might happen because of overconfidence in the markets and probably their abilities. I'm sure that if I had been in their shoes, I'd probably do the same things.

Now if only everyone could think more like Goldman Sachs. I can't believe that they've been profitable through it all.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm Back From Vacation . . .

and it was awesome. I'll look for some generic photos to post later. Then I'll ask all of you to see if you can figure out where I went for vacation!

I'm happy to be back home, but I'm headed out for a business trip next week.

My company is going through a lot of issues, so I'm thinking about whether or not I want to start job searching . . .I'm a bit afraid to start job searching since I don't know what I want in my next job.

If I want to stay in consulting, I'm fairly certain I could get a job pretty easily since I have a lot of former co-workers that have endeavored to get me to apply with their companies. If I don't want to stay in consulting, that proves to be a bigger problem since I would probably need to figure out what I want to do before haphazardly applying to random jobs.

Anyone know of any good online tests to figure out what kind of job one should get?

Expect to see more posting! I will post some details on the finances of our trip sometime this month or next month too.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Guest Post: When Should You Quit Your Job?

Folks, here is my first ever guest post! I'm excited about the article Heather wrote since I am thinking about quitting my job. I am planning on exploring my career options when I get back from vacation - including exploring the options at my current place of employment so this was a very timely article for me

It crosses your mind every morning as you lay in your bed right after your alarm wakes you up: I hate my job. This is not a good sign. Considering you spend about half of your waking hours each week at your job, it’s imperative that you don’t hate showing up each day. At some point you have to consider your quality of life. This is important. If you’re coming home after another day at your personal hell then the chances are pretty good that you’re going to bring home that negativity. If this is happening then not only are you ruining your life then you’re doing the same for your family. Here are five reasons you’ll know it’s time to quit:

  1. You despise your co-workers. Refer back to the point that you’re spending half of your waking hours at your job. With this under consideration, if you can’t stand your co-workers then this is going to lead to dissatisfaction with your job even if you enjoy your work. Ask yourself if you are always complaining to your friends and family about your co-workers and if you are then you have to find a new job.
  2. You’re a clock watcher. If you’re looking at the clock every ten minutes to calculate how much time is left in the day then it’s a pretty fair guess that this isn’t the place you should be toiling away.
  3. You’re not being respected. If you’re the Rodney Dangerfield of the office then it’s time to move on. You work hard and this should be recognized. It’s not that you’re looking for a plaque or pat a on the back every time you do your job, but it’s human nature to want to receive some recognition every now and again.
  4. You’re not being challenged. There are obviously times when you want to flake off all day and that’s normal. But, if you’re showing up each day and not using your brain then this is a cycle you have to snap. Either speak to your superiors about expanding your role or take your skills somewhere they can be better utilized.
  5. You’re mentally exhausted every day. If you come home and can’t muster the mental energy to be a productive member of your family then it’s time to move on. You work to provide for yourself and your family and if you come home and can’t enjoy the fruits of your labors then you’re not working for the right reasons.

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of Chase Reward Programs. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Going on Vacation .. .

I'm going on vacation so expect sporadic posts from me for the next 4 weeks. Yup, that's right, I'll be gone for 4 whole weeks! While I'm not sure if I'm going to reveal where I'm going, let's just say that it's international. While I should have planned better and set up some posts for while I'm gone, I didn't get around to doing that! I do have my first ever guest post coming up, so stay tuned for that and let me know if anyone out there wants to guest post for me.

I'm super excited about my vacation, leaving for the airport in 40 minutes!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

My Husband Was Upset That I Bargained at a Retail Store

C has a fairly expensive watch ($300) that he needed repaired. The battery had gone out and the strap needed to be replaced. The watch was one of the few nice gifts I had given to C. I got it for him during our first or second year of dating. We have now been together for about 6 years - 3 years of dating and 3 years of marriage.

The watch hadn't been operational for about a year and a half since the strap broke. It was very hard to find a replacement strap. We ended up buying a replacement strap about 4 months ago when we were on vacation in NYC when we went to the retail store of the watch manufacturer. The store in NYC was the only retail store the watch manufacturer has anywhere. Unfortunately since we were on vacation, we didn't get a chance to actually get the strap replaced at the store since the watch was a home. The replacement strap was pretty pricey. We can't remember exactly how much it cost. I think it was about $50 while C thinks it was about $100. I'm not sure when the battery broke.

Bargaining at the Store
Last night we went to this fancy watch store since we know that they do repairs. We had went there before to see if they could repair C's watch, but they would need to order the strap which we didn't want them to do. We ask the serviceman how much it costs to replace the strap and get the battery replaced. The battery was $21.70 and the installation of the band was $15, so the total was going to be about $37.

Both my husband and I were hesitating, so I asked the watch serviceman if he could do it for $30 total. He first said that he didn't set the prices, then I frowned. He then said that he would go and check. While the serviceman was gone C told me that he didn't like bargaining for services that he would rather pay the extra $7 since he thinks people don't do as good of a job with a service when you don't pay as much. I completely disagreed since I thought it was pretty clear cut what he was going to do. Well the serviceman came back and told us that he could do it for $30!

It probably took an extra 2 minutes to save $7. Upon examining his returned watch, there was a minor scratch on the face that C didn't remember seeing. C thinks that the serviceman might have scratched the watch. I told C that I thought it was probably already there. Since we hadn't examined the watch before bringing it in, we couldn't be sure. I just don't think someone at a fancy watch store would purposely or accidentally scratch a watch. Since most of the watches in the store are $1000+, I know that those guys have a lot of experience dealing with nice watches.

I have realized the C and I have very different ideas when it comes to spending money. I always knew that we had different philosophies, but I couldn't believe that he disagreed with bargaining in this case. I think he is just uncomfortable with asking people to give him special treatment, whereas I am a big believer in asking for what you want. We agreed to disagree in this case, but I will definitely try bargaining in the future.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Getting Ready For A Long Vacation

My husband and I are getting ready to go on a long vacation. I'm going to try to write as many posts as I can before I go on vacation and schedule the postings while I'm gone. Incidentally, if you would like to guest post for me, please email me at calgirlfinance at gmail.

So in anticipation of our long vacation here are some things to do to prepare:

3 months - 1 year in advance
1. Ask for time off from your jobs, especially if it's a long vacation
2. Determine itinerary
3. Begin saving for your trip
4. Book airline tickets. If booking tickets using miles, try to do this as far in advance as possible
5. Book accommodations. This can be hotels, home rentals, etc.
6. Start doing online research of what you want to do once you're at your destination (optional)

1 month in advance
1. Put travel books on hold at the library
2. Review immunizations, schedule appointment if appropriate
3. Review vacation money management (in our case, this led us to apply for a Capital One credit card since Capital One refunds foreign transaction fees)
4. Figure out reading material and obtain books/magazines from library, friends, or bookstore
5. Ensure you have everything you need to bring on the trip, especially if it's not something you typically use, for example a swimsuit that fits. You might want to create a packing list at this time
6. Remind your boss that you're taking time off
7. Review your itinerary to ensure you've booked everything
8. Consider borrowing needed items from friends or family (we're borrowing a suitcase and a travel guide)
8. Purchase anything you need for your trip (in my case, I'm buying my husband and I journals so we can document our once in a lifetime vacation). Try to do this in advance so you can take advantage of free shipping from stores like Amazon
9. Check out travel books from library
10. Stop buying so much perishable foods

1 week in advance
1. Decide if you're going to check in luggage and carry it with you
2. Create a packing list (if you didn't do it earlier)
3. Do laundry to ensure everything you want to bring with you is clean
4. Finish off your perishable foods and try to empty out your refrigerator. You don't want your food to go bad while you're gone, especially if there's a power outage
5. Make copy of items in wallet and passport and leave with a trusted family member. Also bring a copy of your passport, but keep it somewhere separate from your passport. If traveling with a spouse, bring different credit cards so if someone losses their wallet, you still have some cards that can be used.
6. Print copy of itinerary and hotel reservations
7. Pack, consider bringing extra duffel bag for souvenirs
8. Consider airport transportation
9. Review travel books, if you're only going to certain cities, you can make copies of the cities you're going to and return the guidebooks or leave them at home. Then you can throw away the info on the cities you've visited

Night before
1. Check in
2. Review packed items against your list to ensure you have everything you'll need
3. Decide what time you need to get to airport
4. Set alarm to awaken you with plenty of time to get to airport

Day Of
1. Turn down water heater
2. Go to airport, check in, board plane
3. Relax and enjoy your vacation!

Is there anything you would add that I missed? Please let me know so I can be sure to do it before our trip!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Overtime Can Make A Big Difference

Wow, I can't believe how much overtime some city employees earn in San Francisco! I saw this article earlier today in SFGate. Check out the chart near the bottom that shows the amount of overtime the top overtime earners are getting. I would love to be getting as much overtime as these guys! Can you believe, some people make only $39K base salary, but get $89K in overtime pay? If you live on just your base salary, you could be saving so much money! But since this is San Francisco, it would be pretty hard for anyone to live in San Francisco and manage to a base salary of $39K if they have a family. If they're single and willing to share housing, it can be done.

Becoming Entrepreneurial

How does one become entrepreneurial? I think I'm the anti-entrepreneur right now. I do really well in school. I'm not that creative. I like to follow rules.

I think being an entrepreneur is about seeing unmet needs and finding a way to meet those needs. I have a few ideas of different businesses I would like to start or different websites I want to create. But my problem is that I need someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to help me come up with concrete steps to refine my ideas and put them in practice. I also know almost nothing about website design, despite the fact that I create my first web page 14 years ago. I often talk about wanting to be a entrepreneur with my husband and I think it's starting to rub off!

Today he sent me this link about Farecast with the note " Honestly, I feel like developing a new website and selling it off is not totally out of our reach..." While I'm not sure any of my ideas would be close to being as successful as Farecast, I think we could definitely follow this model profiled in the NY Times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Husband Doesn't See How Inflation is Affecting Our Finances

In our marriage, I am the primary manager of our finances. We each manage our own retirement accounts. I want us to review this together to see if we have the right combined asset allocation, but we haven't gotten around to it. I am kind of a lazy money manager. I manage our day to day finances. Most of our spending is via credit card, which is paid off every month. I also manage our savings accounts for our emergency fund and house payment fund.

Since I manage most of these things independently, my husband doesn't see how inflation is affecting us. I admit that it hasn't affected us that much since we live way below our means. But the increased cost of gas and food has affected our ability to save as much money as I would like for our house down payment. In fact, I think our down payment savings are fairly stagnant for the year, despite the fact that my husband and I both got pretty decent raises from last year. A big part of that is probably due to our upcoming vacation! Once we get back from vacation, expense tracking is going to start for at least another month!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How I Accomplish What I Need to Do in a Day

I was talking to a friend of mine this weekend who is unemployed. She talked about the frustration of having the day pass without feeling like she accomplished anything. I shared with her my secret for getting a lot done on days when I work from home but don't have a lot of items that are "due." I am one of those people who work much better with a deadline, so there are a few things I do to help myself be more productive when there are no deadlines.

The first thing I do is create a to-do list of things that I can accomplish that day. I try to make it long, but also only include things that I could actually do on that day. It might include "write an introduction" for a long document I'm writing, but it would not include "write the long document." I think it's important to only put down things that can be accomplished on that day. If it's a large task that needs to be done, I will break it down into subtasks that I can complete.

The other thing I love to do is to check off items on my to-do list. This helps to keep me motivated. And I also come up with a goal of how many items I'm going to cross off my to-do list. I usually aim to complete about 50%-75% of the list. I like having the flexibility of putting off a few things until tomorrow so I never aim to complete the whole list.

Sometimes when working with items with a nebulous deadline, I simply assign a deadline to it myself. This helps me tremendously, while I know others will also need accountability from others. If you need the accountability, I would recommend telling your spouse, best friend, or even parent.

I hope these tips help those of you out there and please let me know what you do to stay on track on a day without deadlines.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How Much is Your Commute Costing You?

Mine costs me almost $10/day.

If you have a good idea of the mileage your car gets, you can get a good idea of how much your commute is costing you. I like to determine my mileage by tracking my mileage and the number of gallons of gas I get. I keep a little notebook in my car where I record the fill up date, the total number of miles drive, the total number of gallons, the cost per gallon, and the total cost. Then if you divide the total miles by the total gallons, you get the MPG for your last tank of fuel. Of course this only works if you fill up your tank.

Right now I'm on a client that's about 23 miles away from my home. The MPG I've been getting is around 22-24 MPG. That means each drive out there is a gallon of gas. Each day is two gallons of gas. My car is supposed to get midgrade gas, which cost me $4.61/gallon last time I filled up.

Basically my daily commute is $4.61*2 = $9.22. I hate spending money when I feel like I don't have to. I think commuting that far is kind of a waste, but when you're a consultant, you don't always get that much choice on where your client is.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Social Cycle

My husband and I seem to go through this social cycle. One weekend we're really busy and meeting up with friends/family every day. The next weekend it's just the two of us and we're relaxing together. Typically it's a lot cheaper when it's just the two of us, but of course, we love to spend time with friends and family.

We are going on an extended vacation in August, so these next few weeks are going to be pretty busy meeting up with everyone.

One problem is that a lot of our friends and family live 20-50 miles away, so for us to even get together to go on a hike is not free with the rising price of gas. The car we drive most often due to reliability get about 22 MPG and it takes the middle grade of gas. Since we live in the Bay Area, that means it costs us about $8-$10 for the round trip drive to a friend's house that's 20 miles away! That's the price we pay because a lot of things are more important than money. I know that we're lucky to have many friends and family somewhat close by, even if they don't live as close as I would like.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Really Local Produce

While visiting my sister this weekend,we found a local farm less than a mile away from her. We drove by and were able to pick up a lot of great produce, directly from the farmer that manages the fields! He has three farms in nearby cities, with one right there next to his farm stand. The only way you can get more local produce it to grow it yourself!

We were all amazed that there was still a decent sized functioning farm right next to houses. Land in that area is pretty valuable since homes over there easily sell for $800K or so. I have no idea how big the farm is (I can't judge things like that), but if a developer bought the land and built houses, he could probably have 50-100 houses, depending on the lot size.

It was great to see a family owned operation still in place!

We'll definitely be stopping by every time we see my sister. As for her, I think she's found a new place to get her produce and eggs,

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yesterday I Ran Into My Boss's Boss . . .And I Sort of Asked For a Raise

I work as a consultant and as such, I'm mostly on client sites. I don't see my boss or his boss too often. On Thursday I ran into my boss's boss. He was my boss for about 2 years, and I only recently began reporting to someone else about 3 months ago. He asked me to come into his office to help train a new employee on how to do something. I gladly accepted and then asked if I could talk with him to get a bit of career advice.

I was trying to talk about what type of project I should be on next. We talked for a bit. Then I asked about a change in our performance evaluation process. We talked about that. Then I asked whether there will be mid year adjustments

He said no, unless it's a market adjustment. I told him that I thought I was in the right salary band, but on the lower end. When I was promoted earlier this year, I knew that I was on the lower end of the salary range, but that was okay with me since I was just promoted. But now that I've had a chance to grow in the role and become one of the high performers in this category of employee, I thought I should be in the higher end of the range. He agreed and said he would email HR to see where I fall in that range. He emphasized to me that he would tell HR that they really want to retain me.

From looking on GlassDoor, I think I should be getting $5K-$15K more. I am hoping that HR will get to the same numbers. If all goes well, I hope to see something in August or September. I hope my actual boss doesn't get mad . . . but he's on vacation at an inopportune time. :)

Actually this was kind of a spur of the moment conversation. Once I saw my boss's boss, I realized that this would be a good opportunity to talk about my career. The change in our performance review process gave me a neutral way to talk about it and my old boss helped me along in the conversation by talking about what a great performer that I am.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Is 6 Months Too Long to Wait For a Promotion That Is Not Guaranteed?

I've been thinking a lot about my career.

I am performing at the level to be promoted, but the only problem is that promotions aren't until next March. This might not seem too long to a lot of people, but for me it seems like a long time to wait for a pay increase. Also there's no guarantee of a promotion, but I'm pretty sure I would get one, as long as I continue to show my skills on challenging projects.

I have a goal of making $100K in salary before I hit 30. If I get promoted in March, I should definitely meet that goal. The question is should I leave now and get to the $100K salary by getting a new job? Last year I got 3 salary increases in one year while staying in the same job so only getting one this year is a tough adjustment. The three adjustments were for an annual increase, off-cycle increase since I was making less than market, and a promotion increase. Since I'm now performing at the next level, I think I am once again underpaid. Typically there's 2-4 years before getting promoted to the next level, so I wasn't underpaid when I was promoted, but since I've developed to perform at the next level, I do think that I'm underpaid.

Also I'm not sure how the career aligns with my plans to have a family. I work in consulting which requires the ability to travel . . .a lot. . .if put onto a traveling project. Alternately one can be put on a local project. Traveling a lot does not jive with my idea of how I want to raise a family.

I just don't know what to do.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Long Term Financial Planning

This weekend my husband and I tried to do some long term financial planning. I have quite a bit of Excel knowledge gained from work, so I was busy working on a model, modeling our income growth over the next 30 years or so, taxes, and the effect of inflation. I also wanted to model our expenses, but we needed a lot more assumptions for that so I didn't get a chance to finish that. Based on my modeling and the assumptions I made (e.g. $15,500 annual tax deferred retirement contribution), we should be millionaires in our forties, assuming 6% growth in our investments. That's exciting, I hope it happens!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grocery Costs

On my last credit card statement, C and I spent approximately $500 on groceries. Some of this spending was a bit more than normal due to my mystery shopping, but the amount just seemed outrageous for a family of two. C and I do try to eat healthy and buy organic products, but I think the real issue was shopping without a list. C and I are both pretty big impulse buyers. So for this upcoming credit card statement (the one we're currently in), I told C that we were going to try to spend $100 or $150, at the most. I figured we would be able to spend a lot less since we did buy a lot of food in the prior month. I'm happy to report that with the credit card statement date almost coming to a close, we're definitely under $150, but over $100. Making goals really does help you improve!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good News: It Wasn't Fraud; It Was a Bank Error

Well the good news is that the mysterious withdrawal on my account was not fraud - it was just some sort of bank error. I was so happy to get the news that it wasn't fraud, plus I was really busy at work, so I didn't press for too many details. They told me the withdrawal was on an account that didn't match my name or account number. It was just some sort of error. So I got the mystery withdrawal amount back plus they credited me the $25 fee. I'm glad that it's not more serious and I'm thankful that I didn't bounce any checks in the meantime. I think it's pretty embarrassing to bounce a check, especially if writing one to a friend or family member. And then they also get hit with a fee. Would the bank also reimburse that fee? I can see how one bounced check can lead to cascading fees.

Thanks to those who commented and provided support. And by the way, it was Bank of America who made the error. Earlier today I tried to deposit some checks at the ATM, but they were out of deposit slips. That one branch had 3 ATMs around the outside, so I was pretty disgruntled about that. I was going to deposit over $1K.

All of these annoyances are making me think - is it time to get a new bank? I keep BofA for their ATM network, but I know that there are banks out there that will reimburse you for all ATM fees. I don't want to make too many financial changes at once, so I'll probably hold off for now.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Fraud Troubles?

I think that I have been a victim of some sort of identity theft. I noticed an unusual transaction in one of my bank accounts on Saturday. The transaction was for a cash withdrawal from Friday for an unusually large amount. I immediately asked my husband if he withdrew the money, even though he never uses that bank account. He didn't.

I was pretty frustrated that I wasn't able to report the fraud until today (I hate waiting for business hours), but I called it in and reported it today. My bank promised to get back to me within 48 hours.

This unusual transaction caused me to be overdrawn on my account - the first time ever in my life. I was almost overdrawn earlier in May since I forgot about a check I wrote to my cousin for his new baby (I don't like to keep a lot of money in this checking account - I use this bank mostly for their network of ATMs). That time it was the weekend, I realized that I had a bill payment scheduled for Monday for $10 more than I had in my account, so I just went and made a deposit at the ATM during the weekend.

I hate being overdrawn, but I don't want to deposit anymore money into my account until they figure out what happened. I don't want to give the fraudster access to any more of my money. And my bank promised to reimburse me for any fees related to fraudulent activity

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Busy with New Project, Vacation Planning, and House Buying Process

These past few weeks have gone by extremely fast. I started a new fast paced project which is taking up a lot more time. I'm very lucky if I get home by 7 pm and I feel somewhat lucky if I get to leave by 7 pm. When I work this much (I get in at 8:30, plus my commute is between 30 min-60 min each way), I don't have much energy after work for anything, except watching TV. I can't even keep up with all the blogs I read. C and I are also working hard on planning our vacation. I'm looking at how I get enough miles to book another flight segment on points. I can do it, but it'll take some time. In the midst of that, C and I are also looking into getting a home loan for a potential home purchase. I'm still not sure if we're going to move forward with the house purchase right at this moment, but we're getting closer to buying a place sometime this year.

In the midst of all this busyness, I realized that C and I spent an atrociously embarrassing amount of money on groceries last month. On our last credit card statement, we spent about $500 for the two of us! This month, we're going to try to spend less than $100, which I think should be do-able since our fridge and freezer are full of food.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's Been A Busy Week

This past week I started on a new client engagement. The hours aren't too bad, but it's taking me some time to get used to working regular hours and commuting for about 1.5 hours/day. In addition to that, C and I are seriously considering buying our first home. We've both been saving for our house down payment for some time and we have a decent amount amassed. We're also going to get some parental help for the down payment. We thought that we were going to get the help, but it has been confirmed. I'm so grateful for the help that we get from our family - not only monetary, but also emotionally.

On a side note, would you pay $2K up front in the form of half a point if you knew that it would save you $3K over 15 years?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Money Confession: I Spend Whatever I Want

While this is probably true of most people you know, this is probably not something you would expect from a personal finance blogger. I sometime feel guilty about the fact that I spend whatever I want, but I have a secret. I have trained myself to be mostly content with what I have, so I don’t want a lot.

One idea that I have seen again and again is how people really value experiences, not things. I used to be the opposite. I used to think that I would much rather get a really cute sweater than go to a concert. But then I realized that of course I would rather get a cute sweater than go to a concert since I don’t like music that much! It wasn’t that concept that was wrong, but it was my points of comparison. Now I’ve realized that rather than spending money on a cute sweater, I would be much happier to spend that money on the experience of a nice vacation. I have trained my brain to not even want to cute sweater very much since I am pretty content with my closet.

Of course it helps to stay out of stores too. I have most of the clothes that I need to be happy, but one place where I have the desire to spend is on home furnishings. We have very few items in our home that was purchased new. Most of our items were hand me downs from family and friends with a few items purchased from craigslist. I would love to have a semi matching living room set or even a bed with a headboard. I realized that I’ve never owned a bed with a headboard or any kind of frame beyond the basic metal ones that come with the bed in my whole life. But when I go to the store and think about spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on new furniture, my mind talks me out of it since it know that I would much rather spend my money on a lifetime adventure.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Consider Renting a House for Your Next Vacation

I just got back from a weekend trip. In total there were 6 people on the trip and we spent just about $350 for 3 nights of lodging at a private home. We found the house through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). We could have gotten accommodations in a slightly more convenient place for about $70/night. In total it would have been $140/night since that place could only sleep 4, so we would need to get 2 rooms. But that place was not very nice (think camping) The added benefit of renting a house is having facilities to cook. On the 3 day trip, we ended up eating out only once (this was because we couldn't find a convenient place to eat the sandwiches we packed so we ended up getting some fast food). Personally I really like renting houses since everyone ends up spending more time together. The house had 3 bedrooms, which was perfect for us since we all got a little bit of privacy too!

Money saved on accommodations = ($140*3) - $350 (cost of house rental)= $70
Money saved by not eating out = (7 meals * 6 people * $7) - $100 (estimated cost of all meals) = $194

Total saved = $244

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This Month Our Cash Flow Is Negative

Typically C and I are very good about spending less than we earn every month without a real budget. Not so this month.

1. We paid about $6,500 in taxes. I wasn't expecting it to be that much.
2. We finally bought our plane tickets for our upcoming month-long vacation.
3. And we both maxed out our Roth IRAs for 2007.

Granted the last item is actually a form of savings, but it feels like spending since it's harder to withdraw the money (whenever there are penalty and fees involved, I don't believe in taking the money out).

So with all of the expenses listed above, our checking account is down a lot. Normally we wouldn't even have enough money in our checking account to cover all of those items, but about a month ago, I realized that the interest rate on an ING Checking account with a balance of over $50K was actually higher than the interest rate on the savings account. The rate isn't that different, but when I saw this, I realized that I was potentially missing out on $100-$200 in the course of a year.

C and I have several sub-accounts in ING for our home down payment, emergency savings, vacation savings, and my early retirement contribution. All together, these totaled over $50K so I decided to put it all in the checking account.

Now the thing that is unclear to me is where should all of this spending be coming out of? Obviously, the plane tickets come from our vacation fund. But do taxes come out of our down payment fund or our emergency fund?

I'm not sure putting all of our money together is a good idea since it is hard to control spending and savings goals. I know I could just spend 30 minutes a month working on it, but I must admit. I'm lazy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Today is the LAST Day to Fund Your IRA for 2007

Today I took the opportunity to fund my Roth IRA for 2007. Why did I wait so long? Well if you saw my earlier post on taxes, you know we just finished them over the weekend. I wanted to make sure C and I didn't exceed the income limit to make the full contribution. Once we had our AGI figured out, I knew that I should fund my Roth ASAP. But I made the mistake of not having enough money in my BofA checking account nor directly with Schwab, where I have my Roth. I had all the money in my ING account and I could have sent a check from it, but I felt more secure transferring the money to my BofA checking account so I could make the deposit in person. I ended up starting these transfers last Thursday. The money was fully transferred into my BofA account today with no holds, so I was free to deposit that check!


The one lesson I learned here is it's good to not cut things so closely. There were some online transferring options that I wanted to do, but it would have taken too long for the money to clear and become available hence I had to go with the in person option.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Taxes Are DONE!

Ever since getting married a year and a half ago, doing taxes has always been my husband's job. It's funny since I pretty much handle everything else financially related, but I've pushed this task onto him. I'm not sure why he did them last year, but I conned him into doing them again this year. We used Turbo Tax to file and they let you compare information from previous years if you have the previous year's tax returns on the same computer. I used that excuse to tell my husband that was why he needed to do the taxes. Oh and I checked and it doesn't matter who the primary filer for our economic stimulus rebate is since the last 2 digits of our social security numbers are within 3 digits of each other. But I don't think we'll be getting our rebate on time anyway since we didn't end up filing until yesterday. We did e-file, but I don't think they can process our returns that quickly. Note the link above states that your returns need to be filed and processed by April 15. That's okay.

I think the reason my husband and I procrastinated so much on the taxes this year is because we knew we were going to owe money. Well at least I knew so I didn't push him to do them sooner. I wanted to change our withholdings midyear so we would get less of a tax rebate, but when I went to the IRS withholding calculator, I found out that we were going to owe taxes. Needless to say, I ended up changing the withholding on my paycheck the other way to get less money, but apparently it wasn't enough. The total additional amount we had to pay was about $4K federal and $2K state. I don't know the exact numbers since C did the taxes. I asked C if we had to pay a penalty since we owed so much in taxes, but he said he didn't see any fines on our return.

I surmised that our withholding issue is related to both our paychecks. Our AGI was significantly higher this year than last due to substantial pay increases and C working for the full year. When C first started his job, his withholding might have been off since he made so little in 2006. He only worked for 1/4 of the year and then I made him contribute almost all of his salary to his 403B. Getting married in 2006 ended up reducing my tax liability significantly.

Ok, that's almost it for my post on taxes. One last thing - if there is anyone out there who still needs to do their taxes, H&R Block is now allowing everyone to use Tax Cut Basic and E File for FREE (I don't think this includes state taxes, but let me know if I'm wrong). Since I used Turbo Tax to do my taxes, I don't know much about Tax Cut, but you can't beat the price.

Monday, April 07, 2008

NCAA Winnings

I'm so excited! C participated in a Super Bowl pool this year like he does every year. It's a pretty big pool, so while he didn't place first, he was one of the top 5 and won over $150!! This is going to be added to our joint goal.

Today C and I were talking about our trip. This is going to be the trip of a lifetime for us. Things are pretty expensive, especially due to the weak dollar. We can afford to spend what we've budgeted, or more even, but it means giving up on other things we want to spend our money on. Budgeting is about choices and sometimes I just don't know what the right choices are.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

To My Loyal Readers

Sorry for the lack of posting. I have a ton of ideas, but I can' t seem to finish any posts! I've been on a mini vacation for this past week and I'm starting a new project this Monday. Hopefully I'll get back into posting this upcoming week.

In the meantime, here are some random thoughts:

You can really see inflation when you go somewhere to get one specific thing that you haven't purchased a in few years. In my case, C and I went to one of our favorite restaurants in NY. Something that used to cost $20 3 years ago is now $28!

Sometimes I remember something as being better than it really is. It's the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

For some reason, I've always been turned off by Suze Orman. I found one of her books, 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, so I started reading it. It's been pretty good. I remember going to a book signing with David Bach and hearing him say that 80% of what he and Suze says are the same. I started reading the book and it's been great so far. She talks about how our early experiences with money shape our view of money now. Too bad, I can't really remember any of my early experiences with money. I will post some early memories later and you will see how little I remember.

It's important to set a budget when you vacation. C and I are on a work/vacation type vacation (i.e. about half of this trip is being subsidized by own employers). Too bad our employers don't cover the full cost of our meals and shopping!

Does anyone else think that the new frozen yogurt craze (i.e. pinkberry, red mango, et al.) is crazy? I think it's creating a new market. A yummy, healthy (gotta love the fresh fruit toppings) new latte factor! Personally I love red mango.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Would You Feel If Your Kids Gave Away The Money You Left Them?

I saw this article in the NY Times about kids who inherit money and give it away. How would you feel if you left your kids an inheritance and they gave it away?

I would be fine if my (future) kids gave away any money I left them, but I would want them to do it gradually if it were a large amount, not all at once when they're 18 or 25. When you're that young, you often are still trying to figure yourself out. I think I'll still be trying to figure myself out when I'm 30, 40, even 50. I hope I'll get a good sense of myself by 50!

So if I had those kinds of assets, I would create a trust for my kids but have a set amount that could be spent/given away per year. I doubt that my kids are going to get too much money from me before I die and since I plan on living to 100, they'll have had a long time to mature and determine what their needs are.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Leaving Money in the House

A close relative of mine recently moved after living in a home for over 20 years. C and I went over to help with the moving process. After we finished, this relative hired a cleanup crew to help remove some old furniture and odds and ends.

Reflecting on the move, there are some things that could have been done differently.

1. My relative offered us a lot of things in her home, all I had to do was transport it to my place. One thing I should have done is review the items in her house more closely before moving day to determine what I wanted. Now I regret not grabbing a few pieces of furniture and some odds and ends.
2. I found quite a bit of loose change around the house, mostly pennies. Rather than focusing on pennies, I should have thought about what other small items of value were going to be left in the house. The focus should have been small items since those are easily transportable. Even if I didn't want to keep the items myself, I could have sold them on craigslist.
3. Planning ahead makes a big difference. Moving can be a stressful process, but more so if things are disorganized. I could have taken more of a leadership role in helping my relative out.

In the end, there was a lot of money could have been saved or money could have been gained by taking more time to sell some of the left over items. Part of this was laziness on the part of both me and my relative, but you live and learn!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Women Out Earning Men

I saw this link from MSN showing that less men are bothered by their wives earning more money. I see this phenomenon among many of my friends where the woman out earns the man (or the woman will soon out earn the man once she finishes her education).

Here's some interesting quotes from the article and my thoughts:

"Just 12 percent of men surveyed said they’d mind if their wife earned more than they do, and in general men seemed happy to share the breadwinner role." It seems silly to mind someone bringing home more money. C and I are always happier if the other person brings home more money, but we do joke about the times when we've each had breadwinner status.

"More than 40 percent of women say they do more than their share of housework — and 29 percent of men agree." I think I do more chores than C gives me credit for. Overall either he does more or we're equal. However now that I've become more concerned about living a purpose-filled life, I have started to do more housework.

"One quarter of men surveyed said that their wives aren’t working, but 40 percent of those men wish she did. Of the approximately 75 percent of men whose wives did work, only 5 percent wished she was at home."
I want to have the opportunity to stay at home with my kids, when I have them. C thinks it would be more helpful for my personal development and for our family finances if I worked. We disagree on whether it would be better for the kids to have a mom with a successful career or a mom who stays home to take care of them.

"In fact, 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women surveyed said a key benefit of having a spouse make money is that it alleviates the pressure of being the only financial provider." This is part of C's worry. He also is worried that I will be bored at home and call him all the time. I agree that it's possible I'll be bored at home. When I work from home, I do call him a lot since I miss the social interaction I normally have with my co-workers.

I found this to be an interesting, although unsurprising article. I found the statistics most interesting since I like to compare my viewpoints with others.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Insurance Woes

Sharon from the Frugal Duchess had a great post about checking your medical bills for errors. I wanted to add my own experience to this.

If you get an unexpected bill, make sure you call and confirm:
1. who sent the bill
2. what services you're being billed for
3. whether your insurance was billed or not

If you get notice that your insurance has denied coverage, make sure you call your insurance company to find out why!

Recently I went in for a routine medical visit and had some routine tests done. I received two unexpected bills. The first was from some billing office that my doctor used. When I first mentioned that I received a bill and I thought my insurance was going to cover it, the person I spoke to said that maybe I needed to get a pre-authorization in order for the visit to be covered. I didn't think that was the case since it clearly states on my insurance card that no pre-auth is required. Once she checked the billing record, she found out that they never even sent it to my insurance!

Next I got an invoice from the testing company saying that my insurance had denied coverage. I called the testing company to get more info, but I didn't get very far besides learning when the claim was submitted. Instead they suggested that I call my insurance company. I was able to get some information from the automated system that said one test had been reimbursed and the other was denied. Of course I waited to talk to a rep about why my claim was denied. I found out that it was mis-coded in the system! It was funny that when I called the testing company, they told me that they hadn't received payment for either test when my insurance had already wired the money for one test. I'm guessing that it takes a few days to update payment status.

I can't believe a routine doctor's visit for someone with good insurance turned out to be such a pain!

Here's what I learned:

1. Sometimes doctors will bill you instead of the insurance because they forgot to bill the insurance (I know some doctors that make you do all the insurance reimbursements - what a headache!)
2. Sometimes a company will send you a bill even though your insurance has already paid the claim - call your insurance company to see if they paid
3. Things get miscoded, which could be a reason for denial
4. Insurance companies pay way less than what is billed! I was billed for two tests that cost over $200 together. The insurance company paid half that!

Salary Openness

I am used to seeing salary secrecy practiced by almost everyone I know, including myself. I only know the salaries of my husband, my immediate family members, and a few friends. I will sometimes talk about my salary in general terms with my friends, but I don't openly discuss it, nor do I bring it up. Somehow I became pretty successful in my career and I think I'm probably making more than most of my good friends, so of course, I don't want to bring it up. I'm probably making less than my former co-workers since a lot of them ended up in I-banking, but I have a much better lifestyle than they do.

The other day I was exposed to a refreshing dose of honesty and openness regarding my plane-mate's salary. We were just about to land when I started chatting with the woman next to me. She told me quite a bit about her life, where she worked, what she did, where she was going, etc. Then she mentioned to me that she gets paid $11/hour plus tips, which was a lot better than the $3.17/hour plus tips that she received when she was living in a different state. I was pretty shocked at her salary openness, but it was pretty refreshing to find someone who was so open with her life.

I don't think it benefits anyone (except our employers) to keep our salaries a secret, yet we do so.

Here's my I keep my exact salary a secret:
1. I'm afraid to be judged (either positively or negatively) based on my salary
2. I'm pretty sure that my employment agreement forbids it

For more salary info of people on the web, check out this post from Madame X.

I just think there's this social stigma attached with discussing money and salary; I can't get myself over that hump. To try to help myself along, but keeping it vague, I'm close to the six figure mark, but I won't pass it this year unless I change jobs.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lunch Challenge

Krystal has created a great lunch challenge and invited her readers to participate. The goal is to not spend money on work days on food (lunch, snacks, drinks) from now until March 31. I wish I could participate, but there are too many variable in my life that make participating in this challenge particularly difficult. Here they are:

1. I'm going to be visiting one of my favorite cities, NYC, for one week this month. I will be working, but I will not be getting reimbursed for my meals. It's going to be a semi-vacation, and one of my favorite things in NYC is the food, so I don't want to give that up.
2. I normally get a meal allowance, so technically I get reimbursed for almost all of my weekday meals (I just get a meal allowance, so I do my best to spend the least amount of money possible)
3. I'm going to be working from home for about half the month, so that seems a little like cheating. In my opinion, it's much easier to not eat out when you're at home.
4. It's pretty extreme to bring lunch from home when you get a meal allowance and have no frige at your hotel. I could bring lunch and store it at the fridge at work, but then I would be hogging space in the communal fridge.

Instead I'm doing my own modified lunch challenge. My goal is to only buy lunch once during my normal work weeks (e.g. weeks when I'm not in NYC and not working only at home). I don't want to get too specific, but suffice it to say, I think this is pretty challenging when facing obstacle #4 listed above. When I'm in NY, I'll probably buy lunch 2-3 times. When I'm at home, I don't expect to ever buy lunch out.

If I were working locally, I would have it as a goal to bring my lunch 9 days out of 10, meaning only one lunch out every other week. I just think doing the lunch challenge while traveling is a bit too much for me.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Fighting With My Spouse On Spending Money

This past weekend, C and I had a few spats on how we do our financial management. He's been feeling that my goals (early retirement) are unrealistic and that I want to sacrifice too much for something that is unachievable. I've been feeling that he doesn't support me in my goals and has misconceptions of what my definition of retirement is.

It's killing both of us to have these arguments since we normally have a great relationship and we're on the same page for a lot of things.

I agree that I may be too extreme in some of my ideas. Hanging around the PF Blogosphere gives you a skewed point of comparison.

My husband and I agreed to put aside our differences for the weekend, but neither of us is completely happy right now with what the other person is thinking/feeling. In response to what my husband said about my goals being unrealistic, I decided to create a spreadsheet showing what I thought our financial picture would look like if we both retired early.

He was right in that we would probably only be able to semi-retire in our forties. My conservative calculations show that we probably need to generate a fraction of our current income in our forties to enable a comfortable retirement later on. I'm still tweaking the numbers, but it has shown me how important it is for us to agree and focus on our financial goals together. After I get feedback from C, I will post some more details on the assumptions I made. I'm also hoping to make the model a bit more complicated since I left out one key factor - inflation.

My husband may not believe in what I share with him from my readings, but he is a big believer of math. It's amazing what compound interest will do!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Personal Experiences

It amazes me how many personal finance blogs are now out there. It seems like every week I find a new blog that I want to subscribe to. It kinds of makes me wonder why someone would want to read my blog. My posts are not as useful, well thought out, nor frequent as other bloggers I admire.

In the end, what we're all sharing about is our personal experiences with our own writing styles and our own struggles. I struggle with an dilettante's obsession with personal finance. I've always been more of a generalist in life than a specialist and it shows in the number of extracurricular activities I was involved in while in high school, the things I studied while in college, and even to some extent my career. I wish I could be more driven to track things like Madison at MyDollarPlan or even as dedicated as Millionaire Mommy Next Door with my investment plan. I wish I could devote the time and dedication come up with a solid long term plan rather than just a general idea of where we want to be in at major milestones in our lives.

I just finished reading Your Money or Your Life: (aff link) which I checked out from the local library. I had skimmed through the book before when I was at a relative's house and saw a copy. That was back when I was first getting into personal finance and I thought that a lot of the ideas seemed pretty kooky (e.g. what are you trading your life energy for), but now it seems like a good thing to sit down and actually do the program.

I've convinced C that we should read the book together and do the exercises together since we need to do a better job of managing our finances together. I hope that C and I can read the book and finish the exercises by the end of the year.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cutting Out Recreational Shopping

Many people enjoy recreational shopping, where one goes shopping for fun without actually needing anything. Yesterday C suggested that we go to the mall. This immediately raised red flags for me since I've come to realize that we just have so much stuff (we fill all the closets in our home and we could still use more storage space). I asked him what he needed and he tentatively said work clothes. Upon asking about what type of work clothes he needed, I surmised that he didn't really need work clothes or if he really needed more work clothes, he should give away some of his current clothes.

My life isn't like Colin's at No Impact Man, but I am really starting to question the things that we buy. Colin is also helping to influence me to think more about my carbon footprint and my impact on the environment. One way I'm trying to reduce my impact on the environment is to cut down on my recreational shopping. Now for each item I buy that is non consumable, I think a few questions to myself:

Do I really need this?
Am I going to use this?
Do I have room to store this?
Is this going to replace something else I already have?
If yes, do I need this?

Ok I admit, I don't think about all of these questions before purchasing something. I do try to at least think about 1&2. If it's something that I'm going to use a lot and it's going to make my life a lot easier, I will go ahead and buy it (e.g. we just got a salad spinner).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thinking About Job Searching

I have always thought that you should stay in a job that is part of your career path for at least 2 years. I'm nearing my 2.5 year anniversary with my current company and I'm getting antsy. These past few weeks I've been learning more about what I don't want to do. But I'm still at odds with what I do want to do.

When I first started this job, I knew that it would not be feasible for me to be in this profession long term. Weekly travel is not conducive to family life and I want to have kids in about 2 years. I think it's bad to go on maternity leave too soon after getting a new job, so ideally I should be getting a new job now, or at least preparing for it.

On the other hand, I don't think I'm ready to leave. I love the travel points I get. I don't think I have to work too hard, although most of my friends and family consider my weekly travel to be a larger burden than they're willing to bear. I, on the other hand, love it. I think I could get to six figures pretty easily in my current job (of course since I'm pretty close, I could also get to six figures by switching jobs). I'm in a company when growth, promotions and career advancement are based on you as a person, not about a new position opening up or someone leaving. I have a good reputation which should allow me to be more picky about what I want to do, as I get a better handle of what that is.

I vacillate between thinking about where I want my career to go, but I feel the clock ticking.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fear of Posting

I have a great fear of being totally honest when writing since this is supposed to be an anonymous blog. There are so many details in my life that are very unique and I fear posting about them all would make it super obvious who the author is to any friends or co-workers stumbling upon this.

I also am exposed to a lot of information that I think would be of interest to my readers and my target audience through my job, but of course, I want to keep those items a secret. A lot of those things are open information available to anyone who wishes to pursue it. But some topics are so specialized that I would fear my colleagues doing a search on a specific intricacy related to the financial services industry and finding my post if I actually wrote about it.

Here is something I wanted to write about, but didn't publish earlier because of my fears. Also, my blog postings are often more generic that I would like them to be due to my fear of being made known.

Last year I had the opportunity to go on an international business trip. My husband was able to tag along – basically for free. He stayed in my hotel room and we were able to get my company to reimburse his airfare. I’m really happy that we were able to get his airfare reimbursed, but it did come at a taxable cost to us. Rather than flying business class, as company policy allowed, I flew coach class. My ticket plus my husband’s ticket was less than the cost of one business class ticket, so our vacation also saved the company money! We were able to save on food costs by getting food at the grocery store. Some of our money saving tendencies really are habits, so we don’t even think twice about them. I think in the end, my meal allowance more than covered the cost of our food. I realized after the trip was over that we didn’t even go out for one nice dinner! We would go to semi-nice dinners, but it was almost always less than the cost of my meal allowance for one person. We also ended up taking quite a bit of money out of the ATMS (we were in multiple countries). My main tip on foreign ATM usage is to try and take all the money you’ll need once to save those pesky fees from adding up. We got charged an out of network fee, plus conversion fees, plus who knows what else. In the end since the trip didn’t really cost us anything, I didn’t sweat these small one time charges too much, but as someone who almost never gets charged ATM fees (I think I used one out of network ATM in the U.S. in my life) it was shocking to see my money being eaten away by fees!

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Unexpected Find

I was at my mom's house the other day and I decided to take some of my old magazines from childhood. I thought I might be able to sell them online - one time I had put an ad for them on craigslist and someone offered me $40 for the box. This was a couple of years ago, and I didn't end up selling them then since the timing wasn't right. I figured I should be able to get at least that much, if not more. I went over to ebay and I saw that someone sold a lot of these magazines (30 in all) for over $200! I was shocked and surprised! I need to do some research as to whether it's worth the time and effort to list each magazine individually or to just sell them as a lot. I don't even know how many magazines I have, but it should be enough to get me a lot further than 1% towards my goal of generating $2,000 in online income this year!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Switching from a Regular 401K to a Roth 401K

My company recently began to offer the Roth 401K as an retirement option in addition to the regular 401K. Today was payday for me, so I decided to check to see if all my direct deposits made it safely to my bank accounts (I am somewhat compulsive on certain items and I have my direct deposit going to 5 different accounts). I checked Bank of America, where I keep my ATM withdrawal money (I'm not happy with their interest rates or customer service, but they do have the best coverage in terms of locations and ATMs for those who travel around the U.S.). I was surprised to see that the money hadn't hit yet.

I decided to log online to check out my paychecks. When comparing my most recent paycheck to my last one, I realized that this was the first time my Roth 401K contribution was withdrawn. Then I realized that the Roth 401K contribution seemed a lot larger than my prior month's contribution. So I went and looked at my last paycheck from January and saw that this paycheck's contribution is almost 39% higher. !!! WTF!?!?!?! This resulted in a 21% less money going to my various savings/checking/investment accounts. I thought I had decided to contribute the same percent of my income to the Roth 401K as the regular 401K.

This is going to require further investigation, but it did make me think about one thing - should I just max out my 401K contributions now* and get a much larger paycheck later in the year? At my current rate of contribution, I'll probably max out in 6-8 months, depending on any raises I get this year.

*For some of you out there, this might not be a good idea due to the way certain companies calculate matching contributions. For me, it doesn't matter since the company match is calculated at the end of the program year and it's so small with a somewhat long vesting period that I'm not sure if I'm ever going to keep any of the match. If your company calculates the match on each paycheck's contribution, it makes sense to time out your contributions to get the full match.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Becoming The Jones

There's a lot of talk about not keeping up with the Jones, but what happens when you become the Jones?

C and I were out with friends. We were talking casually and we discussed going on a weekend trip together. C and I were encouraging our friends to take the trip with us. For us it would have been minimal cost since I travel a lot for work, hence I get perks like free flights. It was a very casual conversation and it probably wouldn't have gone anywhere due to lack of initiative to plan. Anyway, then our friends told us that they're not planning on taking any trips this year since they're in debt from their recent wedding. I quickly said that I understood and that it was great that they were working on getting out of debt.

Moments later, I realized that we were the Jones, encouraging them to spend more money than they could comfortably afford! I'm really proud of the fact that they said no. I wasn't aware of their financial situation and I would never want to encourage someone to do something that goes against their life goals.

Monday, February 11, 2008

January Spending Review

I am pretty proud to say that my husband and I did a pretty decent job of tracking our expenses for the month of January! I have always been a fan of automated savings, and just spending everything that was left so I didn't really have a good idea of where our money was going. We decided to track all expenses except those expenses that are fully reimbursed by our employers. For example, for any business trips we took, we didn't count the cost of hotel, rental car, airfare, etc. I did count the cost of meals since both my husband and I get per diem when we travel. Per diem is a meal allowance that we got for each day, no matter what we spend. So if I spend $100 on food, some of that is coming out of my own pocket, whereas if I only spend $10 on food, I get to add some extra savings to our monthly inflows.

So here is the breakdown.
Total expenditures: $4,965.48*
Rent: $1,600.00
Tithe: $1050.00
Eating Out $707.92
Gifts $307.70
Groceries $285.45
Misc. $279.68
Monthly Bills $195.87
Travel $165.21
Entertainment $88.00

Since I didn't have any preconceived notions about where our money was going, I was happy that C and I were able to have at least a 1 month record showing the granularities of our expenses. I knew we spent a lot of money on eating out, but I didn't realize it's about 2.5 times as much as we spend on groceries! A lot of this is due to travel schedules. I found it interesting that C and I only had 4 meals out together and only 2 meals out together with just us. Included in those 2 meals we had with others also includes us treating others due to special occasions. I have tried to emphasize that I want our meals out with just us to be special affairs that we really enjoy, rather than an act of convenience. We eat out by ourselves as an act of convenience too much as it is!

Our monthly bills are also missing our monthly electricity bill. We got one at the end of December and another one at the beginning of February. I'm not sure why that happened, but I decided not to include it in our monthly review since we didn't have to pay it out in January.

I thought that our spending on gifts might be abnormally high, but I figure in other months there are other one off items that would offset a lower amount spent on gifts. The travel budget was spent on a weekend trip where some of the expenses were paid in December, so this cost here is less than the cost of the trip, but accurate of what we spent in January.

I know that we forgot a couple of expenses here and there, but this is a good snapshot of what our monthly expenses are. I'm pretty comfortable with this. The main thing I would want to change is to decrease the amount we spend on eating out and increase the amount we spend on groceries!

* Note this does not include automatic payroll deductions like taxes, 401K savings, health care, long term disability insurance, flexible spending accounts nor other savings

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Update on Goals

It seemed like I was waiting for January to pass and before I knew it, it's almost the middle of February.

First, I want to say thank you to Well-Heeled for giving me the code for the progress side bars. As you can see, I only have 2 side bars, but if you remember, I had 3 goals for the year. I'm not really sure how to track my fitness goal of running. Maybe I'll put up a progress bar for 13 miles and as progress, I'll put up the farthest I've run without stopping (as of this writing, it's only been 2.5 miles and it's taken me a long time to build up to that length).

For my goal of earning $2000 of online income, I only had a dismal $25.99 for January. I need to spend some time on this blog to put it in a position to earn at least a little bit and start selling some stuff online.

For my goal of obtaining $25,000 in my early retirement goal, I wasn't able to amass the amount I needed and I was hurt by the stock market fluctuations since I have the majority of that money invested in the S&P 500. I'm planning on doing some research on alternate investment ideas and thinking about adopting Millionaire Mommy Next Door's investment strategy. I was able to add $890 to this fund. But since I realized that I would still need to add $1212 a month if I had 9% returns and I had negative returns in this month, I'm going to need to make up for the shortfall. One way I'm going to try and make up for the shortfall is I'm going to add my complete per diem meal allowance gained when traveling minus expenses to my retirement account. This will probably add another $100-$200 per month. On the side bars, I have tracked this as a goal of $16,000 rather than $25,000 since I started out with $9,000 at the beginning of the year.

Also I wanted to say thanks to Brip Blap for including me in the Carnival of Financial Goals III. Check out the carnival to see what other goals people have!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Managing Holiday Gift Expectations

Valentine’s Day may be a holiday promoted by the greeting card industry and their subsidiaries to get us to spend more money. There are numerous ideas out there on how to save money for this upcoming holiday. When you’re in a committed relationship, I think the holiday is all about expectations.

My husband and I are making an effort to spend less on stuff and to spend more on experiences. That doesn’t mean that a girl like me doesn’t appreciate the loving trinket here and there. One of my favorite presents my husband gave me was something that cost less than $10, but it was extremely thoughtful and completely unnecessary. It was a little trinket that he found with my nickname on it.

This year to manage expectations, C and I made a deal. We will be getting each other gifts, but the max price on them is $25. This way no feelings are hurt if one person spends a lot more or if one person decides to forgo the commercialism and get the other nothing.

Of course when you’re in a new relationship, it might not be so easy to be forthcoming and manage expectations. My friend and her boyfriend agreed not to buy presents for each other this past Christmas. However his friends were convinced that when they said no presents, she would still expect something (to a certain degree, I would agree that I would expect something small). He ended up getting her theater tickets, which she loved, but then she had to scramble to get him something. I think it’s much easier when you can honestly communicate with your significant other to ensure that expectations are met.

Friday, February 01, 2008

My Ethical Dilemna

I saw that PaidTwice posted about a recent ethical dilemma she faced, which reminded me to post about something I had been thinking about.

I travel a lot for work. What amenity items are really mine for the taking and which are ethically questionable for me to take? I come from an ethnic background that is stereotypically cheap. I'm not that surprised when I see hotel emblem bearing towels at the homes of friends' parents. For me, anything that is not meant to be consumed while in the hotel is off-limits. In addition, large quantities of consumables put in the room for the comfort of the guest is also off limits in my book (that would mean the extra roll of toilet paper, etc.).

However, I am a big believer in taking the mini shampoos, soaps, etc. I use some of these items myself while at home, but I have decided to donate the majority to a local homeless shelter. On a side note, I can't believe it took me several months to find a homeless shelter to donate to - I called a few, expecting to get a call back and there was no response! My web searching wasn't too helpful in finding an acceptable place (i.e. in the San Francisco), so I finally contacted the city government office on the homeless and they were able to put me in touch with a shelter that was easy to give to and very grateful for the donation.

Now the area which I am starting to question of removal of the consumable goods provided for guests is on two fronts. The first front is on the coffee and tea packages provided in the hotel room. My thinking is if I only take what I normal person would consume in one evening, it's acceptable practice. Hence if I take home a bag of tea or two, that's perfectly acceptable (I don't trust the cups in the hotel, so it's unlikely that I'll enjoy the tea there, but I'm very happy to consume it in the comforts of my home).

The second area of my thoughts might be too much information for some of you, especially the men out there. I fly a lot - pretty much twice a week. One thing I noticed was that airplane bathrooms always have feminine products. Most planes seems to only have pads, but the airline I take normally has pads and tampons. Of course, these are amenity items for passengers to use. Most of the time I'm too comfortably ensconced in my seat to bother going to the bathroom, but on the occasions that I'm there, I will often grab one or two items. Would it be unethical for me to take a pad or tampon each flight I take, despite the fact that I'm not using it immediately? This could save me from every having to purchase feminine products again! Of course, so would investing in and learning to use the divacup.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not Much to Say

It always seems to happen to me. I have a lot to say and a lot to share. Then I come to a point in time where I have a lot of thoughts by no way of getting them from my brain to paper. My husband and I are almost done with our first successful month of tracking most of our expenses. He tends to use cash more than I do, so his records aren't as accurate. I ask him about expenses, but only ever few days so some of the nuances get lost (e.g. was it $2.19 or $2.79).

Many bloggers I admire have specific topics they write about, whether it be weekly financial reviews or book reviews. I admit I'm a paradox. On my annual reviews, often one of my strengths is how detailed oriented I am. Yet in my personal life, everything is organized to a point - then it's all an amalgamation of confusion. I wish I had the discipline to be 75% organized in my life, rather than the 40% I currently am. I'm lucky since I have a good memory and cushions (e.g. extra money in my checking account) which usually keeps my disorganization from costing me money.

I have seriously considered delving more into Getting Things Done. I love lists and love crossing things off my list. But I lack the patience to do more research into what Getting Things Done entails. From what I know, you just make lots of lists so you don't need to make your brain remember things anymore. But what if my brain likes to remember? Maybe it will free my brain up for more creativity. I have accepted that I'm not a creative person. It's not that I don't have new ideas, but I have a hard time designing things. Maybe it's incorrect to categorize myself as uncreative, but more accurate to say that artistic endeavors (drawing, music, etc.) are not my strong suit.

On a side note, can anyone advise on how I can put the tracking bars onto my blog, showing my progress on my 3 goals? I know everyone has them - I just am not computer savvy enough to figure out how to do it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Failing Miserably at My Goals

The first month of the year isn't over yet, but I can tell that I'm failing to meet what should be my monthly progress on my annual goals. It's sad to be so early in the year and know that I'm going to need to catch up a lot of lost ground in order to be successful. After the end of the month, I plan to do a formal review showing my exact progress. I wish I could say that I had progressed as far as I should have on at least one of my goals, but I don't think that's the case.

This month has been a tumultuous one, with some potential major changes for 2008. I'm not sure if I'll be living in San Francisco for the whole year (I'm already on a project where I travel out of town on a weekly basis). It's a bit too early to say what kind of changes may be in store, but my husband and I want to ensure that we take advantage of our youth - while still living responsibly, of course. This year may not be as frugal as I would like, but it should be exciting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Rediscovered Treasure – The Local Library

When I lived in NYC, I found one way of saving on my entertainment costs was to go to the local library. Since the library was only 2 blocks away, it was very convenient to go. Now I need to get into my car to go to the local library, but one benefit is I discovered there’s a smaller less yuppie farmer’s market outside of the main library in San Francisco on Sundays. Here are some reasons I like the library.

1. Most libraries are part of a library system and you can borrow books from one library and return the item to any other library in the system.
2. You can often order items to be put on hold for you at your local library – this means there is a huge collection of books at your fingertips. My library lets me order books online and will email me when they arrive.
3. You can renew items online or over the phone, saving a trip to the library.
4. Most libraries have free internet (this is a very popular feature, so make sure you get to the library early to sign up for a half hour or hour increment – I would not recommend visiting any financial related website on a public computer).
5. At my local library, I can order books that the library does not yet own, ensuring that I will eventually get to read those items. I also have the ability to put my holds on vacation if I’m not going to be around for some time.
6. Libraries have DVDs that you can borrow. If only I could get my husband into this, we could get rid of Netflix!
7. Libraries are a great resource for a lot of things. The main library in SF has some great career sections as well as sections focused on specific demographics.
8. I love reading recent magazines at the library. This is great for me since I can read it and not have to worry about disposing it (I hate throwing magazines away and always think I sohuld bring them to the gym or donate them to a hospital).

I hope my readers also find joy in this public service that their taxes help fund!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Light to No Posting In the Next Few Days

Readers, Please expect light to no posting in the next few days. This weekend I'm visiting some friends in the LA area.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Our Attempt at Tracking Expenses

You hear over and over again in the pfblog sphere and in financial planning articles that you need to track your expenses to get a handle on where your money is going. C and I tried doing this in August, but it was a dismal failure.

This January we decided to try again. I have an Excel spreadsheet that I try to update every night, or at least every other day. It lists name, item, cost, payment method, and a description of the item.

For example, an item like rent is categorized as being spent by the both of us. One area we're having trouble for is accounting for expenses that are reimbursed by our employers. I've been on the road the past few weeks, so I've been accumulating taxi, hotel, car rental, and air travel costs. What we've done so far is not tracked those items since they're fully reimbursed by my employer. But I do track my meal expenses despite my meal allowance since I get to keep whatever I don't spend.

We're halfway through the month and I'm proud to say that we've been able to remember to record everything thus far (at least that's what C has told me). Hopefully we won't be tripped up this weekend since we will be out of town.

It was a pretty hard road to get C to agree to track our expenses. I first brought it up soon after we were married and he was vehemently against it. Throughout our marriage I've slowly influenced him to be more conscious about our spending and to be more willing to do things that he once couldn't believe people would do.

When we were engaged, I showed C an article about Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog and he couldn't believe why someone would want to write a blog about their finances. Actually when I showed him that article, I had already started this blog, but I went on a hiatus after our wedding since I wanted to ensure that he was in agreement with it. He was, it just took some slow steps to work up the courage to tell him about it.

I guess the moral of this story is that you can influence your partner to your way of thinking, but don't try to do everything all at once.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Joint Goal

My husband and I have one major joint goal this year – that is to save $15,000 to go on a 4 week vacation. This vacation is going to span multiple countries and it’s a major vacation we want to do before we have kids in a couple of years. C and I have been talking about this vacation for sometime and only recently did we come up with an estimated dollar amount of what we need to save. $15,000 is a significant amount of money. Our estimate has some cushion for currency exchange fluctuations. One area where I have always struggled with is letting my savings dissipate. If we spend less in one area, we usually just spend it in another area and don’t see any real benefit. C and I are going to do our best to save the $15K by cutting our spending in other areas and putting it towards this goal. C always says that we work so we can enjoy our money and we see this as the vacation of a lifetime.

It’s amazing the number of vacations C and I went on in 2007. We went on quite a few vacations to attend the weddings. We counted anything as a vacation if we had to obtain a hotel room for the trip. Unbelievable to me, we actually went on 10 vacations. Several of these vacations were only for 1 or 2 nights for friends’ weddings. We also each went on a single sex vacation with friends – I counted those two trips as one trip. Another trip was completely free from lodging and travel expenses (other than gas) since we drove to that destination and I was able to use points to get us a free hotel room. Since I travel quite a bit for work, I am often able to score personal vacations for little or no cost. So the total cost of our 10 vacations was . . . just over $4,000. When you consider the fact that airfare was involved in several of those vacations, I think that's a reasonable amount of money. I don’t track our expenses that closely, so this is just a ballpark of how much we spent.

Within those 10 trips, there were a lot of free hotel stays (I did not count the trip where we stayed at my friend’s house) and buy 1 get 1 free hotel stays (this was accomplished due to my hotel status). When I change jobs to a less travel intensive project, there is no way we’d be able to vacation so much with so little money!

I might be able to subsidize some of our $15K trip with hotel points and bonuses, but it’s going to be tough. Airfare alone for the both of us will probably be several grand since we’re planning on going to another continent and we will need to take a few more plane trips to get to the different countries we want to visit.

Wow, writing all of this down makes it seem really extravagant. While I do have a goal of retiring early, I am a big believe in conscious spending. You need to spend money on what makes you really happy, rather than letting it slip through your fingers. Lest you think we are living beyond our means, C and I have minimal debt and we do a good job with our savings. Our only debt is less than $10K in student loans. We both maxed out our 401Ks for 2007 and we’re waiting to do our taxes before determining how much we can contribute to our Roth IRAs. I am almost positive we are below the income limit, but I want to do the taxes to be sure. We also have an emergency fund and a house down payment fund.