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!