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!