Just tidbits about money and finance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Personal Emergency Kit

Reposting a great link from Personal Finance Advice. It reminds me that I've lived in my home for 1.5 years and I still have to take copies of my mortgage/home papers to my parents to keep for me in their safe deposit box. I am a keyholder for them and a few years ago I had to go into it to get something for my mother. I spent a good hour browsing my parents' history in that box. I learned the original purchase price, the refinancing they did, papers for some investment property they had, etc. It was kind of neat.

Anyhow, PFA's post is very good. Lest you forget, make sure you also have copies of both sides of your credit cards, your passport and driver's license if you travel. I keep it it my hotel lest I be mugged in some sketchy neighborhood in the 17th Arrondissement.(Can you tell I like the word 'lest'? I've used it now three times in this post!)

The last thing is to also make a will. I go camping every year in the desert where your safety is not guaranteed. For this reason, God forbid, I make a little will before I leave town. I suppose I could be in a fiery car accident on the Beltway too, so it's nice that I have left a statement for my family so they know what I would have wanted in the way of disposing my assets. Now that I have a cute nephew, there are things I will want him to have when I get this year's will ready. (I almost called it a 'statement' since I don't have this thing recorded or anything like that.)

I think a will is especially important if you have children or a spouse to whom things will go. Since I do not, mine just directs stuff to my family with instructions for some charitable donations. It's a personal thing, do what you want with yours, but just do it.


Festival of Frugality #12 is up!

The Festival of Frugality #12 is available now!

Yours truly is rounding out the end with the post on darning socks.

The tomato post looks good to me. I use them all the time for the slow cooker.


Monday, February 27, 2006

Darn Those Socks!

No, I'm not cursing footwear. I'm ordering you to repair your socks with the old-fashioned technique of darning. I warn you, this is a very technical link, but I a happy to decode it for you. It's not a technique I personally use because I try to darn the sock before there's a hole. You can usually feel it give way. Examine your footwear as you take it off or fold it. You know folding? That thing you do when stuff comes out of the wash? I'm a lazy folder, but take the time every once in a while to inspect thy clothes!

Instead of buying a pretty wooden darning egg, use a lightbulb. Don't know what I'm talking about? If you are like me and darn before there is a hole, it helps to put something into the sock to give it form and shape while you work. They make these nice smooth wooden eggs, but an old empty Tylenol bottle will do too.

TIP: When removing the socks off your feet, do not yank them off by the toe. You're stressing the fibers. Roll/push down the cuff, slide it past your heel and then push it off the rest of your foot.

I encourage everyone to take the time to mend your clothes. I feel lucky that I learned to do these domestic things from my mom and grandmother when she lived with us. These little things remind me how hard my parents have worked to become a success here in the US. If you don't have someone to teach you, ask around, I've hemmed pants for free for friends. I've mended childhood blankies crocheted by grandma for officemates. I like giving the gift of my time and skills to my friends. I'm sure your friends do too. If I don't want to do it, or don't have the time, I answer honestly and say no if I can't make the time.


How to make more money

Jose has started a blog for finding a new job. I'm all for finding a new job. I gave myself a 40% raise last year by finding a new job. I got an email today, my friend called me earlier this month asking me if she should take an internal transfer with our old company. I gave her advice on it, but the main thing was that they gave her a 10+% raise. I am very glad for her. I think she'll be able to quit some of her extra jobs because of it.

I have some girlfriends who want to make more money, but I think they get held back by their minds. If you haven't guessed yet, this is one of those mind-money connection posts that I so adore. Now let me say that I have debt. As of today, I have about $4,700.00 in credit card debt. But I also save about 10% of my income in my 401k plan, which I was not able to do with my previous job.

I think a lot of folks feel trapped by their debt. They feel so trapped that they can't see that finding a new, better paying job will help them get out of debt. They get stuck in a mindset that their job is secure and that they'll just stick with their job and if they just spend less all will be ok.

How to find a new job:

1) SET A GOAL: I've watched one too many folks fall off the budgeting wagon, myself included. So the only other option is to go out and earn more. I know that about 16 months ago I made a vow to myself to make $60K a year three years down the road. I felt like I could live better and worry less about money if I made $60K. I asked myself what kind of jobs are out there which command that kind of money and what skills does it take to do that job? I knew that I didn't really have the skills to make that kind of money and it would take 3 years to get those skills. I settled on the DBA and programming route since I was supporting database work at the time. It was the path of least resistance.

2) DEVELOP YOUR SKILLS: I started taking some DBA and SQL programming classes at a local community college. I mentioned it to my manager and she got my old company to pay for some of the tuition. I told her what my personal goal was and she was behind me 100%. Through those classes, I was recognized as having developed those skills and using them effectively at my current job. Still no big raise, but a very positive review and recognition that I am on the right path.

3) KNOW WHAT YOU ARE WORTH ON THE CURRENT MARKET: I also took a hard look at the job market. I knew that I was underpaid for the job I had, but not by very much. I could try and ask for a raise, I made the noises to the right people about wanting one but nothing came through. My company didn't really listen and so I committed myself even more to developing skills so that I could seek employment with a company that would value me fairly. I am lucky that I live in a growth market for tech jobs, but somehow I was still making a crappy salary. Wanting to make $60K was totally in reach for me, I just had to work for it a little bit.

4) WORK YOUR NETWORK: As soon as I quit my job, I started calling people I knew who might have openings for me, former clients and co-workers. For friends of mine looking for work, I often help them network and meet other people that can help them find work. Talk to people and tell them you are looking for a new job. Referrals are really the best way to get a new job.

5) REVAMP YOUR RESUME: A strong resume can make you stand out from the crowd. Through the process of revising your resume, you'll be able to identify your weak spots and rectify them (See #2 above). I love re-writing resumes. I'm really good at it. That sounds boastful, but I redid a resume for a friend and his recruiter told him that the mapgirl-edited version was lightyears better than the first one he sent to them. My fee is reasonable. I only ask that you take me to dinner when you get your first paycheck. (ooh. I know someone who owes me a dinner!) I like asking my friends about their jobs and how they got to where they are. I love learning their work histories and watching their faces/listening to their voices when they talk about work. It really helps me see what it is they love about their job.

So what happened to me? In the end, it was through a professional contact that I got a new job. He basically hit me in the head with a reality brickbat. I was undervaluing myself at $60K and could be worth more like $70K. In the end my current salary is somewhere in the middle there, but I couldn't have gotten it without setting a goal, without developing my skills, without knowing what I could make somewhere else, without the networking.

It wasn't easy. It was a transition. It really took a full year. I had to motivate a lot to do it. I cried at my desk at my old job when I felt horribly trapped by the work I was doing. I felt undervalued a lot at my old firm. I scarfed down a lot of meals in the car on my way to class twice a week. I missed a lot of fun happy hours with friends, but I'm so much happier at my new job. It has its ups and downs, all jobs do, but I know that I am making closer to what I am worth and feeling like my financial future is much brighter as a result of my raise.


FDR #2: Harris Teeter Swedish Meatballs

I give this meal 3 stars. ***

NOTE: Harris Teeter is a grocery store in DC and I think NC. I don't know if it appears anywhere else. Please comment your location if you know of other places. Thanks!

This meal was really cheap. $2.00 each on sale. But now I know why. It was a wee freezer burnt (and I have one more left to eat!). For a change, I actually made it in a conventional oven, just to try it out. I must admit, that's the only reason I noticed the freezer burn at all. Usually in the microwave, the noodles get a little tough so you don't notice the texture change. I highly recommend making your frozen dinners conventionally every once in a while. Microwaves are interesting, but they are texture killers.

Taste wise, it was creamy and noodley and I could definitely see myself getting this meal again. There were at least 5 meatballs, maybe even 6. Your reviewer was distracted by her old Wall Street Journals and forgot to count them for this review. But I think they were bigger than the meatballs in Stouffer's version of the meal, although I think I prefer the Stouffer's one on flavor and IIRC, they have mushrooms in their meals too. All things are relative and I would say that there are better Harris Teeter flavors out there than this one, hence only 3 stars.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Carnival of Personal Finance #37 is up!

Woo hoo! I got the lead off! Thanks MBN!

Welcome new readers! Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or would like me to link you to my blog. Please let me know if there is anything more you'd like to read about here.

Thank you!

The Carnival of Personal Finance #37

Highlights I personally liked:
Group Life Insurance through work isn't always cheapest

Understanding Arbitrage at

Retirement options for low incomes (the Carnival link seems broken, use mine instead)

Work-Life Balance

Another Mind-Money Relationship Post, it's a really good one too.

On Target Investment Funds, my link is actually to Part I of the series. This week is actually Part V.

SOX and its uselessness, I could have told you this. It's the bane of my geek existence.

Value of your time, I would charge more than $15 an hour. In fact, I charge $35/hr for drop spindle and knitting lessons. Computer consulting is generally $50/hr with a 3 hour minimum, but that's a different beast altogether. Use my link here too.


Washing your hands saves you money

This grew out of a comment I was leaving at PFA on a bird flu post. His point is to be prepared if there is an outbreak of illness. Bird flu will have a financial toll on the economy too so it's worth PF blogging about it. The main thing you can do to stop from getting sick and spreading germs is to wash your hands. You'll be out of work less and keep your co-workers from getting sick too. Too bad we can't get chickens to wash themselves like we do, but that's another story.

I used to do field installs for nursing homes. Anything I flew in on the airplane could be deadly to an elderly patient. Signs on how to wash were in all the bathrooms in the facilities I visited. The basics are below with my commentary. More details here at the CDC.

1. Use as hot of a temperature as you can stand. No need to burn yourself, just get it as hot as you can bear. Your skin shouldn't turn red. That's the sign of a first degree burn!

2. Use soap. Sing the alphabet once. That is long enough to get the soap to do its thing. Scrub your nails underneath and at the cuticle. No need to use anti-bacterial stuff. It just costs more for the same thing that regular soap will do sufficiently. Most of use aren't performing surgery so the extra expense is wasteful and creates superbugs that are harder to kill.

3. Turn of the faucet with your elbow.

4. Use a fresh paper towel to dry.

5. Save it and use it to open the door to the bathroom.

6. Toss the paper towel.

I realize that not every bathroom has the wide-paddle style faucet handle, but a lot of public bathrooms do. Obviously, I'm not advocating that you use paper towels at home because they're expensive, but please do use a fresh hand towel and make sure they get washed regularly. I like cheapie washcloths from IKEA. Small enough to get a whole stack, but big enough to dry the hands 2 or 3 times before I toss it into the hamper.

I wipe down my telephone handset a lot, at work and at home. Both the hand, mouth, and earpiece parts. I tend to get pimples on my chin if I don't, so I started doing this because of my acne. I try not to touch the poles on the subway with my bare hands. I pull my sleeve down, and wash later when I'm off the Metro. I like winter because no one thinks you're weird if you are wearing gloves when you are holding on.

Please, wash your hands. If you find yourself washing a lot, get hand lotion. I find that I dry out my hands during the long east coast winters. I dab on lotion to keep my skin from cracking. I recommend Aquaphor Healing Ointment. It's petroleum jelly with some extra stuff. They use it for burn patients. My friends with eczema swear by it. It's not animal tested and it's been tested safe for children and it appears to be vegan (if you care about such things). I suppose you could use plain Vaseline, but I found Aquaphor really does minimize burn scars. (I dismounted the back of a Ducati and touched my bare calf to the pipe that goes into the carbon fiber exhaust pipe, yes, I know, I shouldn't have touched that part, but he didn't lean the bike far enough, ok?). Oh, and you should buy it generic if you can find it, but I'm not sure there is a generic version.

One last thing, carry Purell or some other alcohol based gel if you can't wash your hands. I saw nursing home administrators use it all the time after they touched a resident. 70% alcohol content gel is usually what medical facilities have.

So remember to wash your hands before you eat and after you potty. Get your sleep too.


Chinese food containers = piggy bank

I got a Xmas gift in a red gingham printed Chinese food box. If I make a little cut into the top of it, I can turn it into a piggy bank. I am loathe to tape it completely shut because I don't want to destroy it, but my lack of willpower demands it.

I am so excited I am going to put some money in it today. And Lent doesn't start till Wednesday!


Maximizing Your Car's Resale Value

This article reminds me that I need to get my car detailed. After 5+ faithful years, the interior could use some TLC. I used to eat in my car a lot on the way to class at night. It might have knocked down my resale value, but I got a 40% raise from all those mad cool DBA/SQL skillz y0!


Saturday, February 25, 2006

MS Office Cost Calculators & Templates

While I am not so fond of the Microsoft sometimes, (Ruined my Friday night once and the PM for the product that ruined the evening later grabbed my ass at a party.) I love Excel. Seattle Simplicity has posted up free template tools for personal finance. They look pretty neat. I should probably get the 401(k) one. The only problem is that I have MS Works at home, not Office. I didn't feel like splurging for Office. The extra expense wasn't worth it to me.

I prefer to do the math myself, but I've always had problems with exponents, which are the foundation of calculating the present value of money. Oh one day, I guess I'll post about that too. Simple calculators available online from places like Kiplinger's work pretty well, but I like being able to open a spreadsheet and calculate different scenarios side by side. That used to be one of my favorite features in Quicken until they stripped it out of the 1996 basic version and stuck it in the Deluxe package instead.

Why does a cost calculator matter? They matter because when you go to spend your hard earned dollars, you want to spend them wisely and get as much value as you can.

Knowing when to rent and when to buy a house is as important as figuring out if you should lease a car or buy it. Often these calculators ask you questions you may not have considered. I actually know someone who did not consider the cost of car insurance when he purchased a vehicle!

Fly! Be free! And use a cost calculator when planning a major purchase! Choose your investment allocation by knowing your rate of return!


On Buying Generic

Udandi and MyMoneyBlog have great posts this week about buying generic.

Udandi says sometimes generic isn't worth it. I totally agree. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Quality is important to getting good value for your dollar, so don't skimp when it counts. Like her, I find adhesives are a place where quality counts.

I like Jonathan's post because he lists out what is acceptable to him to buy generic and what isn't.

I agree on the Pop-Tarts and OJ. They taste better when they are brand-name. Though I have started expanding my choice of orange juices. I used to only get Tropicana, but Minute Maid and Florida's Natural are now acceptable and I get what's on sale for the week I go to the grocery store.

One of his commenters says batteries are another item where you should go brand name. I agree. The Kirkland ones don't last as long as Energizer. I used to live with an electrical engineer and he told me that studies have shown that Energizer really does last longer. On balance, I'll get whatever is on sale if I need them.


Lenten sacrifices = saving money

PF Advice had a blog post in January about saving $1000 by drinking water.

Every year for Lent I give up soda. I'm not much of an observant Catholic, nor much of a Catholic at all, but I did latch onto the idea of giving up soda while in college. I really like soda. I don't know that I could give it up for the rest of my life. I like Coke, 7-Up, orange/grape/black cherry soda, ginger ale, root beer, sasparilla, etc. Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak is my all time favorite. Boylan's Black Cherry is the best substitute so far. Levi's Champ Cherry is a sentimental favorite and I'll have Jones Diet Black Cherry because it's tolerable for diet drinks, but I digress.

Now that you've seen how much I love a good cherry soda, you can see that this sacrifice is a big deal for me. I would rather drink a warm Coca-Cola at the office in the morning instead of the office kitchenette coffee. It tastes so much better. But it costs me $1 per 20oz bottle in the vending machine at work.

If I save up all those dollars, I'd have some serious money. But to get myself on track, I have to hit the proverbial reset button every year when Lent begins.

I've done this on and off since about 1994 or 1995. I think for 2006, I should save a dollar a day in a piggy bank or a few dollars a day. In fact, I should go buy one soon or ask a potter friend to make one up for me. I am bad at saving money. I need the one-way directional flow of a clay bank to make me save. Because of this, I have decided to add a saving money component to my Lenten sacrifice this year. I was deciding on this or halving my credit card debt. Either one would be quite nice.

So off I go to make myself a shoebox with a slit in the top. I will decorate it with pictures of the things I covet. I can only hope to be blessed with some money at the end of Lent which will go into the bank. I'll be reposting here during Holy Week, i.e. that span between Palm Sunday and Easter with the total amount saved and then add it to my Save-O-Meter.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Bubble Prick!

CNN Money writes that the bubble may be bursting with new home order cancellations.

Very interesting. I personally cannot stand all the traffic here in DC especially in the outlying suburbs where I work. It drives me bonkers. I left the office at 7pm tonight and there was still a lot of traffic to get home in to Arlington.

I think DC will still remain a strong market because the tech jobs aren't going to disappear. Even if Carl Icahn breaks up Time-Warner, AOL will still be a bedrock in Dulles. The Federal government is shifting so many offices out to the suburbs that some happy new little Beltway Bandit startup firm will move in to take its Class A office space in Arlington and life will continue here. I can only hope that the condo market doesn't collapse with the opening of a lot of new units next year.


Want vs. Need

"Not as many wants being considered necessities" - Anonymous Commenter

Aye. Isn't that the rub?

This quote was left by a commenter last week. But I think it's the hardest struggle out there. It's in your *head*, not your wallet. I know when I splurged two weeks ago that I was going to need a spring/summer corporate wardrobe, but I knew I didn't need the Spring 2006 Lilly skirt I bought. I wanted it, and wanted it very badly. Buying it was the fulfillment of some long held fashion dreams. I wish I had bought it on sale, but I know it was a want and I could have fulfilled my wardrobe need at Marshalls or TJ Maxx. In fact, I'll probably fill the rest of my wardrobe need this year at my favorite sales site, Lands' End's Overstocks Page.

I've watched many a girlfriend at the mall convince themselves they 'needed' something, new lipstick, shoes, skirt, cute blouse, etc. For instance, Lilly is known for the use of bright shocking pink. I would love bright shocking pink shoes to match, but I realized that I was telling myself I needed a pair to match the skirt. Then I realized that I could get away with my older pink Armani Exchange slides and will not have to buy any new shoes at all. (Long time readers are probably saying to themselves,'But I thought you were a Frumperella?!' Usually I am, but I do have a few high-end fasionable clothes, usually bought on sale.) Consumers really generate false needs and they do it from a very early age. My friend's two and half year old son has started begging for things by telling his mom that he *needs* it. Even a toddler can fool himself and try to fool his mom and dad about what is necessary in life. It's a bad habit that can stick with you until you die.

I just switched over to a job with a corporate dress code and I know I am not dressed as professionally as I ought to be. I need a new summer corporate wardrobe because I have worked largely in business casual tech job environments since I graduated from college nearly a decade ago. I don't really own enough of a wardrobe for a full season and it's not ok to wear the same 4 outfits everyday. I wish it was not this way, but when there's a dress code reminder email floating around from management, you tend to wonder if it's directed at you. Thus my claim of needing a new wardrobe. I don't really think I need one, I just don't want to be admonished at work for wearing Diesel T-shirts that reveal my navel when it's summer. Nor for the sake of my vanity do I want to look like I'm ready to attend a funeral in July.

One of my friends thinks I'm a miser because I don't think I need a whole lot. I know pretty confidently when I'm buying something because I want it and I try not to fool myself about which category it is.

Be honest with yourself. Do you really need it? Are you going to die if you don't have it? Does it fit into your budget? Were you planning on buying something else with your budget when you saw this item? Having a budget and sticking to it really helps here. Manufacture the need to stick to your budget not the need for more stuff.

This kind of goes back to the Suze Orman post.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

FDR: Frozen Dinner Review

I eat a lot of Frozen Dinners. I love them. I eat them for lunch. I eat them for dinner. I think of myself as a connoisseur of them. (damned French word! How do you spell it?) I generally don't pack a lunch, if I do, it's a frozen dinner. It's cheaper than the cafeteria, and if it's not enough food, I will get a small something to supplement my calories.

I am often overwhelmed by the mind-boggling variety of them all. Celentano's? Or Michelina's? Stouffer's or Marie Callender's? Lean Cuisine or Lean Pockets? What's a lazy girl to do?

Tonight, I vow to bring you FDR's, an ongoing series. This is very serious business, for any dedicated frozen dinner eater, you know that there are your tried and true staples, like Stouffer's Mac & Cheese, but you get tempted by the new flavors our there, Uncle Ben's Teriyaki Bowl. The problem is, do you know what you are going to get?

I am a sort of picky eater too. I have food allergies, namely to fruit, so I must be careful with spiced apple desserts and extra cranberries tossed on green beans. If you haven't figured it out from my recipe posts, I am a devout meat eater. The protein is good for me. Though I like some of the veggie bowls out there, I just have to top them with chicken.

What's the rating system?

* - 1 star - GROSS. Never getting it again

** - 2 stars - I could eat it again if I had to, but only if it's on sale.

*** - 3 stars - Tasty. But not going to be my first selection, just something to round out the choices.

**** - 4 stars - Really yummy. I'll be adding it to my fall back list of frozen food so that when I am overwhelmed with choices this will be a default selection which I know I will eat.

So on to tonight's review!!

Michael Angelo's Chicken Parmesean

The box was promising. It's thicker than most boxes. the picture looked good. It took a few minutes longer to prepare than a Stouffer's Lean Cuisine. 5-7 minutes versus 4-5 minutes. I think my weak microwave overcooked it a bit at 7 minutes, but the meat was fine. It was the sauce that got overdone. There was nice gooey cheese, but not too much, in fact, it could have had a little more.

I didn't really pay attention when I bought it, so I didn't know there were spaghetti noodles in the bottom. The chicken was nicely sized, larger than a deck of cards, but about half of what I would normally serve myself. I could have used some more noodles, about 2-3x what was in the box, but for a frozen dinner, it wasn't an unusually small portion. I would say about average.

How was the price? I got this on sale with my supermarket card, which is how I usually buy my meals. This was a $3.00 meal, but I think it was worth it. Generally I get Stouffer's or Lean Cuisine for about $2.00-$2.50 a box, depending on the deal that is running. At the original price of $3.99 I wouldn't buy it, but served with a nice salad and a few slices of bread, it could be a pretty full meal.

I rate this one 4 stars. ****


PF Blogging article in BusinessWeek

I ganked it from Jane Dough who was too modest to tell us that she is quoted within.

It features Jonathan Ping from MyMoneyBlog, but Madame X is also mentioned.



Hm... Seems as though I'm getting traffic through the feed. If you are new, please say hello! Ask me questions, offer feedback, pontificate on the use of Quicken, just be nice and please leave your name. I generally despise anonymous posters. Use your initials if you like, no need to register with Blogger if you aren't already registered.

FYI - Please note that I also moderate my comments, so don't submit them three times if you don't see it right away. I work for a Net Nazi company and I generally refrain from blogging during the work day. I pretty much log in once at lunch to check if there are comments needing publishing and again in the afternoon/evening for the same reason. Any posts during the work day are because I'm at home that day or post-dated it. I write most posts at night, which is why they ramble. Flexo says it's ok to blog at 12:30am.

I try to provide fresh content every day which will explain why I have kind of disjointed timelines when referring to other posts. I publish out posts little by little and I rearrange them, etc. I'll try to get it right, but having fresh and tasty content is hard to do when you're working 40+ hours at all hours of the day and night. (Sleep deprivation 2 nights in a row = bad judgement = day off from work! Whee!)

FMF, if you are reading this, my mail account still doesn't like your mail account. But thank you for taking my old Carnival submission and saving it for next week. I have found that Carnival hosts tend to forget to email me when the new stuff is up if I use the form. But I guess the form it shall be when I email you.


Federal Tax filing + Triggering an Audit

It only took me about a week to reprint my Federal Tax Form after I discovered my typographical error. So much for the daily grind.

So I pull it all together and do my ritual trip to the post office to send it off registered mail.

As far as the things which trigger an audit, how about a definitive article?

I find the demographic chart most interesting. For all those people spending thousands of dollars on their medical expenses, why don't they do Medical FSA? Or do they not have access? It probably speaks more to the sorry state of healthcare accessibility that their insurance didn't cover their bills.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fabulous Food from PF Bloggers!

Tasty recipes!

I've got two there, and it's gone co-ed as of late January. I have yet to try any out since I haven't been in a cooking mood lately. But now that my work responsibilities will be shifting, I hope to try cooking again soon.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Emergency funds and diversification

With all the talk about Katrina rebuilding, it occurs to me that most of my so-called-wealth is my home. It seems to me that I should make sure that the largest holding in my assets is not my house. I should keep a mixture of my fully-insured home, investments, and cash savings. Is there a suggested percentage out there? Should I be striving for a 50%-50% home-to-everything-else mix? If like Jane Dough, I should have $3-4 million for my future retirement, I certainly don't believe any home I live in will be worth $2 million in 30-40 years. I really can't fathom that.

I keep thinking about a friend whose parents lived 4 blocks away from the first levee break. A few years ago her folks were given the option to insure their home against floods for over $1 million, which they decided to do. They were quite lucky compared to most folks and were able to get a payout immediately from their insurance company, though they lost everything. My friend unfortunately had some of her possessions in storage there and gets nothing from the insurer to replace her belongings.

I wonder out loud here, should the Pentagon ever get attacked again, what kind of insurance should I be carrying? I don't live that far away from the world's largest office building. I live inside the DC Beltway. If I had to jump into my car and drive away as fast as I could, what kind of access would I have to cash instruments, credit, my investments if I couldn't return home for several months?

It occurs to me that I am awfully lucky to bank online and to have investment assets I could draw upon from a distance. My banks have out-of-state branches where I could present my ATM card and draw some cash. So many urban poor use those usurious check cashing services because they don't have bank accounts. What can they do if there is no electronic way to store funds? What if I need to escape when the Vogons come to destroy Earth, or I decide to head off-world to Ballybran? Will my credits be accessible on the shuttle flight? (An attempt at levity. Please laugh here.)

It sounds weird to think about what an 'emergency fund' is. Should I throw $200 cash into my trunk with my flashlight, road flares, emergency blanket, etc? It sounds goofy and paranoid, but I think it's worth contemplating in light of my location. At the very least, I could pay a tow truck driver if need be.

What do all you folks out there in TV Land think?


The Armed Forces Battle Their Finances

This article reminds me of a funny story or sad story, depending on your world view. I have a close friend who did ROTC at an Ivy League school. He used to regale me with the amazing stupidity of some of the soldiers he'd encounter. ('Oh please sir, may I shoot at the deer with my M-16? How cool would that be?' 'No soldier you may not. That is a direct order.') One of my favorites is a passing comment my friend made about having to take away soldiers' credit cards and check books from them. When I asked why, it was because these guys had no idea how to handle their finances and didn't know how to manage their money.

So this campaign and the suggested legislation are probably good things.

I ran some work last night, so I'm posting real time this morning.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

How do you think about money?

All too often people avoid their finances out of fear. Out of the many finance books I've read. The one that struck the deepest chord with my fears was the 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, by Suze Orman. Unlike other personal finance gurus she really points out that each person has a relationship with money that affects their financial decision making.

As you read each chapter you read about a person and a story about their relationship with money. If you are familiar with different treatments of clinical depression you may know what Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is. One of its foundations is the idea of cognitive distortion and how a person's mental thoughts reinforce their depression. As I read these anecdotal stories I realized that a lot of these people had cognitive distortions that affect their financial decisions. Let me make one up for you now that I'm sure you've heard coming out of the mouths of babes. "I'm so young that it doesn't matter what I spend now. I can worry about that later." If you ask me, that's a classic avoidance statement and it demonstrates Minimization. My response is that there are many benefits to starting today, compounding interest being the first and greatest one.

How about another one? "I played the stock market once and I lost my entire investment. If I play the stock market I'll just lose my shirt again, so I'm never going to invest in stocks again." This one is a combination of two, Jumping to Conclusions/Fortune-telling and Magnification/Catastrophizing. My response to this is to say that education can help you make better investment decisions. There are stock-based mutual funds where the need to pick individual stocks is removed, therefore you can put your trust into a professional stock fund manager, diversify your portfolio and give stock investment another try. (Caveat here being that you do some research into the fund and its manager, etc. Don't just throw a dart at a page and put 100% of your portfolio there.)

I watched a member of my family go through a pretty emotionally painful divorce and I cannot say that the subject of money wasn't involved. My family member and their spouse had different attitudes and relationships with money and they just didn't mix. How many couples fight about money because they weren't on the same financial page? I know my boyfriend and I struggle our attitudes about money. We're not at loggerheads but we aren't quite moving in parallel either. Knowing your own personal attitude towards money and investment can help you overcome some of your fears and make better financial decisions. I was out shopping today and one of my friends commented that she spends less now that her boyfriend is changing her attitude. They're about to get engaged and it sounds to me like they are actively discussing when and how to spend money. They've identified the spender and the saver and are comfortable with their roles.

Even if you don't read Suze Orman, I encourage you to think about money, what it means to you, how you relate to having it/not enough of it, what its purpose is to your happiness, etc. It can help you turn the tide of your spending and saving by helping you see where you can change your attitudes to reach your financial goals.


Spending and Boredom

Young And Broke has a great post about it. I can't say it any better.

Malls are bad and I avoid them. Though I used to eat at a mall food court 3-4x a week at my last job, I rarely wandered the rest of the mall to walk off the calories. That's just asking for trouble. Thank god my taste dictates Forever 21 and H&M off limits. Sometimes I see really cute stuff, but I fight the urge.

Cure your boredom! Best advice given. I read and knit a lot. I do spend a lot on yarn, but I buy yarn in lieu of beer, meals on the town, travel to far off lands, TV, DVD, MP3's, makeup, shoes, jewelry. I am not bored. If I am, I know I can usually find a knitting group meeting somewhere in the DC metro area on any given night of the week. In fact, I'm usually double or triple booked for Wednesday nights.

I can break out my spinning wheel and turn on public radio for a few hours. (Old broadcasts of The Diane Rehm Showare my favorite to turn on.) I blog. I blog all night sometimes! Sometimes when I'm bored and see what a mess my apartment is, I clean it. Yes, I clean it because I am bored.

Ennui... Isn't that why Madame Bovary had an affair in the first place? The girl should have stuck to her knitting instead.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Money Blog Network added to blog roll

I just noticed that although I posted about it, I never added it to my blogroll. I already had Consumerism Commentary and Free Money Finance. I noticed today how much I was drawn to All Things Financial a lot lately and felt I should add it it to my list. Well if I was going to do that, I should add the rest too. I do visit Blueprint for Financial Prosperity and Five Cent Nickel, but I don't visit them quite as much. I find that their aggregated blog helps me visit their sites more often.

I have noticed that I am starting to going to as a first stop because I am getting a lot of different blogs at once and that's definitely enhancing my enjoyment of what's out there, and driving up traffic for folks. I haven't noticed a perceptible bump in my own traffic, but I also don't think about it a whole either.

As always, I remain dedicated to trying to be helpful to the average reader with my biased approach and constant struggle to manage debt and to build my net worth. Putting myself out there makes me more accountable to myself. I am using the sins of pride and vanity to enhance the virtues of frugality and prosperity. Go figure. I've outed my blog at work to my team and one or two others. It's the personal interaction and openness that helps me on a daily basis. It reminds me that my blog isn't just out there anonymously. I like the reinforcement that comes from my friend saying, 'I saw that on your blog and thought it was useful.'

I can only hope that I stay useful and relevant and that my writing improves. Due to the nature of blogging mostly at night when I'm really tired, I think I ramble a lot.


Dumb dumb dumb!

I printed out my 1040 today and I just got a really funny feeling overwhelming me to check the math one more time. I prepare all my numbers on a spreadsheet before I key them into Adobe on my form. I was all set to staple everything together and place it into an envelope tonight when I decided to sit down once more and re-calculate everything I entered onto the form.

Good thing too. I caught an arithmetic error and went back to my spreadsheet and discovered my mistake. I had underreported my income by $1000.00 due to an errant minus sign. So even though this mistake reduces my refund by $200.00 or so, at least my form is accurate now and my refund shouldn't be delayed for having an error.


When that voice in your head tells you to check the numbers one more time, you should do it. For more evidence, read this article from


PFBlogs.ORG logo

I must have missed out a bit on the controversy surrounding the vs However I will be endorsing here because they have listed my personal monument to my net worth, whereas my new-ish blog does not rate a listing at the *.com one. Besides, I don't want my content taken for you to view Google ads through another site, I'd like you to visit me here. Your eyeballs are important to me and I appreciate all of my readers, especially because I know so many of you in real life and consider you my friends. also has a more extensive feed list which includes many of my favorites. I tend to be selective about who goes in my blogroll because I want to make sure they are sites I am personally interested in visiting and not just a blogosphere mutual admiration society list. I do like trading links, but I'm kind of shy about asking other bloggers to place me on their blogrolls. I can only hope that these aggregators will actually generate traffic for me. I believe they will since I posted something about 30 minutes ago and I've already had 17 views. Not too shabby.

Sometimes late at night I will postdate a post because I don't want to login early in the morning, to be fair, will tack on 2 hours to the posting time so that postdaters aren't always jumping the queue. Please note that is my modus operandi which allows me to provide you fresh content on a close to daily basis and still avoid being a morning person.

Please choose to subscribe directly to my feed, or read me through!

ps - I've added Budgeting Babe to my blogroll today as well.


DC tax update

I mailed out the form today. It helps not to misplace it before you go on vacation.

Filling out your Federal tax forms at home works better if you have a printer with which to print them out. But I've gone this long without one, I'm not going to buy one now. I think I will do what I did in September and visit my neighbors and borrow theirs.

Last night I spent $9.01 on dinner. And I distinctly remember not liking the sandwich I ate as part of my dinner. I must remember to buy some bagels and keep them at work. That way I can snack on one before going out to my Wednesday night group and spend less on dinner while I'm at the cafe where we meet.

This week I read an article at Boston Gal's blog. I really don't want to be seen as a miser. I'm not extreme about my frugality, but I do wonder if I could live on 20% of my salary annually and save all the rest.


E-filing & The Reverse Carnival of Money Mistakes

I found the link regarding how E-filing could trigger an audit. Find it here.

It's not very scientific or definitive, but it does make a bit of sense if there's a selection algorithm run upon electronic filings. Of course, IIRC the 1040-EZ is a form that the IRS scans and turns into an electronic file. I remember this because they tell you how to form your numbers and I draw a line through my 7, a loopy on my 2, and two circles stacked for an 8, which are hard for the optical readers. The 1040 and its related Schedule forms don't look like obviously scannable forms, but they could be.

Either way, it's a ritual for me to print and mail. Hopefully I can get this all done soon. I drive past two post offices on the right side of the road on the way to work. (Ok, one of them is directly across a busy 4 lane street, but I'm game for Frogger.)

My Money Blog also has a fantastic post called The Reverse Carnival of Money Mistakes. It's excellent. PFBloggers are not paragons of financial virtue. We only aspire to it and hopefully we've learned from our mistakes.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bottled water

This post stems from FMF's post on bottled water. It started as a comment, but got really long so I posted it here instead.

Bottled water is also bad for your kids' teeth. It's not fluoridated like tap water is.

If you can't stand the chlorine flavor of your tap water, let it sit for a few hours like you would for preparing a fish tank. The chlorine will volatilize out of it.

Also, BRITA/PUR filters help with the taste and with lead. I should know. I lived in DC at a time when lead was found in the water all over the city, even in the nicest part of town where I lived (Georgetown, of the million dollar homes). The City handed out BRITA pitchers to the effected homes (luckily mine was not).

I did a taste test for filtered tap water from my house to the reverse osmosis tap lines at work. I found that the cold tap reverse osmosis water tasted best. The hot tap from the same filter was the worst, and filtered tap from home was in the middle. I figured the heating element on the reverse osmosis machine made the hot water taste funny.

For the most part, I find that tap is safe and palatable in most places. If it's not, make it colder, your taste buds have a harder time perceiving the flavors.


Single Women Homeowners

A great post by Jane Dough! I totally agree. With 5 years of serious emotional turmoil behind me, I know that I found a lot of piece of mind with living alone in my own apartment. I know I sound very paranoid in my blog about personal safety, but I actually live in a very safe neighborhood.

Let me take you back to 2003-2004. I was living in a group house in a posh section of DC, north of Georgetown. It was a gorgeous Tudor-style home next to the University Medical Center. One of my roommates was a medical student and there were a lot of other group homes in the neighborhood. (You could always spot the rentals by their unkempt yards.) While my roommates were really cool people, I actually really hated it because there were 5 of us and occaisionally I'd get shut out of the shower in the morning because there was only one for all of us.

The utilities were fairly cheap since there were so many of us splitting it up. But the general noise, the petty dramas of my roommates and the daily commute across the Key Bridge got on my nerves. I was actually going to stay there another year since the rent was sick cheap, but the landlord wanted to take away my closet in the hallway to expand the existing bathroom, and build a closet in my bedroom, thus taking away square footage and charging me more money.

I had always told myself that at the $700 price point, I'd consider getting a house and stop renting. And that's what I did. I got myself a small condo that is well within my means on my new salary and a small stretch with my old one.

As I was negotiating my moving out date with my landlord, I told him what I was doing and he congratulated me. He said that out of all the things that he'd tried investing in, real estate was the best investment he'd made. He told me that I was absolutely doing the right thing by getting my own home. I look back and I am so glad that my landlord and my parents were so supportive of my purchase.

I can't say I feel as though it's a sign of making it or achieving some great thing in life because my downpayment was a generous gift from my family, but everyone agrees that having a place of my own has grounded me, settled me down and so many things in my life reflect that, the condo, my new job, my personal relationships. I think if I was still living with roommates, I'd be tearing my hair out and going out all the time. Now that I have a cozy home of my own, I'm so much happier.


From American Public Media.

I love listening to this show in the mornings and at night on the drive home. It's very sensible information with a good perspective. Marketplace not super political unless the commentator has a bias. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich comments there, but so do writers from the Economist magazine too. I find myself agreeing equally with both of them since they present very rational economic arguments for their position.

The show provides great information that is applicable daily. Whether it's coverage about Wal-Mart, CEO's indicted for fraud, Fed interest rate movements, etc. It's always informative. Listen on Fridays for their weekly market chat with a money manager from Texas. It's always good-natured and friendly. I like that they don't get all doom-and-gloom but present a realistic and actionable discussion.

In the interest of full disclosure, a man I've met works there and I have heard his voice on the program.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Added a new blog

Jose of Money & Investing asked me to trade links. I have browsed his site before and find it pretty useful. He does a lot more book reviews than I do. In fact, I haven't done any at all. He's not a daily poster, but in this case, less is more.

So please, follow through and read what Jose has to say at Money & Investing!


More on the Arlington County Homeowner Grant

Details are here

Note that more details for the 2006 program will be posted in April 2006.

I filed for mine after my long September holiday while I was unemployed, so I think that the deadline must have been September 30th, though I know it was extended last year to let more homeowners take advantage of it.

As you can see by my NetWorthIQ graph to the left, I will probably still qualify both on income and by assets.

Check your area for real estate assessments! I read on the Washington Post that it's possible to have your home reassessed if you feel that your assessment is too high. There's a story there about a home with two bathrooms on record but one was really just a toilet in the middle of the floor in the basement. Probably a planned remodel that never took place.


Verizon likes me!

I got a $3.95 discount on my DSL this month. I have no idea why even though it's my job to be able to read a telephone bill. Fascinating.

I am a little disappointed that the telecom I work for and my telecom provider can't get their stuff together to get my discount long distance going to the house. It's ridiculous the way telecoms operate. But enough about that!

If you are a Verizon DSL customer, look for an Internet Discount on your next/newest bill.

Sorry for the longer than planned hiatus. I went out of town and work has been crazy busy. I expect posting will remain light through the next week or else heavy over the weekend when I am waiting for an upgrade to finish at work.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Federal Tax Refund!

So I went and got forms online on Wednesday night.

I really prefer to do them on paper and spreadsheet and mail it all in. Per Savvy Saver your chances of getting audited are smaller if you file by paper.

I saw another reference to that same notion, but I can't find it now.

At any rate, I am getting back $1049.96! Buying my house was a good thing.

The #1 ironic thing is that I paid the last of my student loans in 2005. Your income has to be less than $50,000.00 to take the deduction. Even though I got a way better paying job last year, it wasn't enough to take me over $50K. So whoopee! I get to take it my student loan interest deduction for one last time and still get my snappy new salary!

AND (yes, there's an AND) I don't make enough money to disqualify myself from the Arlington County Homeowner Grant Program, so I should be receiving a $500.00 property tax refund check next year! How great is that?


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Carnival of Personal Finance is up too!

The latest Carnival of Personal Finance!

Yours truly is a participant!


VA State Tax Saga of 2005

I filed partial year taxes in 2005 because I moved to VA late in 2004. For the first time in my life, I was filing and taking itemized deductions. Like the bright college graduate I am, I thought I could do it by myself.

I gathered everything up and filed everything early for the refunds and filed late for the stuff I owed. My last employer screwed the pooch and effed up my VA state withholding (as well as my DC one when I was first hired, but that is another story). So I owed VA some taxes for the 3.5 months I lived there in 2004. Not a problem. The bill was less than $200. I merrily paid the check to be done with it.

About 6 months later I get a funny notice that says I owe them some more money because I messed up my taxes. Ok fine. I pay them another $180.00, but not so merrily this time.

Well about a month ago, I get second notice and I'm thinking, 'WHAT! I owe them again?!' Turns out I overpaid by $137.00-ish because of that second check and now I get a refund. That refund came in the mail this week, WITH INTEREST at 3.25%. I thought to myself, 'Wow, isn't that neat?' and deposited it yesterday.

All the same, I would rather not have to pay the extra taxes, or any taxes at all, but we live in a civil society and such are the chains of the Social Contract. At least they fixed the matter with interest instead of just keeping it.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Festival of Frugality #9!

The Festival of Frugality is now available at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity!

On that note, I am now a Crunchy Crustacean!

FYI - Posting is and will be light the next few days due to an out of town trip.


Three paychecks in a month is not extra money

My company pays us bi-weekly. That means 26 paychecks a year, every other Friday.

Last week a man at work said,'Woo-hoo! March has three paychecks!'

I was rather baffled by this statement and his apparent joy. He doesn't seem to realize that he still worked 80 hours over two weeks to get that money. It's not a bonus. It's his regular salary. I don't know about him, but I contracted my employment at a certain rate and I'm entitled to that check.

I know there's a lot of budgeters out there who use 2 bi-weekly paychecks to plan their monthly budget. That's fine and well. I think they should, since there are only 2 months a year with three paychecks in them. However, this joy expressed by my co-worker is unwarranted since it is part of his base salary. Dude, that money is yours, not extra. It ain't gravy. It's not a bonus.

I think this goes back to the ways we have to trick ourselves into saving money. That third paycheck when it arrives for me in March isn't going into my savings. It's going towards my April expenses, and then when my last paycheck in April arrives, I will put it all into savings because my second April check will start covering my May expenses.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Daily Financial Challenges

If you haven't been there, go visit Personal Financial Advice. His daily challenges for 2006 are great advice. I've participated unknowingly by calling my credit card company to reduce my rate.

Next on my list, calling around for cheaper auto insurance.

Day 1: Get a better interest rate just by asking

Day 3: Check your credit report

Day 5: Participating in the company 401K plan

Day 8: Save money on your car insurance by shopping for a new rate

Day 11: Personal Home Inventory

Keep your eye out for more informative posts!


Monday, February 06, 2006

Federal Tax highlights

These come from the aforementioned HR/Payroll newsletter from my company.

* The tax rate for social security remains at 6.2%. The 2006 wage base limit rises to $94,200 and $5,840.40 as the maximum deduction for the year.
* The tax rate for Medicare is unchanged at 1.45% with no wage base limit.
* Jan 1, 2006, the limit on elective deferrals will increase to $15,000, and an additional 5,000 for Age 50 401k catch-up.
* The annual wage limit for 401k contribution is $220,000

Most of us hard working bloggers don't make $220K. In fact, I'd wager a good chunk of us can contribute 20% of our income and still not max out to $15K annually.

I've never realized that after a certain rate you don't have to pay for social security anymore. It's highly unlikely I'm going to make $90K anytime soon anyhow so I guess I can put that figure out of my head.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Thanks Jane Dough!

Because of her comment, I got off my duff. I filed my DC taxes almost a year ago today.

At 4pm yesterday, I suddenly remembered to call them. (Yesterday was horrendously busy at work again.) I had 30 minutes left to figure out the voicemail system and wait on hold. Magically about 5 minutes before they closed their office at 4:30pm, I got an operator!

She took my SSN and tried to verify my address. For some reason, AND I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY, they mailed a refund check to my old DC address, EVEN THOUGH I FILED IT WITH MY NEW VIRGINIA ADDRESS. Their idiocy simply baffles me. What was the point of me writing in my correct address, & having them optically scan it, only to default to the address they had on file?

Anyhow, the lady was very nice and told me she would send the paperwork to me. All I have to do is fill out the highlighted portion, mail or fax it back and 30-45 days later, I should have a new refund check. How nice is that?

So look for a follow up on this in late March or early April.

Thanks Jane Dough for telling me to do this. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. DC has some pretty streamlined city services for parking tickets, etc. I can only hope that other places are this efficient for everyone else!


January 2006 Net Worth

I changed my NetworthIQ graph last night. It went up by a lot since I added in my real estate assessment valuation. I can happily say that I've had about 15% appreciation since I made my purchase. I just have to pay down that second trust.

Other than that, nothing else has changed, just a slow inexorable rise in my 401k balance, and that credit card amount staring me in the face.

Please note I changed my Save-O-Meter to reflect my overdraft problem of last week. I think I should ready myself for another Paycheck Challenge. I clearly haven't learned my lesson.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why I obsess over my bank balances

This weekend I overdrew my checking account. I overdrew it by a lot.

I am one of those mindless spenders. I fork over the plastic and pay as much of my credit card bill at the end of the month as I can. The reason why is that I get a receipt for every transaction and I know where the money goes.

Lately I've been trying to spend cash instead of credit, because that's what everyone tells you to do. I was doing ok with it, until I realized on Monday that I over drew my account by a lot. Those little things really do add up. I think I'd better move to actually have cash in my hand, but not getting a paper receipt drives me nuts. Manually entering things into Quicken makes me bananas. (Don't get me started on Prudential's crappy 401k website! There's no Quicken download!)

I am in the habit of looking at Quicken every day, even if it's a quick little peep. That way I know how much is in my checking account and I don't let myself overdraw it. However, I have been super busy lately with work and a social life. Due to the confluence of events, I was away from my computer a lot and didn't notice how badly I had overdrawn things over the weekend till Tuesday. I was embarrased by my mistake, and appalled at the overdraft fees. How much was this humdinger? Oh, about $300.00. That's two $60.00 overdraft fees and one $120.00 insufficient fund fees. Um, really, aren't those the same thing?


Get your SSA-1099!

The Social Security Administration has online services!

On February 1, 2006 statements will be available online. (That's YESTERDAY!)

"Replace the lost, damaged, or missing tax summary of your Social Security benefits for 2005 (not available for SSI)."

If you don't know what this is, it's a statement from the SSA that tells you what you've earned and what your potential monthly benefit would be if you were disabled, died and left behind minor-aged beneficiaries, etc. It's kind of interesting.

Keep in mind if you are thinking of not working for a little while, the statement keeps a tally of how many 'points' you need to earn to get a benefit. About 10 years ago, my mom didn't draw a salary from the business my parents own. Her accountant realized this and told my folks to pay my mom a salary and remit payroll taxes so that she could get full Social Security benefits when she retires.

When I first graduated college, I didn't have close to enough points. About 2 years ago, I had earned enough to get a benefit, so you do need to work for a while for this benefit. Check your statement to see if you need to work some more before you retire.

Other advice also from my company's HR/Payroll newsletter:

Remember to verify your name and address, and that there are no missing
years of recorded wages. There are literally hundreds of thousands of
dollars floating in limbo because SSA cannot match name and social
security number on W2's to the employee's account. The most common
- Women may marry and begin using their husband's name without
changing their social security card, or divorce and reuse their maiden
name without changing their social security card.

- Employees use nicknames or short names on their employment records
(this affects the W2) that do not match their social security card.

Make sure you verify your information!


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Waiting to file

It's a good thing that I am kind of lazy. I almost filed my taxes last week because I thought I received all my forms.

Instead I received my last student loan interest statement this week. I forgot about it completely. It's $40.00 of interest, but it's still a reduction of income on my forms.

I also forgot that I still need W-2's from my side jobs waitressing and the yarn shop last year. I got the yarn shop one last night, but I'll have to go by the restaurant to get the other one.

I am going to try and file on February 1st electronically. It was quite a success for me last year, though my DC partial year refund still has not arrived. I'm tempted to call and complain since it's been over a year and it's $500. But is it really worth the bureaucratic hassle? Is this what separates the wheat from the chaff of personal finance bloggers? Inquiring minds want to know.


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