Just tidbits about money and finance.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

I have to repost this link by Jonathan. I'm not sure how I feel about this post and the posting over at Make Love Not Debt. I had this huge post written about my relationship with my parents and with money, but I don't think I want to brave the moonbats on the internet to post it here. Money and family relationships are very touchy subjects and I don't think it's really nice of people to spring to conclusions based off of one highly emotionally charged post.

In the first personal finance community I joined, there was a guideline, "Some people had college loans. Some people ran up a lot of debt during and right after college. Some of us did both. Please don't criticize anyone for their past behavior. Be solution oriented. If you're going to provide criticism or a suggestion, please do it constructively." I guess the main thing is to be respectful of the blogger, especially when it's clear they've hit a nerve pretty hard and the recoil is a blog post.

I like to amuse myself by appearing as an ingrate sometimes on this blog. The fact of the matter is that I am spoiled by the deliberate actions of my parents. It's a complex thing. I have been both coddled and beaten. Old school Asian families are tough places to grow up. I've lived pretty much with a fully belly and shod, but in the ghetto and in the suburbs. There are things about filial piety which I think a lot of Americans don't understand easily. So I really don't think that being judgemental about Her's reaction to her mother serves a purpose. What she really needs is help with planning a wedding inexpensively, or else someone should write a blog rant about how stupid American culture and media tells girls from young age that a wedding is her be-all-end-all life experience.

That's my two cents. Rant here in the comments if you like. Normally my rule is to publish all comments, though I prefer them not to be completely anonymous. This time I reserve the right not to publish out comments that are distasteful, disrespectful, or just plain unkind or rude.


Posts I've liked this week

LAMoney Guy has a really good post about commuting and how much it really costs you.

The calculator on it is the best part!

One of the newest blogs I've liked is City Girl's Financial Blog. This post about buying Bay Area real estate is so true.

Financial Genetics at My Open Wallet, by Madame X.

A call for relationship posts at Make Love Not Debt, a collaborative blog between a newly engaged pair with lots of student loan debt. I also liked what Her had to say about learning from an intern.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Out to Lunch With Accounting

I hate to call them 'beancounters' but lunch on Wednesday was a pretty amusing lesson in frugality. So someone in our office is leaving and we decided to take him out to lunch. The Accounting team joined us and composed over 50% of the group.

We went to some yucky pan-Asian cuisine place.* There is an option for lunch that is about $17 per person which allows you a wide variety of dishes. Right off the bat, the accountants aren't wild about that option. The girl next to me says that she can't eat that much food and the guys are all saying they want what they want and don't want to compromise. I'm in the latter boat and I know I can eat for much cheaper than $17.

Next thing, the girls are all clustered at one end of the table and we turn to a conversation about clothes and shopping. The departing employee's wife works retail and he tells us about all the money people spend on clothes, with or without discounts. As the conversation continues, the girls all chime in with great places to get clothes around our area. I'm learning all kinds of new places to check out that are off the beaten path. Someone mentions that buying pants for $200.00 is crazy, but she might spend that much on a pair of jeans she will wear all the time. And another woman tells her that she'll shoot her if she spends that much. We all laugh but I'm thinking that it's nice to be around like-minded folks who shop for a bargain.

I tell the would-be shooter about the expensive suit I bought and her eyes popped out of her head. I tell her that I know it's crazy and that I'll never do it again, and she says fiercely in her foreign accent, 'You better not!'

We talked about how the mom at the table looks really young but has 5 kids. She loves them all, but the main reason they stopped at 5 is that they can't afford any more. She explained the family plan for paying for college for all 5 and it's interesting. The oldest two will have their schooling paid for completely by their parents, but they are expected to help the younger three because there's no way the parents can help all 5. The oldest are on board with this idea, which I think is pretty cool.

We ended up dividing the check evenly anyway and I pay more than $17, but that's ok since I paid $20 with tax and tip included and cover my share of the guest of honor's bill. I had a doggie bag too.

I guess it's because I work with a cost-conscious group that I'm partly interested in personal finances. It's nice to know that I am near people who don't think it's weird or cheap to be frugal or make compromises financially to have other things in life.

* I hate it there because everything tastes so generically Asian and comes off as bland to me. If I want crappy Asian cuisine, I'll make my own at home. Throwing soy, garlic and ginger together doesn't mean it's going to be good.


A TiVO for Electricity?

CNNMoney reports that GridPoint has a device about the size of a filing cabinet which will store power much like a UPS. But instead of going on and off during a power outage, it will pull power down off the grid when it's cheap and release the energy when it's expensive, thereby getting the user the best utility rates possible under peak-pricing plans.

Nice run-on!

Best part?
"GridPoint Protect kicks in within about 30 milliseconds, fast enough to prevent a company's computers or other sensitive devices from crashing."

Sweet. That's the best UPS you could have. I have worked places where I would have lost data if I wasn't already using a docked laptop.

Hat tip to IRA. I first saw it on her blog.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tonight's Food Strategy

So frequently I am in a daze lately and today I forgot my wallet. I had no money for lunch. I borrowed money from a co-worker and now I owe him $15 instead of the $5 from yesterday's group lunch. (Another story posting tomorrow.) I was going to eat leftovers for lunch but that would have ruined my carefully laid dinner plans. Tonight I dine out someplace fancy with guests from out of town. For their frugality in asking to stay one night with me, I punish them with a messy apartment. (For some reason it still won't clean itself.)

We all love good food and tonight the guests have chosen Harry's Tap Room. The same folks who gave us Sam & Harry's, which is still open in DC, but sadly the Tysons Corner location I went to for Valentine's Day a few years ago is closed. (A story of gluttony I will one day share.)

Because Harry's is pretty posh, the plan is to eat my leftovers tonight at work while waiting for data to load up. I will dash home for some more cleaning up, and then meet the kids for dinner. I will eat only something small, trying to keep my tab under $20 for food and maybe one beer. I just scanned the menu, ok. Maybe I'll have to make that $25 and skip the beer. Add on a few dollars for parking and I pray that this entire dinner will only cost me $30.

Wish me luck on my cheapness. I feel the deck is stacked against me because I know this couple enjoys tasty wine and I can see us getting a bottle to celebrate their recent engagement.



Three of my favorite PF Bloggers have banded together to make QueerCents, Caitlin, Dawn, and Nina. I admire each of these three women for their common sense and thrift. They each have financial wisdom to pass on to us, queer or not. (Caitlin is godmother to this blog because she's the first person to link to me.)

I left a comment this morning with Nina. I had a lot of gay friends in college. I was collectively known as 'The Breeder' by my queer roommates junior year. I loved getting change back stamped with 'Queer Money' when I lived in the gayest of the gay districts, The Castro of San Francisco.

I only wish that QueerCents had a been around in college. I loved those gay roommates. (Except the one who got thrown out.) They were fun people. I had great times with them and learned a lot about families, and coming out, and truths about the ugliness some people have inside of them. Bottom line though? Three of them were financial disasters. One of them never went to college and lived hand to mouth. One of them freaked out with collegiate credit card offers and ran himself into so much debt that he couldn't get out of it. The third got cut off by her parents for being gay and then moved back in with them when she couldn't find a job to cover her debts. To this day, I think she owes our old roommate money for some used furniture.

The last one ended receiving a debt-reduction book as a gift from me. I sent it to her after graduation. It was a book I bought for myself that helped me focus on my finances and reduce my credit card debt. She was complaining about living at home and her credit cards and student loans. The book was the only I could give to help her out since I wasn't living near her to help her change her daily habits.

It's not that gay people are bad with money. Quite the opposite. Andrew Tobias, the finance guru is quite good with money, or else he wouldn't be a guru now would he? Two other gay friends from the same gang of college friends are quite good at saving and living frugally. I think it goes back to the mind-money thing. If coming out is really stressful, you might self-medicate through shopping your brains out. Or using your credit to move out of the house and get away from your parents. Fresh starts with 'Go to Hell With You' money are part of rediscovering yourself sometimes, and if you're like Brandon Teena, kiting checks is not a viable financial strategy.


Welfare Brat Book Review

Welfare Brat by Mary Childers

It was a really good memoir about growing up urban poor. Her mother was on welfare with 6 kids. If ever a person was motivated to leave poverty it was Mary, the 3rd of 6 kids and the de facto oldest at home for most of the book. Her story of struggling to survive and make it out of the whole world of poverty is pretty heartbreaking, the intense embarrassment and humiliation that poor kids suffer at school sears you like a hot iron. I remember being picked on all the time at nursery school and there were memories that flooded back while reading this book. It sucks to be different not just because you're poor but because you look different from everyone else. More than race, it's economic class that gets you. We didn't starve, but I know what 5 pound blocks of government surplus cheese tastes like in its weird wax wrapping. My grandparents would receive it and bring it to my house since they couldn't eat dairy products. For us it didn't mean nutrition for the whole family like it did for the author. It was a snack we could take or leave and finally throw out the last 2 pounds when it got all dried out. For the Childers it was macaroni and cheese for dinner and a cheese sandwich at school every single day.

When you read the book you'll see that as much as people are determined to raise themselves up, you'll see folks pushing you down. And how do you ignore them when it's your own family telling you that you're stuck up and hoity-toity? I was pretty amazed. This isn't some fairy-tale story of a girl who scored straight-A's and gets a full scholarship to Harvard. Let's get real, that's a fluff article for the Sunday Features section. This is about real bitterness at poverty and true grit to survive.

I would recommend it to everyone to read for a changed perspective. There are times when the prose rubs me the wrong way, but I read it all in one sitting almost and that's what happens. I had only one and a half chapters to read tonight. Ms. Childers has a wonderful voice that comes through and you can sense the distinctive voices of her mother and siblings.

I am biased though. I love memoirs and biographies. I think real people are very interesting and have done some amazing things. I think there's a lot to be learned from books in this genre.


More IDA's

NPR just ran a story about Individual Development Accounts as part of their radio series on Poverty in America.

I liked this one because it focuses on IDA's. I found a directory site through the NPR story and checked it out. Virginia has quite a few programs, even one focused on prisoners who've been released, another for refugee resettlement. They're all over the state and not just focused in urban locations. The first one listed in VA is decidedly suburban.

Today I convinced a friend to bank a small insurance windfall of $2000.00 instead of using it to lower a new car payment by $60.00 a month. I told her that she could save that money, raise her insurance deductible and see a savings on her insurance. She hold me her high quote was $1200.00, and the low quote was about $850.00. $350.00 saved over 6 months so it balances out. And since she's keeping the $2000.00 liquid, she can use it for *any* emergency and not just a car repair. That's the beauty of an Emergency Basket of Cash.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Poor Gas Strategy

Drivers are purposely running out of gas.

I think on the commute I have, that would make a lot of people hate you really bad. I-66 has Metro rails to divide the highway, but the Dulles Toll Road doesn't. Rubbernecking is awful on the toll road and they just love to see who's waiting by the side of the road.

What's worse though is people's inability to merge onto the highway correctly, causing a full stop in traffic. I've noticed that instead of stopping, slowing to a crawl really does save gas for me, but I also pop the car out of gear and coast along very, very, very slowly.

So has anyone seen a positive change in their gas mileage since the flurry of gas tips were published recently? Mine's about the same since I always drive as efficiently as I can. It really only gets better on the long interstate drives on the highway when I can go about 70mph for 60 minutes at a time. I have been hitting cruise control less on the hills, but there's not much difference there.


What's In My Closet?

Claire is looking for a periwinkle blue bridesmaid dress. I have one in my closet right now! I wore it to my sister's wedding two years ago. I'll be the maid of honor for a friend this summer in Puerto Rico. I am slightly irate about this wedding since it's very short notice and it's not going to be cheap to get there or stay there.

However, I will be saving money by not having to buy a new dress. I bought a dress back in 1999 for a wedding for some posh friends from college. It's an Armani Exchange sheer pink organza shift. It's light and airy, perfect for a beach wedding and will go well with the white georgette dress the bride has picked out. For many years, I was unable to fit back into this dress because my quads were too thick from ice skating. But I've lost a lot of weight since then through atrophy (two ankle injuries in a row) and sloth. I thought I was as fat as I ever was, but it turns out I am slim enough to fit back into this wisp of a thing.

I must confess how much this dress cost. It was originally about $400.00-$600.00. The matching shoes were $224.00. It's still marked on the box. I remember paying about $60 for a matching silk scarf and the total for everything was about $350.00. All of it was on sale. So 6 years later, I can still wear it and save myself the cost of a new outfit. (Geez, has it been that long since I bought this?) These are the same shoes I've been wearing with my new Lilly skirt. Hopefully the sand on the beach won't ruin the shoes.

I don't know that I will ever buy something this expensive again. The salary I made then was a little bit less than I'm making now. I don't think I feel the need to splurge on clothes like this for a long time. Around the same time I bought a $2000.00 Max Mara suit on sale for $800.00. I know I spent a lot. I really can't justify any of it except that I look great and can still wear it since it's a shark grey tropical weight wool double-breasted, pantsuit. I've worn it to every serious job interview I've had since and it must have brought me luck since I'm gainfully employed.

What splurge item is in your closet? Do you regret buying it? Can you still fit into it? (hee hee)


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Love Your Library!

I got VA State Tax Forms pre-printed. For a small fee, I can use the library printers if I need to print something out. It sure beats going to Kinko's and feeding the meter on top of paying for the copies. My municipal library has a lot of great services and I see families there all the time checking out foreign language books and DVD's.

I pulled out a couple more personal finance books that I'll be reviewing here in the next few weeks.

Get yourself a library card!


Mapgirl Inc.

My boss always tells me, "You are yourself incorporated."

He reminds me to evaluate a job offer for fair remuneration for myself as a company offering services to the job market. I urge all of you to do the same.

If you were to look at yourself as a company what are your operating expenses? Where could you trim the fat (figuratively and literally!)? How can you increase your revenue? How are you selling yourself? Can you charge more for your services to increase your income? What product do you have to offer?

I cannot stress it enough that taking stock of yourself, looking at your personal finance bottom line, your P&L, Income Statement and Balance Statement is important to your personal valuation.

I have a secret. I used to work in accounting as an accounts receivable clerk. I took Accounting 101 at night school on top of my undergrad degree in geography. (Now does my nickname make sense?) I'm tossing out these terms, but they aren't so hard to understand.

Ask yourself, what do you want to make? Is You Inc. being remunerated properly? Do you have room to advance?

I'm not saying that making more money is the answer to all personal finance problems, curbing your spending is. But to get yourself more room in your budget and save more for the future, increasing your income is good. Ask yourself what you think you are worth and go out there and get it!


Monday, April 24, 2006

Festival of Frugality #20 is Up!

Money Blog Network has it courtesy of JLP's labors.

It's short, but pretty sweet.


Blogger Issues

Sorry for the lack of a post this morning. I was trying to put one up but was thwarted by technology. Thanks for continuing to read this blog.


Making It In The City Book Review

The full title is Making It in the City: A Girl's Guide to Starting Life on Your Own in a Ridiculously Expensive City You Can't Afford, by Adina Kalish Neufeld.

I found this book on the New Book bookcase in the front of the library. It's a cute pink & brown cover. It reminds me of raspberry cream chocolates. I wasn't sure what it would be like, but the premise is a girl's guide to making it in urban meccas that are expensive. Her target cities are NYC, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC. I think I picked it up because I wish I had a book like this when I first moved to San Francisco many years ago. I also thought that it would have some good hints for DC, where I currently live.

This book isn't the personal finance guide that I first thought it was. It was shevled right next to the loathesome Dave Barry book. The chapters are written as standalone articles you could read on your frugal 20-minute bus ride to and from work, or during the day when you eat your packed lunch on a park bench. She has excellent frugal tips for the internet savvy girl just graduated from college. The topics include how to pound the pavement to find an apartment, living with a roommate, cheap dates, healthcare, personal finance and more. She directs readers to the internet, especially sites like Craigslist, upon which I relied heavily in SF when it first stopped being a list that Craig wrote himself.

The author doles out practical and incredibly realistic advice on dealing with roommates, replying to family pressure to move home, bribing doormen for information on vacancies, approaching people at a networking event and making chit-chat, etc. There are anecdotes on successes interspersed in the chapters, that offer hope, but don't take over the advice.

Some of the listings made me laugh, like going to the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse for second run films. I've served beer there and I agree, it's a great place for an inexpensive dinner and movie. I learned new things about SF and DC so I think this book is pretty darn worthwhile as a graduation present for someone thinking about moving to any of these cities. It's a good starting out guide, but it's not the place to get a strong foundation on personal finance.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

DC Condo Bubble Bursting?

WaPo's Saturday article. You probably have to register for free to read it. Try BugMeNot if you need a login. I have one and WaPo doesn't spam me at all.

This kind of freaks me out, but the question is how much have I got to lose? Could I get away clean with nothing but my original downpayment and cover all the costs? Possibly. Who knows? There is a glut out there, but I still think units as cheap as mine aren't available. I have room to watch prices fall, but probably not too much room.


DC Scam Alert?

I am trying to verify this with, but I can't find anything easily on their site pertaining to fundraising door-to-door. Is there a reader out there who can verify this to be true?

From an email:

"All people raising money must be registered with the City and must have
official identification cards with them. No exceptions.

You are both smart and within your rights to call police when these
folks knock on your door. The ID must be a DC issued ID specifically
for fund raising, which also IDs the organization for which money is being


Friday, April 21, 2006

Cheap Laughs For Your Friday Night

Amy Blair is hilarious. I found her through Craig of Craigslist. Animal NY is her new location, but the archives at BlackTable are deliciously snarky. Mind you, NSFW. Not really because of her, but because of the underbelly of humanity and all their bad grammar and misspellings.



High DC Gas Prices

CNN/Money has the article.

There is a seasonal changeover with gasoline additives that is hitting us really hard right now. The problem is with MTBE, which is a fuel additive in the cold months. It's also a pretty dangerous chemical that leaches into the groundwater. It's very unpleasant stuff. The gist of the CNN article says that the changeover from MTBE to ethanol additives requires that refinery tanks be scrubbed before putting the ethanol fuel in.

Ok, so my question is, what about the tanks at gas stations? Or is it just a refinery issues during the chemical processing?

My pop had a station that we lost when PA changed over their state EPA rules for gas station tanks. Around the late 1980's-early 1990's there was a new requirement for double-hull gas tanks to prevent leaks at your neighborhood station. I look upon that law as a good thing for the environment, even if it did cost us a gas station. With crisis comes opportunity and my dad got a better station as a result of the closing. Did you know that state EPA's do groundwater checks around gas stations? There is a testing spot across a 4-lane street from our station.

If you're wondering what I'm doing about the high price of gas, I have to confess, nothing. I am switching over to a 4/10 work schedule for a few weeks. On my 3 day weekend, I go home to care for my family. So I'll end up driving an extra 300 miles in a week. But on balance there are certain things which truly are priceless.


Articles I liked this week

Jonathan on how to buy a T-bill, here and here. Something I have always wondered and now I know!

Single Ma is a kick in the pants. Mine and yours.

More drinking cheaply from Penny Nickel.

I goofed up when saving this draft so it's now published out to you.


Tax Refund Allocation

I put $800.00 of my federal return into the Save-O-Meter. I rounded down to that number and kept the balance as money for myself, i.e. pay off a bill or some other expense. The DC tax refund was going to get banked, but then I found out that I owe VA state taxes. About half the DC refund goes to taxes. I could try to save the rest, but I think I am going to pay down half my new car and home insurance.

The new insurance policies I picked up are written for 12 months, instead of the usual 6-month auto policy. Liberty Mutual does not offer lump-sum payment discounts like the old insurer does. Instead I pay in monthly installments which are about $100 per month, but I hope to have it paid off all of the policy in 2 months. That means my Save-O-Meter savings will be slimmer, but it's important to me to pay this off so I can forget about it.

I got a new credit card this month to balance transfer $3000.00 for 0% interest till next summer. I didn't read the fine print carefully enough and was charged a small transfer fee by the bank. It's enough to make me want to cancel the card, but I'll just leave it alone. I figure I'll pay it all off when the 0% APR ends and then close the card next year.

I'm in flux right now with expenditures. I need to figure out the monthly payment amounts on my new credit card and insurance and adjust my planned expenses. I booked the hotel and airfare for the wedding in Puerto Rico this summer, but I still have to get tickets and a hotel for the wedding in CA two weeks prior. I would love to pay cash for all of it, but drawing down my cash cushion is not an option.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

VA State Taxes Prepared

I got the final tally and I owe the state of Virginia about $300.00. Good thing I got my federal and old DC tax refunds already. I can afford to pay this straight out of my checking account. I can't believe they tell you it can be paid with a credit card. No way! That's kind of nuts.

I am pretty certain I messed up my itemized deductions. I don't really get how it's done on the VA forms, but since VA likes to send me bills in October for additional tax and then mail me a refund in December, I'll just mail it in on time with a check and let them tell me what I've done wrong.

I have about a week left to mail it in since the state deadline is May 1st. I think it's rather thoughtful of the state to give you an extra 16 days to get your state returns done, considering it's driven off your federal return.


Dave Barry's Money Secrets Book Review

I like Dave Barry's columns. I think he's a funny guy. But this book was awful. So awful that I read about 10 pages and returned it to the library a few hours later. I just couldn't tell when he was joking and when he was doling out an actual pearl of wisdom. If you're not a very financially savvy person, you're going to have a hard time extracting any advice out of this book. Rather than looking for entertainment while reading a personal finance educational guide, get serious and read a real book like The Millionaire Next Door.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Packed My Lunch

Yesterday was free sushi lunch day with my team. Someone picked up the tab for me which was nice of them. Today I packed my lunch for the first time in a while. I had an unbalanced meal of leftover rotisserie chicken with two slices of dense rosemary sourdough bread. I'm happy because the chicken was 7 bucks but I think I can get 4 meals for myself out of it. I'm not a big fan of salad, but I did get some salad mix for dinner last night and ate a few bites.

I've been making a concerted effort to bring something to work to eat every day, even if it's just a snack for breakfast. It's kind of hard since I don't really cook a whole lot. Food spoils in my fridge. Last night I threw out a sweet onion, leftover Thai soup, and a bit of salad mix. The fridge is very empty. I wonder sometimes why I bother plugging it in.

So far, my grocery bill isn't so bad for March and April. It's the restaurant bill that kills me. Dining out costs me the most. There are months where I will spend $400.00 dining out and my grocery bill will be $100.00. There are months when it's evenly split $300.00 and $300.00. Since February, I have been very careful about going Dutch for most of my meals. Treating people is reserved for only the most special of occasions (like overseas family coming to visit).

This self-discipline will take some more adjustment. Till then, I'm glad the warmer weather is here. I naturally start craving lighter meals with less meat. I eat meat with nearly every meal, but now I try to use meat as a condiment rather than the main entree. It's better for your health and your budget.

What do you like to pack for lunch? I like meat and starch with some frozen veggies. I can toss it in the microwave. Those used to be the best meals when I cooked a lot. Are you a sandwich person? Salad person? Vegetarian?


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spouting on Retirement

I saw this article about how to choose a fund.

First thing, fill out those retirement questionaires you get from your 401k or 403b companies. That will assess your risk tolerance and when you might need this money. Your time horizon is very important in understanding how much risk you might want to undertake. Your plan should then make some suggestions to you out of your fund offerings. But don't take my advice, read the stuff your 401k plan provides. It's all in there for you. I don't have any financial advice, I only encourage you to read, read, read.

I'm under 35 and I undersaved when I was in my 20's, so I am fairly aggressive in my investments. I've done pretty well in the last 3 years too. About 40% of my holdings are in the now-closed Fidelity Mid-Cap fund. (Actually as of April 28th, so hurry up if you want in!) I was lucky to be able to participate in that fund with my old company. I have really crappy investment vehicles at my new firm. I would love to just put everything in Fidelity or Vanguard but the financial whizzes bringing my firm out of bankruptcy think they're smart fellows and pick 10 of the worst funds I've ever seen. If they were good at this, I think they'd be working Wall Street instead of treasury management for a languishing company, but I digress. They seemed like nice folks at the company holiday party.

I expect to keep on an aggressive growth track for another 5 years. I am only looking for 7-8% gains, but would like 10% gains to catch myself up. In the meantime, I'm contributing 10% of my pre-tax salary and an additional amount of about 2-5% of my pre-tax salary goes into a regular savings account at the moment to build up my cash reserves.

I hold a Roth IRA equity account, but I've been ignoring it. It has very little in it and that's my next area of focus once my emergency fund is set. I've had some ups and downs with stock trading. I've gotten lucky on a few things, but I've watched all that dwindle through poor investment choices and neglect. When I was living paycheck to paycheck, my Roth didn't seem like a good place to focus my saving efforts. I didn't have the wherewithal that Miserly Bastard thinks you need to make a serious study of investing. I would have to agree. Now that I'm more inclined to invest in stocks and build up this portion of my net worth, I'm breaking out my copy of the investment classic, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burton Malkiel. Modern Portfolio Theory has been good to me in the past. Study up on it.

For the curious, my first picture. It's from Quicken and breaks down all of my investment accounts. It sums up the expected return in my target range and reminds me that I have a lot of risk, which is to be expected since I won't be retiring for at least 35, almost 40 years. I hold a lot of stocks on purpose. I only recently bought an international fund because I felt that there is good growth waiting to happen overseas. In fact some of my favorite stocks are actually ADR's (American Depository Receipts, basically overseas stocks traded on US Markets). I also started purchasing a bond fund in recent years on some whim that I shouldn't hold 100% stocks in my portfolio. In that account, it's more like 10% of the holdings, but only 3% of my overall. I wonder if I should buy some more, say like the savings bonds that Jane Dough is about to start getting again.


Automatic Millionaire Book Review: Part II

This is the second part of this book review. Part I is here. It's also a very long post.

The Good News:

1. His initial story about the McIntyres may be the only thing you have to read in the book at all. That story illustrates everything and is pretty powerful. After that, you can almost stop reading.

2. I did like 'Pay Yourself First'. My best girlfriends are pay yourself first types. They always have savings. If anything, I'm the spendthrift amongst us. Ironically, I'm the only one that owns a home though, because I'm the only one spoiled enough to ask my folks to help me out. (but that's another post)

3. I also liked calculating how much of your work day is for you section. I calculated that my hourly wage is around $30.00 and I work about 4.7 hours a week for me. At first I thought that was high since his calcuations say people work about 22 minutes a week for themselves, but I double checked it. The 401k savings contribution really does make that difference.

4. Caveat on his advice to pick a percentage to contribute and then do a little more. You have to keep in mind *when* you can change and how easy it is. I worked for a small company last year and though the plan was administered by a large corporation with lots of online services, I could not change my contribution monthly. It had to be done quarterly and I always had to ask HR to make sure it was done. Sometimes they didn't make the change.

5. He did a good job outlining tax-sheltered retirement savings options. He explained the difference between an IRA and an SEP-IRA very well. I've always wondered about that. Now I know that my parents could be putting a lot more in to their SEP-IRA and I will have to talk to them about that. He also introduced me to 401k plans for small businesses and how to obtain one.

6. 'Emergency Basket of Cash' I have to give him credit. He's got the catchy phrases. I really like this one. I'll have to start using it. It makes me picture myself swinging a deep Longaberger basket of money while skipping down the street in an Easter bonnet. Though I do think he's a little paranoid about accessibility. I'm ok with locking up my money in laddered CD's. He is all about the money market account. If you really need liquidity that fast, that's what balance transfers are for on credit cards. Who needs three thousand of dollars in a blink of an eye? I honestly can't think of a situation like that which is realistic. If you can get to $1000.00 within 30 days from a laddered CD, isn't that reasonable?

7. I totally agree when he says keep your rainy day fund and your regular checking account totally separate. One of the biggest failures I've had in saving money is accessibility. I have a credit union account that is hard to access, and therefore I don't touch it. It's why I'm a big fan of CD's. The only bad thing about this cache of money is that the interest rate is sickeningly low. Inflation has eaten it up.

8. His 50-50 Savings-Debt strategy makes a lot of sense. I believe in it becuase the Emergency Basket of Cash is so important. And if you save enough in your EBoC, you can pay a big honkin' chunk of your debt off at once, feel good about it, and feel like you can afford to do it if you aren't going to take the cash cushion balance down to zero.

All in all, I think this book offers a lot of hope, which is great. This book is for people who really haven't started saving at all and need help with getting started. I just feel hesitant because I don't think he illustrates risk at all. He has one single message, GET STARTED SAVING NOW AND DO IT AUTOMATICALLY. Ok, bud, I got you after the first 4 chapters. It's repetitious, but if it hammers the message home, then I guess it's ok. I could see myself giving it to a friend who really needs a kick in the pants to start saving.


Festival of Frugality #19 is Up!

Punny Money has it up here

I think he's done a really good job this week. It's one of the best I've seen for it's thoroughness and commentary. I like his "editor's choice" logos.

There's a lot of good stuff in there. Educating the Wheeler's meal planning post is probably my favorite, along with Single Ma's household tips


I just saved money on my car insurance

And it wasn't through GEICO!

What did I learn through this?

1. Shopping around is worthwhile.
2. Higher deductibles will reduce your rates.
3. Homeowners insurance is cheap if you don't have expensive stuff.
4. Identity theft riders are available for homeowner's insurance.
5. Affinty group discounts are worthwhile.
6. Knowing your net worth is good, because that will help you figure out how much liability insurance you need to carry.

I got a solicitation from Liberty Mutual through my university alumni club. I usually toss these things out, but it was timed perfectly. My auto insurance expires this month. The other incentive to call was a $5.00 Visa gas card just for getting a quotation.

I increased the deductibles for comprehensive and collision on my 5+ yr car. I found out they run a CLUE report, Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange to find out if you've ever filed a claim. This is different from your insurance score, an Isaac or Beacon score.

I was paying over $900.00 for auto insurance through an insurance company that does not sell homeowners policies in VA. With this new company, I was able to save myself $60.00 a year, getting just as much auto insurance for higher deductibles, and a homeowner's policy on my condo which also includes a rider for identity theft at $24.00 a year.

I'm super happy about all this. If you like, I'll give you the name of the nice man on the phone. He has a direct line. He explained what CLUE was. He's the one who advised me that in the future as my assets build, I may want to increase my auto liability insurance because I should protect those assets. When I get more assets, I'll think about it. But as you can see, I don't need much right now since my net worth is so low!


Monday, April 17, 2006

Automatic Millionaire Book Review: Part I

Warning: This is extremely long and will be in two lengthy parts.

Bad news first:
1. I really couldn't bear his writing style. I felt like the formatting was like a transcript of a lecture. I've never heard him speak, but I don't have to. I read enough of his book to know how he talks, what he emphasizes while speaking, and even the spots where he would probably be gesticulating or jumping up and down. It's that obvious in his text.

2. I think in his examples, 10% rates of return are WAY TOO HIGH. I try to stay at a conservative 7-8% when calculating ROI (return on investment). Per Jeremy Siegel's book, that's about what the market makes and I'm not too itchy to beat the market in my calculations, lest I fall woefully short and end up in the poorhouse.

3. As much as he says 401k's are great, he does not EVER say that it is possible to lose money in a 401k plan. These are investment vehicles that are not as safe as FDIC deposits. I think that's a little irresponsible of a guy who's supposedly passed a Series 7 exam. The other part of it is that he doesn't warn you at all about crappy plan investment options. I'm staring at some right now and it's enough to make me stop contributing to my 401k because I'm so close to losing money after inflation is factored in.

4. I didn't like his IRA advice because he never factored in tax rates before and after you retire. You are most likely going to be in a lower tax bracket after retirement and that's one of the main reasons why IRA's are so useful. You'll be sheltering your high bracket current income, and essentially moving it to a lower bracket. Example, say you are in the 33% bracket making $200K a year before retirement. After retirement, you make withdrawls equal to about $70K a year. You've just moved down two brackets to 25%. Of course, at the same time, you are gambling on future tax rates being somewhat static.

5. Listing contact information for companies in a book is a bad idea because you have to revise it all the time. So if you do get this book, try to get a newer edition. Some of the institutions in my library copy are gone due to mergers, so watch out if someone hands you their old copy. I suppose he added it so that there's no excuse why you can't start saving automatically, but keep it in mind if you want to call while the book is in your hand.

6. He promotes getting non-traditional low-downpayment mortgages, but doesn't outline that in a seller's market buyers holding FHA 3/97 loans get dinged. Those bids are often passed up for bids backed by 20/80 or even a 10/10/80 mortgage.

7. Like many personal finance and morgage books, (even the Miller book I endorse on the right) does not explain property tax re-assessments and how those effect your payment. I know I was hit with this because I grew up in a place that reassessed every 3 years. In VA, the entire state reassesses property every year. That means your property tax bill will skyrocket in a hot market. I don't think his book, or any book I've read adequately tells people to factor this into their calcuations.

8. I like real numbers and like in point 7, a lot of personal finance and mortgage advice books don't really use sample property tax rates, upkeep estimates, insurance premium estimates very well. I had no idea that I could insure my property for cheap. I always thought I couldn't afford it even on my crappy salary. I have no idea what it costs to replace a window or a roof, or even re-tar the driveway. All that factors into whether or not you can afford a home.


Save-O-Meter Update!

Whoopee! I added another $902.29 to my savings account today. That moves my Save-O-Meter to 72% of its $4,000.00 goal. I am painfully close to meeting my goal, I'm tempted to eat ramen all month to get there.

I received my 2004 DC tax refund today. It's kind of funny. The final check was cut for $637.24, which over a hundred dollars more than I calculated my refund would be on my return. So basically the DC Office of Finance gave me approximately 20% interest for the past year. That's not too shabby! Little did I know that my long-missing refund would end up being one of my best savings investments ever.

Thanks Caitlin and Jane Dough for your support in meeting these goals! I will OBEY the Save-O-Meter and deposit my DC refund into my savings account.


Gas Tips from CNN Money

The article is here.

I think #1 and #5 are kind of dumb. But I always park in the garage at work, which is tip #2. It's a farther walk, but I like to protect my car from UV rays as much as possible, and not because I worry about the gas evaporating. My dad's old Volvo ran pretty well for its 14 years, but in the end he dumped it because he let the paint go. He only fixed cars under the hood and didn't really take care of the paint. That freaks me out. I'd like to have my car for 14 years and I think if I'm willing to replace the clutch once, I might be able to do that.

#3, I don't understand ricing out your car with spinners and other stuff that looks cool but doesn't do much for performance. If racing is your hobby, then fine, but otherwise, it's kind of silly. I knew a girl in CA whose boyfriend drag raced (legally at the track). When he upgraded his stuff, he'd install it on her car for her. She actually shaved time off her quarter mile runs, but the pitfall of having a souped up vehicle was pretty funny. There she sits at a red light in a riced out Honda and a girl would pull up making goo goo eyes at her thinking it was a guy behind the wheel. My friend would look at her like she was some kind of ho, which she probably was, and laugh at her stupidity. Pretty funny.

#4, I use cruise control to discipline myself to a 60mph morning commute. I've always wondered about when and when I shouldn't use it. This one is good to know.

EDIT: I forgot to add on two more things.

A. Check your oil. If you are like me, and wait longer than the recommended time between oil changes, you may have too little oil in the crankcase. Just check your oil before you start your car. Add a little bit if you need it until you're at the minimum mark on the dipstick. Keep in mind that the guys at Car Talk tell you to change it every 5K miles or more!

B. Check your tire pressure and remember to replace your valve caps. I always shove them in my pocket and forget them. Get a dial pressure gauge. The stick-shaped kind like I use is unreliable.


Carnival of Personal Finance #44 is Up!

Five Cent Nickel has it posted.

I liked LA Money Guy's post on making budgeting or living frugally a habit, on which I have commented.

I liked Family CEO's hiring of herself and saving over $8K.

There's a lot of other really good things in there. Please take the time to thank FCN for his efforts. I'd like to thank him for putting me towards the top! :-)


Should I Renew WSJ?

I like getting a paper, but I don't like the mess. To reduce the waste, I take them out at work and let my co-workers take it, or put it into the company's wastebasket.

I have gotten lots of blog ideas from WSJ so I'm reluctant to give it up, but the subscription fees are quite high. It's $350.00 for two years. I had such a headache when they first started delivery. I didn't know they were dropping it off on the front door of the building because I always took the side door. They didn't tell me the day it would start, so I didn't even know to look until I called and complained. Then the driver started delivering papers with other people's addresses and that freaked me out. I complained and they thought I was being insane about my privacy.

One time many years ago, I picked up Pierre Salinger's WSJ from somewhere, probably at the train station or something like that. I'm sure it was being delivered to his office, but there's really no reason why I should know where he works. I make sure I rip off the address tag when I give my paper away.

I also travel too much to get a paper. I forget to suspend delivery all the time.

What about you? Do get a daily newspaper? Do you prefer to read news online or in a paper?


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lenten Savings Tally = $30.26

Today is Easter. While Lent officially ended on Thursday, I counted my Lenten piggybank money today. I also broke my soda fast on Saturday, though this year, I was sorely tempted many times by the hospital vending machine. Coca-Cola really is the nectar of the gods.

I got:
1 $5
23 $1
2 Quarters
11 Dimes
10 Nickels
16 Pennies

$30.26 Total

So less than a dollar a day during the 40 days of Lent. I know, you're thinking that it's a pretty lame figure. But I can tell you right now, that's already $28.00 I didn't spend because I didn't leave those bills in my wallet. I hoard quarters for the laundry, so I'm surprised there were any quarters in there at all.

I tend to use my credit card or debit card for all my daily expenditures. I have been working on buying everything with just my debit card. For the last two paychecks I've done pretty good with that. There's only a few things I've put on credit in the past month, mostly recurring subscriptions. I even paid for the first two months' of car/home insurance with debit.

For anyone who's thinking that I'm not saving enough for retirement, don't worry. This experiment was in addition to my 401k and regular savings. I just wanted to see what kind of cash I could save if I tried this route. I found myself often not depositing into the piggybank thinking that I might need that cash for the next day. It definitely helped me budget a little more on a daily basis. I was much better about spending less than $15 a day on food, often trying to spend less than $10. I found myself yanking out $40 bucks from the ATM and reminding myself to drop a few dollars into the piggybank. I tried to make sure that I would come home at night with some money to drop in rather than have absolutely nothing. I was actually *excited* to put in my money, kind of the way little kids are when they get their first bank.

I guess the other reason there isn't more in there is that I went away for a week. I could have taken the bank with me, but it wouldn't have reflected my true spending activity since sometimes my mom would give me a few dollars to eat at the hospital cafeteria when she didn't bring me a sandwich. (I don't really like sandwiches, mainly because my mom didn't really know how to make them when I was a kid. I am proud to say that she's much better now after living here for 30+ years. Though perhaps it shouldn't have taken this long...)

The main lesson learned? I'm not sure. I'm still thinking about the meaning of this sacrifice. If asked me if I lost out on anything, the answer would be no. I suppose this represents $30 bucks worth of sodas that I gave up this year, but probably not the beer I didn't drink.

Subsidiary lesson? Cut a bigger hole. I had a hard time stuffing wads of dollars into the bank because I cut the slit too narrow.

Is it worth doing again? Yes, I think so. I think I'll do this again and I won't wait for Lent. I am going to keep this piggybank and try to make an effort to put money into it in a more disciplined fashion. I really liked that I became more conscious of how I was spending money on a daily basis by using this in conjunction with a Paycheck Challenge.


Lottery Loser

As I've said, my parents own a gas station. They sell lottery tickets. When your pop wakes up from sleeping and asks you how the lottery is going, you know it's kind of important to him. Having helped out as a store manager, I know how much it brings in weekly and how much it can bring in when there's a big jackpot. Grossing a grand a day for a business open 24-7-365 is a lot of money for any business. Hence the concern about how it's going.

I bought 2 or 3 tickets in past 2 weeks to make sure my pop was still in the game. No big surprises here. Not even a free ticket to play again.

I read Claire's post. I'm not sure why people spend so much money on it. It was rush hour on the 6th, the night before the big Powerball draw for about $220 million. There's only one lottery register and the line for it was out the door.

I like to fantasize about winning the lottery and becoming a great philanthropist, but it's kind of kooky to flush your money down the toilet playing the lottery all the time.

Let me leave you with a few tips on playing the lottery, specifically scratch tickets. When you play, buy one or two tickets of different games. Don't get a whole strip from the same game. If you get a winner for a free ticket, or for a few bucks, don't get another one from the same ticket pack. (For those of you who don't know, they distributed in packs to the retailer.) I watched a girl this weekend school her man on how to play and that last tip was straight out of her mouth. She practically slapped his index finger down from where he was pointing.

Otherwise my advice is Don't Play.


Desk Clutter

I don't know about you, but if I don't put 'Filing' on my To Do List, my paperwork runs amok. When you leave town for a week and don't ask the post office to hold your mail, you get a lot to sort through. I finally got through the stack on Tuesday night last week when I updated my NetWorthHQ graph, but did not end up actually filing it away.

Lots of people go with electronic statements, but I've never felt 100% comfortable with that. I like keeping a paper record of things. I work in IT and I've seen one too many untimely computer demises. I don't need the extra storage of a back up drive, but I think one would be essential for the switch to electronic statements.

I guess I'd like to leave a paper trail since it'll be readable no matter how many times the electronic formats change over the years, or I close an account, etc. I like being able pull everything at once if I am in a rush to get a financial statement ready, etc. It made it a lot easier when I was applying for mortgages. Though I suspect this is because I don't own a printer. Think printers encourage a bad habit of wasting paper. I print data models all the time at work, cut and paste them in pretty ways for visual reference. It's bad.

I know part of why I like keeping paper records is the supreme pleasure of filing. Most people view it as a chore. But I love office supplies. I like my label maker, the felt tip pens, the manila file jackets, etc. I used to yell at my old boss to just do it for 15 minutes a day because he was always behind. Do it for 15 minutes and stop. If there was stuff leftover, fine, just schedule another 15 minutes the next day to do it. That's probably the best housecleaning tip I ever learned. Pretty soon, you'll find yourself filing or cleaning for 30 minutes or more. Getting started is often the hardest part.

One last thing tip: I consult as a professional organizer. I love organizing. Often times, on a blank file jacket, I'll write done a summary of the folder's contents if there is something exceptional stuck in there. I find that filing quirks are hard. One day the reference will make sense, a month later it won't, so this is the best way of finding things sometimes.


Friday, April 14, 2006

What is LIBOR?

In the Market & Investing section of the Wall Street Journal is a little box marked 'Money Rates'. I don't watch it very closely, but it's kind of a interesting spot. They disclaim it with this statement: A guide to general levels but don't always represent actual transactions.

Most credit cards and loans written in the US are based on Prime Rate, but I once had a card in college based on the published LIBOR rate in the Wall Street Journal on the first of the month, hence the importance of this modest little newspaper column. My credit card rate was pegged to it! I had to ask the Wharton-grad in the family what that meant. He just told me that it's the London Interbank rate. Not a very helpful answer.

LIBOR is officially the London InterBank Offered Rates. Per the Chicago Fed's Glossary (my newest favorite resource), it's "An international money market interest rate representing the average rate offered by banks for the interbank placements of Eurodollars."

I'm actually not too sure what that means so let's break it down a little bit. It's the "average rate offered by banks for the interbank placement of Eurodollars." It sounds a lot like Discount Rate, which the Fed charges to member banks. So I figure that LIBOR is the rate that European banks charge each other for deposits in American dollars. Don't let the name fool you. Eurodollars are actually US Dollars, per the all-knowing Chicago Fed! (And not another term for 'Euros' which is a different currency altogether.)

There isn't a single LIBOR rate, which is why it's plural above as 'Rates'. They come in 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and 1 year increments. I suppose that's now long the deposit is at one bank or another.

So read your credit card agreements carefully and see if your bank is setting the rate based on Prime Rate or LIBOR. Generally speaking (per Suze Orman), LIBOR is a little more than Prime, but I presume like many generalities in life, that's not always true.


PFBlog Fundraising Campaign

Please contribute.

I did end up giving them my Adsense proceeds for Q1 2006. I won't report how much, but it was more than the cost of a latte, but less than my grocery budget.

If you are a regular PFBlogger listed on their sidebar, you really ought to donate since I am certain that you've benefitted from the traffic they direct to you. I know that I have. I think the gold star I got for endorsing them at the very beginning has made all the difference in traffic. If you make a donation $10.00 or more, you'll get a gold star too.

Thank you.


Net Worth Update & Wedding Budget Strategy

I don't have little pictures of Excel to show you all the details of my balance sheet. I'm lazy and I hate doctoring up photos to post. [puts on old granny voice] I remember when the internet was just black and white text in gopher on 2400 baud dial up! (Modern translation, 2.4Kbps)

Anyhow, the point is I should have saved more money then and let the interest compound. No, that wasn't the point, but yes, I do regret not saving more money 14 years ago when I had that Macintosh SE hand-me down computer. The point really is that I am proud to announce that my net worth has gone up by $3,409.00 in the past month. I didn't think it would be so much.

I attribute most of that to solid 401k contributions and a crazy amount of cash that I am holding in my emergency fund. See the Save O'Meter to the left. I decided rather than paying off my credit cards faster, I should make sure I commit money to my savings goals. The No Credit Needed Network's graphs have me motivated I guess.

This month is going to probably stay about the same or get worse. I'm not sure. I got my refund, and that's supposed to go to the Save O'Meter. But all the wedding invitations and 'save-the-date' cards are coming out of the woodwork right now. During July, I'm going to a semi-elopment in Puerto Rico to be the maid of honor two weeks after a wedding in California. The weekend in between? A local wedding. That's right. Three weekends of weddings in a row.

The next five weddings will be in September or October. One in Seattle for one of my closest friends, one in Cape Cod for a couple that met through me. The last three, I'm actually not invited to the wedding, but there will be big local parties, so that's a relief! They might actually be relaxing weekend camping trips.

Eight. Eight weddings. Four of them out of town and I *must* attend them. I've been trying to talk myself out of them due to expense or reasonableness, but I can't. They are four couples that mean a lot to me in places I really love, or have never seen before. Since the weather is warming up, I'm in the mood to cook again. Hopefully I won't be tightening my belt eating only 15-cent ramen noodles and getting scurvy. (Someone told me a tale of this on Tuesday night.) The ramen noodles I like are more like a dollar each.

I also will be putting more stuff up on EBay to sell. I brought home some of my old books to put up since my first sale was marginally successful. I have 3 dollars more than I have before. I am also considering giving up one of my favorite cute purses to some unwitting goth girl. It's by Emily Strange and I can't even find a photo of it to guess what price it should be. There's nothing similar to it out there. I might even de-stash. 'De-stashing' is when a knitter culls their cache of yarns. I thought I would go wild and buy some new things at the big MD Sheep & Wool Festival in May, but that looks out. Mother's/Father's Day looks like those will be on a budget too. Fortunately there are no requisite birthdays I have to celebrate. If there are, a nice bottle of wine from my collection will have to do.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

PF Blogging Philosophy

Recently I've received some unsolicited advice about my blog. It thought it was rather interesting criticism. I won't share any of it here except one point. The critic says that I wander too much off-topic in my 'personal finance' blog.

To that I have a few responses which I think help to illustrate what I'm doing here. I'd love to hear from others why they turned to PF blogging and if their philosophy has changed over time. I know mine sure has in the 3 months I've been doing this.

1) I think personal finance is about all of your decisions in life to spend money. It's not only about where to get the best savings rates, buy a home, increase your net worth. It is truly about looking at your 'Latte Factor' and the small 'secret economies' we make on a daily basis about the MOST MUNDANE things. 'Do I ride the bus today or drive the car?' 'Should I eat this large meal and save the leftovers for another meal?' 'I can't live without making a bracket.' etc. If it's dry and boring there are other places to read more sexy stuff. Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge is one thing, not sexy. (With apologies to Jeffrey. I know he wants us to think of saving as sexy.)

2) The further afield in topics, the more interesting the Google Adsense ads. I find that the advertisements are contextual and so the wider variety of subjects produces different ads that will appeal to a range of folks. I'm having a ball looking at my stats all the time and I firmly believe (since I don't *know* this to be true) that because I write about a great many things here, that my readers are seeing ads that are more appealing and on-topic to the content. I think that also contributes to why I got picked up by Yahoo! Blogs Betaas well.

3) There are some topics out there related to personal finance that I just plain avoid. I try to avoid macroeconomic subjects and not get ranty about things that might start to touch upon politics. I try bring in subjects like the environment when it's pertinent to the personal finance issue at hand, say like long-life fluorescent lightbulbs. (Operative word being *try*.)

4) Personality is a big factor in entertaining readers. I hope I'm not like all the other blogs out there. I hope I have something to say that is useful to someone else. I hope I don't have too much dreck to filter through when you're reading.

5) I'm not out to change my career to blogging full-time. If I wanted to make a lot of money off a website, there are more lucrative ways to do it involving a serious reassessment of my personal values. This is fun for me. And hopefully fun for you too.

6) Setting a goal and sticking to it. Caitlin reminds me all the time to 'Obey the Save-O-Meter!' and since I put one up, I've done much better in my self-discipline to have a brighter financial future. Ok, so joining the No Credit Needed Network has helped a lot too. (Thanks NCNN friends!)

Why are you here? Do you get something from being here? Do you PF blog? Why do you do it?


Good articles from this week and last

I've been meaning to do this for a while since returning on Sunday. I have some time today because I'm loading data. I can't promise I'll be doing it with any regularity and it's not meant to usurp any Carnivals. Just the stuff that caught my eye. I'm sure there is more stuff out there, which I'll try to repost as I come across it.

TA Dollar reminds us that we should revise our insurance as things change in our lives. The insurance agent I spoke to the other day reminded me that as buy a bigger home, etc, I should increase the liability I carry on my auto insurance.

Good place to learn web skills for free. Flexo recommends them too, so it must be alright.

Shrinking your ecofootprint. I forget who had this link recently, but I've seen it before. In an effort to spend less and live simply, you can impact the Earth. I scored the worst on Food (5.4) and Goods/Services (5.7). We need 3.4 planets to sustain us if we all lived like me.

Homes designed for the Single Woman by Jane Dough of Boston Gal's Open Wallet.

Found through Tim at My Money Forest, but created by Jim at Blueprint, The faces of PF Bloggers!

Tipping discussion at My Open Wallet

Taking care of your health by Nina at Sitting Pretty.

Nina again on the changing tide of the housing market. Her last observation is most interesting to me. These people are going to lose their homes and be homeless and not just unable to make ends meet. Scary!

Coin Jars around the Blogosphere by Jeffrey at Personal Finanace Advice.

LA Money Guy feels the love

ING Direct Referrals at Five Cent Nickel. But if you want one from me, I still have a lot left. Just drop me an email or comment.

The Stability of Home at Educating The Wheelers

The Paranoid Brain in response to my post on paper trading. Good advice to keep in mind if you are going to try this out.


MONEY Magazine's Best Jobs Review

I find this series of articles to be fascinating, especially the 10 Best Jobs ranking.

I have a job that is hard to fit into a single job, but there are two jobs on the top 10 list that fit. I do a little software engineering and a lot of requirements analysis (figuring out what users want so that it can be coded and tested). Either way, I just found out I'm grossly underpaid by both pay ranges, even though I got a kick ass raise by moving to this job.

I guess it's time to remind my boss of my 6-month review.


Radio Series on Poverty in America

You've heard it before. I wake up to NPR. But this week I haven't. I've been hitting the snooze and jumping straight into the shower. I heard a tiny snippet on poverty yesterday and I had to seek it out. I remember the first story from last month. It really stuck in my mind. Waiting for the bus is a not too distant memory. I lived carless while the Muni in San Francisco was being renovated. Sometimes I'd get stuck waiting for the 24 Divisidero or the 42 Geary for an hour. It's hard holding it together when you don't have middle-class conveniences like online banking, a car, credit or daycare.

I see people living in relative poverty every day. There are beggars on my commute through some of the nicest parts of Arlington. It's a constant reminder of what I'm working avoid. Homelessness. According to WaPo, there are homeless people in Fairfax County, which I wouldn't have guessed at all.

DC is recently a living wage town. I hope this means that folks can start building their net worth. The LA living wage radio story makes me hopeful.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Yahoo! Blogs Beta has my Quit Smoking and Save Money post featured. WEIRD! Cool, but weird.

Welcome new readers from the Yahoo! service. Just a reminder, I moderate comments and I prefer if you don't post anonymously. I have a hard time following comment conversations where 'Anonymous' fights with himself.


Paging Donna Jean

This post's for you.

It's the MS Office personal finance templates you were asking about.


Locksmiths and Second EBay Update

N.B. This post was written on 3/30, but I never had time to publish it out. Just after I wrote it, I also got the call to come home right away.

*le sigh*

I am an eejit of the first degree. I locked myself out tonight on the way to do laundry. (Stupid !@#$% spring shutting doors) I have given a spare key to a neighbor, but it still doesn't get me off the hook for being a ditz. I might as well have burned a $100.00 bill on the front steps. Reminder: Go get spares and duct tape them to the bumper of my car so it won't matter if the neighbor is not home.

As it is I got paid for my EBay transaction but I forgot that accepting a credit card payment through PayPal would cost me even more money. Now I remember why this is a useless way to get rid of stuff in the house. I have netted myself $3.28 for all my troubles and going forward PayPal is going to screw me for a transaction fee on every transfer that I do. I suppose I'll make it back if I leave the money there for 4.45% interest. (Hey, it's better than ING right now.)

I'm going to bed. Clearly this internet auctioning thing and front doors are too much for my pea brain.

Disclosure: Yes, I've got family and friends working at PayPal and EBay.


Festival of Frugality #18 is Up!

The Festival is available now at Canadian Capitalist.

The Carnival of Debt Reduction #30 is up as well at Wandering Indian Monk.

EDIT: Whoops! Thanks MyFinancialJourney for the correction!


Cold Sober Real Estate Reality

The first weekend in April seems to be the official start of the real estate season. While out of town, I saw many open house and for sale signs going back and forth to the hospital. Eventually, I succumbed to curiosity and stopped at an open house yesterday. I politely let the realtor know that I was doing some research since I was from out of state and trying to get a feel for what the market in the area was like.

I found it sort of fascinating. The seller is extremely motivated. The home appraises for $380K, but is on the market for $309K. It's a pretty cute place with a lot of renovation work. I think they took out some its rustic charm though, which is a shame for a 100 year old farmhouse in that part of town. (Not surprisingly, I went to look for the listing to put in this post and I can't find it. There were already two bids on it when I went to the open house.)

I had parked on a side street since the home fronts to a busy road. As I drove around the block to get out of the neighborhood, I saw just how many homes were on sale. It was rather alarming. During my travels, I also noted the number of SUV's with For Sale signs on them as well.

Is just the start of the selling season, or an actual 'crash'? My realtor kindly sends me a monthly newsletter on recent listings and sales. I find it extremely interesting that the homes are on the market for 5 times as long as last year. Crazy stuff. (Shameless plug, I really liked her, BTW. She was extremely helpful throughout the first-time buying processa and she was really nice after I started freaking out over a plumbing problem the first week I moved in and was at a loss on how to call the home warranty people.)

The times they sure are a-changing. I bet that some of these motivated sellers have an ARM that's rising out of control any minute now.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Buying Insurance

Y'all know this has been on my mind lately. I got a timely newsletter in the mail today with one of my retirement account statements. I'll put a few tidbits here for you.

Life Insurance: How much to get? The newsletter says 5 to 7 times your annual income, but to adjust it depending on your debts, future costs for your beneficiaries, like college funds. I get mine through my office and I think I only get about 3 times, but now I've forgotten. If you sign up through work like I did, there are often limits on how much you can get, so if you need additional insurance you should look into that.

The newsletter describes Term Life Insurance. It usually comes in a specific time period of 10, 20, or 30 years. Rates will rise upon renewal. Smokers get non-preferential rates here.

Disability Insurance: This will replace a percentage of your income, depending on the policy, it's 60-70% of your income. This is paid out in case you are unable to perform your job. I mentioned in a comment that I carry it through my company for about $7 a month, but I just checked. I can't tell from my paystub what I pay, but I know I have it. I also had it at my old company. Note that there is usually short-term disability and long-term disability insurance and every company offers it differently. For instance, my old company had short and long. They paid for short and you had the option of buying long yourself, which I did. My current company is the same.

Health Insurance: All it takes is one disaster. Make sure you get some. But honestly, take a good look at how much you are paying through your company's plan, and what you can get on your own outside of it. Having had COBRA coverage from my old employer, I know that my company's sucky plan is still a good deal. COBRA has costed me $200.00-$400.00/month depending on what my employer's plan was like. Going with advertised rates, I could buy a better plan privately for about $100.00/month. I would be doubling my cost of insurance, but I would also be getting better coverage.

Keep in mind that you can't use Medical Flexible Spending Account money for health insurance premiums. Smokers get non-preferential rates here, too.

Homeowners Insurance: The newsletter advises to get a policy that covers fire, theft and liability. I'm assuming that also means flood, earthquake, hurricane damage insurance for places where those are possible. I'm not sure what liability coverage is, perhaps someone can help explain that one.

Long Term Care Insurance: It's not mentioned in the newsletter, maybe because I'm in the wrong age demographic. This is usually marketed to AARP-membership-aged folks, about 50-67 years old. It's a policy that covers about 3 years of care in a nursing home, which is cheaper than 24-hour home care. But some policies will allow for a few hours of home care coupled with adult daycare. Research your options since I'm sure there's much more out there. Smokers get non-preferential rates here, too, and for my parents the rate was so exorbitant that the smoker in the family couldn't get coverage at something we could afford.


Library Trip

I was able to run to the library last night. It's open on Mondays till 9pm. Normally, I'm busy the first three nights of the workweek because of crafting groups I attend. But last night was too pretty to spend sitting around. I came home, parked the car, changed into jeans and walked to the library.

On deck are a few personal finance books which I will review for you later.


Carnival of Personal Finance #43 is Up!

Jonathan has it at My Money Blog this week.

I liked these articles most or they caught my eye best:

Almight Dollar on never being too young to buy life insurance. I concur. It sometimes takes a tragedy to illuminate its importance.

CityGirl in SF has some tips on saving electricity. The main thing I got from it was to get gas for your heating and kitchen!

Musing Money had an article about free online class from MIT Sloan. I think this is a great article, especially since Miserly Bastard thinks I'm not studying investments seriously enough. *winky* Honestly, if I can find a moment, I will search around for a copy of Bodie, Kane, Marcus, the textbook for the course. I know many, many people who bought it for college. I hope to score an older edition for cheap.

Share and Enjoy!


Tax Tip (For the last few days remaning)!

As many of you know, I caught an error on my taxes this year before I sent in my filing.

What I didn't double check was the ABA routing number on my filing. So my check is still in the mail, literally. Due to my small error transcribing numbers onto my return, my direct deposit is now being mailed to me.

At least it's arriving. That 2004 DC refund hasn't turned up yet, but it hasn't been the minimum 45 days.

EDIT: When I first drafted this on Sunday, the check had not arrived. As of Monday night, it had! Yippee!


Monday, April 10, 2006

By Request

The brief outage has ended and as you can see, I'm starting back into regular posting.

Things are pretty good with my parents now. I wouldn't say the crisis is fully over, but 24-hour care at a nursing home is not required and being ambulatory is a relief. When your loved one is in a wheelchair, that really changes everything. You start thinking about selling the house or renovating it to be handicap-friendly.

I mentioned in that post that I carry life insurance. As a single woman with no minor dependents, it's actually unusual to keep as much life insurance as I do. But I have only one other sibling and I can't imagine leaving them to care for my parents alone if something should happen to me. I believe (which is different is from knowing), that my parents don't have enough money for retirement. I know that they just figure they'll work till they die because the boredom of retirement would kill them anyway.


Stock Market Game for Beginners

Tonight I had a lovely sushi dinner with two of my lovely friends. After dinner I started to talk with the husband a bit about money and finances. He's an older guy and runs his own business. He gave me a few pieces of great advice about how to get started if I'm nervous about committing my own money to trading. In my day, I did some equity research (product-focused, not very finance-oriented) and I've put my money where my mouth is, but I've been 5 years out of that game and less of an industry expert than I had in the past. (Semiconductors and Capital Equipment were my field. I worshipped Sue Billat at Robbie Stephens.) These days I don't know where to begin again and I'm nervous about how to start back into individual stock investments.

My friend gave me some great mentoring advice that I think is very good for the tentative investor. He told me to make 'paper trades'. When I asked what he meant he outlined it all.

1) Keep a record book, and give yourself a 'bank' of $10,000.00.
2) With that money, 'buy' a stock that you've been watching. Make a note of how much you spent for your shares, the commission, and why you bought it.
3) Watch the stock and then 'sell' it, deducting any other commission for the sale, and return your money back to the 'bank'. Make another note of why you wanted to sell it.

My friend told me to make 10 thousand dollar bets on stocks that I think are pretty good and keep track of why I bought it when I did, or what I thought was good about it. In this way, he told me you can build some confidence in your ability to pick a stock without risking any actual money. At the same time, since I don't have lots of money to play with on the market, I could spend a few months doing these paper trades and build up my cash reserve to make real trades in the future when I felt ready.

A great place to do this online is Yahoo!Finance. You can create different portfolios of stock lists, view them all in one spot, and record your 'trades'. Then their nifty graphs will show you the performance and valuation of your holdings. It's a nice place to keep track of things. Sometimes it makes me laugh to look at the stocks I had been watching years ago that are still on these lists. Some were definitely dot-bomb disasters, but some others are tried and true cyclicals that are on an dip are are good to buy once again.

I haven't looked at Google's new beta financial product, but I'm sure it's worthwhile. Most of their stuff is. (FWIW, yes, I know people who have or are still employed at these places. I was quite the social girl back in Silicon Valley. Yahoo was known for hiring armies of bright college grads to use their 'wet computers' to categorize the web, while wrapped in blankets to ostensibly keep warm in their over air conditioned cubes, but I find that other allusions come to mind of the Linus-Peanuts variety.)

I think I'm ready to try my hand at this paper trading game since it costs me very little and should start warming me up again for equity research. This time I hope to stay in longer, make better decisions and reap more profits.


Quit Smoking and Save Money!

There's the obvious point that cigarettes cost a lot of money now. You can't buy them for 50 cents a pack in a tobacco state like Virginia. (Yes! They really did sell them like that when I was in college a decade ago!) Most cigarettes I've seen cost $3-$7 a pack. That's quite the 'Latte Factor'. Though the pack does last you a lot longer through the day.

But I've been learning just how much smoking can cost you in the long term this week. 1) A friend of mine is a private contractor who smokes. To get life insurance he needs to quit smoking, or else he pays through the nose on premiums, or he is uninsurable. Another woman I know, in the same employment boat, was going to be charged $800.00/mo in premiums because she smoked. I told her as a non-smoker, I got coverage in an HMO for about $100.00 or in a PPO for about $350.00.

2) Smoking means that you will not be able to purchase Long-Term Care insurance, or it will be insanely expensive. Think about that. Remember that one healthcare financial disaster that sets folks back? This is it. 24-hour home care is expensive. Nursing homes are expensive, but that is precisely what LTC means.

3) Smoking increases your blood pressure, which leads to maintnenace drugs, which guess what? COST MONEY.

All in all, there really is no financial benefit from smoking unless you are the Marlboro Man.

I enjoy a good cigarette myself. I love Nat Sherman Black and Golds. It makes me feel silly and cool to smoke such an elegant looking cigarette. It also tastes much better than Marlboro Lights or Camel Lights, so favored by my demographic. But that's like one pack in a year. It goes stale before I smoke them all, I have about two and give the rest of them away. It's a evil-smelling nasty habit. So don't indulge in it. Your health and pocketbook will thank you for it.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Kiplinger's FAQ on How to Boost Your Credit Score

Digging out something else I haven't posted yet.

I've always had a natural interest in finances, but one of the things that got me focused was folks in an online debt reduction community who were looking for answers to improving their credit score. Kiplinger's has a great article on it from their March issue. Particularly page 2.

The main thing is to pay your bills on time, for a long time. Slow and steady will win the race on this one.

It debunks the myth that you should close your accounts.

It should alleviate fears about marrying someone with a low score. Just play it right and it shouldn't matter.

It's good stuff.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Small Hiatus

Hello loyal readers! I need to go on a small hiatus due to an emergency. Let me just leave you here with a few thoughts on my mind, which I reserve the right to expand upon later.

1) Long-Term Care: If you haven't discussed it with your folks or your spouse, please do so.

2) Life Insurance: Who depends on you? I am single without minor dependents, but I have parents who do.

3) Advanced Medical Directives: They kind of suck because they're not very flexible. Consider a Durable Medical Power of Attorney instead. Keep in mind who is legally allowed to sign consent for things like blood transfusions and surgery.

Talk about all these things before anyone gets sick. Luckily we had a nice advertisement/picturesque discussion about a few of these topics last year, seaside, while on vacation. It couldn't have been a more perfect ad for financial planning products.

mapgirl out


One Reason Why I Care About Personal Finance

Though still on hiatus, I still have a few posts lingering waiting to be published. Here's the first one.

Last week, the WSJ had a Personal Journal article about the rising cost of tuition at private schools around the country. My K-12 school was featured. I attended it for 7 years, 6 on scholarship. It's the kind of school where both parents are Ivy League grads, doctors married to lawyers type of thing. It's been mentioned in Wealth Magazine as an Ivy League feeder school. It's true. My closest friend went to Harvard. Her back up school was Yale. Ex-boyfriend? Brown, but Yale was his first choice.

The secret reason why I am so interested in my net worth is so that when I am gone and there's stuff leftover, I want it to go to my school for scholarship money. The school has been around for a long time and I'm sure the endowment rivals that of some small colleges. In the almost 15 years since my graduation, tuition for grade 12 has more than doubled, to over $20K. It's now out of range for some of those white collar parents who struggled to pay their own loans off for professional school.

I got so much from going to my school, wonderful mentoring, fantastic intellectual freedom and stimulation, a love of athletics I would not naturally have. I have a mandate from one of my teachers who did something very special and wonderful for me, 'When you have the chance to do something like this for someone else, you will do it.' When the person you adore most gives you a purpose in life, you can do nothing but be inspired and take it on as your mission to the world.

The other thing is that I learned at school was how to be rich. It sounds like a weird thing to say, but there were some really stinkin' rich people that went there, but you'd never know it. They embodied the Millionaire Next Door mindset. Really classy rich people don't spend tons of money dressing their kids in the latest fashions. They don't give them flashy cars to drive (some did, but were *frowned* upon by the other kids as being stuck up). They spend their money wisely and put it towards things they really enjoy, sailing trips, second houses at the shore, etc. These parents didn't dump us at the mall to entertain ourselves. They had expectations of us to do and be more, developing ourselves as human beings.

Upon graduation, a classmate of mine gave me Life's Little Instruction Book as a present. There's only one thing in there that really sticks out to me. Let me paraphrase "Buy the best house you can, not the best car." That kind of immortalizes the things I learned from the upper-middle class to upper class people I mingled with at school.

Just some stuff to think about.


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