Just tidbits about money and finance.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How to get a raise

I'm a bad commenter. Sometimes I don't revisit places I've left comment droppings. Today I found this old comment from Seattle Simplicity, a favorite blogger of mine.

The story of the 40% raise is that I built up a lot of technical skill while working a humdrum job. It was high stress and burnout. At the end of 2 years, a promotion wasn't forthcoming. I was about to make a lateral move within the firm, and was promised an unspecific raise. However, it was a small firm and they were going to 'transition' me. Usually those transitions take months, and I was having none of that. I was fed up and ready to walk, so I did. I found myself another firm that was willing to take the job skills I had and value them at current market rate. I definitely did ask them for an outrageous some of money during the interview process, however, it was the going rate. is a great place to figure out what your regional peers are making. The information comes directly from HR and payroll staff. It's not self-reported/inflated. This is what people ACTUALLY make from the companies that pay them. However, benefits are not included. This is straight wage income.

Finding out that I was woefully underpaid by my last company was a really shocker. I could actually be making 60% more, but sometimes there are priceless opportunities that you cannot pass up. I took the 40% and tried not to be too greedy.

I can make another 20% easily by switching firms in a year and half. I love double digit raises! Anyone who sticks with a company that isn't compensating them well should reconsider why they work for their firm. Go back and read Mapgirl, Inc.


A Million Dollars

If I save approximately 20% of my income per month with a 7 or 8% return, I could be a millionare by the time I'm 66.

That means I need to save about $1000 a month. That's a lot of money, but I've been doing that to build up my Save-O-Meter. I'm still floating some credit card debt so once the SOM is full, I need to figure out what to do.

This is where fear must be quelled by rational comparisons on interest rates/rates of return. That sounds like homework. I hate homework. (Stand back LAMoneyGuy! Today I am grouchy.)


Library Fines

Thank god my local library has online renewal. I've been away for the weekend and forgot that my books were due yesterday. I could have driven over to the library this morning and dropped the books into the book drop, but I am not an early bird. Instead I jumped online and renewed two books all at once before incurring a late fee. Excellent.

If you are a perpetual late fee kind of person, check to see if there's online renewal at your library. I think no late fees is the genius of Netflix.

Some libraries are now going to collections to gather outstanding fees. Keep that in mind the next time you think you're going to incur a fee. Pony that money up or else it could hurt your credit report. Besides, it's your public library is just that, PUBLIC. Therefore it's your civic duty to be a good brownie and pay those fees.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

DC Metro Blogging - Vacation recap

I like this map, but it never works right for me since I lock down a lot of Active-X/pop-up settings.

Try the lo-fi list.

If you're in DC near a Metro station, you might want to get added to this list. No, I never get any referring traffic, but I like to go there and spy on my neighbors every once in a while. (just kidding!)

Bubble Meter is on there, one of my favorite Real Estate/PF blogs. It's funny stuff.

I'm feeling a little local these days. Exploring your own backyard for hidden gems is a frugal way to enjoy life without slogging a lot of miles on travel. I spent all three nights of the holiday weekend in different states. (Four, if you go Friday - Monday nights.) I went out of my way only about 70 miles. It cost me hardly anything in extra gas. I paid about $60 for camping/groceries on one leg of my trip, $55 for dinner, movie and barbecue on another leg. Out of pocket, my holiday cost me about $120 extra beyond what I would have spent if I only did the road trip home. (And I actually got to avoid one toll charge.) I didn't stay in a hotel anywhere and still managed to have a very fun filled weekend with good friends and family. A memorable trip all around.


Want Blog Traffic?

If you want more traffic to your blog, try getting interviewed by Jim at
Blueprint for Prosperity. Jim is a swell guy and has lots of subscribers to his feed. I noticed a considerable jump in traffic after he interviewed me.

It was fun to do and it helps crystalize your thoughts about your own blog and its purpose.

Other good interviews are at Money Blogger Podcast. I think Scott does a great job interviewing his guests.

No Credit Needed has podcasts, but the NCN Network also has interviews too. I'm a participating member of NCN Network. I have about 26% left before reaching my goal.

Side note: I got one more link with TLLB and now I am a Lowly Insect! Thanks Rocket Jones & any Munuvian visitors!


Monday, May 29, 2006

Carnival Hosting next week

If you have any submissions to next week's Carnival of Personal Finance, please submit them this week. I'll be hosting next week and I look forward to reading submissions, especially by new PF bloggers.

Carnival of Personal Finance #50 is available now at My Open Wallet. It's a rainbow of delights!


Friday, May 26, 2006

NPR Story on Money Management by Recent Grads

NPR ran the story this morning. I only caught the tail end about Josh (?) Levy and his frugal habits. NPR is running a series of stories and there should be another one next week.

I am bookmarking this for myself. So there will be no posting till Monday at the earliest.

Plans for the weekend are rapidly evolving right now. Please call me if you need me.


Quickie update

I got my God of Wealth Good Luck coin last week or the week before. I've been crazy busy that I forgot to post it here. I was lucky and I was issued Coin #1. That's Ichiban to you, as in Number One, Best. I haven't quite yet decided how to give it away since I will be seeing a few prominent bloggers this weekend and they might be worthy of the gift of good luck and wealth.

I also got my $5 gas card just for getting an insurance quote at Liberty Mutual. I will try to use it this weekend when I go on my holiday weekend drive. I wish I could tell you that this was available to everyone, but I got the card through an alumni club special offer. But you might want to ask for one anyway. If you do and receive it, please let me know so that we can spread the word. Thanks!

I'll post again one more time before I head out for the weekend.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Welcome Peoria Pundit Readers!

Peoria Pundit has linked back to me and a few of his readers are clicking through. I'd like to extend a hearty welcome to them. Please leave me a comment if you're visiting from Peoria.

I would like to say that two websites don't make the Blogosphere, but I hope this story spreads the word.


Reverse Mortgages

I was inspired to write this from a post at Yet Another Blog About Money.

Reverse mortgages are aimed at older people who have a lot of equity in their homes. The idea is that you mortgage it out to a bank and instead of you making a payment to the bank, they pay you every month. Basically you are making a loan to the bank and they are buying you out of your house. You can receive the distribution as a lump-sum option up front too, but I'm sure the loan product interest rate is calculated to adjust for the present value of the cash, etc.

If you read the link above from the AARP, they have a good set of references that I suggest people read. If you are like me, and have parents who are exploring their housing options please read up. Your folks might have heard of this product and think it's going to be their regular income, coupled with their Social Security payment and help them cruise through their declining years. I am not so sure.

I think a person should keep their house as long as they can without pulling out equity. Before older folks retire completely, they ought to fix up long-term repairs (like a 20-year roof) while they still have steady income. Large home repairs are difficult to pay once folks are on a fixed income. Retired seniors are ripe for home-repair scammers to con them out of their money.

They are also going to have to plan their property tax burden as well. Say the home is paid off and there's no more escrow account. The tax man is going to ring once or twice a year asking for property taxes. At this point I bet selling the house and renting sounds pretty good. I bet the reverse mortgage sounds great too since there would be money still coming in. However I see reverse mortgages as eroding wealth accumulation. I feel like it's a last resort/desperation option and not a bedrock strategy.

I still don't know the answer to these things, but these are the thoughts I've been having lately about aging and finances. I'm nowhere near retirement, but my folks definitely are and decisions we discuss now will have an impact 5, 10, 20 years down the road.


Blogosphere Weirdness Leads to Food

Dude. Tyler Cowen gets around. I don't read his economic stuff. I just found a link to him at a friend's blog. But now in the world of PF Bloggers, I traced some stuff and ended back here at this restaurant near my home which I have never tried before. But this certainly explains why cars tie up that intersection. I'll have to give this place a try and see how much it costs. I hate driving near this place because of the weird driving configurations you have grapple since it's a neighborhood poorly designed for either pedestrian or automotive traffic. This is one place where Arlington City really botched it up.

There's no Middle Eastern or Indian restaurants around here that I've been even halfway tempted to try. I usually just dine with the Indian people at work. (Minerva rocks, but they aren't near me and they don't have butter chicken on the buffet anymore. *weep*)


Recently Enjoyed Posts

Credit Bloggers has a good article about how late payments effect your credit score. It points to an article at

Nicole is spot on about college degrees. A nice examination of 'good debt'. I am not convinced college tuition debt, nor the whole experience of college is for everyone.

Citibank Driver's credit card analysis by Jonathan. I'm seriously thinking about it since I rack up the miles. Of course, I do get a lot of free gas right now...

Madame X amazes me again with her will & determination to TCB on her own. Try as I might, I still get little things here and there from my folks (see the above regarding free gas). I am still holding off on my Bank of Mom & Dad commentary/editorializing. I'm still twitchy about it.

Not PF-related, but it highlights one of my fears about blogging. It's like going to a party of crunchy people and taking a drink whenever you hear someone say,'I heard on NPR...' during conversation. It may require registration. Go to Bugmenot. BTW, you must sip your on-hand beverage whenever I mention NPR in this blog.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Confession & Save-O-Meter Update

I crossed a double yellow line in a small town last weekend. My mistake will cost me one point, which may not appear on my record, and $80.37. The 37 cents is for postage. I got the ticket out of state. The town sheriff was kind enough not to ticket me for speeding since I was obviously just trying to pass someone. Haste makes waste, kids. No frickin' kidding. Too bad cruise control doesn't operate for speeds below 30mph, which is when I need it most of all apparently.

I bumped up the Save-O-Meter too. My goal is in sight. I stand at 84.99% which I thought I could get away with rounding up. I should explain how I've saved that money because it's kind of strangely allocated. I have a chunk of it in an out-state credit union savings account earning little interest. I transferred money out of my ING account to buy a CD at a local bank that advertised a good rate. The remaining money is at ING Direct in short term CD's and savings account. I can't tell you how glad I am that I am saving money with ING. Three out of the last five months I've been able to sock away over 10% of my gross income into additional savings. That's what a Save-O-Meter is for.

I am very happy because my ING CD's allow me to receive an interest disbursement monthly into my regular savings account, rather than receive all of it at the end when the CD expires. I am quite glad about this since I keep the disbursement in my savings account and where the interest compounds! ALWAYS, ALWAYS let interest compound. If you don't take the disbursement, you can't make interest on it and why pass up on that opportunity.

I'm not fancy schmancy like other PF Bloggers out there. I have no idea how to make a nice little clickable link for you to get a referral. On the eve of my holiday, I'm not about to figure it out. If you would like an ING Direct referral for opening an account, please email me at mapgirlsfiscalchallenge *at* Google's mail service. But understand that I might not be able to send you one until after the Memorial Day holiday.


Mortgage Problems in Peoria

Normally I don't comment or read the Consumerist too much, but I could not help this one article.

A direct link to Peoria Pundit. Get angry, people! Easy credit is not good for this country. It's not good for the folks who shouldn't have been loaned money. It's not good for the banks that have to write off bad debt. It's not good for governments who have to assist or bail out banks and consumers from predatory lending practices.

I'm not calling for regulation. I'm calling for lending institutions to rethink their profits and perhaps tighten credit appropriately to minimize their own losses and stop screwing people over who can least afford it.

Sorry for getting a little radical, but I'm not in the mood to pay for it with my taxes today. (I'm actually having a GOOD day at work today.)


Frugal Traveler Blog at NYT

Ah. Travel. I haven't been overseas since 1999. I once vowed that I'd go overseas once every 5 years. It seems I am long overdue, but next year a cousin in Korea gets married and I feel that it's my opportunity to have a good time. Perhaps I will make a stop in Tokyo or Shanghai and hangout with extended family and friends.

The writer of the Frugal Traveler Blog at the NYTimes is a good friend of mine and I hope you find his travels inspiring and full of good tips. I have always enjoyed his writing style and I hope you will too.

His goal is a 90-day around the world trip, a la Phileas Fogg, without the French manservant. Read the reader comments very carefully for they are full of little tidbits, helpful websites, and out of the way fun things to do for little money.

One tip I can offer to you is to travel in Europe during the winter. I had a great time with my mother in January 1999. We went to Rome and avoided the tourist crowds that begin in early March. Due to my mother's lack of exercise, we never hiked outrageously far around town. The shortened hours of most museums and churches didn't bother us too much. It helped us narrow down our choices in a vast wonderland like Rome where you could spend a month and still not see everything. We got off-season airfare and hotel rates and still had a beautiful and *quietly restful* moment in the normally chaotic Sistine Chapel.

Bon voyage!

Note: Registration is probably required. Go to Bugmenot if you need one.


Great New Resource! is a fabulous consolidated list of Federal financial resources. It has links to informative articles that you have already paid for with your tax dollars. (How frugal is that?)

I have added it to the Resources list on the right.

All credit for this discovery goes to Divorce to Financial Freedom, a compelling story of a divorcee's road to financial freedom.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Women's Wage Gap

I'm mulling this one over.

I've known for years that I had better increase my salary. I have made quite a few decisions to make that a reality. As I read this article, I'm not 100% sure what to think. I like my career right now and I made the choices to change what I was doing to get into IT/programming work. Sifting through the meta message in the article, I think it's aimed at women who aren't earning their full potential, or are young enough to make radical career path changes.

I'm not sure that the article makes sense to me. Sure women make choices in life to give themselves balance between work and family. Duh. That's obvious. As a singleton I make more than some of my counterparts (regardless of gender) because I spend significantly more hours at work and get technical training all the time, therefore I demand higher pay and receive it. However, when accounting for the work-life balance choices, are women, in a statistically signficant manner, still being paid less for the same work?

The slideshow had some weird messages too. Like telling women to get themselves a househusband so that the wife can go out and earn more. Hey, why not marry a husband who actually earns a good wage and hire a nanny, instead? The financial analyst slide made me bonkers. Well gee, of course the woman earns more at the office than the shifty guy on the right with 5 o'clock shadow.

Seems like I'm against the article, but I think the advice is sound. If you are a woman looking to make more money, I think these strategies could work. I have moved into a financial analysis/technical position and get training all the time (either through work or self-motivated study) and my salary has doubled in the last 5 years and nearly tripled over the last 10. Of course, I don't have kids and I can use all my non-work time to get as much training as I am motivated to get.


Identity Theft Insurance

Did you know you can buy coverage with a homeowner's policy? It's about $25 a year. I'm sure there are all sorts of conditions on it, but I decided I would like to add it onto my homeowner's insurance for a little protection.

After hearing this story, you have to wonder how your personal and private information circulates on company laptops. I know that for home healthcare visits, that may be most practical and a risk you have to accept. But for accounting stuff, you really have to wonder.

Geez, a little more laptop protection by people would probably make a difference. Throw your laptop into the trunk when you leave work, not when you reach your destination. Deposit your laptop some place secure when you arrive at home. Hide it in a drawer, etc.


Festival of Frugality #24 is Up!

Claire of Tired but Happy has it available now.

It's my first carni-festival submission in a while.

Let me point you at a couple I have enjoyed this week:

Young & Broke's post on good and low-priced wine is worthwhile.

FMF on cancelling cable TV. I'm serious, kill your television.

Family CEO does savings sites reviews. Worthwhile if you are a coupon shopper, which I'm not. I just try not to shop at all.

Fiscal Responsibility
shops for clothes! It's a great post and reminds you that good care for your wardrobe goes a long way.

Get Rich Slowly shakes the new car itch. I fight the urge to get a convertible every summer. So far, it's worked out for me. I just consider the price of gas, insurance, and the waiting in line at DMV and suddenly my urge for a different car disappears. It's really about the waiting at DMV. Ick.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Singleton PF Advice?

I am wondering how many single female, mid-30's, childless PFBloggers there are out there. I often feel like PFBlogs and widely available PF articles are centered around two categories, people with families or young folks climbing out of college debt. Many of the messages out there are geared for married couples who have lots of room to economize by learning to live on one salary and banking the rest. What about those of us with one salary who have squeezed out all the frugality their going to get? (No, I still haven't started packing my lunch, but I do keep a breakfast at my desk now.)

Jane Dough and Madame X are two of my primary PF role models because I think their demographic most closely matches mine. But I think they're out of my peer group with 6-figure net worth.

So I wonder where to find the good published advice for women looking forward to a spouse-less future of happy retirement. And I want to know who else is out there with no more college loan, no car loan, a mortgage and lots of free time.

I hear my own call. I vow to keep this blogging thing up. I think I'm filling a niche.


Carnival of Personal Finance #49 is Up!

Dawn has it right here for you.


Carnival of Debt Reduction #36 is Up!

Make Love, Not Debt has it available now. To honor its format, I give you this poem since I wasn't able to post a comment.

Haiku genius
Wonderful work. Hearty laughs.
Brief respite from work.

I hope I got that right. It's contingent on 'haiku' in Japanese actually being a 3 syllable word. :-)

There's a new fun redesign there too. Check it out!


Recent Posts I Have Enjoyed

Don't keep up with the Joneses.

Seattle Simplicity has a short thread about outlet shopping. Read the comments for some good outlet shopping strategies, including one I wrote. Culinary Fool's tip is golden. (Plus her blog is food pr0n. I love food!)

There aren't that many since I'm far behind on reading with no plans to catch up.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cost per Hour?

When I was a kid working for an hourly wage, I'd look at the price of something in terms of hours worked. For instance, a movie is about two hours, but would cost me about one hour's worth of pay. Therefore a movie was cost-effective entertainment.

Now when I look at TV vs a library book, I know I would LOVE TV. But the library book is free. I can't understand cable TV sometimes. It's so expensive and yet you still end up watching nothing or else crappy fluff.

These days I don't make an hourly wage, so I've stopped looking at the world in this manner. But I wonder if I started doing that again how that would impact my spending.

I once went shopping with a friend. He is a paragon of frugality. He wanted to impulse buy a jester's hat at this thrift shop. First he asked himself how many times he thought he would wear it and then divided the purchase price by that number. If the end result was a dollar or less, he'd buy the item.

Just another way to think about purchasing and spending.


Friday, May 19, 2006

3% Interest Rate!

Recently, I loaned money to a friend. Last night, she paid me the balance of the loan with interest. We went to dinner and she treated me as a thank you for the timely loan. I am just grateful that she paid me back so quickly. But knowing that she owes me money, in her words, 'makes me sick to my stomach.' What does that statement tell you?

So I don't know what the APR is if you annualized the cost of dinner to the loan, but it was very sweet of her. I'm glad I could help her out and that my calculated risk was worth it. Plus the dinner was one of our favorite places to eat. It's Primo's in Belle Haven off the George Washington Parkway. It's an Italian place run by Greeks. Certain items are extremely tasty and the portions are huge. We always end up with half our entree for lunch the next day. So I got treated to dinner and to lunch!

What's funny is that she asked me to dinner earlier, but I said no because I was tired (and on the phone with the bank). I told her to call me again in a hour when I'd be off the phone. She asked me later to come pick up the check and go to Primo's. For some reason I wasn't so much interested in the money as the food. Go figure.


Two Radio Programs on PF

Two stories of interest to our community, from NPR.

The 50-Year Mortgage . It's not a fixed interest rate, and the long and short is that it's a long term rental agreement since you barely have any equity at the end of 10 years.

Teens and credit education. A California bankruptcy judge started a credit education program for teens so they don't get themselves into trouble.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Template Change

Sorry again for the template change. It's back to all white. For some reason the CSS preview code has the sidebars in the nice pastel colors I picked, but the actual blog doesn't. I'm too tired again to figure it out, but I think we'll stick with the clean white. Meanwhile, enjoy the new section of non-PF blogs on the bottom right. I'll be adding more next week. Meanwhile, sleep awaits.


Follow up on CNNMoney ARM Strategy

Earlier today I posted about a CNNMoney article. I followed the suggested strategy of locking down my variable rate HELOC to a fixed rate. I called my current mortgage banker armed with the knowledge that Millennium Bank has HELOC's for Prime minus 1%. As some readers know, I opened a CD with Millennium a few weeks ago and found they had a nice rate.

Well, lazy me didn't strike while the iron was hot. I probably could have fixed my rate for something like 6.75% with Millennium, but I would have had closing costs and another appraisal with it, stuff I'd rather not do at the moment with my crazy schedule. So I took the advice in the article and I called my current bank. They were able to offer me a fixed 7.18% APR over the phone.

The kicker of the entire conversation was not me telling the CSR that I'm a personal finance blogger, but hearing from her that a lot of people got HELOC's and were not well-informed by the mortgage loan officer that these variable rate HELOC's have a provision to convert to fixed. You can only do it once. But geez! Had I known that, I would have called them last year and fixed the rate to something closer to 6%. I'm a tad cheesed off at my banker right now for not telling me this.

So if anyone is getting a 2nd trust/HELOC during their home purchase right now, please ask your banker if there is this fixed rate conversion provision. If so, you might want to take advantage of it right away before rates go up again.

At any rate (pun intended), I went from a variable 9.8% APR to 7.18% APR for about a 30 minute wait on hold and another 15 minutes on the phone with a rep. Very worthwhile! Maptastic!


CNNMoney: ARM Strategy

CNNMoney actually profiles three couples, but this couple is in a situation most like mine, but again, they are a married couple. (Is there no advice for a true singleton like me?)

I am locked into a longer term ARM that starts with a fixed 10 year period, however, I am grousing about a rising HELOC payment. I'm just not paying it down fast enough to my liking. I have to get a grip on my spending first. No matter how hard I try, I keep spending money. These 4 weddings are especially killing me this year. I think I am going to have to delay buying the wedding presents till that 1 year expiration date rolls around. I just pray that no one I know gets married next year. But I digress.

The financial planner offers this advice:
Now that price appreciation has beefed up their equity, and they have a track record of on-time payments, they should be able to lower their HELOC rate simply by calling the lender.

"I've had clients successfully lower their rate to just over prime by threatening to take their money elsewhere," Cleveland says.

I think I need to give this strategy a try. What could happen? They say no and I try something else. I did look into a fixed rate HELOC with another bank, but I didn't like the pre-payment penalty I'd have to fork out by switching. ($750) Of course, I was lazy and didn't actually do the math to figure out if that was worthwhile or not. I'm starting to think that when prime rate was at 7.5%, that would have been a good idea.


DIY: Replacement Parts! is a great site for finding odd replacement parts for your home appliances. It was recommended to me by a family member when I told them about my broken dishwasher. I wish that a simple replacement part would fix the darn thing, but the whole thing has to be replaced. (At 20-25 years of age, I think that's ok. I can get a more efficient one now.)

The Do-It-Yourselfer of the Week is kind of interesting and highlights how you can save yourself time and money by using their site.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tipping by Credit Card

Every two weeks, I buy a sandwich for dinner at my local independent coffeeshop. I don't tip the kids behind the counter a lot of money because it's not real table service. But I do like to give them 10% because they're nice kids and they do walk the sandwich to me when it's ready. They will give me extra pickle and are generally very nice to us regulars. But that 10% tip is never more than a dollar.

I just found out that they don't get the tips on the credit card receipt when I make it out for less than a dollar. It's some weird credit card policy. So now I vow to try to carry some change in my pocket when I go places where I might want to write a small tip.

I guess the other thing to do is tip extravagantly every other time so that it evens out over time, but I hate doing that because the staff changes around. I'm a firm believer in giving the tip to the person to whom it is due.

So whenever you are writing tips for small amounts, keep this in mind. I don't know if you have heard this, but it's better in general to tip in cash anyway since it's easier for the staff to keep it under the table, and they don't get a chunk of their tip taken from the credit card company's transaction fees.

I know you aren't supposed to buy lattes on credit cards. But I try to buy my meals with my debit card and that's basically the same thing in this instance. Don't stiff your service by tipping with your credit card. Apparently it's an all or nothing deal for them when the amount is less than a dollar.

Now I know what to do with all my spare change.


Recently Enjoyed Posts

Title insurance and why you need it

No Credit Needed has an excellent list of money saving tips that you will actually use. I mean, if you owned a printer or a swimming pool, which I don't. But it's still a great list of small tips!

Frank will make you an Excel genius. And here I thought subtotals and pivots were cool.

J.D. on how many credit cards should you carry. I like his answer. NONE!

Cap on an impulse purchase. Read the comments for my own true confession.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Welcome New Readers!

I'd like to thank LAMoneyGuy at It's Just Money for directing people my way. Hello!

A couple of rules about commenting:
1) Please try not to post anonymously. I prefer it if you didn't just because I hate with Anonymous fights with himself in the comments.
2) Be nice or be constructive.

Now, onto blog business. I must once again thank for carrying my feed. I get wonderful and interesting traffic from them. I use Sitemeter to check referrals and I have noticed that people are searching Yahoo for '50 Year Mortgage' and 'Adjustable Rates' and finding my blog posts. I hope those readers are learning something interesting about those subjects, especially my arguments for why the 50-year mortgage term is not a good idea.


Citigroup CFO Interview

Sallie Krawcheck says some interesting things in
this interview at

I like her straightforwardness and her honesty about her mistake coming out of B-school. I think that's largely due to the good questions by the interviewer.

The pertinent personal finance stuff are her remarks about consumer debt and housing, which are towards the end of the interview. The top part is about corporate ethics and her reputation as Mrs. Clean.

Of course my favorite line is: I don't watch a lot of TV.


Credit Counselors Punished!

They are losing their IRS Tax-Exempt status. It's about time someone started cracking down on these guys. Too many people don't trust credit counseling because of these profit-motivated companies.

I'm telling you, do it yourself. It's cheaper and offers you more control over the process than going with an agency.

EDIT: Sorry! I just realized that you might need a login for the WaPo article. If so, go to Bugmenot to get one.


Carnival of Debt Reduction #35 is Up!

Savvy Saver, one of my favorite blogs, has it available here.

Mighty Bargain Hunter has a good post about debt. He argues that even good debt is bad. I think I have to agree. Mortgages are debt we accept, but we sure don't have to like it.

Supermom on gaming your credit cards and cash. Interesting games she suggests. I think it might inspire another paycheck challenge for May.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Graphic Changes!

As you can see (if you click through) this blog template has undergone some massive changes. I'm trying to add another sidebar and work on colors. I never cared enough for the dots to make them permanent. I even have font changes.

Is there a color scheme you'd like to see? I'm game for colors. I just have to remember all the color cube codes and teach myself how those work again, so please be patient. Don't make me subject you to bad art. Actually, I could feature some on the side, how would you feel about that?

Anyhow, I'm not a webmonkey so I am mainly going to move stuff from the left side to the right and now I'll be able to add some non-PFBlogs, which is something I've been hoping to do for a while. I'll probably fill the left with some more advertisements, but hopefully they'll fit in nicely. If anyone has suggestions about not obtrusive ads, please let me know.

If this looks like crap in IE, well too bad for you. I'm a big advocate of Firefox, because I like the idea of Open Source so if you are still viewing this in IE, please take the time to switch over by using the button that is currently on the left. Anyone got a button/chicklet reading that this site is optimized for Firefox?

Ok. Tiredness. I'm going to bed now. Please leave some feedback and look for more changes in the upcoming month.


Hybrid Mortgage Product Intro

Hybrid Mortgages are getting people in trouble right now. Hybrids are those Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) that folks have been getting so they can buy a bigger house with smaller payments. It's a hybrid of fixed and adjustable rates. You get a lower rate at the beginning of your mortgage for a fixed period of time, after which it can change (usually increase). So an ARM that's 3/1 is fixed for 3 years at the low rate, and can change every year. There are mortgages which can change every 3 years or every 5, but those are unusual. Most of the time you see stuff that changes annually.

Lately foreclosures are taking place because mortgage rates have been adjusting upwards per the Federal Reserve's FOMC raising interest rates (see the graphic in the link). People can't take the hit to their monthly mortgage payment and it's triggering foreclosures.

Now the trick about Hybrid ARMs is to know what's available. Most of the time you see 3/1 or 5/1 ARMs being advertised (see the rate box on the rop right), but there are also 7/1 and 10/1 ARMs available. A lot of ARMs are written as 'Interest-Only' or 'I/O' (which has always bothered me since I read that as 'input/output'). As you move into the 7/1 and 10/1 products though, those are usually not written I/O, and are Principal and Interest together, i.e. you'll actually be paying down your mortgage with each payment, and not just maintaining the interest. You'll be increasing your equity with every payment, and that's a good thing.

The rates for the longer fixed term products are generally speaking higher, but a potential homebuyer has to ask themselves how long they are going to own their property to figure out what's right for them. The average family is in their home for about 5 years. That might be perfect for getting a 5/1 ARM. For me, I own a small studio apartment that can be rented out. I opted to go for a 10/1 ARM, knowing that I will probably not live in my unit for 10 years. I know realistically that I might only stay in my apartment for 2-5 years, but getting a longer term gives me fixed payments for a longer period of time, which allows me to set my rental price with a margin of certainty. (Now renting out and selling is an entirely different question.)

So if you are considering a home purchase, ask your lender about longer term products and weigh the pros and cons.


Carnival of Personal Finance #48 is Up!

The latest Carnival of Personal Finance is up at 2million.

Quick highlight:
More Excel tricks. This time it's for DOLP out of David Bach's book. I liked this article a lot because he gives you the freedom to play with your pay-off scenarios/strategies. I love spreadsheets. It's no wonder I am a computer geek for a finance team. I love, love, love doing the math!


Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Post You Can't Ignore

If you are considering buying a home, you have to read this article. It's very informative about what the listed APR is in your loan documentation, and how it can be very misleading. Read your documentation carefully. If you aren't ready to take the time to read through everything, do you really deserve to buy a property for 30 years? Seriously, it's very important to devote yourself to reading the fine print.

I'll endorse the whole site as a resource for mortgage information. It's pretty good when describing the numbers with real numbers and examples.


300th Post

This is my 300th post to Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge. I can only hope that there might be 3,000 more.

That is all.


Friday, May 12, 2006

The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner Book Review

Surprisingly, I really liked this book, even if I wasn't too crazy about the first book. Of course, there's plenty in it I didn't like so we'll start off again with the things I didn't like and move to the things I did.

1. Again, his style of writing is for dunderheads and irritates me. But at the same time, he provides what he says, a quick reading book that will educate you quickly on the subject at hand.

2. He pushes the Latte Factor in this book too. It's his mantra catchphrase. He's made millions of dollars because of it, but just this one time, I think he can drop it. What he really needs to do is write a book called the Latte Factor and teach people how to actually live frugally. I'm going to guess his example family du jour from this book, The Martins, intrinsically live frugally. That's something he's not actually that good at teaching in these books. Some people need more coaching than that.

3. It's a good starter book, but I don't think he details the various mortgage types as well as he could have. The Peter Miller Common Sense Mortgage book on the left is FAR SUPERIOR at describing different mortgage products in detail and describing the risks. Knowing what I know about buying a house, I would not use this book alone to purchase one. I would definitely read more about the financial options available.

Now onto the things I did like, because that's a much longer list.

4. He asks "What kind of lifestyle change could you make right now to have the future you want?" That's a tough question, and it's really where folks with credit and debt problems should begin. I think that's an awesome question to ask. I know people who ate ramen for 6 months because all they wanted to do was save up and buy a house. Great desires push people to great things.

5. Echoing something that CityGirl wrote, buying your first home is not buying your dream home. You build up to it. That's a great piece of advice. Your first home isn't going to be your dream home, but it's a stepping stone for getting there.

6. He has sterling advice on how to select a mortgage banker/broker. I got a single referral for mine, and I wish I had shopped around a little more. It's only because I had read the Miller mortgage book that I ended with a good mortgage. I educated myself instead of asking the smart questions he gives you in the book. Do your homework. It's worth it.

7. The most obscure reference page he offers is the National Council of State Housing Agencies. Their website is cryptic, but this page has the best references to existing programs.

8. Golden nugget of advice: Just because you're pre-approved for X amount, don't use all of that money. Bankers make money on commissions on your loan amount. It's in their best interest to get you to take a bigger loan. I liked the chart he has with 29% & 41% of gross income and what that means in mortgage payments.

9. "STOP LOOKING AND MAKE AN OFFER." Some people get analysis paralysis. After looking at a 100 open houses, your eyes may glaze over. Just bite the bullet and make an offer. What's the worst that could happen? They say no and you have to keep looking. The other thing is to look at houses even if you aren't a serious buyer. Keep yourself up to date on the local market so you know if your home's price is rising or declining.

10. Start getting insurance right away when you make an offer on a place. He is absolutely right. I was a schmuck on this one. I got quotations that were really crazy and I didn't get insurance at first. It took me 18 months. Very stupid of me. I didn't shop around enough to find better prices. The great cautionary tale on this is that a family friend bought a place in New Orleans. Two weeks after moving in, Katrina flood waters flooded his building and he couldn't even go back into salvage his 2nd floor unit. So make sure you have insurance as soon as you close at settlement.

11. He advises that you read your HUD-1 at least 24 hours before settlement. I recommend reading through with your realtor. I used an out of state banker and she had estimated some numbers too high because they were more appropriate for property in her state. My realtor shaved $1K off my settlement check with a careful read through.

12. I liked that David Bach tells you flat out that buying a home is scary and the whole process is scary, even in the end when you make the decision to rent out a property. It is. But you get used to it because you have to.

I am still critical of several points in this book, but it's overall a good starting point for people who really feel that they can't own a home. As he gets into more complicated stuff about using your home's equity to buy other properties, I like that he is really clear about how that can be done and where the benefits lie in doing that. For me, that part was relavant as I consider what my family will do with my parents' home and their retirement planning. It's conceiveable that my folks will cash out part of their equity to buy a new place and rent out their home for a bit. This book definitely helped me see possibilities there which I couldn't imagine before. So even if you already own a home, this book may still contain useful information about how to use your home to build greater wealth.

I'm not really inclined to read his other books, but I definitely think this book paired with the Miller book would be beneficial for the first time home buyer.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Other Uses for Your EBoC

I swear, when the zombies come, that Emergency Basket of Cash will come in handy.

Alternatively, have your Go Bag ready! Those zombie are darned relentless.


What's he got in student loans?

I can't believe this is real. Meet a real life Van Wilder.

I dated someone who took a long time to finish college. At one point I flat out asked how he could afford to do this. Granted state university tuition is cheap, but after 6 years, that's a lot of money in-state tuition or not. I don't know about you, but I was motivated to be done in 4 years. Super Seniordom was not in my financial cards.


DIY Credit Counseling

Jim has a really well done article at Blueprint for Prosperity about credit counseling, what kind of programs to look for, pitfalls and dangers. I know people who have been screwed over by it. I know some who got good help.

Like anything, buyer beware. But also remember you can DIY it with a little personal change. I can't tell you how many times I thought about consolidating my loans into smaller payments (student, auto, credit cards). At one point, I did go into my credit union in tears, with my high rate credit cards. I got a high rate loan on the spot, but still 4-7% lower than the credit cards. It can be done DIY if you try.

How to begin?
1. Write down all your debt balances and put next to it the rates you pay on that debt and the monthly payment amounts.
2. Figure out what you think you need to borrow to consolidate your loans.
3. Call to find out what rates are at your local bank. I didn't shop around because I didn't think a large corporate bank would offer me a loan at all. I don't know that to be true. If you have a credit union through your school, employer, or other affiliation, then try them out!
4. Once you consolidate your loans, cut up your credit cards. Keep them open so your credit report has good debt to available credit ratios, but CUT THEM UP.

Good luck if you're considering doing this. It's a hard road to stare down when you're in a fog of helplessness. But it can get better if you try.

** I really can't stress enough about credit unions. A few months ago, I was browsing the link above and found that my current employer is affiliated with a credit union. I told some co-workers about it and one guy got a car loan from them right before he quit!

I still have my credit union account, though my consolidation loan is paid. It's a small savings account, but it's money I don't ever touch. I keep it around just in case I am desperately in need of it. It's an hour away to get the funds and life had better be pretty dire for me to break into that nest egg. (ING Direct has my money now. Ask me if you want a referral.)


50-Year Mortgages = teh sux

JLP explains the downside of a 50-year mortgage. The long and short of his example is that you are paying an insane amount of money over a long period of time. And usually the amount of money you're saving per month is only about $200. It's really not that much money for the thousands you'll end up paying over time.

I am bearish about housing, though I don't think slowing growth is a disaster. CNN/Money calls the DC market a 'dead zone' due to slowing growth rates, but take a look at their popup chart (Sorry the javascript link doesn't copy well). It still shows positive growth! That's ok by me. Sure it's overpriced. We all know that. But what would truly frighten me is if that chart showed negative rates. Maybe it will in a year. Right now it shows that prices are still rising, but I think there is room to fall or stay steady for a little while. Market equilibrium is ok and perhaps a good thing overall. But maybe I think that because I'm still showing double digit real-estate appreciation for less than 2 years.

Ask me again in 5 and I bet I'm still ahead. The Federal government is not going to disappear and neither are the tech jobs in this area. So people around here won't be getting rich off their real estate anymore, that's not equivalent to the sky falling. San Francisco? Well, even though the price of housing is softening, firms in Silicon Valley are hiring again. (I find it amusing when I drive in DC and see a SF parking permit attached to a bumper. I always try to look and see what year it's from, i.e. when they left CA for a job around here.)

The sky is not falling. Now I only wish I had some money to buy up some rentals!


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blog Marathon at Punny Money!

Punny Money is doing a Blog Marathon from Thursday night to Friday night for a full 24-hours!

It's to honor his mom's passing from breast cancer two years ago. All ad revenue during that time will go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

If y'all have time, please go visit. I will be away from the PC all day on Friday and will not be able to visit.


Recent Posts I Have Enjoyed

I was going to save this till tomorrow, but it's getting quite long.

Jane Dough requests for links, but really the best part is the site redesign with the new Disclaimer language. I love it!

I don't normally like to get too personal in this blog, but this article struck a chord with me. I was recently in a long-distance relationship and one of the benefits was not having to deal with a significant other in my face all the time. I really like living alone. I can honestly say that for some people, it's beneficial to live apart even if you're totally in love.

A great article! Thanks to Madame X for posting it. I know that I often treat friends to dinner when I insist on where we eat. I also treat them for a meal out when I know they are on a tighter budget than I am. I am ok with that. If I wasn't, I'd just meet them at Bob & Edith's, a popular and yet completely seedy traditional diner in Arlington that fits everybody's budget. It's also 24-hours so it makes a good post-clubbing dining spot on the way home. (Not that I have actually done that since moving to Arlington, I'm just sayin'.)

Madame X points us to an article that echoes my complaint about people bemoaning the rising cost of fuel. If your current discretionary income can't absorb the hit, you have some deeper problems with your finances!

A gifting dilemma at Seattle Simplicity. Do you give gifts? Do you get stuff you don't want?

Jonathan breaks it down for you. He's got the goods on where to stash the cash.

Financial Reflections recommends Goodwill for spare computer parts. Who knew?

Next Bracket reposts a NYT article on the 'near poor'. I can't tell you how many times I feel like the families in this article. Sometimes I still do. All the more reason to save up my Emergency Basket of Cash.

My girl, Debt Hater has great advice on redundant coverages. Definitely worth reading, but try not to need the info when you lock yourself out.

Five Cent Nickel's Best. Post. Ever. Go and read it. Add yours to the list.

Jeffrey has a new daily financial challenge. I dine out all the time and generally get water, but sometimes I go nuts and get a lemonade. has a brief article about credit reports and medical billing collections. A particular pet peeve of mine, having worked with medical billing systems for work.

Verizon is reporting payment history to credit agencies. For the most part, I think this is a good thing to help people build a credit history. I also wince thinking about my friends who have had their phone bills cut off in the past when we were younger.

FMF says maybe you should work forever. The only problem with this is that as older folks stay in the workforce longer, there may not be the job creation needed for younger kids to take their place. It'll be interesting to see how this policy pans out. I mean, even though we've had Social Security for years, did people ever really stop working when they started receiving their payout?

Leaky Wallet Syndrome: I have it. I know I do. I keep trying to fix it though. I found it through Jeffrey at PFA


A Different Way to View Your Finances

You can't know what salary to ask for if you don't know what you really need to make. Before you start a job hunt, I think it's important to know what your target salary is. It's not that a number should be your only goal, but even if you find a job you love, if it can't sustain you, you'll end up leaving it.

The quick and dirty way to figure out what to ask for is to list down all your monthly payments and expenditures. Kind of like a budget, but not really. People use budgets to figure out where they can trim back. This isn't about trimming back. It's about covering it all. It's more like an expense report. This is looking at what you actually spend per month. Try to include one-time annual events or quarterly payments as well (just turn them into a monthly number). Add in any savings goal you might have too, since savings is important.

After you tally up what you outlay per month, divide it by .70. That other 30% is about what you'd pay in taxes, so you need to add that in, and then multiply by 12 to figure out the gross annual salary needed to cover your expenses. Voila! Very easy. If you passed 7th grade, you can do this.

These are fake numbers, but I like providing concrete numbers now that I know how to do pictures in Blogger. Sure it gets more complicated when you factor in 401K savings and other pre- and post-tax amounts, but 30% for taxes is a good rule of thumb. Bully for you if you use something more accurate.

Rather than Paycheck Calculate your way down to a take-home pay figure, try going the other way round the next time you are doing a job hunt.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

CNN/Money: Millionaire in the Making Series

They have a new one up!

I'm bummed out that they don't have a little snapshot of their net worth, only because they have them for a lot of the other folks in the series.

Cute story. Cute couple. Inspiring to say the least. I'll have to look into the depreciation of which they speak since if I hang to my condo, I'll likely also have to rent it out for less than the monthly payment.


Festival of Frugality #22 is Up!

Caitlin has the good stuff right here.

I liked Mighty Bargain Hunter on de-junking.

A bar soap vs. liquid soap musing. I kind of like this one. I was thinking of writing my own post on the subject, but I'll jot a few notes here. 1) Even if you use bar soap, use little scrubby gloves as exfoliant. That way you can avoid expensive soaps with weird additives for exfoliation. I find the gloves work like a sponge and make a better lather. 2) Liquid soap leaves less soap scum in the shower, but I think the tendency to squirt out different amounts makes it harder to figure out which is more cost effective, bar or liquid. 3) Bar soap generally comes in paper packaging and is cheaper in bulk than liquid. 4) I'm more likely to experiment with different types of bar soap than liquid soaps. If I find I don't like one for my shower, I can always use it for hand soap. I don't experiment with liquid soap because I'm afraid to get stuck with a whole bottle. Yay bar soap!

Per Wenchypoo, size matters.

Punny Money gets serious on CitiRewards bonuses. A short list which links to a long list. Very good to know if you have a Citibank credit card. N.B. For PFBloggers, Equifax is on there!


FeedBurner Problem?

Hello loyal readers!

Are you using FeedBurner to read MFC? I'm curious about this because my stats seem to drop off at the end of the week and then bump right back up early in the week. Is there a problem with my feed, or is that the fickle nature of the internet?

Thanks for the feedback and for reading!


Gift Economy

No, this isn't about how to buy gifts frugally. It's about gifts in general and their economic value. Not all gifts are intrinsically valuable. Sometimes they have only sentimental value between the giver and the recipient.

It's the exchange that gives a gift meaning. So it reality, the only thing that matters truly is the thought behind the exchange of the gift and how it strengthens the relationship between the giver and the recipient. There's more formal information about the gift economy here.

I loathe giving gifts because I always seem to buy the wrong one. I also have a problem because I like to buy *useful* gifts with high utility and not just tchockes to sit on a shelf and look pretty. I'll decoupage a box for myself instead of show off a ceramic figurine. But I will give a figurine if I think the recipient will love it. I want to make them happy with the gift, not sad or annoyed.

I have a friend who has a huge problem with gifts. Her boyfriend must select a gift for her of high monetary value, or else she thinks he doesn't love her. I have no sympathy for her when she says, 'All he got me was XYZ.' I try to remind her that he is a busy guy and that he didn't forget to get her a gift. He got her something he thought she would want and that he could afford. In the end, I recommended she see a shrink because equating his love with his pocketbook is going to ruin them.

Recently, in the past 3 years, I've been better about getting gifts for people that they can consume and doesn't leave a mess to clean up or move from one place to another. I am all about a bottle of wine for the hosts. I like to arrive early with a fine bottle of wine and tell them to stash it from the other guests and save it for a special night for themselves. I feel like I'm sharing in their other happy moments that way. I've gotten gifts and then looked at them trying to remember who the heck gave me such an hideous object. If there is a moment that I can remember, something cemented in my head, I will keep that silly object as a treasure forever. Sometimes it's about the memory the gift evokes.

I remember once handing a piece of gum to a girl at a rave. I was waiting to meet some friends in a special spot. She asked me for a piece of gum and I said sure. And to thank me she gave me a blue beaded bracelet. I told her I didn't need a gift in retern. She insisted that I take it, and then wandered off. Later that night, there was this synchronus moment when my friends all found each other. (I had accidentally been separated and forged ahead to the meeting spot where we were going to meet some others) We danced all night in the rain to a fantastic DJ and just felt like a good group of friends. I felt accepted as part of the group, popular and valued. It was a great night for me, even though it signaled my last hurrah in CA before moving back east when the dot-com economy crashed. I look at that candy raver bracelet in my jewelry box and I am transported back to that whole night. I think that's what a great gift is about, a moment of special meaning. (I just remembered that it was also the first time I'd seen a particular girl since she transfered out of university freshman year to go to Harvard.)

What gifts have you given or received that you treasure most? Is it intrinsically valuable? Or does it have significance only for you?


Why I'd Rather Starve Than Dine Out

No, really. I would rather go home and stare at my empty refrigerator than try to park in Arlington. Last night, being the good library-visiting brownie, I drove from work, directly to the library and back to a restaurant with bison meatloaf. For some reason I really, really needed meatloaf last night. I should have stopped at the cute Thai place near the library, but meatloaf was VITAL to my existence yesterday.

So I drive up to the restaurant and start the Interminable Cruise for Parking, a bad idea when I can actually *feel* my blood sugar dropping. I easily wasted $1 worth of gas doing this. I ended up committing one of my cardinal sins, Paying for Parking. Arlington is really nice. To encourage a nightlife in the community, they charge a buck for 3 hours of garage parking after 6pm. I should have just parked the car when I arrived, but it's kind of a creepy walk from the garage to the Palace of Godly Meatloaf. This is why the savvy single girl carries pepper spray.

After parking my car in a weird marginal spot that's about to get me run over near the exit gates, I select my exit and decide the gravel walking path, covered with scaffolding is a very bad idea. I pat the pepper spray on my hip and pick the exit where there's no walkway and cars are speeding away.

As I enjoy my nice yuppie meatloaf meal, the man next to me is really freakin' annoying. He makes the bartender pour him a new glass of vodka because it's not in a stemmed martini glass and chilled. DUDE! I heard you order. You did NOT order that. You ordered a double shot of Ketel One vodka and that's what you got. Mr. Picky then proceeds to order his meal and change out all the side dishes. I hope he tipped the bartender nicely. That guy earned it.

So what did this excruciating dining experience cost me? $19.00 total. It was $1 for parking in the garage. $1 for the wasted gas tooling around trying to find parking. $17 for dinner, including the tip. My meal was tasty bison meatloaf with savory gravy, mashed potatoes, squash cassarole and fresh lemonade. At least I have a chunk of leftover meatloaf to eat for dinner tonight, but won't since I have somewhere to go. I'll end up tossing it out next week or gobbling it up as a midnight snack.

Take aways from this post?
1. Pay for parking and stop wasting time and gas.
2. Don't dine at yuppie restaurants if you don't like the other patrons.
3. Pepper spray makes a marginal parking spot a reasonable spot.
4. Go to a cheap diner for meatloaf the next time.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Go to Heck With You Money

I read about this in a blog post ages ago. I wish I could remember where I found it. It was advice to a new college grad by her professor. She was advised to keep a 'go to hell with you' fund so that if she ever found herself in a bad work situation, she could just leave it to find a new gig.

From my perspective, that's what an Emergency Basket of Cash is (EBoC is something that David Bach writes about in The Automatic Millionaire). It's so important to build it up so you can walk out of a bad situation, whether it's a job, living situation, or relationship/marriage.

I'm about a month away from filling up the Save-O-Meter completely. I think my next goal has to be an Emergency Basket of Cash, basically another $4K. Yeah sure I could pay down my credit card debt. (I'm carrying about $4K) But I think the terrain is changing around me. I'm working for a company pulling out of bankruptcy. I could be merged right out of a job any minute now. I have a life situation which could change drastically in the blink of an eye.

I PF blog out of anxiety. For all the smug complacency I have getting a new job, I've been on edge about it. That rug of steady employment could be pulled out from underneath me at any moment. Baskets of Cash. Yep. I'll be tucking some more money away soon.


Carnival of Personal Finance #47 is Up!

Any boy does it look GOOD! Many thanks to Jim for his hard work in creating the map. I love maps, so this is by far my favorite Carnival.

Punny Money on coupons. I totally agree. Coupons suck. I'm sure they work for some people, but for single folks who like Asian food, coupons aren't the way to save on your grocery bill.

Bluebird at Hedonic Adjustment on CPI and the cost of housing. Fascinating stuff. Every once in a while, I love serious economics and this is one you should definitely read.

Nina has great relationship advice for the fiscally-minded.


Doing It Yourself

"Is there a natural simplicity we can restore in our lives that we can encourage by asking ourselves whether or not we can make something instead of buying it?"

I have mulled this question over since last week. It's a difficult question to answer. Sometimes when our life makes us busy, making something for ourselves takes more time than buying it. However, there are trade offs on it, for instance, my primary social circle and community of friends values gifts that are handmade, not purchased. It's not only the thought of giving the gift that counts, it's the time and effort placed into that gift's creation.

But does it make my life simpler? Often times, the answer for me is no. Sometimes the answer is a resounding yes! I can often whip together a small baby blanket in 2 or 3 weeks if I devote enough time to it. Or it can take me over a year, like my nephew's blanket. It's still a work in progress and he's almost 9 months old!

But sometimes in making the decision to buy something, I will say to myself, how can I embellish this object with stuff I already have? In embellishing it, I customize it for myself, make it unique and unlike anything else another person can purchase. I find that supremely gratifying. I've had the mortifying experience of wearing the same dress as another guest to a large wedding. When you make your own dress, that will never happen.

I guess my personal conclusion is that desiring and inviting simplicity in our lives generally ends up being complicated. A paradox like any other.


Articles or Posts I Liked Recently

CNNMoney looks at what really saves gas, through their content provider, I find it fascinating. They recommend cruise control to prevent 'speed creep'. I try to use cruise control as much as I can and I've been parking myself in the far right/slow lane as much as possible lately. Driving a manual, I coast to red lights all the time. Seems to work for me. The only problem is that I have *always* driven this way, so I don't save any more money.

2 Cents Worth has a great post about monetizing your blog.

ID Theft from airline boarding passes. I use them as bookmarks on my flight reading material, so usually I end up bringing them home.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Interesting Paycheck Calculator

Do you have problems guessing what your take home pay is going to be if you get a raise or start deductions? Check this site out!

I found it slightly hard to figure out the gross pay and pay frequency until I took an old paycheck and punched in the numbers. I spent quite a bit of time with that pay stub and I couldn't get things to appear correctly down to the penny, which was quite annoying. But if you are considering an out-of-state move and you have a salary you are considering, this may be a really helpful tool, getting you within $50.00.

I can see people using this during open enrollment periods in November when you're figuring out your Flexible Spending Account deductions for the following year too.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Emergency Preparedness

I heard a funny story last night. My friend came from CA about a year ago. Katrina and Rita were their first big experiences with hurricane season. When asking her 14 year old daughter about what to do for a Category 5 hurricane, the reply was with a shrug of shoulders, 'Evacuate?' 'What about a Cat4?' 'Uh, [another shrug] evacuate?' 'What about a Cat3?' 'Evacuate?', etc. It seems that she's learning to prudently obey emergency announcements. Good for her!

I found this sort of amusing since I unknowingly walked down the street during Hurricane Gloria (1985) to check on our neighbors kids who were home alone. I didn't know I was pretty much in the thick of it. I thought it was still on its way.

Miserly Bastard asked me to comment on his second emergency preparedness post. Let me first say that *nothing* qualifies me to give anyone survival advice. Every year I like to go camping off-grid for 10 days in very extreme conditions. It's Leave No Trace and I pack everything in and out. I am actually not very good at it and my friends usually help me out when I've forgotten something. (They drive, I fly. That makes a huge difference when selects the 'just in case I need this' items.) Other than that, I might go on one or two short weekend trips in advance to test stuff out and make my shopping list for the big trip.

I found his list, extremely comprehensive. It actually made me laugh at its thoroughness because I kept thinking as I read, 'I wonder if he's going to include firearm protection.' That sounds nuts, but it's not. People I know survived Hurricane Andrew in Miami. One guy tells a story of receiving a call from Coral Gables. His friend's family estate is running out of potable water, can he come over in his pickup and deliver some? The guy obliges but is stopped on the road by people who would do him harm. He pulls out his gun, waves it a bit, scares off the would-be hoodlums and delivers the water. I asked if he was just exaggerating, but apparently stories like this were pretty common in the aftermath of Andrew.

For some reason I thought MB mentioned wintertime so some of my comments address cold-weather extremes. I suppose the heat would be off for a while in an emergency since any gas lines running into the building will be shut off. I also think that this is primarily his shelter in place stuff, but I assume that he might be on the move as well. So onto my comments:

1) Cotton blankets: Why cotton? Wool keeps you warm when wet while cotton does not. Wool is also hollow core and is a better insulator than cotton. Mylar space blankets are further down the list. Are you hoping to use them with the cotton blanket? If you are looking for a light covering, try a cotton sheet instead. It packs down smaller. I'd go with a cotton sheet, wool picnic blanket, and mylar blanket.

2) Jerry can: In most states, you MUST decant gasoline and other flammable fuel in RED containers. Absolutely no question on this. Make sure you get a RED one for gas and learn to fill it properly!

3) Blue water can: They come in 3 and 5 gallon sizes. There are collapsible clear ones too. I don't care for the clear ones too much since they jiggle around a lot when not completely full. I personally cannot carry 5 gallons of water. That's roughly 40 pounds! I prefer 2.5 gallon 'suitcases' of water from the store. They are easy to carry, have their own spouts and can be cut open for a wash basin. Generally speaking, 1 gallon of water per day per person is sufficient. Some places say 3 gallons, but I've found that to be overkill if you aren't going to shower daily.

4) Speaking of, he forgot to list a washbasin unless he plans to use his eating bowl. Eww!

5) AA batteries: He's absolutely right, AA's are more common than C or D cells. However, hand crank radios may be best since batteries may be scarce. Unless he's planning on swapping them out all the time, he might want to rethink his dependency on electronic items. I'm not saying get rid of them all. There is no way to get rid of them all. DO NOT buy Kirkland AA's in bulk. They do not last a long time. Since we're all very frugal and appreciate value for our money, get Duracell or Energizer.

6) I think he forgot a headlamp. These are awesome for hands free work in the dark. Petzl Tikka LED's are my absolute favorites. Unfortunately, they take AAA's. Fortunately, LED's use little power, so AAA's will last a long time.

7) Potable aqua: Is this water or some special brand? 3 Bottles? What size?

8) Steel Mirror: Good for signaling if you know morse code. High polish steel won't break, but it will bend. I learned the hard way. I got one as a gift from a Pohang Iron & Steel executive. I put it in my wallet for putting on lipstick on the train and shoved said wallet into back pocket. Bent the poor thing till it was a fun house mirror. I'm still sad about that.

9) Sleeping bag: He doesn't actually mention this one. I recommend natural down because it compresses small (but do not compress it for storage!) and will keep you warm in 0F degree weather.

10) Tampons: 5? boxes? I hope for his wife that he meant boxes.

11) Baby wipes: I highly recommend unscented Wet Ones in antibacterial formula.

12) Shampoo: Ixnay on the shampoo. It uses too much water. Get No Rinse or Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. Dr. Bronner is a funky guy, but the soap is pretty good stuff.

13) Vaseline: Good for personal care, and in a pinch, lubricant for moving parts.

14) Clothing: I would add a wool sweater and jacket to the list.

15) Hat: I'd add a wooly hat and not just a baseball cap. But make sure you have hats with brims just in case you are outside for long periods of time. Sunscreen isn't enough.

16) Ball point pens: Grease marking pens, wood pencil/graphite, and sharpener. I'm not sure a ball point writes on waterproof paper. Maybe it does.

17) Knife: I know he's got a really nice knife listed, but I'd have a utility knife and spare blades included so I don't nick the edge of the SRK. As nice as some tools are, they can still break if stressed in the precisely wrong manner. I would probably keep a honing/sharpening kit around too. Or alternatively, have one serrated knife and one smooth. You can get ones that are half and half too.

18) Tent: You forgot the stakes and a mallet. 12" ones should be sufficient for most ground surfaces. I like Power Peg plastic ones, but make sure they fit into the rings of your tent.

That's about all I have to say. Believe me, I don't have this sort of stuff when I go camping and I'm not this prepared. I live in a studio and my gear literally takes up an entire closet. I have some in the travel duffle I put on the plane. I have some in large Rubbermaid totes. Some folks use flippy-crates.

I do agree that the time to plan is when there's no emergency. I think sometimes I'm a little off the reservation, but living in a prime target area and having lived in an earthquake zone makes you think. I have been camping with ex-military and appreciate their knowledge and expertise. Learn how to tie knots before you need them. Learning to tie a trucker's hitch is not fun in the dark, when it's raining, when you really need it.

Alright. That's enough on this topic for me today. Please feel free to leave some comments or suggestions below.


DIY as First Reaction

I thought some more about the Moonjars post. I wonder where I learned, i.e. was conditioned, to react to a product by saying, 'I can make that myself!'

My parents like to remind that pre-1960's Korea was a really poor place. The scarcity of food and supplies turned my grandmother into a vegetable thief so her oldest son could get vitamins from tomatoes in the neighbor's garden. I am ashamed that she did this for several reasons, but ultimately that's the kind of choices people have to make when strife is plentiful and food is not.

Growing up, my mom would always take me to Homemaker's, a local fabric store. It was the local Jo-Ann's, before such large chain stores existed. I loved going there. I liked the bolts of silky challis, the florid chintzes, the sparkly bits in the Notions department. My mom made us Halloween costumes herself from Simplicity and Butterick patterns. I was really sad when it closed down because at the time, the mega-chains didn't exist to fill the void. I think it's an appliance store now.

My mother, aunts, and grandmother spent their idle time at home crotcheting, gardening, etc. setting an example for me that has honed my DIY reaction to stuff I see at the mall. My mom made all the floral centerpieces for my sister's wedding reception. My aunt is a florist and told her what to get and how to make all of it herself. Sometimes my mom drives me nuts asking me to help her make things. She used to pooh-pooh my knitting habit. But she's come around and so have I. I see that she really gets a huge bang out of making something herself and she doesn't think hand-knitting all the time is bad thing (after I gave her some warm socks).

Mom surprised me with her subscription of Martha Stewart's Living. When I go home, she always encourages me to read it, and help her find things she saw in it, like specialty bulbs or little project supplies. Luckily she doesn't go overboard buying supplies. She doesn't have time to craft all day. That's the downside of the DIY mentality. Are you going to get around to doing it, or are the supplies going to sit around? Donna Jean's absolutely right in her comment back to me.

Is there a natural simplicity we can restore in our lives that we can encourage by asking ourselves whether or not we can make something instead of buying it?

N.B. I feel I have more to say about this soon.


gas post

I love this post. I keep coming back to it. If a person can't absorb a $50 rise in fuel costs easily from the discrentionary income, that's a huge problem for their overall financial picture. They should have some room in their budget for that. I think these complaints signal that Americans have overextended themselves, live hand to mouth and probably aren't minding their expenses well.

Not to sound like chicken little, but it seems that we're not going to learn as a nation how to save again until another Great Depression hits. That's pretty sad. We need to learn this lesson soon.

Another short gas price commentary here at A Penny Saved. It's not very long, but the point he's making is absolutely right now. In relative terms, gas prices haven't risen much over time. These increases are probably long overdue.

On another note, my mom saw me playing FreeCell on her computer tonight. She asked if I was online gambling. I laughed and told her that lately I've become too tight-fisted to gamble!


Go Bag!

It's not an exhortation. It's an emergency preparedness kit, otherwise known as a 'Go Bag'. Miserly Bastard has a great post about it, and I think everyone living/working in a major metropolitan area needs to consider having one, especially in coastal areas with earthquakes. San Francisco has a great resource site called 72 Hours.

Living close to the Pentagon, I have thought about what I would do in an emergency many times. I don't keep a 72-hour kit since my actual building is not in danger of being a target. But I do keep all my camping gear in the house and I am pretty well stocked in case of an emergency, whether it be weather related or some other kind I'd rather not dwell upon. I really don't like bottled water, but in this case, keeping some on hand is good.

Some further tips:

1) Red glowsticks are the best color to get. There's a reason why red is used on planes and buildings, the wavelengths are longer and are spotted froma further distance. Wipe them down periodically if it's dusty outside. Makes for greater visibility. Carry it on a lanyard and make sure you wear one in front and one in back. I personally prefer blinky LED's that cyclists use because the blinking is more attention getting. It's important to be visible from all sides. You don't want to be mowed down by an emergency vehicle.

2) There are also high intensity glowsticks which last for about 30 minutes and fade to regular strength. I highly recommend Liquid Light in California. I've done business with them before and they carry a range of products for industrial and festive purposes. Carry extras just in case you get duds. (I have a low dud percentage with Liquid Light, can't say the same for other providers.) If you order from them be sure to get the 12-hour industrial strength ones. Industrial vs. regular makes a huge difference. (ooh ooh! They have INFRARED ones!)

3) Pack an airhorn, not a whistle. How do you use a whistle if you have a dust mask on? If you are trapped in rubble, the horn will work better than a whistle because it is much louder.

4) Goggles are good with dustmasks if you don't want the full face military kind. Welders goggles have flipup dark shields which allow you to see through clear lenses too.

5) Eye drops are good to flush the eyes if it's that dusty out, you may need to flush your eyes anyway since the seals on goggles don't always work well.

6)An extra battery for your cellphone might be useful if you expect that service might be available, but the towers may be jammed with lots of callers.

7)A change of socks. It sounds weird, but if you have to hike a long way from work to home, a fresh pair of socks can make a difference in motivation.

8) Keep in mind MRE's and water have expiration dates/Best if used by dates. So keep 'em fresh and rotate your stock. I make a point of eating through all my backpacker/camper meals every two years or so and stocking up when they go on sale because they're so expensive.

If this seems overwhelming or kind of scary, think of it as an extended power outage. What would you need around the house if you didn't have electricity for 3 days?




So cute! It makes me want to run out and find a tin and some tin snips right NOW!

Why is it that my first reaction when I see something cool is to try to make one of my own instead of buy it?

Frequently I have that feeling when shopping for clothes.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Full Disclosure

This article kind of makes me laugh. But I have a sick sense of humor. In VA, when I bought my place, the owner was quite alive, but I did get a disclosures form where the seller could write down stuff like if my home had been the site of a death or crime scene, lest something like the Amityville Horror happen to me. I'm not sure how I'd feel though if I thought I was going to settlement and was handed a litany of incidents on the disclosure form. I'm not good with icky or gruesome.

This requires a login. Get one at Bugmenot


Extreme Savers on Saving Gas

CNN Money went back and interviewed some Extreme Savers on saving gas. I liked Clare Cheeseman's idea of calling ahead to a store to make sure they have what she wants so that she doesn't waste time driving only to come away empty handed. A very good idea!


Richest Man In Babylon Book Review

This book is short and sweet. It's written in the style of old Biblical parables. If you go for that sort of thing, this book is a nice inspirational book. If you don't go for that sort of thing, it's a book about weird ancient men who got to a rich guy for advice.

Having made a serious study of classical languages, this book is kind of annoying for its creative use of the ancient world. It's like a bad Latin grammar text on the adventures of Julius and Hadrianus. On the other hand, it's kind of charming and it's kind of amazing that it was written in the 1920's but is, literally, a timeless classic.

There are 7 main lessons which you should take away from the book, and they really aren't that much different from the everyday advice you can read in modern personal finance advice columns, 1) Try to save some money out of every paycheck, 2) Spend less than you earn. 3) Own your own home, etc. FreeMoneyFinance's got it all here if you want to know all the details.

There's a lot to be gleaned from this short little book if you are open to its style. It's definitely for those who prefer to infer their own lessons from a story. One reason I found this book irritating is that most folks looking for personal finance help are usually approaching a crisis and need practical steps to get them moving. This book doesn't really offer that and so it can only really be a starting point for most people who are already in debt.

What I did like about it was that it makes it sound easy to start. Because starting is the key. The last thing I learned from it, which I don't think was an intentional lesson is that you should be an entrepreneur and business-owner. I don't think the author meant for that to be a lesson, but in the book the successful people are the farmers and merchants in charge of their own destiny, instead of those who work for others their whole lives.


Posts I've liked this week

An amazing video cover of The Police's Every Breath You Take. Pretty snazzy if you ask me. I mean, who has time at school to make fun stuff like this? Columbia B-school must be pretty easy! I found the lyrics here.

Born Frugal at Seattle Simplicity. I really liked this thread because it's those small everyday habits that add up to savings and frugality.

Reflections on Money from Nicole, the Budgeting Babe.

Tricia and staying motivated, I love the first one of course, start a blog!

Cap's got three little words for you about personal finances.

Tim's got a penny stock discussion. I'm inclined to agree with LA Money Guy, penny stocks are risky for a reason.

City Girl's second and third installments on buying a home in the Bay Area. I think it's good advice for anyone in an overpriced market, like say LA or DC.

Fun money trivia!

Budgeting alternatives by Amanda at Young and Broke.

Goal setting. Write that shit down!!!

Free The Cow does not rely on Social Security. For a second I thought the tag at the top saying 'Retirement' said 'Resentment'. I sure do have a lot of that towards Congress!

Miserly Bastard, being his curmudgeonly, but knowledgable self has a great post on how much to draw down from your retirement accounts so you can make it last.

I also love his post on keeping an emergency preparedness kit, otherwise known as a 'Go Bag'. Living close to the Pentagon, (No, I can't see it from my apartment, but there are reasons why I am concerned.) I have thought about this many times. I don't keep a 72-hour kit since my actual building is not in danger of being a target. But I do keep all my camping gear in the house and I am pretty well stocked in case of an emergency.


Link Love!

I've added a few on the left. I've pulled a few off. If you are interested in a link and have been around for at least 3 months, please let me know and I'll consider adding you. I try to add on blogs that I actually read which is why I had to remove a few. I found that I wasn't reading them and one is on extended leave and was gracious enough to announce it.

I frequently struggle with the value of the links on my blog. I don't want to end up just a running list of blogs. I would like my endorsement to have some sort of meaning. However I am on a slippery slope on this since I succumbed to putting ads on here. What's your philosophy on putting ads and links on your blog?

If you asked me for a link before your blog turned 3 months old, please remind me with an email and I'll try to add you when I do another template change. Big Thank You's to anyone who has recently added me. I rarely solicit for a link, so I am grateful you consider me worthy to add.

Have a great day today!


Subscribe to Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge