Just tidbits about money and finance.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Fake Bling

Seattle Simplicity broke down and went to the retail therapists at Tiffany's.

In response, I posted a website with lab diamonds which my friends showed me the other night. (The website requires Flash.) These are conflict-free diamonds which is why my ethically high and mighty friends were looking at them. But check out the prices! They are saving up for a ring set that's less than $2000.00 for a 1.5ct solitaire that's D color and VVS1 rated. Not too shabby. How's that for a good deal on an engagement ring.

As I mention this to my lovely co-worker, she tells me that Tyra Banks is the Queen of Cheap. Apparently the supermodel loves a good deal so much that she wears fake jewelry all the time. I haven't seen the video yet, but you gotta love that she thinks it's just fine to wear fakes.

It doesn't need to be *real*. It just has to *look* real.

And for what it's worth, lab diamonds are the real thing. They just didn't come out of the ground or have any moral taint. Instead they probably are made from chemicals that pollute the environment instead of the horrible strip mining/mountain leveling that takes place with diamond mining. But I guess you have to pick your evil.

From what I've read, the lab diamond process is similar to that of making semiconductors, which drive all of our computers, so I actually have no moral problem with the environmental pollution being a computer geek by trade. (I am joking about that. My business is a horribly polluting business.) Diamond transistors may be in our future, and excuse me while I unleash my inner-geek here, but how hot will that be? Pretty effing hot actually since diamonds, by their essence were produced under high heat conditions. But think of how fast these transistors can go! Oh my. Ok I'll stop now. Such talk will make me breath hot and heavy. Throw me a copy of Electronic News and EETimes and I'm in 7th Heaven.


Update to the Save-O-Meter!

Last night I updated the Save-O-Meter by 4%. I am very close to my goal. Under $700.00 more to go.

I came to a decision about all my wailing and complaining. I was mainly inspired by Single Ma's priority to save money over paying down debt. I really feel as though I will sleep better if there is some cash around instead of liquidating the Emergency Basket. My wedding expenses, my dental bills are all bills I have to live with. I got myself into this mess and I will get myself out, even if it costs me some interest to do it.

I even cooked my own dinner last night to remind myself that I am *STILL NOT* doing enough to live frugally. I constantly dine out. I really want to buy a new OPI nail polish because the one I have is very pale pink and I would like something in a darker pink because that seems to be in style now. And I asked myself today why would I want to spend $6 dollars on another nail polish when I can't go to Seattle in September?

I really despise eating ramen every day for dinner, but I renew myself to cooking more often at home and dining more frugally since that is where I spend the most money right now.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wedding Finance Problem Solved for Me

I'm going to Puerto Rico next weekend for a very expensive wedding. I should have declined, but I'm the maid of honor and the only attendant. I would be declining on my friend confiding to me that I'm her closest emotional intimate in town. How do you say no to that? I was supposed to room with a friend, but she forgot to change her RSVP on the wedding website and the bride and I thought she was still going.

Well, apparently she's not. So I am stuck paying about $150+/night for three nights at a posh resort. Yes, I resent the bride mildly for certain decisions she's made in regards to selecting a destination wedding. While she did give me the opportunity to pass on it because of the expense, I said yes only because I thought the other friend was going to help me share expenses. And the bride is also stuck holding the bag for a guest who did not change her reply before the headcount was taken. Now I know that an RSVP is not a firm commitment to anyone of anything. Lesson learned. When will my naivete rub off? Why do I take people at face value and expect them to behave with integrity?

Now that the other girl isn't going to go, if I can't find another wedding guest to share a room and split the bill, I will have to forgo two other weddings in September to get my teeth fixed, which I probably should have done anyway. This is after one of the September grooms asked me this morning to write a letter for INS about how he met the bride through me. I am crushed.

Yeah, don't even talk to me about the vacation time I'm giving up to fly the horrible skies with airlines that lose my luggage.

This fiscal challenge is going to be a tight squeeze on me for the rest of 2006. I'll be paying for all this stuff with credit cards till Christmas at least.


Short Term Planning Dilemma

Unlike Jane Dough, I don't have a five-year plan. I think in the last two months, I've gotten all willy-nilly about my finances. Granted, I've had quite a few distracting, enormous life events happen to me during this time. I feel like I've turned into an ostrich with my head in the sand. At one point, I had to call my insurance company to make a payment by telephone at the last minute because I had forgotten to mail the payment. Life's definitely kept me spinning around in a whirl of busyness. Last night was the first time I went grocery shopping in about two months and cooked myself a very frugal dinner. (And wouldn't you know it, I left my lunch at home this morning.)

Right now, I have a lot of short term expenses that are killing me. Four weddings requiring out of state travel and a massive health expense, for which I am underinsured and underfunded. I actually think I can do it all without stumbling too much, but any hopes I had of maintaining the Emergency Basket of Cash has flown out the window.

I've always known that I had to go and get some dental work done. It's been lurking in the back of my mind. I was already saving $3K in a flexible spending account to get this work done in 2006. I've spent about $1K of the FSA on some other medical expenses (glasses, co-pays, prescriptions, etc.), and dental insurance will only end up covering about $1.5K. Out of an expected $10K in expenditures, about $3.5K I will be able to finance immediately. I will need to find another $6.5K.

I will be liquidating the short term savings portion of the basket when work is done in July and then again when one of my CDs expires in September. I will be reserving about 40% my since those are locked up in CDs. Unexpected health expenses are what the EBoC is for, right? That will leave me with $4K to finance.

I could pay myself first very aggressively and start saving 10% of my monthly pay, a la Single Ma style, but that would mean short shrift on paying down my credit card debts which are only racking up because of these weddings.

I just don't know what to do. Should I start paying the minimums on my credit cards and saving more cash? Should I put it all on credit cards and start shoving money to the lenders? Should I liquidate all of my cash reserves?

I shouldn't have ignored my health for this long and yes, I'm paying a hefty price. So an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dental floss is cheap and even if you don't have dental insurance, try to get your teeth cleaned anyway. Trust me. You'd rather put $300 a credit card now for a cleaning, rather than pay $3000K later for an extraction and dental appliance.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Articles I liked last week

I'm still running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But here's a post for you to read this morning if you haven't read them all last week.

For my MD peeps an update on the BGE rate hike.

Gatorade Price Map from Madame X.

Tricia points us to an inspiring website. I really liked this site and will probably blogroll it soon, when I get around to about 50 other admin tasks.

All Things Financial has a post about money, spouses and secrets. I am highlighting it not so much for the article as the great comment by Him. I'm dying laughing.

Sepaking of which, Make Love Not Debt has a supermarket post that's very good. I added my 2 cents to it in a comment.

I also ended up not buying dinner last Wednesday. I got a soda and spent only $2 for that. (Jones Diet Black Cherry. Yum!) Turns out my leftover pizza snack+ sized meal was enough. I did wake up pretty hungry on Thursday, but not enough for me to eat breakfast. I think I'm at the same place today. Hungry, but not enough to breakout the plastic and buy a breakfast. Methinks I'll have lunch at 11am.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006


May 27th 2006, James Cornell was riding in the sidecar at the Isle of Man races and sustained multiple injuries in a crash at May Hill. As of June 19th, according to the official race website, James is still in critical condition in a coma. One racer, Jun Maeda, has already passed away from his injuries also sustained in a race-related crash.

Right now James is still on the Isle of Man, receiving care, but his family and friends would like to transport him back to the US. The website with full donation contact information is at James Cornell To sweeten the deal, I will hold a drawing amongst the donors through this website. Just comment here that you've made a donation. I will knit a hat and set of mittens for the winner of the drawing. It'll be plain, wooly stuff, but I will make it out of nice Cascade 220 washable wool.

I've never met James, but I feel compelled to put this up since a bunch of my friends know him well and are concerned for his well-being. Stateside transport for a patient that is still in critical care is problematic, but when I read between the lines on things people tell me, I think the medical facility is somehow lacking and that at the very least, moving him to London is probably a good thing.

Having sat bedside with someone in critical care, I'm more than a little freaked out and praying for his eyes to open. The motorcycle and race community has been great, taking the time to visit him and give him stimulus in the hospital, but there is still a lot more money that needs to be raised.

I'm not fond of internet panhandling which is why I won't do it for myself. But getting overseas medical transport for a critically ill patient is expensive. I firmly believe that the quality of care will improve if he could come home to receive care. American medical facilities really are the best.

And finally, please, no comments about high speed racing, etc. Yes, it's all dangerous, but that's what makes it an exhilarating sport. James is pretty lucky to race at all, because frankly I'm not yet brave enough to get a license and a bike.

Please forward this to anyone you know who is a motorcycle or race enthusiast.

Ok. I'm going to go cry a little more now. Thanks.


Calculating Your Blended Rate

CNN/Money has an article which instructs you how to calculate your blended mortgage rate.

I found this rather interesting. I got a figure of 6.0% from a mortgage at 5.75% and a HELOC at 7.18%. If I wanted to refinance, I'd probably have a tough time finding a loan for that price without incuring lots of points and closing costs. I think I'll sit tight and forget about refinancing as I watch interest rates climb higher and higher.

I highly recommend their method though. It punches into a spreadsheet very easily. My numbers are not down to the tiniest penny, but in the rough thousands. I think it's good know what your balances are roughly so that you can make quick calculations on the fly with a minimum of research.

EDIT: Dammit. Republishing because I don't know AM from PM apparently.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Post reminder to myself

Ask me about power outages and lost luggage. So far this trip isn't going so well. I can only hope the airline reimburses me for the extra expenses.

And sadly my Red Devils lost to the Moo Cows of Switzerland. Friday was a sad day indeed.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Money, A Memoir: Book Review

Money, A Memoir, by Liz Perle.

Imagine moving yourself and your toddler to a foreign country, only to land and be told by your spouse that they want a divorce. You've got your passport, your kid's passport, $3000.00 cash, a 13-hour flight and a sense of despair to bring you back to the States. That's what happened to Liz Perle when she arrived in Singapore with her 4-year old son.

I really wanted to like this book and there are many good points in it with which I agree. It's a wake up call for marrieds and divorcees who are living in a upper middle class bubble about their finances. But I'm not married or divorced. I feel very bad for Ms. Perle, but she's rebounded well with vigor and headstrong determination from her prior circumstances. I applaud her for writing something personal and admitting to her mistakes through the process of divorce and financial enlightenment. She writes for every woman to take responsibility for their finances, single or not. I just didn't feel that the book spoke to me since it's full of anecdotes about divorces and divorce advice. If you're about to get a divorce and you're worried about your finances, definitely read this book. There are one or two savvy tidbits on divorce strategy in there which might serve a person well, male or female.

The other thing that I enjoyed about the book is the mind-money connection the author makes. My regular readers know that I firmly believe our psychology influences our spending and saving pattterns. Suze Orman discusses this point a lot in her book 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. Ms. Perle is very candid about her adolescent dreams about money and lifestyle. They're pretty average dreams I think most girls have. Some White Knight is going to marry you and take care of it all. Nothing to worry about. I know I had those kinds of dreams too, but now those dreams disgust me as I see the reality of life and too many broken marriages. A girl has to take care of herself, which is what the author is trying to get across.

This book is exactly what it bills itself as, a memoir. I cannot find fault with that. It's about Ms. Perle's experiences and related information to that experience. It just doesn't resonate with me since I haven't been through those circumstances. Your mileage may vary.


Destination Wedding Thoughts

This is a comment post to something FMF posted today about the cost of weddings.

Out of the four faraway weddings I have to attend this year, only one is a true 'destination' wedding in PR. The other three are where the bride and groom happen to live. Those three places are just really far away from me. I'm the maid of honor for the PR wedding so even though the bride said it was ok if I couldn't afford to go, there was no way I was going to say no. I'm roomming with another friend and recycling a dress for the ceremony to keep things more frugal. The only new thing I will have to buy is some fresh sunscreen and a few tanning booth visits so my office cubicle-fluorescent light-cultivated translucent skin doesn't burn to a crisp while I'm there. (Of course, I won't be doing the tanning booths because I have no time to go!)

I think anyone that plans a destination wedding and selfishly expects people to attend is nuts. That seems pretty rude to pitch a fit, Bridezilla-style, and demand that people attend. Frankly, I'm not looking forward to a weekend on the beaches of PR because I really don't care for lying around on a beach and prematurely aging my skin. I hope to be indoors all day watching World Cup soccer!

I know I'd like to have a destination wedding so that my guest list pares itself down by putting the onus on my guests to choose to attend versus having crazy fights with a mother-in-law about who gets an invite. Self-selection can be good that way. The only other reason for me to have a destination wedding is at a midway point between me and my family living overseas. That way it's a holiday for everybody.

To put a little perspective on things, my cousin in Korea just got married. There were about 600-700 people at the wedding hall and reception. Whether you like it or not, things will snowball there to the point you can't stop it. However, it is customary for people to fork over wads of cash as gifts and so the wedding guests usually pay for the whole shindig and any money leftover goes to a house downpayment.

600-700 guests. Can you imagine that?


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

First Time in Ages

Since I've been running around for my family every weekend, I haven't been buying groceries or dining at home. I generally keep my fridge empty because empty doesn't rot and need a cleanup. I was inspired to actually shop for food on Monday, likely because I am completely out of everything on the pantry shelves. Even my non-perishables have perished or I've consumed them.

I bought only loss leaders and stuff I could realistically plan on eating while I am home and not traveling for weddings. I am proud to say I packed my leftovers from Monday night and ate them for a 10am pre-lunch today. However, I was still hungry at 12:30pm and went to lunch with co-workers. I just ate my leftovers from dinner out last night, but I will again be buying something to eat while I'm out with friends this evening. For some reason, my stomach will not be satisfied with these bits of food and still demands more.

But at least I remembered to pack and bring my lunch today. I forgot the leftovers yesterday and to remind myself this morning, I put my cellphone and headset in the kitchen after I woke up so that I wouldn't forget my lunch. I am surprised that my trick worked, but it did and hopefully I will spend less than $15 on food today.


Zombie AOL Subscribers!

I can't believe this article.

I have friends who work for AOL. I've been a customer of AOL. I've personally never had a crappy time with them trying to cancel, etc. However, this is just insane.

BTW, Buckethead of The Ministry of Minor Perfidy has a running joke there about zombies, so if you don't think zombies are funny, ignore this post. If you do this zombies are funny, please go watch Shaun of the Dead. It's right dead hilarious.


Update on Defying 2 Years

LPKitten has an updated post. Please give her a visit and some encouraging words.

I know what it's like to take a gamble on a job and come out with a losing hand. It's terrible. I was underpaid that year because I was under-employed and ended up owing $5K in back taxes. It was an awful financial setback when I was 26. (Maybe if readers want to hear the story, I'll share it after the weekend.)

LPKitten is really close to meeting her goal. If you are interested in helping her, please go and donate. She's taking donations via PayPal. I'm contemplating putting up a donation button myself, which is another post I'll elaborate upon at another time. The main thing is that she needs a little encouragement now after her bad job experience.



Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What's Your Favorite Post?

Gentle Readers, I would like to have a 'Best of' section, but I'm not sure what to put there. Are there any particular posts from my blog that have called out to you? Anything that you've gone back to re-read at a later date?

Posting will remain light as I jet off this week for a wedding. Thanks for all your patience and comments!


Monday, June 19, 2006

I love a mystery!

Make Love Not Debt has a mystery for you. I love mysteries, but I am afraid I am not sure what this is. I suppose this is some sort of joint investment account of some sort which allows Her's Grandmother to receive an income, but if so, why does Her pay the taxes, or do you think her Grandmother pays some of them too?

Speculations are welcome either in the comments here or at the original post.


Carnival of Personal Finance's 1 Year Anniversary!

Flexo, the carnival founder has it available now. The colors on table are looking spiffy and he's asked carnival submitters to review their past submissions for their favorites to highlight. Yours truly is again a participant and I've featured my insurance buying post and The Lenscrafters Mall Conspiracy.

Posts that caught my eye:
Jane Dough, my Boston Gal, discusses her 5 year plan. Her road map is very interesting to me since she's only a few years older than me. I'll have to consider my 5 year plan as well.

Nicole, my Budgeting Babe, discusses volunteering and its rewards. I cheer her on!

Single Ma, my local lady, discusses how people react to financial emergencies and her Emergency Fund. It links back to some of my favorite posts of hers. If anyone out there needs an ING Direct referral, please email me and ask for one.

Cap tells us how we can get free personal financial information. We've already paid for it with our taxes, so let's take advantage of it! He walks through the packet and offers us a good review.

Financial Reflections discusses Google spreadsheets. I'm an Excel junkie, but I am curious about Google. Personally I use MS Works at home and find that it does most of the calculations I need for personal finance.

Family CEO makes a connection to Mary Hunt's new book.


Opportunity Cost & Reservation Price

Lately with the skyrocketing prices of homes in urban meccas, the thing to do has been to calculate whether or not it's worth it to buy vs. rent. When you do that calculation, you're figuring out opportunity costs of buying vs. renting. An easier example of this has been the price of gas. The First Fuel Bank in St. Cloud, MN, takes advantage of this. You buy gas at one price currently, with the right to getting gas at that price in the future. The opportunity cost is lost interest and the present value of that cash to you. But when you weigh that against the price of gas in the future, you may have saved yourself a lot of money.

I find the process of homebuying has an intangible element which isn't easily quantified by worksheet calculations. Sure, you can run a set of numbers to find out if, over time, renting is cheaper than buying. Kiplinger's has a good calculator for that.

When I asked myself the rent or buy question, I looked at my reservation price, or price point when I'm sick of paying rent and want to buy. My story is that I had a reservation price on housing at about $700.00 a month. Once I couldn't find a place to rent in DC that I liked for that price point, I told myself I would buy a home. That's how I ended up in Virginia, since it was what I could afford. Keep in mind, that my housing payments are actually far more than $700 per month, but I honestly felt that places I wanted to live in DC for less than $700/month were horrible hovels, or else not worth paying $800 or 900/month.

The intangible aspect is the value I placed on where I lived based on price. I loved living in Upper Georgetown where I had on-street parking, ('Doris Day style', right in front of the house) grassy lawn, bars in walking distance, quiet neighbors, convenient bus and commute, etc. I also shared that house with 4-5 other roommates, and every once in a while, I'd get boxed out of the shower in the morning and have to go to work unbathed. It was very unpleasant to decide between a black mark for lateness, or filth. That pretty much sealed the deal. I wasn't going to live with roommates ever again. My reservation price was the price of having a shower whenever I wanted that shower without queuing up or risking disciplinary action at work.

Owning is better that renting usually speaking, but you still have to ask yourself what you're willing to put up with. I can't stand having an HOA or noisy neighbors. But I tolerate it all so that I don't have to mow the lawn. Factor all that stuff into your reservation price if you decide to set one because that does play a part in all this.

I'm not a hard and fast by the numbers kind of person. If I was, I probably would still be renting and living in suburbs closer to my job.


Friday, June 16, 2006

End of week thoughts

I lost my ATM for a little while this week. I didn't freak out because I'm sure I had misplaced it in one of my jackets or pants. Sometimes I slip it out of my wallet when I go to the cafeteria for lunch and forget to return it to my wallet right away.

I was worrying a little since it hadn't turned up in the last few days as I rifled through my laundry hamper and hung up clothes. I raided my Lenten piggy bank for some cash the other day because the man at the parking garage booth didn't like that I gave him $2.00 in change. (Nice of someone to tell me when I made my doctor's appointment that I should have cash for the booth attendant. I thought all these suburban places had free parking?!)

Today I found it on my desk at home. This week was definitely a lesson in how and what I spend my money on. I learned that I rarely have a need for cash. Nearly every place I go takes credit and I hardly make purchases for just $2 or $3. It's easy for me to forgo the small purchase completely if I don't have cash in my pocket. I am certain that if I had a fiver on Tuesday night, I would have had a second drink at Starbucks, instead of the one drink and sandwich. (I was meeting my crafty friends.)

I learned that I am capable of making large payments to my credit card and charging less upon them than I paid, netting a smaller balance for the month. While I loathe charging on my credit card, I still do it. I am trying very hard to make sure that balance shrinks instead of grows. We'll see how bad it gets after the next three weeks.


Friendships and Money

A collection of articles:

Kiplinger's: Where it starts

FMF discusses it here and throughout the week.

Friends finding your PF Blog

The original conversation at It's Just Money. (Hello LAMoneyGuy!)

You can read my comments on some of these posts. I don't have much else to say about it right now, just be honest with your friends. And if you find your friends can't handle it, re-evaluate. My best financial role models are my friends, not people I read about in CNN articles. I watch how they spend their money on the minutiae of their lives. They're better examples for me than anyone else I could read about.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fun with Excel

Frank, the Financially Savvy Atheist has a rockin' spreadsheet for a payment amortization schedule. He walks you through the formulas you need to set up and it's actually pretty useful if you are a spreadsheet jockey at work. It's definitely intermediate to expert level skill.

It's been quite fun to noodle around with it. Of course, I don't like what it's saying to me. Pretty much, I need to scale back my life even further and start tripling my 2nd trust payments if I want to be done with them anytime soon. (About $30K in 2 yrs = ~$1350/mo.)

I suggest everyone give it a little whirl if you have Excel. I haven't yet tried it with MS Works. I've been busy reading another PF book which hopefully I'll find time to review soon.

Thanks for being patient with my light posting. I am still trying to serve up something hot and fresh every day.


Is this really surprising?

Ganked from Money Turtle.

Click through to the Marketwatch article. Essentially it tells us Gen-Xers that we're screwed for retirement. I find that hardly surprising.

I do find the statistics illuminating. I am at 40% risk of falling short for retirement saving in the middle earner category. I can tell you that I am already behind. I just hope to catch up, or at least not fall too far behind. I wonder how I rate against my peers. Per NetWorthHQ, I am very behind, but really someplace in the middle of my peer group. I'd say within the bulge of the bell curve.

The assumptions behind the study are very conservative. That's about the only good news here. They assume that you retire at 65 and do not work past that mark. I know from my current experience, that lots of people plan on working till they die. They don't necessarily foresee being debilitated to the point of unemployment. So please consider that though you may plan to retire at 70, your body might not give you a choice and retire you at 63. Just think about that for a moment. That's 7 years of lost income and growth before you start tapping into your savings.

My family is lucky in that they can still live off the business they have as long as one of my parents is able to maintain it. But what if you weren't a entrepreneur or in a stable partnership? Where would your passive income come from then?

I don't have any answers here for you. I just like putting these mental ticklers out there. Everyone is going to have a different answer. I am finding some of my greatest creativity is coming out of being desperate for a solution for all. We're doing fine, but it's kind of tiring right now trying to juggle things and plan solutions that accommodate everyone's needs and wishes. Again, I urge everyone to start conversations about parental retirement now before your parents cannot express their wishes and needs clearly.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fidelity Small Cap Stock Fund Closing

I must be one heck of a mutual fund picker. Another one of my Fidelity funds is closing. I got the announcement today via email.

I was lucky to be employed with a company that uses Fidelity as its 401k administrator. From their retirement advice, I selected a mix of funds, REIT, Bonds, Large-, Mid-, and Small-Cap funds. I guess I did it a little randomly because I was looking for strong growth out of the REIT, mid-cap and small-cap funds with some stability in large-cap stocks. I think most places would have advised me to aggressively invest in stock funds without any bonds, but I do like to balance my risk a little.

When I left my old firm, I rolled my 401k into a private IRA plan at Fidelity. I know that if I ever leave my current firm, I'll roll my 401k money into Fidelity since I really can't stand my current fund options, but would hate to skip out on plan participation. The tax benefit is too good to pass up, plus there is a small amount of matching I receive at this firm. All things being equal, I'd rather be at Fidelity or Vanguard than my current plan administrator. There is a broader variety of funds with these two firms and fewer fund administration fees overall.


Fascinating Article About Gas Prices

A discussion at CNNMoney with a gas company CEO.

And a sampling of gas prices around the world. Yes, folks, even at $3 bucks a gallon, it's still pretty cheap.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Lenscrafters Mall Conspiracy

Lenscrafters is a conspiracy with mall retailers to make you bored and spend more money. Hence my problems in the last post about spending $83.03 on things I only wanted and didn't need.

It was that glasses in a hour catch. It sounds really appealing, and it really is convenient. However, I know I should have just sat down at waited with my newspaper and knitting project. But no, I was feeling the need to find something cute to wear to work.

Next time you go, do me a favor and just park yourself right down and wait. Do not cross the threshold of the store again to leave without a new pair of glasses on your face.

The only consolation? The money I saved in frames is greater than what I spent.


I am not a normal woman

No, really, I am not.

I went to the mall today to pick up my new prescription sunglasses. At the same time, to save money, I asked if they could grind new lenses for my regular glasses since I really hated all the frames that were in stock. (That's the frugal tip I'm sharing with you today. Share and Enjoy!)

So while waiting for said lenses to be fitted, I wander the mall for an hour. Lately I've felt the need to stop being Frumperella and maybe get some cute clothes and letting someone hit on me for once. I dress very differently for work and for the weekend and well, something in the middle that says cute girl at work doesn't really exist in my wardrobe. I take work pretty seriously.

I wander into all the stores, Limited, Forever 21, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Coach, etc. I saw a lot of really cute shirts I could mix and match for work and for play. I was sorely tempted to get a black Soho purse from Coach, but no, I am a good little brownie and I assuage all my retail impulse/therapy shopping feelings until I see the Knife Store. Yep. Chesapeake Knife and Tool is going out of business at Fair Oaks Mall on RT 50, about 20 miles west of DC. OH BOY! IT'S A SALE!

Everything is 40-75% off and it's been that way for probably a month. They are down to the very last of everything.

I'm a sucker for a fine writing instrument. I love fountain pens. And guess what? Mont Blanc is on sale! However, their pen feels cheap so I stick with the Pelikan instead. How much? 40% off $75. Not too bad.

For a very long time, I coveted my friend's Spyderco. It was a tiny brushed steel finish blade. I think it was a Dragonfly. Half straight/half serrated. He dropped it once at a show and thought he'd lost it forever. After the houselights came up, he found it at the edge of the mosh pit, artfully scratched up. It looks great. Many times I have thought of stealing his little knife, but he would know that it was me. This knife has long been discontinued, but I still hunt for it like someone might find one in a storeroom somewhere. Of course, they have no more small Spydercos.

Instead, they have this really pretty knife by Columbia River Knife and Tool. I've seen this flippy little knife before. It kind of scares the bejesus out of me, like I'm going to cut my hand open. In fact, I am thinking of the shorter version when the salesman tells me that it's being discontinued because too many people have cut themselves trying to open and close the knife. Ooooh-kay. Nevermind then. How much again for the regular knife? $59.99 with 40% off? I'm totally thinking this would make a really nice gift for a good friend who goes camping with me. But what, there is only one of the serrated blades left. Oh well, I guess it's mine.

Total damage was $83.03.

I know. I didn't need a knife, nor a pen. But see Mapgirl is a serious shopper and all sales are final. So I really know how to blow a budget big time and there will be no buyer's remorse returning for me. I'm just lucky they were out of white LED Photons or there would be two sitting in my purse right now. (Highly recommended for your keychain for safety! Get one for every woman you care about, with a can of pepper spray. I'm not kidding.)

And all I was really shopping for was maybe some heels and a new shirt. I guess I'm just not that girly. I'd rather buy nice tools than nice shoes even if both have utility. I just think I'll get more use out of the tools.

ps- Korea just won over Togo! GO RED DEVILS!


Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup kills me

I want a TV.

No, I **really** want a TV.
And Cable.
And ESPN2 with live games.
I will have to be satisfied with installing TVUPlayer at home on my PC.

I am immune to Addidas and Nike ads because I do not like running. Soccer on TV doesn't make me run out at buy things. In fact, neither do Red Sox, Red Wings, or Flyers games.

However, those silly Guinness ads make me thirsty.



Light posting

Greetings! Posting will remain light over the next 3 weeks due to personal reasons. Family, vacations, work are all conspiring to make me a poor blogger. I've burned through a lot of cash and will be spending out the wazoo as I go to three weddings all requiring over 50 miles of travel.

Currently on my mind are cutting back this month's savings contribution so that I can have more funds available for wedding/travel expenses. It's always best to pay in cash for these things.

I am also contemplating further CD laddering as I do not want to spend away the Emergency Basket of Cash I am trying to save. Most of the Save-O-Meter funds are in CD's right now. That's the only reason I haven't taken all the money and paid down my credit cards. One of those CD's is expiring soon. I am contemplating renewing it and making a true ladder of CD's so that I have one expiring every month for 6 continuous months. I know that locks stuff up in the event of a real emergency, but money runs right through my fingers and I fear that I will spend it if I keep it truly liquid.

What do you do? Do you keep a set of cash very liquid or do you save it in a manner that does not allow you to access it easily?


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Carnival of Taxes Debut!

"Taxes, they do take a bite." - Raising Arizona

Kay at Don't Mess with Taxes debuts the new Carnival of Taxes!

It's a monthly carnival and I think it's a pretty good idea since everyone . I really liked the Mauled Again post about Lynn Swann's cockamamie tax plan for PA, my homestate. I really don't need it to end up like California. Now if VA would only reassess every three years like PA does instead of annually, I'd be a happy camper.

ps - Can anyone verify the quote above? I used to receive my direct deposit paystub at work and my cubemate would say that to me and laugh. He swore it was from that movie, but I haven't seen the film in years.


Smells Like Money Saved

Money smells. No, really. It's a pee-yoo stink to high heaven of sweaty palms and B.O. I always wash my hands after counting wads of the stuff. $10K of cash really overpowers in the small back office of our gas station. At least I was working there in the winter when it stank less.

Recently I was peering into the bathroom of a friend. There were several bottles of perfume there. I commented on the vanity or paranoia my friend must have to spritz themselves with posh perfume all the time. The reply was that every single bottle was a gift from a family member. Honestly, I couldn't see the point of such a useless gift unless they were trying to say something about personal hygiene.

Do you wear CK One? JLo's perfume? That godawful stench of Paris Hilton? (ick, I can't believe I just mentioned that hideous crow in my blog.) Why?

Sure I love nothing better than sniffing my friend's shirt on the escalators in the Boston subway on the way to church Easter morning. He was wearing Polo Crest that day and I will never forget it. (Especially since I went to a Harvard Law party the night before and actually HAD FUN.)

I prefer fresh flowery scents. In fact the cheapest perfume is one I make myself. It's easier than mixing a cocktail.

Order essential oils from some place like Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs or Tenzing Momo. Get a spritzer/atomizer, a small funnel and distilled water. Fill the spritzer with a little bit of oil, and fill the rest of it with water. Spritz away. I use a small cobalt glass bottle instead of a spritzer.

There are more complicated kinds of ways of doing this involving oils and alcohol. But the nice people at Tenzing Momo explained to me that really all you need is a bit of water to thin out the oil.

Lately I'm wearing violets and vanilla. I shake up the bottle and dab a little behind the ears and on the wrists on my way out the door. All in all, it cost me $20.18 at Tenzing Momo for all the supplies. I went with true vanilla oil, which is more expensive than other vanilla oils, violet oil, a cobalt glass bottle and special funnel top. The good thing is that when I run out of oil, I will have two more perfume bottles I can fill with anything I want. Oh, that is also the price without shipping since I was at Pike Place Market in person last year. I will easily have enough perfume for two years. Not too shabby when you see that most perfumes at the mall are 40 bucks.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NCN Network Winner!

Yippee! I just won a copy of

It's the first contest at NCN Network and I was lucky to win.

If you aren't familiar with NCN Network, please click the circle icon on the right. It's a nice website of supportive PFBloggers all trying to stay on track with their financial goals. Even though I keep my own Save-O-Meter, I like being in a virtual support group. Some of my favorite PFBloggers were introduced to me through the network and I will probably continue with the network after my current goal closes.


Introducing The Cavalcade of Risk!


For some reason, I love the hokey '50's-ness of the title. Reminds me of the 'Cavalcade of Stars' or something like that. I am thinking of starting a Gala, but I'm not sure what kind yet.

Anyhow, here are the highlights:

Perennial favorite, LAMoneyGuy on those two old ladies who were in the Law & Order-like plot to kill homeless men and collect insurance.

Bob of our Cavalcade Host, InsureBlog, writes about Single Disease policies.

Though I'm not sure how this is related to insurance or risk, I love this post by Wenchypoo. I find luxury creep an obnoxious result of advertising, hence my exhortation to kill your television.

This one touches a nerve. I went to the dentist recently and was handed a disclosure sheet about 'silver' fillings which were really a mix of silver & mercury amalgam. It traces back to this article which also hits a nerve.

I have taken lots of herbal medicines as a child and I absolutely do not condone it. Herbal medicines have a serious physiological effect and too many things are unknown about them. DO NOT take herbal medications. They really do mess with your metabolism and physiology. I was meant to be underweight as a child and a slender adult. My mother would force feed me herbal medicines to fatten me up when I did not need it. In the end, IT DID NOT WORK. The effects were only temporary. Once the substances passed through the system my body returned to its natural metabolism and shed the weight I had put on while consuming the preparations. The net financial effect was also that my mother wasted thousands of dollars she could have been saving.

If you want to take packaged supplements of bee pollen and cranberry pills, be my guest. I have been known to pop an acidophilus pill or two. There's nothing wrong with eating local honey, etc. But I absolutely do not recommend taking prepared herbs of unknown strength and potency for any reason.

I've got family & friends who consume this stuff and are practitioners of herbal medicine. It's their choice, but I urge you to do some research about what the heck you are taking and err on the side caution if you think this is the choice you wish to make.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Location, location, location 2

Serendipitiously, the NYT has an article today about places to rent in NYC for $1000.00 a month. No, they aren't in Manhattan, but they are certainly cheaper than my condo fees and mortgage. Does that mean I'm ready to make a move to NYC? Not hardly, but if you're willing to live in a 350 sq. ft. studio, there may be something out there for you.

Best piece of advice from the article? If you see something you like for the right price, jump on it.

Tip: May require login. Visit Bugmenot if you need one.


Location, location, location

I was inspired to write this after following Flexo's apartment search posts.

A friend of mine works in IT in Pennsyltucky. To be more generous, it's in Amish Country. We were discussing rents and when we decided to compare the DC market to Lancaster, PA. A quick look at posted rents at will show that DC 2-bedroom apartments are at least $1500 depending on your amenities and neighborhood.

A 2-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors, high ceilings, dishwasher, disposal, off-street parking in a safe commercial/residential district in Arlington runs for much more than that. You're probably going to pay $1700. In Lancaster, try less than $600. I nearly choked when I heard that figure.

Of course, I would hate living in Amish country. Scrapple is a nostalgic breakfast item for me, but I really hate riding in traffic behind horse and buggies. Oh wait, I'm still going faster than I would in rush hour traffic on the Beltway.

Cow tipping isn't fun for me, so the price I pay for living near the center of power in the free world is the high cost of housing.


Carnival of Personal Finance #51

This is my first time hosting, so if you are new to MFC, welcome! 51 is an interesting number. It seems like it might be prime, like 1, 11, 31 or 41, but it's not. It's 3 times 17. It's one of my favorites since no one really knows the seventeens. I admit, I only know them up to 3 x 17. This fact comes in handy when playing card games with three people and you have give everyone the same number of cards out of a deck of 52.

There were a lot of submissions this week and I exercised my right as the Carnival hostess to pick and choose the ones I felt should be included. I filtered out submissions that were mainly about Investing, because there's another Carnival for that.

I also exerted some blatant favoritism for my blogroll peeps by putting their submissions at the top (in no particular order, but roughly by order submitted), followed by new submitters (one!) and then all the rest. The easiest way to get on my blogroll is to ask. I do have some minimum criteria, like being at least 3 months old. Email me at mapgirlsfiscalchallege at Gmail's mail service.

Thank you for visiting and now sit back and enjoy the show!


Claire at Tired but Happy presents Financial Blind Spots and Misconceptions.

Dawn at Queercents presents Taxed on Benefits.

Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog presents What's a Hard Credit Check, And Why They're Valuable.

Flexo at Consumerism Commentary presents Does This Number Impress You.

LA MoneyGuy presents Lifestage Conversations posted at It's Just Money.

Single Ma at Single Ma's Fabulous Financials presents Should I Tithe While Paying Off Debt?

Amanda at Young and Broke presents New or Used Cars: Finding What's Right for You.

Free Money Finance at Free Money Finance presents Turn Your Hobby into a Career and Love What You Do While You Earn.

jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity presents WGES - Alternative to BG&E .

Nina Smith presents Thrifty posted at Queercents.

JLP presents How Much Can You Save in a Lifetime posted at AllThingsFinancial.

Dawn at Frugal for Life presents Moving the Score in My Favor.

Cap at presents HOWTO: Choose a Student Loan Consolidation Lender.

nickel at presents Ethanol-Blended Gas = Lower Gas Mileage?

Jeffrey Strain at Personal Finance Advice presents Dave Ramsey Is God.

Bill at Ask Uncle Bill presents Taxes Country by Country.

[First time submitter!] Michael at It's Your Money: Money Musings presents Opening A Child's ING DIRECT Account.

Don't Mess With Taxes presents Give now, get back at tax time.

For a little international perspective on college tuition, read Big Cajun Man on a University Education in Canada posted at Canadian Financial Stuff.

King of Debt presents Applying For a Mortgage is Tough posted at We're In Debt.

thatedeguy presents PFBlog writing challenge: How do we improve? posted at A Penny Saved....

Chris Quimby presents Watts the Problem? posted at Chris Quimby, CPC - Certified Public Comedian.

supermom_in_ny presents How To Shop At The Mall, But Pay LESS! posted at Getting Out Of Debt.

Bob Vineyard, CLU presents Cancer Plans posted at InsureBlog.

Kevin Surbaugh at Becoming and Staying Debt Free presents What do the Billionaires Drive?.

Paul at Paul's Tips presents The easiest way to fool smart people .

Jeff Howard at - Ideas on Financial Planning, Wealth Management, Investing, and Economics presents Over-Diversification: How Much Diversification Do You Need?.

Victor Fam at Towards Better Life presents What If You Lose Your Job?.

David Porter presents Is Traditional Journalism Dead? posted at Pacesetter Mortgage Blog.

Gullyborg at Resistance is futile! presents We'd have more money if we were gay.

AboutPMI at About PMI presents Mortgage Rates Increase, Good for Homebuyer’s PMI .

Jason at Pragmatic Finance presents Keep track of all your finances and accounts with Yodlee.

Amy Allen Clark at The MotherLoad presents Frugal Teacher Gift.

Financial Reflections at Financial Reflections presents 6 Questions to Ask About Life Insurance.

Steve Mertz at In Cash Flow We Trust presents Personal Finance Tip: What Do You Need To Let Go Of?

Steve Faber presents HELOC your way to independence? Maybe So, Maybe Not posted at Debt Free.

Bill Perry presents Why Charity is Essential in Pursuit of Prosperity.

Dan Melson at Searchlight Crusade presents Rejected Offers to Purchase Real Estate.

Pete at My Financial Awareness presents When “Spend Less & Earn More” Just Doesn’t Work.

frugal presents Engineer Salaries in Silicon Valley posted at My 1st Million At 33.

Harrison Loke at Journey To Financial Freedom presents 9 good Habits In Personal Finance.

George at Fat Pitch Financials presents Home Depot Inc Investor Shopping Experiences.

Richard Todd at lovely products presents On Cash-Back Credit Cards.

Tony Miller presents SavingMoney » How To Make Collection Agencies Delete Negative Accounts posted at SavingMoney.

Christine Kane presents Getting Things Cheap posted at Christine Kane - Blog.


Vince Chan presents PFDigg Your Favourite Personal Finance News! posted at Investorial.

Next week's Carnival is being hosted by Financial Fruition.

[EDIT] Jason is at Pragmatic Finance. Not Jason.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Super Broker?

Olivia Hsu Decker, luxury real estate agent. You should check out her firm's website at Decker Bullock. Like Curbed, I'm not wild about the website either. For all those millions, they could do with some flashier web design.

I'd like to own two luxurious palaces in France too. Sheez. Color me green with envy today.


Horrified by NPR Today

This is a story about the Carmody family of Connecticut. The oldest daughter makes $40K a year and lives at home. Her older brother makes about $30K and also lives at home. The youngest just finished college, and not surprisingly, also lives at home.

I am horrified because their parents seem to imply they are cannibalizing their retirement contributions to support all three kids living at home in a comfortable lifestyle. The parents make $90K annually and still find it hard to make ends meet.

I know I made the financially crippling decision to leave home after finishing school, but to be 25 or 27 and still spending selfishly doesn't seem very wise to me. I left home and I lived hand to mouth for a few years, arguably until last year. But that lifestyle translated into a mentality where I don't need new things all the time. (Listen carefully to the older daughter about shopping.)

What do you think? Do you think all these folks need an attitude adjustment? I do!


Updated the net worth

The short version, I'm down by less than $10. The long version, I am ramping up my summer travel spending, so I count myself lucky to only be down by ten dollars after buying airline tickets. However, I am experiencing weird fiddly problems with Quicken and how it tracks transfers between a mortgage and checking accounts. I also don't like when the mortgage statement arrives with the final numbers since I like to close the accounting month as close to the first as possible, i.e. get my net worth/balance sheet together for the prior month on the 1st.

Don't get me wrong. I still love Quicken and find it very important for tracking my expenses, but I still use a spreadsheet to gather my numbers for my graph.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Five Things I'd Hate to Give Up If Money Got Tight

Five things meme.

I have to think hard about this one.

1) Fiber: yarn and wools for spinning. I'd hate to give up my hobby. Fortunately I have a lot of stuff stashed away right now. I haven't bought any since I quit working at the yarn shop a few months ago.

2) Gourmet cheese: In the summer, I love cheese with bread and a ice cold vegetable (red pepper, cucumber, tomato) for lunch. Giving up stinky cheese would be giving up all my calcium for the day. (I hate milk.)

3) Trips: I'd hate to give up my camping trips or trips to visit family x-country.

4) Dining out: I buy my lunch almost every day at work. Because I'm controlling portions, I can spend less than $4.00 on some days. I'm not sure I could bring my lunch for cheaper than that, but I know I can spend less than $5-7/day if I bring something from home.

5) Driving: I drive every where right now. In DC, driving your car & not drinking is a LOT cheaper than cabbing it and drinking, but only if you don't pay for parking (a near mortal sin in my mind). While I would love to ride the bus and ditch the car altogether, sometimes I like opening up the car windows/roof and stepping on the gas flying down the highway on a summer's day. Giving up driving would stink.

Of course, now the question is, would I be able to give this stuff up? I know I'd definitely backslide.


Call for Carnival Submissions!

I'll be hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance next week. Please, please, please use a Carnival Submission form. (You can find one at Conservative Cat). I am not a HTML code-monkey and your direct and uncoded submissions will not be treated the same as form submissions.

PLEASE STAY ON TOPIC. If your post is more appropriate for the Carnival of Investing or Business, please submit it over there. I'm getting slightly overwhelmed with the breadth of submissions, some of which appear to be from commercially-oriented sites. Carnivals are a great way to increase traffic to your site, however, they shouldn't be used as free cross-website advertisements. Make sure your post has something to offer the reader if they were to receive it as plaintext.

Thank you for listening.

/me steps of soapbox.


Subscribe to Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge