Just tidbits about money and finance.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Latest Carnivals

JLP has the 59th Carnival of Personal Finance available!

Flexo has the 46th Carnival of Debt Reduction available!

If you search back, I've pulled some of these articles already for Articles I've liked This/Last Week. I'm not participating myself since I often forget to submit before leaving for the weekend. But please check out these articles and leave a comment!


Madame Bovary: A Cautionary Tale of Finances

First of all, this post is filled with spoilers. But I'm guessing that Flaubert is not on the summer reading list of most PF Bloggers. Or else you've suffered through reading it once already for school. This is not the Cliff Notes. If you're looking for that, go somewhere else.

1) Ennui - Boredom is not a good reason to spend money. And bascially she has affairs out of boredom, which leading to her spending money.

2) Poor financial management - She runs a tab at the haberdashers and doesn't concern herself with paying the bill in a timely fashion.

3) Lavish gift giving - The objects of her affections receive elaborate gifts (from said haberdasher). One of them attempts to refuse them, but accepts them anyway.

4) Signing financial documents she doesn't understand - Her biggest mistake in the end is signing to debt instruments she doesn't comprehend. In fact, in reading this part, I wasn't sure how it worked either. She should have just settle the debts and wised up.

5) Tragedy - Debtor's prision doesn't exist anymore, but how many folks contemplate suicide or bankruptcy over the slow inexorable process of paying down the bills? Rather it seems an inexorable process if you keep running up the credit cards. Truly you can pay off your debts if you try to curb your spending and diligently pay stuff off.

I read this book when I was 12. It was the Holt, Rinehart translation from 1949, hardback. I got it used for $2.95 from a secondhand bookstore. I never really understood it when I was 12, but now that I'm a good deal older than that, I thought I should give it another try. It was a much shorter read than before. (1 day vs 2 weeks) I still don't understand Emma Bovary very well, but I get the story a lot more.

I don't think Flaubert set out to write a book that was a cautionary tale of financial mismanagement, but I sure got that message out of it this weekend. (Ironically, I was reading it out of boredom and a curiosity about what I'd missed when I was younger.)


Friday, July 28, 2006

Free Notary Services

Did you know that a lot of banks have free notary services if you have an account with them? Wachovia does and I'm kicking myself.

I called a UPS/FedEX type store and it was $5.00 a signature. I needed three. I called my old company because they have a notary on staff. Her services are free to employees of my old firm. For outsiders, ex-employees and the world at large, she charges $2.00. Not bad. However for all the time I spent in traffic during a rainstorm, I might have been better off going to the nearest UPS store and paying extra. However, I'm feeling cheap and didn't do that.

Instead, I got a nice gossipy session with my former co-worker. Really juicy stuff. I forgot to give her 6 bucks and had to mail her a check. My three signatures are costing $6.39. (Stamps are 39 cents now right? Because I swear they are 37 cents still, and the stamps I have don't say anything but First Class.)

Long and short? If you need a notary, check for three things.

1) Does your bank offer the service to you for free?
2) Does your company have a legal office or a notary public on staff who will provide services for free?
3) How much do they charge per signature if they charge you a fee.

I was really surprised to find out that charges were at the discretion of the notary. For some reason I recall notary services used to be some crazy amount of money, like $15 apiece. I am so very glad go get it for $2 with dishy gossip, but not when I could have gotten it for free without the hassle of traffic.


Risk - It's Not Just a Game

Risk? We all take risks. We like to leave the house and get out and about don't we? But how do we measure our risk? Generally we can balance our risk in driving a car by getting automobile insurance. I wish I could say the same about investments.

We all take on risk when we invest. The question is how much and what can we tolerate?

If you read the fine print on all investment prospecti, you will see that there is always risk involved with investment and that there is risk that your money will decrease by investing. I encourage everyone to read those statements and repeat them in your sleep. Investing is not for the faint of heart. If you can't tolerate risk, buy US Treasury Bonds and sleep better at night.

I know that international stocks are more risky than domestic stocks. I know that small- and mid-capitalization stocks are more riskly than large-capitalization stocks. And stocks are more risky investments than bonds. I know that municipal and government bonds are less risky that corporate bonds. And Cash is King. That's all I need to know about risk as a lay person. How so?

I can take a list of investment options, i.e. mutual funds, in my 401K plan and use it to figure out where I should "allocate my assets". Asset allocation is a huge part of portfolio planning. When you "re-balance" your portfolio, you are changing your asset allocation, generally to meet some targeted level of risk. You're selling off one asset to buy another, but keeping it all in your portfolio.

For instance, I am in my early 30's. I keep about 99% of my money invested in US stock funds. I only recently started buying a US government bond fund when interest rates started to rise. I pretty much stayed pegged to a large cap index fund like the S&P 500 funds because I was a lazy investor back in the day.

Now that I'm a little more savvy about international markets, I have added an international fund into my mix of stocks and bonds. Not too much, but about 15%. Taking on that risk means I have access to greater rewards, and it's true. I have seen my best fund performance in the last 6 months in my international fund, while my domestic stock funds have been flat or slightly negative. Hooray for asset allocation and balanced risk!

So how do I know what is the right mix to have? Study the charts of 'targeted retirement funds'. Mutual Fund companies publish their asset mix for these funds on their website so that you can understand how they are allocating assets and balancing risk. Every once in a while, you should 're-balance' your portfolio and try to match the mix represented by the targeted fund you've selected.

In writing my prior post, I took a look at Fidelity's 2035 targeted fund. It has about 17% international funds, 66% domestic stocks, 9% "investment grade fixed income", 8% "high yield fixed income". uh what? Fixed Income? Those are fancy code words for bonds. Bonds pay a fixed income of interest, hence the name. Truthfully, I'm guessing that "investment grade fixed income" means corporate bonds, and "high yield fixed income" means US Treasury bonds, but I don't know that for sure.

I see that I'm holding the right amount of international funds, but not enough bonds. That's actually kind of scary. But I really, *REALLY* like risk. I hold about 3% in cash and US bonds. Over time, I should probably buy more bonds, slowing down risk and making my portfolio more conservative. Imagine that. That's what I need to do anyway as I grow older and wish to preserve the gains I've made in the market over 20 years.

In fact, study the pie charts on this page very carefully. You'll see that their target retirement funds closer to 2006 have significantly fewer stocks, more bonds, and more short-term instruments (code word for cash or cash equivalents). As you move further away from 2006 towards 2040, you'll see that nearly all the funds get rid of the short-term instruments and high yield fixed income instruments disappear from the asset mix.

I hope this post makes sense. It's a bit stream of consciousness about how I think about my asset allocation and the amount of risk I take on. I feel as a younger person, I can tolerate lots of risk since the rewards are great. I also know that I have a lot of time to make up for any losses I bear with the risk. At the same time, I balance my risk by having a mix of investments so that I'm unlikely to lose absolutely everything. Investing isn't a zero sum game, everything in my portfolio could fall at once, but in balancing risk, I am not likely to lose all my money at once (unless something else very catastrophic happens).

If you're still very confused by all this. TALK TO AN INVESTMENT PROFESSIONAL. And read. Read a lot. There is a lot of good, free information out there available to people who invest in 401K's. There's good investment in books by gurus too, I am sure. Take the time to educate yourself. Empower yourself through knowledge. I know I sound like a PSA, but I'm nobody special. I'm not a CPA, CFA, or CFP. I'm just a person who reads a lot. Take what I say with a grain of salt, re-read my disclaimer, and talk to a professional.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lazy Retirement Planning

Recently a friend of mine approached me about planning for retirement. My friend definitely knows that she's got to do some planning, but her head is a bit in the clouds. Fortunately, she knows this about herself, and while she feels at a loss, I'm really proud of her for recognizing that she needs to take control of her future and have something for herself that is not in the control of her spouse.

She's not a numbers person and she doesn't want to think too much about it. The main thing I told her is that she will probably want to talk to an investment professional since she really does need professional grade advice and I'm not a professional. We're close friends, but maybe not *this* close. Knowing that she is a regular saver when she has money, but has erratic income, I mentioned that she might like target retirement date funds from places like Vanguard or Fidelity.

Here is a listing of the target date retirement funds at Vanguard.

40 years from now is 2046, which is about my friend's time horizon for retirement. So she'll probably look at the fund for 2045. If she wants more risk, go with a fund targeted for a retirement date of 2050. If she wants to be more conservative, she ought to try the 2035 or 2040 funds.

Fidelity has some great retirement planning resources if you're just starting to look at retirement planning. I highly recommend people take the risk tolerance quizzes so they realize just how much risk/loss they are willing to bear. (I am thinking of the newbie investor who Jonathan wrote about last week. He obviously can't tolerate much risk.)

Fidelity also has target funds called Freedom Funds.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have had, or currently have a relationship with both of these firms, which is why I feel comfortable recommending them. I hear that T. Rowe Price has similar products, but I don't know them and can't say anything about them. I will say that I have never bought into any of these target funds because I run my own portfolio of mutual funds based on the risk I like to take on. If you want to know more, read about Modern Portfolio Theory, Jeremy Siegel's work, and finally take a A Random Walk Down Wall Street. I'm no math smarty. I took AP Calculus and ended up with a D for the year. As long as you can understand the base concepts of risk, you can understand portfolio balancing. I promise I'll write more on this.

Hey look! There's a podcast! It's from Vanguard, but the music isn't nearly as nice as Scott's over at Money Blogger Podcast. His is *WAY* better! And he probably doesn't have nearly the same budget.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Just because you rich, that don't make you classy

This story makes me want to cry.

Brooke Astor or not. No elderly person deserves to be treated this way. Maybe it's the conservative old-school Asian in me, but I am horrified that Anthony Marshall does not respect his elders. I am completely disgusted by his treatment of his mother.

This just goes to show you that not even money can protect you from elder abuse. I don't know about you, but saving for retirement is to provide for yourself so hopefully you can avoid a situation like this. And at the same time, no amount of money can save you from it when the people around you are snakes.

Choose your caretakers wisely. I'm sure if you talk to a good estate planning lawyer about living wills, trusts, etc, they can help reduce the likelihood of your being abused by those who are taking care of you.


The Saving Grace of Medical Expenses

The main reason all these wedding expenses get me all cranky is that I have a major medical expense to undertake this year. It's not like doctors publish out their price lists. I guessed that I would need to save and so I socked away a few extra thousand in my Medical FSA account last year knowing I would incur some expenses. Little did I know how much.

So I have this emergency fund, which I will probably liquidate a portion of it to cover expenses. Then there is the medical insurance which doesn't cover enough. What then? Well, the one saving grace of all this spending is that I will be able to deduct these costs from my taxes. I make X dollars and after insurance and FSA, I'll still be spending over 7% of my taxable income on this stuff so I can take it as a deduction.

That's the only saving grace of it all. I am going to have to run some numbers soon and see if I can change my federal withholding to put more cash towards my expenses.

Desperate people get creative. I've never brainstormed quite this much to make something happen. Well, ok. That's not true. I got creative like this when I wanted to buy a house.


Operating at a Loss & Treasury Management

I'll never forget when I learned why companies operated at a loss. I was in a microeconomic theory class when we were drawing graphs on operating costs and profitability. There came a point (on a curve, naturally) where your operating costs were as low as they were going to get, but you were still not profitable. However, the company needed to keep going and manufacturing at an operating loss in hopes that conditions would change. All of the sudden I understood the automotive industry and it's decline domestically. I understood why it was economically rational to keep on going when a firm was losing money instead of abandon all hope and close up shop.

What is Treasury Management? It's a practice of handling your operational cash, cash investments, etc, i.e. the stuff that makes up your corporate treasury. It entails managing your cash float, receivables, payables, etc. Read the linked Wikipedia entry. I can't really say it much better than that. (I'm amazed that people let me get away with these crazy plain English definitions I make up when blogging.)

When it comes to the debate on paying down debt vs building an emergency fund, I think it combines these two concepts. When you have debt, you're operating at a loss because of interest on your debt. But that doesn't mean you have to quit and fold, i.e. declare bankruptcy. If you manage your personal treasury, you can operate at a loss for some time without complete collapse.

I must confess that I have a huge fear of being laid off or losing my job in some sudden and catastrophic manner. I work in an industry with a lot of bankruptcies so it's not like I'm being overly paranoid about this. I really believe that one day I'll be the victim of a corporate layoff. I've been severely underemployed before and I've had to drain my 401k plan before I was 30 just to make ends meet. I've also watched several friends go through prolonged unemployment after a layoff (measured in years) even though we all live in a hot tech market around the DC Beltway. You just never know. Sometimes you can see the writing on the wall and get out (which I did once and got lucky), but I don't want to take the risk of being blindsided.

I know that as long as a company has cash, it can keep operating till that cash is gone. That means I can keep paying my credit card minimums, mortgage, living expenses, etc. as long as I have some cash. What bugs me about people who say pay off your debt first is that should a catastrophic employment event occur, being without any emergency fund means late payments and defaulting right away. If you keep a treasury (emergency basket of cash), then at least you can operate at a loss for some time before really scary stuff happens.

I think I've repeated myself, but I hope that one of these explanations makes sense to someone who needs the help. My emergency fund is about half of what it really needs to be, but I'd rather have it than not have it. I've thought about pillaging my emergency fund to kill off half my consumer debt, but I just can't do it. I'm not prepared to be unemployed for 12 months, or be underemployed again for the same amount of time.

If I had to do it again, would have drained out my 401k back when I was in my 20's? Yes, I think so. I was lucky that my plan didn't penalize me for the early withdrawl, and the cash resource gave me a lot of flexibility to face my bleak future with some optimism. I was able to keep paying my minimums and arrange some major life changes by pillaging my 401k and using the cash. The one thing I would change about my post-college employment is I would have been more disciplined about saving an emergency fund. If I had done that, I might not have had to kill my 401K later on.

I know it's kind of weird to think of yourself as a corporation. But I'd be an irresponsible company officer at Mapgirl, Inc. if I didn't take into consideration shareholder value, which happens to be held by Mapgirl, individual shareholder.


Articles I liked this week

Normally I do this in chronological order as I find something new I add it to the bottom of the post, however, I was really compelled by Five Cent Nickel's post about his mortgage being sold and how you should handle the transfer. It's very good advice aimed at protecting your information and I recommend it to anyone who owns a financial instrument which can be sold to another institution. (Primarily, but I imagine not limited to mortgages.)

Jane Dough finds us an article about money market accounts and CD's. Apparently, PF Bloggers are leading a trend.

Jeffrey reminds us to buy freedom, not things.

JD's got the get out of debt pep talk that I need.

Kira on getting great financial advice from her family. It's a really fantastic post that begs the question, what did you learn from your family? I learned not to pay retail if I can help it. Haggle. Save in my 401K plan. Pay an extra month's payment towards my student loans every year.

Tricia hits a debt reduction milestone. Congratulations!

Laceshawl on the size of your income. I'll have to try this out. Problem is sussing out what my friends make.

Ricemutt on negotiating. Pretty good reading. Combine it with Single Ma's post on negotiating for a new car. Two perspectives on the subject. Compare. Contrast. Discuss.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Saving Money During CA Heat Wave and Rolling Blackouts

A friend of mine in SoCal has cooled her house to 82 degrees inside with a swamp cooler. It's 104 outside and she consistently gets about 20 degrees cooler using it. It costs her about $2.50 a day to run it, though she says her arm sticks to the table a little. I guess that's why it's primarily used in low humidity climates. Per this news article from Palm Springs, CA dewpoint is the key measure. Read on for more pros and cons.

Still, my friend is getting pretty amazing cost savings as long as the power stays on. Otherwise, she might be out of luck. I've seen swamp coolers on my desert camping trip. They're kind of neat. Not really my thing since I deal ok with the heat, but it seems like it might be an economical, CFC/toxic-coolant-free way to cool down a home.

If you read the Wikipedia link, you'll see that power generation cooling towers are essentially the same thing.

If you're sweating it out in CA, I'm sorry. Last week the heat finally broke in DC and for the first time after work I was able to drive home with the windows down and the AC completely off.


Festival of Frugality #32 is Up!

Penny Nickel has the latest Festival of Frugality available now, and you're in for a real treat!

She's written limericks! Fun stuff. I would say ignore my submission because the Technorati survey call has been taken down now. But go read the submissions by others. Good stuff.

Note: Penny Nickel has changed my submission since the old one isn't useful anymore. Thanks Penny!.


Saleable Asset SOLD! - Wedding Travel Progress

Every year I go to a camping event for 10 days in the desert. Tickets are usually $200+ by August. If you are smart, you buy them in January for $185. Even with the ticket handling fees, it ends up being a good deal than buying one at the gate for $300. Talk about Time Value of Money!

Because of four weddings, I have to forgo my personal vacation just because of vacation days. Now that I know I'm not going, I have found a buyer for the ticket who is willing to pay me for all the extra stupid fees I had to pay for postage and handling.

What does this mean? This means that the ticket covers the cost of a plane ticket to Boston in September. Yay! Hooray for saleable assets!

On other wedding plans, I have found a taker on splitting a room in Boston and a car rental in Seattle. I am very pleased, sharing a room and car with an old friend is going to be fantastic! I am still out over a thousand dollars this year on airline travel alone, but really if you want me to attend your wedding, you need to tell me a year in advance. The only one for which I was prepared was the first one, where I was sent a save the date card well in advance.

Please as a courtesy for your frugal friends, give them as much advanced notice as possible!

Please talk to your bride and groom and let them know where you stand!

I got a mass email from one bride and groom and replied to the other guests asking if anyone wanted to share costs in Boston. I was surprised at the number of responses I got back from guests. I'm actually trying to coordinate them into their own room and ride share arrangements now. Man, I should charge a fee! *winky*


Monday, July 24, 2006

Hello and Welcome!

Thank you new visitors! Please leave a comment and say hello. (I am sorry that Blogger was down on Monday, but come back again to leave a non-anonymous comment.)

Yesterday, I had a banner day for traffic. I think it was the most traffic I've ever had on a single day when I wasn't a Carnival or Festival host.

On other bloggy ranting, I am part of a different online community and I hate getting testy smackdowns from people who aren't list moderators. I think that's one of the beauties of running a blog like this one, if I don't like your comment, I can delete you! [cue evil laugh]muhahaha!

Just remember, one of my comment rules is that you have to be able to say it to my face, i.e. in person. That should remind us all of what good manners are and how to treat strangers we don't know on the internet. I hope I can treat you all with graciousness as well. Remind me when I don't please.

Thank you and good night!


Nalgene Bottles!

College Saver on Nalgene bottles. If you're a PF Blogger, I am sure you drink lots of tap water. (Will that be filtered or unfiltered?) Read more here. It's the reason I picked it as my best advice for saving money.

I love my Nalgene. It's easy to clean, goes anywhere, handles warm beverages or being stuck in the freezer. It has marks on the side so I can use it as a measuring cup on camping trips. It does not impart a funky smell or taste to your water. There is a reason why Nalgene bottles are used in labs to store chemicals and reagents. However, keep in mind that I'm talking specifically about the clear Lexan bottles, which is actually a different kind of plastic.

They come in cute colors now, but I prefer the smoke Lexan 32oz wide mouth bottles, although I actually use a narrow mouth one since that was all they had in stock when I bought it, oh, I don't know... 7 years ago?? These things really last a long time. Short of you carrying it by the lid strap and breaking the loop, you'll probably never really need another one.

I like dumping a little drink mix powder into it, but I religiously rinse it out. Otherwise, I never put sugar into it since that's what makes bottles get sticky and moldy. Ewwww.

Care well for your Nalgene and you'll save a lot of money. Yes, I know they are more expensive than pull top water bottles, but I promise they will not get icky unless you neglect to clean it. Those pull tops get nasty anyway. How do you clean them except with bleach? (Cue song "I'm so bored I'm drinking bleach" by the Dead Milkmen)

One last point: I have a small 16oz one that was a trade show freebie. I made a mistake thinking that I could put some soda into it and take it to work. Wrong. It fizzed out everywhere. However, this was not a Nalgene brand bottle and the seal at the top leaks whether you put fizzy soda or tap water into it. Make sure you are mindful what you put in the bottle and don't overfill.


Carnival of Personal Finance #58 is up!

Savvy Saver has it available now!

She had a little glitch with Blogger and so it's not as fancy as she'd like it. That's ok because there was a ton of submissions anyhow. Just email her if she missed your submission.

There's good stuff in there. I recommend you check out My Money Blog, Don't Mess with Taxes, Blogging Away Debt, Tired but Happy, and The Weight of Money. Sorry no hyperlinks this morning.


TILT! Save-O-Meter Complete!

As of close of busines today, ING Direct will take out my automatic savings deposit and I will be done my Save-O-Meter!

That's $4K saved in the bank, not to be touched until I get laid off or whatnot.

It's mostly in short term CD's earning at least 5%, because otherwise I will pillage it for some expenses I have this year or to pay down credit cards. Then it wouldn't be much of a cash cushion for me if it's all gone.

So what's my next step? Why another little Meter! Today I give birth to the Debt-O-Meter. Right now, it's sitting at about $8,000.00, which represents my credit cards. I think after the final wedding trip is over in October, I'll have to adjust that figure upwards. My goal really is to pay this stuff down and pay my credit cards off monthly. I've never been good at living below my means on a monthly basis and I'm not 100% sure if I can do it. I usually rack up the cards and then pay them all down. I'd say that's been my M.O. since getting a card in the first place. Though the huge difference now is that I have more means of paying stuff down now that I don't have student loans or a car payment.

I'm still saving money in my 401K plan. In fact, I am putting nearly all of that measly raise I received into my 401K. I will pretend as if I never got it, which is easy to do in my case.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Very Best Money Saving Tip

Drink Tap Water whenever possible.

By far it's the best money saving and weight reducing tip I can offer. I'll actually have more this week about this subject.


Fun Bits From WSJ This Weekend

For some reason, the Wall Street Journal still wants my eyeballs. Though my subscription expired in May, I'm still receiving it. That's fine by me since it's pretty expensive to get it which is why I chose not to renew.

This weekend had some pretty spiffy articles. If you can get a copy of the Saturday edition, that's what I'm looking at.

1) Milton & Rose Friedman Interview - They are a charming couple and it's kind of amazing sometimes to think a Nobel Laureate like Milton Friedman, ultimately is just a really nice, humble old man. Kind of reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college, fiesty and witty even as he turned 75.

2) "The Most Inventive Towns" - GREAT topic! Technically my major is in economic geography, so I am a big fan of AnnaLee Saxenian's Regional Advantage. It formed the core of my independent study major and it's the premise of the article. The idea is that geography/region forms some of the basis of why innovative ideas come from specifc locales. For instance, when the article lists its top 20 locations for patent filings, naturally a lot come from Silicon Valley. However, as you reach down into 21-40, you start getting into regions where good state technical universities are located. Brain synergy is very exciting stuff.

3) "New Headache for Homeowners: Inflated Appraisals" - Front page story, beneath the fold. I'm not surprised about inflated appraisals and sellers getting dinged when the appraisal doesn't come through with the listed price. Right-pricing a listing seems to be an art form and I know I was really glad when my realtor had a funny twitch at a seemingly great apartment we saw. I liked the unit a lot, but I didn't care much for the neighborhood. After we ran comps at her office, she steered me away from the place since it was overvalued at the listed price, plus given my concerns about safety it wasn't a good fit for me.

What bothers me is why the lady highlighted in the article, Karen Ammon, wants to refinance her home a twice in 5 years. The first time she did it was to roll up her credit card debt into a cash out refi. I know I've been tempted this week to do the same thing, but I know with diligence and discipline, I can pay my credit cards off without paying the sunk costs of another loan closing. In fact, closing would cost me just about the same as my credit card debt, so what would be the point?

Ms. Ammon finds herself 3 years later unable to pay her adjustable rate mortgage with the increase in rates. I'm not necessarily fiscally conservative. I've written about my spendthrift tendencies on this blog, but undertaking a mortgage was very serious business for me and I did my homework (See Peter Miller's book in the sidebar). Let this be a cautionary tale (because I love those!) for readers of this blog. Don't get a mortgage you can't afford. Don't get more house than you can afford. And if you go with an ARM, fix your rate for as long as you possibly can by asking for longer term hybrids (7/1's and 10/1's).

I didn't intend for this to be a rant, but inflated appraisals are going to cause a world of hurt for a lot of folks and there is nothing to be done about it since these were done in the past. I'm really sorry if you're sitting out there with an inflated appraisal. I can't offer you a miracle, only some resources where you might find some good advice.


NYT: Two Good Articles

As always, go to Bugmenot for a login if you do not have one. However, I've never been spammed by the NYT, nor the Washington Post. Really, just get your own.

First off, a little international intrigue. I'm Korean and the man with the big hair and lifts scares the bejesus out of me. Economic terrorism in the form of mass counterfeiting sounds like a William Gibson meets Tom Clancy novel. In this case though, throw in a rip-off Irish Republican Army that has its economics wrong and you've got a case for money laundering on an international scale. Terrifying. And it only gets scarier when you realize we're not pursuing it since we've got Daddy's Little Oilman's nuclear agenda to follow instead.

Second is a story about the shrinking middle class in world-class cities. I love a good discussion about regionalism and economics. This article kind of scared me though. I mean, who is going to live in cities? Rich people and their servants? That seems like a terrible imbalance. In a place like DC, I guess that means the wage taxes on all those VA and MD commuters is going to go up. Or the consumption taxes on dining and shopping. If it's not middle class parents pushing for a better quality free education, then who?

The sad part is that I live in a city and I'm not about to leave Arlington for Washington, DC. At one time I would have, but now I don't see any benefit for me in moving into the city. To encourage middle-class wealth building, I get a nice property tax break. I have a lot of the amenities of the city, but with nicer municipal services. I am hoping there is a tech resurgence in my neighborhood so I can stop commuting outward for an IT job. Hopefully Class A office rents are going to collapse slightly and make my wish come true. (A lot of government offices are leaving Arlington because someone in the government assessed that it could not be made secure enough post 9/11. Many of those 5-year leases are expiring now.)


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Technorati Calls for Survey Participants

I was on Technorati today, just checking links when I saw an ad in the top left corner. I figured I should click the survey link since I don't ever do that, but lots of PF Bloggers have been filling surveys and getting cash for it. Why not?

I won't say anymore about it other than it takes about 30 minutes, not everyone will qualify and I think it pays $15.00, but now I forget.

If you are a blogger, why not try it out?

UPDATE: The page layout seems to have changed and there is no more survey link.


WordPress Migration Advice

If you're looking to move to WordPress like I am, but do not spend a lot of time with PHP or CSS, let me offer you some good advice about moving your template.

1) Take your Blogger template and copy out the juicy CSS parts to a file called mytheme.css. Doing so will help you preserve your color scheme.

2) On your WordPress host account, create a directory in the /wp-content/themes directory called /mytheme. Copy the CSS file into that directory.

3) Find a theme you like in WordPress that you are willing to spend hours modifying to your liking. This means if you want a 3-column layout, find a 3-column theme.

4) Copy all the files from that theme's directory into your /mytheme directory.

5) Go into WordPress GUI and look at the themes. It should now display one for your called mytheme.

6) From there, you should be able to alter/diddle with your CSS and PHP to get your layout similar to what you had before in Blogger.

I am in the process of doing this now, and really, I am both and idiot and a genius for copying out the CSS information from Blogger into WordPress. I should have stared at some other people's source code more diligently before deciding to do this. But no, I had to hack about for hours on my own. (Where my coffee?!)

All in all, I can see the power of WordPress, but I am very very frustrated as well.


Friday, July 21, 2006

NYT: Ghetto Tax

Just something to think about. Read the article today before it gets archived. The article is from the 19th and free access will only last for 8 days. It requires login, so get one from Bugmenot.

When I was younger, I did payday advances at Wells Fargo ATM's when I was short of cash. I would never do that now since I have money saved up, but I figured paying the advance fee was better than bouncing a check. This is the way poor people think. They will spend more money/get into more debt to avoid spending more money/debt. It's kind of a weird circular logic.

There is a premium that poor people pay for goods and services. It's predatory and disgusting. I won't get into politics, but the free market solution might be to seek out goods and services that are a bit further away. Of course people who say crap like that have never had to ride the bus in the rain or wait for it in swampy humidity, or in the dark. But I'm not sure how you'd do that for car insurance. You'd have to move to make a difference there.

Geography matters. They don't call me mapgirl for nothing. Where you are located can make a huge difference in terms of what you spend. Fight the tide of your demographics and ignore the Joneses living around you. Is it possible to save money by moving to a more expensive neighborhood? It depends.

I ran an analysis the other day on my mortgage payment and rent. I know if I sold my condo and moved closer to my job, I could rent a room in shared housing for the price of my interest and condo fees. I would have to pay extra for utilities that I would not use, like a roommate's cable TV, but in the end, I wouldn't be pissing anything away since mortgage interest doesn't go into my savings account and the surplus cash I'd have would go into savings instead of equity in a property. There is the further analysis of including my mortgage interest tax deduction, but if I bumped up my 401k contribution, I could probably offset the lost of the deduction. So complicated!

If I rented close to my current home, I probably would not come out ahead because rents are much higher where I live (but still less than my mortgage and condo fee).

Three words are running through my head right now, location, location, location.


Wins and Losses for the Week

1. Bought groceries and cooked. Saved at least $30 in dining costs.
2. Found a roommate for one of the September weddings, and through it was offered a couch in Seattle for the other wedding.
3. Bought gas for $2.99 out in the suburbs instead of $3.07 near my house.
4. Invited myself over for dinner and spent time with a large happy blended family I hadn't seen in a while. (Because if I don't go to them, they sure can't meet me at a bar with 6 kids in tow.)
5. Managed to eat only a bagel for dinner out, but come home and eat something in the fridge when I got home.

1. Missed out on completely eating the roasted chicken I purchased. Had to toss some of it because I didn't pick off and freeze the rest before spoiling.
2. Bought very expensive catered dinner at Wolf Trap. Now that my friend gets what it means to do lawn seating there, we will dine al fresco with our own picnic basket.
3. Made plans for the opera in August.

That's it. Most of my spending every week is centered around dining. I eat out a lot. I am rarely at home. This week was unusual in that I was home more frequently and was able to cook for myself even if none of it was particularly balanced or fancy.

As far as the opera plans, it's my friend's birthday, and watching the Opera at Wolf Trap is MUCH MUCH cheaper than watching it at the Kennedy Center. I think I finally figured out why it is so hard to see any opera cheaply in DC. It's really freakin' hot and humid here. In San Francisco, if you are dedicated, you can go to Stern Grove and see Opera in the Park in the cool fog of summer. It's free and it's wonderful. Free summertime opera in full costume just doesn't seem to happen on the east coast. DC also seems to lack a quality conservatory where you can see student operas or concerts. I never knew how much I missed Peabody and Curtis till now.

Yes, yes, I know there are free concerts at the Kennedy Center and all kinds of places, but you'll end up paying a ridiculous sum to park your car near any of those venues. Taxis are stupid expensive in DC, and the only way to get your butt from the suburbs to a 7pm concert is to drive when you work until 6pm every night.


More Articles I liked this week

Dawn reposts a really great message she received. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! It just takes some time, patience, and leading by example.

Jonathan writes about learning your lesson as a newbie investor. Hello! Read the fine print! There are no guaranteed investments in the stock market! If you can't afford to lose your shirt, perhaps you shouldn't play? I don't know. I got all irritated in my comment. The guy quoted sounds like he really didn't understand that he could lose money and then got all whiny when he did. I've lost thousands of dollars and I haven't sweated it much. I've also gained quite a bit of money too and I treat the lost funds as lessons learned rather than cry about it and try to time the market to make up the difference. Some people can't keep their impulses and emotions out of their finances. Every time I want to freak out, I just remind myself, 'Dollar Cost Averaging' and my breathing returns to normal.

Jane Dough aka BostonGal on Roth IRA's. It's got a repost of a CNN/Money breakdown of why a Roth IRA is going to give you better overall returns than a traditional IRA. This means I should start pumping up my Roth IRA!

CNN/Money on some money savvy tips. They're very basic things to keep in mind and not hard to understand.

Debt Hater, on my favorite topic, mind-money. She's talking about debt. Why not read and add a comment? Her commenters have said some pretty interesting things about their personal relationships with money.

Free Money Finance on saving money buying soda and coffee. I have to tell you, if you bring a thermos of coffee from home, it probably tastes better than the motor oil you get for free at the office. However, I am lazy and I prefer the free bad stuff than waking early and making coffee.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gaping Void

Ok this isn't directly PF related, except the cartoon that Hugh has drawn at the top.

I feel I can call him 'Hugh' since that's how he signs his work, but honestly, I don't know the man and I was directed to his site by a friend. Hugh had this great post about creativity and living and perserving through crap. It was inspirational. Read number 31 especially. It's great advice for PF bloggers and anyone in general.

Through him, I found another of my favorite blogs, English Cut. I love well-made clothes having been raised in my mother's dry cleaning and tailoring shop. I'm not nearly this good, but Thomas writes exceedingly well and knowledgably with humility and you'll learn quite a bit about how clothes are made.

Anyhow, Hugh's rather brilliant. I love his aesthetic and I expect that any decent blogger has checked out his work at least once. Now is a good time since he's heartbroken and venting. I think I've found my next post-modern Dear John letter. It beats breaking up with someone by text message. (Yes, I am guilty of doing this, but now it makes me snicker with glee. It's not my fault he didn't pick up the line to break up in a normal way.)


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Have No Time For Thoughtfulness

"Everyone has a rationale, even if it's not rational." - Mapgirl

Fortunately, Nina at QueerCents has some time for thoughtfulness. I'm about to offer something wandering. I definitely think there is something going on with the rising price of gas. It's like pulling back the curtain and finding out the Wizard of Prosperity is a fake. More alarmingly is that it's highlighting how much less discretionary income we have than before. We're making choices to spend our money differently than before and now our economy is going to change. Oh wait, isn't that what discretionary means? We are choosing to spend money on gas over other things, like dining out.

Some people say we need to lessen our dependency on oil, etc. What I really think this means is we've got to change our living and spending habits. A 200-mile commute is insane, but I am certain there is a rationale behind it, even if it's not rational. For instance, maybe it's too expensive to live where the work is (true of the Bay Area and Washington DC). I know I deliberately choose to live 17 miles away from my job and reverse commute for 30-40 minutes. Or I could live 10 miles away and commute the same amount of time in a less desirable community. It's not particularly rational of me to do this commute, but I feel like I'd rather live in dense urban housing instead of sprawling suburbs. It isn't rational from one angle, but it is from another.

Anyhow, this is just a brief note. I'm chewing on this idea right now about where I'm choosing to spend my money these days. I made more of an effort this week to buy groceries and cook. I know I've already saved myself about $15-30 on dining since Friday night.


Articles I liked this week

Ricemutt on improving your resume. Excellent advice. Always be specific and quantifiable if you can. If you saved your company $3 million dollars, then say that.

Madame X on home inventory management. I walk the fine line between JIT and hoarding. I hate running out of toilet paper, paper towels and shampoo/conditioner. I will tolerate running out of soap since I can usually find really nice ones in my cache of hotel soaps.

Beancounter Blog on the mysteries of the check engine light. Given my 98K mile service recently, I think this was an interesting post. I admit, the check engine light had been going off in my car intermittently for the past month. Just when I think I was going to call the dealer and take it in, it would turn off. It was quite odd. Finally, my friend thinking of purchasing my car is what pushed me to take my car into the shop. Good thing too since I didn't know my clutch needing replacing quite so bad. If you're wondering when or what to do when your car needs maintenance, try Flick & Flack, the Tappert Brothers from Car Talk on Saturday mornings on NPR. (ooh ooh! The DIY guide!)

Jonathan on where to get free meals on your birthday. It's a pretty long list, but call before you go since the list is a bit old.

Financial Freedumb on his homebuying budget. How much he can afford, what's trying to buy, etc. I like his tables and his reasoning. Sometimes we all have to scale back our ambitions and he does it very thoughtfully.

Beancounter Blog (again!) on the BudgetBot. I might have to look into this one for tracking those stupid little cash transactions. Caveat though is the charges you'll ring up for SMS/text messages on your phone. Go read Single Ma on that subject.

Dawn on conserving water and lowering your bill.

A Penny Saved on his book fetish. For a big reader like me, it's got some good tips on how to save money on reading in the comments.

The Frugal Duchess on her strategies for dining out more cheaply. I think the best part is actually the article at the bottom on changing spending habits in the US vs the Globe. It's rather interesting to see what Americans are choosing to cut back upon. Now what I would like to know is where we start out as well. For other countries, they may not dine out as much in the first place, which is why they might not cut back on their restaurant spending. Just a thought.

Paul Allen, formerly of Microsoft, currently of Vulcan Ventures, is just a little boy in love with aeroplanes. It's not really personal finance related, but a description of his vintage warplane collection. It's kind of interesting to see what a lot of wealth can do.


Holy bananas!

I've been picked up by the Miller Samuel website! Thanks for the permalink Jonathan!

Check it out. If you are interested in real estate, particularly around New York, but also general real estate trends around the country, I think you'll find the site informative and interesting. Plus it looks a heck of a lot better than mine with nice pictures and graphs. I am verbose, so I'd rather type out all one thousand words.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Google's Official Stance on Click Fraud

Google's official position on click fraud is right there in their post. I guess it's a clarification of some out-of-context remarks by Eric Schmidt at a conference.

The long and short of it is that Google aggressively fights click fraud, which I think is why my Sitemeter stats don't match my Adsense ones. That's ok. It was bonus money anyway.


Carnival of Personal Finance #57 is up!

Justanotherblogger has it available now.

I liked Investor Geeks on laddering CD's. They outline the basic way you ladder CD's to hedge on interest rate fluctuations. Though he talks about 5-year CD's in high amounts, you can do it with any length of CD. That's why I like ING so much, I can ladder them in any amount in 6-month terms.

A lot of submissions are reposts of things I've already picked out for you in previous posts, but you should go to the Carnival and be merry and click over there.


The Height of Irresponsibility - Or How to Save Money Going Clubbing

Wow. I had a great weekend. I'm in my early 30's and I used to go clubbing all the time in my younger days in San Francisco and DC. Last weekend marked the end of an era for me with the closing of Nation.

Back in 2000 when I moved from CA back to the east coast, my college friends in Baltimore were telling me that I had to go to Nation down in DC. It was the bomb, great, fantastic, whatever. I was like, no, it couldn't be as good at 1015 Folsom. And truly, it wasn't. But eventually Buzz on Friday nights grew on me. Then Alchemy on Thursday nights grew on me too. (Those darn goth kids and their obsessions with Britpop and New Wave '80's!) Next thing you know, I'm there on Saturdays for my fill of gay boy eye candy just to reminisce living in the Castro and dance all night to Junior Vasquez. It's really the only place in DC that brings out the same level of DJ excellence that 1015 does. Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, John Digweed, Carl Cox, the Detroit sound, house, jungle, techno, trance, etc. All other clubs in DC pale in comparison. They're just pick up joints where the music is only secondary to the disgusting mating dances of junior hill staffers looking to get laid. (Oops, did I say that out loud?)

I'm an early bird when it comes to going out. I know I turn into a pumpkin at 2am and still have to drive home. That means to get the biggest bang for my cover charge , I'd be in the doors before 10pm for the reduced cover (Frugal Tip #1, get in the door early), get a drink special (Frugal Tip #2), and stay till about 1 or 1:30am. Usually the headliner was on for about 30 minutes to an an hour at that point and then time to go home. *yawn* Proudly, I could spend a well-disciplined $25 for the evening since I'm not much of a drinker. I usually down a Coke on the way over to the club just to keep my energy up and save some money.(Frugal Tip #3, start your drinking at home, responsibly!)

For the very last Friday night at Nation, I bought $35 tickets 3 weeks early (Frugal Tip #4, buy tickets in advance). There was no way I was going to miss this. Rumors are tickets were being scalped out front for $200. I laugh at the money I could have made, but for my very last raver hurrah, I don't think I could have beat this experience. The DJ line up was incredibly fun, with a lot of old favorites like Scott Hardkiss of the Hardkiss Brothers in SF, Scott Henry, a resident DJ to Nation, and the Utah Saints. I am not one to obsess about DJ set times, but this time, it was worth it. We planned for the long haul pacing our Red Bull/Vodka drinks so as not to wear out too early. It takes dedication and discipline not get your drunk on too early while the night is still young.

It was a night to remember. For my $35 cover, I got back all the memories of every night I'd ever been there with friends, the costumes, the DJ's, wild moments, accidents, goofy pictures, etc. So worth it. I will have no regrets at the astronomical sums spent on Friday night.

I was there from about 10:30p till 6am. I can't remember the last time I'd been out like that. The laser lights were pretty amazing. I got a thrill just being impressed with how far laser technology has come in the last 6 years. They had 12 set up and one in particular that had blue and reds they were bending into yellow. I would love to know just how much water it takes to cool something like that.

Yeah the E-tards were out in force. One of my friends dances on stilts and was hired to entertain for a bit. That was sort of fun to watch tripping kids get blown over by him when they realized there was a very, very tall man standing next to them.

There was the obligatory post-clubbing meal at the all night diner near my house. Dropping off a friend at the Metro station when it opened up and napping all day till we had to leave for Chicago (the musical) at Wolf Trap for a more sophisticated evening under the stars.

All in all, I spent $90 at the club. Breakfast the next morning was about $7.00. I am unrepentant. At my age, there aren't going to be many more nights like this again. I just can't take it. FWIW, I am still sore from dancing and it's a Tuesday.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Alarming, but not Surprising

CNN/Money reports that more colleges are accepting credit cards for tuition payment.

I don't find this surprising since credit cards are readily available and financing for college seems out of reach. But given the rising cost of tuition in general and interest rates, this seems like a very, very bad idea as a long term way of financing school. I can understand doing it because your disbursement check hasn't arrived at the bursar's office in time for you to register for the classes you need to graduate, but I am certain that some kids are going to get royally screwed with this method of tuition payment.


Meeting my Ex in San Juan

I alluded to this earlier, but I wanted to say something more about it because during our conversation we talked about money and our finances. I accidentally included MFC in a signature line on an email exchange and he confessed to reading a few entries.

Back when we were dating, I had a lot of student loan and credit card debt. I was grossly underemployed post dot-com bust, making $17K a year. It was pretty bad and frankly I'd hesitate getting serious about someone with that much debt too.

My ex-boyfriend is a cheap bastard. I say that fondly though since that's what he says about himself. He even said that during dinner about saving some tin boxes of mints I gave him years ago. He still has the boxes. Back then, his frugality embarrassed me. He'd make me take a free ice cream even when I didn't want it, just so he could eat it himself, not that he really wanted the ice cream either. That just seemed tacky and wasteful to me. But perhaps he was right. That ice cream was going to melt and be uneaten anyway.

Lately I've been thinking about why I've been so interested in personal finance or the things that have influenced my burgeoning frugality. I used to think that I was always this way, but it's not true. This particular ex-boyfriend definitely showed me a different way of viewing money. I never shopped at a Wal-Mart till I dated him. Wal-Mart didn't exist where I lived growing up north of the Mason-Dixon line, but they did down South where he was raised.

He was really great about taking me out on free or inexpensive dates. He was also very sweet and took me out to some really good dinners or to the movies. We had a lot of fun on our small incomes. I think of it as one of those training steps changing my thinking about how to save and spend money.

He offered to take me to Ruth's Chris in San Juan when we were picking restaurants, but I would have felt really awful about making him spend that kind of money on dinner after standing me up at the ferry. (His sailing trip went over long due to rough seas. I actually kind of worried about that when I saw lightning on the water.) I'm just not that vindictive or passive aggressive to make someone spend lots of money on me.

I got a lot of closure with our chat and it was good to know that since everything ended, we're both in better places, financially speaking. It was a huge obstacle for us and frankly it's good to know that we're both better off now than we were before. I would hate to have so many years pass by and be stuck in the same financial mess as before.

The Frugal Duchess has a good post for merging finances in a relationship. My ex and I definitely got to the point where we discussed these things and I think her post has some really good advice for couples.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Migrating to WordPress

I took Flexo up on his offer. However, my new site isn't ready yet. Not by a longshot. I need to learn CSS and PHP before I can get the new site looking anything like Blogger.

I spent a lot of time modifying the DOTS template so that it became dot-less in three columns with colors I didn't mind staring at. And now I weep.

Don't get me wrong. I think WordPress is going to be great. I was considering moving over when my parent had a stroke this spring, so I pushed it all off, and I am lucky that Flexo's offer has come through just as my traveling schedule is slowing down.

However, I was silly not to realize that moving over is going to involve a lot of work to make stuff look pretty again. I really dislike using cookie-cutter templates which is why I underwent a lot of work to move off the dots in the first place.

Now it's back to the drawing board as I figure out another programming language and web development. I suppose this can only be a career enhancing move for me since I an always put those letters on my resume for good use.

Who knows, maybe I'll re-invent myself as a web developer with lots of PL/SQL experience.

Stay tuned. I'll announce the new site when it's something close to looking right.


Articles I liked this week

JD on sin taxes.

Flexo will help you move off BlogSpot.

Madame X on how she tracks her savings. I think her system is too complicated, but I think she has more complicated expenses because of her job. For me, I just put the money into my accounts and total them up for the month. Quicken helps, but I still punch numbers into Excel to total stuff up for my NetworthHQ graph. Excel is your friend, it really is. Learn it. Love it.

Jim at Blueprint on home improvements. Check out the table of improvement resale values. I find it very interesting as I contemplate a window and roof replacement for my parents.

Debt Hater has a really awesome series on The Black Tax. I highly recommend it.


Friday, July 14, 2006

HSBC Sign Up Bonus?

Udandi commented that HSBC has a Best Buy gift card bonus, which was mentioned at Boston Gal's blog.

However, I'd argue that it's not much of a bonus at all since I'd rather have a cash referral bonus for me and for my referrer. I know that there's very little I'd want to get for $25 bucks at Best Buy and it's a slippery slope. I would go straight for the $40 PSP games. Armed with a $5 off coupon, I'm still going to *spend* money rather than save it, so I'd say that it's not much of a bonus at all. I'm not a big consumer of PSP games or electronic things.

I just spent $80 on two games in San Francisco at the Sony Metreon store when I was killing some time (due to lost my luggage). I think those are the last two games I'll want for at least a year since I'm not a big gamer. I'm actually pretty lousy so it's going to take me a while to beat the Katamari game. Heck, I even cut my thumbnails so I could play better, that's how bad I am.

I had a really hard time finding HSBC's rate card, and their CD's all have $1000 minimums. I can get 5% rates from ING for short term CD's for any amount, so it's actually easier for me to lock up my funds and preserve the cash. I'd be getting pretty close to the same rate as HSBC as well.

I was being impulsive when I asked for referrals. I got fed up watching the rates for ING fall behind the other competitors, but being able to tie up my money into smaller $500 laddered CD's is more appropriate for the amount of money I'm saving, plus I might be liquidating all of it soon for health and wedding expenses.

Flexo took the plunge though. Read and decide for yourself. I think I'm out for now.

Here's a recent post from the Consumerist and the commenters really love ING for all the same reasons I do.


Pure Agony

My car. I hate my car. I want to love my car, but I can't. I took it in for the 90,000 mile service this week. It's actually at 98,000 miles. The service alone costs $512.00. The report from the mechanic is that I need a new clutch ($1050), the aftermarket brakes I had installed in March make noise ($800), a fog light is out ($120) and various other fluids and belts need flushing and replacing ($500).

I did everything except the brakes, which I can never hear squeaking because I play the radio too loud, and the clutch. When I discussed this with a friend who's driven my car before, he told me that he thinks my clutch is too tight and it really does need replacing. He's kind of car savvy and says there's something wrong with the pressure plate and that means my clutch is going. His opinion is that at 100K miles my clutch has done well and I should replace it now. I seriously thought I could go another year on it, but apparently not.


The reason I took the car in was because it needed the dealer servicing and I thought about selling my car this week. It's only the second or third time I've taken it to the dealer for any kind of work. Why was I thinking of selling? A friend of mine wants a manual transmission for her son's first car and we were discussing the possibility of selling my vehicle to her. I gave her a litany of things that would have to be fixed and that's what prompted taking the car in to be thoroughly checked out. I had a pretty good idea of what was wrong with car, but I really didn't think the clutch would have to be fixed till next year.

I ran the numbers and decided that I couldn't sell the car because I didn't want a car payment anymore. No matter what, not having a car payment is very important to me. I want to keep this car for another 4.5 years when it's 10 years old. But frankly, I'm sick of driving it. I'm the only owner and all 98k miles on the car are mine. I want to love my car again, but I think I'd need to mod the car to fall back in love with it. I'd have to get better shocks and sticky tires so I could corner a lot tighter. I am not that interested in putting the sweat equity to do the modifications though, so that kind of destroys that option.

So why is this killing me? It's killing me because I put it on my credit card and now I want to drain out my savings to pay down my credit card. Bah. *drama queen*


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Welcome New Readers!

My Feedburner stats say there's over 70 people or things reading what I have to say. Kinda crazy.

I want to give a special shout out to readers from David Bau's blog. Welcome! *little bow*

David works for Google and I met him on a airplane a last year or the year before. It's funny how a single encounter can change your life. I was reading a Java programming book, trying to understand what I was learning in class and really get my head around some code examples. David strikes up a conversation about programming with me, but just because someone is in a Google t-shirt, it doesn't mean they work there. Well, in this case, it turns out that they do.

David was really encouraging about learning to code. If you read his blog, you'll see that even his kid is learning to program. It's a cute story. I really got inspired after our conversation because David builds things that make life better online. It's small things that can be amazing things and he showed me that during our chat.

Shortly thereafter, I quit my hateful job doing tech support and found a more lucrative job programming. It's probably not directly related to meeting David, but it was important that even a perfect stranger thought I could do this programming thing and that I come off as being smart and interesting in less than 10 minutes of talking.

As far as my Java skills go, I'm still not passing the J2EE exam anytime soon, but I can read a stack trace enough to troubleshoot. I never did finish my Towers of Hanoi program, but maybe I'll make that my summer project.


Heed the Words of Boston Gal

'Life is hard. Get a helmet.'

Jane Dough tells it like it is. Becoming wealthy is within reach if you want to do what you really have to do, spend less than you earn and save your money.

Kind of sucks to hear it out loud, but get used to it and end up with enough for retirement. Rather than rewards in paradise, I'd rather just not be destitute when I'm aged.


Destination: Puerto Rico

Earlier this morning I found Joel Maxwell's link to my blog. I promised him I'd publish travel notes today. These are specific to my Puerto Rico trip and the wedding from last weekend. I hope you find some of them useful should you ever go there. As always I direct you to The Frugal Traveler column of the NYT. The writer is a close friend and he's pretty savvy.

1) There really aren't any buses. You will be taking cabs everywhere. And those cabs aren't cheap. I hear there is a difference between a taxi and a publico, but darned if I really knew the difference. I guess a publico is the inter-city van service which I took between San Juan and Fajardo.

2) Cash is king. When you stay at a resort, cash tips go flying everywhere. Remember to bring lots of cash with you.

3) ATM? What's that? You can't find an ATM on Vieques, PR. Make sure you bring your own stash of traveler's checks or something like that. San Juan has large banks like Citibank and Banco Popular, but you will get charged regular $2 ATM fees, though I hear you can have those waived by your bank if you call before you leave.

4) The ferry was kind of fun from Fajardo to Vieques, however, being tied to the ferry schedule sucked. For the amount of time I could have saved and done more sightseeing, I probably should have flown from San Juan to Vieques. In terms of money, the ferry is $2, but if you are traveling alone, it costs $80 from San Juan airport to the ferry dock and flying costs about $80 as well. Try to carpool to the ferry if you can. I split that trip with two other guests and saved money that way. However, I would have liked to get more sightseeing time by flying.

5) Getting stood up by your ex-boyfriend stinks. However, when he takes you out to dinner and tours old San Juan with you at night, it makes up for it. Plus his advice on the cheap hotels was right on the money and saves you a bundle. And yeah, he bought dinner and drinks since it was his fault that I spent the extra $80 on a taxi back to San Juan from the ferry. Getting told that you look really great: Priceless. There is another post in this one, but I'll save it since it's rather long.

What was the frugal tip here and not just being smug? Talk to friends and locals to find out where it's *SAFE* and cheap to stay in town. Isla Verde in San Juan was reasonably safe, but a little grungy. If you've done the youth hostel thing, it was about the same as that. Not fancy, but serviceable.

6) Always get your manicure and pedicure the day BEFORE the wedding. Getting it done the day of when you're in a rush is a sure fire way to get it all ruined. However, Creative 'Glowing' is a great color with a tan. There is no point in paying $25 for a nice manicure if you're going to wreck it. (Which was picked up by the bride's mom, so now I feel even guiltier for the mess on my fingers.)

7) No matter what your friend tells you, she is a liar and will buy you a present for being her maid of honor. It was really beautiful and well, I got a little verklempt during my toast. But it was because I was looking at her and I think she was getting verklempt too. Luckily there was no weeping to ruin the makeup. But that's ok, I didn't pay for a makeup job since I did my own.

8) I am definitely going to go back. I will probably also stay again at the really posh hotel for a night or two. If I do this trip once more, I will schedule it for the new moon so I can enjoy the bioluminescent sea life in the dark, and take some snorkeling/scuba lessons.

9) I never had a chance to shop for snacks before getting to the hotel. That's ok because I only paid once or twice for meals at the hotel. I was eating mostly meals that were paid for as part of the wedding so I ate one meal at the spa, drinks at the bar a few times (which were comparable to drink prices in DC, if not cheaper). The bride and I did eat PB&J sandwiches in her suite right before the ceremony so we wouldn't pass out during her vows. I also helped polish off someone's orange juice and pound cake the next morning right before we all checked out.

10) If I had stayed an extra night at the resort, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot. The other girls who flew back to DC with me had wonderful souvenirs and experiences on Vieques for the rest of Sunday. However, I got a loss for France and a long wait by the ferry docks. Bah. I shouldn't complain. It was still a good trip even if I missed out on really getting to know Puerto Rico.

11) Verizon doesn't have service on Vieques, but Sprint and Cingular do. It returns once you get on the mainland though. I would check the charges before you go though. SMS works great out there and was a godsend as we tried to make logistical arrangements between the variously arriving parties of guests.


Question of the Day Marathon!

JLP is running a QotD Marathon in August. I've decided to participate. Along with Kira's post about how to start a new blog, I highly recommend that new bloggers participate. JLP gets a lot of traffic at AllThingsFinancial and he has over one thousand subscribers to his feed. If that stat don't convince you, I don't know what will.

ps - I never linked to my old post about increasing blog traffic, so here it is!


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Articles I liked today

College Grad on trying to get a student loan forbearance. It's not as easy as they would have you believe. But then again, consider if your loan is private or government. That seems to be the difference.

Kira at Penny Foolish, she's one to watch. This a great post and it goes with my old post about increasing blog traffic.

Her at Make Love Not Debt asks if she can charge her rent and make rewards benefits. I think that's a great idea if you can get it. Her commenters have great solutions.

Bestest. Kid. EVAR. SingleMa is doing something right!

Heads up if you are from Ohio and have used the Ohio University's health system. Credit has the story. I have a few people from OH who read this blog and I'm sure they are going to care about identity theft. Especially of deceased relatives who were treated at those facilities. Those are valid SSN's ripe for identity theft.

FiveCentNickel asks when is an in-state check and out-of-state check? Read on. Basic lesson? Open a local checking account and save yourself the headache when moving across state lines. Take it from me. I moved 7 times in 2 years, including cross country to three different states. Just open a new account. It's a lot easier.


Small Raise

I got a small raise last week. It arrived in the paycheck I received when I was in Puerto Rico. It's for less than twenty dollars per paycheck. It doesn't even keep pace with inflation, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. It means that I'm saving more in my 401K plan since I have a targeted percentage of 10%. It also means that I can save an extra $100 in cash before the next wedding. Every little bit helps right?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blogger outage tonight!

It starts at 8:30pm EST with no current ETA.

That's a shame because I had a lot I wanted to tell you guys about the last few weeks, but it will all have to wait.


HSBC Referral?

The interest differential has become great enough that I'm going to ask readers for a referral to HSBC. I won't close my ING accounts just yet, but I will be shifting some savings to HSBC.

If you have one, please email me privately or put one up in the comments if you have a lot to give.

I also have ING Direct referrals to give out. If you want one, let me know. I haven't given out any recently and I could use the referral bonus. :-)



Save-O-Meter Update!

There's a lot to catch up on from the last 3 weeks, but the main thing is that I'm about $30 short on meeting my savings goal. Verrry close. By the end of the month, I will have another $50 put in by automatic deposit and with the interest I'll make this month, I'll easily have reached my goal.

I think I like this saving, but to stay focused I'm not sure what goal I will pick next. This aimlessness is very bad. I just can't decide between having cash or paying down my credit card. I know the answer should be pay down the cards, but I also feel that I want to save 20% of my income every month, 10% pre-tax and 10% post-tax.

Ok. It's time to run off to work. I have many posts floating in my head right now, so I'll try not to flood them out all at once.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Quickie Post


I just published out some moderated comments. I hear there might be an issue with Blogger and commenting. I will resolve that when I return to the mainland from PR.

I hope all of you are having a great weekend. This place is gosh darned pretty. I am really glad I'm here. I'll post a few money saving tips gleaned from this trip later.


Thursday, July 06, 2006


I seem to have been picked up by DC It's another aggregator, but it works more like Blogrolling. My Technorati links have been overtaken by DC Metro Area Bloggers. If you are coming here through DC-based sites, Welcome!

Heck, you're welcome here, even if you aren't!

I think regional blogs and blogrolls are a great way to discover new ins and outs to your city and region. I know that that it's quality traffic from people around you, who are in the know. I love that my blog community extends to my real life, for every once in a while, you have to step away from the keyboard and going drinking with some real live people and maybe catch a Nats game or a show while you are at it. (I swear, I will make it to a DC-NoVA outing one time if I'm around on the right weekend!)

And yeah, all your eyeballs are belong to us! For new traffic is good traffic for website stats. (And a hearty bless you all to my Feedburner readers. I've been consistently around 50-60 lately and it still shocks me that strangers, bots and spiders want to read what I have to say.)

Ok. I swear, this is my last post this week unless of course I figure out how to get the WiFi thing working on my PSP in the airport tomorrow. But I kind of don't want to take the security risk. After all, how can I tear my eyes away from Sudoku or Katamari?

Watashi sudokuboke to katamariboke! Soo desu nee!

(Roughly translated: I'm crazy for Sudoku and Katamari!)


Some Wedding Drama Resolved

I got stuck holding the bag on three nights at a posh resort for this wedding in Puerto Rico. Luckily some good things happened.

1) The PR bride found me another guest to split rooms on two nights.

2) My ex-boyfriend is living in San Juan and suggested I looked at the Isla Verde neighborhood and scored a cheap hotel for $80+ a night for the final night, which is about half of what I would have paid at the posh resort.

3) I told one of the September brides I could not attend her wedding due to expenses. She has graciously offered me the room she rents since she won't be there for the week during the festivities. So no hotel needed! But I'm not out of the woods yet... (I would have asked my other friends in that town to host me, but they are all silly cat owners and I am very allergic.)

4) This leaves me with having to rent a car. But the bride tells me one of our friends is driving to town with her cello (to perform at the wedding) and might be willing to chauffeur me around. At the very least, another friend called me right away because I cc'd him on the email with the bad news. If he rents a car, he might also ferry me around as well.

5) I forgot that I have a $185 event ticket for my regular vacation plans which I can sell off to defray costs. I decided long ago to forgo this event for these weddings, but forgot I was holding a saleable asset! Woo hoo!

6) Folks have offered to scrounge up airline miles for me to fly to one of the September weddings.

So, when desperate for a solution, people get creative. There are some other options to explore, but I am glad I said something now rather than nothing too late. I will have to figure something out with the other September wedding as well. (I am thinking of bringing my tent and camping in the backyard of the house and dashing in as needed, saving myself the expense of a hotel, but is that being frugal or cheap? Again, it's make or break on being able to go...)

What's the lesson learned? There's a few.

1) Plan your finances! Know your current state of affairs. Know what you can or cannot afford. If I didn't know what I was going to be spending on stuff in the next 6 months, I wouldn't have been able to understand the impact of these weddings on my finances.

2) Say SOMETHING! It really hurt to have to swallow my pride and admit I could not go. But once I did, the phones started ringing with different solutions I could not manage on my own. My close friends are really wonderful people. I've known them now for 14 years. Crazy that is. Just crazy.

3) Say something EARLY! Sometimes it takes time to make things happen and time is on your side. I'll be making phone calls, trying to sell my event ticket, figuring out blackout dates, etc. But I have two months to plan and not just 2 weeks or 2 days.

ps- The PR bride is already at the hotel and has sent me a text message that food is expensive there. The plan now is to buy some Powerbars and drinks to put in my hotel room and avoid extra food costs.


Non-Millionaire's Guide to Retirement

CNN/Money has an article about how you can gain some financial security without being a millionaire.

I'm all for an emergency fund. It's definitely peace of mind as I start racking up credit card bills again for weddings. (I'll write more about this later. Tonight I'm packing for hurricane season in Puerto Rico.)

Being able to sleep at night, free from the anxieties of personal finance and the future is probably the best gift I can give myself right now.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Carnival of Personal Finance #55 is Up!

The latest Carnival of Personal Finance is now available at Raising 4 Boys.

I'm participating with a book review. I haven't had time to glance at the other articles though.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

I just wanted to wish everyone a very happy 4th of July today!

Just a reminder, I moderate my comments, so if you can't see your comment right away, it's because I am not near a computer. (Which totally wasn't true today. I was working a lot online. Gotta love telecommuting.)


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Articles I liked last week

Cap on co-signing loans. I bet you can guess his answer.

Free Money Finance on how to earn more money. The short answer? Know thyself. Sure you can go out and get a shiny new degree, but will it be a field you enjoy? Will it give you the other peripheral skills you need to be an effective employee/worker? How well do you communicate with others? Sounds crazy, but having taken 5-years' worth of support calls, I know that many, many humans out there are ineffective communicators. They can hardly articulate their computer problems with any accuracy and remain ignorant of details. It's quite sad. Often the folks who succeed in life are those that are effective at getting their point across with clarity. Great leadership excels at this and leadership often leads to great financial rewards. Pause, rewind, repeat. Great leadership excels at this and leadership often leads to great financial rewards.

BeachGirl on the benefits of college work-study. I left a comment there, which I think is pretty good. I should turn it into a post, but perhaps at a later time.

Nicole asks if you're ready for that? I'd have to agree. One day, I'll tell you my story on the same issue.

The Frugal Duchess, a day later has another post on the same subject. Are you really sure you're ready for a home? This post has great questions to consider, because it's true. I am much more of a homebody now that I have my own place.

Get Rich Slowly has a post about portion control and frugality. I'll say no more about this now. Dawn also has something about the same topic at Queercents. Click through and answer the question she poses at the beginning of the article. You might find your response very interesting.

Dawn at Frugal for Life has got cheap meal recipes up. What poor man's meals did you make when you were strapped for cash? I challenge you to eat for less than $3.00 a meal.

SingleMa on saving for education while being a single parent. I really like her rationale when it comes to her priority order for saving. I am not yet maxing my 401k and I am rapidly depleting the Emergency Basket of Cash. But hopefully people I know will stop getting married and this wedding stuff can stop.

IRA points to a great Newsweek story about 15 people who make America great. I'm not sure I agree with all of their choices, but I do appreciate a good inspiring piece. It makes me wonder what will I do in life that is great? What is my mission? I think I know. But do you?


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