Just tidbits about money and finance.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Small Hiatus

I'm running off to the last of my weddings for 2006. (Unless someone viciously decides to elope and make me join them on the adventure. If so, I am making them pay for it it, literally.)

I will be back to regular posting approximately on Wednesday unless someone in Seattle's got a computer I can use while not running around all over town for sushi and drinks.


Financial Role Model: Craig Newmark

"If you're living comfortably, what's the point of having more [money]?" Newmark said.

Ok. I have to tell you upfront. I love Craig. I've always loved Craig. I've exchanged emails with him to pretty much tell him this because Craigslist found me a job in 10 days, a place to live in DC, furniture for my apartment with no bed bugs, etc. It's a really wonderful site. I was pointed to it by my cousin who was on the original mailing list.

Read the full article. Notice what he says about having lots of money. For him, it would just incur more and more expense. I like that kind of thinking! Why cause yourself the headache of more expenses just to enrich your own pockets? After a while, I think there is a limit to what I want to have in terms of money. Then you start flipping over into having so much you waste it on things you don't really need, like diamond encrusted flat panel monitors just because you can.


Thursday, September 28, 2006


I'm still thinking about Seattle Simplicity's post about Julia Child and breaking geographic ties.

A long time ago, I was backpacking (Where else? in Europe!) where I met a young couple in their mid-20's. They were from CA, Silicon Valley area, like I was. They were lots of fun. We stayed in touch in that shallow way that all youth hostelers will say as they pack up and move on to their next destination. You trade an email address in your journals, maybe send a digital photo or two and then it fades. But surprisingly, we really did keep in touch for a bit.

This couple had sold everything they owned just before leaving for Europe and were taking time off to travel the world. The main reason why we kept in touch was that I got on their regular update list and I was amazed at what they decided to do. They eventually met a guy who needed a crew for a sailboat trip around the world. So for about another 12 months after I met them, this couple worked as crew on this boat and traveled the seven seas. How cool is that?

Another friend of mine, a much older woman (a grandmother if you will), told me about being a hippie and taking her three kids on a boat around the world and homeschooling them from the ship. It's just another story to capture the imagination about a different way of living that strives for less stuff and more life.

I'm not sure if I could live off a boat for months on end, but I do have the fantasy of leaving my cubicle behind for some adventures.


How do you know if an ARM is right for you?

Debt Hater commented, "My guy and I are starting to homebuying education journey now. I am afraid of ARMs, but pushy salespeople make it sound like they're brilliant. How do you know if an ARM is right for you?"

This is a really long response and doesn't get to the point till the end. I'm still working on structure to my writing so bear with me. I promise there is good stuff in here.

First thing, read up about mortgage products. I highly recommend the Peter Miller book, The Common Sense Mortgage. I learned a lot from his advice and explanations about homebuying and different financing options. He is methodical in reviewing a wide variety of products, including long-term (40+ years) mortgages. A lot of the reasons why I don't like the 50-year mortgage product comes directly from his explanations about 40-year mortgages. (The same reason applies, you are paying exorbitant amounts in interest on a longer term mortgage. The longer the term, the more interest.)

I didn't know that hybrid 7/1 and 10/1 ARMs existed until I read this book. I wasn't savvy enough to ask my mortgage lender about them. Initially, I asked the banker about a "3-year Interest-Only" loan. I got a pre-approval and started looking at condos. Somewhere in there, I re-read the Miller book in great detail and made a note of what kind of mortgages sounded good to me. My banker was a little shocked when I asked about these longer term ARMs. She advised that they would be Principal and Interest since they don't carry them as Interest-Only.

There are 3 main things I looked for in a mortgage:
1. Am I buying more than I can afford/want to own?
2. Is the mortgage payment affordable in the monthly budget?
3. Fix the interest rate for as long as you can.

My number one piece of advice: Don't buy more home than you can afford.

I cannot stress that enough. I know folks who were eating ramen noodles daily their first year of homeownership. It's not good to be house poor after settlement. Retain some of your downpayment money for random little house repairs. Little stuff will crop up that you didn't quite expect to have to fix and those will take a bite.

Think about your space needs. Do you really need 1400 sq. ft. apartment if you're a single person? I am making do with 500 sq. ft. just fine. I could have gone for a 1 or 2 bedroom place, but I would probably be living with a loathsome roommate collecting rent so I can afford the mortgage, not a fun situation to be in.

Second piece of advice: Know your limits on what you're willing to do for maintenance.

I live in a condo so I don't have to take care of a lawn. Mowing and weeding is not how I want to spend my weekends. Gardening I don't mind. I love flowers and vegetables, but I hate chores so having a lawn isn't for me. I know I'll probably pay someone to maintain my lawn. That is, if I'm not too cheap to relent and do it myself.

Next, my mortgage payment was not very affordable when I first purchased my home. That wasn't entirely the fault of my lender, but more like my confusion about what I was paying and having a job that didn't pay very well. Either way, I also didn't understand that the state of VA reassessed property taxes EVERY SINGLE YEAR. I grew up where it was done every 3, so I was pretty darned surprised that my payments were going up by $50/month after the first year. Check out what your jurisdiction does for assessments and factor that into your escrow amount.

In my first year of homeownership, there were times that my second paycheck wasn't just gravy for me, but essential for escrow. In the end, I resolved the issue by getting a better paying job, but try to keep your payment to the lower end of the 28%-36% of monthly income ratio range when calculating mortgage affordability. Just to be safe, add on an extra $100 to the monthly payment amount to allow for future fluctuations in payments, especially if you are going with an ARM. In fact, realize that with an ARM, your payments can change by hundreds of dollars. Try to see what your payments will be like with different rates and see if you can absorb those changes into your monthly budget. Read your loan papers extremely closely. Mine had limitation clauses on how much the rate could change in a year which would be a blessing if rates had risen extremely fast. (i.e. if rates go up 4% in a year, your loan might have a limitation clause saying it will only go up by 2% until the next adjustment.)

Finally, back to the original question, 'How do you know if an ARM is right for you?' It's the same question as, 'Why did I choose a 10/1 ARM over 30-year fixed or the originally quoted 3/1 I/O ARM?'

I looked at the current interest rates and the trends for the future. I figured that I was looking at some of the lowest rates I would ever see in my lifetime. I know the rates back in 2003-2004 were definitely some of the lowest that my parents had ever seen, so chances are what goes down must come up. These rates were quite possibly the lowest I would ever see as well.

More than any other criterion, I went for as long a term fixed period as I could stand. I didn't go with the 30-year fixed mortgage because the rates at the time were higher than for the 7/1 and 10/1 ARMs. I didn't go with the original 3/1 I/O ARM because frankly I was really scared at how fast interest rates could rise in a year. (The FOMC meets every 6 weeks. That's potentially a lot of quarter percent rate hikes in a year.) Plus I wanted to build equity in my place and I felt that I was not disciplined enough to make additional payments on top of the interest only mortgage. The bank I chose only offers 7/1 & 10/1 ARMs as principal and interest mortgages. They don't offer them as interest-only at all.

A lot of of financial advisors will determine if you should get an ARM by asking how long do you think you'll stay in the house. In my case, I tried not to think about that at all. I know that I could stay in this apartment for 3 years, move out and rent it. I know I could stay in it for 10. I know I could sell it in 5 as well. There really wasn't a clear answer to this question since I'm young, single and still geographically mobile. (The latter I think directly applies to Debt Hater's situation since she's not originally from Tennessee.) (Final point, I don't know anyone who lives in a studio for 30 years, so the 30-fixed option was out at the beginning.)

Keep in mind, I love fixed payments. I hate the annual reassessment. I'll do anything to avoid it, including paying extra into escrow so my payments stay the same. I know a lot of PFBloggers probably thing that socking away extra money into escrow is a bad idea due to foregone interest, but it isn't if you are relying on a fixed amount monthly for your budget.

In the end, it's a risk tolerance thing, while you gamble on interest rates. And it's an affordability thing and what you are willing to pay each month.

I know I digressed several times in this post, but I genuinely care about educating folks about the many types of mortgages out there. Whatever is widely quoted by fast-talking, slick brokers isn't the only mortgage out there. Do your research. Your analysis might find more appealing mortgages than what your broker shows you.

Good luck!


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Moving back to a cash based economy?

Working in the IT and finance fields for work, I find security issues very interesting for their unintended impacts on business. Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is more of a bureaucratic headache than fraud prevention mechanism. For what I do, it simply wastes my time, thereby costs my company money.

I rarely venture to the hard investing blogsites, but this article caught my eye at PFBlogs. If MasterCard and Visa are fining their small merchants for poor security of information storage, I could easily see a small merchant drop taking credit cards.

My mom used to keep her credit card swiper right on the countertop. In a small dry cleaning storefront, you don't have lots of extra space for a secure area for computer storage. Basically it's a box for the dressing area for alterations, a bathroom, a counter and then all your equipment. There's usually no secure area for counting cash. I remember at our first store, hiding behind the counter area because of the layout of the store allowed for this.

So what's going to constitute storing data improperly? Having a computer system/server under the counter? Waiting till there is an actual violation of the system before punitively imposing a fine on the merchant? Who knows?

All I know is that for a slim margin business like dry cleaning, paying extra for secured storage will probably reduce margins further and place pressure on the business to drop taking cards entirely and move back to cash. Spinning that line of argument out, if customers want the convenience of electronic transactions, then it's going to keep driving mom and pop out of business. Not a good thing.

What are MasterCard and Visa going to do to support their merchant network in these security initiatives?


"F.U. Funds", Emergency Funds, Losing Your Job, etc.

Tiredbuthappy at Tired but Happy asks if you have an FU fund. Single Ma asks the same question. Both of them come out with the same answer, YES. It's good to have one. (Miguel's comment on Single Ma's post is particularly good. It's a MasterCard commercial-style list and you can guess what comes out priceless.)

My story is a little different. Remember when Single Ma asked what you would do if you lost your job? Well, I initially posted this about what I would do. But there is more to the story.

I walked out of a job last year. I did have a job offer in the works with a very slow moving government contractor, but I did not have it in hand, and in the end, it fell through for various reasons. I am sure y'all are thinking that I shouldn't have quit without something lined up, but once you've had it doing tech support, you've had it. You're done. You're toast. 5 years of technical support is a long time. I had burned out once before after doing lots of 24-hour support work and I finally was in a position to find a new line of work as a programmer. After 2 years at this particular firm, it was time to go. I wasn't going to sit around waiting for another client having a bad hair day to scream at me.*

So I quit. I went home and figured out my finances. I picked up shifts at my second job. Got a gig through a friend waiting tables/running food. Calculated my stock option buyback check and my monthly expenditures. I decided at that time to pay off my car note immediately with my HELOC and reduce my monthly bills by $300.00. It ended up increasing the interest rate on what I had remaining on the car, but because I lacked substantial cash reserves, I needed a short-term solution to extend what little resources available. Plus if I really had to do it, I could sell the car because I owned the title, free and clear. The other thing I did was write myself a check for cash off that HELOC. After writing those two HELOC checks, I had enough cash to last me about 2-4 months as long as I worked those two part-time jobs.

I'm writing this post now because I have just noticed that it's taken me 10 months to get my HELOC balance to the point where it was the day I quit last year. Those two balance transfers are paid off, but I wish I had had a real emergency fund back then instead of using my good credit to see me through.

Please learn from my hard lesson that an emergency fund is the way to go. (And though I don't recommend pillaging the fund for a splurge like a motorcycle, I still have money left in my fund for 2+ months' worth of expenses. I think at this point, I can't bear to drain it down completely.)

* Yes, it really did happen to me. And apparently the client had a poor reputation with the other analysts. My management, to their credit, did the right thing and called the client on his horrible behavior. To all support analysts out there, never take a phone call alone with a non-technical management rep from your client's firm. Let the business people talk to the business people and the techies talk to the techies.When someone has an axe to grind with your management team, give them the number of the right person to call and just hang up the phone. Luckily I have a happy ending to my story and I would certainly work with a great majority of my co-workers from my old firm. For they are good people who told me that it's ok to hang up on a client when his/her behavior/demeanor is unacceptable. (Yup. They don't call it 'demeaning' for nothing!)


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fantastic articles from last week

MSN MoneyCentral has an update on their Women In Red. Hat tip to Jane Dough for this article. I agree, accountability makes all the difference, which is why I guess my net worth tracking ended up on Wikipedia. (Still in shock over that one. Whoever posted that, many thanks!)

Hazzard, whom I don't read enough because his blog is blocked at work, points out an amazing essay by Susan Nielsen on the devil that's been following her for 25 years. That devil has been following me around since prep school too, but in a strange way. Quakerism teaches simplicity in life, and yet it cost an exorbitant sum to attend most Quaker schools. I was lucky to be on scholarship, but while other kids spent their summers at to sailing camp, I worked the counter for my mom or read books with reading camp at the local public library. I'm not sure how I broke out away from the lifestyle devil except to say my strongest role model was my favorite teacher who is a Quaker. I realize now that beyond being a great counselor for academics, she lived a simple life with fantastic joie de vivre. Simple doesn't mean humorless. Maybe that's what we all need, a strong role model for the simple life.

Seattle Simplicity takes inspiration from another one of my role models, Julia Child! (I can't write that without the exclamation point. JC was so exuberant that I am inspired to live a life as courageously as her. Did you know bubbly Ms. Child worked for the OSS in Ceylon?) Now would you give up the cushy life of 9-5 to freelance and wander the world? Trust me. It can be done. The Frugal Traveler does it all the time! As I ponder this life trapped in a cubicle, I fantasize about the life just outside the windows where the sun shines, the trees are green and the trails begged to be hiked.

Jane Dough writes about 'ARM Harm', linking to the NY Times about ARM refinancing trends. neener neener! I am happy that I got a 10/1 ARM. I figure a decade is a good long time to ride out any short-term trends and build up some equity before deciding my next residential move.


Referral links for Verizon FIOS service?

Sign up at Commission Junction for Verizon FIOS referrals.

And if someone uses your referrals, I'd better get a finder's fee! *winky*

I personally don't have a TV which is why I'm not planning on putting this up myself.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Here Piggy Piggy!

You didn't like my ghetto Lenten Piggy Bank? You don't like red gingham Chinese containers? But I repurposed it from it's original job as a gift box! I think that's pretty darn frugal!

If you want a hip, stylish one, try these piggy banks out. (WaPo. Probably requires login. Get it from BugMeNot, but WaPo doesn't spam. I've had an ID there for years.)

I really miss having a real ceramic piggy bank. The kind you smash open with a hammer. Lately, I want one with a rubber stopper in the tummy so I don't have to break it open, but the paper box container did work pretty well. I do open it up every once in a while to raid it for pocket money, but I find that I like having it to stash big wads of cash. I really hate carrying lots of cash, so I'll put it into the box and pull out one twenty dollar bill at a time.


Carnival of Personal Finance #67 is Up!

Canadian Captialist has it available now. I haven't been participating lately since I think I've wandered off the generally applicable path for submissions. But eventually I'll join again.

Articles that caught my eye:

Donna Jean on comparing two job offers. She's got an amazing analysis that really breaks it down for you. It's an excellent point-by-point comparison and I suggest if you are only going to read one article, read this one.

CJ at The Coin Jar gives you three tips to help you achieve your goals.

Money Under 30 has great advice on negotiating with car salesmen. Read that with Single Ma's negotiation post. (No, I am *not* getting a new car, though I covet one madly. For some reason, the BMW Alpina I saw last week has captured my imagination.)

I didn't know this, but Flexo has got a new website up for the Carnival. It's looking sharp and I recommend you make it your one stop shop to all the Carnivals.


Prosper Experiment

I finally got around to putting $50.00 into Prosper and bidding on a loan. I searched only for borrowers with B or better ratings, with <20% debt-to-income ratios and a verified bank account. I figured those narrow parameters would help me find a loan I felt confident about bidding.

The loan is still pending, but it's for a AA rated borrower with a low debt-to-income ratio with a verified bank account. It's a tiny amount of money, but I see that the borrower isn't borrowing very much either and expects to turn around and use the money to fund higher risk loans. That's fine with me. Right now I'm feeling risk averse.

If you're a PFBlogger with a Prosper loan you want fund in the future, let me know via comments or private email, whichever you prefer. If all goes well with this first experiment, I think I might use this as a savings plan instead of ING.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scratching my head over this one

Hat tip to SingleMa for pointing this out.

Apparently, I'm reference on Wikipedia for the definition of Net Worth, along with some of my favorite bloggers!

Boston Gal's Open Wallet
My Money Blog
My Open Wallet
Single Ma's Fabulous Financials

Today my Feedburner stats broke 100. I know it fluctuates, but man, that's way cool.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Scary article about retirement

CNN/Money again, but this time the story isn't so positive.

I've always wondered about the 70% rule of estimating your income during retirement. It always seemed very little to me. I understand cutting back because you no longer have a daily commute, but what if you have daily activities like volunteering and shopping? That's still driving the car and 'commuting'.

Think about what you plan on doing as activities during retirement. If you're hoping to visit places where your grandkids live, etc, you'll probably want more than 70% of your income in a year.


Food with Integrity?

CNN/Money reports on Chipotle.

Well, maybe not integrity, but it sure tastes good!

I always get the pork at Chipotle since I love me the pig. But I also make the effort to support the kind of farming that Niman Ranch does. I believe that the meat tastes better. I like gamier, more flavorful meat. I love bison for the same reason.

I am a strong believer that my money talks. I think boycotting some things are stupid (like gas), but I like to spend my money and get real value out of the purchase. Full belly and yummy pork is right up there with the values I support with my money.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

I won!

Sometime in August, I added a link to on my sidebar. I did it because they asked me for a link, they linked me early on, and also because they were running a contest.

I'd never buy myself an iPod. If I was the kind to buy one, I'd probably already have it. My other option was Amazon gift certificates, but I am really bad at spending gift cards even though I love books. I hope to get a pink iPod Nano soon. (It's being delivered to my parents since I don't trust my neighbors with electronic goodies on the doorstep.) I've been interested in one because solid state storage is hot (latent chip g33k just expressed herself), but never could quite spend the money. This is the only way I'd get one, so that's another reason I picked the device over gift card.

I've been really lax about the blog because of work and life which is why I've only been posting once a day. If you've requested a link, trust me, it's better that I wait till your blog is 3 months old to reply because that's my first rule about linking.

If you have linked me, thank you. I appreciate your interest in my gobbledygook of personal finance.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I've got chat!

I love Meebo! I use several types of chat and Meebo is a nice integrator. The one kind it doesn't do is IRC, which is a bummer, since my technical friends are usually online there for immediate help.

But I wanted to try MeeboMe, which is a chat widget you can drop onto your blog. I've now added a chat box to the lower right sidebar. I can't promise to be on all the time, but let's give it a whirl!


A Litte Moral Outrage Please

ExxonMobil doesn't offer benefits to gay and lesbian partners of its employees.

The comments on the article are really pathetic. I'm gay-friendly and I am very pro-Mobil. My parents were Mobil gas retailers for a very long time and I am extremely brand loyal when it comes to gas.

However, as gas has inched higher and higher, and my folks have re-branded their station over to other brands, I am no longer so loyal. I now place frugality over loyalty when I'm shopping.

I try to spend my money in a way that is conscious of what I am supporting, be it politics, environmental sustainability, quality customer service, superior product, etc. But the comments on this article! Disgusting!

Reminder: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Flipside: "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me." - Alice Roosevelt Longworth


Net Bank?

Why don't PFBloggers use NetBank? Seems like everyone uses ING or HSBC or Emigrant Direct. NetBank has better CD rates than ING does right now.

A friend of mine has been using NetBank since 2000. He swears by it. I never felt that comfortable with moving all my checking to an online bank, but I see what the appeal was for him since he moved around a lot for the same employer and changing banks constantly is a time sink. For me, I have a brick and mortar bank where I live and another where my parents live. (Opened it when I moved back there for awhile and never bothered to close it)

Anyhow, anyone care to share why they don't use NetBank?


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

100,000 Miles!

My car turned 100,000 on Saturday morning as I drove to PA. I was at mile marker 68.5 in Maryland on I-95 northbound, just past White Marsh.

My car is a mess. I really have to get a lot work done to it. As I think about it there is quite a litany of fixes. I must call dealership and get this scheduled so I can pass inspection and all that good stuff for DMV registration renewal. (Now where did the damned renewal card go?!?!)

Don't get me wrong, my Altima has served me well since I got it in 2000. But it's 1.5 months shy of its 6th birthday. There's major work to be done and I'll do it all and keep it for another 2-3 years at least. I keep talking myself into getting another car. And then I convince myself not to do it because there's still a lot of life in the one I have and I hate having a car payment.


Property tax scare

My property taxes on the condo are due in April and in October. Normally they are paid out of escrow. When I returned from Cape Cod on Sunday (last week), I got quite a fright in the mailbox.

I got a 'NOTICE' from 'ARLINGTON COUNTY'. Nice big letters on the outside of that envelope. It said something about 'PROPERTY TAXES' and I started to wig out. When I first went to settlement, my taxes were paid, but somehow my bank forgot to remit the taxes for the October collection and I got a scary notice in the mail. Was I looking at another one? In that situation, I called the settlement attorney to make sure the money had been collected. He confirmed it, and then I called the bank to yell at them and tell them to pay the penalty as well.

Surprisingly, the bank was very efficient and paid the tax bill immediately from escrow account and paid the penalty themselves, as was correct of them to do since it wasn't my fault they messed up.

This mystery envelope had me worried. I really thought that it was my property taxes. And it was. But on the car. That's why I made my throwaway comment a few days ago about how they overvalued the vehicle and can buy it from me for that price in cash. My bill luckily is less than $150.00. I can pay that straight out of my checking next month and slap that new sticker on my car. I will then take that deduction on my Federal taxes. Yippee!

So the long and short of it is that I see these notification envelopes and I need to learn not to panic. Not everything that comes in the mail is a crisis. Sometimes it's good news. (like yet *another* wedding!)


Friday, September 15, 2006

Got my survey check! & Welcome New Readers!

Woo hoo! I got my check for filling out a survey. I can see why this is addictive, but I feel very funny about filling out surveys left and right. A lot of PFBloggers do it as extra income, but I don't think I'll be doing this often. I'm not knocking the activity, but I sort of wished I had a P.O. box for mail delivery instead of my home address.

I'd like to say, 'Welcome readers of Dumb Little Man!' I got a
wonderful endorsement
there which makes me blush. It's a pretty interesting site with a wide range of tips, kind of like LifeHacker. There's good frugal stuff, like uses for baking soda. I hope readers of Dumb Little Man enjoy my site. Please feel free to leave a comment, say hi or ask any questions.

EDIT: I fixed the links. Thanks!


What Would YOU Do?

Single Ma has a great post about what would you do if you were fired today? By far, the best post I've read all week. Her readers have really insightful comments about their personal experiences and I think you'll find them helpful.

If I was fired today:
1) I'd be able to bankroll myself for a month or two with my savings.
2) I'd apply for unemployment if I could get it.
3) I'd call my old second jobs waitressing and the yarn shop to see if there were shifts I could pick up.
4) I'd put my resume out with temp agencies and recruiters immediately.
5) I'd call my contacts and find out if anyone had any positions opening up for me.
6) I'd blog full-time and drop more ads on my website to increase what little revenue MFC makes me. (Hey, it's a nickel more than I had yesterday!)
7) I'd let people know that I'm available for odd jobs like housesitting, babysitting, concierge work for cash under the table.
8) I'd tally my assets to see how long I could go without work if necessary.

My last unemployment go around, I quit on the spur of the moment. I was unemployed for about 6 weeks and worked at the yarn shop and waitressing to stay busy and get out of the house. I was ready to go back to an office job when I was finally got the job I have right now. Notice that a lot of my list is about staying busy and making money. Idle hands make the devil's work. I did a lot of crafts while I was unemployed last year. It was awesome and yet it wasn't because I really was bored. All my friends were at work during the day and I had no playmates!

One of the reasons why I spent a lot of effort this year building up emergency funds was because of that experience. I knew that I'd be getting a stock option buyback check which would last me for about 2 months. That was essentially my emergency fund. This time around, there's no such option so I have got cash in the bank to tide me over. Right now though, I don't feel like it's enough so I am going work on that for the next 6 months. I am most likely getting a bonus in March. If my bonus after taxes is about 4.5% of my income, that will wipe out a good chunk of my credit card debt. Or I will bank all of it and then spend my money wiping out my debt.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

My mind on my money and my money on my mind

I'm wrote this one last night in total exhaustion. It's a brainstorm about money.

My latest thoughts on money:
1) I have my Millennium Bank CD expiring soon. I was going to cash it out so that I could pay down my credit cards. Now I have caught wind of something at work that tells me I should cash it out but reserve it as cash. Perhaps I should use it to buy my first 28-day T-bill?

2) I feel stupid for not sending in my FSA forms for my surgery sooner. It's for $1500. But I am glad I got my butt in gear and sent the paperwork off by fax. Too bad I didn't claim the remaining $1900.00. I suppose I still could claim my $800 FSA account balance against that amount, but I have some more appointments this year for which I will spend that money.

3) August net worth. I updated the graph. It's not pretty, but I just looked at my credit card statement and realized I've really run them up after the 1st of the month. The September net worth graph is where most of the impact will be, I think. I really wanted to fix my clutch before driving to Philadelphia this weekend, but it's going to have to wait.

4) I don't regularly check my ad stats anymore with Amazon or Google. I don't make that much from it. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these two things are positive and making money for me. Unfortunately, I have lost my Google PIN card on my desk somewhere and must find it to release my funds.

5) Back to item #1. I really want to start banking cash away again. I know that means I will stupidly be paying high interest on my credit card debt. But I have this really funny feeling inside that I'd better be throwing some cash into savings again.

6) Refinancing my mortgage. I kind of want to refinance to lower my monthly payments. I really can't justify what I'm paying considering that I could ditch my condo and live with a roommate in a house for about half to 75% of what I pay out right now. Then I'd have more cash per month to save.

7) Must rededicate myself to selling my stuff off that I don't want anymore.

8) Asked my beekeeping friend about buying honey for holiday gifts today. I hope he gives me a good deal on his local honey. I figure that I can buy some nice tea in bulk and take care of most of my secret Santa type presents that way. I already know which flavors of tea, so I'm very excited to make up these presents for friends and family. I know it's insanely early, but the knitters last night placed the thought into my head because there was a call for stuff for a friend to sell at a booth she rents. I think I will be knitting an item for her to sell as well.

9) Must buy holiday fat quarters for bagging the presents. Can't forget to calculate that. I'm hoping that each present will end up being $5 or less. We shall see.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Autumn is here!

Yesterday it was really cold outside. Today I've got on the wooly pants and jacket set from last winter. I realize it's time to break out the crockpot and back to making cheap meat stews with potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions and all manner of good things frugal from the pantry and market.



Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Regarding the 5 year anniversary of 9/11

I read some posts by other PF Bloggers about where they were 5 years ago. I would like to acknowledge the event, but I don't feel comfortable sharing most what I felt that day. It was extremely personal for me. Fretting for the lives of friends and acquaintances. Hearing the personal stories of people I know watching people leap to their deaths from 20+ story windows. It's really too much to relive.

One of the less personal items is that I worked for a financial software company and handled a lot of accounts out of New York. One of the kids out of our NYC office went to work for JP Morgan in the WTC. But I couldn't remember which one. Thankfully her name never appeared on any of the lists of the deceased, but any one of our consultants could have been visiting a client there that day.

Cantor Fitzgerald lost their entire bond trading desk. Only the CEO survived because he took the morning off to take his child to the first day of school. Imagine that. CF was one of my clients. It's not like they were friends, but day after day, typing in 1 World Trade Center, NY, NY on letters to my clients ingrained in me that NYC is the financial center of the universe.

I spent last night writing something profoundly personal about 9/11 and cried. This is THE definining moment of my generation. Like when Kennedy was shot. Except there are people who remember that too and I wonder how much more we can lose our innocence and naivete. Haven't we lost enough? Will there be something more shocking in our futures that will shake us even further? I shake my fist at terrorists and flip them off. Defiance and free-flowing hair. It's my only rebellion in the face of greater dangers in this world.

I woke this morning to an embassy bombing attempt in Syria or Jordan. I live inside the Beltway. I live too close to the Pentagon and military bases for my own peace of mind. But this is how we continue. This is perserverance. It's really nothing by itself, but in great numbers it means everything.


Tightening the belt

I admit, I haven't done my August Net Worth statement. I'm a bit afraid to find out what it's going to say. I've run up the credit cards with two trips and I have a third at the end of the month. (two weddings and a pleasure trip) I did one of my surgeries and now this month I look forward to fixing the clutch on my car, paying VA property taxes on said vehicle (I think they've overvalued the car, and if that's what they think it's worth, I'd like them to buy it from me today.), booking for my Christmas holiday and trying to save more money in my EBoC.

So today I bought a loaf of nice bread, some ham and a half gallon of orange juice (on sale). I stuck it in the fridge at work and I pray it helps me keep my dining bill down this week. The catch is that I have to finish all of it off by Friday or the Fridge Faerie/Nazi at work will ruthlessly throw it all away. Yes, even the mustards and salad dressings. No condiment is spared by the FF/N. They're really mean at my company about this.

Dining out has long been a luxury of mine. And for September and most of October, it has got to go. Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of a new frugal habit for me.

The other thing is that I may start 'going home' for lunch. One of my friends lives 3 minutes away from my office. I found out she often goes home for lunch and now we're making plans for me to meet her at home instead of going out.

The last belt tightening measure is that I've signed up for Skype. My mom yelled at me for running up my cellphone bill. (Like a good financial manager, my mom took a look at the company cellphone bill our family corporation provides and realized I use my phone A LOT.) So even though this doesn't directly save me money, I feel it's a good frugal habit to build.

I overspent on the immediate gratification of a headset inside the airport ($35), but it's a rather nice one and the sound quality was pretty good when I tried it out the last few nights. My peeps in LA are getting all my love via Skype. I am pretty certain that in a month or two, it will have paid for itself. No, it's not going to replace my landline because that's how I dial 911 for the firemen across the street that will never come here. (Long story, I think I had another post about it regarding emergency preparations.)


Monday, September 11, 2006

Car Rental Savings

I just rented a car for this weekend. I probably could have gotten a better rate if I did it a week or two before I left, but c'est la vie. I was too busy to think about it and plum forgot till the day before when it absolutely had to be done.

But I did save myself some money by doing two key things.

1) I did not renting at the airport. It would cost me $5-10 more per day on the rental, let alone the precentage of taxes on top of that. I am getting my car in Cambridge. MA. Way better than getting it at Logan Airport.

2) I timed my rental for 3 days instead of four. I got the car late at 12 noon on Thursday and returned it before noon on Sunday. I could have picked it up earlier and returned it later, but there is no point in that. I wasn't going to be doing anything that absolutely required the car during those extra hours. Mostly I hung out at Au Bon Pain where the chess players sit in Harvard Sq and laughed at all the freshmen still roving in the safety of packs of kids from the same dorm.

The money saved paid for me to take the train to the airport and back. Gotta love the T in Boston. It's very economical. It's amazing how your mental maps all return to you as soon as you see the Hong Kong Restaurant coming out of the T. The Coop is to the right across from Out of Town News and if you wander down to the Garage, you can go to Newbury Comix.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Best article of my short blogging week

Laws of Finance tell is like it is. Holy cow! I totally agree though. It takes two to tango and make a commitment that works.

And some others I liked:
Donna Jean on her interesting job opportunity. I think it sounds pretty cool.

Jane Dough reminds us why a good credit score is important. You might lose out on a job opportunity if you don't have an acceptable one.

Kira with some excellent computer tips. I built my own pc a few years ago with the help of a geek friend. It works perfectly fine for web browsing (which is most of what I do anyway). How much did my handbuilt pc cost in 2001? $600. It was a 900MHz Athlon, 256MB RAM with a 32x CDR drive, 20GB hard drive, removable trays so I could dual boot with Linux and Windows Server 2000. It was pretty nice for the price. My last pc? $400 bucks off the shelf at Best Buy in 2004. It's an Insignia, 2.8GHz, 40GB hard drive, 256 MB RAM, DVD player and I rarely wish for something faster. I don't play computer games and simple spreadsheets are all I run. Works for me and I didn't spend an arm and a leg. Good advice she offers. I beg you all to reconsider whether or not you really need a laptop. I realize that students need them just to get out of the house or computer lab, but as an adult, do you really require one? I find I don't.

I'm off again for the third wedding of the year. Almost done. In 3 more weeks I'll be gone for the last one. They can't arrive too soon. I have wedding fatigue.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Retail therapy?

I didn't buy anything material. At the last minute, I ran away to the Carribbean instead for the holiday weekend. My friends were taking a boat out to go island hopping. For various and sundry reasons, I could not resist. I had such a good time in Puerto Rico in July that I wanted to go again. But this time I worked on the boat and wasn't stuck at a resort doing generic resorty activities surrounding a wedding.

Bruised egos sometimes require a little healing with fun distractions. I only wish it hadn't cost me an arm and a leg to get there. Worth it? Yes. My Psychological Income was quite high.

I won't divulge the embarrassing airline ticket price, but I only paid for dinner for three, a parking fee of $5 and a taxi back to pick up my car from work. Laboring on the boat was not a problem since the host wanted to take us out. (I learned the basics of sailing!) It was well worth it. Everyone should come back this happy after a relaxing vacation of doing nothing but drinking, swimming, laughing and shooting the breeze with old friends.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Mr. Bug!

I am an auntie and my nephew, Mr. Bug turns one today! (I love you, Mr. Bug! I wish I could be there for your birthday.) His new nickname was given to him last week by two lovely little girls I know. Their in utero nicknames were Limabean and Giblet.

I am an auntie twice over. My cousin had a baby last week. Oddly he's named his girl after two of my other cousins, to one of whom he is not related. (other side of the family) Very strange coincidence.


More Articles I liked this week + Hiatus

I'm running off for the weekend to a far away place. I spent all night on Thursday getting these links ready for you, instead of doing my net worth update. So please read them and my late night chatty blurbs. These are the posts that most caught my eye this week.

InsureBlog on universal healthcare. Bob's got some scary stats you ought to read. I think we should have universal coverage, i.e. it's paid for. But I would hope we'd also get better care too. blah blah blah on the statistics conversations. Just remember, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. (Was it Disraeli who said that?)

Simplicity in Kansas on how advertising plays on fears. I swear, it's that mind-money connection I always talk about.

Claire at Tired But Happy (have you tried an anagram yet?) on Roth versus the 401k. It's another mind-money posting where she walks through her psychology and why she's not maxing out. I think I'm probably thinking the same way as well on many of the same points since I actually don't fund my Roth very much at all. (Still trying to LBYM)

Donna Jean on the best budgeting advice she can offer. I would agree. Don't stare at it only at the end of the month, but work with it and keep adjusting.

Oldie but a goodie at CNN/Money. In light of the recent news about falling real wages, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate?

Amanda at Young and Broke has a new concept for you, Psychological Income. I personally wouldn't describe satisfaction from a purchase as income, so much as a beneficial side effect of a purchase, an beneficial externality, if you will.

Miserly Bastard turns out not to be such a bastard after all. I think he's got his head and heart in the right places about raising kids. Kids ought to be kids and parents should behave like parents so their kids can respect them. But maybe that's because I think that throwing money at the problem doesn't make it go away. It just displaces the resentment for a while. Learn to relate to your kids and enjoy them instead of wussing out of disciplining them.

For Buckethead:
Frugal Duchess on where to get cheap health insurance in the US. N.B. for families. BTW, for everyone else, I was just at Buckethead's last night. His kid played with toys, which consisted of nothing electronic. He was just a giggly fun kid with a ballon, blocks and blanket. I hope he stays on the less sophisticated side of things for a while. His laughter was wonderful.

CNN/Money on annuities. Eeek. I hate those things. Perhaps in 40 years I'll want one, but not now. Can't imagine why someone under 60 would get one. It's a horrible investment vehicle unless you're already old.

Five Cent Nickel's take on how much life insurance you need. Of course he thinks I shouldn't buy any, but of course I disagree. However, the calculations he does are interesting and if you are wondering how much to get, please go take a look.

LOST LUGGAGE ADVICE! I could have used this in June and saved some money when my bags were lost in CA.

I won't be back posting anything for a while since I have another darned wedding next weekend and a day and half in my own apartment between trips. My one spare evening is going to be spent drinking with the boss from work so he doesn't think I'm a complete nerdnik tee-totaler. (More on this later. There is sucking up. There is polishing apples and there is making yourself out to be way cool so they don't want to lose you. It helps to be a rock star and deliver something they really need right before you jet off on vacation. YES!)


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