Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My 2009 Shopping Hiatus

I've mentioned in a few posts that I plan to stop shopping (for non-essential items) for six months (January to June) because I feel that my impulse shopping is the biggest leak in my budget. I never spend a lot at one time, but I often buy myself little treats. For some people, food is a vice, for me, it's clothing and accessories. My small shopping splurges add up to a rather large amount of money, according to my Mint spending trends. I want to see more progress in debt repayment in 2009 than I did in 2008, so sacrifices must be made...sigh.

  1. I cannot purchase the following clothing items (with the exception of gift card purchases, I expect to get gift cards for my birthday): ~Coats ~Jackets ~Blazers ~Apparel ~ Shoes ~Accessories
  2. Undergarments and work out clothing are exceptions to the no- shopping rule.
  3. Household decor items cannot be purchased unless they are saved for and serve a purpose (seating or storage,)
  4. iTunes downloads... (I can start trading music with friends if I get sick of what's on my ipod)
  5. Books (with the exception of textbooks). I always get sucked in by cheap books on Amazon...case in point, the Twilight series.
Dry cleaning expenses will also be kept to a minimum by washing items that aren't extremely delicate by hand. Dry cleaning is also a large budget leak. I get really lazy with this sometimes. It's just so much easier to drop them off and have someone else launder/iron your clothing. I also plan to try to increase my income through some type of part time work during 2009. The most preferable method of doing this would be freelance writing or blogging. Any extra income made in 2009 will go toward debt repayment first and savings second. I'll give periodic check-in's of my progress on this blog. This sounds pretty easy now but could get difficult...I just saw all of the cute new additions to the Target Go International line this week...

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Christmas Spending

I didn't do too bad on my Christmas spending but I did go over my $200 budget. Before shopping, I put $200 on a Visa gift card as a safeguard to overspending but I still ended going over budget by about $150. In hindsight, I should have put $100 on the Visa card and then used cash for the rest of my gifts. I live near a great outdoor market that has vendors, artwork, food, and jewelry among other things. Many of the vendors don't use debit or credit cards like Visa, so I still had to go to the ATM and use cash for a few gifts. I like buying gifts like original art work, or hand made items because they are so much more personal than gift cards or items from large retail stores. I thought using a Visa gift card to track my Christmas spending would be easier, but it proved to be a bit of a pain in the neck overall. The card took 24 hours to activate and I was not aware of this until I was in line to purchase some gifts from Target, so I ended up using my debit card for those purchases also. Oh well, you live and you learn. I still had a nice Christmas and I think the gifts I gave were appreciated and will be enjoyed.

Rest In Peace Eartha Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008)

I hope I have even half of her stylishness when I "grow-up."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2009 - New Year's Resolutions

I still can't believe that 2008 is almost over. Overall, I'd say its been a good year. A few highlights of the year are:
  • I discovered the PF blog world and actually started this blog in April.
  • I started a new job in January (not so new anymore, I'll have been here a year in a few days...).
  • I became more aware of what I spend my money on.
  • I started graduate school part time.
  • I became a board member of a non-profit organization.
  • And if I'm honest, I spent way too much money traveling back and forth to Philly.
I have a long way to go, but at least I'm working toward some of my goals. I'm sure I could list about 10 more, but I wanted to stick with things that I can realistically achieve, so I don't feel like a failure at the end of the year. So here are my resolutions for 2009:

  1. Take one non-family trip in honor of my 25th birthday.
  2. Study as much as it takes to get good grades (minimum of a 'B') in my Spring 09 semester classes.
  3. Exercise on a regular basis (gym, exercise DVD's, etc). I don't need to lose weight, but I'd like to build more muscle, flexibility, and upper body strength. I'm sure there are 10 year olds stronger than me at the moment...
  1. Get Emergency Fund up to $3,000.
  2. Pay off $3,000 in credit card debt.
  3. Stick to my budget!
  4. Shopping moratorium for first 6 months of the year (I will do a separate post on details).
  5. STRETCH GOALS: (1) Get car fund up to $1,000. (2) Start contributing to a Roth IRA.
  1. Get a mentor and communicate with this person on a regular basis.
  2. Get at least two freelance writing gigs.
  3. Write/submit one grant proposal for non-profit (because I'd like to turn this into a marketable skill anyway).
Have you plotted any major goals to achieve in 2009?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Does it Make Sense to Cut My Landline and Use Skype?

I'm trying to cut the fat in my spending for 2009 and I am seriously considering cutting my land line and using Skype instead. Cutting my landline would save me about $30 per month. I only have the landline because my cellphone has terrible service in my apartment, so I need another phone talking option for when I am in the house. I get crystal clear reception just about everywhere else, my phone even works on the subway...go figure. I'm not switching cell phone carriers until my contract is up, because it seems like an unnecessary expense to pay to change it before then. According to their website, Skype has a plan where you can make unlimited to any phones in the US & Canada for $2.95 per month. This plan has no long-term contracts and no connection fees. Skype allows you to purchase a 12-month online number. An online number lets people call you from a regular phone at their local rates.

Does anybody want to weigh in on whether they think this is a good idea? Or have other suggestions?

Monday, December 15, 2008

My 2009 Monthly Budget

Here is my monthly budget for 2009 based on my income after taxes. My retirement account (403b) and health insurance costs are not included for this reason. But I get about 3% taken out of each pay check for my 403b and get a company match. I am still evaluating whether I will open a Roth IRA/or start contributing monthly to the IRA account I have from rolling over my 401K from my last job in 2009. I am leaning toward paying off my credit card balance first since I am already contributing some money for my retirement and have a few decades to worry about retirement anyway. I have the feeling that one of my personal finance gurus, Washington Post columnist, Michelle Singletary would agree with me.

I definitely want to start tracking my spending more closely and will strictly adhere to the budget as much as possible. Any windfalls I receive over the year will be split between debt payoff and savings. Money leftover from any category can be used toward another category or applied to debt repayment. I've gotten a little lazy in tracking my spending by relying on Mint.com. But I find that the categories don't always apply my money to the correct areas, for instance, my purchases at CVS are very rarely a health/medical expense, but Mint often puts them in this category. The best thing for my to do is track my money daily with receipts and use Mint as a back up and a way to easily look at all my account balances at one time.

I just used the percentages in my budget below, but will be using dollar amounts that I am over/under in each category when I track this at the end of each month starting in January. It's kind of disappointing that I can't really afford to apply more money to debt right now so I can focus on my savings goals, but I'd rather stay within my budget on a consistent basis and save what I can, than save too much and be short on cash for other things I need each month. When looking at my housing/utility category, keep in mind that I don't have roommates, so I'm not sharing the costs of rent/utilities with others.

So here it goes:

Charity - (1%)
Saving - (2.1 %)
Housing - (37.1%)
Utilities/Cell Phone/Renter's Insurance - ( 13.8%)
Food - (6.2%)
Transportation (Metro/Amtrak/Bus rides) - (12.4%)
Clothing - (1%)
Personal - (5%)
Recreation/Entertainment/Gym Membership - (2.9%)
Debts (Student Loans/Credit Card Balance) - (20.9%)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I've been tagged

Frugal Chick tagged me a while ago I didn’t forget, I just haven’t taken the time to come up with responses. Here are six interesting (very subjective use of the word) things about me:

  1. I had a very brief stint as a figure skater at the age of 10 and won a gold medal in a competition at a skating rink in Hershey Park, PA.
  2. I have a growing playlist of country music on my iPod. This would surprise anyone who knows me in real life.
  3. I sometimes shop in the kids department of Zara and Target…hey if the clothes fit…
  4. I saw my nursery school teacher last week and she remembers me though I haven’t seen her in years.
  5. I regularly get mistaken for a high school student, I’m told I’ll appreciate this one day, but for now its just annoying.
  6. I am at my third job in the two years I’ve been working, but don’t count my first job in conversation because I worked there for less than four months. I left to take a job that paid a little more.

I’ll tag:

Sallie’s Niece

Young Black and Prosperous

Budget Chic

Money Maus

Graduated Learning


If you’ve responded to a similar tag, just come up with 6 more interesting things about yourself if you can.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Secondhand stores reap benefits of recession

According to this recent USA Today article:
"There have been many euphemistic labels applied to secondhand goods, including "gently used," "pre-owned" and "like new." But in the current economy, they have a new and candid label: "hot sellers."

As Americans look for ways to cut spending, they are scooping up bargain clothes, accessories, toys and furniture once owned by someone else. "

Buying items second hand is definitely good for the wallet in most cases, but it can also be good for the environment. I like looking unique and that is another plus to shopping second hand. I will be on the lookout for thrift stores in the DC area...that is after my shopping moratorium next year.

Photo: USA Today

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Every Young Professional Should Volunteer for a Non Profit

Non profits that serve disadvantaged youth in urban areas is a bit of a growing passion of mine. I've donated my time to two organizations that have missions that involve this population in the two years since I've graduated from college. But I believe that all young professionals can benefit from volunteering for a non profit that serves a cause they believe in for the following reasons:

Gives you an opportunity to take on a leadership role you may not be privy to if you are a junior staff member at you full time gig. Since I have been working professional for less than three years, I am still pretty low on the totem pole in my day job. I succeeded in getting "assistant" out of my job title, but I still have a supportive role to my superiors. I am able to take on a leadership role I would not yet be considered for because of my lack of work experience for the non profit I volunteer for. I am currently a member of a board of directors of a non profit that two friends started in my hometown and lead a committee that has duties that definitely translate to applicable work experience.

Gives you an opportunity to add meaningful work experience to your resume. I have developed writing samples and lead projects for both of the non profits I have volunteered for that are now on my resume. Doing things such as leading a committee, planning events, writing media and marketing materials, among other things definitely belong on my resume. Whatever your skills are: writing, planning events, designing websites, networking, fundraising, mentoring or teaching youth, cooking...you see where I'm going with this, we all have skills that could be very useful to a non profit organization and could also help move your career along.

Offers opportunities to network with seasoned professionals...this could translate to a job opportunity. Whenever I have the opportunity, I chat up professionals that I meet at conferences or other settings and tell them about what I am doing for the non profit. Sometimes seasoned professionals can be inspired to donate time or money or even mentor you so you can make a greater impact to the organization or cause you are volunteering for. I believe that networking is about helping each other out, not waiting to contact someone when you need something like a job, for more info about networking, I would suggest reading the book, Never Eat Alone which I had heard about from Ginger over at Girls Just Wanna Have Funds a few months back. Build these relationships now and they could later translate to a job or introductions to other professionals.

Makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Making a difference in your local community or on a national or global scale can make you feel good about yourself. Giving back is a good feeling you don't just have to save up for the holiday season, you can feel good about giving back any time of the year. Yes, I could probably find freelance gigs that pay me to do some of the things I do for the non profits, but making money is not what drives me to do what I do, its getting that warm, fuzzy feeling that I am making a difference (be it large or small) in someone's life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.

According to this recent New York Times article:

“Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education.

“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.”

“The middle class has been financing it through debt,” he said. “The scenario has been that families that have a history of sending kids to college will do whatever if takes, even if that means a huge amount of debt.”

But low-income students, he said, will be less able to afford college. Already, he said, the strains are clear.

Although I did enjoy my college experience, the amount of student loan debt I currently have makes me cringe sometimes. I probably should have taken steps to lower my education costs such as: staying home and attending an in-state institution, working full time while attending school part time, being overall more vigilant in my scholarship search, etc. But you can't go backwards and I did enjoy experiencing another city though DC is not very far from Philadelphia. It seems sad that college is out of reach for so many Americans simply because of money.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fashion Eye Candy I Have No Intention of Buying...

All of these items are from Top Shop US. One of these days, I'll make it to New York, so I can look around an actual store and not peruse their website. I have too many other things to pay for to spend money on clothing right now, but I can dream can't I?

December Goals

Here is how I actually did on my November goals:
  1. Choose holiday gifts for my immediate family. I have a self imposed budget of $150 for gifts this year. I will load a Visa gift card with this amount and once its gone, I'm done shopping. This amount does not include my mother's gift which is also a very belated birthday present, so will be pricer than every other gift I purchase. I'm open to any home made gift ideas any one might have! –FAIL - I just didn’t have time to do this, I will just have to admit I am a procrastinator when it comes to Christmas shopping and do it at the last minute like I always do.
  2. Purchase holiday cards for friends and family members and mail them. –FAIL – I plan to start sending out cards this weekend. But this may be the last year I do this. People appreciate the thought, but it wastes paper and postage is very expensive.
  3. Register for Winter/Spring 2009 grad school classes after talking with my advisor. Price textbooks which will be purchased in December. – PASS – I did register. I need to talk to my advisor again though and make sure the class I want to take in the second session of the semester has no prerequsute I need to take during the first session.
  4. Put in request for any time I will need off from work for the rest of the year. – HALF WAY – I put in my time for the Thanksgiving holiday, but I still have to see how many days I have left for the year. I’d like to take the time off between Christmas and New Year’s if I have enough vacation/personal days.
  5. Go to the gym a minimum of once a week. There are a few classes I want to try out including this dance inspired workout called Zumba. – FAIL – But progress, I did go to the gym this month, but not every week and I still want to take a ZUMBA class.
  6. Attend a minimum of one professional or networking event. Meet a minumum of at least three people at any event I attend and keep in touch with them (via email). - PASS
  7. Formally ask at least one person I admire professionally to mentor me. Set up expectations both ways so this can be a mutually beneficial relationship. – FAIL, I have someone in mind, but I still have to formally ask, this will be a January goal.

Here are my December Goals, they are not as ambitious as my November goals. I want to feel a sense of accomplishment at ticking every goal off at least onece before the year ends:

  1. Choose and purchase holiday gifts for my immediate family with budget of $150 for gifts.
  2. Purchase and mail holidays cards.
  3. Take at least one yoga, dance and spin class this month at the gym.
  4. Set savings and debt repayment goals for 2009. My main focus for the first part of the year is paying down my Visa card and adding more to savings, but I have to set a deadline for myself. I did make my last payment for my Discover card this week! The balance was orginally over $1,000. But the large balance on my Visa card negates that accomplishment in my mind...
  5. Decide when I will visit my father and stepmother in Florida in early 2009. Put in vacation request at work, If funds allow, purchase airfare.
  6. Come up with definitive plan for a trip to take in 2009 in celebration of my 25th birthday…yikes!

I have many goals in mind (financial and personal) for 2009, but I'll wait until I formulate them to do a post on them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Did I Purchase On Black Friday?

Nothing. I did indeed go shopping, but it was more so to spend time with my friend than to actually buy anything. Well if you count the lunch I bought at the mall, I spent $10. I saw some nice perfumes and really cute clothing, but nothing I absolutely had to have. It probably helps that I stayed out of Zara and H&M, the two stores that are my budgetary kryptonite.

I still plan to use my first December paycheck to load a Visa gift card with $200 and when its spent, that means I'm done my Christmas shopping. I will also give friends, co-workers and aquaintances holiday cards as I have been doing for the past two years. I refuse to incur more debt just because it's the holiday season.

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I'm just trying to enjoy the rest of my weekend...Monday means back to reality and priorities in the following order: (1) work, (2) two papers to write, (3) two finals to start studying for (4) and a fundraiser (for the non profit I am a board member of) to make final plans for that is taking place next week.

The tragic death of the Wal-Mart employee in New York puts things in perspective and makes me ashamed of the conspicuous consumption that takes place this time of year (even in the midst of this economic slump). No deal is worth the loss of a life.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I am thankful for...

I am thankful for my family, friends, my health and the promise of the future. Today is a day not to obsess over the little things like how much further I have to reach my personal and professional goals, but give thanks for the big things, like spending the holiday with my loved ones. I hope any one who is reading this is able to do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Credit Cards

I am on track to pay off my Discover credit card balance ($250) with my first pay check of December. If I do receive a holiday bonus this year (I wasn't at my current job this time last year, so I'm not sure if we get one), half will go toward textbooks for the Spring 2009 semester of my classes and the other half will go toward my Visa card balance. I will decide how much money I can comfortably afford to put down on my Visa card balance per month in December, but I am leaning toward $300. I hope by seriously cutting back on my discretionary spending (a.k.a. - shopping!) starting in January, that I will be able to pay off this credit card by the end of 2009. I'm anxious to start saving for my car, and I won't do that until this credit card is paid off.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yet another goal to save for...

I want one of these...my trusty laptop that I've had since my junior year of college has served me well, but I'd really like an upgrade. Hey I'm only human, and my laptop is frustratingly slow. So I've started yet another savings pot for a MacBook and added my fall semester financial aid refund check to it (but I am not adding this goal as a sidebar). I am only supposed to spend the refund on school-related expenses, and I think a reliable computer counts as a school-related expense right? Unless some type of computer catastrophe strikes in the interim, I hope to fully fund this goal and purchase a MacBook sometime next year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekend Spending

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a weekend spending log. I plan to do better with that in the upcoming weeks when my spending has the potential to get really out of hand because of the holidays, so I have to be vigilant about keeping track. I didn’t spend all that much money over the weekend. Spending the last several Friday evenings in my 8-week class really does a good job of curbing my Friday spending. I have a bad habit of shopping after work on Fridays and I have not been able to do that. I know I am probably the last person, but I finally saw Iron Man over the weekend and it was pretty good. Movies come and go so fast, sometimes it’s just easier to wait until I can rent it. I attended a jewelry party over the weekend and purchased a pair of silver earrings for $20 which was the amount I allotted myself to spend at the party. There was also a woman selling handbags and another giving henna tattoos, but I opted out of both of those purchases because I really didn’t want to spend anymore money. I made an online credit card payment of $100 over the weekend also, but I didn’t count that into my total because it won’t clear for another day or so.

Movie Rental $4.00
iTunes album download $11.00

Earrings $20.00
Groceries $33.00
Metro fare $3.00

Eyebrow shaping $10.00
Window shopping for gift ideas...FREE

TOTAL: 81.00

People seeking to make a quick buck off of the Inauguration

Since I live in the District, the whole city has been buzzing about the Inauguration activities that will be taking place in honor of President-elect, Barack Obama. I am excited about the prospect of being so close to all of these activities, but I since I don’t have personal or professional connections (working on it though!) to take advantage of to gain entrance to any events (so far), I am relegating myself to events open to the general public. I would like to attend at least one Inauguration Ball partially because of the opportunity to be apart of a historical event and partly because I love to dress up.

One thing about this whole flurry of Inauguration talk that I hear everywhere from work, to conversations with friends, to overhearing random tidbits of convos on the Metro is: Where will out-of-towners stay because it is virtually impossible to get a hotel room anywhere near DC? Homeowners are taking advantage of this fact by attempting to rent out rooms and even their entire homes to out-of-town guests coming for the Inauguration. Washingtonians plan to rent out their homes for astronomical prices to make some quick money.

I respect your hustle if you plan on going through the headache of finding reliable tenants, clearing your home of personal effects, and being prepared for any damage your short-term tenants could inflict on your personal effects or property. Since I rent and don’t own my place, I am not taking any chances. It’s just not worth it for me…though I live in an ideal part of the city for that sort of thing. I have a good relationship with my landlord and am not trying to mess things up by having subleter’s damage my apartment. But my friends are welcome to come visit me and couch surf to take in some of the events with me if they so desire.

So I’m just curious, would you sublet/rent out your place if you were in the DC area to make some money off of the Inauguration activites?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today was an accidental no-spend day

What does a day-off from work due to Veteran's Day and two looming deadlines for grad school assignments equal? An accidental no-spend day! During a mid-week vacation day, I would have normally gone out to shop, seen a movie, met a friend for lunch, or at least take a coffee-run to Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, but with a group project to prepare for and a paper to finish by tomorrow, I did the practical thing and did my school work and some other tasks I needed to take care of. I also took a great mid-day nap.

If I ever start my own company, I will have plenty of couches for people to take optional naps in lieu of lunch breaks, because I for one feel so much more productive after a nap! But I digress, maybe on a week when I have a fully stocked fridge and a week's worth of money on my Metro card, I will try a whole no-spend week...well maybe I'll try that after the holidays.

What is the longest stretch you have gone without spending money?

Monday, November 10, 2008

November Goals

The month of October flew by, It is hard to believe its over. I know its 10 days into the month, but now is the time to set my goals for the month:
  1. Choose holiday gifts for my immediate family. I have a self imposed budget of $150 for gifts this year. I will load a Visa gift card with this amount and once its gone, I'm done shopping. This amount does not include my mother's gift which is also a very belated birthday present, so will be pricer than every other gift I purchase. I'm open to any home made gift ideas any one might have!
  2. Purchase holiday cards for friends and family members and mail them.
  3. Register for Winter/Spring 2009 grad school classes after talking with my advisor. Price textbooks which will be purchased in December.
  4. Put in request for any time I will need off from work for the rest of the year.
  5. Go to the gym a minimum of once a week. There are a few classes I want to try out including this dance inspired workout called Zumba.
  6. Attend a minimum of one professional or networking event. Meet a minumum of at least three people at any event I attend and keep in touch with them (via email).
  7. Formally ask at least one person I admire professionally to mentor me. Set up expectations both ways so this can be a mutually beneficial relationship.
I decided to scrap my goals from last month because I did not make progress on many of them. In debt repayment news, I should have my Discover card paid off by next month! When the balance is zero, I will re-focus on paying down my Visa card.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get Out and VOTE!!!

I'll leave all of the political commentary to the political bloggers, but I hope that those who haven't voted early get out and vote today. It's not necessary for me to explain who I voted for and why, but I will say that I cast my vote first thing this morning. Your voice should be heard also, every vote counts!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Which Dress Should I Choose?

Option 1

I am attending a conference at the end of November and there is a formal event that is apart of it that I'd like to go to for the opportunity to network and also becuase I love any opportunity to dress up. I will allocate $50 in total for an outfit. I will most likely carry a bag and wear shoes I already have. I'd like to keep it simple and not too trendy so I can wear the dress for other occasions. Here are a few dress options I can afford. I am pretty petite and short, so I can get away with a cocktail length at a formal event because everything is always longer on me. I better enjoy these last few opportunities to shop, because my 6-month shopping moratorium will be in effect starting January 1, 2009.
So, any suggestions on which one I should choose or suggestions of options?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cutting Spending: I Downgraded My Cable Service

My Comcast bill (Internet/Phone/Cable service) was a little high this month, so I looked at the bill and noticed that I was paying for HBO service I rarely watch. I do watch a lot of the other channels, but I just don't watch enough HBO to substantiate paying extra for it. It came free for the first six months of the service and I just never went back to cancel after that six month period was over. So my next bill should be $18.95 less, which was the cost of the HBO.

The only reason why I have a land line is because my cell phone gets terrible service in my apartment. It works everywhere else just fine, even on the Metro, but not so good where it would be most useful...figures. I can't get rid of the cable all together because my TV won't work in February if I do that and I refuse to buy a new one until the old one dies on me. I am a part time grad student and need the Internet to write papers and things of that nature, but I would really consider getting rid of that also if I had a PDA with good Internet service. I just don't live close enough to campus to get rid of that though. I realize, that if I'm going to start making more progress on my financial goals, I have to seriously cut my spending.

I do have a few habits that don't need changing like rarely eating out unless it's a special occasion (when I do eat out I don't purchase alcohol) and packing my lunch on a regular basis. Here are a ways I have come up with to cut my spending that I have mentioned before that I plan to implement in the near future:
  1. Learn how to style and trim my own hair (the trimming part is a little lofty but achievable).
  2. Learn how to hem my own pants and skirts.
  3. Don't put my clothing in the dry cleaners and wash/iron them myself.
  4. Stop buying coffee, tea, hot drinks and make them at home or at work.

I want a new (to me) car, but won't start saving for one until I pay off my credit cards and have more in my emergency fund...so I have to remind myself of this when I want to make a purchase that isn't a necessity.

Does anyone else have any other suggestions on ways to my lower spending?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What do you get your 89 year old grandfather for his birthday?

A very special person to me, my grandfather was born on this day, 89 years ago. And he is not even the oldest relative I have! I realize that I am blessed to have grandparents that are still living, because several people I know even at my relatively young age, didn't grow up close to their grandparents, let alone enjoy a relationship with them into adulthood. I have learned alot from both of them. They have taken to some frugal and lifestyle habits for decades that I hope to one day master like: maintaining a vegetable garden, being able to fix just about any household applicance or problem you can think of, eating most of their meals at home, exercising on a regular basis to combat old-age ailments, and more. One questions comes to mind as I wish him a happy birthday is: What do you get your 89 year old grandfather for his birthday? He has gadgets, wallets, ties, sweaters, tv's...the list could go on. So I'd rather him have either a memento or an experience that will be more meaningful than yet another money clip. So here are my ideas:
  1. Cook him a meal.
  2. Watch football with him this weekend.
  3. Frame a picture of us.
That's what I've got so far...but I'll think about it a little more. Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Investing in Meaningful Experiences

Aesthetics matter to me, so having nice surroundings, being able to partake in my interests, and looking my best are kind of important to me. But the older I get, the more I realize, that this does not mean that I should be spending more money than I can comfortably afford to. I am just learning about the dynamics of money, and how you can really pay for money and personal decisions you make when you are young later in life. I definitely want to have more meaningful professional and personal experiences in the future, but I don't want to necessarily spend a lot of money, or incur more debt (than I have already!). To me, meaningful experiences include:
  • Spending time with my loved ones (family and friends)
  • Adding to my circle of friends and acquaintances
  • Learning (hobbies, skills, information, random facts)
  • Volunteering my time to causes I believe in
  • Traveling
  • Daydreaming...which leads to figuring out what I want in life and setting measurable goals to make them happen
Most of these meaningful experiences listed above can either be saved for like travel or cost little to no money, like spending time with the people I deem important in my life. Meaningful experiences don't include shopping or comparing where I am in life professionally, personally or financially to my peers or people I read/learn about. Lately, I have found that I have been looking at my finances (or lack of much discretionary money to spend) as prohibitive to having experiences that I find meaningful, but that is simply not true and not a very positive way to look at life. It's just and opportunity to be more creative. No, I can't just buy that cute dress I saw on my last window shopping excursion, but I can learn how sew and make my own dress (sewing is a long term goal I plan to start tackling in 2009). No I can't take a trip to Europe at the drop of a hat as much as I'd like to. But I can put money aside each month for this goal which will eventually add up to enough money for me to take my European vacation. No I don't have the extra money to spend to go to a hot new club in my city with my friends. But I can invite them over and cook a meal, or we can have another fun, less expensive outing. Your attitude about things really determines weather the glass is half full or half empty, and I choose to be an optimist.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What is a Tax Lien Certificate?

My friend asked me today what a tax lien certificate was, and I had no idea, so I decided to Google it. According to Investopedia, a tax lien certificate is: "A certificate of claim against property that has a lien placed upon it as a result of unpaid property taxes." Investopedia also said that: Tax lien certificates are "available in many states, this certificate allows the owner to collect unpaid taxes in addition to a set level of interest. These investments are not insured or necessarily backed by property, and therefore great risks are involved with each purchase."
Another site stated that: "Individuals have been snapping up tax liens more and more because of these two benefits. A fixed percentage rate, mandated by a government agency, or the title to property at a substantial discount are incredible benefits rarely seen with other real estate transactions."

They seem a bit risky, but I've learned something new today...

Is anyone else familiar with these types of investments?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Biting the bullet and joining the gym

After going back and forth over this idea for the last few weeks, I’ve decided to join the gym that is across the street from my job. My organization gets a discount which would make the monthly fee about $40. I have never been big on gyms because I really don’t know how to use many of the machines on the rare occasions that I have been to the gym. But I can get a training session on how to use the machines with a personal trainer as apart of the membership. This particular gym offers a variety of classes in yoga, pilates, kickboxing and dancing that I would like to participate in. The gym also has a pool, which I would be able to take advantage of. The close proximity to my job makes it convenient, especially since the cold winter months are right around the corner. The gym is a short Metro ride from my apartment and I can also use facilities in other parts of the city and the gym locations in cities outside of the DC area. Working out is a much healthier and cheaper past time than shopping/going out to eat which I normally do. I've been inspired by Seattle Girl over at Saving Cent to have a six month shopping moratorium starting in January, but I'll have more info on that soon. I plan to work out when I get a shopping urge. I should be really in shape by next summer! If I take four yoga classes in the course of a month at the yoga studio I attend at $10 per class, I've spent just as much as the monthly gym membership and don't get the variety of other types of classes a pool and the work out machines that the gym offers. I'm going to look up the class schedule and see what class I'll take first.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Thoughts and Goals

Graduate School - The first session of the fall semester is over and I'm once again getting sticker shock from the price of textbooks. Oh well, I will have to get over it because I have to purchase the books to stay on top of my reading and assignments. I am taking two classes this session and have purchased two books and will purchase the other two today. I only have to go to campus one day a week because one class is online, so that will save me a little money on transportation to campus and food to eat before class.

403b Contributions - I have decided to increase my 403b contributions again to the max for me to receive the 5% match my organization offers. I didn't even notice the difference in my take home pay when I made my last increase during the summer, so I don't think this one will make much of a difference either.

Emergency Fund - I plan to add $274 by the end of the year to bring my Emergency Fund total up to $2000. It would be great to add more, but the $274 amount is the minimum. I will soon be making a short term goal amount to get me closer to my $5000 goal.

Travel - I have to pay a deposit for a trip I am taking early next year to Las Vegas. It is $100, so I will pay that with the $100 total in my travel fund and add $25 to that. I won't be adding anymore to my travel fund until next year. I still have to apply/pay for my passport renewal. That goal may have to wait until next month.

Gifts - I still have to come up with an amount that I will spend on holiday gifts...That will most likely come out of my first November pay check.

Discover Card Pay Off - Purchasing textbooks and other unexpected expenses threw my plan out of wack to put $1000 on my Discover Card balance with my extra October paycheck. I made a $500 payment earlier this month - which is still more than I normally make, but I don't think I will have the account paid off until early next year unless I get an unexpected windfall. I am keeping my fingers crossed for an end of the year bonus, but that is never guaranteed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Heart Google Reader

I know I am probably the last person to jump on the bandwagon, but using Goggle Reader makes keeping up with my favorite blogs so much easier. Using Google Reader has enabled me to expand my blog reading scope (beauty, fashion, gossip...), but reading personal finance blogs are still my favorite.

I've kind of needed a break from the somberness that has been the U.S. economy lately, but I will get back to more substantive posts soon and also reevaluate some of my PF goals.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Making of a Miser: Nature vs. Nurture

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal and found it interesting:

Scott Rick, a postdoctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who has done research on what makes people cheap, says that childhood plays a big role. If you have two thrifty parents, you're likely to be thrifty as well.

Likewise, people who lived through the Great Depression were often thrifty their entire lives. Since the 1930s, each successive generation has gotten to be more free-spending. The current financial crisis could change that. "Right now, there are probably a lot of children who are going to be tightwads," says Mr. Rick.

But our childhood isn't the only factor. George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, says people have innate tendencies. "It's almost like people are born tightwads or cheapskates," says Dr. Loewenstein, who published a paper on
the subject with Mr. Rick and another author.

I agree with the author that spending money does not necessarily make you happier. Especially if you are spending money on things you can't afford. I think it has to be about balance like everything else....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On the Cheap: Thinking Like a Student

This recent New York Times series has me inspired to make some inexpensive changes to my apartment decor. For one, I have a stool I've had since college and a chair that I found on a side walk in my neighborhood several months ago that I want to repaint. I also decided that instead of buying more pillows for my chair and bed, that I should start looking for fabric (or even clothing I no longer wear but like the fabric?) and try making my own. My very rudimentary sewing skills should be able to handle that. I'd like to eventually get a few shelves, but I'm not really handy enough (yet) to make my own, so I will probably look for some at Ikea. I plan to ask for an Ikea giftcard for Christmas. I've been meaning to start checking Craigs List for a file cabinet for my financial papers and school work which are taking over my small desk...no time like the present. I look forward to the day when I'll be a homeowner and can paint my walls. I could technically paint them now and repaint them back whenever I move, but I just think that's a waste of money though it would look nice.

Do you have any inexpensive home/apartment decorating ideas you have or plan to implement?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Will Lay-a-way become a more popular option because of the country's economic woes?

I started working mid-way though high school part-time for a local small business owner who had an office in my neighborhood. During my summers and a few days after school, I would do filing and other minor tasks. I would spend the small amount of money I made working on clothing, cd's, movies and other random items teens like to buy. So, by the age of 16, I was pretty much paying for my own non-necessity purchases. I would take my checks and deposit them every Saturday at my local bank. I did not have a debit card at that time (I was too young), so I had to make withdrawals and deposits at the bank. I probably had better spending habits back then because I could not overspend because I had no credit or debit card, so if the cash wasn't in my pocket, I wasn't making the purchase.

In the late summer after working all summer, I would take my hard-earned money and go to Marshall's to buy my back-to-school clothes. I don't know if Marshall's still does this, but the one I shopped in back then had lay-a-way. So I would pick out my jackets, jeans and a few other clothing items, make a down payment and pay a little on my items each week until I paid it off and could take my purchases home. This allowed me to be independent and buy my own clothing in my own time-frame. I didn't have to make a purchase on credit (or rather my parent's credit) and this taught me how to put money aside for a goal.

With people working to pay down credit cards and other outstanding debt, wouldn't lay-a-way be an option for larger purchases that people don't have the money for up front? This would keep people from stopping spending on non-essential items all together because they wouldn't have to use credit. Just a thought...It will be interesting to see how much (or little) the American public spends this holiday season, because many people are talking about how they are feeling the pinch with higher gas costs and worrying about retirement and college savings. Anyone thinking about buying a home anytime soon will also have to bring a lot more cash to the table because mortgage loans qualifications are more stringent.

I think people (myself included) need to go back to the spending habits I had as a teen; putting money aside for goals such as long-term saving, a vacation or a piece of clothing instead of using credit or not saving. There is no better satisfaction than paying for something in cash and knowing you can afford it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why is Networking So Expensive?

There have been a few conferences and other networking opportunities in my city recently that I have chosen not to participate in; not because I did not think I could get value out of them, but because they were so expensive! Conference registration, happy hours/mixers, panel discussions, proper attire and transportation to these events…it all adds up! And there are still a few other events taking place this fall that look really interesting, but I will not be partaking in because they simply won't fit in the budget. As a young professional, I am always encouraged to go to these meet-and-greet/networking/conference opportunities, but unless you have an inside track, the expenses adds up. And this is not factoring in hotel and travel because so many events come to my current locale, Washington, DC.

I don’t think networking should just be relegated to those people who are actively job-hunting. And really, whose job is absolutely secure with our shaky economy? So why do I want to network if it’s not just to find another job? I’d like to gain seasoned mentors that could coach and advise me on reaching my career goals. I’d also like to widen my personal network of professional contacts, because knowing a lot of people in your field (or related fields) is normally a good thing. Meeting new people with skill sets that are different than mine can increase the potential of learning new skills that can be useful in my career. Networking can also open up the door to pursue a lucrative side-job that can pursued in addition to full-time employment.

So, what have I learned from this? I will look on the websites of the organizations that hold conferences and other good networking opportunities annually and plan to attend the ones that would offer the most value to me. I will then earmark a portion of my regular savings to pay for these events so I don’t have to charge anything. Networking is not an excuse to rack up debt! I will also continue volunteering as I currently do for organizations that interest me, which tends to have the bonus of free entry to events that you volunteer for. I don’t think any of my goals are out of reach with planning, so here is to being a mover and a shaker next year by planning for it today.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stocks plummet as House votes down bailout; Dow drops 778

According to this USA Today article, "The stock market plunged Monday, as the House of Representatives voted down the $700 billion financial bailout package, sending the Dow Jones industrial down almost 780 points for their largest point drop ever."

I know I said I was trying to stay away from financial/economic news, but I know others besides myself are thinking (worrying?) about the state of the U.S. economy today.

Wachovia Announces Bank Subsidiary Divestitures to Citigroup

For those of you that bank with Wachovia, I found this press release on their website today:

Wachovia Announces Bank Subsidiary Divestitures to Citigroup
Wachovia Corporation to become a focused leader in retail brokerage and asset management.

CHARLOTTE, NC—Wachovia today announced intentions to sell its retail bank, corporate and investment bank and wealth management businesses to Citigroup. Wachovia Corporation will remain a public company with two main operating subsidiaries: Wachovia Securities, the nation's third largest brokerage firm, and Evergreen Asset Management, a leading provider of asset management services.

"During recent weeks, the financial landscape has changed significantly and presented us with unprecedented challenges," said Robert K. Steel, CEO and President of Wachovia. "Today's announcement is the best alternative for the company, enabling a resolution on the Golden West portfolio."

Under terms of the transaction, Citigroup will pay $2.1 billion to Wachovia and assume the senior and subordinated debt of Wachovia Corporation.

The transaction is expected to close before year-end. It has been approved by directors of both companies and is subject to shareholder approval of Wachovia and the appropriate regulatory approvals. Customers of both companies should continue banking as usual, and feel confident that their deposits are secure. Also, employees and vendors should continue to operate business as usual. At this time, there are no changes to Wachovia's board of directors and two Wachovia directors will join Citigroup's board.

Wachovia Corp. will remain headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Wachovia Securities will continue to be headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Citigroup will headquarter the retail bank in Charlotte and the investment bank in New York.

Wachovia's investment bankers were Goldman Sachs, Perella Weinberg Partners and Wachovia Securities, and its legal advisors are Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

About Wachovia Wachovia Corporation (NYSE:WB) is one of the nation's largest diversified financial services companies, with assets of $812.4 billion and market capitalization of $33.5 billion at June 30, 2008. Wachovia provides a broad range of retail banking and brokerage, asset and wealth management, and corporate and investment banking products and services to customers through 3,300 retail financial centers in 21 states from Connecticut to Florida and west to Texas and California, and nationwide retail brokerage, mortgage lending and auto finance businesses. Globally, clients are served in selected corporate and institutional sectors and through more than 40 international offices. Our retail brokerage operations under the Wachovia Securities brand name manage more than $1.1 trillion in client assets through 14,600 financial advisors in 1,500 offices nationwide. Online banking is available at wachovia.com; online brokerage products and services at wachoviasec.com; and investment products and services at evergreeninvestments.com.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

October's Goals

Well another month is about to start, so it's about time I set my goals for the month, so here they are:

  1. Purchase textbooks (for the cheapest price possible) for session 2 of my fall semester graduate school classes;
  2. Mail off passport renewal application (or do it online...just get it done!);
  3. Put aside money to purchase tickets to see Tina Turner in concert when she comes to town later this fall--I would be doing good if I were half as cool as her when I'm her age :- );
  4. Sign up for Zipcar - only if pricing is reasonable;
  5. Price local young professional and/or networking organizations and choose one to join this fall;
  6. Wake up earlier and get to work earlier. Use these earlier starts to be more productive;
  7. Exercise on a weekly basis.
So how did I do on September's goals?
  1. Exercise on a weekly basis - PASS - I did not exercise as much as I should have, but some exercise is better than none at all right?
  2. Write down/track spending on a weekly basis - PASS - I did track my weekly spending in an excel spreadsheet but can't say I cut spending this month. I still have to compare it to Yodlee to see how it matched up.
  3. Wake up an hour early at least twice a week to do reading. - FAIL...I did get my reading done, just not in the early morning hours.
  4. Purchase a file cabinet. - FAIL...I'm going to hold off on this goal, I want to see if I can find a used file cabinet (Craig's List?) before purchasing a new one.
  5. Attend the next ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Funds’ Meet Up event. - FAIL - one of these days I'll make it...
  6. Sign up for Zipcar to run my weekend errands and start using my driver's license for more than just photo ID. - FAIL...I'll try again in October.
  7. Make comments or ask a question during every class meeting for my grad school course. It’s a good habit to develop in my graduate courses and participation is apart of my grade anyway. - PASS!
I feel like October is going to be a great month, so long summer, hello fall!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I won’t let the country’s economic woes get me down

America’s dire economic situation is being discussed endlessly on all major news outlets these days and though I found economics to be very interesting even before the economic crisis and this week’s recent events, I am seriously thinking about limiting my daily business/economic news intake. I have so much to be thankful for, and its time I start focusing on those things instead of all the negativity in the media. Here are a few things I am thankful for:

  • I’m paying off my debt and saving money which will only help me in the long run;
  • I am young, healthy, and gainfully employed with a decent, livable wage;
  • I have many personal and financial goals to look forward to achieving in the future;
  • I have a great friendships and a family that loves and supports me;
  • The small amount of money I have invested in retirement in the two years I have been working won’t be needed for a few decades, so there is no need for me to stress about their balances and what the market is doing to them at this time;
  • I am obtaining a graduate degree which will increase my earning potential over my lifetime;
  • I only have me to worry about. I don’t currently have dependents (children, aging relatives, pets), so I can live without things that others may deem necessary such as a car. I can count on one hand the amount of times I turned on my air conditioner this year, I personally prefer fresh air and fans when its gets really steamy. If I get cold in the winter, I put on a sweater instead of blasting the heat to keep my energy costs down. I actually like food that costs less but is still nutritious like rice with beans and veggies. Now if I could only bring myself to live without cable…

I do admit to a weakness for shoes and clothing, but I’m working on that. Overall, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I don’t plan to let the country’s economic woes get me down. So don’t let them get you down either!

Monday, September 22, 2008

For Banks, Bailout, For Young People Advice About Credit

Check out this recent NYT article:

"The Treasury Department started a campaign last week to educate Americans about the importance of credit. The campaign was not designed for Wall Street banks, currently awaiting the details on their $700 billion government bailout, but for 18- to 24-year-olds, who are presumably too young to bring the financial system to its knees. The campaign, which includes two videos, two radio spots and an online game in English and Spanish, warns young viewers: “Don’t let your credit put you in a bad place.” To some, the effort might seem a tad late given current events, but those running the project say the timing is just right.“I think that recent events have highlighted the importance of understanding the impact that your financial decisions can have on your life,” said Jennifer Zuccarelli, a Treasury spokesperson."

I have to say, I've learned more about how banks and investment firms function (or fail) in the last week than I ever knew before...Should it really take a credit crisis for young people to learn about how credit works? Sad...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

America's Best Young Entrepreneurs 2008

I came across this while perusing Business Week. I've got to come up with a great idea so I can be on this list next year....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What to do with October's extra check?

I know it's only mid-September, but I have been contemplating what I am going to do with the extra pay check I will receive in October. I get paid on a bi-weekly schedule, and since there are five fridays in the month of October, I get three checks. Sure, there are plenty of things I could do to with my extra check. I could use it to pad my emergency fund and pull myself a little closer to my $5,000 goal. I could add it to my travel fund, because I'd like to take a fun trip somewhere for my 25th birthday next year (yikes!). I could also buy a few household items I've been wanting like a chair, a new comforter or a file cabinet.

But what have I decided to do with that extra check once I receive it? Apply it to credit card debt. My Discover card which would have been paid off by February with my planned $250 payments will now be paid off by November! I will apply $1,000 of my extra check to my balance and pay the remainder in November. By this time next year, I hope my extra checks will go toward something like my travel fund or to start my house downpayment fund. But in the mean time, I have to crush this credit card debt!

Monday, September 15, 2008

For the love of boots

And that was a nice break from your regularly scheduled personal finance-related post. I love fall shoes, boots in particular, are my favorites. I really like the booty style (short ankle boot) that are fashionable this season, but was afraid to purchase them because they are somewhat trendy. I tend to go for classic clothing and shoes because I hate spending the money (and time) updating items that look woefully out of date by the next season. But seeing these pretty inexpensive pairs at Payless has me reconsidering my no short ankle boot decision....we'll see.

Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free

I don't think any of my graduate school professors are doing this, but I still found this New York Times article interesting:

SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling. It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.

“This market is not working very well — except for the shareholders in the textbook publishers,” he said. “We have lots of knowledge, but we are not getting it out.”

I am currenly pricing textbooks for the second session of my first semester of grad school and will try to pay as little as possible for them...but nothing beats free!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Progress is still progress even if its small

Many of my financial goals still seem far away but I'm making baby steps toward my goals. I now have a little over $1,100 in my Emergency fund. I still have a ways to go to $5,000 (roughly 2 months of living expenses), but $1,500 is realistic by the end of the year.

Today, I made a $400 payment to my Discover card. I plan to have that card paid off by January 2009. Then, I can focus on the larger balance, the Visa card.

But I say, progress is still progress, even if it's small. I'd insert a really thought provoking metaphor for progress in small steps if I could think of one right now... oh well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Do you remember where you were on 9/11/2001?

I do, I was in my high school English class my junior year and the whole school started watching the news on television when we heard about the tragedies’ that occurred. Those with friends, relatives in NYC or DC were trying to make sure their loved ones were okay. Take some time to reflect on 9/11 and all of the people who have gone through tragic circumstances such as terrorism, war, political strife, hunger, epidemics, etc. not just in the U.S. but throughout the world. My biggest issues these days are when I will have my student loans and credit card debt paid down so I can purchase a house and achieve other non-essential goals like travel and pursing my graduate degree. I have a lot be thankful for, if you do as well, reflect on that today.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend Spending

Lunch - 5.52
Marshall's (2 sweaters and a candle) - 68.86
Target (yoga mat) - 9.60

Coffee, egg sandwich, tea - 7.07
Ice cream - 2.74

Donuts - 1.96
Groceries - 66.72

TOTAL - 162.47

It's just way too convenient to live walking distance from a Dunkin' Donuts, I was in there twice over the course of the weekend...

I have no explanation for my purchases at Marshall's on Friday except that when you are petite and find clothing in your size, sometimes you just have to go for it...on another note, I'm adding 200.00 to savings this week.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Slightly Increased My Retirement Contributions

I decided to slightly increase my 403b contributions from 2.9% of my bi-weekly pay to 3.9%. My company matches my retirement contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 3% of my base compensation and 50 cents per dollar beyond 3% up to 5%. I will increase it again to 5% in a few months. I’m sure I won’t miss the money since it's taken out before I receive my paycheck.

I still plan to start contributing to a Roth IRA account in January. The goal is to contribute $200 (automatically) to that every month. Doing things automatically is the only way I manage to save these days. If I see money in my account after I pay bills and other necessary expenses, I tend to substantiate extra purchases and treats for myself. So, doing my saving automatically makes up for my occasional spending impulses.

I recently started using Yodlee to track my expenses and may eventually use the bill pay option the site offers. I like being able to go to one place to see my accounts instead of visiting several sites to see what shape my accounts are in. Mint is good, but I think I like Yodlee a little better. Yodlee seems to be more functional though I like the actual look of Mint (aesthetics matter to me...). I am still tracking my spending daily in addition to checking my balances on Yodlee. Revised budget still to come sometime this month.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Class-Action Settlement for Nearly Every Consumer

I read Michelle Singletary's column today and found out some interesting information:

In a class-action settlement, the credit bureau TransUnion has agreed to provide free credit-monitoring services to millions of consumers to settle claims that it illegally passed along private information for marketing purposes. Although TransUnion denied any wrongdoing, the settlement requires the company to sign up consumers for either six months or nine months of monitoring. Unless you've been a conscientious objector to all forms of borrowing in the last 21 years, you're probably eligible for the monitoring service. But the deadline to sign up is fast approaching. You have until Sept. 24 to register for benefits under the settlement. Any consumer who had an open credit account or an open line of credit from a credit grantor is eligible. The types of credit might include a car loan, bank credit card, retail store credit card, finance company loan, mortgage or student loan. The credit account had to be opened between Jan. 1, 1987, and May 28, 2008.

For more information on details of the settlement or to register visit the website: http://www.ListClassAction.com or call 866-416-3470.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Goals for September

  1. Exercise on a weekly basis. I do walk everywhere I go because of my lack of a car, but I wouldn’t really count that as exercise. My school has a gym that is equipped with machines and a pool, so I want to check it out. It’s free for students! At a minimum, I have exercise DVD’s I can do at home, but the hardest part is actually getting started.
  2. Write down/track spending on a weekly basis. I want to revise my budget, but I think I should track my spending for a month first to see where exactly my money is going and where I need to cut back. I sort of know where I spend too much money (trips to Philly, Starbucks iced coffee, random items Target), but I need the exact numbers to really hold myself accountable.
  3. Wake up an hour early at least twice a week to do reading. I am most productive during the morning hours. So, it makes more sense to get reading done for school at that time when my mind is fresh. This also requires going to bed earlier since my bedtime has been getting later and later, which translates into staying in bed the next morning until the last possible moment. Staying up to watch the Olympics and then the DNC coverage hasn’t helped me to adhere to a bedtime.
  4. Purchase a file cabinet. Perhaps like this one from Ikea. I need to get organized and make files for bills, financial aid for school, tax returns, school work, etc. I am a fairly organized person, but I think it’s about time for me to upgrade my filing system, especially for financial records.
  5. Attend the next ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Funds’ Meet Up event. Ginger over at GJWHF has been having great events all summer and I haven’t made a single one yet…I hope to change that this month.
  6. Sign up for Zipcar to run my weekend errands and start using my driver's license for more than just photo ID. I have to check the pricing first, but I don't think it's that expensive.
  7. Make comments or ask a question during every class meeting for my grad school course. It’s a good habit to develop in my graduate courses and participation is apart of my grade anyway.

    So how did I do on my goals for August? Not all that good…
  8. Stick to an exercise schedule (crunches everyday, exercise dvd's three times a week, dance class at least twice this month) –FAIL, maybe I’ll do better in September…
  9. Modify monthly budget –FAIL, I want to monitor my spending for the month of September first
  10. Transfer my phone to my name from Dad's and start paying my own bill :- ( —PASS, now I have another bill to worry about…oh the joys of being an adult and paying ALL your own bills
  11. Get EF over $1,000—FAIL, I forgot how expensive textbooks were and didn’t budget for them
  12. Start a Roth IRA lump sum fund (sub ING account).—FAIL, this will have to wait a while longer, I revisit this goal in October
  13. Finish one short story—FAIL, this will have to be tabled for now, keeping up with the blog will have to count as my continued effort to improve my writing
  14. Complete one graduate school application—PASS, I did apply to a school and ended up getting accepted to one I applied to earlier
  15. Attend at least one (career or business) networking event—FAIL, I honestly didn’t look for an event to attend
  16. Attend the next Meet-up that Ginger at Girls Just Wanna Have Funds has because I have missed all of them so far due to schedule conflicts—FAIL, yet another scheduling conflict, but I plan to attend the next event taking place in September

I’m feeling pretty good about my goals for September, we’ll see how I do at the end of the month.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Young workers show poor commitment to save

This recent MSNBC article stated:

“It could be a major problem. Workers in their 20s and 30s using their retirement funds to pay credit card debt and home mortgages instead of leaving it alone to accumulate. Fidelity Investments released a survey Thursday that said large numbers of young workers cash out their 401(k) accounts when they switch jobs, leaving them without an accumulation of cash for retirement.

“The typical Gen X or Gen Y will work for seven different employers across their career,” said Scott David, president of retirement services for Boston-based Fidelity Investments. “If you consider the combination of the withdrawal behavior with that propensity for multiple employers, I do think we are facing a savings challenge and crisis with this generation.”

When I left my last employer, I rolled my 401k over into an IRA. I have not added any further money to it, but I did open a 403b with my current employer when I started earlier this year. I knew that if I cashed the 401k out, it would evaporate into random purchases I would have a hard time accounting for later. I may only set aside a small amount every month in my 403b, but at least it's something. I plan to start contributing to the Roth IRA (or opening a new one) in early 2009. I hope that as my income increases, so will my contributions. I know a lot of 20/ 30 somethings out there are taking retirement investing seriously because I read their blogs! I hope that one day, saving will be the trendy "in" thing to do, like having the latest gadget or designer outfit; then I'll be able to post more positive financial stories from the news about Generation X and Y.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fall Is Coming...Is Your Wardrobe Ready?

When you are just starting to purchase clothing for work, quality is more important that quantity. You can wear items several ways for different looks and accessories like scarves and jewelry really make an outfit pop. Here are a few items I would suggest you add to your wardrobe if you are a young professional or just in need of updates:

~3 piece suit in a dark color ~Trench coat/Wool Coat ~Cardigan set ~White button down shirt ~1 all purpose dress (for work and play) ~Cotton long sleeve shirts ~Pants/Skirts (black, brown, tan) ~Understated jewelry ~Trouser Jeans ~black heels and flats

In my opinion, accessories make (or break an outfit), but I advise people with budget limits to purchase classic items and stay away from the trendy stuff that will be in the back of your closet next year. For example, I love the short boots that are now in style but have been hesitent to buy any for fear that it's a trend that won't stick around for me to get my money's worth out of them.

Here is a list of items I plan to add to my wardrobe this fall as long as they fit in the budget:

  • Coat. I only plan to purchase a coat if I can find one that fits in either yellow or purple. I can't see myself spending as much as the one costs above, but I'm sure I can find a cheaper version elsewhere. Since your coat is what people see you in the most in your daily travels once the weather hits a certain level, I think you should have a nice one that will look just as nice under a suit as it would under jeans and a t-shirt.

  • Boots. Every year, I wait around until the end of the season to try to catch boots on sale and can never find my size because it's sold out! Good boots should last several seasons, so this year, I might start boot shopping sooner before the pickings are slim and get some boots that look similar to these.

  • All-purpose dress. I love dresses because I don’t have to think about a whole outfit which makes the process of getting ready in the morning much faster. A dress like this one can be made work-appropriate with a cardigan and after work appropriate by just taking off the cardigan and adding more dramatic jewelry and a clutch bag.

  • Cardigan (in a bright color). A light weight cardigan be worn under neutral colored shirts because I like to wear layers as the fall weather sets in.

  • Shirts in bright colors (purple, blue, mustard yellow, prints). I normally find reasonably priced shirts at H&M, so I will most likely look for my shirts there. I will also look for accessories like tights and inexpensive jewelry at this store.

I don't anticipate getting everything off my list, but I'll get some boots at a minimum. What fall clothing purchases do you plan to make?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

10 Things Millionaires Won't Tell You

"1. 'You may think I'm rich, but I don't.'
A million dollars may sound like a fortune to most people, and folks with that much cash can't complain — they're richer than 90 percent of U.S. households and earn $366,000 a year, on average, putting them in the top 1 percent of taxpayers. But the club isn't so exclusive anymore. Some 10 million households have a net worth above $1 million, excluding home equity, almost double the number in 2002. Moreover, a recent survey by Fidelity found just 8 percent of millionaires think they're "very" or "extremely" wealthy, while 19 percent don't feel rich at all. "They're worried about health care, retirement and how they'll sustain their lifestyle," says Gail Graham, a wealth-management executive at Fidelity.
2.'I shop at Wal-Mart..'
They may not buy the 99-cent paper towels, but millionaires know what it is to be frugal. About 80 percent say they spend with a middle-class mind-set, according to a 2007 survey of high-net-worth individuals, published by American Express and the Harrison Group. That means buying luxury items on sale, hunting for bargains — even clipping coupons.
3. '...but I didn't get rich by skimping on lattes.'
So how do you join the millionaires' club? You could buy stocks or real
estate, play the slots in Vegas — or take the most common path: running your own business. That's how half of all millionaires made their money, according to the AmEx/Harrison survey. About a third had a professional practice or worked in the corporate world; only 3 percent inherited their wealth."

Click here to read the whole article.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend Spending

I very rarely buy lunch on weekday's but I treated my co-worker to lunch on Friday because it was her last day in the office before her maternity leave started. Taking my lunch to work is one habit that is easy to implement because I normally just take leftovers from the night before. This summer, during my monthly trips to Philly, I have been taking the China town bus one way and then taking the train back. I find that Amtrak tickets are cheaper when you leave Monday mornings rather than Sunday evenings, so because its only a two hour train ride to DC from Philly, I just leave at 6 a.m. on Mondays and go straight to work from the train station. It's tough getting up before 5a.m., but I get to sleep on the train ride back to DC. The cheaper ticket price is worth it.

I saw this really cute dress at this store I like on South Street in Philly called Guacamole. But it couldn't have been worn much after the early fall because of its light weight material, which my friend wisely pointed out. It's a little silly to buy any more summer clothing especially since the weather forecasters project it to be a cold winter. I will buy a few fall items and will make a list of what fall wardrobe additions I will make later this week.

Coffee - $3.15
Lunch - $22.69

Hash Browns and Coffee - $4.60
China town bus ticket -$15.00
Dinner - $21.95

Snack, etc. - $17.00
Amtrak ticket - $44.00

TOTAL: $128.39

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Are student loans really "good debt" ?

According to this recent New York Times article, That Student Loan, Hard to Shake:

"Student lending is a big business, one that has been the subject of many complaints over the past two years after revelations of questionable ties between lenders and colleges’ financial aid officers. More recently, tight credit markets raised the possibility that some students might not be able to borrow to go to college in the fall.

But much less attention has been paid to what happens to students after they borrow. Lenders who make loans guaranteed by the federal government can more easily take steps against borrowers — like garnishing wages and benefits — than they can with other kinds of unsecured consumer debts. And all student loans, federally guaranteed or not, are extremely hard to get rid of in bankruptcy proceedings, more so than credit card or other debt.

More borrowers may begin to discover the harrowing consequences of reneging on student loans in the current economy. Numbers of borrowers behind on payments and in outright default are rising for some types of loans, and the tight job market makes it harder for graduates to find jobs that let them pay off debts. At the same time, investors are pressuring lenders to raise revenue by minimizing losses. Investors also expect more revenue from those lenders that operate collection agencies."

For this reason, any type of debt, even student loans are "bad debt" to me. I think colleges should require students to take some type of financial awareness course before taking out loans and even to graduate from college. I know I'm not the only one that didn't understand the gravity of student loan debt and how it can follow you even beyond bankruptcy when I took out my student loans.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why are textbooks so expensive?

Why are textbooks for my first graduate class totaling up to $150???

I guess being out of school for two years made me blank out how expensive textbooks tend to be.

Here are steps I plan to take to minimize the cost of textbooks now that I've learned my lesson that used textbooks never last long in my school's bookstore:

  1. Check the library at the begining of the semester to see if they have the textbooks I need
  2. Check websites such as half.com and amazon (anybody know of others?) for used books
  3. Ask other students if they are selling books for classes they have already taken

These steps may take more time than just putting down the money for new books, but it's worth the savings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Quit My Side-Gig

After thinking about it for a while, I have decided to let my retail/clothing store part time job go. I’ve worked there for about a year and a half. I just can’t see myself juggling my part time job along with my other activities:

  • blogging,
  • serving as a board member of a non-profit in my hometown,
  • being an officer in the local chapter of a professional organization,
  • AND taking my first two graduate level classes and not being a zombie and at my full time job. There are only so many hours in the day…

I’ll miss my side-gig because I do enjoy clothes and getting a 40% discount at a store you already shop in is great! My side-gig sold petite clothing that fit me well which is rare these days but honestly until fairly recently (when I started blogging), a lot of my paycheck was going back into the store anyway. Sometimes I’d put the extra money aside to save or apply it to debt, but most of the time, I’d see something cute, and spend my whole shift pondering on it before giving into temptation and making a purchase at the end of my shift.

I’d like to take on a part time job when my schedule is a little more flexible but don’t know if I would do retail again. My experience was pretty good overall but a lot of people I started working with over a year ago have moved on, that’s the nature of the business I guess. When you are on your feet for hours at a time on a slow sales day, it matters if you can get along with your co-workers. I also would like to have a part time job that has more earning potential than retail offers –unless you work at the management level, something I’m not interested in. Deciding to go back to school this year postponed my plan of freelancing for local newspapers, which was my new side-gig idea.

I have enough on my plate for the moment, so bye-bye 40% discount...