Saturday, May 31, 2008

Money On My Mind

As I was entering in my monthly update into my Networth IQ profile, I checked my two student loan balances. My largest student loan, which is a private one through Sallie Mae is slowly creeping down which is a good thing. But I looked at my repayment plan and realized if I just pay the minimum amount every month for the duration of the loan, I will be paying almost twice as much! Crazy! And definitely not happening! So this is even more incentive for me to pay off my credit cards so I can focus on paying off my student loans faster. I think it is feasible to have them paid off by the time I turn 30 if I step it up and pay more than the minimum starting in 2009. It also makes me realize that I don’t want any more student loans. Even if I have to take one class at a time and pay out of pocket, I will not take out loans to go to graduate school. It is simply not an option. The only debt I plan to have after age 30 is my mortgage because I plan to be a homeowner by then. My student loans were worth the investment in my future, but I don't want to have them forever.

How long do you think it will take you to pay off your student loans if you have them?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cheap Eats - Dessert Idea I - Chocolate Croissants

Here is a fast, simple, inexpensive recipe for Chocolate Croissants I found while thumbing through the May 2008 issue of Real Simple Magazine:
Time: 20 minutes
Amount: Makes 8 croissants
Materials: One 8-count tube of refrigerated cresent rolls; 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips; baking sheet
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F;
2. Unroll the dough and separate it into 8 triangles;
3. Place about 10 chocolate chips on the bottom third of each triangle and roll the dough up around the chocolate;
4. Transfer the croissants to a baking sheet;
5. Bake until golden brown(about 12-14 minutes).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Maybe Living In DC Isn't So Bad After All

After reading this recent New York Times article: Starting Salaries but New York Tastes, I've realized that compared to the high living costs of New York City, maybe DC isn't so bad. According to the article:

“Every year around this time, tens of thousands of post-collegiate people in their 20s flood the city despite its soaring expenses. They are high on ambition, meager of budget and endlessly creative when it comes to making ends meet.

Some tactics have long been chronicled: sharing tiny apartments with strangers. Sharing those apartments with eight strangers. Eating cheap lunches and skipping dinners — not just to save money, but so that drinks pack more of a punch and fewer need be consumed.
But there are smaller measures, no less ingenious, that round out the lifestyle. These young people sneak flasks of vodka into bars, flirt their way into clubs, sublet their walk-in closets, finagle their way into open-bar parties and put off haircuts until they visit their hometowns, even if those hometowns are thousands of miles away.”
I admit, I still daydream about living in Manhattan like Carrie in Sex and the City and having a really nice apartment and a fabulous job. I would also be able to take advantage of all of the arts and culture the city has to offer that were at my feet, but I just can’t bring myself to sacrifice my standard of living as many people my age who live in NYC are obviously willing to do. I am all for cutting corners, but I am not skipping meals, just to keep up with appearances and live in a city that I can’t afford. My money goes much farther in DC than it does in New York and I can actually afford to save money and invest in my retirement. There are many up and coming cities that have many job opportunities for young professionals but for some reason, many of us are drawn into the glitz of glamour that is associated with living in New York.

DC is by no means a New York City, but there are plenty of reasonably priced socializing opportunities not to mention cheaper housing than New York City. Yes, you may still have to have roommates, but you won’t be paying 1,000 for a room the size of a closet (if you do your research at least). Now that the summer is here there are even more options of reasonably priced things to do in DC such as:

-Several Free Museums
-Free Festivals on the National Mall in the Spring, Summer and Early Fall
-An Abundance of Restaurants and Bars That Have Happy Hours
-Theatre shows will be cheaper than NYC Broadway shows

Or better yet, enjoy NYC as a visitor and take a day trip (via the bus because gas prices are crazy). Boy have I changed my tune, I had a different view on this a few years ago BEFORE I started paying all of my bills…what a difference a few years makes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leaving your cell phone at home when traveling can save you money

I left my cell phone in my apartment by accident when I was rushing to catch a bus to Philly for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. I changed purses at the last minute and just forgot it. I planned to try to meet up with some of my friends during the weekend. But during this age of cell phones, I didn’t have my numbers written anywhere else. Ugh! I’ve learned my lesson and plan to work on that this week. In high school, I used to memorize numbers I called frequently because I didn’t have a cell phone. Oh, how times change. My network of people is also a little more varied/larger than it was back then and people often have multiple numbers (cell, work, landline, etc.) at which they can be reached. But I should still get back in the habit of memorizing numbers.

It wasn’t the end of the world, but I admit, I was slightly disappointed. The good thing is I spent much less money than I probably would have if I had been able to call my friends and make plans because most social activities (meals, movies, drinks, concerts, shopping, etc.) cost money. So while I didn’t see any of my friends I also didn’t spend that much money and I did spend time with some of my family members. Family is important also and I value my time with them. I try to make time for family and friends during my trips to Philly, but it’s sometimes difficult with no ride. I actually enjoyed my weekend and didn’t feel torn between choosing what to do with my time.

I am still looking for ways to trim the fat on my spending and taking the bus instead of Amtrak on my trips home is the way I will have to go. I don’t currently have a car and I explained my reasons for not yet having one in the post: I strongly dislike taking the bus. But I love the price. I will take the bus at least one-way to save money on my trips to Philly this summer. I’d also like to take at least one day trip to New York, so the bus is the way I will get there if I can make that happen.

Are you looking for ways to cut costs this summer?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Revisiting the budget

There was one key aspect of my budget that I overlooked...tithing and charitable giving. Oops. I know I could give more if I factored it into my budget. My tithing and charitable giving is pretty haphazard, but I will do better in the future with that. My charitable giving for at least the next several months will consist of donating money to the non-profit organization I volunteer for. I will evaluate other organization's I want to give money to at a later date.

For now, I will designate 50% of my side-gig income (which was not factored into my budget on purpose)for charitable giving. The other %50 of my side-gig income will have to get thrown toward paying down debt faster. My credit card balances have been woefully creeping up this month. I paid for travel for a trip out of town for my job which I will be reimbursed for soon. I also recently paid for airfare for a family trip to Florida in August. I need to make some more progress on that front this summer. After I monitor my spending for the next month or so, I will probably tweak my budget a little more.

Do you calculate tithing or charitable giving into your budget?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Negotiating that first salary can help or hurt your future earnings

I learned a lot of valuable things in college: how to write a press release, how to write a news article, how to write a public service announcement (I was a public relations major after all), how to give a strong oral presentation, how to write a paper that was supposed to take a whole semester in a matter of hours...the list could go on. But one thing I didn’t learn at my alma mater; which prides itself on its graduates getting offered great employment opportunities was how to negotiate my first salary.

In hind-sight, I definitely low-balled myself when I accepted my first job. I did not learn this until a few months later when I left that company for a better opportunity and my boss earnestly told me that they would have offered me more money if I had indeed asked for more. I feel everything happens for a reason and maybe the stars aligned for me to learn that lesson when I did. Salary negotiation is an important consideration for recent graduates on the job-hunt to know.

I appreciated my first boss being frank with me so I learned this lesson early in my career. I am currently at my third job and know I still have alot to learn. Low-balling yourself on your first job could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in income. Women in particular do not always feel comfortable negotiating for more money and are faster to accept a first offer than men who normally don’t have a problem with negotiating to get that higher salary. I mean salary is important, It’s not uncommon for members of Generation Y (or Millenials as I’ve heard people my age also called in the media) to graduate with more student loan debt than you will make in your first full year of full-time employment or credit card debt. It’s no wonder so many of us elect to live at home a while longer even though we have degrees. I didn’t have this luxury because I sought employment away from home.

But how do you ask for more money?
Do your research ahead of time and know the salary range for your field based on your experience (or lack of) and the cost of living where you live or are seeking employment. is a starting point for learning about salary ranges in your field. But talking to a mentor or seasoned professional who makes hiring decisions in your field might be more helpful. If you are in need of a mentor, join a professional networking organization in your field. I find sometimes that those salary calculators are skewed or may not offer jobs fields that are more unique. And remember: A salary of $35,000 in North Carolina is NOT the same as a salary of $35,000 in New York City!

Make a strong case for your skills and what you would bring to the company and in the most polite way possible, when discussion of salary comes up in an interview, try to let interviewers bring up exact numbers first so you won’t low-ball yourself. Specifics such as salary in my experience don’t come up unless the company has made a formal offer or plan to in the near future - but this could just be the way it’s done in communications-related industries, as that is where my work experience lies.

As David Bach says in his book, Smart Women Finish First in his 12 Commandments for Attracting Greater Wealth “Don’t accept less than you are worth!”

If you already have a job, ask for a raise (strategically).
If you were like me and did not know the pitfalls of low-balling yourself when it comes to salary, ask for a raise. BUT ask for a raise in a strategic way. Become the ‘go-to’ person or problem solver at your job. If something needs to be done, do it and don’t complain. Come in early and leave a little later. Offer ideas on projects or create your own. Build a portfolio of all of your contributions and if you are numbers savvy, put monetary value to your work. For instance if you work in a commission-based or sales industry, state outright how much money you have generated for your company. If you work in a creative field like writing or graphic design, create a file (website is even better) of your best work and make a nice power point or (inexpensive) portfolio of your work to help strengthen your case. This may take some time, but it will be worth it and you can always use it at future jobs.

If your job sucks and your salary is dismal it may be time to move on.
I am all for not giving up and making the best out of a situation, but sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on. This may be more difficult to do as you get older, so take advantage of this if you are younger and single or your significant other is okay with you quitting your job. Leaving your job on your terms should be even more encouragement (if the state of our economy already isn’t) for you to stack up money in your emergency fund. If you have a nice cushion of savings, you don’t have to stay at a job your aren’t happy with.

So, for those entering the work force or even switching fields, happy job hunting! For those already working, Do you think your first job cost you money in future earnings?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Summer Wardrobe Additions That Fit My Budget

Though it is a pretty dreary day here in DC, the warm summer weather will soon be here for good. In a perfect world, I would be able to shop until my heart’s content and have no regard for things like budgeting and living within my means. After all, I do want to be as fabulous as Kimora Lee Simmons when I ‘grow-up.’ But alas, I am not independently wealthy or heir to a minor principality, so I have to be very choosey with my summer wardrobe additions so I won't bust my budget.
Before I tell you what I will spend my money on in preparation for the sunny weather, I’ll tell you what I won’t be buying because these items are already sitting in my closet in good condition:

  • Dressy’ dresses, skirts, halter tops. I recently purchased two dresses from Zara that I wore to graduations I attended this spring that will carry me through any occasions that require more than just casual attire. I also tend to gravitate toward skirts and halters in warm weather, so there is no need to buy those either because I already have several.
  • Bathing suits. I have three bathing suits from previous summers that are in good condition that will carry me through any outings that require them. I rarely go swimming thats even more reason why I have no reason to purchase swimwear.
  • Sunglasses. I have a pair I purchased from H&M a while ago that are still in pretty good condition. I will only replace them if they break somehow between now and the end of the summer.
  • Handbags and clutches. I have several bags in varying sizes and color, so no bags for me.

Now here are the items that are on my wish list:

  • Casual summer dress: This dress can be worn to cook-outs, walks along the National Mall to Museums (I live in DC), dinner with friends or movie date with your special someone. Simple dresses in bright colors like these can be dressed up or dressed down depending on accessory choices.
  • Long Shorts (City Shorts): I like a longer pair of shorts can be worn on a casual Friday at work and may be a good choice if you are in a heavily air conditioned restaurant or other in-door activity. This style of shorts is also universally flattering on tall and short figures. Even short petite people like me can wear them and not look like juvenile like some shorter shorts can look if not accessorized the right way. I had a really cute pair of longer shorts in white, but while at club last summer some ‘nice’ gentleman bumped into me and spilled a beer all over the front of them, the stain never did come up…so they will have to be replaced. The guy was apologetic and I did get a free drink out of it, but I’d rather have my shorts back…
  • Shorter Shorts. A pair of shorts in a solid neutral color such as white, khaki will also take you many summer beach trips and other outings. A cute black pair can even be worn to the club with some nice heels and a halter. Other short options include a madras print or denim. Shorts are on my list because I haven’t bought a pair in years as I normally stick to skirts and dresses, but I’d like to change it up this summer.
  • Neutral Colored wedge. A wedge in a neutral color is more useful and will get more wear than a cute pair in a really distinctive color that will only work with a few outfits.
  • Cute flats in a bright color: These come in handy when you regularly do a lot of walking like I do. I’d also get a pair of black shoes like the ones below to wear to work. Gas prices are so high these days, I’m sure I’ll see other people taking advantage of warmer weather and walking and using public transportation instead of driving.
  • Colorful Tanks: Colorful tanks can be worn with jeans, shorts or skirts. I always tend to have more bottoms, that summer tops, so a couple of tanks are the last item on my list.
A wish list is just that: wishful thinking. I won’t necessarily get everything on my wish list (I could go on and on)…but I can daydream about the items I don’t purchase. Sometimes striving to be a fiscally responsible grow-up sucks. Okay, I’ll stop wishing for new clothing and do something more productive now.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are You Living A Lie?

I was watching one of my favorite shows over the weekend, The Suze Orman Show. I happen to think that Suze normally gives very sound financial advice and really enjoy watching her weekly show and hearing about other people’s financial difficulties and triumphs and getting inspiration from them; these are the same reasons why I enjoy reading PF blogs. A lot of Suze’s advice is common sense, but I’m learning that common sense is not so common anymore.
One comment that Suze made to a caller during this past Saturday’s show stuck in my mind, so I wanted to blog about it: “Debt comes because we live a lie.” This statement made me think, is it really true, does my debt really come from my living a lie? Here are a few reasons why I think we all at some point in our lives have lived a lie when it comes to our spending and personal finances.

‘Keeping up with the Jones.’ It’s why you wanted the same kicks in elementary school as the popular guy (during my experience the must-have kicks were the latest Jordan’s). It’s why your parents may live in a home that is in a certain neighborhood or has certain furnishings. It may even be why you want that S class when all you need is a used Honda to meet your driving needs. It’s that ingrained desire we Americans have ‘to keep up with the Jones,’ or have nice things equal or better than that of our peers. Peer pressure is the worst and it doesn’t necessarily go away with age, in fact, I think it gets worst with age. In some cases, people can truly afford to purchase the expensive items they ‘must have’ but in most cases, I think many people are living a lie like Suze says.

‘I work so hard, I deserve this.’ Yes, many of us work hard, whether we are students or working professionals, working hard is the norm these days, not the exception. I know in many instances since I have entered the working world, I have cheered myself up after a tough day by buying those really cute shoes I saw at Nine West, after all, I work hard right, I deserve a treat. But I really should have saved that money, or made an extra loan payment. I could have treated myself to a nice walk around my favorite Smithsonian museum or borrowed a DVD from the library and not spent money I had no business spending, but I chose to lie to myself.

The media influences spending habits. I have a communications background and I love commercials. Some of them are very creative and innovatative (some of them are also just plain stupid). I must admit, I watch the Super Bowl every year simply to see the commercials, unless the Eagles have made it to the Super Bowl in that given year...I am from Philly after all! But marketing and advertising people get paid big bucks for you to want to go out and grab that burger after you see that McDonald’s commercial, or to buy an iPhone when the phone you have really does meet your needs just fine. But not falling pray to advertising and a part of not living a lie is evaluating wants and needs. You may need to eat, but you probably have food in your own kitchen that you can eat and keep your money in your pocket. But we sometimes lie to ourselves and do otherwise.

I think I’m going to stick a post-it to my debit and credit cards that says ‘Don’t Live A Lie!’ to keep myself focused on my goals and remember that we all live a lie at one time in our lives when it comes to our money. It’s time for me to stop living mine. What about you, are you or have you ever lived a financial lie?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Haven’t started saving for retirement yet…why not?

Small steps reap big rewards.
I don’t know who came up with that phrase but it can definitely be applied to saving for retirement. And for those recent college graduates out there: I don’t want to hear that “I’m drowning in credit card debt and student loan debt and can’t afford it.” You can’t afford not to save for retirement. Save what you can now and gradually increase your retirement investing as your income rises and your debt to income ratio is lowered (hopefully!). Take the small step of enrolling in your company’s 401K (or 403B or Thrift Saving Plan) and get that match if they offer it. If your place of employment does not offer a retirement plan, invest in your money in a Roth IRA. There are many reputable companies (Vanguard or Fidelity to name two well-known ones) to choose from these days.

The following quote from a U.S. News & World Report article, Retirement Tips for 20-Somethings captures my view on retirement investing now versus later: “If you invest $1,000 per year in a tax-deferred account that earns 7 percent a year beginning at age 25, you will end up with $199,635 at age 65. Invest the same amount beginning at age 40, and you'll end up with only $63,249.”

In other words: you can miss out on investing thousands of dollars in your future by waiting a decade or two to start thinking about how to fund your retirement.

But what if I don’t know how to balance a portfolio?
For those of us like myself who don’t have a financial background or are savvy enough (yet!) to balance our own investment portfolio, hire a professional. Do you feel like a personal failure when you can’t figure out how to fix your car or give your self the perfect hair cut and color? Of course not! So, why should you feel the same way about hiring a professional to manage your investments? But just because you hire a professional doesn’t mean you don’t also seek to educate yourself as much as possible on your retirement investment plan so NO ONE can pull the wool over your eyes.

If you know roughly how many years you have before you plan to retire (roughly 40 years in my case), many investment companies now offer target date funds which would consists of purchasing a single fund (instead of several) with an asset mix that automatically becomes more conservative the closer you get to your retirement date.

Taking control of your finances leads to personal empowerment.
Starting to take a shrewder look at my finances has made me start to feel like an adult like nothing else (except the idea that there is a whole generation of kids out there that weren’t even born yet when Biggie and Tupac died over 10 years ago!).

I have started to create financial goals for my future and though many of them are years from being accomplished, at least I’m developing a plan. That itself is empowering. I encourage you to do the same. So I ask you, have you started investing/saving for retirement and if so, what percentage of your income can you comfortably afford to put away? Do you expect this number to go up with time?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What I'm Reading

I am an avid reader and always have been. Books are a great way to learn more information about an unfamiliar subject. So if I want to learn more about personal finance, I should be reading books related to that subject right? Right! So here is the first book I will tackle. I will tell you my overall impression after I finish it. This book is in its second edition and I'd rather do a full blown review of a book people might not be familiar with. But I hope to draw inspiration from it for future posts. Stay tuned for the book reviews that I will start doing at a later date.

A Budget, Do You Have One?

I am considering moving to cash-only management of my variable expenses in an effort to control my spending and monitor progress I am making on my revised budget. This won’t be too difficult given the fact that my job is right next door to my bank. In an effort to control my spending better, I will also enforce a weekly grocery store visit (armed with a list and perhaps even coupons) instead of randomly going throughout the week. I just find it too easy to spend more money than I mean to when I use my debit (or worse credit) card.

After looking at my spending through the website, I realized a disturbing amount of my money goes to the grocery store which is also right next door to my job. It also does not help that my job is also directly across the street from a Target. I find I make random purchases at both Target and the grocery store I don’t necessarily need and spend more money on prepared foods to grab quickly for lunch instead of taking the time to prepare lunch at home which would be cheaper. I will be a little more flexible with travel-related expenses for the months of June-August when expected (and unexpected) travel will arise. Here is the breakdown:

Fixed (Approximate Percentage of After Tax Expenses)

Student Loans: 16%

Public Transportation: 3 %

Cable/Internet/Landline: 5%

Cell Phone: 0%

Savings: 5%

**Retirement: 6% (employer match included in this percentage)

Variable (Approximate Percentage of After Tax Expenses)
Utilities: 6%
Note: This bill should be considerably cheaper in the upcoming months since I’m not a big fan of air conditioning.

Credit Card Payments: 15%
Note: Windfalls get applied to this category

Travel/Entertainment/Personal Items/Gifts/Clothing/Etc.: 15%
Note: This category has always been the hardest for me to adhere to…

**Retirement contribution is taken out of each pay check pre-tax

In 2009, after a significant amount of my credit card debt is paid off, I will bump my savings up to 10% and bump my retirement savings to 12% (employer match included in this number). Separating my "needs" and "wants" is not always as easy as it sounds, at least for me. I will limit my clothing/shoe shopping after making a few summer wardrobe additions (I'll give an update on those later this week). I'll have to make do with what I have unless absolutely necessary. All trips home this summer will have to be made on the bus (Note: I can't stand taking the bus! But you can't beat the price) because it is more economical than Amtrak.
Do you strictly adhere to a budget or is it more flexible? Has budgeting helped you to achieve your financial goals?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Getting Ahead: Turn Your Hobby Into A Side Hustle

When I meet people my age (mid-twenties or younger) that are in the working world and they tell me they don't have side hustles, I have to refrain myself from asking why not? Unless you have a particularly demanding and/or stressful day job or young children to tend to, I believe it can only help young professionals to turn skills you already possess into a side hustle. Many of us have skills or hobbies that can easily translate into a side hustle. Are you really good at doing hair, have excellent editing skills, capable of selling someone anything, excellent at explaining math concepts, or some other useful talent you get enjoyment from doing? Turn this talent into another source of income. With a little bit of self promotion, its possible.

I was inspired to write this post after reading Moneymonk's recent advise on how to get ahead financially . I definitely agree that multiple streams of income are vital ways of building wealth. A side hustle can do more than just put an extra few dollars in your pocket, a side hustle can also:
  1. Help you build relationships. Although I do enjoy my day-job, I sit at a desk for eight hours a day...I've been working for two years and I still am adjusting to the grueling hours of a 9-5. I enjoy being able to ineract with people (and actually walk around) on my customer service-based side hustle. I get the opportunity to talk with and meet people from many walks of life between the clients I serve and my co-workers.
  2. Give you an alternate stream of income outside of your day-job. I can't tell you how many unexpected bills have gotten paid with my side hustle money over the past year. I know that part of that is my not planning so well for unexpected expenses and as a result, I now have (a small but growing) emergency fund. In the future, I plan to save/invest my side hustle money.

  3. Develop skills that could help your career. I hope to one day have some sort of business of my own and the customer-service skills I have developed at my side-hustle can potentially help me in my future business endeavors.

  4. Help you to save/invest money for the future. My side hustle gives me an extra cushion of money to save/invest for short and long term goals. Because of my side-hustle, this year I was able to start investing some money every month in a mutual fund. I hope to start investing more money in the future.

  5. Pay down debt faster. My side hustle money allows me to throw more money at debt when I plan carefully. I hope to cut down the time it will take to pay off student loans and credit card debt as a result of this extra money.

Don't fret If you're not feeling so entrepreneurial, you can always work for someone else to do your side-hustle. For instance, my side hustle is working at a mid-priced clothing store. Note: I would only suggest a retail side hustle for those who can avoid the temptation of spending money at your place of employment. I learned this the hard way...I am currenly looking into other side-hustle alternatives (such as blogging) that have the potential of being more lucrative than my current one.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Interesting Articles

Here are a few articles I have found interesting over the past week:

How to calculate savings bonds’ new math

Consumer borrowing unexpectedly surges

Your Losing Hand

Commodities Aren't in a Bubble, Demand Key Factor, Economists Say

How to Cut Food Costs

On another note, I am fairly new to the debt crushing game, but stories like Debt Hater's are a source of inspiration for me. She has recently paid off her credit card debt. One day in the not too distant future, I hope to be able to share the same news. I've just got to keep my eyes on the prize...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Would You Purchase Biodegradable Bedding?

This is an interesting concept, but it just proves that we live in a throw-away society:

“For many of these manufacturers and designers, the word “biodegradable” is a signal that they are trying to adhere to the closed-loop manufacturing model put forth by William McDonough, the green design guru and architect whose 2002 book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” written with Michael Braungart, a chemist, proposed a new paradigm for the design and production of household goods. One of its tenets is that our stuff, once we’re done with it, can be “nourishment” for something new, either by being recycled (or “upcycled”) into a product of equal or better value, or by literally devolving into a “bio-nutrient,” like compost.
But can you compost a sofa and its throw pillows? Should you?”

Read this NY Times article to lean more: Biodegradable Home Product Lines, Ready to Rot

I have a hard time accepting the idea of buying anything with the intention of throwing it away. I was taught that you purchase quality items with the intention of using them for years to come. This method normally saves you money because you won't have to continuously replace items such as bedding. For this reason, I think its better to stick to neutral colored bedding and throw pillows that you can use for a long period of time and won't be tempted to go out and buy more if you move to another place or change the decor/color palette of the room.

I Need To Be More Aggressive With Paying Off My Debt

I have admittedly been a little lax with paying down my debt and controlling my spending over the last few weeks. I definitely need to tighten up my budget because my budget busters have been getting to me (clothes and shoes). I had a graduation to attend last weekend and another this weekend and had slim clothing options…so I bought a new dress last week and another this week. I also did purchase an iPod with money I received from an unexpected windfall; the iPod I once had has been broken beyond repair for a minute. I rationalized that purchase by telling myself that I do spend a lot of time in transit (hey, I’m human!).

But I am resolved to get back on the frugal wagon and tighten up my spending again. There will be some unavoidable expenses coming up though: Mother’s Day gifts (this week), train or bus rides home (next month), booking travel for my trip to Florida (August) and other events I’m sure will pop up when the summer starts officially.

During the upcoming weeks: I will resist the temptation of surfing iTunes for more music for my iPod, I will stay away from bookstores and get books from the library instead, I will go grocery shopping more regularly to prevent overspending money on food while out in the street and I will avoid ordering movies On Demand and find something else to entertain me on the weekends that won’t cost money. I will also create a new budget and stick to it.

It’s not always easy making responsible decisions….but I hope to see the difference in my bank account soon and make progress on paying down my debt.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why I Won't Purchase A Car Until I Can Pay For It Without Financing

Here are the main reasons why I can wait a while longer to purchase my first car:

  1. I Want A "Greener" Car. Living a "greener" lifestyle isn't just actually is better for the environment. I want a car that will not be a gas guzzler and have the least harmful effect for the environment. For these reasons, when I purchase a car, I'd like buy a hybrid.
  2. Because of My Lifestyle, A Car Is A "Want" Not A "Need." I am fortunate enough to live near several restaurants, two grocery stores, two drug stores, several dry cleaners, public transportation, a hardware store, and a really nice year-round outdoor market. So, there is really no need for me to have a car on a daily basis except when I need more food or household items than I can carry or cart around in my trusty rollable cart. I can also easily get to work and around the city on public transportation. Note to recent college graduates: consider waiting a while to buy a car if you don't already have one unless you absolutely need it for necessities such as getting to work, or to taking your children to and from school. I mainly desire to have a car for traveling at night and for my regular visits to my hometown which is a 2 to 2 1/2 hour drive from where I live. My hometown is also larger than the city that I currently reside in, so I could get much more done during my visits home with a car. I would like a newer (not brand new) car than is no more than a few years old. I don't think it's necessary for my first car to be brand-spanking new.
  3. Living Expenses...I Already Have Enough Bills! With Student loans, credit card debt and the goal of eventually upgrading myself from apartment living to a home of my very own, I can do without adding to my monthly expenses with a car note, insurance and maintence expenses of a car.
  4. Building a Savings Cushion While Paying Down Debt. I'd like to have much more in my emergency savings before purchasing a car. Life is full of unexpected mishaps and its always better to be prepared by having a nice savings cushion. I would also like my networth to continue to move in a positive direction by eliminating student loan and credit card debt before taking on a car. It makes more sense to put more money toward savings, retirement and building an investment portfolio than to buy a car that I can really live without. I'd hate to feel years from now that I can't afford to retire early like I want to because I bought unnecessary items like a car I don't even need to drive on a daily basis.
  5. I Can Use Car Sharing For Instances When I Absolutely Need A Car. For those instances when a car is absolutely necessary, there are several car-sharing companies that are out there that you can register and borrow a car, by the hour or by the day. Here are a few that I am familiar with:

    A car would make my life a little easier and allow me to have a more independence (I hate asking for rides...). But rushing into a major purchase like a car is definitely not a smart thing to do; and I do sincerely hope I'm getting smarter with age. So I pose this question to you: Is a car a "want" or a "need" in your current lifestyle?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Is Steve & Barry's the Answer to Fashionable Outfits on a Budget?

In the Style section of the New York Times, the article,:Is This the World’s Cheapest Dress? stated that:

"Steve & Barry’s, for the uninitiated, is to fashion what Tower once was to music. Steve & Barry’s is manna, a store that sells stylish celebrity-branded clothes at prices that are absurdly inexpensive, lower than those at Old Navy, H & M or Forever 21, undercutting even Wal-Mart by as much as half."
I will definitely check out the closest Steve & Barry's to inexpensively add to my summer wardrobe. This trench coat from Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten line is cute and very affordable.
(Photos from the Steven & Barry's and Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten websites)

Savings Update

Since the month of May just started, I figured it’s a good time to evaluate my progress on my savings goals:

Emergency Savings
Goal: $1,500.00
Current: $928.00
Deadline: December 2008

Car Fund
Goal: $1,000.00
Current: $65.00
Deadline: December 2008

Vacations and Other Misc. Wants
Goal: $200.00
Current: $0
Deadline: December 2008

Any wind falls I receive between now and the end of the year will be divided among these three savings goals. I just realized now that the summer is almost here and I have a few family commitments that I have to travel for, that I should start saving separately for travel, concerts and other activities I enjoy but won’t raid my emergency account (or charge my credit cards) for.