Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekend Spending

In an effort to monitor my spending better, I will start tracking my weekend/weekday spending. Here’s the breakdown for the weekend.

Friday
--$8.76 lunch
--$28.18 household cleaning items
Saturday
--$26.73 Groceries
--$8.00 Bottle of wine to take to an Obama House Meeting (I don’t like to go to people’s house empty handed)
--$4.00On Demand movie
Sunday
--$15.00 Watermelon, etc.


Total: $86.67

Overall I didn’t spend that much over the weekend considering I haven’t bought food/housegoods in a while, but that is mainly because I didn’t go too many places over the weekend. Next weekend's spending will be higher because of the holiday and due to the fact that I am pretty sure I will be traveling to Philly. I've lived in DC 6 years including college and I still haven't spent a 4th of July weekend here...don't really have a desire to either.

I am kind of proud of myself because I foolishly went in H&M (my budget kryptonite is inexpensive, cute clothing) on Friday after work and though I saw some cute skirts (on sale) I didn’t buy anything. I do still want to buy a few more summer clothing items, but they can wait until I replenish the money I used from my Emergency Fund while out of town in New Orleans for work.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Interesting News Articles

Here are a few interesting articles I came across while reading the news this weekend:

All-Consuming Problem

Obama Knows Firsthand About Consumer Debt

Americans' Charitable Giving Hits a Record

The High Cost of a Bargain Meal

Economy Can Wait; Stimulate Your Savings

Friday, June 27, 2008

Apartment Wish List - Red Chair

I don’t plan to make too many major household/furniture purchases this summer. To be honest, there aren’t too many things I need anyway. But I may make an exception for this chair I’d like to buy. Red is one of my favorite colors for room d├ęcor. I think this chair would look cute with a graphic accent pillow. If I put money aside for it out of each pay check for a few weeks (and make sure to keep adding money to my EF), I’ll consider getting it, or I can just keep wishing...we'll see.

Do you have any household/furniture purchases you’d like to make soon if it fits in the budget?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Traveling for work is a tease

Traveling for work can be a tease sometimes. I just got back from attending a conference in New Orleans for my job and stayed in a beautiful hotel. But I was so tired after sitting in sessions all day that I did not feel like sightseeing or even sitting by the hotel pool. I passed out from exhaustion for the three nights I was in New Orleans. Now I realize why a few of my coworkers came a few days early or are staying until the weekend to have downtime and do some sightseeing. Oh well…you live and you learn.

I spent less than I expected on food because breakfast and lunch were provided onsite at the conference. So the only meals I had to pay for were dinner and snacks. But, I did purchase a skirt and a dress on sale while in New Orleans for about $60. I have decided to keep the skirt but the dress will be returned over the weekend. I think it was more of an emotional purchase than an actual desire to have the dress. I also paid $12 for a 15 minute massage which I think was worth it because that is going to be the closest thing I have to a spa experience for a while. In hindsight that I could have spent way less if I had planned a little better. Here is a breakdown of spending (approximate):

Sunday through Wednesday
--$10 – coffee*
--$35 – Taxis*
--$75 – Food* (Dinner, snacks)
--$70 – Shopping
--$8 – ATM withdrawal fees (My bank apparently doesn’t have a branch down there)
--$25 – Airport reading (I know this was a frivolous expense…)
--$12 (plus $2 tip) – Massage (This was also a little frivolous but enjoyable)
--$290 – Hotel*

*I will get reimbursed for these expenses by my job.

Overall I had a nice time and was happy to have had the opportunity to go. Traveling for work is okay, but traveling just for the sake of traveling is my preference.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Traveling...

I'm leaving for New Orleans tomorrow to attend a conference for my job. I hope to squeeze in some sightseeing while there and of course eat some of the good food New Orleans has a reputation for providing. I don't intend to buy much except food while I'm there which I will get reimbursed for when I get back. I doubt I will have computer access so I probably won't be posting again until mid-week next week.

Does anyone have any suggestions for inexpensive sightseeing options I should try out while in New Orleans?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What is an ETF?

I honestly have hard time reading books about investing without my eyes glazing over. Saving is much easier and I like to see my bank account grow. But as I know investing is an important way for me to meet my personal finance goals, I’m trying to educate myself in baby steps. My first step is figuring out what exactly an ETF is and whether I should consider investing in them when I crush my credit card debt and meet a few other financial goals.

According to the Wikipedia definition, an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) is:

An investment vehicle traded on stock exchanges, much like stocks or bonds. An ETF holds assets such as stocks or bonds and trades at approximately the same price as the net asset value of its underlying assets over the course of the trading day. Most ETFs track an index, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500. ETFs may be attractive as investments because of their low costs, tax efficiency, and stock-like features.

A few tidbits about ETF’s:

  • Apparently, there are four types of ETF’s: Index, Commodity, Actively Managed, and Exchange Trader-grantor trusts.
  • ETFs trade on an exchange. Each transaction is subject to a brokerage commission.
  • ETFs are structured for tax efficiency and can be more attractive than mutual funds.
  • Since ETFs trade on the market, investors can carry out the same types of trades that they can with a stock.
  • Well known companies such as Vanguard and Fidelity offer ETF’s.
  • For more information on ETF’s visit CNN Money’s page about them.

Do you have any ETF’s or plan to invest in them in the future?

Monday, June 16, 2008

If I Had Read This Article Two Years Ago…

If I had read this NYT’s article two years ago when I graduated from college, I’d have been ahead of the curve. You’ll see what I mean after you read it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Money (and Life) Lessons From My Grandma

Happy 80th Birthday Grandma! I’m giving you a shout-out though I highly doubt you read my blog. My Grandma does know how to use the Internet to check her email, but I’m pretty sure she doesn't surf the Internet or read personal finance blogs (she has to save something for age 81 right?). I’m dedicating this post to you anyway. I’ve learned a lot over the years from my dear Grandmother including a few money (and life) lessons, here are a few:

Save Your Money and Spend It Wisely. My Grandmother has always been a saver according to my Mother. She spent less than she earned and learned how to spend her money wisely. This allowed her to raise five children and put them through college. My Grandmother faithfully socked money away for years and is still able to live comfortably in retirement.

The Importance of Pursuing A Higher Education. My Grandmother never gave up on her dream of completing college and went back to complete her Bachelor’s and Master degree in education while taking care of her family when she was in her forties. Because of my Grandmother (and other family members), college was not thought of as a privilege, but a right of passage for my mother, myself, and now my younger cousins who are continuing the tradition and now attending/graduating from college. Pursuing a higher education significantly increases your income over your lifetime and my Grandmother was aware of this.

Some Things Are Not Worth Skimping On. From appliances to clothing, my Grandmother knows what to skimp on and what quality items to pay top dollar for. She is the original small budget, big style chick :- )

Eating At Home Is Cheaper Than Eating Out. My Grandmother (and Mother) can turn a few items in the pantry into a whole meal for a family and I hope to one day have that skill (not quite there yet with the cooking skills). My Grandmother realizes that eating in is healthier and often cheaper than eating out.

Volunteering and Giving Back Is Not something you can do, but something you should do. My Grandmother to this day is still active in her community in several different types of volunteer capacities. From tutoring students, to being active in her church and the many other activities she is involved in. I’ve heard her joke before that she doesn’t know how she found the time to work because she is so busy in her retirement. I try to follow my Grandmother’s example and donate my time to opportunities that help youth in my community.

I apparently have a long life expectancy, if I’ll be anything like my maternal Grandparents so I better start saving so I can live well in my older age like them (Grandpop will get a happy birthday shout-out when he turns 89 in the fall).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Going meatless is good for your wallet and waistline

I don’t consider myself to be a vegetarian though I may eventually become one. I admit, do love a good piece of baked chicken, fish filet, turkey, or lamb chop. I'm not ready to give up meat completely right now. I can count on one hand and have fingers left over how many times over the last five years that I have eaten beef or pork. It probably has a lot to do with the way I was raised, but I actually prefer certain dishes with out meat added. My mother rarely cooked beef or pork unless it was for a family occasion and others wanted to eat it.

I have stopped buying meat on a regular basis more so for economic reasons than for health reasons, although I am aware of the health benefits of cutting out or lessening your meat intake. Food (meat in particular) is simply too expensive. I can buy a bag of beans for a few dollars that will last me up to two weeks where as a few chicken cutlets will only last a day or two. Check out this New York Times article on ways to ease into a meatless diet, Putting Meat Back in Its Place.

Foods rich in protein other than meat include: soybeans, quinoa (a grain), spinach beans, grains, nuts and seeds.

Would you be willing to cut meat out of your diet for economic or other reasons?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Can Debt Stress Make you Sick?

A recent Washington Examiner article, Debt hurts your body too stated:

Although most people appear to be managing their debts all right, perhaps 10
million to 16 million are "suffering terribly due to their debts, and their health is likely to be negatively impacted," says Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist and AP consultant who analyzed the results of the survey. Those are people who reported high levels of debt stress and suffered from at least three stress-related illnesses, he says. That finding is supported by medical research that has linked chronic stress to a wide range of ailments. And the current tough economic times and rising costs of living seem to be leading to increasing debt stress, 14 percent higher this year than in 2004, according to an index tied to the AP-AOL survey.


Yes, debt is a serious issue among many American households, but you shouldn’t let debt stress impede on your health. Setting goals and thinking positively can help put debt issues in perspective. I truly believe a lot of health issues stem from people’s emotional turmoil and stress so please try to keep it to a minimum!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Interesting Blog Posts

Here are a few interesting blog post's I've come across this week (in no particular order).


Happy Friday!!



Thursday, June 5, 2008

20 (Random) Questions

As a person who grew up reading Vibe Magazine, here is my version of 20 questions:

  1. Why do some retail stores wrap your clothing in tissue paper wasting tons of paper every day?
  2. Why isn’t nap time built into the work day like it was in nursery school (I know I'm more productive after a 'power' nap)?
  3. Why isn’t personal finance taught at the elementary school level, so children won’t grow up to make the same financial mistakes as their parents?
  4. Why is food that is healthier for you more expensive?
  5. Why don’t more people take public transportation instead of driving since gas is so expensive now?
  6. Why don’t I have more to show in my bank account for the two years I have been in the working world?
  7. Will I have enough money saved to live comfortably when I am ready to retire?
  8. Why am I now addicted to reading and blogging about personal finance?
  9. Why has it been raining so much in the Mid-Atlantic region – is global warming to blame?
  10. Why does it often cost so much money to be social?
  11. Why aren’t teachers paid more for educating youth that will lead America and the global community in the future?
  12. How long will it take me to pay off my student loans and credit card debt?
  13. What will my life be like 20 years from now?
  14. Who will be the next President of the United States?
  15. What do I want to be when I ‘grow-up’?
  16. Why are American’s so obsessed with gossip about celebrities?
  17. Should I spend the money to take a writing workshop this summer?
  18. Should I get a pet (cat or dog) this year?
  19. Does anybody actually read this blog (except me) lol?
  20. Will I still be checking my Facebook profile 5 years from now?

Do you have a random question you'd like answered?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tackling Credit Card Debt




The average American household with at least one credit card has nearly $9,200 in credit card debt, according to CardWeb.com, and the average interest rate runs in the mid- to high teens at any given time.
–CNN Money


There are several different ways that people choose to tackle their credit card debt. Even if some methods will allow you to pay off your debt faster, I personally think that you should just choose a method and be consistent with it. Here are two popular methods I am aware of that people use to pay down high CC balances:

1. Paying Off Balances With Highest Interest Rates
Say you have three cards with varying balances and interest rates:
--Visa - $5,000 @ 3%
--Master Card - $500 @ 13%
--Amex - $250 @ 7%
You would pay off the Master Card first followed by the Amex, then lastly the Visa. The purpose of using this method is to avoid paying so much money in interest.

2. Paying off Amounts According to Size: Smallest to Largest Using the Snowball technique ( term used by Dave Ramsey)
This technique emphasizes the sense of accomplishment you feel when you pay off a CC balances, even if it is a small balance. This may keep you motivated to keep going with you goal of paying off all balances. Using the same numbers from the previous method, you would first pay off the Amex, followed by the Master Card, then the Visa. Once the Amex is paid off, apply the money you were using to pay it down to the Master Card. Then once the Amex and Mastercard hit zero, apply the money you were using to pay them down to the Visa. Paying off balances with high interest rates makes sense numbers-wise, but people (like me) get antsy when they can’t see immediate results in paying off debt. Here is a debt reduction planner I found on CNN Money that you can use to plan out the amount of your credit card payments and how long it will take you to pay off your credit card debt: http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/debtplanner/debtplanner.jsp.
Tools like this are helpful for visual people like me that like to be reminded of their goals.

Other options that help you to pay off credit card debt faster:
--Transfer high balances to a 0% interest card
--Call your CC company and try to negotiate down your interest rate
--Throw any windfalls toward debt (after you have at least $500 in emergency savings)

Options I wouldn’t suggest you use to pay off credit cards:
--Refinancing your home
--Getting a HELOC
--Borrowing money from friends and relatives- Borrowing money may fix the problem, but actually taking the time and money to pay off your debt without help will make you think twice about running up those CC’s again!


I plan to use the ‘snowball’ technique of paying off my credit card debt which is on three separate cards. My smallest balance will be paid off this week, my other two balances are in the (gulp) 4 digit range. But it’s totally feasible to pay them down significantly by the end of the year and have them paid off in full by the end of the first quarter of 2009. I’ll give an update on my progress on paying them down at the end of the month.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Mid-Year Resolutions



I don’t think you need to wait until the new year starts to think of resolutions to make a change in your life for the better. We all know that those resolutions made during the end of the year or the start of a new one are normally forgotten by the time summer rolls around. So here are my mid-year resolutions:


Stop procrastinating and apply to grad school. Going back to school has been a goal I have had since I graduated from college two years ago. I need to stop procrastinating and just do it! I intend to go part-time, so it could take a few years for me to complete my degree. But I enjoy learning and think going back to school will help me in the long-run in my career.

Learn how to sew. I’m afraid to actually add up how much money I spend annually on alterations to my clothing. I happen to be short and have a small frame, so I have to get many of my clothing items altered. Even petite sizes are sometimes big on me…Learning how to sew would save me so much money. Maybe I could even start making my own clothing. I’m not trying to be a Project Runway contestant or anything, but a lot of the trendy clothing these days is simply made and wouldn’t be a problem to create if I actually had some sewing skills. I am in awe of my grandmother (and the countless others of her generation) who made clothing for their children when they were small; that’s a skill I need to develop to pass on to my future children.

Write every day. Practice makes perfect and strengthening my writing skills is something I want to do for career and personal reasons. So be it blogging, working on a short story, or doing some writing for the non-profit organization I’m volunteering for, I plan to write something (non-work related) every day. Here are a few writing skills I want to develop in the near-future:

--Grant Writing – this is a great skill to have and could really be useful for my work with the non-profit I volunteer for. I’d eventually like to take on clients and make this my side-hustle (potentially more lucrative than retail!)

--Short Story Writing – I have so many story ideas, but have never actually sat down to write them in story-form. I want to start doing this and may even look for an inexpensive writing workshop that focuses on this type of writing to take in the future.

--Media-related writing (communication plans, feature stories, stronger press releases, etc.) – for my career, writing is a vital skill I need to hone and I plan to take some type of workshop before the year ends (and get reimbursed by my job hopefully!) that will give me useful info on how to improve my writing for media/communication purposes.

Exercise on a regular basis. I have time on my side right now and have been blessed so far to not have to diet and exercise to lose weight; but just want to maintain good health for the future. I’ve heard your metabolism starts slowing down when you get in your mid-twenties, so I better start getting into the habit of exercising regularly: My hips and my heart will thank me decades from now if I do this.

Learn how to style my own hair. Like other females, I love being pampered and having someone else do my hair, but hair styling is another leak in my budget I need to plug. Instead of going to the hair dresser regularly, I’d like to just go to get trims and for special occasions (thank goodness I don’t have a relaxer or coloring to maintain). This alone would save me hundreds of dollars a year (I know…I said hundreds).



So I pose the question to you, what would your Mid-Year Resolutions be if you were going to make them?