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 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...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weekend Spending

The week has already started, but I still wanted to do an update of my weekend spending. I need to stop making end of the week/weekend trips to Starbucks, it's starting to add up. I know better. I also know that H&M is a weakness of mine as there are so many cute fall clothing and shoes there. I will avoid H&M and other stores that tempt me until I save a little money to buy a few fall clothing staples in September. I realize, that my schedule won't allow me to keep my side-gig at the retail store much longer. The extra money was nice, but I don't want to stretch myself too thin. On a good note, I should have plenty of no-spend days this fall since I am embarking on graduate school and will have to study/do assignments in my spare time.

~Starbucks - $7.04
~Lunch - $7.69
~Cab ride - $12.00
~Metro Smart Trip Card- $5.00

~Starbucks - 3.85
~Harris Teeter - $61.56
~Snack - $2.88

~H&M (purple pumps) - $36.91
~Movies - $8.50
~Lunch - $7.00

TOTAL: 152. 43

Monday, August 18, 2008

Should I Go Back to School ? - Part II

I am officially a student again. I applied and got accepted into a graduate program here in DC and will soon start classes. I did not want to post about this until it was a done deal. In this previous post, I weighed some of the positive and negative points of going back to school for a graduate degree. Although I will be financing my degree with student loans, in the long run, more education will increase my earning potential and expand my skills and I expect to also gain new ones. As I have mentioned previously, I am a nerd and enjoy learning so while I expect juggling a full-time job and classes to be challenging, I believe I can do it. I plan to do updates on my progress on my classes and how going back to school will impact my finances.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When will I be ready to be a homeowner?

On my good days, I feel pretty good about where I am in life. At the age of 24 I am a college graduate, gainfully employed, and am able to afford to live on my own unlike many of my friends. No, I don’t own a car, but my lifestyle really doesn’t make a car a necessity. Though it is a very small amount, I invest in my company’s retirement plan every month and can normally set aside some money in savings every month. I don’t normally have money leftover, but I can afford to do some of the things I enjoy. I feel good about the fact that I have youth on my side and time to invest in my retirement and reach other financial and personal goals.

On my not-so-good days I feel so far from my goals it’s a bit depressing. I still have such a meager amount of savings and am probably at least a few years a way from becoming a homeowner. I have years of repaying my student loans to look foward to and credit card debt. I read so many great stories from other pf bloggers my age who have saved thousands of dollars, have purchased property, or have taken trips to fabulous locales simply because they wanted to and can afford the expense. In a perfect world, I’d be able to purchase a few investment properties in Philly—maybe in Germantown or Mt. Airy or Brewery Town for those familiar with the city—by the end of 2009 that would eventually generate additional income. I’d also buy a condo in DC maybe on Captiol Hill or the Adams Morgan area. In a perfect world, I’d also be able to go back to school this fall without taking out any more student loans and take a trip to a place I’ve never been before like London or South Africa. But although all of these goals are achievable in time, I am not always patient and wish they could happen a little faster. I guess I’ll have to be content with staying on the course I’m currently on by:

~Continuing to pay down debt
~Continuing to build savings (EF first, then home down payment)
~Gain more work experience to increase my income
~Generate other streams of income besides my full-time job
~Spend less than I earn

I think it’s realistic to expect to reach my goal of homeownership by the time I’m in my late 20’s if I keep my eyes on the prize. Patience is a virtue I’m still working on…Today is a good day and I’m going to opt to feel good about where I am and look forward to being a homeowner sometime in the future.

Image: Bigstockphoto

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How often do you check your credit score and credit reports?

For the past few years, I have pretty consistently checked my credit score and report once a year during the first few months of the year. But because identity theft seems to be running rampant these days coupled with the desire to know where I stand financially, I have decided to check my score and report twice a year. I don’t anticipate making any major purchases before 2009 (property, car, etc.), but I may have to take out a minimal amount student loans (I know Michelle Singletary would cringe if she overheard me say that) for grad school in the near future. I use and looked at each report from the three credit bureaus: Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. You are entitled to one free credit report per year but FICO scores have to be purchased for a nominal fee. I personally think those credit monitoring services are a waste of money unless you have had experienced serious instances of identity theft. To find out find out more about identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Center at

There weren’t any surprises on any of my credit reports, but I did notice that all three of my credit scores had dropped a few points since I last checked my scores in February. I know that my high credit card balances are to blame for this drop. My balances are slowly creeping down, but my available credit is minimal on two of my credit cards. The one store credit card I have, Ann Taylor is paid in full when I make purchases on it. According to my credit report, the fact that my credit history is still fairly new (about 5 years starting with my undergraduate student loans) affects my score. My oldest credit card was opened in 2005. All of my scores are in the fair range, but to get the best rates on any loans or other credit I would want to take out in the near future, my scores needs to improve a minimum of about 20 points. Sigh.

All you have to do is open up your local paper to the business section to see how important maintaining your credit is. Your credit can impact your job prospects, ability to buy a home or a car or take out educational loans for yourself or your children. Needless to say, I’ll be working to get my scores up by early 2009 when I plan to check them again.

When was the last time you checked your credit score?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekend Spending

I enjoyed my week in Florida and as I suspected, I spent very little money except for on food and a pair of black Jessica Simpson wedges I found on sale at Dillards. I really like Dillards, too bad we don't have that department store in the DC area.

I guess I'm not too old to be treated to dinner by my Dad because he frowned at me when I offered to pay for dinner when we went out during the week. But I am too old for him to still pay my cell phone bill, so I am am now officially off of my Dad and Stepmom's family plan and will be paying my own cell phone bill from now on. I made a small payment on my Discover card and will make a larger payment when I get paid on the 15th.


$34 - Discover card minimum payment

$10 - disappointing airport pizza and bottle of water
$13 - novel from airport newstand for flight

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Recent Graduates Job Hunting Woes

According to a recent Washington Post article, Graduates' Job Hunts: Majorly Frustrating, the soft job market is making job hunting difficult for recent college/grad school graduates :

"As the economy teeters on the edge of recession, college graduates this year face a tough job market, leaving many without work in their fields or doing jobs that people without college degrees can do, career center officials said. Most affected, the officials said, are those looking to break into the financial services industry, hard hit by the subprime mortgage crisis.

The numbers aren't pretty. Unemployment among 20- to 24-year-olds, the typical post-undergraduate age group, is sharply higher than the overall population. In the second quarter of this year, joblessness among this group reached 9.8 percent, according to the Labor Department. That is up from 7.7 percent last year at this time and 8.1 percent in the second quarter of 2001, about the time
the last recession hit. Overall, unemployment rose to 5.7 percent in July from 5.5 percent the previous month, and the economy lost 51,000 payroll jobs. "

I'm not phased by the fact that many of my contemporaries are struggling to find jobs are are forced to work outside of their field. Sometimes, when jobs just simply don't exist, you have to create work experience for yourself that makes you more attractive though volunteering, obtaining mentors, blogging...young professionals have to be more creative or they won't obtain the jobs in this shrinking market. The young man pictured above that was interviewed in the article started a web site becuase of the lack of jobs available in his field, writing. The weak job market is the major reason why I plan to work while attending graduate school so I can continue to gain experience (work, volunteering, blogging?) to make myself more marketable.

Image: Washington Post - Mark Gail (online)

To cruise or not to cruise…let’s think about it

One of my girlfriends asked me if I’d like to go on a cruise to an island next May around Memorial Day. I really wanted to think about how much it would cost me before committing to the trip so I told her I’d make up my mind and get back to her later this week.

The cruise would cost about $600 and I’d have to put down a deposit by December of $300. I guess I’d have to include travel to where the cruise is leaving from which I think is Virginia, so about $80 on the train (roundtrip). There are probably taxes involved and I have to renew my passport so this cruise will probably cost me about $900-$950. I'm not big on souvenirs, so I won't budget much for that. My friend told me this amount was based on a total of three people, so it could potentially be cheaper if another one of our friend’s decides to come. I can’t remember the last time I went on a trip that wasn’t family – related; at least two years ago. It’s nice to have a family that likes to travel, but I’d like to travel with friends for a change.

The price doesn’t sound too bad and I’m sure I can save money so I don’t have to tap my savings for the trip. I heard that cruises are economical because they are all-inclusive (food, entertainment, drinks, etc.). There would also be day-trips to other islands, which would be nice. This trip would also fulfill my goal of traveling outside of the United States during 2009. Well, I’ll have to get more details but…looks like I made up my mind.

Does anyone have any cruise experiences, good or bad? Are they worth the money?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Goals for the month of August

My goals for the month are as follows:

  1. Stick to an exercise schedule (crunches everday, exercise dvd's three times a week, dance class at least twice this month)
  2. Modify monthly budget
  3. Transfer my phone to my name from Dad's and start paying my own bill :- (
  4. Get EF over $1,000
  5. Start a Roth IRA lump sum fund (sub ING account).
  6. Finish one short story
  7. Complete one graduate school application
  8. Attend at least one (career or business) networking event
  9. 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 concflicts

Let's face it, I do better with tangible goals and belive my lack of progress this summer on all fronts (financially and otherwise) has been because I haven't taken the time to write my goals down. I've thought about them plenty, but actually writing them down is a different story. So I am remedying this now though the month has already started and will check back in September to see if I was able to cross everything off my goal list. Saving for retirement takes precedence over saving for a car since I don't really need one to maintain my current liftstyle. Instead of going to my car fund, my non-EF savings will go toward the lump amount of $3000 I will need to open up my Roth IRA (Vanguard?), a goal I'd like to achieve by March 2009.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekend Spending

Here is the breakdown:

Metro Smart Trip Card - $5.00
CVS (household items) - $30.00
iTunes (album)- $10.29
Airport candy - $3.00
Chinese Food - $8.00
Family reunion dues -$20.00
Dinner -$0 (thanks Auntie!)

Family trip (including lunch) - $60.00
Dinner - $27.00

Taxi cab ride to Amtrak station - $43.00...ugh!
Coffee and snack - $3.00

TOTAL: $163.29

Note: Flight and Train tickets purchased in advance.

I attended a family reunion in Miami over the weekend and had a very nice time there. I didn't end up spending as much money as I anticipated because I avoided a family bus trip to a shopping outlet. You can't spend if you avoid temptation right? Overall, I had a nice time in Miami despite the high temperatures. My train ride today to visit my Dad and Step-mom in Tampa after the reunion ended did not go as smoothly as my flight to Florida due to a lovely child that sat behind me and kept banging the tray table up and down despite my protestations and his even more lovely grandmother did nothing to stop this behavior...ugh!

I definitely need to tweak my budget a little more. I am sadly going over spending in all of the categories I previously set. I plan to completely revamp it based on my spending trends on I also plan to start tracking my week day and week-end spending starting in September. I am waiting until next month, because I would like to enjoy the rest of the summer before buckling down with the improved budget. I will have to allow for the new expense of my cell phone because I guess I should give my Dad a break from paying my cell phone bill since he's been paying for it since I was in high school. It sucks being an adult sometimes...

I resolve to track my spending better because I am tired of not seeing faster progress with building up my emergency fund. I'd also really like to crush this credit card debt so I can open up my Roth IRA in early 2009.