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 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 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.