Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How I plan to “shop” on my birthday trip to NYC

I decided to spend my upcoming birthday weekend in New York City and since I am not supposed to buy clothing until June, I figured out another way to shop. I discovered a clothing exchange store in Brooklyn called Beacon’s Closet from the blogs of some stylish fashion bloggers who live in New York. I checked out their website and they exchange clothing for cash or store credit similar to the way a consignment shop does, but they give you the money or credit (35% of the price they set on the item) on the spot. So I will take a bag of clothing and shoes to exchange that are in very good condition but are just not my style anymore or never really fit me that well. For example, I have a few pairs of nice shoes that I shouldn’t have bought in the first place because they are a size 6 and I really wear a 5 ½, so my feet either slide around in the shoe or I have to wear pads in them to take up the space which is not always comfortable. I will donate any items that the store does not want to accept to charity. I will keep my eye open for colorful skirts and dresses as well as unique looking accessories to add some life into my rather drab (to me) spring wardrobe. I find that my taste is changing and I am tired of looking like everyone else, so shopping in vintage and thrift stores will allow me to look more unique and not bust my budget. I plan to continue to shop this way whenever possible after my shopping moratorium is over.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Revised 2009 Emergency Fund Goal

I completed my taxes over the weekend and when I receive my tax refund, I will transfer part of the refund money into my emergency fund bringing it to approximately $3,000. Since my goal for 2009 was originally $3,000 in my emergency fund, I will raise my goal to $5,000 for 2009, which is a little more than two months of living expenses. Once I have about three months (about $7,500) of living expenses, I can focus more energy on other savings goals like my car fund and a trip out of the United States in 2010 to an undetermined location (but contemplating London or Spain). I wanted a car so badly in 2008 but I now realize that I'm lucky that I have a lifestyle where a car is a want and not a need, so it can wait until I have more of a savings cushion.

Is Life Coaching Really Effective?

I am a big reader overall of everything from Toni Morrison and Charles Dickens to Twilight and the Power of Positive Thinking. For quite some time, I've had an interest in books that focus on self-improvement and goal-reaching. In reading books from those genres, I came across Jack Canfield (co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series) who mentions in some of his books, the concept of obtaining a life coach to actualize goals. Since Jack Canfield does offer life coaching through his company, he does have a personal interest in pushing the concept, but he’s not the only one that encourages the idea of having assistance to actualize goals. I guess in theory, life coaching is a good idea. But I can’t help thinking, shouldn’t I be able to coach myself to reach goals? Since my goals for the immediate future lie in paying off debt, increasing my income and becoming a social entrepreneur among other things, life coaching doesn’t exactly fit in my budget. But honestly, if I had the extra money, I’d seriously consider getting a life coach, here are a few reasons why:

  1. A life coach can help you sort out the things that matter to you. I know certain things matter to me in abstract ways like equal opportunity in education for all children regardless of socieo-economic background and lessening my negative impact on the environment, but it would be nice to have an objective person help me sort out things that really matter to me, so I can do something about these things at least in some small way. This could also help me evaluate how much time I am spending on things that don't matter to me very much at all.
  2. A life coach can help you come up with or refine a plan to achieve personal and professional goals. I could fill several pages or make 10 vision board of different goals and aspirations I have for the present and the future, but narrowing these down and making a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) plan to achieve these goals is another story. A coach would enable me to do this in a more strategic manner.
  3. A life coach can hold you accountable for progress made on reaching goals at specific intervals. I am a daydreamer, and without a deadline for things, I could let my mind wander on tasks and goals indefinitely, so being held accountable through regular check-in’s with a life coach would be good for me. I go in between being highly productive and a huge procrastinator, I’m sure I’m not the only one like this.
  4. A life coach may be able to align you with other like-minded people out of their network to reach a specific goal. Most people don’t reach goals in a vacuum, and in most cases, reaching certain goals is about who you know, or who someone you know, knows. Read books like Never Eat Alone and The Tipping Point to see the value in your network of personal relationships. I think a life coach who I assume would be a natural “connector” would be able to align me with others that could help my progress on professional goals like starting a non profit, or getting a book published.
  5. If nothing else, fear of wasting money (and time) will motivate you. I hate to waste money, and I also hate to waste the time of others. Not doing either of these things would keep me on task if I was working with a life coach.

In this difficult economy with so many people facing or living through job loss, reevaluation and reinvention are ideas that can jump start a stale career, or open the door to another one. A life coach may be the first step in doing these things. But I think, if funds don’t allow, we all might have to start serving as our own life coaches.

Any body else have any views on if life coaching really helps you to reach goals?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birthday Trip Budget

I plan to go to NYC for my birthday weekend in March. I'd like to stay in a hotel, have at least one treatment at a spa and find some other fun inexpensive stuff to do. Here is my budget:

Spa Treatment - $100
Food - $60
Hotel - $150
Misc. - $40
TOTAL - $350

I think I can stick to it. If I go over by a few dollars, it's okay, I just don't want to spend more than $400. Any ideas on sights I should see and inexpensive but good restaurants?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Babysitter to the Stars

This WSJ story isn't really personal finance related, but I found it interesting, so I thought I'd share this article about a man paid to be a babysitter to athletes. This guy sounds like an uber connector case study from a lost chapter to a Malcolm Gladwell book. I have no aspirations of becoming a celebrity babysitter to make extra money, but I am drawn to stories about people who network themselves into interesting jobs and opportunities in general.

"Many of the star basketball players descending on Phoenix today for the NBA All-Star Weekend will be calling a sitter -- and not for their kids. In a world that's become increasingly fraught with danger for superstar athletes as potential predators wield cellphone cameras at every turn, Julian Jones has carved out an unusual -- some might say enviable -- niche for himself. The lanky 27-year-old is the world's most sought-after athlete wingman.

Part companion, part publicist, part chaperone and part guardian angel,
Mr. Jones, who lives in Las Vegas and works for a pair of casino owners, specializes in setting up elaborately arranged outings for athletes where every detail from transportation and tickets to the members of the entourage is premeditated...

Using a combination of street smarts, tips from veteran superstars like Shaquille O'Neal and ancient Chinese military tactics gleaned from reading Sun Tzu's "Art of War," Mr. Jones has become so adept at protecting his charges from ugly situations and nightclub mayhem that he's become a trusted ally of athletes across all sports leagues. NBA stars from Kobe Bryant to Amare Stoudemire have joined his entourage in Las Vegas. He rang in the New Year with Michael Phelps, escorted New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and his son to a fight this month, and in January accompanied Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens to a party."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Have You Pulled Your Credit Scores Recently?

I normally pull my credit report and check my credit scores at least once a year. Since I am not moving or making a major purchase in the immediate future which would require credit, I don't think I need to pull them more often than that. But in this tough economy, it doesn't hurt to know where you stand.

I decided to pull both my credit scores and credit reports this week after hearing through the personal finance blogosphere and regular news outlets that beginning February 14th Experian; one of the three major credit bureaus will no longer offer FICO scores based on its data through Fair Issac Corp.'s FICO scores based on data from two other credit bureaus, Equifax Inc. and TransUnion LLC, will still be available through the Web site. This is very disappointing information and I wonder if this is a permanent situation or will be resolved in the future.

My credit scores are higher than they were when I checked them last year, and if I had to use credit, for a car loan for example, I would be able to get a reasonable rate. Though I have credit card balances and student loans, I always pay on time. I am sure as I continue to pay my credit cards down (and have a lower utilization of available credit), my credit card score will be impacted and rise a little more.

Have you pulled your credit reports or scores recently?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February Goals

I let the whole month of January go by without setting goals, so I have to make up for that this month:

  1. File taxes. There is no reason to procrastinate on doing this since I got already have my paperwork together.
  2. Apply for one freelance job. I will start searching freelance job sites for writing opportunities. I need to start generating alternate streams of income.
  3. Make one new dish. I am very good at bringing leftovers for lunch everyday and my Starbucks trips are less frequent than last year, but I am tired of eating the same dishes. It's time to crack open a cook book and try to make something new.
  4. Go to the gym more often. I don't want to set myself up to fail so I won't set how many times to go, just as long as I go more often than I did last month.
  5. Stay on top of my reading for class. My eyes tend to glaze over when I crack open my Managerial Economics textbook, but I need to make myself do all of the reading before class each week.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Business of Your Own

If you are a young budding entrepreneur, check out this recent WSJ article:

Finding a job in this economy -- even keeping one -- is tough. Tired of the uncertainty, some twentysomethings are going from job hunting to job creating by starting their own businesses.

Generation Y entrepreneurs have a few advantages here: They're seen as tech-savvy, enthusiastic risk takers with fresh perspectives. But they also tend to lack money, credit histories and managerial experience.

I don't think being young should stop anyone for going for their entrepreneurial dreams.

Americans' saving more, spending less

According to a recent AP article:

Americans are hunkering down and saving more. For a recession-battered economy, it couldn't be happening at a worse time.

Economists call it the "paradox of thrift." What's good for individuals — spending less, saving more — is bad for the economy when everyone does it.

On Friday, the government reported Americans' savings rate, as a percentage of after-tax incomes, rose to 2.9 percent in the last three months of 2008. That's up sharply from 1.2 percent in the third quarter and less than 1 percent a year ago.

Like a teeter-totter, when the savings rate rises, spending falls. The latter accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity. When consumers refuse to spend, companies cut back, layoffs rise, people pinch pennies even more and the recession deepens.

This economy has definitely made me anxious to build up my emergency fund because as it stands now, it wouldn't last me very long. I am also trying to pay off my credit card debt as soon as possible. These are things that I would do regardless of the economy but I know I'm not the only one out there who is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Coming up with alternate streams of income has also been on my mind alot these days. It's just hard to carve out time to work on things like that. Man, I could get so much more done if I didn't require sleep :- )

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Things That Annoy Me...Can You Really Afford That House?

I love interior design and shows that revolve around home purchasing. So I often watch the cable stations, Home and Garden Television (HGTV) and The Learning Channel (TLC) when I can find nothing else to watch on television. Lack of programming that actually interests me on cable happens often enough that I question if I should get rid of the cable altogether, but that alas will be pondered on in another post.

I like shows like House Hunters, My First Place and Property Virgins. But something annoys me about these shows. Every so often whether the show I am watching focuses on a single person, a couple, or a family with children, they inevitably choose a home that completely falls outside of the budget they set. And sometimes, according to the shows, these people actually buy homes that fall outside of what they can comfortably afford. Depending on the show, you get more or less info on the prospective homeowner's finances.

I understand that some of these shows may be reruns that were shot before the economic turbulence the American economy has been experiencing due in part to mortgage loans, but some of them are fresh episodes. I know people have certain expectations in mind when they take the major step to purchase property, but what is so hard about staying within budget to avoid financial drama down the line? Seems pretty simple to me, but then again, I am not ready to be a homeowner yet.