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Monday, June 30, 2008

What I Wish I Had Known

At work, there has been an influx of fresh faced young employees over the past few weeks. Some just out of college, others just out of grad school. I’m enjoying meeting all these new people, and it’s always great to have new, enthusiastic employees.

There has been a lot of talk as of late as to what sort of personal finance information recent college grads and recent high school grads should know, and as I watched these new employees arrive, I started to think about what I did and didn’t know when I started my first job after college.

I was lucky in that I knew a fair bit about personal finance when I first started working. I had held a credit card for four years, I was good about paying my bills, and I understood the benefits of a 401(k) plan. I didn’t contribute to my employer’s 401(k) plan at my first job for a few reasons – I knew I was leaving in a year to go to grad school, and I needed every penny for grad school, and they didn’t start matching until you had worked there for over a year, so I knew I would never meet eligibility.

Perhaps not the best decision, but not a bad decision and not one I regret. The one thing I wish I had known though was that I could contribute to a Roth IRA. I really didn’t learn about Roth IRAs until I was 26. I could have made contributions to that instead. Sure, I did need money for grad school, but I could have contributed a few hundred dollars at least. I didn’t make much during grad school, and again, I needed that money to pay for fun things like textbooks, but I wonder how much a few hundred dollars might have grown over the years.

I’m not sure how I missed the boat on Roth IRAs. And I don’t think that not contributing for those few years really hurt, because the contributions wouldn’t have been huge. But I still suggest Roth IRAs whenever I get the chance.

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $1600

$1600 would go to a year long gym membership along with a bunch of personal training sessions. I've been sick the past few weeks and I can tell by how my clothes fit that I'm quickly falling out of shape. I could use someone to kick me into gear!

Friday, June 27, 2008


I have a confession to make. Yesterday, when I paid my credit card bill, I realized that my balance on my YNAB spreadsheet didn’t quite make sense. After some quick math, it was clear that I had forgotten to enter a few transactions. I hadn’t been reconciling YNAB with my credit card statement, so the mistake was easy to make. It wasn’t a lot of money – a little under $30. But it was also more than one transaction.

I went back through two credit card statements and found the missing transactions. Two small online transactions and one transaction where I distinctly remember not getting a receipt. So that threw off the budget a bit. Not a big deal, but definitely a reminder to make sure I’m logging EVERYTHING. Part of the problem was 99 cent iTunes songs. I need to either be sure to flag the receipt when it arrives in my inbox, log the purchase immediately, or just buy myself an iTunes giftcard and not have to worry about it.

I’m considering trying to tighten my financial belt for July and see how much money I can save. July isn’t the best month to be doing that, as I have family visiting and will need to spend a bit of extra money while they’re here. But I can always tighten my spending except for things related to their trip. But I think I’m going to try to see how many no-spend days I can have this coming month and how much I can pad up my budget for August.

Spending Spree - $800
With a spare $800 to toss around, I would buy plane tickets to Seattle to visit a friend who I only get to see about once every few years. It would be a cross country flight, which I hate, but with $800, I could likely get a direct flight, and it would be great to see her and her husband.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Could you go cashless?

As I am sure you’ve read across the blogosphere, a lot of people who are working their way out of debt or have worked their way out of debt have chosen to not use credit cards at all. Some still use debit cards, others have gone to a cash-only plan (though I assume there are still checks written for bills – I can’t imagine mailing an envelope of cash to the cable company).

Is it possible, however, to do exactly the opposite and use a no-cash plan? A plastic only plan (meaning no checks)? I’m sure there are people out there doing it without realizing it. And it seems that every movie and book about the future seems to think that we will be a cashless society at some point.

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought that a no-cash, plastic only plan would be difficult, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s doable.

Personally, I could do it, but it wouldn’t be worth it. First off, while I can pay my rent electronically, there’s an additional charge. I also believe there is a fee associated with doing bill pay direct from the bank to my particular apartment complex. Until that fee is waived, I will be writing a rent check.

I don’t use much cash, though I don’t like to be without it. I try to always have $20 in my wallet, just in case. In case of what, I’m not sure. What do I spend my cash on? I’ll use it if I’m making a very small purchase where it seems ridiculous to pull out the credit card, but mostly it goes to the Farmer’s Market or for splitting bills when I go out for drinks with coworkers.

Without cash, I could still go out for drinks and split the bill, it would just be more complicated. I would likely end up with the cash from everyone else and then have to deposit it. The Farmer’s Market is a different story. While a few of the vendors do take credit cards, that’s mostly those selling higher priced things. The vendors I buy from, the ones selling fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t take anything but cash. Do I need to shop at the Farmer’s Market? No. But it’s something I like.

Eventually, I think we will go to a cashless society. I have no idea when that will be, but it seems likely. Of course, that just adds to the risk of people being able to overspend and rack up extreme credit card debt.

Do you think you could go cashless? Would you want to?

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $400

I bet you thought I was going to go for a Kindle after yesterday's post. Nope, today's random purchase, if I had $400 to spend would be a new iPod and an Aerogarden. Yes, I realize the Aerogarden isn't all it's made out to be, but hey, this is $400 that I'm supposed to be throwing around!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gadget Lust

I freely admit that I am a gadget geek. I am lost without my iPod, and I’m literally lost without my GPS (I have the world’s worst sense of direction). I have gadgets that I wear when I run and gadgets that I use when I cook. The minute my computer starts to flicker, I start pricing out new computers. Do I need any of these things? No. Do I enjoy them? Yes. Of course, many of these things have been received as gifts, or purchased after much planning and saving. This means that I end up creating a fairly extensive gadget wishlist.

I recently had the opportunity to play with an Amazon Kindle, and I think I’m in love. Why? It’s a gadget. It is for reading books (another thing that I love). It is small and compact and lets you carry lots of books around very easily. The screen truly is as easy to read as they say.

Electronic books in Kindle form are significantly cheaper than their paper counterparts. Additionally, I do like reading classics online through Project Gutenberg, but get tired of reading the books on my computer (and don’t want to waste the paper to print them). I would be able to convert these books and read them on a Kindle (still for free), which is definitely a plus for the Kindle.

The downsides? Well, price, for one. Plus any books you buy are electronic. I am working on decluttering my home and weeding out my book collection mainly due to the sheer amount of space that all of these books take up. So the idea of electronic books does appeal on one hand. On the other hand, I get rid of my books by either selling them online or swapping them on Bookmooch or PaperBackSwap. By swapping the books, I get credits to request books from other members. In fact, I get most of my books this way – it’s rare that I buy a book new anymore.

So the end result of my Kindle lust? Well, as I said, I’m a gadget geek, so of course I want one. But right now, it’s on my “I would buy this if I had a million dollars to spend,” but not on my “Save money to buy this!” list. If I traveled a lot for work or spent more time on the metro commuting every day, then it might be more worthwhile, but for now, it would just be a fun toy to have.

Of course, if anyone wants to buy me a Kindle, I’m not going to turn them down!

What sorts of gadgets do you find yourself lusting after?

Abundant Life Spending Spree Day 4 - $200 (sadly, not enough for a Kindle)
With $200 to toss around today, I would buy the X-Files Complete Series dvd set. It’s a show I loved while it aired, and I’m intrigued by the movie coming out this summer. It might be fun to go back and watch the whole series (except maybe not the last season...).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Budget Disaster... Sort Of

My budget is all out of whack this month. I just didn't do a good job of predicting my spending categories. I'm still using (and still loving) YNAB, and when I budget for the upcoming month, in many categories, I frequently use the same budget numbers without giving real thought to what's going on that month. In some cases this makes sense - my cable bill doesn't change, and my cell phone bill is always right around the same amount. Additionally, I sock away a set amount for vacation and gifts to be used in the future.

I'm pretty good about guesstimating my cash use. If I'm traveling, I plan to need more cash that month. Additionally, now that the farmer's markets are open, I'm spending more cash. (Of course, this should mean that I put less money into my grocery budget, but that doesn't seem to be how it's working.)

This month, I barely touched my dining out budget. I ate out once, and that was to grab something small the night that the power went out in my building. Yes, I could have still eaten at home, but seeing as there was a smoking power transformer visible from my window, I wasn't sure how long the power would be out and therefore, didn't want to risk opening the fridge.

Of course, the converse to that is that my grocery budget is an absolute disaster. I spent nearly $100 more than I had budgeted for. What happened to the plan of perusing ads and using coupons, you ask? Well, that plan went into effect, that's what happened. I spent way more than I planned to, but I also have much more food in the house than I did last month. I bought a lot of things that I use regularly while they were on sale and won't need to buy again for a few weeks. The theory is to stock up when things are on sale and ultimately save money, but I'm not really seeing that in the budget yet.

Plus it's nice to know that during next week's grocery trip, the only things I will really need to buy (I use the word "need" very loosely) are fresh fruits and veggies, most of which can be picked up at the farmer's market.

I'm sure that part of the problem is that I struggled to stick to this particular grocery budget six months ago, and that was before the increase in food prices. So it's entirely possible that my grocery budget is just a little too ambitious.

For July, I'm going to attempt to keep my spending as tight as possible. I'm not sure how well that's going to go, seeing as I have family and friends coming to stay with me for a few days, and as they have always taken me in and made sure I had whatever I wanted to eat and drink, I feel the need to repay the favor. But I'm going to try.

Abundant Life Spending Spree Day 3 - $100
With a spare $100 to spend, I think I would take a friend or two out for dinner. It's nice to be able to treat others from time to time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reducing Impulse Purchases

One thing I've noticed since getting into the world of personal finance and carefully tracking my expense categories is that I'm much less likely to make impulse purchases. It used to be that I would see something that I wanted and know that I could afford it so I would just buy it without another thought. Now, for the most part, I stop and think about what I'm about to buy before I buy it. Is this really something I need? Or if it's not something I need, is it something I really want to buy right now? Can I find it for less money later? Will I still be happy with this purchase tomorrow? Next week?

One trick that I have learned is that I will pick up an item in the store and walk around with it for a while as I'm looking around the store before I actually make the purchase. Sometimes I decide to put the item back on the shelf. Other times I decide to buy it.

I do occasionally find myself reverting to my old ways, and every time, there's a moment of guilt at the impulse purchase. But even then, I find that most of the time, my impulse purchases now are things that I really do enjoy. For example, on a whim, I picked up a bag of gourmet coffee at Harry and David the other day. This is something that's a big treat for me, as I love good flavored coffee. Was it something I needed? No. But I realized that in less than a month, I have family and friends coming to stay with me for a few days. How nice it will be to have this coffee to share with them.

Additionally, the impulse purchase I'm talking about here is about $12, as compared to impulse purchases of yore, which could be anywhere from $25 to $50 at a time. Plus, if I think about it, I normally buy pretty good coffee for daily use that, on sale, costs about $6. So really, the impulse buy only cost me $6 more than normal.

Am I justifying the impulse purchase? No. I still would prefer to consider all my purchases before buying. But I do like that my impulse purchases have turned into something so small. Maybe in a few more months, they'll be down to pennies.

Amusingly, I'm going to end this post with day two of the abundant life spending spree.

Day 2 - $50
With $50 to spend on anything today, I would buy a skirt that I've been eyeing in a catalog. It's casual, probably too casual for work, and admittedly, I don't wear a lot of skirts except for at work. But it's so pretty!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Charity for Debt

A friend just pointed me to Charity for Debt, a program that is being piloted here in D.C. as well as in Dallas and Oklahoma City. The basic idea is that people with student loan debt can sign up and work at a non-profit and receive tax-free money towards their student loan in return, earning up to $20 an hour.

It's an interesting premise. It requires between 6 and 10 hours of volunteering a week, so a volunteer could earn up to $200 a week just for the volunteer work. (Of course, I'm not sure you can actually consider this volunteering, since you are getting something in return, but that's the term that Charity for Debt uses, so that's what I'll use as well.)

Given the current state of the economy and the fact that a lot of people are picking up part time jobs in addition to their full time jobs just to pay the bills, I'm sure that charities are hurting for workers, and this is a great way to allow those with student loan debt to do that part time work, do something good for the community, and still make the student loan payments.

I'm not a candidate for the program (thank you family and scholarships), but I would love to hear the opinions of anyone who decides to try out this program. I know there are a number of D.C. PF Bloggers out there who might be eligible, and maybe there are some of you in Oklahoma City and Dallas as well. Let me know if you decide to check it out!

Abundant Life Spending Spree

Millionaire Mommy Next Door is currently posting about an abundant life spending spree. On day one, she started with $100 and imagined what she would spend that on. On subsequent days, she is doubling the amount and then thinking of how she would spend that amount. No repeating of items, of course. I've decided to play along for a while. I don't know that I'll make it to thirty days, though!

Why? I think it's just a fun exercise. I've decided to start a bit smaller though. I'm going to start with $25.

Day One - $25
If I had an extra $25 right now to spend on anything, I would be making a trip to the bookstore and picking up Janet Evanovich's new release, Fearless Fourteen. Because it's currently on sale, it wouldn't cost me the entire $25, so I'd probably pad out the rest with something off the sale table.

This time last year, I would have just jaunted off to the bookstore and picked up the book, but I have a lot of books here that I have yet to read, so I've decided that it just makes sense to wait.

Anyone want to play along?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What would you save?

It seems like there has been a lot of disaster and destruction in the news lately. Earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, tornadoes, and smaller scale events like the fire in Mapgirl's neighborhood earlier this week.

Before I even begin talking about the subject, I want to reiterate Mapgirl's statement that you need to make sure you are insured and that your insurance policy is up to date. Yes, that means you too, renters. I don't care if you don't think you own anything of value. If your building burns down or even if something less tragic happens, like a pipe bursts and destroys everything in your apartment, you're going to want to be able to replace some of it. Your IKEA bed may not seem all that valuable to you now, but it's better than sleeping on the floor.

I continually remind myself that stuff is just stuff. Yes, it may have sentimental value, but at the end of the day, it's just things. That said, having watched coverage of the flooding in the midwest, I can't even imagine having to rush through my home, pick out the few things that I can fit into my car, and just leaving the rest to be damaged or destroyed by the flood waters.

I spent a bit of time thinking about what I would want to rescue from my home, and it really forced me to think about what sort of value I place on items - and thus, where I should and shouldn't be spending my money. (It also made me think about the fact that I have too much stuff.) What would I put into my car if I had to evacuate?

Of course, the first thing I would grab would be my cats. I don't count them as stuff. Yes, they're pets, and some would consider them possessions, but I think any pet owner would say that a pet is more than just something you own. (I would also take some clothes and any prescriptions that I might be on, supplies for the cats depending on where we're going, and snacks and water, but that would be more for convenience and safety than to prevent things from getting destroyed. Phone/wallet/purse also falls into this category.)

I would take my laptop and my external hard drive. But because I use Carbonite (if you want to sign up, leave your e-mail for a referral link - you get an extra month free and I get 3 extra months), everything on my laptop is backed up and can be restored. Additionally, I keep a backup of all my photos, documents, and music on discs that I keep in my desk at work. This is one huge advantage to the digital age. A friend is currently working on scanning all of her old photos, and I think that is a project I might try to take on as well. But for now, I would grab my photo albums and the few framed photos I have around the house.

I keep a fire box with important paperwork like my birth certificate and passport and copies of my cats' immunizations (I'm not sure those need to be in there, but then I know where they are). So I'd grab that, along with my filebox containing tax returns, school transcripts, banking info, etc. Of course, if I ever do anything about creating a digital filing system, that filebox would also not need to be rescued from impending disaster.

Other than that, I'm not entirely sure what I would grab. I have a box of "stuff" that I have saved - anything from awards to sweet notes from friends and family to old journals. It might make the cut, though I can't say I know what's all in that box at the moment (yet another thing to add to the to do list). There are also a few small items kept in a glass hutch that have a lot of meaning to me that I would take if there was time.

Yes, I have a lot of things that have a lot of sentimental value that, if there was time, I would try to save. Things that I can't imagine ever voluntarily getting rid of. But at the end of the day, I don't even have that many of those, and I wouldn't be devastated by their loss. Most of those are tied to memories, and I would still have the memories.

So when I think about it, I don't really have much in my home that I can't bear to get rid of. Of course, that doesn't mean that I plan to reduce my worldly possessions to what will fit in my car. While I don't need the framed art on my wall or the collection of books on my shelf, I certainly enjoy them and have no plans to get rid of them anytime soon. And I would find it tough to know that all of that had been destroyed.

What does this mean in terms of personal finance? Well, as I said, it means that I should check my insurance, just to be sure. But I think it also means that I should continue to think about what I do and don't need in my life and maybe where I can cut back to save money. And that I should be thankful that I haven't had to worry about all my possessions being destroyed.

What would you put in your car if you had to evacuate?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Three years!

This week, Flexo is hosting the third anniversary edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but here are some of the standout posts for me. But be sure to check it out for yourself!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


You may not be aware, but there's another finance-related blog carnival just getting started - the Finance Fiesta! Check out the third edition. This was my first week participating, and there are a number of blogs participating that I haven't read before. Might take me a while to get through all these links.

The Green Movement

When possible, I like to catch episodes of Dirty Jobs on The Discovery Channel. For those of you who haven't seen it, the basic premise is that Mike Rowe goes around the country meeting people with dirty jobs and then doing the job along side them for a while. It's fascinating, and you definitely meet a lot of frugal people. It's amazing how one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Mike Rowe has a blog, and I found this recent entry very interesting. Titled "Don't Forget To Turn Off The Lights & Shut The Door On Your Way Out," Mike responds to a question asking him what he thinks of the green movement. It's a very well thought out answer and it really resonates with me.

He discusses how going "green" has become a fashionable movement, and discusses how he was raised in a family where wastefulness wasn't tolerated. I especially liked this paragraph:

"My Dad wasn't green. He just enjoyed getting by with less. And that attitude mentality translated into an overall sensibility of conservation. Today, I am conservative in most things. I believe it's better to make more than you spend, and save more than you think you'll need. I don't care for conspicuous consumption, and believe the biggest problem facing this country is our endless sense of expectation and entitlement and personal debt."

I hadn't really thought of the link between personal debt (financial wastefulness in many cases) and pollution, but I think Mike Rowe hits the nail on the head. We are, unfortunately, a country of conspicuous consumption. And while turning off the lights and using less energy is good for the environment and also good for our pocketbooks, will we really be able to keep it up? Sure, some of us will. But eventually, something new will overtake the green movement, and the majority of people will forget. Or perhaps the green movement will continue, but not in the way of recycling and turning off the air conditioner, but in buying new "green" household items to show our friends just how environmentally friendly we truly are.

I really recommend you read this entire blog post. It really resonated with me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How frugal is too frugal?

Everyone has their limits of how far they will go in terms of frugality. Sometimes it's just because we refuse to do something, sometimes it's because we just don't want to do something.

For example, we all hear about how much money we could all save if we bring our lunch every day. But if you've been exploring the world of personal finance bloggers, you already know that there are a few bloggers who refuse to take that step. To them, it's worth tightening other budget areas in order to go out with friends or coworkers every day for lunch and get that break.

While I'm a lunch bringer (more for health reasons than money), the other day, I was wondering what my frugal limits were. Some of them are obvious. I don't want to give up my cable or my DVR. I don't want to give up my home phone (though that's because I was just tired of burning through cell minutes after I moved away from my family). I won't buy cheap pet food (though I don't feel like that's a choice - that's a responsibility I have to my pets).

I've been reading a lot about the Freegan movement on the blogosphere in the past few weeks. For those of you not in the know, Freegans do their best to not participate in the economy. They try to get everything without paying for it. The main highlight of this is dumpster diving for food. This just isn't a step I can bring myself to take. I know that frequently, this food is in almost perfect condition, like day-old bread, or slightly bruised apples, and is completely safe to eat. But I still can't do it. I'll buy day-old bread at the bakery for a discount, but I won't pull that same bag of bread from the trash.

Would I salvage items out of the trash? Maybe, if I stumbled across something. In college, it wasn't unusual to see furniture and other items in trash piles at the end of the year, thanks to students who just didn't want to move it home. (Of course, at our university, the St. Vincent de Paul society would come and pick up these items, so taking any of them felt like stealing from those less fortunate.)

There are probably other things I won't do or won't give up in order to save money (provided that I'm continuing to stay out of debt, of course). What won't you do in order to save money?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quick Update

I have an addition to my travel tips post. When flying anywhere, be sure to bring at least one extra set of clothing, and plan to fly home with that outfit still clean.

I spent a long weekend at my parents' house as a Father's Day surprise for my dad. My flight out was delayed a bit, but nothing too bad. However, my flight home today got cancelled due to "weather in D.C." Really, I think there were just storms possible, and the flight wasn't full, so they opted to cancel rather than delay. I could still have gotten home tonight, but it would have been around 2 am by the time I got back to my apartment. I wasn't going to be able to get to work by 7:30 anyway. Not if I wanted to function. So I opted to take a flight tomorrow, get another evening with my family, and not worry about work. Thankfully, I have the vacation time available, a very flexible boss, and will likely be able to make up the hours anyway.

But the problem is that I didn't have any extra clothing with me! So I'm doing laundry right now. Not a problem, since I'm with my family. But if I were stuck in a hotel overnight, this would be a bigger issue. No one wants to fly next to the stinky girl, after all.

Content will return on Wednesday. Wish me luck getting home tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Advertising Revenue and Charitable Donations

Over the past week or so, I've spent a bit of time trying to decide what I want to do with this site. I like reading and writing about personal finance, and I'm putting some financial "experiments" into play to give me more to write about (the latest being Sharebuilder). But I'm a bit limited because I'm posting at Blogger, rather than at my own site.

I do plan on moving this site off of Blogger in the next few months. I'm already putting the infrastructure in place, and I've got hosting space on an account I use for another site. What I don't have yet is a domain name. Sure, I could just buy one for $10, but I'm being a bit stubborn. I have decided that I want this site to pay for itself. Why? Call it another experiment, I suppose.

Unfortunately, my ad revenue is down, so it might take longer than I hoped. The majority of my ad revenue comes from the BlogHer ad network. It's pay per view, rather than pay for click, and I think they've had some great ads lately. Additionally, I've come across a few new PF blogs by checking out the links below the banner ad. They change daily, and different bloggers may have different links, so check them out (please note - I get nothing from these clicks, I just don't want my readers to miss out). Other BlogHer members may be seeing the same thing. It seems that the ads being shown are the remnant ads for random products rather than some of the specifically targeted ad campaigns - though I'm seeing those as well. The ad campaigns pay significantly more than the remnant ads (I might make the same amount on one campaign ad as I make on 200 remnant ads). BlogHer sends checks every time your account hits $25, and I'm almost there, but not quite. Last month, I would have said "Oh yeah, I'll make it to $25 in June, no question." The remnant ads are making that less likely. But soon enough!

Not much I can do about that, of course. I'm not in this for the money, and I don't plan to become rich by blogging. I think the only reason I'm at all antsy about it is because I really want to move to the new site!

At first, my plan was to take all blog revenue and put it back into the site, use it to pay for hosting and such. I'm starting to think that instead, I will put half of the revenue back into the site and donate half to charity. We're not talking a lot of money here, but I think it would be a nice gesture. Additionally, every so often, I may designate a month to be 100% for charity - meaning that every penny I earn from ad revenue that month will go directly to charity. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Value of a Good Work Environment

I don't talk much here about my job, because it's really never a good idea to talk about your job online using any specific terms. Today I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, however, and I wanted to discuss it a bit.

I am currently working through a very tedious part of the project we're on. It's fairly mindless, and it's very mind numbing. My current technique is to put on my headphones, play some music or a podcast, and just bury myself in the work. I can only do this for so many hours a day, because eventually my brain demands to be stimulated.

We just received information that might make this tedious section last even longer than originally planned. My supervisor told me that she had to admit, she felt bad that I was working on this particular project, as she knew how tedious it was, and she knew I was only at this agency for a short period (for those of you just joining us, I'm currently 'on loan' to another agency until sometime in September). I replied that I didn't really mind, because I knew that the work was important, that at the end of the day, it had to be done, and it would be used as part of the final product. Additionally, I knew that I was appreciated for what I was doing, and that made all the difference.

After I got out of that meeting with her, I realized just how true my statement was. Sure, there are moments during the day where I just want to cut and run, to skip out early and go hang out in a museum, or take sick leave for the rest of my day. But knowing how trusted and respected I am in this position and how important the work really is keeps me going. It doesn't make the work fun, but the way I am treated and viewed makes all the difference in my attitude towards the work.

I don't know that there are any jobs out there where an employee will enjoy himself or herself every single minute of the day. Every job has to have its downside, no matter how small. But a great work environment can do wonders for an employee's attitude and view on the job that he or she is required to do, and I'm realizing the truth of that more and more every day. It doesn't matter how big your paycheck is - if you aren't respected, your view of your job will be quite different. So maybe it's worth it to take a smaller paycheck for a job where you know that you are valued and are treated as such.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Christmas already?

This week, I booked my flights for my trip to my parents' house at Christmas. That's right, I booked Christmas tickets in June. Why? I started pricing tickets, just to see what they would cost (around $600), and on a whim, I decided to see what I could get using my American Airlines miles. Surprise, surprise! I could book a flight on the days I wanted and pay only taxes (a whopping $10). Additionally, American Airlines is starting to charge $15 per checked bag, but that's for tickets bought after June 15th, so I beat that as well (though I paid nothing for the flight - $15 for a bag wouldn't break the bank).

If you're planning to travel for the holidays, it doesn't hurt to check out ticket prices now. Airlines are reducing the number of flights, and from what I've been told, the flights are filling up as well. Sure, you might get a discount if you wait and grab something last minute, but personally, I'd rather have a guaranteed seat for my holiday travel. One less thing to stress out about.

I think my biggest travel tip is to pack well. Even with the hassles of checking bags, don't be that person who brings an incredibly large bag onto the plane. You will struggle to find somewhere to put it and you will be "that guy," the person everyone else on the plane is frustrated with. With the additional fees, I'd recommend only checking one bag, and be sure that bag weighs less than 50 pounds (or whatever restriction your airline places on checked bag weight). An easy way to do this is to weigh yourself, then pick up the bag and weigh yourself with the bag. Subtract, and there you go. Also, be sure that you can handle your carry-on bags. You will be carrying them. Heavy bags can just lead to injury.

To save money, bring snacks with you. I make a point of bringing snacks that are a bit of a "treat." It means that I'm less tempted in the airport. I pick up my standard granola bars, but I'll also pack some Peanut M&Ms or some other candy - stuff I could buy at the airport, but stuff I would have to pay airport prices for.

One tip for staying healthy while flying is to make sure you drink enough water. You can choose to bring an empty water bottle to the airport and fill it with water from a water fountain once through security, but you can't guarantee how clean that water fountain is. I know that Brita used to make water bottles with mini-filters inside. I haven't seen these in a few years, but they may still exist. If you can find one, or something similar, then it might be worth it. Otherwise, just be ready to shell out a few bucks for water in the airport. It's annoying, but it's better than getting dehydrated.

Show up to the airport early. It's better to be through security and sitting at the gate an hour before your flight than to be rushing through the airport hoping that your flight doesn't leave without you.

Carry the airline phone number with you. If you're worried about missing a connection, immediately call the airline - don't wait in line to talk to someone. Same goes with a cancelled flight. You'll get help faster by phone and you'll have a better chance of getting on a different flight.

Be patient. Above all, I've learned that just going with the flow makes the whole travel experience more enjoyable. Stressing out about something you can't change won't help anything.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And we think grocery prices affect our budget!

While perusing the news this morning, I came across this CNN article: Food prices rise, shoppers pay more dough. I can't say there are any surprises in the article, but the woman highlighted in the beginning has nine children. She spends $800-$900 a month on food, which seems like a lot, until I compare it to my grocery budget. I can't imagine budgeting for that many people.

A Musical Carnival

Carnival of Personal Finance is up. I really like this week's theme. I now have Cruel Summer running through my head.

Some links I enjoyed:

I'm still reading posts, so this is by no means a complete list. Check it out yourself!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Coupon Analysis

In the past few weeks, I've been doing my best to shop using coupons and watch the sales to get the best deals that I can. I actually enjoy perusing the sale flyers to see what's on sale and how I can make the sales work for me.

But I started to wonder if I was really saving money. So I decided to take a detailed look at my receipts from the past week.

Total before savings: $83.78
Total after savings: $61.81
Total Savings: $21.97

Not bad, right? And while it looks like a lot of money for one person for a week, that involved a lot of stocking up. I won't need to buy Lean Cuisines for lunch or Coke Zero for the rest of the month, among other things. But the question is, did I buy anything that I normally wouldn't buy?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes. I picked up some pudding snacks and some single serve apple sauce because I had coupons. I did exactly what the manufacturers wanted me to do. So how much did this cost me? $9.38 before coupons, and then I used $3 in coupons. So $6.38 of things I wouldn't normally buy.

Not too bad, all in all. And the extras I bought are things that will go into my lunch and replace other afternoon snack foods. But that's still something that I need to watch out for when I'm clipping coupons

I also hit up CVS this week. It was a much more expensive trip than normal, because I needed to replace a few things. I also don't play the CVS game like some - I do my best not to buy something I don't normally buy just to get the ECBs.

Total before savings: $71.03
Total after savings: $40.87
Total Savings: $30.16
ECBs back: $3.00

Not bad. AND! I didn't buy anything I wouldn't normally buy, nor did I buy anything not on my list. Plus I managed to get enough deodorant to last the rest of the year. It seemed a little silly to buy four sticks of deodorant, but it's my preferred brand, and at $1.99 off, plus a "Spend $10, get $3 ECBs" plus a $1 coupon, it was worth it.

Because of all the stocking up I did this past week, I expect to not have to spend much over the next few weeks on groceries and items from CVS. Watching the savings add up can be a bit addicting. I just have to continue to be careful to only buy things I need - otherwise the coupons aren't worth it at all.

Also, I'm still buying a newspaper every week rather than subscribing. I would be saving about half the price of the paper if I subscribed, but I'm waiting to see whether or not I can actually keep up with the couponing. I used to subscribe to a paper before I moved to the D.C. area and it ended up piling up on my kitchen table because I lost interest in couponing, and the subscription cost became a waste. I don't want that to happen again.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Required" Donations

I received an annual bill this week. I won't name what it was, but it was an expected bill. What I didn't expect was the additional $1 tacked on to the bill to a charitable organization.

At first, I was a little frustrated. I am very careful to choose good organizations to donate my money, goods, and time to. I don't want my money going to an organization that wastes the donations. I use Charity Navigator to check out organizations before I donate, just to be sure that it's a place I really want my money to go.

But it was only a dollar. And I figured it would take too much time and effort to get the $1 donation taken off my bill, so I figured that I would just pay it.

Conveniently, when I went online to pay, I discovered I had the option to check a box and not donate to the organization. Before I opted out, I used Charity Navigator to do a bit of research on the group, and found that it wasn't one I would normally donate to. Sure, they do good things, but Charity Navigator pointed out that a lot of their money went to administrative tasks and not to the cause at hand. Naturally, I opted out.

And to ease my conscience, I put an extra $1 into my charity budget category for the month.

How do you feel about these "required" donations? I don't mind so much when you can opt-in to a donation, but I struggle with the idea of opting out. Of course, if it were a good charity I supported, I would probably have a different view. Most people likely figure "Oh, it's only $1" and donate without thinking, which is great for the charity.

Maybe I'm just being too picky about one dollar tacked onto an annual bill.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rewards Programs

I've been sort of half-heartedly using MyPoints.com to try to rack up some points for gift certificates. I've never shopped through the sites, but I read the e-mails, and they do have offers for some pretty great free sites (unfortunately, mostly sites I already belong to like SparkPeople and Kaboodle). I realized that I was getting close to a reward level and decided to look at what sorts of rewards I could get.

Admittedly, the list is limited, but there's a decent enough variety that I found a few different gift certificates I would like. But now, my question is this: Do I spend the points for something practical, like a CVS gift certificate, or do I spend them for fun on something like an iTunes gift certificate?

I tried to think about what I do with other rewards programs. The two I use the most are on my Amazon.com Chase Visa and my Discover Card. With the Discover Card, rather than cashback, I tend to bump up to a gift certificate, as you get more - $20 cashback gets you a $25 gift certificate for some merchants, for example. I've used those for both a shoe store (which I spent on shoes for work) and for Lands End (which I spent on new sheets). Sort of practical, I suppose.

I treat the Amazon rewards differently. These are used for either fun items or for gifts for family and friends for birthdays and holidays. I have bought grocery items from Amazon, but never used the Amazon rewards gift certificates for the purchase.

I'm not sure what I'll do with my rewards at MyPoints. Maybe I'll wait and see how my budget looks before I make a decision.

How do you treat these types of rewards? Are they fun extras or are they just more funds to be used in your normal budget?

Thursday, June 5, 2008


The D.C. area was hit by some pretty nasty storms yesterday. I hope all my fellow D.C. bloggers made it through unscathed.

I was one of the lucky ones. My power was only out for about 6 hours, and my car managed to stay quite safe in its parking space, even though there are a bunch of trees down around it.

My cable, however, has not yet returned, so it might be a quiet few days from me until I have regular internet access again. Blogging from work is probably not the best plan of attack!

Festival of Frugality #128 Highlights

This week's Festival of Frugality is being hosted by No Debt Plan. Lots of posts here, so it took me a while to get through the list. Great stuff though, as always.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

May Net Worth Update (+8.22%!)

This month was a great month for my net worth. It increased by a whopping 8.22%!

Ok, so that was mainly due to a very generous gift from a family member that is being tucked safely away.

Aside from that though, my investments are continuing to rebound. It's slow going, but it's at least moving in the right direction. My cash accounts took a bit more of a hit this month, thanks to vacation, but those were planned expenses.

With this generous gift, my net worth is up 7.68% from the beginning of the year. My goal for the year was to increase my net worth by 20%. I thought it was a tight goal, but possible. With the markets as they are, I just don't think it's possible to make that goal. Doesn't mean I'm not going to try though!

I also made my full Roth IRA contribution for 2008 this month. Sadly, it is already worth less than when I invested the shares. But it's money I won't need for years, so I'm not too concerned. Just got to keep on keeping on.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Carnival is up!

My post on Continuing to Simplify is included in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance. Lots of great posts included, as always, so be sure to check it out.

Here are some that caught my eye:
  • Stop Complaining About Gas Prices - It's true, there's not a lot we can do about it except work on tightening the budget to pay for the added expense.
  • Five Things Indiana Jones Can Teach Us About Personal Finance - I love Indiana Jones. I love personal finance. Win.
  • 26 Ways to Make Extra Money - I can't say I agree with all of these suggestions, but there are a few good ideas in here.
  • I am a phantom power ninja - I admit, I live in an apartment building where electricity, gas, and water are included in my rent. So I'm not as good as I should be about watching for power wasting. Even though it won't save me money, I still should attempt to better conserve for environmental reasons.
  • Still Hungry With Food Stamps - Looking at my food budget, I think that $280 would cover me and a child for the month here in the D.C. area, but I'm also good about watching for sales and using coupons. Not everyone has the time for that, nor does everyone always buy the most economical things. It's especially hard with kids, who can be picky about what they eat.
  • What Do You Think of Bankruptcy? - An interesting look at bankruptcy.
  • Certificates of Deposit - Don't Bother Unless... - I do think that putting a chunk of your emergency fund into CDs isn't a bad plan, especially if you use a short, 6 month CD. The point of an emergency fund is that you shouldn't need to use it unless a big emergency happens, and if you put it in a CD that's easy enough to redeem early (I use ING Direct), you're only really risking a loss of a few dollars and the odds are good you won't need the emergency fund at all.
  • Wants vs. Needs - Most of the time, I'm pretty good about this. I have a big list of "wants" that I continually add to, and often find that things that I wanted a month ago are things I don't really want anymore.
  • $300 Monthly Passive Income by Year End - I've never thought of making a passive income goal or even a "side" income goal (because I don't know that things like surveys and mystery shopping can really be considered "passive"). Maybe something I should look into!
  • When do parents hold the financial hammer? - I have mixed feelings about this. As a kid, I had a bank account, but needed my parents to access it, because this was in the days of bank books and pre-ATM. To this day, my mom's name is still on one of my accounts, though it's an account that sits dormant for the most part. But a friend of mine had his bank account drained by his father in order to save the family business (that was failing due to his father's awful bookkeeping), and suddenly, he had no college fund whatsoever. Interesting discussion.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Use it up!

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday browsing Unclutterer. I was immediately drawn to the site because I love organization and organizational tools. I might not be all that great at staying organized, but I love the idea of it nonetheless. And I'm working towards becoming more organized.

One fun tip I saw was to "use it up." Find yourself with a stockpile of consumables of some sort? Don't buy any more until you've used up what you have. In my efforts to save money, I have created myself a giant stockpile of body wash. I'm not even sure how many bottles I have, but I know they've been with me through multiple moves. I'm pretty good about not buying more, but every so often, I'm just drawn to a new scent or a great sale. But I'm going to do my best to not buy any more until it's gone. Even if it's on sale. Stocking up is one thing, but stocking up to extremes is unnecessary.

I also love all the pictures of workspaces. It makes me want to do a lot of work on my home office! But first things first - I'm still continuing to declutter my home, one small space at a time. After that's done, then I can think bigger.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

May Top Referrers

Thanks to everyone who has linked to me this month! May's top referrers are:
  1. Beachgirl's Budget Blog
  2. Always the Planner
  3. Budgets are Sexy
  4. Fantastic Sarcastic
  5. Change Can Be a Good Thing
And congrats to J. Savings over at Budgets are Sexy on his recent marriage!