We have moved!

Update! This site has moved to http://www.countingmypennies.com/. Please update your links if possible and come visit the new site! No new posts will be added to this site - all updates will be done at Counting My Pennies. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Check me out!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I finally took that step.

Unfortunately, it meant a last minute blog rename, thanks to someone swooping in and stealing my domain name.

Check me out over at http://www.countingmypennies.com

Still working out a few kinks, so bear with me, and if anything seems horribly broken, please let me know.

And just a note for those of you who may have me linked - if you wouldn't mind an edit the next time you update, I'd appreciate it!

Financial Vices

Five Cent Nickel recently asked bloggers to post about their biggest financial vices. I wasn't sure what this might be off the top of my head. A year ago, I would have said it was books or purchases from Lush. But since putting myself on a budget, I've been very good about not spending much on either of those things.

Looking at my budget, I'd say that my biggest financial vice falls into the general category of "food." I don't eat out much, but when I do hit up a restaurant with a friend, we typically go all out, with wine and appetizers and dessert. I'm also a sucker for fancy groceries. I try not to go into Whole Foods too often, but when I do, I find myself drawn to all sorts of things. Sure, I'm buying things that are healthy and that will get consumed, but they are a drain on my budget. I'm thinking that I should actually split my grocery budget category - most of the money for typical groceries, with maybe an extra $30 set aside for "splurge" purchases. Maybe that would keep me in line!

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $51,200
I've been watching Planet Green a lot lately, and have become fascinated with alternative energy sources. I love that Ed Begley Jr. has a stationary bike that he rides in order to generate enough electricity to power his toaster before breakfast. Ok, maybe that's a little weird, but at the same time, I bet I'd be more inclined to workout if I was not only doing something good for my health but also generating electricity and doing something good for my wallet.

Anyway, for today's spending spree purchase, we must first pretend that I own a house. I know nothing about this house except that it is a house and not an apartment. And then, I would use the $51,200 to buy a solar panel system - the best I can get for that amount of money. Going off the grid, even just partially, seems very appealing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Very patriotic, indeed

Mighty Bargain Hunter hosted this week's Carnival of Personal Finance: American Flag Edition! I have to say, I really like the history included in the Carnival this week. The themes are always fun, but as an American history buff, I was delighted to see all the flags.

My post on going cashless was included. As usual, here are some articles that caught my eye.

Surviving on a Single Income - Great tips for any families considering going to a single income.

Debit Card Fraud Much More Damaging than Credit Card Fraud - I have presented this view many times when explaining the reasons that I prefer credit cards to debit cards.

Career vs. Family - I know this is a struggle for a lot of young female professionals right now. It's not something I'm facing right now, but I'm sure that it's something I will be facing in the future.

Don't Gamble Your Safety Net - My retirement accounts have taken a sizeable hit in recent weeks, and I find myself wanting to pull out, but I just don't know what else I would invest in. Plus I have no plans to retire anytime soon, so I plan to just stay the course.

The Dollar vs. the Euro

Earlier this week, I read this article about the current state of the American economy. I found the discussion of the dollar versus the Euro to be fascinating.

First off, I don't think that I knew that the dollar was considered "the leading international currency." Given the recent American domination in many areas, I suppose it makes sense, but I never thought of it as a leading currency. I knew that the dollar was often accepted in other countries, but I assumed that was mostly in tourist areas or in poorer countries. I would never expect the dollar to be dominant in Europe. I suppose the description is more in terms of banking currency, of course, and I can't say that's an area I've ever stopped to ponder.

The article discusses how the Euro may be taking the place of the dollar. Quite shocking to me was the fact that many Manhattan retailers are putting signs in their windows indicating that they accept Euros. This is an indication both that the dollar is losing its dominance and that European tourists are flocking to the U.S. to take advantage of the exchange rate.

I suppose it's good for the economy that foreigners are taking advantage of the exchange rate and coming to the U.S. for vacation. I'm sure that many vacation destinations in the U.S. are struggling because of all the Americans who have decided to scale back this year and have a "staycation" instead, so an influx of foreign visitors will hopefully boost them back to their normal levels.

Unfortunately, it looks like the dollar may have a few more years of struggle ahead of it. Some believe that the dollar is at an unnatural low, others believe that in the 90's, the dollar was overvalued and now things have started to normalize to where they should be. I can't say that I know enough about international monetary policy to make an informed guess. But I do thing the next few years will be interesting.

And hey, if the exchange rates don't improve, maybe this means I'll be able to convince all my friends to take that trip to Yellowstone I've been hoping for, rather than the exotic foreign destination they seem to all crave.

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $25,600
$25,600 will probably buy me a hybrid car. Not that I do a lot of driving as it is. But with gas prices as they are, it seems to make sense. Plus it's just good to do the most green thing possible (even though I hear hybrid cars aren't as green as they seem, what with the methods of disposal available for the batteries).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Adventures in Air Travel

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had purchased my tickets to fly to my hometown for Christmas. I'm flying American Airlines, and you may have noticed that this past week, they announced that they were canceling a number of flights. I'm sure you can guess what happened next.

Well, actually, what happened next was that my parents called me to tell me that their flights to come see me and go to a football game in November got changed. Changed in a very strange way. They booked their flights into BWI (Baltimore-Washington International, a perfectly lovely airport in Baltimore). Their flights got changed to bring them into Washington Reagan (another perfectly lovely airport, this time here in D.C.). Not a big deal, since their plans involved getting a rental car and driving to D.C.; the flight into BWI had simply been cheaper. This way, they can just borrow my car instead of renting one and save a bit of money.

So I wasn't surprised to get an e-mail from American Airlines telling me that my flights for Christmas had changed. I skimmed the e-mail. At first glance, it just looked like the flight times had changed and that I was connecting through a different city on the way back.

And then I took a good look at it. I was flying out of Washington Reagan. But then, flying home, I was going into BWI. Significantly further away. Not really even in the same city. Or state, for that matter. On top of that, I flew into LaGuardia, and then had to somehow get from there to JFK to get my flight to BWI!

Obviously, this was unacceptable. I called the reservations line and the agent I got laughed when she saw what had happened to my itinerary. Not surprisingly, the whole thing is done by computer, and somehow the computer had thought this was a good idea. Fixing the problem took less than five minutes, and she managed to get me on a direct flight back rather than connecting through any city. Not a bad deal. She told me that this didn't happen often, but when it did, calling the reservation line was the easiest way to deal with it.

Given all the hassles in air travel, I can't say this was a big one all in all. But it is a good reminder to always check and recheck your itinerary to make sure some little subtle change, like an airport change, hasn't been made.

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $12,800
Like I said, this is getting tough. With $12,800 to toss in the air and dance around in, I would grab a group of my friends and go to Disney World. Sound silly? It's been something that a group of us has discussed for years. We've talked about how it would be an incredibly fun trip, especially if we could go all out and eat in the fancy restaurants and stay in the fancy hotels. I think I could pay for everyone to fly in and go for $12,800. And then some!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

June Top Referrals

Just a shout out to the top five referrers to my site. Thanks for the link!

I'm hoping to get my first blogging check this month (!!!) so expect a shiny new domain name for this site in the next month or so.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Money is hard to spend!

I've fallen a bit behind on posting about my Abundant Life Spending Spree. I've made a list of the amounts and my ideas of what I would spend the money on for the next few days, and I have to admit, I get to a certain point and then I have no idea what I would buy. "House." "Bigger House." "Bigger bigger house." Which is clearly against the rules. So I'll have to do some window shopping in the next week or so.

But to catch up a bit:

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $6400
With $6400, I would go on an expensive vacation to a destination spa with my sister. Perhaps this one. Of course, with that much money, we'd be going all out. It would be a great way to spend time with her and relax and live a crazy lavish life for a few days.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day to all the Americans out there (and Happy Friday to everyone else)! Celebrate safely, and enjoy the fireworks. As for me, I'm spending my 4th of July singing backup for people like Hayley Westenra and Huey Lewis on the Capitol lawn. Should be a good concert if you want to check it out!

Back to regular posts next week. I'm on my way to being healthy again, and as I'm sure I've spent a fortune on various cold remedies, probably on my way to a very tight budget for the rest of the month!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

June Net Worth (-2.0%)

Across the board, it seems like PF bloggers who post their net worth are seeing a loss this month. My investment and retirement accounts dropped by 7.61%. It's a bit disheartening, to be honest, but it doesn't mean I'm going to change anything. For the most part, my investments are designed for the long haul. I won't need my retirement accounts for years, so I will continue my normal contributions.

I finally became eligible for the matching in my TSP this last pay period, so that was an exciting moment. It's almost like getting a 5% raise, if you think about it. Just a 5% raise that I can't touch for a number of years.

I showed a very solid increase in my cash accoints, which means that my plans to spend less and save more are going well. I do have a few big bills coming up this month (car insurance, for example), but because I've been using YNAB and setting aside a small amount of money every month in preparation for the bill, so I'm not concerned.

The plan for this month? Just keep on keeping on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Under the weather

No new post today. I've been battling a cold for a few weeks now, and it's really got me knocked out, so I'm taking the day to relax on my couch before I head off to rehearsals for A Capitol Fourth.

I've discovered that while finding a doctor in D.C. is hard, once you actually have one, it's still not easy to get an appointment. However, I seem to have found a great doctor who was willing to get all of my symptoms and then prescribe antibiotics without me having to go in. I cannot complain.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yearly price increases

Thanks to Diet Blog for pointing out this article over at The Cattle Network: The Price of Food: 2007-2008.

Some things aren't a surprise. Eggs up 28.32%. Milk up 15.37%. The price of meat hasn't gone up as much as I thought though. Not that I buy much meat to begin with. The price of celery has doubled, which seems surprising. Some things are down: tangerines, oranges, bacon, and other things. And bacon makes everything better, right?

(Side note - I was in college when McDonalds was having its "Make it bacon" promotion or whatever it was called where you paid an extra amount and they'd put bacon on whatever sandwich you got. A friend of mine convinced them to put bacon in his milkshake. I believe it was just stuck in, not blended. But he ate it anyway.)

Net Worth update to come. I'm a little afraid to see what's happened to my retirement accounts this month.

Abundant Life Spending Spree - $3200
This one was easy. MacBook Pro and all sorts of accompanying software. I've been a PC user all my life, but worked in a Mac lab in college and really would like to try out a Mac for my next computer. It'll be a while before I have the cash saved up, and hopefully it will also be a while until I need to buy a new computer. But hey, if $3200 fell from the sky today, I'd be first in line at the Apple store.