Saturday, December 19, 2009

Next Year's Budget

Over the course of 2009 and leading up to 2010, I've done a good job of reducing my expenses. Here are some that I've managed to cut:

Rent: From $1800 to $1675 = monthly savings of $125
Anti-virus: Saved $50 annually by switching to a free one (praying to Internet gods this does not bite me in the butt)
Taxes: Used TurboTax instead of an accountant to save $900 annually
Phone: I finally cancelled my Verizon account. This should save me in 2010 anywhere from $30 to $70 a month.
Personal Care: I started coloring my own hair during the second half of 2009, so that's reduced that category expense in half from about $150-$200 during the months when I would get my hair colored to more like an average of $60.

So, what am I going to do with all these savings? Spend them! haha. But on things I need/want. I"ll allocate more $ in 2010 to buying clothes, entertainment such as dance performances and the opera as well as travel. It should be a fun year! I also plan to move from my current place to a more convinient location and might end up paying a little more for rent again. Not a crazy amount, but for my mental and emotional health, it will be important for me to be a little more conveniently located next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

End of Year and Holidays

To keep with the theme of the last post, I'm enjoying the holidays and for once am spending money (while still saving of course). Having reached the limit on taxable social security income, I have extra money in my paycheck during Q4, so that's nice. In theory, I will also recieve a bonus in the next few weeks -- something I've been dreaming of all year. And I'm making my end of year charity donations, which is fun. So between extra money and all the fun spending on gifts, charity (and myself), this is a great time of year!

Of course that means I'm not too excited for Jaunary, but I'm thinking of planning an inexpensive trip to try to ward off the winter blues.

I'll post my Q4 net worth post-bonus. I hope the stock market continues this winning streak. Bonus + stock market gains + end of year income bump = nice Q4!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Celebrating Paying off Debt

I can't believe how different it feels now that my student loan is paid off. I didn't realize it, but for the last year I've really been very aggressive about not spending $ so I could pay it off. This weekend I finally felt like I could let myself spend some $ on things I need. I have wanted a fire-proof file box (I'm such a geek) for about a year. So I ordered that online. Mostly though I bought clothes on a shopping trip (spree) with my friend. I realized the last time I really bought clothes, except for the bathing suit this summer, was last January, also with her, when I bought a new suit for work. Most women that I know would not have survived, haha. Anyway, it felt really great to buy some new clothes because I really need them. A lot of my clothes are 10 years old and some are starting not to fit anymore. I've been purging my closet as I switch to winter. That also feels good. To know I've used something for so long, I definitely get my money's worth out of my stuff.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

House hunting

Today I'm off to look at a new condo in my neighborhood. The asking price is $569,000. Ouch. That got me thinking about how to gauge whether or not I can afford an apartment. I'd love to be conservative and spend 2x my annual income. I remember reading that that's a trait that rich people have in common. At 569, this place would be a little more than 3.5x annual income (not including bonus). However, I will most likely have to put 20% down, so the monthly payments seem doable. I calculated that if I pay an extra $10,000 a year on the mortgage I could pay it down in 17 years. That would be awesome. Of course paying $329,000 for a 2 bedroom apartment in a less desirable neighborhood that's farther away would allow me to pay down the apartment really fast. However that place is a Co-op and there are definite disadvantages to living in a coop versus a condo.

I loved this post about the Paradox of Choice on Get Rich Slowly this week. It's exactly how I feel about real estate -- paralyzed by too many choices.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

School's Out!

I'm so psyched. This month I paid off my last student debt. This was a credit card debt of about $11,000 that my mom had been carrying for me interest free for I can't even remember how long -- probably 2 years.

So, this year I've paid off about $31,000 in student debt. That's great, especially since I paid very little interest on those loans (the one actual loan was $20K at 6.8% but I only accrued interest on it for about 8 months). What is depressing is realizing that my entire last year's bonus, plus a good chunk of my monthly savings this year went to pay off that debt.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to starting next year being able to keep every penny that I save! If I don't end up purchasing a house, I'd like to save $2,000 a month post-tax, in addition to maxing out my 401K with pre-tax contributions. That puts me at a savings rate of about 30%. Woo-hoo!

I've got a pyramid going with 1/3 spent post-tax, 1/3 spent on taxes and 1/3 saved. Of course I'm always looking for ways to lower the 2/3 that I don't get to keep and increase the 1/3.

NYC: highest tax burden in US?

Being a resident of a NYC borough, I pay not only state tax which is relatively high in NY, but I have the privilege of paying a city tax as well. I estimate city tax alone will be about $5,000 off my base salary this year alone. That's great, right?! Okay, there are some benefits of living in what has to be the most heavily taxed area of the country. Namely, the public transportation. I don't have to own a car, pay car insurance or pay for gas because we actually have public transport, unlike other places in America. However, last weekend I started thinking for the first time about how simply moving across the river to NJ would save me $5,000 instantaneously. Not to mention moving to CT where there's no city tax and the state income tax is in the 5%s instead of the 6%s like NJ and NY.

In reality, I wouldn't get $5,000 for moving, because that money right now is deducted from my federal taxes, lowering my overall taxable income. Also, $5,000 pre-tax is a lot less post-tax (I'm in the 28% tax bracket). Plus, I'd have to pay a smidge more to take the bus or the PATH train in addition to the subway.

In the end, I'm guessing I'd only end up saving $3,300 or so. Not that that's anything to sneeze at, but in the end I don't know if its worth the quality of life sacrifice. However, if I could find a nice apartment at $1500 a month I'd save $1,800 annually so with the tax reduction I could save close to $5,000. An extra $416 a month is nothing to sneeze at.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Okay, the more I research retirement savings the more ridiculous it gets. My favorite is this article on Motley Fool. Check out this handy chart the author has prepared to tell us how much we're supposed to be saving:

our Age Percentage of Income to Save
20s 10%-15%
30s 15%-20%
40s 20%-30%
50s 30%-40%
60s 40%-50%
70s 50%-60%
80s Lotto!?

Okay, 10-15% I can see. What 40 year old can save 20-30% of their salary? The author doesn't say, but I assume she means gross salary. Still, most people at that age are raising a family. Their expenses are at their peak. If they started early, they have children in college. This chart is a joke.

There's another article from AP today about how those close to retirement are so off track due to the market crash. This one has yet another metric for retirement savings:

The bottom line is that men will need to have 4 to 6.8 times their annual salary in the bank, separate from Social Security. Women should aim to have 4.5 to 7.5 because they tend to live longer, according to the study.

Overall, I fear these articles just serve to discourage most Americans who have very little in savings without giving any realistic advice about how to save for what we all know will most likely be the biggest expense any of us have.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Retirement Savings: u r doin it rong

I started doing some research this week on retirement savings. I've been saving at least 6% of my gross salary since I started working about 12 years ago (minus one year in grad school). So I assumed I'd be fine.

What should I be saving?
When I started playing around with the calculators, it seems I am underfunded by about half. My Pudding Score is 52. The more I researched the more I came to believe, however, that there is no real way to tell how much one needs to save to retire. All of the calculators make you make rediculous guesses about expected investment returns and other factors that if you knew you'd be a millionaire from being able to read the future.

I did find a few more simple, logical guidelines. Dave Ramsey says save 15% for retirement. Apparently T.Rowe price says the same thing.

I feel kind of cheated to be learning this now. I had always heard that I should be contributing 6% of my salary to retirement. I think I would have contributed more if I'd had known I'd be "behind" at this point.

Non-Deductible IRA?
I had been planning to max out my 401K contribution this year which takes me to a little more than 10% of my gross saved. There's not really any other tax-advantaged way for me to save, as I don't qualify for a Roth IRA and if I were to contribute to an IRA, it is not tax-deductible. It seemed at first this was still a good deal, but I like how this CNN article describes the advantage. Basically it will only help me if I convert it next year to a Roth IRA. I think I will end up doing that. So even though my stragtegy was to have as much cash as possible for an apartment down payment, I think I'm going to throw an extra $5K into my IRA to take me to both the contribution limit and 15% of my salary saved. Even one of my fave bloggers thinks 15% is high, but since I am apparently sooo behind in my savings, I think I'll do it this year. I've hit my social security taxable income limit, so I should get about an extra $2K to contribute from that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Obsession

Last time I wrote, I had lined up an appointment with a financial adviser to help me sort out an asset allocation for my portfolio -- the taxable and tax-deferred accounts.

Well, the purpose of the taxable account has always been in theory to use as a downpayment for an apartment. However, I've been looking for said apartment since 2003. I flip flop all the time about what I think I want. I've looked at co-ops in Queens for $255,000 and more recently 1 bedrooms in Brooklyn for $540,000 and 2 families for $800,000. And in between pondered buying a place in the country (having looked in the Catskills once and online constantly).

So, combined with my belief that there are no fundamentals underlying this recent market rally, I've started to feel like maybe I should just cash out the taxable account and keep it in cash. Someday hopefully within the next year I might actually decide on buying a place and might need that $ to supplement my cash savings. So I'm starting to think going to see the financial adviser might be pointless since a good chunk of my portfolio could be converted into cash.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has problems pulling the trigger on the real estate gun. My hemming and hawing has actually served me well. I missed the whole crazy bubble.

For now I have to decide if I have the courage of my convictions and can actually liquidate my whole taxable account.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Spending & Planning

I just returned from my international vacation. I'm in the process of piecing together the damage. Not too bad, but of course the Euro/dollar exchange rate makes a simple lunch $30. But considering I spent money on almost nothing excepting dining out, it was a relatively inexpensive South of France vacation.

When I returned, I finally outreached to an independent financial adviser. I think it would be great to have professional help in the strategy/planning/asset allocation phase. I think this advice is tax-deductible as well, which is great. I'm going to do a pre-interview on Tuesday with the woman so she can learn more about me and I can find out her rates. I know the standard protocol is supposed to be interviewing several different experts, but I don't know if I'll actually do that if this woman sounds like someone I can trust. Any help is better than the zero advice I'm getting from my ex-boyfriend who is in theory managing my portfolio for me.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Best way to make international purchases

I'm trying to determine this right now. I called two of my credit card companies and they both charge a 3% fee and a mystery exchange rate. To withdraw funds from a non-US ATM, there is a $3.00 charge. I'll probably go to the bank before I go and buy some Euros here, so at least some of my purchases won't have a surcharge. I hate this. Any method feels so non-transparent.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Midyear Budget Update

Each month I scrub the data from (Best personal finance tool ever and it's free!) and I enter it into an Excel spreadsheet. Above is what I've spent so far. It's probably pretty difficult to see. I'm going to upload a Word doc version at some point in the future.
Overall, I'm on track. The big standout is the Education category because I had budget of $200 a month, but I made large payments in the early part of the year so my loan is fully paid off. Yay!

In terms of day to day living, there are some areas I'm on track to run over:

Clothing -- I budget the absolute bare minimum. However, as much as I hate buying them, I did need some clothes. Especially because my pants seem to be getting tighter, sadly. And as I mentioned I bought an expensive bathing suit. I'm fine with running over on this. These are items I needed.
Charity -- My day-day Charity budget for the year is $500, but I plan to give $1,000 total, so the fact that I'm running higher is fine.
Fees -- I pride myself on not paying ATM fees, so I budget $0 for this category, however I forgot I have two airline mile cards with annual fees. I don't really have a choice. I need to use miles and I can't cancel these or it will affect my credit score negatively.
Personal Care -- When I budgeted I was really strict and assumed I would by dying my own hair. Hasn't worked out that way. I only feel confident enough to do it myself occasionally and end up going to a salon. I also got a few massages when I was training for my race, because I needed them and they felt good!
Misc. -- Each month I spend about $300 in cash that I don't track. I'm trying to get better about saving receipts for cash purchases. The problem is that they are always such small amounts that it's hard to keep track of them.

Now, the good area. Health care. When I made this budget, I set a limit of $1,000 a year for my health care expenses. However, this budget tracks my post-tax spending. I forgot my health care costs are pre-tax. I put away $1,000 a year in a non-taxable HSA to cover anything not covered by my insurance. Also, I negotiated with my landlord to lower my rent by $150 a month (he is so nice and the market has tanked and I wasn't scared to ask). So as of May, I've been paying $150 less than I budgeted for. That should save me $1,350 this year. Awesome!

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with where I am. I've been able to keep my restaurant spending under control. I thought I spent more like $500 a month, but I've been really good about keeping it to about $300 a month. Except for March and April. April I was on vacation and ate out a lot so that doesn't count, right? I wish!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Extreme Sports

So I watched my friend compete in the Triathalon yesterday. It is always very inspirational. However, training for the Triathlon is expensive. So is the equipment -- from $200 minimum for a wet suit to $1,000 for a bike. My friend told me that the more hardcore competitors with the fancy bikes spend $10,000 or more on their bikes.

I started running competitively (i use that term loosely) this spring. I thought it would be a relatively inexpensive sport, but its amazing how when you start something it's so easy to get sucked in and find things you need. So far I've bought:
$120 running sneakers - I could have gotten them cheaper but went to a boutique story so I could have an expert check out my gait and make a recommendation. Now that I know, I'll buy them online.
$40 fuel belt (so I can run and not have to carry water in my hand)
$100+ on driwick clothing -- cotton really does not cut it when you are sweating like I sweat. Luckily I buy on eBay (new with tags) because running clothes are pretty expensive considering how little fabric they are. Just like bathing suits.
$100 roughly on entry fees for races. All of them have been local so far, so no travel costs.

I could spend even more. I'd like to take classes or get a running coach. Personal training to build up my strength would be nice too.

And there's the threat of injury. Getting injured could add up to serious costs. On the other hand, there's great value to building strength and cardiovascular training.

The list goes on and on! Of course, I don't have to buy everything at once. Just like running, one step at a time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

it's no coincidance that money is green

So today I noticed that my electric bill was a lot more than usual. Usually it's about $25 a month (haha, eat your heart out McMansion owners), but today it was $37. I wondered if it was maybe a projected use instead of actual with the electric company assuming that I would use more electricity in June than I actually did. When I called, the customer service rep told me that I did indeed use more electricity last month. While we were talking, he kept asking me questions about my lifestyle because he said my usage was SO low. This reminded me of a previous, less frugal time in my life when the gas company sent me a "notice of non-usage" saying they were going to turn off the gas because I basically never used it. The only gas appliance in the house was the stove, so you can imagine how much cooking/eating at home I was doing. I think I stored clothes in the oven for a while.

Anyway, this time it's not cause I'm always out and about or travelling that my electricity bills are so low. Granted, I work all day and am only home for about 3 waking hours a day, but when I am home, I try my best to conserve energy. When I leave I do as well, unplugging those appliances that create phantom energy.

I make other "green" lifestyle choices in my house and life, for a mixture of reasons, both wanting to be environmentally responsible and frugal. So, what kind of things?

1. I minimize use of paper products -- No paper napkins, plates, paper towels and my toilet paper is made from recycled paper, not trees. I also use a handkerchief instead of tissues, which is kinda gross, but I'm used to it now.
2. I make my own cleaning supplies -- For the most part. Or I use naturally occurring compounds that are cheap and green like Borax, baking soda, corn stratch and vinegar.
3. I reuse plastic -- Both bags from the grocery (when I don't bring my own canvas) and plastic containers that food comes in to carry my lunch to work everyday.
4. I eat low on the food chain -- Beans and veggies are the mainstay of my diet. Occasionally some chicken and some small fish. When I do use chicken or fish, I use it as an accompaniment and not the main ingredient.
5. I do my laundry in cold water, I don't use fabric softener or sheets and I make my own detergent (I have sensitive skin) and I only do full loads. (not that any laundry-doing occurs in my apartmen;t sadly I have to leave for that)
6. The biggest one is not owning a car. I walk to do all my errands, or I take the subway or bus. I rarely take cabs, both because I get car sick and because they are expensive and polluting.

I think that's about all I do. I've become so used to my lifestyle (not that I'm doing anything that dramatic) that I have to stop and think about the things I do to be green/frugal. I've gotten a lot of tips from other blogs on how to live green and be frugal. I'll post more when I find some.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I added the handy NetworthIQ widget. Note: I am lazy and just threw all my stocks and bonds into the stocks line item.

So, how am I doing? Big hit late last year due to stock market, but then I got my bonus and paid off my Sallie Mae debt. The leftover student loan debt is interest free on one of my mother's credit cards. I could pay it off, but why bother? I'm earning interest on the money in the bank.

Same principle applies for my credit card debt. Not only am I earning 4% interest on my cash, but I get 2% cash back on the card. Total return from credit card spending = 6%. I know everyone says credit card arbitrage is risky, etc. but I think it's awesome. If I could get a balance transfer check without the 3% I would move the debt again when my 0% teaser interest rate is up in October.

My ultimate goal is to have $100,000 in cash. It's such a nice neat number. As of the end of June, I've got about $57,000. Almost 60% of the way to my goal. In a perfect world, I'd have this much by January 2010, but for those who don't know what happens when you plan for something, consider a line from one of my favorite poems:

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Summer Spending

During summer it's more difficult to be frugal, no? For me it seems that way. One of those reasons is travel. I'm going on vacation in August. The travel and lodging will actually be just about free, even though I am traveling internationally. But, I have to buy some stuff to bring with me. One of those things is a bathing suit.

I haven't bought one in probably five years plus. Yesterday I went shopping with my friend at an Upper East Side boutique. We had a great time and tried on a million of them. I bought a tiny black one, for a total of $166. I think that price is insane. Earlier in the day I bought another one for only $63. Before this shopping trip, the last suit I bought cost about $80 and I thought that was a lot. And then on top of that I bought $28 flip-flops. Why? Because they were there and I needed some.

The experience was fun, but I keep feeling bad/uneasy about spending so much money on such unimportant things. I don't know how people get into credit card debt for frivolous things. I can understand if there are necessities or a medical emergency, but considering I feel uneasy about spending on something frivolous even though I know I can afford it, I need it and I don't have any debt, I can't imagine buying something like that knowing I didn't have the money in the bank to pay for it.

The trip was also a good case study in "factors that make you spend more $ than you intended to." One, I went with a friend who encouraged me to buy an expensive suit. I knew this was the case going in, but that influence is undeniable. Two, when you are in an expensive store, you will buy expensive things. I could have waited and bought the flip-flops somewhere else for half the price. However, since I was there and needed them I bought them.

At this point my bathing suits and flip flops are costing more than the trip!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I spent $50,000. Was it worth it?

I recently made a large purchase. I haven't added up how much it has cost me in total, but I think around $50,000. No, not a new car. I bought a Master's degree.

Whether or not that was a good decision is something I've never really examined in depth. However when I saw the NY Times debate, "What is a Master's degree worth" I thought it might be a good opportunity to do so.

By all financial accounts my Master's has not been worth it (so far).

Opportunity Cost
The year before I started the program full-time (I had been going part-time and working for a while), I earned $107,000, however that included a large payout for vacation time, probably north of $20,000. So the opportunity cost was at least $107,000, not to mention a possible bonus and other perks such as paying for part of my gym and Internet fee (yes, best perks ever).

So, my job was high-paying one with lots of perks. But, I quit. I barely made any money for a whole year.

So opportunity cost = $110,000 (conservatively)

Actual fee = $55,000 (conservatively)

Plus, I paid for part of it in student loans (about $20,000, with an interest rate of 6.8% that started accruing immediately. I paid it off less than a year after I took it out, but I paid interest.

Interest: $1,500 (conservatively)

Life Post-Degree
Why then did I spend all of this money? I had worked and traveled for work, even living bi-coastly, for 11 years. I was burned out. And I was not intellectually challenged at all. I thought I'd make a career switch.

By the time I was done with my degree, I was feeling much less stressed; however, my priorities had changed. I didn't feel like switching careers and taking the inevitable pay cut. I got an offer for another high-paying job in the same field as the one I worked in before. And at that point I had other priorities. After not having a job for a year, I couldn't wait to start saving again, for retirement and for a down payment for an apartment.

So, overall the degree has cost me at least $167,000 and it has landed me in essentially the same place I was before I got it. Would I trade it for $167,000 in cash? I wouldn't. This little exercise has reminded me that there are things more important in life than money. For me, education was one of those things at the time I made the decision.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

401K Contributions, 1997-2008

So this week I did not make too much progress on possible portfolio consolidation or asset allocation. However, I feel much better about the fact that my portfolio isn't exactly where I want it to be. One of my favorite PF bloggers, Get Rich Slowly, sounds like he is at the exact same stage that I am! It's a good reminder that personal finance is a process, and there's also something else to learn and do. There's never going to be a moment where I am "done."

Anyway, the other big factor that affects long-term performance besides asset allocation (in addition to time) is savings. I recently took a hard look at exactly how much I have been saving in my 401K over time. I've made a handy chart so I can share what I discovered:

I was a bit shocked that in the middle years the % gross salary contributed was not higher, as I even have a withholding for I filled out requested that 10% of my salary be withheld. The decline that begins around 2003 was due to my idea to buy an apartment; I thought I'd need the money for a downpayment (didn't happen). In 2007 I was in grad school and did not work much, so I didn't make any contributions. However, I did open a SEP-IRA for tax purposes and put in about $1,200.

Well, what's done is done. And, at least I did start contributing to my 401K almost as soon as I began working (only a one year delay). I'm planning to max out my contribution for this year, and I made good progress last year as well.

Onward and (hopefully) upward, both in terms of contributions and returns!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Potentially Good News on Roth IRAs

An article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye tonight, as I still have my 401ks and IRA on my mind. The article claims that there will be new rules for Roth IRAs and that the income limit, which I currently exceed, will be lifted. Apparently the rules about income for converting (but not funding) will demolish the income limit. The catch? There are taxes involved. This is all new to me because once I saw the income limits I stopped investigating Roth IRAs. When (if) I convert my 401k to a Roth IRA, I will have to pay income tax on the contributions and the earnings.

So how would this influence my decision to transfer my old 401K? The article answers just that question:
“If you’re thinking about doing a Roth conversion, leave your 401(k) alone” rather than rolling it into an IRA beforehand to keep your share of nondeductible contributions higher in the calculation above, says John Carl, president of the Retirement Learning Center LLC in New York

Another factor to consider when I try to decide what to do with the old 401K. Does anyone else spend this much time strategizing around where to keep assets? I don't even have a lot of assets, relatively speaking.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reconsidering Consolidation

After some thought and after blogging about all of the different accounts and institutions, I think it would be good if I could at least rollover an old 401K to my IRA. However, my big hangup about this is that I REFUSE to liquidate i.e. sell the funds in that account in order to transfer it. The funds are down significantly since I bought them at least 5 years ago and I do not want to lock in those losses. So I'm going to try to do an in-kind transfer. Fidelity sells all of the funds in the account, so I don't see why I could not. I have to talk to my broker and get the form tomorrow.

All of this writing about my messy investment portfolio is making me self-conscious. I want to write about an area that I do feel like I have a good handle on -- credit cards. I am much more of a risk taker when it comes to credit cards and I'm tempted to take even more risk. I'll write about it soon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Organizing My Portfolio Part Ia

Sadly, Cake is not providing a holistic view of my portfolio. It is the closest of all the tools I've found, but there are still issues. One of my institutions is not in their system and one of them I've added but for some reasons my positions don't appear in my portfolio. This would all be okay but you can't add positions manually. C'est la vie, but my Excel sheets are looking better and better. I think I might be a little bitter too because the Cake ratings for many of my positions are Ds or Fs. Not that I don't hate many of my holdings (I didn't choose them, my ex-boyfriend who is my financial planner did), but it hurts to see external validation for how bad some of them are. So I think I need to bite the bullet and stop searching for the perfect tool to see my portfolio and start figuring out an asset allocation strategy and then how to get to that ideal allocation.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Organizing My Portfolio: Part I

Like many people, I have the securities portion of my vast wealth (haha) spread across several different accounts with different institutions. These include the following:
  • My current 401K
  • An as-of-yet-unrolled-over 401K
  • An IRA, SEP-IRA and a securities account at one institution
  • A just for fun online brokerage account
For those keeping count that is 6 accounts with 4 institutions.

Most financial planners or finance-types would probably be horrified by this list. I'm less concerned about all of the different accounts and more so about finding out what I own across my portfolio so I can analyze it as a whole. That's an informal goal for this year. My curiosity about my portfolio was piqued in October when it came crashing down by about 50%.

I did this manually in an Excel grid, tallying all of the positions in each account and then analyzing my overall portfolio by type. This is the graph I created based on that info:

These are my own categories which I am sure are slightly unorthodox. As for the balance or lack of balance in my portfolio, analyzing that is my next step.

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, I was excited to learn I could possibly get some help with this task. I'm currently trying out some of the interactive portfolio trackers discussed in the story and will post an update soon. I had previously searched for a tool to do this and hadn't come up with much. I used the Markewatch Portfolio Analyzer but could not for the life of me figure out where to find the "analyzer" part of the tool that the site claims gives you a portfolio asset allocation analysis.

While this probably seems like a basic thing to do for most personal finance gurus, for me it is the top of the pyramid. I've got the budgeting, saving, credit card, checking account part of the equation down. Now it's time to take my investing to the next level. I'll share aspects of all of these as I go.