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!