Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good Fortune

I don't have much to report, except that as the year comes to a close, I am grateful for the good fortune I've had this year. I almost hate to even write about it, because I don't want to jinx myself. I do have to take a moment to say I think I will be very excited to do my networth update Jan 1. At the same time, I watched A Christmas Carol last night, as I did last year as well. And while having savings is important, it is a good reminder to live too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Changing Expenses for Next Year

So just as I was feeling all smug about keeping my ongoing expenses down, my benefits changed at work (or will change as of Jan 1). Overall, the new benefits are much better than the old. I am truly grateful to my company, as they are adding long-term disability as a benefit! Something I pay $1400 for a year right now. Of course I'll have to buy a small supplemental policy, but it should shave like $100 off my monthly costs. So that's great.

The insurance is also a much stronger plan, except of course in my case because my therapist is out of network. If she were in-network, this plan would be a dream. But since she's not there is a HIGH (2K) deductible and the worst part is that the initial plan year is only 5 months. So to continue seeing my same therapist I am going to have to bite the bullet. It's going to cost me $2300 for the first five months of the year, and that's for only 3 visits a month.

That said, I can still afford it, and to me, it's worth it, although it is a steep price. I am going to use that time to really work hard and hopefully not need as much therapy, but also to find an in-network therapist that I can switch to in June.

I will take advantage of the FSA, so at least I will be paying this big bill in pre-tax dollars.

I will have a ton of deductions from my paycheck:
Transit Reimbursement

That will over all help to lower my tax bill, and hopefully I will barely pay anything for health expenses in post-tax dollars.

Friday, November 12, 2010

One Time Versus Ongoing Expenses

So I've been talking about how all year I've been spending a lot of money. Or what for me feels like a lot. But I realized, as I contemplated buying another pricey item, there is one thing that saves me from overspending. And that is that these expenses (except for my health care expenses) are one-time expenses. So my friends who pay $600 more a month than I do in rent pay that every month. That's a total of $7,200 a year. That's two sets of furniture, or a whole lot of clothes. Or two vacations. The good thing about one time expenses is you pay up front and then get to use the items/service. So you don't have to continue paying, even though you might continue consuming them. Like with clothing. Or furniture. So while these items depreciate, at least you only have to pay for them once.

Friday, October 22, 2010

General Update

So I usually only update my NetworthIQ on a quarterly basis. I just did Q3 at the end of September. That said, I just updated it again. I can't believe how much the market has gone up this month. So much for sell in May and go away. I'm just so glad that I never took any money (barely) out of the market after September 2008. I've been fully in (while also building my cash position) the whole time, which has allowed me to recover A LOT of the value that I lost two years ago (on paper). I also wanted to update my NetworthIQ so (I am ashamed to admit this) I could resume the top position on the page that ranks networth in NY (I'm on the top of the 5th page). I am really motivated by moving up the list. I do not know why. I wish those other people success, but I guess it's just nice to have a visual way to be rewarded for saving more. Since it's not like anything really changes in my life when I save more money.

I'm also excited to try some new investing strategies. I'm going to open up a Lending Club account. I have also meant to buy some foreign currencies (being all-in on the dollar scares me) and maybe some gold. I'd like to buy shares in a REIT, but that's a little more complicated. I also think about buying some GLD. The last time I thought about this it was at 1K and today I saw it's at 1,300. Insane.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I'm stoked cause I just updated my Networth and passed a few people on NetworthIQ. Not that I don't wish them much prosperity and hapiness! But for some reason, I always focus on the people that are a few in front of me and it helps motivate me. I guess we have to use whatever works to motivate us to save!

Although this quarter was really strong due to the market, my savings were really low compared to every other quarter of the year so far. So, I'm going to try to be good in October. Although of course I have some "expenses"coming up. Such as Billy Elliot on Broadway, haha. Luckily all done with social security tax, so that gives me a big boost and this year it's for all of Q4. I also have probably close to $1,000 or more owed to me from my health insurance company. I'm always out of pocket about $1500 because I pay the doctor and they pay me back.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Boring, But Good

I realized reading over my posts that this blog is probably boring, haha. Lately all I talk about is spending. My goal for the blog is really for myself -- I think of it as an online money diary, but if other people read it and can relate or find any value, all the better. But I also realized that when things are on track financially, money management can be kind of boring. I'm not making any major investments, purchases (just some furniture), or having any big life transitions, so it's just nose to the grindstone, trying to meet my current needs and save for the future. I guess it's a nice place to be, as I'm not stressing about debt or worrying about having enough to meet my current needs. There is always the underlying worry about having enough to retire, but it seems difficult to do much more about that than I already am.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

spending, spending, spending

So I am in the process of buying a bed from Craigslist, and I am also taking a short trip this month. This means I'll barely be saving anything. It's stressing me out a bit. Or at least is weighing on my mind. I'm going to try to cut back in other areas. I saw a vase for $300 that I was about to buy and then realized that I probably should not. Same with a pair of shoes for $120. I guess I will just delay.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My most favorite time of the year

. . . is approaching. It's a time when my income increases. First, just like last year, I got a credit for my gas bill. I should not have to pay a gas bill for several months starting from August. On the income side, I will have paid all of my social security tax probably by the end of next month. So my paychecks in September, October, November and December are bigger than the rest of the year. This year I've been paying $756 a month in SS tax. That is an enormous amount of $ to have added to a paycheck. This is like Christmas, Easter and my birthday all wrapped into one. And then the best part of all (hopefully) is getting our bonus paid in December. Our business seems to be doing okay this year, so hopefully it will be comparable to last year's.

Midyear Budget Update

I've gotten around to doing my midyear budget update. The most interesting thing is to compare it to last year.

Luckily, I'm about $16,500 ahead this year. The big difference is school. No more school loans! That does not, however, include the cost of my new furniture ($4,000) and the new healthcare costs (still figuring out how much I'm actually going to end up paying).

This is where I am ahead of last year:
Rent (slightly less; I paid more the first few months of last year)
Phone (no phone bill; saved about $500 so far this year)
Charity (this expense will even out in the end)
Gifts and Entertainment
and slightly ahead in Personal Care, Fees, Restaurants (miraculously)

I have spent thousands more this year so far on Travel and Clothing. Clothing is catchup spending from years of not buying anything. Travel might end up being not too far ahead, as I took my big trip earlier in the year this year than last. Of course I'm tempted to take another big trip this year, but have been fighting myself on this. Am planning a mini-break to Montreal later this month with my friend, so that has to be my last getaway for this year if I want to keep my travel costs reasonable.

Overall, I have so much more wiggle room without the massive school bill that even my $4,000 furniture does not make a substantial difference. School debt sucks.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Money in, Money out

I was going to do my midyear budget update, so I can compare it against last year's and try to make myself feel like I'm not reeaally spending so much more this year, haha. However, I realized its hard to keep track of my expenses right now. I still download my Mint transactions every month and categorize them in an Excel grid. But even in my not very active balance sheet there are certain expenses that make things more complicated. These fall into a few categories:
1. Work-reimbursed expenses: I always have $ outstanding that work owes me. Usually at least a few thousand dollars.
2. Health care: This year this is complicated. I pay for my care, and then for $1250 worth, my company reimburses me. For $1,000, it comes from my FSA. Also, right now I've got a $600 claim that just got denied. I have to call on Monday and figure out why they are not covering it. I think I needed preapproval (despite being told I didnt), so that could be a very costly mistake.
3. New furniture: Right now this is an off-balance sheet expense. I'm just recording my monthly minimum payments of $42. For same reason I am carrying this on a card for six months, I don't want to put it on the balance sheet!

Next week I should have a better understanding of what part of healthcare is still outstanding and in two weeks I should get a new expense report. Of course I already have work travel between then, so I'll rack up more expenses.

Overall, I know that I've spent a lot more on clothes, health care, furniture (4,000 more!) and possibly travel than last year. But I think my quality of life is better and I'm feeling more balanced.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Net Worth

So I did my quarterly net worth update. It's not pretty. I feel like saying, "But it's not my fault!"Because I saved a bunch of cash, but my investments dropped a lot. So in the end, I ended up 6K higher than last quarter. That's a lot of $, I know, but not compared to the amount that I usually saved. Oh well, onwards and hopefully upwards. I will focus on being grateful for what I have and have managed to save so far.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Can't get enough of high interest checking

So I have some extra cash sitting around. Right now, it is not earning any interest. While inflation is low, it is still slowly losing its value by not earning interest or returns. I did put some of the extra cash in my IRA, but I'm maxed out for last year and this year for contributions. So I can't stash any more there. I wish I could of course. I also want to keep this liquid and don't really have the stomach to invest it in the market. So I came up with a solution. I already have a high interest checking account through one bank. I earn I think 3.26% on up to 25K. So I found another institution that is offering this type of account where you don't have to be a resident of that bank's state. That's pretty rare, as most of these are limited to residents of the bank's state. I just opened the account on Friday. Now I will gather up my spare cash and deposit it in the account. Then I'll get one of my direct deposits switched to this account. I'll sign up for estatements (of course) and then all I have to do is make 12 signature transactions a month. I already have to make 10 for my other card. That's a lot of transactions. But I'll basically stop using my credit cards and just use these bank cards for all purchases. I try to charge everything anyway so I can keep track of all purchases, so I'm optimistic that I'll earn the interest each month.

Spending all my money

When I first started writing (i think about a year ago now) I never would have envisioned that I would be writing about all the big purchases I am making! That said, I am happy to be doing so. Today I bought bedroom furniture. As the man put it in the store, "big girl furniture."I am so happy that I did so. I've never bought furniture. I have a bed w/out a headboard, a hand me down dresser that I dragged out of my grandmom's attic, an Ikea night stand from college and some sort of canvas tent contraption for an armoire. I've had all of these items since the beginning of time.
So, I'm happy that I was able to buy something nice for myself and that I don't feel guilty about spending the money.

That said, I tried to look for pieces of Craigslist, but got tired of waiting for the specific ones I wanted to come up. So full-price it is. I did open a store credit card and have six months with minimum payments at zero percent interest. I vaguely remember reading that these types of deals are bad for your credit score as they are counted as a cash advance or some such thing, but frankly I don't care. My score is in the 800s. Even if it goes down 100 points, I'll still be fine.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Outstanding Money

Ugh, lately I am a little stressed by all of the money that various parties owe me. The total adds up to more than $6,000 and trying to get paid takes a decent amount of effort and is highly annoying.

First, I have a $4,300 expense report that I need to submit on Monday. I should get paid for that mid-month and I've already compiled the report and the documentation, which is tedious work.

I have another $1,800 and growing outstanding from my health insurance company. It's actually from my company, but I need my insurance company to file the claims first before I can submit. That has been going on since the end of March and all I've managed to get through the system is $200. No clear end in sight on that one and a new $200 piles up every week.

The last one is smaller -- $620. But it annoys me. I lent a friend, for the second time, this money to cover her rent because she had a cash flow problem. She was supposed to pay me back, I think it was like May 25th. She claimed the check was in the mail. It is not and now am I wondering when or if I will see that money again. Ugh.

All of the outstanding money has made my expenses a mess and hard to reconcile, so for the first time in years I haven't analyzed my May spending. It's all too depressing and hard to track.

It's odd to feel stressed about this money, as I don't need it to live on and I am confident I will get it all back eventually. The majority I will have by mid month. But having so much outstanding is stressful anyway.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The year of spending

So when the year first started, I thought it would be like last year. Meaning I would try to save every penny I could. But with school paid off and having a full time job, I'm realizing that I've been living in a state of sort of suspended animation for so long. I feel like I need so many things: new clothes, furniture, art, things to organize my apartment. It feels uncomfortable to spend the money, but its gotten to the point where it feels more uncomfortable to not purchase these things. It's not that I'm spending wastefully, it's just that spending at all feels a little foreign. I am of course still saving, but I'm realizing that I need some balance and maybe to do a little more living and a little less saving.

The good thing is that I don't feel some insatiable desire to spend. I don't have to worry that when I start spending I'll never stop. For example: I needed a new gym bag. So I found a cute one on etsy from a woman in Malaysia. It was only $50. So I bought it. It works pretty well (a little small), and now I never think about buying a new bag. Once I have what I need, I'm set.

I'm not as concerned about meeting my (aggressive) savings goal that I laid out at the start of the year. It feels nice to just live and see where things take me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spending Comfort Levels

This weekend I went to brunch and then shopping with two friends. These two friends have shall we say a well-developed appreciation for the finer things in life. They think I am a total cheapskate. So we were strolling through Nolita and I saw a beautiful bag that I decided I wanted. It cost $400. To me, that number is ridiculous. But, I wanted the bag and could justify it because I knew I was getting a big tax refund this month. So I bought it. But it just did not feel right. Mostly because I thought it was too nice to really use. I would worry about ruining it and it would be impractical. So the next day I returned the bag. I did get a smaller, more practical bag that cost less (I was too scared to look at the actual price, but it started with a 2 and not a 4, but closer to a 3). And I got a pair of shorts. So I spent about the same, but on two items. This felt much better. I just thought it was funny that I felt almost physically uncomfortable spending so much money on a bag. I know my friends that I was with never have that problem. That said, it's good to splurge every once in a while, as long as its not on credit.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Losses and Gains

So I finally just finished my taxes. After a gruelling search for the cost basis for a mutual fund I sold that I'd bought in 1998. The good news is that I found it. The bad news is that I sold the fund at 1/2 price. And i held $10,000 of it. So I had $6,000 in recognized losses this year. Ugh. The good news is that I am now getting a tax refund, whereas without these losses I would not be. Also, I have $3K to carryover to next year! I guess that is also a good thing, in a way. What would be better is if I could make better investment decisions and pay more attention to my investments. But I guess I shouldn't be too hard on myself since 2008 was killer for everyone.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can't spend enough

There's one thing that I think it's more than okay to spend on. In fact, I can't spend enough on this! It's my health. Okay, that's how I wish I felt. Sadly, I sometimes delay health spending that I need (not critical, but still). That has backfired in the past. In grad school (sans dental insurance) I waited a year to get my teeth cleaned. For most people, probably not a big deal. For me, I knew it could be bad. And it was. I eventually had pain and was then forced to go get a cleaning. However, because I had waited there was so much plaque they had to do it in two visits, hence costing double the normal amount.

So I realized finally hey, I have health and dental insurance. That is a luxury in many parts of the world. I should take advantage of this. So I'm going to the dentist, eye doctor, a therapist (mental health is important too), possibly the acupuncturist and the orthodontist. This in reality shouldn't cost too much, due to my insurance. However, the orthodontist could be a couple of hundred dollars and the therapist could be several hundred dollars a month. I'm forcing myself to spend this money, because there is nothing more important to spend on. This is what my FSA is for, so it's nice to know it will be tax-free money at least. Now I wish I had dumped more in there.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wiser Bloggers Than Me

Have already outlined the costs of owing a dog. I think Lazy Man is in Silicon Valley, so his costs are probably not that much less than in Brooklyn.

Purposely Making a Bad $ Decision

Have you ever done this? I was about to write that I have not, but then I think back and that's how grad school was for me. I more than wanted to go, I needed to go. I was never under the delusion that I was going to earn more money by doing so. I knew I would be spending $50,000 for something that would not get me a monetary return. If I had instead bought an apartment and continued to work full time at my previous job, I would be financially better off, most likely. Even though the value of that apartment would have gone down by now, I think I'd still have some equity. I was going to buy in 2003, so during the craziness but pretty close to the start of it. My area of Brooklyn has gone up so much from the bubble, but also from gentrification, since then.

Anyway, I'm contemplating making another bad financial decision. I want to adopt a dog from my local shelter. Not just any dog, but a boxer, on the wrong side of 5 years old. I don't know dog years, but I'd guess he's in middle age or older. (He doesn't seem it and has no gray yet). What does this mean financially? Huuuuge expenses. Expenses just for being a dog, but then for being a dog in the city, being an older dog and being a bigger dog.

The costs are daunting. Medical care could be exorbitant. OMG what if he gets cancer, as I read that boxers are more prone to than other breeds? Do I seriously have to pay for dog chemo? I've read pet insurance, especially in urban areas, is hardly worth it. Then there's the daily dog walker and the care for when I have to travel for work. I have no control over my travel, so if it suddenly picks up, I'll be spending $50 a day or so for someone to care for the dog. Oy vey.

That said, I have the money to care for the dog as my life is now. However, my rent is very low and if I wanted to buy an apartment or move to a place actually in Manhattan or somewhere bigger, it might be tight.

I'm continuing to do the research and will come to a conclusion, but I feel like that a dog could add so much to my life that this could be a sound decision, despite the financial costs.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This is so depressing

Really, ladies? $13,000 on makeup? Granted, it's over a lifetime. But, still.

With that said, one of the things I have to spend money on soon is new makeup. I like eco-friendly, non-tested on animals makeup, mostly MAC, so that prevents me from picking up makeup when I run into the pharmacy for medicine. Quality is better than quantity in this case, and I think it saves me $ in the long run. I only buy makeup like once every 5 years. What do you think ladies? $13,000 seems insanely high to me. Maybe if that figure included hair cutting and coloring. Actually, then it would be low!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Morningstar X-Ray

Earlier in the summer I spent a lot of time trying to analyze my holdings across all of my accounts (I have 2 401Ks, 3 IRAs and two taxable accounts). I complained that I couldn't find a good tool and a reader recommended the Morningstar tools. Today I signed up for the free trial of the Morningstar X-Ray.

The analysis was a good confirmation that I have balanced portfolio. It also confirmed that I have a higher weighting of mid and small cap value and growth funds than the Wilshire 5000 at least.

For next steps, I'm thinking of buying some GLD and some more bonds -- I only have 9% of my holdings in bonds.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Saving $ in NYC: Yes, it's possible

I love this story in the WSJ about how the author's daughter lives frugally in NYC and manages to save $5K while making $30K. Many of the tricks that she uses (eating lentils and other non-meat, non-processed filling foods) I have used for the last few years to get me through grad school and also last year to pay off my loan. When I look at my list of don'ts that I made in early 2008, it's pretty impressive. And now the don'ts feel natural (for the most part) so I don't spend money on these things, but don't miss them. Really, clothing is the only thing that I'm having a bit of a spending backlash on. So to people who say you can't save $ in NYC, you've just got to re-set your expectations as to what is "normal".

My Spending Rules/Don'ts
Spend less than 2K a month on rent
Don't take taxis
Don't get manicures, pedicures, waxes, facials or massages (or at least not regularly)
Don't buy clothes or shoes
Don't buy makeup
Don't order takeout food
Don't have a home phone
Don't pay any banking fees
Don't go to concerts
Don't own a car, pay for gas or car insurance or parking
Don't rent cars
Don't buy lunch out
Don't buy furniture or other home decor items
Don't buy books (use the library)
Don't buy napkins, other paper products or cleaning products (not good for environment anyway; obviously tp is an exception to this rule!)
Don't buy jewelry
Don't buy meat or processed foods
Don't buy wine that costs more than $10 a bottle

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Savings Strategy

Now that I received my bonus (a little more than last year which is great), I have to figure out what to do with my savings. I also realized that my online savings account rate where a lot of my cash is has fallen to 1.1%! Ouch. It's tough times for savers. So, this is my strategy:

-- $10,000 contribution to non-deductible IRA (5K in 2010 and 5K in 2009). This way even if I want to buy an apartment at some point, I can use this money towards that). It also lets me do something with this money i.e. invest it. And, it gives me the option to convert it to a Roth IRA, without having to pay any taxes since its a new account. Seems like a solid strategy.

-- $50,000 1 year CD. My credit union has a good rate for a 1-year CD -- 2.5%. I'm a little nervous about locking the $ up for a year, but I can always pull it and pay the penalty if I need to.

The rest of my cash will stay in my high yield checking account which still has an interest rate of 3.25% or something in the 3s anyway.

Sound like a good plan? I like it because it boosts my retirement savings, which I'm very behind in according to my Puddin Score. And it lets me invest that money, tax free. While I still have a strong cash cushion.