Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Update

Wow, this last month has been really crazy. Both financially and otherwise.

First, the IRS audit. My business expense was rejected by the auditor. I found a great, relevant tax course case, and my accountant encouraged me to fight the finding, through the proper channels. This would mean talking to the agent, then his supervisor and if I didn't get anywhere, filing an appeal and then meeting with an agent in person. All of this would have meant I had to write up my findings and basically act as my own lawyer/rep. I was ready. And then life happened. And I realized I had already spent a lot of time on this audit and that my resources would be better spent elsewhere. So I gave up. I paid the $2K to make it go away. Of course I'm not done. I'll probably have to re-file NY taxes for that year, too. In the end, I'm glad that it's over and I do not have to think about this anymore. Also, the IRS agent I spoke to was SOOOO nice. I hated him (of course) until I spoke to him. He actually encouraged me to provide him with the case I had found, but I just kept telling him I did not have time. I think he even offered me an extension.

Second, the market. I have no idea. One day I am poor, the next I'm back up to where I started. All of this up and down just means that I net out about even from what I can tell, not really making or losing money.

Third, job. I've decided that I am very bored at my job. I am getting pretty far along interviewing for a new one, so we'll see.

Fourth, it's that time of year. With any luck by the end of this month I will be in possession of a bonus check. Considering how lean but successful we were this year everyone is expecting a bigger one than last year, so we'll see. Crossing fingers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Market Recovery

So this week was really helpful in regaining some of the paper losses I've suffered in my taxable and retirement accounts over the last few months. My taxable account is only a few thousand short of the highest balance I've ever had. Woo -- hoo!

Audit Results

So today I came home to another fat package from the IRS (why so many papers always from them?). This one I was eagerly anticipating. It was their response to my response to their totally ridiculous audit. The main point of their audit was totally unfounded, which was validated by the fact that in their response to me they did not even MENTION the initial reason why they supposedly audited me and just focused on my business expense deduction which they did not allow. They also assessed a penalty of 20% and charged back interest. Overall, it was about 2K additional tax. At this point I am so over it and am just going to pay the stupid 2K and move on. One would hope they would be over it at this point too, but they also included a handy little form asking me to extend the statue of limitations on the tax year in question which should expire April 1 until June 30th. I don't plan on signing this, but I'm consulting my accountant on the question.

The only redeeming factor to this whole nightmare was that I uncovered a mistake in my favor, which lessened the amount of additional tax that I have to pay.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shedding Those Pesky Zeros from Bank Acct. Balance

The title of my post is pretty much how I feel these days. I'm due to write up my quarterly net worth statement and I am less than excited to do so. This is the first quarter I will have lost money in years. C├ęst la vie I suppose. Not like I've been doing much saving on my own to make up for my market losses. I feel like if the market is going to wipe out all of my savings, I might as well have some fun with what $ I do have! Next quarter should be better, because as of October 1, I have paid all of my social security tax for the year. That means an automatic raise of several hundred dollars during Q4. And we are inching towards bonus time (thank the gods).

I feel I have made some progress on fighting back the other force of evil trying to suck $ from me, the IRS. I put together a kick ass package for my audit, and there is no reason that I should not be receiving a check for overpayment from the IRS. I actually discovered that I double reported my dividends for the year in question, so I should get back a few hundred dollars. If they do not accept my business expense explication I will so appeal that finding. There is no reason for them not to, but with the government coffers running low I'm sure they are tasked with sucking every last penny they can from the populace. I'm going to fight for my rights and not let them intimidate me.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Ugh

I have been having a bit of a pity party for the last week, ever since I came home to a big fat package from the IRS saying that they were looking at my 2008 tax return. This is highly annoying because the reason they say they are looking at my return is absolutely ridiculous and totally does not apply to my situation (they think I have been paid by a foreign embassy). But, in the process I am now going to have to defend my deductions (it's really just one big one) and there is the chance that I could lose. In which case I could have to pay interest in addition to the tax owed, and who knows maybe even penalties for good measure. Not to mention the annoyance of having to gather all of the paperwork required for this. And consulting an accountant who is VERY expensive. This whole ordeal could cost me $5k or god forbid more. Which on top of the 15K or so I have lost in the market eats up a lot of my savings for I guess the last two quarters or so.

I feel so wronged by the financial gods. I save, I invest, I plan and then the market dives, the banks don't pay any interest and now the IRS is harping on me.

Well, if I do end up paying a big tax bill, I will simply have to scale back. I was contemplating another trip in November, so I'll kill that idea. I was also thinking about having a cosmetic procedure done (judge away, I don't mind -- it's non-invasive and totally unneccesary but I want it). You know -- that whole stimulating the economy thing. But if the IRS wants to claw back my $, then the US government will have to find another consumer to do some shopping.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Ugh

My taxable account has reached an unpleasant low today. The balance hasn't been this low since October of 2010. So almost a year of growth wiped out in a week or so. This market really requires a stomach of iron.

One thing that hasn't crashed and seems to be moving along nicely is my Lending Club account. Making me think I should invest more in there and lower my stock positions even more. I'm already like 60/40 investments/cash. Maybe I'll start taking more of the investment money and put it into loans. I like the idea of investing in people.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

O-M-G

Everything was moving along nicely. My balances kept increasing. My savings were paying off. We all know what happened to that story this week. Ugh. I've lost on paper about 20K. Which is better than the start of the week when it was more like 30K. Of course, I'll just be patient and wait it out and hope that my balances reach what they were in July again at some point. I'm just getting tired of waiting. My taxable account is filled with index funds that I bought in 2003. I'm starting to doubt the buy and hold strategy. It's been 8 years, and I don't feel like there's any consistent growth. There are some points when the market is high, but I don't have a lot of confidence that this money will consistently keep growing. I'm tiring of hearing the financial advisers dole out advice to buy and hold. I am a disciplined, patient investor. I would never sell when low. But I'm starting to think of putting parameters in place. Stop losses and gains. So that my shares automatically sell when they've risen a certain amount. 10%? 15% Of course that incurs transaction fees and then there is the challenge of trying to find places to put the money once I sell. We'll see.

I had such confidence that I would finish the year (pre-bonus) with a net worth of 400K. I got complacent, forgetting the market can nose dive at any minute and wipe out months if not longer of growth.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cash Money$

As I mentioned, I have a fairly large cash position. While the financial planner made me feel less guilty about not having it invested (he told me there will be volatility soon so it's ok to have a lot of cash on hand), I did want to earn something on it. Again from Get Rich Slowly readers, I learned about the Ally 5k-year CD. The best part about it is you only lose 2 months of interest if you pull your money early. I opened one big one, and now I plan to open several smaller ones. Opening several smaller ones is helpful because if I do have to pull some money, I'll lose less interest. That was another idea from a blog commenter. Yay for learning from others!

Know Your Stuff

I have been going through the process of cataloging my possessions for a while now. I read about a great tool in the comments on Get Rich Slowly. It's a website called knowyourstuff.org It's great. It gives you a place to catalog and document (with receipts, images) your stuff. Obviously this will be great in the case of a fire or another catastrophe. I entered most of my stuff and even looked up the original prices from my credit card records for a lot of them. Like my wardrobe, a lot of my furniture is hand me downs, including:
My Television
My coffee table and side table
My kitchen table
My bookcase
My lamp (my mom bought it for me when I was young)

Except for my fancy bedroom furniture that I bought last year, the rest of it is mostly Ikea or of equal cost and quality. I do like most of it, so it doesn't really bother me. My couch is too big for my living room, but it is soooo comfy I refuse to give it up. At least not yet.

Money Stress

I don't normally feel stressed about money. Mostly because I have designed my life's expenses to be way lower than my income. So I have a big cushion every month. This month that's not the case. I have so many obligations -- birthdays, weddings, etc. that I am spending a lot of money. I think it is bothering me because I feel like it is out of my control. Not that I resent my friends for the money I've spent, but I feel like I should be making cuts in other areas to compensate and I am finding that very hard to do. This is making me feel more empathy for those people who don't have a large cushion and feel like their expenses pile up each month out of control. Of course, in reality, I do have control. I don't have to attend all of these weddings and birthday parties. Or I don't have to be so generous with my gifts. But the fact if that I want to do these things, so I just have to give myself permission to spend more this month, and not stress about it because these are one time events. Here's to a more frugal (hopefully) August.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trading Places

So I have an unusual relationship with my friends and clothes, I think. For example, last Friday, my friend and I were meeting another friend at happy hour. I went to my friend's place to pick her up to go to the happy hour. My skirt, which I haven't worn since last summer, was bothering me. The elastic was stretched -- it didn't fit anymore. My friend whose place I was going to quit smoking and has outgrown her clothes. She had a big bag of her old clothes for me to sort through. When I got to her place, I gave her my skirt and she rummaged through the bag to find something for me, and she did. So I went to the happy hour wearing her old skirt. At the happy hour, my other friend gave me a purse that she'd bought at a garage sale because she knew that I'd been looking for a black one for a long time. So that night, I got a new skirt and a new purse for free.

When I go through my closet, a lot of my clothes are hand me downs from my friends. Sometimes it drives me crazy because I feel like I want my own clothes. Other times, it's nice to shop for free and I can't think of anything greener than swapping clothes instead of buying new ones.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

First Visit With a Financial Planner

Last month I took advantage of the library's free session with a financial planner. It was valuable, but did not go exactly as I had planned. I had prepared (of course) in advance an overview of my investments. I thought it was very organized. I arranged all my investments by category (small cap, large cap, etc.) and calculated the % of my portfolio in each. Well when the adviser saw my spreadsheet, his eyes glazed over and he told me it was too hard to understand. He thought I had too many accounts and too many investments. So we spent the whole time talking about how I could consolidate accounts. To me this seems like just an organizational thing, not really something that's going to affect my return. I had hoped we could talk about asset allocation. But we never really got around to that.

I have followed his advice and consolidated some accounts. I combined an old SEP IRA into a rollover IRA. I also rolled over my old 401K into my existing Rollover IRA prior to the meeting. Finally, I moved a small taxable account from one brokerage into the larger taxable account at my other brokerage. I closed a savings account too. As a result, I have 4 fewer accounts than before.

I am contemplating whether I want to pay for some time with this or another adviser.

The one piece of advice that he did give me was that he thought there would be some volatility soon, so I don't feel guilty about having a large cash position. I'll probably invest it on the next dip.

The Great TV Experiment

So I think I've mentioned that I have an old school CRT television. I have lately been thinking about whether I should upgrade and also how I can cut my annoying cable bill, since I basically just watch reruns of a few shows. I decided to buy a Roku box. I just set it up. It is so cute and small and super easy to install. I also installed a wireless router. I love that I can use Roku with my current old TV. I feel guilty getting rid of a TV that works perfectly well for no reason. It's wasteful.
Now I can keep my old TV, but jump into the 21st century w/ Roku. I'm going to get the Netflix on demand and Hulu Plus accounts and see if I can just live off that for TV. If I can, it's bye-bye cable!
I'll still have to pay for an Internet connection, but I'm hoping I can cut the bill down at least in half from about $100 now to $50.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Networth

I updated my NetworthIQ entry for Q1. Things look really good. I almost hate saying that because I don't want to jinx it! But basically since I started to be so super organized with my finances in 2008 (after finishing grad school), I've managed to put away a good chunk of money each quarter. So I guess I can be less superstitious because really it's about hard work, the boring day in and day out of making good financial decisions and staying on top of myself to stay organized and on course. I think anyone who manages to save any money at all should take time to feel proud of themselves, because we all know, it's not easy. Most people don't manage to do it at all.

You know you think about personal finance too much when . . .

You are reading a very engaging novel and the main character mentions that he wishes he had more money, and you later think to yourself about how he shouldn't go out to eat so often!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Leakage

Leakage sounds kind of gross, right? It is an annoying concept. Phone companies use it to describe calls that are routed through their networks that they don't end up charging customers for. Kind of like falling through the cracks. I started to realize that I've found some of those charges in my financial life. I'm now in the process of trying to fix them. Examples:

Old tickets -- I have a bus ticket from October that I never used. I have to try to get it as a credit. This is either $50 or $100.
401K fees -- Thanks to Mint.com, I've realized how much my old plan provider is charging me. I'm in the process of rolling it over to my existing IRA.
$ in FSA -- I think the deadline is about up on this. It's only $13, but still. It's my money!
Library fines -- Luckily I don't let these get too high, but I still end up paying some (less than $5 usually)
Health care -- I've made some mistakes here. First, I've been paying more than I need to for my scripts by not using mail order. Sent in the form for my one drug, so that should change soon.
Also, I bought my contacts through my doctor, who does not accept my discount plan. Finally, when I got said contacts, I ruined two pairs by leaving them sitting for weeks (they were all folded up and I couldn't undo them without tearing them).
Financial fees -- This category is pretty low, but I recently paid $10 because my National Grid bill did not get paid last month because in the process of closing my Chase account for charging me fees, the bill slipped through the cracks.
$ in non-interest bearing accounts -- Right now, I've got a lot of this. I'm in the process of trying to re-evaluate my asset allocation and make new investments, to ensure that my money is working for me.

When I add all of these up, I bet they come to a few hundred dollars. Oy vey. I'm happy to have identified them and have started fixing at least some of them.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kicking it 1990s Style

So if a thief walked into my apartment looking to score some sweet electronics, I think they would be highly disappointed. First, they would be daunted by the massive CRT television sitting on my little wooden stand. Who still has those and how could I possibly get that down 4 flights of stairs, the thief might ask, reflecting on how s/he probably has a better TV at home. Sure, I have a laptop. It's actually an expensive one. I didn't know any better and asked my IT guy when I left my job to freelance/go to grad school what kind I should get. So I've got an IBM T60 that costs $1K. Pretty sure it's the most expensive thing in my apartment. But, it's old, as far as computers go. I bought it in 2006. It runs Microsoft Office 2003. Probably Windows 2003 too, I'm not even sure. The only other electronics are an iPod nano, which I carry with me, so my robber wouldn't be able to access it. My mom got me a nice Bose docking station several years ago, to I have that. I also have a small digital camera that was not very expensive.

Overall, the items that I just named I purchased over a 5 year period and cost a total of about $1500 (the TV was free, as was the Bose sounddock).

This year I am thinking about buying some new gadgets -- currently vacillating between an iPad and a Kindle. I really want an eReader of some type, but then I see how expensive the ebooks are and I lose my enthusiasm. I'm a pretty avid library user, so this would add a new budget line item. Right now I pretty rarely buy books.

I also think about ditching the old CRT for a flat screen, mostly so I could cut the cord on cable and just get HDMI cables to watch shows online on my TV. I'd probably subscribe to Hulu Plus and maybe buy a Roku box. I am tempted, but also kind of waiting for the technology to catch up. Also, something about the experience of putting on the TV and just kind of watching whatever I find is attractive to me.

Whatever I do buy, the prices for TVs and eReaders have come down a lot since they were first introduced, so I'm glad that I've waited.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What I Am Grateful For

I started reading a new book which could loosely be categorized in the personal finance genre. It is called Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I got it because it sounded like a fascinating money story -- she made and lost a fortune. But there's a lot of self-help type advice in it that I thought was cheesy at first, but now I think I find kind of valuable. One concept she talks about is gratitude, and making a list of things that you are grateful for in terms of money. So I thought about it and this is what I came up with:

1. I am grateful I do not own a house -- I never have to worry about some big housing related emergency expense that will cost me thousands of dollars in one go, or about my property taxes going up, or whether the homeless shelter they are opening in my neighborhood is going to bring down the value of my property, or feel like I am trapped and can't move for a dream job, or any other reason, or freak out that I sunk my life savings into an asset that has lost more than 1/2 of it's value.
2. I am grateful that I have low expenses -- I have kept my expenses low which gives me a lot of flexibility. If I want to blow some money on clothes or makeup, etc. each month, I can. I never feel deprived, because I can always treat myself without having to sacrifice savings.
3. I am grateful that I can afford good medical care -- I go to a homeopath/therapist. She is really helping me grow as a person. She is expensive. $200 an hour and I go once a week. Insurance covers part of this, but I spent almost 2K last year on her. But I can afford to. Also, if something horrible happens to me, I have long-term disability insurance so that should give me some financial resources.
4. I am grateful that I can afford to travel. I keep praying that the value of the dollar holds up so I can continue to travel internationally. I have seen how challenging it can be for people of developing countries to travel outside their country, even if they are middle or upper middle class, just because of the currency.
5. I am grateful that I had a good example of how to save. My grandmother is a saver, probably more on the stingy side actually, and my mom is a saver. It's like a religion. I was born into it and never questioned it. I'm happy that's my DNA and not to overspend.

I am grateful that I have a lot to be grateful for!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where to Invest?

I think this question is on a lot of people's minds. It is definitely on mine. Between my bonus and then a CD that comes due in March, I have to find a place to park a decent amount of money. I am not sure where to put it. I don't want to earn minimal returns that most of the no-risk places like CDs are throwing off right now, but at the same time I don't think I want to dump the money into the market. Stocks are so volatile right now, and I keep hearing that interest rates are going to rise and bond prices go down.

One "alternative" investment that I have begun is Lending Club. So far only a few thousand dollars, but I like what I've seen. The one thing I don't like is that the terms are so long. I think like 3-5 years. Would probably be better for a 401K investment.

The other thing that I've really been meaning to do is diversify by currency. I've checked out Everbank products, but they seem kind of risky.

This will be an ongoing question I try to answer over the next few months.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2010 Spending Analysis

I'm home sick all weekend with a cold, so it's a perfect time to play around with numbers to fend off boredom. Yesterday I sliced & diced my gross income last year to see where it went. It's roughly what I've always thought it is: 1/3 to taxes, 1/3 to savings and 1/3 to spending. This made me feel happy because I live on such a small part of my salary, that if i ever have to get a lower paying job, I can still survive. I could easily cut my spending probably almost in half too, just by moving in with a roommate. Anyway, I made this nice little pie graph to visually represent where all my money went last year:




Saturday, January 1, 2011

Portfolio Analyzer Fidelity Full View

I finally found a good tool to analyze all of my holdings across different accounts. And it was totally automatic, which was nice. It's the Fidelity Full View tool. It added my investment accounts automatically and now I can see my holdings across all accounts. I was surprised, I have less than 50% American stocks. When I add one other investment account, it will be even less, because those are LatAm bonds & stocks. I just read an article in Fortune saying that most people probably need even more foreign stocks than they have, so I guess this is okay. I'm just not feeling very bullish about the US market, even though I have nothing to complain about with the market's performance this year!