Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spending It

I have some expenses coming up that are discretionary but I really should take care of them. Case in point - new mattress and couch because they are hurting my back. I can only sleep on one side of the mattress now. I'm off today, hopefully to finalize my choice for a new one. Think I have found the couch I want as well. But once I update the couch, I realize that the coffee table is quite scratched and while the matching side table is perfect, if I get a new coffee table it will no longer match. So that's two more pieces of furniture. Also, I don't have overhead lights in almost every room of my apt. So it's dark. The table lamps aren't cutting it. I plan to buy ceiling fans with lights and have them installed. So that all adds up. I'm not really excited about these purchases, but I feel like I kind of need to make them.

I am thinking of making a big "purchase" that I am excited about which is going in on a shared beach house. If I can pay a reasonable amount each month, I plan to do this, probably starting in March or so. That would be money well spent in my view.

I've been reading about the clothing fasts people are doing on the MMM forum. I'm thinking about joining, because that would help pay for the beach house. Yay for intentional purchasing!

Happy holidays to everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Favorite Time of Year?

In theory, I should be super happy right now. I literally wait for this moment all year long. I found out my bonus and it is higher than last year by 16%. I know how fortunate I am to be well-compensated for doing my job. I know there are people who work just as hard, and sometimes in dangerous or uncomfortable jobs, that are paid much less. That said, I just feel tired and burned out. Work is still very busy and while we finally hired someone to support me so I'm not the only person on my teams, that person was on vacation all this week.  The crowds are bringing me down too. I guess I'm really starting to learn/believe that my career/job and saving/building a nest egg are the most important things.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Privilege & Poverty

If you read certain ladyblogs like I do, you will hear the word privilege a lot. I always knew that I'd probably qualify as privileged but I never realized what the opposite of economic privilege -- poverty -- is truly like. Although I make a hobby studying both ends of the economic spectrum, poverty and what it must be like was never so clear to me as when I read this recent blog post that is getting a lot of attention called "This is What It's Like to be Poor"

I thought about the contrast between being poor/unprivileged and my rather privileged existence through the lens of something that happened to me this week. I went running in my hood last weekend 2x (also a privilege to have a safe space to run outside) and I somehow ended up inflaming a joint in my lower back. By Monday morning, walking, sitting and standing were all painful. By Tuesday, my colleague told me "call my chiropractor right now!" at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Just having access to that knowledge -- who to call for help, is a privilege. And then the even bigger privilege -- my private health insurance for which I pay $200 a month in premiums and i'm sure my job pays at least 2x that, covers every visit I need with not even a co-pay. My fancy insurance also reimburses me 1/2 of my weekly $200 therapist bill, for a therapist who is out of network (in network therapy is $30 a visit). And I've been going to my therapist for about 4 years now. Weekly. And insurance has never said anything. But back to my back issue. Because I have a white collar office job, I was able to just shoot off an email saying I'm leaving at 4:00 to go get my back fixed. If needed, I could even have worked from home for several days that week (except when I had business meetings). That flexibility is a privilege. My boss' only response was feel better. Plus, if something crazy were wrong and I had to be out of work for months and months, I have private long term disability insurance that I purchased on my own and I have another LTD policy through my job. I could get paid for not working for years. Finally, if I were permanently disabled, I could live for free with my mom forever probably. And she would help me navigate and advocate for me to ensure I got all the benefits a disabled person is entitled to.

When you open your eyes, it is easy to see the privilege around you. For example, I woke up this morning thinking how wonderful to have a quiet, safe and serene place to sleep and live.  I don't have to have roommates. I get to live in the exact neighborhood that I want to. Crime is not an issue (knock wood). I have easy access to everything I need -- from fantastic food to health care, and I don't even need a car to access it. But if I did, I could afford to buy and maintain one.

I think it's important to keep our eyes and ears open to be aware of our own privileges and ry hard to understand those who may not have them and figure out wayswe can help them overcome challenges that arise from their situation.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Smothering Power of Stuff

Yesterday I went with my mother, aunt and cousin to my grandmother's house to clean out any food that was left.  My grandmother's house is packed with stuff. My grandfather was a "collector" and hobbyist who left behind tons and tons of stuff. Not hoarder level or anything. But just every space is packed, from the basement to the garage to the shed. Being there is overwhelming.

Besides feeling like I was drowning in stuff, the stuff brings out an ugly attitude in my mother. She accuses the caregivers that lived there of stealing what I think are pretty worthless valuables. She rants and raves about them. Meanwhile, she has inherited what most people would consider a sizeable sum, but yet is obsessed over the loss or theft of this $500 or less trinket. It blows my mind.

We also had a huge fight because my grandmother had always wanted me to take her china when she passed. There are 8 place settings. I declared that I only wanted 4 because I did not have room and would never use 8. My mother insisted that I take all or none.

Today with the benefit of a little space and time, I realize that I never want to go back to my grandmother's house again, at least not when my mother is there and probably not ever. The stuff is literally toxic in my mind now. There's no room to breathe and I personally feel there is nothing of value there and it should all be thrown out. My mother has declared that everyone in the family will come on one day in a few weeks and take what they want, but the few things that I would want are not worth going back for. I think my mother will be surprised because I think most of my cousins also won't even bother coming. What would they want out of a 95 year old woman's house?

It's a good lesson learned as I simplify my own living space. A good reminder for why it really is much healthier to live with less. I want to make room in my house for love, for light, for my soul to breathe. You can't do that when you are buried under mounds of stuff.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More Than Money

My grandmother died last night. I was very close with her, and I see so much of me and my mother in her. For both better and worse.  Especially when it comes to money.

My family has the opposite problem of what I think is the normal issue with money (overspending): we have issues spending money.  Especially on ourselves.  My grandmother lived through the Depression. She worked in factories and then she was a homemaker.  She worked hard all of her life. She and my grandfather saved and saved.  When she died, she received social security and a small pension. She still had more than 500K in the bank (from what I understand) and she was in her mid-nineties. Of course if she had lived for 5-6 more years in a nursing home, she would have spent all of that money. But she didn't.  The problem is (in my mind anyway) that she scrimped so much she didn't let herself enjoy life when she was alive.  She wore rags for underwear and wouldn't let us buy her new ones.  When I would buy her nice  things like new towels, she would simply fold them up and put them in the closet, saving them for god knows what and continue on using her rag towels.

I understand why my grandmother was the way she was and I admire her strong work ethic, thrift, determination and self-discipline that got her through the Depression and all the way to her mid-90s.  That said, I wish that she'd been able to appreciate herself and feel a little more secure and been able to enjoy her time here more.

I was happy today because I was actually wearing a bra that I bought last month (immediately after I posted that I hadn't bought any clothes on this blog, ha). I fretted over buying it for months. I didn't need it, but it was beautiful. Finally it went on sale for $45 (it was normally closer to $100) so I swooped in and got it. I hope that I can live like that -- still finding the joy in little treats and 'pampering' myself, but being practical and honoring my grandmother's memory and never wasting anything.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Q4 baby, woohoo! The fun starts this month. In September of this year I fully satisfied my social security tax requirement. That means I get a nice chunk of change extra in all of my Q4 paychecks.
That alone makes Q4 awesome.  I also have been wrestling with my health insurance company to get refunded money that they owe me (dating back since May) and I'm hopeful that comes in this month, because then I can finally submit whatever is left from those claims to my FSA account where I will have almost $1,000 that I can pay out to myself. Plus, I'm going to make a big donation to Goodwill, locking in a nice tax deduction for the second most magical time of the year, tax refund time. October -- April is definitely the time of the year when I get paid the most, between social security tax max out, bonus (praise be to the Gods) and then tax refund. And this year I have no big expenses. No house down payment to save for, no student loan to pay off, no crazy transfer taxes around a new mortgage. All mine to save! Woohoo!!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

More on Minimalism

Even though I'm on a plane for almost six hours, I'm still minimizing. Or plotting what I'll do when I get home anyway. I made a list for each room of things I would like to eliminate.  As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of the things that I don't want/need I received as gifts, or handme downs. So they have sentimental value.  For example, I have a collection of mugs that I got from traveling, or at different points in my life, like grad school, even one from when I was a child.  I also have an entire tea setting (little saucer and plates) that came with my dish set. Although those are beautiful, I have not used them once in four years. Also, my mugs are smaller than I like, so although I drink tea at home frequently, I don't use the mugs. I use a ceramic travel mug. I seriously think I can eliminate both the tea set and most of the mugs. I found a beautiful black ceramic Mikasa mug on eBay and ordered two of them. I can replace the entire tea set and mismatched mug collection with 2 mugs. So although this cost me more money ($30) versus the old mugs and tea set which were free, the mugs are exactly what I want/need. I think in the long run it is worth it! 

I have become a minimalist

Ok, so not completely, but I'm so excited I feel like I've found religion or something.

I've always been really into organizing and de-cluttering. When I go visit my mom, I choose one space to de-clutter at a time. I've done most of her house at this point.

Yesterday I drank coffee which I literally never do (blame the pumpkin spice).  I went crazy organizing and de-cluttering my apt. Now, my apt. is generally very neat, if not a bit dusty with hairballs.  But since I moved in a year or so ago, I never really organized my closets. I have more space now than I ever have, so I didn't have to make the most of it like in my old place. It bums me out on the regular when I look at my closets and they are just kind of messy. I like neatness and organization.

So yesterday I became inspired and bought two e-books on minimalism and read them both. In between, I spent probably 10 hours sorting through my stuff. For the first time, I really looked at everything and evaluated whether it was worth keeping or not. I have always thought of myself as having a pretty lean wardrobe, but I still added another 2 bags to the 1.5 I have sitting around to go to Salvation Army. I couldn't believe it! Then I threw out the packing materials I had saved from my move. Because while I am overall neat and organized and don't have a ton of "stuff" I am a hoarder with packaging. I don't know why. But I have a lot of bags and boxes stored away. It was hard, but I felt really free getting rid of some of them.

I'm traveling today and left pretty early for the airport, but I couldn't help but go through my nightstand drawer before I left (I literally have not opened it since I moved in last spring). 

I feel like my eyes have been opened. Most of the stuff that I'm storing in my closets I barely ever use!

I also realized that a lot of the extra stuff I don't use was given to me as a gift, or I got as a hand-me-down from friends.  My mother is very sweet and always brings me back a souvenir from every trip, but it's built up over the years. I'm thinking of putting all but 1-2 things in a box and packing them away.

The books I read yesterday, both of which were useful, are:

How to embrace minimalist wardrobe

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Not much to report

Not the most exciting title for an update, but it's the truth! I could have sworn though that I posted in August. Anyway, the market is on fire, which is good and bad. I have a bunch of cash that I want to invest, but I don't want to invest now, for fear I will be investing at the high. I know October is usually a not very promising month for the market, so I'll be on the watch for any downturn, no matter how slight, to invest. I saw my Learnvest adviser (or talked to her) recently and we mostly talked about a strategy for investing the cash.  We'll see.  Overall, I"m about 40% in cash, which would be fine if I were 80, but since I am not, I need to put my money to work so it will grow.

The real estate market in my hood is also on fire. There's a place similar to mine on the market for $150K more than I bought mine for a little more than a year ago. So in theory if I could sell my place for that amount, I'd have to bring about 100K less to the closing to give to the bank to pay off the mortgage. Which is nice, but irrelevant because I have no plans to sell.

I've been pretty good on my expenses lately. I haven't bought a stitch of clothing, any electronics, any furnishings or any sporting goods this month, and there's only 10 days left. Would kind of like to keep it that way. My food budget is somewhat under control. Took lunch all but one day this week.

Yawn, sorry for the boring update! But I guess slow and steady wins the race.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What do you spend money on?

There is an article in the New York Times Today about how spending money on experiences makes you happier than spending money on stuff (including real estate).  I feel like I've known this instinctively all along. In my 20s, when I didn't save outside of my 401K, I spent all of my money on traveling and going out to dinner with my friends. I had no fancy clothes, purses, furniture or shoes.  Just a lot of fun. This used to depress me. In my early 30s I thought, "I spent all this money and I literally have nothing to show for it." But now I look back fondly on that time and I know I always will savor those memories of early adulthood freedom in NYC.

I've continued the trend (well, not spending all my money luckily) but spending on experiences.  I just took a look at my spending for the year so far. The top categories (outside of the mortgage) are Travel and Food and Dining, with Health Care in 3rd.  Health Care expenses for me are seeing a therapist I really love and learn from and my acupuncturist which makes me feel amazing and helps me keep a chronic illness under control. When I do buy stuff, it's mostly sporting goods I need to practice my favorite sports/hobbies with my friends.

So yay to not spending on stuff, but yay to spending on fun experiences with friends and family and really enjoying life.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Spending Reduction Success

I'm so happy I've finally gotten my restaurant/out of home dining budget down! For the last two months I've spent about half of what I normally spend.

March = $642
April = $787
May = $478
June = $380

I did it by making my lunch and making a big pot of something that I can eat all week for dinner. I also cut back on going out to dinner as much. In June, I was traveling so much for work that a lot of my food expense was covered, so I was able to have a nice sushi night out ($100). If I hadn't done that, I would have spent barely anything at all on eating out.

It feels so good to get my spending in this category under control.

I also did my net worth update for the quarter. Even with the recent market dip I'm pretty much on track for where I want to be. I like to increase my net worth by $25K a quarter. Of course that's not always possible, but that's the goal.

One thing I do not do is include any price appreciation from my apt. in my net worth. Although I paid $450,000 for my apartment one year ago, the same unit in a different building just sold for $600,000!!!! Which I think is the sign that we're in a bubble, but the good news is I don't care I'm just going to keep my head down and keep paying off my mortgage.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How much do you save?

I've been reading Mr. Money Moustache a lot lately. I love his blog and feel like it's really the only PF blog where I am actually learning new things. Anyway, as his readers know, he advocates saving like 50% of your pay. Um, wow. And  I thought I was an aggressive saver!

I've never actually added up about how much I save each month, so I wanted to see what % I save. In various ways (pre-pay mortgage principal, cash direct deposited to my trading account, and cash deposited to my checking account) I save about 15-20% of my monthly income. It's not bad, but it's not great. The only thing that makes me a super saver is my bonus.  I usually get a bonus in December (praise be to the Gods) and it's a good chuck of my income. Last year 50% of my gross was paid out in that one check. And I save the whole thing (except when I spent it on my downpayment for the apartment last year). So in reality I save a lot more than 20%, but I want to try to get better at saving on the day-to-day level. I guess it's just more challenging because so much of my compensation is paid out at the end of the year. It's good practice though for if I ever had to take a lower-paying job. I know I can successfully live on half of my salary and still save 20%.

This month I've been traveling a ton for work which means I save a lot on food expenses. My monthly spending for June had been very low, until I booked an international vacation for December. But the saving wasn't for naught, because I was able to pay for it all out of my salary and not have to touch savings.

I'm curious about doing my networth update for Q2. The stock market was humming until about June. Unfortunately I think I'm going to end up down or flat on my investments for the quarter, and I haven't saved a ton of cash, so I think I'll be below average on my quarterly networth increase, but we'll see.

Monday, June 3, 2013


I haven't posted in a bit because things have been moving along. Nothing spectacular, except the performance of the stock market. I held out investing my bonus in January, now I wish I had dumped it all into the market and ridden this high. I'm still waiting to see if there's any kind of dip and will invest then. 

I'm still spending too much money on food, but did cut down on lunch spending by going to the grocery store 1x a week and making lunch at work instead of buying it every day. I think that helped offset some food expenses.

I worked out I've been spending about $500 a month on healthcare expenses, in addition to the $200 I put aside in my flex spending. I don't really feel like there are ways to reduce this expense. I'd rather reduce in other areas if I need to.

To date this year I have barely spent anything on clothes. As a result, I feel a kind of pent up demand. I fully anticipate increasing spending in this area in the rest of the year. I had consciously held off on clothing purchases to try to offset my significant healthcare spending.

I'll do a mid-year budget update in early July, along with a networth update.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

When does getting a check for $4K in the mail suck?

When you get it because your 401K plan has failed the IRS' non-discrimination test and the amount is being refunded from your 401K contribution for 2012 and will increase your taxable income in 2013!!! Boo. Sooooooooooooooooo annoying.

I do everything right to save for retirement and the government penalizes me at every turn -- my IRA contribution (which I max out every year) is not deductible. Now my only tax advantaged account which I am legally allowed to contribute $17,500 to (or whatever the # is) is reduced by several thousand dollars -- more than 20% of my contribution returned!!! I think the government should encourage everyone to save, and if "high income" savers save more they shouldn't be penalized. In reality, the government probably does not do this because they care about encouraging lower income savers, but because they want to get their hands on as much income as possible from high-income earners so they can tax it.  Ugh. Well, I'm just going to have to save more in my taxable account and spend less to make up for the government's constant blocking of my attempts to save in tax-advantaged accounts.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Plugging Along

Not too much new to report, but I realized I didn't post in February which is probably the first month in a long time that I haven't.  I'm in the midst of doing my taxes and despite the evil AMT it looks like thanks to my mortgage interest I will get approximately double my refund of last year. I should be looking at a sweet $6500 refund check(s) between state and federal. 

In terms of spending, I've been spending A LOT on the health & wellness category. I started another alternative medicine therapy to try to get a chronic condition I have under control. It's costing me $90 a week. I already pay $100 a week (or more) for an alternative treatment. Thank goodness for flex spending. I checked and I have a balance of like $1,800 I think that I have to use by June which will be no problem at all. I've also for the last month or so been trying to cut back in other areas to make up for it including eating out, buying clothes and furniture and anywhere else I can think of.

The market is on FIRE, which is awesome, but I also have a lot of cash from my bonus and from selling loser investments at the end of last year just sitting in my brokerage account waiting to invest. I'm not making what I call the "great investment mistake of 2007" again, so holding the cash until the line trends in the other direction. That said, for the last few years I have kicked myself for not following the sell in May & go away adage. I think I'm going to get hosed moving forward on taxes on investment gains though so I don't think I should sell my portfolio. Plus, all those transaction fees bite into gains.

I'll post a networth update in early April.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Does More Money Make Us Fat?

One thing I never expected to miss when I moved from my 4th floor walkup was the stairs. Or the weekly trip to the laundromat. Or hauling heavy things up the stairs. Or all the stairs I had to walk in my old commute.  Or not having a dishwasher. I joke that moving to my condo was akin to the industrial revolution, my own personal industrial revolution. But now that I've left the pre-modern world behind and have all the "mod cons" of a dishwasher, a washer dryer in my house and a short flight of stairs to climb, I find I miss the old "inconveniences" because I get a lot less exercise. I thought when I moved I would use the time I gained to work out more, but that hasn't happened. I don't know where the time went. But I have definitely gained a few pounds since moving and I really miss having to work as hard physically to do my daily tasks. I was reminded of that when reading this special report on obesity in the Economist. A really interesting read:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New Way of Looking at a Goal

So over the last week or so I've gotten really excited about a new strategy that I can use to reach my ultimate financial goal: to payoff the mortgage. When I first got my mortgage I thought I would pre-pay in order to shave years and interest off the mortgage. So I set up auto pre-pay of $500 a month, which essentially doubles my principal payment to about $1,000 a month. However, I also thought I would pre-pay a big lump sum each January post-bonus/end of year. The more I read and talked to my Learnvest adviser, the more I realized that pre-paying the mortgage is not actually the best strategy.  Instead, I should invest the money. I like this idea because it gives me liquidity in case of an emergency. That said, I hadn't found a way to track how much I would need to save over how long a time period to reach this goal. Then this week on I was like "wow, what if I just create a mortgage-payoff goal" which I did. I input my mortgage balance as the amount of $ I want to save for the goal and then I linked all of my non-retirement savings accounts to the goal. I have a balance of about $200K in those accounts. I've got about $329K to payoff on the mortgage. Hence I need to save about $129 to pay this off. 

Then today I started thinking about the power of compounding, because this money is invested. Some in CDs, but some in my brokerage account. Sooooo this Mint goal isn't taking into account investment gains/interest. So with my planned monthly contributions and any investment gains/interest, I should be able to reach my goal a lot more quickly. I have a goal of 10 years right now, but when I play with savings calculators, I can possibly reach this goal in 5 years if I earn returns of 5%. Which is a little aggressive because some of this money is in CDs paying 2%.
Anyway, I just feel much more energized about my savings outside of retirement now, because I am saving for a purpose and each month I'll be able to see, thanks to, exactly how much closer I am to reaching my goal.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Networth Milestone: 500K!

I'm excited because today I updated my net worth entry on NetworthIQ for Q4 2012 and I've crossed the 500K threshold!!! I also checked back over the last 4 years of net worth entries and realized that I tend to jump by about 100K a year. Which is insane. And only possible because of the generous bonuses I have been receiving. So I'd like to be around 600K this time next year. That would be sweet. Ultimately, I think I'll feel a lot more secure once my net worth hits 1 million (of course it won't all be liquid). Hopefully that will be in about 5 years. That's a great long term goal. Then maybe I'll feel like I can chill out a bit more about life and not have to have such a stressful (but for the most part manageable and sometimes even fun) job.