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Discovering a Trend

November 26th, 2008 at 08:32 am

It's been a full 5 months since I've been on this site updating. These past 5 months have been horrid financially. Let's recap:

7/08 - In a moment of frustration with the old car and persuasion from family, I buy a new car. Now I have something called "car payments". Before you judge the new car, just know that the old one required repairs amounting to 3x the value of the car. I also moved to a cheaper apartment, but slightly further from work. The price difference offsets the car payment for the most part. I also get a 6% raise.

8/08 - I've left the world of singles. I found a girl that I love, and that I'm ready to settle down with. Unfortunately, she's on the other side of the country. Plane tickets are expensive.

9/08 - I realize that a lot less money is being saved. Gas prices are through the roof. My finances are starting to get a little crazy.

10/08 - I discover how ridiculously expensive engagement rings and weddings are. I open a new account in my ING account labeled "Engagement ring fund". It begins with $50.

11/08 - I must find a way to keep the finances under control. I discover that it started slipping when I stopped posting. The car and the girl did not help things. The latter half of the year always seems to hurt more than the former.

So here I am. I have more debt than I last left you with, I have about $1000 saved up for an engagement ring, and these trips back and forth across the country aren't too cheap.

Sometimes I wonder how people that make less than I do manage to get married, buy a house, and have a kid. *blink blink*

Imma Making a Comeback - Debt, Rent, and Raises

June 18th, 2008 at 09:30 am

That's right. It's been 4 months since I last got on this site. A lot has happened in 4 months.

For one, the debt is decreasing...but much slower. One of the reasons why I suddenly remembered this site/blog is the ridiculous amount of money that I just dropped on repairing my car this past week. $700 doesn't seem like that much for car repairs, but when the car is only worth $1000, it stings a bit.

So, this would be the first time I would technically had a legitimate reason to be digging into the $1000 "emergency fund". But my rationalization is this: it's already on a credit card - I'll just continue paying the debt and keep the emergency money for...a real emergency? Who am I kidding - I'm saving it for a new car.

Also, to help financially, I'm moving out of my current apartment (that wants $1070/month for the 1/1 lease renewal!) into another apartment with a new roommate that's only $1170/month for a 2/2. That's like $500 less rent per month! Bring it on credit cards. Bring it on.

At least work is still stable. I have my annual review coming up in a month. This would be the time to talk about raises and the like. Considering this will be the first time I'm ever going in for a raise opportunity, I don't even know what the format is. Do I bring up the topic? Do I ask for a certain amount? How much should I be looking for? What do I factor in as cost of living increases? Any experts on this matter of raises can help me out a little?

I think this final push towards the end of the year with the lower rent and potential raise can help nail down a substantial portion of this debt. Go team!

On Spices, Spice Racks, and George

February 13th, 2008 at 09:05 am

It's been a while since I've posted...again.

Things pick up at work and I find myself without the copious bored time that I have usually when there's nothing going on. That's my post-writing time.

Today, I'd like to talk about spices. It's been what has been engulfing my life for the past 72 hours or so.

While trying to clean/organize my kitchen the other day, I found that I have a terrible mess by my stove. There were just these random containers and stuff everywhere. I lost so much precious counter space (there wasn't much to begin with) with all those containers stacked up, ready to topple over.

So, I got online, ready to find a solution to all my problems. And then I found these:

They're great! Each canister has a magnet on the bottom, so I just stick them to the side of my fridge. Now I have an arsenal of spices still somewhat within arm's reach, and taking up absolutely no counter space. All problems are solved.

Speaking of spices, I splurged a little and bought organic spices the other day. Now, I've been told that organic spices have more kick than their complementary non-organic versions. So, for today's lunch, I packed up some chicken grilled with a bunch of spices - I don't even remember which ones - and some haricot verts a l'anglaise on the side. Anyways, they're no kidding - these organic spices are soooo much more flavorful than regular McCormick-in-a-bottle spices. And I got them at a local market, so a lot of them were actually CHEAPER than picking up a bottle of McCormick at the supermarket.

Anyone else use organic spices? I highly recommend them.

No Eating Out For a Week

February 7th, 2008 at 10:31 am

I'm almost there.

Last time I ate out was last Sunday, when I grabbed a couple of cheeseburgers on my way home for lunch. I've been doing a lot better about not eating out so much, and when I do, I try to keep it cheap. I haven't stepped foot in a sit down restaurant in weeks.

So this week, my goal was to not eat out at all. I did cheat and get a coffee earlier in the week, but I've convinced myself that it's not a meal. =)

Anyways, we're into Thursday, and I just finished my lunch of leg of lamb and seasoned rice. IN MY OFFICE. I ain't goin anywhere. Dinner is taken care of tonight, as well as tomorrow night, and I have a pre-packaged lunch box of alfredo pasta sitting in my fridge for lunch tomorrow. Saturday will require some creativity, but I've been looking at recipes and am pretty excited about trying some of them.

I wonder what I can cut down on next week.

Today's Top Story: Food Geek Deal Makes Payday Worthwhile

February 1st, 2008 at 10:40 am

It's payday! Finally!

I can't believe I survived the past 2 weeks on $160. Considering $100 of that went to gas money (bleh), I think I did pretty well. It feels good to have a little breathing room again.

Anyways, you're probably wondering what the food geek deal I got was.

It all begins with one of my favorite periodicals: Cook's Illustrated. For those of you who have not have the pleasure of picking up this little magazine, I like to think of it as the creme de la creme when it comes to food magazines. There are no sponsors, no advertisements, no fluff - just to-the-point useful cooking information. If you've seen the show America's Test Kitchen, that's one of their productions.

Anyways, I've been on the hunt for one of their top rated items - a Tramontina 6.5qt enameled cast iron dutch oven. They say you can pick it up for about $40 - but I can barely find it, much less for $40. Sometimes I'll see it online for like...$60. Anyways, it's not their very top rated, which is a $240 Le Creuset - which I can do without. So I've been hunting for this thing, thinking about all the delicious French onion soup and beef stew and no-knead baked bread I can make in it.

Turns out, it's Wal-Mart of all places that has this for $40. Using their new snazzy find-stores-with-this-in-stock feature online, turns out 3 of the 18 or so Wal-Marts in a 50 mile radius have this thing. So, I made a resolution of heart to get up early this Saturday morning (as it was after payday) and suck it up to drive the 18 miles to this fabled Wal-Mart, largely to reward myself for all the no-spending I've done in the past 2 weeks. All this work for a dumb pot.

Anyways, while I was running some errands during lunch today, I drove by a Wal-Mart - one of the ones the site said was "OUT OF STOCK". Figuring I had nothing to lose, I pulled in and beelined to the pots. And there it was. Glorious and ugly green, my darling pot sat so lonely on the shelf, the last one remaining amongst its diminutive 3qt siblings. Ecstatic, I grabbed it and nearly dropped it on my toe. No, not because it was heavy, though it is pretty heavy. It's because I caught a glance at the glaring red price tag under it that said - "Clearance $30.00".

I made out like a bandit. Take that, uppity Le Creuset. I don't need your stinkin pots.

If you're looking for a dutch oven, ransack your Wal-Marts and leave none of your faith in their online stock checker thing. The Tramontina one that I got is a great deal, even at $40. If you can't find that one, there's also a Lodge one that's $50 - it's also regarded highly by Cook's Illustrated. The handles are bigger (which is super useful with such heavy pot), the knob on the lid is better, but it's only 6qt instead of 6.5qt. But at least you get a choice of color, other than the 80's retro green.

Uh-oh. CVS is my new hobby.

January 25th, 2008 at 10:03 am

After hearing/reading about so much CVS savings action, I couldn't help but get ready to jump in. But how? I was lost in a swirl of ECB's and "stacking". I figured, the best way to figure it out was to actually dive in and see what the fuss is all about.

Fortunately, I scored big on a deal: SoyJoy "health" bars, which look ridiculously unappetizing to this self-proclaimed foodie snob. But, they were advertised in last Sunday's paper AND there were coupons. $4 for 4 bars + $4 ECB (that's Extra Care Bucks, for you fellow CVS newbies) effectively taking the cost to be "free". Extra Care Bucks are just like little slips of register tape money that can be applied to your next purchase at CVS within 30 days.

Then came the coupons. $2 off $10. $3 off 10 bars. 1 free SoyJoy bar.

12 SoyJoy bars later, I walked out the door shelling out $6.09 out of pocket with $12 of ECB's in my pocket.

What a rush! I just took CVS for a ride, and no one was the wiser. The lady at the counter seemed suspicious at a 20-something young professional strolling in and buying a barrage of soy health bars with a fistful of coupons - but took no action to stop me. I meandered across the parking lot to my car, envisioning scenarios where CVS management would bolt out of the door and call me back on a drastic mistake on their part, igniting a freefall plummet of their stock to destroy the American economy. Alas, no such event occurred. I sat in my car, satisfied and content, knowing that CVS just paid me $6 to help take these revolting SoyJoy bars off their shelves.

I still have 11 and 3/4 of them left. Can I interest anyone in a brick of dried sticky crunchy joyful soy?

A Brief History of My Credit Cards

January 23rd, 2008 at 08:54 am

I just transferred/consolidated $7000 worth of credit card debt to my Citi AmEx. It costed me $200 (ouch!) but I'm effectively dropping my APR by about 16%. I figure I'll make that $200 back in mere months. This is one of the first "pre-game" steps in getting this mountain paid off.

I don't really like to think about how I amassed this debt. It wasn't strictly all bad decisions and impulse buying, a lot had to do with the situation. When I was in my last couple of years in college, my mother severed me financially out of the blue one day. Okay, so we got in a fight. But with not much savings, unqualified for a educational loan, and an out-of-state tuition to pay plus books and such, I didn't have much of a choice but to turn to my trusty plastic card(s).

Then, after I graduated, I sold my car, paid off a lot of the debt with that, and headed out to California for two years. Things financially weren't exactly happening for me, as I didn't have much income and not nearly enough to really live on too much. Again, plastic saved the day (as well as grandma and grandpa, but that was only to help stop the bleeding temporarily) - and I crossed the fabled $10k credit card debt mark during this period.

Finally, I landed a job back here in Atlanta and I decided that it was time to take hold of my finances - $18k of credit card debt was insane for someone in their mid-20's. But I came back empty handed - no furniture or anything of that sort - just my car (that was and still is in dire need of replacing), my clothes, and some books, all of which fit in the backseat and trunk of my Nissan.

If anyone remembers having to start their first apartment from scratch, you'll know how damaging it is financially. I slept on the floor for months, and had an empty living room for just as long - until a dear friend donated a couch. I still had to keep a semblance of "doing okayness" as a show for my dad and grandparents, because as my only family left that haven't disowned me, the last thing I want them to do was to take care a 20-some year old me financially.

So I'm making progress. Step by step. For being raised in an environment where a love of money consumed the woman who bore me and in turn destroyed her family, I think I've gained a lot of financial sense in these past 6 months. Much of it has to do with so many blogs that many of you write and articles on different sites. I even started contributing into my 401(k), with the meager money I have left after dishing out to all those credit card bills. The goal is to get this all paid off by the end of the year, when I will reward myself with a new-to-me car.

This means, all you readers/writers, keep doing what you're doing, and just know that you've made a difference in at least one person's life.

Never made it to the store...

January 21st, 2008 at 11:04 am

After all that talk last week of not having any food left, I meant to go grocery shopping this weekend. I really did.

Let me explain...

On Saturday morning, after hitting snooze more times than I remember, the first thing I did was inventory what I had left in stock. I try to do this before knowingly big shopping excursions lest I wind up with 4 jars of spaghetti sauce. While this was going on, I opened my blinds to watch the snow fall (that's right - SNOW. IN THE SOUTH.), flipped on Food Network, and fired up my stock pot for some chicken stock.

By the time I was done, I decided it was much much too cold to go outside to go grocery shopping, and decided that Sunday was going to be the day - especially since I've got Sunday newspaper coupons coming my way.

Then Sunday came along. I did my grocery shopping pre-game, which entails searching through my coupons and grocery store ads and matching them up with each other for maximum value. I'll go to 2 markets - each market gets its own index card shopping list with its own set of coupons clipped to it. The rule is - nothing more than what's on the list unless it's a life or death emergency. Okay, maybe that's over-exaggerating. But you get the point.

But the problem this time was two-fold. First, it was still cold. And second, football was on. Lots of football. We're talking 7.5 hours of it. And they're really good games. AND a bunch of people came over. Grocery shopping was officially shot.

Here's to Tuesday. Because I'm busy today. =D

All Good Things Must Come to an End

January 18th, 2008 at 10:08 am

Today, for lunch, I went to McDonald's.

I know it's bad for me, but after the scarring from last looking at my bank account balance, $2.14 for 2 double cheeseburgers for lunch seemed like fast food's gift for poor kids. Health benefits of lunch will not be discussed here - as it has been referenced in a previous (and rather popular) post. My only redeeming thought is that I went to the gym 3x this week already.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand. My dining at McDonald's has ended a streak. 8 consecutive meals were by my culinary hand, prepared lovingly in my little apartment kitchen as creative thoughts of epicurious muses rang in my being. By last night, the food supply was running quite dry, and I had to resort to bread and peanut butter. So this morning, I was rummaging away in my kitchen, realizing that 8 lunches and dinners later, I've exhausted all my food. So I came to work empty handed. It was quite a weird feeling.

So this weekend will be extremely frugal grocery shopping weekend. Yes, I will get supermarket flyers. Yes, I will use coupons. Yes, I will make a list. Just because I had McDonald's for lunch doesn't mean I've lost ALL sense. =)

Being Good

January 15th, 2008 at 09:04 am

Just a day after posting how broke I was, I was oh-so-tempted to charge a big purchase on a credit card. I even made a point to take my credit card out with me today. Instead, I walked out empty handed. Go team George!

If I had figured out this whole $20 challenge thing, I guess theoretically I could drop $500 into it? Maybe not, since it was all going on the card anyways. I'll compromise and drop in $1. =)

Here's to a no-spend day - as opposed to the pre-planned heavy spend day. Yay for bringing lunch to work!

What a Bad Month...

January 14th, 2008 at 10:41 am

...and it's not even half over.

Took a quick peek at the bank account this morning, and I'm a digit less than I thought I was. But HOW?!

Digging through my transaction history, I realized that I have an abnormally large amount of atypical purchases this month. Don't ask me if they were non-necessary purchases - I refuse to delve into THAT kind of thinking. =)

On top of that, Dallas lost last night. I don't know what that has to do with anything financially, but it didn't help things, that's for sure.

On the up-side, I did stash away an extra couple hundred for the EF this month.

Anyways, looks like I'm going into super frugal mode for at least the next two weeks. Bring on the rice and beans.

Leftovers Left Over No More

January 8th, 2008 at 07:29 am

I love finding creative ways of using leftovers. Being single, leftovers always abound my fridge. Then I just wind up with all these little bowls of bits of this and that, and I never really know what to do with them.

Enter George's leftover omelette/frittata. Depending on what's left over, it gets all thrown into a pan and covered in egg, either to be folded in half or tossed under a broiler and sliced.

Last night's dinner was such. Sauteed some diced onion and tomato, added in some chicken shreds, and sprinkled with some magic spices. 3 beaten eggs joined the party, and as it was solidifying, a layer of cheddar/monterey jack/parmesan bechamel (leftover from homemade mac and cheese) went on top, to be nestled inside when the omelette was slid out of the pan and folded over. The kicker was the ladle of homemade chili on top, sprinkled with a bit of shredded cheese, and I nicely emptied a good deal of fridge leftovers all in one meal.

Most importantly, it was delicious. And somewhat healthy. I should write this into a recipe.

What do YOU do with your leftovers?


January 7th, 2008 at 02:10 pm

I'm a pro at procrastination.

I procrastinate pretty much everything. Stuff at work, paying bills, doing laundry, cleaning my apartment, eating... You name it, I've procrastinated it. I like to think that my single-ness is also a result of this. Yeah, that's it. I'm single because I'm procrastinating. =)

I think I do it because I like the stress. I like the pressure. I like knowing that it's do or die. I've got 24 hours to do something and it's time to put the game face on. Flip on the afterburners and the coffee machine. I'm in for a long night.

Then comes the sense of accomplishment - or the rare case of failure. Being able to do a week's worth of work in one day? What a rush! On the converse, utter failure means utter defeat. Nothing left to do but to man up and face the consequences. I'm getting what I deserve for having procrastinated this long and running out of time to do what I need to do. Scold me. Fine me. Tease me. Fail me.

Am I really that abnormal though? I'd like to think that procrastination is an innate human trait that's just dying to get out of everyone. I, subconsciously, embrace it with open arms. Even when I consciously choose not to put everything off to the last minute, it inevitably happens. I just can't get anything done unless the clock is ticking. Loudly.

So, readers, enlighten me on your thoughts on procrastination. Do you secretly do it and refuse to admit it? It's time to fess up.

3 Places to Avoid on No-Spend Days

January 5th, 2008 at 05:36 pm

1. the mall
2. supermarket when you're hungry
3. Costco

Guess where I went today. I'll give you three guesses.

That's right, all three.

Okay, so today wasn't really a premeditated no-spend day. I guess I had intended it to be more of a no-spend weekend. But alas, to curb the boredom, as well as to appease any thoughts that I actually needed to buy things, I went out.

But I'm proud of myself. I did good. Here's today's damage report:

2 jars of peanut butter from Costco - $7
some utensils from Ikea - $7
2 hot dogs from Ikea - $1
DVD from Redbox - $1

Maybe it was worse than I thought now that I listed all this stuff out. But on the upside, I returned something at the mall for $27. So I came out on top! I like my rationalization. =)

NEXT weekend will really be a no-spend weekend. This time it's premeditated.

Working from Home

January 4th, 2008 at 12:49 pm

A slightly boring/less entertaining post for today:

I'm working from home today!

It sounds a lot better than it really is. I was feeling kinda sick when I woke up this morning. After collapsing on the ground initially, I pulled myself back into bed for round 2 of sleep.

By the time I've rested enough to gain enough strength, I wrapped myself in my blanket to head to my desk where I e-mailed out some of my favorite words: "I'm working from home today."

So, in turn, this becomes what is known as a "no-spend day". I made another dent into clearing leftovers from my fridge for lunch.

And! I sold my TV on craigslist. That's some extra money coming in. What a great day.

Apart from being in constant communication via IM and e-mail all day, and pretending to really be doing work, I'm beginning to think that working from home isn't the best for me. I get bored too easily. And that's a bad thing.

The Importance of Measuring

January 3rd, 2008 at 11:19 am

Last night, I did a terrible job of defying my post-paycheck whims and went to Target.

I needed some more shelves for my apartment. Really. It was a NECESSITY, I tell you.

So I walked out with one of those metal shelving units (on sale!) and headed back to put it in the designated spot in the kitchen, where I can stack all my small appliances galore instead of having them ready to pounce-attack me every time I want to get something from the pantry. Though, in hindsight, I guess they were doing me a favor - I shouldn't be digging through my pantry for something to eat all the time anyways.

Assembly was a snap. Literally. You snap these little plastic things on and throw the shelves on, and you're done. I did it in the time of one commercial break.

Standing back, I gazed at my handiwork. Matte, black, and forged from the cheapest metal that our dear Chinese factory workers can get their hands on to assemble such a fine easy-to-assemble product.

I proudly lift it up and carry it into my kitchen, and positioned it in its reserved location. The end of it jutted out half an inch. Hm. Well, I can live with that.

Nothing left to do now but to grab a bottle of water from the fridge and sit back and enjoy all my hard 3.5 mins of work.


The fridge door slams into something upon opening.

Looking down, I realize that the stupid metal shelving unit is about an inch too deep to clear my swinging fridge door. It only opens about 75% of the way, then...WHAM.

Let's hope that I never need to open my fridge door more than 75% of the way. Maybe it'll keep me eating only 75% of the food in there.

Carefully crafted illustration of my awesomeness:

Baby, it's cold outside...in the south.

January 3rd, 2008 at 06:21 am

This morning, I woke up shivering under my down blanket.

I thought to myself, "Maybe southern California wasn't so bad after all."

Why in the world is it so cold in Atlanta? After I mummified myself in my blanket, I spring-hopped over to my computer to see what the temperature was.

15 degrees.

For you northerners, I'm sure you're laughing so hard that you're about to pee your pants. But in our defense, as someone who has never lived in a state that didn't border Mexico (is it fair to count Florida as Mexico?), 15 degrees is absurd. It didn't even get this cold when I was in Beijing in the dead of winter last year. I'm surprised the entire Bible belt didn't shut down from sheer panic. I can already see ministers standing on soap boxes on street corners reading passages out of Revelation and urging repentance.

Anyhow, being as absurdly cheap as I am sometimes, I refused to turn on the heat in my apartment, rationalizing to myself that two big blankets was sufficient to keep toucans comfortable in the Arctic. I watched the thermometer in my apartment drop to about 60 last night and went hibernating.

The thermometer read 54 this morning. I should really be less cheap, for the sake of my own health.

And I'm starving. I thought about ducking out of work this morning to go find something to eat, but it's still sub-20 temps right now. Sigh.

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

January 2nd, 2008 at 12:49 pm

By request from mom-sense:

After making this the first time, I realized that it was so easy that I never bought canned chili ever again. Who knows what kind of crazy is in those cans.

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

Servings: 2-3?
Prep time: 30 mins + cooking time

1.5 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, italian sausage, or a combination)
1 cup chopped onions (frozen is easy)
2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (I like petite diced or even crushed, personally)
1 ~12 oz can of chili beans or pinto beans
3 heaping tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper

Optional seasonings:
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp herbs d'provence
crushed garlic
cayenne pepper (for heat)
secret ingredients

shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped onions (both sweet and green)

1. Empty all canned goods into the crock pot, along with spices, and flip it on.
2. Cook the onions (and optional garlic) in olive oil in a saucepan until just brown. Add in the meat, and cook until just about cooked through. I like to cook the meat/onions with some chili powder and salt and pepper, but it's not that necessary seeing that the meat will absorb flavoring from the sauce.
3. Drain the meat and stir into the crock pot mixture.

Cooking time: high for 2-3 hours or low for 5-6 hours.

I like to have the sauce cooking for a few hours before I cook the onions/meat and stir it in, then cook for another hour or two after. I've found that if you're using somewhat cheap meat and you let it cook in there for 5-6 hours, the meat becomes somewhat gristly and powdery. But either way works.

Also, chili is not an exact science! Feel free to play around with measurements and such. When writing this recipe down, I had to make approximations, because usually I just pour in spices until it looks "right". I just like to maintain this ratio (personal preference):


4 cans of tomato sauce to every 3 lbs of meat to 2 cans of beans and 2 cans of tomatoes.

I refer to the 3:2 meat to bean ratio as the "MBR" to my friends. So they'll request chili with a high MBR (meatier) or lower MBR (more beans).

Then, of course, every good chili cook has a secret ingredient. I can tell you what mine is, but then I'd have to kill you. =)

And homemade chili always tastes better the next day. It thickens up some, and all the flavors meld together. I always make a lot and freeze it.

Estimated Costs:
Because it's a finance blog. =)

1.5 lbs of ground meat - $2
onions - $1
2 cans tomato sauce - $1.50
1 can tomatoes - $0.75
1 can beans - $0.75
chili powder - $1?

Total: ~$7.00
Per serving: ~$2.50

Thoughts on Microsoft Money

January 1st, 2008 at 08:19 pm

Does anyone else use Microsoft Money?

I decided as part of my soon-to-be-short-lived new year's resolution/plan to set up a budget - for all of 2008. Yes, it sounds ambitious, and now that I'm in the thick of it, I too agree on the ambitiousnessosity (yes, it's a word) of it all.

I thought that the assistance of this Redmond-produced product would streamline my big plans and magically give me the numbers to write on my checks every month. I thought it would handle all of the little nuances of my meager financial life and pat me on the head and tell me everything will be okay. Even a small part of me hoped that it would be able to fix me lunch for the week so I wouldn't pretend to forget and wind up eating something cheap and junky out somewhere.

But alas, my expectations for this little (not really) piece of software were a bit high for what it does. It just neatly put everything I needed to know in one place, so I guess that's okay. But Mint even does THAT for me. Maybe I'll get used to using it the more I use it. But for now, maybe I'm just too simple-minded to make use all that Microsoft Money has to offer.

401(k) and you (or in this case, me)

December 31st, 2007 at 10:19 am

It's been a while. I've been in California for the past week and I'm deathly afraid to look at my account on Mint.

Upon arriving home last night, I flipped through my mail and got a letter from Fidelity. It informed me that I was now qualified to participate in my company's 401(k) program. I was beginning to wonder what kind of retirement plans my company had, seeing now that I'm finally vaguely clear on what a 401(k) actually is. It appears that it took more than my boyish good looks and undeniable charm to meet the requirements - 6 months tenure in the company was what was initially holding me back. So, as if the heresy of financial gods were an actuality, they sent my answer via the United States postal service.

Now the tough part. This may be one of the most common questions among financial forums - what do I invest in? I'm 25, single (sniff), and still have about $15k of debt that I have to work through. I've been told because of my age, I should just put it all in stocks. Having that in mind, I hopped over to Fidelity, geared up to set up my 401(k), until I found out that there's like 25 different stocks (just stocks, not even counting funds) that I can put percentages for.

So, financial whizzes and greenhorns alike, masters of financial planning and retirement funds, and all those who have more experience in this than I (which, if you're reading this, that probably means you), any recommendations or experiences? I'm especially interested if you have a Fidelity 401(k). The highest return (by year and by average) is one called Fidelity Leveraged Company Stock Fund.

I guess I have a lot more studying to do.

Feeding 15 - Went a Little Overboard?

December 17th, 2007 at 08:19 am

This past Saturday, I had 15 people over for dinner. You can only imagine what it looked like in my little one bedroom apartment. I have to admit - this WAS my idea. But it wasn't my idea for so many people to show up.

The past week, leading up to this eventful Saturday, I decided that it would be nice to have a bunch of people over for dinner. So, I asked some of my friends to come over, had them confirm with me, and I started to sit down and plan how much food to buy and prepare.

By early Saturday morning, when I cranked up to go to Sam's Club, I had all my confirmations in, plus a couple extra that my invitees asked if they could bring with them.

Here's the damage report:
6 racks of pork ribs: $52
1 gallon BBQ sauce: $7
1 big can of corn: $3
shredded cheddar and parmesan: $5
1 lb of pasta shells: $1
2 lbs coleslaw (just in case): $6
sodas: $3
plates and cups and misc.: $7
stuff already on-hand: $6

Total: ~$90

Now, a couple of these things are multiple use - like, I didn't use an entire gallon of BBQ sauce, just about 1/4 of it. And, still a good amount of disposableware to last another get-together. Also, there was still a pound of coleslaw leftover and a little bit of corn. All in all, ribs for 15 people for about $90 breaks down to about $6/person. Not too bad, I guess. I'm still trying to justify spending a month's worth of food money.

But what really bugs me is this:
Dinner was scheduled for 5:00PM. From 3:30PM to 5:30PM, my phone was going off left and right of people who I didn't invite who had heard about this soiree and asked if they could come, then mope about why they couldn't come when I said no. If you're going to call me an hour before feeding 15 people and want me to magically make food appear out of nowhere, you've got some nerve. People, contrary to popular belief, I'm not a soup kitchen. I'm not a cafeteria. I'm not here to feed YOU. I wish I could invite everyone who has ever walked the face of this planet. But the fact is, I bought food for 15, I cooked for 15, and I only have room in my apartment for 10. You do the math.

Okay, enough venting. Hope everyone else had a good weekend. =)

I Can't Afford to Be Skinny

December 13th, 2007 at 10:41 am

Why is it that food that isn't bad for you always much more expensive than food that is? It makes losing weight somewhat more expensive than being fat and dying from some heart disease.

Maybe it's just basic economics. I'm sure the demand for a McDonald's double cheeseburger is much higher than a head of broccoli, therefore driving up competition and is why I can't get broccoli for $1. I'm not even going to add in costs for cooking and such. Asparagus is even worse - and I like asparagus. It's almost become a treat for me to eat vegetables.

Working off this realization, I began to wonder...when vegetables become a "treat" and I have no qualms paying $1 for a cheeseburger or 2 pieces of fried chicken, it almost seems that the two most sought after goals on these blogs - saving money and losing weight - have become enemies to one another.

Ramen noodles, widely regarded as perhaps the cheapest "meal" (at $0.10) out there, may also be one of the most unhealthiest. However, if you wanted a pomegranate, full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff that I know nothing about, it'll run you $3. It's somewhat of a stretch, but in this example, it seems like eating healthy costs 30x more than not. Not a great example, but I guess it's just something to get the point across.

To me, it seems not impossible but rather difficult to maintain a balance of healthy diet and frugality. So this goes out to all the readers: what do you do to keep costs low and food healthy?

Acronyms and Such

December 12th, 2007 at 07:41 am

Delving into the world of personal finance is a complicated thing.

Like starting anything in my life, I have the tendency to dive in head first and sort out the details later. By definition, I guess that makes me an impetuous person. I like to think of it as reaping benefit as soon as possible.

But personal finance is like another beast. Jumping in full force landed me surrounded in confusion. One thing I've noticed over my few months of reading is the seemingly never-ending list of acronyms. IRA! 401K! IPO! CD! Then add in the relative subject of healthcare and you toss in things like PPO and HMO to the list. It's enough to confuse even the most deductive of people.

All in all, if you're a completely green coming into this personal finance game, it can seem somewhat daunting. Finance forums are littered with topics such as "How should I diversify my 401k? How safe are small cap international stocks?" It's like drowning in the ocean while you're trying to figure out what water is.

Anyways, I think my point is, personal finance is important. And it takes time. I've been reading for months and I'm just now starting to get the foggiest idea of what people are talking about. If you were to ask me something basic like the difference between a Roth IRA and a 401k - or even something like a high yield savings account vs. a CD, I probably would have to make something up to make myself sound smart and hope you don't catch me in my moment of deception.

Thinking about this makes me wonder - how many people in this country actually DO understand personal finances? Or do they just hand over their accounts to financial advisors and let them have at it?


December 11th, 2007 at 10:29 am

I'm poor.

I admit it.

I had a bad spending habit in college, spending in a carpe diem style when good deals came up. This continued through a couple years after graduation, until I realized that I had racked up a mass of consumer debt ($18000) - on top of my preexisting student loans and other loans from family members.

So, I took action. Job offer in hand, I began a renewed carpe diem mentality.

I'm going to be less poor.

I figured I should set this up since I spend so much time reading everyone else's. I felt so left out. =(