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*
Viewing the 'Finance' Category
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:
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!
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.
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?
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.
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. =)
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!
...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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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. =(