All posts by Joy

PF Roll

Stocks are sucking right now. The New York Times reports that a “jittery” stock market keeps on dropping as the mortgage market finds out just how screwed it is. I don’t know a thing about the mortgage market, but I do know that I’m still missing $300 from my mutual fund investments. Apparently swinging stocks, seen most blatantly on the Dow Jones industrial average, which was both up 1% and down 1% in the same day, is pretty rare. The last time that has happened was in 2003!

Mint.com’s “Train Wreck Tuesday” features a blog by an anonymous Air Force officer who decided to fight for our nation in order to pay off his debt. Now he’s deployed in Iraq, and he’s blogging about his “Journey to Financial Freedom” while on duty. His latest post? “Aug 1: Finding a Good Bank,” which gives a rave review of USAA Federal Savings Bank. Won’t do me any good, since the bank is for military members and their families only.

Congrats to “An English Major’s Money” for getting through the GRE. Hopefully it was worth the $140 test-taking fee. Her latest full-length post–”Freelance Income Follow-Up,” discusses the outcome of an earlier post of figuring out how to withhold taxes on her freelance earnings.

StopBuyingCrap’s blogger “Cap” “lists 4 ways he lives frugally.What’s #1? “I look ugly,” he says. “Fugly.”

Over at Adventure’s in Money Making, a blogger discusses how a 30-something couple managed to be debt free, and wonders if being “debt-free,” without property or retirement savings, is worth it.

BostonGal’sOpenWallet picks up a CNN.com story about the growing trend in front-lawn gardening (pardon the pun). Apparently there are a bunch of people who are growing food in their front yards. Some are even saving up to $300 a year on groceries. But it’d be a shame to no longer have an excuse to visit the supermarket produce aisle, wouldn’t it?

15 Ideas for a Better Personal Finance Site: My Big Hopes for Geezeo, Wesabe, Mint

I’m still going back and forth between Wesabe and Geezeo. I’m curious to see what Mint has up its sleeves. For the time being, the sites don’t offer exactly what I want. Since I don’t have the time or skills to code my own perfect PF site, I figured I’d write out what the site would be like…

1. Sign In – would auto save my name, securely, on my computer.

2. Accounts – site would automatically update all of my accounts, including checking, savings, CD’s, and mutual fund accounts.

3. Graphs: Home Page would display relevant graphs/charts regarding my monthly spending versus income. Detailed graphs would be available to customize. For instance, I could place a graph on my homepage that would chart my monthly gas spending.

4. Tagging: each item would auto tag accurately as close as possible.

5. Tagging, part two: Retagging (or adding more tags) to items on a statement should be easy, and not require any additional drop down windows. Each item should include an entry text box where tags can be added. Each tag would autosave after a space is inserted. Double word tags would not require quotation marks. Tags would be separated by commas.

6. There would be a way to alter the date posted for income/spending since often I deposit my checks late or pay bills late. I still want to track these payments/income based on the month they should be posted for.

7. Graphics: Have little images for each basic tag.

8. Have separate tag/box to mark as “to be reimbursed” and a reminder to check that reimbursement has gone through

9. Optional income breakdown chart, for those of us who earn money from a variety of sources

10. Comparison on mutual fund income/losses versus other user’s investments.

11. Easy mobile access to my accounts.

12. Ability for all the accounts to “understand” each other. So if I transfer a certain amount of money from checking to an investment, it is not posted as spending for the month (it can be counted in separate investment category)

13. Budget tools: Ability to create charts w/ predetermined expenses, to know how much extra cash to spend/save per month is available.

14. Ability to pay bills directly through site, including cell phone bill and cable bill (I know this is a long shot, but It’d be nice)

15. Widgets and graphic saves that include graphs of above information that can be easily pasted in my blog.

Payday!

My first paycheck for my new job was direct-deposited into my checking account. After taxes, it looks like I make $1,588.19 twice a month. So that’s like $3200 per month, which is hopefully how much I should be making after taxes (last year I ended up owing like $500 in taxes because I guess I didn’t have enough $ taken out.)

That’s very exciting. Up until June I was making $2200 a month. So I’m basically making $1000 more a month. That seems wrong, though. I feel like taxes should take out more, since I was making $35k before and now I’m making $50k. Hmm.

So in July, with my $300 in freelance work, I took in about $1888. Plus I guess I can count the $450 in rent money I earned last month letting my friend crash at my apartment while she looked for a place of her own. So I ended up making just about as much as I would have at my old job this month…

That’s not too bad, being as I took two weeks off for the month. It’s still not great, as $1050 of that went to rent, and I certainly spent more than $800 this month on random odds and ends, car keys being lost, gas, and cocktails. The good news is that next month I might break even. I might even put some money into my savings account. I might even, by then, figure out how I should actually be investing my money, as opposed to watching my mutual fund account depleting.

Ashes, Ashes, Her Finances Go Down

The stock market is still performing poorly. I went ahead and bought $100 more dollars worth of my mutual fund, because I’m upset that I’ve lost $400 and I figure if I buy more now, when the the fund is cheap, maybe I’ll make my money back. At least my CDs that are making interest have made about $400 total over the last two and a half years, so, I’m at break even, for now.

I’m not too concerned about my Roth IRA. It kind of sucks to watch my Roth depleting. That’s going to have quite some time to recover. Afterall, I’m only 23. The mutual fund is really worrying me, and it probably should be. As I’ve written before, I’m not going to pull my funds out right now. I’m keeping them in for a while. A few years probably. I have other money not tied up in investments so I’m doing fine financially. It’s just it’s really upsetting to think that there’s a possibility the $9100 dollars I now have tied up in mutual funds — $4000 in my Roth and $4600 in my index fund buy – will be down to… much less than that the day I decide I want to buy a house or take a year off of life and become a reclusive writer traveling the world.

In happier financial news, my freelance career is sort of, kind of taking off. Thanks to my uncle, who hooked me up with some folks who needed writing help, I managed to make about $300 extra this month. That’s really nice, considering I’ve spent about that much to get to and from my show and work in gas and that lovely $170 car key incident.

I’m also excited about getting my first paycheck for my new job tomorrow. I’m not sure how much my check will be after taxes are taken out, but I know I’ll be making more than I was the last time I was taking home money. And my new company even has direct deposit, so I don’t have to deal with going to the bank twice a month. I hate going to the bank.

Really what I need to focus on is doing good work at my job. I’m trying, I really am, but my new position is pretty hard. And I love the challenge, but I’m terrified of failure. I’m even more terrified of failure because I’m not really sure what it’s defined as in a job like this. There’s no way to quantify what a good job means. Obviously if everything I do is great and gets a lot of positive feedback from the blogosphere, I deserve a pat on the back. But otherwise? I don’t need constant praise or criticism but once in a while it’s nice to know where I stand – especially when I’m so new at something. I do hope I’ll get better. I like that my company does offer a bonus incentive to work towards. That’s certainly not the reason to do a good job, as really, the reason to do a good job is the reward of knowing that I’m contributing something to a larger conversation… but, the extra cash incentive doesn’t hurt.

The Markets Are Doing Crappy, eh?

I watched my money in my Vanguard account gain about $300 and then lose $400 in the past month. Today was the worst. It was apparently the worst day on the stock market since Sept 11. Oy. Maybe I picked the wrong time to start investing.

“Worries that have been out there for the past couple of years are coming to a head right now,” said investment strategist Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research Inc., told the Associated Press. “It’s show time.”

Show time?!? Um. Should I be worried?

While I’m starting to be ok with the fluctuations in the markets, it’s STILL tough to lose money. I’d prefer to make money first, and then if I end up losing what I made through my investments, that’s fine. I just don’t like being under what I put in. And right now I put in $5000 into my mutual fund and $4000 into my Roth IRA. And now I’m at $8839.20. I realize that tomorrow that might be at $9010, or it might be at $7000. I’m a little nervous. This is kind of a test, I guess. But I really ought to balance out my investments a bit better. The rest of my cash is stored safely in low-interest CDs. Watching my investment turn from $9000 to $9300 was really exciting. But that excitement was short lived. I’m trying really hard to stick it out a year. I’m hoping that my money will have, um, made money by June 2008.

Sitting on the floor of a parking garage; goodbye $165

I have a brilliant talent for making my life miserable. I decided to drive into the city today and park in my free spot by the office, which was a good 30 minute walk from the conference I was attending downtown. That all went fine, and despite being upset about my loafers not being the most comfortable walking shoes, I felt proud of saving the few extra bucks it would have cost to take the train or park closer.

Then what do I do? I manage to lose my car key. Yes, somehow during the course of the day my key fell off of the key chain and well, long story short, I do not have a car key.

There goes $165 (or more) plus three hours of my life that i’ll never get back.

I can deal with the wasted hours. But the $165? So much for my payraise.

Spending Habits of the Weak

In my attempt to determine where my money disappears to, I’ve sought out the aid of online personal finance tracking sites. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I enjoyed the ease of getting my finance info up to the Geezeo site. I’ve actually had a bit of trouble with signing in to the site lately (I’m pretty sure I’m using the right password, but then even when I try to reset the password it doesn’t work.) In any case, given that I have little patience and quickly got fed up with typing in my June spending into Excel, I signed in to my Wesabe account and updated my info so I could track my spending…

Geez. I spent a lot last month. I knew I was spending more than I made, but it’s kind of painful to see how grossly I burst past my invisible budget. I spent $3559 in June. But I only made $2273 for the month. Actually, come to think of it that’s all inaccurate because I deposited my final paycheck (which I received June 30) sometime in July. So right now my July earnings are noted as $2466, but really that money was earned in June, and half of the money counted in my June income was really my May paycheck. Plus, some of that money was the $450 my friend paid me to live in my apartment for the month. Oy, my income is much harder to track than my expenses.

I do need to start keeping tabs on my income. While I’ll be making more money at my full-time gig (when I start in a week), what I really need to do is track the money I make working the small freelance gigs I pick up on the side. Whether that’s doing some copy writing for my uncle’s digital marketing company, or designing a basic website for a friend who offers to pay something for the work… I really need to figure out how much per month I’m making on outside projects. Why? Well, it’s difficult to figure out a budget when these extra projects become a consistent portion of one’s income. When I was making about $2000 a month after taxes this year, the extra $100 a month I made on copy writing for my uncle was really a huge bonus. But then one of the companies that I did work for (through him) decided they no longer wanted him to put together a monthly newsletter, so I was then out $50 a month. Considering how much I spend, that $50 isn’t worth that much, but it’s also worth a lot. That $50 covered one voice lesson and a cheese plate at Starbucks.

My general theory on spending (albeit an irresponsible one) was that if I spent slightly more than what I was making at $35k a year, when I received a raise or managed to land a job with a higher paycheck, I’d be able to live comfortably at a slightly higher salary. After all, I don’t overspend EVERY month. Just most months. But only by about $600 to $1000. I don’t think I’m the type who will start spending more just because I’m making more. Sure my rent went up $145 a month (ouch), and I might splurge on nice clothes and paying for a nice dinner with the bf more often, but overall I think my spending habits will remain constant.

One thing I’d like to spend money on… if I had more money… would be travel. I’d love to take a real adult vacation, like to Hawaii or someplace like that. Thus far my only travel during my full-time work years has been back home to New Jersey. And up until now, my parents have chipped in for my plane ticket back east. But that doesn’t really count as a vacation, despite the high cost of that ticket. Going home is something that I just have to do every once in a while, but it’s not a relaxing getaway.

Since my bf doesn’t work, I’d really love to be able to afford to take us both to Hawaii, or maybe Seattle, or even to some random small ocean-side town in Southern California. I’d love to be able to splurge on a massage every once in a while, or just while on vacation. A massage and a facial. And maybe one of those fancy foot scrubs. And then there’s the laser hair removal and teeth whitening that I want to be saving my pennies for.

So… there’s plenty of things I could spend any extra income on, surely. Would I actually spend it? I’m not so sure. I’m not a huge saver, but I’ve never been good about spending money on big purchase items that I actually really want. Like that laser hair removal. I have this syndrome called PCOS and one of the lovely symptoms of the disorder is having excess facial hair. I don’t have a full-grown beard or anything, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time tweezing random hairs out of my chin line and sideburns. God, what’s I’d give to permanently get rid of those hairs! Would I give $1500, or whatever the cost is these days for permanent (and painful) hair removal? Possibly. I’m afraid if I did that and it worked, I’d be addicted. I’d have to get my legs and armpits done, and my belly and back. I’d give anything to be hair free in the places where hair oughtn’t be.

Anyway, what makes me sad about my spending habits is knowing that I can go and spend $700 on clothes and makeup in one month, but I’d never really consider spending that much money on laser hair removal at this point in my life. Even though obviously it’s one of those things that I really want. I think I need to go to spending school. I need to get my financial priorities straight. I’m not sure where laser hair removal would fall into these priorities (after all, the treatment would be a luxury for sure, but in a way it’s a medical expense because it’s not like I can live a normal life with a thousand hairs growing out of my chin). Too bad my health insurance doesn’t care about that.

Am I the Only Person in the World Who Doesn’t Want an iPhone?

Forget the price tag (which is the primary reason why I won’t be buying an iPhone anytime soon), I’m not all that inspired to shell out any amount of cash for Apple’s latest hot gadget anytime soon. Why? I don’t need a fancy phone. I do need one that rings, takes voicemail, and allows me to text message my friends. My crappy Verizon flip phone isn’t really satisfying these needs either, but why spend $600 on a new iPod with phone capabilities?

Ok, so most websites look gosh darn purty on the iPhone. The comparable view on my tiny flip phone handset dek can’t compare to what Apple has done with its display. This image of Geezeo’s mobile site on the iPhone almost makes me want one…

And the Google Maps feature… and the hours I’ve spent lost driving up and down the roads of Silicon Valley… almost has me reaching for my credit card en route to a bad Apple splurge. But I’m waiting for the next generation of iPhone. I look at the clunky first-gen iPods and I can only imagine how much better the iPhone will be in its next few incarnations.

In other related news, I’m getting a (free) Blackberry for my new job. I’ve never owned a Blackberry, so I’m sure owning one will make me feel rather professional, as will my new (expensive) 30 minute train commute into the city.

Anyway, speaking of Geezeo, I’m still patiently awaiting all of the features the site promises to eventually have. I’d love to have one spot to track all of my money, from checking account to my Vanguard investments. And what would be even better would be the ability to make widgets and graphs based on my spending to post in this blog. I’m not sure if that type of thing is in the works over at Geezeo, but it would sure get rid of the headache of attempting to manage my finances in multiple locations, including Excel – in order to make chart graphics. That’s not happening today, though, so off to Excel I go for a recount of June’s spending and income.

Investment Advice From Y’all…

I received quite a few comments on my last post regarding my freaking out about losing $100+ on my Roth IRA and mutual fund investments. Thanks to goldnsilver, enoughwealth@yahoo.com, glenn, savingdiva, wanda, and hazygrey (and “anonymous”) for your words of wisdom. Here are some highlights from the comments, and my responses…

hazygrey said…

“This is your IRA – you shouldn’t be pulling out money for 40 years. Don’t worry about it and leave it for now. I know it’s easier said than done. Also remember that there have been double digit gains in the stock market for several years now, and a correction or crash could happen soon. When that happens, don’t panic and don’t touch the money!”

response: I’m less concerned about my Roth IRA and more concerned about my mutual fund investment. I’m terribly confused about what I should be investing in with my “extra” savings right now. I have $12,000+ tied up in average-rate CDs, which I consider my stable, low-risk investment. Then I decided to be somewhat(?) risky and put $4,500 into the Vanguard Mid Cap Growth Index Fund. While the thought of losing that $4,500 isn’t exactly one of a happy sentiment, I could deal with losing the money. I don’t want to lose the money. That $4,500 might be a long term investment. I’m only 23 now, so I’m hoping I’ll make enough money in the coming years to keep at least $5000 away in a long-term, non-IRA investment account. But I also would like to save for a house and/or grad school. I’m not sure if that’s a year out or ten years out. My life is rather in flux right now. Therefore it’s hard to plan financially. My Roth IRA is fine. It’s in the 2050 retirement account for a reason. I don’t plan on touching it until then.

Wanda said…

Don’t look at your investments every day or even every couple of weeks. Unless you are a day trader, there’s no reason to. …If a 2050 fund & a mid-cap makes you sick at night, then it’s not the investment for you. Like goldnsilver said, pick something that pass the stomach test. Pick something with 20% bonds. You’ll have less risk (of losing your money), but you’ll be giving up the rewards (or potentially larger returns).

So what’s the difference between “bonds,” “money market funds,” and “CDs.” I get the index fund versus stock thing, but beyond that I’m lost. Is a CD a bond?

Anonymous said…

How much do need the money in the other [non roth] account? Were you depending on a quick gain to pay the rent this month? If not, give it atleast a year. These are supposed to be long term investments, not quick capital gains.

I’ll gladly leave my money in the mutual fund account for a year or more. I just don’t want to be losing $100 a week on this account. I guess that’s unlikely, but looking at the performance thus far I’m just a tad bit nervous.

SavingDiva said…

I understand your frustruation with your loss. I don’t like to lose any money. I’ve had to stop checking my retirement accounts every day because of market fluctuations causing fluctuations in my blood pressure! 🙂

Thanks for understanding. I probably should stop checking my accounts every day as well. I’m sure I’ll be fine once my account starts to grow past my initial investment. It’s just now I’m down $100. And that’s not a good feeling.

Glenn said…

Take a step back and look at the big picture. If you are young and you will not need the funds for over 10 years don’t panic. You will be adding to your investments over time. If they funds are still lower when you make your next investment, you will be buying the same companies at a lower price. When you go shopping would you rather buy the same product at a lower price or a higher price? The same goes for mutual funds and stocks.

Good points indeed. As I noted above, my Roth IRA fund is for 2050. But the mutual fund account could be needed sooner. In 10 years I’ll be 33 years old. I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like at 33. Maybe I’ll already have kids. Maybe I’ll have decided kids aren’t for me. It’s just so hard to plan when I can’t figure out when I’m going to need this money. I’d like to invest so I can obtain enough cash for grad school in a few years. Or at least so I don’t have to take out tons of loans, I really like the idea of paying up front for as much as possible. But it’s also likely that I’ll never go to grad school. How can I plan my finances based on a life I’ve yet to figure out?

enoughwealth@yahoo.com said…

If a drop of more than 10% would make you feel like liquidating your investment, then your current asset allocation doesn’t match your risk tolerance. — Enough Wealth

I’m not going to liquidate my investment, I’m just not all that comfortable with the idea of losing my money. But I doubt anyone is really comfortable with losing cash when it comes to investing. I mean, sure some people are more risk averse than others, but the way I see it is I’m young now and I have time for my cash to recover if the market gets wonky. If anyone should be making risky investments, it’s people like me who are young with no debt. Right? I know I can survive without that $4,500. But it sure would be a shame to lose it.

GoldnSilver said…

Market fluctuation is normal. It has only been 2 weeks. Generally if you are investing for the long term, the advice is not to check your balance everyday. However, people have different habits, no one can make you do or not do something. Compare your funds to its peers or industry benchmark, that’s how you can judge your funds performance. That being said, if you are risk adverse, (seeing a drop with turn your stomach upside down). CD or bond funds are not bad options. So many people focus on time horizion…if you are young you should invest more agressively. There’s truth to it. However, just as important, one should know one’s risk tolerance. There are many investment/savings vehicles out in the market place that can help achieve your goals. Pick one that you can stomach.

You know, I’ve never been a gambler. Maybe that’s because I’m female. Maybe that’s because I was raised by a risk adverse family. But I don’t want to be dumb about it. If lots of people invest in somewhat risky mutual funds, they can’t all be “wrong.” Not that there’s really a “wrong” in index fund investing, but, I mean, it’s not like I’m rushing to trade individual stocks.

Vanguard Woes

Ok, I know mutual funds are rather safe when it comes to an investment, but I’m really bothered that my $8500 invested in a Roth IRA and index fund has turned into about $8338 over the course of two weeks. I know I have to deal with fluctuations in the market, but it’s no fun to lose over $100 in two weeks. The only thing that keeps me from pulling my money out is knowing that if it lost $100 in two weeks, then it certainly could gain $100 in a similar time span. But that’s not really the point of investing. I’m supposed to be making money, not watch it all sink down the drain. Maybe my investments are bad. Or maybe the market just isn’t doing good for the time being. At what point should I be worried about my investments? When my $8500 is $6000?

Vanguard Mid-Cap Growth Index Fund Investor
Shares 180.505
$24.56 –$0.14 *$4,433.20
Subtotal $4,433.20 (Bought for $4,500)

Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund
$24.06 –$0.07 $3,955.61
Subtotal $3,955.61 (bought for $4,000)