All posts by Joy

Question of the Day — From BankerGirl’s Blog

“If your boss told you that you’d just won two years paid vacation, what would you do with the time?”From the blog of BankerGirl.

Oh gosh! Two years paid vacation would certainly be a luxury. A lot would depend on what I’d be getting paid during those two years. Assuming it would be a full-time salary of $50k, I’d probably work another job (hopefully making the same amount) during that time and invest the first $50k more aggressively, probably focusing on trying to buy a house or a condo.

What would you do?

Is this "Diversification?"

Where my money at, yo:

Bank of America Checking: $2,492.28
Bank of America Maximizer Savings: $674.96
Bank of America Family Checking: $421.19
Bank of America Savings: $1,156.67
Bank of America Investment CD #1: $7,570.29
Bank of America Investment CD #2: $5,136.60
ING Direct Savings: $100.6
Paypal: $604.36
Prosper Lending: $125
Vanguard Individual Account: $4,505.46
Vanguard Roth IRA: $3,649.51
Sharebuilder GLD, 4 Shares: $348.92
Sharebuilder COMV, 4 Shares: $91.84
———————————————————
Total Net Worth (in USD) : $ 26,912.96 as of Jan. 18

Goal: $30,000 by end of 2008. If the stock market keeps sucking, I don’t know if that’s possible.

Yeehaw, I Bought Gold — How to Get In on the Hot Commodity

…And not in the form of a pretty necklace, either.

With my limited knowledge of the stock market and this recession that’s going on, it seems that gold is one investment that works well during this sort of time. It sounds like if the rest of the economy decides to miraculously recover, gold’s value might go down, but then my other mutual fund-held stocks would go up… hopefully making my fantastical logic actually work in the long run.

I’m a bit worried about this, but in I bought a whopping 4 shares of a gold ETF for something like $320. If the price goes up because a major recession hits, awesome. If it goes down, I’ve learned my lesson.

“Ultimately, the only logical reason to invest in gold stocks is if you believe, after you have done your own due diligence and research, that the gold price is going higher. If you arrive at the conclusion that gold is heading lower, you are better off not owning any gold stocks. Gold stock investing ultimately boils down to a bet for higher gold prices.” — Zeallic.com

It’s all ING Direct’s fault. I decided to start saving my money through them. Of course they bought Sharebuilder recently, so they advertise the budget trading site on their “savings” site. I’ve been wanting to sign up to do some individual and ETF trading… without making that my entire portfolio. I don’t know if now is a good time to get into the stock market or not. I feel like most of the stock prices out there are down due to news of the recession… so either this recession will kill off some companies, or the companies I invest in will survive and prosper in the long run. Needless to say, I’m not going to be… THAT stupid. I acknowledge that I’m playing with fire here, as I really don’t know what I’m doing. Except I know that following the advice for beginning investors — “invest in Vanguard mutual funds” hasn’t been going that well. I’m not going to sell off those funds, but I’d like to diversify my portfolio a bit. Thus, I went out and bought myself some gold, baby.

Apparently there are a few different ways you can invest in gold:

Coins
The lowest risk is through buying coins of solid gold. Then you own the precious metal, but you have to figure out where to store it, and then pay insurance, and… that just seemed way too complicated and frustrating to deal with for a relatively small purchase of less than $500 that I planned to make.

ETFs
These are fairly new in the world of gold. From what I can tell, there are two different options. You’ve got streetTRACKS Gold Shares (GLD) and the iShares Comex Gold Trust (IAU). They’re a good way to get your feet wet in the gold market without going super high risk, while also not having to deal with all the trouble that comes with insuring coins. Basically, they’re both ETFs or “Exchange Traded Funds.” According to Wikipedia... Exchange-traded funds (or ETFs) are securities certificates that state legal right of ownership over part of a basket of individual stock certificates that can be traded at any time throughout the course of the day. Typically, ETFs try to duplicate a portfolio such as SPY or the Hang Seng Index, a market sector such as energy or technology, or a commodity such as gold or petroleum. Sounds like a more focused mutual fund to me… which is nice because you can invest in a commodity without the risk of investing in just one company. Or…

Individual Stocks
You can buy individual stocks in gold mining companies. This is the highest risk option because even if the gold market as a whole is soaring, one company can falter and go out of business. Or maybe they just don’t have technology that lets them keep up with the other companies. Owning an ETF mitigates this risk because you own stock in many different companies. But, of course, with the risk you also can reap great rewards.

… I ended up buying the GLD ETF, mostly because on Sharebuilder the other ETF option wasn’t available for trade and it was 6am when I decided to start trading (yea, I know, I shouldn’t try to understand investing after I’ve been up all night).

Do any of you have a better explanation of gold stocks and enlighten me if I’m being a complete idiot?

Found My Dream Job… But Why Must it Require 60 Hours Per Week?

My contract gig is going very well. In fact, it’s going better than expected. In the past two months, my 30-hour-a-week gig has already expanded from that of “writer” to that of marketing assistant and community manager. In a meeting with my boss yesterday, we briefly discussed the possibility of my staying on past the end of my contract in mid-Feb, and he seemed to want me to stick around. Great. Here’s the catch — to be considered “full time” I’d have to work about 60 hours per week.

Yes, that’s how life is out here in Silicon Valley. 60 hours a week is the norm for a full-time salaried position. Maybe I don’t need to be “full time.” I can be “part time” at 40 hours per week. Basically that just means that I’d be sans benefits and I’d get paid a bit less. And I might end up working 60 hours per week, but I won’t be required to do so.

I’m not sure that’s the end of the world. I’d rather have flexibility compared to having to be a slave (albeit a paid one) to a job (albeit a job I really like.) I want to have a life outside of work… even if that life is working other freelance gigs… I like the diversity of freelancing, so I think I’ll stick with that. Or maybe I should actually find myself a job that’s salaried at 40 hours per week.

But I tried that and I was miserable. I’ve been so happy lately, and it’s all because of my flexible schedule. I’m making a bit less money, but in time I can fix that. I’m marketing myself and getting new freelance writing gigs. An article here, a marketing newsletter there, and pretty soon I’m making $50k a year, all with time to keep enjoying my “hobby” of directing theater in the evenings and on weekends. I just don’t sleep.

I just wonder if I need to suck it up and take on a 60 hour per week job in order to advance in my career. I know that’s the norm here, and it seems like I’ve got one of those generation Y sense’s of self entitlement if I don’t just agree to that kind of life. But I’m worried if I do that I’ll quickly slip back into depression. And that I don’t want at all.

Holding My Breath — Investment Pains

I know the economy is suffering lately, and had I not been paying attention to the news I would have figured it out by looking at my bank account. My Roth IRA, which had $4000 in it, is now worth $3762, and my regular Vanguard mutual fund, which had $5100 invested in it, is now worth $4662. Ok, so I’ve lost about $700 thus far on my investments. Ouch.

I’ll stick it out because I know investments have to be a long term sort of deal, and hopefully at some point our economy will recover and so will my piggy bank. It’s just tough to watch $700 disappear so quickly, and I’m sure this isn’t the end of the downturn. I’m prepared to lose all the money I invested, although it will surely SUCK to lose $9100. But if I lose all of that money, you can bet that I’m done with the stock market and mutual funds for good.

Who Needs $90 Wine?

Apparently the price of wine heavily influences how much people enjoy it. A team of researchers at Stanford and CalTech set out to prove this, and gave testers two glasses of wine to try. One was a “$90” glass of wine, and the other a “$10” glass of wine. What the subjects didn’t know was that these two glasses of wine were actually identical.

“Specifically, the researchers found that with the higher priced wines, more blood and oxygen is sent to a part of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, whose activity reflects pleasure,” reports CNET.

Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, and the Destruction of America

When I was little, and when I was not so little, all I dreamed about was being a celebrity. It was the end all of success. As a celebrity, you’d be praised for being unique (albeit slightly unique), and everyone would love you.

Fast forward to a reality check… those celebs that find themselves on the covers of the gossip rags often once were the same ones that I’d envy, except their lives and careers had spilled sour.

Poor Britney Spears. She certainly has some kind of mental condition, and it’s obvious that it’s not helped by being smothered by Paparazzi everywhere she goes. Her family (that is, parents and sibling) are apparently not the most stable bunch, but Britney made it big with some spunk and rock hard abs. Could she sing? Well, not really. She could hit the right notes and had a voice that you couldn’t forget, for better or worse. But Britney had what we all wanted… innocence with a serving of sex appeal. Even if we hated her music, we wanted to be Britney… or like Britney. Same goes for Lindsey Lohan. We saw both of these girls when they actually were young and innocent (well, so they’d like us to believe). And then… well, they’ve grown up in the spotlight, and it seems that spotlight was just a bit too bright.

It’s unfortunate, but I think we need celebrities like that to use for public floggings, as otherwise the rest of us minions would think that their lives were perfect because they were rich. Apparently, money doesn’t heal all wounds. Sometimes it’s pouring fuel on an already painful flame.

I feel for Britney and Lindsey. They feel like it’s part of their job and their image to go out and party. To be a young celebrity in Hollywood. Only when drugs enter into the picture, you lose control. I’ve seen friends get eaten up by drugs, and it certainly is just as much a problem in Hollywood… where celebrities have enough money to overdose daily on the most gourmet offerings of the latest designer drug batch.

But who could blame them for needing that rush? If as Americans we hold celebrities on the top of the totem pole of what we wish we could be (which I assume is the case for other people too, since celebrities are still featured on the covers of magazines, and talking about celebrities has made stars of once-Internet-nobodies like Perez Hilton, those GoFugYourself girls, etc) then once you’ve made it to stardom… what’s left? Better party it up when the going’s good.

Not all celebrities turn into psychotic drug addicts, of course, but those that do surely get the most press. Is it good for their careers? If they can make a sober comeback, possibly. Everyone wants to root for the fallen celebrity, despite how much he or she may make fun of this person. If a celebrity truly falls from their divine status and cannot return, then that pops the fantasy of flawed perfection.

Truth is… Britney, Lindsey… they’re just human. Sure they happened to have been born with extra lovely looks, and with some luck and being in the right place at the right time, they guaranteed themselves a future in show business.

It’s funny how easy it is to forget that what they do is their JOB. Sure it’s a pretty awesome job that pays well, but so is being the CEO of your own corporation, or a successful venture capitalist. The job comes with a lot of negatives as well. Privacy? Forget it. You’re working around the clock as a celebrity. From the moment you leave your house to the second you shut the door and close the curtains.

Accepting this changes my extreme, almost obsessive desire to become famous. Or, now I’d like to become famous for writing something brilliant… doing something interesting… but I don’t know if I’d want to be so (un)fortunate to be one of Hollywood’s young actresses. If you’ve got one life to live, there’s not perfect way to live it. If you’re rich, you have nothing to work for. You’ve been raised on attention, so you need to work for the attention. Look at Paris Hilton. She doesn’t need to work, but she does because without work she’d be just like any other NY socialite.

A few months ago I spent some time with my grandmother who lives in Las Vegas. At breakfast one morning, she spent some time complaining about Hollywood today, saying that everyone these days is ugly. I went through a list of celebrities and she said they’re all ugly (except she liked Halle Berry for some reason). Anyway, I know the idea of “beauty” has changed over time, because a lot of these actor and actresses she found ugly happened to be my personal idea of aesthetic perfection. Still, I get her point — beauty is no longer about health and youth exactly. Sometimes people admire the beauty of those who do lots of coke because Kate Moss chic is unbearably still in.

And all of that makes us, the American public, especially the female half of that, spend oodles of money trying to make ourselves look like these people who have lots of money. It’s a vicious cycle of consumerism that is at the heart of America. Capitalism would still exist without celebrity, but what would it look like?

I’m not sure of the answer. In college, I took a class called the “sociology of celebrity” and it was by far the best class in my four years at school. Dissecting celebrity culture, both from the side of the everyman and the celebrity, is understanding America.

I actually read the entire textbook from cover to cover…

Can I Prosper… using Prosper?

When it comes to investing, I say I lean more towards the conservative end of the spectrum. I’m not much of a risk taker in general, so the thought of losing heaps of money that I worked hard to save causes enough anxiety to keep me out of the stock market beyond basic mutual funds.

That’s why I’m taking it very, very slow with Prosper.com, a popular site that basically lets anyone be their own bank. Most of my readers have probably already heard about this site (they advertise on a bunch of PF blogs), but for a quick rundown of what the site is for those who haven’t heard — Prosper makes it easy to lend money and earn back a fairly high interest rate on those funds. But, of course with “high interest” there’s risk involved.

Business & Personal Loans. Great Rates. Prosper.

Anyone can borrow money on Prosper, but the good news is that they check the credit scores of the borrowers so lenders can determine how much risk they want to take. For instance, someone with a perfect credit history would have an “AA” score, but the interest rate you’d earn on lending the money would be less (around 6 to 7 percent). Lending to people with poor credit ratings might earn you a much higher interest, but the chances of them defaulting are also much higher.

The site is kind of hard to understand when it comes to determining the exact interest rate that the lender will earn. To be honest, I’m still a little clear on the details. Basically, the Prosper folk want you to lend a large sum, but break that into $50 per person. Just like with any financial portfolio, diversification = less risk. Still, it’s unclear what the actual risk with any of this is. There’s a reason banks exist… they have tons of money to lend, so if a few loans default they can deal. But investing $100 or even $1000 into loans at $50 each might never provide the necessary diversification to ensure you won’t lose most of your money.

While I realize I might lose some money in this experiment, I decided to try out Prosper and invest $100 in the site. First I signed up for their auto-loan deal, where you chose your level of risk and they pick someone on the site to lend your money to. So I ended up lending $50 to someone who is trying to study abroad, with a B credit score and a 13 % interest rate. I wasn’t so happy with my money ending up going to someone with a B score (though admittedly, that was my fault, I chose the second highest “non risk” auto-invest plan)… so I decided to loan my other $50 to someone with a perfect credit score, in case I just lost $50.

What I do like about the site is that you can read a person’s story and decide what you want to loan money for. It feels good to loan to someone who needs money for their kid, or who needs to pay off a credit card bill because their interest is ridiculously high. Ideally, they pay you back within three years and everyone is happy.

I’ve read a bit about other people’s experiences with the site on various PF blogs, and it sounds like they have a lot of happy users for now. Sure, loans default and lenders get screwed over, but generally people seem to be getting paid. Everyone seems to recommend keeping the amount of your entire portfolio investing in Prosper low, but it’s a decent investment for a few hundred dollars.

Someone owes me their first payment on Feb 11, so I’ll let you know if I get it. The good thing about Prosper is that if the borrower doesn’t pay, they get a collection agency to stalk them for a few months, and then their credit score ends up sucking and they’re not allowed to borrow on Prosper ever again. Also, they sell off these defaulted loans (I’m not really sure how this works) but you might get, like, 1 percent of your investment back. Or you lose all your money. But that’s a risk everyone takes investing in anything… whether that be a stock or property.

I’ll keep you guys posted on my experiences with Prosper in the coming months. You can bet that if I lose money, you’ll get to hear all about it. 🙂

If you’re interested in signing up, click here or on the button below to get an extra $25 in your account to get started, all for free. I did this when I signed up on another PF blogger’s site, and a few days later I had that $25 in my account. Sweet.

Business & Personal Loans. Great Rates. Prosper.

Vibrators are Too Expensive (and they break easily)

I once spent $100 on a vibrator. It was a glorious instrument of pleasure, to say the least. At first glance, the purple translucent dong filled with “pearls” and adorning an attached rabbit head made me think of anything but sexy. Turned off, it looked like a foolish child’s toy meant to be fetched in the deep end of a pool. Turned on, it sounded like a continuous fart meets an earthquake.

But then, as bunny ears blurred into ecstasy via vibration, despite the symphony of mechanical buzzing, I couldn’t help but revel in my overpriced lump of plastic.

A few months later, my beautiful toy broke.

“Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!” I screamed.

(Well, I didn’t actually scream that, but I like the sound of it for dramatic effect.)

I couldn’t run off to purchase another $100 vibrator. Besides, by that point I found myself a boyfriend and I felt he ought to replace my purple friend.

But, come on, can a boyfriend really work such magic?

I searched the Internet and local sex stores (which make me feel totally awkward btw — either they’re meant for dirty old men, or they’re designed like mini museums for women and gay men seeking out their masterpiece butt plug) and spent another $30 here and there trying to buy something cheap that would do the trick. I learned quickly that in the world of sex toys, the pricetag matters.

So… I called out my inner child… the one who discovered the wonders of the waterhead massager in the shower and the amazing vibrations of an electric shaver once the blade had been removed. Oh, and yes, the joys of the electric toothbrush, sans bristled head. Those were the days when in order to get off, money was not an issue. It was my fingers or whatever object I could find that would vibrate.

(Don’t tell me I’m the only girl out there who went through that “phase.”)

Since I wasn’t going to spend another $100 on a vibrator that would break in a few months, I instead went to the local drug store and bought myself an electric shaver for 5 bucks. And you know what? It was heaven. It wasn’t exactly the purple phallus of joy I had spent my money on during college, but it worked.

Moral of the story is… I highly recommend that when you have the money, you should try a quality sex toy at least once in your life. But if you’re in the mood for some self-pleasing fun and you don’t have a few hundred dollars a month set aside for a special “masturbation budget,” there are plenty of cheaper items you can use. Get creative! Just be sure to properly clean said item(s) in order to avoid icky bacteria infections. Store-bought sex toys are often designed to be cleaned easily, so you might have to spend extra time on the cleansing portion of your, uh, alone time.

If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing to my RSS feed.

Death to COBRA and Car Thieves.

I have a follow-up to my last post regarding my saga with the doctor’s office and the collection agency, but first I feel it is more important to rant a bit about my recurrent car break ins.

My apartment is in a safe neighborhood. Of course, no neighborhood is perfect, but I live in the fairly wealthy burbs of San Francisco. My exact area isn’t exactly upper class, but it’s a cute little apartment complex where I have the illusion of security.

I have a carport spot right under my apartment. Last year, around this time, thieves broke into my car (they smashed the window) and took about $80. You think I would have learned my lesson after my car got broken into twice in San Francisco, but I figured that in the burbs it was a different story.

After the thieves broke the window and stole the $80 they came back about once a week going through my things until I got the window fixed.

Following that incident, I decided to stop locking my doors and to keep valuables out of the car. It seemed smarter to let them go through my thing and find nothing than to smash the window every other week. I even signed up for the full comprehensive coverage for my insurance just because I knew that they might break the window again regardless. But it’s just such a hassle to bring the car in to get fixed. I don’t have the time. So I let them go through my car if they want.

After a year without any problems, I started getting slightly careless again. My fault. I put two checks in my car that I had planned on cashing today. One was for $50 the other $400. They were in a closed compartment. The car was a bit of a mess but nothing else valuable was in there (except at $180 jacket that I’m so glad they didn’t take.)

So two nights ago they (or he or she) came and went through my stuff. They took $4 and the two checks and made a mess of everything. They made my car smell like smoke. I am not happy about this. But at least I don’t have a broken window.

Now I have to deal with telling the two people who sent me those two checks (it just so happens they’re married and my aunt and uncle) to cancel the checks. At least I found out they hadn’t been cashed yet. I just feel awful asking my aunt & uncle to cancel the checks when the stupid thieves took them. But what can I do about it???

I’ll update on the health insurance situation in a bit. I have to get back to work.