Goodbye 24 Hour Fitness!

I’ve spent about $600 a year on a gym membership that I’ve used about 20 times, total. It’s time to quit the gym.

My boyfriend and I signed up at 24 Hour Fitness in 2006. We both wanted to get in shape, and signing up for a gym with around-the-clock access seemed like a good idea. We didn’t even look at any other gym.

The membership services guy gave us a couple’s “deal” (yea right) where we’d pay initiation fees for “only” one of us, and that we’d get one monthly membership at 1/2 off. What did that amount to? My bf paid the initiation fee (something like $150?) and I was stuck with the $46.99 a month membership. He pays $23 a month.

Since signing up, I kept the membership, thinking maybe the monthly bill would encourage me to work out. Not so. Instead, I just kept wasting money.

In the recent weeks, I’ve been doing a barter with a personal trainer who I’m designing a website for. She works at Golds Gym and offered me a free month’s pass to try out the gym while I get my training sessions. Golds Gym is much, much nicer. It’s not open 24 hours, but really my bf is the one who likes to work out at 3am. I prefer 11pm. And most night’s they’re open until midnight.

Besides, Gold’s Gym is actually cheaper. Their monthly rates are about the same, but if I sign up for a long-term membership, I can get $19 a month rates. I’m not ready to sign up for a membership like that, but if I decide I can’t live without the gym, I think I can handle a long-term commitment of $19 a month.

Meanwhile, I can get a special $34 a month deal (monthly dues) since I’m training with this woman. That’s a good way to get me to want to join a gym.

The bad news is that 24 Hour Fitness requires 30 days notice before cancellation (of course) – so after spending an hour on hold and talking to some outsourced customer service agent who tried to convince me to keep my membership (switch to a one-club membership and it will only be $36 a month. How about you put your membership on hold for just $7 a month and you can sign up again any time without paying initiation fees) I finally canceled my membership. I’ll be paying the $46.99 one last time, and then I’m out. My membership ends March 5, 2007.

That’s what I call freedom.

Applying for Healthcare, the Saga

I’ve been uninsured for about a month now. I don’t plan on staying uninsured, so I’ve been doing some research into health plans (as many of you know from my previous posts). Basically, because I went to a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression, 90 percent of insurance companies out there will not accept me. (Hmm, should I be anxious and/or depressed about that?)

A few weeks ago I called a health insurance agent who I found on Yelp. People seemed to like him, so I thought seeking out help would be worth a shot… even though it would be biased help because he gets paid by the insurance companies to sell their programs. Well, after a few weeks of him calling me every other day to convince me to sign up, I finally did. I usually don’t reward annoying salesman, but he’s been very helpful and I need a bit of prodding to do anything. Health insurance is not something I want to fuck around with, so I’ve finally applied.

He told me that my best bet would be Pacific Care with a $1500 deductible and an HSA account. Oh boy, more accounts to try to organize and sort out. In any case, Pacific Care, he said, would likely be the only insurance company that would accept me due to my history of depression and anxiety. (The other major company he represents is Blue Cross, and he said they would not accept me).

So he talked me through all of the questions on the application and basically filled it out for me over the phone. It felt really awful to categorize my health history. Do I put depression or anxiety? My agent didn’t think putting major depression was the best idea, but he couldn’t officially encourage lying. I’ve been diagnosed with everything from ADD to major depression to generalized anxiety. What do I actually have? I have no freaking clue.

Anyway, we decided to put anxiety / depression and leave it at that. Later on I had to say what meds I’ve taken. So I took Xanax on and off for a month (in June 2005) and Lexapro for a month (in October 2007). That’s all the medicine I’ve taken for mental illness in the past five years. But that means I’m obviously going to scam the health insurance system into spending zillions of dollars on me.

I guess I can understand why they don’t like accepting people with mental illness. I know one girl who had anorexia and her health insurance company had to pay for the treatment. Then the government paid for her to be on disability so she didn’t have to work while she recovered.

My other medical disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) didn’t neatly fit into any of the check boxes. There was a separate section for menstrual disorders and another for hormonal disorders. It’s both. Then we had to figure out what to say about that ovarian cyst I had last spring that likely ruptured.

In the end, I was left wondering how awful my application looked. Will Pacific Care accept me? Shouldn’t I be rewarded for being honest on my application?

Nah, I’ll just be “rewarded” with higher rates. He told me the base rate for this plan is $105 a month. I’m curious to see what I’ll get quoted.

Oh, I had to give my credit card number and everything BEFORE I’m approved. He said I have 10 days to reverse charges once I am approved, but I think I should be able to see where I’m approved first before everyone charges me. Well, I’m only applying for this one plan right now, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Also in health insurance news… the startup company I work at is getting health insurance… but I’m not eligible because I’m part time (contract). Oh well.

Aside: Dangerous Rollercoasters

Today I was doing a bit of research on extreme sports and roller coasters, and it just so happens that this evening I came upon a site called RideAccidents.com. While amusement park accidents are rare, they do happen, and they happen fairly often – they’re just rare because it’s like one a week for the entire world.

One article on the site struck me as especially interesting. In 2001, a woman, age 28, died of a ruptured brain aneurysm while riding Goliath at Magic Mountain in California. I found this link after reading another story about a 20-something woman having a similar fatality due to another ride.

The reason I was particularly interested in the Goliath article related to my own experience riding Goliath years ago. I’ve ridden quite a few coasters in my lifetime, and while some make me feel queasy, none have had the effect that Goliath did. I literally blacked out during a few seconds of the ride. All this time I thought I was crazy for experiencing that… I thought I had imagined it… but apparently, I’m not alone…

Other riders throughout the years report similar blackout sensations over on Theme Park Insider. It’s scary to know that this is a normal feeling experienced by people who ride Goliath, but at least now I know that I’m not insane!

Lacking Charisma: Social Anxiety and Work

I’m bad at small talk and, despite my desire to be well-liked, I lack adequate amounts of charm and grace. Looking back on my job positions over the past five years, I see a disheartening trend: my failures are more or less due to my desire to limit human interaction as much as possible in any given period of time.

Silicon Valley is all about the small talk. The inside jokes, the laughter. I probably seem like I’m stuck up because I don’t know how to just chat. Either I feel like I’m talking too much, or I feel like I’m boring the person I’m talking to with questions.

I feel like I do well on my job interviews. I seem personable enough. Then it comes to the actual ‘work’ part of a job… and I just want to work and be done with it. Well, that’s not entirely true, I love collaboration… working in small teams… when my ideas seem to be worth something and I can help contribute to a final product. That’s when I like talking to other people. But otherwise… I just crawl back into my shell.

It really, really sucks. I just want to be that girl that’s always smiling who everyone likes. Maybe I’d annoy some people because I’m just so perky, but when they figured out that the perk was genuine they’d have to like me, at least a little bit, right?

But instead I have trouble making eye contact and forming sentences that seem to resemble phrases that might generate some sort of interest.

I don’t know if there is something ‘wrong’ with me or if I’ve turned myself into this anti-social monster. Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of autism. I’ve never been good at socializing. When I was a kid, I’d only want to talk to adults, and that wasn’t because I liked talking to adults more, it’s just they’d forgive me for being awkward in exchange for accepting that I hadn’t reached puberty.

How much of growing up ‘the cootie girl’ influences ones ability to succeed down the road? There are so many voices in my head telling me that I’m a failure, and it’s hard to shove them all out and achieve some sort of clarity.

At my job, I go into the office, I basically run to my desk, and then I work all day, and then I go home. I’m too afraid to even say goodbye to people. I just appear and disappear. That’s no good for making employers want to keep you on as a worker. And don’t even get me started about why I should have never attempted to pursue a career in journalism with social anxiety…

Do you all think that charisma and charm are traits I can take on, or should I just try really hard to learn some super-specific geeky skill that pretty much requires me to be a recluse?

20 Readers!!!

I’m thrilled to see the number of my “feed readers” going up this week. While I know my blog doesn’t provide tons of useful money-saving tips (yet) like some other PF blogs, I hope that my audience enjoys my honest musings about money, life and growing up.

If you haven’t signed up in a reader yet, just click on the orange “subscribe” button on the top right column. No pressure, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re the first to know when I finally start writing some useful material in this blog. 😉

Cousin Gifting

The gift-giving went over well today. Being as I’m obsessed with finding the perfect gift, I should have left myself more time to wander around Target before I had to make the hour-long drive up to my aunt & uncle’s house in the North Bay. But, alas, I never leave myself enough time to do anything (and that’s why I’m up at 3:30am finishing up freelance projects and taking a break to blog and wake myself up a bit).

So I was late to dinner, but I think I made up for my tardiness with the gifts. I got my cousins (age 4 and 6) a kid’s acoustic guitar and a keyboard. They were not too expensive, about $35 each with tax, and they actually seemed to be of fairly decent quality for kid’s toy instruments.

I was really anxious about my aunt hating the gifts. She’s the one who told me that the kids “have everything” and that she doesn’t want any gifts that would be annoying to clean up (or, I assume, make a lot of noise.)

But being that she’s a musical-type, I figured I couldn’t go too wrong with musical instruments. And lucky for me, she loved the gifts. The kids seemed pretty excited about them too, though I forgot to get batteries for the keyboard (doh).

A few minutes after I gave the kids the gifts, my aunt handed me my “belated birthday gift” — a check for $50. I really didn’t want to take it. I mean, I can use the cash, of course, but it almost felt like I was being reimbursed for buying her kids gifts.

I wish I came from a family that gave actual gifts. The check is fine, money is good, but… it’d be nice to get a gift certificate for a spa or something… so I’d be forced to spend the money and not put it away into savings.

Wait… that’s bad logic.

November Expenses (as tabulated by Yodlee, Mint and Geezeo)

Yodlee tells me…

Rent: $1050
Other: $675
Clothing: $199.07
Telephone: $156.61?
Online Services: $136.20
Auto: $97.36
Health: $73.12
Cable: $62
ATM/Cash Withdrawls: $40
Gasoline: $31
Uncategorized: $927.47???


Mint tells me…

No Category: $2,216
Shopping: $891
Entertainment: $32
Healthcare: $35
Business Services: $104
Personal Care: $119
Food & Dining: $137
Auto: $198
Bills: $260

Total: $3992

But then… after I try to figure out why my expenses are so high for November, I find that the month is counting two month’s worth of rent (why is nov 1-nov 30 counting a check cashed on dec 7?)… so $1050 should be subtracted from that.


Geezeo Tells me…

(as far as I can tell there’s no easy way to pull up one month’s worth of transactions and find a category breakdown in Geezeo.)


Wesabe tells me…

I need to upload my bank statements for the past five months or so. Uh, no thank you. Why bother with uploading when all these other sites do it automatically?

—-

In short, all of these online personal finance sites are still far from being perfect. I don’t need fancy social networking capabilities, I just want to be able to track my monthly spending (accurately). This would require the ability for me to go in and manually change the transaction date (or what month it should be reported as).

Gift Giving and Buying

Growing up, I had a really unhealthy perception of the meaning of gifts. First off, I felt like I ‘deserved’ some amazing gift just because my parents got me everything I wanted that wasn’t completely amazing, and they’d never get me what I really wanted – a keyboard, an expensive designer barbie doll, voice lessons, etc. Rarely did I get these things as gifts (from family, friends), but every other gift seemed like a bore.

When it came to gift giving, I needed to give the biggest (or at the least the best.) Let me back-phrase this by noting I was a huge loner up until high school… more because I was a bit hyperactive and curious and no one my age knew what to do with me (except for my somewhat abusive “friend,” but that’s another story). In Middle School, for some reason I decided that I had to buy gifts for dozens upon dozens of people who were more or less acquaintances. I had a lot of acquaintances due to being involved with chorus and the school play. So I went to Claires (the accessories shop) and spent about $7 a gift (of my parent’s money). $7 a gift for 60 people… adds up fast.

Back then, a part of me felt like I might be able to buy the chance at a friendship. Not only did I just buy these people gifts, but I thought long and hard about what they’d like and picked out the perfect size and shape of jewelery for them. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of all my childhood – buying gifts, with my parents money, for people who either didn’t care about me or found me to be annoying.

Years later, my whole perception on gift giving has changed. I’ve realized that gifts are definitely more about the ‘thought,’ and that people understand you can’t buy every single person you’ve ever met a holiday gift.

It’s hard to figure out how much to spend on gifts, though. I have a few good friends… and they deserve zillion dollar gifts, with airfare, but alas, I’m no richie. I also am a bit of a miser, as I hate spending money. My money. Part of that is reasonable (I have $25k in savings thanks to a broken arm lawsuit from 6th grade, which is a lot, and yet not that much… because I’m freelancing and health care is expensive and I really want to go back to grad school to study design which will cost me something like $100k and I want to save up for that BEFORE I go if at all possible)… and part of that is me not really understanding money.

My boyfriend and I often exchange expensive gifts. I didn’t expect for that to be the case, but in our relationship my birthday came up first and he got me an iPod… and dinner. He likes spending money on other people… and one day when he has a substantial amount I’m sure his gifts would be even more impressive. He’s a total 180 from my last boyfriend, who… with a salary of 135k a year (he’s an attorney… and he finished law school with $0 in loans, thanks to a little bit of savings and mostly his parents), wouldn’t think to buy me a gift any more expensive than what I might be able to afford for him.

I wonder how much religion and culture plays into all of this. Jews are stereotyped as “stingy,” and I think that might be true. I’m Jewish, culturally, and my ex was also Jewish. My current boyfriend is pretty much agnostic, although he was raised somewhat Christian.

In any case, gift giving is so different these days. I can handle exchanging gifts with my boyfriend but even that causes such anxiety. After he bought me the ipod, I knew I had to top it. (See, why did I HAVE to “TOP” it?) So I bought him a Nintendo Wii (which I had every intention of playing.) This year, he’s revamped the expensive gift tradition, buying me a Wacom tablet. Now, I wouldn’t have bought this graphic design tool for myself, although it’s really wonderful to have for my job and hobby. His birthday is coming up in march, wtf do I get him?

Meanwhile, today I have to buy gifts for my two cousins that live locally. My mom is supposedly reimbursing me for these gifts, since they’re from her. But I’d like to get the kidlets gifts as well. They have just about everything, according to their mother, so I don’t know what to get them. Right now they’re young enough that they just enjoy opening gifts and quickly forget what it is they’ve received. But being me… I want to get them a brilliant gift, something that will encourage creativity and/or help grow their young minds.

Therefore, today will be spent freaking out about finding the perfect gift for my cousins. I also have to buy a $50 gift for one of my cousins in New Jersey, as I’m part of this giant Hannukah gift exchange that will take place at a party on Dec 15 that I won’t be able to attend. I have no clue what to get him.

I really think that when it comes to gifts, it is the thought that counts. I sometimes wish my boyfriend was a bit more creative in his gift-ing (although I do love my iPod and tablet) because I end up telling him I really want these things for weeks before my birthday and then he gets them for me. It’s kind of weird. I’m not used to that. I guess a lot of guys do that for their girlfriends? I’m too much of an unlabeled feminist to let that be one way, though.

Well, it’s time to go gift shopping.

The Unfortunate Quest to be Anything Other than Average

Blaming Attention Deficit Disorder is easy, but the fact of the matter is that I have a serious problem with my inability to complete projects. Of course, I’m working hard to combat this problem and I’ve been doing a good job of it at my current contract gig.

But, even though I think I’m working hard, I still feel like my employer views me negatively. Maybe that’s my problem — as I always convince myself that people dislike me until proven otherwise. There are a few other projects on my plate that I’m behind on, or that are basically gone for good because, well, I took on more than I can chew. I don’t really know enough about interactive design yet to build multimedia sites, yet I tried once and it didn’t work. I’d like to take some classes in these things so it won’t take me hours browsing through tutorials to make a relatively simple site that has more than just graphics and text, but unfortunately, I don’t have time or the money to do that right now.

With my writing work… I feel like such a fake. I don’t think I’m a good writer. I think I’m a much better designer, without the technical skills to profit from my somewhat decent talent in that area. Meanwhile, writing is easy… to fake. Anyone can pretend to be a writer. But what matters is the content.

Maybe I just lost my love for writing. Once I wanted to be a journalist. But now all I do is dream about a day when I can design for a living. I feel like I get color and line and composition. What I don’t get is the composition of paragraphs or sentences.

I’m just tired of being a F&#& up. How did I get so far this fast and yet at every turn I run straight into a wall of my own creation? I’m over and done with it. I want to be successful, but my motivation levels… my non-temporary motivation levels… dwindle faster than George Bush’s ratings since going to war with Iraq.

Am I the only person who practices somewhat subconscious self sabotage? I’m so afraid of proving to myself that I’m actually a failure that all I can do is fail before I have the chance to do it unintentionally.

I need to stop feeling like I need to do something GREAT in order to succeed. I know it’s the little things that are meaningful, yet I don’t believe it. I want to be famous, or brilliant, or… anything other than average.

First Generation with Fiscal Suckage?

Frugal Zeigeist has a great post today about whether we’re the “first generation to be worse off than our parents.” She writes:

…I’d say that I’m way behind because of the way the work world has changed. My dad worked for a single employer in Canada and a single employer in the US; although he went through reorganizations, I don’t think he ever worried about layoffs or downsizing the way I do. He also has traditional pensions both from his years of work in Canada and from working in the US. Between that and Social Security, my parents have never had to touch their retirement savings. — Frugal Zeitgeist

At my age (24), my parents were living in New York City, renting an apartment. In a couple of years their apartment would go ‘co-op,’ and they’d buy and sell their place within a few years for enough profit to put a down payment on the house in New Jersey where I grew up.

My mom was a fashion designer, working for fairly low wages, and my father was… well, I think he was a grad student when he was 24. He was going to grad school for physics but dropped out and ended up working as an actuary (pension planner). He stayed with the same company UNTIL HE RETIRED. He obviously had a good pension plan in place as well. My mom… she stopped working as a fashion designer 10 years into her career to have children (waves).

I’m not sure where they were financially at 24. Were they struggling? Possibly. I assume that if my father had started his job as an actuary, his entry-level salary was probably pretty high. And back then it wasn’t so painfully expensive to live in a city like New York. Then they got lucky with buying their condo and selling it, and the rest is history.

Looking at where I’m at now, I don’t see myself buying a condo anytime soon. It’s not that it would be entirely impossible to make enough money to buy a small studio apartment, but I’d have to live extremely frugally and, even more so, I’d have to be sure I want to stay in this area for the foreseeable future. And I’m just not ready to make that kind of commitment.

Then again, the housing market seems to be pretty attractive right now. I don’t know a lot about it other than the fact that lots of people are losing their houses because they can’t afford their mortgages. That’s sad for them, but good for potential buyers.

I don’t want to just sit back and watch another housing boom happen without having the opportunity to partake. Still, I don’t think I’m ready to buy a condo.

So, instead, I spend $12,600 a year on rent. Ouch.

My 25-year-old boyfriend… he lives at home and works part time. I don’t think he’s ready to make that commitment either. :X

I wonder how much monthly payment on a studio condo would be. Would that help me be as successful as my parents were at my age?

In any case, Frugal makes this important point:

They key point that this thought exercise brought out for me is this: The rules of the game have changed big-time. In the modern economy, the cards are stacked in such a way that if I’m ever going to be better off than my parents, I can’t rely on employers or government to lend a helping hand as a reward for loyalty or years of service. It’s definitely possible to end up being better off than my parents ever were, but I have to make it happen on my own. — Frugal Zeitgeist

Personally I think the opportunity to switch employers and make oneself more of a commodity is to the advantage of the employee. It might hurt when it comes to long-term savings, but salaries (and benefits) are higher if the employee has well-sought skills.

Here’s to hoping that my skills will develop into ones that people want to pay me for!

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