Successful Shoe Return; Job Stress; Understanding Economics

Please pat me on the back. I walked into Macy’s to return my non-functioning shoes that I purchased for $45 last month (the heel of the right shoe somehow deflated each time I put any weight on it) and by some miracle of miracle’s I managed to walk out of the store, return receipt in hand, without making another purchase.

(Although I admit, I did eye the earring display by the door and have dirty thoughts about buying half of the items shimmering in my view).

Now, before you get too pat-happy, prepare to punch me. Five minutes or so after my accomplishment, I walked into Borders and spent $36 on two books. I felt like the books were worthy purchases though. Sure, I could go to a library to get books for free, but on the rare occasion I manage to motivate myself to read anything, I’m the type that loves to take notes in the columns. The librarians don’t really think my notes add value to the books, so it’s best for me to purchase them up front.

My goal over the next few months is to actually start reading. I have terrible ADD and I rarely pick up a book and make it through from start to finish. I’ve given up on fiction almost entirely, but non-fiction is worth my time and painful attempts to focus.

Since I’m on this personal finance kick and slightly depressed/confused/bewildered about how Wall Street works, I decided to invest in some economics for dummies-type books.

So I bought:

1) Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy (by “The Economist”)
2) Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery, by David Warsh

I like buying “smart people” books. My shelves are filled with them. Do I read them? No. But I do need to figure out this economy thing. It’s one subject that I’m embarrassed I know next-to-nothing about. As a business reporter, I owe my readers (and myself) a bit of a fast education on the topic.

Speaking of my profession, I won’t go into detail (since I want to remain anonymous), but I’m a bit stressed out about my new job. The job is awesome for so many reasons – flexibility, salary, the people I get to work with and meet, and above all, the ability to learn something (or a bunch of things) new every day. How could I ask for more? I know I’m so lucky to have landed in such a great position given my age, my experience, and perhaps even my potential.

Well, that’s the problem. I really want to do a good job, but it’s not like I can just complete all my projects early, take on additional projects, and seem like a great worker. Ultimately my success is dependent more on quality than quantity of my output, though quantity is important as well.

The sad thing is that even when I try to be careful with my reporting, I have a tendency to make little mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, but I seem to do it all the time. I’m looking into going to see a psychiatrist because I’m thinking perhaps if I get on some drugs for my ADD I’ll be less likely to miss my errors. But all that mental health care costs a fortune, even if my insurance covers some of it. Then again, if it’ll help me keep my job, it’s worth it, right?

In any case, I’m confused about the whole career situation. More than anything I’m frustrated with myself for not kicking ass at my job. I don’t want to let my anxiety hold me back from success. Then there’s also the question of whether I’m smart enough to be in a position that obviously requires a high level of intellect and ability to collect, analyze and re-hash complicated information.

My boss recently criticized me for my lack of voice in my work. He said he hired me because I told him that I’m a blogger. But my writing for work has been so boring and dry. It’s lacking any sort of personality, I guess. I wonder what he’d think of this blog or any of the other blogs that I keep that are chalk full of personality. It’s a lot easier to have a voice when I’m writing about things I’m intimately familiar with, but the topics I write about are not things that are easy to understand or to explain. Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can write short, edgy posts with tons of voice that people would actually want to read. Until that day, I better get “good enough” so I can keep my job… and keep improving.

Cars are EXPENSIVE

Finally brought my car in to get checked out today. That’s after getting into an accident (a spin-out, I didn’t hit anyone, but figured I should ask a professional why my car has been shaking a bit since) and hitting a deer (broken headlight. would thank the deer for the car alteration, but he’s dead.)

Anyway… it turns out that my car needs about $1500 in repairs. Yikes. This is my first car and I’m not sure what to do about it. At first the mechanic told me that it would be $3000 in repairs and I kind of freaked. But then he figured out the timing belt actually was changed at 108k before I bought the car (some sticker was missing or something) so somehow that made the $1500 repairs seem “cheap.”

Today I got my front breaks fixed. That, including the inspection and an oil change, cost me $598. I still have to get my smog checked and pay my registration fee and insurance. I think that was due 15 days ago. Oops. Should send that check in soon. Late fees love me. Or maybe I secretly deep down love late fees. (No, I don’t think so.)

I can’t believe how much money I’ve been spending lately. — I don’t want to even think about how my mutual fund and Roth IRA are doing right now. Don’t get me wrong, I check every day, and I’m down about $600 (EEK) but I’m trying to sit tight and tell myself if the markets can be this shitty they can also be the opposite. I’m hoping that’s true. Still trying to figure out this whole deal with the subprime mortgage lending stuff that screws over the stock market. Have been reading a bit about it but I’m still a bit confused. I’ll figure it out eventually.

Attempting to learn how to Budget with Beehive

Thanks to an anonymous poster for reminding me how I really need to start budgeting. After my little shopping trip to the local mall the other day, I realized just how little control I have over my spending. One of my biggest problems (and I know I’m fortunate to even have this problem) is that I have $20k+ in savings, so often I feel like even though I shouldn’t be spending that money (I should be SAVING it for grad school or a house) – but it just feels like those bigger ticket items are so unreachable that I might as well just spend my money now. And I get such a rush buying clothes. Especially ones that I feel good about buying… when I feel like I’ve bought items that I’ll wear again and again. It makes the endorphins kick in. Shopping is my drug. But it’s an expensive habit. And I need to quit it.

In any case, I’ve decided to try to make a budget and to… hopefully… stick to it. There’s no reason I can’t get through a month on a monthly salary of about $3000. It’s pathetic that I’m still losing money. Ok, so I haven’t actually gotten through my first “full” month of work, so last month was just a mess financially anyway, with my time off between jobs and everything. In any case, I looked online to find some budgeting tools, and of course, I found a zillion. I picked one out at random…

Beehive basically helps you make your budget. I’m going through right now and filling in all of my income and expense information. This should help me see exactly how much money I have to use to budget per month.

I’m trying to estimate low for non-fixed income, since I’d rather end up with more money at the end of the year than less. When they asked how much I make per year in investments, I put down $200. I think my CDs probably take in about $300 per year, but the way my other investments… Roth IRA and Mutual Fund are doing, I’ll be lucky if I break even this year.

Meanwhile, I’m estimating high on most expenses. I’m really confused on how to budget, but I guess ultimately if I put in $100 a month for clothing I NEED to stick to that.

Here’s what I’m budgeting for non-fixed expenses…

(per month)

Clothing: $100 (um, can I really just spend $100 a month on clothing?) $200: I don’t have to spend all $200, but I’d rather save some money for clothing each month and then go on a massive shopping spree, as opposed to only having $100 to spend.
Gasoline: $250 (it’s been that high in the past few months because of all of my commuting for various reasons. In september, my gas costs should come down quite drastically, but it can’t hurt to estimate high, right?
Entertainment
: $200. Should include alcohol costs. Because that’s what adds up.
Beauty: $100. I figure between eyebrow/face waxing, and my occasional hair cut, beauty costs average out to about a hundred a month. Maybe I should estimate higher. Hmm.
Alcohol: $50. Here, I’ll through in an extra $50 for those rare months when I actually have a social life.
Travel: $100. That’d get me to Hawaii in a year.

Anyway…

Now I’m entering in “Assets”

I’m confused as to how I should record my assets for my investments. Should I note how much I put into the funds, or how much currently exists in the funds? It doesn’t look like there is a spot to track the funds, or to note how much its average earnings (or losses) are per year. Hmm.

I guess I’ll put in what they’re currently worth. It will make me less sad to start off with a smaller amount in my budget anyway. And I can kind of (try to) forget that thus far my investments have lost $400.

15 minutes later.

Ok, so I’ve decided “Beehive” sucks as a budget tool. I really wish there were an easy way to make a budget and track my finances.

One thing I don’t like about Beehive is that when you’re inputing your expenses for the month, it lumps all your “personal expenses” together. That includes everything from clothing to gasoline. What I really need is a breakdown of my “personal expenses” spending. I guess it’s not a terrible idea to start thinking of it as a lump sum, because then I might be motivated to spend less on eating out in order to support my shopping addiction. But, still, I think it’s important for me to break down my spending via category, and see where the money goes each month.

Meanwhile, I find it’s really difficult to keep track of expenses that I am supposed to get reimbursed for at work. I feel like they should be counted separately, but I need to make sure to note that any future income that’s actually reimbursement needs to cancel out.

Does anyone out there know of a good way to make (and keep) a budget? Help!

PF Roll

(If you write or know of an interesting PF blog please post a link to that blog in my comments. This way I’ll make sure to add that blog to list of feeds I read to compile my daily PF NewsBlog Roll list)

Here’s what going on in the PF blogosphere today…

The Basics: Jim, over at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, gives a quick lesson for the Personal Finance Novice on how to save money. The advice is rather rudimentary, but for folks like me who understand the concept of saving, but never actually do it, it’s nice to have a reminder on the simple fact that in order to save one must spend less than they earn each month.

Home Shopping: GiveMeBackMyFiveBucks is on the market for some property. She’s decided on a mortgage broker and seems to be well underway in her permanent housing search. I can’t even imagine being able to afford buying property anytime soon, but it’s nice to read about what other folks go through to purchase their own place… as one day down the road I’d like to be able to afford a condo or a house.

Speak Up and Save: Mint’s always-informative PF blog has a great post on “Three Ways to Ask for More Money,” which should really be called “Speak Up and Save.” The Mint team recommends that asking for things like a lower credit card interest rate can end up saving you a lot of money in the long term. They also recommend calling up your cable company and asking for a discount. I just wonder if all the effort is really worth it. Calling up these companies is often so stressful that I need to spend a gazillion dollars on a therapist, or at least a whole lotta chocolate, to deal. I like Mint’s little self-promotion at the end of the post, which says that when the site goes live, it will be able to find money-saving things for its users, like the best local cable rate. Cool!

The Weekend Entreprenuer: Over on Queercents, Adam writes about his recent conversation with Michelle Anton, co-author of the book Weekend Entrepreneur: 101 Great ways to Earn Extra Cash. Sounds like a good read. I’ve figured out maybe 2 ways to earn some extra cash, so the book must have 99 more. Michelle and Adam talked about figuring out a way to balance extra work and play on the weekends in order to have a financially productive and quality lifestyle.

EBay Shopping Deals: Get Rich Slowly recently posted about a friend who is a obsessed with finding deals on eBay. She’s an eBay feen, tracking her searches for cute cocktail dresses and craft ideas in an excel sheet and using various online tools to make it easier to win auctions. The way I see it, eBay is just as bad as taking a trip to Marshalls, Ross, Filenes Basement or any other discount store. I was obsessed with eBay for a short time in my life. I’d buy things for “cheap” and spend a shitload in shipping. Or I’d just buy a lot of cheap things that I didn’t need and spend a lot. Perhaps some people are better at controlling themselves when it comes to shopping.

I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Girl

This is why it is a bad idea to live next door to a mall:

9am: Wake up, realize I have no clean clothes to wear to a work event in the afternoon.
10am: Ponder doing laundry, but fail to find clothes (that aren’t dry-clean only) that would be appropriate for said event.
11:20am: set off to the mall to find one outfit ($100 max) to purchase for work.
12:30pm: return home with $370 in clothing purchases including: 2 pairs of pants, 1 t-shirt, 1 jacket, 1 nice button down shirt, 1 cute random $70 bright blue shirt that would be good for, uh, clubbing (do I ever go clubbing?), and 1 sweater.
12:40pm: Put on jacket, t-shirt, and pants, and head out to work event.

Anyway… I’m now trying to figure out if I should return anything. Obviously I can’t return what I wore yesterday. I really like the sweater from Express… and it wasn’t too expensive so I’m going to keep it. Really the only items I could return are the $40 bright blue button down, short-sleeve shirt and the gray dress pants, also from Express. But I always manage to not have any pants to wear. I should return the shirt. I don’t even know if I’ll ever wear it. I’m still upset with myself for buying a dress –on sale–at Macy’s a year ago and then never wearing it and managing to not attempt to return it until it was too late to make the return. That’s $53 down the drain.

In any case, I shouldn’t have spent $370 on clothes! That’s ridiculous and I know it. But clothes make me happy. I’m an addict. And I’ve decided that buying things on sale is a waste… because then I always buy things (like that dress) and never wear them. Well, the jacket I bought yesterday WAS on sale (for $60, compared to its $173 original price tag) but… my new rule is to buy clothing that I am in love with at the store, because i know i’ll get a lot of use out of it. For instance, the $70 purple shirt and $160 jeans I bought last month have already been worn… a lot. I try to buy machine wash and dry clothes now, since my dry-cleaning bin is filled up and I’m too stubborn to spend $100+ getting it all washed. Of course that would be cheaper that going out and buying new clothes.

Hmm. So I think I have a shopping addiction. And it’s pretty bad. I’m depleting my savings, even while making $50k a year. How is that even possible?

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.

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