Stolen Credit Card

Did I mention that my car got broken into a month or so ago? I thought all that was stolen was $4 in cash and two checks (for $400 and $50). The $400 check was canceled and sent to me again. My aunt refuses to cancel the $50 check (that was a gift) because she thinks I’m stupid for leaving my car door open with the checks in it. Fair enough.

So… apparently I am really stupid because I must have left this Amazon.com Credit Card lying around in my car as well. I kept meaning to throw it out… I signed up for it on a win wim (I wanted to buy perfume, they had a $30 if you sign up for a card now deal, and I couldn’t resist at the time). But I keep one credit card because I know how I get with bills in general (if I could put all my late fees into one investment account I’d be rich by now.)

Anyway, these crooks stole the card that I hadn’t even activated. I didn’t find out about it until today when I received a bill for the card. $103 of charges. Interestingly, all the charges are at a gas station about 30 minutes north of here. I guess my car thieves travel to my ‘hood to break into cars at night. The fuckers.

The good news is that the customer service people were nice about it and won’t make me pay for the charges, or so they say. I’ll see about that in 14 days when I get the papers I have to sign, and then I’ll find out if I don’t have to pay it.

At least it was my credit card and not my atm card.

Oh Boy! A $600 Rebate!

I’m a little excited about getting a $600 rebate this spring, thanks to the tax rebate package that passed today. While I’m not their ideal rebate grantee (I’ll likely invest the funds, maybe into my Roth, which now has $2000 left until I max it out for 2008, though) it will make it easier to buy a few new spring pieces to my wardrobe without feeling terribly guilty about my spending (to be honest, guilt and financial logic never stopped me from spending anyway).

The good news w/ the rebate is that even if I end up owing money on taxes for 2007, I’ll actually still get a rebate or… break even.

Sweet.

I wish this happened every year!

Don’t Let Me in a Grocery Store Again, Ever.

Aisles upon aisles of tantalizing packaging torment me until I can’t help but spend on edibles that I may or may not need.

How is it that I go into a grocery store planning on picking up eggs, milk, perhaps a few apples and a sweet potato, and leave with a $70 bill?

I’ll tell you how…

$2.69: Milk, 1/2 gallon
$4.79: Flaxseed Meal (to try putting in a shake. Or to bake with. If i ever learn how to bake.)
$2.13: two red garnet yams (yum)
$5.99: String cheese (a good snack. i ran out of string cheese a while back. i needed more)
$2.99: bath salts (yea, I know, I don’t need these, but… they smell so pretty, and they were only 2.99!)
$14.99: vanilla whey protein powder (i’m experimenting with protein powders. i got a small sample of this brand the other day and liked it. so i decided to buy more.)
$2.91: two pink lady apples (who can resist a pink lady?)
$3.99: figs (they were on sale. They have fiber. They called to me.)
$1.19: one sweet potato (well, my third one, counting the red garnet yams)
$19.99: a strainer. (I needed a new one since I keep burning myself trying to pour hot water when I cook pasta. This one is special. You can boil things in it.)
$2.69: yeast… in case I ever want to use the bread tin I bought the other day.
$2.99: frozen peaches (for a shake?)
$2.89: liquid egg
$2.24: four kiwis (i say a kiwi a day keeps the doctor away.)

________

$72.47
+ CA sales tax of $3.13

Grand Total: $75.60

Gah! I’ve spent so much money on groceries this month. I’m trying to be good and not go out to lunch and dinner always, but I think I’m actually spending more now that I’m going to the grocery store on a weekly basis. Even though I am eating healthier…

In other quasi food-related news…
I bought three shares of McDonald’s stock today. My gold ETF is up and my small cap risk is way down. I decided to put $3000 in my Roth IRA for 2008, so when I’m ready for retirement, at least I can say that I tried to be smart and I put in $7000 before I turned 25. I’ll see if I can get the other $2000 in sometime over the year. More on that later.

Phone Call with AT&T

The only good thing out of this situation is that I was able to call and speak with a rep from AT&T last night (so I wasn’t spending more of my Verizon cell phone minutes to deal with the saga (see here and here.)

After barking at this women for over a half hour, it seems I got somewhere. Well, sort of. She explained to me that since my account was canceled on December 24, the charge that just showed up on my statement was for Nov – Dec. Also, since my billing cycle ends on the 21, I will have one more charge appear on my account for the three days between the 21 and 24, but the rep couldn’t tell me yet how much that would be for.

As far as canceling auto pay, she said she’d gladly do that, but it usually takes one billing cycle before that’s put into effect (so, in other words, it doesn’t really matter if i do that because there’s only one more billing cycle left).

What really frustrates me is that this all should have been taken care of in October, if the women at AT&T handled our phone request properly and transfered the account then.

At the end of the conversation, I realized that trying to get reimbursed from AT&T for the charge was going to be impossible. So instead, I asked if they could send me a bill for the last three months charges, so at the very least I could forward this on to my boss so I could be reimbursed.

That sounds so simple, right?

Well… I’m told that it costs $5 per bill to have them sent to me, but I could go online to see and print them for free. I bitch at her for another 10 minutes, explaining that I can’t get into the online account because it’s under my bosses’ name with HIS information and password. She finally goes to talk to her manager and puts me on hold for another 5 minutes. Then she comes back and says she’ll mail the bills out to me. Jackpot. Well, sortof.

That’s about all I can do for now. I’ll send the bills off to my boss the second I get them and hopefully will get the $300+ back that has been withdrawn from my account.

All I can think is thank goodness I was able to make this call at night when my minutes are free!

AT&T will never, ever, ever get my business again.

AT&T Will Not Stop Billing Me!!!

Perhaps some of you remember the saga of my previous employer and the cell phone bill that kept showing up on my bank account.

In short — for my full-time reporting gig, I bought a cell phone through AT&T for work — my boss told me to do this and he would reimburse me. That all went over fine.

A few months and a firing later, the nightmare began. On the last day of work, after a long conversation with AT&T on the phone, it sounded like the account would be transfered to my boss and all would be fine.

But then the auto pay bills started showing up on my bank statement. One in December, then one in January. I finally called AT&T and after 3+ hours on the phone with them (which ended up costing me something like $100 on my Verizon cell phone that I used to call them) you’d think everything would be solved. They talked to my boss again and he re-gave them permission to transfer the account to him.

Oh… but what shows up on my bank statement this month? ANOTHER $106.41 charge from AT&T. WTF?? My boss is supposedly reimbursing me for the last two months ($109 and $106) but I haven’t gotten that check yet, and now I have to bother him and the accounts woman again asking for more money to be expensed and…

I am just so frustrated and I don’t know what to do. Not only is this costing me lots of money (which will hopefully be reimbursed at some point), it’s also costing my boss lots of money. As soon as the account is transfered to him, he was going to change the monthly plan to the lowest cost one, so he wouldn’t have to pay $106 a month. Except they just can’t seem to figure out how to transfer it to him.

Add in to the mix that this former boss of mine just had a heart attack. It’s not exactly the best time to be bugging him with this… but I also can’t keep getting charged $106 a month for a phone I no longer have!

What should I do?? Do I have any rights here? I don’t want to spend another zillion hours on the phone with AT&T because it seems that gets me nowhere.

Making a Living as a Freelance Writer

As a gift to myself for reaching $30 in my AdSense account (after only 102 blog posts and more than 12k hits, heh) I purchased a copy of Writer’s Market 2008 at the local bookstore.

Filled with over 3,500 listings for various publishing opportunities, this book is a goldmine for freelancers.

I’m just getting started on my freelance career. I’m not a typical freelancer because I work one 30-hour-per-week job that pays the rent and the bills. But I’m hoping to expand my writing experience (and monthly earnings) by being published in numerous publications.

Sending out queries to publications is tough, especially because you likely will be rejected, or even worse, never hear back. I got lucky in that early on in my career I had the opportunity to work as an editorial assistant for a magazine and obtain numerous glossy clips. But it turns out, the clips that impress the few publications I’m trying to write for aren’t the ones I wrote for the mag. Instead, they like the style stories I wrote for a few local newspapers.

If you want to get started in writing and get paid for it, I highly recommend writing for a local newspaper. You might not get paid, but you’ll get a few clips. Don’t sign up for a full-time internship unless you’re in school or right out of college. You can try to freelance for a fee, you might make $50 an article. That’s a start.

You’ve probably already checked out freelancewritinggigs.com, a website that lists daily freelance gigs. There’s occasionally something good there. But generally, you’re going to want to send queries to the editors of different magazines. Come up with a few ideas (you might think they’re stupid and they might love them!) and send off a cover letter with your pitch, and attach a few writing samples. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, all this will cost you is your time… not even $.37 for a postage stamp.

Whatever you do, if you’re just getting started, don’t think of writing opportunities as being below you. Even though I make $50 an hour for some of my freelance gigs, on average I make about $25 an hour. Sometimes I’ll do work for free because I know how valuable that work will be as a portfolio piece in the long run.

I’ll write more tips on becoming a freelance writer as I go through my own trial and error process. Thus far, I’ve been assigned one 600-700 world Q&A for a magazine. The pay is $100. I’ll probably spend 4-5 hours on it, including the interview, so that’s a good $20-$25 an hour. Hopefully the interview will go over as planned, and I’ll have a good article on my hands.

What do you think about Credit Unions?

When I was Googling CD rates in hopes of finding high-interest CDs to balance my rapidly-losing-money stock and mutual funds, I came upon a list of various banks and places with their rates. Most of them were around 3 to 4 percent for any reasonable amount to invest in a CD (sorry, if I had $50,000, I would not put it all into one 10 year CD, even if the interest rate was fixed at 5 percent). Then I saw that this one place was offering a 7 percent rate for new members. 7 percent interest on a CD? Where do I sign up?

After doing a little more research, I found out that the “bank” was actually a credit union. While I had planned to take out my $5000 from my liquid BoA CD that’s getting 4.1 percent interest at the moment and put it into a 7 percent CD, it turns out the only amount I can put into this CD is $1000. No more, no less. Well, getting 7 percent returns on $1000 won’t hurt.

Still, I’m a bit confused about credit unions. I did some further research and they seem like a pretty good deal. The only thing I’m concerned about is that when I signed up, the fine print noted they could charge me $20 in membership fees if they wanted. It wasn’t really clear if this was a one time fee, or a per year fee… or monthly…

Credit unions sound good otherwise. When it comes to obtaining loans and such, since these places are, unlike banks, non profits, they can give relatively low rates. That’s about the extend of my understanding of these credit union places for the time being. I decided to sign up for that $1000 CD (I’ll be dropping a check off at my local branch later this week) so I can learn more. I figure if I ever get around to be able to afford a house (or a teeny tiny condo), it will make sense to be affiliated with this type of financial institution.

Do any of you belong to credit unions? Why or why not?

Dreams of a 401(k)

Oh 401(k), when I think about you, I touch myself.

Employers matching contributions? That’s a truly beautiful concept, and one I’ve never been able to take advantage of.

At the moment, my freelance career prohibits me from obtaining full benefits at one company. That’s how I chose to live my life, so I have to deal with the fact that my Roth IRA has lost significant amounts of money this year, while if I had been able to contribute to an employee-match 401(k) I might have at least broke even amidst this recession mess. However, I just have to go it alone. That’s my choice.

But that wasn’t always the case. My first full time job at a magazine showed me how even full-time gigs at companies don’t always equate to earning the luxury of a 401(k). That company was a bit, how-do-you-say, confused in terms of organization. We had a meeting about getting 401(k)’s where the financial companies came in and presented our options, then they came in another day and we met with the reps and signed the paperwork. Of course, since the company was not making any money, our 401(k) was not going to include a match at all. So ultimately the only benefit was that it would encourage employees to start saving (but tax-wise, most of us would probably be better off with a Roth anyway).

Next up on my job history resume, I obtained another full-time gig at a startup where I was to get stock options instead of a 401(k). I never actually earned any of those stock options because I left the company after three months. I was fired. I was bored with the topics I was writing about. And I couldn’t keep up with the pace. It was for the best.

I worry a bit about my retirement. I know it’s many years off, but I won’t have the security that my dad has. He retired early so my family is living on a tight budget now, but in a few years he’ll have access to his pension and he and my mother can live off that. What will I have to live off of in 2058? Or whenever it is I end up retiring?

Thus far I put $4000 into my Roth IRA (started in 2007). It’s down to $3600. I know… I know that investing is a long term thing. Still, I can’t help but be concerned about what my future holds. Maybe the smartest thing to do would be to get a stable full-time job at a public company or government agency. But I’m trying to balance my happiness and my future. It’s hard to find that balance. I’m worried I’m leaning too far towards happiness right now.

Question of the Day: Can Wealth Be Fair? – from Brip Blap’s Blog

Blogger Brip Blap poses the question “can wealth be fair?” The blogger goes on to list three different scenarios where in order for people and a country to build wealth, others might have to suffer. The blogger does not say that (s/)he agrees with these scenarios. In fact, Brip Blap goes on to explain how (s/)he is upset but each of the scenarios discussed.

#1 — A college graduate basically decides to save nothing and spend all his money throughout his life. Is society responsible to pay for his medical expenses and basic necessities later in life when he can no longer work?

Brip Blap Says:I detest this attitude. His attitude will take money out of my pocket when he is older…. (still) I doubt anyone is prepared to see senior citizens sleeping on the streets.”

I say: I think financial education should be a required, ongoing class in public school. Each year you should have a different amount of money (income) to budget with, and the idea of the class should teach you about saving money, investing, and why credit card interest rates are the devil. After that, if someone choses to go out and spend all their money right away, especially if they’ve made enough to save, then I don’t see why the government should have to pay anything to them when they’re older. I don’t think the government should be able to “force” you to save your money through taxes, but should provide a clear and easy-to-understand tax incentive for people to save money. It should be income based, maybe in match form, so those who are in a lower income bracket but manage to save 5 percent of their income get a 10 percent match, where those in the upper income bracket get a 5 percent match… or something like that. (Those in the higher income brackets would likely be investing anyway.) For rich people who don’t save, I don’t mind them ended up on the streets. It’s their own fault.

#2: A child is born with 50+ different health problems. Keeping her alive is more expensive than treating dozens of other children. The family is in debt, the health insurance system is hurting because it can’t afford to treat this kid.

Brip Blap Says: “I knew a child like this. She was a lovely, happy and intelligent child who suffered from an incurable genetic condition that meant her chances of living to be a teenager – much less an adult – were minimal. Even if the chances of her living to be an adult are slim, she deserves her chance at whatever life she can have. My higher insurance premiums that may have resulted from that? Please.”

I say: If we are going to have a health insurance system at all, I think it should not be based on the concept of wealth. We should all pay equally into a universal healthcare system and receive the same quality health coverage, regardless of our pre-existing conditions. Those who are well off may wish to also purchase individual insurance for additional benefits. Yes, even a government-run healthcare system has to make some money to pay for the people who work there, but until healthcare leaves the hands of private, profit-seeking companies, it will never be fair.

#3: Is it fair that a middle class married couple pays more in taxes than someone living off their investments, even though they both may be taking in the same amount of money? Is it fair to tax the rich more, but keep taxes on lower-income families low?

Brip Blap Says:The unfairness in the system – the loopholes, the weak taxation on rich people – may not benefit me now but it will when I am financially free. I plan to be one of the people living off my investments, earning no wage income and avoiding my fair share of taxes. So if I want to build wealth, why should I rail against this system? I intend for it to benefit me in the end.”

I Say: Taxes are never going to make everyone happy. If you live in a society with no taxes and a very limited government, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class disappears. Then the poor start a revolution and the rich get slaughtered. This has happened in history many times. Yes, it’s sounds extreme, but that’s what happens if you make it impossible for the poor to have at least some opportunity to make it into the middle class. The more opportunity you give, the less likely we’ll have another civil war one day. So as much as I hate knowing how much of my income gets zapped from my paycheck due to taxes, I know that at least some of those taxes benefit me (I’m glad the bridges are maintained, as to avoid falling into the East Bay). However, I’m not sure about taxing those living off interest income less than people earning the same amount. It seems taxes should be based solely off of income, regardless of where it comes from.

Brip Blap closes with a great point: “there is no fairness in a capitalistic society. Does anyone want complete fairness? Inequalities in the system are what allow wealth to be built.”

That’s very true. Otherwise we’d live in a communist society where we’d all (supposedly) be equal. We’d all work, get the same pay, have no reason to better ourselves or society. What kind of society would that be?

That’s why I think the role of the government should be to keep wealth in check. To give opportunity to people who are born in poverty and even middle class families. If I had my way, I’d make it illegal for parents to give their children money, and instead they’d put that money into a giant pot that would be divided up evenly amongst all the children in the country. It seems fair for individuals to build wealth, but unfair for their children to profit from such wealth. Yes, I come from a family where I did profit from my parent’s wealth, but at what cost? I’d probably be better off if I learned about budgeting from a young age, knowing that I would be on my own with a few hundred dollars in the back to start off with. Allowing families to pass money down from generation to generation is where unfairness begins.

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Making Money with Blog Advertising

… I’m not going to give you a list of “how to make money on your blog” here. Apparently, AdSense is not really working for me. It seems the more quality clicks I get on my site, the less likely someone is to click on an AdSense link. Which is perfectly fine, but kind of defeats the purpose of AdSense.

I’ll keep the ads on my page for now, since I take in maybe $1-$2 a month (that’d be 1-3 clicks a month), but what surprises me most is how in the last few weeks my blog traffic has gone up substantially and consistently (yeay!), but my AdSense earnings have not reflected my increase in popularity.

Meanwhile, the one ad I sold on my site made more money than I’ve made on AdSense to date, and I bet that ad gets more clicks too (though I have no way of measuring that). People are just so numb to AdSense these days that anyone who actually reads blogs on a regular basis will very, very rarely click on an ad. Sometimes I’ll click on ads other’s blogs because either I’m interested in the advertisement or I just want to help the blogger out a bit. But most of the time I forget to do this.

I’m running a poll right now on the left side of my page about AdSense, where I’m asking you, the reader, if you ever click on AdSense ads (not just on my site, but on any site.) If you haven’t voted yet, take a second to pop in your opinion. I’ll post the results at the beginning of next month.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying watching my readership grow. It’s a slow, sloooow process, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? I look at some of the PF blogs out there that have over ten thousand feed subscribers and I wonder how they did that! I have 28 right now (I gained a few and lost one thanks to that vibrator post, heh) and that’s the highest it’s been yet. It’s exciting to know that people out there in cyberland can relate to my financial experiences. I’m ever-so grateful for all the advice my readers have given me to date.

So even if I won’t make more than a buck or two a month by writing in this blog, I make a lot from getting to meet great people (albeit anonymously) and learning more and more about how on earth I should manage my out-of-control budget and investing experiments.

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