When I was a little girl, I used to walk a few feet in the snow…

Winter in California is bizarre for a gal like me that grew up on the east coast. Sure, we get our annoying rainy season, but snow and painfully cold whether isn’t involved in the concept of winter here. I kind of like that, as I’m definitely not a “cold” person, and it helps save on heating bills (though I have an ‘all utilities paid’ deal with my rent anyway) but sometimes I miss snow.

Scratch that. I just miss my memories of what snow means. Days off from school. Spending time with family. Watching bad tv all day (as a freelancer I tend to do that now… i mean, at least as background noise). Relaxing.

The only thing equivalent to a “snow day” out here would be a day when a giant earthquake destroys everything… or if a forest fire comes frighteningly close to my neighborhood. That’s not much of a snow day.

Most of all, I miss being a child. Like any other 24 year old, I’m now facing the fact that the future is all about being an adult. A young adult for a while, then an old adult, then a very old adult and then… well, that’s life.

How should I value my life? Should I see it in terms of how much money I make, and how much I can buy? I don’t expect to be rich, but as a freelancer I see how I can build up a steady income and at some point, if I have enough happy clients, I can possibly make six figures a year. That feels almost greedy… although if I have kids at some point I’m sure any money would help.

I feel dirty wanting money. I like working for just the amount I need to survive with a little extra to stow away for savings in case something terrible happens. Then again, I love eating at nice restaurants, traveling and buying overpriced clothing. It’s tough to both want to not be greedy and want to live a mildly lavish lifestyle.

More than anything, though, I want to feel like I’ve earned my money. That I deserve what I’ve earned. That’s why I like the idea of freelancing. Beyond actually having to do a good job, I constantly have to market myself and prove my worth. And if i’m not worthy of a project then I have to rethink my strategy for long-term survival. Maybe that’s a little scary, but I enjoy the ongoing challenge. It keeps me on my toes.

What’s with all of this ‘future’ and ‘past’ thinking? Well, it’s the holiday season, and while I’m not religious, the time around Hannukah and New Years always throws me into a state of extreme reflection. I think a lot about where I’ve been selfish in the past year and how I can change my next year to be a better person. I rarely make as much progress as I’d like, but at least through growing up I’ve stopped being so terribly narcissistic. I’ve accepted that for the most part people do not care about me, whether that’s caring about me being wonderful or a trainwreck. As a kid I was desperate for attention. Not anymore. Well, sometimes, if I’m having a random hyper moment and perhaps a few shots of Vodka. But…

Now… my whole view on life has changed. My basic morals haven’t. I still believe in freedom, I still believe in being a good person regardless of a belief in some divinity. That will always be a part of me. But now I don’t mind being invisible (usually). I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Cue the Trump Theme Song

I didn’t expect this blog to bring in any extra pay, but I put up some Google Ads to see if I could make some extra cash off of those. Income from the Google Ads turns out to be really random. Some days I’ll get a lot of clicks and other days they’ll be worthless. I think a lot of people are just so numb to Adsense ads these days. I don’t blame them. Then again, if I see an in site ad that is interesting to me on someone else’s site, I often click the ad. Rarely does it amount to me making a purchase on whatever it is the advertiser is selling, but I’ve visited sites that I found through advertising before.

Anyway, I’ve been contacted by a few advertisers lately who want to put ads on my page. I’m flattered, really. It’s certainly encouragement to keep up on this blog, as apparently there is some value to write all there is to know about my oh-so-exciting personal finances. Thus far one ad has gone up, and I’m currently in talks with a few other advertisers that may or may not work out.

This post, though, is to note that as of today, I’ve made my first successful ad sale for this site. I’m amazed, because I wasn’t even fishing for advertisers yet. I mean, I planned to later down the line when I had the site actually looking good and more content that would be useful to people. Right now, this blog has kind of turned into my quasi-anonymous bitch fest with a few useful entries splattered about. I really want to change that and make this site more about looking at what I’ve learned about personal finance and job hunting, and help others with what I know.

I’m not really sure how many readers I have right now. I get a decent amount of traffic, but according to my feed reader button only 13 people have signed up for my feed. I say “only,” but really I think it’s pretty cool that 13 ‘strangers’ are reading my blog on a fairly regular basis. My public blog, which is now mostly friends only, has tons of readers… but it’s over on livejournal and any money made from adsense ads there goes directly to LJ. I do like how Blogger seems to be pretty open to advertising, or at least splitting ad revenue with bloggers. What have they got to lose? Google makes most of the money from Adsense anyway. But I don’t mind that. At least I feel like I have the opportunity to control whether I want ads on my site, and if I do, make some money from them. I mean, enough to buy a few cups of Starbucks per month.

Well, Don’t I Feel Important?

This week I was interviewed for a Newsweek.com article on online personal finance sites like Mint, Wesabe, Geezeo, Yodlee and all the rest. I didn’t expect for my quote to end up in the lede. Ok, so here goes my anonymity, but I think it’s worth pointing to a personal finance article where I was quoted on my personal finance blog.

The thing is, my quote on there isn’t exactly right. It’s not wrong either, it’s just that I didn’t say “I’ll stick with that” when I was talking about Yodlee. I basically was saying that for now, I’m sticking with Yodlee because they have all the features I want. As soon as Mint ads the ability to track my mutual funds and such, I’ll go back to using that site. Actually, I still use that site, but I use Yodlee to keep track of my net worth since it’s interesting to see how my overall savings goes up or down depending on how the market is doing.

The funny thing is, Mint is powered by Yodlee’s back-end software, so they’re both very similar sites. It’s just that for one reason or another, Mint has yet to add Yodlee’s full functionality to its site. But I have a feeling they will at some point, and the day they do is the day I stop logging into Yodlee.

I wouldn’t mind so much that my quote says I’m going to stick with Yodlee, except I recently wrote this glowing review of Mint for a technology blog I used to work for — and I didn’t just change my mind. But if anyone read both articles, I’ll sound like a hypocrite. And no one likes a hypocrite.

Oh well.

Hello December

I can’t believe it’s already almost 2008. Seriously, wasn’t New Years for 2007 just yesterday? It’s kind of scary how fast life starts going by once school isn’t around to make everything go sooooo slowly. I want to figure out a way to slow life down. Now that I’m 24 (oh yea, I turned 24 a week ago, happy birthday to me) I need to somehow figure out how to make each day count just a bit more.

Thank goodness my job situation is starting to piece together into a picture I like. Freelancing with steady contract work is obviously the ideal situation for me.

Right now I have three steady gigs, plus some random projects thrown in. My logic is that each extra project I take on is more money I can save, while my steady work is generally for bills and such. Any extra money from my ‘steady’ work goes into savings, either my IRA or some other savings account that I need to set up.

My jobs:

Writing for a Company — 30 hours per week, 3 months, $3300 a month
Assisting at another Company — 5-10 hours per week, $25 per hour
Steady work from uncle’s marketing business — $400 a month retainer

So, I imagine that should turn out to something like $3900 a month. Take taxes out, it’s down to maybe $2800? Then take out $1050 for rent, $200 for bills – phone, internet, TV, gym membership) and $200 for health insurance and potential medical bills. That leaves me with, um, about $1300 for food, entertainment, gas, etc. If I’m lucky, that’ll be enough to save some money too.

What I want to save for…

$3000: Laser Hair Removal.
$1000: Digital SLR camera + lense and accessories
$100,000: Grad School

Time to start saving!

It’s Been a While, Time for an Update

I was just interviewed for an article about personal finance sites, and the brief early-morning chat reminded me that I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I’d like to start writing regularly again, it’s just tough to keep up with my blogs and my life. I don’t know how some personal finance bloggers find the time to write, like, three posts a day.

That said, I know I left you all with that wonderful long health insurance rant cliffhanger. Cue the cheesy suspense music please… “Duhn, duhn, duhn”….

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. I still don’t have health insurance. The good news is that’s mostly because I’m lazy and less because I’ve been denied. Well, I haven’t been denied because I haven’t applied yet. I’ve been speaking with a health insurance agent who seems to think my best option is to lie on my applications, although he won’t go on record as advising that. Meanwhile he’s also helped me put together a quote for Pacific Healthcare where I don’t have to lie, and that seems pretty reasonable (something like $140 a month for catastrophic insurance).

COBRA turns out to be a whopping $405 a month, so unless it turns out I actually get denied from every other option, it’s looking like COBRA, an aptly named snake, is a type of insurance one ought to stay away from even though it’s enticing from afar.

Money matters are looking up. I’m actually getting more work than I know what to do with right now. And old colleague who is the editor of a journalism-y startup just asked me to work a few hours for her a week helping with admin stuff, doing site maintenance and at some point writing some short and fun features for the site. I have a feeling she’s going to try to encourage me to get back into writing longer-format features and news stories at some point, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to head in. I’m kind of happy with the freedom (and better pay) that comes with controlling my career as a freelance writer out in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, my journalism expertise is in technology writing, and if I’m going to work for any startup in the area, it’s too conflict-of-interesty to try to swing a career half-time in journalism and half-time in writing marketing copy for these sites. This gig for my old colleague is kosher because it’s covering a specific area of technology that I will not be doing writing work for. So, that seems alright.

My biggest concern at the moment is the upcoming tax season. I just hope I get my W2 and 109 forms my way early so I can start figuring out how many zillions of dollars I owe, or don’t owe. I honestly have no idea what taxes will look like this year, and it scares me a bit. See, from Jan-June of 07 I was making “35k a year” and having taxes taken out of that. Then From June 15-Nov 15, I was making “50k a year” and taxes were swiped from my bi-monthly checks. That’s good. But after that, my tax situation turns into a bit of a mess. I’ve done a bunch of freelancing here and there. Some of it was for $50, some for $600, some for $1000. Obviously I’ll report all of the larger gigs, and try my best to remember the tally of my smaller gigs. Smart me, I haven’t been keeping track of my checks as I cashed them at the bank because I just assumed I’d have access to the scan of them later. I could have sworn at one point I saw these scans on my BankofAmerica.com account. No such luck. Apparently they charge some fee to pull up the scans of old checks. I don’t really want to find out how much that fee is. I guess I’ll just wait for my tax mail to come, and take it from there. And hopefully, at least for this year, it will turn out that my average pay was so low (due to periods of unemployment, without being on unemployment) that I’ll somehow break even on the whole tax situation. If not, there’s a chance I could owe a lot.

This is also the first year I’m going to see what having some cash in a mutual fund does to my taxes. Apparently I have to pay tax on my dividends. But right now it looks like my mutual fund, despite being ‘in the bank’ for over seven months, has returned to its original buying price. So I’m not sure how that all works out come tax time. Can someone explain this to me?

the nightmare that is figuring out taxes and health insurance as a freelancer

the absolutely marvelous news is that i just landed a steady, well-paid, 30 hrs/week contract gig for the next three months.

the bad news it that now i have to figure out how on earth to get myself decent health insurance… and how to sort out my income and expenses for tax season.

contract work is great because of the flexibility, but all the additional “work” I have to do to be self-employed is rather terrifying.

first off — health insurance: i already know i will be denied if i tell the truth on my health insurance applications, because i took lexapro ONE MONTH for “major depression.” On the Tonik health insurance application, you get to click off your pre-existing medical conditions. Guess what category major depression falls into? “Bipolar disorder/Major Depression/Schizophrenia”

Um. I went to a psychiatrist for about two months, took meds for one month, and i kind of feel better now.

My psychiatrist kind of warned me about the potential health insurance issues, but she wasn’t very clear about it. She just said that she doesn’t like working with health insurance — because it takes her forever to get paid. And then when she was considering diagnosing me with bipolar, she asked me if it would be ok to note that on my diagnosis form, since most clients don’t want that on there, as it could hurt their chances of getting health insurance later on.

First off, I was rather ignorant at the time, thinking that health insurance existed to help you get better (wrong) and that it would be cheaper for me to use my $15 co-pay visits with a ‘major depression’ diagnosis as opposed to 50% pay for ADD or anxiety or anything else that I probably actually have (I doubt I have major depression. It’s probably recurring, but I go through phases in my life. Life is hard and sometimes i’m sad and sometimes I need someone to talk to, but I don’t think this is a life-long condition). Anyway…

So I got my $15 visits, which was nice for the two months I say my psychiatrist and my therapist. And now? Well, chances are I won’t be able to get health insurance. Because apparently whatever it is I have is just as bad as SCHIZOPHRENIA in the eyes of my potential insurers.

I spoke with a health insurance agent who, off the record, basically suggested that i take the risk and lie on my application, because that would be the only way i could get decent insurance. but, of course, then i could basically screw myself over by doing that, since health insurance companies could find out that i lied and make me pay for EVERYTHING since when i signed up for their insurance. that’s a scary thought.

Or – do I just be honest and watch as my applications get denied? I haven’t got my forms for Cobra yet, but I’m sure that will be ridiculously expensive. I had really good health insurance (Blue Shield PPO) through my employer with a $250 deductible, and now I’m looking at whatever I can get with a $1500-$5000 deductible and poor benefits. And to get that I might still have to lie.

But I should have health insurance. I realize it’s stupid to be living without health insurance. I just am not sure what kind to get. Basically I need the doctor to prescribe me Yasmin birth control pills each month (and hopefully for them not to cost me a fortune) — I need “Yasmin” specifically for hormonal imbalances and such, but unfortunately getting cheaper pills through something like planned parenthood will not let me get that brand.

Besides health insurance, there’s the issue of taxes. Gosh, I’m so behind of keeping tabs on what I’ve made in contract work this year. I know, bad me. I just set up a google docs spreadsheet to start taking detailed notes from hereonout, but I’m not 100% sure what I’ve made thus far this year. In any case, I know that taxes are going to take a HUGE CHUNK out of my income, which is fine, they did that before, but it’s just really hard to determine how much taxes will be when I don’t even know how much work I will have each month.

At least now I have a stable three month gig where I will be making $3300 a month, assuming they like me and want to keep me for the entirety of the contracted position. After that, either I get to stay on board, or it’s back to the drawing board. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my goal is to pick up one or two freelance web design projects per month, where I’d make anywhere from $500-$1000 per project (although I’m starting out with really cheap rates of like $200 per project.)

Anyway… for the next three months, my ‘income’ before taxes, minus any additional web design projects, should be $3700, which includes the contract gig and another ongoing contract project where I make $400 a month writing a few articles for my uncle’s marketing firm. $3700 a month is definitely not a bad wage, but after taxes, and health insurance, I’m not sure how much that actually is. It’d be something like $2700 a month or something? So after rent, that’s $1650 a month. Phone bill, gym membership and cable tv/internet are like, $200, so then I have $1450 left. Ok, not bad. Health insurance, assuming I go for a decent kind, will be like $300 a month. So that’s maybe $1150 left for food, entertainment and such.

Ok, I guess that’s not awful. But I just am scared about not understanding taxes and all the complicated stuff that goes into expensing things and such. Meanwhile, I just read that self-employed individuals pay a lot more in taxes because usually the company pays for like half of the taxes, but when you work for yourself you are your own company.

So. I guess I have a lot of figuring out to do. In the meantime, I have to wrap up three projects I’m working on. I’m writing some company for a startup (basically, I’m writing all the copy that will go on their site), then I have to finish this one website for a client, and then I’ve got to wrap up the basic design for a project I’m doing in a ‘trade’ deal with a personal trainer. 5 hours of web design for 4 hours of personal training. It’s not a bad deal, considering she charges $78 an hour and I charge $50. Anyway, I can tell she’s getting antsy to see the page (I already had three training sessions this week, but I told her I’d show her something this weekend.) Well, I’ve got to finish that. I’m trying my darndest to figure out Flash because A) she seems to really like pages with Flash in them and B) I need at least one site for my portfolio that incorporates Flash, so I can show clients that I can atleast put some basic animation on their pages.

Anyway.

Life is going pretty good, minus all of this confusion. My birthday is coming up next week. I’m turning 24. Happy, uh, confused birthday to me.

unemployment and depression

they say if you pursue your passion, money will come to you. i still don’t know what my passion is. i can’t figure out one job that i’d be happy doing 40-50 hours per week. i’ve tried public relations, admin, arts marketing and journalism, and ultimately i got bored with every single position.

you know what? some days i wonder what it would be like to be a photographer. i love taking pictures. but so many people are good at photography. pursuing a career in writing just feels safer. all businesses need copy. sure, most businesses need photography as well, but i just don’t believe in myself enough to pursue that career.

i just feel like spending my life writing will help me get by. maybe. if i can hold a job long enough to save some money, instead of failing every four months to a year.

i guess i’m writing at the moment because it’s one of my down days. i’m feeling rather hopeless about my future and question why i bother trying. i know that i’ve accomplished quite a bit for my age, but really, the accomplishments i have made all feel rather pointless and don’t bring me any sense of pride. if i was working as a photographer, or a graphic designer, i think i’d be somewhat happy.

i’m just too scared to take out loans and figure out how to get from where i am now to a new career. and emotionally, i feel like i have no where to turn. i love my boyfriend more than i can express, but he isn’t a very expressive person when it comes to empathy, and if i’m sad i just make him sad, so it’s not even worth telling him anymore. my parents are no help, they don’t really care about how i’m doing, as long as i have a roof over my head. but as for my emotional well being, i guess sometimes i feel like no one really cares. perhaps that’s just my depression speaking, but it’s just frustrating to feel that the only person i can really talk to about my problems is my therapist. I guess what i’m saying is I feel rather empty because the few friends i have all seem so happy. they might be working as hair stylists, or editors, but they’re all so content with their lives. i’m not content at all with where i’m at now. i feel like such a waste. i want so much more for my life. but sometimes i think i’m just the dumb kid who snuck through the system. maybe i should have ended up working as a hair stylist or something. not a writer. not a designer. maybe i should work at starbucks. or safeway. i mean, i’m losing faith in myself and my abilities. i want to be brilliant but i’m not even close. i want to help people, but i feel like i can’t even help my family, so how could I help anyone else? i really hate money, even though i love buying things. i hate that i’m such a capitalist.

I Need a Job.

Welcome to the world of unemployment. It’s not that bad of a world, minus the whole losing money every second of the day sort of thing.

The good news is that while I’m officially unemployed (sans unemployment insurance, since I resigned), I’ve picked up a few random freelance gigs here and there. My uncle always needs random work done for his e-marketing firm, and he seems really happy with the work I’ve done for him thus far, which makes me feel really good. Yea, he’s my uncle, but he’s also a really talented marketing entrepreneur and I know he wouldn’t be hiring me for more jobs if he felt like I didn’t have the chops.

I have a steady income (1/3rd my rent) each month from ongoing writing assignments from him, with occasional extra work for the firm. This month, in addition to my normal copywriting, I did my first official web page design assignment for him. I guess he liked how the design looked but wasn’t thrilled that I turned a pure HTML document into one with CSS. Oops. I was so confused by the original HTML document, given that it was causing Dreamweaver to have a hernia or something. Half the code turned GREY and I couldn’t edit it. Now, maybe that was a template that I was supposed to work in, but there was still some weird code that was making the layout all wonky. I kept the layout exactly the same, except I revamped it in CSS. Hopefully that’s not too awful. He wasn’t exactly clear on the directions, I was just told to take a pre-existing site and make it look better, and that I did. Oh well.

I’m also writing a bunch of copy for a start-up social networking-esque company. It’s all contract work, but who knows, it could lead to something more. So this week is booked solid with contract work. Next week, my sister comes to visit and I’m “taking the week off” to show her around town. Then I’m going to start focusing on my job applications. Well, I’ve been applying for jobs left and right, but am not sure anyone is going to consider hiring me full time since I was only at my last job for 4 months. That looks really bad in the eyes of a potential employer, and I can’t blame them for doubting me. It’s just frustrating because I know I have so much to give, it’s just my last job wasn’t right for me. I’m not a newshound. I’m somewhat socially anxious, which doesn’t really align with a career in journalism. But how do I explain that to potential employers? “I quit my last job because talking to strangers makes my heart explode.” Yea, that’s going to help me land a great job, for sure. 🙁

In any case, I’m hopeful that something good will come along if i’m patient and bide my time with contract work. If I can manage to turn the contract work into a full-time profession, all the better. But for now, I’m crossing my fingers that I can manage to pay for my rent, basic bills, health insurance cobra, and food until something full-time comes along.

Meanwhile, i’ve decided to focus my free time on getting into shape and figuring out how to be healthy inside and out. I’ve stopped taking the anti-depressents (wow, I took them for a whole 25 days, and now, I’m done) and am looking into herbal stuff instead. (Yup, I bought some St. John’s Wort.) I can’t figure out if all of the nutritional supplements end up costing me more than a psychiatrist and Lexapro, or if they end up costing about the same. In any case, I figured out that my lack of energy and dizziness is probably caused by iron and other nutritional deficiences. This week, I even tried eating red meat (I’ve been a vegetarian for about 10 years, though I started eating fish a year ago) – but after downing a half-pound hamburger yesterday I got sick to my stomach. Let’s just say an hour or so after eating that burger, I only digested about half of it. The rest? Don’t ask. (Yuck.) So I’m done with red meat (again) for now. Instead, I’m looking into other supplements to help the cause of mission get healthy (without – getting broke.) Think I can do it? Well, I certainly hope so.

Over and Done and on to the Next

I apologize for taking forever to update this blog. Life has been a wee bit crazy as of late, but despite all of the chaos I think in the long run all that has gone down will be for the better. In short, at the moment I am unemployed. Basically, I quit my job, although of course it wasn’t nearly that simple. In the brief hour or so I had to decide between forced resignation and firing, I chose the former. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision given that I cut myself off from unemployment benefits, but given that the parting was amicable, it seemed in my best interest to keep things that way and not have to force my boss to fire me.

Anyway, it seems like I’m back to square one. Funny that. I spent a year and three months building up my career and I really had gotten far. Too far, to be honest. I just jumped way ahead of my capabilities at this point in my career and experience. My boss even commented in our closing conversation that I’m really good at what I do, I just need more time to nurture my skills in a more stable journalism environment, preferably at a magazine. I’m not really such such a job exists these days, nor am I sure I’d want it if miracle of miracles it was offered to me. Right now I’m going through a massive re-evaluation of my career plans and goals. I’m really interested in pursuing web design and copy writing, but I’m not sure what kind of openings there would be in those areas for someone with my particular background.

For the time being, I’m doing some freelance web and writing work, and I’m going to take a trip to the local temp agency to try to land some short-term gigs until I figure this all out. I’m a wee bit nervous about the whole health insurance situation — I’m insured until the end of the month on my current policy and then it’s either dealing with expensive Cobra coverage or trying to figure out if the alternatives are any cheaper. The whole situation isn’t very good given that I’m finally on medication to treat my depression and, well, I might not be able to obtain insurance that will help pay for the condition. Ugh. It’s fine, though, I’ve been through worse times before. To be honest, I kind of feel relieved right now. I know that I did my best and it just wasn’t the right job for me at this time. Being unemployed sucks, but hopefully I won’t be job-less for long.

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