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.

Sitting on the floor of a parking garage; goodbye $165

I have a brilliant talent for making my life miserable. I decided to drive into the city today and park in my free spot by the office, which was a good 30 minute walk from the conference I was attending downtown. That all went fine, and despite being upset about my loafers not being the most comfortable walking shoes, I felt proud of saving the few extra bucks it would have cost to take the train or park closer.

Then what do I do? I manage to lose my car key. Yes, somehow during the course of the day my key fell off of the key chain and well, long story short, I do not have a car key.

There goes $165 (or more) plus three hours of my life that i’ll never get back.

I can deal with the wasted hours. But the $165? So much for my payraise.

Spending Habits of the Weak

In my attempt to determine where my money disappears to, I’ve sought out the aid of online personal finance tracking sites. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I enjoyed the ease of getting my finance info up to the Geezeo site. I’ve actually had a bit of trouble with signing in to the site lately (I’m pretty sure I’m using the right password, but then even when I try to reset the password it doesn’t work.) In any case, given that I have little patience and quickly got fed up with typing in my June spending into Excel, I signed in to my Wesabe account and updated my info so I could track my spending…

Geez. I spent a lot last month. I knew I was spending more than I made, but it’s kind of painful to see how grossly I burst past my invisible budget. I spent $3559 in June. But I only made $2273 for the month. Actually, come to think of it that’s all inaccurate because I deposited my final paycheck (which I received June 30) sometime in July. So right now my July earnings are noted as $2466, but really that money was earned in June, and half of the money counted in my June income was really my May paycheck. Plus, some of that money was the $450 my friend paid me to live in my apartment for the month. Oy, my income is much harder to track than my expenses.

I do need to start keeping tabs on my income. While I’ll be making more money at my full-time gig (when I start in a week), what I really need to do is track the money I make working the small freelance gigs I pick up on the side. Whether that’s doing some copy writing for my uncle’s digital marketing company, or designing a basic website for a friend who offers to pay something for the work… I really need to figure out how much per month I’m making on outside projects. Why? Well, it’s difficult to figure out a budget when these extra projects become a consistent portion of one’s income. When I was making about $2000 a month after taxes this year, the extra $100 a month I made on copy writing for my uncle was really a huge bonus. But then one of the companies that I did work for (through him) decided they no longer wanted him to put together a monthly newsletter, so I was then out $50 a month. Considering how much I spend, that $50 isn’t worth that much, but it’s also worth a lot. That $50 covered one voice lesson and a cheese plate at Starbucks.

My general theory on spending (albeit an irresponsible one) was that if I spent slightly more than what I was making at $35k a year, when I received a raise or managed to land a job with a higher paycheck, I’d be able to live comfortably at a slightly higher salary. After all, I don’t overspend EVERY month. Just most months. But only by about $600 to $1000. I don’t think I’m the type who will start spending more just because I’m making more. Sure my rent went up $145 a month (ouch), and I might splurge on nice clothes and paying for a nice dinner with the bf more often, but overall I think my spending habits will remain constant.

One thing I’d like to spend money on… if I had more money… would be travel. I’d love to take a real adult vacation, like to Hawaii or someplace like that. Thus far my only travel during my full-time work years has been back home to New Jersey. And up until now, my parents have chipped in for my plane ticket back east. But that doesn’t really count as a vacation, despite the high cost of that ticket. Going home is something that I just have to do every once in a while, but it’s not a relaxing getaway.

Since my bf doesn’t work, I’d really love to be able to afford to take us both to Hawaii, or maybe Seattle, or even to some random small ocean-side town in Southern California. I’d love to be able to splurge on a massage every once in a while, or just while on vacation. A massage and a facial. And maybe one of those fancy foot scrubs. And then there’s the laser hair removal and teeth whitening that I want to be saving my pennies for.

So… there’s plenty of things I could spend any extra income on, surely. Would I actually spend it? I’m not so sure. I’m not a huge saver, but I’ve never been good about spending money on big purchase items that I actually really want. Like that laser hair removal. I have this syndrome called PCOS and one of the lovely symptoms of the disorder is having excess facial hair. I don’t have a full-grown beard or anything, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time tweezing random hairs out of my chin line and sideburns. God, what’s I’d give to permanently get rid of those hairs! Would I give $1500, or whatever the cost is these days for permanent (and painful) hair removal? Possibly. I’m afraid if I did that and it worked, I’d be addicted. I’d have to get my legs and armpits done, and my belly and back. I’d give anything to be hair free in the places where hair oughtn’t be.

Anyway, what makes me sad about my spending habits is knowing that I can go and spend $700 on clothes and makeup in one month, but I’d never really consider spending that much money on laser hair removal at this point in my life. Even though obviously it’s one of those things that I really want. I think I need to go to spending school. I need to get my financial priorities straight. I’m not sure where laser hair removal would fall into these priorities (after all, the treatment would be a luxury for sure, but in a way it’s a medical expense because it’s not like I can live a normal life with a thousand hairs growing out of my chin). Too bad my health insurance doesn’t care about that.

Am I the Only Person in the World Who Doesn’t Want an iPhone?

Forget the price tag (which is the primary reason why I won’t be buying an iPhone anytime soon), I’m not all that inspired to shell out any amount of cash for Apple’s latest hot gadget anytime soon. Why? I don’t need a fancy phone. I do need one that rings, takes voicemail, and allows me to text message my friends. My crappy Verizon flip phone isn’t really satisfying these needs either, but why spend $600 on a new iPod with phone capabilities?

Ok, so most websites look gosh darn purty on the iPhone. The comparable view on my tiny flip phone handset dek can’t compare to what Apple has done with its display. This image of Geezeo’s mobile site on the iPhone almost makes me want one…

And the Google Maps feature… and the hours I’ve spent lost driving up and down the roads of Silicon Valley… almost has me reaching for my credit card en route to a bad Apple splurge. But I’m waiting for the next generation of iPhone. I look at the clunky first-gen iPods and I can only imagine how much better the iPhone will be in its next few incarnations.

In other related news, I’m getting a (free) Blackberry for my new job. I’ve never owned a Blackberry, so I’m sure owning one will make me feel rather professional, as will my new (expensive) 30 minute train commute into the city.

Anyway, speaking of Geezeo, I’m still patiently awaiting all of the features the site promises to eventually have. I’d love to have one spot to track all of my money, from checking account to my Vanguard investments. And what would be even better would be the ability to make widgets and graphs based on my spending to post in this blog. I’m not sure if that type of thing is in the works over at Geezeo, but it would sure get rid of the headache of attempting to manage my finances in multiple locations, including Excel – in order to make chart graphics. That’s not happening today, though, so off to Excel I go for a recount of June’s spending and income.

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