Tag Archives: history

How Far You’ve Come

There’s nothing like the reality check of reading my first blog post on HerEveryCentCounts to remind me how far I’ve come in the past six years… increasing my networth from $27k to $222k. If I can make this much progress in the next six years I should do fine. I have to keep telling myself that.

WAYBACK MACHINE: 1st HECC Post / May 27, 2007

This isn’t my first blog, nor will it be my last likely, but after randomly falling into the online investment blogging community, I decided it’s a good idea to start tracking my finances and the like via the Internet… anonymously, of course.

So here’s a little bit of info about me to get started: I’m a young professional in her early 20?s. I’ve been out of undergrad for two years now. My income is $35k a year, benefits included, except sans a 401k. Chance of raise/promotion within next year: 15%. Chance of company going out of business: 55%.

I’m fortunate in the sense that I have a decent amount of savings and no college loans. Savings from both my dad putting aside some funds for me for the awkward post-college year, and then extra cash from a lawsuit over a broken arm when I was little. My networth right now is around $27k. So I realize I’m better off than many other people my age, despite the fact that they might be making $50k a year and I’m only at $35k. Or at least our actual income after bills and other expenses is usually about the same.

Since this is an anonymous blog, I feel ok talking about the details of my finances. I haven’t talked about it much on my main blog since it feels weird letting people know about how much I’m worth, or not worth. But finances are one of the things that I really need to talk somewhat publicly about, since I’m unsure of how to handle my money, with the exception of spending it. I’m very good at spending it.

So I recently opened a few random mutual fund/IRA/CD accounts, as I’m attempting to “diversify” my portfolio. I know I’m supposed to be living under my means, but I often fail to do that and spend more per month than I take in. Obviously that’s a bad idea. But i’m hoping that at the least, putting some of my funds in high-interest accounts will balance out my poor spending habits.

Ok, so here’s the breakdown of my accounts right now… (I’m going to try to keep tabs of this, as well as my budget, on here)

$2,143.54 – Checking
$7,421.99 – CD – 3.1 % Interest, matures 8/28/08
$5,510.58 – Maximizer Checking
$1000.63 – Savings
$5,000 – 8-month 5.01% Interest CD
$3,000 – Vanguard Mid-Cap Growth Index Mutual Fund
$3,000 – Roth IRA, in 2050 Retirement Plan fund

Well, the last three of these items haven’t officially been started yet. I signed up for them yesterday. I’m waiting for all of the electronic transfers to go through. I realize investing in a Mid-Cap Growth Index Mutual Fund. Afterall, the smart thing to do is to invest in large caps, right? But I figure if I put $3000 into a mid cap fund, I can also invest in a large cap fund if/when I ever get a raise. I’m $1000 to maxing out my Roth IRA fund.

I don’t understand the Roth versus regular IRA option, being as I know the Roth is all after-tax income and the regular IRA is pre-tax income then invested. But what should I be investing in now? I’m only making $35k a year, so it seems like I’ll most likely be in a higher tax bracket when I want to retire. Afterall, I plan on making more than $35k per year when I’m 55 or 65 or whatever age it is I can retire.

And if I sign up for a Roth IRA now, can I move to a regular IRA at any time? Or am I stuck in the Roth?

Finally, how about my mutual funds – how much will it cost to change them from mid-cap to large-cap if suddenly I realize I ought to be a bit less risky in my investing? Gosh, I’m so confused.

 

We Were Immigrants, We Are American

As much as my father has a talent for upsetting me, one of the parts of our relationship that I enjoy the most is hearing about our family’s past. I know bits and pieces of both sides of my family, but every time I see my dad a new piece of the story is revealed.

What is incredible about my father’s family of 6 – five brothers and one sister, with my father being the oldest, is that the entire family was filled with successful engineers and mathematicians, despite their parents, both from immigrant families, never having finished high school.

My grandfather was a typical hot-headed Italian, the son of a Slavic Catholic woman who spoke broken English, and an Italian man who disappeared after he was born for unknown reasons. He married my Grandmother when she was very young. My Grandmother, whose parents were Jewish Hungarian and Jewish Polish (I think?) grew up in slightly better circumstances — her parents stayed together, and they lived in the Bronx in a nice apartment, until my father was born and they moved to the suburbs of New Jersey to raise the family.

The story goes, they never had a lot of money, but had many children, likely by accident after the first few. My father came first, then three more sons, a daughter, and one final son. My grandfather worked in a factory building pocketbooks, at some point my grandmother worked as as secretary. My grandmother, always my role model as a very level headed, intelligent woman, put up with a lot from my grandfather — his temper was just one of the issues — there were others, some I know about, some I don’t — and one big gambling problem that almost tore the family apart.

Regardless, the kids went on to varying levels of success. My father was valedictorian of his high school, studied physics for undergrad on scholarship. His brothers and sister became computer engineers, computer scientists, and accountants. He isn’t sure how that happened, as his parents, again, both without high school degrees, certainly didn’t push the kids to do well in school in the same way, say, an Asian Tiger Mom would. These kids figured it out for themselves that in order to have a better life, they needed to take charge of their futures. Perhaps part of it was the baby boomer midset, that the American Dream is possible, and at the time it was. At least for the kids of immigrant families.

The stories of each of the siblings didn’t all turn out perfect. Notably one, the risk taker of the bunch, made his millions and lost them through a variety of business decisions that left him divorced and nearly bankrupt. Others have their own struggles, but I don’t know the half of the stories. Most live in nice houses on the east coast throughout the tri-state area, and have been able to put their children through college.

My mother’s family is a different story, but they also grew up in the lower middle class. I’ll write about her family some other time. It’s my father’s family that fascinates me the most, however, because they were a true immigrant family (well, children of the children of immigrants) — a mix of working class backgrounds — Italian-Slavic Catholic meets Eastern European Jew. In other words, our family were true Americans of that time, representative of those in New York and New Jersey building a better life for themselves.

What do you know about your family’s history? Were they working class, middle class or upper class? If you’re American, when did they come over to the states?

You Can’t Scoff at Deal or No Deal if you Play the Stock Market

Have you ever watched Deal or No Deal? If so, how frustrated do you get when the contestant is offered a really good amount from the banker and then the contestant goes on to play against the odds and ends up with a measly ten bucks?

Watching the show it’s easy to think, gee, this person is an idiot. But how different is that from playing the stock market?

Of course, stocks have a lot more math to them. The odds aren’t so clear cut. Each company has its own risks and it’s own potential for success.

But when it comes down to it, you either believe in a company or you don’t. You believe that in box #1 there is a goldmine and you stick to your gut or you change your mind and hope you’re right.

Obviously you can’t control the stock market, but I never realized just how vulnerable it (and the American dollar) was until recently with this huge recession going on.

I can’t figure out if my stock investments are bad choices or if the recession will just have to work through my piggy bank before my stocks can start growing, and hopefully returning to their investment value and exceeding it. Still, I have my doubts I’ll see that money again.

As I’ve said earlier, my Sharebuilder account is where I can play the stock market for the long term. I’m not day trading… which maybe is a bad thing, given the recent performance of my GLD holding. It was up to over $100 a share just a day ago and now it’s down to $93 a share. My $49 profit has widdled away to $6, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes negative soon either.

Meanwhile, all of my other funds are performing miserably. One of the other reasons I started my Sharebuilder account is to diversify my portfolio internationally. I’ve got random bits of stock in Brazil, India and the rest of Asia (coal and cleantech stocks) — all ETFs. I’m hoping that if the US crashes and burns maybe these other economies will survive and even grow. I believe that the future for the US economy may not be so bright. China and Asia are gaining power by the millisecond. I can’t imagine that the US will be able to keep up. I think over the next century the US is going to lose some of its superpowers, for better or worse. I believe there’s going to be a big war at some point down the road that’s going to hit all of the world’s economies much worse than the Iraq war. There will probably be more attacks on America, and there will be a third world war. I just don’t see how it’s possible to avoid it. Scary, but I think it’s probably true.

Of course war times, historically, are usually good for the economy, right? Well, except this Iraq war doesn’t seem to be living up to that. So I don’t know. I can’t really guess the future, but the way the world is right now, and the way people are so stupid and stubborn and violent, I can’t see us avoiding some huge conflict for much longer.

I’m not sure how that will effect my stocks. If I survive through such a war… maybe a diversified portfolio will be a good thing to have?

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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First Generation with Fiscal Suckage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any case, Frugal makes this important point:

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

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

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