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Archive for December, 2006

2007 Financial Goals

December 30th, 2006 at 04:27 pm

1.) Contribute $150 to Vanguard Target Retirement each month in 2006. The $150 will come from my monthly graduate student stipend.

2.) The remainder of my monthly stipend will be used to pay expenses following the rough budget I created in Quicken. I will use the budget categories to help guide my allocation of money, but will not be rigid. Bottom line is that my total spending is less than stipend income -$150.

3.) Put all money earned from odd jobs (hearing testing, Personal Chef, Nutrition Instructor, eBay sales) into Emigrant Direct Savings account. This amounts to roughly 18-20% of my take home stipend pay.

4.) Move portion of Savings current in Emigrant Direct account to an Emigrant Direct My Way CD (I know amount I plan to move, I just not completely comfortable sharing the number with the world!)

Grocery Bonanza!

December 29th, 2006 at 02:58 pm

I just returned from a rather large grocery shopping trip. Since I have the week off from my personal chef job, I was able to spend quality time perusing deals for us. Initial total was $118.13, after store card it was $94.18, and after coupons, $63.19. The order was mostly food, but did include some cleaning supplies and facial tissue. Although I donít keep a price book, I have a pretty good idea of the cost of most items (Iím not disregarding price books, if I have the time, I would love to create one), and Iíve found it really helps to know the usual price and then save up your coupons until thereís a great sale. Iím also fortunate to have a grocery store that doubles coupons up to $1.00.

A few ďscoresĒ I was happy about:

40 oz box of Bisquick for $0.12
3 Ė 15 oz boxes of Cheerios for $2.50 ($0.83 box)
12-160 count boxes of Scotties Facial Tissue for $3.98 ($0.33 / box)
15# flour (10# bread flour, 5# white flour) for $2.87
1 box 20 Electrosol Dishwasher Tablets for $0.63
2-11oz cans Chock Full O Nuts Coffee for $2.50 ($1.25 / can)
1 Roll Saran Wrap Ė Free
1 12 oz. bag Nestle Dark Chocolate Chips Ė Free

Next up:
The New Year is upon us! I need to get going on writing down some goals!

Ebay and Half.com results

December 27th, 2006 at 07:38 pm

I hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable Holiday! Mr. Bean and I spent some time with family in another state, but we're now back at our own home. While visiting my parents I took a look with a critical eye around my childhood bedroom (as well as at the gifts given to us by Mr. Bean's father-- he owns a boutique uses the excess inventory as gag gifts) for potential Ebay items. I found a few possibilities, but decided to run the numbers on my eBay debut earlier this month to see just what my profit margin looked like.

In my first attempt as an eBay seller I listed 3 items in a 7-day auction (in mid-December 2006):

Item #1: NWT (new with tags) shirt: no bids: Cost to list: $1.10
LOSS: $1.10

Item #2: Gently Worn Merrell Shoes: Sold at the Buy it Now Price of $24.99 + 7 S&H
Cost to list + Commission: $2.41
+ actual shipping = $4.80
(Net expense of sale) = $7.21
Profit: $24.78

Item #3: Insect Paperweight (a 2005 Xmas gift from FILís shop): sold at auction fro $3.50 + $3.00 S&H
Cost to list + Commission + PayPal Fee: $2.07
+ actual shipping and padded envelope= $2.36
(Net expense of sale) = $4.43
Profit: $2.07

TOTAL eBay income: $25.78

Half.com was much more profitable for me. I sold 6 books (including one $50 textbook). After shipping and commissions, my net gain was $48.43.

After analyzing the results, I will continue to try to sell items on eBay, but I will be careful when creating my listing to minimize fees (something I failed to do this first time around). I also think I will be judicious in what I sell and focus only on larger ticket items. Obviously the shirt was a loss and the paperweight was barely worth my time.

I am an avid reader, but donít have a lot of room for books, so I will continue to use Half.com to thin out books I donít plan to read again. When shipping items, itís best to use small boxes lying around the house, but when boxes are unavailable, I found the best place to buy padded envelopes is the Dollar Tree where they are sold in packages of 2 envelopes for $1.00.

Got Netflix? Enjoy a few free movies on Blockbuster!!

December 20th, 2006 at 06:16 pm

To all the NetFlix subscribers out there: you have just one more day to take advantage of this Great Offer.

Bring in your NetFlix envelopes to any Blockbuster and receive a free movie for each envelope. The only catch is that the name on the Blockbuster card and the name on the envelope must match up. Mr. Bean has been saving up our envelopes, so yesterday I tromped out to our local Blockbuster and picked up 5 free movies. He's been managing our NetFlix subscription as I haven't had much time to watch movies. The end result-- lots of Battlestar Gallactica DVDs. Not my thing. I'm looking forward enjoying some movies that are a little more my style... you know, the kind without Martians or aliens.

Frugal Foodie Feast

December 17th, 2006 at 06:45 pm

Mr. Bean and I had friends over this morning for a Christmas Brunch. Our reason for having a brunch get-together was simply just to try something different than the typical dinner gig-- but when all was said and done it was less expensive and a nice change from dinner entertaining.

The menu consisted of:
Gingerbread Waffles
Pork Sausage (purchased from the University Meat Lab (ahh, the benefits of going to a Land Grant University)
Pineapple (canned) and Mango (on sale)
Coffee, OJ, Mimosas

I made a centerpiece with a retro looking plastic Santa salvaged from my Grandmother's house and candles. I saw some great ceramic snowflake plates at the Dollar Store and was truly tempted to buy some for our Brunch. I held out ONLY because we may be moving in the next six months and I'm trying to limit the amount of stuff we have to move. If we were permanent, I would have certainly spent the $4 and had some really cute Holiday plates for the years to come. They were so charming that I did buy two plates as gifts for the dessert trays I gave to our brunch guests (1 plate) and my personal chef client (1 plate) this morning. Filled with baked goods and wrapped in Green Saran Warp they looked really nice (but cost very little!).

Help! I'm becoming my mother!

December 15th, 2006 at 11:28 am

I absconded the office potluck with a molasses cookie and a raspberry bar wrapped neatly in a festive Christmas napkin to bring home to Mr. Bean.

SOLD!

December 13th, 2006 at 07:06 pm

One of my items on eBay sold at the 'Buy it Now ' price of $24.99 + $7 S&H. I'm so pleased! I might have been able to get a better price had it just gone through auction, but I 'm happy to have the sale. The item up for bid was a gently worn pair of women's Merrell shoes. My research indicated that shoes of this type are a popular eBay item, so I had a feeling someone would bite the 'Buy it Now' price. I've had the shoes for ~2 years and never really liked them, so I won't miss them one bit. I walk past the Post Office on my way to campus, so mailing won't be a hassle, either. I can see myself getting into this!

For any other ebay neophytes out there, let me assure you the process is easy. I downloaded the free Turbo Lister Software and was able to figure it out without having to read the instructions, but if you're not terribly familiar with computers / software I'm sure the tutorial does an excellent job.

I would recommend reading the fee schedule before you list, including all the optional feature fees. I failed to thoroughly do this. I now realize I could have saved myself some money by NOT listing a subtitle. The pricing list will also guide you in number of photos you can post for free and related issues.

After I mail the package and all the fees are charged, I'll post on just how much (or how little) I'll actually make in the end.

Ebay Debut / Mexican Pizza

December 12th, 2006 at 07:14 pm

I listed 3 items on ebay this evening. I was unaware that there are fees just to list items (I was under the impression that you only incurred fees if your item sold).

I paid less than $5 to list the items, so I'll chalk this first run up to a learning experience and then re-evaluate if ebay selling is worth my time. I also listed a number of books on half.com -- I like that there are no charges to list and that your items can stay listed as long as you like.



In other news, I made another homemade pizza tonight. Tonight's pizza was Mexican themed. It turned out surprisingly good considering the idea evolved from a desire to use up random ingredients. I used the same crust recipe (posted on 11/14), but I covered the crust with a black bean dip (free after coupon), then topped with salsa, then added a little Gimme Lean Soy Sausage (browned first in pan), diced grape tomatoes, and cheddar cheese.

Monday and today were no spend days / no drive days.

First Foray into eBay

December 11th, 2006 at 06:20 pm

Prompted by this post at MyMoney blog, I decided to try selling some stuff on eBay. We live in a small house, so periodic de-cluttering is a necessity!

Unfortunately, my camera batteries died just as I got started. Fearful of losing the selling gusto, I listed three books on half.com. I've never sold anything on eBay or Half.com, so I'm curious to see how it goes. One thing I couldn't find was how long my items stay listed on Half.com. Does anyone know??

Pleasant Surprise at the Used Book Store

December 7th, 2006 at 06:55 pm

Spending has been pretty limited this week. I thought it was "no spend" until I looked in Quicken and was reminded that I paid $8.60 Monday when I picked up dry cleaning and also ordered a Xmas gift online Monday. Monday - Wednesday were also "no drive" days (I aim for these like "no spend" days).

I took two books to the used bookstore today, one of which was a sports memorabilia book. She wasn't going to take it until I said, "There are people selling it on eBay", which is partially trueÖ. I saw one on eBay for $11.99 but the auction had ended without any bids. She seemed very reluctant but after typing the title into her computer (she must use some book pricing database), I heard her say, "Oh!" then said she's give me $25 store credit for both. I wonder how much it was worth... it must have been fairly substantial since the other book couldn't have been more than a few dollars. Typically I take the cash when selling books, but this particularly store has stopped offering cash until Spring. They recently purchased a collection for $4000 and need the cash. Perhaps I could have sold the book on my won, but itís all water under the bridge (or store credit in my pocket)now.

Book Reviews

December 5th, 2006 at 05:49 pm

A few thoughts on some personal finance books Iíve read recently (all borrowed from the library, of course!)

Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner by David Bach For someone like myself who is just starting off the personal finance I found this book helpful, although hokey at times. For example, I did not clearly understand the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA. This book helped me understand the difference. Although David Bach should not be considered the next great American novelist, his writing is clear and easy to read. However, for the more seasoned personal finance aficionados out there, this book probably doesnít offer much new information. Another drawback is that it was published in 2002 and some of the information is outdated (such as information on IRA yearly contribution limits).

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s, Third Edition by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. I read this after David Bachís book and did not learn anything new. This book might be better tailored for the high school / college age crowd, as some of the information, ie. ďYou need to pay a security deposit when you rent an apartmentĒ is something most of us in our late 20ís have figured out by now.

Nice Girls Don't Get Rich : 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money by Lois Frankel.Reviews a lot of the basic personal finance advice (Pay yourself first, take advantage of your 401(k), etc.), but also touches on some of the underlying issues why women donít get rich or why women let others control their finances. A very motivating read, at times. Quick to read, worth checking out from the library.

As I stood in the libraryís personal finance section today, I couldnít help but reflect on how Iíve moved through the shelf, almost in the exact order of the call numbers as my interests have progressed. Last spring, I went and checked out the Tightwadís Gazette as I looked to find more ways to spend less and live more frugally. Over the summer, I came to the conclusion that spending less was good, but that it all seemed rather futile since I didnít have a good handle on the money that was already mine, nor was I tracking what I spent. So, I started using Quicken. Once I started tracking, I started to question why I had my money sitting in checking and low interest savings, and so I moved on to the books reviewed above. Todayís stop at the library to check out books on investing aside from retirement.

The most important lesson Iíve learned through this process is that getting on top of my finances was really pretty easy. Previously, I was intimidated and thought all this money stuff would be complicated and confusing. Iíve found only the opposite to be true óand it has all been made even easier more enjoyable by having such great folks like yourself to consult with.


New Goal: Save for House Down Payment

December 4th, 2006 at 11:52 am

Saving for a house down payment is something Iíve talked about, but have not made any dedicated actions toward. The soonest weíd be ready to a buy a house wonít be for ~ 2 more years, possibly 4 due to motility and relocation issues of finishing graduate school and post docs. Mr. Bean and I are both in agreement that home ownership needs to be a priority, so I hereby declare to start making some action towards this goal.

1. We need to figure out a ball park estimate of what a typical % down payment is. I know 20% used to be the standard, but I hear this is no longer the case (insert sigh of relief). I know you can get a house with 0% down, but thatís not the way we want to go either. So, research needs to be done. Weíll do better if we have a number in mind (even if itís rough).

2. Once we have a rough idea of what weíll need for a down payment, Mr. Bean and I need to have a frank discussion of how we can start saving for it, as well as how we best maximize our current joint savings to get up towards this goal.

Opinions & thoughts welcome. How early did you start saving for a down payment?

Weekend Recipe Wrap-up

December 3rd, 2006 at 05:26 pm

Spending wrap up: The only non-grocery related expenditure was $4 to attend campus sporting event.

I am so frustrated with buying bad / moldy/ rotten food from the grocery store. This seems to happen to me at least once a month. Hereís the latest offense:

I was all set to make this recipe for Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese .
The pasta was cooking, the vegetables were chopped, the oven pre-heated, and then I went to open the brand new package of cheddar cheese (expiration date in February 2007) to find it all covered in mold. Uggh. I will take it back to the store, but the inconvenience is a bigger issue to me than the lost $2 (well, letís say equally annoying).

The wheels for this meal were already in motion. Stopping the preparation or running to the store for more cheese are equally unappealing in such a situation. I ended up asking Mr. Bean to watch the pasta while I ran to a nearby store for another block of cheese. Unfortunately, the store where this cheese was purchased was not as convenient to run out to, so the icky cheese remains sealed in a Ziploc in the fridge until it's convenient to take it back. I know I could have cut away from the mold and still used it, but the cheese was BRAND new, so I will take it back and get another.

Anyway, the recipe was quite tasty and will make it again. Like other recipes with chipotle peppers, you donít need an entire can. I typically freeze the leftovers, thaw for later use, re-freeze, etc. I donít find that the quality suffers with the thawing / re-freezing.

Saturday evening friends invited us over for dinner and asked that we bring a loaf of bread to go with the lasagna they were making. I wasnít planning on going to the store, so I made this Rosemary Focaccia. I made a few changes that were suggested in the recipe reviews, namely adding: 1 tsp Italian herbs, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp dried rosemary to the dough in addition to what was already called for. Before baking, I gave the top a healthy dose of sea salt. Tasty and easyómy favorite type of recipe! Since a decent loaf of bread usually costs $3-4 dollars Iíll also add in frugal.

Enjoy whatís left of the weekend everyone!


MOLDY CHEESE SAGA UPDATE: I followed Yummy64's advice and called Kraft. The representative said they would send me a re-imbursement. This was much better than toting it back to the store and having the 16 y/o clerk look at me like "Who is this crazy person who carries moldy cheese around for a $2.57 refund"! Today is garbage night so the moldy cheese is now at the curb waiting for its date with destiny.