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Load up the Pantry!

April 25th, 2008 at 03:33 pm

From the Wall Street Journal:

Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.

Read the full article here.

Sidestream Income

March 10th, 2008 at 06:00 pm

Sidestream Income:
$1549.93 old total
$40.00 babysitting
--------------------------
TOTAL: $1589.93

Another $40 from babysitting on Friday night. I'm house/pet sitting this week, so I'll have another large addition to add by the beginning of next week.

Other than that, nothing new on he money side to report!

Free $100!

February 28th, 2008 at 03:56 am

Did you get your free Suze Orman book on Valentine's Day?

If not, there's another chance for a freebie advertised on page 85 of the book:

Get started on Suzeís Save Yourself Plan by opening a new account with TD AMERITRADE, featuring a special high-yield deposit account with a 2.78% Annual Percentage Yield (as of February 1, 2008). Your cash is held in an FDIC-insured Money Market Deposit Account (MMDA) at TD Bank USA, N.A.

There are no maintenance fees on the account, plus you receive the $100 offer for making 12 monthly automatic deposits of at least $50 each to help you build up your account balance. [Ö] Should you need to withdraw the money prior to the twelve-month commitment, you may withdraw all of your deposits, plus the interest earned. However, you will forfeit the $100 bonus.


I'm game! AMERITRADE's money-market interest rate isn't as good as others, but the $100 bonus makes up for it.

For more info, see A Message from Suze and Jonathan from MyMoneyBlog's post on this offer.

Frugal Valentine's Day

February 10th, 2008 at 03:30 pm

Even though we're currently living in different cities, I am going to be able to spend Valentine's Day with Mr. Bean this year. That's a special treat itself since Valentine's Day is on a Thursday and I usually can only visit on weekends.

Our Valentine's Day plans are pretty much the same as they are every year: a special home cooked meal and night in. We're both happy with this arrangement. We do have tickets to a performance on Friday night, so that's another something special to look forward to. I blogged about our Valentine's Day last year- it was fabulous, but again, it was the time together rather than any fancy event that made it so much fun.

Read Meredith from Like Merchant Ships post and comments on St. Valentine's Day Without Spending post for more ideas. I particularly liked the one idea in the comments to secretly spruce the guest room as a romantic Valentine's Day suite! What a fantastic idea! We don't have any spare rooms, but if someday we do, I'll definitely keep that idea in mind!

It's my lucky day!

January 24th, 2008 at 03:50 am

I have a CD at Emigrant Direct maturing in early February. I planned to re-invest the money in a CD, but was worried that interest rates would drop again after the Fed meeting next week (note: this thought process was BEFORE Monday's emergency meeting and rate drop).

So, over the weekend I filled out the necessary forms online to open a new CD at Emigrant Direct with money from my Savings account close in value to the CD that will mature in February. I figured once the CD matures, I'd cash it out to replete my savings account. Over the weekend, Emigrant's CD rate was 4.55% APY.

My confirmation said the transaction would b e complete on 1/23. When I checked out Emigrant web page today (1/23), I saw they had dropped their CD rates to 3.5% APY. I fully expected this was the rate I would receive, but to my pleasure, I still got the 4.55% APY.

Yea! Every little bit helps!

Side Stream Income

January 9th, 2008 at 05:34 pm

Iíve decided not to participate in the Challenge for 2008. I really like the idea of using the Challenge for finding new income streams, and frankly, I donít think I can come up with anything new after the last yearís romp! Plus, what I did last year (selling things, babysitting and housesittng) is still working for me, so Iíll continue to use my time and energy to pursue these endeavors. Hey, if it ainít brokeÖ..

Although Iím not going to participate in the Challenge, Iím going to continue to track my side streams of income here. Itís fun for me, and from what Iíve read in the comments, itís motivating to some readers.

So with that said, Iíve made some babysitting money and half.com cash in the New Year. The babysitting jobs were both found in response to ad I posted on Craigís List for babysitting available on New Yearís Eve. Although no one took me up on NYE, people did you the ad to inquire about my availability on other dates. I babysat for 3 hours on New Yearís Day for one family, and for 3 dates for a total of 8 hours for another family. I also sold one of the textbooks I got for free on Half.com.

Sidestream Income:
$110 babysitting
$51.93 Half.com profit*
--------------------------
TOTAL: $161.93

*sales fees, shipping and mailing supplies deducted

Over the weekend I hope to be able to reflect and post on the 2007 Challenge.

Thifty Idea: Place Card Holders

November 21st, 2007 at 03:51 am

I'm hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year. My menu is set, but I haven't had as much time to plan the place setting and table decorations as I'd like. I did have a moment of inspiration this evening while I was eating dinner this evening I glanced up to the shelf and saw a bunch of wine corks:



These name cards were simple to make. I printed our names on piece of ivory paper, sliced into the cork and threaded through a leaf. To add a little splash of color, I tied a burgundy piece of ribbon (originally intended for Christmas packages). If time allows, I'll look for more vibrant colored leaves outside tomorrow.

A Few Minutes Surfed is a Few Dollars Saved

November 20th, 2007 at 04:52 pm

I've probably saved $100 over the course of the year with online coupons for local retail establishments and service providers like dry cleaning and auto repair.

A perfect example of this comes from an auto service center in my neighborhood. Their web page offers numerous 'Internet Special Coupons" for $4 off oil change, $10 off inspection, etc.

So, before your next purchase, check out the web page of your vendor. You might be surprised!

How I increased my net worth by 12K when I make only 21K

November 17th, 2007 at 04:15 pm

November 11 was my 1-year anniversary of writing a blog at Savings Advice. The date snuck up on me, so I decided to take a peak back in Quicken to see how my financial state had changed since joining this community.

Wait, is that for real?

Youíd think that because I keep track of things in Quicken I would be watching my progress over the past year- but I wasnít. I diligently added in everything spent and everything earned, but I wasnít watching the change in net worth. In part this was due to opening a Roth and high yield CDs causing the money to be spread across a number of accounts. Plus, my old (2004) version of Quicken no longer supports automatic downloads so I it had been some time since my ROTH and 401(k) were updated.

Drumroll, please: From 11/11/06 to 11/11/07 I increased my net worth by $12,346.85.

My take home pay from the University during this period was $20,760.19 (this includes by stipend plus the additional pay I received for teaching courses in the summer). Like most people, I pay rent, utilities, and a small car payment. When I started on this adventure, I never would have guessed I could increase my net worth by so much in a year. My objective was truly just to try to spend less and save some money.

So, how did I do it? Hereís my retrospective analysis:

1.) I looked for additional income streams (+ $3675.77)

For those of you that have been following my Challenge, youíll notice that Iíve earned just shy of $2700 in the challenge. My Challenge includes only new income streams since 1/1/07, but I have other income streams that were not new in the New Year that you'll see represented here. The bulk of the non-Challenge income came from my personal chef gig where I delivered homemade meals to a professional couple. That job ended in Spring when they had a baby and the woman stayed at home.

Personal Chef: $950.00
Ride Share: $90.00
Babysitting: $1731.00
eBay sales: $507.91
Half .com sales: $294.91
Garage Sale / Classified sales: $262.00
MINUS -160.05 for eBay fees and shipping for eBay and Half.com
TOTAL ADDITIONAL INCOME: $3675.77


Looking back at this makes me realize how lucrative the personal chef gig was. On the flip side, I feel like I baby sit all the time and the amount is still relatively small. Cooking was exhausting, babysitting is generally pretty relaxing and fun. I plan to keep on doing it. I was also able to earn a respectable amount by selling stuff I didn't use and didn't value through eBay, Half.com and a garage sale. When I move in 6 months, I'm sure I will appreciate the head start on de-cluttering.

2.) I re-balanced my 401(k) (+ $1,148.00)

I had a 401(K) from a job I worked at between 2000-2002. Shortly after leaving that employer, the employer switched wealth management companies. They moved all my investments into a money market account and told me I needed to re-balance. I did nothing for three years. This is something I kick myself for now. Anyway, around December of this year I re-balanced have seen $1,148 in growth. This was probably the single easiest thing I did that helped increase my net worth over the past year.

3.) I opened high yield savings accounts and CDs. ($495.82)

One of the first pieces of advice I acted on from the Savings Advice community was to open high yield savings account. In late November of last year, I opened accounts at both ING and Emigrant Direct. Although ING doesnít have the highest interest rate out there, its rates are competitive and the $25 new account bonus plus $10 referral bonus for new accounts more than made up the differential for me. In the past year, Iíve earned $360.82 in interest in all my accounts, $110 in referral bonuses at ING Direct, and $25 for a new account bonus. In other words, I earned $500 just for letting the right banks hold my money.

When I think back to my financial life prior to November 2006, I feel frustrated with myself for letting my money sitting in a checking account earning squat in interest. If youíre reading this and donít have a high interest checking, get one today! If you leave me your email, Iíll email you an ING referral and weíll both benefit: youíll get $25 if you open an account with $250 and Iíll get another $10 referral bonus.

After I opened my high yield checking accounts, I diligently transferred any odd job money I earned immediately from my checking account to my high yield account so I could earn as much interest as possible. As my savings accounts grew, I started moving the money into CDs. Currently, I have savings account at ING and Emigrant Direct (at 4.2% and 4.75% APR, respectively) and CDs at Emigrant Direct at 5.2% and 5.1% APR)

4.) I started a ROTH IRA (+$306.87)
In January 2007, I moved money from my high yield savings account to open and max out a Roth contribution for tax year 2006. I also started regularly contributing to a Roth for 2007. By July 2007, I had the 2007 Roth maxed out. I achieved this by contributing $150 monthly plus the income I earned over the University for teaching summer school. My Roth is currently in the Vanguard 2045 Target Retirement fund. Itís a topsy turvey market lately, but as of 11/11/07, I had earned 306.07 on my $8000 contribution.

5.) I embraced frugality and tracked my spending.
How many times have you been at the grocery store and looked at receipt afterward and thought, ĎHow did all those $1-$2 items add up to so much?Ē

I canít quantify how much I saved through watching the small purchases, but the little things do add up. Furthermore, if your income isnít very high to begin with, (like mine), the total percent of those little things can easily become overwhelming. By using Quicken, I was able to watch my monthly expenses and make sure a few dollars here and there wasnít usurping by paycheck. In addition, as I become more involved with my money, I found myself far less tempted by impulse purchases. I did a lot of homecooking, couponing, and shopping for bargains while trying to resist the urge for a bargain if it wasnít really needed..

In sum, I feel happier and more empowered. Prior to joining Savings Advice I felt nervous anytime I saw an article in the newspaper about money and personal finance. Now, I know where I stand. I have more work to do before I can achieve some of my financial dreams like buying a house, but I do know I can have a rich life without a lot of money. This gives me freedom and confidence

Hi ho, Hi Ho, it's off to School I Go!

October 31st, 2007 at 02:52 am

I'm still here-- I just haven't had anything to add to the Challenge nor have I had anything interesting to post! I did have an interview for a post doc Fellowship-- it went well and I'm hopeful although I won't know the outcome for a few more weeks.

The other morning I was marveling at how over stuffed my backpack seemed! For better or worse, most of the contents were related to my lunch! They included: A thermos full of coffee (why spend time and money running to a coffee shop?), a 32-oz Nalgene filled with water filtered through my home PUR filter (the campus water is off-colored but I can't stand to buy botttled water, especially at the campus vending machine prices), and my sack lunch (comprised of dinner leftovers and fresh fruit). When I plopped all these items on the bathroom scale they weighed 9 lbs! Good thing I have a sturdy backpack and a strong back!

DC Do's and Don'ts

October 15th, 2007 at 02:21 am

Lots of traveling, not much time for posting.

I was recently in DC, so I'll list some frugal DC do's and dont's:

Do:
If you need to get into the District from Dulles airport, do check out the schedule for the Washington Metro 5A bus line. Getting to and from Dulles via public transportation used to be nearly impossible, but now for $3 each way you can ride the Express 5A bus to either Rosslyn or L'Enfant Plaza and take Metro to your final destination. If the 5A bus doesn't meet your needs, check out the Washington Flyer bus service and pay $9 for a one-way ($16 RT) ride to West Falls Church Metro.
Don't pay $50+ for a cab!

My second Don't isn't exclusive to DC, but don't go to Maggie Moo's if either your wallet or your waistline is a concern to you! I was in the mood for a little treat, so I strolled in 'ol Maggie's and ordered a small cup of ice cream. The price was $5.33 and the potion was much too large. A smaller portion for a smaller price would have made me much happier. Furthermore, the ice cream was decent, but nothing to moo home about.

Frugal Job Search Ideas

October 7th, 2007 at 02:39 pm

Over the course of the next few weeks I'm going to have several interviews for post-doc positions. In addition, I have 2 poster presentations (a way of presenting your research at scientific conferences) between now and early November. I decided it might be a good idea to have some business cards printed so I could have a handy, clean method of getting my contact information to people.

I had thought about getting cards printed at Kinkos. Mr. Bean had done this, and although the price was reasonable, the quality of the graphic looked poor (probably because Kinkos doesn't have access to a legal, good quality University logo).

Had I done my research earlier, I would have known I could get 50 business cards printed by the University Stationary Shop for $20, but the turn around time takes 12 days-- time which I do not have.

I decided to give printing my own cards a try. I know there are web sites for this, but I wanted the card to look clean and professional, just like the faculty and staff business cards. Advertising on the card would be a big no-no.

For ~$8.00, I purchased a package of 120 Avery Clean Edge Business Cards at my local Big-Box store. I know from previous experience it's best to spend the $1 extra for the clean edge cards-- otherwise your cards will have a tacky perforation along the edge. I grabbed a University logo (albeit probably illegally), from a University web page and then set up my card to look like the other faculty / staff cards. I printed on my home Cannon i560 ink jet. The result is beautiful! The cards look like they were professionally printed. If I didn't mind sharing my identity with the internet, I'd post a photo to show them off.

Mind you, I spent about an hour perfecting the card. The process wasn't totally easy, but I'm happy with the end product. Also, I only need 50 cards, so I can use the leftover blank cards for a future position, or even making place cards for our upcoming Thanksgiving meal (we're hosting this year!)

Another thing I've done to prepare for interviews to to create an online professional portfolio. The University offers free web space to students, so I redeemed mine and created a professional web site with a statement of my research interests, a link to PDF of my CV and graduate coursework, professional references, and a statement of teaching philosophy as well as a downloadable Power Point of a sample lecture. I put the URL for the site on my cards.

The online portfolio was time consuming to create, but hopefully it will help me market myself and have all my materials in one central location. I used Dreamweaver software to create the site (also free in University computer labs), so very little coding skills were needed.

These two items are complete, but I still have a lot to do to get ready!



Saving $$ on Vacation, Part 3

September 28th, 2007 at 12:59 pm

Tip #3 for saving money on vacation: Don't tune out from the news when your on vacation.

I had been requesting for some time that Mr. Bean take the majority of our savings account money and move it into a CD (yes, we have cash in other accounts for emergencies). The money was in a 4.5% APR Electric Orange Savings. Although ING Savings rates have been fairly stable, I had watched the ING CD rates fall from 5.3% to 5.15% in recent months and feared more drops were on the horizon.

I also knew from experience that if you set up a CD online on a non-business and then the bank drops interest rates on the next business day, you get the lower rate. This happened to me when ING dropped their CD rates from 5.3 to 5.15%. I set everything up under the assumption and advertisement of 5.3%, but by the time everything went through the rate was 5/15% and that was the rate my money was locked in at.

The September Fed meeting occurred the Tuesday we were on vacation. Sunday night I asked if he had opened the CD. He had not. From watching the news and reading blogs, I knew an interest rate decrease was likely from the Fed and banks would likely follow suit and drop their savings rates, too.

So, I pulled out the laptop and we did it together. At the time, ING was offered 5.25% on a CD if you transferred the money from an outside account. We briefly contemplated transferring the money to our checking account and then transferring it back into the 5.25% CD, but I knew we couldn't do all those transfers before the Fed meeting. ING's offer for a 5.25% CD had just been posted, so I doubted they would pull the offer if the Fed dropped interest rates. I was really drawn to trying to get that 5.25% rate, but ultimately decided to go for the bird in the hand and open the 5.15% CD from internal money.

Shortly after the Fed meeting, ING pulled the offer on a 5.25% CD if the money is transferred from an external account. In addition they dropped the 12 month CD rate to 4.9%, and their savings account rate fell to 4.3%.

Even though were were on vacation, it paid to be aware of current events. We locked in the 5.15% yield on a 12 month-- just in the knick of time.

Saving money on Vacation, Part 2

September 26th, 2007 at 01:26 am

Another second cost-saving on our recent trip involved by new friend non-fat dry milk.

I eat breakfast everyday-- typically a bowl of cereal with fresh fruit and coffee. Although I stocked up on some cereal bars for the trip, this type of high energy denisty food would never be a satisying breakfast to me.

So, along with clothes and sunscreen, my suitcase contained disposable bowls and spoons leftover from a office party, a gallon Ziploc bag of Cheerios, and pre-measured Ziploc baggies with 2/3 cup of dry milk.

At the hotel, I'd empty a baggie of NFDM into my Nalgene bottle, fill with 16 oz.water, shake and put in the mini-fridge. In the mornings, I enjoyed cereal, fresh fruit from the Farmers' market, and in room complimentary coffee.

We did our fair share of dinners out, but breaskfast was always en suite!

$42,070

September 9th, 2007 at 07:11 pm

$42,070: the approximate amount I've paid in rent over the last 6 years.

Yikes.

The number is only an approximation because some of my apartments included utilities in the rent whereas others, like my current place, do not. I halved the monthly rent for the past 3 years since I was married because my spouse and I basically split expenses.

My rent has ranged from $400 / month (my current place.. where $400 covers 1/2 the total rent for a 2 BR house and no utilities in a small college town), to $860 / month for a 1 BR apartment in DC back in 2004.

This is good motivation to continue to stash away my $20 Challenge money earmarked for a house down payment.

Saving Water using Water: The Dehumidifer

August 20th, 2007 at 09:07 pm

It's been a dry summer here in Beanland, but my flowers look great and my water bill is low. My secret: I use the water from the basement dehumidifier for the plants.

The benefits are numerous:

1.) I don't use municipal water, hence saving money.

2.) The water is chlorine free. This water could be better for the plants; but I admit to not knowing if this is true.

2.) The dehumidifier gets emptied regularly. Yes, this means it runs more, but my stinky basement and the stuff I keep in it benefit.

3.) I water more frequently since I can't bear to put the dehumidifier water down the drain. This has resulted in me hearing the dehumidifier shut off at 10pm and then promptly going outside to water in my pajamas. On the upside, it doesn't take me long since the tank is ~ 2 gallons (not to mention that less water is lost to evaporation when you water in the evening!)

The water in the tank perfectly fills my watering can. I start at one side of the garden and work my way over systematically with each full tank. As you might guess, my garden isn't huge, but it works for me!

Why Quitting my Job has Helped My Finances

March 18th, 2007 at 11:21 pm

My previous post elicited more of a response than I expected. Thanks to all who provided their thoughts.

My intention of the previous post was to shed some light on why living on a graduate student stipend (~15 - 18k / year, depending on a number of factors) is easier than living off a the same amount of money earned through a lower-paying job. I get annoyed when students compare their circumstances to those of low-wage earners. The situations are completely different, with the latter being a much more challenging financial feat.

With that said, aside from increased earning potential after I graduate (assuming all goes as planned), the biggest financial benefit of being a full time graduate student has been learning how to survive and prosper on this income.

By no means am I trying to infer that our student stipends are a pittance. I know there are many readers and participants on the message boards who do quite well with less, but for me this has been a quite a journey. Iím embarrassed to admit that pre-grad school I didnít even balance my check book or have a rough idea of how much money was in my account. If I was out shopping and saw a dress I liked- I bought it. Dinner and drinks out were the norm.

It was fun, but it wasnít thrifty.

The only reason I avoided consumer debt was that I have inherited my motherís gene for bargain shopping but lived in a small enough space that I couldnít accumulate a lot of stuff. In retrospect, I wonder how much I could have saved if I had been more responsible? I wonder if we had continued on working and earning more would I ever have stopped to think about long-term goals, like buying a house?

Now, itís a moot point because I had the good fortune of learning financial responsibility when I quit my job and returned to school full time. I now keep exacting records of expenses. Iím also investing. Iím savingóand all on a fraction of what I used to make. The biggest difference is that Iím no longer passive about money. I feel really empowered.

I feel empowered because I feel like we have a good life on this salary. Sure, as an undergraduate, I made even less money, but my student apartment wasnít my home, nor was I truly independent from my parents.

However, I think that if you ever came to our home, you wouldnít say, ďOh, this is a student apartmentĒó or ďThis is just some oneís temporary homeĒ. But this is a home. A real life Mr. Bean and I began together as graduate students. Iím proud of it.

The challenge will be continuing to keep our current frugal and mindful practices once we are earning more and released back into a consumer society.

Grad School- How bad is the financial burden?

March 17th, 2007 at 02:06 pm

Mr. Bean had his wisdom teeth our yesterday. They should have come out, oh- say 15 years ago, but for various reasons they didn't. One reason for delaying extraction was that when he was employed full-time (before returning to graduate school), his dental insurance did not cover a major portion of the extraction fees and the out-of-pocket expense was ~ $600. Under our new insurance from the University, our only expense will be a $75 co-pay plus whatever the prescription co-pays work out to be.

So, in between making milkshakes and dosing out pain medication, I've been thinking about the financial benefits we've experienced from returning to school full time.

It is typical that doctoral students are given full tuition remission plus a monthly stipend for 9 months of the year. Summer funding (for the remaining 3 months) is contingent on academic unit and student performance.

I've stated before that by returning to graduate school, we cut our household income by ~70%, but this doesn't give a complete picture of the situation. Iíve listed some of the financial benefits / drawbacks that come to mind. This list is financial only- I canít even begin to comprehend on how to quantify the psychological problems challenges grad school can bring! Also, it might not apply to graduate students who donít receive tuition remission, and the health benefits also vary by university.

Benefits:
ē Increased earning power after degree attainment
ē Lower cost health insurance (medical, dental, and vision)
ē On campus access to pharmacy and basic health care (except dental and vision)
ē Access to University Facilities (ie, I can join the University gym: including aerobic classes, weights, and pool for $41 / semester)
ē Student ticket prices for cultural and sporting events, both on and off campus
ē Lower clothing costs (ie fewer instances for the need to dress professionally)
ē Undergraduate student loans can be deferred while in graduate school
ē Fewer transportation costs (We live close enough to campus that we can walk or bike. I usually bikeósomething I probably wouldnít do if I needed to dress professionally)
ē Lower housing cost (our former jobs were in an urban high COLA city)
ē Societal expectations are lessened (ie pressure to buy a house, go on vacations, etc are lessened but not absent)
ē Ease in finding odd jobs. A few years from now when I have my PhD, people might find it odd if I were working as a personal chef or babysitter. However, because Iím currently a student, this is perfectly within societal norms and people are willing to hire me.

Drawbacks:
ē Lost income while attending school (most doctoral programs take ~5 years)
ē Lost income while in post doc ( as if 5 years wasnít long enough, PhDs in the sciences are often need a post doc to have a good chance at the best jobs)
ē No guarantee that earning power is better after achieving PhD than if you did fabulous work for the 5 years and had various promotions. However, the type of job is likely to be different as a doctoral program teaches very different skills that cannot always be learned on the job.
ē No employer sponsored retirement savings program while in PhD program, unlikely as a post doc
ē No Medical savings plan
ē Uncertainty over funding, especially summer funding
ē Delay in being able to purchase our first home
ē For married or partnered students, if both partners are not able to graduate at the same time, one partner may need to move ahead- thus adding in additional housing costs, or stay with partner still in school and employment search

What else? Iím sure Iím missing things.

Back From Boston

March 12th, 2007 at 03:38 am

I was in Boston for a short time early this week for a meeting. I've been to Boston a number of times, but this trip seemed especially thrilling since we currently leave in such a small town. I packed my suitcase with goodies from Trader Joe's. I love that place!

My babysitting job is on hiatus this week (the kids are on vacation) and my personal chef client also informed me that they won't need me for an indefinite period of time. She's having a scheduled C-section this week and expecting a lot of help and visitors. I sort of anticipated something like this. I'm looking forward to the break from all the cooking, but I'll miss the money.


February Spending Round Up

March 5th, 2007 at 11:34 pm

After taxes, my February stipend was $1343.

The February expenses looked something like this:

$800 joint expenses *
$35.00 Education
$16.44 Clothing
$82.43 Entertainment
$ 38.22 Groceries **
$81.60 Medical
$150 Roth IRA contribution
--------------------------
January Expenses $1203.69

* Mr. Bean and I make the same amount of $$, so we transfer equal amounts into our joint checking account to pay joint expenses. Joint expenses include rent, groceries, car payment and car insurance, cable, meals out together, etc. If our joint expenses are under $1600, the remainder just sits in the bank account. He tracks the specifics of these expenses in Quicken.

** Typically this is a joint expense, but for various reasons I made some purchases with my own cash or credit card.


Entertainment was abnormally high this month because I went down hill skiing and paid a $41 fee that will cover my membership at the University Fitness Center for the entire semester.

I expect to be re-imbursed by my insurance for a portion of the Medical expenses, but I can never figure out exactly how much that will be until it happens.

Iím happy about not spending any money buying lunch or other snacks this month.

The clothing purchases all came from my newly discovered favorite store- The Good Will! They were offering a 25% sale for students this month so I visited it a couple more times than necessary. Iím really happy with my purchases, (including a brand new BCBG Max Aria sweater for $5), but now that Iíve had my fun I think I need to stay out of there for a while- or at least until the weather warms up and I need to quell an urge to buy something to update my Spring look!

So, I have succeeded another month living entirely off my stipend while making a Roth contribution. In fact, I even ended up $139.31 to spare.

Not included in this is $554.31 I made this month in odd jobs, selling things Iím not using, rebates, etc.

I canít believe I spent so long in the dark about my finances and money. Saving and spending wisely is fun!

January Spending Analysis

February 7th, 2007 at 02:03 am

My personal finanace goal for 2007 is to live entirely off my stipend, including paying $150 / month into my IRA. All other earnings, namely odd jobs, are to go into my high yield savings account.

After taxes, my stipend is $1338 / month.

The January expenses looked something like this:

$800 joint expenses *
$126.89 Quarterly school loan interest
$27.50 Charity
$11.33 Clothing
$40 Dining out
$10 Entertainment
$ 8 Groceries **
$46.19 Household **
$18 Medical
$9.95 Personal Care
$150 IRA contribution
--------------------------
January Expenses $1247.86

* Mr. Bean and I make the same amount of $$, so we transfer equal amounts into our joint checking account to pay joint expenses. Joint expenses include rent, groceries, car payment and car insurance, cable, meals out together, etc. He tracks the specifics of these expenses in Quicken.

** Typically these are joint expenses, but for various reasons I made some purchases with my own cash or credit card.


This leaves a + $90.14 surplus. Phew! It wonít be easy, but I think I can do this!

Aside from this surplus, I was able to put $842.49 in savings from my Personal Chef gig, babysitting, and eBay / Half sales.

I need to continue to think ahead and plan for large expenses that might ďcreepĒ up, like a weekend getaway weíre taking in March. I want to make sure that my surplus money can cover such expenses and that I donít use the ďodd jobĒ money Iíve put in savings.

February already has been a little spendy. Iíve contemplated doing a budget, but I think Iím just going to wing it for a few more months and see how things go. I tried a budget back in December. I can see how they can be very helpful to people like myself who donít have a large window of error in their spending, but I had trouble getting the categories right. Maybe after a few more months of this Iíll have it down better.

Anyway, Iím feeling positive.


Can You Wash a Down Jacket at Home?

February 4th, 2007 at 08:35 pm

I went XC skiing this afternoon. Due to the freezing temps and wind I wore on top:

Long underwear
Nike Dry Fit Top
Fleece Pullover
Down Jacket
Ski Shell

I figured it was better to be too warm than too cold. BUT, I ended up feeling like I was in a green house and sweating a lot! The down jacket is smelling less than fresh. The tag doesn't give any instructions for care (weird, eh?)

I found this web page from the Dollar Stretcher on Cleaning Down Filled Items.

Does anyone have any experience or advice with this? The jacket is a Sierra Designs Nylon jacket with 85/15 Goose Down Fill. It's something I paid a resaonable (but not inconsequential) amount of money for with the intention that it would last me awhile.

I'd rather have it dry cleaned than ruin it-- but if it's no big deal to wash it myself then of course I'd rather save the $$.

What do you think?

My Anti-Latte Factor

January 17th, 2007 at 11:31 pm

I'm sure you're all familiar with the Latte Factor in the David Bach books.

In some of my posts I've mentioned "buying lattes", but like Bach, I use lattes as a general term for things I spend money on that can add up and don't contribute much value to my life (plus anyone who knows me knows I'm a cafe au lait girl anyway).

With that said, I am a coffee drinker. I love the way it tastes, smells, and gets my engine running in the morning. Typically I don't drink coffee in the afternoon, but some days, I NEED IT. I used to run to the coffee shop near my office, but not only did this cost a few bucks, it also took time, and often, the coffee didn't even taste good.

Enter in my anti-latte factor:



This little gem keeps the coffee warm all day long. But unlike coffee that sits in a pot all day long, it's protected from constant high temperatures (if the pot is left on) and oxygen, both of which contribute to the icky taste of coffee that has been sitting around all day.

When I make coffee in the morning, I brew a little extra. I drink my typical cup or four and dump the rest into the thermos with a splash of cream. The thermos goes in my bag-- if I drink it fine. If not I bring it home and dump out the coffee (it's typically still warm-- even 10 hours later), wash out the thermos, and do the same thing the next morning.

Works for me!

Homemade Drain Declogger and another grocery bonanza

January 6th, 2007 at 04:32 am

We experience a lot of clogged shower drains in the Bean household due my thick curly head of hair. Periodically one of us shoves a pair of needle nose pliers down the drain and removes a truly disgusting glob of hair covered in soap scum (gross, I know).

Anyway, our bathroom sink drain has been draining V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y, but the clog was down too far to be seen or reached with pliers. I thought about going to buy a bottle of Drano at the store, but with my new found frugal ways I decided to look up a homemade remedy. I'm glad I did, because not only is Drano ~$4 a bottle, it's also pretty noxious nasty stuff, and the the homemade remedy did the trick. Our drain is back in action.

***** .....and onto another topic ******

It's triple coupon week at our grocery store (up to $1), so even though I made a big trip last week, I decided to make another venture out and stock up on some more items. My big "scores":

3 jars Ragu Spaghetti Sauce: FREE
2 Packages whole wheat pasta: FREE
4 12 oz cans chicken broth: FREE
1 box Barbaraís Puffins Cereal : FREE
3 cans Dole Tropical Fruit Salad: $0.27 ($0.09 / each)
2 16 oz CoffeeMate: $0.32 ($0.16 / each)
2 cans Chock Full O Nuts Coffee: $1.78 ($0.89 / can)

Total bill before savings: $51.03, after store card: $40.68, after coupons, $22.71 (I also bought salad, OJ, and other perishables for which I didn't have coupons)

Goals: Done and Done

January 4th, 2007 at 01:47 am

DONE: I opened the Vanguard Roth IRA account (I orignally intened to do this last month, but after realizing I could skirt a $10 low balance fee by waiting until January and making a 2006 and 2007 contribution, I decided to wait). I opened a Target Retirement Fund via Vanguard IRA Express online. The entire process took ~ 10 minutes. Yea!

DONE: Opened an Emigrant Direct CD to mature in February 2007.

2007 Financial Goals

December 31st, 2006 at 12:27 am

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!)

New Goal: Save for House Down Payment

December 4th, 2006 at 07:52 pm

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?

Fool Proof Method to Reduce Heating Costs

November 28th, 2006 at 02:17 am



Sleep with a cat!



Actually, aside from helping to reduce heating costs by acting as a living space heater, our cat Madrigal was a bargain. She is a pure-bred Burmese, which typically sell for over $400.

Previously, Madrigal was owned by a breeder and used to bred kittens for sale. After 4 years of hard work, the breeder wanted her to go to a loving home with no other pets where she could relax and lavish in the attention of her humans. Hence, she found her way to Bean household. We re-imbursed the breeder for the cost of her neutering, but otherwise was free.

Prior to this kitty, I was unfamiliar with Burmese cats or any pure-bred cat. I most say I'm a Burmese convert and can't say enough great things about the breed. They are extremely affectionate and love people. Burmese are often called the "dog" of the cat world for their allegiance to their owners. She's never far from us and hates to be alone.

Opened an ING account!

November 21st, 2006 at 04:09 am

Thanks to Peg L. for referring me to ING, I now have a savings account with a decent interest rate! Yea! The reason I chose ING was for the $25 bonus. The bonus enticed me over slightly higher interest rates offered by competitors. Mr. Bean and I have a joint savings account, so maybe I'll refer him and reap the $10 referral bonus as well as the $25 new account bonus (he can be primary account holder, the $$ is still the same). I love getting free money!

My friends tease me that I'll pick up just about any odd job, but the teasing is deserved! By far, the best paying and most convenient side job is my personal chef stint. Another odd job is testing hearing protection at a local hearing protection testing firm. Sounds weird, but basically, you sit in a sound proof booth wearing hearing protection and press a little hand held buzzer when you hear a sound. This allows the firm to evaluate the effectiveness of the hearing protection. The firm is only 3 miles from my house, each session take s 45-60 minutes and typically make $20-$40 / session depending on how many items I test. They offer appointments in the evening, so I can do it without interfering with the normal working hours I'm expected to be on campus. Last month I made just over $100, paid completely in cash. Not big bucks, but seeing as how I basically make minimum wage on my stipend, it's enough make encourage me to do it. Earlier this week I also responded to an ad in the University daily paper from looking to hire an individual for 3 hours at $20 / hr to rake leaves. I responed and said Mr. Bean and I would both come and rake for 1.5 hours for $60 (I'm frugal but not stupid-- no way I'm going to a strangers house by myself!, but I'm still waiting for a response back. Mr. Bean only agreed to it if we used the money to do something fun, but that sounds good to me, too.

I hope to keep my eyes peeled for more jobs. Having a paid job outside of your studies is seriously frowned upon in my academic department since the department pays students a stipend (it's a bit like indentured servitude). I try to keep these little jobs on the hush-hush :-)

Goals

November 20th, 2006 at 03:16 pm

I've been BUSY, both with work and with personal finance reading. I feel guilty for not being on top of the finance business earlier, especially when I had a higher income. Oh well, I can only look forward at this point.

Mr. Bean and I did get free credit reports over the weekend. Luckily, there were no surprises or red flags for either of us.

By December 1st, I will:

1. Open a Roth IRA (I'm leaning towards going through Vanguard, but welcome any opinions on this)
2. Open ING Savings

By December 15th;
1.Figure out what to do with my 401(k) from old job
2. Meet with insurance agent to review auto coverage (we only have 1 car, we picked coverage in a bit of a hurry, may be over covered in some areas).

By January 15th:
1. Compare rates at other car insurance companies to ensure we want to stay with current provider.
2. Analyze savings to see if some could be used for a low-medium risk investment


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