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Spending and Selling

July 23rd, 2008 at 02:10 am

Sidestream Income:
$3279.93 old total
$60.00 dehumidifier
$100.00 kitchen table and chairs
$25.00 artwork
$100.00 washer/ dryer
$40 reel lawn mower
$20 area rug
--------------------------
TOTAL: $3624.93

I'm still alive! I just need about 4 more hours in the day in order to get everything done.

I told Mr. Bean I've been too busy spending money to post!

Although I've been doing my share of spending, I've also been doing some selling of things that either don't work in our new place or were sold just as we moved but I hadn't added to the tally yet.

The money from the sales is helping to off set some of the moving expenses and purchases for the new place. We didn't really buy much for the house after we got married in 2004 since we were starting grad school, so we're upgrading some of our ramshackle furniture.

The largest of the purchases was a new-to-me dining room table, chairs and sideboard off Craig's List for $1000. The furniture is from Crate and Barrel and according to the seller cost over $4000 in 2002. The seller was asking $1200, but took my offer of $1000. It looks great in our new place and I can envision this being our dining set for the rest of our lives. I suffered from some serious sticker shock once I started looking at new furniture. Used is definitely the way to go. Not only is it cheaper, but it also allows you to see how a piece wears after a few years of use.

The next thing we're looking for is lamps and night tables. Anyone selling anything? :-)

Rental Sticker Shock!

May 5th, 2008 at 03:19 pm

Sidestream Income:
$2765.93 old total
$50.00 rideshare
$3.00 PineCone surveys
--------------------------
TOTAL: $2818.93

I drove down to see Mr. Bean this weekend and to look for a new apartment for the two us in his area.

Oi Vey! Sticker shock!!

Would we like to live in a dark, damp basement for $1600/ month? No, not really! We saw about 15 places and put an application in for one. Unfortunately, I think there were other applications ahead of us so I'm not holding my breath.

On the upside, I was able to take someone with me and get $50 in gas money for the round trip ride. We also got a better understanding of what our money will and will not get us. If our application on the one place isn't successful, we're going to start looking into some condo units that aren't selling and are going up for rent. W
e looked at one and I must say that although the location was a little far from public transportation, the unit was beautiful!

Overcharged!

January 22nd, 2008 at 04:16 am

It pays to review your receipts and purchases! I've had two overcharge incidents already this week.

Incident #1:
I recently bought 2 pairs of running shoes online. My e-receipt was for $119.15 but my credit card was charged $154.35. I emailed customer service and they said the problem would be fixed-- you better believe I'm going to watch my statement to make sure it is! That's a $35 difference!

Incident #2:
We pre-bought heating oil at $2.699 / gal, but the invoice following the latest delivery was at $2.711/ gal. When all is said and done, I was only overcharged a few dollars, but I'm going to call and get it corrected. It's not right, and if they're doing it to me, I wonder if they are making this "mistake" with all the pre-buy customers!

Interestingly, I shredded a bunch of old receipts from a few years ago earlier this evening, including our pre-buy oil receipt from August 2004 when we paid 1.499/ gal!

I most likely wouldn't have caught either of these mistakes prior to my financial conversion. Ahh, the lessons learned!

More Splurging!

January 20th, 2008 at 04:59 am

Well, the splurge was not complete! I went ot the Mall this afternoon to return some clothes my mother gave Mr. Bean for Xmas. He said I could use the refund money to get something for myself since I was doing the return. So, I spent the return money (~$20) and then some. Good golly the stuff was CHEAP-- the prices were what I would expect at the end of season, although we still have a good 2-3 months left of winter in my part of the country. I guess that's what happens when consumer spending declines. I couldn't resist a few more items to spice up my wardrobe.

Lest anyone worry I've fallen off my rocker, I can afford these little splurge. I've already contributed $900 to my 2008 Roth. But, I still feel a little uneasy about the spending. Even though I think I'm doing OK with saving, there's this little voice in the back of my head saying: "Save more! Don't rationalize your wastefulness!"

Since I've been using Quicken for over a year now to track all my expenditures, I think it would behoove me to go back and analyze it a little closer. By doing so, hopefully I'll come to ease with these occasional splurges or be able to somehow quantify how much of a splurge will still be responsible.

Beauty dilemmas

January 14th, 2008 at 09:43 pm

Sidestream Income:
$211.93 old total
$480 housesitting
--------------------------
TOTAL: $701.93

I got paid for the house sitting I did last week. House sitting involves living/sleeping at the house and taking care of the dog, mail, trash etc. The home is ~10 miles from where I live, so I used much more fuel than I typically do in a given week, but it's still a good gig to have.

I wrote a lengthy entry last night about the money I've spent in the beauty/fashion care department in the last week (new jeans, highlights etc), but lost the entry before it was published. Hopefully I'll find the time to re-write it. The post basically told the tale of woe that I've been feeling really frumpy as of late. It's probably not coincidental that I also turned 30 this week. To be honest, I'm happy with my size and shape, I just don't feel like I have the right clothes or take the time to look a little better. I think with turning 3-0 I came to realize I might as well enjoy what I have because it won't be around forever.

Interestingly, other bloggers I read have recently expressed similar feelings. I took a plunge and got highlights last week--but held onto my frugal ways and had them done at the beauty school. I couldn't be happier! They look great and they cost only $30! I wouldn't go to an inexpensive chain salon like Super Cuts for highlights, however. Why? The stylists at the chains are typically inexperienced and they are pressed for time. The beauty school stylists can take all the time they need (note: don't make an appointment at the beauty school if YOU have someplace to be!), and they have an experienced instructor guiding them.

The money saved on the highlights will help to offset the the price of the designer jeans I also splurged for :-) People say having one great pair of jeans is better than 8 pair of ill-fitting jeans. Well, I have 8 pair of ill-fitting jeans, so and the verdict is still out on this purchase. I will say their fit is definitely better, and the store altered the length for no extra cost. I had been contemplating taking the designer denim splurge for some time, but Madame X's musing on the topic helped remind me of this pressing priority! The jeans were originally $175, but on sale for $79.50. Yikes! Frugal? Heck no! But my butt looks good!

A Spending Limit for Christmas Gifts?

December 5th, 2007 at 02:01 am

Do you set a spending limit for Christmas? I've thought about it, but I never have. I imagine it might be more of an issue when we have kids and it can be easy to go overboard.

I'm almost done with my shopping, and I was strating to feel a little anxious/guilty that I'd spent too much-- especially given the mattress we purchased this month a a plane ticket I bought to get together with my high school friends in February to celebrate turning 30 together.

A quick analysis in Quicken shows I've spent just under $450 of my own money. I'm unsure how much has been put on our joint credit card since Mr. Bean tracks that. I imagine it's somewhere around $100? We put family gifts on our joint credit card, but oftentimes I'm buying stuff for myself or a gift for a friend at the same time and don't bother to divvy up the purchases. I'm comfortable with these numbers, but knowing what they are will (hopefully) motivate me to cool the spending for the rest of the month!

6 tips on how NOT to get taken to the cleaners when buying a new bed

December 4th, 2007 at 03:57 am

After spending the past 3.5 years sleeping on my husband's 10 year old futon, the Bean's are upgrading to a bona fide bed! Alleluia!

Here are some main points I learned in the process:

1. Mattress prices are negotiable.
Do not pay the sticker price, nor the price that the salesperson says is the "sale" price. Negotiate. If he/ she will not go down in price, head elsewhere. I was getting initial price quotes of $599 and $699 on the exact same mattress at the exact same store chain in retail outlets less than 4 miles apart. When I asked the salesman at the $699 store if it included the frame and he said "no", I realized he thought he could take me. I said thank you and headed for the door.

2. Different stores sell the exact same mattresses using different names.
This is to confuse you and make it harder to comparison shop. Take careful note of the mattress you like so that you can compare it with those at other stores. For example, Simmons offers three lines of mattresses. The lowest is "Classic". A Simmons Classic mattress at Mattress Warehouse is probably the same as the Simmons Classic mattress at Mattress Discounters. Make note of the details and compare. When I tried to tell a salesperson at one mattress chain that I had been offered a better price on the same mattress at a competitor, he asked me the name of the competitor's mattress and then proceeded to pull out a sheet from his desk that named the names of all the mattresses sold at their store with the names of comparable mattresses at other store. Oh how I would have loved to get my hot little hands on that sheet! Alas, I couldn't steal it from him, but it confirmed what I thought was true.

3. Sales at mattress stores are fake.
Don't be pressured to buy something because it's on sale. Mattresses are never truly on sale. You can get the same price weeks later.

4. Ask the sales person to write down the name of the mattress you like on a business card with the price.
Not only will this help you keep the mattresses and their silly names straight, you can also use this as a quote to negotiate with other chains.

5. The sales people will try to keep you away from all mattresses priced under $1000.
When we first started shopping, I thought mattresses under $1000 didn't exist. Then I realized we were just constantly being steered away from them. I had one salesman tell me the mattresses lined up against the back of the store (where the less expensive mattresses were displayed) were only for "children and guest rooms". Huh? So, would it be illegal me to purchase one for my room? I guess so! If you're shy and want to at least test a less expensive mattress, tell them you're shopping for a spare room. Generally speaking, the farther back in the store you go, the less expensive the mattresses will be.

6. If you need a frame, don't get ripped off.
You can order a Queen sized bed frame from WalMart.com for ~$45 and have it shipped free to a store. Don't pay $80+ for a frame at a mattress retailer.

We ended up buying the Simmons Palm Cove Queen Size mattress, box spring and frame from Mattress Warehouse for $550 with free delivery. The sticker price was $699 + $59 for frame. Interesting, in the city where Mr. Bean lives, the identical matress at the same retail chain had a sticker price of $899. Yowsers!

Back in my neck of the woods, the salesman initially he said the best price he could give me was $640 + cost of frame, but when I said his competitor offered $599 and I had a card to prove it, the price dropped to $550 and included a frame.

I can't wait to sleep in my new bed!

More great mattress buying tips are available at MyMoneyBlog Part I and Part II. Make certain to read the comments-- I learned a lot from them!

Gratitude

November 6th, 2007 at 12:45 am

I have been offered my first choice post-doc Fellowship! I broke from my normal frugal mindset had am having a thank you floral arrangement delivered to my thesis adviser's office tomorrow. Of course, I've already sent her a thoughtful letter expressing my gratitude. I'm sure she will appreciate the arrangement, but I imagine the letter probably holds more meaning. Regardless, I felt like a gift was in order.

She wrote me a great letter of recommendation and went out of her way to prepare me for the interview. In fact, the arrangement seems so minor in comparison to the appreciation I feel.

Grad school has been tumultuous, but it seems like the things that matter are falling into place.

I (heart) California!

September 25th, 2007 at 02:11 am

My vacation in Santa Monica was terrific! It was a perfect blend of site seeing and relaxing.

As we hoped, we made it the entire week without renting a car. Granted, we were staying in pedestrian friendly Santa Monica, but we ventured to Hollywood, downtown LA, and UCLA all by bus or Metro. I’m so glad we braved the public transportation, because it great— and I think much of Los Angeles' bad reputation for public transportation comes from people who have never tried it. Don't get me wrong- for a city of its size, LA should have a better system, but what's there is pretty good-- but also under utilized.

I used the Los Angeles Metro web site to plan our routes. Not only did we avoid the cost of renting a car, gasoline, and parking, but we were able to sit back and enjoy the sites and let someone else worry about the traffic and directions.

Friday was our first full day and also the day we did the majority of site-seeing. A few weeks before the trip I had requested tickets to be an audience member on the Dr. Phil show. I’m not a huge Dr. Phil fan, but we thought it would be an interesting experience to be on the set of a television show. We each paid $5 for all-Day MTA pass (which allowed us unlimited rides on the LA buses and Metro until 3am—typically each bus ride is $1.25 and each Metro ride is $2.50). We caught a bus just steps away from our hotel in Santa Monica to ~ 5 blocks from the Dr. Phil studio in Hollywood. The trip was ~11 miles and took approximately 45 minutes.

Being an audience member is a fun experience. Although we appeared only briefly on camera, it’s thrilling experience just to be in the audience. The topic was etiquette— mostly airline etiquette . We had two nice surprises: all audience members received a free copy of Peggy Post’s book Excuse Me, But I was Next, but the big surprise was that every audience member received a free round trip ticket on Virgin American airlines! Audience members don’t know the show’s topic until seated on the set, nor do you know if there are any surprises, so needless to say, we were thrilled!

After Dr. Phil, we caught the bus and rode about 1 mile to the corner of Hollywood and Vine St. and continued to walk down Hollywood Avenue to take in the traditional Hollywood sites, including the Kodak Theater and Grauman’s Chinese Theater. From there, we hopped on the nearly empty Metro Red Line and rode into downtown Los Angeles. From there, took it on foot and saw Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, US Bank Tower, and bought some fruit to bring back to our hotel from the Grand Central Market (and I’ll add that I paid only $2 for 4 nectarines and big bunch of grapes)! We missed the free tours of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but if you're a visitor to LA try to get there before 2pm and take one. We thought we could ride the Santa Monica Express bus back to our hotel using our MTA Day passes, but it turned out that the Santa Monica buses were exempt, so we paid $1.25 to ride the freeway express bus from downtown LA to Santa Monica. We sat on the air conditioned bus and cruised down the freeway for some 10 miles until we were back in Santa Monica. The Friday rush hour trip took about 50 minutes. As it turns out, having ridden the MTA bus twice and the Metro once, we broke even with our day passes, but at least we were saved the hassle of trying to get money out and paying fare for each ride. We were exhausted by the end of the day, but our only expense was on transportation, lunch, and some fruit at the market. Had we been driving, we would have been majorly frazzled and had a lot less cash in our wallets due to the exorbitant parking costs.

I’ll highlight some of our other feats later this week. For now, I’ll leave you with a photo:

California of Bust!

September 12th, 2007 at 02:44 am

I'm off to Santa Monica for a week of some much needed R&R and quality time with my husband.

Los Angeles isn't exactly known for being a budget-friendly place, so I'll be interested to report back on my experience of living it up while living on a budget.

Here are a few things that I've done already to help minimize the expense:

1.) We're combining business with pleasure. The primary reason for the trip is for Mr. Bean to attend a work meeting. His airfare is covered, as are 5 nights in the hotel. We are staying 7 nights, but we were able to get the "corporate" hotel rate for the extra 2 nights. Also, our cab to and from LAX are covered. The cab normally costs $50 each way!

2.) We're not planning to rent a car. Yes, I know this is ambitous since LA isn't exactly known for having marvelous public transportation. Although a car rental for the week was reasonably priced at ~$150, parking at the hotel was $35 / day. Yikes! I was able to use the Los Angeles Metro web site to figure out how to take public buses to Hollywood and the other tourist attractions we're interested in seeing. It also helps that we are both content to spend time just enjoying the lovely Santa Monica beach rather than trying to travel all over Orange County.

3.) We're taking advantage of the of one of LA's best free events: a television show taping. We're going to be audience members on the Dr. Phil show! All I had to do to get tickets was fill out a simple form on his web page. In my opinion, the quality of topics covered by Dr. Phil has really declined in the past few years. I expect the show will be a hoot!

4.)I used my coupons to stock up on suitcase friendly snacks. I got all of the following for $3.50. I'm also packing a lunch for our 6+ hour plane ride.



Of course, we'll also do our fair share of eating out and splurging to make this a memorable trip. I've already paid $75 for a private surf lesson. I can't wait!

That's what frugality is all about for me-- saving on things that don't mean much so you can take advantage of the opportunities that do!

Same destination, but different prices!

July 18th, 2007 at 02:21 pm

I'm planning to join Mr. Bean on his next business trip to LA in September. He's planning on taking a direct flight from Dulles to LAX. I'm going to fly from my podunk little town to Dulles and then connect to the same flight as his so we can fly together. I'm not buying 2 separate tickets- it's all the same carrier and just connects through Dulles. Interestingly, as the prices stand today, the entire cost of my round trip flight is $69 cheaper than his direct flight- even though we'll be riding together on my final leg and my trip has more miles.

Who would have guessed?

The Daily Show on Credit Cards

June 29th, 2007 at 01:05 pm

Check out this clip of Demetri Martin from the Daily Show taking about credit cards posted on
My Money Blog. Hysterical. I love it.

Today's my last day teaching a 100-level course in the Summer Session (No fear though, I stat up again with the second summer session in a week).

So, in honor college kids everywhere, check this out.

I'm a bad, bad girl!

June 22nd, 2007 at 03:15 am

I'm a bad girl for a couple of reasons:

1.) I haven't been entering expenses in Quicken. I've caught up with it now, but it's a pain to get behind and try to remember where the $$ went (especially cash ).
2.) I was over "budget" in May, and will also be over budget in June.

Beginning in January, I challenged myself to live each month off my stipend (usually about $1340 / month take home) while contributing $150 to my Roth IRA. I have other streams of income beside my stipend, like babysitting, interest, and random odd jobs, but I've been trying to just sock that money away.

I won't bother listing all the categories, but I was $262.81 over my stipend in May. I did so well with this Challenge until April. I need to get back on the wagon!

There are a few reasons for the extra expenses, but the major reason is that I've allowed myself a little more liberty in spending because in May I was offered to teach 2 summer classes for which I will be paid ~$5,000 in total, before taxes. I will get the money at the end of June. I decided to use this unexpected "windfall" to max out my 2007 Roth ASAP (by the end of June, I will have contributed $2000, so I'll use the teaching money to top it off at $4K). The remainder I'll put in savings, but I have been very liberal the last few weeks in treating myself to some new clothing, some nice shampoo, etc. All in all, it will probably end up being a few hundred dollars in "treats".

I was going to write how I work really hard and deserve the "treats", but I know that's just rationalizing. It is what it is. I wanted the stuff. I have it now. I think I'm still in good financial shape and the world will keep turning.I need to find a way to balance feeling guilty about spending and enjoying the money I earn. Actually, the more I think about it, I don't really feel guilty about it. I'm just cognizant, and perhaps that *is* the middle ground.

March Spending Analysis

April 1st, 2007 at 11:11 pm

One of my goals for 2007 is to live off my monthly graduate student stipend while paying $150 / month into an IRA. All other money I receive (odds jobs and gifts) is funneled into my high yield savings account.

My March expenses looked like this:

Clothing $36.69
Dining $46.62
Entertainment $84.85
Gifts Given $42.97
Groceries $6.89
Household $3.50
Joint Expenses $1000.00 (includes rent, utilities, food, gas, etc)
Medical $6.00
Parking $4.00
Personal Care $66.00
IRA Contribution $150
--------------------------------
TOTAL EXPENSES: $1447.52

Total March Stipend $1377.50

Uh oh! I overspent my stipend by $70.02.

Luckily, I’m not worried. I underspent the stipend by $90.14 in January and $139.31 in February to leave myself a $229.45 surplus. In addition, I made $290 this month in odd jobs.

So, while I’m not worried, I’m not ecstatic, either.

There are a few reasons why this month was unusual. First, Mr. Bean and I took a weekend trip and incurred extra expenses in gas and hotel. For this reason, we each contributed $1000 to our joint account rather than the typical $800. I also got my haircut this month and bought a new jar of my preferred (but pricey) moisturizer. Both of these expenses are what drove my “Personal Care” category up to $66.

I also spent ~$70 on a new paid of running shoes (I place this in entertainment category). I am an avid runner, but can typically get my shoes to last ~4 months since I have custom made orthodics which help preserve the life of the shoe. However, when my knees start to ache, I know it’s time for new shoes. My knees started hurting around March 28. The thought crossed my mind to wait a few days so I could stay place the expense in April, but then I realized how silly that was. My Challenge to live off my stipend while contributing $150 / month to an IRA is just that – a Challenge- and the months that I stay under my limit provides a cushion for month’s like the previous.

Regardless, this month proves the point of why it’s important for those of us on a relatively lower end of the income spectrum to watch how we spend our money. A few extra indulgences and you’ll find yourself in the red!

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. I’m embarrassed to admit that pre-grad school I didn’t 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 wasn’t thrifty.

The only reason I avoided consumer debt was that I have inherited my mother’s gene for bargain shopping but lived in a small enough space that I couldn’t 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, it’s 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. I’m also investing. I’m saving—and all on a fraction of what I used to make. The biggest difference is that I’m 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 wasn’t my home, nor was I truly independent from my parents.

However, I think that if you ever came to our home, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, this is a student apartment”— or “This is just some one’s temporary home”. But this is a home. A real life Mr. Bean and I began together as graduate students. I’m 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.

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 won’t 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 “creep” up, like a weekend getaway we’re taking in March. I want to make sure that my surplus money can cover such expenses and that I don’t use the “odd job” money I’ve put in savings.

February already has been a little spendy. I’ve contemplated doing a budget, but I think I’m 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 don’t 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 I’ll have it down better.

Anyway, I’m feeling positive.


KIVA: Make a Loan, Change a Life

January 24th, 2007 at 03:29 am

Microlending is the process of giving small loans, typically under $200, to individuals typically rebuffed by large lending institutions.

Economist Dr. Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank were awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their (dare I say, revolutionary?) use of microcredit.

Even Oprah had him on her show to talk about microlending.

If microlending is good enough for a Nobel Peace Prize and Oprah Winfrey, then it's certainly good enough for me!

I find the whole microfinance idea appealing on so many levels, so I was really excited to find out there's an easy way for everyday people like you and I to participate though the non-profit Kiva.org.

To quote from the Kiva web page:

"Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back."

Intrigued? Check it out yourself. You can loan as little as $25 (these are interest free loans). A lot of us have been very fortunate in our lives. It's nice to be able to lend a hand to someone else.



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!

NYT: The Voices in My Head Say ‘Buy It!’ Why Argue?

January 16th, 2007 at 04:09 pm

Today's New York Times Science section presents an interesting explanation of brain differences of spendthrifts and tightwads.


"Now that scientists have spotted the pain and pleasure centers in the brain, they’ve moved on to more expensive real estate: the brain’s shopping center."

Perhaps John Tierney's humorous suggestion for a credit card that would remind you of your outstanding balance isn't a realistic answer to activate a lazy insula, but how about regular viewing of credit card statements online, or tracking in Quicken or MS Money? I know, I know, how passé! But isn't most good personal finance advice?

The Bewildered Bargainer

January 12th, 2007 at 05:05 pm

As I mentioned in a previous post, we recently steam cleaned our carpets. Since everything was moved from its original location, we decided to reorganize our furniture. It's been a fun process and a good way to clean everything out.

Previously, my desk was in one of the front rooms that we often use for entertaining. My desk had a director’s chair because:
a.) It was the only extra chair I had available for the desk, and
b.)Since the desk was one of the first things you see when you enter in the front door, the director’s chair was more visually appealing than a big klunky office chair.

I admit, not 100% rational.

Needless to say, the director’s chair is not ergonomically designed nor particularly comfortable for working at the computer. Mr. Bean has been on my case for some time to invest in a better chair.

Well, as part of the furniture re-organization, my desk moved into the spare bedroom, so I felt it was time to get that desk chair (albeit 3 years into my doctoral program and um-teenth thousand hours at the computer later). As luck would have it, someone had posted 4 office chairs in good condition on our local online classifieds. In particular, a leather mid-back chair originally from Staples was being offered for $25, with the claim that the chair was only 2 months old. I looked on Staples online, and found the chair retails for $39.99 . Considering a new chair would include sales tax and assembly time I decided to take a look. I love finding gently used items rather than new, but I rarely can muster the courage to try to bargain for a better price. However, I noticed in the online classified photo that there were a few small scuffs in the leather, so mentally prepared myself to offer $20 rather than the $25.

Upon arrival at the seller’s apartment, the seller gave me a quizzical look and said, “I know you!” I looked at him in confusion since I didn’t recognize him, but it turns out he was the husband of another student in my department. I guess that’s what happens when you live in small college town! The chair was in great shape, and since I “knew” the seller I lost all gumption to try to bargain. C’est la vie. I love my “new” chair, and $25 is still a good deal!

Frugal Birthday

January 9th, 2007 at 09:20 pm

I turned 29 on Sunday. It was odd to think that this was the last birthday I'd truly be 29-- after this people can rightfully make the joke, "It's your 29th, right? [wink, wink!]" In all honesty, age doesn't bother me, (yet).

To celebrate, we went out to one of the better restaurants in town and saved ourselves some cash by purchasing a dining certificate beforehand from Restaurant.com.

If you haven't yet used the Restaurant.com site, I highly recommend checking it out. Basically, you go to the site and buy "Dining Certificates" for a certain dollar value off your meal. Typically, a $25 off certificate costs $10, but the site often runs discount specials.

We bought our $25 off certificate while they were running a 60% off special, so we paid only $4 for a $25 off coupon. The drawback is that you are required to "present you certificate" prior to ordering, so it can feel a little awkward and more like a coupon than a gift certificate. If I were single, this isn't a move I'd make on a date, but since I'm married and both my partner and I are full time students, we quickly recovered from the awkwardness. The way I look at it, the establishment chose to list themselves in Restaurant.com, so they shouldn't be too shocked and appalled when people show up to use certificates. Also, be sure to read the fine print-- most certificates include a minimum purchase price for meal, some of which are double the certificate amount.

For dessert we had an ice cream cake at home. I clipped a coupon for an ice cream cake and casually left it on the counter while making a not so subtle comment about how I like ice cream cake and my birthday was right around the corner. Mr. Bean took the bait the swooped the coupon.

For a birthday present, Mr. Bean rented a steam cleaner and we spent the greater portion of my actual bday steam cleaning the sofa and carpets. My friends got quite a hoot out of this, but I was quite happy. I can be a bit particular about cleanliness, but Mr. Bean is not. Having his help for an entire day (weekend) doing a thorough cleaning was a great present. Plus, our formerly dingy looking sofa looks new again. In an ironic twist, while we were returning the steam cleaner, the cat puked on the carpet-- something she rarely does. Luckily she picked two discreet spots. Otherwise... well, I'll just leave it that she picked two good spots.

Entertaining in, NOT eating out

January 2nd, 2007 at 03:03 am

A friend invited us to get together for dinner tonight. I think his intention was to all go out, so I asked him, "Do you want to go out or do you want to come over and I'll make dinner?" He chose the latter-- which is what I was hoping. I made pizza dough in the bread machine and then made 2 pizzas. I was tempted to run out to the store to buy a few extra things for toppings, but decided to just use what we had on hand. I'm glad I didn't go out for more toppings because I would have spent another $5 (I was thinking about sweet peppers and mushrooms) and the pizza turned out great without these additions. I topped it with some turkey sausage (in the freezer since October), thawed frozen broccoli (make sure to drain as much water as possible or pizza with be soggy), thinly sliced and broiled eggplant, mozzarella, a sprinkle of feta, and a few canned artichoke hearts (left over from a recipe from earlier in the week). Estimated total cost for all ingredients < $7, and we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow! If we went out, I imagine it would have been at least $25 for Mr. Bean and myself. Since I like to cook, I try to convince people to come over for dinner rather than going out to eat. It seems like a win-win for everyone. I end up doing more work, but typically shell out a lot less money.

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!)

Question on Budgets

November 30th, 2006 at 01:46 pm

Do you budget on a monthly basis and add in irregular expenses as needed, or do you try to account for the irregular expenses every month?

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: I am a runner. I buy about 3 pairs of running shoes / year at ~$270 for the year. However, I don't buy them like clockwork every 4 months-- it depends on how much I'm running and how quickly the shoes are breaking down. I categorize this as "recreation" in Quicken rather than clothing since I only wear the shoes for running. I'm curious if people would recommend putting in $22.50 / month (22.5 *12months = 270), or, just put in the $90 / month when I anticipate having to buy new shoes? I'm sure it can be done either way, but I'm just curious what works well for people.

I imagine most people have a slush fund in their budget for unexpected but unnecessary things. I suppose the running shoes could be drawn from that.... any thoughts?

November Expenses and my First Budget

November 29th, 2006 at 01:51 am

I just examined November's expenses-- I think I did OK considering I stayed out of the red there were some irregular expenses, mainly:

** $85 for a cleaning lady to visit my mother's house (mom lives 250 miles from me and recently broke her arm).
** $331 for interest on undergrad school loans (currently in deference since I'm in school)

The extra money from hearing testing helped cover me this month. Due to Thanksgiving, I lost some income from my personal chef client who needed fewer meals.

I was particularly proud of the grocery expenses: $154.84 for the entire month for 2 adults (includes only taxable items). However, we did spent $76.99 eating out (again, for 2 people). The eating out expense seems to fluctuate. We've actually had some months with zero eating out expenses, but it's rare.

Armed with this knowledge, I used Quicken to create my first budget. I'm curious to see how it goes. December might not be the best month to start budgeting due to the Holidays and irregular expenditures, but if nothing else, it should help to keep my expenditures in check. I'm making an extra $200 /month this semester in return for doing extra grading, but come January that will be gone and I'll be back to $1350 / month. The time is ripe to tighten the purse strings!

I did budget in a monthly contribution to an IRA, but I still need to get something set up with Vanguard. Hopefully I can accomplish this by Friday.

More Spending

November 14th, 2006 at 02:56 am

After reviewing everything that's planned this week, I no longer think this is going to be a low spend week!

I already spent 16.64 today, here's the break down:

$8.50 on items for a Thanksgiving Basket for a family dealing with HIV/AIDS. The basket is being "sponsored" by a student organization I belong to. I have a feeling the other students might forget to donate, so I wanted to make sure to donate more than just one thing. However, I just found out about it today and the items need to be in by Wednesday, so I don't have a lot of time to strategize, (sounds weird, but I get a thrill out strategized shopping). Typically when donations are needed I can raid my surplus of stuff I get for free or nearly free with coupons. However, specific items were requested for this basket. I headed out to the Dollar Tree and the grocery store, and for $8.50 I got:

Thanksgiving themed paper plates and paper napkins
1 Can sliced pineapple
1 box quick bread mix
1 box stuffing
1 can gravy
1 envelope gravy
1 bottle cran-apple juice
Thanksgiving card

Again, for someone really trying to budget, themed paper plates and napkins aren't the best use of money, but they were on the request list, and for a family dealing with illness hopefully this will make the holiday cleanup a little easier. (Not to mention the themed plates looked really festive!)

I spent the remaining 8.14 at the store for us--mainly to pick up items I could get free with coupons, and fresh stuff. I'm going to try to make this the last food purchase until next week.

1 bag Lender's Sqaure bagels (free with coupon)
2 Dannon 6 oz yogurt (free with coupons)
Fresh Broccoli Crowns ($1.57)
1 pint grape tomatoes ($2.50)
3 tangerines ($2.00--these were an impulse buy... I've been eating apples for ~ 3 weeks since they are fresh at the Farmers Market but needed a break!)
2- 10 oz blocks of cheese (BOGO): $2.97
Loaf of Italian Bread: $1.17

I realize this doesn't add up.. I see now that the clerk doubled by free yogurt coupons-- which he shouldn't have.

Made some "homemade" soup from canned tomatoes and an array of frozen veggies and enjoyed with the Italian bread and a salad for dinner. I always make enough to have something for lunch the next day. Mr. Bean prefers to make a sandwich or have cheese and a salad.

Weekend Spending Round Up

November 13th, 2006 at 02:02 am

Spent a fair deal of cash this weekend on entertainment and optional things:

Friday: $3.50 at Farmer's Market for a 1/2 peck of apples. Money well spent.

Saturday evening: $10.50 on movie tickets for Mr. Bean and myself to see the Borat movie. I had high hopes, but was under impressed. Movie started off on a bad note when the guy sitting next to me kept saying "What a Dump!" about Kazakhstan. It made me sad.

Sunday:
$24.96 at JCPenney on 2 items of clothing. Both were priced well, but neither was a necessity. Feeling a little wasteful about this.

$3 at Big Lots for some household cleaners. Great prices here on detergents, soaps, etc. I will try to keep it mind to look there for laundry detergent next time we're low. I think the price cheaper than grocery store even with a coupon.

$3 for day pass to indoor swimming pool. I'm a runner, but feel an injury coming on, so decided to swim today instead and give my legs a rest. I was the only person in the pool for most of my workout. It was great!

Now that I'm tracking everything in Quicken, I find myself much more conscious about what I spend. However, I'm not using budgets. I've been concerned that it would seem too restrictive. Any thoughts?? Pro / con? Maybe I'll make a goal to set up some budgets and then test it out for a month or two.

The upcoming week should be fairly low-spend.