Friday, August 29, 2008

The Economics of Music Festivals

Challenge: can a girl on a budget survive three days and nights at a music festival where there are plenty of people vying for your hard-earned Benjamins on under $100?

Answer: I don't know, but I'm hoping.

I'm a music fan and have been to many great shows over the years but this is the first time I've ever camped overnight at a festival. I'm excited and slightly nervous about the whole experience. I am hoping it doesn't rain because I really don't want to become a Mud Person.

Anyhow, my budget for this event is $100, $33 of which I have spent on a t-shirt, fake Crocs, a case of Rockstar energy drink and three magazines. Seems slightly frivolous I realize but I get really really bored without Internet so magazines are pretty much essential to my survival.

Boyfriend purchased the tickets for the festival a while back at $115 a pop each. I am grateful for this fact but then again, I bought him concert tickets back in March also so it's not completely one-sided.

We are taking his car and bringing a friend. At 135 miles away, we are looking at spending $40 in gas. Split three ways that comes out to be $12 each. I also want to purchase half of the beer that we are bringing (about a case). I should budget about $15 for that.

So I hope to have about $50 to spend on food and beer the remainder of the festival with $10 budgeted for a souvenir of some sort.

I've never been to one of these events so I don't exactly know how it's gonna go down, but hopefully I stay on track!

BTW: I'm already on my way now and this will be my first scheduled post. I hope it works!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Next Stop: New Job?

I haven't written much about my job search since my last interview which went amazingly well but for which I was ultimately not offered the job. From the wording of the rejection letter, it appears I was definitely one of the final candidates but that it came down to experience that I was lacking. I got over it pretty fast owing to the fact that 1) I like my current job well enough and 2) I am on an eligible list of candidates for a better job and eventually my number will come up.

But there is trouble in Chinatown lately at my job and so I have been quietly looking around all that I can. Some of this "looking" means investigating the evil evil private sector. And, as luck would have it, I got a phone call today from a certain regulated industry: I have an interview next week!!

Conscience talking here: do you want to work for regulated industry? I thought you went to school to do good in the world? I thought you toil away in a low-paying public service job because you like helping people?!

Well, conscience, that's sort of true. There's lots of other factors involved as well and none that I can fully explain here in order to protect my identity. But I have known that it would be possible for me to cross over to the private sector eventually and substantially boost my salary. I just wanted to get more experience before I did that.

But, going on an interview can't hurt, right? Well, perhaps, and here's why: I have to take the bus. I know this sounds lame to the 99% of the world that commutes daily but I picked an apartment only 4 blocks from where the majority of jobs were in my city on purpose. I like walking. I like my downtown area! Alas, this job is out of town by about 15 miles. I know it shouldn't be a huge factor, but spending almost an hour and a half on a bus every day will add years to my life! And I will have to wake up earlier. And I won't get to go home at lunch anymore.

Oh well, wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Got Paid to Quit Smoking!

It's been exactly one month and a day since I quit smoking! Okay, sure, there was a brief indiscretion back around Day 12, but we have moved past that. I survived my Sister's Wedding without a puff and was complimented by all my parent's friends and many of my relatives (except my cousins who were hoping I would hook them up!). And if you knew me, you'd know that's a big deal because I tend to be a ball of nerves at family events and sneaking a smoke was my favorite way to get away.

I even survived an almost half an hour wait at the busstop yesterday - smoking used to be the only way I didn't feel insecure standing around on a street corner by myself waiting for a bus, a ride, etc. I'm learning you just have to relearn doing those things - dealing with stress, impatience, etc., without a cigarette. What did I do yesterday, for example? Well I called the toll free number of the bus company to find out what the delay was! Hey, I bet you thought I'd say you have to start doing yoga or anything, right? Nah, just do anything else except smoking!

And why was I waiting for the bus when I usually just walk to/from work? Well, I had an appointment at the local university's pyschology lab. An appointment wherein I got paid $25 for 20 minutes of work!

A while back, a co-worker told me the university was having a Stop Smoking research study and they were looking for participants. I signed up and for a whlie was receiving $2 a day for answering a daily telephone interview and $20 a week for showing up in person for a brief computer survey. All told I probably made $200 participating in this survey! And though, it wasn't the ultimate factor in my decision to quit (quite honestly I was just in it for the cash) it definitely got me thinking about it.

Yesterday was my six month follow up appointment, for which I got paid $25! And I was happy to report to the researcher that I have, in fact, quit smoking. In another six months, I am confident that a full seven months will have gone by since my last cigarette.

And are you curious how much money I am saving as a result? So am I! That's why I found this nifty little tracker which I have added to my blog to track how much money I would have spent on smokes!

Over $100 bucks, nice! And in case you are on the fence about quitting and don't think you can use another $100 a month, here's some other facts I found on the web about the costs of smoking:

Life Insurance: Smokers have a greater risk of dieing at a younger age than non smokers and this risk is reflected in higher life insurance premium payments.

Health Insurance: Smokers have a greater risk of medical problems than non smokers and this risk is reflected in their medical insurance premium payments.

Health Care: Since smokers frequently have more medical problems than non smokers, they must pay more to take care of these problems.

Medications: More medical problems for smokers usually results more prescription medicine taken by smokers than non smokers.

Home Owner's Insurance: Smokers have a greater risk of burning down their house than non smokers and this risk is reflected in higher home owner's insurance premium payments.

Value of the House: Smoking leaves a bad smell in a house thus decreasing the value to potential buyers.

Value of Your Possessions: Just as with the house, smoking leaves a bad smell to many of the items in your house thus decreasing their value.

Car Insurance: Smokers have a greater risk of getting into a car accident than non smokers and this risk is reflected in their car insurance premium payments.

Car Resale Value: Smoking leaves a bad smell in a car thus decreasing the value to potential buyers or when traded-in for another car.

Earn Less Money: Studies have found that smokers earn between 4% to 11% less money than their non smoking counterparts.

Less Social Security / Pension Benefits: Since smokers earn less than non smokers, they receive less overall social security and pensions benefits than non smokers.

Cost of Cleaning: Whether its the inside of their home, the inside of their car or their clothes, smokers have to spend more to keep things clean.

Dental Care: Smokers spend more on dental care and special dental products than non smokers.

Lost Interest: All the extra money that smokers must spend means that money can't be saved resulting in lost interest.

So I hope some of the readers out there I've communicated with (and those I haven't) will take this information in mind in their own struggles to quit. Heck, if I can do it, you can do it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Revised Budget 8/26 - 09/02

So I screwed up my Budget royally due to my Sister's Wedding Weekend and all the unexpected expenses. I'm not too bummed about it. It happened. Awesome wedding and amazing memories with my family were shared. Did I need to spend $95 on makeup? IMO no but far be it from me to ruin my Sister's day.

What happens when life doesn't go according to plan? Well, you just make a new plan, that's what! And thus, here is my new budget compared to the old Budget I made:

Rent - 725/0
Sprint - 83/83
Capital One - 20/20
Beauty - 60/230
Travel - 40/40
Wedding Weekend Money - 50/230
Repaid Mom Debt - 0/100
Old Roommate Wedding Shower Gift - 50/103
Utilities - 0/102
Savings Account - 0/50

Total Remaining = 334

Okay, so big exciting news is that today, I opened up a Savings Account for my Emergency Fund!!! This isn't such an exciting event as I have had a Savings Account since I was 12 years old but it's never had much of "savings" in it, especially in the past couple of years. I decided I needed to have an account linked to my Checking Account so that I can conveniently save money while still diligently avoiding the Evil Overdraft Monster. Bank to bank transfers take way too long for my usual type of "emergency" so I did not open up a high yield savings account. Not yet anyway. I started small and put $50 in this account.

I paid my utilities early so that I don't have to deal with them in the next pay period.

I went ahead and bought Old Roommate's Wedding Shower gift since I know I won't be able to afford to do so in the next pay period with rent and other debts coming due. Though I spent more than I anticipated, $60 of that money came from the $100 my Dad gave me so I only actually spent $40 of my own funds.

I cannot pay my rent on time in September and my landlord agreed to hold the check until September 3rd. But I want to end out August with $200 left in my Checking Account so that I only need to pay $525 out of the new paycheck for my rent. I think I can do this as I currently have $334 left in the account. Boyfriend and I are going to a festival over Labor Day Weekend. I originally budgeted $60 for the festival but I think I am going to increase that amount to $100 since we will be gone for four days.

Here's hoping the amended Budget works out this time!

Boyfriend Bought a Condo!

As I last reported, Boyfriend had secured a mortgage commitment for his condo. The closing was yesterday and he now is officially a property owner, yay!

There were SO many papers to sign but luckily we had seen most of them prior to the closing. We were lucky to get all the seller concessions because the whole purchase cost Boyfriend less than $6,000, which includes:

$5,260.03 - downpayment plus tax escrow and some other assorted fees.

$230 - title insurance

I also think I did a pretty good job representing him. It's a little intimidating because you're sitting there with the bank's lawyers and the seller's lawyers (the sellers were not there) and the mortgage broker and all they want you to do is sign sign sign because they do this all the time. But I made sure that Boyfriend understood every piece of paper put before him and that he was free to slow down and take his time. All told, it took about an hour and a half.

The one thing we didn't know was when the first mortgage payment was due. It being August 26th already and we have very fun and exciting weekend plans coming up we didn't know if we were expected to shell out $1,000 right away. Also, Boyfriend still has to deal with the cost of moving and is paying rent at his current apartment (half the month of September). As luck would have it, Boyfriend's first mortgage payment is not due until October 1st. We both breathed an audible sigh of relief when that paper was slid across the table.

Last night we celebrated with wine and Chinese food at the new place. We are both pretty excited for him to move and will be picking out paint today. We know that it's tempting to spend a lot of money when you first move into a new place and have decided just to paint and tear up carpet and nothing else for now. His old furniture is going with him and will be replaced eventually.

All in all, it's been quite an exciting August!

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Sister Got Married and all I Got Was a Brother-in-Law

Remember the Budget? And how I budgeted $50 for unexpected expenses over the course of the weekend? Well, take that $50 and multiply it by 6 and that's the actual amount of UNEXPECTED EXPENSES I encountered this weekend!

Ok, first of all, the wedding was fabulous. Wonderful weather, happy family, romantic time with Boyfriend, yadda yadda yadda. And my financial predictions were right on the money about the things I had planned on paying for ($60 at the beauty salon before I left town; $40 in travel expenses to get to my parent's house).

Then I get to my parent's house and find out the news: they are broke! Brokedy broke broke broke. The wedding and an unexpected plumbing incident a week prior had left them pretty much temporarily insolvent. So out of my sense of guilt and desire to please them I ponied up the $100 I owed my Mom. She was pretty suprised (and pleased) because I don't think she remembered bitching about it in the first place. So I am rid of $100 of debt (yay).

Prior to the wedding I asked my Mom if she was paying for my hair appointments and she said yes. But seeing the situation as it was, I felt obligated to pay for it. So there goes $60 for a wash, cut and a blow dry before the rehearsal dinner (which I must add is twice as expensive as it is in my city) and $15 the next day for my up-do (it was a lot more but my Mom accidentally paid for me and I just paid for the tip). Total hair expenses = $75.

I promised Boyfriend I would buy him a new shirt and tie since he was traveling before the wedding (and I wanted to get something I liked anyway). Went to a discount store and only spent $30. He looked great though!

Here's the real Budget Buster: the day of the wedding, all the bridesmaids and my sister get their makeup done. I told my Mom not to worry and that I would pay for mine. Little did I know it was $75 each!!! Add in my $20 tip and I spent $95 for makeup to be applied to my face by a professional! Never ever again will I be so ripped off. Boys and girls, forget college, become a beautician and make bank!

Total Wedding Weekend Expenses =

about $500 all told. I am officially broke. I called my Landlord this morning and told him I could not pay the rent until September 3rd. which is embarrassing of course but it's only technically one day late and I've been a good tenant for almost 5 years now.

I also paid my utility bill to the tune of $102 (including $40 towards the Payment Agreement) so that I have one less thing to worry about in the next Pay Period.

I am upset that I blew the budget but the wedding was an amazing time. Oh and, remember how I predicted I would pay my mother back at the same time my Dad would give me money? Well it happened and I'm not even really that ashamed about it. I went to say goodbye to my father and he just handed my $100 and said "thank you for all your help this weekend." I got a tip just like the altar boy. Was I the best Maid of Honor ever?

I didn't hesitate to take the money because I know he was worried about covering everything and felt bad when he found out I was spending money right and left (money that he must have instinctively knew I needed for other neccessities). So I now have $100 of cash in my pocket but unfortunately it is not enough to pay the rent on time.

I am working on an Amended Budget to be posted later. Good thing I only have two sisters!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Budget 08/20 - 09/02

Payday at last! I've been working and reworking this budget all day! Well not all day as that would be completely unproductive of me. I've also been fielding calls about the wedding this weekend - so glad it's finally here! This budget is all screwed up because of the wedding, a music festival, and guess what, ANOTHER wedding! But here's the big bad truth as to where my hard-earned Benjamins will be headed this pay period:

Starting Balance = 1136

Rent - 725
Sprint - 83
Capital One - 20
Beauty - 60
Travel - 40

Left Over = 208

Wedding Weekend Money (tips, cabs, etc.) - 50
Music Festival (Labor Day weekend) - 60
Old Roommate Wedding Shower Gift - 50

There's some flexibility in the "left over" numbers because luckily I only have 5 more workdays until my next payday (isn't it funny how I spend the most money when I'm at WORK?). Next weekend I am going to a music festival with Boyfriend (tickets are already paid for) and I want to have some walking around money for drinks, souvenirs, etc. but I don't technically NEED $50 to spend.

As for Old Roommate's Wedding Shower Gift? I am not going to the shower (out of state) and I have one more paycheck before it occurs. Etiquette dictates that I send a gift to the shower since I have been invited. The problem, however, is that if I wait until my next paycheck to buy the gift, it will probably arrive AFTER the shower. Is this an etiquette faus paux? I don't know. Readers? Luckily, Old Roommate has a far more modest registry than my sister. My friends are dropping like flies, but like Katherine Heigl, I'm always a bridesmaid. Ha!

Oh, and a note about Sprint, my optimization should knock about $20 off my monthly bill but it hasn't gone through yet.

Where it Went 08/06 - 08/19

I'm pretty happy about how my budget for the last two weeks worked out. Okay, so I messed up and didn't buy lunch food in advance so there were a bunch of times I had lunch at work. But I kept costs low and there were no major unexpected surprises - other than the minor damage I did on my smoking fall from grace.

Here's how it went:

Aunt Sallie Mae - 406/406.96
Defaulted Student Loan - 260/260
Nice Collection Agency - 125/125.81
Utilities - 85/83.95
Sister's Wedding Present - 150/152
Boyfriend Debt - 50/0
Mailing Stuff - 5/2 (still have one more thing to mail)
Food + Beer - 55/70


Hmm, for some reason I put my starting balance as $1157 when it was in fact $1151. I did not pay Boyfriend back any money yet. This bugs me but I was pretty darn broke after buying Sister's wedding gift. I did not account for $8 in ATM fees, ugh. I also got $10 in laundry quarters and ended the two week period with about $5 left in the bank.

If I can keep this kind of diligence I should be looking at a pretty good September and a great October despite some new expenses I will explain later.

And before you mention it, yes I do intend to pay Boyfriend, but I am also performing free work for him right now so I don't feel SO bad that it didn't get done this time around.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This Futon Costs $150,000!

As promised, I am revealing the intimate details of Boyfriend's pursuit of a condo. We don't have the official numbers yet, because the bank likes to keep you waiting until the very last minute to tell you that, but here is an approximate estimate of the purchase price and fees:

Purchase Price = $152,659
Seller Concessions = $9159.00 (6% = maximum allowed by FHA)
Deposit = $500.00

Total Due at Closing = $143,000

Downpayment = $4,580.00 (3% of purchase price)
Closing Costs = $7,944.62 (Est)

This is where I get confused because the seller is technically paying the closing costs but it just results in the purchase price being reduced by that amount. The whole process is very confusing and I've never been good with math. Also, I have a very real and scary legal comittment to make sure Boyfriend is not getting ripped off. I don't think he is but I can only imagine how intimidating the process must be for people out there that aren't romantically involved with their real estate attorneys.

So, Boyfriend's Mortgage will be $150,300, which will work out in monthly payments of the following:

Mortgage = $937.68
Taxes = $175.00
PMI = $61.38
HOA dues $390.00

Total Monthly Payments = $1,564.06

So yes for all you apartment dwellers out there dreaming of condo ownership, here's an FYI: owning IS more expensive than renting when you factor in taxes and HOA. But, there are lots of perks we have found about condo ownership that have their own economic value. Here are the facts:

Boyfriend's building has FREE basic cable! Savings = $65.00 a month!
The building will soon have FREE wifi!! Savings = $50 a month!
Boyfriend can transfer his stuff from a private storage unit to the storage that comes with his unit! Savings = $25 a month!

Also, his crackhead neighbors will never again knock on our door looking to trade jewelery for cash. Priceless!

And the best part of all, the previous owner is giving us free stuff, including this free futon! Woo-hoo! (Okay, not us, but him. I still have my own apartment. Sigh).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Carnival Day!

Today is a Munday. Compounded by the fact that I'm stressed about my Sister's wedding on Saturday, yikes! But I can direct you to some other interesting reads today:

First, Everyday Finance hosted the Carnival on Personal Finance and included my post, "Do I Need to Get Married to Get a Food Mixer?" I also was happy to read another article included in the carnival by Not The Jetset - how they were able to buy an HDTV by selling unwanted items in their house.

Also out there today is an article about a married couple younger than me who are on their way to being "Millionaires in the Making." La de da, good for them - they seem really boring and financially foolish if you ask me (but who am I to judge?).

And finally, another look at an elusive kitchen stand mixer I will never own as a single female:


Friday, August 15, 2008

Hot Damn - We're Buying a Condo!

Okay, so "we" is a subjective word here as I and my crazy finances are in no way purchasing real estate at this junction. But my boyfriend is! And my cat gets to live there. And I can sleep there whenever I want. So, in essence, we are moving on up!

Remember how I told you that Boyfriend Wanted to Buy a Condo? And that the first Mortgage Broker told us we couldn't get approved for an FHA loan? And then we were sad because in our area condos are a hot and rare commodity?

Well fast forward a couple weeks. A lot has happened and I'm happy to report that not only has boyfriend been approved to buy the awesome condo we found, I have taken on outside employment in real estate!

Here's what happened:

After the first mortgage broker was unable to get us an FHA loan for a condo, we thought all was lost and just resolved to save up enough money to get a conventional mortgage. And I know some of you out there will argue that we should have waited, but well, we didn't.

Word of mouth led us to a mortgage broker who CAN procure FHA loans for a condo, something that is called a Spot Loan. This guy was able to find a bank easy peazy who would sign off on Boyfriend's income, credit score, etc.

First problem: even with lots of seller concessions, we still needed about $5k to walk in the door. Boyfriend only had $2k. He was thinking of taking a loan from his 401(k) or just post-poning the closing as long as possible. But, alas, his parents swooped in and gave him $3k. Which was awesome and apparently something they did for his older sister as well. Parents are awesome.

Ok, so this was three weeks ago and we were all set to close but - oh no - there's a second problem in the form of a mistake on the taxes on this condo. Long annoying story but suffice it to say, it wasn't a big problem and something the city said it would fix. Next year. The bank got mad and walked away.

We were sad and frustrated because we had locked in at a good rate and the rates had since climbed a quarter of a point. Also, we were worried that a second bank would also be turned off by this itty bitty tax issue.

But, today, we get the good news from the mortgage broker: the second bank said yes!

So there's a lot to do. He's very excited and soon our cat will have a great place to live!

How does this affect my finances, you ask? Well....Boyfriend's new condo is only one block from my apartment so I will not be frustrated that I am paying rent for a place I barely get to spend any time in. Also, I elected to represent Boyfriend in this matter as his attorney. For free. It wasn't easy and there's still more work to be done but, hey, four of my friends closed on houses THIS MONTH in my city. Had I handled the closing for these four friends, I could have made about a grand! So I have let friends and family know that I now am in the business of residential real estate closings. Guess I can use this fancy degree for something, right?

Much to be done but here are some pics from "our" new place! Oh, I will also post the numbers later (with Boyfriend's consent of course) so you can get an idea of what it is like to buy a condo (it's a little scary but rewarding).

Thanks for Stopping By - Check Out My Friends!

While I was away yesterday at a fun and free outing arranged by Boyfriend's company, 100 readers visited my humble blog. Yay! It makes me happy to know that others are joining me on this mission to beat back the Student Loan giants and live on a budget as a single woman. One reader even quit smoking after reading my posts about the process, double yay! In the last couple of months I've become very interested in reading other personal finance blogs and since I just started using a Google Reader I can keep up to date on all my virtual "friends" out there.

A lot of other bloggers acknowledge their top referrers every month and I haven't done that yet because I'm not so sure how to but I was nominated for an award by Beach Girl so I decided it was a good time to nominate other bloggers for an award based on my very biased method of seeing who links to my site! So, according to Google Analytics, here are my top referrers of all time (and a short review of their blog):

1. Chicky Finance - Chicky's blog is great. She only learned English 6 years ago (wow) and now she's learning about paying off credit card debt and living on a budget in ritzy Orange County, CA.

2. My Debt Blog - Jim and his wife have just as much student loan debt on top of a mortgage and credit card debt, yikes! He's smart and motivated about dealing with their mountain of debt and offers some advice to others.

3. Beach Girl's Budget Blog - Beach Girl realized a few months ago she wants to go to law school and (unlike me) she's saving up for it! Check out her blog and be jealous at all of her wisdom like I am. (She also nominated me so I guess technically I can't nominate her again. I'm not sure of the rules).

4. Always the Planner - a single NYC gal with lots of student loan debt like me who loves to travel.

5. Savings Not Shoes - an American girl in London - lucky - she's figuring out how to live abroad on a budget, travel and pay back student loans.

6. Sick of Being Poor - another single gal, Sick of Being Poor wants to pay off her debt and have a secure financial future as a Special Education teacher.

7. Escape Brooklyn - Escape Brooklyn is a tale of a 30 something married gal who wants to get out of Brooklyn and live someplace cooler (and more affordable). Don't tell Mayor Bloomberg but she may inspire a mass exodus!

8. Shtinkykat's PF Blog - I just found her today but I love the cute kitty in her header, check her out!

9. Athena Loves Fashion - she just caught on to personal finance after reading some blogs and realizing she was wasting her money, welcome!

10. Bright Pennies - Jill is learning to manage her money and pay off her debt.

Okay, so those are the nominees. Here are the rules:

The nine of you (excluding Beachgirl for whom it would be redundant) are supposed to do the following:

1. Put the logo (below) on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3. Nominate at least 5 other blogs.
4. Add links to these blogs on your blog.- Don't forget this step. This is great free advertising!
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

So happy Friday to my winners and everyone else out there who may stop by!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do I Need to Get Married to Get a Food Mixer?

As I mentioned last week, I took the plunge and purchased my Sister's Wedding present. I've already lamented about the ritualistic nature of wedding gift-giving and how seeing how all the presents my sister has requested from her friends and family turns me off to the idea of marriage in general. But it's my blog so I'm gonna do it again!

For months now, I was planning on purchasing this item from my sister's registry:
A $150 crystal butter dish. I selected it because I wanted to get her the most ostentatious useless thing on the whole registry as a silent protest against her selfish ways. It was still available for purchase early last week, but to my dismay, this close to the wedding, some other relative snapped it up.

And I know how this may look - that I'm jealous. And yeah I am. But mostly out of indignation. Why should she get all this fancy unnecessary stuff when 1) she doesn't even know how to cook and 2) has no room for them in her tiny studio apartment? I guess she envisions a future for herself and her betrothed that features dinners with crystal-covered butter. I just think that it's dumb that people spend all this money on stuff for other people simply because they are getting married.

But in the end, I went with a fancy lasagna pan because recently I cooked lasagna and was upset that my pan was the wrong size (which resulted to there being no noodles on top of the lasagna at all so it was more like a messy cheese/meat/noodle casserole. I could probably really use one of these pans - but alas, I cannot afford one.

Therefore I spent $150 on something that will probably sit in a box in my parent's garage for the next decade. Awesome.

Will I feel differently about the whole gift-giving process if/when my "time" comes along? Who knows? I hope not. Though I really do want a stand mixer. But they cost like $300 and that's before you factor in any of the attachments! And sure, I could start saving for one or try to find a used one or something. But at the rate I'm going marriage seems like the best bet. Sigh.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fell Off The Frugal Wagon - A Map of My Saturday

Everyone makes mistakes and although I consider myself a smart and succesful woman, I admit I am prone to bouts of sheer stupidity at times. It happens and the only thing you can do about it is learn from your mistakes so that they don't happen again. Take this Saturday for example.

Boyfriend and I have been extremely frugal as late, to the point of only selecting free weekend activities and limiting ourselves to two grocery runs a month of less than $100 each. We have been staying in for dinner pretty much every night, switching to less expensive brand named products and generally cutting back wherever possible so that he could buy a condo soon.

But Saturday we were supposed to meet out of town friends for brunch. We went to a restaurant and waited. And waited. At the bar. Eventually we decided we may as well have a drink as we waited. Wouldn't you know that Bloody Mary's were 2-for-1 on Saturday? Well I am not a liquor drinker by any means. In my younger days I could throw them back but now...2 Bloody Marys and a beer later and I was pretty far gone - only it didn't seem like that since it was 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon!

After we ate I decided I was going through with my plan to go into the office for a couple of hours to get additional work done. No big deal - no one is ever around on a Saturday - and the office is only a couple of blocks away. But here's where it all went wrong - on the way to the office with the taste of vodka and horse radish in my mouth, I decided I absolutely NEEDED a cigarette right then and there. On my way down the street I KNEW it was wrong but I didn't care.

Sure enough I get to the neighborhood bodega and the following events take place:

1) I ask for a pack of cigarettes and the man behind the counter says "But you quit!" [Opportunity one to back out of this bad decision.]

2) I insist of buying the pack anyway and then realize they will not accept my debit card unless my purchase exceeds $10. [Opportunity two to back out of this bad decision.]

3) Undeterred I go to the corner of the bodega and use the shady ATM when my own back ATM is just around the corner!! [Just really really dumb.]

I made this map so you can follow my train of thought (or lack thereof) throughout my fall from grace.

I then walk to work and furiously smoke a cigarette for the first time in almost two weeks. It didn't even taste good (did it ever?) but I had missed it so much. I get to the office and am now disgusted by the taste of Bloody Mary and cigarettes and decide to purchase a vending machine soda ($1.25) - something I swore off of months ago - to help get myself back together.

I proceed to work for a couple of hours, walk to Boyfriend's apartment where I quicky brushed my teeth and changed my clothes. Too late! He smells the smoke immediately and makes me throw away the offending pack.

And how much money did I waste? Well here are the numbers:

$6.75 - pack of cigarettes
$2.00 - Shady ATM fee
$2.00 - fee my bank will charge me for using Shady ATM
$1.25 - Soda to get rid of gross cigarette aftertaste
$12.00 = total Stupidity

I really have officially quit smoking though. Saturday just reinforced that for me as I got absolutely no pleasure out of my cheating and am still ashamed to think (write) about it now. It was an expensive lesson to learn.

The non-network ATM issue is one I've been grappling with for a while and I'm also mad at myself for being so lazy/impulsive/drunk to use another ATM when a free one was available nearby. I guess I just didn't want to feel stupid at the store but I sure feel stupid now.

Here's hoping something like this doesn't happen again!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Budget 08/06 - 08/19

Today has been long and stressful, making me think more and more about cigarettes. But, to keep my mind off of that, I will post my new budget to show myself how I really just can't afford to smoke anymore. Here it is:

Starting Balance = 1157

Aunt Sallie Mae - 406
Defaulted Student Loan - 260 (even though I just paid them, I wanted the monthly deductions to go through on the 15th of the month)
Nice Collection Agency - 125
Utilities - 85 (includes $35 towards overdue amount)
Sister's Wedding Present - 150
Boyfriend Debt - 50

Left Over For Me - 81

- 5 Mailing Stuff
- 40 Food
- 15 Beer

So, as you can see, I couldn't afford to smoke even if I wanted to as I would only have $21 left after all is said and done and that now only buys 3 packs of cigarettes.

(And no compromise on Sister's Wedding Present as I already bought it earlier today - more on that later).

Maybe I don't need to buy beer but I need one right now so I'm going to on my way home.

I asked Aunt Sallie Mae if I could lower my payments and she said maybe. Waiting for final approval as the addition of the Defaulted Student Loan has given me a serious cashflow problem.

In the meantime, when life hands you lemons...I don't know, drink beer.

Where it Went 07/23 - 08/05

Two weeks ago I laid out a budget that actually included spending projections for the first time, not just bill payments. I was excited to see how close to my projections I could be. Then it all got blown out the window when I needed to make a $260 payment to Evil Collection Company for my defaulted student loans.

Needless to say, everything needed to be revamped. And, in fact, I did not have $260 to spare so Boyfriend stepped in and helped me out to the tune of $120. He was afraid that I would have taken another Payday loan to remedy the situation. Luckily that didn't happen and I can now start paying him back the total of $345 owed to him.

Anyhow, here's where my money went over the past two weeks compared to the budget I made:


Rent - 725/725
Capital One - 50/50
Bridesmaid Dress Accessories - 60/20 (yay!)
Gym - 46/0 (this hasn't posted and I'm not sure it will since I cancelled my membership)
Weekend Money aka Spending Cash - 60/28
Cigarettes - 56/12 (I quit!!!)
Lunch Supplies - 40/40
Mailing Stuff - 5/0 (didn't mail yet)

Not Budgeted But Paid

Doctor's Bill - $85.05 (a couple of unpaid visits finally caught up with me)
Defaulted Student Loan - $260

By quitting smoking, I had less opportunity to have cash on me so I only ended up spending $28 in micellaneous unaccounted for cash. Sweet. In reality, this is partly due to the fact that I was waiting for my checks to clear and was afaid to spend anything.

Not included above are a couple of things I used other funds for:
I put an $11 bottle of wine on my credit card last night so I'll need to account for that by the end of the month.

I also bought Thai food ($9) with my other bank account's card the other night with some of the money that was budgeted for my last gym membership payment.

Still have not purchased Sister's Wedding Gift but hopefully will do that today (payday!).

All in all, quitting smoking was quite possibly the best thing I could have done for myself financially. Little things like thai takeout seem more affordable now that I am not wasting and average of $40 a week on cancer sticks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

August Goals

It's already the 5th of August, yikes! I haven't spent much money this month (because I don't have any) so it's okay that I'm a little late posting my goals. Some of them are old goals because of how I screwed up a little in July. What I failed to mention was that July was actually a great month goal-wise because I quit smoking and made a payment agreement with my defaulted student loan.

So, here are my goals for August:

1. Establish Emergency Fund. I thought I could start this out by keeping a certain threshold in my Checking Account but that has proved impossible. I need to have a separate account so I am less likely to tap into it. Not sure just yet how much I can devote to it this month but my goal is at least $50.

2. Avoid Evil Overdraft Monster. Ongoing goal - this will be made easier I hope when I open my Emergency Fund at the same bank as my Checking Account.

3. Only use in-network ATMs. No excuses this time!

4. Buy Sister's Wedding Gift. Gosh darn wedding is only 17 days away!

So that's all for now. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Fall for the Funny Free Credit Report Commercials

The New York Times had an article today about those catchy commercials and how the service they offer isn't actually free. Huh? How could that be, you ask? Well, one might ask how they can afford so much advertising time if they were giving away their product for free?

According to the Times, gets users to sign up for a credit monitoring service which comes with a montly fee of $14.95, which many of those interviewed for the article said wasn't clear to them when they signed up.

I sympathize with those people of course. Once I accidentally found myself in a Vacation Rewards club that cost me $12 a month for months before I wised up to the charge and had it cancelled. I gave $5 a month to Greenpeace for years because I felt too bad to call them up and cancel the donation that was only supposed to last for one year. It is too easy these days to get scammed. That's why I'm hooked on online banking now, so you can see the description of every charge that goes through your account.

Anyhow, if you're looking for a free credit report, here's what you should know:

  1. You are entitled to one credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

  2. The official place to get them is at

  3. You can also obtain your credit report any time you have been denied for a loan, a job or an insurance policy based on your credit history.

In this economy people are more and more concerned with keeping up their credit and it seems like, of course, companies are looking for ways to profit from this. But if you know your rights you can avoid paying a monthly fee.

It's Carnival Time!

I am happy to report that my post on Saving Money at the Movies was picked for The Carnival on Personal Finance over at Squawkfox. I guess some people weren't exactly thrilled that I advocated sneaking into a second movie, but hey, it's just an idea. Anyway, check out the carnival and find some cool and helpful articles (not about stealing).

I love Carnivals because it introduces me to new blogs and bloggers. I've recently started using a Google Reader so now I can read posts more efficiently. Today I found a few more blogs to add to my reader! Here are some of my favorite posts from the Carnival:

  • The Money Answer Guy is a college student who lives on just $600 a month. I liked this post because he budgets money every month to buy flowers for his financee. Aww.
  • If you like controversial topics, then head over to Broke Grad Student who declares he never gives money to homeless people. That's just mean, but let him explain it to you. In my experience, I know what it's like to get jaded by seeing the same beggars time after time but generally if I have a buck to spare I give it away. When I lived in a bigger city I would buy a burger for one homeless man on my street. It is hard when you see so many needy people on a daily basis and know you can't help them all but I don't think I would ever draw a line in the sand like he has.
  • Jennifer at Saving Advice writes What Atari Taught Me About Personal Finance. I'm a little too young for Atari but I do remember that our Nintendo NES games growing up were a special treat only to be given on birthdays and holidays and my siblings and I had to share them.

Reading new articles in a perfect way to usher in the work week. Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Save Money at the Movies This Weekend!

Up until a couple of weeks ago, Boyfriend and I have NEVER seen a movie in the theatres before together. Crazy, right?

Well, not so crazy as we've only been dating since last October and there wasn't a whole bunch of movies we wanted to see at the time. Also movies are EXPENSIVE and we don't mind waiting until they become available at the library or on cable. We occasionally will purchase a Pay-Per-View movie at his house but only in a fit of sheer boredom/bad weather etc.

But I HAD to see The Dark Knight. I love all the Batman movies and this one I could just tell I needed to see in a theatre. And it was great by the way. If you haven't seen it yet, run, don't walk to the theatre! It was a tad long I gotta admit, but the action kept me hooked to my seat. Heath Ledger was worth every bit of hype they are giving him in the news now and I was genuinely horrified every time he came on screen. (Note to parents though, don't bring kids. I think I would have wet my pants).

Anyway, what's a frugal couple to do that just has to go out and see a movie in the theatres? Here are my suggestions:

1. Go to a matinee. Make sure you pick a theatre that actually offers matinee prices. Estimated savings: $3.00 per person

2. Stock up on candy at a local drugstore. I bring a big purse and throw in sodas, Swedish fish and immitation Snow Caps. I get really hungry at movies and besides, these things are cheap at the drugstore. (If it's nighttime I go to the supermarket and grab a 22 ounce can of beer because beer is better than soda.) Estimated savings: $10 - 20

3. When your movie is over, sneak into another movie!! Oh come on, it's not that bad. I used to work at a movie theatre and honestly the theatre employers and owners really don't care about this activity as long as it's not opening weekend where the seats are likely to fill up. Estimated savings: $6 - 10 per person

4. Don't have time for a double feature? That's fine. Just wait until the movie is over and then ask to see the manager of the theatre. When he/she arrives make a complaint about something that happened during your movie experience. Common examples include noise of fellow moviegoers, sticky floors, sound of the movie being too loud/too soft, projection problems, etc. You don't need to get too upset but make it clear that your moviegoing experience was disrupted by this problem. They will ask you if you tried to remedy the problem when it occured (i.e. during the movie). All you have to say is "yes, I came out to the lobby and was unable to locate a manager") and you will get a free ticket for every person in your party!!! Make sure you keep your ticket stubs when attempting to do this. It works every time! Estimated savings: $6 - 10 per person for future visit.

You follow all that advice and a visit to the movies will be enjoyable AND affordable. Have a great weekend!