Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008, Hello 2009!

In my 2008 Year in Review, I already revealed how I failed at my yearly goals (which weren't set until late May) but how I wasn't too upset about it. I've been trying to compile my goals for 2009 but since my job status is so in flux right now I haven't really gotten around to it.

I'm sure I'll look back at 2008 and miss it - it is the first calendar year I've spent with Boyfriend - but right now I'm a little anxious about 2009. Here's what I hope will happen next year:

1. I will get a new job.
2. I will move in with Boyfriend finally.
3. I will travel (more on this later).
4. I will save up an Emergency Fund.
5. I will continue to contribute to my retirement fund.
6. I will get my wisdom teeth extracted.

Those are not goals, per se, but things that are 99% set in motion already that I hope will go over smoothly in 2009. Once the dust settles and I know which out two or three different job possibilities pan out, I will be able to write some tangible goals.

In the meantime, Boyfriend and I are cooking our Big Ass Turkey for a celebration tonight!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Waiting for the Call...

There's a fairly good chance I will learn the fate of my career in the next several hours. Did my $100k investment in my education pay off? Will I get a $20k salary boost? Will I be the absolute last New York State employee hired before the hiring freeze of all hiring freezes takes effect?

Or will I toil away at my once very fulfilling but now completely bogus appointment job that is only guaranteed for the next 92 days?

Stay tuned....

Friday, December 26, 2008

Budget 12/24-1/06

I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I'll keep this short and sweet and my little Sis is currently sleeping in the room as I type it (Internet withdrawal!) but here's my Budget for the next two weeks, albeit two days late:

Starting Balance = 1160 (a little higher than usual since my Hobby Check hasn't cleared yet)

Hobby - 35
Rent - 725
Water - 50
Utilities - 112 (40 towards Payment Agreement)
School Loan - 40
Sprint - 64
Xmas Present - 25
Groceries - 60
Misc. - 49

I may be getting some Christmas cash from the Rents but nothing is certain yet. I had a very nice Christmas with my family, despite that every time my mom gave me a sweater she said it was for my "new job," never mind the fact that 1) I don't have the job yet and 2) the job in question requires me to wear suits every day. Oh family! But hey, new sweaters!

Won't be back to regular blogging until Sunday but until then Happy Holidays all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where It Went 12/10 - 12/23

Gotta post my budget review a day early as tomorrow will be busy traveling for the holidays. I should be "home" now but decided to delay the trip to hang out with Boyfriend's OOT friends tonight instead. And believe me, after a crazy day interviewing and then surviving a work crisis, I wasn't in the mood to hit the Thruway or the rails. This decision may be a major fail in retrospect as we're about to get hit with another winter storm tomorrow (in addition the the foot of snow currently on the ground).

So here's why my money went unless something crazy happens before my paycheck gets direct deposited tomorrow morning:


Credit Card - 100/100
Aunt Sallie Mae - 406/406.96
Defaulted Student Loan - 260/260
Nice Collection Agency - 125/125.81
Prescription Co-Pay - 15/15
Hobby Fee - 35/0 (has not cleared)
Shopping - 45+/45+ (see below)
Groceries - 50/45

I got $258 unexpectedly. I spent it. In fact I spent $281 in miscellaneous unbudgeted items including a new suit, a hair cut and Christmas presents which means I am lucky that my Hobby Check always takes weeks to clear and I didn't get an overdraft fee for being $9 over budget. Total Fail.

But c'est le vie. Christmas is finally here and as stressed as I am right now about a lot of things I'm looking forward to spending some time celebrating with my family. Happy Holidays to you all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Got The Second Interview!

Boyfriend and I had already started our Friday celebration early in light of the huge snowstorm so I missed a call on my cell phone. But guess what the happy message left for me said? I have been called in to a second interview on Tuesday with the Big Big Boss. I think (cross fingers) this means I am the final candidate for the position. I should have known my new power suit would bring me luck. Back to celebrating my good fortune!

I Spent Money on Myself!

Remember that $258 windfall I got a mere three days ago? Well I hope you do because it's gone. Bye bye money. I know I said I was going to send it to such worthy causes as the dentist, my Boyfriend and the State Bar Association but then my cell phone broke.

I pay for the insurance every month so I hoped it wouldn't cause a financial nightmare to get it fixed but it did require me to go to the mall. Here's how I did:

Bus to/from the mall - $2
Cost to fix cell phone - $0 (nice!)
Cost to eat dinner at the mall - $7 (boo)
Brand new black pants suit - $57 (yay!)
Present for myself - $20

The pants suit is really nice and there was such a huge sale that I really can't say I regret getting it. I really needed a nice suit to wear for my interview and my only other pants suit is too tight now. I consider the suit an investment in myself (one that I hope paid off today on my interview!).

The present for myself? Well it's something I've been meaning to get for a long time and I took advantage of the holiday sales to snag a great deal. By the way, being in the mall was kind of surreal. The stores are begging people to come in, I swear. I usually hate the mall but people were so friendly on this visit it made me wish I had more money to spend! Well I guess I did my small part for the economy.

Yesterday at lunch I browsed the holiday fair they have set up at work and found three great presents - one for Boyfriend ($18), my BFF ($20), and my Sister and BIL ($15). Yes, technically these weren't things I was planning on buying without the windfall but it's Christmas and I love giving presents.

Then I decided I should get my hair cut for my interview. It looks great and came to be $40 including tip. After the hair cut I went to the bar and had a gin and tonic ($7) and then stopped by the liquor store and got a bottle of Pinot Grigio ($10). Today, after my interview I went to the grocery store and spent $21 on materials to make Spinach Artichoke dip for a party tonight.

In essence, I have spent that entire windfall in three days. But hopefully I'll be getting a better job any day now. The interview went very well I think. The job is unfortunately not in walking distance to where I live but the bus only took 15 minutes so it's a lot more convenient than the other job I traveled by bus to interview for.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not Laid Off...Yet

Two amazing things happened today:

I got an interview for a better job! And

I got an email saying my office is extending all of our employment papers until March 31st!

I'm very excited that no matter what I will have a job in 2009, even more excited at the prospect of it being a better job. Now I officially have three irons on the fire and I'm feeling good as we go into the holidays.

The interview is on Friday so I'll report back with details. In the meantime, my co-workers, many who have absolutely NO backup plan, are very excited.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Good News!

Taking stock of all my finances tonight I logged into my credit card account and saw a balance below $400 for the first time! "That's funny," I thought until I realized that my persistent complaining got them to reverse the finance and late fees for the payment that never got processed. Thus, the $100 payment I made went entirely to the principal. Excellent!

This is my highest interest debt and if I don't get laid off I hope to have it knocked out by next February. Now my goal is even closer in sight!

A $258 Christmas Miracle!!!

I've been feeling a little under the weather today. Nothing to do with finances but those weren't so hot either. Yesterday I discovered that the $30 check I wrote for my hobby trip just cleared the bank. This is in addition to the $15 fee the organization running the event was not supposed to cash. Granted, thirty bucks isn't enough to get upset about but when your budget is as tight as mine is it means that something essentially has got to give. And I know I should keep an old-fashioned check register but I am just not that organized - yet.

I also realized that it costs about $30 to take the bus back home for Christmas if I intent to leave Tuesday like I planned. And where is that money going to come from? I suppose I could charge it since I just paid extra to my credit card but that wasn't my first choice option. Or I could wait to take the bus until I get paid on Wednesday, a.k.a. Christmas Eve, but that wasn't my first choice option either. Believe me, the bus is already crowded enough on a regular day.

Alas it seems that Santa Claus has solved my problems for me because I checked my mail today and received a $258 check! Now this is where the story gets a little hairy - exactly two Christmases ago I got a call from a telemarketer asking me if I wanted a free vacation. She said I had a week to cancel the "vacation club membership" but that the vacation coupons were mine to keep! Long story really short, I got ripped off. I took my complaint to the BBB, my bank, the Florida Attorney General, you name it. And now I finally get my money back! [Word to the wise: don't be an idiot and give your bank account number over the phone.]

Now, I can't go all crazy with this check since a) I don't know how long it will take to clear my account and b) I still have the following un-budgeted items to pay for:
  1. Hobby Christmas party BYO and optional grab bag item ($10 + cost of beer)
  2. Ghetto Christmas Office Pizza Party ($5)
  3. Boyfriend's Condo Party Optional Gab Bag ($10?)
  4. Bus home for Christmas $30
  5. My share of joint gifts with Boyfriend ($60)
  6. Professional Association annual dues ($50)
  7. Might as well pay the dentist finally ($25)
That still leaves me with a little left over so I may purchase one small Christmas gift. I'm pretty psyched to be getting my money back, especially since I had pretty much written it off at this point. Merry Christmas to me courtesy of a class action law suit!

Friday, December 12, 2008

2008 in Review

Since I have the day off and it's snowing about a foot an hour it's a good time to review how this year has gone financially. If you look at the left side of my blog you'll see that months and months ago I posted the following goals:
  1. Create an Emergency Fund of $700.
  2. Increase salary to $55,000.
  3. Start Health Savings Account.
  4. Make regular contributions to Roth IRA.
How did I do with those goals? I failed at all of them, ha! But here's why I'm not that upset about it: they were the wrong goals (except for the Emergency Fund). Months back I blamed my Salary for my struggles with the Payday Loan Sharks and my constant overdraft problem. I really thought that if my paycheck was bigger then it wouldn't matter that I had no idea where my money was going. False! Now that I set a budget and try to stick to it I don't get overdrafted constantly and find I can afford just about everything I need and want on my salary of $43,600. In the coming weeks I will (cross fingers) be making slightly more (or be unemployed) - more on that when there's more to tell.

Which brings me to my Emergency Fund. This is a major fail but it's still a goal I'm very committed to and will carry over to 2009. Since I started paying my Student Loans and contributing to my retirement fund this year I have been really unable to find a regular amount every pay period to put in my Emergency Fund. I've started a fund but it's pretty much empty right now. With the potential job insecurity looming I have realized that even $700 in an Emergency Fund would be woefully inadequate since I would have to make up a deficit between my anticipated Unemployment Benefits and my current fixed expenses.

Instead of an Emergency Fund thus far I've created an Emergency Plan which is to dump my apartment once and for all. Even though it's right down the block from Boyfriend's condo and is beautifully decorated to my taste, I spend less than two hours a week there to the tune of $865 a month (rent + overdue water + utilities + overdue utilities). Yikes! If I don't get laid off I still plan on dumping the apartment within the next six months. Bye bye hot pink bedroom. I will miss you!

And for regular OMG-I'm-Stuck-On-The-Side-Of-The-Road-With-No-Money emergencies - which would be rare I hope since I don't even have a car - Boyfriend has recently made me an Authorized User on one of his credit cards which is kinda cool since I'm working on paying off my credit card right now and my $30 available credit wouldn't really cover any true emergency. It may even improve my credit score through a concept called piggy-backing.

As for a Health Savings Account, this is no longer my goal because I was confused and thought I needed one when I, in fact, needed to open an Flex Spending Account. Unfortunately I intentionally missed the enrollment deadline for 2009 since there's a pretty good chance I won't be at my office for much of 2009. I guess this will turn out to be a 2010 goal. Doh! Luckily my health insurance is pretty rad and I have very low out-of-pocket costs. And my pharmacist just told me I can save $10 a month by switching to a generic prescription! [BTW: talk to pharmacists, they're not just cashiers who give you meds, they're really smart and helpful!]

Finally, I did not contribute one dime all year to my Roth I.R.A. Last time I looked at it I had about $12 in it. Instead I started contributing 7% of my salary in a 457 Retirement Plan. Despite the fact that I made this decision a month before The Downturn I have accumulated $998 in this account since July. Sweet! My friends think I'm stupid to put money in my 457 instead of a Roth I.R.A. because of the tax advantages but the first rule of investing is Know Thyself and I know that in December of 2007 I dumped my entire $600 in Roth funds to pay for (gasp) Christmas presents. As much as I'd like to think I've grown in 2008, making my retirement funds inacecssible is the best option for me right now.

In the next couple of days I will come up with new financial goals for 2009 that are hopefully more informed and easily attainable.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Taking the Day Off

I recently discovered that if I don't use my remaining personal hours, I'm going to lose them! I know many of you are saying "duh" but I thought I could carry my hours over. I have 19 Personal Hours left.

Sick hours (I have over 60) do carry over into next year as do vacation (I have 39). Who knows if I'm even going to be here next year but if I did get axed I do have some solace in learning that I would get a lump sum vacation payment of an amont equal to my unused vacation hours (which for me would work out to be slightly more than a week's pay).

With this in mind, I promptly put in my notice to take the day off tomorrow! Originally I thought I would spend my personal day at the mall scouting out Christmas presents until I soon realized there's not much at the mall I can buy right now. Instead I think I will clean up a bit and just relax with my cat and my remote control. Ahh...

And I'll still have 12 hours left after tomorrow's fun so maybe I will take next Friday off as well. Except that's the day of our Ghetto Christmas Party. Yes, in the time of Job Insecurity the higher-ups decided to cancel our Christmas Party - which wasn't even an extravagant affair - just a cooler of beer and potluck appetizers. A bunch of the older folks revolted and decided to throw their own (dry) Pizza lunch. It costs $5 - super lame. I can get half a friggen pie for $5!

Anyway, enough ranting. I'm gonna be in my pajamas all day tomorrow - sweet!

A Trip To The Grocery Store

A while back I posted that Boyfriend and I needed a grocery budget. Since then we have been trying to stick to a plan in terms of buying things on sale and in bulk to cut expenses. We also engage in meal planning which is fun and helps us avoid impulse buys at the grocery store. Typically I would say that, excluding beer which can be a real Budget Buster, we spend about $300 a month on groceries. Of that I try to kick in about $100 but I don't always. [Note: Boyfriend if you are reading this correct me if I'm wrong about these numbers because I know you are hooked on Quicken.]

Last night we headed out to the Grocery Store to engage in some big shopping since our fridge was running on empty and I am getting sick of pork chops [Note: one disadvantage to buying in bulk is if your money and food run out you will be eating the same thing every night.] We put into effect our pro-rata grocery contributions and here's how we did:

I bought:

Smart Food Popcorn Snack Pack (on sale) - $3.50
Iceberg Lettuce - $1.99
Gorgonzola Cheese - $3.49
Diet Pepsi Six Pack (2) @ $3.99 + deposit of $0.30
Store Brand Sausage - $3.68
1% Milk Half Gallon - $1.57
Dannon Yogurt Six Pack - $4.99
Grapes 4.18 lbs @ $1.99/lb = $8.32
1 Can Peeled Tomato - $1.79
2 cans tomato Sauce @ $1 each
1 can Crushed Pineapple - $0.99
Macintosh apples 2.46 lbs @ $1.69/lb = $4.16
Something I can't decipher on receipt (2) - $0.99 each
(non-grocery) Wrapping Paper - $0.99

Grand Total (less $5 off coupon) = $45.08 (under Budget!!!)

Boyfriend Bought:

1lb Russets Potatoes - $2.99
Lite Cream Cheese - $2.59
Pepperoni - $3.59
Rye Bread BOGO - $3.29 for two loaves
Pre-grated Low fat Mozzarella Cheese - $4.29
Pizza Dough - $1.79
Granny Smith Apples - 2.08 lbs @$1.29/lb = $2.68
Scallops (about 1.5 pounds) - $6.89
Root Beer - $0.88 plus $0.5 deposit
Chicken Breasts - $10.96
1 lb White American Cheese - $6.11
1/2 lb Honey Ham - $3.74
1/2 Hard Salami - $2.77
Tomata Sauce (2) - $1 each
Crackers - $3.39
Something I can't decipher - $1.00
Big Ass Turkey - $29.70

Grand Total (Less $5 off coupon) = $85.17

So did you notice that we got a Big Ass Turkey? Boyfriend really really wants to cook his own turkey. I didn't get to eat any turkey leftovers this Thanksgiving so I'm down with the plan. Besides the thing is frozen as a rock and can stay in our freezer forever, right? We're having company over on New Year's so maybe that's the way to go.

I consider this shopping mission a success because (not counting the turkey) we spent less than $100 and we have lots of yummy food to eat, including scallops which I've never cooked before. We have lunch meat to last well into next week (especially since Boyfriend is going out of town). And we have easy things I can make myself while he's away (read: chicken breasts). We also have my bottles of soda so I don't fall victim to the vending machine and yogurts so I start the morning off right.

Yay for food. So how do you think we did?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Budget 12/10 - 12/23

Because I didn't plan my gift-giving in advance this year (or any other) I only have a small amount left over for The Holiday That Shall Not Be Named spending. First I gotta pay the bills. So here's where my money is going for the next two weeks:

Starting Balance = 1090 (Boo for overdrafts)

Credit Card - 100
Aunt Sallie Mae - 406
Defaulted Student Loan - 260
Nice Collection Agency - 125
Prescription Co-Pay - 15
Hobby Fee - 35
Shopping - 45+
Groceries - 50

I decided to bite the bullet and pay $100 to my credit card even though I am currently disputing the goddamn late/finance fees they say I owe. This unplanned event means less holiday shopping for me.

Luckily I passed by a Craft Fair today at work and scored some excellent gifts for under $50. I saw another gift that would be excellent for Sister and Brother In Law but decided to hold off until I see how my budget pans out. The show will be going on for a while luckily. And it helps me participate in the Buy Local Pledge which many communities have. By giving my money to local artisans I ensure that most of it stays in the community. Cool!

I'm determined not to get bummed about Christmas presents this year. Every year I put enormous pressure on myself to think of the "perfect" gift for everyone. And I like to find unique and useful things. But really my economic reality is more "it's the thought that counts" kind of presents. I've already gotten things for 6 of the people on my list of 8 which is pretty good considering I've spent so little (okay well I did allow Boyfriend to purchase some nice socks I plan on giving away so maybe that doesn't count).

Since I probably won't be buying anything else during this entire two week period (unless I see something pretty awesome for less than $10) I have to literally be a Christmas Eve Shopper once again this year as December 24th is my next payday. Braving the stores on Christmas Eve when I don't even like going to the stores on a regular day? Awesome.

Where It Went 11/26-12/09

This budgeting period started out pretty great. As I hoped, going home for Thanksgiving was a real money saver, since I was fed and entertained for so long. When I got back into town I decided I had $50 to devote to shopping for The Holiday That Shall Not Be Named. As I've explained earlier, every time I want to buy something online, I have to physically walk to my secondary bank and deposit money. So I did. Here's what happened next in consecutive order:

Monday - deposit money in secondary bank. Realize I have misplaced said debit card. Search and search in vain (note: I suspect it will still be found but since I don't use it that often it is M.I.A.)

Tuesday - continue to search for debit card but then discover the wonders of my infrequently used Paypal account. Purchase $45 worth of presents.

Wednesday - wonder why my $20 payment to my credit card has still not processed through my bank account one week later. Log into my account and discover the credit card company isn't showing my payment and instead is charging me a $35 late fee/finance charge. Wonderful. Email them to see what's up.

Friday - go out of town to see my parents (yet again). Have fun and spend no money.

Sunday - log into my bank account and discover that the group that was running my hobby trip cashed a $15 check they made me write "just in case" they didn't find my earlier payment to them. Since I only had $11 in my account at the time I was hit once again with the Evil Overdraft Monster. I'm still trying to resolve this issue but in the meantime I am out $53 because of their screw-up.

So yeah this budgeting period has sucked and I'm so glad it's over. But here are the numbers so you can see in detail where my money went compared to the Budget I set two weeks ago:

Rent - 725/725
Water - 50/50
Credit Card - 20/0
Sprint - 65/64
Utilities - 105/105
School Loan - 80/80
Presents - 0/45
Misc. ?/100

My other problem was I decided I was too poor/tired to buy groceries when Boyfriend and I were at the store so I only picked up about $10 worth of stuff. What resulted in me buying lunches out (at least four that I can recall) and buying overpriced stuff at the local bodega. I've decided to revisit my old lunctime staple of PB&J for a while to attone for this behavior.

So that's my story. Still no clarification of the future of my employment. Still no Emergency Fund to deal with it. And yes still more presents that need to be purchased. Excuse me for being slightly discouraged.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Club Account - What I Should Have Done

Most responsible PF bloggers have set up lined items in their montly budgets for gift giving, including The Holiday That Shall Not Be Named. I, unfortunately, am not among them. Not yet anyway. I still need to build my Emergency Fund and it is taking an extraordinarly long time. Also, it's kind of hard to think about gift-giving since I'm 50% sure I'm going to lose my job any day now.

Don't worry, I'm not spending a lot of money on Christmas gifts this year....because I, um, don't have much. But had I planned this out in advance I could have started a Christmas Club account with my bank (or manually). By depositing just ten bucks a paycheck at the begining of last year I could have $260 sitting pretty right now to buy gifts for my (slightly) large family and some special friends. Boyfriend had one of these last year and it was a nice end of the year bonus for him.

Since it's too late now and I only have two paychecks left before Christmas (and perhaps...ever) I am just looking for bargains, DIY-ing some gifts, and buying some "it's the thought that counts" items. But next year if (God willing) I still have a job I'm going to set up a Christmas Club account. Has anyone else used them before? It would be good if the bank prevented me from draining it before Christmas but I doubt they do that.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Twilight - Worth the $7?

I had to take a class all day yesterday and I'm on my way to spend another full day in class so not much time to post, but I want some opinions.

Boyfriend and I may go see Twilight this weekend. We have movie coupons so the price won't exceed $7 and we always bring our own candy, but with Christmas presents left unbought, is Twilight worth my cash?

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and I also love Buffy the Vampire Slayer so I'm pretty sure I'll love it, but will he? Also, I try to read the book before seeing movies based on popular books but alas I haven't gotten around to reading Twilight. From what I've heard, it's right up my alley?

So what do you think....brave the cinema on a Friday night or wait til it's on the Redbox DVD machine at the supermarket?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be 'Rich'?

I should have realized that declaring yourself the descendant of "rich" parents would cause a lot of unrest amongst my readers. I think maybe most of you pictured me growing up so poor I had to share a bowl of slop with my ten brothers and sisters in a one room house. Not so true. But was I rich as I so famously declared in this post? Or, more importantly, are my meddling yet charitable parents rich? I'll let you decide that in a bit.

But first, what if you decided my parents were filthy, old money, Bart Bass on Gossip Girls, rich? What would that mean for me? I have about $100 in my bank account right now to last me until next Wednesday. Hardly enough money to buy a drink at The Plaza. And sure I get a couple of handouts once in a while, but if you are interested in trading a father who gives you a hundred dollars a month versus one who lets you make your own relationship decisions, then give me your address and I'll gladly trade with you.

Yet, I live in a low cost of living area so my salary of $43,600 is well above the median household income for my city - $33,000. But I never feel rich because I am paying off so much debt. If and when I move in officially with Boyfriend, our household income will be over $130,000 and we will be statistically speaking quite rich. We probably won't feel rich then either because we will both be saving and paying off debt.

MSN Money did an article today on how to tell if you are rich. Because of the reaction to my post I tried to see if my parents could officially be categorized as "rich." The closest city listed on the chart was New York City, where the average household income is $240,000. My parents live in a suburb of New York City and I don't know how much their income is. My Dad is self-employed and therefore his income varies greatly from year to year. My Mom's salary is public information, as is mine, and it is about $100,000. They also pay about $25,000 a year in property tax. Rental income brings in about $20,000-$30,000. Hypothetically, let's say they make a combined $350,000 a year. This would only make them "rich" in NYC if they had no kids. Yet they have two living at home.

In short, my parents are well off but not crazy OMG rich. You may think differently if you spend time with them. They like nice things and were delighted to throw my sister a 200 person wedding. They belong to a private club and have hired help clean the house, landscape and do home improvement tasks. Growing up I had nannies, yes nannies, but in my Mother's defense, she was getting her Master's Degree at the time.

Yet I worry about my parent's finances. They have taken a huge hit in their retirement accounts with only five years to go before retirement. My little sister is expected to start college in a year and a half and we never qualify for financial aid. Most of my parents' wealth is tied up in real estate that is declining in value and they have expressed no desire to ever leave our mammoth house behind.

Bottom line, no matter how much money my parents have, I'm just as poor as a church mouse and though my Dad is paying $303 a month now towards one of my student loans, there's no chance I will get a $50,000 windfall like Her over at Make Love Not Debt towards paying back my loans. But stick with me and I will pay back my student loans (largely) by myself. Probably then I'll have to start a new blog about how "rich" I am.

What about you guys? Anyone else rich on paper but not in reality?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Free Christmas Cards!

I got five free Christmas cards in the mail yesterday. I have never sent Christmas cards - as strange as that sounds - because I see almost all of my family over the holidays. I guess you're still supposed to send a card before the holidays but I never do. I don't get that many either. I think the only relative that sends mail addressed to my current apartment is my grandfather.

But since I no longer live at "home" and I'm no longer a student I guess I should send out these cards to the relatives that I don't see on Christmas. (Note: I should probably send them to all my relatives but hey it's only five cards). But maybe I'll pick up some more as I also recieved 18 free holiday-themed address labels.

The cards and labels came from a charity that I don't particuarly have an interest in supporting but it was a good way to get my attention. I won't be donating any money this year to that particular charity but earlier I had decided to incorpoate charitable giving into my Christmas gifts this year. I'll be sharing some ideas later on for inexpensive yet meaningful gifts.

The cost of sending these five cards = $2.10.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in a Recession: The Redux

Confession: my parents are pretty rich. Not in a "everyone that lives in America is richer than most of the world" rich but "holy crap, that's your house?" rich. For those of you that have been reading this blog for a while you may have already guessed that. Why else would my Dad constantly give me small sums of money so that he could continue to pass judgment on my life? How did I get so awful with money in the first place and end up in this mess? I don't think growing up I ever felt "rich," however, since I was surrounded by equally if not richer folk.

So with that important piece of background information, I bring you my Thanksgiving holiday redux. Boyfriend and I spent our first Thanksgiving together (last year we were dating but he was out of the country). Miles were driven, cats were traumatized, a ten year high school reunion was attended, and the George Washington Bridge was crossed three times in as many days.

This Thanksgiving was the first time I didn't spend the entire holiday with my own family and therefore the first time I realized just how different the holiday can be with other families. As embarrassing as it sounds, I grew incredibly homesick when I realized that there were no mini-quiches, linen napkins, chandeliers and mulled cider. Instead I was treated to folding chairs and homemade pie. Boyfriend and I even went out for dinner on Wednesday with his parents and they made him split the bill! That sort of thing would never happen in my family.

After visiting Boyfriend's parents we visited my family and learned that talking about money is now apparently allowed despite its previous ban in polite conversation. Here is what I learned:

  • My mom claims to have lost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in her retirement accounts. I asked her if she was exaggerating but she insisted she wasn't.
  • My sister and her new husband are leaving NYC to live in the suburbs in an apartment owned by my parents for next to nothing. This is quite possibly the only financially responsible move my sister has ever made.
  • A friend (age 30) was laid off from her job in the financial sector.
  • Another friend (age 31) was laid off from her dot com job, despite spending $35k to get pregnant (it worked!) and now is forced to put her apartment on the market.
  • A friend's mother who works for the financial industry has stored $10,000 under her mattress in case of emergencies. This is no joke. She's the richest woman I know and if she's this scared then holy crap!
  • My brother works retail and unfortunately they are cutting his hours.
So lots of financial gossip was shared over the course of a few days. Being with my family is great and I love them very much but they're very much into proper form and etiquette and I feel bad that Boyfriend has to be on his best behavior around them. They're also quite arrogant - my Dad bragging that while he read somewhere that the average family spends $40 on Thanksgiving dinner, my mother spent $400.

That was my Thanksgiving. My parents warned it would be a "lean Christmas" but I don't believe them. I don't need any presents but I can't imagine my mom not buying tons of things anyway. Sigh.

Help Forest on Finance Propose!

Hey everyone, I'm back from Thanksgiving! Hope you all had excellent holidays and get ready for a whopper of a post detailing mine.

But in the meantime, help fellow PF blogger Forest on Finance propose to his girlfriend, Bird.

I'm new to his blog so I don't know how he managed to have a personal finance blog without his girlfriend knowing about it (yikes!) but he has put up some questions to his readers about ring shopping.

He's not really sure what she likes but doesn't want to spoil the surprise by taking her ring shopping. Head on over to this post and tell him your suggestions!

And to avoid this same problem happening to Boyfriend, here's a huge hint about what kind of ring I like (haha).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Budget 11/26 - 12/09

I'm hoping that since I brought lunch to work today and won't be at work for the rest of the week (yay) that I can attempt my new plan at conservative spending in the beginning of the budgeting period instead of blowing through my entire paycheck in the first 10 days and being flat broke for the subsequent four days.

That being said, I am getting really tired of paying for an apartment I barely ever spend time in. I can't wait until I break my lease and can officially be living with Boyfriend. In the meantime, Boyfriend and I will be sleeping in separate bedrooms all weekend as we visit our families. Stupid families!

So here's where my paycheck will be going for the next two weeks:

Starting Balance = $1140

Rent - 725
Water - 50
Credit Card - 20
Sprint - 65
Utilities - 105 (including $40 towards Payment Agreement)
School Loan* - 80

*So I forgot that a loan my law school made directly to me had come out of deferment and was due starting last month. It's only $40 a month but I had to pay $80 since I had to pay two months. Another $40 in loan payments definitely sucks but luckily I only have 5 more months on my Payment Agreement with the utility company which is also around $40 a month. My four years of water costs to my Landlord will also be paid off in six months if I keep paying $50 a month. Little by little, right?

So after all that I have less than $100 left over for myself. Which blows. But hey, free turkey this weekend, right?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Where It Went 11/12-11/25

So I've noticed a trend in my spending. When I first get paid, I realize I have X amount of dollars left over for everyday expenses. It's not much unfortunately but it's there. So I spend it. I go out to lunch. I buy a bottle of wine. I don't plan very effectively because by the time the second weekend after payday comes, I am flat broke. I guess this is what they call living paycheck to paycheck. It's pretty annoying.

I'm going to try to change my ways and act the most conservatively on payday and the days thereafter so that when that second weekend comes around I can actually afford to go out and get a slice of pizza with my boyfriend and not feel like a miser. It's not going to be hard to do since it's almost Thanksgiving and I don't spend any money when I go home for the holidays.

Anyway, here's where my money went compared to the Budget I set out for it two weeks ago:

Aunt Sallie Mae - 406/406
Defaulted Student Loan - 260/260
Nice Collection Agency - 125/125
Boyfriend - 50/50
Hobby - 35/35
Trip - 55/30
Groceries - 80/50
Boyfriend Gift - 12/0
Xmas Gift - 25/0
New Clothes - 50/20
Contact Lenses - 0/20

I didn't get to the eye doctor because it cost too much money but luckily Boyfriend ordered us new contacts and I paid him $20. Today's my first day of wearing them and they feel so much better!

Since I didn't go to the mall where my eye doctor is located I still didn't get Boyfriend's Anniversary Gift. I did manage to save on clothes by avoiding the mall and hitting up a discount store instead, spending only $20 on two pairs of pants. I really don't like shopping but I really do need to expand on my professional wardrobe and going to a discount store enabled me to get pants very similar to these for $9.99.

And then there's about $130 that's completely unaccounted for. Oh I mean I sorta know where it went. I bought some snacks and a bottle of wine to entertain a friend ($25). I had a couple of lunches. I bought a six pack. It's not like I spent hundreds of dollars but when you are on a tight budget and with the holidays approaching it just seems wasteful now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Job Interview Was Weird

So last week while my office was having a meeting to discuss our uncertain future, I was off at a meeting of my own...the weirdest job interview ever. I felt like a traitor skipping out of the office wearing my best interview suit when everyone else was prepping for the worst. But you gotta do what you gotta do and as much as it sucks I was looking out for my own career.

The interview - if you can call it that - went well. Essentially since I had the guts to ask my current big big boss to set it up for me, it was really just a formality. With this man recommending me I basically just had to show up as a live human being capable of doing the job. So ::cross fingers:: if my potential future boss is able to get me on the payroll then I will be transferring to this office in the beginning of the year.

It's a good job and could possibly be a better match for my future career aspirations than my current one. I could keep my excellent State benefits and laughingly short commute. It actually pays slightly more than what I currently earn. The downside is that I would be subject to some late nights and have to trade off having my own office for a cube.

I'm a little ambivalent about it for several reasons. The first is that I really hate change and being comfortable in my job is important to me. The second is while I'm definitely qualified for the work, it makes me a little uneasy to be handed a position not based on my own merits. Then again, anyone can look good on paper but a recommendation from a current employer who can actually attest to my work product speaks wonders about my ability, right?

I may have an update later in the week. In the meantime, I'm battling a nasty cold. I'm optimistic it will work out and I'm pretty relieved to have found my own port in a storm.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Making the Most Out of My Dental Benefits

Since I am threatened with the loss of employment in January, I am trying to make the most of my health care benefits while I still can. Last week I discovered I had already maxed out my vision care benefits until January. And today, since I already had to go to the dentist, I decided to investigate my dental benefits as well.

First of all, I am lucky to have dental benefits in the first place. According to the American Dental Association, only about half of the U.S. population is covered by a private dental benefit plan. But even those that are covered, in my experience and research, still face hefty out of pocket costs if they require complex care. My father, for instance, has yet to replace a temporary crown in his mouth because it costs about the same as a slightly used car to replace.

Back when I had to have my dental surgery, I looked up my benefits to make sure I would not incur any out of pocket costs - that I frankly couldn't afford. And I was pleased to learn I had a maximum annual benefit of $1800 a year. The surgery was billed to me at $1100 (I nearly had a heart attack when I opened that) but I think it was negotiated by my insurance company at a lower rate.

It was not until today, however, that I discovered my unionized counterparts in State government have an annual benefit of $2300. WTF? And job security, wow, if only I could join their ranks.

Judging from the amount of cavities I've had filled this year (3), my two cleanings and my surgery I predict I have just about used up my entire $1800. Which is good for me since I got all these issues addressed and didn't need to spend more than $25 - the deductible I still haven't gotten around to paying - but bad for my wisdom teeth. They need to come out.

I've known for a good six months or so that my wisdom teeth were impacted. All four of them. I am not experiencing any pain with them but my dentist told me if I leave them in it will start to shift my other teeth and they will be hard to clean when I age. I know I can't afford to take them out now and hope I can either wait a little longer to have the surgery or keep my job. Ideally both.

I asked my dentist whether or not he thinks the oral surgeon could run the procedure through my health insurance instead of my dental - an all too common bit of administrative trickery - and he was uncertain. His coworker overheard the question and was a little more honest - that it would be up to the oral surgeon (aka he'd have to exaggerate on the forms a bit). I don't want to be considered a liar or a cheat but does it make sense to you that the same surgery is covered by one piece of paper but not the other? What would you do?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Have An Interview - Sorta

I'm trying to stay positive in light of the career jeopardy I face myself in....but it hasn't been easy. If one more person tells me "it's going to work out" I may just lose my mind. How is it going to work out? Is money going to fall from the sky?

I talked to my mother yesterday and told her how concerned I was and she told me not to worry and that her and my father would help me out. When I replied that there are no jobs in my city she said I could always move home. Move home? At 28?! Not bloody likely and completely disregarding my relationship with Boyfriend.

What bothers me most is that I would have definitely saved some emergency expenses had they not forced me to renew my lease in the first place as I already live with Boyfriend in all but the legal sense. I reached out to my Sister and expressed my desire to break my lease and got a judgmental email back so I know that no one will support me if I ultimately make this decision.

Anyhow, I have an interview today. Not a real one but a "let's meet and if the clouds part and there's room in the budget maybe I can hire you" session. With much trepidation, I asked my current Big Big Boss to put in a good word for me and he thankfully obliged. It's a good position - maybe with even a little more money - but the man I'm meeting with already told me on the phone that he would like to hire me to help Big Big Boss out but I should pursue other options as well. How's that for depressing?

Wish me luck and here's a lolcat to cheer me up:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Six Months of Blogging!

Hey guess what? It's been six months since I started this blog!! Well the official half birthday was yesterday but I reserve Sunday for football, cooking and hanging out with my Boyfriend. But I will now take this time to reflect on the past six months.

On May 16, I revealed that I was lousy with money, needed to do something about it and own up to the $167,000,000 in student loans I had. Did you catch that decimal error? I didn't at first but luckily one of you did. Sometimes it feels like I have millions of dollars in student loans but in reality it's only about $136,000.

I set out some goals for myself that day and here they are:

1. Survive the next 8 days on $157.

Ha! I regularly budget myself way less than that much pocket money to last an entire 14 day period.

2. Pay off "short-term" debt - two payday loans totaling about $400; loans from friends and family totaling $460 ; pay overdue bills - utilities around $400, cable around $200.

On June 30, I finally paid off the last of my payday loans - yikes. Not something I ever ever want to have to turn to again. I also paid back Friend A, to whom I owed $200. I've paid back Boyfriend most of the money I borrowed from him and am working on paying the rest back. I worked out a Payment Agreement with my utility company. As for cable, I'm not sure if I owe them anything but it's not a bad idea to find out.

3. Develop a working budget.

I make a budget for every payday. Technically it's more of a Spending Plan then a Budget but I call it a Budget and it's working for me so far.

4. Start paying as much of my student loans as possible.

I'm working on it. I currently pay $666 in student loans a month. Yes you read that right. It's going to go up to $706 soon. My Dad pays $305 on my behalf. That's about all I can bear right now. I wasn't paying them at all prior to starting this blog so that's been a huge change.

5. Save up an Emergency Fund of $1000.

I'm working on it. Saving money is kinda hard when you are on a tight budget. I created an Emergency Fund but I linked it to my Checking Account because the emergency I'm most hoping to avoid is getting hit with overdraft fees, something that I know all too well about.

6. Contribute to my Roth IRA.

Fail. Well I changed my mind on this one and decided to contribute instead to my 457 Retirement Plan. I'm putting 7% of my pre-tax income in there (so far I've contributed about $1000) and currently have about $769 remaining. It's not much compared to the amount the average 28 year old has saved for retirement but you gotta start somewhere.

Over the past six months of budgeting and blogging I've learned a lot about personal finance and also my relationship with money. I've also reached some personal milestones in large part due to this new knowledge:

  • I quit smoking!!! You need a heck of a lot less pocket money when you are not spending $7 a day on something that will kill you. I am unbelievably proud of this accomplishment as are all my friends and family (and many readers too!).

  • I quit the gym. Okay so I know this isn't something I should be proud of since I think working out is really important but it just represents the fact that you should stop paying for things you don't need, aka if you never go to the gym, stop paying $46 a month for it!

  • I reduced my cell phone bill by about $30!

  • I settled an old debt with a collection agency. Another 15 months of paying $125 a month and I will finally have that friggen old credit card out of my life forever!

  • I stopped taking regular handouts from my parents! This is a huge step on my road to independence.

So it's taken a while and I admit I'm still behind the curve of most fiscally fit 28 year olds but no one ever said it would be easy paying for all my money mistakes. Hopefully the next six months will produce some results as well, most notably keeping my job and building up an Emergency Fund.

As far as the blog goes, it's no masterpiece and there are lots of design bugs I haven't taken the time to fix. I need to update my blogroll and find new ways to attract revenue but I have made $60 in ads which is pretty cool. I have 54 subscribers (thanks!) and average about 100 readers per day (wow!). I know I should be participating in more carnivals but alas I never remember to sign up. I have lots of ideas for future content (recipes and book reviews to name a few) so if you've enjoyed the past six months then stay tuned.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Vision Plan Sucks! And Here's Why

So guess where I didn't go yesterday? The eye doctor! After scheduling the appointment, I received a call back from the office. Here's how it went:

Rip Off Doc: You are scheduled to come in tomorrow and use Crappy Vision Coverage, is that correct?
Sallie's Niece: Yes that's right.
Rip Off Doc: Well our records show that you were here in January of 2007 and you are only eligible for an appointment once every two years.
Sallie's Niece: Well I really need some new contact lenses, can I place an order for them?
Rip Off Doc: No, I'm afraid your prescription is only valid for one year.
Sallie's Niece: Alright well I need to come in for an exam then. How much is it gonna cost?
Rip Off Doc: It's $90 for just the exam.
Sallie's Niece: See ya next year!

I did a little digging and here's what I discovered.

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act was passed by Congress in 2004 to broaden the consumer's access to contact lenses. It requires prescribers of contact lenses to give patients give patients a copy of their contact lens prescriptions at the end of a contact lens fitting, even if the patient doesn’t ask for it. You can then take that prescription around to another seller, including online sellers like 1-800-CONTACTS.

During the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee meeting, Robert L. Hubbard, Director of the Litigation Bureau at the New York (my home state) Department of Law, also a chairman of several task forces related to the legislation testified:

Unlike most physicians, eye care practitioners sell what they prescribe.
Thus, individual ECPs derive substantial revenue from the sale of
replacement contact lenses and have an economic incentive to
withhold prescriptions from customers to prevent consumers from
shopping for replacement lenses elsewhere.

In light of that incentive and the power of ECPs over prescriptions, the bill helps
give consumers what they need to make their own choices about
where to buy replacement contact lenses.

So the law passed and now you're supposed to get a copy of your prescription. Do you? I've never gotten one. And it's no matter if you don't because if you call 1-800-CONTACTS they will verify your prescription for you with your original doc. Yay. Right?

Nope. Big fat lie. According to, we have to read the fine print:

Congress was heavily lobbied by optometrists during its consideration of the
measure, and those able to read the fine print will discover that in 42 states,
optometrists can refuse to pass along a prescription if it is more than a year
old. The limit is two years in the other eight states.

Thus, while optometrists may have lost their grip on the sale of contact lenses, they have gained an annuity that will keep patients coming back once a year to renew their prescriptions. There are 36 million contact lens wearers in the U.S. At about $100 per exam, that's $3.6 billion in guaranteed revenue for the

So this is very interesting to me. I mean it's sorta my job to ponder the law all day long and the way it is implemented. But here's a situation where the law is at odds with the medical community, at least the insurance community. My vision plan has decided they will only reimburse a new eye exam every two years. Yet the law in my State requires me to make such a visit every year. Who's right? I don't know. I do know that I'm not paying $90. But many of you will and I'm sorry this law sucks so much.

My solution was to go in on a bulk order with Boyfriend who coincedentally has the same prescription as me. I paid him $20 and will get one of his eight boxes ordered through an online retailer. It was either that or wearing my glasses.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Budget 11/12 - 11/25

I need new contact lenses! I've been wearing the same pair of disposable lenses for an embarrasingly long time. It's a pain in the butt to make an appointment with the eye doctor and it always ends up costing me an arm and a leg - despite the fact that I have vision coverage with my health insurance. So since it's payday I made an appointment for tomorrow and hope I will come out of there with new contacts and my budget in order. According to my insurance coverage booklet, I am eligible for a free eye exam every year as well as my choice of free contacts or free glasses every year.

Last year they told me I also qualified for free glasses since I cannot work without something - glasses or lenses. But after picking out glasses for over an hour I walked out of there paying about $140 somehow. I think this was because the glasses I ultimately selected were pricey ones not included in my plan. Anyway, I don't want new glasses! I only wear my glasses for about ten minutes a day when I am brushing my teeth. I know you aren't supposed to wear contacts all the time but I can't stand seeing through glasses. I will not let the doctor's office talk me into getting "free" glasses this year!

Anyway, there's my rant, here's my budget for the next two weeks:

Starting Balance = $1140

Aunt Sallie Mae - 406
Defaulted Student Loan - 260
Nice Collection Agency - 125
Boyfriend - 50
Hobby - 35
Trip - 55
Groceries - 80

Some of the remaining money (around $120) I will be using to buy Boyfriend's Anniversary Gift finally ($12), one small Christmas gift ($25) and some new clothes for the holidays (around $50). Any remaining funds will be transferred to my Emergency Fund which sits at an embarrassingly low $5.

I am going out of town the weekend after next. The hotel is already paid for courtesy of Boyfriend's hotel points but I need to pay a fee of $55 to attend an event relating to my hobby. It should be a fun time!

Where it Went 10/29-11/11

Sad to say I was hit with the Evil Overdraft Monster during this past pay period. It was very aggravating and made me marvel at how that used to be a regular occurence back before I started budgeting. Back when I wasn't paying hardly any of my bills and was in debt to payday loan sharks. Man, that seems like a million years ago. But...even though things have gotten much better there will be no celebrating because I let it happen again.

I can't say it was totally my fault as I was out of town and needed cash so I decided to use my ATM card to take it out of my emergency savings account that I specifically set up to be linked to my checking account. Well, alas, I learned the hard way that the account was not linked to my ATM card. I still needed cash so I just took it out of my checking account (where there was none) and made an online transfer later that night at home. And what did the bank say about that? It shot me a big middle finger in the form of a $35 overdraft fee. Ugh.

I drained pretty much the rest of my emergency fund paying that sucker off and now have to start from Square One. But a lesson was learned that I need to call my bank and get them to link my Emergency Savings account to my ATM card so this does not happen again.

Now that my confession is out of the way, here's how my money was spent compared to the Budget I established two weeks ago:

Savings - 50/-4
Rent - 725/725
Water - 50/50
Sprint - 65/63.41
Utilities - 85/84.61
Capital One - 20/20
Boyfriend - 50/50
Hobby - 35/0
Groceries - 50/0
Misc. - 65/110
Out of Network ATM Fee - 0/2
Overdraft Fee - 0/35
Once again I totally didn't contribute to the Grocery bills but I told Boyfriend that the next shopping trip is on me (yikes!). Hobby I'm paying today as I have been under the weather and not showing up to meetings.

Miscellaneous spending includes Halloween costume expenses and beers bought at my very first professional football game.
And that's how the cookie crumbles.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Not Laid Off....Yet

They say layoffs generally happen on Fridays, right? Well I was worried about the staff meeting scheduled for this morning and what kind of announcement was going to be made. But of course, this being government work, the meeting had absolutely no value and despite its promise of answers, provided none. The one thing I did learn of any substance was job is pretty much safe until January 1, if not longer.

I'm not exactly breathing a sigh of relief just yet because now comes the time when insider manuevering and jockeying has to take place. I'm actually pretty good at this game, despite the fact that I hate it. The only problem is (well the biggest problem) is deciding who is your friend in this type of situation. If you get on the wrong ship, you just may be doomed.

I know who I'm not picking: my immediate boss who yesterday brought up a large trash container and started emptying out his office "just to make things easy" thus destroying the morale of the entire office. People have been in and out of his office all week looking for answers but my hunch is that he has already found himself a golden parachute in the form of a high-paying job with a regulated industry. Good riddance I say!

I've been working on three different angles preparing myself in every imaginable way for whatever may come. I have a couple of things on my side:
  1. I have a degree and lots of experience.
  2. I'm willing to work for low pay.
  3. I have lots of friends.

Having friends is crucial for employment leads and gaining access to networking and other career opportunities. And I'm not just talking other low-level employees fresh out of school like myself but people with experience and contacts. I am friends with these people too.

So not much news to report on LayoffWatch 2008 so far but I will keep you updated in the days and weeks to come.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Planning My Vaction = Full Time Job

It's no secret: I love to research new things. It's pretty much how I make my living as well as a passion of mine. If a friend of mine mentions they are interested in say, badminton, odds are I will go home and learn all I can learn about badminton that night. It's a little dorky but it's how I am. Research helps me plan my life, something I am fond of doing, even in the abstract. I don't like being unprepared, especially when I travel. It's a comfort zone thing partly but also because vacations are so precious to me that I want to make sure I tailor my experience to best fit my wants/needs. Boyfriend took me on an awesome vacation last year and I spent months beforehand researching the best restaurants/itinerary in travel guides and on online discussion groups.

Unemployment woes aside, we are going to Orlando in January. The air tickets will be free and the hotel stay is already paid for (at a deep discount). Provided we attend a 90 minute resort lecture - "no pressure" - we will also receive two tickets to the theme park of our choice. Now the only question is, what to do?!

As I mentioned before, I have been to Orlando many times but not in the past decade. Some things never change (though sadly Captain Nemo has been retired) but I have a fairly good idea of what to expect. There is so much to do and only four days in which to do it! So, I have, of course, begun brainstorming ideas.

One great web site I have found is which lists ways to save on all things Disney and allows visitors to post their tips and reviews. It seems like if you plan ahead, you should never have to pay the full gate price for park tickets. Their web site led me to the Disney web site where you can customize a map full of the things you want to see at any given park. Unfortunately after ten minutes playing around with the Epcot map I had selected 90% of the park and just gave up (oops).

I definitely want to visit Universal Studios for at least one day of our trip. A quick visit to their web site alerted me to their Meal Deals where you can prepay for your food and eat as much as you want all day long for about $20. You can only get one entree at a time and are limited to the lower end restaurants but this still may be a good deal. I'm not so sure we'll go with that option but I definitely like the all-you-can-drink soft drink cup for $8.99. I know, I know, you think I should drink water instead of soda but I'm a lost cause. And besides, I get SO THIRSTY when I'm walking around all day. Besides, me and Boyfriend can share it.

So, what have I learned after devoting almost two hours of trip-planning? I need more time! There's so many things I want to do/see/play with in Orlando.

But here's my list so far:

Epcot - whole day
Universal Studios - whole day

I love both of those parks and know there's enough to keep up occupied for a whole day in both of them. I know you can get the parkhopper passes and do multiple parks in a day but I have other ideas for the rest of the trip. Here's hoping we can do everything we want without paying a fortune. Still need to get past the all-important holiday season first (ugh).

Present Idea: Get A Clear Head For $15

I recently celebrated my one year Anniversary of my first date with Boyfriend. It was a very special time for us and included going to my first professional football game, getting a dozen pink roses, a fancy dinner, fake Uggs, and a new dress! I'm a very spoiled girlfriend. As for Boyfriend, so far he has just gotten a card, kisses and an I.O.U. for a present. I had picked one out present tentatively but I decided I would have to show it to him first. As a rule we generally tell each other exactly what we want for presents - that way we don't waste money on something the other doesn't really want.

Boyfriend decided he wanted a wall mounted bottle opener as his anniversary gift. Very practical and necessary as we are forever losing our real bottle opener. Also we have yet to paint/decorate the kitchen in the new condo. Instead of just getting a plain boring one I picked out this lion's head from Pottery Barn - for $12.

I think it's pretty awesome but then again it's Boyfriend's kitchen (for now!) and I am loathe to make a design decision without his approval. Also we still haven't picked out a paint color though we are leaning towards the red family. Old Sallie's Niece would have just said "hey it's only twelve bucks, just buy it" and then decide but luckily I have restrained myself.
In the meanwhile I have become very fixated on decorating the condo. Boyfriend got to have all his fun with renovations and now it's time for some finishing touches. I want to get him some accent pieces - especially for the bedroom which has absolutely no decoration as of now. Look for some posts on DIY decoration soon as I've become one of those boring nesting types now.
In my online bargain hunting I did find the coolest thing and I can't decide if our decor would allow it but I wanted to share it nevertheless. It's a head made of recycled glass, awesome! And available at Pier One Imports for $15. I think it would look pretty cool in an office. Who doesn't need to clear their head sometimes?

What do you think of my design ideas - tacky or trendy?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh Crap: Can I Survive Unemployment?!

Through no fault of my own I may be forced to find a new job in the immediate future. This is something I should have seen coming for a while now. In fact, I have been engaged in a passive job search since last February. Since I'm in a government-job, however, I decided my best option was to wait out the appointment list I am on for the position that I wanted. I put out feelers to a couple of jobs in the private sector but out of the three interviews I went on, one job was completely not what I wanted and the other two didn't hire me (despite one leading me on for several agonizing months). Because of the very specialized nature of my work I am limited in the number of jobs available that I want to take as well as the ones for which I am qualified.

Recent events have made my job more vulnerable than I ever expected it would be. Though I am a government employee, I do not have civil service protection as most others do. This means I can be terminated at will just like everyone else in the private sector. The appointment list I am on would provide a more secure position but alas I am stuck on the list hoping for a position at this point. (Budget cuts and workers of retirement age not retiring are the source of this problem BTW).

So what do you do when what was supposed to be a recession-proof job is no longer safe? You look for other jobs of course. I've been doing that and I don't want to get off the path that I have charted for myself but I no longer have the luxury of being as picky as I used to be. Also I have started to think about what would happen if I was forced into unemployment.

Here's the numbers:

I currently earn $2270 a month, more in the glorious 3-paycheck months.
My fixed expenses are:

Rent - 725
Utilities - 90 (assuming continuation of Payment Agreement)
Cell - 65
Student Loans - 406
Collections - 385
Credit Card Minimum - 15

Total fixed expenses = $1686 a month. This is assuming No Groceries, No Hobby, No Savings, and No Debt Payment to Boyfriend, etc.

The maximum unemployment benefit in New York is $405 a week, for a total of $1620/month.

Once I am unemployed, I could defer my student loan payments, thus bringing my total monthly fixed expenses to $1280, giving me a meager but manageable $340 a month for food, clothes and other necessities. But wait, not so fast! If I were to become unemployed I would need to start paying COBRA health insurance which would be at least $400 a month!

So I'm sorta freaking out right now. I won't know what the future will bringing for at least a couple of days and at most a couple of months but the numbers speak for themselves: I cannot afford to lose my job. Period. I will literally have to take ANY job that has health insurance and pays more than $420 a week. Sigh.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dreaming of Reno

Exciting news! Because Boyfriend has to travel frequently for work he has been racking up lots and lots of frequent flyer miles! This has left us with the exciting prospect of being able to take three roundtrip flights for FREE! After spending a chunk load of money on my flight to the Destination Wedding, this comes as amazing news.

But where to go? First, we are limited to destinations serviced by Southwest Airlines, which is fine since they fly to a zillion places. And we can only take domestic trips. Second, I earn 3.75 vacation hours every two weeks and currently have 37 hours available, whereas Boyfriend gets a limited amount of vacation days per year. Thus we are looking for trips that we can live it up the most in 4-5 days (thus not lose two whole days to air travel).

We've already picked one destination: Orlando. Call me a sucker but I love me some Disney. I've been to Disneyworld probably 10 times in my life but never with a romantic partner and never since I turned 21. I think we can have a completely awesome grown-up experience in Disney without breaking the bank. Also we have free/cheap accomodations already lined up for whenever we book the trip. One trip planned (sorta).

The second and third destinations are still up in the air. My first choice would be Ft. Myers since we also have free accomodation and it's a city than can be done well in a long weekend. New York winters can be unforgiving and getting away to the beach is something I would definitely relish. Also, how much money can one spend on the beach? My sister and I went to Ft. Myers a couple of years ago and the only thing we spent money on were drinks at the beach and some bar food. Also the flight is only 4 hours so we can leave Friday morning and be back at work on Monday after having spent 3 wonderful days on the beach. This is definitely a good option.

Second option for trip #2 is New Orleans. Boyfriend and I have never been and I've always wanted to go there. The flight is slightly longer (the oddities of not living near a hub airport) but it's definitely more authentic a place than Orlando and Ft. Myers. I would love to tour the cemetaries and taste some Gumbo. Oh but would that trip be a Budget Buster (when compared to practically free Ft. Myers). Who knows? It depends on how much free hotel points Boyfriend has earned but New Orleans is definitely on my list of places to travel to.

For trip #3 I want to go Out West. I've never been west of St. Louis and I'm anxious to change that. Out of the places Southwest flies, my top choices would be Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Reno. Salt Lake City for the skiing. San Francisco because it just seems awesome and it's my parents' favorite city. Las Vegas because it's Vegas, baby and I've never been. And Reno because I think it could be a neat place to get a little big-city-gambling feel and still get to do some amazing West Coast skiing. I subscribe to a skiing magazine and frequently get mailers for affordable ski/stay/play packages in Reno. And, paradoxically, the flight is only 6 hours when compared to the other long flights out west (San Fran = 11 hours, Salt Lake City = 9 hours).

The free flights don't kick in until January and then we have 13 months to use them so it's not something that's happening anytime soon but it's fun to have some vacation planning in the back of my mind while the tempurature drops.

Anyone want to weigh in on my options? Is Reno the travel destination of our (affordable) dreams? Let me know what you think!