Dec 30, 2007

Free Workout of the Day: Lower Abs

I'm trying to do crunches every day, but they do not hit my problem spot... my lower abs. So I did a YouTube search for lower ab exercises and viola. The last one is very hard and hurts like a bitch but it feels good if you can get through them.


Whole Wheat Pasta = Great for Living Alone

Living alone and cooking usually sucks because recipes have you make 6-12 servings and you end up having tons of leftovers that go to waste (or you force yourself to eat the leftovers and get so tired of the food that you'll never make it again!)

Up until a few weeks ago, my diet consisted of cereal and microwavable dinners for just that reason. But now I'm experimenting with fresh cooked meals that won't leave me with tons of leftovers.

That's one reason I love pasta. You can make as much or as little of it as you need. Feel like a half serving? Go for it, just measure it out and bam, there's your half serving. The rest of the pasta can stay in its packaging for whenever else you feel like eating pasta again. Also, whole wheat pasta is actually pretty healthy, as long as you eat the right portion size. I'm in love with Whole Foods' 365 Organic whole wheat pastas. Here's some pics of what I've made thus far...

1/2 serving of the rolly kind of pasta with 365 Organic fat free tomato sauce (35 calories a serving... I used a half serving of it since I'm not a big tomato sauce fan, but it's much healthier than the cream alternative I used to use). I also fried some pre-flavored tofu in 1 tsp of oil (it got nice and crunchy... prob overcooked) and threw that in for protein and texture. It was pretty good.

A week or so ago I made another pasta dish with linguine, steamed broccoli & cauliflower and fried tofu. I added a little salt and pepper and it tasted amazing!

(Note: I made two servings of this because I cooked dinner for me & my boyfriend.)

Got any other suggestions for quick and healthy pasta meals?


Dec 28, 2007

health insurance - success?

After leaving off my 'depression/anxiety' on my healthcare application, I was approved. So now I have a $3000 deductible plan with an HSA from Aetna for $129 a month. That's not too bad, I guess. Of course, my defined pre-existing conditions aren't covered (so if my ovaries explode due to cysts, I'm SOL.) I can't use the high-deductible plan for mental care services, so I don't think they'll ever have a reason to check my mental health history. Basically, I have the plan in case I'm in a car accident and my limbs are torn apart or something.

More on this later.


Dec 27, 2007

I Am a Failure at Cooking

So in case you're wondering, the Yam came out about half edible. I ate more than that half, because I'm behind in my calorie count for the day (sheesh.) I'm not sure what I did wrong. I "buttered" the sweet potato (with smart balance light spread), poked it with a fork a few times, wrapped it in aluminum foil, and put it in the oven on a baking tray. I left it in for 45 minutes, then checked on it. Hard. Left it in for another 15 minutes, still hard. After 15 more minutes I took it out and gave up.

I cut the Yam in half, as it seemed the other half of this gigantic yam might be better suited for this recipe I found online for making mashed sweet potatoes out of baked sweet potato leftovers. Just add a little bit of butter and a bit of milk, some cinnamon and after some heavy-duty mashing, viola, mashed sweet potatoes.

Here's what I got:

Maybe I used too much milk?

Now the mush of milky yam clump soup is in my freezer. I'm freezing it because I don't want to throw it out, and the freezing will prolong its ability to be reheated almost indefinitely, or at least until it starts growing weird freezer mold.

Why is cooking so damn hard?


This Post is Brought to You By the Letter "Y" - Yoga and Yams

Y seems to be the letter of the day. I attempted to not look like a fool at a Yoga class at the gym, and now I'm attempting to bake a Yam. I'm not sure if it's working.

This week is a bit weird because I'm working from home without any office visits, so I tend to make the most out of my days enjoying the sunlight (or watching daytime television) and then I stay up until the wee hours of the morning getting work done (I'll be doing that tonight.)

First thing today, I went to meet with a photographer I met on model mayhem. Every once in a while I like to model for fun. By no means do I look like a typical model (I'm short and a wee bit stumpy), but I photograph decently and some photographers don't mind taking photographs of girls who look more like girls and less like giraffes. I saw his work online and it was impressive... plus he lives a few towns over, so it's easy to get to his studio. We scheduled a shoot for tomorrow for some basic headshots. Modeling is a fun, free activity that I can do to keep myself entertained every once and again. Not all photographers are willing to shoot for free, but a lot of students (or older hobbyists trying to build up portfolios) are willing to do TFP (time for print) trades. It's a pretty good deal, especially since if you want nice photos otherwise you'd have to pay a lot of money. I need some new headshots for this show I'm directing in a few months, and headshots I shall be getting. Hopefully they will be nice.

After the brief meeting with the photographer, I made a pit stop at the mall (shouldn't have done that!) to find a shirt to wear for the photoshoot tomorrow. I spent way too much time trying on anything half decent in Macy's and Nordstrom, and then settled on a cute fushica psuedo wrap by Matty M. The only photo they have of it online is in blue (I almost bought the blue one too, but I restrained myself to one overpriced shirt for the day).

Following my impromptu bad-decision shopping adventure, I headed to the library to photocopy a bunch of old doctors bills and other things that needed copying in order to get reimbursed for things and apply for the California High Risk Pool insurance.

While I was copying my denial letter from Pacific Care, I noticed that on the second page (that I hadn't read) it noted the actual reason for my denial (drumroll please): irregular periods.

Oh, come on. Most women I know have irregular periods. Either they're really heavy, or absent for a while and then show up at random times. Ok, so for me, they never show up. But still, that wasn't noted on my application.


Anyway, following my short stay at the library, I met up with my bf at my house, and we went to the gym to try out the Hatha Yoga class they had. Both of us are Yoga newbies (though I've taken a few classes before since my Aunt works in the Yoga industry). He was in a bad mood and didn't want to go, but I made him come with me since we had planned on attending the class.

It was an ok class. I didn't really know what to expect of a yoga class at a big gym. We did a couple of poses, I stretched myself in ways that hurt like a bitch, and during the meditation part of the class I couldn't "concentrate on my inner being" with all of the loud weight slamming noises puncturing the soothing Zen soundtrack our French-with-thick-accent Yoga instructor had put on while our eyes were closed.

After Yoga, I tried to motivate myself to do some other actual exercise at the gym. I did a shoulder press thing and a rowing exercise, and then my nagging boyfriend made me leave. Oh well.

We stopped at Whole Foods on the way home, where I grabbed the Yam (brilliant realization of the day -- sweet potatoes are yams!), a few apples (yeay, pink laddy apples were on sale) and enough kiwis to last a week.

Then I came home and started to bake this yam, following the instructions of a few random internet recipes. Aluminum foil, oven to 400 degrees, an hour of baking, how hard can it be?

Well, that seems to be the problem. My Yam is still very, very hard. It smells good though. I should check on it now and see how it's doing.

Oh, speaking of cooking, I'm very excited about the gift my boyfriend bought me for the holidays -- a food scale! I can weigh all of my portions, so I know I'm not going overboard. It's really a marvelous contraption. I'm such a born again healthgeektard that I'm practically in love with the thing.

Alright, time to check on the giant yam.


Dec 26, 2007

How to Become and Be a Mystery Shopper in 10 Steps

GG requested a post explaining how to get started as a mystery shopper a few weeks back, and with some time off over Christmas week I finally have a few minutes to write up this Mystery Shopping Primer.

First off, decide if you want to be a mystery shopper.
The idea of shopping for "free" and getting "free" meals and other goods seems like a no brainer, but bare in mind that just because money (likely) won't exchange hands in this deal, it still requires a great deal of work. Mystery shoppers are hired by companies to spy on their workers and make sure that while the big boss isn't looking, employees are following the rules and doing a good job. This means that you'll have to interact with people, and if they're not following the rules, you'll have to be a paid tattletale. How do you feel about being a spy? Don't mind it? Think it sounds exciting? Ok, here's what you need to get started:

1. Find mystery shopping companies that offer shops in your area.
If you live in a big city, chances are there will be a firm with local shops. Don't be discouraged if you live in the boonies, though. There are plenty of mystery shopping firms that hire mystery shoppers to check on shops far removed from major metropolitan areas. They might be a bit harder to find, but they do exist.

2. Don't Get Scammed!!!
Don't sign up for any sites that require you to pay a fee in order to get information on these companies. If you do a Google search for mystery shopping, you'll likely find yourself on one of these pages that promises to reveal the secrets of mystery shopping if you pay a few bucks. Don't fall for that. MyMommyBiz has a list of over 200 supposed mystery shopping firms. When you find a few that seem reputable, do a search for them on the Better Business Bureau website to make sure there isn't anything obviously wrong with your choices. ***beware, there are lots of mystery shopping scams on the Internet. If the company asks you to cash a check and then wire them the money, DO NOT DO THIS. The check will bounce and you will be responsible to pay for the missing funds.

3. Apply.
Each company has its own specific sign-up process. Most require you to fill out some short test to prove that you have a brain and that you'll be able to do the job. My experience as a mystery shopper is limited to working for one company called Coyle Hospitality. I don't remember the specifics of the Coyle Hospitality sign-up since I completed it a long time ago (and it's likely changed since I applied), but I do remember it being quite thorough. A lot of times, the company will ask you why you want to be a mystery shopper. I'm not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. Just be honest, and make sure to answer the questions that have right or wrong answers correctly.'s application has all of the answers to the questions on the top of the page, and then the quiz posted lower down. It's easy to get the answers right, but you can also see how someone who is incompetent for the job would easily just guess at the answers and not get picked.

4. Wait.
Unfortunately, the few legit mystery shopping companies get a lot of applications and it takes a while to hear back regarding whether you've been accepted into one of the coveted mystery shopper slots.

5. You're In. Congrats!
If you're "lucky" enough to get chosen, you'll likely be greeted with more information to study before you are allowed out on a shop. I recommend reading this information thoroughly, as you'll seriously regret not paying attention to it after you've completed a shop and you've failed to do it properly.

6. Apply for a Shop.
Most of the companies either post available shops on their sites (behind password-protected doors, of course) or send out an e-mail about shops in your area. Some, like Coyle, post all the shops once per month and send out an e-mail letting shoppers know that the assignments are up. Sign up for your choices are soon as possible, because the shops worth doing won't last long.

7. Wait, again.
Depending on the company and how popular the assignment is, you might get the shop the next day, the next week, or you might never hear back regarding the specific shop. Tough luck, try again. That's how these companies roll. You just have to keep trying and eventually you'll land your very first mystery shopping experience.

8. Shop.
For the first time in your life, the thought of shopping or dining at a fine restaurant will cause you great anxiety. You will have a long list of things you have to do, say, ask and remember. If you mess up, what's the worst that can happen? It depends on the company. Coyle ranks your submissions on a point system up to 20. If you score below 16, you're pretty much fired. With Coyle, you have to foot the bill up front for your meals, spa experiences or hotel stays. They say they reimburse just about everyone as long as you turn in your completed report, but it's definitely nerve-wracking to think that if you mess up, you might have to be responsible for that $300 hotel stay. Thus far, I've only done fine dining shops, and I've been paid back for each assignment on the 25th of the month, as promised.

9. Fill Out the Paperwork
Here comes the hard part. After you've stressed out about following the instructions and remembering your communications with employees, you get to return home and spend the next couple of hours slaving over your computer, trying to put together an accurate report for the company. Trust me, it's not that easy. I spent over five hours working on my last report about a horrible dining experience I had, and in the end I scored a 16. What did I do wrong? Well, you have to note the times everything happened, and put the same times on a few different pages in your report. It's easy to accidentally write a slightly different time on one page of the report and, even after thorough fact checking, still make a mistake.

10. Submit Your Work, and Wait.
Usually you'll hear back within the next few days to a week about your report. Either they'll ask for more information, or you will be told that your report is complete. This means you'll be reimbursed for your shop. Hallelujah!

That's it.

If you've shopped with any other companies, I'm curious to hear about your experience with them. What kind of shops did you do?

The only other company that accepted me kept trying to get me to do a gas station shop in Oregon for about $15. Being that I live in the Bay Area, I kindly declined (well, actually ignored) that opportunity.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Dec 25, 2007

Michael Moore's SiCKO

I’m not sure how appropriate of a Christmas Eve movie selection it was (I'm Jewish, so what do I know?), but my boyfriend and I cuddled up on his couch and watched Michael Moore’s SiCKO last night. As you all likely know, I’m dealing with being one of the millions of Americans that can’t get health insurance for one reason or another. So I thought perhaps SiCKO would help enlighten me a bit about the American health system and perhaps help me figure out a way to get around it.

While I’m not the biggest Michael Moore fan (and that says a lot, since I’m pretty much a socialist), I think that the film is worth watching. As with any Moore film, you can’t expect it to be journalism because it doesn’t present an unbiased cover of the issue. Instead, Moore uses the stories that best make his argument. Lucky for him, his base argument – that the American healthcare system is f’d up – is one that many people would agree with, regardless of political leaning. However, he uses the movie to show how wonderful the healthcare systems are in places like Canada, England, France and yes, even Cuba. It turns out that getting free healthcare in these countries is a piece of cake, or so he’d like us to believe. While I’m sure that’s not always the case, the fact remains that in America, people like me, suffering from pre-existing conditions, can’t get low-cost (or any) healthcare in our country, while in other countries, these “evil” liberal societies, getting healthcare – at least basic healthcare – would not be an issue for me. It would be covered by the government.

The most shocking part of SiCKO was not how great the healthcare in these other countries is… because it all seemed too perfect, and I wanted to know the other side that Mr. Moore was so carefully hiding to make his argument.

The part that really made me cry was the story of one mother who had an infant who got sick. Her baby had a 104 fever and was burning up fast. What’s saddest of all is that this mother was insured. She had Kaiser – which is apparently a health insurance company that requires all its patients to go to its hospital and its hospital alone, regardless of how serious the emergency. Unfortunately, the Kaiser hospital was not extremely close to her house, so the ambulance that came when she called 911 took her and her child to the local hospital… which then refused to accept her because Kaiser wanted them to go to the Kaiser Hospital.

Long story short, by the time she drove her kid to Kaiser, the kid was basically DOA (dead on arrival.) That story really made me mad.

There’s really no denying that our healthcare system is terribly messed up in this country. The question is, how can we fix it? I think socialized medicine works in countries like Cuba, England and France because they are all much smaller than America. Obviously Cuba is struggling with some things, but healthcare? Well, all of its citizens seem to be pretty damn healthy, thanks for cheap meds and a hospital on nearly every block.

Moore is apparently in deep doo doo for going to Cuba without permission (he brings with him a few 9/11 rescue volunteers who are ill from lung conditions but not able to get healthcare to cover their health problems). But that part of the movie is a fascinating look into Cuba… this country that we’re all told is hell on earth (as he so humorously illustrates.) It might not be the best place to live (why else would Cubans try to get to Florida by swimming across the ocean?) but at least there the citizens can get proper healthcare.

I wonder what would work for America. It seems so anti-American to have a system that provides fair and equal coverage to every citizen. Isn’t our country built on the premise that the poor must get poorer for the rich to get richer? With that backing our democracy, how can healthcare be fixed? Isn’t America working BECAUSE the poor people are too sick to fight the system? Too busy working three jobs a day to vote?

That’s America.

On the same topic, I recently read that fellow PF blogger LuluGal of “How to Save Money” had to have an emergency hospital stay earlier this month that set her back $500. You can read all about how she suddenly took ill, passed out, and ended up needing surgery. The $500 must be her bill after insurance paid (it would be much more than that without insurance), but that’s still a hefty bill to pay when you’re in debt or trying to save money.

Since it is the season of giving, how about everyone who reads my blog consider donating a few bucks to Lulu? I don’t know this gal, but I think it would be nice for us to help her out. I just sent her 2 bucks. She has a PayPal donation account set up for her page, which is attached to the bottom of every entry. You can click on this text link to donate also.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


You Lose Some, You Win Some...

I've been "playing" this weird sweepstakes game that involves... well, I'm not even sure what it involves really, but the point is that you can win "shopping sprees" on the site or the grande prize of a trip to the Project Runway finale. I admit, my initial interest in the contest was the main prize, but the thought of winning one of the smaller prizes intrigued me.

So I played the game. I clicked on the silly banner link they e-mailed to me every day for the past month (well, almost) and that took me to a flash game that made absolutely no sense and pretty much was a waste of my time. Well, today, I clicked on the link and... I didn't even get to the "game"... I just saw a screen that said "Congratulations, You Won a $100 Bluefly Shopping Spree."

According to the contest rules, I won "second prize." Over the entire period of the contest, "NINETY (90) SECOND PRIZES (two (2) per day)" would be awarded. Not too shabby, and a nice ending to a rough day...

Awesome, I thought, but what's the catch? (There's ALWAYS a catch, right?)

It turns out there isn't a catch, or at least I didn't let myself fall for it. The majority of items on the site are well over the $100 I won, and it's easy to want to buy multiple items because the shipping is "$7.65 for an order" of as many things as you want to buy. It seems this contest was rigged to give out this "prize" right after the Christmas shopping frenzy ended. Why not use this as a way to try to get shoppers to buy more of the items on the site?

Surely, I was tempted. After browsing through the site for a month I'm practically on a first-name basis with all the left-over designer items waiting the day when they will be adopted by fashion-forward savings feens. So it was tough to force myself to add just one item to my shopping cart and click purchase.

I settled on a fairly basic black cashmere shirt...

It's cute, right? A little interesting poof on the sleeve so I felt like I was getting something a little unique for my "prize" money, but without buying something that I'm never going to wear just because I had the extra cash to spend. I really hate shopping online for clothes because it takes me hours to find things that fit in the store, and it's a crap shoot at guessing what sizes in each designers specific measurements will fit my... uh... Rubenesque figure.

In the end, I spent an extra $26 that I didn't expect to be spending this evening. On one hand, that's kind of a dumb move, because I just spent $125 on Christmas gifts. But... it does feel good to get a $275 cashmere shirt for $26 (that's including shipping). Here's to hoping the shirt actually fits when it shows up!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


Dec 24, 2007

Things are Never Ever As Simple as They Seem

1. ING Direct
Frustration Level: AH!
I'm trying to set up an ING Orange Direct account. The sign up process seems simple enough. Except after filling out all the information, I get an e-mail saying I have to give them a call to complete the process. Fine, that's easy enough. So I call them. And apparently they have my social security number wrong on the account. Did I type it in wrong? Probably. That's my fault entirely, but instead of being able to just go online and fix it, I need to wait for them to mail me a form, then I need to sign that form, then I need to mail (or fax) that form back in order for the account to be officially set up.

2. AT&T

A couple of days ago I notice a $106.41 charge from AT&T on my bank statement. "What is this charge from AT&T," I think to myself, "I don't have an AT&T account... anymore." For my last job, I made the mistake of agreeing to sign up for a cell phone plan for work with my credit card. My company reimbursed me for the phone and my monthly payments, but I knew the situation wouldn't be pretty if I ever had to leave the company.

Fast forward a few months and the job isn't working out. Tying up loose ends isn't too hard, except for figuring out what to do with the phone... that has a two year contract existing as a parasite on my bank account. That last day of work was awkward to say the least, as it took forever to go through AT&T customer service and have them transfer my number and account to my boss's main AT&T account.

What was supposed to happen? The account would be transferred to his collection of AT&T numbers, and he would pay the lowest monthly rate possible for the additional line from then on out, or until he hired another employee who would use the phone.

The customer service rep tried to convince us to hold off on the transfer, since the $100 rebate on the phone was still processing. My boss decided to just transfer the account then and there (without the rebate.) The customer service rep agreed and said that the account would be transferred with the next billing cycle. That would be the end of it, right?

Well, that would be the end of it for anyone else on this earth. But for me, that was only the beginning.

Fast forward another couple of months, until today. I call up AT&T to try to figure out what this mysterious charge on my statement is. Of course I can't remember the old phone number off the top of my head (eventually I digg it out of my brain), and the first few minutes of the call are fruitless as they tell me my name doesn't seem to exist within the system. Great. Finally I remember the number and viola, my account does exist and... oh look, they're still billing me for auto payments. What else? They have no record of the conversation I had with their customer service department and my boss in October. Ok, now what?

I talk to one guy who is a complete waste of time. He basically says since they have no record of this conversation taking place, I have to get my old boss to talk to them again in order to transfer the account. I also have to be on the phone at the same time for all of this to work, because I need to give permission with him on the phone... nevermind that I did this in October.

But wait, 15 minutes more of my bitching brings out the fact that my account indeed has the conversation about the transfer noted on it. It says something about how the transfer didn't go through because we were waiting on the rebate. That's wrong, I inform him, but he doesn't seem to care what I say.

Finally he transfers me to "transfer services" where they basically give me the same spiel. Oh, but here's the best part, they find all of the proper authorization on the account to transfer it over, BUT, here's the big BUT, it's more than 60 days old so it's no longer valid. WHAT? At this point, I'm ready to punch something. And I rarely get this pissed off. But this is just ridiculous.

So they get my old boss on the phone. Great. He's a busy guy. He's a VERY busy guy. He doesn't have time for this BS. His time is money. And this stupid phone is already costing him enough money.

Hopefully the transfer went through this time. I hung up because my personal cell phone, on Verizon, was blasting through my monthly minutes (heck, I may have gone over on this annoying call), I hung up before the entire process was completed. I figured the rest of the transfer had to be done on my boss's end, so there was no point waiting on hold for another hour.

Now, after all of this trouble, wouldn't it be nice for AT&T to just refund us the money for the past two months when the account should have been on the lowest plan ($39.99 a month or less) and instead charged me (and ultimately him) $108 a month? Nah. He noted my account, but I have to call another number and argue with them for hours until maybe they'll refund me the money. Now, ultimately this will be my bosses' money, but because the account was in my name at the time, I have to be the one to call up and complain about this and try to get the monthly bills changed.

You know what, I felt bad about it so I did call back up and tried to do this. I was sent to the wrong representative and then when she forwarded me to the "right" rep, I was put on hold for seven minutes. The first few minutes I had some lovely make-me-want-to-go-hunting-for-large-animals-and-cut-open-their-flesh wait music, but then there was silence. Eventually, I hung up.

So now....? Well, I need to file a reimbursement form with my old company after putting them through all of this trouble. If they were a big company I wouldn't feel that bad, but they're a small startup and I really don't want to make them have to deal with this crap.

Well, that's my frustrations of the day.

Merry Christmas to all, from the Frustrated Jew.


Dec 23, 2007

The Cost of Being Healthy

I recently decided that in order to be happy and healthy, I need to revamp my entire life. No more starving myself all day (out of laziness, not anorexia) and eating giant meals at night... or paying for a $46.99 a month gym membership that I used once a year.

In order to be healthy in the coming year, I signed up for another gym membership. This one is at a gym a bit closer to my house, and it's only $27 a month. That's still a lot of money if I never use the gym, but I'm going to force myself to go at least three times a week in order to make sure I get as much bang for my buck as logistically possible.

The gym membership isn't what is going to cost me the most, though. That would be the cost of buying fresh produce and healthier options when I eat out. Since I don't eat red meat or chicken, my health options are usually fish dishes, often the most expensive at a restaurant. I've been to the grocery store about three times in the past month to purchase apples, kiwis, cauliflower, and so on. I keep finding these great healthy (yet expensive) alternatives to things I might eat... like Flax Jacks instead of pancakes (their delicious, easy to make (just add water) and pretty damn healthy) -- but cost-wise, Bisquick is the better option.

Now, I'm also focusing on actually eating what I buy, instead of letting it go to waste. Living alone, it's so easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of food purchased or made. Most recipes just assume you live with a family full of hungry people, and help you make 3-6 servings of food. If I make 3-6 servings of food either I'll eat it all (not healthy) or it will just end up in the trash - or worse, stinking up my refrigerator.

Last week I started tracking my diet closely on, that site I found when searching for free workout videos on YouTube. It's actually pretty cool - it's free (always a plus) and it helps you track everything you've eaten and figure out how many calories and other nutrients are making it to your digestive tract.

What I learned this week is how fast calories add up when you're eating out, and how slowly they add up when you're eating a small, healthy meal or snack every two hours.

My goal is 1200 calories a day. I'm 157lbs right now, which at 5'3 is not acceptable. I've also let myself get so out of shape. I've never been the fitness type, but I also tended to weigh in at 145 to 150 without any extra work. Two years ago I was down to 127lbs, my lowest since I was a kid, and I did that by biking to work five days a week (30 minutes each way) and then, well, getting depressed and eating very few calories per day. I don't want to do that again, exactly, but I'd like to learn how to live a healthy lifestyle for good.

That means I have to throw emotional eating out the door. I haven't been that bad lately -- I don't think I've downed an entire box of Oreos in one sitting since college. Still, I was shocked to find out just how many calories is in one Baja Fresh Nachoes meal -- (1890!!!). That's probably with meat, but still. That's way more than I'm supposed to eat in a day, let alone one meal.

Another typical meal I'd eat in my "old days" (aka, last month) would be what I'd pick up on a trip to Taco Bell...

$3.14 for...

-A Bean Burrito (370 calories)
-A vegetarian taco (unclear how many calories since I get beans instead of meat, but the reg. crunchy taco is 170 calories)
-The cheesy fiesta potatoes (290)
-A Large Pepsi (100 calories per 8oz, large = 32oz, so that's 400 calories, maybe a little less given that they put a lot of ice in there, I'll say 350 calories)

So that $3.14 meal didn't cost me much in the piggy bank, but it cost me a good 1150 calories. That's about how much I'm supposed to eat in a day.

Which makes me think that it's good I generally ate only one meal a day in my, uh, past life, because otherwise I'd be a balloon right now.

The thing is, healthy eating is no longer an option for me, it's something I have to do. I'm at high risk for so many different problems later in life due to having PCOS, and I'd rather eat healthy now than have to deal with everything down the line. Meanwhile, like any other girl, I just want to feel beautiful and desirable. I don't have unrealistic expectations, I don't want to be skin and bones, but... I'd give anything, ANYTHING, to be able to wear a bikini and feel proud of my body.

How much will it cost me? I can't do fast food anymore, apparently (or -- I could do Taco Bell, I just need to get ONE of those items instead of all of them. But it's probably better I stick to healthier foods that are more filling and avoid the fast food altogether.) The good news is, I'll be saving money here and there on drinks, since I'm cutting drinks besides water and milk out of my diet for now. I'll have an occasional glass of red wine with dinner, but no more beer, or cocktails, or soda or juice. All of that has got to go if I want to be able to fit into those size 6 jeans I bought the last time I lost weight!

But the cost of buying healthy food is going to add up too. The vitamins alone are pricey, but I know my body needs them. I wish health insurance would take into consideration my diet, and perhaps accept me as long as I keep eating healthy. It seems I'd be of higher risk to them if I wasn't do anything about my diet or lifestyle. Well, that would only make sense, and as we all know, the health insurance system in this country doesn't make any sense at all.

With that, it's time for my mid-morning kiwi. Did you know that you can eat the skin of the kiwifruit? In fact, the skin is the healthiest part of the fruit, with tons of fiber! Amazing, right? I was always afraid of kiwi skin. It is kind of fuzzy and brown, but if you close your eyes it just seems like the skin of a peach or something. It doesn't have much flavor, and it's a total waste to not eat that part of the kiwi.


Dec 21, 2007

Health Insurance - The Options

1. Go without health insurance
2. Pay $405 a month for COBRA
3. Lie on my application and pray no one will find out later on
4. Take 6 or more units of credit at a community college to be eligible for the student plan (that's two classes, I think - which will end up costing more than the $405 a month? And require time I don't have.)
5. Get a job with benefits (and give up the job I have now that I really like.)
6. Get married to someone with health insurance
7. Apply to the California High Risk Pool, wait 6-12 months to be approved, then pay at least $200 a month for health insurance
8. Successful Suicide. (*note - I don't mean to make light of suicide, I'm just noting this since I cannot get health insurance due to being diagnosed with major depression.)



Dec 20, 2007

Will Short Term Health Insurance Help?

I just applied for a short term health insurance plan. I put down that I want coverage for 72 days until March 1. I figure if I get approved, that will buy me some time to figure out how to get "real" health insurance. Ie - how I'm going to have to lie in order to get insured. I'm not sure if they'll approve me for this short term insurance, but basically it's $133 for those 72 days, and it will help me extend my period of continuous coverage for a while so I have some time to sort things out. I just wonder if HealthNet will approve me. Chances are I won't even go to the doctor in the next 72 days, so they can just take my $133 and run with it.


Dec 19, 2007

I Can't Get Affordable Health Insurance

Do I really need healthcare?

Well, apparently I was denied coverage from PacifiCare due to my pre-existing conditions. That’s not good, since my health insurance agent basically told me that they’re the most lenient when it comes to this stuff, and I didn’t even note on my application that I have “major depression.” I just put down that I have anxiety/depression and took Lexapro and Xanax for this problem for one month each. To be honest, I’m done with meds for anxiety forever. I don’t like them, they don’t help, they make me feel sick, and they cost too much, even with insurance. I also noted that I have irregular periods, but I didn’t label it as “PCOS” because I thought that might get me denied. Oh, and I mentioned that I did have a ruptured cyst on my ovary last year. Yea, so I was pretty honest, minus fibbing a bit on my mental health diagnosis.

Anyway, fuck, I wasn’t approved. Now what? Well, my options, according to my agent, are signing up for a state plan where I’d be pre-approved but it would cost more. $240 a month for Kaiser, or $290 for Blue Cross. I’m pretty sure these are high deductable plans too. Yea right. I don’t make enough for those plans.

In short, it looks like I’m going to have to go without health insurance for the next ten years. I think that’s when I can wipe my mental health problems off my record. Let’s hope I don’t get into any near-fatal accidents between now and then.

Gosh this makes me sad.


Dec 18, 2007

Free Workout of the Day: 8 Minute Abs (from 1994)

Can it get any cheesier than this? I remember the infomercials for this 90s exercise classic. The good news is that this video is now "free" and it works. The main guy is motivational, and the bad music (that could fit in a 90s porn as well) for some reason makes me want to work out even harder.

I kind of like how each move in 45 seconds. But by the end of eight minutes, I'm in pain.


Dec 17, 2007

Free Workout of the Day: Butt Blaster

Now that I've pulled the plug on my gym membership (that I never used), I've decided to seek out free fitness videos online. My boyfriend swears by 8 Minute Abs (circa 1994). If you want, you can find that easily for your dated enjoyment on YouTube. Yes, I did 8 Minute Abs today and I'm going to try to do it everyday for the foreseeable future. However, today's "Free Workout of the Day" takes us to a slightly lower region - our butts.

I just did this six minute butt blaster workout that I found on YouTube, and boy does my butt feel blasted. Check back every day for a new Free Workout of the Day video or tutorial from another fitness website. All workouts will use body weight and cardio alone and require no additional equipment, therefore actually being free!


Is "Mystery Shopping" Worth the Stress?

For the past few years, I've done a few "mystery shopping" meals through the firm Coyle Hospitality. While many mystery shopping companies are scams, Coyle is an actual legit business that is decent to do work for.

They only do restaurants, hotels and spas. The hotel shops are generally during the week (when I have work) and spa shops are, not surprisingly, difficult to get. However, every once in a while I'll sign up and get assigned a shop at a restaurant.

I always drag a guest along... usually my boyfriend... and we try really hard to pay attention during the meal and memorize the majority of important interactions made between us and the staff. In the end, though, we both spend upwards of five hours on the report, and yet we still manage to make mistakes (both due to confusing instructions and error in consistency -- you have to note the exact time dishes were served and taken away, etc, in numerous locations on the report) and my scorecard is only in the average range.

So I wonder if mystery shopping is really worth it. Sure, we get a free expensive meal ($100+), but the dining experience is not all that pleasant due to being paranoid the whole time about paying attention to the details. The actual "shop" takes about two hours to complete, or more if the restaurant happens to have slow service. You usually have to do a shop at the bar first, where you go and spy on the bartender(s) and "wait" for your guest to arrive.

The meal, however, is the "pay." Well, that, and a $15 "fee" you get with each shop, which basically covers the cost of gas or a train ticket to get to the restaurant for two people.

Currently, as a freelance writer, I charge $25 an hour for my services. My boyfriend, who is also a writer and editor, makes about $15 an hour. So figure that, given our current wages, our time would be worth about $40 per hour... maybe $30 with taxes taken out.

On the last assignment, we spent two hours dining, and then five hours filling out the report. That's seven hours... and at our 'after tax' rate, that would still be $210. The total reimbursement I'll be seeing for the lunch shop will be $112, including the $15 fee.

I don't mind the pay difference, though, as I'd never spend money frivolously on ordering a three-course meal at a supposed fine dining establishment, but what really irks me is that regardless of how much time I spend proofreading my report, I still manage to make mistakes.

My earlier report scores have disappeared from my account for some reason. They score out of 20, and I've scored 18 and 19 in the past. But this recent report (which, due to the extremely slow timing of the restaurant, caused my boyfriend to miss his $80 voice lesson that afternoon) we scored a measly 16 on.

While I agree that the report should follow their style and be consistent, I also wonder what kind of scores other people are getting reporting for this company. After all, my boyfriend and I are professional writers and editors. The report submission system does not make it easy to compare notes between different pages and to proofread for inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, I feel like I could pretty much make up the entire report, and as long as I followed their guidelines, they'd give me a great score. But instead, I include material that I believe is of value to their client. Apparently, I'm over-thinking the job. Maybe their client just wants to hear that their restaurant is perfect, and they'll be satisfied.

I've requested another shop, but I'm not sure I'll get it. I'd like to do a spa shop, as it would be nice to experience a spa without having to feel wasteful spending money on a massage and other treatments. But I doubt they'll assign someone with a "16" score one of their precious spa reviews. Oh well.


Dec 11, 2007

Help Me Sort Out My Tax Mess

How on earth am I going to figure out what I owe for taxes this year?

Can't I have one year where my taxes are straight-forward?

I guess not.

So... I have absolutely no idea how much I've made this year. Some of my income has been taxed, some has not. I hate having to wait for those 1099's to come in the mail to figure out what I've made. I should have kept better track of things, but it's too late for that this time around.

Here's a guesstimate of taxable income...

startup a: $1275
startup b: $3300 (1 month)
marketing firm: $2,275
$6850 not taxed yet.

Pre-Taxed income:

Job 1: $12430 ($35k/year)
[$656 a month taken out in taxes??? Or $3283.33]
Job 2: $8028 ($50k/year)
[$2973 taken out in taxes total]


So I've had $6256 taken out as taxes already??? Possibly.


So how much tax am I going to owe?

Oy, I'm confused.


Goodbye 24 Hour Fitness!

I've spent about $600 a year on a gym membership that I've used about 20 times, total. It's time to quit the gym.

My boyfriend and I signed up at 24 Hour Fitness in 2006. We both wanted to get in shape, and signing up for a gym with around-the-clock access seemed like a good idea. We didn't even look at any other gym.

The membership services guy gave us a couple's "deal" (yea right) where we'd pay initiation fees for "only" one of us, and that we'd get one monthly membership at 1/2 off. What did that amount to? My bf paid the initiation fee (something like $150?) and I was stuck with the $46.99 a month membership. He pays $23 a month.

Since signing up, I kept the membership, thinking maybe the monthly bill would encourage me to work out. Not so. Instead, I just kept wasting money.

In the recent weeks, I've been doing a barter with a personal trainer who I'm designing a website for. She works at Golds Gym and offered me a free month's pass to try out the gym while I get my training sessions. Golds Gym is much, much nicer. It's not open 24 hours, but really my bf is the one who likes to work out at 3am. I prefer 11pm. And most night's they're open until midnight.

Besides, Gold's Gym is actually cheaper. Their monthly rates are about the same, but if I sign up for a long-term membership, I can get $19 a month rates. I'm not ready to sign up for a membership like that, but if I decide I can't live without the gym, I think I can handle a long-term commitment of $19 a month.

Meanwhile, I can get a special $34 a month deal (monthly dues) since I'm training with this woman. That's a good way to get me to want to join a gym.

The bad news is that 24 Hour Fitness requires 30 days notice before cancellation (of course) - so after spending an hour on hold and talking to some outsourced customer service agent who tried to convince me to keep my membership (switch to a one-club membership and it will only be $36 a month. How about you put your membership on hold for just $7 a month and you can sign up again any time without paying initiation fees) I finally canceled my membership. I'll be paying the $46.99 one last time, and then I'm out. My membership ends March 5, 2007.

That's what I call freedom.


Applying for Healthcare, the Saga

I've been uninsured for about a month now. I don't plan on staying uninsured, so I've been doing some research into health plans (as many of you know from my previous posts). Basically, because I went to a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression, 90 percent of insurance companies out there will not accept me. (Hmm, should I be anxious and/or depressed about that?)

A few weeks ago I called a health insurance agent who I found on Yelp. People seemed to like him, so I thought seeking out help would be worth a shot... even though it would be biased help because he gets paid by the insurance companies to sell their programs. Well, after a few weeks of him calling me every other day to convince me to sign up, I finally did. I usually don't reward annoying salesman, but he's been very helpful and I need a bit of prodding to do anything. Health insurance is not something I want to fuck around with, so I've finally applied.

He told me that my best bet would be Pacific Care with a $1500 deductible and an HSA account. Oh boy, more accounts to try to organize and sort out. In any case, Pacific Care, he said, would likely be the only insurance company that would accept me due to my history of depression and anxiety. (The other major company he represents is Blue Cross, and he said they would not accept me).

So he talked me through all of the questions on the application and basically filled it out for me over the phone. It felt really awful to categorize my health history. Do I put depression or anxiety? My agent didn't think putting major depression was the best idea, but he couldn't officially encourage lying. I've been diagnosed with everything from ADD to major depression to generalized anxiety. What do I actually have? I have no freaking clue.

Anyway, we decided to put anxiety / depression and leave it at that. Later on I had to say what meds I've taken. So I took Xanax on and off for a month (in June 2005) and Lexapro for a month (in October 2007). That's all the medicine I've taken for mental illness in the past five years. But that means I'm obviously going to scam the health insurance system into spending zillions of dollars on me.

I guess I can understand why they don't like accepting people with mental illness. I know one girl who had anorexia and her health insurance company had to pay for the treatment. Then the government paid for her to be on disability so she didn't have to work while she recovered.

My other medical disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) didn't neatly fit into any of the check boxes. There was a separate section for menstrual disorders and another for hormonal disorders. It's both. Then we had to figure out what to say about that ovarian cyst I had last spring that likely ruptured.

In the end, I was left wondering how awful my application looked. Will Pacific Care accept me? Shouldn't I be rewarded for being honest on my application?

Nah, I'll just be "rewarded" with higher rates. He told me the base rate for this plan is $105 a month. I'm curious to see what I'll get quoted.

Oh, I had to give my credit card number and everything BEFORE I'm approved. He said I have 10 days to reverse charges once I am approved, but I think I should be able to see where I'm approved first before everyone charges me. Well, I'm only applying for this one plan right now, so I guess it doesn't matter.

Also in health insurance news... the startup company I work at is getting health insurance... but I'm not eligible because I'm part time (contract). Oh well.


Dec 10, 2007

Aside: Dangerous Rollercoasters

Today I was doing a bit of research on extreme sports and roller coasters, and it just so happens that this evening I came upon a site called While amusement park accidents are rare, they do happen, and they happen fairly often - they're just rare because it's like one a week for the entire world.

One article on the site struck me as especially interesting. In 2001, a woman, age 28, died of a ruptured brain aneurysm while riding Goliath at Magic Mountain in California. I found this link after reading another story about a 20-something woman having a similar fatality due to another ride.

The reason I was particularly interested in the Goliath article related to my own experience riding Goliath years ago. I've ridden quite a few coasters in my lifetime, and while some make me feel queasy, none have had the effect that Goliath did. I literally blacked out during a few seconds of the ride. All this time I thought I was crazy for experiencing that... I thought I had imagined it... but apparently, I'm not alone...

Other riders throughout the years report similar blackout sensations over on Theme Park Insider. It's scary to know that this is a normal feeling experienced by people who ride Goliath, but at least now I know that I'm not insane!


Lacking Charisma: Social Anxiety and Work

I'm bad at small talk and, despite my desire to be well-liked, I lack adequate amounts of charm and grace. Looking back on my job positions over the past five years, I see a disheartening trend: my failures are more or less due to my desire to limit human interaction as much as possible in any given period of time.

Silicon Valley is all about the small talk. The inside jokes, the laughter. I probably seem like I'm stuck up because I don't know how to just chat. Either I feel like I'm talking too much, or I feel like I'm boring the person I'm talking to with questions.

I feel like I do well on my job interviews. I seem personable enough. Then it comes to the actual 'work' part of a job... and I just want to work and be done with it. Well, that's not entirely true, I love collaboration... working in small teams... when my ideas seem to be worth something and I can help contribute to a final product. That's when I like talking to other people. But otherwise... I just crawl back into my shell.

It really, really sucks. I just want to be that girl that's always smiling who everyone likes. Maybe I'd annoy some people because I'm just so perky, but when they figured out that the perk was genuine they'd have to like me, at least a little bit, right?

But instead I have trouble making eye contact and forming sentences that seem to resemble phrases that might generate some sort of interest.

I don't know if there is something 'wrong' with me or if I've turned myself into this anti-social monster. Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of autism. I've never been good at socializing. When I was a kid, I'd only want to talk to adults, and that wasn't because I liked talking to adults more, it's just they'd forgive me for being awkward in exchange for accepting that I hadn't reached puberty.

How much of growing up 'the cootie girl' influences ones ability to succeed down the road? There are so many voices in my head telling me that I'm a failure, and it's hard to shove them all out and achieve some sort of clarity.

At my job, I go into the office, I basically run to my desk, and then I work all day, and then I go home. I'm too afraid to even say goodbye to people. I just appear and disappear. That's no good for making employers want to keep you on as a worker. And don't even get me started about why I should have never attempted to pursue a career in journalism with social anxiety...

Do you all think that charisma and charm are traits I can take on, or should I just try really hard to learn some super-specific geeky skill that pretty much requires me to be a recluse?


20 Readers!!!

I'm thrilled to see the number of my "feed readers" going up this week. While I know my blog doesn't provide tons of useful money-saving tips (yet) like some other PF blogs, I hope that my audience enjoys my honest musings about money, life and growing up.

If you haven't signed up in a reader yet, just click on the orange "subscribe" button on the top right column. No pressure, but it's a great way to make sure you're the first to know when I finally start writing some useful material in this blog. ;)


Cousin Gifting

The gift-giving went over well today. Being as I'm obsessed with finding the perfect gift, I should have left myself more time to wander around Target before I had to make the hour-long drive up to my aunt & uncle's house in the North Bay. But, alas, I never leave myself enough time to do anything (and that's why I'm up at 3:30am finishing up freelance projects and taking a break to blog and wake myself up a bit).

So I was late to dinner, but I think I made up for my tardiness with the gifts. I got my cousins (age 4 and 6) a kid's acoustic guitar and a keyboard. They were not too expensive, about $35 each with tax, and they actually seemed to be of fairly decent quality for kid's toy instruments.

I was really anxious about my aunt hating the gifts. She's the one who told me that the kids "have everything" and that she doesn't want any gifts that would be annoying to clean up (or, I assume, make a lot of noise.)

But being that she's a musical-type, I figured I couldn't go too wrong with musical instruments. And lucky for me, she loved the gifts. The kids seemed pretty excited about them too, though I forgot to get batteries for the keyboard (doh).

A few minutes after I gave the kids the gifts, my aunt handed me my "belated birthday gift" -- a check for $50. I really didn't want to take it. I mean, I can use the cash, of course, but it almost felt like I was being reimbursed for buying her kids gifts.

I wish I came from a family that gave actual gifts. The check is fine, money is good, but... it'd be nice to get a gift certificate for a spa or something... so I'd be forced to spend the money and not put it away into savings.

Wait... that's bad logic.


Dec 9, 2007

November Expenses (as tabulated by Yodlee, Mint and Geezeo)

Yodlee tells me...

Rent: $1050
Other: $675
Clothing: $199.07
Telephone: $156.61?
Online Services: $136.20
Auto: $97.36
Health: $73.12
Cable: $62
ATM/Cash Withdrawls: $40
Gasoline: $31
Uncategorized: $927.47???

Mint tells me...

No Category: $2,216
Shopping: $891
Entertainment: $32
Healthcare: $35
Business Services: $104
Personal Care: $119
Food & Dining: $137
Auto: $198
Bills: $260

Total: $3992

But then... after I try to figure out why my expenses are so high for November, I find that the month is counting two month's worth of rent (why is nov 1-nov 30 counting a check cashed on dec 7?)... so $1050 should be subtracted from that.

Geezeo Tells me...

(as far as I can tell there's no easy way to pull up one month's worth of transactions and find a category breakdown in Geezeo.)

Wesabe tells me...

I need to upload my bank statements for the past five months or so. Uh, no thank you. Why bother with uploading when all these other sites do it automatically?


In short, all of these online personal finance sites are still far from being perfect. I don't need fancy social networking capabilities, I just want to be able to track my monthly spending (accurately). This would require the ability for me to go in and manually change the transaction date (or what month it should be reported as).


Gift Giving and Buying

Growing up, I had a really unhealthy perception of the meaning of gifts. First off, I felt like I 'deserved' some amazing gift just because my parents got me everything I wanted that wasn't completely amazing, and they'd never get me what I really wanted - a keyboard, an expensive designer barbie doll, voice lessons, etc. Rarely did I get these things as gifts (from family, friends), but every other gift seemed like a bore.

When it came to gift giving, I needed to give the biggest (or at the least the best.) Let me back-phrase this by noting I was a huge loner up until high school... more because I was a bit hyperactive and curious and no one my age knew what to do with me (except for my somewhat abusive "friend," but that's another story). In Middle School, for some reason I decided that I had to buy gifts for dozens upon dozens of people who were more or less acquaintances. I had a lot of acquaintances due to being involved with chorus and the school play. So I went to Claires (the accessories shop) and spent about $7 a gift (of my parent's money). $7 a gift for 60 people... adds up fast.

Back then, a part of me felt like I might be able to buy the chance at a friendship. Not only did I just buy these people gifts, but I thought long and hard about what they'd like and picked out the perfect size and shape of jewelery for them. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of all my childhood - buying gifts, with my parents money, for people who either didn't care about me or found me to be annoying.

Years later, my whole perception on gift giving has changed. I've realized that gifts are definitely more about the 'thought,' and that people understand you can't buy every single person you've ever met a holiday gift.

It's hard to figure out how much to spend on gifts, though. I have a few good friends... and they deserve zillion dollar gifts, with airfare, but alas, I'm no richie. I also am a bit of a miser, as I hate spending money. My money. Part of that is reasonable (I have $25k in savings thanks to a broken arm lawsuit from 6th grade, which is a lot, and yet not that much... because I'm freelancing and health care is expensive and I really want to go back to grad school to study design which will cost me something like $100k and I want to save up for that BEFORE I go if at all possible)... and part of that is me not really understanding money.

My boyfriend and I often exchange expensive gifts. I didn't expect for that to be the case, but in our relationship my birthday came up first and he got me an iPod... and dinner. He likes spending money on other people... and one day when he has a substantial amount I'm sure his gifts would be even more impressive. He's a total 180 from my last boyfriend, who... with a salary of 135k a year (he's an attorney... and he finished law school with $0 in loans, thanks to a little bit of savings and mostly his parents), wouldn't think to buy me a gift any more expensive than what I might be able to afford for him.

I wonder how much religion and culture plays into all of this. Jews are stereotyped as "stingy," and I think that might be true. I'm Jewish, culturally, and my ex was also Jewish. My current boyfriend is pretty much agnostic, although he was raised somewhat Christian.

In any case, gift giving is so different these days. I can handle exchanging gifts with my boyfriend but even that causes such anxiety. After he bought me the ipod, I knew I had to top it. (See, why did I HAVE to "TOP" it?) So I bought him a Nintendo Wii (which I had every intention of playing.) This year, he's revamped the expensive gift tradition, buying me a Wacom tablet. Now, I wouldn't have bought this graphic design tool for myself, although it's really wonderful to have for my job and hobby. His birthday is coming up in march, wtf do I get him?

Meanwhile, today I have to buy gifts for my two cousins that live locally. My mom is supposedly reimbursing me for these gifts, since they're from her. But I'd like to get the kidlets gifts as well. They have just about everything, according to their mother, so I don't know what to get them. Right now they're young enough that they just enjoy opening gifts and quickly forget what it is they've received. But being me... I want to get them a brilliant gift, something that will encourage creativity and/or help grow their young minds.

Therefore, today will be spent freaking out about finding the perfect gift for my cousins. I also have to buy a $50 gift for one of my cousins in New Jersey, as I'm part of this giant Hannukah gift exchange that will take place at a party on Dec 15 that I won't be able to attend. I have no clue what to get him.

I really think that when it comes to gifts, it is the thought that counts. I sometimes wish my boyfriend was a bit more creative in his gift-ing (although I do love my iPod and tablet) because I end up telling him I really want these things for weeks before my birthday and then he gets them for me. It's kind of weird. I'm not used to that. I guess a lot of guys do that for their girlfriends? I'm too much of an unlabeled feminist to let that be one way, though.

Well, it's time to go gift shopping.


The Unfortunate Quest to be Anything Other than Average

Blaming Attention Deficit Disorder is easy, but the fact of the matter is that I have a serious problem with my inability to complete projects. Of course, I'm working hard to combat this problem and I've been doing a good job of it at my current contract gig.

But, even though I think I'm working hard, I still feel like my employer views me negatively. Maybe that's my problem -- as I always convince myself that people dislike me until proven otherwise. There are a few other projects on my plate that I'm behind on, or that are basically gone for good because, well, I took on more than I can chew. I don't really know enough about interactive design yet to build multimedia sites, yet I tried once and it didn't work. I'd like to take some classes in these things so it won't take me hours browsing through tutorials to make a relatively simple site that has more than just graphics and text, but unfortunately, I don't have time or the money to do that right now.

With my writing work... I feel like such a fake. I don't think I'm a good writer. I think I'm a much better designer, without the technical skills to profit from my somewhat decent talent in that area. Meanwhile, writing is easy... to fake. Anyone can pretend to be a writer. But what matters is the content.

Maybe I just lost my love for writing. Once I wanted to be a journalist. But now all I do is dream about a day when I can design for a living. I feel like I get color and line and composition. What I don't get is the composition of paragraphs or sentences.

I'm just tired of being a F&#& up. How did I get so far this fast and yet at every turn I run straight into a wall of my own creation? I'm over and done with it. I want to be successful, but my motivation levels... my non-temporary motivation levels... dwindle faster than George Bush's ratings since going to war with Iraq.

Am I the only person who practices somewhat subconscious self sabotage? I'm so afraid of proving to myself that I'm actually a failure that all I can do is fail before I have the chance to do it unintentionally.

I need to stop feeling like I need to do something GREAT in order to succeed. I know it's the little things that are meaningful, yet I don't believe it. I want to be famous, or brilliant, or... anything other than average.


Dec 8, 2007

First Generation with Fiscal Suckage?

Frugal Zeigeist has a great post today about whether we're the "first generation to be worse off than our parents." She writes:

...I'd say that I'm way behind because of the way the work world has changed. My dad worked for a single employer in Canada and a single employer in the US; although he went through reorganizations, I don't think he ever worried about layoffs or downsizing the way I do. He also has traditional pensions both from his years of work in Canada and from working in the US. Between that and Social Security, my parents have never had to touch their retirement savings. -- Frugal Zeitgeist
At my age (24), my parents were living in New York City, renting an apartment. In a couple of years their apartment would go 'co-op,' and they'd buy and sell their place within a few years for enough profit to put a down payment on the house in New Jersey where I grew up.

My mom was a fashion designer, working for fairly low wages, and my father was... well, I think he was a grad student when he was 24. He was going to grad school for physics but dropped out and ended up working as an actuary (pension planner). He stayed with the same company UNTIL HE RETIRED. He obviously had a good pension plan in place as well. My mom... she stopped working as a fashion designer 10 years into her career to have children (waves).

I'm not sure where they were financially at 24. Were they struggling? Possibly. I assume that if my father had started his job as an actuary, his entry-level salary was probably pretty high. And back then it wasn't so painfully expensive to live in a city like New York. Then they got lucky with buying their condo and selling it, and the rest is history.

Looking at where I'm at now, I don't see myself buying a condo anytime soon. It's not that it would be entirely impossible to make enough money to buy a small studio apartment, but I'd have to live extremely frugally and, even more so, I'd have to be sure I want to stay in this area for the foreseeable future. And I'm just not ready to make that kind of commitment.

Then again, the housing market seems to be pretty attractive right now. I don't know a lot about it other than the fact that lots of people are losing their houses because they can't afford their mortgages. That's sad for them, but good for potential buyers.

I don't want to just sit back and watch another housing boom happen without having the opportunity to partake. Still, I don't think I'm ready to buy a condo.

So, instead, I spend $12,600 a year on rent. Ouch.

My 25-year-old boyfriend... he lives at home and works part time. I don't think he's ready to make that commitment either. :X

I wonder how much monthly payment on a studio condo would be. Would that help me be as successful as my parents were at my age?

In any case, Frugal makes this important point:
They key point that this thought exercise brought out for me is this: The rules of the game have changed big-time. In the modern economy, the cards are stacked in such a way that if I'm ever going to be better off than my parents, I can't rely on employers or government to lend a helping hand as a reward for loyalty or years of service. It's definitely possible to end up being better off than my parents ever were, but I have to make it happen on my own. -- Frugal Zeitgeist

Personally I think the opportunity to switch employers and make oneself more of a commodity is to the advantage of the employee. It might hurt when it comes to long-term savings, but salaries (and benefits) are higher if the employee has well-sought skills.

Here's to hoping that my skills will develop into ones that people want to pay me for!



The Bartering Trend

Up until earlier this year, when I thought of the term "bartering" pictures of Pilgrims, the Amish, and even some current third-world countries came to mind. Why "barter" for goods when we have this wonderful thing called paper (and metal) money?

Then I found out that bartering is a great way to exchange services or goods without having to deal with the hassle of money. Unfortunately, the IRS still requires that you report your bartering "income" come tax time. My philosophy? Don't ask, don't tell. Like it? I got the idea from the government. Brilliant, isn't it? If you want to find out more about taxes and bartering, the IRS has lovingly put together a detailed informational page for anyone who wants to report their bartered "earnings".

Right now, my bartering income is quite limited. My freelance business model isn't designed to support itself through bartering, but I decided to try it out. My personal opinion on bartering is that, since it does not involve money, should also not involve the government.

Bartering feels like a 'clean' way to deal with commerce. At the moment I'm doing a barter deal with a personal trainer. She's offering me training sessions in exchange for web design. I'm still sans quality health insurance right now (I'm signing up for a catastrophic plan next week) so I feel like preventative care via working out is probably a good idea. Besides, I like that I can use my skill as a web designer and make this personal trainer a fabulous homepage, which she needs, and in exchange, I work out at least two times a week, which I need.

If you don't have a "skill" that you think would be valuable for trade, think again. Some people just like the idea of bartering, and they'll trade for just about anything, as seen on this Craigslist Barter page for the SF Bay Area.

Just be careful about trading services, because you might get screwed over in the end. The woman who is giving me personal training sessions lives close by, and we trust each other enough to exchange services. It would get messy if I decided to just up and walk away from designing the site after she has given me a few training sessions. I imagine that at some point, such a situation could conclude with an icky court situation. Lucky for us, we're both game on this deal, and I'm making a great website for her, and she's kicking my ass into shape.

Here are some other barter sites that I've found on the interest that may be of interest to you:
(disclaimer: I haven't used any of these sites)



Premier Barter
National Trade Association


New Design!!!

After over a year of procrastinating, I've finally gotten around to revamping this blog. It's not perfect, but as it looked like it belonged in the gallery of blogger-crap-of-fame before, I'm proud of the updates. What do you think? Any suggestions?


PF Roll

Eeks, I haven't written a PF Blogroll in ages. It's time for a roundup of the chatter going on out there in the personal finance blogosphere...

Give Me Back My Five Bucks (krystal at work) set some monthly goals for herself. She wants to "gain full-time employment," submit some reimbursement paperwork, and "curb any unnecessary spending." Last month, apparently, was a no-go on the full-time employment search. Let's all wish good luck to her on her job search quest this month, as job-searching can be daunting, and encouragement always helps. :)

Queercents has a great post on how to get the best return on charitable giving. This morning, Bill filled his readers in on charity rating organizations, and how to make sure that your contributions are being well spent. CNN Money also has a good post on this topic.

Get Rich Slowly (J.D.) somehow turned down the opportunity to buy a used Mini Cooper to replace her Ford Focus. Why? Because she realized it's more important to be debt-free than have a dream car. Besides, there's always next year.

How I Save (LuLuGal) fills us in on how to buy glasses for the cheap online. I've never bought glasses online because I've yet to find myself trusting online retailers enough, but LuLuGal's story of savings almost entices me to seek out my next pair of frames in the mall called cyberspace. She spent $75 on a pair on glasses that, if she purchased the frames in real life (ie, not online) would have cost her a whopping $400-$500. Congrats on the savings, LuLu.

Blogging Away Debt (Tricia) informs us that her net worth is up 6.91%, standing at -$36,384. Let's all encourage Tricia to keep on saving this month each month to help her on her way to debt-freedom.

An English Major's Money wins frugal foodie of the week with her recipe for "Lentils with Chorizo." I won't be trying this out since I don't eat meat, but for those of you who are meat eaters, the recipe sounds like it might be tasty, and it's certainly cheap due to ample use of lentils.


When I was a little girl, I used to walk a few feet in the snow...

Winter in California is bizarre for a gal like me that grew up on the east coast. Sure, we get our annoying rainy season, but snow and painfully cold whether isn't involved in the concept of winter here. I kind of like that, as I'm definitely not a "cold" person, and it helps save on heating bills (though I have an 'all utilities paid' deal with my rent anyway) but sometimes I miss snow.

Scratch that. I just miss my memories of what snow means. Days off from school. Spending time with family. Watching bad tv all day (as a freelancer I tend to do that now... i mean, at least as background noise). Relaxing.

The only thing equivalent to a "snow day" out here would be a day when a giant earthquake destroys everything... or if a forest fire comes frighteningly close to my neighborhood. That's not much of a snow day.

Most of all, I miss being a child. Like any other 24 year old, I'm now facing the fact that the future is all about being an adult. A young adult for a while, then an old adult, then a very old adult and then... well, that's life.

How should I value my life? Should I see it in terms of how much money I make, and how much I can buy? I don't expect to be rich, but as a freelancer I see how I can build up a steady income and at some point, if I have enough happy clients, I can possibly make six figures a year. That feels almost greedy... although if I have kids at some point I'm sure any money would help.

I feel dirty wanting money. I like working for just the amount I need to survive with a little extra to stow away for savings in case something terrible happens. Then again, I love eating at nice restaurants, traveling and buying overpriced clothing. It's tough to both want to not be greedy and want to live a mildly lavish lifestyle.

More than anything, though, I want to feel like I've earned my money. That I deserve what I've earned. That's why I like the idea of freelancing. Beyond actually having to do a good job, I constantly have to market myself and prove my worth. And if i'm not worthy of a project then I have to rethink my strategy for long-term survival. Maybe that's a little scary, but I enjoy the ongoing challenge. It keeps me on my toes.

What's with all of this 'future' and 'past' thinking? Well, it's the holiday season, and while I'm not religious, the time around Hannukah and New Years always throws me into a state of extreme reflection. I think a lot about where I've been selfish in the past year and how I can change my next year to be a better person. I rarely make as much progress as I'd like, but at least through growing up I've stopped being so terribly narcissistic. I've accepted that for the most part people do not care about me, whether that's caring about me being wonderful or a trainwreck. As a kid I was desperate for attention. Not anymore. Well, sometimes, if I'm having a random hyper moment and perhaps a few shots of Vodka. But...

Now... my whole view on life has changed. My basic morals haven't. I still believe in freedom, I still believe in being a good person regardless of a belief in some divinity. That will always be a part of me. But now I don't mind being invisible (usually). I'm not sure how I feel about that.


Dec 3, 2007

Cue the Trump Theme Song

I didn't expect this blog to bring in any extra pay, but I put up some Google Ads to see if I could make some extra cash off of those. Income from the Google Ads turns out to be really random. Some days I'll get a lot of clicks and other days they'll be worthless. I think a lot of people are just so numb to Adsense ads these days. I don't blame them. Then again, if I see an in site ad that is interesting to me on someone else's site, I often click the ad. Rarely does it amount to me making a purchase on whatever it is the advertiser is selling, but I've visited sites that I found through advertising before.

Anyway, I've been contacted by a few advertisers lately who want to put ads on my page. I'm flattered, really. It's certainly encouragement to keep up on this blog, as apparently there is some value to write all there is to know about my oh-so-exciting personal finances. Thus far one ad has gone up, and I'm currently in talks with a few other advertisers that may or may not work out.

This post, though, is to note that as of today, I've made my first successful ad sale for this site. I'm amazed, because I wasn't even fishing for advertisers yet. I mean, I planned to later down the line when I had the site actually looking good and more content that would be useful to people. Right now, this blog has kind of turned into my quasi-anonymous bitch fest with a few useful entries splattered about. I really want to change that and make this site more about looking at what I've learned about personal finance and job hunting, and help others with what I know.

I'm not really sure how many readers I have right now. I get a decent amount of traffic, but according to my feed reader button only 13 people have signed up for my feed. I say "only," but really I think it's pretty cool that 13 'strangers' are reading my blog on a fairly regular basis. My public blog, which is now mostly friends only, has tons of readers... but it's over on livejournal and any money made from adsense ads there goes directly to LJ. I do like how Blogger seems to be pretty open to advertising, or at least splitting ad revenue with bloggers. What have they got to lose? Google makes most of the money from Adsense anyway. But I don't mind that. At least I feel like I have the opportunity to control whether I want ads on my site, and if I do, make some money from them. I mean, enough to buy a few cups of Starbucks per month.