Apr 27, 2008

Fit Modeling -- My Goals!

I'm way too short to ever be a professional model, or am I? Fit modeling, a lesser known and definitely less glamorous side of the modeling industry, is a part-time gig that would definitely help me save up for grad school. Problem is, the way my body is at the moment, I'm not the right size to be a fit model.

Fit modeling... in case you're wondering... is being a "model" for designers who need to check out the measurements of their patterns. So you don't actually pose for pictures or anything (well, there might be a few snapshots, but they won't be used for any advertisements). Fit models are worth a lot to designers because they rely on them to make sure their clothing sizes fit their customers.

If I get "fit" I could feasibly sign up to be a size 8 petite fit model with an agency in San Francisco. The job pays about $80 per hour! The problem is right now my waist is 1.5 inches too big, as are my hips and bust. But I think if I keep working on getting healthy I might be able to make the "perfect" measurements for a petite, size 8, fit model.

Right now my measurements are 37 - 30 - 40. I need to be 36 - 28.5 - 38. Seems do-able, given my proportions, right?


Apr 26, 2008

Biking for Frugality

I'm not a fitness buff, though I am trying to get in shape. When I lived in Berkley a few years ago, pre-car ownership, I bought myself a fairly decent bike to get me to and from work. It was about a 30 minute bike ride each way - flat for the most part, though to was a bit uphill and home was a bit down (which worked out perfectly, who wants to ride uphill on the way home?)

My weight has fluctuated from 163lbs to 123lbs over the last 4 years. The lowest, 123, was after I biked to and from work five days a week for about three months. Well, I had gotten down to about 130 and then went through about a month of deep depression and didn't eat much of anything, which was an unhealthy way to get down to 123.

Regardless of my weight, I've never felt "healthy." The closet to healthy I've ever felt was at 130lbs, when I was eating normally and biking daily. That's what I'm hoping to get back to again.

But apparently the sheer quest for health isn't enough of a motivator for me. What make me bike when I lived in Berkley? Sure, I wanted to get healthy. But the real reason I biked every day was that my other option, a BART ticket (BART is the subway in the bay area) would cost me about $3 round trip a day. $3 a day? That seemed like such a waste of money, esp since I owned a bike that could get me to my destination almost as quickly.

Ever since I've bought a car, I find it's easier to ignore the specific cost of fuel as you travel from one destination to another. But with gas prices hitting an average of $4 a gallon around here, my bike is once again becoming my new best friend.

I need to get back in the swing of biking, really, as it's tough to force myself to leave 45 minutes for my commute to work as opposed to 15 for the drive. But those 45 minutes are precious me-time that could either be spent moping around in bed or out and about enjoying the day's sun. And I certainly know that I need my time in the sun in order to be healthy and happy.

So - thanks to $4 a gallon gas, I might get back in shape again. I hope I will. I won't be in great shape when I leave for Israel in a month, sadly. Even riding my bike every day and eating healthy won't help me look good in a bathing suit. But maybe I won't be completely embarrassed by wearing the appropriate swim garb.

Meanwhile, there is one pair of Banana Republic jeans I bought when I was 123lbs, and my goal right now is to fit into them again one day. Of course, that means that most of my other clothes won't fit anymore, but it would be worth it just to be able to wear those jeans again!


Apr 22, 2008

Travel Light, or Pay the Price

Airlines are in pretty big trouble these days, financially speaking, and that means customers are getting hit with high fees all around. Besides the rising cost of ticket prices, airlines are finding other ways to make a quick buck from their passengers. I can't believe the latest one that I just read!

Checking two bags, under 50lbs each, used to be "free" with the price of a ticket. That seemed rather reasonable and fair, given that some folks traveling on flights are moving or traveling for longer than a short stay.

That free luxury is no more - at least once May 5 rolls around.

Want to check more than one bag? You'll have to pay $25 to check that second bag. Yes, even if it's under 50lbs. If it's more than 50lbs, then you're stuck with ANOTHER $100 in fees.

MSNBC breaks it down as follows:

"These fees are in addition to those for excess, oversized and overweight bags, so a passenger traveling on United, for example, with three checked bags weighing 50 pounds or less will be charged $25 for the second but $100 for the third.

But if any of the three bags tips the scale at 51 pounds or more, overweight charges of an additional $100 per bag, each way, kick in. So unless otherwise exempt, a passenger flying round-trip on United with three bags weighing just a pound over the 50-pound limit would be charged $200 for the first ($100 overweight fee each way), $250 for the second (second bag fee of $25 times two plus overweight fee of $100 times two), and $400 for the third (a $100 third bag fee times two plus a $100 overweight fee times two), for a total — fasten your seat belts — of $850."


Apr 18, 2008

Grad School: my future or just a dream?

Ever since my second year of college, I dreamed of going to grad school. Granted that I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I dreamed of going to grad school for ten thousand different things. However, now that I'm - almost 25, I know what I want to do in life (sort of) and I know what I want to get out of grad school.

I avoided majoring in art or design for undergrad for a few reasons, namely because I didn't appreciate that "business" must play into my life in order to make a living if I was to be so adamant about avoiding a career in academia. Once upon a time the term "business" seemed practically synonymous with "evil." Graphic Design was not art, it was business, therefore I wanted nothing to do with it.

Boy, times have changed. Now I want everything to do with design. Product design, user interface design, all of it. I love it. It fascinates me. I want to learn more about it. Even research methods are fascinating as long as they apply to design.

I'm getting a little taste in design methods at my current job, where I'm officially a writer. Every so often I suggest design features and listen to design sessions. I see how people work together in a company and how designers and marketers and everyone comes up with something. I love it.

So... grad school. Well, at the very least going to grad school for a masters in design or an MBA (or both, ideally) will possibly pay back for itself at some point (whereas an MFA in theater directing - what I once wanted to get) will not.

The huge questions are - when do I go and where do I go?

I don't need to rush into grad school - I can get a master's degree at 30 and that would be fine. However, I'm concerned that if I put it off too long I'll never do it.

I'm glad I didn't jump straight into grad school after undergrad. I definitely needed time to explore what it was I actually needed out of more education to further my career. But now I'm at a place where I feel like that extra education would help. A lot.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend is likely going to be entering an MA program in fall of 2009. We currently reside in the Bay Area but he's thinking of going to a program in New York. So I have to figure out what will come of that... I mean, do I move to New York with him? Do I stay in San Francisco? Do I apply to grad programs myself and move wherever I get in? Do we break up because our relationship couldn't survive long distance?

It's a lot to chew on and I don't really feel like chewing. But I'm scared of what it all means. I do know that I want to open up doors for my future and I don't want to be held back. Will an MBA or Design degree open up those doors? I'm not sure. I wish I knew how much that $100k+ degree would be worth.


My Stupidity and Taxes

So... being the terrible procrastinator that I am, I waited until the last minute to do taxes. Well, that's not exactly true, I filed on April 13, but I needed to send off the check and I couldn't find my stamps, so I waited until April 15 to mail my check (federal only, I sent off the $2 I owed for State taxes electronically).

Well, I put my check in the sidewalk mailbox at 5:40pm, and then realized that it was too late to get it postmarked for the day. So what did I do? I decided it would be smartest to pay by credit card online ($30 "fee" tacked on and all) to make sure the IRS got my payment on time.

My payment did go through, it seems, but now I have a check out to the IRS for $1243 and I have no idea if they're going to cash it or not. If they check my records they'd see I paid it already and not cash the check, but I have a feeling it isn't going to be so simple. I imagine they'd cash the check, then see that I've paid twice, then, in two years or so, send me a refund for the money I overpaid.

The big problem here is that this means I need to keep gobs of money in my checking account in order to ensure I won't overdraft.

Meanwhile I think my estimated tax payment is going to get in late since I mailed it at the same time. I'm hoping any penalty fee on that won't be so bad since it's only a day late at the latest.

Ok, this year I'm really going to keep on top of things! I bought myself a cute little accordion folder to keep all of my receipts for anything work related, which hopefully will make it easy to turn my taxes over to a CPA at the end of the year.

I really need to get organized. I am so terribly ADD, disorganized and the whole nine.



Apr 16, 2008

How Am I Supposed to Feel?

i wrote this entry as a friends-only post in my personal blog, but i felt like sharing it here because it's relevant to my personal finances and also my tagline "a quarter life crisis and change."


i just wish life would click into place. i'm starting to accept that i never will. when i was younger, i always believed that one day i'd just get it. i'd fit in, i'd be loved, i'd just know what was going on and i wouldn't have to worry anymore.

geez, i'm almost 25. almost 20 freaking 5.

i don't know what i want to do with my life despite the fact that i'm doing a lot with my life.

i used to feel like i needed to do something important. now i just want to get from day to day.

i used to believe passion was everything. now i'm numb more than ever. disconnected.

i feel love and it feels great. but is love enough? i mean, for life, that is. is that all there is to want? or should i chase money? fame? what is it i should want? family?

that's my problem. i don't know what to want anymore. sure i want to make money. i want to save money. i like buying things. but i'm not really driven to become rich. i maybe want a family one day but i'm not sure. my ovaries are not exactly my best friends and they're going to fight me if i ever want to have kids. could i even deal with having kids? i'm too selfish and irresponsible to have children. at least for now. will i ever change? i haven't changed yet.

i think what's bugging me so much is that i've lost my drive. i'm almost content. still scared, still worried that i'm going to end up unemployed and alone.


i don't know. i find these little things to drive me for a while. theater. auditions. even though i know my singing voice is off key more often than not. sometimes i get a part. and there's the rush. there's the reason to go forward in life. but it's gone so soon.

my old friend wrote an entry today about how she feels disconnected from her family and siblings because she lives so far away. i kind of feel that too. not that i'd want to live back home. god, i'd be miserable.

i just feel so terribly lost. and maybe that's how i'm supposed to feel. like life is pointless and i'm lost and just wandering on blindly. and maybe my goal is to just deal with it. try to smile and laugh as much as possible and enjoy the simple things in life.

but then i'm just so... bored. and in some respects so empty. but that's because more than anything i want to want. to need. to have that hunger for... something.

i'm going to israel in a month and i'm not even excited about it. nor am i worried that i'm going to lose at the least $2000 in salary for the two+ weeks I'll be away. i just don't care... at all... about much of anything... anymore.

is this depression or just growing up?


Apr 15, 2008

Ides of April Spending Check-In

I'm trying to be frugal this month. I owe so much money for 2007 taxes and estimated taxes. My boyfriend is helping out a bit in that he's paying for a higher percentage of our "dining out" expenses. Without further ado... here's my expense breakdown from April 1 - April 15.

Total Spending: $1907.16

Fixed Expenses: $1218.33
$1050 Rent
$87.34 Car Insurance
$27 Gym
$53.99 Phone

To Be Reimbursed: $120
$120 Parking Permit

Taxes (not including federal): $311.90
$260 Estimated State Taxes
$2 State Taxes 2007
$49.90 tax cut online

Investing: $12
$12 last Sharebuilder fee for a while

Gas: $126.48
$64.29 Gas Filler up.
$62.19 Gas Filler up.

Food / Drugstore: $118.45
$5.33  Safeway
$9.28  Longs Drugs
$8.65 Walgreens
$26.84 Dining out for two
$21.54 Longs drugs
$12.07 Supermarket
$23.49 Eating Out for Two
$11.28 supermarket


Apr 11, 2008

My Father is Sick, My Mother Doesn't Even Know How to Pay the Bills

Far across the country, my father is lying in bed, fighting off illness, and my mother is fretting that the lights are going to turn off because the electric bill hasn't been paid.

My dad is in his late 50s and has been suffering from diabetes and obesity for years. He has refused to treat his condition properly, and has not taken the insulin prescribed to him because he said that it was impossible to lose weight on it. Of course, the way he eats with no exercise, it's not possible to lose weight in a healthy way.

He's supposed to go to the doctor to get checkups every few months but he hadn't been to the doctor in over a year. That is, until this past week, when his health quickly deteriorated and has left him bed ridden.

But, being the stubborn guy that he is, he's still telling my mom to bring him the bills to pay. He can't even get out of the bed, yet he won't let her pay the bills.

The saddest thing of all might be the fact that my mother doesn't even know how to pay the bills to begin with. I mean, she could pay them, but she has no idea how much money my dad has in his accounts, or how much is saved for their future. If any credit card bills don't get paid, it's on her credit history as much as it is his.

My father finally went to the doctor. It sounds like there are more problems than just the discomforting illness that sent him into the doctor in the first place. They did some blood work and determined that there's something wrong with his prostate. It's either an infection or cancer, apparently. They're giving him antibiotics to try to clear up the infection but if that doesn't work it might be malignant.

Given that my dad hasn't been to the doctor in forever, he's probably waited too long to treat any sort of cancer if that indeed is his infliction.

My father and I don't have a close relationship, but I'm still scared for him, and for my mom. I've accepted for a long time that he could just die and be gone any day, the way he takes care of himself. Still, I don't want it to happen, obviously.

My mom said he hasn't said he's scared, but he at the very least admitted to her that she was right - that he should have gone to the doctor sooner. For anyone who knows my dad, him admitting to my mom that she was right says a lot about his view on his condition at this point.

He's been in the hospital before, but it wasn't enough to scare him to get healthy. He doesn't seem to believe he can, or he doesn't care to do it.

I want him to grow old and be around to be the grandparent of my children one day. He's not the best guy in the world, he has his issues, he was abusive to me when I was a kid, and he's emotional abusive and somewhat physically abusive to my mother at times. Still, deep down inside of him, there's a good guy there. And I want that good guy to grow old and be around for a while.

And then, logistically, there's the real concern of what would happen now if he did pass away. My mother wouldn't know what to do with the money at all. I have a feeling my dad has a decent amount saved in 401ks, etc, but if my mom knew just how much they had she'd go and spend it all. Of course I wouldn't let her do that - and she'd listen to me. She admits she knows nothing about managing the household money. I'd have to step in and take charge of all of that, probably - from figuring out my sister's potential college education to the cost of my mom supporting herself, etc, etc.

I've always figured it would happen - some day - but I'm not ready for it to happen quite yet.

Maybe I'm thinking too far ahead of myself. My dad could just have an infection and he could get better soon. And if that's the case things will just go on as they've been... he'll continue to be stubborn and my mom will continue to be clueless.


My "Free" Trip is Costing Me a Fortune

I'm going to Israel for free in a month. That's all fabulously frugal.

But my passport is costing me about $200, all-in-all, to get replaced.

I'm missing at least 2 weeks of work or about $2400 of income while I'm abroad.

Now I'm finally looking into the price of a flight from SFO to New Jersey. How much could it be?

Uh -- $450 is how much it could be. Talk about inflation hitting home. A flight home used to cost $330 at most, and that was on the high end. A month ago, for about one day, the flights dropped to that price, and then they went up again. Should have booked then, but what-can-ya-do?

I have the money in savings to pay for all the associated costs that go along with this "free" trip and I know it's a great opportunity, yada yada, but still, it's painful to justify taking such a huge "free" trip that is costing me, including lost income during my vacation time, about $3000.

$3000 for a "free" structured vacation. That's hard to chew on.

I was (and still am, sort of) considering staying on for another week... but to change my flight it will cost me another $150-$400. Then I'd also have to figure out how much it would cost to travel and stay there... more income lost... and then there's the cost of hostels, transportation, and entertainment. Some of the people going on the trip are thinking of going to Greece or Turkey for a bit, and that would be awesome, but now I'm thinking it's a bad idea.

Then again, I'm getting a free flight, and mostly free living expenses for two weeks in Israel. My rent will still be due back home (sigh) but at least I'm not paying for a hotel and such elsewhere during these two weeks. Plus, I'll be spending some time in New Jersey before and after the trip, with my parents, who will hopefully feed me and such - so maybe my other costs for the month won't be that huge.

BUT -- my boyfriend was supposedly going to meet me in Jersey after I got back for a small vacation of his own. We'd stay at my parent's place, which would keep costs low, but if we want to do anything... like go see a Broadway show, etc, those costs are going to add up too.

All the sudden, I feel like this entire experience that sounded so great from afar is going to cost me $5000.

I have the money... I have $5000 in a liquid CD. Is it worth spending it all in June in hopes (and with the expectation) that my income is going up and I'll be able to earn that money back? How often do I get a free trip to Israel? I'm so glad I traveled around Europe for a few weeks in college and I've been dying to go back.

Oh... and then there's that $1300+ camera I promised myself if I ever went back to Europe.

oh, god.


Apr 10, 2008

It Costs WHAT to Get a Passport These Days???

I lost my old passport and I'm traveling to Israel at the end of May. Crap. A new one, with expedited service, costs $179. Serves me right for losing my old one that wouldn't have expired until 2010. Oh well, this one will just last me until I'm 30 or something, so I can hopefully use it on a honeymoon!

So today I did all the things I thought I had to do to get a new passport. Printed out the forms and filled them out. I was ready for a quick (albeit painfully pricey) trip through the passport line at the local post office. But things can never be that simple in my life.

First off...

Went to Long's Drugs to get my passport photo taken. Stood at the photo counter for 5 minutes before a sales clerk noticed me. She called for a customer service rep to come to the counter. 6 minutes later and no rep had arrived. She paged the customer service rep again. 4 more minutes later, a customer service rep comes to the counter and I ask "can you do my passport photo?" I find out the one person who knows how to do passport photos there has gone to lunch. Buger.

Left Long's and went to Walgreens, which luckily is a few blocks away. Got my passport photo taken fairly quickly there. Was told it would take 10 minutes to print. So I started to wander around the store. The lady who told me that came and found me and let me know that someone else was printing a huge order so it would take more like 25 minutes.

25 minutes later I return and get my passport photos. Pay $8 for them, and I'm off to the post office, which is another 15 minute drive away.

Get to the post office and of course there are a few people in line. I wait, somewhat impatiently, but minimizing my impatience because I know I have every single item I need to get that passport as soon as I arrive at the front of the line, right? Right??


First of all, it turns out I didn't have the lost passport form filled out. Or maybe I did but I must have lost the lost passport form. (hah). So I stepped aside and filled that out. Then waited a little longer.

Finally, it was my turn again. I handed the woman the various items she needed to see or take to get me signed up for this new $179 passport.

She took one look at my birth "certificate" and informed me that it's not a certificate at all. It's a birth registration or something like that.


It was the same stupid piece of paper I used last time I got a passport.

So she told me that I had to call up New Jersey, my home state, and request that they send me a new birth record so I could apply for a passport.


I'm traveling abroad on May 27. I already have my ticket. WHAT???

It should be ok. I went home, and called the NJ agency. They had an online site where I had to pay $38 for the new birth certificate and rush delivery of it. I still have to fax them a copy of my driver's license before they can send me anything.

I also called up the federal passport agency hotline and was told that it's wise to include another $17 check in my passport application to pay for rush delivery of the passport once they process it.

So all-in-all my lost passport is costing me about $200 to replace.

It's my fault for losing it and waiting until the relative last minute, but still, I'm a little p-o'd about all this. Especially after finding out that I owed $1243 on my tax return this year.


Estimated Taxes: Sailing in the Safe Harbor

This (2008) is my first year working as a full-time freelancer. Last year my taxes were so complicated due to partial W2-ing and some freelancing that I probably missed a few deductions I was entitled to.

Next year, I'm hiring an accountant in April to do my taxes.

But - I really don't want to spend an extra $300 now for a tax counseling session. I feel like there's enough information online and in books to prep me for everything I need to know. The problem is I'm already, uhm, four months behind (how did it get to be April already???)

The good news is that I've discovered one benefit to being a freelancer and having to pay taxes. No, it's not that pesky little 15.3% self-employment tax that salaried folk don't have to pay.

It's the safe harbor estimated tax "benefit."

As a freelancer, you have to pay estimated tax payments four times a year (there are a few exceptions for people making not that much money, etc, but I'm referring to freelancers that make a living wage).

In 2008, the estimated tax payments are due:

April 15, 2008
June 15, 2008
Sept 15, 2008
Jan 15, 2009

According to numerous articles I've read on the 'net, when it comes to estimating your taxes you have a choice. You either have to pay 100% of last year's tax that you paid (110% if you make over $150k) or 90% of your estimated 2008 earnings.

If you're earning more this year then you were last year, unless you can't control your spending and keep your tax payments safely in a high-interest savings account, there's no reason that you should chose to pay based on your estimated earnings for the upcoming year.

Why's that?

You want to have control of your money for as long as possible. You can either turn it over to Uncle Sam and let him make money off of it throughout the year, or you can keep it in your high-interest savings bank account like ING Direct (don't invest it in stocks, please, you don't need to lose it all before you owe it), gain a little interest as the year progresses, and pay up in the end.

As long as you carefully save for tax season, the huge chunk of money you have to turn over to the government won't come as such a shock.

So that's my plan this year. Last year my total tax (found on line 63 of your federal return) was $4,300, which breaks down to $1075 per quarter.

I know that my 2008 taxes will be much higher than $4,300 (or will they - it depends on how long I keep my contract job. Maybe I'll end up making much less the second half of the year anyway). Either way, the IRS doesn't care as long as you take the "safe harbor" route of estimated tax payments.

Plus, that means I don't have to worry about figuring out my deductions now, for better or worse.

I would like to figure out how to get a home office deduction. Maybe it means I have to move to a place that has a separate room that I can call my office. My rent, which is currently $1050 a month for a studio, is going up in July. I don't know how much, but probably enough to have me out and about looking at other apartment options. I've lived here for two years and really don't want to move - but if the price of this place and another place that's more or less better suited for taxing a home office deduction cost about the same, I probably should move.

But I'll deal with that in a few months...


Apr 9, 2008

Finally Did My Taxes

So you know how I wrote that I was going to do my taxes a few days ago?

Well, I kept putting it off. I knew I was going to owe something... I just didn't want to face how much I would owe.

The bad news is that it turns out I owe $1234. I probably could have gotten that number down a little bit by taking more deductions but at this point I just want to put last year behind me and start fresh with this year, being really careful about recording anything I can deduct legally as a self-employed person.

What really sucks is that since I live in a studio, I can't take a home office deduction. Well, I guess I could cut off a corner of my room from the rest of my apartment and not go into it unless I'm doing work, but that would be rather silly. Or at least I think it would be silly - a tax professional might think otherwise?

Regardless, I knew I was going to owe a lot this year because I had a decent amount of freelance income last year that hadn't been taxed at all.

This year I'll owe much, much more since I'm sans the W2 life, but at least now I'm trying to be careful figuring out what I owe out of everything I make. It's better to tally it up that way. With last year's taxes, I've been entirely in the dark.

So I used H&R Block's TaxCut online software. The basic version. I went through the whole nine yards w/ TurboTax and then decided to check out what I'd owe with TaxCut and since it was pretty much the same in the end I just filed w/ TaxCut. My login session for TurboTax had already signed out and, well, I forgot my login name.

I just wish there was a way to find out if a CPA could really get me more deductions... but it seems unlikely. I mean, how many deductions are there that are so hidden only those training in tax legalize can understand how to save money?


Apr 7, 2008

People My Age Are Stupid

...so says a new report by the AARP. In a survey of folks ages 19-39, the majority of them didn't seem to be worried about credit card debt, or the fact that they weren't saving enough for retirement.

I'm glad that I surfed on to An English Major's Money blog about two years ago. I don't remember how I got there, but reading her blog and other PF blogs made me feel more confident about investing and saving. I was almost too ashamed to invest or save at that point, given that I had money tucked away already. But then I realized how I needed to start making that money work for me, and not to feel bad for doing so.

But most 20-somethings are dumb about these things. If they're lucky, they've got an employee-sponsored 401k plan with match, and they contribute some of their earnings to that because their employer recommended it and salesman from mutual fund firms came and pitched the horrors of not being prepared for retirement in order to sell their high-fee funds. Unlucky and they'd be in credit card debt with no savings, no "emergency fund," and definitely no retirement fund for the future.

I'm so grateful to the personal finance blogging community for getting me on the right track.


The Personal Finance Reader

Google Reader drives me nuts sometimes, so I made a separate blog of all my personal finance Google Reader feeds. It's actually a nice way to browse what's going on in the PF blogosphere at any given moment. Let me know if your blog is missing and it should be added!



When Do I Go to the Doctor?

I have high-risk "catastrophic" health insurance. COBRA would have cost me $400+, and any full health insurance would have cost me a small fortune. I also had a lot of trouble getting insurance in the first place (see here, here, and here) so I'm ecstatic to have the minimal health insurance that I have for something like $138 a month.

Two days ago I noticed a fairly large, hard bump on the back of my head, a few inches from my ears. It was swollen and throbbing. After doing some research online I've determined that the lump is a swollen lymph node.

Swollen lymph nodes can be caused by a lot of different things, ranging from a minor infection to cancer.

I doubt I have cancer. The good news is the bump (although still really tender) has shrunk quite a bit in the last two days. So it seems that it's just an infection and it's going away. I noticed there are actually two bumps there, but they're slowly shrinking.

My concern is that -- what if they were the warning signs of cancer? At what point do I go to the doctor to get such things checked out?

When I had "regular" insurance I barely ever went to the doctor. I hate the doctor. I'd go only if I was really, really sick and I'd wait it out for a while to see if I could get better before heading in for a diagnosis.

But I no longer have the luxury of going in to get something checked out for free (minus the co-pay). Going to the doctor is quite expensive. It's not even so much the doctor's visit as much as the fear that the doctor will either tell me that it's nothing (=waste of money) OR the doctor will order a bunch of expensive tests that will add up to thousands of dollars out of pocket.

I can make an educated guess about whether my head lump is something I should worry about or not, and I can wait longer than I would to get it checked out and hope for the best... but the crappy thing about not having regular health insurance is that I just can't go to the doctor for every little thing like this.

At what point should I go to the doctor to get this lump checked out?


Blogging Yourself to Death

Once upon a time, I blogged for a living. I was lucky enough to land a coveted job at a respected blog and worked alongside some of the best bloggers in the business. Their passion and dedication to their career went beyond what I expected in my vague understanding of the blogging lifestyle from afar.

I've been blogging for more than 10 years, but until I took the full-time blogging gig, it has always been a side hobby of mine. It was more about writing about my personal experiences. Once it was my job, it was a combination of reporting and opinion, a pressure far exceeding that of a traditional journalist because it required both solid reporting and something to say about every piece of news.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an opinionated gal, but the pressure to always have something to say, and to still get the news first and get it out there wore me out fast. I definitely freaked myself out and got massive writer's block. I ultimately left that job. I lasted three months. My boss conceded that I had talent as a writer but a startup blog was not the place for me.

At the time, it hurt. I wanted so badly to be a great blogger. The blogging lifestyle was pretty awesome... I could work anywhere, say what I wanted (as long as it was supported by fact.) I was rewarded for creative thinking, and for page views. Well, mostly for page views.

The New York Times is aware of the pressure. "In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop," asserts the Times. "the evolution of the 'pay-per-click' economy has put the emphasis on reader traffic and financial return, not journalism,' quotes the article. It just so happens I worked for a company the cared equally about reader traffic AND journalism. That was great for the quality of the blog, but awful for the quality of life for anyone who worked there.

My boss... well, he eventually got very ill. But he's still going strong. Unfortunately, other bloggers have literally died from the pressure. Others have had heart attacks and are now determined to make a lifestyle change.

But how much of a lifestyle change is possible? Once upon a time reporting required getting the news first... as in that day, by the time the papers went to press. Now, it's all about being first. Getting the scoop long before the thousand other people attempting to write the best blog get the story first. It's a dog-eat-dog world. It's not for everyone. The people who love it suffer as well. It's like training for the Olympics. You do it because you love it. But you sometimes wonder if all the stress is worth it. There are certainly other jobs that pay better and require less effort.

I'm personally happy that I left my life as a full-time blogger. Though I still dream of starting a love advice blog that would somehow take off and be my ticket to my next fifteen minutes of fame, I'm quite content with my current career working for a non-blog web startup.

For now, I'm blogging because I love it, when I feel like it. This blog certainly has gone in directions that I haven't expected. I try to keep my posts on topic -- either being about finances or career, but sometimes I wonder if my readers would be interested in a broader focus. In any case, I'm amazed that I'm now getting over 100 hits per day, I've made about $60 on AdSense, and I even have about 160 feedburner readers. It's fun that I can blog about things I'm really interested in and... find out that other people are actually interested  in hearing what I have to say. It's a very nice feeling. 

So thanks, my lovely readers. You sure all make my day. And I don't even need to risk having a heart attack to obtain that satisfaction.  


Apr 4, 2008

Taxes, Taxes, Oy, Oy, Oy.

It's time to do my taxes. I am not waiting until April 14 to sign on to TurboTax and try to figure things out. It's bad enough I waited until April 4.

The big reason I want to finish my taxes "early" (ha!) is so I can figure out what my estimated quarterly tax payment should be for 2008. I realized that since I can't afford to pay what I'd owe based on my expected yearly income (which may be way off anyway, depending on whether I can keep my current contract gig or not into the rest of the year) so I'm going to do the 110% of my taxes paid for last year.

I will have to be careful this year to "oversave" for taxes based on a 40.6% tax rate (probably the highest I'd have to pay if I indeed make as much as I could make this year) and keep the extra in an un-touchable savings account so I can send it off on April 15, 2009 without much fuss.

I'll be reporting back on my experience filing my last year's taxes throughout the day. Wish me luck!


Apr 2, 2008

Going to Israel – For Free!

One of the benefits that comes along with being born Jewish (besides being, uh, one of The Chosen People) is a free trip to Israel.

The program, called Birthright Israel, provides free trips to Israel for Jewish youth under the age of 26. They send a lot of us kids to Israel each year… trying to get us to feel connected to our past and perhaps carry on the religion for a few more years of history.

I’m not a Zionist by any means – I’m pretty much agnostic on the issue of Israel (and religion in general).

So the trip actually is FREE. It requires a $250 deposit but as long as you go on the trip you get your money back. When the deposit was do my checking account was way low so my parents spotted me the deposit money but they’ll be getting it back.

However – small costs for the trip that’s free can and will quickly add up. I don’t exactly have all of the suggested packing items. I still have to pay for a roundtrip ticket from California to New York to get to the flight to Israel (though I’m going to make the trip a vacation home to New Jersey for a week or so as well as long as I can work from New Jersey for a week or two.) There are other costs as well… (not counting souvenirs and such) so my free trip costs…

$100 passport (I lost my old one. At a bar. Don’t ask.)
$350 round trip flight to New York
$30 water shoes “teva shoes” (from suggested packing list)
$60 sleeping bag (I’m going to try to get one used? Or borrow one?)

and then the big cost that I’ve promised myself (If I can be good and save for it…)
$600-$2000: A DSLR Camera – either Nikon or Canon.

For the past few years I told myself if I get on the Birthright Israel trip (or ever travel abroad again) I will be bringing a nice DSLR camera to take pictures. Last time I was in Europe I had a film SLR camera that broke a few weeks into the trip… but seemed to be working. So I wasted tons of film and lost dozens upon dozens of pictures. My digital camera that I brought was kind of crappy and while it took a few good shots, the quality was not that high.

I want to get more into digital photography anyway and I can’t think of a better excuse then to save up and splurge on a nice DSLR.

That’s coming last, though. First I need to pay my estimated quarterly taxes!!! But it’s a good excuse to try to work extra hard over the coming months.


What Recession?

Every other day the media is telling us that we’re either in a recession or the government has miraculously saved us from entering one. I’ve even heard talk about an upcoming depression, despite plenty of safety nets in line to prevent another 1929.

These are the times when I really wish I knew more about the economy and what it all meant. I watch my stocks go up and down… and down again, but understanding why is a whole other matter.

The latest AP article I read on the subject explained that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke just said that a recession is possible.

Seems like he’s late to the game, doesn’t it?

Ok, so he’s in charge of the Federal Reserve, which must have some significance, economically speaking. He said that policymakers are “fighting against the wind” in trying to steady the economy.

I guess earlier this year he tried to give a pep talk on how great the economic future was looking for this country and now he’s going for the surefire glass is half-empty approach in case of a meltdown. Better to say I told you so late then I never told you so at all.

This is where the tricky economic babblygook comes in and I get lost. The GDP (or gross domestic product) will not grow much over the first half of 2008 – and could contract slightly.

Sounds like a bad situation. Growth is good. Shrinkage is bad.(Just ask a porn star.)

Apparently under a rule someone wrote somewhere, six straight months of declining GDP means we’re in a recession.

So Bernanke thinks that the stimulus package will help economic growth in the second half of this year and into 2009.

Uhm, I’m still under the impression that a $600 tax “gift” is not enough to encourage most folks to run out and spend. Or maybe I’m just so caught up in this personal finance world that I forget how most people spend their money.

If I were the government, I’d give out larger chunks of money to random people, with a weighting on lower income families. $600 is not enough to encourage spending, but maybe $3000 is. So don’t give it to everyone or just limit to really specific demographics and viola, you have more consumer spending. $600 is usually just enough to pay off credit card bills, if you’re frugal with your credit.

Maybe what the government is doing for businesses will help more, as well as those interest rate cuts that I’m still unclear on. One of the key interest rates was cut to 2.25 percent to “spur buying and investing by individuals and businesses.”

I’m not sure how that spurs buying and investing. All I know is that my ING Direct account savings interest % is lower than it’s been in a long time and that makes me less likely to spend any of my money.

I guess homeowners and people who have larger loans benefit from this. I certainly don’t.

Will the Fed drop its interest rate again when it meets at the end of April? There’s plenty of speculation, but no one knows for sure. It seems that stocks will certainly be following the news closely.

Still – most of the trouble seems to stem from banks loaning out these unfixed interest loans to people who wanted to buy houses who just couldn’t afford them. Now those people, and those banks, are figuring out their screwed. I didn’t go to Harvard or anything, but does it really take a calculus scholar to figure out that equation doesn’t work?


How to Afford My Quarterly Taxes

I assume that I'm going to owe $6132 in quarterly taxes (state and federal) in... 14 days.


I just transfered an extra $1000 into my ING for Taxes account, which now adds up to $5125.56

So I'm short $1006.

That means budgeting this month needs to be extra, extra tight. And I might have to dip into my liquid CD to pay my estimated quarterly tax.


April "Spending" Money $2410

Fixed Costs = $1422.28
$71.33 -- Cable Bill
$129 -- Health Insurance
$87.33 -- Car Insurance
$57.62 -- Phone Bill
$1050 -- Rent
$27 -- Gym Bill

Credit Card Debt: $882
to pay this month $500



$487.72 left

Food? Taxes? Gas?


The Good News...

Still Owed for this month: $1325

($400 for marketing copy
$525 for marketing article
$400 reimbursement)

(TOTAL: $1752.72)

If I get paid all of this in time...

$1300 to taxes
$200 to food
$100 to Roth IRA
$152.72 Stays in Checking


Why am I so short? I shouldn't be this short, but it will take me until the end of April to earn all the money I need to pay for my Jan - April estimated taxes. I could just pay less than I'm supposed to and hope that it all works out in the end. This isn't entirely a stupid thing to do because I think based on last year's taxes I could undershoot what I'm going to have to pay this year and still be penalty free. But I'd rather keep on top of things.

Also, none of this takes into consideration the fact that I have to pay to deal with 2007 taxes.

What have I done, oh what have I done????


Apr 1, 2008

Estimated Tax Worksheet - could it be any more complicated? (Don't Answer That)

Ok, going by the estimated tax worksheet, perhaps I owe a different amount for this quarter.

1. Adjusted gross income you expect in 2008:

(Adjusted gross income. Use your 2007 tax return and instructions as a guide to figuring out the adjusted gross income you expect in 2008. see Expected AGI -- Line 1 in chapter 2 of Pub. 505 -- "Your expected AGI for 2008 (line 1) is your expected total income minus your expected adjustments to income")

Let's just say $66,000 and forget any adjustments I might take.

2. Estimated total of itemized deductions: no idea

3. Subtract Line 2 from Line 1: $66,000

4. Exceptions: Multiply $3,500 by the number of personal exceptions = $0?

5. Subtract line 4 from line 3 = $66,000

6. Tax =
Figure your tax on amount on line 5 by using the 2008 Tax Rate Schedules on page 5. *If you have qualified dividends or a net capital gain, or expect to claim the foreign earned income exclusion or housing exlucsion, see "pub 505" to figure the tax.

  • 10% on income between $0 and $8,025
  • 15% on the income between $8,025 and $32,550; plus $802.50
  • 25% on the income between $32,550 and $78,850; plus $4,481.25 = $12843.755
  • 28% on the income between $78,850 and $164,550; plus $16,056.25
  • 33% on the income between $164,550 and $357,700; plus $40,052.25
  • 35% on the income over $357,700; plus $103,791.75
7. Alternative minimum tax from Form 6251: (this AMT confuses me to no end so for now I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist and hope it doesn't effect me.

What is the AMT? The AMT came into being with the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Its purpose was to target a small number of high-income taxpayers who could claim so many deductions they owed little or no income tax. A growing number of middle-income taxpayers are discovering they are subject to the AMT.

8. Add lines 6 & 7. Add to this amount any other taxes you expect to include in the total on Form 1040, line 44, or Form 1040A, line 28 = $12843.755

9. Credits (not not include any income tax withholding on this line): huh?

10. Subtract line 9 from line 8. If zero or less, enter 0 = $12843.755.

11. Self employment tax. Estimate of 2008 net earnings from self employment. (if $102,00 or less, multiply the amount by 15.3% -- Caution: If you also have wages subject to
social security tax, see Pub. 505 to figure the amount to enter) = $10,098

12. Other taxes (see instructions below): let's just say none.

13a. Add lines 10 through 12: $10,098
b. earned income credit (forms 4136, 8801 (line 27) and 8885) - None (you have to earn less than $17k for this.)
c. total 2008 estimated tax. Subtract line 13b from line 13a. If zero or less, enter 0 = $22,941.755

14a. multiply line 13c by 90% (unless you're a farmer or a fisherman, then it's 66.5%) = $20,647.58
b. enter the tax shown on your 2007 tax return (110% of that amount if you are not a farmer or a fisherman, and the adjusted gross income shown on that return is $150k or more) = no idea yet
c. required annual payment ot avoid a penalty. Enter the smaller of line 14a or 14b = $20,647.58

15. Income tax withheld and estimated to be withheld during 2008: none.

16a. subtract line 15 from line 14c:
Is the result zero or less?
Yes -- stop here. you don't have to pay anything.
No - go to line 16b...

16b: subtract line 15 from line 13c
is the result less than $1000
yes - stop. no money needed.
no - go to line 17 to figure your required payment

17. if the first payment you are required to make is due april 15, enter 1/4 of line 16a:
$20,647.58 / 4 = $5161.89

(but this doesn't at all include state taxes. I wonder if there is a separate quarterly estimated tax payment for that.)


Freelance Life: Estimated Quarterly Taxes

I may be way off on this... but my calculations amount to an:

Estimated Quarterly Tax: $6,706

Without the help of a CPA, I'm trying to figure out my estimated quarterly tax payment. My calculations, while likely closer to accurate than I'd like to believe, are definitely more than I have in my "for taxes" saving account.

The good news is that for this year at least, I'm allowed to put 90% of my previous year's taxes into my estimated tax payments each quarter. And last year, since I was working full time and making much less money, my tax payments for the year were not that huge. I think... and please correct me if I'm wrong... that as long as I pay 90% of last year's taxes (divided by four) then at the very least the government won't be charging me any penalty fees.

Regardless, I probably should try to just pay 100% of my estimated tax to avoid a really awful April 2009.

That said... I'm trying to understand these calculations, without figuring out my deductions (since any deductions I can take will just mean that I can get a refund. And I'd rather just get a refund than deal with sorting out deductions each quarter. It's hard enough to do it once a year!)


Tax Guestimates

Assuming I make $5500 a month for the entire year (I'm overestimating given that I'm making about $5000-$5300 now in any given month... some months I make more.)

TOTAL TAXES = $26,821.362 (or 40.6% of $66k yearly income)

[$8025 at 10%] $0 - $8025 = $802.50
[$24524 at 15%] $8026-$32550 = $3678.50
[$33,449 at 25%] $32,551 – ($78,850) $66,000 = $8,362.25

Total Federal Tax: $12,843.25


0% $0 - $6828 = $0
[$9357 at 2% ] $6829 - $16186 = $187.14
[$9358 at 4%] $16187 – 25545 = $374.32
[$10,005 at 6%] $25456 – 35461 = $600.30
[$9353 at 8%] $35462 – 44,815 = $748.24
[$21,184 at 9.3%] $44816 – 66,000 = $1970.112

Total State Tax: $3880.112


[$66,000 at 15.3%] = $10,098

Total Self Employment Tax: $10,098


Estimated Quarterly Tax: $6706


Eeks!!! $6,706?

I've only saved about $4,500 for this quarter's taxes. Well, I'll really be saving more like $6,500, but I don't get paid until the end of the month, so the next $2,000 I'd put away, which would be for my March-April "month" of work ending April 20, will not be paid until the end of the month. So how am I supposed to pay that in advance?

I'm so, so, so confused.


State Income Taxes: Why California Sucks

When I headed west and moved to California a little over two years ago, I was fresh out of college and not at all worried about taxes. All I wanted was to move away from Chicago's bitter cold and into the Cali sun. At that point in my life I figured I'd be lucky to ever make $20k a year, and being in such a low income bracket, the income tax amount from state to state didn't make much difference.

Actually, at the time I didn't even realize that there was a difference per state in terms of income tax levels. I just thought that everyone in any state paid the same amount for state and federal taxes, just that the state taxes went to the state you lived in and federal went to Bush and his war.

Apparently - that's not correct at all. (Duh, me.) Each state has its own state income tax. Just my luck, California is the worst for income tax rates at my level of earnings.

Even New York and my home state of New Jersey would be cheaper when it comes to state taxes (although they're both ranked highly in the list of "expensive income taxes.")

For a yearly income of $50k - $60k (which is about what I expect to bring in over 2008)...

My state income tax rate & fee,
assuming an annual income of $55k:

California -- 9.3% or $5115
New York -- 6.85% or $3767.50
New Jersey -- 5.525% or $3038.75

I'm surprised at how expensive it is to live in Maine. 8.5% for anyone making $17k or more. Yikes. Who really wants to live in Maine anyway?


Talking Taxes

My taxes for 2007 are going to be a total nightmare. I tried to figure them out on TurboTax a few months ago before getting my official W2s, but I'm afraid I'm missing major deductions that I should be taking (or taking deductions I shouldn't be taking).

That has led me to seek out a CPA. So far the one who has written back to me charges $155 an hour with a two hour minimum. Eeks. And I thought $80 for TurboTax was pricey.

While $310 for an accountant to do my taxes won't be the end of the world, it still sucks. I feel like I should be able to figure out taxes for myself given that my overall earnings for the year was less than $35k. Unfortunately that $35k came from a bunch of different places.

Meanwhile, my uncle - who I do some small amounts of freelance work for - told me that while he's not sending me a 1099 form I have to report the earnings. Of course I have to report the income, but I thought that he also had to report the earnings. So I'm a bit confused about this - if he doesn't report the earnings will I get him in trouble if I report them?

Do you guys think it's worth $310+ to have someone prepare my tax returns? Or should I just do TurboTax and hope that I don't majorly mess anything up?


Sharebuilder Experiment -- An Expected Failure?

My Sharebuilder account is down about $134 right now, and I doubt it'll enter an uptrend anytime soon.

The biggest burner is one stock pick - COMV - that I bought a measly 4 shares at for $29 a piece. Those shares are now worth about $10 a piece.

Meanwhile, GLD, the "gold ETF," which was actually doing very well a few weeks ago, is now "correcting" itself, and I'm down $30 on that investment. $30 isn't bad, but I have a feeling that it will be a while before GLD hits $100 a share again. I think it will, one day, given that every so many years the economy looks bleak and people start to pour money into gold. I don't know if it will ever go beyond that. I don't know how long it will take to get there again. I don't know how much money I'll "lose" in the meantime. I see people saying GLD could be worth $70 a share or less. That'd be a "big" loss. I own about $500 worth - 5 shares. So a $30 drop per share would be a $150 loss.

I guess that's not that bad. If I want to hang on to GLD as a backup. It's supposed to be "insurance" in a portfolio. Of course, most people say it should be in metal form, not paper. But GLD is kind of like owning the metal, right? It's investing in the bullion anyway.

I wonder if I should have sold GLD when it was up to $100 a share. I would have made a nice little profit of $47 at its highest... which would have been better than losing $300. Much better.

I'm happy to hold on to all of my investments for many years. I'm trying to invest and then "forget" about my investments, even though I follow how they're doing, but as soon as I put my money into that account I pretend it's play money so I don't have to worry about it. Maybe that's an awful investing strategy?

Regardless, I stopped investing in GLD. The $500 is enough of my portfolio at the moment to devote to that.

Meanwhile, I've started diversifying a bit more. Away from GLD and away from individual stocks. Right now my Sharebuilder portfolio is:

GLD: $507.10 (5.8 shares)

BMXX: $251.83 (money market)
EWZ: $244.33 (3.08 shares)
MCD: $194.83 (3.41 shares)
PDB: $163.46 (6.2695 shares)
KOL: $109.10 (2.88 shares)
WFMI: $106.01 (3.069 shares)
EPI: $105.73 (4.48 shares)
XLF: $69.65 (2.65 shares)
COMV: $43.48 (4 shares)


Beauty Trends, a Sephora Gift Certificate, and $200

After three years of avoiding makeup-superstore Sephora to spend my $40 gift certificate, I finally gave in and decided to splurge. The show I directed opened on Friday night and I had failed to find a blue sweater to match the dress I bought, so in desperation I headed over to Sephora for my final touches.

I meant to just spend about $40 on a new foundation. Not that I really needed a new foundation, but the colors I had for summer were looking silly on my now-pale skin (it's ghostly, really) and I needed something a bit lighter.

Here's the rub - the day before I go to Sephora I wrote some content for my job about spring and summer beauty trends. I've been avoiding following the trends for a while, given that I have a bunch of makeup and I usually just buy what I think looks good on ME and not what the trends are. But I got really, really into the beauty trends for this spring/summer. Neon pink lipstick? Why, I don't own any neon pink lipstick, I thought. I also did some research on the best mascaras and despite knowing that the drug store brands are just fine I found myself longing for some Christian Dior Diorshow Blackout. All 20 some-odd dollars of it.

Well, I spent about 2 hours of "oohs" and "ahhs" in Sephora, browsing through the aisles, trying on makeup, and trying my darndest to avoid the sales people who kept asking "are you doing ok?" (Funny, when I finally needed help, a salesperson was nowhere to be found!)

Going to Sephora to buy "just a few" pieces of makeup is really a bad idea for anyone attempting to be somewhat frugal. After all was said and done I spent $200 - only $40 of that was covered by the gift certificate I went into spend. (Yea, yea, I know that's the point of gift certificates.)

But, on a positive note, I love my new makeup. I'm still not going to be a trend whore, so I'll wear it for years - until it gets really gross.

Then again, does that justify spending $25 on Dior lipstick? And then spending $10 on nearly-the-same-shade neon pink Sephora-brand lipstick that I now use to blend with the $25 Dior lipstick?

You all probably think I'm absolutely crazy, spending this much on makeup.

But I can't be the only one - otherwise Sephora would go out of business. But that place sure is always busy. Maybe everyone else goes in and has some self-restraint. But I go in once a year or every two years and splurge. It makes me feel good. I like looking pretty, and the older I get, the less pretty I feel. It's really sad that makeup - ie, face paint - helps me feel like I'm decent looking, but I'd rather spend a lot of money on makeup than my hair cuts. I mean, as I said in my last entry, I spend $60 on a cut, but I only do it twice a year. Some people are spending $60 every 6 weeks for their HAIR. So I end up spending that money on makeup. And I just love painting my face!

I worry about getting even older. Now, at 24, at least I don't have massive amounts of wrinkles. But what about when I turn 30... or 40? Old women buy a lot of expensive, often misleading beauty products in a quest to look younger. Eeks.

For now, though, I'm happy with my purchases. My Lorac Cheek Stamp (it's blush that's like a stamp, which kind of works and kind of doesn't, but it's never been so fun to use blush), my Diorshow mascara, my $4 Sephora lipliner (if you want cheap good-quality lipliner, go into Sephora and buy their brand, it's really nice, just don't look at anything else), my $25 Dior lipstick, my $10 Sephora lipstick, my $40 Laura Mercier foundation stick (which may or may not be in the right color for me, foundations always look weird on my pale-ass skin), my $30 Laura Mercier foundation primer (oil free, of course), and the $20 eyebrow pencil in a color that's actually right for my eyebrows (as opposed to the 10 $6 eyebrow pencils I've bought at drugstores over the years that are the wrong color for my brows!). I think that's all I got. Does that add up to $200?

I guess it does, with taxes and all.

Geez, makeup is expensive. But I must admit, I feel happiest after buying new face paint.