Jun 27, 2008

An Update on the Little Big Move

I'm moving out of my apartment. This weekend. I'm kind of unhappy about it. But deep down, and not-so deep down, I know it's for the best. Spending about $1300 a month on rent, even with utilities included, even with a job that pays me enough where it's possible, makes no sense at all.

What I need to do is save up for a house. Saving up for a house in this area requires a lot of sacrifice. It might even be logistically impossible. But I want to try.

Next month I'm cutting my "room" costs by staying with a friend. It's just a temporary thing en route to my new, yet-to-be-determined place. I offered to pay her rent, but the most she'll accept is $350. She prob should take more, but I said I'd buy her lots of meals so hopefully at some point I won't feel like I'm jipping her. Add to that about $200 in storage fees, and my monthly rent, at least for July, has been cut in half.

The big question is - how much will I spend on my next real place. There are so many options and - as I'm a bit picky when it comes to (everything) where I live, I find that most of the places I like are going to be pricey. Maybe not the full $1300 my current studio would cost me to stay in, but not far from it.

I've seen a few places so far. The only one I liked at all was a small garage-turned-studio in the back of someone's house, but it was missing one very important thing - a closet. I've got too many clothes to live sans closet. Oh, and it didn't have a stove either. Just a hot plate. But it's not like I really cook all that often (though I plan to) so I guess I could deal without the stove.

Other than one place I tried to check out yesterday (the guy stood me up, hmmph), I've put off looking at places until after I get settled into my friend's house. I'm looking prob for an Aug 1 move-in now, so most of the places haven't been posted yet.

I really wish I had enough money for a down payment right now. There are so many houses on the market around here, it's ridiculous. I went down one street today and within a single block, three houses were for sale. It's nuts!

But instead I'm going to waste more money on rent for the indeterminate future. It's not the end of the world. I just feel like now I should be living in some shit hole and spending very little in order to save my pennies. And by shit-hole I mean "nice shit-hole in the good part of town." Heck, the place I lived in for my first few months here was only $580 a month, utilities included. Of course, I had 3 roommates - 4 if you count the roommates' boyfriend that lived there practically, and for a while there the gal who was supposed to be providing me with "utilities included" wifi decided she didn't want to deal with getting it fixed (uh, and I needed it for my job). But that place was in a really nice area. So these things are possible to find. Maybe not at $580 in the renter's market right now, but maybe something around $800...

I saw one 2br/2ba that was right around the corner from my worth that was going for $850, utilities included. Pretty good deal. The apartment complex had a pool too. But it was kind of run down. And the smell was getting to me.

See, I'm picky.

I can move further south and get something nicer for the same price. If I get a place near the train that'd be ideal. I don't know if I'd sell my car (what would it be worth now that I've banged it up so much driving into inanimate objects?) but I think I'd still save money not paying for gas. It's at $4.70 a gallon around here. Not driving sounds like a really good plan if I want to save any money at all.


The Economy is in The Pooper

Driving home after I picked up lunch late this morning, I was listening to right-wing talk radio, which I do often these days, and the host was bitching about how we need to use our own resources for oil since our avoidance of this is causing lots of commercial establishments to go out of business.

Here's the big news about 36 retail stores closing their doors...

"Information technology related companies that are closing stores include CompUSA going out of business, Sprint Nextel closing 125 locations, Movie Gallery closing 560 movie rental outlets, and bankrupt Sharper Image shutting down 90 to 180 stores.

Other retailers shutting down shops are: Ann Taylor, 117 stores; Eddie Bauer, 29 stores; Cache, 20 to 23 stores; Lane Bryant, 150 stores; Talbots, 100 stores; Gap, 85 stores; Foot Locker, 140 stores; Wickes going out of business; Levitz going out of business; Zales, 105 stores; Disney, 98 stores; Home Depot, 15 stores; Macy's, 9 stores; Pep Boys, 33 stores; Ethan Allen, 12 stores; Wilsons, 158 stores; Pacific Sunwear, 228 stores; Bombay Company, 384 stores; KB Toys, 356 stores; and Dillards, six stores." -- http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2008/06/24/retailers-close-hundreds-stores


Guess those rebate checks didn't work. Big surprise. I finally cashed mine. It's going to pay off what I spent in Israel. Sorry Bushie.

The economy is really f'd up right now. I'm sure you've figured that out for yourself. I don't know enough about economics to determine if this is a normal downswing in the cyclical pattern of the markets, or if we're kind of screwed ala 1929.

What I do know is that my Sharebuilder and Vanguard accounts are suffering. I know now is really a good time to get in on investing because the economy is in the dumps, but it's still hard to watch the little money I have turn into even less money!

I've been tracking my investment accounts separate from my liquid cash for about a year now. That includes all accounts my money lives where some risk of losing that money is involved, plus my CDs because I'm at some point going to move them into my Roth IRA or some other investment account.

The problem in really figuring out what the numbers mean is that I've added money to my investment account throughout the year, and while I could go back and calculate just how much I've added I really don't have the time to figure that out. What's more telling is my individual ETF and stock investments, and even more so my Vanguard funds where I pretty much know how much I've invested.

So a year ago on 6/21/2007 my total investment account was worth $21,014.57.
I liquidated about $5200 of a CD and moved that into my cash accounts, so that brought the account down to $22531.18 after it had increased to $27552.65 (not because it was performing well, but because i had been investing more aggresively than in the past and actually saving some money).

At the moment, my total investment account is worht $22,511, but I have some debt in my cash account because I spent like a mad woman on vacation. Luckily all should balance out next month when I'm paying just $550 for rent & storage in between moving and finding a new place to live.

So my investments are pretty much staying at the same base point. That's mostly because the CDs and prosper account and monthly deposits have kept that stable. I'm sure I've actually lost more money in those accounts than what it looks like at first glance.

This is maybe more telling...

My Roth IRA account that I started, like, two years ago, was at $4019.73 on 6/21/07
I did not add or subtract any money from that specific acccount since then.
That account, the Vanguard Retirement 2050 account, is at $3759.84 at the moment.
I'm pretty sure I invested $4000 in that account, so it's down, and it will likely keep going down as the economy flushes down the toliet.

Looking at my Sharebuilder funds, I can see that they're all doing shitty. I was updating my spreadsheet a few times a week previously, but since I was gone for a month I had not updated it at all. I also did not invest anything more in that month.

Here is the value of each fund on 5/19 versus 6/15...

COMV: $56.48 / $52.24
EWZ: $308.16 / $273.94
KOL: $149.1 / $164.4
MCD: $206.55 / $196.1
PBD: $298.85 / $384.11 * ($100 was invested automatically in this account when I was gone)
GLD: $518.94 / $507.80
WFMI: $89.08 / $78.86
EPI: $183.74 / $144.81

As you can see, only my Coal ETF is making me any money. But it's not enough to balance out all the other losses. I really don't have a great deal of money invested in Sharebuilder because I'm starting small, it's my Vanguard accounts that have the most of my money. And they are performing better, albeit not much better, than my individual ETF and stock picks.

I'm just going to leave the money in my sharebuilder account. I plan on investing slower, about $50 a month, in the clean energy ETF and the coal ETF, back and forth, because i figure either we're going to get the energy we need from coal or cleantech, or both, but in the long run they're probably pretty good bets. My Brazil and India funds are suffering, but if I ever get a raise I'd like to push more money into those while the economy is sucking. My coal ETF gives me enough exposure to Asia, though, as does my clean energy ETF. I'm a little confused as to Gold's performance right now, as it had been going up before when the looming recession/depression was its own media gold, but now the ETF is kind of sitting there. I'm curious what will happen to it 20 or 30 years down the road. It just sucks that it's going to be taxed as a collector's item. I really need to get some of the gold ETF in my Roth so I don't have to deal with that crappola.


Jun 25, 2008

Exchange Rate, and How Traveling Years Ago Would Have Saved Me Dough

One of my readers left a comment asking about traveling with the current exchange rate in Israel.

The exchange rate in Israel is about 3.2 shekels per dollar. It is always hard to figure out what the exact exchange is in terms of what commodities you get per your penny since the cost of living is often higher outside of the US. I found a small Iced Tea which would run $1.25 or so in the US would be sold for $2.50 to $3 in Israel. Certain products like suntan lotion were extremely expensive, about $25 per bottle that would cost $10-$12 in the states.

I had some cash on me at the beginning of the trip, but I charged most of my purchases. The credit card exchange rate was about 2.9 shekels per the dollar. I probably should have spent some time before the trip figuring out the conversion rates and costs, but I really wanted to just let the trip happen without much planning. In the long run, I may be a few hundred dollars short because of my desire to avoid planning.

Traveling is tough right now with the dollar being so weak. One of the reasons I didn't end up traveling outside of Israel after my organized trip was because of the dollar suckage. I wanted to take a ferry to Greece, spend a few days there, then maybe go on to Italy - but it would have been impossible without putting myself into bankruptcy.

In any case, I'm hopeful that by next time I can make a trip out of the states, the dollar will have recovered. Looking at the gas prices around here -- at $4.67 and up, I'm not sure that will ever happen.


Jun 21, 2008

Back from Israel, How'd the Bank Account Fare?

In short, I spent too much money in Israel, but I might be able to balance the books due to a variety of upcoming life changes that will involve spending less money and taking in, hopefully, the same amount of income (as long as my company still wants me to work there!)

As I wrote previously, the trip to Israel was, in itself, free. The flight was free and for the first two weeks, the housing and most of the food was free. So spending on other things seemed to make more sense... I mean, when is the next time I'll be back in Israel?

My big purchase - my Canon DSLR Xsi - was the best purchase I've made in my life. I took over 4000 pictures and they're my favorite souvenirs from the trip. Meanwhile, on the trip I bought extra food, some clothes, jewelery, gifts, etc. It all added up. To quite a bit of money.

But... even in the last week of the trip, I barely spent any money on room and board. I stayed with family most of the time and while I didn't expect them to feed me, they did... they fed me a lot. And I got them gifts for their kindness, but having to pay for my own food and housing would have cost a lot more. I stayed in hostels for only two nights of the trip, and i didn't have to, but I wanted to have that freedom. So each night in the hostel cost me about $20-$30. Otherwise, I had all free housing. It was a good deal. And my family was awesome and so nice to me. Even family I never knew I had. All second cousins and such, but they took me in like I was their own daughter. It was awesome.

I know, at the moment, my spending far surpasses my normal budget. And I only worked one week out of this past month, so I haven't been taking in any money either. That's the bad news.

The good news is that in a week I move into my friend's house for, probably, a month, while trying to find a new place to live. I'll offer to pay her something for my time there, but it will not be anywhere near the price of my current rent (of $1050 a month). And I'll be starting back to work again on Monday, so I'll be taking in money and spending very little for housing. When I do find a new place to live, I'm trying to find something that's even less than what I'm paying now. It might not be an ideal living situation, but it's not like my current place is perfect. The studio thing was awesome - I love, love, love living alone... but other than that, it was just a waste of money. Utilities were included, which was good, but I still had to pay my internet and cable bill all on my own. Living with even one other person and splitting that bill will lower my costs a lot.

So I'm pretty much looking for a shared living situation, at $600-$1000 a month. My rational side keeps telling me to get a tiny cheapo room with or without access to cooking and to just save my money. I've been thinking how much I want to get my teeth fixed, and how if I live super cheaply for a year and save I can afford to fix my teeth in about a year. That alone makes living in a tiny room worth it. Besides, even though I work from home a lot now, there's no reason I can't make a habit of going into the office more often. I want to do that anyway, and if they keep liking me, eventually take on a full time position with my current company (fingers crossed.)

It was kind of weird being away for a month and not focusing on money as much as I normally do. I haven't been obsessively tracking my stocks, or checking to see if anyone of my borrowers defaulted on their Prosper loans. It's been kind of nice. As soon as I get all the bills paid off and my old paychecks cashed, I'm going to tally up just how much I spent in Israel and how much I have to make back. I'm a little scared, but not too scared, as I know I can make it back within a few months if I'm smart about it.

Just remind me to be smart about it. :)