Aug 27, 2008

The Chase Freedom Card Rocks: $250 in the mail!

Well, after all these years of being afraid of credit cards, I finally took the plunge. And less than a year later, I'm waiting on my first $250 rewards check in the mail. I always figured those rewards programs were bogus, but the personal finance community seemed to like this specific card, so I tried it out. Once you hit $200 in rewards dollars they give you an extra $50. Now, that makes me feel better about the ridiculous interest they charged me when I took out a cash advance traveling in Israel. I still pay off my credit card balance like clockwork, so interest rates generally aren't a concern. And I'm excited about my $250 (even if it means I've prob been spending too much to earn that $250.)


Aug 8, 2008

high deductible health insurance sucks (TMI post)

I've been having these pains in my stomach for the last month, and as they haven't gone away, I want to go see a gastrologist about it. I already spent $65 + $25 to see a gynecologist for a UTI I had earlier + antibiotics, and I'm not even sure my UTI has gone away. Meanwhile, this pain is getting worse. Yesterday, I took laxatives to see if it would help. Maybe I just have IBS and the doctor will say "eat more fiber, stop eating sugar" and that will solve everything. I had the worst pains ever after taking that stimulent laxative and was up all night grabbing at my stomach.

I don't think my problem is constipation. There wasn't much to get out (sorry, TMI, I warned you in the title.) So what IS my problem? It's not gassiness, it's not dihareea, it's probably not constipation. But there's still a pain, that seems to go back and forth between my lower left abdomen and my upper left abdomen. Occassionally, the chest area on the left side also hurts, I get a burning sensation, so maybe that's heartburn. The pain in my chest is rare, but the weird tight aching feeling in my left abdomen is constant.

So my boyfriend convinced me it's time to go to a doc. I called and made an appointment. I can't even see the actual doc because he doesn't have an opening until Sept 24. So I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner. The lady in the billing department convinced me she's just as good as the doctor. We'll see about that.

So the nurse practictioner costs just as much to see as the doctor does. It's about $300 for the appointment. Well, it might be $150 at the lowest, but they can't tell me until after the appointment. If it turns out it seems serious (which, for the sake of getting my monies worth, I almost hope it does) then they'll prob have to do a more thorough exam, which will cost the $300. But with that, they'll need to do tests, and lab work, and I have a feeling it won't be long before I reach my $3000 deductible.

I really need a job with health insurance. :(


Aug 7, 2008

Getting Back on Track - goal: from $12k to $30k savings in 1 year

In this past year, despite being conscious of my poor spending habits, I managed to whack my net worth down from $26k at its highest to about $12k, where it is currently, give or take a few k.

Most of the damage was done on my trip to Israel, when I basically threw most of my financial wisdom out the window. The biggest problem, it seemed, was that because the trip was pretty much "free" (even for the week after the free trip, I stayed with my family all over Israel for "free") it was easy to spend money for gifts and little items for myself here and there. Well, it all added up. Meanwhile, I was paying $1050 in rent for the month for my empty studio apartment back in Cali, and I wasn't making any money either while I was on vacation. It doesn't take a math genius to figure that out.

The good news is that as long as I stick to a tight budget this year, I should be well on the way to healing my ailing savings account.

While I need to just accept the fact that anything in my net worth involving the stock market is being kicked in the groin repeatedly right now, I can do quite a bit to get myself out of this financial rut and figurative debt.

According to my calculations, I'm about -$9000 in the "red" (not literally) in my cash accounts. My non-liquid savings accounts are at $21k, which includes those suffering in the stock market, so in reality my overall "net worth" is somewhere at $12k. I'm also getting another paycheck in a few weeks, though some of that will go to rent.

For the sake of my mental health, I'm going to use this entry to re-draft my budget, so that I have a very clear plan on how I can save $17,000 in one year. That's really just about $1500 a month, right? I think that's... well, that might be do-able.

Fixed Spending: $994.32

$635.12 - Rent (includes water & garbage)
$60.00 - TV / Internet / PGE (estimate)
$97.64 - car insurance
$146.78 - health insurance
$54.78 - cell phone

OTHER: $900

$400.00 - Food
$100.00 - drugstore / vitamins / cleaning supplies
$300.00 - gas
$100.00 - entertainment


$1600 - $1900 - approx "necessary" spending (+/-)



$4800 + $400 / month before taxes

about $2600 after taxes

So... saving $1000 a month, if I never ever go to the doctor, or buy clothes, or eat out... is possible. Right?

I'm also looking into seeing if I could get a cheaper health insurance plan since it's not really doing me any good and it's just for emergencies. I had to pay $65 to go see a doctor just to get antibiotics for my last UTI anyway, so why does it matter how high my deductible is?

Anyway, saving $1500 a month looks somewhat unlikely. However, I am overestimating my tax payments since they won't really be exactly 50% of my income. They'll be close to that, maybe 45% when all is said and done after self employment tax, but at the least, I figure if I'm saving 50% that will give me some extra dough at the end of the tax year to close out my Roth IRA for 2008.

Ugh, I feel like I'm making a lot of money, but it's no where near enough. I wonder if I should look for another, better paying job. But I LOVE my job. I make $57k a year, though not really, since that's on contract and no benefits or time off is included. So I figure I prob make about $50k a year in comparison to my past jobs. I just have no idea what I should be making. I charge some clients $50 an hour for work, but that's all on smaller projects, I can't justify asking for that sort of raise at my current gig, nor do I feel the work I do there warrants $50 an hour. There just isn't enough work for me to do there in terms of work that I know how to do - writing. I do a lot of other things, but a lot of those tasks are literally shared with an intern.

Futz, I'd like to be making $65k a year w/ benefits. I have no idea if that's a ridiculous amount to hope for with my experience and given that I live in the Bay Area. I'm also kind of frustrated with the fact that 40 hours per week at my company does not = full time. Granted, I work my 40 hours a week at random hours of the day and night, and they aren't picky about it - but still, I just dislike that 40 hours a week no longer equals full time. To be full time at my company, I have to work 60 hours a week. But really, what would I do for 60 hours a week? I don't even know how many hours I'm actually working... but I'm sure it's more than 40. I need to start keeping track of where my hours are going. I just feel like... if I worked for an advertising or interactive marketing agency, I'd know where my hours were going, because they'd be spent writing, and I'd have something to show for all those hours. At my current job, it seems like I have little to show for the work I do. I'm so used to being a journalist, where every day you're worth is in your clips. Here, it's ideas, it's finding bugs on the site, it's doing a lot of little things that are kind of sort of in my job description... and I worry that I'm not doing enough, and I worry I'm doing too much, and I wonder how I can move up in the company when there's really nowhere to move up to...


Aug 6, 2008

Moving on Down, and Saving My Pennies

My rent has gone from $1050 a month to about $650 a month. This move, which is saving me a good $400+ a month, is probably the best decision I've made in my life. Even though my gas $ will be going up, I still think I'm going to end up saving at least $300 a month, and that doesn't even include the additional $250 that I would have had to pay if I stayed at my apartment and accepted the ridiculous rent increase.

It's kind of weird making these smart financial decisions now. I always relied on my dad to make those in the past. I didn't go totally overboard on my living situation previously, but given how much I was making, I definitely should have gotten roommates. Now, I'm making enough to live alone, barely, but I've realized that just because you make enough money to spend it, doesn't mean you actually should.

Instead, I'm going to really focus on saving money now. I'm pretty sure I want to go back to grad school at some point, prob for a degree in Human Computer Interaction (Berkeley has an awesome program) and I'm starting to take programming classes at the local community college (which happens to be a few minute walk from my new apartment) to make sure that's the right path for me - but I'm pretty sure it is. I need to learn the programming side and the research side, and then I'm ready to become a key player in web 3.0...

In the meantime, I'm dealing with some other things. Speaking of my father and his wisdom, it won't be around for much longer. He was recently diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer. I knew he probably had cancer, but wasn't really prepared to hear this. Basically that means he has a few years to live, at best. Well, what this means, besides all the emotional havoc it's having on me and my family, is that all that money I'm saving on not renting the more expensive place might be spent on plane tickets. It costs about $400 to fly across the country these days. Ugh.

And it really is going to be time for me to step in and help my parents with sorting out finances for the future. My mom is such a duntz when it comes to that sort of stuff - I get my bad spending habits from her. My dad's mostly a saver, and I'd like to be more like him. It makes me nervous to think that I'm going to have to take over for him, at some point.

Meanwhile, just the thought of losing him is really hard to deal with. We're not really that close, and for most of my life I hated the guy, but he's done a lot for me and my family outside of the mental and physical abuse, including working hard for most of his life and making sure we had enough money to live very comfortably. It's tough to know that he's worked so hard for most of his years - he just retired like a year or two ago - even though he is only in his late 50s - and now he's looking at the end. He won't get to enjoy retirement or that huge 401k he's accumulated. Or he likely won't... besides facing the fact that the cancer treatment will stop working in 1-10 years, he also is dealing with so many other medical issues. He can't even enjoy his last few years on this earth, because all he does is sleep all day. I can't tell how much is because he's weak and how much is just depression. Regardless, it makes me sad to think of the life he's led, working so hard, married to a woman he doesn't love, saving up for retirement... and then, he gets to retirement, and he's sick, and he's dying...

It makes you think twice about the value of saving so much for so long. Not that I won't be putting money away for retirement or focusing on getting and staying healthy so I can live to enjoy it, but... some people don't make it that far. And our entire society is set up to work and work and save and save... but then what? What if that's all you get?