Oct 28, 2009

Should a Career Bring Life Meaning?

So many people are slaves to their jobs, indentured servants of corporate America. Their lives, while mostly spent at the office or in the field, are not defined by their work. Their work is a means to living a life of meaning. And they are thankful to have a job.

I'm spoiled, and expect more than that from my career. Just like any long-term relationship, there are bound to be ups and downs in the experience. But I have this deep-seated desire to know I'm making a... difference? It's not that I want to save the whales, or even the children. I've tried non-profit and figured out that directly helping people isn't up my alley either. What I want is to contribute to something larger. Well, I want to be Steve Jobs 2.0. But besides that, I want to feel like my everyday work has a purpose, one that I have some control over.

A study on Payscale.com notes that the ten "happiest" jobs are clergy, firefighters, travel agents, mechanics, architects, special ed teachers, actors & directors, scientific researchers, industrial engineers, and airline pilots.

Gimundo points out that of the jobs in the top 10, most are service jobs relying on specific skills, which contradicts the common notion that the more education you have, the happier and more successful you will be. He points out Matthew B. Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft, which discusses the loss of respect of trades/manual labor in America.

After a trip home to visit my judgmental father, I know he wouldn't think as high of me had I become a firefighter or mechanic (however, he did always say I should be an architect). I just wonder how much of my... "our"... needs for happiness are based upon what we were told matters when we were kids versus what really matters in our psyche.

My family definitely wouldn't think highly of me if I were to quit my job to become Mother Theresa. On the other hand, they would think I went nuts if I decided to start my own company. My parents are risk adverse. Heck, my dad was an actuary, which is a math job all about mitigating risk for big companies in case their employees live to a ripe old age (how morbid). And my mom? She married the first guy she met in college because she wasn't ready to risk being alone. She's unhappy now, in a loveless and abusive marriage, but divorce is out of the question. That would be too much risk.

It seems for me to ever get to some point of happiness in my career, I need to put all the voices in my head aside, and really risk... failure. I believe that failure, after trying really, really hard, is important in growth as an adult, yet I've recently realized that I've never fully dedicated myself to anything. Maybe it's the ADD, maybe it's the self doubt, maybe it's my inability to find something worth caring about. I don't know. I have such a driving need for narcissistic reward that it's unclear I can ever be happy without some role of power. Yet I'm afraid of power, because with power comes an even bigger risk of failure.

When I started my current job, I was really inspired. I loved working for a web startup, being part of a team building something for lots of people to use. I thought I could help. Now, well, I'm feeling helpless. Things have changed. I also showed too much passion which scared the powers that be who need to care more about the business versus heart. Not that they don't have heart, it's just their job, in the power role, to think about all those stressful things. It's my job too, though not directly, and any passion I have -- beyond obtaining statistics to support my theories -- is unacceptable.

I look to someone like Steve Jobs as an idol, yet he's said to be a total totalitarian and not-so-fun to work for. But he obviously BELIEVES in himself and in his ideas. And they have led him, and his company to great success. He failed, got kicked out of Apple for a while, and then they basically begged him to come back because above all it was his mind -- his understanding of innovation, design, and decision-making -- that was so valuable. Not everyone can be Steve Jobs. Not everyone would want to be. But sometimes I think my ideas are pretty good, that I've got some talent of seeing the bigger picture, that I might be successful if someone would just give me a chance to run my own project. I don't need to run a company, I'd be happy with the responsibility to manage a product. Or even a piece of a product.

That seems like a job that's out there, right? But I have no idea how to get it. Or if I'd be any good at it. And... risk adverse genetics keeps me tied to stability. I mean, my current job is not bad at all. I like the people I work with. I respect them. I still like working for a startup. It's just company morale is kind of on a downward spiral right now. The folks in charge are stressed and have no time to deal with making employees... with shrinking job descriptions... feel valued. Which is fair, but I just hate the feeling of having no voice. It's suffocating. I just am not sure what to do about it other than hold my breath and wait.


Oct 22, 2009

Savings 2009 Update

Since I don't have a 401k, I'm always paranoid about not having enough saved for retirement. I know they advise workers to put at least the % match in their 401k above and beyond their Roth, but without a 401k, I'm still at a loss for where to save my money. Also, with grad school in the future (2-5 years away) I don't know how much to save for retirement vs. that. Oy.

To be honest, beyond my Roth IRA, which I max out at $5000 each year, I don't keep great track of what money goes into my other savings accounts. I save, I probably save quite a bit all things considered, but I haven't really looked at what that means until today.

This year, so far, I've put $4850 in my Roth IRA. I have invested $5000 in ETFs and stock purchases in my Sharebuilder account. Plus, there's about $600 in my 529 plan. Ok, so I think I stashed away $10k this year, or more. That's not too bad. Then again, I know people who are saving 30% or more of their after-tax income. Which would be probably more like $20k.

Granted, I lie to my net worth spreadsheet and tell it to deduct more taxes then I will need to in order to have a fiscal boost come April 15. But that usually goes straight to next year's Roth IRA. I always like to start it out with a $3000 one-time investment in April, then add in for the rest of the year until I hit the $5000.

I really wish I could buy a house right now, but besides not having the money to do that (I only have $30k saved, and much of it is in retirement accounts) it just wouldn't make sense. So I'll keep throwing away $600/month on rent. I was at my friend's house yesterday -- the one she bought with her engineer fiancee -- and I'll admit, I'm a bit jealous. But then I remember I don't NEED a house right now. What would I do with a giant house besides pay a lot in bills and make a mess of it?


Oct 14, 2009

The Diverse Financial Life of Everyone I Know

My friends, roommates, and boyfriend all share one thing in common -- none are in as good of a place financially as I am.

My roommates are around my age. One is a middle school teacher. Her salary is slightly less than mine, but she does not do additional freelance work so ultimately I make a bit more than her looking at the full year. My other roommates is in a PhD program for psychology, which means 5 years of loans and living on the cheap. I'm not sure how much her parents are helping her out and how much is loans. She's surviving, but will have a lot of loans to pay back and will be stuck in her career for a while in order to pay that back.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, quit his job a few months ago. He still works a few hours a week, but he never really pushed for much of a raise. He wants to go to grad school. It sounds like either his mom will pay for his entire grad school program (she's beyond a frugalista, and hasn't spent much her entire life... saving about $100k for her son's education) or not pay for any of it, depending what he decides to go to grad school for. He doesn't have a retirement savings at all, and at 27 that kind of concerns me, esp if we're going to get married one day. My retirement income won't be enough for both of us.

Then there's my good friend, who is knee deep in debt yet still sending $30 a month to a child in Africa. She doesn't spend tons of money, she lives in a house owned by her parents, but still she spends more than she has. Her emergency savings account at any time is maximum $100 in a checking account that fast disappears. Checks bounce left and right. Working for her parents business -- which has suffered a lot due to the recession -- she barely ever gets paid. But she won't quit her parent's company because she says they need her. She works side jobs here and there, usually making ends meet. But month after month she worries if she'll have enough to pay off the minimum amount on her bills. I gently urge her to at least try to get a full time job for a while so she can pay off her bills, but she doesn't want to. But without income from her parent's business, she is always struggling. But she's comfortable with her current financial situation, and doesn't seem to want to do a lot to change it.

Meanwhile, my friend from high school is in a really bad state. She's not only in debt, but she's in bad medical debt, and is a prescription drug addict on top of that. She got into a car accident a while ago so says she has chronic pain. She has no insurance and can't afford her doctor's visits. They give her prescription pills which she goes on to snort. She lives at home and it sounds like she has no support from her family. Which, sadly, makes sense because she's really stuck, and they can't do anything about it but put up with her. She can't work because she's really messed up. She needs rehab, but who can afford rehab (or be convinced to go) when no one has the money to send you there?

Another friend, my age, is a full time student and was a full time employee until she got let go during the recession. Her finance and her bought a house which she can't contribute at all to at the moment. Luckily her finance is an engineer and is able to afford it. But even they had to cut corners to afford their new home-owner lifestyle.

Then there's me. And after comparing myself to people my age I know, financially speaking anyway, I really look good. But it's not ALL about money right now. I'm saving a lot, working most of the waking hours of the day, and I'm free to move about if needed. I don't have to spend a lot per month. I moved from my $1200/month apartment to my current $600/month apartment 2 years ago. Bills are much cheaper now since I have roommates. Everything is cheaper. I'm doing fine. I just need to keep reminding myself that. I'm 25, and I'm on the right track. Maybe there are others my age who are founding companies and saving the world, but that's not the norm. I'm doing pretty good for myself. And I need that reality check every once in a while. Because it's so easy to feel like such a failure at this age.


Oct 13, 2009

Would Career Counseling Help?

I'm tempted to go to a career counselor, but they're super expensive and I'm not sure they could help me. I just feel like, even though my current job is great, it's a dead-end career. It's one of those hyper-specialized positions where, if I'm good at it, there will (probably) always be a job available, but every (related yet not exactly the same titled) job ad I look at that sounds interesting (even if not for "right now") the professional and academic prerequisites are nowhere near what I have.

So, I'm wondering how I'll ever get from point A - where I am now - to any other letter / point in the future. There isn't really room in my job to explore other options, I pretty much get scolded (or ignored) when I attempt to get involved in something not in my job description. Which is totally fair, it just leaves me confused about how one can move up the career ladder when there's no where to move to.

Granted, my ideal job (for the time being) requires technical skills that I don't have yet, that I'm taking classes to learn, but even with that I'm not close to where I'd have to be to get hired. Is it grad school that I need? It seems the whole idea of grad school is already to have the skills, and then to just refine them, to research something very specific, to get a piece of paper saying you did it. Not actually to learn the skills. You need the skills to even get into the program.

I just feel so stuck. Not in a totally negative way because I'm stuck in a good place. But I just think about the long term, and what I want to be doing, and how impossible that goal seems. I want to be an interaction designer, but even that statement alone means so many different things. Even UX designers say that their job is fading now that its becoming more accepted within computer science programs that user experience education is necessary and important. You can major in human computer interaction and learn all about research -- but I'm pretty sure I don't want to spend my entire life as a researcher. You can focus more on the computer science end and be one of those "UX Developers" - the most popular job for the field that I see posted - which basically requires you to be able to code and also create great user experiences. Then there's the UI Designer, which is more of a graphic design position, one that would require design school. That alone is a huge part of the reason why I'm so confused... do I go to an HCI program? A computer science program? A design program? And realistically, could I get into any of these?

Then there's a part of me that thinks I'd be better off going for an MBA. Ultimately I want to be an entrepreneur, maybe even a serial entrepreneur if it goes over well. But... I'm not a people person. I'm shy. I rub people the wrong way when I open my mouth. In that sense, I feel like my only option is to become a brilliant programmer. They seem to be able to get away with lacking social skills. But CEOs? Entrepreneurs? Marketers? They need to be extroverts. And I'm definitely not an extrovert. I'm a socially anxious introvert who can't deal with being alone. I like working in small teams. But I like being in charge. I also acknowledge that in order to be in charge, I need to know what I'm talking about, which is why I think... well, grad school would help give me some cred. But how much can you really learn in one or two years of school? If anything, you get a degree that says you're smart enough to get into a program and to get through it. It doesn't say a whole lot about what you know.

Anyway, I just had a minor freak out in front of my roommates... I just started crying and I couldn't stop. Typical quarter-life crisis break down. I'm very overwhelmed by all the potential options, and the fear that, well, fear of failure will keep me from any of them.


My 529 Plan for Grad School

A few months ago, I started a 529 plan for myself. Since I plan to go to grad school within the next 4 years, I figured it couldn't hurt to start saving with a tax advantaged plan. I'm going a little bit higher risk than I should given my short time frame, but I'm fairly diversified, and I figure worst case scenerio I'll just have to take out the full loan I would have had to take out if I didn't save any extra money.

So far I have only $680 in the account. I have $100 going in to it automatically each month. Come tax time, if I have a rebate this year (which I think I should since I'm estimating my networth minus $15k in assumed additional taxes. Some of that will be taxes from my freelance work, but I haven't done that much freelance this year, so I will have a larger net worth than my estimate at the end of the year, hopefully.)

Then, I just have to figure out how much money I really should put into the 529. Besides the fact that I may, for whatever reason, end up not going to graduate school, my bigger concern is that I can't use the money for anything else without a major penalty, except education for my not-yet-existent kids. If I don't have kids, well, then that money will go to my sister's not-yet-existent kids, or I'll just donate it to my cousins. I'm sure one day SOMEONE can use it. And starting to save now for my kids' accounts is not such a bad idea... that's quite a long time for the money to grow, with all the earnings tax free (as long as the tax code stays the same, another worry.)

So at the end of the year, when I get my tax refund, first I'll put $3000 towards my 2010 Roth IRA, like I did last year. Any extra money left over... I need to figure out if I should put all of it into the 529 plan, or if that's stupid. I have a few months to decide. In the mean time, I best get studying for the GREs, which I'm taking next month!


Announcing the Carnival of Female Personal Finance Bloggers!

Inspired by all you fabulous ladies out there writing about personal finance every day, I decided to start a carnival of personal finance specifically for female bloggers.

I'll be posting the first Carnival of Female Personal Finance Bloggers in November, please submit your best blog post from October for the first edition.

Also, if you're interested in hosting future editions, please let me know. Would love to get at least 5 people lined up for next 5 months (doing this monthly for now, could be bi-weekly if I get enough interest.)


Oct 11, 2009

Freelance Side Jobs: Am I in Over My Head?

My basic personal finance rule is that if I'm going to splurge on something, I need to earn at least that amount in freelance income over the year. My base salary ($60k) pays for my rent, food, bills, and savings. Anything on top of that should be earned separately.

While I put 45-50 hours into my full time job each week, there's always extra time when I'm sitting around thinking I could be earning more money.

Freelance writing work has always been a great side project for me that pays fairly well, but I need to be careful not to sign myself up for too many extra gigs. It's easy to do that -- as the potential to earn extra income and increase my pleasure spending per year is great.

I currently write for a blog and earn $25 / post; each post takes me about 30 minutes to write. I can write up to 20 posts or $500 worth per month. I've been on and off with it for the past year, but I've been trying to hit the 20 post limit each month now by writing in the early mornings before work.

Last week I replied to an ad online for a blogger and found out this blogging job was more like writing long feature articles than quick blogging. They take me a lot longer to write than the short ones for the other gig, and require more research, so I'm charging more for them. At first I thought it was just a few blog posts they wanted, or maybe a couple a week ongoing, but it turned out the CEO liked my writing and background and wanted to meet me and discuss an ongoing writing gig including some tech writing, article writing, and press releases. He knows I have a full-time job that is my priority during the day, but if I can do some extra side work on the weekends, then I'll do it, and do it well.

It's just that I don't want to spend every waking moment of my life working. It's not that bad because I enjoy researching technology news and writing about it, and I hated doing that full time, so it's fun as a hobby almost to do it on the side. Yet I want to make sure that the quality of work I do meets my personal high standards. And that means my life becomes devoted to work.

On top of that, I'm taking these classes and just extremely busy. I like being busy, and I like making money, but where do I draw the line? How much free time do I really need each week? I'm so often bored on the weekends, I'd rather be earning extra income than being bored and probably going out and spending money.

If you earn freelance income on the side, where do you draw the line? How much extra work is too much?


Traits that Top Billionaires Share

Forbes.com put up a great post on Friday titled "A Recipe for Riches." It looks at whether billionaires are born or made.

They analyzed 400 top self-made billionaires on their richest people in the world list and determined the following:

1. "A significant percentage of them had parents with a high aptitude for math. The ability to crunch numbers is crucial to becoming a billionaire, and mathematical prowess is hereditary. Some of the most common professions among the parents of Forbes 400 members (for whom we could find the information) were engineer, accountant and small-business owner."

My dad is a math man. He was an actuary. Mom, not so much. But my dad's side are all math brains.

2. "Consistent with the rest of the population, more American billionaires and near-billionaires were born in the fall than in any other season. However, relatively few of them were born in December, historically the month with the eighth-highest birth rate. Of the 380 self-made American tycoons who have appeared on the Forbes list of the World's Billionaires in the past three years, 42 were born in September--more than in any other month."

Well, I'm November. At least I got fall right. I wonder if birth month really has anything to do with ability to succeed. One could say that the fall season is when people get "back to work / back to school," but aren't yet overwhelmed by winter. Maybe babies born in Sept experience a certain kind of parenting and early months that help gear them towards mental growth and success later on? Just a guess.

3. "Of the 274 self-made tycoons on the Forbes 400, 14% either never started or never completed college. The number of precocious college dropouts is highest among those who forged careers as technology entrepreneurs: Bill Gates of Microsoft (MSFT), Steve Jobs of Apple (AAPL), Michael Dell of Dell (DELL), Larry Ellison of Oracle (ORCL) and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook."

That makes sense. Who has time to invent brilliant products when you're busy studying for 4-5 final exams?

Other commonalities of the self-made richest people in the world? If they weren't college dropouts, they had degrees - MBAs, etc - from top schools. That's not a surprise. Roughly 70% of those with M.B.A.s obtained their master's degrees from one of three Ivy League schools: Harvard, Columbia or the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Well, I guess I better get cracking at becoming a programming genius then. There's now way I'm getting into any of those schools, nor do I want to devote my life to Wall Street.

Read the full article here.


Laser Hair Removal Update

I've been writing a lot about laser hair removal lately because it's one of the largest purchases I've ever made in my life, outside of my $7000 car. Part of me still feels like I shouldn't be spending the money -- it's much smarter to invest it, deal with shaving twice a day all my life, and that's that. But, I've come to the decision that now I am going to spend some money on myself, within reason. And of everything in the world I can spend it on -- vacations, jewelry, etc, I choose to spend my money on laser hair removal.

The one place I've been considering is giving me a really amazing package rate. $4000 for six treatments of basically everything except my face and arms. Which is like 76% off their single treatment rate. The normal discount as these places is maybe 40% off or for a special 50% off. All other places I looked at, at the cheapest for the same treatments, cost $5000 - $7000.

At first, I was very skeptical about this place. Why so cheap? That's always something I'm cautious about when paying people lots of money to burn my hair follicles. So I went in for a full treatment -- bikini and buttock (yes, there's hair there. I'm a fairly attractive girl but my hormones make me look like Godzilla without an OCD maintenance program.) I got them to give me a 20% discount off the price of the two treatments -- $460 total. That will apply to the full $4000 package if I decide to go for it, which I likely will. I just want to make sure my skin doesn't melt off in the next two weeks, and that the hair sheds properly.

I was impressed with the quality of treatment at this place. I've been to a more expensive laser spa and the nurse was like a typical doctor -- in and out, no time to waste. Not only that, but she burned me under my arm (I now have purple spots there the size of the laser, I hope they'll fade.) So I'm not sold that cost has anything to do with quality when it comes to laser hair removal.

Ultimately, it's how comfortable you are with the RN, and how comfortable the RN is with the laser. So this RN was really nice about everything, which was necessary when she was lasering in such delicate places. Yes, it was painful, esp behind the upper leg and inner thigh (youch!) but it's so worth it. For me, anyway. Even for all that pain, knowing I'll need 5+ more treatments in the same area for it to really do anything significant, and the reduction in savings I'll have this year. It's so worth it. I'm excited about the $4000 package and hope in the end I don't regret it. I haven't signed on the dotted line yet, but I've pretty much already paid 1/8th of it so it's silly not to go all in if I like the place and I'm going to get it done anyway. Right?

They do have Care Credit -- which gives 18 months free financing. I don't need it, but I might be better off paying a few hundred bucks a month vs all at once. I can also put it on my credit card and get air mileage, which could be nice too. I'll probably do that since I have the cash.


Oct 10, 2009

Top 100 Female Personal Finance Bloggers 2009

Over the past few years, as a personal finance blogger, I've gotten to know a lot of the other main bloggers writing on the topic of personal finance. In fact, it was a random search leading me to a post on An English Major's Money that inspired me to start blogging about finance in the first place. There have been lists compiled of the best PF bloggers, but never a good, recent one of the list of the best female personal finance bloggers. So, I decided to change that here.

(If you're a personal finance blogger, also consider adding yourself to The Personal Finance Reader; e-mail me at hereverycentcounts@yahoo.com for details.)

***list has been edited because I accidentally included two males bloggers the first go round. So I need 2 more female personal finance bloggers to add to the list. Any suggestions? Please post as a comment and I'll update.


1. Boston Gal's Open Wallet: the ongoing chronicle of a single 30-something Bostonian
2. Mrs. Micah: Finance for a Freelance Life: a 20 something freelancer planning for grad school
3. The Digerati Life: Money and Personal Finance Blog in Silicon Valley
4. Well-Heeled With a Mission: PF Nerd, shoe aficionada, food lover...
5. HowISaveMoney.net: Tips and tricks to save money, manage credit and reduce debt
6. Krystal at Work: a journey out of debt into the sexy world of financial independence
7. Frugal for Life: Send less. Waste less. Save more.
8. Saving 4 Later: Day to day spending, saving and living.
9. Chief Family Officer: Find tips of food, finances, and fulfillment
10. Penny Foolish: the life of a girl bad with the pennies
11. My Open Wallet: An New York tells the world how much money she earns, spends and saves
12. Fabulously Broke in the City: Trying to find balance between being a Shopaholic & Saver
13. Little Miss Money Bags: a 20-something living in NYC working in publishing
14. Almost Frugal: learning about frugality
15. Beach Girl's Budget Blog: DC-based blogger paying off law school debts
16. Brown Eyed Girl and Money: a Canadian girl working hard for her money
17. Brunette on a Budget: 27 year old writer / journalist living in DC
18. SF Money Musings: 20-something girl in San Francisco on the road to happiness
19. Blogging Away Debt: female construction worker seeking to pay of debts
20. Counting My Pennies: a blog about saving for the future and spending today
21. Dog Ate My Finances: 20-something, debt-free, married and laid off
22. Feminist Finance: Sex, Gender, Cash.
23. Frugal Babe: A rich life without a lot of money
24. The Frugal Duchess: a finance journalist with fine tastes and a small budget
25. Cents to Save: Saving money is enjoyable
26. Ginger Won't Snap: 20-something gal on personal finance
27. Frugal Zeitgeist: Money, saving, personal finance, and being happy with what you have
28. Grad Money Matters: Filling up the holes left behind by the grad curriculum
29. Living Almost Large: a 30-something women searching for true financial freedom
30. Gluten Free Frugal: a family with gluten-free kids's quest to pay off debt
31. Stinkykat's PF Blog: 30-something's journey to happy spinsterdom
32. Mrs. Nespy's Frugal World: Georgia-based mother and engineer
33. Mapgirls' Fiscal Challenge: Tidbits about money and finance
34. Living Off Dividends: Make your money work hard, so you don't have to
35. Poorer than You: Money issue massage s for college students and 20-somethings
36. FruGal: A FruGal's musings on money...
37. MoneyMate Kate: tales of a self employed therapist in NYC
38. The Frugalista Files: The frugal side of fabulous (Miami Herald)
39. Sallie's Niece: paying back college debt
40. Stacking Pennies: 20-something L.A. gal navigating the perplexing world of PF
41. Miss Thrifty Blog: Saving money with frugal tips
42. Single Broke Female: incessant ramblings of an indebted single 20 something
44. Shopaholly: her shopping ban is finally over
45. QuarterLife Finances: just a girl in the world, taking charge of her life
46. Paranoid Asteroid: mid-20s female engineer, married, blogging about saving
47. The Baglady: a "secret baglady" 20-something managing money like she's about to retire
48. Money Magpie: For a richer life
49. The World of Wealth: a blog about wealth-getting it, having it, and sharing it.
50. A Gai Shan Life: Continuous improvement: in life, in finances
51. One Frugal Girl: a married girl keeping things frugal
52: GRACEful retirement: single mom, aged 60, getting a late start on retirement
53. Debt Free Kid: 30 something Canadian, single mom, seeking to get rid of debt by 2010
54. Frugal Chick: misadventures in life, one cloth napkin and penny at a time
55. You Have More Than You Think: A reality check to financial freedom
56. Musings of a Midlife Mom: trying to stay free of debt and to live simply, raising 4 kids
57. 2 Nickels Making a Dollar: making money online
58. Amelia's Health Life: Exploring intuitive eating and personal finance
59. Seattle Girl: Adventures in Life and Finance
60. Berry Makes Cents: one girl's journey to pay off student loan debt by making money online
61. Carrie... On the Cheap: A Personal Finance Lover in Kansas City
62. Reconciling My Gross Habits: Champagne Taste meets beer budget
63. Reality Cheque: reclaiming her emaciated dreams of financial freedom
64. The Budgeting Babe: Illinois-based 29-year old PR professional
65. My Crazy Debt: Blog about life and getting out of debt
66. Don't Mess with Taxes: Texas journalist helps explain how taxes effect you
67. Savvy Saver: Making smart money decisions
68. Common Sense with Money: Better Living Through Wiser Spending
69. CalGirlFinance: 20 something's journey to being free from the corporate world
70. Manisha Thakor, CFA: blog of an author, speaker, and financial literary advocate
71. The Grocery Cart Challenge: feeding a family on $60 a week
72. Living on a Dime: Making the most of what you have
73. All Doors Considered: tales of a middle-aged multimillionaire
74. Ugly Debty: one girl's journey to freedom from an evil amount of personal debt
75. Saving Veronica: A debt blog of a single 40-something
76. Debt Hater: She's gotten out of debt, now on to her dreams
77. Money Saving Mom: Helping you be a better home economist
78. No More Spending: Getting debt free
79. Notes from the Frugal Trenches: A Downshifting Journey
80. Squawkfox: Where frugal living is sexy, delicious, and fun.
81. The Hustle of Sistah Ant: Woman in debt in her late 20s living in Philadelphia
82. Bouncing Back from Bankruptcy: Going through bankruptcy and reclaiming her life
83. Fighting Foreclosure: her goal to fight foreclosure by earning $900 more per month
84. Modern Gal: Healthy living without breaking the bank
85. Gailvazoxlade.com: The value of money is that with it you can tell anyone to go to hell.
86. Moneymonk: 34 year old Capitalist saving 30% of her gross income
87. Bargain Briana: Because bargains don't find themselves
88. Fabulous Financials: 30 something single mom building a $MM net worth
89. Alpha Consumer: Kimberly Palmer writes about PF (from U.S. News & World Report)
90. The Grass is Greener: a mother or two that is in debt no more
91. Little Miss Fortune: Living Large on a Budget (@Glamour)
92. plonkee money: an english-er's thoughts on personal finance
93. All About Appearances: high class, low cost.
94. The Mother Load: The MomAdvice.com blog
95. Penny Golightly: the guide to the nicer things in life for less
96. Savings not Shoes: a blog about not spending your life savings on Manolos
97. Saving to Pay Down My Home: (formerly Saving For a Home) 20-something grad student paying for a condo
98. My Frugal Freedom: a girl, a cat, a stationary RV, and a frugal dream
99. Paying Off My Future: Working a little harder now to play a little harder later
100. Girls Just Wanna Have Funds: Breaking financial ceilings one stiletto at at time

Runners Up...
(Because not everyone can make the top 100, but there are a lot of great female personal finance writers out there. These are definitely worth a read too! Next year I'm going to try to have a reader vote for the best female personal finance blogs because they're all so good and it's hard to rank 'em on my own.)

** Her Every Cent Counts (yes, I'm female, and I'm all about shameless self promotion)
** Mrs. Accountability @ Out of Debt Again
** Me in Millions
** Always the Planner
** Daria @ Daily Money Dish
** Jessica @ PennyWise Family
** Lucia @ Money Strands

Any others I'm missing? Please comment on this post if you are a female personal finance blogger or know of any that should be on the list. There are some older lists floating around on the Interwebs, but many are out of date and include bloggers that haven't updated since 2007! All of the authors on this list have updated after July 2009, with most updating even more recently than that.


Why "Her Every Cent Counts?"

Over the years, a few people have asked me why I named my blog "Her Every Cent Counts." Many of them commented on how I, unlike many personal finance bloggers, have money to spare, and even admit to how I like to spend it - so then why does my every cent count?

When I originally started this blog, I was practically unemployed, fresh out of college, and terrified of money. I was scared to save it and I was scared to spend it. One of the most basic concepts I wanted to constantly remind myself is that every cent counts. That is, every dollar I spend today is a dollar I won't have tomorrow.

Generally speaking, I still believe that, and still need to be reminded of it on a constant basis. I'm not rich now by any means. I make a solid middle class salary for someone my age and can afford a few splurges once or twice a year. I'm not literally counting my pennies, struggling to survive. Sorry if you thought that is what this blog is about based on the name.

This blog, instead, is a place to talk about developing a healthy relationship with spending. I grew up in a family where money was always an issue, my mom spent too much, my dad screamed at her because of it. I want to take control of my finances now, earn my own money. I never want to rely on someone else to pay for my life or lifestyle. It's all up to me, and this blog exists to document my journey from college grad circa 2005 to wherever life leads me. All anonymously, of course. Because who can talk personal finance amongst friends?


Making Passion Pay

Life is short, and the older we get the faster it flies by. We spend so many of our waking hours on the job that it's awful to think that those hours are wasted doing something that doesn't light our passions.

I'm still looking for the perfect career, despite having a job I truly enjoy. The only part of my job that doesn't quite fit my ultimate goals is lack of control. I don't necessarily need to be in charge, but I do feel like without having creative control over projects I'm left only half satisfied with my work.

My question, then, is how to obtain creative control of a project. I don't see it happening in my current role or company, though I'm learning a lot which will hopefully help me move on to such a position at some point. I'm not ready to jump ship at all, I think I'm in a good spot. But lingering in the back of my mind, I'm always asking "what's next?"

Getting older, I am now looking at wanting to have children in the next 10 years, which completely messes with my career path. I know I need to have everything in order careerwise before I have kids. That means I need to be at the point in my career where I know what job I want to do and I can successfully freelance / run my own business consulting if I so chose so I can spend time with my hypothetical children.

Or, I don't have kids, and I have a lot longer to figure things out, and a lot less money I need to make. But I think I want kids... otherwise I'll just get too depressed. Life is meaningless anyway, but at least children make it a little bit more meaningful.

Then again, I could find a truly rewarding job where my creative ideas are turned into products that help people. That would be ideal. I'm enjoying some courses I'm taking at a local community college in areas I never had the courage to study in college, such as computer programming. It's still very hard, but it makes me wonder if I missed out on the opportunity to be in creative charge of my work without having to be an extrovert (ie - be a programmer.) I don't think that will ever happen, but perhaps the computer science area is one that has room for me, somewhere. I just need to figure out where, and how on earth to get there.

I do know that I feel happiest when I'm collaborating and brainstorming new ideas and layouts for user interaction. Now, that's my passion for sure. But how do I go from passion to career? And does career always kill passion? Or can it kindle it further?


Oct 8, 2009

Free, Social Exercise

I've never enjoyed running. To be honest, I never liked anything to do with jogging or walking long distances. But lately I've been focusing on getting in shape. I already belong to a gym, but running on the treadmill is so... yawn inducing. I desperately need either socializing or a beat to be motivated to burn some calories.

So last weekend my boyfriend and I went to the Nike RunClub at the nearby mall. It's actually a really awesome program. It's totally free which, granted, makes sense since you just run outside which costs them nothing, but you get more than just the outdoors for your 8:30am Sunday morning run. They have a few people there to lead the groups - I went with the slower group. We ran/jogged 4 miles and probably walked another (she didn't count our walking part of our route which we did on and off in between jogging.) Just having someone there to talk to the entire time made running SO much better. And when we got back to the Nike store, they had fruit and water for us to. All free. Amazing.

Apparently lots of running stores have similar run clubs, at least around here. Some of them are more for advanced runners, but it depends on who shows up for the meeting. In a 30 minute drive from my house there's at least 3 of these clubs throughout the week. If I ever get more in shape, maybe I'll go running with the other groups. For now I'll stick to the Nike RunClub. They even log your miles and give you a free t-shirt when you reach 100 miles total.


Laser Hair Removal Consults #4 and #5

I've been on 5 laser hair removal consultations. That was my goal before purchasing any major packages beyond what I bought already (8 face treatments and 5 armpit w/ GentleLASE). So I went up to San Francisco last night to two laser hair spas (which both happened to be on the same block - even though I didn't realize that when I booked the appointments) just to get a taste of what laser hair removal spas are like in the city versus the Peninsula.

Both places were very different. Spa #1 was great - clean, and very nice. They use the Candela GentleMAX which apparently has a GentleLASE in it, but it's still different than the GentleLASE that was used on my face and armpits. I'm not sure how. The RN who met with me was obviously very intelligent and answered every question I had without any sales pressure. I really liked her and this spa. And I like that they use the Alexandrite laser which I really think is better for my skin type (III/IV) versus the diode. My lower back, which was treated with a LightSheer last weekend, doesn't seem to be shedding at all, the hairs are growing back but still firmly stuck in. They just have a weird texture. I didn't get prices for this spa yet, but I think they're fairly comparable with basically all the other places I'm looking at / maybe a little more because they use Candela's technology. I'll find out full prices on this place today.

Then I went to another laser hair medspa down the street. There was definitely a major different in quality and type of place, which I saw right away. This place looked, well, cheaper. It looked kind of like a salon in the front, very much set up like a "walk in and get yourself lasered" type place with some Feng Shui thrown in. So my initial impressions of this place weren't that great. Then I met with the woman who would be doing my treatment. They use the Cynosure Elite, which apparently is a combo machine with an Alexandrite laser and a YAG laser for darker skinned clients. The room for the treatment wasn't clean - I went to put my purse on a stool and there was hair all over it. This place reminded me more of the salons where I would get my eyebrows waxed before I discovered threading and eyebrow only shops.

The woman was really nice, but didn't seem that knowledgeable. One thing I've been most surprised about is how many of these nurses don't know about other technology on the market. The GentleLASE, Lightsheer and Apogee Elite seem to be the three main lasers that clinics are using these days, it shouldn't be too hard to be aware of all three and why the laser you use is better. Not even knowing the other lasers exist (or calling them IPLs, which they're not) makes you just seem kind of dumb to anyone who spent 5 minutes researching laser hair removal on Google.

All that said, this woman proceeded to do a "test patch" on my stomach with the Cynosure Elite, which is an Alexandrite laser (the kind I think I should use on my skin type, though it can burn badly if used wrong). She was just going to do a small spot but she ended up basically going almost all the way around my belly button and down a little bit towards my pubic bone on one side. It hurt like a bitch with no numbing cream, but I could see it working. The hairs popped out of the skin.

Then, the office manager quoted me an amazing rate for basically my entire body (other than my face) - which I still don't believe is a legit rate, but I have it written down so hopefully they will hold true to this rate if I decide to book.

Now, you're probably thinking, don't go for the cheaper place because you'll regret it later. That's a possibility. But even with the more expensive place where I'm getting my armpits done I've had hyperpigmentation and I haven't been happy with the service. So price isn't everything. This place is also fairly new, which is good and bad. Bad because they can go out of business. Good because they price lower in order to get new business.

All in all, now I'm extremely confused about where to get laser hair removal. I think, if the $4000 for 6 treatments of everything below the neck (including back of neck, but not arms) holds true, I almost can't say no to that. That's over $1000 less than I was going to be spending for a diode laser, and more than $2000 less than any Alexandrite laser I've found. It really does seem "too good to be true" so I'm hesitant to just book it. But I also just want to get started with these treatments. My stomach seems to be reacting ok, it's still a little sore, but eh. They also include free numbing cream with the treatments... I just don't understand how this place can be so much cheaper than everywhere else. If they want to build up a clientele, I can take advantage of that, but I can also get screwed over if they fail to do so and go out of business.


My Expensive Right Foot

Let me start out by saying I have no idea how much my podiatrist visit yesterday is going to cost me. Granted, I try to not really include my HSA dollars in my networth, but I do, because it's my replacement 401k. But I think I just spent my entire deductible ($1500) in one day, thanks to some foot problems I've been having.

Doctor's aren't educated in how much things cost, and I think they need to be. Especially with the ways HSA's work. There should be a clear menu of pricing for various treatments. It's really unfair to expect the consumer to pay for everything without clearly letting them know how much it's all going to cost, or to order expensive xrays that may not be necessary without even mentioning that they will cost $500 or more.

Even now, I don't know how much yesterday's visit cost. I'm guessing I met my deductible with that one visit. I received a consultation, cortisone shot for a bone spur / nerve on my foot that was causing the problems, and a full set of xrays for my lower back to see if my sciatic pain and leg numbing problems are caused by any issues with my spine. On top of that, I got the ultrasound to check out my polycystic ovaries on Wednesday at my otherwise covered yearly checkup at the Gyn. In other words, after an entire year of not spending a penny on my healthcare, and saving in my HSA for retirement, I've likely spent it all and then some.


Oct 7, 2009

With an HSA Account, When Do You See the Doctor?

One of the selling points of HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) to the American Public is that you get to take control of your healthcare. That is, if you need a doctor, you pay for the doctor, but only until you hit your high deductible. The insurance plan, then, is more affordable -- because if you don't need a doctor, you're not going to go see one.

But then, the issue arises that people don't go in to get screened for problems that might be small now, but could be worse later. Additionally, besides worrying about your health, you also have to deal with countless confused billing departments who don't understand why you need to know how everything is coded (preventative care (yearly checkup, etc) is covered 100%, at least on my plan, whereas diagnostic and everything else goes to the deductible.)

I went for an annual physical and received a lab form for blood work. Before getting this lab work done I called my insurance company just to check on costs. I found out that while my annual physical was "free," the lab work - which should be free if part of the annual physical - would not be covered because a few tests that the doctor asked for were diagnostic. Even though the form had both the preventative and diagnostic codes on it, if the diagnostic code was present, I was informed that most likely the insurance would bill me for the entire lab tests (and lab tests aren't cheap.) Of course, had I not called, I would have just gone to get my tests and received a surprise bill.

Even with this information, it's not clear what's covered and what isn't. Ultimately, I still do better with an HSA than PPO-style plan because my company puts in $100 / month and I have a $1500 deductible. If I were to go with the other plan it would be $30 per month, plus I wouldn't get the $100. So $130/month or $1560 / year would be the total loss of money just for going with the co-pay plan instead of the HSA. Now, with the HSA deductible, if I were to hit it, everything after $1500 would be covered (I think.) I haven't spent any of it yet, and with the year coming to a close I'm tempted not to.

I went to a Ob-Gyn yesterday and showed her the paperwork for my blood test ordered by my regular doctor. She looked it over and said that she was going to get me most of the tests anyway. It turns out the two "diagnostic" tests were things I didn't really need anyway -- they were really basic tests to see if I have PCOS -- which we already know. So she said those tests were pointless. She gave me a new lab form with just the preventative code on it. At the appointment in addition to my regular check up (covered) she also did an ultrasound to check on the cysts in my ovaries. While I didn't feel comfortable asking her how much it would cost to view my ovaries via xray while she was about to stick some high-tech device into my vagina, that's what I was thinking. And after the appointment was over and I was talking to my obgyn in her office, I asked about the coding of the ultrasound and she said it wasn't preventative since we know I have PCOS. (Well, I think it would have been diagnostic anyway, even if we didn't know.) The cost? I'm still not sure. It could be $100, it could be $300. Which is really ok, that $900 extra I've made this year that's in my HSA account will go towards it.

Without a 401k at my job, I like to think of my HSA account as my supplemental retirement account to my Roth IRA (which I max out every year.) So it's kind of a pain to dip into it.

It looks like I'll be dipping into it even more now. I developed a really bad pain on the top of my right foot, and there is definitely something hard like a bone where all the soreness is. Made an appointment with a podiatrist for this afternoon, which, for just a consultation, will be around $150. And finding out that much information in advance was a pain in and of itself. The doctor's office told me to call billing. Billing said they had to call the doctor's office, then call me back. I got my answer, but I'm not even sure it's accurate. And then, a consultation usually leads to other costs - diagnostic testing, therapy, drugs, surgery. If they're just going to look at you and say "put some ice on it and don't run for a week" then why bother going in the first place?

I think next year I'm going to switch to the basic PPO plan. Even if it costs more. This way I'll actually go to the doctor when I need to, and not have to be paranoid about costs.

At least now I have insurance. As many of you know for a long time I struggled with getting insurance -- I was denied by 3 different insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions of irregular periods and depression. About a year ago I was hired full time to a job with insurance. I now know that working freelance / being self employed is NOT an option for me. So much for living in a free country.


Oct 4, 2009

Be My Friend on Facebook! :)

A girl can never have too many friends. Let's be friends on Facebook. Add me at http://www.facebook.com/hereverycentcounts.

I post some stuff over on Facebook that I don't write here, so make sure to add me for the latest personal finance news and commentary from my perspective.

Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter if you tweet -- @everycentcounts

Shoot me a @everycounts note and I'll follow you back!


Everyone is Getting Married!

Is it just me, or is everyone getting married? I guess now is the age for white poofy dresses and walking down the aisle and saying I do. In a few weeks I'm flying out to my friend's wedding back east. On Facebook I see messages of old classmates saying that they're off to their honeymoons.

Me? Well, I've been dating the same guy for 3.5 years. But we're not engaged. We've joked about getting married, I like to send him pictures of engagement rings I like, often with $1M+ diamonds in them, just for kicks. But we're not seriously considering it any time soon.

I don't feel ready to be a wife. But I wonder at what point in life I will feel ready, if ever. I also would love to be able to afford a nice wedding, and I have to figure out a way to be rich before that.

When did you get married or do you plan to get married? How did you know it was the right time for you? How old were you?


10 Ways to Save Money on Laser Hair Removal

The last post I wrote was supposed to be about 10 ways to save money on laser hair removal, but turned into more of a ramble about my last year shopping around for the best prices. Thought it'd be best for my readers if I summarized exactly how to save money on laser hair removal treatments...

Free Consults are Your Friend
Go to at least 3 places for a free consultation. If you can, go to 5+ places for a free consult.

2. Get it in Writing
Get everything in writing, especially prices and package deals. Find out how long they're good for.

3. Paying Up Front? Ask About Discounts
Ask about financing plans. Places that offer financing plans pay a ridiculous fee to the medical credit companies. See if you can get that fee discounted off your price if you pay up front (one clinic offered to take another 10% off each package if I paid cash up front.)

4. Play Hard to Get

Let the clinic know you're shopping around. Make them have to sell you on why you should pick them, instead of letting them take you for all you're worth.

5. Negotiate Your Package
Find out if you can purchase a package of 6-7 treatments, instead of the normal 5. Even though this will cost more up front, this will save you money in the long run. You will need more than 5 treatments unless you don't have a lot of hair, in which case, why are you bothering with laser hair removal to begin with?

6. Research Your Laser
Make sure you go somewhere that has a laser that's right for your skin type. The Alexandrite, Diode and YAG lasers are all good for different skin & hair color combinations. Use the wrong one, and at worst you can hurt your skin, at best you're not getting the most effective treatment, which means you'll be disappointed with the results and have to pay for even more treatments for it work to your expectations.

7. Wait for Specials
After you get full pricing information in writing, wait for package deals. Most spas tend to offer good deals in the early summer, as this is when their clinics slow down. Sign up for mailing lists so you know when the deal is available. There are sometimes good deals at other times throughout the year, depending on how the economy is doing. I've seen some great deals lately, in the fall.

8. Purchase Multiple Packages for Best Savings

Buy multiple packages at once. You have a lot more wiggle room in terms of negotiating price this way. Only do this if you feel like you can pay up front and know you like the place and who will be doing the treatment on you. I recommend purchasing a single package or just one treatment to get a real idea of what the treatments are like before diving into packages costing thousands of dollars.

9. Follow Treatment Timing

Make sure to go back for your follow-up treatments in the right intervals. Waiting too long or not long enough will make your treatment less effective. Ask your practitioner how long you should wait for each body part.

10. Get a Free Zap or Two

You can't get your legs free if you buy arms, but you might be able to negotiate your feet and toes and bikini line in a "full legs" package. My underarm hair removal package now, unofficially, includes the small bit of hair between my breasts in the center of my chest. It's only about 10 hairs, but it's the worst as it shows up in all my outfits. I mentioned this to the RN doing my armpits while she was treating me and she said "I'll just zap them for you." Even if the clinic does not condone freebies, you might be able to get a little more for your money by asking. Do this before paying for your package and then it's official, and make sure to get it in writing. Note - this won't work for places that charge by the laser pulse or for time spent on treating.


How to Save Money Shopping for Laser Hair Removal

I'm not one to splurge on treatments at any place referring to itself as a "spa," so the fact that the past week or so included visits to about 5 different of these establishments might seem perplexing to anyone who knows me. But for the first time in my life, I can afford to purchase laser hair removal.

It's not cheap. It's not even close to cheap. It sets me further away from the seemingly-impossible dream of one day owning a house. To get everything done that I want to get treated, it will likely add up to about $7000. And that's probably only considered half done. I won't be completely hair free. But even a 50% reduction is worth it. Or at least I feel like it is.

But spending $7000 is better than spending $10k for the same treatment, and the only way to figure out how to get the best price is to shop around and really haggle. I hate haggling, especially with anyone who, if hired for the job, will soon be pointing a laser at my vagina. I'm hoping that these businesses are used to a hard sell, and they'll treat me the same as someone paying more if I happen to "win" a more "affordable" package.

Still, it makes me nervous. I've been to consultations at 4 different medspas and I have one more set up this week. Besides the price difference, there's also a ton of other variables -- which laser do they use? Alexandrite? Diode? Yag? Is it Candela GentleLASE, Lumenis LightSheer, Cynosure Elite or Apogee? And then, who does the procedure? Do they know what they are doing? What if they leave half way through the treatment package (it takes about 1 year since you go back every 6-8 weeks for a treatment)? What if the medspa goes out of business? Do they offer financing? Does financing make sense? How do I know the practitioner isn't jipping me -- using too low of a setting so I will need to come back for many more treatments to finish up? What if they burn me and I still have $2000 of treatments left to follow up with? Ugh, too many variables, and that's why this makes me so very nervous.

Last year, after going to two consultations I jumped on a package deal at one spa. I spent $420 for 5 underarm treatments (which is still, I feel, a good price for the area) and $1680 for 8 treatments for full face without my forehead (which is fine, I don't have hair on my forehead at least, thank goodness.) The place I go to for these treatments uses the Candela GentleLASE, which I read is best for my type of skin (III - IV with dark hair) as the Alexandrite supposedly gets more of the finer hairs than the LightSheer, which I also considered. Oh, and I've also spent about $40 on numbing cream so far, can't forget to add that into the total. So I've spent $2120 so far on my attempts to be hair free.

They say that after 6-10 treatments you should see about 80% reduction of hair growth, or more, or less, depending on how messed up you are hormonally. Since I'm pretty messed up, I'm concerned this won't work at all in the long term.

So far I've had 3 treatments done on my underarms -- and so far they are much easier to shave and I have to shave much less frequently. It's really great because my underarm flesh is so pasty and my hair is so, so dark that it always looks like I haven't shaved my pits even if I just cut them so close they're bleeding. Underarms are definitely worth it. I've only had one treatment on my face so far and besides being quite painful in some sensitive areas (by my ear, upper sideburns, mustache right inside my nostrils (you don't want to know what that smells like)). However, the results on my face thus far make it all worth it. I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) so I have, well, somewhat of a beard. It isn't exactly a beard, it's more or less random spots where I have a patch of thick hair that grows in. Being OCD doesn't help because I'm constantly tweezing out the hairs, leaving my skin a wreck. When I first was interested in doing laser hair removal, I wanted to do just my face. But I was worried about how my skin would react so I figured armpits would be a good place to test first, and it wouldn't hurt to have less hair under there anyway.

Now, I'm ready to get zapped even more. But not without shopping around first. It's really a pain in the ass to drive around the entire area to go to consult after consult, trying to get prices and figure out which clinic makes the most sense. There's one spa, the one I went to my first consult at, where I like the RN and she really wants me to go there, I can tell. She's willing to negotiate on price -- likely she'll match the price I find elsewhere if I can find somewhere that uses the same laser (LightSheer) with a lower price. Well, I did... I found another spa in the area that currently is running a 50% all packages deal if you buy 2 or more packages. The numbers add up nicely even though they still ain't cheap.

I could just go to this place with the discount, but I kind of feel like I should at least let this first woman have a shot at giving me a good price. It also turns out that her spa is a block from my office so it's much more convenient for going back for multiple treatments. But I don't mind driving if it means saving hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Ultimately, though, it's important to pick the right laser for me. I don't want to spend $5000 instead of $7000, where the laser doesn't get the fine hairs that the other one would have zapped for good.

There's another clinic up in the city that has a decent price for certain body parts, I'm trying to figure out how I can mix and match different treatment sites and body areas so I get the best deal without driving myself too nuts (where was my appointment today? - I'd be asking myself as I drove 30 minutes in the wrong direction). But, in the end, it all comes down to playing hardball, and not being willing to settle. Laser Hair Removal "spas" or "medspas" or whatever you want to call the practices are really in it to make the most money off you that they can. They already spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on their laser, and they need to use it as much as possible before the technology is obsolete. They sell a single treatment, they're probably not going to see the person again. But they sell a package, that's a good $1000 to pay off the machine and then profit on it. The more they can make off of you the better, but if they can get $5000 instead of $7000 they want vs. having to start from scratch courting another customer, some places may budge. If they're too eager to budge, then you have to start wondering about quality. As long as you get a recommendation for the place (from someone you know or an online site like Yelp), you should be ok.

I still can't believe I'm about to spend $5000 more on laser hair removal, but I also am fantasizing about the day I can wear a bathing suit and not worry about my full-body five o'clock shadow!