Feb 29, 2008

What Does a Multi Millionaire Look Like?

I pose the question as repeats of Patti Stanger's "Millionaire Matchmaker" plays in the background. Immediately I picture someone dressed extravagantly, lounging in their decadent home, trying to figure out what to do with their time.

But, hello reality check. I seem to work with a few multi millionaires. I should have kind of figured that out (duh me) from the beginning, but I guess I'm a bit slow. Figuring this out doesn't change my opinion of them at all (as I mentioned a bunch of times before, I really love the people I work with. The more I get to know them, the more I like the bunch!)

It's just kind of crazy to me. Here I am at 24, feeling guilty for making $57k a year, give or take, and I'm working with people who, by the time they were in their mid-20s, already had, oh, a few hundred million dollars in the bank. At the least, it makes me stop feeling so damn guilty about wanting to make more money.

The cool thing about working for people who were so successful in the past is that you know they're working for passion. My company is run by a lot of really successful people and I look up to all of them. It's kind of crazy that I was just a wee little high schooler back when they were all making an internet product that I used frequently. And now, here I am, sitting in the same office as these brilliant folks, giving them my opinion on things.

I'm not quite sure what they all think of me. I really want to do a good job at this company, and to prove myself. I don't think I'll personally become a millionaire at this job, heck, I gave up any stock options on my latest contract in order to raise my monthly income by another few hundred dollars. I'm not complaining, really, it's just that it's tough for a... copywriter and community manager... to be valued in the same way, say, an IT person would. Which makes total sense -- IT skills, esp top-notch IT skills, are worth a fortune. Copywriters are a dime a dozen. I think I'm a pretty good copywriter. I think I've found the right type of job for me.

My favorite part of my job is that I actually get to collaborate with people. Being a journalist was so damn lonely. I had to talk to people I didn't know, which made me super anxious, and then the people I did know had no time to talk or work together to create something new. Now? If we're all hitting a brick wall in the office in terms of new ideas, we'll go into a conference room, down some candy and throw out ideas until we come up with something good.

That's what I love. Being part of that collaborative process. There's nothing better.

Anyway, I just realized that not only do I work with a bunch of rich people, I work with a bunch of multi-millionaires. I mean, I don't know how much they all are worth, and that's really none of my business, but the point I'm getting at is that you'd never know just by meeting these folks. They're so laid back, t-shirt and jeans types. I hope that if I ever do become successful, on whatever level, I'll be able to remain as humble and grounded as they are.


The first Investing cut is the deepest

I'm an impulsive person, for better or worse. Sometimes I think about something for a long time trying to come with a rational conclusion, and then I make an un-wise spur-of-the-moment decision anyway. I need to stop doing that.

Well, about two months ago now I decided I wanted to start investing on Sharebuilder. It was a way for me to get to know more about the stock market, the overall economy and perhaps make some money.

My first purchase was four shares of COMV at $26 a share. This was a company I had been wanting to invest in ever since I covered it as a business journalist covering cleantech. I noted in a previous entry that I knew my experience covering them as a private company that was doing fairly well (yet not turning a profit) would not really translate to how they would perform as a public company. Regardless, I wanted in. I finally could, without any conflict-of-interest, try to nab a piece of a company that may eventually skyrocket to success.

A cleantech energy management company, they basically get contracts with utility companies to start demand response programs in place. These programs help the grid remain stable during times of high demand (like in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning on full blast). Instead of overloading the grid, the software and hardware installed by the company would reduce the amount of energy used in a building, therefore limiting the amount of demand on the grid. If this is done in a bunch of buildings, it can extremely reduce the likelihood of a blackout.

Anyway, I liked the idea, but didn't do enough research about the financial matters of the company.

The thing is, they could still do good in the long run. They just scored a multi-million dollar contract with a utility, and maybe they can make a profit this year and the stock price will go up.

I feel bad for the folks who bought the stock at $40 and who were holding. I got in on the downward trend.

I bought four shares of COMV for $26 each.

The stock is now worth $14.

The other day it was back up to $19.50 and I figured if it got to $22 I might just sell it and put the money into one of my ETFs that are performing much, much better.

The next day it had dropped $3.20 a share. I'm not sure why it did this, after all the company seemed to put out good news the day before. Or maybe it was bad news in disguise and I just missed what the other investors saw. Or maybe the stock market just had a bad day.

Regardless, my little experiment is paying off in knowledge and not-so-much in profits. I invested in three individual stocks and three ETFs. All my ETFs are up, all my individual stocks are down. One individual stock (the one I'm talking about in this entry) is very, very down.

Lesson learned. I will not be investing in individual stocks anymore. I may or may not keep my four shares of COMV out of curiosity. And, right now I have little to gain by selling. My shares are worth a measly $50 and it will cost me $10 to sell them. I'd rather watch the money deplete itself entirely than sell at this point. I'm just glad I was lucky enough to splurge on the stock when it was at $26 and not $40!

With Sharebuilder I get six "free" investments a month (for a $12 monthly fee). I'm investing about $300 a month if my funds allow. So in the future, I'm going to move more into ETFs and on occasion put some money into the two individual stocks I own that will at the very least pay some sort of dividends (McDonalds and Whole Foods). I knew COMV was a risk from the get-go and I was right. Good to know my instincts are accurate sometimes, even when I fail to listen to them.


Feb 26, 2008

Should I Splurge on an Air Conditioner?

The past two summers in my Silicon Valley studio sans air conditioning have been painful. I can't sleep when it's hot in my room, and boy did it get hot in my room. But, being frugal as I am, I sucked it up and dealt with the heat, only to be consoled by two fans that just blew more hot air in my face.

Every summer I put off buying an air conditioner until it's too late -- all the stores have sold out of the ones that I'd want.

Reasons I Should Buy An Air Conditioner

- It gets so hot in my apartment that I have trouble sleeping in the spring/summertime.
- In my current apartment, my electricity bill is included in my rent, and I don't think there is any rule against using an air conditioner (though they can bill you for "excess electricity usage" whatever that means).
- I work from home 2-3 days a week, and it's difficult to focus when it's so hot.
- Every summer by the time August rolls around I am desperate for an air
conditioner, but all the good ones are sold out.

Reasons I Shouldn't Buy An Air Conditioner

- Air conditioners are expensive
- In my current apartment I'd have to get a portable air conditioner since I don't have the right kind of windows for a window air conditioner, and those are even more expensive
- Next year I might move out of this apartment, and likely the next place I get will not be "utilities included" so my electricity bill will go up greatly in the summer, if I move.
- So many people live without air conditioners, even in hotter climates. Do I really need an air conditioner?
- I have no idea what air conditioner I should get, as there are many options and they all seem to be imperfect. The window air conditioners would be nice as they're cheaper, but my windows won't hold them. The portable air conditioners are gigantic and ugly, AND expensive. Like $500 for the cheaper ones.

So... tell me my readers, should I buy an air conditioner for this summer?


March Budget

I start making a good chunk of more money next month at my next payday, but for now I'm going to try to be careful to stay within my paychecks that I cashed today.

$3,700 Total to Spend/Save for March

Rent / Utilities
$71.33: Cable/ Internet
$57.00: Verizon Phone
$128: Health Insurance
$138: Car Insurance (paid in advance)
$200: Gas
$27: Gym


$1000 ING Direct for Taxes Account
$300 Roth IRA
$250 Sharebuilder



$250 Gift for Boyfriend's Birthday
$300 Food
$67 Entertainment / Other


March is official "be fucking frugal" month. Next month my income goes up $1500, so there will be a lot more flexibility. Unfortunately my boyfriend's birthday falls BEFORE that. Well, I'll take him out to a nice dinner and get him a gift that won't be as extravagant as last year's Wii. Oh well. I could invest less in my Sharebuilder account this month if I want to spend more on the birthday, so that's always an option.

I also hypothetically have another $825 owed to me for one of my freelance jobs and another $300+ owed to me for that cell phone bill that my old company was supposed to pay. So if I actually get paid that money, then I'll be doing fine. But I don't know when those checks will come, if ever. If they do come, I'm going to put more towards my Roth, and spend a little more on the bf's birthday.

The good news is that I won't have much time for spending money in March. My show opens March 28, which means the major cost of the month will be GAS to get to and from rehearsal at the theater about 30 minutes away. That's why I put $200 in gas for the month. BUT I'm getting paid $500 to direct this production, after the fact, so my balance is going to look a lot healthier in April. It's March that will be tight, since I don't know when any of these other paychecks will be coming in.

Sadly, March is also the month when I wanted to seek out a tax consultant to discuss how to arrange my accounting as a freelancer. But I guess I'll have to take a stab at figuring out my estimated quarterly tax for Q1 08 by myself. Meanwhile, I also have to file my taxes, but I'll wait to April to do that, so I have some money to at least go through TurboTax or something.
Although my income last year was pretty low, prob about $34k or less, so maybe I can get away with filing for free. Hmm. That's for another entry, eh?


My Favorite Time of the Month

Both of my paychecks arrived in the mail, so I finally got around to driving over to the bank and handing them to a teller. While I'm too modern for most old-fashioned interactions, financial or otherwise, I have to say I enjoy going to a bank and depositing my checks.

I found with direct deposit, I stopped paying attention to when money was going in... and when money was coming out. For some reason, actually filling out a deposit slip and asking the teller to put it into my checking account feels, well, it feels like my monthly celebration (albeit in my head) for all my hard work. It makes me feel like an adult, perhaps.

In any case, these days I don't have a direct deposit option. At least now the reason for this makes sense. At my first salaried job the company didn't do direct deposit because the whole company had money problems and the big boss was afraid of paying everyone's paycheck at one time. Yea, I'm kind of glad I left that company.

Nowadays, though, as a freelancer, it's even more unlikely for a company to offer direct deposit. And that's fine. Even though checks are easier to lose or to forget to deposit, they're still getting something on paper for all your work. That paper isn't worth much until it's turned into a bank, so many would say my desire to be paid by check is absolutely ridiculous. Still, it's kind of nice, to go to a bank, when they're not busy, and wait for the transmission of money to take place.

Slowly down that process maybe helps me slow down on my spending too. Just a bit.


Feb 25, 2008

Woman in Charge: family finance for one day down the road

My mom never calls me to see how I'm doing. The only time I'll hear from her is to tell me that some show is on PBS that I should watch or that there's something else of interest to her that isn't really of interest to me at all, yet she thinks I should know about it anyway.

The last one of these conversations had to do with Suze Orman's book "Women and Money " that Oprah gave away for free (via PDF download) a few weeks ago. My mom e-mailed me about the book download and then followed up immediately when I called her later on that day "did you download the book yet?"

Ok, so Suze Orman's books and blab have provided me with some useful finance advice in the past. But at this point I know all the basics about finance and that I should save money and invest it as opposed to spend all I make.

My mom is so clueless when it comes to money. Part of it is a generational thing and part of it is a chosen "ignorance is bliss" ideology. She's always spent as if the bank account had no end. Now that I know how finances work, I don't really understand just how she did it. Even though my father made a good salary, it was only in the low six figures... which is a lot, but not nearly enough to spend the way she did, or so it seems. My mom would order things from QVC without worrying about the cost. Jewelry, mostly, although sometimes she'd buy appliances and things. She wouldn't go to the mall and spend like that, but because it was on TV she could. Well, that was her excuse.

Granted, she did work hard as a stay-at-home housewife for many years, and she deserved some of the finer things in life. She put up with my father who, despite being a good breadwinner, wasn't the best husband.

Now, though, my mom is in her late 40s and my dad is out of money for a few years. He retired early and his pension plan doesn't kick in quite yet. My mom doesn't get what having "no money" means. Well, that's mostly because my dad has kept her in the dark about our financial situation over the years. She doesn't know how much money he has in savings, or what that means for their retirement.

Knowing my dad, he has a good amount of money available for retirement. After all, he made a career out of designing pension plans for other workers. I'm sure his pension is solid, when he will get it. Still, it's completely astonishing to me that my mom has no idea how much money they'll have in retirement, or how much money they have now, other than "no money," which could mean just about anything coming from my father.

My situation is so much different. Sure, right now I'm at the very start of my financial journey and I'm just learning how to save and invest. Without being able to control the markets, even if I make all the "right" choices I might still end up back where I started or worse. But at least I feel that now I'm in control of my finances. I know that if I can save a certain amount per year and invest it, if the market goes along as expected over the long haul, I'll be able to save a certain amount of money for my retirement.

This makes me feel powerful. It also makes me focus just a little too much on money. Making money has become a bit of an obsession. As a freelancer, it's easy to sign up for one too many projects. Who needs sleep, right?

But the way I look at it, the more I can make today, the more I have to spend later on. That's true, regardless of what I have to do to get there.

Now, my boyfriend, he finally got himself a job and he's making money. He spends less than me because he doesn't have to pay rent (he lives at home) and he doesn't really buy many clothes. When he does, he doesn't splurge on designer anything. He still dresses nicely, but he has a very limited wardrobe. Two pairs of jeans, and a bunch of button down dress shirts. That's pretty much all he wears. Oh, and two sweatshirts from his college and some really old shirts and shorts that he'll wear to the gym and such.

His spending right now pretty much revolves around me. If we go out to dinner, he often pays. I used to feel bad about this, but now that all this saving money thing is a game, and as I'm paying so much in rent and clothes and products to look pretty (for him, mostly) I feel less bad about having him pay for food more often than not. Even though I'm "making" more money at my job.

My boyfriend is not at all interested in investing or finance. The other day I excitedly told him all about mutual funds and index funds and such, and he was bored to death. His mother has saved up enough money to send him to grad school one day which is, as far as I know, sitting in a fairly low-interest savings account right now. He makes money and although he spends a lot on us eating out and gadgets for himself, I'm sure he's still making more than he's spending right now. But he puts it all into his savings account.

I tried to get him excited about opening a ROTH IRA and told him about how hard it is to afford retirement these days, but he wasn't interested.

Now, if this is the guy I'm going to marry, which right now I think might be the case, I feel like I have a right to not only inform him of these options, but push him down the path of opening an IRA and starting to save for retirement.

I guess, in the long run, if only one person in my couple hood is going to understand finances and save for retirement, I want it to be me. I don't want to be like my mother, clueless and hopeless as it is. If I'm going to spend a lot of money, at least I want to have a solid grasp on what that means for my monthly contribution to my ROTH.

I keep telling my mom she should get a job. If she wants to keep living her lifestyle, it isn't so hard, even if dad says they're out of money. Get a part-time job and viola, some extra income which she can spend as she pleases. But she refuses, saying she's too busy. She's dealing with this whole fight with the school system about my sister's education (my sister has a learning disability and the school isn't giving her the appropriate accommodations) and otherwise she's too busy doing other things... like, oh I don't know, cleaning the house... no one in our house helps out with laundry or dishes, so that's all her. Still, I think she ought to get a job. My dad is retired now, he can start helping out with some of the chores around the house. If my mom was working, maybe he'd be inspired to do so.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to make sure that I know the nitty gritty of personal finance. Even if my significant other choses to remain somewhat oblivious to how he can save for retirement, I refuse to let life take me for an unfortunate ride.

For the past few years, my net worth has gone up and down between $25k and $30k. Right now I'm at about $27k. My goal is to stop going down, and to break that $30k by summer.


Psychology of Overspending: Buying Happiness

Check out the awesome interview with me over at LuluGal's HowISaveMoney.net in her weekly "meet the blogger" series!

Ok, I'll admit it. I've been awful with my finances this last month.

I auditioned for this fashion assistant reality show that will air on CW and, prior to the casting, I used it as an excuse to spend way too much money on new clothes that I mostly didn't need.

The good news is I returned the things that I'll likely never wear. I've definitely passed my days of fearing going to a store and returning an item. Even though 59% of the time a return ends up equaling another purchase (just keep me away from the mall, ok?) I've gotten better about returning without buying something else, or buying something much cheaper to quench my spending arousal without bursting my budget.

Realizing that this need for spending is so deeply routed in my depressed childhood, well, it makes me want to spend a little less.

I think I've written about this briefly before, but I've been thinking a lot about it lately.

I was such a loner as a kid. I was "cootie girl" / odd girl out. I still am a bit of an oddball, but I've found my niche, I think. As a kid, it was unbearable.

All that made me feel good in life were compliments. Some of those compliments I'd earn from drawing a picture or something, but the easiest way I found to earn compliments was to wear something that would get me noticed.

Going to the store to shop was me the kid in a candy store. And my mom let me get pretty much everything I wanted. I didn't buy super expensive clothes, but at a fairly affordable department store like JcPenny, I could easily spend $500-$700 in one visit. I just bought a lot of things. My mom told me that if something fit I should buy a few pairs and have it in every color it comes in, even if I didn't like those colors.

Then we got home and my dad, who was making the money, would throw a fit about our spending. I felt guilty about that. It was, partially, my fault. That, I think, was one of the major rifts that formed between my parents early in their marriage. They shouldn't have been together in the first place, but without that shared understanding about finances, it couldn't work (yes they're still married and, no, they shouldn't be.)

As I grew up, the idea about buying happiness stayed.

I remember in middle school spending hundreds of dollars of my parent's money to buy my "friends" smallish $10 gifts. My friends was anyone I knew, I really, hoping that if I bought them some cute earrings they might like me a little more. I think maybe they did. I didn't get nearly the same amount of gifts in return, but then I was so naive and didn't realize that others at my own school didn't have the same sort of disposable income that my family did. Besides, people who I knew but weren't close friends with weren't going to get me gifts. Still, I liked the surprise they got when I gave them a gift. I thought for a milisecond, maybe they even liked me. And that was worth more than all the money in the world.

Nowadays, my biggest cause of overspending is the infamous "SALE" sign. I love feeling like I got a good bargain, as it gets me off in so many ways. First of all, I got to buy something (score) and secondly I got that something of preferably great quality for a large percentage off. The schadenfreude spot of my brain is laughing to itself and saying, with a Dr. Evil voice and pinky finger to my mouth - "hahahahahah, someone else actually spent $300 on this while I'm getting it for just $100!"

The problem, obviously, is that $100 is a lot of money and after a few items at $100 or $70, it adds up. Maybe not to what I would have spent on the original item at the department store, but I usually end up spending more on sales than when I go to a department store and buy one item at full price.

The only way I keep my spending in control now is by avoiding use of my credit card at all costs. But I've gotten to the point in my life where I want to start building my credit history aggressively, and I'm also getting fed up with the crappy rewards that my bank of america debit card offers (keep the change is kind of cute, but I'm not saving much with it.)

So I decided to sign up for some new credit cards.

I FEAR credit cards because I'm terrible at paying bills at times. I always end up with a late fee on a bill of $30 that ends up costing more than the actual bill.

OK, so I'm going to pay these bills on time, once I start using my new credit cards.

I've been reading a lot about the Chase Freedom Card and one of the American Express cashback cards (as soon as I remember the name I'll write it here.) I was reading about them on another frugal bloggers blog (as soon as I remember the name of where I'll add it here too).

So I never realized how much money I could save just by using a credit card for purchases, especially now that I'm spending quite a bit of money a year. I still can't put my largest purchase, my rent, on my credit card, but I can start saving by buying gas, clothes, food and other things on a CC. Sweet. I like me some savings.

For those of you interested in figuring out what credit card(s) would be best for you, I recommend checking out the Cash Back Credit Card calculator over at askmrcreditcard.com -- it seemes really helpful. I think it's accurate.

I'll be writing a more thorough post about credit cards and my cash back rewards in the future... once I actually get the cards, that is.


Feb 22, 2008

Yet Another Example of the Fucked Up Health Insurance System

Thanks to Gawker blog The Consumerist for pointing me to the latest news about why the health insurance system, especially for self-employed individuals, is broken in so many ways.

"Cancer Patient Wins $9 Million From HealthNet in Arbitration Settlement."

The LA Times has more details. Basically the woman was lied to while signing up for her policy, and then dropped as soon as HealthNet could cancel her "fairly" with their corrupt and unclear policies.

When HealthNet signed her up, this is apparently what happened...

"When asked about her weight, she told him her weight on her driver's license was 185lbs. She never told Torrez to change the weight, nor was she aware that the weight had been changed."

So... when this woman ended up getting breast cancer, they used the fact that she "gained" weight in order to bump her from the policy. Except, she hadn't gained weight at all. The person who filled out her form while signing her up changed her weight so she would be accepted.

All of this hits close to home for me. While I (luckily) do not have breast cancer or any illness like that, I do fear my health insurance policy being canceled if I ever have to use it. That seems kind of ridiculous, doesn't it?

As many of you remember, I had to lie on my health insurance application to get accepted.

My health insurance agent basically told me in so many words that my best option was to lie. He wouldn't go on record about that, but he said my odds of getting health insurance while being completely honest about my pre-existing conditions (polycystic ovary sydnrome/irregular periods and major depression) were slim to none.

And he was right. The first time I applied through Pacific Care, I was entirely honest. My health insurance agent filled out the form for me as I told him my details by phone. Later, when I reviewed the information he entered before signing the form, I noticed he had taken some creative license in describing my conditions. I tweaked the language so it was 100% accurate.

A few weeks later I was declined coverage. Not for depression, which we both thought would be what held me back, but for the "irregular periods."

As my fellow personal finance bloggers LuluGal and Escape Broklyn can attest, "irregular periods" are fairly common. And, to be fair, irregular periods often cost the insurance companies lots of money. Both those two gals are getting surgery for their problems. And, from what I understand, insurance is paying for a lot of the surgery, even though it won't be covering everything.

For me... I don't know if I'll ever need surgery for my various ovarian problems. Because I know about the problems and because I've been diagnosed with PCOS, the cheapest way to maintain my health is to take birth control pills on a regular basis. Except my catastrophic health insurance does not cover medication. So I don't take any.

Ultimately I was approved for health insurance. I had to lie to get approved. Well, I left off the depression and kept on the irregular periods bit. So now I can lose my coverage if they ever realize I lied about depression, and anything health problems I might have that relate to polycystic ovary syndrome won't be covered anyway. This leaves me wondering why I bother with health insurance at all!

I really hope that Obama or Clinton get elected and then make some major progress in getting the health insurance companies in check. While I hate paying taxes, if I'm going to pay taxes I want them to be going towards keeping people in this country healthy... not fighting some trillion dollar war we can't win.


The 60 Hour Freelance Work Week

While working 60 hours at a salaried job each week seems beyond boring, diversifying one's time and one's ongoing work portfolio can lead to professional fulfillment on many levels, including by not limited to one's bank account.

I recently found out that in order to be a full-time salaried employee at my current company, I need to sign on for 50-60 hours a week. While I love my job AND the company, that's still not enough to have me sign every possible work hour away to one job.

Besides boredom, the reason to keep my 'after 40' job hours open is because some of my other opportunities pay much better than what I'm spending most of my week on. At my 40 hour per week job I make about $27 an hour right now. But I'm also taking my late evenings to work as a freelance marketing writer, with projects I'm getting paid $50 per hour for.

I'm not sure what my value is as a full-time employee versus freelance, but for some reason I feel like my $50 per hour charge as a freelancer is justified, while I could never imagine asking my freelance full-time employer for such a raise.

When it comes down to it, I'd rather make slightly less at my "day job" and use the opportunity to pitch my writing skills for extra income that ultimately covers health insurance and other things I need.

That brings about the question... how much can I actually make in one month without not sleeping and going completely insane...

Monthly Potential Income
1. $4800 -- Gig 1. 40 hours per week (on contract)
2. $400 -- Gig 2. Approx 8 hours, or 4 projects per month at $50/hr
3. $250 -- Gig 3. 10 hours of administrative Work at $25/hr
4. $400 -- Gig 4. 8 hours of research & article writing at $50/hr
$5850 per month

Which is a lot of money. Sort of.

Minus $2340 ((40% taxes (25 % tax bracket + 15 % self-employment tax))) that comes out to a grande total of...

$3510 per month after taxes, or a net income of $42,120 per year.

That's still pretty good, I think.


Immortality, Death, and Retirement Planning

The other day, my boyfriend and I were discussing death and immortality. I don't know if I've mentioned it in this blog before, but I have a huge fear of death. I'm not a religious person and the concept of just not existing anymore scares the shit out of me. While I know it's not possible to live forever, I get past my morality-anxiety by pretending like perhaps there will be some cure to every illness known to man (including old age) by the time I'm wrinkled like a prune and somehow I can live forever.

Why do I bring all that up? Even though we (and I) can't live forever, our society is all geared around helping us live longer. In the early 20th century, the worldwide life expectancy for a human was 30-40 years old. Now it's 67. In another 100 years, most people will probably be livin to at least their 90s.

That's great in terms of... well, getting to stick around, aware, on this planet for a few extra years and for medical science as a whole, but how does lengthening one's life mess with the concept of retirement?

Ok, so in one of my days of freaking out about my mortality I ended up doing some research into Cryogenics and started reading up on a place where for a shit load of money I could get frozen after I die and maybe, just maybe somehow in the future I could be brought back, alive.

That got me thinking... if ultimately many of us would want to live forever... if that's what all our medical science is working towards with stem cell research and such, well, at what point in our future will the concept of retirement simply vanish?

Retirement exists, as I see it, for two reasons. One - you get old, you just can't work as much as you once did because you're sick a lot and need to take it easy en route to death. Two, you worked a long(ish), hard life and it's time to sit back and enjoy the last few years you have on this earth. Either way, what's that worth if you can remain healthy forever.

It's kind of interesting, thinking about how much our culture would change if immortality were possible, and then how much it has changed simply due to medical advances and the increase in average life expectancy. If we could live forever, even the celebrity making billions upon billions of dollars would still have to be careful with how much money they spent because if life forever were possible, at some point money would run out.

So death, not too far along from birth, is really a requirement for the concept of retirement to work (sorry I'm being so morbid today folks, but it's just been on my mind a lot lately).

Also, there have been a bunch of articles and blog posts out in the past week or so about how retirement is impossible for many people these days, what with the cost of inflation and lack of appropriate savings.

The Motley Fool recently published an article called "The End of Retirement"inspired by the also-recent PBS Frontline series "Can You Afford to Retire?"

Well, the Fool was pitching its investment advice for sale (as it does in every article on that site) but it also pointed out some of the sad yet very real facts raised in the Frontline documentary. "[Thanks to how people of different wealth classes invest throughout their lives...] The richest people are getting richer, and the middle-class workers are falling further behind."

I feel like I fall somewhere in the middle, though lean towards the rich end of the spectrum. While I feel like I've just struck gold with my newly minted annual salary of over $60k (if I can hold this contract job for the whole year, mind you), after you take away taxes... including the lovely 15% self-employment tax I learned about the other day, my healthcare expenses, the fact that as a contractor I don't get time off, paid holidays or any other benefits, and suddenly my $60k seems not as much as it did when I first gladly accepted my offer (well, I asked for $200 a month more, then accepted the offer).

It's weird how two years ago I was thrilled to be making $35k, finally a year out of undergrad with a full-time job. Now, as I worry more about saving for retirement in my 20s and somehow saving up for a house (even a fairly decent downpayment on a house... in The Bay Area) and possibly an expensive MFA a few years down the line, I am not sure how much money I'd need to make in order to really feel, well, rich.

Yet I know I'm lucky and that I'm more rich than a lot of people will ever be.

I want to invest heavily towards my retirement and I already have $7000 put into my Roth IRA of a total $9000 I could invest since I opened my account. Not bad, but that was taking my savings and putting most of it into that Roth IRA. Well, it's nice to know that if I make it to 65 I'll at least have some money to take out, tax free. But what about now? What about that house... or 2br condo... that I'm dreaming of? How about grad school?

Other than knowing I ought to live more frugally overall, I haven't a clue about how to allocate my money. They say "max out your IRA first" (if you don't have a 401(k) and that sounds fine and dandy, but now that I'm a slightly higher tax bracket I'm not even sure if I should be investing in my Roth IRA or if now I ought to open up a traditional IRA that gets taxed later on. Ugh, I'm so confused.

Llama Money jokes about how the $1 million saved up for retirement isn't really enough anymore, and explains how to save up $1 billion by retirement instead in this post.

"If you start investing at the ripe young age of 26 ( that’s how old I’ll be in a few months ), then you have 34 long years to enjoy the magic of compound interest. Assuming you earn an average return of 10% per year ( shouldn’t be difficult if you stick with low-cost index funds ), then you must save $308,700 per month until age 60. At that point you will have just over $1 billion in your brokerage account."
Yikes! Um, I don't think I'll be able to save $309k per month anytime soon, or ever.

Llama poses that putting away $280 a month is enough to at least help you out financially at retirement.

The only thing that helps me worry less is knowing that I'm the type of person who won't want to retire. I can't imagine wanting to stop working just because I'm old. I'll want to work a more flexible job, maybe take a bunch of time off, travel the world. But I don't see why I should stop earning an income as long as my health allows.

And being that I'm 24, I can't imagine myself incapacitated to the point where I'd be forced to live off my IRA income and nothing else. If that's what's going to happen, well, I better figure out how to start, uh, making $339k a month so I can save the $309k. Yea right.


Feb 20, 2008

Freelancer Woes: Taxes, Taxes, and More Taxes

While I've gone through periods of working part-time gigs and freelancing for a little extra cash on the side, 2008-2009 will be the first year when I'm likely going to be a contractor all year long. I love the freelance lifestyle, as I can finish my work hours when everyone else is asleep, or get all my hours done straight through and leave myself time to relax for an extra weekend day, if possible. There are so many things I love about being a freelancer (albeit one with a stable freelance gig) that I'd be hard pressed to give it up.

One thing that might, just might be able to get me to give this wonderful lifestyle up is taxes.

Just trying to figure out how to sort out my taxes owed as a freelancer seems like a giant nightmare. On top of that I now have Prosper taxes (which sounds like it will be worse than a nightmare to file) and my various stocks, ETF and mutual fund accounts to tax...

Originally I thought sorting out my taxes would be simple as taking 25 percent of all my income each month and putting it into a highish-interest ING savings account. Come tax time, my tax money will have made a little money (although that will be taxed to) and if all worked out as I originally thought, the money in that account would certainly cover all my state and federal taxes... plus I would have saved some money by holding off on paying it throughout the year.

Given that I finally stopped to smell the dead roses, I did a little research and found out about the "Self Employment Tax" which seems to be another 15.3 % on top of the 25%. So does that mean I should be putting 35% of my income each month into my ING "for tax season" account?

And then... apparently freelancers are supposed to pay an estimated tax each month. What I don't understand is if this is for the convenience of the freelancer (don't have to worry about spending all your tax money and being in serious trouble come April 15) or if it's actually required by law to pay taxes on a monthly basis instead of in one lump sum at the end of the year. If it's not illegal, I really don't understand why more people wouldn't just do what I think I'm doing with this savings account and getting a few extra dollars on the money that will ultimately go to the IRS at the end of the year. But maybe I'm thinking about this all wrong.

I'm, quite frankly, terrified of tax season next year. This year is complicated enough with my two full-time jobs and freelance earnings. But next year? Well, I know I'll have to hire an accountant. But what is it I should do now, as it starting 1.5 months ago, to make my life bearable next year... and more importantly, so I don't accidentally end up in jail for tax fraud out of ignorance and confusion?

ps: I think I just found my answer... (I guess I do have to pay in advance!!!)

(Thanks to the IRS for explaining, in fairly clear language, how I can give them my money)

When To Pay Estimated Tax

For estimated tax purposes, the year is divided into four payment periods. Each period has a specific payment due date. If you do not pay enough tax by the due date of each of the payment periods, you may be charged a penalty even if you are due a refund when you file your income tax return. The payment periods and due dates for estimated tax payments are shown below.

For the period: Due date:
Jan. 1 1 - March 31 April 15
April 1 - May 31 June 15
June 1 - August 31 September 15
Sept. 1 - Dec. 31 January 15
next year 2

1If your tax year does not begin on January 1,
see Fiscal year taxpayers, below.
2See January payment, below.

Saturday, Sunday, holiday rule. If the due date for an estimated tax payment falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the payment will be on time if you make it on the next business day. For example, a payment due on Saturday, September 15, 2007, will be on time if you make it by Monday, September 17, 2007.
January payment. If you file your 2007 Form 1040 or Form 1040A by January 31, 2008, and pay the rest of the tax you owe, you do not need to make the payment due on January 15, 2008.


Janet Adams does not pay any estimated tax for 2007. She files her 2007 income tax return and pays the balance due shown on her return on January 24, 2008.

Janet's estimated tax for the fourth payment period is considered to have been paid on time. However, she may owe a penalty for not making the first three estimated tax payments. Any penalty for not making those payments will be figured up to January 24, 2008.

Fiscal year taxpayers. If your tax year does not start on January 1, your payment due dates are:
  1. The 15th day of the 4th month of your fiscal year,

  2. The 15th day of the 6th month of your fiscal year,

  3. The 15th day of the 9th month of your fiscal year, and

  4. The 15th day of the 1st month after the end of your fiscal year.

You do not have to make the last payment listed above if you file your income tax return by the last day of the first month after the end of your fiscal year and pay all the tax you owe with your return.

Ok, now I just have to figure out exactly how much I have to pay them. Hmm.

Here are some helpful links I'll be reviewing to help me figure out just that, and I'll report back here when I actually understand what I'm talking about:

1. Write From Home: Taxes for Writers: Paying your Estimated Tax
2. Huge Taxes for Freelancers?
3. California Tax Service Center

Once I do understand all this, I can work as a freelance freelance accountant. :)


Feb 19, 2008

Risk vs Reward

I always thought that when it came to risk, I'd avoid it at all costs. Skydiving of the body or the spirit was not for me. Sure, I moved a lot and took tiny little risks like living on my own with no job, but nothing beyond riding a roller coaster known for its safety record.

Now that I'm getting into the stock market, albeit very slowly, I'm ever-so tempted by risk. Yesterday I found the blog of Timothy Skyes who is famous for turning his $12k of Bar Mitzvah money into more than $1 million. He loves the thrill of day trading and obviously it has paid off for him.

I don't think I'll ever be able to take my entire savings and make some educated guesses about where to place my bets on Wall Street, but I am getting more and more interested... and risky... when it comes to my relatively small stock and ETF purchases.

It surely is an addiction. A year ago, I finally took the "leap" of putting a huge chunk of my savings into a Vanguard index fund to open a ROTH IRA. But index funds, especially ones that cover multiple industries with no specific focus, have already started to bore me. Additionally, with the way the overall stock market is performing, watching my "less risky" investments tank makes me want to take more risks so I feel like the failure is, uh, much more deserved.

I started out a month ago buying a few shares of GLD, the Gold ETF. Everyone is screaming "gold" these days, as with the recession such commodities seem to thrive. GLD is the main gold ETF available for purchase. I started out buying about 4 shares of GLD and adding some more funds to that ETF. I'm not sure if I should buy more.

This purchase was followed by investing in McDonalds and Comverge (COMV). I figured why not start with one large cap, and one small cap. They ought to balance out in the middle, or something like that, right? Comverge was a company I had covered in the past as a cleantech reporter while they were still private, and I liked what I knew about them. However, I also acknowledged the fact that I had no idea whether they could turn their good idea into a profit for the company. But I always wanted to buy shares in them just because, well, I felt like it was one company I had been following from near-birth, and if anything I wanted to watch them grow (or fail) with a small amount of my money attached.

Meanwhile, McDonalds, I read, was a good buy because it offers yearly dividends to investors AND its price right now has gone down with the current recession.

After a few days it became clear that my Comverge purchase, although not the end of the world, should have been spread out over time so I could have "cost dollar averaged" and saved money. I bought a few shares of the stock for $23 each and since then they've gone down to $18 a piece. Now they're at about $19.50. I'm considering waiting (hoping) they go back up to $20-something again and then I'll sell them so my loss isn't that huge and instead invest them in another stock or ETF that might actually perform well. Or I can keep the $100 in COMV and watch it disappear. Who knows, maybe the stock will soar one day. I'm waiting for the quarterly earnings to see how they've done, and see what that does to my four shares.

Meanwhile, I found that I'm now hooked on investing. I quickly signed up for Sharebuilders "$12 a month" 6 "free" trades plan and started to pour about $300 a month into a variety of stocks and ETFs. This time I did a bit more research and picked the following three stocks/ETFs to invest in:


What do all those letters mean?

KOL: An ETF of coal. Why coal? It's terrible for the environment. Yet with the prices of oil rising, and other cleaner alternatives far from being able to provide the energy needed in the world, I think coal has (for better or worse) a pretty strong future. I was excited to find the fairly new ETF that would allow me to get into coal with a little less risk. I plan to keep putting about $60 a month into the ETF to see if I can prove myself right. Also, a lot of the ETF is invested in Asia (coal is huge there and growing), so this gives me the Asian diversification I've been seeking.

EWZ: This stock symbol doesn't give one a clue of what the stock is! It's actually an index fund of companies in Brazil. A lot of advisers seem to be recommending it, and I want to diversify my overseas investment so it's not all in coal and Asia. Brazil has a lot going for it and the ETF has performed quite strongly in the past. Will it perform as well in the future? Beats me. I'm investing most heavily in this index fund right now, putting in about $150 a month to EWZ.

WFM: Whole Foods. I spend enough money shopping here! This is another dividend-paying, large cap stock. Not that interesting. I doubt I'll make a fortune on it, but it might at least grow slowly and calmly. Or I'll lose some money but I'll try to get out before it tanks.

One thing I've learned is that in order to make a stock purchase worth it, I eventually need to own a lot of that stock. Even if the stock goes up $10 from $10, a 50% increase, if I only own one share and have to pay $9 to sell it back, that amazing performance will only make me $1. So I've decided to try to focus on these six stocks for now, and if needed to sell one of them and replace it with another. Six seems like a good number to start with, and I'll let my portfolio grow as needed or merited by my income and thirst for risk.


10 Reasons Why I Love My Freelance Job

I work for a web startup in Silicon Valley on contract, about 40 hours per week.

10 Reasons I love My Job:

1) The people I work with are passionate, fun, and great collaborators working together to create something new.

2) My job tasks are diversified and include many things I'm interested in, such as writing, community management, UI, and QA.

3) The room to grow at my company is only limited by my skills and interests.

4) I get paid a very decent monthly wage for the opportunity to do something I love.

5) Because I'm on contract, I get the flexibility I need to pursue my other passion: theater directing in the evenings and on weekends. I've applied for numerous web startups, but most wanted me full time at 60+ hours a week. If I had no life outside of my job, I'd be happy to take this on. However, I need to have balance in my life. I don't mind sacrificing company-sponsored benefit plans, sick days, holidays and stock options if it means I can keep doing what I love AND have a job I love.

6) While I don't have a lot of time to do "other freelance projects," I have a few hours a week that I can move around to take on some extra work. I like to continue freelancing on additional projects because it's always good to have side income in case your full-time (or in my case, 40 hour per week freelance) gig goes kaput.

7) Free lunch on Mondays!

8) I feel appreciated. My ideas are not always used, but at least they're considered. People seem to respect me. That's the most important thing in making me feel satisfied at a job.

9) Flexible schedule and work location. I work from the office 2-3 days per week and I work from home the rest of the time. I find I actually do more work when I'm at home because I can focus. I'm also not anxious like I was at former jobs where I just didn't feel smart/competent/knowledgeable enough to feel comfortable yet still challenged in the position(s).

10) My job is a great stepping stone to whatever comes next. I'm learning so much, and I learn more every day. As a writer, I'm still involved in research and finding out new things. As a community manager, I get to do my favorite thing ever - help people. Is it so absolutely bizarre that I actually love responding to customer feedback and writing FAQs? Being involved in QA, I'm learning a lot about testing a site for bugs. In general as a marketing assistant and such, I'm learning a bit about product management and general marketing for a web startup. I think all of this puts me in a great spot to move on to bigger and better things later in life, whether that be a position with more responsibility at my current company or something else. A while back I applied to a community manager position at another startup and it came down to me and someone else. I didn't get the gig, probably because my journalism experience wouldn't directly cross over to interacting with site users on a daily basis. But now... my resume can potentially land me another community management job, if I ever need to look for another one down the line.


The Most Depressing Article Ever

StackingPennies left me a comment on my post earlier today where I rambled on and on about making babies and marriage and such. While most of my peers seem to not share in hearing the baby-making clock, it seems many are thinking more about marriage (soon!) than popping out the kidlets.

I wanted to clarify a few things about the other entry first... Kacie mentioned something about not taking hormonal bcp's to make me more fertile. To sum up why that won't work -- I don't get my period ever unless I'm on BCPs. To make me ovulate will require expensive hormone injections and such. So for me, making a baby will be a large expense. There's nothing much I can do about that.

Now, onto the real reason I'm writing another entry this evening...

StackingPennies posted a link to an article in The Atlantic titled "Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough!"

(Gosh, if Pennies thought my noting that I'm "deprecating into womanhood" was depressing, I'm not so sure how s/he felt about this article.)

The author, a single mother in her late 30s, uses four pages to convince her reader that settling, especially at such an old age, is the better thing to do than to live alone forever. Forget love or attraction, really. A marriage is a business agreement. Find someone you can stand, who maybe you enjoy spending time with, and that's the best you can ask for, especially when you've passed your prime.

I'm glad that at 24, I've found a guy who I love, and as long as things continue to work out, I won't have to deal with settling. One thing that I applaud myself for is my ability to be rational about love. I don't expect "Mr. Right" to never veer to have his, uh, Mr. Left moments. There are plenty things that bug me about my boyfriend, but ultimately I feel comfortable with him. I'm attracted to him. And I'm head over heals in love with him.

But not to the point of being so romantically in love that I can't see how our relationship would develop as we moved on to sharing our lives together. There are things that would be a bit of a struggle... dealing with compromising on finances... how to raise the children (I'd want to shelter them a bit more than he would). But in the end, I feel like we'd get along just fine. My biggest concern is what happens if he passes away first. I know, morbid thought, but if that's my biggest concern than I'd say this is a pretty darned good relationship.

I don't think people should ever "settle," but I do think both men and women should have realistic expectations of what love is. So many people want someone to fit this mold they've invented of their soul mate. That doesn't exist. Or maybe it seems like it does, but then you realize he leaves the toilet seat up.

My life is currently fantastic because I've found the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with. We could be rich, we could be poor. We could have 10 children or none. But as long as I have him there beside me through it all, I know I'll be fine.

On the other hand, it's not all that healthy to put that much weight on one relationship. My relationship experience isn't all that varied, yet I think I know what I'm looking for. I've been on a lot of first dates, and have been in a few LTRs. I think that, while love at first sight is a joke, there is a such truth to knowing a year or so into a relationship if it's meant to be.

Maybe I'll have to settle with everything else in my life, but not love. That's one thing I refuse to settle for. Thanks to luck, fate, or whatever brought me to California and helped me meet my boyfriend, I won't have to


Feb 18, 2008

Having Kids... a 24 Year Old Gal Ponders the Cost and The Timeline

I'm only 24 years old. My body is slowly deprecating into womanhood. In fact, once upon a time I'd be in middle age right now. Except in modern society, 24 isn't quite "that old" yet.

Still, my babymaking clock is ticking. (Do you hear it -- "tick, tock. tick, tock.") A few years ago if you asked me about the possibility of my having a family, I'd say yea, one day. Like a zillion million light years down the road.

But how long can one really wait to have kids and a family? Is it even really that important to have kids?

Speaking in simple terms of evolution, it's quite normal to want to have kids. Heck, I should be wanting to pop out babies every change I can get from now through menopause.

The truth is, with my undoubted infertility problems (thanks PCOS!) the cost of simply getting pregnant/ having a kid is going to be very high for me. I'll either need expensive fertility treatments that may or may not work, or I'll have to adopt. Both of these options are expensive. It's just like, great, take something that should be free (semen in, baby out) and make it cost a fortune before I even can so much can justify purchasing a pregnancy test.

Without all of that extra expense, having kids, well, is quite the expense. How much does one kid cost? You've got to feed them, clothe them, house them, bathe them, pay for school supplies, parties, hobbies, potentially college, etc etc. That sounds very expensive. Of course, lots of people just accept that having a kid is a worthwhile investment. Not to get money in return, but to get years of "awws" and "ooohs" and "that's my son/daughter!" But how much is all that really worth?

You can have kids at any income level or age (if you can pop them out without needing expensive treatments to get pregnant in the first place.) Plenty of people have kids who live on welfare. Plenty of people have kids who are in the upper class, who can give their kids tons of money and not think twice about it. Plenty of people who have kids are in the middle class, and they get by with minimal luxuries and mostly just what they need.

I grew up with such a bizarre concept of family and money. My dad made a good salary, my mom stayed at home. We lived an upper middle class life. My parents had two kids, me and my younger sister. We never bought expensive things, but we did buy lots of things. There was never a concern about not having money to put food on the table, or to buy new clothes for the season. I was lucky. I didn't realize just how lucky I was.

Would I want to have kids if I couldn't give them that? Could I be selfless enough to bring another person into this world knowing just how much they'd cost me? I'd have to get better health insurance for my kids, or would I? I couldn't have catastrophic health insurance with a child... though that's better than no health insurance at all that many people deal with. How much money would I really need to make, over the long term, to feel comfortable popping out a baby or two?

I have friends who had kids years ago, or who are just starting families. One friend from high school just got his girlfriend pregnant accidentally, and they're moving out of the city to the burbs and are planning on having her parents help them support the family.

Another friend of mine is in her mid 30s. She kind of wants to have kids, she makes a pretty good income, upper middle classish, but hasn't found the right guy yet. Or at least she hasn't found the right guy who wants to date her back, sadly. She knows that at this point in her life, she's either going to have kids soon or not have them at all. She tries to laugh it off, but deep down I think she's sad about it.

I know some people in their 30s who just don't want kids. Some are in stable relationships, some are married and have just decided - no children. What does it feel like to make that decision and make it so finally?

I've mentioned before how my ex boyfriend is a well-to-do attorney and how sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have stayed in that relationship and lived... that life. What it would be like to know that unless something terrible happened to the country and the overall economy, I'd be financially secure until I die, and I could have kids and they'd have a good life, regardless of how much money I made personally.

Back before my time, that's all a girl could even ask for. But now we have choice. We have freedom. And that's great. I'm glad. I'd rather be with a guy I love than one making good money. But it's tough when the choice is actually there. When the guy making the money still likes you. When you like him back too, but only as a friend.

It's not like my current boyfriend isn't working. That was the case for a while and after a year of dating an unemployed guy it started to get to me. It wasn't even the money that was an issue, it was the sheer depression keeping him out of getting a job. While my previous boyfriend worked all the time and wanted to make a lot of money, and save it, my current boyfriend just wanted to live at home, somewhat frugally, until his savings ran out. Both lifestyles kind of drove me nuts.

But now my boyfriend has a job. He's doing a good job with working and I'm sure he'll do fine. He's likely going to return to grad school for education and end up teaching at a high school. I'm confident if he is "the one" (and I think he might be) that without kids, we'd both live a very comfortable life given our expected middle class income. When I start thinking about having kids, well, that's when I get worried.

I always wanted to have three kids. I thought that would be a good amount. My dad grew up in a large family (6 siblings including him) and I loved how that later on created such a tight-knit extended family. I don't want six kids (oy!) but 3 would do. I don't want a kid to grow up alone, and one sibling is nice but often not enough. Three is perfect. Except, oh my god, how much would three kids cost me?


Digital Finance February: Yodlee, Mint, Geezeo, Cake

Despite prior raves about various digital finance sites, I'm ultimately still left unsatisfied with my current offerings.

I think what I want is simple. Sure, I'd like some cute features and nifty community learning options. But what it comes down to it, I want an online finance site that:

1. Shows me my checking and savings account data in REAL TIME (not 6 hours ago, not 3 days ago, but as in up-to-the-minute updates).

2. Includes my investment earnings and losses for the day/month/year. Cake has a great feature showing me how I'm performing versus the markets and other users. I imagine once investments are on the site, this feature can't be too hard to implement. I'd even be happy without it.

3. Budgeting tools. The sites are pretty good now at coming up with such tools. I love Mint's budget breakdowns. But it's not really helpful in the way I need it if the data isn't actually up-to-date. It isn't helpful if I have to go sign into BankofAmerica.com and breakdown my monthly spending just to keep on top of everything AFTER I sign into Mint or any other second party bank account tracking site.

4. A *bonus* would be if the site provides me with legitimate ideas on how to save money. Not like Mint, that tells me if I switch to a $47 a month Verizon plan I'd save $x per year when the fact of the matter is, the only reason the month cost me so much at Verizon is because I went over on my minutes. In fact, I'm ALREADY ON the plan they recommended. If your recommendations are going to be wack, I recommend not recommending at all. How's that for a recommendation?

My latest find, thanks to a friend, is Cake.com. This site is... howdoyousay... hypothetically awesome for investors. That is, if it worked properly. (I've added my Sharebuilder account but am having trouble adding my Vanguard account). It's not really like Mint, Geezeo or Yodlee at all, so it probably should be compared separately... although if Cake really wants my business, they'd simply have to add my savings and checking accounts so I can track all my money at one place. And really my Vanguard account would have to work too.

By far, Mint still has the best UI. I love Mint, I really do. But I'm getting impatient waiting for them to add investing accounts. If Cake, Yodlee and Geezeo can all add investing accounts, and if Mint is built on top of Yodlee's architecture, I don't understand why it's so difficult to add investing accounts. Maybe they're not focused on 24-year-old "old fogies" like me that enjoy putting some of my monthly income into Sharebuilder and Vanguard. But I like to budget my monthly income based on how the market is doing (obviously this month I've been failing at that!) I think Mint is going to be amazing in the long run. They've already added a bunch of nice features (like a chart showing me how my spending on different things compares to other people in the area). But, come on Mint, add my investment accounts and maybe figure out how to make my data "update" as in "update currently" and not "update what my bank statement looked like yesterday" and I swear, I'll ask you to marry me.

Aw, Geezeo, Geezeo, Geezeo. I really want to like you. I found you and Wesabe first, and you were much better than Wesabe. You even have investment accounts now. But there's something about your UI I don't quite like. Maybe it's the fact that I'm having trouble adding my Vanguard account on here too, or, when I tried to add my ING Direct Savings account and waited about 5 minutes for it to process, you told me "Heavy traffic is causing delays. Please try again. If you think this is a problem with Geezeo, please tell us by making a Support ticket." I feel like there are just too many bugs on the site for it to be worth my time right now. Updates are just as delayed as any of the other sites. The UI is sloppy too. Mint, on the other hand, has such a nice design, with screen real estate divvied up quite nicely. Geezeo kind of looks like a kids toy. And the useful features are often buried at the bottom or hard to find.

Despite being boring (yawn) and basic (blegh) Yodlee is still my top digital finance choice. Why? On Yodlee, at the very least, I can see data from all of my accounts including Bank of America (checking, savings & credit card), ING Direct, Vanguard, Sharebuilder, Paypal and Prosper. Data is still a bit delayed, which bugs me, which means I still have to sign into BankofAmerica to check my current checking account status, but I can deal. At least I can see everything in one spot.


Feb 16, 2008

Budget Check Feb 1 - 15: $3608.12 (YIKES!)

I'm going to start checking in about my monthly budget half-way through the month in order to figure out what sort of money I have left to spend on things.

Smart, eh? Yea, I know.

Oh thanks for the recommendations about my bf's gift in my last entry. I'll be buying him something in a week or so (can't afford to now anyway) so keep those recommendations coming! ThinkGeek.com is good start. I never know what computer stuff to get him. He doesn't have Apple stuff yet, so I can't go that route (tho he'll buy a Macbook Pro as soon as they release an updated version). He has tons of computer stuff and I just have no idea about what he needs and what he'd want. Oh, food for thought to all of my fabulous gift recommender's - he loves, loves, loves anything that's blue.

Ok, without further ado... my poor budgeting for the 1/2 month leading up to today.

Total Spending feb 1 - 15: $3608.12 (YIKES!)

I thought I was over spending this month. I definitely did not realize how much!!!

A lot of the $ has to do with finally getting around to paying late fees on a variety of bills. I also had a little shopping spree this month, which you'll notice below. It was all at a designer discount store! I even returned some of it!!!


$1050: Rent
$404.86: Medical
$403.95: Car (three months insurance + gasoline)
$80.28: Phone
$737: Investment / Savings/ Taxes
$345.40: Food - dining out ($87 of this will be reimbursed)
$31.31: Food - groceries
$10.71: keep the change "savings"
$483.53: Clothing & Beauty (incl. hair/waxing/dry cleaning)
$32.46: Entertainment
$28.80: Taxes



RENT - $1050
$1050: rent

MEDICAL - $404.68
$146.68: doctor's bills / medical
$258: Check for AETNA medical insurance

CAR / AUTO - $403.95
$200.6 Car Insurance (dec/jan)
$34.02 gas/auto
$87.34 car insurance (feb)
$50 - gasoline / auto
$10: check for parking ticket #1
$21.99: Gasoline

PHONE - $80.28
$32.46: phone charger
$47.82: verizon bill

$100 Investment into Mutual Fund
$600 Transfer to ING Direct (savings) for Tax Season
$25: transfer to prosper account to lend
$12: investing fees

FOOD/DINING OUT - $345.40 ($257.88 after reimbursement?)
$52.72 dining for two - food
$3.50 food
$13.85 lunch for two - food
$2.34 food
$44.87 lunch for two - food
$3.65: food
$28.35: dinner for two - food
$87.52: Pizza for my cast (to be reimbursed?)
$42.68: dinner for two
$5.36: food
$8.39: food
$5.94: food
$30.47: dinner for two
$14.69: breakfast for two
$1.07: food

FOOD/ DINING IN - $31.31
$12.94 groceries - food
$8.25: groceries, food
$10.12: groceries - food

$.79 keep the change transfer
$.53 keep the change transfer
$.06 keep the change transfer
$2.35: keep the change transfer
$3.35: keep the change transfer
$2.19: keep the change transfer
$1.13: keep the change transfer
$.31: keep the change transfer

$362.58: clothing (returned much of this purchase)
-$255.43 clothing returns (I returned this much and bought the above shirt)
$124.47 clothing: one BCBG sweater (on sale) and earrings
$20: Eyebrow Wax / beauty
$78.20: dry cleaning
$81.19: two shirts - clothing
$96.34: one shirt - clothing
-$23.82: macys returns

$26.48: magazines / books
$5.98: check for magazine subscription

TAXES - $28.80
$28.80: check for 2002 taxes. Uh, a bit late on that.


Feb 15, 2008

My Boyfriend's Birthday is Coming Up...

And I'm at a loss for what to get him.

The good news is that with the raise, I'll be able to spend a decent sum of money on his gift without feeling like the expenditure is a completely irrational budget departure.

The bad news is that my raise won't kick in until March 20, a few weeks after his birthday. I get paid once a month, fyi. I will get one more paycheck before his birthday for $3300. But $1050 of that has to go to rent, and $600 must go to my "for tax" ING account. That still leave me with about $1500 for the month. Even with my various bills, I could try to keep spending down really low and figure his birthday gift is worth more than any splurges I might partake in over the month.

However, that doesn't change the fact that I still don't know WHAT to get him.

I feel like I need to get him something amazing. I totally flaked on Valentine's Day this year and got him, well, nothing. For Christmas I gave him a $100 gift certificate to a rollerblading store so he could buy a pair of Blades (he did and he seems to like them).

How do I get him something better than last year's gift? Last year, I got him a Nintendo Wii. Without spending a zillion dollars, well, what do I get the boy?

He's gotten me such great gifts over our dating tenure. An ipod nano and a Wacom digital drawing tablet. He got me a smaller gift for Hannukah... a food scale... I figure it cost $30 or something. But for Valentine's Day he bought food for a home cooked dinner... fish and champagne. Again, I got him noting. Absolutely nothing.

So what do I get him this year? I have less than a month to figure this out. I love him more than anything and I know he'd be fine with me getting him dirt in the shape of a heart, but I want to give him more than that. I want to get him something he wouldn't normally buy for himself. But what would that be? He's so hard to shop for.

What do nerdy boys like?


Feb 14, 2008

Saving for a House... or a Condo?

I've always wanted to save up enough money to buy a house outright, without dealing with paying double for the house because of mortgage rates. I don't like the idea of buying anything piece by piece and paying more for it.

How hard would it be to save up for a condo on my own? Well, pretty hard given the cost of living in the Bay Area, but is it entirely impossible?

I probably should get my rent down quite a bit if this is my goal, for wasting $1050 a month on rent that could be put towards monthly house payments seems to be just as ridiculous as paying interest on a mortgage.

This is the first time in my life (as soon as my raise kicks in) that I feel like I'm making more money than I need. I've always spent too much as it is, but yesterday when I was re-doing my budget I found that I had the luxury of liberally deciding where to place my hundreds of dollars of savings per month.

I feel guilty for making so much, but when it comes down to it $60k after freelancing and working 40 hours a week is not *that huge* of a paycheck. It's certainly more than I ever expected to make, and yet I know people my age making much more. What do they do with all that money? I guess the only thing to do... other than living frivolously... is saving for a house and retirement.

Of course, I'm making $62,400 a year between my 40-hour-a-week gig and my stable 10 hours a month marketing writing job, plus any extra freelance pay I take in over the year... but all that's without any benefits. Last gig I was making $50k plus the $400 a month for the freelance gig, but I had great health benefits at no cost to me. So in the end I think now I'm making just a little more. Plus, I've chosen a crappier health insurance so I'm not spending as much on that as I would had I chosen to stay on COBRA.

In any case, if I keep doing a good job at my current gig, and gee I hope I will, I'll only be looking at raises down the road. Who knows how much... and I'm not sure the marketing writing gig will last forever... but it seems fairly stable (I work for my uncle and write for four different newsletters he designs and sends out each month for his marketing company and the only reason I'd stop writing them is if he loses a client).

I feel overwhelmed with the money I'm making. It's not that much, yet it's way more than I know what to do with. Except I certainly could spend it all at the mall in one day, given a slip into depression and a pick-me-up shopping spree.

Instead, I really want to focus on saving. It's tough seeing my Roth IRA, stocks and mutual funds slipping, but it's nice to have some extra cash to play with. The major question is, where do I put the money? I know they say to max out your Roth first, but that seems kind of silly if you want to go to grad school or buy a house. This year, for instance, I've put $4000 in my Roth, so I have $1000 left to contribute. Next year, though, I'll have less savings up front to dump in my Roth. I've put $7000 in there total for the last two years, I think. It's down to $6800 or something right now.

Meanwhile my CDs, even those with crappy interest rates, are obviously up a few hundred dollars after being locked away for a year.

To buy a house, and to make money off my money, it seems the Roth might be the wrong place to put my money. Of course I want my savings to multiply towards my retirement, and it's nice to think of what the money would do over the years if I max out my account every year... and I don't have a 401k at work or anything, so it's up to me to save my money for retirement.

It's funny, because my boyfriend isn't thinking about any of that yet. Every time I try to tell him to start saving his money in a Roth he gets all defensive and doesn't want to talk about money matters. He thinks I'm being preachy. Meanwhile, I'm just trying to educate. Oh well, he usually isn't so stubborn about things, but when it comes to money he wants to figure it out on his own. Fair enough. I just consider him the man I will one day marry, and if I'm going to have money in retirement and he won't, that will make for one lousy retirement.

Of course, I might die well before retirement (hopefully not) or he might (no!) or maybe we won't get married at all. Life has too many uncertainties to put all my eggs into one tax-free basket. Right?

But still, the question remains... how do I save $500k for a house so I can pay off the house (or at least most of the house) up front?

I really wish I could save $500k and my boyfriend could save $500k and then we'd both buy a $1 million house. How long would it take to save $500k?

If I save $2000 a month, that's $24,000 a year.

So it will take some time. It will take 21 years.

So I could buy a house in 2029 when I'm 45. That seems in poor rational.

But... what if somehow I get a raise and I start saving $3000 a month somehow? That's only 13 years. So I could buy a house in 2021 when I'm 36.

The sad part is that house prices will likely go up by then. Now, and in the next few years during this recession, is the best time to buy. The money I'll end up paying on inflation and such might end up matching what I'd pay on a mortgage.

I don't understand how I could save for a house.


Feb 13, 2008

New Budget, Now That I'm Making $$$

New Budget


$1300 ING Savings For Tax Account
$300 to ING for Emergency Account
$300 to ING for Grad School
$200 to ING for House
$300 to Sharebuilder / Investing
$200 to Roth
$100 HSA

$1050: Rent / Utilities
$71.33: Cable/ Internet
$48.33: Verizon Phone
$128: Health Insurance
$138: Car Insurance
$100: Gas
$27: Gym


$1237.78 left for...


$400 food / vitamins
$300 clothes / tech
$200 gas
$150 gifts
$100 dry cleaning
$50 laundry
$30 charity

Now am I forgetting anything?


At the end of the year, from my ING tax account I will pay my taxes. I should not spend all the money on taxes because I'm "taxing myself" at a 25 percent rate for all the money I make, but in the end all my money will not be taxed at that rate.

Any extra money is going towards a Digital SLR camera!!!


Feb 12, 2008

What a Sweet Promotion!

As many of you know, I've been working a contract gig for the past few months that I really love. I feel like I've finally found a job that keeps me excited most minutes of the day and that can use my talents and ideas.

My contract is expiring in a few weeks, so my boss and I sat down to renegotiate the next part of my working with the company. It turns out that in addition to my liking the job, the people there, somehow, seem to like me too! Wow. Ok, so the only crappy part of the whole deal is that I've upped my hours to 40 a week, but I'm not considered "full time" because, as I've mentioned before, "full time" at my company is 50-60 hours a week. I'm not in the mood to work 60 hours a week (I'll burn out fast) so I said give me 40 and an offer I can't refuse. Well, I just said give me 40 on contract for another three months and make me an offer.

So I was making $3300 a month plus some small amount of stock options for 30 hours a week. That was fine, but in order to really make a living I needed to start working 40 hours a week. I figured I'd get offered $4400, without a raise at all. I'd ask for $200-$500 more, depending on what I was offered. So my boss decided to get rid of my stock options and instead give me more cash. That's ok with me... I love my company, but I know the odds of it succeeding to the point where my stock options would be worth more than the paper they one day will be written on is slim. So he offered $4600 a month for 40 hours a week. That was a good offer, indeed. Still, it doesn't include benefits, and I plan on my health insurance costing about $400 a month, with basic monthly payments and HSA savings (plus dental and vision). So I figured I'd ask for $200 more a month. The worst he could do was say no.

But he said yes. I probably could have gotten away with asking for even more than that, but I think I'll try to raise my pay slowly over the time I work with the company. In three months, I might end up signing on for a full-time salaried position. It's exciting to think what sort of offer would come out of that, given they'd be expecting me to work 60 hours a week! Well, I don't know if I'll ever want that, but it would surely be a nice way to save up some money for grad school and my potential house.


Feb 6, 2008

For the Love of Theatre

Sorry I haven't updated in a while, guys. I've been extremely busy casting a play that I'm directing at a local community theater. Rehearsals start next week, so every moment I'm not working on one of my freelance projects, I'm figuring out things like blocking, character intention, etc.

The good news is that I'm getting paid $500 to direct this play. Most fo that will go to gas money and gifts for the actors and such, but I might even end up with a small profit I can pocket in the end.

Theater has an interesting relationship with my life. Admittedly, it holds me back from my career at times. Most jobs require that you have a flexible schedule, with evenings free for occasional long hours or overnight trips. Even my current job, which if it were full time, would be 60 hours per week, would require me to give up theater.

Every time I have to make my passion versus job decision, I cannot. Given my inability to make such a compromise, things have turned out quite well - at least for the time being. As a freelance writer with a fairly-stable part-time writing gig, I have the flexibility to direct a show in the evenings and work... during the day and in the even later evenings.

I've often thought about returning to graduate school for theater directing. But those $100k three-year programs seems like a terrible idea, at least financially. I was hoping my mutual fund and stocks would somehow add some of those funds to my account, but given the dismal performance of the stock market I'm actually losing money right now. Lots of it. Well, about $1035 of it to date, and most of that's from my mutual fund.

My goal in the back of my mind is still to save up $100k by the time I turn 30 (which is in only 5.5 years, omg) and then apply to grad school for directing *OR* buy a house. If I can even save that much, that will be a tough decision to make. And as you've already learned from this entry, I'm no good at making decisions!


Feb 1, 2008

The Moment of Truth: Get Rich By Making Everyone Hate You

Fox's newest reality/game show The Moment of Truth seems like a simple concept to begin with -- tell the truth and you can with $500,000. How hard can that be?

Apparently, it's really hard. The contestants are asked 50 questions on a lie detector test before going on the show, and then the show's writers pick 21 questions to ask them on-air. They go up a pyramid of money, and the questions get harder the longer they stay in the game. Of course their friends, family and co-workers are present to give evil looks and make them feel bad for admitting things like they've cheated on their significant others, even if it was only with their eyes.

This show really tells a lot about our culture. These people are in complete control of their winnings. How far will they go - by telling the truth - to make money?

Luckily for Fox, most people won't get to the really hard questions. Either they'll lie (who knows why they think they can get away with it) or they'll quick one they hit $100k. Not that $100k is a bad winnings, but it's amazing that thus far the contestants haven't gone all the way to $500k. I mean, if you're signing up for this show, you obviously understand you'll have to admit to 21 things that you probably don't want to admit to.

What do y'all think of this show?