Dec 31, 2008

New Years Eve

Half the world is out partying tonight, but I'm staying in. Tonight is the night when restaurants, hotels and nightclubs charge an exorbitant amount to partake in what they do what they do every other night. I just can't justify spending $100+ for one evening just to get into a club, let alone $300 or more.

Then again, part of me wishes I lived the lifestyle where that was my life. Where I could spend $300 for a night out just because it's an arbitrary day of the year that's a big holiday. To get dressed up and look hot and go dancing and get drunk and count down to New Years with a bunch of other drunk people who also spent too much on their evening.

What I really want to do is start a movement to celebrate all holidays the day after. Yea, I'll call it the DAY AFTER movement. You celebrate all holidays one day after so your holidays don't cost you an arm and a leg. Just think of how much you'd save doing Christmas the day after w/ all those sales. And you could enjoy a nice New Years out without being charged a small fortune for it.

Do/did any of you go out to celebrate New Years? How much did you spend?


Dec 30, 2008

Amazon Just Saved Me $30 (and then I spent it)

I picked up some books at the local Borders this evening... that'd be two computer books totaling $86 after tax. When I got home, I checked out their reviews and prices on Amazon, and found that I could get them for $55 w/ free shipping.

So what did I do next? Ordered them on Amazon, and added one more book in. So, I still spent $86. Well, I spent $160, but I plan on returning the books I purchased within the week so I don't own costly duplicates.

How often do you buy books and return them? I know bookstores aren't libraries, but their return policy (w/ a receipt within 30 days) can easily be followed if you want to get a quick read in, or buy now and buy cheaper later. I feel guilty doing that and don't do it often, but in this case the Amazon price is so much cheaper, and I haven't really read the books yet. Of course, the people at the store don't know that, and I always feel so foolish when I return my entire purchase a few days later.

Plenty of people sit in Borders and read books, so I don't see a huge difference in taking it home to review and returning it. I rarely do this, though, because I like to write in my books and keep them. The only reason I'm going to return these is because I bought the same ones for cheaper online.


Today I'm Thankful For... Twitter!

Today I'm thankful for...

Twitter. Ok, so it's not exactly free because I need the internet to access it, but it's close enough to free that it counts.

I've been on Twitter for a while, but used it as nothing more than a place to write silly little answers to the "What are you doing?" question. Only this week did I realize that I have been a fool for not using it for the tool it is -- one that helps me connect with other personal finance bloggers, and anyone interested in the subject.

Since getting more involved in Twitter, I've started following a bunch of interesting people. It's a little overwhelming, but for the time being I'm enjoying reading as much as I can in my free time.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, add @everycentcounts


Dec 28, 2008

HECC Approved Self Improvement Hippie Jargon

Every once in a while, I read a blog post that really makes me think. It doesn't necessarily bring about any new ideas, but it challenges me to reprocess my thoughts from a new perspective. That's what Get Rich Slowly's guest post by Justin Martin did for them this morning.

Martin asks "Whats Your Why? The Importance of Find Meaning in Your Life." He poses that "We need to have a vision of the future so compelling that we can see it even more clearly than the new toys in front of us."

For the author, his why is to have enough passive income to travel for a year and return in a better financial situation than when he left. (That would be pretty sweet.) But I can't say that's my "why."

He recommends a strategy to figure out your why in the form of 6 questions. I'm going to answer them below. Feel free to do the same on your blog.

  • Where have you been happiest?
  • What were you doing?
  • When you close your eyes and picture yourself incredibly happy, what do you see?
  • What makes you forget yourself for hours on end?
  • When do you feel best about yourself and your surroundings?
  • What do you talk about excitedly?
Where have you been happiest? / What were you doing?

I've been happiest when I'm entertaining people. The two times in my life that I've been happiest, albeit very different, have included a form of performance that others have responded positively to. One was when I was performing in The Vagina Monologues in college. All of the monologues in that show are great, but there's one show stopper that requires the actor to perform a variety of orgasmic noises on stage. The monologue is about a lesbian dominatrix, to give you a better idea if you're unfamiliar with the play. When I performed that monologue I had an audience howling in laughter. Not at me, but with me. And I felt sexy, smart, and funny, and was the happiest I had been in my life thus far.

The other time I was happiest was when I was in Israel (on my Birthright Israel trip) and at a hostel in Masada. I felt drawn to the staircase area, which had a window view of the beautiful dessert, and stood there and sang. Yea, I know, that's weird. But my voice opened up like never before. And I knew some people would hear me, but I didn't care. It was the middle of the day. There were few people around. Meanwhile, the acoustics in that staircase were brilliant. I sang for what must have been an hour, though I kind of got lost in time. For the first time in my life, I knew I sounded good. I didn't sing any particular song, just scales and various patterns of notes, words. At some point a bunch of people came in and applauded for me, which broke me out of my spell. I thought if anything people would be annoyed by my singing, so it was quite incredible to be doing something I truly loved and be appreciated for that.

I also experience moments of happiness when other people respond to something I do in a positive way. It's like feedback is my drug. (Makes sense that I work in customer service.)

When you close your eyes and picture yourself happy, what do you see?
I see my boyfriend by my side, smiling. I see myself being successful, respected, with enough money where I can spend a little frivolously while still knowing the value of money, and coming home to the man I love.

What makes you forget yourself for hours on end?
Singing. I just wish I had a better voice, I have no confidence in myself. I don't know if singing in musicals makes me forget myself for hours. I used to think that's what I want, but I think more spiritual singing is what I enjoy most. Not religious, but just making music without trying to sound like Bernadette Peters or Kristen Chenoweth, just letting my voice come out. That makes me happiest.

When do you feel best about yourself and your surroundings?
When I'm making people laugh, or getting some kind of positive feedback, laughter, applause, captive stares, whichever. I like when people appreciate my being silly. I've always been jealous of SNL performers (esp male ones) because they can get away with being such goofballs and do that for a living. I feel good when I'm in charge.

What do you talk about excitedly?
Anything that happens to be my passion in the moment. I admit, my passions are fleeting which can come off as flighty. There are a few things that I'll always enjoy talking about... the meaning of life, personal finance, myself (hello, I'm a narcissist), sex, and anything that can make someone laugh.

Martin says the next step is to "create a vision that moves you to do things you’ve never done before, and you’ll find yourself in new, wonderful places. Once you have a Why, no matter how unlikely, the How becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable."

I think also in these why questions, it’s important to ask yourself the opposite for clarity. What have you been least happiest doing? It’s sometimes hard for our “Why” to make sense financially. But what does make sense financially is to figure out what isn’t our “Why.” What is it that makes us miserable, and to avoid that. For instance, I used to think my “why” was to prove to other people that I was intelligent by semi traditional means. I worked for a while as a business reporter interviewing CEOs and VCs, and felt really important. However, the whole thing made me so nervous that I couldn’t spend any time enjoying it. I was miserable with the pressure of constantly introducing myself to people I don’t know, and asking the right questions, all while taking notes I could understand once I got home. Point being, it’s good to know your “why” to help guide you, but it’s equally as important to know what isn’t your why. That’s probably more important in the logistics of life.


Investors: As If The Markets Haven't Screwed You Enough...

So your stocks are down, what, 35%, and all you want to do is cling to the precious dollars you have left? Not so fast. Any money your stock funds made earlier in the year (when times were closer to peachy) is going to have to be taxed. Yea, I know you know that, but CNN wants to remind us that we can't avoid paying taxes on stocks that have already lost the money they gained, and then some.

Unless your stocks are in a tax deferred account, like a 401(k) or IRA, you'll probably have to pay taxes on them. "Fund managers had to sell appreciated shares to raise cash for redemptions, which triggered capital-gains distributions," Tom Roseen, senior research analyst at Lipper told CNN. "So you have insult on top of injury."

CNN suggests checking if your funds have declared their taxable distributions yet. If they haven't, sell them and capture the loss. You can deduct up to $3,000 in capital losses from ordinary income. Losses beyond that amount can be carried forward indefinitely to offset future gains. The article provides other tips for investing wisely in the years ahead so taxes aren't such a pain in the ass.


Dec 27, 2008

Loans Between Friends - Not Always a Good Idea

Have you ever lent money to a friend or relative? In times of economic hardship, more and more often our friends come to us with a request to borrow funds. Or maybe we are at a loss and need a few bucks to get by for the month, and we ask a friends to spot us the dough.

The New York Times reports that it's best to stop and think before lending money to anyone, even a good friend. The article highlights a professional financial planner who ended up lending her manicurist(!!!) $3000. Her manicurist needed the money to avoid eviction, and tugged on the emotions of a woman who would otherwise advise clients not to lend money to personal acquaintances.

For me, I like to lend money to people in need, but not to my close friends. Instead, I use Prosper's P2P lending system. At least I can do a credit check on the person before deciding to lend them money, and I can earn a decent amount of interest back in return. (Then again, it looks like it will be a while before I can lend on Prosper due to some legal trouble they're in.) If I were every to lend money to a close friend, I'd have to think of it as a gift when I part with the funds. If I get it back, all the better.

Q & you A:

What's the most you've ever lent a friend? Did you get that money back, or did it ruin your friendship?


Should I Hire an Accountant To Do My Tax Returns?

Read the Her Every Cent Counts Taxes Series

Since tax season is right around the corner, I'm trying to figure out if I should hire an accountant to prepare my tax returns, which one to hire, and how much it should cost me. I've pretty much decided I need to hire someone to handle my taxes for me this year, as I'm going to be taxed heavily as an independent contractor and need help finding all the deductions I can take.

Then again, it looks like hiring a tax accountant will cost me $350 - $450. Ouch. That's a lot of money. I'm sure the work they do is worth that, but it feels like I should be able to do all the work myself. An online tax software would cost me $100, so even if I missed out on $300 in deductions I'd still end up breaking even. And how much money in deductions am I really going to get? I can't take a housing deduction, I've never lived in a space big enough to qualify for that. My "business" expenses are minimal - maybe I could deduct hosting costs for my promotional website, and mileage for the route to and from the office. Other than that, I don't know what I can deduct.

The complicated parts of my return are going to be from my various investment incomes. God, that's going to be a nightmare. I'm not sure how to handle Prosper (luckily I only have 10 investments out... but it sounds like the earnings on each one will have to be taxed), and then there's Sharebuilder and those pesky dividends that count as income even though they're long gone now, and my Vanguard dividends (most are in my Roth but I also have a small regular brokerage account through them, which is supposed to be my grad school or house money), and then there's my CD from bank of america and various other places I've earned income throughout the year. Yea, that's where it gets complicated.

But I worry that because it does get complicated a tax accountant will have to take longer than his minimum 2 hours to complete my returns. They'll end up costing more like $500 or something, which is a pretty big chunk of my income considering so much of it's going to taxes (15% self employment tax on top of everything else, yuck.)

I've reached out to 3 local CPAs, and found that their rates range from about $300 for a return (the cheapest) to $400/$500. I wonder if the more expensive ones will save me more money, or if it ultimately doesn't matter because any extra money they'd save would be eaten up in their fees.

Here are my 3 options thus far:

  • CPA #1 My fees for income tax preparation fees are at $175 per hour. Most returns I prepare are in the $400 to $600 range. The tax preparation fee is all inclusive as it includes meetings and follow up questions and other assistance you may need. Also, I don't charge any additional fees for questions during the year. Of course, if you need assistance that involves significant time, it will involve additional fees, and I will let you know this in advance.

  • CPA #2 I charge $160 per hour plus out-of-pocket costs and there is a two hour minimum for tax preparation. 2-hours covers a basic return for an itemizer typical family. I can get you an appointment. (I followed up and inquired what out-of-pocket costs would be...) Tax software license access fee, copies & supplies, postage & misc. runs around $65 per individual tax return.

  • CPA #3 I'd be happy to help you with your 2008 taxes. It would cost around 300 for a schedule C. That includes preparation & the initial meeting. We should meet before the year end to maximize deductions.

If any of you are 1099 out there, or have been in the past, do you use an accountant to do your taxes? How much income merits hiring a tax accountant to deal with your returns?


Today, I'm Thankful For... Free MIT Courses

Today, I'm Thankful For... is a series dedicated to calling out the free things in life that deserve praise.

I'm challenging all my readers to take a few minutes each day to think of one "free" thing that is awesome in their lives. If you write in a blog, post a link to your "Today, I'm Thankful For..." entry as a comment and I'll add a link to it in my next post of the series. Since we're constantly being advertised to for all the things that cost us money, this is an advertisement for all that's free. Go ahead, buy in.

Today's Post:

Today, I'm thankful for the free, online courses at MIT. I've never been quite the academic my curiosity has made me out to be, so I'm constantly trying to balance my ADD with my insatiable thirst for new knowledge. Also, I have some weird anxiety over succeeding when I'm actually paying for a class and it "counts," which gets in the way of learning what I'm supposed to be learning. So these free classes are ideal.

Yes, they're really free. You don't get the interaction of talking to a professor, or other students. They're pre-recorded classes from other years. Some of the classes only have notes, while others offer in-depth readings, and I think a few even have videos of the professors giving lectures.

I'm most thankful for MIT's computer programming courses. One of my goals for 2009 is to learn computer programming. It's not so much that I want to be a programmer professionally as my current job would benefit from understanding a bit of code. I also dream of being able to make apps as a hobby, at least to the point where I understand where API's fit into the various programming languages I'm learning. I'm starting out with Python and Javascript. I've read a whole bunch of online tutorials (which are also free) but this (six credit) "Intro to Computer Programming" course has a text that's really clear and helping me get my head around the complex topic. And it's FREE! How cool is that?

If you're interested in other subjects, they've got you covered. Business classes from one of the top MBA programs in the world? Sure thing. Arts & Literature classes to make you feel like you're really in college again? Yup. Want to spend your spare time learning about Physics? Go for it.

When the cost of attending college is so high, and getting higher by the minute, it feels like I'm saving hundreds of dollars reading all of these online courses in my spare time. Maybe one day I'll apply to their graduate MBA program and get the real first-hand experience of taking these courses, but until then I'm happy learning for free!

Read Previous Installments of "Today, I'm Thankful For..."

Part 1: Trees


Where Your "Hard" Earned Tax Dollars Are Going

Fighting terrorism is expensive, no doubt. Our hard-earned tax dollars go to making sure America remains safe. The latest tactic to get secrets out of the enemy is... Viagra.

For elder Afgani males who have trouble getting it up for their younger wives, CIA officers are now offering a few little blue pills in exchange for information, reports The Washington Post. And it's working.

"The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills."


Dec 26, 2008

The Accidental Breadwinner: Some Women Have Their $hit Together

Thanks to The World of Wealth for pointing me to this fascinating NY Times article called "The Accidental Breadwinner."

Writer Karen Karbo details her three marriages, her long-ago dream to be taken care of by her breadwinner husband, and the reality of her making most of the dough in each of her marriages. She writes how a friend, whose husband made enough money to give her time off for a few years to "figure out her life" ended up with a cheating husband, stuck in a marriage in fear of now having enough money to live the life she's become accustomed to.

Karbo poses the question, "Is it better for the longevity of a marriage if one party (usually the woman) feels financially trapped?"

Well, yes. Marriage, just like any other business relationship, tends to survive longer the more complicated it is to get out of. But that isn't the kind of marriage I want to be in. Does it really take three marriages to get it right? Karbo sounds like she's found happiness now, with split incomes and an unromantic agreement on who pays for what (including who pays for who's kids.)

As I've written before, I'm worried about my current relationship because I'm the half of the duo motivated by money. That means my dreams of being the woman who works part time and takes care of the kids while my hubby brings home the bacon are all but dashed. Those dreams aren't real anyway, but they certainly are, in the back of my mind, what I expected. That's what happened to my mom. She went to school for fashion design and worked in the industry for 10 years, only to quit when I was born and become a housewife. And she's always been afraid to leave my father because, like Karbo's friend, she doesn't want to also leave the life she's grown accustomed to. The money she's used to spending. Even if she did get a job, she'd likely be earning minimum wage. At 50 something years old, how many raises can one expect before retirement age approaches?

I refuse to get stuck in a marriage that's destined for a situation like that. I'd rather be the breadwinner, accidental or predetermined. Still, my dream is a marriage where both parties bring in a sizable amount of income. My aunt and uncle are prime examples of that type of couple. The husband owns a one-man marketing firm, stays home, takes care of the kids, and still takes in six figures. The wife works as a marketing exec for a magazine, and also takes in six figures. Together, they own a nice house in a really nice neighborhood. That's the kind of life I dream of. I can only hope that Mr. Sweetheart will realize that asking for raises is an expected and acceptable part of being in the workforce.


Women Need to Get Retirement Act Together

My mother has no idea how much money she has available for her retirement, and she'd prefer to remain ignorant.

She's apparently not the only wife out there who prefers to avoid discussing finances. State Farm recently released findings of a national survey revealing that while 74 percent of American women feel anxious about their retirement and financial futures due to the recent economic decline, only 15 percent have made major changes to their financial plans.

More than two in five (41 percent) of survey participants admitted that going to the dentist is less excruciating than talking to their spouses about their daily finances. "The State Farm survey indicates that women are more aware of their retirement needs, however, too many of them are not taking the necessary actions to secure their financial futures," said Susan Waring, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of State Farm Life Insurance Company.

Women tend to make less than men through their lifetimes, which means they usually save less for retirement than men, Business Week reported in August. In a 2008 survey of more than 1,300 workers or retirees over age 25 by nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Matthew Greenwald & Associates, 68% of women and 76% of men said that they "had" saved for retirement.

Vanguard, a mutual fund company that also manages retirement plans, reported that in 2007 the average account balance of more than three million participants in their 401(k) plans was $56,723 for women, compared with $95,447 for men. More recently, Hewitt Associates consultants surveyed nearly 2 million participants in large-company 401(k) plans the company manages and found that women had an average of $56,320 in their accounts, compared with over $100,000 for men.

State Farm advises women to act now and take the following steps to ensure their financial profiles are ready for the unexpected:

* Review credit cards and checking accounts to assess all purchases,large and small, and tally where money is spent. Then, prioritize to identify where to cut expenses.

* Calculate monthly expenses and make sure to have enough money insavings to cover at least three months of costs.

* Seek financial advice from an expert to ensure financial plans are secure.


10 Tax Rules Changes for 2009

2009 is right around the corner. Even though you'll be spending the first few months of '09 figuring out your 2008 taxes, make sure you know what's going on for taxes in 2009.
[via:: diazconsulting]

1. Roth IRAs: Income caps for high-income earners rise in 2009. If your Adjusted Gross Income is in the six digits, this effects you. The pay in limit for Roths increases for singles from $105,000 to $120,000, and for couples from $166,000 to $176,000.

2. Estate tax leaps to $3.5 million, up from $2 million in 2008.

3. Annual gift tax exclusion will rise to $13k per donee, up from $1,000.

4. The standard mileage rate for business driving is 55¢ a mile for 2009...a drop of 3½¢ per mile from the rate in effect for the final six months of 2008. For medical travel and moving its 24¢ per mile. When driving for charity its 14¢ a mile.

5. Standard deductions rise in 2009. Married couples can claim $11,400. If one spouse is 65 or older, $12,500. If both are, $13,600. Single taxpayers get $5,700. Those 65 and older can take $7,100. Household heads get $8,350 plus $1,400 once they reach age 65. Taxpayers who are legally blind are allowed to add $1,100 to these amounts. Also, married tax filers who do not itemize can augment their standard deduction by up to $1,000 of property taxes paid. Singles filers can add in up to $500 of taxes paid.

6. If you are 70½ or older you can skip minimum required payouts from retirement plans and IRAs for 2009 without a penalty.

7. In 2009 the maximum 401(k) contribution increases to $16,500, up by $1,000.Individuals born before 1960 can contribute an extra $5,500, for a total of $22,000.

8. Contribution payin limit for defined contribution plans such as SEP IRA accounts and Keogh plans increases to $49,000.

9. Personal exemptions are $3,650 for each filer and their dependents.

10. Annual caps on deductible contribution payins to health savings accounts rise in 2009. The maximums increase to $5,950 for account holders with family coverage and as much as $3,000 for single coverage.

What isn't changing...

Contribution limits for IRAs and Roth IRAs. They're still $5,000 a year, plus $1,000 more for anyone born before 1959.


Millionaires, Boobs, Big Houses, and Reality TV

Forget the talent portion, these days reality TV stars can make a career out of being - themselves, without any talent besides perky tits, an itty-bitty waistline, and the ability to convince an television audience that they're a money-hungry dumb slut. But hey, they're making way more money than I am and probably having a lot more fun doing it, so who am I to judge?

In our culture, we reward people for being as superficial as possible. The latest news from the world of Reality TV is that Megan Hauserman, the big-breasted bombshell of Beauty & the Geek, Rock of Love 2, Charm School, and I Love Money is starring in her own gold-digging reality series.

In case you're a millionaire who wants to broadcast your quest for a trophy wife on TV (instead of just hiring a high-priced call girl like a good, normal millionaire), Megan, the accounting major from Florida, wants you. That is, she wants your money. And you. As much as any star on a reality TV dating show could actually want another person who needs reality TV to set them up.

She announced the casting search on her MySpace page earlier this month... are you "Looking for the ultimate TROPHY WIFE?" Not only would your prize come complete with a life's worth of obnoxious and bank-account draining spending habits, you'll also win, uh, the right to one hellova pre-nup if you decide to actually seal the deal.

Granted, I'm guilty for watching these TV shows. I can't get enough of gold diggers and the wealthy, and their drama. It makes me somehow be able to accept and take pride in my middle class status. It also makes me terribly jealous of women who are hot enough to qualify for a television show where they are offered on a silver platter as a Trophy Wife.

Another show all about money, from a bit more normal perspective, is Bravo's "Real Housewives of..." I've caught a few episodes of their various series - Orange County, New York, and Atlanta... and I must say, I'm more jealous of these women than I am of Ms. Trophy Wife Hauserman. Then again, most of them were that hot when they were in their 20s and 30s (most are still that hot, just in the 40+ year old sense... I don't think you can be a Trophy Wife once you hit a certain age, then you're just a wife.)

Still, these women are... real people. Their psychology is a bit different than that of say, a normal working person with no means of reaching the upper echelons of society, and they expect a bit more out of their shopping sprees... but even with all that money, they're still real people. I watched an episode recently where two couples went to Sonoma's wine country and felt awkward in a ritzy restaurant that served a bagillion mini courses and offered a snobs dream menu. It's fun to watch the rich feel silly being what rich is supposed to be.

Another reality TV series I couldn't help but watch lately is Paris Hilton's: My New BFF. The series ended a few weeks back, but I remember the episodes clearly. And in the end, I still don't understand what the contestents were competing for, and how this supposed friendship would work. It makes for riviting TV (on the reality TV show spectrum, on MTV) for sure, but why compete to be a best friend? Friendships, like relationships, are supposed to be equal. You can't compete for a best friend and then expect a relationship to be normal. Paris bought her BFF contestents expensive gifts throughout the competition -- they shared lavish days at the spa, gold-plated $1000 sundaes in NY, and shopping sprees where Paris announced "it's on me, whatever you want." I doubt that's how the "friendship" would work once the show concluded.

If anything, the show was interesting because what Paris was really looking for was a business partner. With Nicole Richie out of the picture, who would be her assistant (I mean, partner) in crime? She needs someone who looks cute, takes a good photo, and can help her continue to brand... herself. The show didn't mention any sort of pay this best friend would be getting, but how would her new bestie afford to be Paris' friend without some compensation? The show should have really been called Paris Hilton's: My New VP

I do applaud MTV for their series Exiled, where they take super spoiled teens (who appeared on My Super Sweet Sixteen) and send them to third world countries, where they're forced to spend a week living in the shoes of people with far less than them. They have to do things even I wouldn't do - like build houses with cow poop. Ew. It's a good show in teaching these young, spoiled children about the rest of the world before they're too old and spoiled to care.


Dec 23, 2008

I Hate Home Depot

(Home Depot rebates ARE A SCAM. I will never buy any big-ticket items from them again.)

Home Depot owes me a $60 rebate. My boyfriend and I bought our good friend a dishwasher for her birthday in August, and chose to spend a little more that we had originally intended to because of the rebate offer. So I got her a $399 dishwasher, plus spent $60 on delivery, and another $50 or so on parts. The dishwasher had a $60 rebate if you ordered delivery, so I paid, filled out the rebate forms online and thought I'd be receiving my rebate shortly.

Yea, right. Rebates are designed to screw you out of your money. They make you jump through so many hoops, eventually it's just not worth your time to pursue the matter further.

This sort of bullshit really works me up, though. I've been corresponding back and forth with a woman in the customer service department and getting nowhere fast. My last e-mail with "Bianca" informed me that I need to e-mail them a JPG attachment of my receipt to prove that I, indeed, paid for delivery along with my purchase.

So I took a screenshot of the e-mailed receipts Home Depot mailed to me as I bought the dishwasher and confirmation on my rebate submission. I have a feeling that's not what they're looking for, though. The bad news is that since the dishwasher was delivered to my friend, any sort of hard copy receipt that came with it is either lost or gone. I never saw it. But I paid for it. On my credit card. And Home Depot e-mailed me confirmations left and right about all these things. Then they e-mailed me saying I don't qualify for the rebate because I didn't pay for the delivery. Fuck that. I paid for delivery. And a whole bunch of other crap.

Moral of the story - rebates are evil, Home Depot's customer service department blows, and I'm going to keep blogging on how much Home Depot sucks until I get my rebate.


Botox Bail Out

Every once in a while I find an article or study that makes me embarrassed to be human. At one point in our evolution we would have given an arm and a leg to be able to feed ourselves and our families for the day. These days, we equate wrinkles to starvation. Even with stocks down and job losses up, vanity beats out frugality.

According to a new study, nearly three out of four plastic surgeons reported that demand has increased or held steady for minimally invasive procedures, including the Botox antiwrinkle drug, dermal fillers used to plump up lips and smile lines, and skin-smoothing chemical peels, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, a professional group representing 6,700 surgeons.

Case in point:

"Maralyn Burr of Omaha, Neb., in June lost her job as a district sales manager for bookstore chain Borders Group Inc. Ms. Burr, who is $140,000 in debt from her 22-year-old daughter's musical education, says she has slashed spending and all but stopped eating out. But she hasn't given up her Restylane and Botox injections. "It's like comfort food," she says." - Keeping Up Appearances in a Downturn, Wall Street Journal
Doesn't that make you just a little sad to be human?


Dec 22, 2008

Daily Dollar Briefs

Investors, "Don't Despair": Knight Kiplinger shared several ideas with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about how people can steer clear of Wall Street meltdowns and investment scandals. - npr

Just another job cut Monday... Textron said it will cut 2,200 jobs, or 5.5% of its world-wide task force. The cuts are expected to save $100M in 2009 -- WSJ

1 Million More Cuts:
The job market in 2009 is going to be tough, about 1 million job losses tough. Be prepared, and make sure to network now whether or not you think you've got a stable gig -- Market Watch

Un-Luck of the Irish:
As Ireland attempts to recapitalize, investors remain cautious of the country's banking system, and with good reason -- Financial Times

Quick - Short Your Way to Millions
: In a down market, it's tough to make a buck playing the stock market the normal way. Shorting when the market is down is a risky, yet potentially lucrative investing style -- Examiner

Still Seeking Retirement Dreams:
Older Americans can't afford a retirement due to the housing market crash and stock market nosedive. What should retirees do when all their options for a comfy retirement have backfired? -- WSJ


Today, I'm Thankful For...

Like any other gal who grew up in an upper middle class family, I lust after the finer things in life. Yet a pair of $1000 Christian Louboutin heals, as lovely as they may be, won't provide a smidgen of the happiness that I get from the free things in life. (Ok, maybe they will, but only for a few seconds before they start to hurt.)

In that mindset, and to offset my typical Jew whining, I'm going to try to post about one thing in my life that's free that makes me happy. I challenge you to do the same thing if you have your own blog, and post your links here so I can check them out and feature you on my next "thankful" post.

Today, I'm thankful for... Trees. I'm no tree-loving hippie, but trees (and grass and all of natures greenery) makes life so much more pleasant. The condo complex I live in these days is full of 'em, and they make me smile every time I walk outside or look out my window. I sometimes wonder what the earth would look like if trees didn't appear by the miracle of science and evolution. There'd be no shade to protect us from the sun and it would be tough for our air to be breathable.

When I did a Birthright Israel program this summer, our tour guide - who was practically a rabbi with his wise tales - spoke a lot of the symbolism of trees, and shade. Trees are free to sit under, to eat from, and to enjoy from afar. They are the wonderful gift that I'm thankful for today.

Q & you A: What free thing are you thankful for today? Post your answer on your blog and link back to it in a response.


Last Minute (Frugal) Gift Ideas

It's that time of the year again. Men are dressed up as Santa and sitting in malls. Kids are spinning dreidels and being schooled in gambling (for chocolate coins). And bank accounts everywhere are being drained on gifts for friends and family.

This year, with the economy in the South Pole, it's more important than ever to be cost-efficient with your holiday gift purchases. Thanks to the Internet and the awesome PF Blog community, gift ideas that won't break your bank account are aplenty.

My Dollar Plan offers 16 last-minute frugal gift ideas under $20. From lottery tickets to gas, if you want to splurge a bit you can pick up both en route to a holiday party, all while rejoicing that it doesn't cost an arm, leg and foot to fill up your tank anymore. For 50 more frugal gift ideas, head over to Bible Money Finance. BeingFrugal breaks affordable gift-giving down into what to give particular types of people (your girlfriend and grandma really shouldn't get the same gift, even if you are being frugal.)

When you're going cheap, the best thing you can do is be creative and unique. That's why I love this post on Squawkfox filled with 10 frugal handmade gift ideas (and pictures of what they should look like, so you know you're doing it right). The Frugal Family Fun Blog also has a few homemade gift ideas, though some require an education curve that you might not have time for (ie: knitting). They also led me to a post on Good Housekeeping offering cheap and easy food gifts (that look really nice. Check out their curried lental soup, yum!)

Whatever you make, don't waste money on wrapping paper! Head on over to Frugal Zeitgeist for a lesson in gift wrapping on the cheap. Sqauwkfox also has some frugal gift wrapping insight.

Q & you A:

What frugal/affordable/not-ridiculously expensive gifts are you giving this holiday season?

What's the best gift you've ever received that hasn't cost the giver a small fortune?


Mint Launches iPhone App!

When I see an iPhone, I think about that time when I was 4 and I craved a Nintendo game system. I didn't need it, but I wanted it. I got it for my birthday at some point, but the big difference was that it didn't require a $70 per month data fee.

Mint - my favorite online finance site - just announced the launch of their brand new iPhone app . So if you have already splurged on an iPhone (or plan to in the near future), the good news is that at least now you can use it to budget for those high data fees.

Their screenshoots look pretty, and pretty much like their website in mini form, so I'm sure the user experience is just at top-notch as the one found at

If you refuse to pay such high data fees and don't have an iPhone, Mint also lets you text “Balance” to MYMINT to find out what your balances are on the go. I haven't used that functionality yet, but I'll have to try it sometime since I'm one of those kids w/ out an iPhone.

They've come a long way since their private beta. There are lots of copycat companies these days trying to make a buck in the personal finance website and mobile space. A few new ones on my radar are Rudder (the first actual Mint competitor I've seen that's in the same ballpark), Thrive, and Greensherpa. I haven't had the time to review any of these fully yet, but I hope too do a detailed update on the personal finance startup space sometime soon.


Sex: Who Pays?

Whether you're all about the one night fling, a long-term relationship, or marriage: the cost of getting jiggy wit' it isn't cheap.

Having sex, despite nature's intention of an affordable entertainment option, isn't free. Forget about the cost of looking sexy so that you actually have a shot at getting laid. Condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms, dental dams, STD tests, gynecological exams, lube, pregnancy tests, etc are all part of the costs of being sexually active. So who foots the bill?

The Costs of Getting it On:

Birth Control Pills: With health insurance, birth control pills cost $20 - $60 a month. That's $240 - $720 a year. I'd imagine the woman usually pays for the birth control pill, especially if she's not in a committed relationship. These costs don't include any doctor's visits that are required to get a prescription for the meds. If you're in the lower class, you can take advantage of Planned Parenthoods cheap and/or free clinic visits and birth control meds... but anyone making minimum wage should expect to have to pay a monthly fee for birth control out of pocket. And that anyone is likely female.

Condoms: Love gloves cost about $.50 to $1.00 a piece. Depending on how often you get some, those costs could add up. If you're getting lucky 20 times a month (reasonable for a stable, monogomous couple pre-marriage, or a single gal/guy with a little extra time on their hands) this adds up to $10 to $20 a month or $120 - $240 a year. For one night stands or early on in the relationship, guys usually provide the latex coverage. However, later on the girl may have to chip in for the rubbers. (If you really want to go cheap with your condom purchases, check out this dude's science project on the cheapest way to get condoms in bulk.)

Lube: Ok, so you don't need lube. But some people prefer it. That's $10 a tube, give or take a few dollars. Who buys - the man or the woman?

Even if the man pays for condoms, the cost to have sex is far higher for the woman who has to pay for birth control pills, gynocological exams, etc.

Q & you A:

How do you split the costs for lovemaking that come up in your life / relationship? Who should pay for what?


Dec 21, 2008

The Spending Diaries

Ok, so I'm about two years late to post this, but it's still fairly relevant. NY Magazine did a series in 2006 called The Spending Diaries about 6 different people at different income levels, with a breakdown of where their money goes each week and how much they spend.

It's a bit annoying that their "poor" representative is a MFA candidate whose parents pay for his tuition AND housing. He's getting by on $20k just fine in various income sources above and beyond a free education and apartment.

Crazy how much all of them spend per week. I dream of being a millionaire, but if I was, I can't imagine spending as much as these people do.

Then again, I don't live in New York.


Baby It's Cold... Inside

This is the first year that I've lived with roommates since 2004. My roommates have slightly differing points of view when it comes to frugality - most obvious when it comes to such things as heating costs this winter.

Roommate #1 is a graduate student, and sometimes frugal. She'll buy a new dress for a night out, but when it comes to the heating bill she's willing to bundle up in fleece in order to save. I have trouble sleeping when it's cold (and yes, even in California it gets cold. Sometimes colder inside than out in my new apartment) so I tend to turn the heat on a bit at night. She's not frugal to the point of turning it off, but she'd prefer to keep our heating bills down. So would I. But I also want to be able to sleep at night.

Roommate #2 is a teacher, so she makes enough money to live a fairly nice life - especially in our current 3-way apartment share arrangement. The other day, after roommate 1 requested that we use heat sparingly this winter, she told me that she grew up poor and spent most of her childhood with heat-less winters. Now that she's working, she's going to pay for heat.

For the past two winters my heating bill was included with my rent costs, so heat was not an issue. If anything, it was the summers that were painful - no one uses air conditioning in Northern Cali.

I would prefer our heating bill to stay low, but I'm not sure how low is reasonable.

How high do you turn the heat on in the winter? And how much does it cost you?


Economy and Jobs: California 3rd Worst. (How are you faring?)

Yesterday, the state of California posted an 8.4 percent jobless rate, the third highest in the U.S. According to The Los Angeles Times, The state lost a net 41,700 jobs in November. The rate is at its highest level since 1994 and puts the state behind only Michigan and Rhode Island.

Last month, U.S. employers slashed 533,000 jobs - the most in 34 years - as unemployment rose to a 15-year high of 6.7 percent, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. With the high rates of job loss in my state and elsewhere, everyone is watching their piggy bank. Closely. For workers who lose their jobs, health insurance options are limited. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that (As most of you know, I'm fortunately employed, but as a freelance worker with pre-existing health conditions, my options for health insurance are fairly non-existent.)

It isn't helping matters that in California, the state's financial crisis means that traditional safety-net options, such as public health programs and clinics, are being cut back or threatened by the state and national budget crisis. It's true California's estimated $41.8 billion budget deficit needs to be fixed somehow, but with the current state of the economy and rates of job loss in Cali, it's a tough time to go cutting public health programs.


Updated PF Reader

In addition to redesigning my site, I've taken some time to update the Personal Finance Reader.

For those of you who haven't checked out my PF Reader before - it's basically a feed of the top personal finance blogs on the web. I admit, it used to be kind of crappy, but with the update it looks much better. It's basically my Google Reader feed of all the PF blogs I track. If I'm missing your blog and you think it's good enough to be on it, let me know and I'll gladly add it.

Check out the Updated PF Reader here. In the future you can get to it by clicking on the "PF Blogs" tab on the top of this page.


What do you think about the redesign?'s not entirely finished yet, but for the most part the layout is set. What do you think about the new design of Do you miss the old layout? Is this one way better? Is it too ad heavy? Let me know what you think... any feedback would be much appreciated!


Dec 20, 2008

Under Construction - 2009 Makeover

This blog looks like bum right now. I'm redesigning it. That means re-learning how to re-layout the site and creating new graphics for a brand spanking new look. I'm thinking the old formatting was fun, but not very slick looking. I've been checking out a lot of PF blogs and wanted to take all of the best design ideas and steal them for my blog. :)

So, in short, sorry for the mess. It'll be fixed soon.


Just Threw a $300 Dinner Party

When I exclaimed to my roommates "let's have a dinner party!"... I certainly wasn't thinking about cost. Last night, we had about 15 people over (including us) who we fed and entertained for the evening. It was a really lovely gathering, a holiday event dubbed the J-Food Dinner party were we served a mix of Jewish food and Japanese food (don't ask.)

But the bill came out to be way more than I expected. Not that I thought that through when I decided to have a dinner party, or when my roommate and I invited enough people to have to feed a small country.

Problem with throwing dinner parties is that you're never sure how many people are really going to make it. You need to invite a few extras just to make sure you're not sitting alone with all the food you make.

So between all the dishes we made, it cost about $300. I ended up buying $50 worth of frozen blintz at the last minute because I ran out of time to cook, and sadly bought the ingredients to actually cook them fresh as well - but that was only a few extra eggs and a lot of creme cheese, like $10 worth.

My boyfriend also decided to cook up this mushroom tart that we learned how to cook at my work's holiday party the day before. It was a Whole Foods cooking party, which was awesome, but of course they used expensive ingredients and in order to recreate our delicious tart he had to buy all these things... pastry shells, wild mushrooms, Camembert cheese, sherry... all of that added up.

And then there was the hummus and baba ganosh for an appetizer and bread, and the two bottles of wine (not to mention the other two bottles we already had) that got served. And a few bottles of martenelli's cider for the non alcohol drinkers. And all the latke ingredients, which my roommate bought, that I owe her for... about $60 worth (that's included in the $300 total).

Ultimately $300 for a party of 15 people isn't that bad, I guess. But it's still... $300. The same $300 I'm not making this month because my uncle's marketing firm had to cut back on its freelance budget. Yea, exactly $300.

Well, at least I've made $75 thus far in my posts for that tech blog I'm writing for about twice a week. I'm going to have to really turn up the posting on that so I can make up for lost costs. My next paycheck is going to rent, paying my boyfriend back (I owe him about $900 now including the cost of food for this party, he charged it since my credit card is missing), bills, taxes, and that's about it. I hope people don't mind that this Christmas I'm going to be a bit short on gifts. At least I bought my one really good friend a dishwasher for her birthday earlier this year (split with my boyfriend as a gift for her new kitchen) but still - she can't complain that i'm not getting her a gift. I should get my roommates something but... that might have to come with the next paycheck.

My "stable" job is still on the rocks. It's looking ok... but I'm not sure. They're letting go all the contractors besides me, which is really sad for those contractors and rather uncomfortable for me. My contract isn't up until the end of Jan, so at that point they'll have to decide how valuable I am to the team. I think I've proven my dedication - I've been there for over a year now, but in this economic climate anything is possible. And I'm a little worried. I'm hoping for a full time job with health benefits (!!!) but expecting the worst. And the worst case scenerio is that I can write up to 5 posts for this tech blog a week, making about $500 a month, which covers a large chunk of rent. Then I seek out other freelance positions... since the full time job market seems non-existent in my field at this point.

Probably not the best time to throw a $300 dinner party, huh?


Dec 16, 2008

Balancing Freelance Losses Due to Economy

My stable $400 a month gig has been reduced to... well, I'm not sure yet, but $250 or $300 a month. I've come to rely on that extra cash (it covers almost all of my rent, which is, by the way, going up from $612 to $670 in January) - so I'm exploring new cash-making opportunities and side projects.

The latest is a blogging gig that pays $25 a post. I'm starting out at twice a week with 200 word posts, and that's pretty easy to do. Even if it takes 45 minutes a post, that's $50 for less than 2 hours of work. I can write more too, if I have time. I like that, I just don't want them to come to expect 5 or more posts a week from me. That's why I left my blogging gig, and that paid a lot better.

Still, if I could make an extra $200 a month in blogging that would at least balance my losses. Supposedly I could make up to $500 a month - which would be good to strive for if I can do that and still maintain my 40-hour a week gig.

Plus, I need to keep writing things that I can share professionally (like, stuff other than this blog.) It's good to stay in the writing habit. The analytical section of my brain needs to be worked out again. It's getting flabby.


Dec 13, 2008

OMFGrad School

Graduate school is a huge sacrifice. Am I ready to take it?

At 25, my career is going well, but in order to really get where I want to be I need something big. Either that's a lot of luck or a lot of education. I'm stuck. At least I think I am. My experience is rousing no ones interests and the economic situation in the country isn't helping.

I have a job at a company where I'm making 57k a year w/ no benefits, and I could get let go every third month because that's how long my contracts usually last. My skills don't merit a full time position. I work 40 hours a week. I've been with this company for over a year now.

One route I could go down in the management route. But as much as an MBA makes $ sense, it doesn't really work out in my head. My passion is and will always be design, and since I have a psychology-business bent I've found myself addicted to Interaction Design.

There are a lot of successful interaction designers without graduate degrees, but they often have technical experience that gets them jobs where they can also do ID. Not so when it comes to people like me... who just feel stabbing pains whenever I view poor UI.

So... grad school is an option. I'm completely at a loss over whether it is the right option or not. When I went home to visit the fam for Thanksgiving I visited two graduate programs in NYC. They were very, very different. One was the Technology & Design program at NYU. I visited this second. The program was housed in the school's art building, and that place was a fluttering with artists. The tech floor felt like I walked into some experimental art exhibit. Cool, but probably not for me. The program seems a little too techy. The good thing about that program is it's flexible in that there are few required courses and you basically design your own program. But that's what got me into trouble in undergrad. If anything, I need a grad program that will force me to focus. Few or no electives, just a structured curriculum with the flexibility existing only in my thesis / final project.

Plus, I just didn't get a good vibe from the NYU program. Sure, the students seemed happy, but I just didn't feel like I'd click there. Compared to SVA, which I visited earlier in the day, it was black and white to me. Of course, when I visited SVA there wasn't much of a "program" to visit. They're launching an MFA in Interaction Design in the fall. So right now there's an office, a head of the program, and an assistant. And floor plans. Which can be a good or bad thing. For a lot of reasons.

I'm attracted to the MFA at SVA for a lot of reasons. #1 is the professors they have lined up. The roster is rather impressive. Various interaction designers that are at the top of the field. Connections aplenty. That doesn't speak for whether they are good teachers, but ultimately graduate school is about meeting the right people, spending time to teach yourself about the field, and, oh yea, did I mention meeting the right people?

The awesome thing about my visit to SVA was how the head of the program took the time to have coffee with me and chat. I asked a zillion questions. I definitely felt like I was being courted to apply, whereas at NYU they didn't care if I applied or not. Granted, with a brand new program it makes sense that the chair is trying to court the right students. The success of this program seems to depend greatly on the students she choses. With only 15 students in the program, each one of those heads will make all the difference. Not only does she have to select people with potential, she also has to figure out if there is a good blend of people in such a small, collaborative program. It's a tough job, I don't envy her.

It's really hard to judge the program at this point. I'd be trading $65k for two years of education, plus losing about $110k in salary, minus room & board, etc, etc. Ouch. Just thinking about the numbers makes me wonder how anyone decides to go to grad school (unless they somehow get a free ride or major scholarship money.)

The good news is that the SVA program is mostly at night, so it leaves time to work during the days. By "work," I mean intern, since I'd probably want to build up my work experience in the field and not just continue working as a writer (though some writing might work well for me, at least to cover rent and things).

I'm also concerned that I just have this romanticized idea of graduate study. I know it's work, and a lot of work at that, but I also am upset at myself for not figuring out what I want to study sooner and missing out on a really great HCI (human computer interaction) program at my undergrad institution. Since I can't rewind time, I need to look ahead and think... grad school, or, at the least, taking classes in the field.

There are so many options outside of grad school that could possibly land me in the same spot. Self education. Courses at community college. A local State University that has an MA in multimedia studies that would cost me $20k for two years, and is a night program so day-time work is do-able. Trying my darndest to get an internship with an Interaction Design firm. Weeding my way in via a paid copywriter position and learning more on the job. Meeting the right people outside of school.

When all of those options exist, how can I take the plunge? Or, when all of those options exist in theory but don't quite pan out in reality, how can I not?


Dec 12, 2008

Regarding My Relationship

A few of you responded to my last post that I sound like I'm unhappy with my current relationship. After all, I'm jealous of my friend who has an engineer for a fiancee, who is paying for her house.

Yes, I am jealous. But I also have come to a point in my life where I know money isn't everything. It isn't even necessary for happiness.

I dated an attorney for 2 years. He was in law school when we first started going out. He claimed he wasn't in it for the money, but he had a certain standard of living that it was clear he didn't want to give up. He wanted to build on that. He now owns a nice 1.5 bedroom condo in a decent area of San Francisco. I broke up with him because he was too ambitious. He cared much more about his career than his relationship. There was a coldness about him too. Robotic, almost. He was in it, even more so, for the challenge of his job, the intellectual splendor of it.

A lot of people are like this. And I respect them. And some days I want to be dating them. But really, I know that's not the life I can lead.

My current guy... despite lacking ambition... or being afraid of having ambition... is the sweetest man I have ever known. He's truly a "good" guy. I love that we could spend an entire evening cuddling and watching old episodes of some series we're trying to catch up on. Of course, the relationship isn't perfect. I'd love if he would so much as ask for a raise at work, but he won't. He lives at home, his mom has saved up enough to send him to grad school if he ever wants to go, so he doesn't need to earn much. I'm his biggest cost... he buys me food every once in a while. Without me, he practically wouldn't even have to work. He didn't... for a year after he graduated college, he didn't work. It took me nagging and him being annoyed at me nagging and me stopping nagging for him to get an internship and then finally a job.

So yea, that bugs me a bit. But it's not like I'm Ms. Ambitious either. I've gotten "let go" more times than I can count because depression or anxiety got in the way. I happen to be doing... well, pretty good right now, but that can change at any moment. My lawyer boyfriend really looked down on me when I was going through a dark time in my life, when I wasn't sure what I was doing with my life. My current bf, I know he doesn't care whether I'm out there bringing in the bucks or just making ends meet. He loves me regardless. And I really do love him whether or not he makes $100k a year... or $25k.

I also am rational and know that one day, if I want to own a house or have a family, money matters. It feels like romance and a relationship should be different than the business partnership that is marriage. Yea, you're super lucky if you get both, but I don't like to mix my love life with business. It always ends badly.


Dec 10, 2008

My Friend's Giant Brick House

When I went back home over the Thanksgiving Holiday, I spent a little bit of time with my childhood friend, Sara*, who always had a bit of competition going with me. We were frienemies for much of our adolescent years, but as we got older we started to get along again.

This trip home I got to see her brand new house. While she's still in school, she's engaged to an engineer who seems to be footing most of the bill for the residence. To give Sara credit, she's also working full time while studying full time. She's also terribly judgmental and seems to think that if one is renting it's silly because you should just buy a house. She also thinks her house isn't big enough, despite that only two people will be living there and it has four bedrooms (two will be used for offices, one for a guest room.)

The other thing is, back on the east coast, you can get a lot more for your money. Her house, which cost about $475k, costs as much as a studio does out here in The Bay Area. Nuts. So she's living an hour from NYC and can get a damn house for that. A nice house. With a pool in the backyard.

She is doing tons of renovations to the house (well, her fiance is... he's redoing the entire inside.) She's in charge of the design. He does the work. They both seem fairly happy about it. They own a home. Sara owns a home. She's 25. Like me.

I got back to California a few days ago. The bright winter sun warmed my skin as I stepped out the door in the morning. I took my daily drive down 280, a highway which has a beauty that never grows old despite how often I drive it. I smiled because here I feel so happy, and what makes me happy here is entirely free. The nature, my boyfriend, the sun. Even my job - for the most part - makes me happy here. So I figure back east people need huge houses to decorate because everything else is so fugly. Or at least in Jersey, where I grew up.

Still, I'd like to own a house. At least, I think I would. But I'm not dating an engineer. I'm dating a guy who makes $17 an hour and refuses to ask for a raise. It makes me nervous that who I'm with defines partly what my life will be. When, or if I'll ever be able to afford a house. And I'm jealous of my friend who is marrying a very charming engineer. And I wonder if I ought to be strategic when it comes to love over the long term. Or if I should just deal with the fact that I'll be part of the disappearing middle class, able to rent but probably not to own. These sorts of things have me rather attracted to any men I meet who have that breadwinner sort of vibe. That's a dangerous thing to feel... especially when there are so many men out there who take pride in making money. My boyfriend, on the other hand, would be more than content living in a cardboard box... as long as he had access to a daily shower.

So with him, it's up to me to make my fortune. To earn it. And I don't trust that I'm the type who can make that kind of money. I mean, enough to buy a house. A house in the bay area. With a view of something other than another house. And a little bit of land. And such.

What is my American Dream? Do I need to date someone different to achieve it? Should I be envious of my friend... or just determined to prove I can make enough money to support myself and live a life of relative luxury?


Economy Woes

Some people, some people who have a family to support, have lost their jobs. By those standards, I'm doing fine. I'm doing great! But it still sucks to see business opportunities, especially fairly stable ones, in the middle of the fiscal crossfire.

For the last two years or so, I've been providing copy to my uncle's one-man marketing firm. It started out as a gig writing some article summaries, and I made $50 a month. Over time, we upped it to more writing assignments and a $400 retainer. That was when times were good. Now, some companies are cutting back on their e-marketing budgets, which means they're cutting back on him. And he has to cut back on me.

The good news is that I still have my day job. Well, it's a day job on a contract that expires Jan 22. And my company is also, howdoyousay, skimming the fat from the company. Contractors are the first to go. We still have a good runway of VC bucks behind us, but they're now concerned that even with that, we won't make the revenue we need through advertising and other means because the economy is vacationing in the gutter. I've only been working there a year and a month, but in that year the world has changed. I may not have a job come Jan 22, and that's freaking me out.

Chances are, if I do my job well - and i need to do my job well - they'll keep me on as a contractor. I've been pushing for a full-time gig (which basically means I'll get some employee-pays-a-little health benefits and won't have to pay self-employement tax) but they're pushing back, saying that they need to be really careful about new hires. Of course, I'm supposed to work from the office 4 days a week and 40 hours a week, which seems legally to be an "employee." But what do I know?

I recently took advantage of my contractor status by traveling and working remotely for about 2.5 weeks. It's a double-edged sword, because they could very easily use that against me when deciding whether or not to hire me full time. I probably should be in 5 days a week if I really want to get hired on. I guess when it comes down to it, I'm not sure I'm thrilled with the idea of trading in my one-day-a-week work-from-home gig for health benefits. Sounds stupid, but with my anxiety disorder I need a day to just be away from people and focus on my work.

So... my uncle hasn't gotten back to me on how much I'll be making a month now that one company cut their monthly newsletter to quarterly. But it won't be $400. That $400 really put me in a comfortable salary point given my cost of living. Plus, if I ever want to actually save up for year one of grad school before I go, then I need the money. That doesn't seem possible either, though.


Dec 9, 2008

My Parents Make Me Sad

[edited to add: a lot of you have left comments offended by my question if it's wrong to hope for some inheritance from one's parents one day down the road. I responded to the comments, but also wanted to note higher up in the post for future readers -- I agree my parents owe me nothing. They have already given me so much, and for that I'm grateful. My father raised me and my sister always mentioning how one day we'd get the house a long time in the future, so in the back of my mind I just thought that would happen. My dad worked his whole life spending 8 hours a day plus a long hour-and-a-half commute, and he made a sizable income. My mother, who took care of the kids and house, always spent frivolously and taught me very bad spending habits. She is very narcissistic and only thinks about others when it benefits her. Thus, my hurt more than anything is the difference between the way my father thinks in terms of leaving something behind to his children versus the selfish nature of my mother. My father is dying of cancer and my mother will likely survive much longer than him, with all the money he saved hard all his life to have and spend in retirement. Ultimately, while an inheritance would be nice, I'm not expecting it or depending on it. It's more of the principle of the matter, if that makes any sense. One day when I have children and get older, I want to be able to leave them something, to have something to pass on after my life. I don't want them to expect that of me, but as a mother that's something I'd like to do if I have the financial means. In much of history and even today, a person's wealth is determined by two things - family and ability. Maybe with a little luck thrown in. If you want to judge me for thinking about these things, go ahead. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think them and I won't be the last.]

My dad, now retired and receiving a pension of over $4k a month, is watching his money flush down the train, and there's nothing he can do about it. Well, perhaps there is, but any reasonable way of maintaining financial sanity within my family is overwhelmed by his inability to be rational and my mother's complete lack of ability to comprehend reality.

I tried to help my family out. When I went home, I found out a bit more about the financial situation. My dad is retired, he has a little under $1 Mil in the 401k, which is less than it was, of course, since the market is in the shitter. That's a decent sum for retirement, I guess, though they do say you should save $1 mil per adult, and that's $1 Mil for 2. Regardless, that should be enough, if spending is wise. It doesn't even have to be frugal. But my mom refuses to accept that money, even that much money, is finite.

So they took out a $190k home equity loan to build on a new room to the house recently, and while my dad is keeping up on paying the interest, he isn't paying off more than a few hundred dollars of the principal every other month or so. He can't. My mom is spending something like $7000 a month. Or more. It's really sad. That's on top of what my dad spends on living... mostly food and medical bills (oh, yea, he has cancer, and has tons of co-pays for his doctor's appointments and drugs).

They don't need to be spending that much. It's mostly my mom's fault when it comes to this. My dad doesn't buy a lot. He has to spend the money on his medical bills. But my mom is just ridiculous. She spent $1000 on 5 pairs of shoes recently. When I ask her why she needed 5 pairs of shoes, she explains that when she finds something that fits she has to buy it, and a lot of it, because what if she never finds something that fits again?

Beyond the clothes, there's jewelery, makeup, a cleaning service that costs $800 a month (to clean the house once a week), overspending on groceries ($800 a month), etc, etc. And of course the few hundred on QVC each month. Which she watches picture-in-picture on her big-screen TV at all times to make sure she doesn't miss out on deals.

So... is it wrong to be upset that she will spend away any inheritance I might have otherwise one day seen? My dad is more of a saver than a spender, and he always said that he saved up enough money that one day he'd pass it on to us, his two daughters. But he's not going to live as long as my mother is and she'll be left with all of his savings to spend into debt. And that's what she'll do. At this rate, I don't think 1 mil minus the $190 in home equity minus my sister's college education will last her.

Even without considering a potential inheritance, this situation is whack. I keep trying to tell my mom to get a job but she says she doesn't have time. Yea, because she's spending her whole life glued to the TV and QVC. She says she spends all day cleaning, and the house is never clean enough, yada yada. It's one excuse after another. My mom is absolutely crazy.

My dad has given up at trying to get her to budget. She doesn't listen. He used to scream about it. Now he just screams about other things. It's so messed up. And I can't do anything about it... except just be wise about my own financial life. It's hard to change my psychology of spending based on how my parents taught me about money, but I'm trying... really, really hard. Ok, sort of hard.