Jan 31, 2009

Lending Club: First Impressions Part II

I haven't made my first loan on Lending Club, but it seems I'm set up and ready to go as soon as the loan is funded. One very distinctly different thing about Lending Club versus Prosper is the lack of "person." That is, on Prosper you get photos of smiling people (often with cute little kids) to tug at your heart strings and make you want to "invest" in them, even when you shouldn't.

On one hand, I like that because it makes me feel ok about defaulting every once in a while... I feel like I've helped someone out, even if I lost my money. At Lending Club, I'll probably be a lot more upset if someone defaults... because there it really sets you up to be a bank, not a charity. Which is fine, it's how P2P lending should be, I'm just not used to it being that way.

So I've picked my "notes" -- which seem to be set at $25 each (I don't understand how to put more money into a note yet, or if I need to buy multiple notes at $25) and now I guess I just have to wait for them to be funded for the loan to begin.

Since I'm using "free" money I went for a little more risky loans... a C1 rating and a F3 or something... the rates average to 15% or thereabout. I'll give these loans a little while before deciding if I want to put any of my tax refund into P2P. I know P2P is going to be big in 2009 and surely Lending Club will profit from it... I'm just not so sure I feel comfortable with the risk, especially as everyone seems to be losing their jobs, houses, and ability to pay off debt.


Jan 30, 2009

Lending Club: First Impressions

The Internet is a wonderful place. Thanks to a few tweets back and forth with the CEO Director of Product Strategy for Lending Club, I landed myself a few bucks in my account to test out the growing P2P site. I've invested about $500 into Prosper over the past two years, but it's in a silent period now and I've got a hankering for P2P lending, so it makes sense to try out the ever-popular lending club.

I haven't done much so far. Signing up was easy (then again, I remember signing up for Prosper was easy too. It's always easy to sign up when the company wants you to give them your money.) The interface is nicely designed and clean... at least from a noob perspective.

I'm about to make my first loan... I just need to figure out how to do that. It seems like the rates are set by credit scores and such, as opposed to somewhat randomly ala Prosper. I guess that's good? I failed at Prosper by lending $50 to a person with a B credit rating who was looking for money to study abroad. It was her second time posting the listing. Yea, that one defaulted. Everyone else has been paying on time. I'm not seeing the interest rates I'd like... even though the performance is still wayyyy beating all my stocks.

Ok, so I'll write more about Lending Club once I've figured out how to pick my loan(s). They first took me to a page that - similar to Prosper - would set up an investing plan for me based on my desired risk allocation. I never used that on Prosper... I like to hand-pick my loans. So that's what I'm going to try to do... I'll report back when I figured it out and get my first loan set up.


I've Got $7 in my pocket...

I'm a person of extremes. I eat basically nothing, or, alternately, everything in site. I work my ass off and stay up all night to get projects done, perfectly, or I barely lift a finger. Same goes for my finances. It's not the healthiest way of living, but it sure works a charm when I'm on the more positive end of it.

This month, I've been extremely frugal. Well, not in the sense of purchasing two pairs of jeans. One, my favorite brand, was on sale at the local mall for $100 and I couldn't resist. I actually thought it was another style, which I realized it wasn't, so I promptly went on eBay and bought a "slightly damaged" pair of the ones I actually wanted for $70. Given that the original pair I bought last year cost me $170 for one, I felt good about setting up this two-for-one designer jeans deal.

Regardless, that was really my only big spend in the past month. I've also been frugal about eating, in ways I probably shouldn't be. I tend to go for as long as possible without buying food. Around the house, that's fine, I still have some random frozen things and tuna. But I'm never home. At work, sometimes I'll work straight through lunch, and live off the various snacks in the office. Lucky for me, at least my work provides some granola bar-type things. Still, not healthy for mealtime, but I survive.

I'll be posting my January spending charts soon. Lately, I thought about making a goal to reach $50k in Net Worth by the end of the year. I'm still trying to figure out if that's obtainable. I need to see what my Net Worth is after taxes this year, and then make a plan. I may not be in debt, but I can still live like I'm getting out of debt, so I can one day buy a house.


Jan 28, 2009

The Carnival of Wealth, Money and Life

Welcome to the (belated) January 25, 2009 edition of carnival of wealth, money and life.

First off, I wanted to apologize (again) for this carnival being delayed. My first priority has been my job (working my ass off so I don't get layed off), so I'm only finding time now to go through the submissions and get this carnival up.

In this economic climate, for most of us we want to know how to make the most of the jobs we currently have, the money we've made in the past (esp around tax time), and what to do if we're caught unemployed - like so many who are losing their jobs each day around the world during this "Great Recession."

Your Job (or lack thereof)
and Ways to Make Money in Tough Times

To start off, I'll point y'all to Matthew Paulson's write-up Are You Getting the Most from Your Employee Benefits posted at American Consumer News. Here, Paulson details how to get the most out of a Flexible Spending Plan (FSA.) I don't have one, but if you do, he's got some good advice for you.

Here's some more invaluable advice. Wenchypoo offers up tips on how to Fireproof Your Job over at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket. So the tips are fairly obvious, and directly quoted from CNN (do a lot and make the company money and remain positive), but Wenchypoo also links up to her related past posts on getting the most out of your job, and keeping it. Also check out her bullet-point post Bail YOURSELF Out in 2009 for more of that obvious wisdom we need to hear daily.

Knowing how to deal with stress is always important, but when bills are piling up and your next paycheck is looking more and more uncertain, you need to keep your stress in check. Can't afford a therapist, or a treat-all pill? Joel Gray presents Healthy Stress Management Tips over at Health Tips 101.

If you're working as a freelance copywriter, the economy is probably hitting you hard. I'm aware of that first hand - my freelance writing well has dried up. Steven Lohrenz links back to an older post about the Prediction On Copywriters During The Financial Mess (posted at Stephen Dean's Copywriting And Internet Advertising Blog - Copywriter.)

Whether or not you're employed, you still have to pay taxes. (Who said life was fair?) Check out Ben's post on Tax Forms to Gather For Your Tax Return over at Money Smart Life to get a head start (or a late start, if you're one of those do-everything-ahead-of-time type people.)

Whatever Happened to the West-Coast American Dream?

the baglady asks Is this the death of the California dream? over at xynny. Apparently there has been a "mass exodus" from Cali over the past four years. How ironic that I moved into the state around that time. She writes "It’s really not a surprise to me because I have seen the rapid rise in cost of living, taxes, and unemployment in the past few years." For her, California may no longer be the best place to realize the "Californian dream."

Enough of This Pessimism, Start Making $$$!

*FIRE Getters lists the Top Ten Paid Survey Sites to Make Extra Money over at FIRE Finance.

*Dave presents Extra Income Ideas I at Cheapo Groovo.

*Malcolm Clarke writes why You Should Start a Business Now! at Mal255 - Poker Strategy, saying, "Why everyone should start a business and take control of their future today."

*Kevin writes you can be Making Money with Affiliate Programs at Trafficteria.com Blog Optimization.

*Praveen presents Making Passive Income With Minimal Niche Sites posted at My Simple Trading System.

Save Your Pennies

Savings Toolbox presents Stashing Cash at Home posted at Savings Toolbox.

MoneyNing presents 50 Ways to Budget Travel and Save Money on Vacations posted at Money Ning, saying, "Being a frugal traveler can save you so much money!

Deposit Accounts presents Understanding the Differences Between a Money Market Deposit Account and a Money Market Mutual Fund posted at Deposit Accounts.

Frugal Living Tips

Annette Berlin presents How To Cook A Restaurant Quality Meal For Fifty Cents posted at Craft Stew, saying, "I just made myself a meal that was so good, so fast and so cheap that I have to brag about it."

Denis O'Leary presents Kitchen & Bathroom Remodeling in Today?s Economy posted at LEAD Construction.

The Smarter Wallet presents A Look At Costco, Sam's Club and Other Wholesale Shopping Clubs posted at The Smarter Wallet, saying, "Thank you!"

presents Frugality and the Environment posted at zpetals.

Invest Now or Forever Hold Your Pense

Jeff Williamson
presents Best Way To Invest Money posted at PE Financial Services.

Silicon Valley Blogger presents Lending Club Review: A Leading Peer To Peer Lending Network posted at The Digerati Life, saying, "With tighter credit these days, here is one option for obtaining liquidity in the financial system -- through social lending."

Pinyo Bhulipongsanon presents Five Reasons Lending Club Beats Credit Cards When Funding a Small Business posted at Moolanomy.

Investing School presents Bid Ask Spread posted at Investing School, saying, "Learn everything there is to know about bid, ask spreads"

Jed Norwood presents Volatility And Wider Spreads posted at Forex Strategy, saying, "This article is about the forex market, it helps explain why the market is the way it is. Fore ix a unique way to invest so if you haven't already considered it I would look into it."

The Shark Investor presents It's Not Hard To Be Good posted at The Shark Investor.

Banks and the Housing Market

Dividends4Life presents Bank of America Headed Back to the TARP ATM posted at Dividends Value, saying, "Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. I think Bank of America (BAC) would take exception to that statement. BAC has been in the news all week and it has not been flattering. This once proud dividend aristocrat continues to struggle even after slashing its dividend."

Tristan presents How Long Does It Take To Remortgage? posted at Find Financial Freedom, saying, "How long does it take to remortgage if you don't have adequate income? A long time, same problem if you are in negative equity, or have bad credit. It's a brave new world out there thanks to the credit crunch, the mortgage market is a much different place now than it used to be."

presents Home, Mortgage, Landlords and Renters Insurance explained posted at Home I Own, saying, "How to choose the right type of insurance that will save you money."

David presents How Much Home Can You Afford To Buy? posted at Personal Finance Ology, saying, "Calculating how much home you can afford is an important precursor to house hunting. Do your homework before investing your time and money!"

Keep Your Credit In Check

Finance Tips 101 presents Identity Theft Prevention Tips posted at Finance Tips 101.

Woman Tribune presents Living Off of Your Credit Cards posted at Woman Tribune.

The Investor presents The really obvious thing we all forget when borrowing money posted at Monevator.com, saying, "Have you ever wondered who you’re borrowing money off when you go into debt? If you think you’re being given money by a bank or credit card company, think again."

The Dough Roller presents Business Credit Cards Guide posted at The Dough Roller, saying, "A complete guide to some of the best business credit cards."

Debt Freedom Fighter presents Why Reading a Credit Card Review is Important posted at Discover Debt Freedom!. CreditCardAssist.com presents How to Travel With Credit Cards posted at Credit Cards Blog | CreditCardAssist.com. apply4-credit presents And the Credit Fraud Continues posted at Credit Card Applications Expert | Apply4-Credit.com. Mr Credit Card presents Fraud Alert vs. Freezing Your Credit Report posted at Ask Mr Credit Card. Credit Shout presents 0% Introductory APR: Golden Opportunity or Quicksand Trap? posted at CreditShout. David presents Citi PremierPass Elite Review posted at Credit Card Offers IQ, saying, "The Citi PremierPass Elite offers industry leading points rewards, including 20,000 bonus points."

Finance Philosophy and Life Musings

Broderick Allen presents Persistence posted at Broderick Allen - Personal Growth and Enjoying Life's Journey.

presents Procrastinator, plucker, plotter, and prober posted at KCLau's Money Tips, saying, "Recently I was reading the book titled “The Number: What do you need for the rest of your life and what will it cost?” A rundown on what the book has to offer"

Isaac Yassar presents How To Realize Happiness posted at Isaac Yassar's Overture, saying, "People seek happiness. That is the reason of their studying and working, improving their personal quality to achieve success. The question is what will happen after we reach success. Probably the answer is getting piles of money and massive personal consciousness, the mediums to reach happiness. At least that is what most people think. Is that true?"

Ariel Bravy presents What Is Abundance? | You Are Truly Loved posted at You Are Truly Loved, saying, "Let's better define "abundance" and notice how much it can positively affect our lives."

Chris presents If You're so Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? posted at financial reflections, saying, "A few ideas on how to be smart with your money and end up rich."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of wealth, money and life using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Jan 27, 2009

Carnival Will Be Posted Tomorrow!

Sorry to everyone who submitted to this week's Carnival, that is scheduled to appear here. I got bogged down with work over the weekend, and as it's important to keep my job right now, I made that a priority. However, I will get the carnival up here by tomorrow morning. Hope you'll all bear with me. There were a lot of great submissions and it's tough to decide which to include!


Jan 21, 2009

Eating Addicitions vs. Spending Addictions

There are many similarities between a shopping addiction and eating addiction, or any other addiction for that matter. Mostly, you are ashamed of your addiction. You want to do it alone. You feel some sort of power in that you're doing it alone, that you have control over this one thing in your life, despite it being so out of control.

I feel very fortunate to not have any "other" addictions beyond eating and shopping - those are enough to handle on their own. I'm also very fortunate to not have a gene where my weight balloons regardless of how much I eat. My eating addition shows, but at 150lbs I'm more unhealthy inside than out.

For shopping, it's my credit card bill that gets "fat." I purposefully lost my credit card last month to stop myself. It's not that I spend and spend, it's just that the idea of having a credit card is that you can pay for something later. That little psychological switch makes rationality hard to grasp. It's easy to buy something here and something else there, and before you know it you owe quite a bit of money. You need financial weight watchers.

This year, I really want to focus on getting healthy in both of these areas. Last night, I was bad. I came home and ate an entire box of bagel bites. Alone, those 500 calories would not be the end of the world, I probably hadn't eaten more than 1000 calories earlier in the day. But then my roommate offered me a box of Oreos. I never buy Oreos for myself, and I love them so much, and I couldn't resist.

One thing I'm looking forward to in life is moving in with my boyfriend. While we both have an eating addiction, we both realize that the worst thing to do is have food like that in the house. I'm excited about splitting the grocery bill and cooking for both of us when we live together.

How do you evade temptation?


Jan 20, 2009

Makeup Settlement and free designer perfume? Yes, please.

My mom has a bad habit of forwarding me spam e-mails. So when I first got an e-mail about a "makeup settlement" I figured it was a fake. But I was intrigued, so I did a little Google research and found out that, indeed, department stores like Macys and Bloomingdales would be giving away free designer makeup... a $175M class action settlement that basically results in these companies giving away one free makeup item to anyone who wants it. Well, you're supposed to have bought makeup at the store from 1994 to 2001 or something, but they aren't checking.

So this morning, I went to Macys. I actually went to look for a new shirt for work, but I was also curious what this free makeup chaos would look like. It was, as I expected, chaotic. They had a line that went out into the mall when I arrived. So I decided to do my shopping first.

About an hour or so later, the line had died down. It was actually pretty short, about 15 people, so I got in line and was handed a "menu" of the free products. I had no idea which to get... they were mostly body wash and lotion and such. I decided on a 15ml bottle of Christian Dior d'adore perfume.

A lot of stores are giving away free goodies as long as supplies last all across the country. It's probably not worth an hour wait in line, but if you can find a store with a short line, go for it.


Jan 19, 2009

How Much Would I Have Without My Wealthy Family? -- Inspired by MEG @ The World of Wealth

Being a personal finance blogger, I'm often embarrassed of the financial background I come from. I've been reading a lot of MEG's blog Wealth is Good lately, and she seems to have the same problem, if it is a problem.

MEG recently "came out of the finance closet" and wrote how she's getting a financial gift each year from her grandparents, as part of their estate planning process. It's causing quite a stir in the PF blogosphere. In a recent post, she is trying to figure out how much her net worth would be without any help from her family. It's one of those things that's pretty impossible to figure out. But for both of us, our net work would be much less (likely negative) at this point in our lives if our parents hadn't helped along the way.

Looking back on my life, I really have no idea where my net worth would be without my parents. Maybe I'd be poor and depressed. Maybe I'd be in law school after working my ass off in undergrad. I probably wouldn't be living on my own and making $60k at a job I love.

My parents paid for so much of my life. My spending on things I didn't need (clothes, other junk) was high, but I never really bought anything material I really wanted with their money. Just a lot of crap. I went to public school, so that was free, but my parents paid a lot for outside classes and camp. In high school, every summer I went to a different college for courses. All of that helped me get into college, which ultimately helped me get the job I have now.

While not from the bank accounts of my mom and dad, my $15k that I started with out of college was directly a result of their work. That is, when I broke my arm in 6th grade and they sued the gym, the lawyer and my parents won me $15,000. I wasn't able to touch it until I was 18, and when I was able to touch it I was afraid to invest it. I just put it in a CD and let it sit. (Probably a good idea given the current state of the stock market.)

If I didn't come from money, I may have worked harder in school, gotten myself a scholarship to a better school than the one I went to, majored in something that would have gotten myselef a stable job right when I graduated, lived frugally, stayed at home to pay off debt, etc. Or, as MEG puts it, I could have been so overwhelmed by everything and just dug myself further into a hole with credit card debt. It's hard to say.

The one thing we can't control is where we come from. It's easy to spend any amount of money if you aren't careful. I didn't start thinking about saving money until I found An English Major's Money blog two years ago. I always thought saving was something I could figure out later. Then, the personal finance blog community let me know that's the worst idea ever. So I started saving.

And the rest is her(everycentcounts)story.


My Dream House

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of one day living in a house with a big backyard, a view of the ocean (or at least twinkling lights), a heated pool, hot tub, a grande foyer, marble, a mix of contemporary architecture and classic detailing, each room decorated and designed to perfection. These days, I'm a bit more reasonable when it comes to contemplating a home purchase, but my irrationality is kick-starting my savings for a down payment.

Actually buying a house may be years off, but one day I hope to do it. I have friends (who live in more affordable areas, and who generally are engaged or married) already taking the mortgage plunge. I'll admit my jealousy, a bit, but I feel much better about it when I pay my $632 rent and have the rest of my money to save.

I can deal with living in cramped quarters for cheap rent, but I'm not sure I'll be willing to make such a compromise when it comes time to seriously think about buying a house. I grew up in a mid-size home. It had a downstairs, an upstairs, 3 nice sized bedrooms (large by modern constructions standards), a master bedroom, a den, a kitchen, a living room and 3 bathrooms, not to mention an incredible, grassy backyard. Growing up in such middle-class luxury, it's tough to think about raising a family in any place smaller than that.

But, as it goes, my dream house will likely be well out of reach.

A quick peak at any local real estate guide showcases my dream house for, at minimum, $1.5 mil. That is, in the Bay Area (San Mateo County), even a tiny house goes for $800k. You're lucky to get a decent studio for $500k.

Back home in New Jersey, my parents nice house that I spent my entire childhood in isn't even worth that! So it seems if I ever hope to own the house of my dreams, or anything close to it, the Bay Area is out of that picture.

Living in the Bay Area for the past three years has made me realize just how important it is to live a place that makes you happy, beyond just an apartment or house. Here, I have so much natural beauty around me I could live in a (waterproof) cardboard box and be happy (assuming I have gym access for a shower every so often).

But then there's my hope to raise a family, two or three kids, and that takes a house big enough to fit those kids. That takes a lot of money. I don't think it will come from my won't-ask-for-a-raise boyfriend. So that means I need to start saving for a down payment, and also forcing myself to think realistically about what sort of house I will be able to afford.

For starters, I'm going to try to save $300 a month towards my down payent fund. The question is, where do I save this money? The stock market is probably a bad place for it, though it's possible this is a good time to invest the cash if I hope to put a down payment on a house in 5 to 10 years. Or maybe that's an awful idea. Maybe it should just go in an ING CD and stay there until I'm read to spend it.

The other issue is graduate school. If I decide to go, there goes my down payment, and then some. My lifetime earnings may increase, but not my purchasing power in 5 years.

I just can't fathom saving $200k for the downpayment on a $1M home. Even half of that seems impossible. Not to mention that someone making $60k is not supposed to buy a home that costs that much. What's the rule... no more than 4 times your income? Uh, I can't get ANYTHING for $240k in this area.

I could probably borrow the money from my dad's 401k once he has access to it, but as I've written before, I want to try my best to be financially independent from my parents, as I have been since graduating college. Being a spoiled kid is one thing, but you can't really be an adult until... you go into debt buying something you really want, and need, and that will make you money in the long run.


Jan 18, 2009

2009 Budget Plan

As I wrote in my last post, my 2008 savings plan was a success. But in 2009, a lot of variables are a changin', and I can't save 50% of my income for taxes anymore. Being a full-time employee means regular tax withdrawals from my paycheck. No more saving for taxes in a nice 3% interest ING account. So what does that mean for my spending and saving in 2009?

First of all, I recognize that at 25, my medium-term goals (buying a house, grad school, having kids) are suddenly becoming more-or-less short term goals. I won't go into how much that's freaking me out at the moment, and instead will concentrate on how I can best save for them while my fixed monthly out-of-pocket expenses are low.

Even though I use Mint to track my spending, I find it most useful to have a Google Doc spreadsheet set up for my monthly budget.

First, I make a row of "Budget Headers" -- which includes everything from "income" to "travel." For now, I'm not too picky on my breakdown. I have a few columns left for income - my base paycheck, some small additional freelance income I earn monthly, and other revenue streams that may pop up throughout the year. Then, using my strategy from last year, I deduct 50% of my income from spending power.

The next columns are set up for fixed expenses: Rent, Bills, Insurance, Gas, Food, Gym, etc. After I got all those in, I made a column for remaining liquid cash called "LEFTOVER." My LEFTOVER money in 2009, assuming I can take in $2650 after taxes, is $1178.

$1178 seems like a lot, but it's not extravagant.

After the "LEFTOVER" column I added a "REMAINDER" column, which basically tracks the difference between my extra spending/saving and the LEFTOVER amount. The goal would be to get this as close to 0 each both as possible, without going under.

On the right side of the REMAINDER column I made columns for all of my un-fixed expenses: clothing, travel, Roth, downpayment account (currently at $0), gift, entertainment.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something but I'll add it once my January totals come in.

The cool thing about this spreadsheet setup is that I can adjust it for income. My favorite thing about 2009 is that I have a few easy income streams for a couple of extra bucks a month if I can get myself out of bed early. My main job is going to really take up most, if not all of my time to "work," but if I really want the extra cash I can write a blog post once a day for $25, up to $500 a month. Last month, I earned $250 doing that... which was a good thing since my other generally stable freelance income stream of $400 a month payed out only $100.

At the end of each month, I'll post my budget chart here.


2008 Taxes, Part 1: Did my 50% of income strategy work?

In 2008, I tried a financial strategy meant to keep me both "in-the-know" and "out-of-the-know" at the same time. This simple strategy was to save 50% of my income for taxes in a high-interest savings account. As a self-employed person this was legal, as long as I paid 90% of my previous years' tax along the way. Being as in 2007 I made less than $30k and my income shot up to $58k in 2008, this made a whole lot of sense.

The outcome of my 2008 plan seemed to have worked decently. I just tallied up my tax figures for the year, not counting any deductions I or Turbo Tax may take, and my total tax owed for 2008 is $22876. This includes my 25% tax bracket federally, $15.3% self employment tax, and $9.3% tax bracket in California (why is California one of the highest tax states to live in yet we're also the deepest in debt???)

I saved $26,000 for taxes after paying $4315 in estimated taxes over the year (I still owe my Jan 15 estimated tax for federal, need to send that out, but I hear it's not late as long as you get your return in by Feb 2.)

So, number crunching that means sans deductions, I still owe $18,562, leaving me with $7438.17. I'm sure with deductions it will be a little less then that and then with my various interest income from different accounts it will be a little more. I'm guessing I'll end up with at least $7200 to save.

So the good news is I start 2009 off with $7,200, or thereabout, to spread about in my various accounts as a "cushion" for the year. Sweet. Still deciding on whether to get a tax accountant for my 2008 returns, though I figure even if I don't take any deductions I'll get

In 2009, my tax situation is an entirely different story. My income may go up a bit, but I'm now a full-time employee, so I can't shelter as much money from taxes over the year... nor do I really want the headache. In my next post, I'll describe how I'm planning to take a more active approach to budgeting in 2009.


Jan 17, 2009

On the Dawn of the Obama Era

I vaguely remember Clinton's presidency. It was before I could vote. I remember people seemed to like him, so much as forgiving him for having a lusty affair with his intern. I didn't know enough about politics then to judge, but he seemed like a good prez.

Then came eight years of Bush. I feel bad for Bush, even though I dislike him. As soon as he stepped into office 9/11 happened, and everything went downhill from that. I disagree with the decisions he made to go to war with Iraq, but with such an attack on the US he had to do something. And then over the last four years, our economy has run out of gas. We're spending trillions of dollars on a war we probably shouldn't be fighting, and in our own borders people are going hungry, losing houses, and living without health insurance.

I doubt Obama can really bring the "change" he promises. But there will be plenty of change with the new democratic government. Change that we need. Hopefully. I expected the worst of Bush and I got it. I'm afraid to expect too much of Obama because he is, after all, a politician.


Jan 16, 2009

Brite Smile Review: Was it worth 300 bucks?

As I noted in my last post, I recently splurged on a superficial "Brite Smile" treatment to attempt turning my not-so pearly whites closer to white. The treatment, available at dental spas across the country, costs anywhere from $299 to $600, depending on if you can catch a good sale. I had been oogling the quick tooth whitening ever since seeing the sign for it at my dentists' office years ago. But I couldn't bring myself to spend the money.

Once I decided I would take the financial plunge last year, I went in to a local dental spa for a free consultation about the process. To be honest, the dentist lady freaked me out. She was just so fake nice, and I wanted to punch her. Regardless, she made me feel bad enough about my teeth that I wanted to spend the money on the process. Still, it was $400 and I wanted to wait for that $299 special that comes up once a year or so... (I read about it online.) So I waited, and the receptionist lady constantly e-mailed me asking if I wanted to schedule an appointment. They seemed desperate (not a good sign.) I told her to contact me if they ever had a $299 special. Around the holidays they had just the bargain I was looking for. So I decided to go for it.

That's when I started to read all these horror stories about the process online...

Few people who had Brite Smile done said it was worth the money. What's worse, most of them said you get this awful pain for 24 hours after getting the treatment that's so bad you want to die. I'll admit that scared me a bit, but after looking at my yellow teeth in the mirror day in and day out, I was willing to take on the pain. Or so I told myself.

I set up an appointment (surely the dental spa was thrilled to be making the money) and prepared myself for pain. I took a few too many ibuprofen before my treatment, and then when I went to the dental office and the receptionist/assistant asked if I had taken any, I said no and got more. I didn't overdose, really, but I took more than the recommended dose... which seemed to work on the pain during the treatment.

They took a "before" picture of my fugly teeth, and also showed me what shade my teeth were on this scale of yellow teeth. Then, they set me up for the process. This dental spa thing was weird... they started with an aromatherapy treatment. The dental assistant, who ended up doing the entire treatment, turned into a hippie massage therapist. "Breath in the aromas and relax." Weird. I tried not to laugh. Next, they propped open my mouth and prepared my teeth for bleaching. That part was pretty much what I had read from other people's experiences - not comfortable but not totally uncomfortable either. They put on music for me to listen to and the first 20 minute session of zapping my teeth began.

What I feared most were the "zingers" that I read about online. They happen during the treatment and worse, after, I read. The treatment consisted of 4 20 minute sessions. Time definitely did not go fast enough. The first session was fine. I listened to a musical theater station on rhapsody and barely felt a thing. Towards the end I felt a little bit of a vibration in my teeth but nothing painful.

After 20 minutes, the weird dental assistant lady came back and repainted my teeth with bleach. She informed me that the pain people complain about is when the gauze comes up and stops protecting the gums, so I shouldn't worry about that, only to look in my mouth and say, without much concern, "that gauze just doesn't want to stay down."

The second and third treatments were ok. I was bored, and the warn vibration sensation got a bit stronger, but nothing painful.

Then came the fourth session.

Fuck that hurt.

So the dental assistant told me at the beginning that if I need anything to just put my hands out and someone would be right there. The dental spa didn't have enclosed rooms, so basically people were walking by all the time, supposedly. About 10 minutes into my fourth treatment I felt one of those shooting zingers. I wanted to tough it out, but it hurt a lot. Like biting into ice times a billion. So it went away and I hoped for the best. Then another one came a few minutes later. I cringed. About 16 minutes into the treatment they started to come more frequently. I waited as long as I could, but at some point I couldn't take it... so I started to wave my hands. First calmly. Then frantically as the machine jolted me, also making some sort of noise with all the stuff in my mouth (i was really saying "HELP" but you couldn't make that out).

What seemed like forever later, another nurse came over to see why I was making a fuss. She stopped the machine. At that point there was only about 3 minutes left and the dental assistant informed me that wouldn't make much of a difference, so I could stop.

Good, I thought. I made it through the treatment; I'm a survivor.

She took all the gauze and such out of my mouth and showed me a mirror. My teeth were really white. I was so happy. They tried to sell me a bunch of Brite Smile products (to keep your teeth white) but I declined spending $100 on toothpaste and mouthwash.

I knew my teeth would dull down over the week (I read that people often do not see a difference after the color settles a week later, even if they see great white teeth the first day) so I did not get my hopes up too much. Still, I couldn't help but smile. Smile all the way to the supermarket, where I was going to fill my Vicodin perscription.

Yes, I asked for Vicodin. Well, I asked, before the treatment, for a strong painkiller. I mentioned that I was worried about what I read. The dentist who spoke to me at the beginning said that if I was really concerned she'd write me a prescription for Vicodin. Thank fucking goodness she did.

When I got to the supermarket, the "zingers" started to kick in. I put my prescription in right away, but it took 15 minutes to fill so I was left to walk around the supermarket and wait. I enjoyed seeing my bright white reflection around the supermarket, and seeking out "white food" (I was only allowed to eat white/non-colored foot for the first 24 hours after getting the procedure done)... and then, bam. Zap. This shooting pain hit my tooth and rattled my brain. I wanted to laugh, because it was just what I had read about, but I just clenched and started to get nervous about waiting for the prescription to be filled.

A few more awful zingers later, I got my Vicodin. I took it right away. It helped a little, but not a lot. For the next 24 hours or so I'd have those zingers. I'd go to the bathroom and look in the mirror at my teeth to remind myself why I had spent $300 on such agony.

After 24 hours, I was fine. My teeth still looked pretty white, so I was happy. A week later, they got a bit yellower. Now, I think they've gone back to yellow but my boyfriend says they still look whiter then they were. They definitely aren't AS yellow as they were to begin with. I'm very self conscious about my teeth so ultimately I'm glad I spent the money on this. I probably could have got equally good results with Whitestrips, but I always forget to wear those. This was a quick hit for whiter teeth. It hurt like a bitch, I'm not gonna lie, but it was worth waiting for that $299 special. At least I can now read all the horror stories about people who spent $600 on the treatment and feel like I got a good deal.


Jan 15, 2009

The Weirdest Conversation With My Dad about Saving Money

Maybe my dad's perspective on saving for retirement has changed since he has cancer and may never make it to see the 401k fruits of his many years of labor, but the phone conversation I had with him earlier today about investing was bizarre.

My dad has never been the frugal type, but he made enough money where his spending was reasonable. He enjoyed eating out, living in a nice-yet-modest home in the burbs, and taking a good vacation with the family once a year. Being as he worked as an actuary, his company provided a sizable pension.

Since my dad is the math and finance expert in the family, I've asked him for advice on where to put my savings and how much I should be saving for retirement. His immediate reaction to the question was "why are you saving for retirement now you're only, what, 25?" I'll let my dad off the hook for not being sure how old I am for the time being (I'm not sure if he's 57 or 58, so that's ok), but it kind of irks me that he almost thinks it laughable that I'm attempting to save for the long run.

His response about long-term saving is that I shouldn't worry, that the "inheritance" will "cover" my retirement. (A lot of you were upset at me in an earlier entry when I wrote about expecting a sizable inheritance in the future, but this is where I get the idea from!) Still, I've realized that I'm not going to expect that or rely on it, because who knows what will happen over the coming years. If I end up retiring with a butt load of money that I didn't expect, all the better, I can donate it or give it to my hypothetical kids. In the meanwhile, I want to save $5M for my retirement.

So I go on to ask my dad where I should save the money, if not in a long-term account. He seemed perplexed why I didn't want to spend it. "Enjoy life" were his exact words. Again, the fact that he now has a terminal illness might influence his advice a bit. He wouldn't advise wasting the money on clothes or such (which is a bad habit of my mother), but other things like travel, sure.

That's not to say I haven't or won't spend my money. I spent a lot in the past year on travel. Going home ($300 flights twice a year), my trip to Israel... all of that added up. And to be honest, I'm still not clear on where my net worth ended up for 2008. I feel like I spent a lot. And I did... if my taxes actually were 50% of my total income for 2008 I'd be at a loss for the year (though that's also due to losing "thousands" in the market like everyone else). But I save a lot for my taxes and I'm pretty sure I'll end up getting some money "back" (which really just means I'll move the money from my "taxes" account that I ignore to a savings account that is included in my networth).

2009 is going to be a totally different story. With my promotion at work, as long as I can keep the job (and I plan to) I'll be making quite a bit of money. Of course, it's all relative, and it's super easy to spend it all on things I don't need. My cost of living is really low for someone my age in my location.

But I foresee a lot of major expenses in the next 10 years including, but not limited to, grad school, a house, a "new" likely used car, infertility treatments if I want kids ($20k a kid is not out of the question, and who knows if it will even work), etc, etc, etc.

All of those things cost a lot of money, which makes me so confused about saving. I only have about $1500 a month after taxes and rent/bills, even with my pay increase. Which is a lot, but not a lot, a lot. As I said earlier in this post, it's so easy for me to spend that in a few days at the mall. Or at least a huge chunk of it.

I'm not planning on doing that this year. I want to spend this year, well, not spending. To see just how much I can save. I'm not going to live "frugally" but I am going to live well within my means. I just don't know where to save the money.

I'm so tempted to put a lot of it into the stock market. Worst case scenerio it gets stuck in there long term because the stock market takes a while to recover and at some point it pulls out. That doesn't seem wise. I'm planning on maxing out my Roth by putting $400 a month into the account. So that leaves me with $1000, give or take. $1000 a month isn't that much, if that's going to everything from vacation to clothes and other savings.

And I'm so so so fortunate to have the luxury to ask my dad about what to do with my extra savings. And to ask the finance guy at my company if we'll get a 401k and be embarrassed to admit that I'm maxing out my Roth IRA at 25 and would like another tax advantaged account to put more money away for retirement.

Or maybe all of this retirement savings talk is teaching me the right things and wrong things at the same time. Maybe I should be saving my $5k a year for retirement, but beyond that it might be wise to invest elsewhere, for the short term. I'm pretty sure I want to do grad school within the next 3 years, and that ain't cheap.

My dad has mentioned that when he can get into his 401k he'd "help" me out with grad school costs, but a part of me doesn't want the favor. It's tough to say "no" to that kind of offer, but I'm at a point in my life where I take pride in paying for my pursuits. I didn't do that all through undergrad, and everything seemed worthless. I mean, I knew it was expensive, but it wasn't something I paid for, something I earned or would have to earn in the future. Now my life - it's really mine. Because I pay the bills. Because I have the choice to go to grad school and take out a loan, and pay it back. I guess I just want to feel normal, when it comes to finances. I grew up so spoiled in relation to the rest of the world and I'm tired of it.

But I'm also terrible at spending on big purchases, even if it's things I really want but don't need... like laser hair removal on my face (I have a hormonal disorder called PCOS that causes hair to grow where it shouldn't which really sucks) and maybe Lasik for my eyes. I did pay $300 for Brite Smile this past year (I'll post a review about the treatment tomorrow) which was huge for me, but I wanted to treat myself. Instead of wasting the money on clothes. I'd waste the money on brightening my teeth a few shades. Waste of money? Maybe. But it felt better than wasting money at the supermarket on things that went bad before I got around to eating them.


Jan 13, 2009

Blogger Interview Tuesday w/ Mrs. Micah

I'm inspired by so many personal finance bloggers out there in cyberspace. That's why I'm starting this interview series. Every other Tuesday I'll (try to) post an interview with a top personal finance blogger. A special thanks to Mrs. Micah of Finance for a Freelance Life for agreeing to be my guinea pig. :)

Q: Mrs. Micah, what's your blog about?

A: It's hard for me to define my blog. It's a personal finance blog, crossed with a freelance blog, crossed with a personal blog. I don't write a lot about financial products or investing, I prefer to look at how our attitudes impact our finances or write abot practical financial steps people can take.

Q: Most people who write personal finance blogs have written about other topics before, and fell into PF blogging. Why did you start your blog Finance for a Freelance Life?
A: I started the blog just after getting married, when the reality of my husband's student loans registered with me. He'd been open enough with a general amount, so I knew what I was getting into, but I hadn't thought too much about how it would affect the next 10 years of my life.

Q: Did you write blogs before this?
A: I've been blogging for years, actually, I started at least 8 years ago. I'm not a financial professional, I write abot what interests me and I don't want it to be taken as professional advice. I try to do good research and offer helpful suggestions/tools on the blog so that it can provide useful financial information.

Q: If you could tell yourself something 10 years ago relating to your financial habits that you know now, what would it be?
A: I think the younger me was pretty financially disiciplined. But I would tell her to make use of high-interest savings accounts, CDs, and even start saving a bit for retirement. I saved a good bit, but I was only earning 0.2% interest on my savings! I'm not sure when high-interest savings came into vogue, but I know CDs were available.

Q: What's the one biggest mistake you've made in your financial life?
A: I used to think that all I had to do was save money, I was scared of investing or using higher-reward banking tools. As I said above, I'd tell my younger self to get more on the ball about this. Because I'm still quite young, I don't feel like this has caused a major financial problem in my life but I do wish I could change it. Or you could say that the biggest financial life mistake was marrying someone with $100k in student loans. But the rest of my life doesn't think it was a mistake, so I'd do it over. :)

Q: What financial advice do you have for people in their 20s?
A: It's not too early to start saving for retirement. And you don't have to have it all right away. Just because you got married or had another life event doesn't mean that you now need a house, etc, if you can't afford one. Don't let your finances get you down, there are plenty of ways to enjoy life without spending much.

Q: What of your financial goals were the most rewarding to reach in the past?
A: When I was 16, I set the goal of buying a new violin. Saved like crazy and was able to find one I still enjoy playing. Then when I was 17, I went to Europe to visit my aunt and uncle. They paid for a good portion of the trip, but I covered a lot of it.

Q: Do you have any financial goals for 2009?
I'd like to pay off the car in 2009, get that out of the way. We'll do this by using my blog income, my consulting income, and Micah's teaching income while living off my library job. It should be doable. My goal is to put at least $1k/month towards it. I'm going to have to figure out whether or not that's realistic. I'll be writing about it on my blog once I get logistics figured out. I plan to have that done by mid-January, when I get my 2nd paycheck.

Q: It's great that your blog is profitable, congrats! Do you have any tips or tricks to share on how to earn more revenue on a blog?

A: My blog does earn quite a bit more than the average one. I think it's important to make sure your blog is at least somewhat search engine optimized, at least using plugins like All In One SEO or Headspace2. That shouldn't be done at the expense of content, but it's important to make your content available. Good search engine traffic will affect both PPC ads and CPM ads. And give it time. I made no money for almost 6 months at the beginning and then things took off.

Q: You write a lot about the challenges of a freelance lifestyle. What are the biggest challenges of being a freelancer and how have you dealt with them?

A: I think the biggest challenge is having faith that you'll be able to find work. Otherwise the freelance life is terrifying. And sometimes I was truly terrified. It wasn't rational, I knew I'd look for work and had found work in the past, but it was still frightening.

Other challenges include taxes, for which I'm hiring an accountant, and handling rates with clients. The latter can be quite difficult, depending on the client. It's partially a matter of not wanting the client to get upset and partially how the client interacts. Some have a great sense of boundaries and others aren't sure. I expect some of that comes from how I've communicated with them about what I'll be doing. Financially, you can't be doing 10 hours of work priced at only 5 hours.

Q: Do you have any tax advice for other independent contractors?

A: Save all expense receipts, log them in a spreadsheet as well as keeping hard copies, and turn them over to your accountant to help you figure out which can count as unreimbursed business expenses. Also keep detailed spreadsheets of your earnings (along with dates and client names, I also include the nature of the work). And reserve some of your income for taxes so you won't have to come up with anything you owe at the last minute.

Q: Who are your favorite bloggers/writers?

A: One of the bloggers I've been enjoying the most recently is Vered at MomGrind. I've been reading her blog off and on for a while now, but I really started appreciating her voice this fall. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't feel like she has any kind of agenda. She just writes, she's a good writer, and it's always interesting or funny.

Q: What free/low-cost thing or activity makes you happiest?
A: Reading. I love stories, I love learning about new subjects. And I like mixing it up with mysteries, thrillers, classics, paperback romances, and then non-fiction. One of my favorite things to do is sit down with a good story and have an hour to lose myself in it.


Jan 10, 2009

After Maxing Out an IRA, Where Should Retirement Savings Go?

This year, I'm going to be making at least $60k. Which is wonderful. I plan on saving as much of that money as I can. The question is where to save.

2009 is an interesting year to have the opportunity to put away a chunk of money. With the stock market down, it seems like a great time to start making consistent, monthly long-term investments in the stock market. But without a 401(k), where do I put all of my savings? It's surely a luxury to be able to ask this question, but one that I have to start thinking about nonetheless.

There's also the real possibility that even if I do an amazing job at work in 2009, my startup will not receive funding to go on in 2010. Thus, I have to plan for unemployment at some point, just in case. The good news is that if I do a good job and the company goes under, god forbid, i'll have a really solid network of references to help me find my next opportunity. So my only concern here is making sure I do an amazing job over the coming months. That's just about the only thing I need to do for this situation to turn out positively.

But the question remains, where do I put this savings? It's so hard to find answers to this question because most people say "max out your 401(k) first and then max out your Roth." Well, what if you don't have a 401(k)? Then where does your money go?

There are a lot of options. I'm not sure, from a tax perspective, which are the right options for me. And maybe the tax savings isn't something I should be concerned about? Savings, in general, is a good thing.

So... a few other factors play in to the equation. I'm pretty sure I want to go to grad school in a few years. I've decided I likely want to go for an MBA, hopefully at a fairly good school. I'm not sure when I'm going to do this exactly. But I know I need one to become a product manager, which is my goal right now. There is always a chance I won't end up going to grad school, but it's looking more and more likely as I advance my career and figure out my long-term goals.

There's the possiblity that I will move with my boyfriend to New York or wherever he goes to grad school (which is even more of a definite than my potential grad school experience) and have to find a new job. NY is a super expensive city, obviously, so having a solid emergency fund will be vital. I already have an emergency fund of $7k, but I'd like to grow it if I'm going to be moving to NY.

Assuming I can put away $10,000 for the year, where do I put it?

$5000 goes into the Roth IRA.

Then, where does the rest of it go???

Some options that I know of:

1. Mutual funds. No tax help there. Taxed going in and coming out.

2. An HSA. Which still has a limit of $2,900 a year. And my company would put in $1,200 a year. So that's only $1,700 more on top of the $5000 in the Roth.

3. An 529 education savings fund. The problem with that is if I don't go to grad school and/or have kids who go to college, I lose the money.

There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid and savings. Prepaid plans allow one to purchase tuition credits, at today's rates, to be used in the future. Therefore, performance is based upon tuition inflation. Savings plans are different in that all growth is based upon market performance of the underlying investments, which typically consist of mutual funds. Most 529 savings plans offer a variety of age-based asset allocation options where the underlying investments become more conservative as the beneficiary gets closer to college-age. [via wikipedia]

4. P2P lending. I'd like to try out lending club. My Prosper accounts are doing ok, only one default, and I've heard better things about Lending Club.

5. ETFs and individual stocks. I already put about $2,000 into a Sharebuilder account (that's down to $1500). But the coming year may be a good time to buy some good stocks at bargain prices. Unlike two years ago when I started investing.

6. Buy property. I don't really have enough money to do this, nor do my circumstances equate to this making sense. But I know there are tax benefits to owning property, which is why I'm including it in the options.

7. CDs. CD rates suck right now. But they're at least safe.

8. Bonds and other such lower risk investments. Prob doesn't make sense in my 20s.

That's about the only options I can think of right now? I don't think employed people can open a SIMPLE IRA or SepIRA... so I've run out of options. Or do you guys have a better suggestion for me?


Jan 8, 2009

PPO versus HSA: A welcome decision

It has been a long time since I've had the luxury to ask myself whether I should enroll in an HSA or PPO. In fact, I've gone without health insurance for the past year. Now that I've finally been offered a full-time gig, I'll be getting health benefits a long with it. Boy, am I glad the day has finally (almost) come.

Now, I just need to decide if I should go with the HSA or the PPO. I'm leaning towards the HSA. My company contributes $100 a month to it, and it has a $1.5k deductible. Apparently my max yearly contribution is something like $3k for an HSA account. So *if* I could go a year without needing to go to the doctor for anything other than my regular exams (which are covered by this plan) I could theoretically save $3000 tax deferred per year for retirement.

My goal for the next year is to save 15% of my income, or at least $9,000 of my income for retirement. I'll max out my Roth IRA, but that has a $5k limit. Then where do I put the rest of my money? I was thinking of opening up a SIMPLE IRA, but now that I'm going to be an employee, that's out of the question? There has to be some way to put more money away for retirement tax deferred if your company doesn't offer a 401(k)...

Anyway, the HSA really makes the most sense. I know myself, and I know that I hardly ever go to the doctor, even when I should. Last year when I was sans insurance I had something bad going on with my stomach and I finally went to the Ob-Gyn to get it checked out. Cost a small fortune.

The PPO is attractive because the company pays 90% of it per month. My monthly payment, then, would prob be $50. So I could pay $600 per year for a PPO *or* I can do the HSA (which prob costs something but less than the PPO) and get $100/month - $2.95 monthly admin fees - $15 one time set up fee put into my HSA account. And put more money into that as well.

They say HSAs are good for us youngins but I'm also not the healthiest of young people. Then again, with an HSA I could still go to the doctor, I'd just have to decide if it's worth dipping into potential retirement income. Hmm.


Time to Celebrate!

I don't have much time to write, but I needed to update to say -- I just got a major promotion and am extremely excited about what that means all around. For the first time in my life, I have a full time gig that I love, that pays well, with people who I respect and admire, in an office that's cute, and easy to get to, where I have the opportunity to make a difference, and grow, at least on a professional skills level (there really isn't much room for me to grow on a "level" basis in an 8-person company), and...

For the first time in my life my "got the job" excitement isn't fear about failure. It's excitement about success. I think I might have got it right this time.

Negotiation for more money was a little awkward (when isn't it?) but I got an extra $2k out of the deal. Not shabby. I'm going to try to put a lot of money away for retirement this year. And to save for grad school. If I can make it at least 2 years at this company, I can save quite a bit of money. I paid off my small credit card debt the other day, with my next paycheck I will pay my boyfriend back the $180 I owe him, and then my debts will be gone. Just need to get through this month (I have $74 in my bank account right now, eeks!)


Jan 5, 2009

Career Advice: 10 Tips to Negotiate a Raise on Hire

A friend of mine recently asked me for advice regarding her promotion. After being stuck in dead-end retail jobs since graduating college two years ago, she finally landed a temp-to-hire customer service gig. On hire, her boss informed her that if she were to be hired full time she would get a raise.

Two weeks went by and they decided to offer her a full time position. The HR department gave her an offer letter, however, she was shocked to see that the rate quoted did not include a pay raise (though it did add in benefits, which is a raise.)

In such difficult economic times, every company is looking to cut costs. If you accept a salary offered to you, a company is not going to say "we were low balling you, you're supposed to try to talk us up." They'll give you whatever you'll take.

The best advice I've ever received is that no one is going to take your job offer away if you ask for more money. The worst that will happen is they'll say no, and you will then have to decide if you want to take the job at the quoted rate or walk. Likely, you'll gain the respect of your boss for having the guts to attempt such a negotiation. This proves that in the business world you will negotiate on behalf of the company. If you're good at getting what you want, you will probably also be good at getting what the company wants.

My friend was extremely worried about messing up her chances at being hired full time, so she almost decided not to ask for more money. Her offer was $31k, even though her Salary.com research showed that someone at her level should make, on average, $38k. Starting out, you do have to be willing to accept lower than what you may think you're worth to get in, but you don't have to settle for a rate you're uncomfortable with. Ask, and you - more likely than not - will receive.

These were my recommendations to my friend that ultimately resulted in her getting $4k more a year and a salary review scheduled in 3 months....
1. If your company has a separate HR department, talk to your boss first. Your boss should be able to speak to HR for you, and determine what your pay rate will be.

2. When talking to your boss, it is always wise to come prepared to discuss your contributions to the company or any previous work you've done that relates to what you will be doing for the company in the future.

3. It's good to show "you understand" the financial situation of the company. One line I like to use these days is - "I understand the economy is tough right now, and it is such an honor to be working for this company. However, I do hope to be compensated fairly based on what I have and/or may contribute to this company..."

4. Don't be afraid to high ball, within reason. I once was offered $40k for a job and asked for $50k, assuming I would maybe get a counteroffer of $45k. I was extremely shocked when my boss simply said "ok." (I've also gotten a flat out "no" when trying to negotiate a $1200 a year raise at a different job.) Hiring is a complicated process but what's most important to many bosses and hiring managers is to have the right people on their team. The difference of $5,000 a year may not mean a lot to a company, but it will mean a lot to you.

5. Be ready to walk, if you want to walk, or even if you don't want to. Apply for other jobs if you have to. Make it seem like you can get something else, even if you can't. You always want to seem like not only the best person for the job, but a person that the company is lucky to have. Of course, you need to follow up with proving this while working at the company once hired or promoted. Right now, you need them to know just how great you are, without sounding full of yourself. Just be confident - it goes a long way.

6. Think of your total compensation package and negotiate for better benefits (more time off, telecommuting days, etc) if the pay rate is set. You'll be glad you asked for this later. Don't let company's fool you into thinking stock options are worth a lot more than they are. 401ks are only exciting if the company matches, and few companies do these days.

7. Ask for a 3 month review. This is especially important when you're first hired and if you're willing to accept slightly less than what you would like to be making. At a lot of companies you have to wait for a year before getting a review and the raise that goes with it. It's fair for a company to want to test you out a bit before giving you a significant raise, but ask that your work be reviewed within a set amount of time (3 months) and make sure to document your work over that time period and meet with your boss in 3 months to get that raise you deserve.

8. Don't be afraid to ask for what you deserve. I know, it's scary to ask your boss for more money. As a shy girl (or guy), we're likely worried about confrontation. We just want to be offered the things we deserve. Unfortunately, in the business world, that just doesn't happen. Negotiation is expected, and you'll feel so much better once you've done it.

9. Dress really nice (for your work environment) on the day you ask for a raise (and the days prior and after).

10. Be rational. You're not going to get a pay bump from $30k to $100k in a year. Don't ask for a raise every month. Use common sense and you may end up with some extra spending/saving money each year.

Do you have any other negotiation tips? Share them with your fellow readers of Her Every Cent Counts in a comment below.


Jan 4, 2009

Job Worries

My company has let go every contractor except for me. That's the good news. I feel proud of the work I've done for the company in the year and some odd months that I've been there, and hope that my contribution to the company is as apparent to my bosses as it is to my other colleagues.

After 14 months at the company, I'm hoping to be hired full time. I was originally hired on to write content, but I quickly moved into a larger community manager position. With this growth came an increase in hours and responsibility. I haven't had a lot of opportunity to proactively market the company because we're pre-launch, but I have made significant contributions to viral growth of our community.

At this point, whether I get hired full time or not seems to be based more on the economy than my performance. I'm not sure if I should start looking elsewhere - I don't want to leave this job and I'm dedicated to our growing community. But I also don't want to be left hanging when they decide that they'd rather spend the community management budget, instead, on another engineer. I'm a little scared.

In this past year I've seen plenty of job posts, but have only applied for one other position -- a similar community management role at a startup - this one in the personal finance space. Sadly my 14 months of community management experience at a pre-launch startup with a community of less than 10k just isn't what they're looking for. I applied for this position when I was unsure if my contract would be extended last time. Luckily, it was extended and I still have a job.  Will that be the case in a few weeks?

In any case, I feel confident in my community management and marketing skills, and worst case scenario I look for another community management job that requires less experience.

Hopefully I won't have to face this issue anytime soon.


Using Mint.com to Teach My Mom About Personal Finance

My mom has a habit of... spending. And spending. And spending some more.

With my dad's current state of health, it is more important than ever for her to learn about where the money goes and where it comes from. Living across the country from my mom, it's really hard to teach her the ins and outs of personal finance.

With Mint.com, however, the distance education is possible.

My mom doesn't get bills, but she does get the trend charts that break down her spending in pie graph form. She's starting to get into seeing where her money is going, and that's a huge leap for her. She's not at the point yet where she'll stop spending, but knowing that she'll have to see her transactions appear in a pie chart make her think twice before spending.

She's having some trouble adding all her accounts to the site and long distance debugging w/ my technically illiterate mother is difficult. But Mint's UI is quality -- even my mom can figure out how to use it, and that says a lot.

Have you gotten your parents or older friends/family to sign up for Mint (or another personal finance online site)?


Couch Update

We bought a couch! Well, sort of. My roommate convinced us to go in for a couch. It's not a great idea, but it's not awful either. We're getting a $150 couch. It was on Craigslist for $250, but we talked to the guy down to $150. It's a fairly nice, 4-year-old couch from Macys that was originally $1200. Instead of any one of us buying the entire couch we're splitting it $50 each. I'd really prefer not to purchase any portion of the couch, but we figured that is the best way for us to get a couch that everyone will be happy with. A free couch would likely be somewhat gross... this couch is rather nice. We could probably resell it when we move out... we could prob sell it for $100 at least. So it's not too big of a deal. The only problem is that likely one of us (me) will move out before the other two... so I'll just "lose" my $50. Except it's kind of like $50 to rent a couch for a year or so. At least. Not a bad deal. We need a couch. Our chair setup is getting so so old. 


To Couch or Not To Couch

My roommates and I get along really well, but one area of tension is that of a couch purchase. The three of us all agree that we should get a couch, but the question of how to get it and how much to spend on it are up for negotiation.

We've been living in our nice apartment for the past seven months and never had a problem finding a seat - because we have about 13 chairs of various sizes sprawled across our living room and dining room area. But it looks, howdoyousay, ghetto. And not even ghetto fabulous.

For me, I'm fine with just chairs. Then again, I'm fine with a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor about 2 feet high. My roommates are birds of a different feather. Well, one is planning to buy a fairly nice new couch at some point in the future, and the other wants a couch now, and is willing to buy one used, but she's picky in terms of its quality. Me? I say lets get one for free off Craigslist and put some fabric over it and call it a day.

I'm pretty adamant about not going in on a couch together (that will cause a lot of unecessary drama) and I don't want to buy one on my own because I'm probably going to move in a year or two. The other roommates both are willing to buy a couch, but neither can agree on when or what to buy. I kind of feel bad that I'm not willing buy a couch, but it would be silly to spend money on a couch when I'll be moving who knows where in a few years. I already own a bed, a coffee table and bookshelf.


Jan 1, 2009

Hello 2009

I just opened up my Google Doc spreadsheet tracking my various accounts and realized that my 2007-2008 sheet is officially complete. Even though my spending habits weren't perfect last year, it was the first year of my life where I tracked my finances, and can learn from my mistakes.

There were moments when I spent foolishly in 2008, which is why my overall networth has gone down (not to mention all my stocks taking a nosedive with the market) - but I resolve to be smart about my spending in 2009.

If I can keep a steady job, there is no reason that I can't save $10 - $20k in one year (including $5k for my Roth IRA). My rent costs are low (finally), I'm working a job where I can wear jeans and a t-shirt, so I don't need to spend on fancy clothes, and really my only major expenses should be to visit my family back east about twice a year (or more, since my dad has cancer and won't be around much longer.) But even with a few trips back east, I should really be able to save.

2009 is largely depending on whether my current position will turn full time or not. If not, there's a chance that not means I'm out of a job. I should be finding out about that this month. I'm slightly worried, though at the moment the whole situation is looking promising.

I really want 2009 to be a stable year financially and emotionally. I'd like to take all my urges to spend and instead use those to be healthy... to go for a bike ride, or to play tennis with my boyfriend. I always spend the most when I'm going through a depressive phase, and I'm hoping the depression is over and done with. I'm 25 now and I sort of have my life together. It's pretty crazy to say that, but it's true. Finally.