Monday, March 31, 2008

Who the what where???

My online checking account recorded $4,547.64 spent in March. Here's the breakdown:

Housing - $2,627
$1378 - Monthly mortgage payment
$848 - Bi-annual property tax payment
$401 - Monthly condo fee

Bills - $401.62
$46.38 - Monthly cable internet bill
$46.73 - Monthly cell phone bill
$158.51 - 2 months worth of electricity bill
$150 - Extra credit card payment

Food - $533
$320 - 7 Dinners/Brunches including one zip car rental ($45 average)
$123 - 16 Lunches ($7 average)
$90 - Groceries

Nightlife - $254
$189 - Theater, Concert, Convention
$64 - Bars (6 outings - I don't drink much, can you tell?)

"Other" - $489
This category sucks, I have barely any information on where this money went.
$140 - Green recreation
$60 - Bank fees
$60 - Shopping (clothing, toys, bed/bath/beyond)
$220 - ATM withdrawls (????)

That totals: $4304. So there is $243 NOT ACCOUNTED FOR??? Ooh wait. I spent $220 on airplane tickets and bought yoga pants for $23, then returned them.

The most unnecessary expense is taking cabs. I am horrible about this. I always take cabs - probably once a week to work and once a week to yoga. I'm trying to cut back. I suspect cabs are where a good chunk of money went to from the ATM withdrawals section because cabs only take cash. D'oh - I want to say when the weather turns better, I won't spend as much on cabs, but really I don't even need to take cabs now!

I have a new budget planned out on for April. I am excited it's a new month so I can test my budgeting abilities.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

$2.61 Bar Tab and Dinner for...?

I was surprised to see my Friday happy hour bill to be $2.61! Food and drinks were 1/2 off at The Sign of the Whale bar/pub downtown. I had an Old Domion beer (my new favorite, replacing Blue Moon) and 8 chicken wings. They were giving away free shots, but nothing I would ever drink. Otherwise good times on the cheap!

I made dinner last night and while i'm sure it was cheaper than eating out at a restaurant - i'm not sure it was cheaper than very tasty indian/pakistani takeout next door. The lamb kebab and fish kebab dishes are $9.00.

$5 beef (shank instead of flank strips, but at $3.99 a lb instead of 5.99 a lb, i can cut it up, no problem)
$.79 tortillas
$2.99 cheese (big block, because i don't pay for someone else to shred my cheese!)
$.32 Jalapeno
$1.50 sour cream
$2.00 plantains
Total: 12.60 (divided by 2 people = 6.30)

So I guess it was cheaper - plus going to the grocery store once forces me to buy other dinner foods that will keep me from eating out.

Money motivates more than disease?

I was reading articles on the personal finance section of CNN and I found a story that described how money motivates people more than their own health. Is money really that powerful?

"Jeff Erb of St. Louis used to weigh 288 pounds. His cholesterol was climbing. He took high-blood-pressure medication and suffered heart palpitations. In January 2007, Erb's company, the online brokerage house Scottrade, launched a Biggest Loser-style contest for its employees.

"I didn't think I would be able to do it," says Erb, who is 26. "I have been big since I was five years old." But motivated by a chance to win extra vacation days and money, he started watching his portions and hit the gym three days a week for 45-minute cardio sessions. A year later, Erb has lost a whopping 114 pounds. His team came in second and he won $250. But more important, that list of medical problems has disappeared."

There are some disclaimers though - this contest probably provided the employee with better team support and structured program to loose weight which had to help. It's interesting how people are taking better care of themselves now, not because they want to stay alive or be sexy, but to save money on healthcare costs.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Travel Deals

I love to travel. I am also embarrassed to admit I love to bargain hunt. (I love to root around in a Value-Village for great finds.)

(love for traveling) + (love to bargain hunt) X internet resources = me spending a lot of time online to get great deals.

Anyways, I just got tickets to go to California for $218 rt including taxes and fees. Both flights are non-stop which is usually a huge upcharge on coast to coast flights. I've seen Kansas city and houston airports TOO many times. I earned some frequent flyer points and got my preferred flight times. Of course the main reasons I got cheap tickets was because I booked in advance. One and a half months to be exact.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is a tax refund a windfall?



Money received which was not expected and not a direct result of something the recipient did.

So - The answer is no. But...I still messed up some pretty nice lump cash sums in the last year.

$1,000 (From my Grandparents for furniture)
$800 (for a "plasma"/"flat screen"/"HD" TV or whatever shiny new tech toy is out there from my mother. Funny thing is - I don't even WANT a TV.)
$300 (Chinese New Years red envelope money from G-parents)
$1,000 (2006 tax refund)

Of the $3,100 in unexpected cash - I saved exactly! And I feel like the biggest ass ever.

So one of my 2008 goals is to save $5,000 for a savings account. This is more than 10% of my salary.

Good thing my tax preparer e-filed today and said to expect $2,417.

The remaining amount to my savings account goal would be $2,583.

Divide that by the 9 months left in the year - and I should be saving about $300 a month.

$150 a paycheck. That sounds more do-able. $150 is about comparable to 3 nice dinners for bf and I.

I am going to stick to it. Seriously....

Family Help

My dad's paying my property taxes for the first half of the year. He offered, I didn't want to ask him. I wasn't going to ask him, I was saving up for that expense. Anyways, I accepted his help.

What's odd is that the property tax rate went down. I've never seen a tax decrease before. This is shocking! It moved from .88% to .85%.

What's more odd.....

Day 1: My dad asks how much my property tax is.
Day 2: My sister writes an email (in a mentoring, not bragging tone) about her big bonus and raise.
Day 3: I get a random voicemail from my sister offering to pay my property taxes.

Fishy? I know my dad asked my older sister to help pay my property taxes. I'm sure I don't want my sister to feel like she should have to offer to help. But I'm not sure I like how my dad is viewing our "family" finances. I guess he's all about pooling money together to help each other...good thing i'm on the low end of this financial totem pole, but what does he expect later down the line from his kids???

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Few Travel Run Downs

Thailand - two weeks
$725 for round-trip flight (LAX to Bangkok w/ stop in Taipei)
$150 rt flight (Bangkok to Phucket)
$1,000 spending cash (paid for boat travel, ATV excursion, hostels, clubs, etc.).

Because I backpacked and stayed in hostels for half the trip I saved a lot of cash. I traveled with a Thai friend of mine and stayed with her family for 3 nights while in Bangkok, so that helped tremendously. I didn't buy any souvenirs except for a $7.93 purse. Honestly, the tourist trinkets were cheap and gaudy. I understand a lot of people go to Thailand for knock-off Von Dutch clothing or Pumas, but I'm not the type to wear that ever. I did however spend between $100-$150 on thai massages! I can rationalize the massages since I'm into alternative/holistic wellness, but I regret buying so many books at airports and in Thailand. The boredom on 16 hour trans-pacific flights coupled with my idea of paradise includes reading on the beach until noon, results in spending $50 on magazines and books. Since I couldn't carry around heavy books while backpacking all over, I donated them to bookstores who were devastated by the tsunami.

Switzerland - 2 days
$49 bucks for 2 nights in dorm.
$50 for entertainment stuff (cigarettes, clubbing, food)
$12 train from airport to Montreux

I stayed with my sister who was a part of a study abroad program. I was planning on just informally joining her, but the school found out and charged me $49 USD. Not a huge amount, but this charge wasn't intended. Ohhh....wait! I just remembered I ate 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners in the school's cafeteria. Lake Geneva is gorgeous. Also Montreux Jazz festival had free concerts outdoors that we attended.

Italy - 1 day
$30 train to Locarno, Switzerland
$40 bus to Milan
$150 taxi*
$100 hotel*
$80 dinner*
*prices are for 2 people

This day was pretty much a debacle. Besides seeing the beautiful alps and visiting a gorgeous rambling monastery on Lake Maggiore, I messed up this day. Our (sister and I) goal was to get to Milan to catch a flight, but we decided to stop in Locarno, where they had this famous bridge where you could bungee jump. The jump was apparently in a newer James Bond movie. I didn't call ahead and we couldn't make a reservation. Worse than that, we missed out bus to Milan. Then we pretty much got conned into a taxi (language problem) who drove us a good distance (maybe 25 miles) to get us caught up to the bus. At least, the bus still had an hour to drive, but I got into a argument with the driver. Since we had a plane to catch, we had to catch that bus or else stand to lose plane tickets.

We got a hotel near the airport and ate dinner. Since neither of us were going to be in Italy, this was our chance to eat Italian. Capers, swordfish, pasta, and carpaccio - it was delicious. My sister and I are complete. total. utter. foodies and our expectations are pretty high - so it was perfect to end this day with a yummy dinner.

$120 hostel* (for 4 nights)
$200 food*
$60 Hamman*
$120 excursion to ben-ait-haddou & telouet*
*prices for 2 people

We met another American (recent college grad) at the airport upon landing and split a cab with him to his hotel. We clicked and bonded (he was traveling alone) - so my sister and I took up his offer of staying with him at the Marrakech Four Seasons. We used the pool the next moring and bought him breakfast. All 3 of us hung out for several days. We found a traditional Morroccan bed and breakfast and stayed there for $30 bucks a night. We saved by taking the rooms on the roof which are usually very hot (Morocco in July, think about it) and noisy (right behind the kitchen). But the 12 ft. by 12 ft room had air-conditioning, two twin beds, and a private bathroom, what more can you ask for? The excursion to the Atlas mountains was awesome and for a 12 hour trip, $60 was super cheap.

Greece - backpacking alone
$150 plane ticket from Milan to Santorini (easyjet)
$250 hotel rooms (5 nights, didn't have anyone to share w/)
$50 bars/clubs
$100 food
$100 ferry tickets to Paros, Samos, Lesbos, Izmir

Food was less of an expense because I was traveling alone. Food stands and eating grocery store stuff is more condusive to the singleton. I did meet some girls at a bar and we hung out for the night. Later I met 3 Italians (with a rented car) who make a yearly one month trip to Santorini. They drove me to different beaches and showed me the local homey restaurants. Greek yogurt and honey is THE best.

Turkey - backpacking alone
$40 overnight bus from Izmir to Istanbul (not comfortable, but amusing to watch Fast and Furious 2 on the TVs. Very cultural, eh?)
$50 hotel room (1 night - I needed sleep, tv, and a shower)
$52 hostel (4 nights)
$50 food
$15 boat cruise up Bosphorous
$200 hookah

I ate mostly at food stands along the bosphorous and outside the Blue Mosque. My hostel was right behind the Blue Mosque in the older section called Sultanahmet (sp?) I met other young travelers at the hostel which had internet and great advice. Topaki Palace and the big cistern have nominal entrance fees and by traveling myself I could avoid the huge packs of tourists and go at my pace. The most foolish thing I did was buy a hookah, I resisted all the hawking of tourist shit for 4 days, then on the last day I actually bought something. One good decision I made was to not go to a club. I really wanted to check out the scene before I got to Turkey, but after hearing horror stories from other ppl in the hostel and meeting a few Turkish people who regularily went....I decided to pass. (thoughts on this? anyone been to one of those fancy clubs on the water?)

I will post more travel stuff soon.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tax Time

I am extremely relieved I found an ex-IRS tax auditor who now as a side job during tax season prepares tax returns. We have a meeting set-up this weekend and I am really interested in asking her a bunch of questions. I know she's not going to be there in the capacity of a financial planner, but she was really receptive of the dumb questions I was asking on the phone. I prepared my first tax return ever last year by hand. I am not sure if I did any of it right, mainly because I was mailed an interest tax form and tuition tax form that I never used when inputting numbers into a free filing form that Liberty Tax Service offered.

(Short rant: why the hell does the IRS not offer a free form themselves? Why in the heck does the government funnel taxpayers to H&R Block, Liberty Tax Services websites to be force-fed ads and to be proposition for paid services? Welcome to the United Corporations of America.)

Anyways - I remember getting $800 back for my federal return and $200 back for my district return.

I can't imagine I will be getting back much money this year considering I only worked 8 months last year. I don't remember what I put down on my W-4 either.

Hmm...well, at least I know on Sunday most of this will be over.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Boyfriend thoughts?

When it comes to my boyfriend and financial issues I generally feel very lucky.

Paying for Dates
I truly believe we do a good job switching between who pays for dinner, movies, etc. There's no system, we don't remember who's turn it is to pay for things and it hasn't become an issue (for me at least, but I haven't heard anything from him).

Dating did increase my expenditures quite a bit though. I think singles activities (clubbing, bar hopping, etc.) are cheaper and often I would get things paid for. Anyways, I think it took us a long time to communicate to each other that saving cash was a priority and that we should spend less. Now I will put words into his mouth, but I think we're both shy people and bringing up the topic of 'lack of money' was difficult. Maybe we're not shy, maybe ----- oh, who am i kidding? I'm just projecting my egotism onto both of us.

Moving In
I asked my bf to move in when his lease was ending at his place. We sorta had a false start at moving in together a year earlier. Anyways, it worked out this time and we've been "cohabiting" for 8 months now. I would say something generic like - "While the experience has had it's bumps here and there, it has made our relationship stronger". But in all reality, there really wasn't any drama.

What do you charge your bf for rent? I pay a mortgage and knew it wasn't fair to split it down the middle. Anyways, I pretty much arbitrarily came up with a number (it's 36% of my mortgage and condo fee) while he was on the phone w/ me and it's worked out ever since.

People in general are bad at gauging what will make them happy in the future, so I try and live in the 'now'. I won't even say anything about -------- or -------- because that's really not what we are about as a couple. I definitely am feeling good that after a few months where both of us were unemployed, we both have full-time jobs w/ benefits now.

Credit Scores

Sometime I wonder how much I should disclose on a public blog. I always come to the conclusion that I want to be as specific as I can about my financial situation but shouldn't give too much of my identity away. So in that vein....let me post about my credit score.

Feb. 2007 = 620
Feb. 2008 = 692

I think that's a positive sign. I know the scores go up to 800. So I feel like a 72 point jump in one year is great. Regular on-time payments to my mortgage probably really helped. I didn't have a balance on my credit card for the 8 months out of the year. I'm not sure if getting rid of a car loan that wasn't mine helped or not. But regardless for the time being, I am happy with this for now. These good vibes will motivate me in the future when it's the end of the month a.k.a. bill-paying-time.