Monday, April 07, 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

How I don't overspend on a CC

As I drew up a complete budget, I've tracked my spending for 2007, detailed all money spent on a CC or cash, and finally I understood what my percentages are. I realized why I always say people can use a credit card but not overspend if you are controlled. Because we have a built in control using our budget. What?

Well I've realized that 55% of our income is gone pretty much before we see it. Then another 30% is gone to housing, a conscious decision. So 85% of our income is gone before we have a chance for it to really be seen even as cash from auto-debits. It is invested, saved, gone to bills.

So I have 15% of our income to really play with in our checking account. We now take home less than what we did when we were both graduate students and making 1/3 of what we make now! Crazy! Of that 10% goes to fixed monthly bills. Bills which we've agreed to pay and decided is important to our lives. So we spend 5% of our income a month as choose in "fun".

Our 10% includes things like homeowner's dues, car insurance, car tax, electricity, cable/internet/phone, natural gas heat, cellular phone plan, pet health insurance and food, and blow allowances. The electric and gas are on budget billing with it's respective company so I use that amount and it works out well.

Now some of these bills are auto-debited on a credit card, but they are budgeted as a fixed amount. So I have 10% of monthly fixed obligations, which can be decreased if we lost our jobs and needed to tighten our belts, such as cable, internet, etc, but which we have deemed currently as important and necessary to our current lifestyle.

Strangely it's even how I ranked them in our budget unthinkingly. Our budget goes Income, pre-tax savings/deductions, taxes, after tax savings/deductions, fixed expenses, and variable expenses. Everything I mentioned goes in the fixed expenses with the mortgage, property taxes, insurance.

Food, eating out, entertainment, fun, personal care, clothes, etc are all variable amounts. I get 5% with which to prioritize my spending. These are charges on the credit card. I have a dollar amount monthly with which I can spend on whatever categories I see fit. I have "budgeted" amounts but I don't have to stick to them as long as I stick to the monthly 5%.

I realized this is something we've done since forever. This is how we've always budgeted and paid CC in full. We never really have had a lot of variable expenses. Most of our expenses have been "pre-set" even if paid for by a credit card. We view them as a monthly obligation and not "our" money.

During my 2 month cash experiment, all our fixed bills were still paid by credit card or auto-debit. Nothing changed except my 5% was in cash. It made me way more frugal in a negative way, because I refused to buy groceries then ended up spending more $$$ to compensate afterwards to restock the pantry. A more appropriate behavior would have been to just use the cash naturally and grocery shop every week instead of trying to go 4 weeks without shopping (I spent less than $100 for 3 adults in a month, it was ridiculous). I also specifically did not eat out because we didn't want to spend the cash.

But now that I have my cash data, my budget percentages, I realize that I don't have a real problem overspending because I don't have much money to overspend with. I consciously have $X/month. I know I have $X going to savings for specific target funds (tuition, property taxes, etc) and those funds are untouchable.

Because of this I don't have large CC bills. On average probably $1k/month including all fixed expenses charged and variable expenses. But my budget busters come when we pay for DH's tuition on a credit card and slam down $25k/year (but at 5% back who wouldn't use a credit card?).

So while CC aren't making me rich, they are helping with my frugal behavior. So I guess this is my personal plan on how not to overspend on a credit card. I have a lot of fixed expenses, hence 95% of my income is gone before I can have fun. I do realize that part of my fixed expense are for fun and it's ironic I only consider 5% fun money.

My plan is to one day have 50% fixed expenditures and 50% fun money. But I'd have to make a lot of money to do that!

Practical Applications of the Credit Crunch

Because of the move, here's a guest post today by Jonathan @ MasterYourCard. We traded posts a while ago, here's mine, but I was saving his for my move. This is a wonderful treat and the start of reading guest posts by people from the PFBloggers. A new perspective on the credit crunch. Enjoy!

Practical Applications of the Credit Crunch

Few of us need to the government to tell us what we already know – we’realready in a recession! Every day it seems the price of gas and food goesup, while the value of our homes and the buying power of the U.S. dollargoes down. Banks and other lending institutions continue to tighten theavailability of credit to help protect them from the weakening economy. Even though you may think that some of them might not affect you directly,you should be aware of some of the direct and indirect effects of the credit crunch on your family and your pocketbook.

First, banks are tightening up their lending standards for the consumerborrower. Whether it is for secured loans (homes, autos, etc.) or for unsecured loans (credit cards, signature loans) the availability of credit is becoming scarce. Only those with stellar credit profiles are finding many lending institutions willing to offer them loans of any type. Those who have credit histories with blemishes in them may find the credit spigot being turned completely off for the time being. What can you do tolessen the impact? Consider putting off major refinancing or debt purchases for the time being. Work on paying your debt down instead of trying to obtain new debt.

You may already be noticing that the credit card companies areaggressively reviewing their portfolio of accounts. Card issuers are closing accounts and increasing interest rates even as the prime rate(which most APR’s are tied to) decreases. Again, your best bet here is to make sure those payments arrive on time every month. Don’t apply for new credit cards and keep your balances low. Card issuers are looking for anyreason whatsoever to raise your interest rates – don’t give them a reason! If you think you may be heading for some financial turmoil, call your card issuers and start working with them ahead of time instead of putting off the problem until it is too late. Many are more than willing to help you manage the payments instead of letting you default – which means another loss for them.

You are also being affected in ways that you can’t see directly. Businesses use credit the same way you do and when they have trouble obtaining credit you can feel the impact through higher prices and stricter payment terms.

One example is the student loan industry. Student loans are financed by selling the loans on the open market. Recently many student loan providers have had no bidders for their student loan offerings – this is having a rippling effect through the entire education and student loan system. Some student loan providers are simply not writing any new loans. If you are a child or parent of a child attending attending college make sure you get your FSA(Federal Student Aid) profile submitted early. With less money to go around you need to make sure that you are first in line for whatever aid might be available.

Nobody knows for certain how long the economy will remain depressed; the best bet during tough economic times is to put off major spending and focus on repayment – a good task no matter what the economy is like. Keep your eye on the mail you get from your lenders and credit card issuers tosee what rate changes may be affecting you directly. If you are affected consider taking on, even temporarily, a second job to pay off the debt. You’ll find that by getting rid of debt and building your credit profile up that no matter what the future may bring for the economy you’ll have one less thing to worry about and a lot of extra money to go towards the things that make a difference in your life.

Site Moved

My new site is Not in perfect shape yet, but it's coming along. I'll be switching feeds no worries. I also will be publishing here for a couple days.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Moving Site

I am in the process of moving my site to a self-hosted site. Please bear with me as I try this out. I am unfortunately slower than most people because I have no idea what I'm doing. Trying to get it up and running as we speak.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Free Upgrade or Downgrade?

I have to laugh about this because it's so dumb. DH is away on business and signed up to rent a compact Ford Focus. Got a great deal with budget rent a car, and was planning staying an extra day to go snowboarding.

Well last night he got in and was informed that they were out of compact cars. Great he says give him whatever they've got, as long as it's the same price. No problem. They say they'll upgrade him for free. Sound good right?

Well turns out the smallest car they had available was the Ford Edge. Which while, roomy and spacious, is a horrible gas guzzler. I had to laugh because they thought they were doing DH a favor by upgrading him to a larger car. When it turns out he'll end up paying way more in gas. Sigh.

And the lady behind the desk said "You need an SUV to go snowboarding. How did you expect to get there in a Ford Focus? It's only a 4 cylinder." DH didn't bother correcting her that we go boarding all the time in a Focus or Corolla.

Moral of the story? Sometimes a freebie ends up costing you more!

Oh well, at least he got a car. And he tells me that driving such a huge SUV, is sort of very manly. I told him "get your fill, we're not driving a gas guzzler anytime soon."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Store Credit Cards - Yea or Nay?

I guess as a follow-up to "my secret shame" is the question "are store credit cards - yea or nay?" I've got 4 and I am not sure I should cancel them or not. I don't use any but I do get some nice coupons from them.

I know exactly why we got two of the cards, we had just bought our first condo and needed to buy a washer/dryer/fridge and paint supplies. So we got a 10% discount on both purchases from Best Buy and Home Depot respectively. We saved $100 on the washer/dryer/fridge and had 18 months 0% interest. We paid it off on schedule. For our home repairs we saved $75 and had 1 year of 0% interest. This was back in 2002. I think we didn't cancel the cards after we paid them off because they kept sending us coupons. We still do get coupons like $10/50 at home depot, or $5/15 at Best Buy. So though nothings been charged in many years on the cards, we still have them.

The Gapcard I have no excuse. I think I got it back in 1998 and haven't used it since. But again they have lovely coupons. Though I'm less likely to use the coupon than either BB or Home Depot.

Finally we just got a furniture card this summer with our new couch. We had $100 coupon savings on the couch and 0% interest. It's paid off but they wouldn't take the coupon without using a credit card and no I asked they wouldn't give discount for paying cash. I either live where people don't give cash discounts or they don't give discounts either way. Anyway this card is still open because it too gives nice coupons. I have coupons for $100 furniture, and for cheaper IMAX movie tickets and food. Nothing I want to see, but I'm hoping to get more movie tickets for Batman this summer.

But are these the reasons people like store cards? Are they not using them but hooked on getting the coupons? Or do they actually shop there? I have to say we actually shop a lot at home depot. The other stores not so much, although everytime a $5/15 comes our way I buy DH a itunes gift card at Best Buy.

So I'm undecided whether store CC are yea or nay. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Secret Shame

So I have a secret shame. One which I hadn't even realized until yesterday. I am an avid credit card user and have been very responsible about using it like a checking account. No late fees, no overcharges, no interest. All bills are paid in full.

But the secret shame? Well guess how many credit cards I have? I decided to count yesterday, drumroll please. We have at least 14 cards between the two of us that I know about. Ouch.

My secret shame is I haven't cancelled a credit card in years. I don't exactly know why not either. We've got 4 store credit cards (BB, HD, Gap, Jordan's), none are in use, but I do get coupons for having them.

For the other 11 cards, well DH and I each have a individual american express, discover, and visa, probably because we were trying to build his credit so he got his own cards years ago when we first meet. That's 6 cards, and the other 4 are joint cards. We definitely use 2 mastercards, one exclusively and the other as a backup if we max out our rewards for the year.

I think that's the problem. We couldn't settle on a backup card for our usage. I am considering getting a Citibank CashReturns Card which gievs 5% back for 3 months. Because I am charging DH's tuition to the tune of $15k. Hence 5% back is $750.

But until I sit and discuss with DH what we should keep or cancel, I guess I have to live with the secret shame. Also I will probably need to pull our credit reports to check everything out. So how many credit cards do you have?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Envelope Budgeting System

I was asked to Beta Test a New Envelope Budgeting System. It's called IntelliPenny. It should be an interesting trial. I'll post a review when I use it for a bit, starting this weekend. But for now please read about it in a post from the creator!


Introducing a new software program to help keep track of your personal finances! IntelliPenny helps you manage your bank and credit card accounts and allows you to budget using the envelope system. It simplifies the task of allocating money to envelopes through a process of automatic envelope deposits. IntelliPenny also helps keep spending in check by using a wishlist to track items you hope to purchase in the future. This can help eliminate many of the impulse buys that eat away at income. Do you like to use your credit card for day-to-day purchases and then pay it off at the end of the month? We call this using your credit card like a debit card. IntelliPenny makes using your credit card like a debit card a breeze. Customizable reports, bill payment tracking, transaction importing, password protection, data file backup, are just a few of the other features that IntelliPenny contains. Visit Intellipenny to download your own copy or for more information.

Guest Post @ Master Your Card

I wrote a guest post last week for Master Your Card. A blogger part of the PF Blogger Forum. Please check it out here. I will post it later this week as well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

2007 Taxes DONE!

Gee whiz, I can't believe what happened looking at our taxes. We finished our taxes last night, I lost some paperwork and we had to scour our files looking for an approprimate date to ask the company for a statement. So we receieved it last week and we were able to finally finish our taxes last night.

Well we did good. Turns out we paid an active tax rate of 5.74% to the federal government. Wowwee. Yep we paid almost nothing to the federal government this year. We ended up with an almost $3400 tax refuned going to DH's tuition savings.

We also paid 4.8% to the state, but got it almost dead on and am getting back $75! That's the closest we've been in a long time.

This got me thinking, we've not really gotten raises since 2005 when we started out. And since then our taxes have dramatically dropped. Last year we paid 8.92% in federal taxes and probably close to the same state because it's a flat 5.3% - standard deduction for everyone. But in 2005 we paid 14.2% to the federal government (which was enough to buy a Honda Accord new). So what happened?

Well we got a large mortgage in 2005, which decreased our taxes by half in 2006. Then DH started school in 2006, but we didn't pay much in tuition. In 2007 we got all mortgage deductions, all tuition deductions, etc. And before you get jealous we had HUGE capital losses, enough to rollover for a few years, plus we had to pay taxes on it in 2006. So we had losses on top of losses (long, complicated story). So we ended up paying even less than we ever. It's reminiscient of 2004, when we first married and paid 1.23% to the federal government.

I know people say pay off the mortgage. But seriously with this drop in taxes? I'd be crazy to not to take advantage of every tax break. It's just that we have a lot of the "correct" expeneses like mortage, tuition, etc. This year it might be slightly higher beause DH got a bonus/raise and DH not playing the company stock game anymore. Like I said we had huge losses in 2007 (5 figure losses).

So maybe I shouldn't vote for the fair or flat tax. It appears we're in the category of people truly benefitting. But for what it's worth, I don't know if we'll be able to repeat this tax thing again. Potentially we'll make more money and owe more, stop paying $30k in tuition, and never again lost 5 figures on a stock.

But I am happy to have filed.

As a side note, we used Turbotax this year and did it ourselves. We had to have help the two previous years because of the stupidity of our company stock grants. And because I'm cheap we also did not pay $18 to e-file instead we'll just wait for our refund to be DD.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quality or Price?

I just bought 2 pairs of Brooks Adrenaline GTS7 shoes from Each pair was $60, but I think it's reasonable. I need comfortable shoes and they are sturdy. I only bought them online because I was fitted in a regular shoe store first and each pair was $95 in store.

But the real expense was the Spenco Orthotic Rx. Those run $29.99/set and they can wear out. I also bought a couple of pairs of orthotic supports.

So is it worth buying expensive shoes and supports? I've always thought so but never really had the money to really buy good quality shoes. To me $20 shoes were adequate and I took care of them. Same with DH, he wears $30 sketchers mostly. But since I broke my foot 5 years ago, I've noticed a difference in my walk. It's been aching enough for me to see a podiatrist and have new supports reccomended instead of cheap OTC supports.

I guess that's a new lifestyle change. Realizing that cheap isn't always best. And sometimes that you have to spend more to get more value. By buying more expensive shoes and inserts, I (hopefully) will be happier walking. And because of that, I'll have a better quality of life.

If this works, I am guessing I'm never going back to $20 shoes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Downgrading your lifestyle?

How do you downgrade your lifestyle? I think it's much harder to downgrade a lifestyle than to upgrade it.

Hence why I think I'm finding it so difficult to go back living like a student. This is why I enjoy spending $75-100/week on food. Whereas previously we could survive on $25/week and there were few complaints. Granted food was a lot cheaper 6-7 years ago, but still $25/week didn't buy much.

We never bought meat, except ground beef for a special treat. We didn't eat a lot of fresh fruit and veggies, again special occasions or great sales. We ate a lot of cheaper, unhealthy foods. We ate a lot of processed foods like hamburger helper, mac and cheese, pasta, etc. So now the thought going back to that lifestyle feels like nails on a chalkboard.

What else? Well cable, we never had tivo, extra channels, or even an extra cable box. We had minimum cable or no cable channels. We always had cable interet or DSL, which made sense for downloading papers, work, etc.

Another upgrade was having cell phones. For a long time DH didn't have a cell phone and I had a cheap plan to just call home. We cetainly didn't have a family plan until a few years ago. Now it's part of the lifestyle.

All these upgrades in lifestyle, it's funny how it's so easy to enjoy a better life, but difficult to let go of it. I wonder if this is what causes perhaps credit card debt? People having an expectation of a "lifestyle" then losing a job or having a financial issue. Then being unable to maintain their current lifestyle they turn to credit cards to supplement their finances.

Could you downgrade your lifestyle? Personally I think it would be really hard for us, but if absolutely necessary I could start doing it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Money Charade

This week MP Dunleavy wrote about "Are you afraid to look poor?" Another interesting article. She says that keeping up with the Joneses is wanting to look rich, but afraid of looking poor is entirely different. I have to say I actually agree with her two definitions. One is rooted in pride and the other fear. And yes neither is good, but there is a difference.

Basically it's being afraid to use coupons, get a better deal, or basically seeming cheap, is what MP calls "afraid to look poor." Of course in both cases you are putting up a facade of you think the world needs to see.

Some psychologist call it the fear of looking like you don't fit in. It's not a self assurance thing like the Joneses, it's more a fear I think of being looked upon with pity. That you can't afford anything better and hence must "settle" for your lifestyle. And MP writes she's made her own mistakes with such behavior. But she's accepted it for what it is.

I wonder if both KUWJ and afraid of being poor aren't symptoms of our society being ashamed and embarrassed about money? That we aren't pushed into such behaviors because we are supposed to NEVER talk about money. It's passe and eye-brow raising to ever discuss any type of finances in real life. I mean to ask someone about their salary is a NO-NO. Nor should we discuss debt, credit, mortgage, etc. Even among close friends and family to talk about money is TABOO!

I wonder if this isn't the reason people are driven into these behaviors? Maybe the lack of reason and accountability that would be there if we were open with others would help. We would feel less inclined to spend money we didn't have if others helped us accept our own financial statement? Or if we knew their financial statement, and realized we weren't alone?

I don't know what the answer is. But I hope one day we can end this money charade. That perhaps we can start to civilly discuss finances. Where we can talk about money more comfortably than we talk about sex. Truth is we are more likely to admit anything about sex than about money because of the shame.

But would it solve the problems? Maybe not, but it would help.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Budget backwards with priorities

My budget looks neat and tidy right? It's pretty easy to see very definite percentages for our living expenses. It appears that we feel right into line for most categories.

But how'd we do it? Truth is we backwards budgeted. We prioritized everything backwards. We took our gross salary and said we're saving $x for retirement. Before taxes, before everything else. Second, we said we have to pay $x for taxes. That left us with $x.

From there we decided a house mortgage, property taxes, insurance. Then we built in stuff like eating out, cable, internet, cell phones, etc. So we listed things we wanted based on priority.

Thus, if having a nice car is important, it can be built into the budget. Say $500 car payment, can be actual payment or savings into account. Things like that can be "budgeted" for.

This way you prioritze what's important and what can be the first to go if times get lean. Often times people just build budgets according to what they want. They don't stop and say I have to live off of 75% because 10% goes to tithe, 15% goes to retirement, then from the 75% that pays taxes, then the mortgage, food, then all other "wants".

We did that by backwards budgeting. We kept our house higher than normal ~30% because we were young and starting out. Our incomes would grow and it has. But we also kept it high because a nice house was more important than a nice car or eating out. But for some travelling and a smaller home might be important.

So you "tweak" the budget as you see fit. But this way you build it with clear goals. There is no other way than 15% to retirement and 10% to tithe. Then you can't buy a house with 50% of income or a car with 25% of income. To prioritize your needs versus wants.

I've found this has worked for 10 years. We used to prioritize housing over retirement. But we made so little and even renting took up nearly 50% of our incomes, that we had no choice. But we knew it was a priority for us.

So try it. Backwards budget your annual income. And see where your priorties lie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Our Budget...Finally

I finally drew up a complete budget with percentages. This is a budget solely without bonuses but base salary. To see how we spend our money. We bring home about 55% of our income. Of that we spend 45% of our income with 10% going straight to tuition.

We should pay 16% to all Federal, SS, State, Medicare taxes. Which is awesome. Remember that taxes is a graded system and though you make a lot, only the top is taxed at your highest %. We unfortunately have a large mortgage and tuition payments, so our federal taxes are very low compared to income.

We save 25% of our income to retirement, 10% to taxable savings (ie tuition). Our PITI is 29% contributing to the bulk of our living expenses. We also have large tuition payments but a lot of that is deferred so we basically save it monthly and pay it in chunks over the year.

Our biggest problems is we don't have any set amount being saved for car replacement. So we are running a very lean budget. I think once DH is done with school we will be able to redirect our money to building up sinking funds for car replacement, more travelling, and paying back our student loans.

Also we still have our friend living with us, paying us some income. This actually lowers our housing expenses to 26% as well our utilties are decreased by 1/3. He unfortunately did not get to purchase a place through the low income lottery, but is still looking and has found some pretty good deals with the softening market. He believes he'll be out by the summer. He's been paying minimal rent, but it's allowed us to afford a vacation last year.

Right now I need $15k for tuition by 8/2008. We have $8000 and with a tax refund $3400 and rebate $1200 we should be right on target to hit it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Again don't own company stock

Well on Friday Bear Stearns announced it bankruptcy. This forced the Federal Reserve to convene an emergency meeting, at which they cut interest rates by 1/4 point. And a deal was struck between JP Morgan and Bear Sterns to be acquired with help from the Federal Reserve.

But that's not the bad news. The bad news is that Bear Sterns apparently gave 401k matches and bonuses in the form of company stock. Which much like Enron was great when the stock was $90/share. But at it's current price of $2/share people are in serious trouble.

Granted Bear Stearns is a bank, but wasn't Enron an energy company? Who could have imagined such an implosion? It's a terrible idea to tie up not only your salary but also so much investments in one company. As an individual you are banking on the company doing well so your investments do well, and you keep you job. But then what happens?

I think it's horrible that company give matches in company stock and bonuses. This happened at DH's previous company, which while it's better than nothing, I think is a bad idea.

What happens is people because they work for the company often have black-out dates which they are unable to sell before or after "big announcements." This means they are often forced to hold on to a risky stock even if they wished to sell.

This poses the unfortunate circumstances that you could lose lots of money unwillingly and unintentionally. So should there be rules against it?

I'm not sure. Because on one hand, at least we're getting money from the company. But what it's actually worth is a whole different ballgame. So it's something, but is the 401k or bonus really valuable? Will it cost you money or make you money?

And it stands to reason the company is giving you stock because it's often cheaper than cash, while making you more invested in the company. So there is no downside for them, only the employee.

But the reality is, that the 401k match in company stock or bonus in company stock is horrible, it's still better than nothing. And if you are valuable enought o get a bonus or match, perhaps we shouldn't complain because we still have a JOB!

And right now it seems like it's just barely enough to hang on to the jobs we have.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Can you stop the worry?

When will you stop worrying about finances? Is there an income point or net worth point where you will stop worrying about finances? Or when you will not be so concerned about every dollar?

I got a horrible look tonight when DH says to me "If I make $xxk, will you stop coupon shopping and being thrifty?" I could only look at him and stare. He asked, "When can we stop being concerned about money?" And we can spend all our time doing what we want without worrying how it will affect our bottom line. Example, cooking because we like it, but eating out because don't feel like it. Not restricting ourselves based on cost.

Or is being frugal and thrifty and ingrained habit? Can you really give up your habits because you have more money? Is it important to do so?

What do I mean by that? Well there is a point where your time becomes more important than money. Where rather than trying to pinch every penny and shop every sale, you might value spending more time with your family. Maybe retiring early, or not saying "I have to work this weekend". It could mean saying "sure we can afford to have steak for dinner instead of non-meat meals or ground beef." It could mean buying better quality clothes and food, instead of the cheapest. It could mean buying things you want instead of necessarily need.

It could even be affording a pet, which is a true luxury item. But is there a point where you can let of all your frugal tricks and truly enjoy life? Where you aren't worry about what everything will cost you? Where you aren't clipping every coupon, chasing every sale?

Are you there yet? When will you get there?

Sweet Sixteen

My Post "Lucky moves or smart choices" is in the sweet sixteen finals over at Free Money Finance. Vote for it so it can move on, and have a chance to win $500 for charity.

Please participate in the voting!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hidden Accounts?

On the WIR message board a woman asked if she should be worried about her husband's secret account. She said he said "he'd told her about opening an account awhile ago." The account was to be used on a mad money surprise for her or them. However, she was upset because the amount of money in the account was substantial, 6 months of mortgage payments. She said she didn't want to just blow such money. So she asked people should be suspicious? Also she said she paid all the bills and they only had joint accounts. But her husband had this in his name alone. Also she wasn't sure how long he had the account, which was bad because potentially they had to refile taxes because they hadn't claimed the 1099 income.

I thought about it and decided, it depends. First of all 6 months of mortgage is what, at least $6k? That is a lot of money. I think I would be a bit suspicious, even if my husband told me he had discussed it with me. I would wonder where did he get the money to fund such an account? We have allowances of $40/month. So I would be worried.

Second, I would be disturbed over how long he was stashing cash and not telling me. And worse yet if he did not reveal the account while we filed our taxes. It would worry me because we could be audited by the IRS.

But to play the devil's advocate maybe the husband is saving for a special surprise. So it could be completely innocent. Would you be suspicious? Do you have any secret accounts from you spouse?

I don't and while I could, I don't think DH could. But how would someone even hide secret accounts if you file joint taxes? Wouldn't it raise red flags with the IRS? Or is the chances of an audit so small it doesn't matter?

I think it's an interesting conundrum.

EDITED TO ADD: The amount of the hidden money is more than $10k. So it is substantially more than $6k. It is Five Figures Hidden.

Happy Hooker?

Finally a normal article by MP Dunleavy, "Happy Hooker has got to go...". I am happy she's telling people they need to wake up and see reality. That sure it seems like more money will solve all our problems. But the truth is it won't.

She is telling women it doesn't matter what you make if you make bad decisions with money. There is no easy way to deal with money and there is no magic solution. I agree sometimes I wonder if people don't think "wow easy money in prostitution (or any other get rich quick scheme)".

But we all do it. We all dream of the easy out and a way to afford a lifestyle we desire without working. But it really doesn't happen overnight, nor do money problems go away even if you suddenly earn $5k/night.

But how many people still wish and pray for an easy out? And figure that making lots of money will solve everything.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gift Giving Guidelines

Hmm, interesting thought. Roomie actually asked me what an appropriate gift amount would be for a wedding. He's going to a pretty good friend's wedding and wants to give a nice gift. This got me thinking, what are the actual dollar guidelines for gift giving.

I told him, my mom says the cost of your meal. He said he'd heard that before as well in his Muslim community, and wanted to check it was the same. Thus for this particular wedding, it's in NY, so I was thinking maybe $100 for him and $100 for a date. NY is not cheap.

But then we moved to birthdays and christmas. How much to spend on your friends and family? Do you have guidelines? I told him I think $20-25/friend for either Christmas or birthdays. He agreed but wondered if that wasn't a bit much? But I felt that if you were close enough to exchange gifts then it should be higher than $5-10 right? Tough call.

Then we discussed family. My grandmother's 80th birthday is coming up and she's visiting. It's actually also right before Mother's day, so I sent her a check for $100 for her plane fare, and I figure we'll buy her dinner at least a few times. Was this excessive? DH didn't care (he never does for family, although we rarely give to his side only mine). And roomie said it sounded high, but then acknowledged that he spent at least $50+ on his family. So there appeared to be some variation.

I think for family I try to spend $50 usually, but this time it was for plane fare instead of an actual gift. I also prefer to ususally give gift cards to restaurants or massages, or movies rather than gifts. Usually because most people have everything and I can never come up with stuff to give them.

So we were debating, is it tacky though to send a check? Or to give cash for something specific in mind?

I wonder why we have so many gift giving and "etiquette" rules. Why isn't it more simple, that cash is not crass, and it's the thought that counts?

What do you think are some gift giving guidelines for weddings, birthdays, and Christmas?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Renting versus ownership

I knew renting in our area was expensive, but now I realize how tough it really is. This brochure for an apartment complex outside the city has prices and sizes. The cheapest 1 bedroom is $1499/month. A 3bd/2ba smaller than our townhouse is running at $2500. So how does that compare to our mortgage?

Our mortgage is $2263 + $200 HOA + 400 Property Taxes. So we're paying $2863/month pre-tax, with ~$650 going to principal. This means after tax we are actually $1700/month to "rent" our place. Of course this does not account for maintence of our home.

So in our area it appears we got a decent deal. Something we were pretty sure about. Also because of the time frame (three years and counting), the longer we stay put, the more likely buying will have won out over renting.

Now this only happens when you buy in an area of high rent. But if you buy in an area of low rents, ie San Diego, then you run into trouble. For example, when we bought prices were relatively low, so we got lucky with home appreciation. However during our 3 year period of ownership, the rent of a 1 bedroom apartment did not change from $1200/month (what our neighbor renting paid). Our PITI before taxes was $1000/month. But our purchase price in those three years went from $150k to $300k.

But since then the price of the same condo in 2005 to 2008 went down nearly $100k to $200k instead of $300k. And who knows how long until it regains it's previous levels. So renting would have put someone in a better position.

So moral of the story? Buying versus renting is completely location dependent. You can't just read a blog or expert and decide buying is always better or renting is always better. The market is dramatically different from city to city. It is impossible to understand the nuances of each market.

That being said I think the most important rule of buying is how long do you plan on staying put? At least 5-7 years, then perhaps you'll come out ahead in a "normal" market. But nothing is set in stone.

Coupon Donation

I forgot to mention that about 1 every couple of month I go through my coupons and mail them overseas. The military bases honor coupons that are expired. They are able to give them out to families who can use it to shop on the base. Please check out this website to ship coupons overseas! Yes you do have to do a customs form and it does cost a bit, but it's still a nice thought.

I thought I'd bring this up because this is the hobby of many elders nowadays. This article talks about people in retirement communities taking the time to mail off coupons. So even if you don't coupon shop, if you get the Sunday paper, maybe keeping the inserts, and clipping them and mailing it off once a month would be awesome.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

That piece of paper

Does that piece of paper certifying you're married make a difference? I used to think not. And I still don't think it affects a relationship. However, as I grow older I am thinking that the little piece of paper does make a difference.

Yes, someone can still walk away and leave a marriage. Someone can choose to end the relationship. But that piece of paper means they are unable to just walk without untangling themselves legally.

It means that they have to make the time and effort to resolve their finances jointly. It means they cannot just bail and start depositing their paycheck elsewhere. It means they cannot just run away from their families (at least not legally).

That being said, I've always felt that if you get pregnant get married. Because you want to protect your children financially. So should you get married even if you don't have children? Do you have to protect yourself financially? Or is it a fair trade?

I believe that piece of paper gives you peace of mind that if something should happen like death or an accident you also have the legal right to determine the future of your significant other. That you are able to have input on what their wishes really were. The older you get and the longer you live away from home, usually you grow apart from your parents. And they may not realize your values have shifted from burial to cremation, organ donor or not, etc.

So while it still is a piece of paper, and does not guarantee a relationship, it can bring a peace of mind. It can secure your financial future or ruin it. And it can at least protect your interests and values.

But as a bit of background, I lived with my DH for 5+ years before marriage, so I'm not a good example. However, looking back, I wonder if we didn't make a mistake in not getting married earlier? That if something had happened, our parents for sure would have overridden our BF/BG inputs with their own values. But some things you only learn later :)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Root of Debt in America?

Last night we picked up Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Nintendo Wii. DH was excited to be playing. FWIW, I don't think we were the oldest people there without a child, but I guess this is what being DINK is.

So last night in line there were three registers working, however one register only took debit or credit cards. So we ended up cutting to the front of the line, because most kids were buying the games with cash (probably using their allowances).

Anyway this upset DH, who was outraged that so many kids were using cash. Sigh. He didn't understand that most children in the US don't have checking accounts linked to a debit card. Apparently in Canada this is very common and called "children's account." Apparently in Canada most children learn about checking accounts, bills, and credit cards by high school.

But in the US, most children are exposed to checking/savings accounts and credit cards when they go to college. And they learn all the wrong information about it from friends, rather than the proper information from their parents. They believe that that credit cards are free money, checking accounts never run out, or how to budget.

He suggested this the reason why the US is in so much fiscal trouble. That people here get a late start in financial responsibility. That is learned from experience and friends, instead of parental guidance.

Do I agree? I'm not sure, but potentially yes. I was a fortunate person who had all the same experiences as DH because my mom wanted to be sure I was a prepared adult. So the CC trap, budget, checking accounts, etc were not a big deal. I had a firm understanding and knowledge about money before I became and "adult".

So perhaps DH is right. Perhaps it is due to the fact that American's are ashamed about their financial knowledge and don't enlighten their children early enough. Or are unaware they even should be imparting financial wisdom, rather than waiting till their friends tell them the wrong information. What do you think?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Cheap lesson in life...

Okay so never listen to your friends about travelling for cheap. DH and I are pretty decisive people. We also typically book tickets that seem reasonable, fit our timeframe, and are convenient.

Well DH is going to Colorado at the end of the month. We just bought a roundtrip ticket today for $395! Crazy, insane price. But last month when we wanted to book, DH's best friend didn't want to because he was trying to get the best price. The price at the time was $305.

Yep, he thought it was way to high. Problem that we were "discussing" with him, is the realization that he no longer had the flexibility he once had as a graduate student. He used to take off 6-12 weeks a year. Yep you read that right. He didn't care, his work ethic was such that vacations were important, unpaid or not.

But for us, we've always had time constraints so we usually accepted the price of paying a lot more for vacationing on set days. Well even DH's BF paid a lot. His tickets were $300 and he is going to take 2 extra days of vacation instead of DH's 1. And he only gets 10 days a year. I'm not sure how it will play out with his boss, who already mentioned too much vacation.

But this is why you never listen to your friends when it comes to finances. Lesson learned, DH agrees. We're pretty easy going, and this particular friend's hobby is travelling. He does mileage runs (where you buy flights to get miles to stay premier), so he constantly shops airfares. Problem? He's never been constrained by dates.

Well it's a $100 lesson, but in the grand scheme of things it's a cheap lesson in life. DH says next time we'll reconsider listening to someone, and instead follow what our common sense tells us.

Oh well back to the drawing board...Do you have any lessons learned about friends? Was it expensive or cheap?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

People thinking you're Weird?

On a Dave Ramsey message board, people were discussing in a thread, whether others thought they were weird. If they were sharing with people in real life about becoming debt free. And a lot of people said yes they got weird looks. Or that they didn't share about it.

So I decided to contemplate do people think we're weird? Honestly, NO. Most of our friends are not in financial trouble. They are pretty secure financially and pretty responsible. My two best friends, neither have credit card debt or car loans. They both had car loans out of college, but it got them good jobs. They both had student loans, but they got great jobs because of it.

DH's best friend has no credit card debt, student loans, or car loans. He thinks people are crazy. BIL has no car loans, credit card debt, student loans. And yes while he did cosign for his girlfriend's car loan (long, long story) and pay her CC bills (stupid tax), he never actually got himself into trouble.

And the rest of our friends? I know our MBA neighbors carefully calculated the cost of having student loans, but are against CC debt. And more than a few acquaintances don't have CC debt, but have massive student loans (they mentioned it). That seems to be a theme, we're not weird, we're normal for not having car loans or CC debt. And student loans is a part of our circle it appears.

Granted this might be true because we've been in school for so long that frugality is trait you need to survive. But it might also be true that not really having a "good" income for long also makes it harder to rack up CC debt because you don't qualify, or car loans because you don't qualify without a stable income. But student loans, well they just hand it out left and right.

But I haven't really found people who say CC debt is okay or you'll always have a car payment. More people tell us student loans are necessary evil. Or they couldn't pay for college, graduate school, professional school without it.

So I guess we're lucky. We don't have much pressure to be "normal". We're fortunate that our circle is pretty anti-consumer debt. I feel we fit in well. Now if only we could change how much colleges cost, then perhaps people could afford schools without so much student debt.

Carnival of Money Stories #49

The 49th Carnival of Money Stories is up at PiggyBankBlues. Please check it out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

March Madness

I forgot to mention I'm participating in the March Madness tournament at Free Money Finance. Please check out all the great posts for the 64 post competition. I've won my first round and moving on with my post "Lucky". Please vote and enjoy.

Also I will be trying to move the blog soon.

Not trusting mechanics

So I got a call this morning from the dealership. They wanted to know who told me I needed the water pump and timing belt done. Turns out they were wrong. Apparently what it turned out to be was a cracked thermometer, sepentine belt, and friction belt. They showed me the parts they replaced.

So apparently the guy who "diagnosed" our focus before didn't do the correct job. This is actually the second time it happened. The first time in SD we had a lot of problems after what we assumed was done correctly. Turns out when we paid an arm and a leg and took it to the dealership the guy was wrong. He'd replaced the wrong part. Um, what?

It pissed my DH off and we didn't go there again. Mind you, we're not against great mechanics, but unless the dealership is way overpriced we're heading back to the dealership. This second experienced confirmed that sometimes mechanics don't work on the make and model of your car a lot. Unlike the dealership mechanics, who probably see only Fords. So their knowledge of "common" and "typical" problems is more specialized.

It costs me $840 to replace everything, and I'm not unhappy about it. I am pretty sure I wasn't ripped off, I called a mechanic for a price and he said $750. So I know I'm inline again with prices.

So while I guess mechanics can be cheaper, I'm getting warier about trusting them to correcty diagnosis problems with the car. So I guess I'll just have to keep paying a premium to the dealership.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Car Dealership for Repairs

So today we decided to drop off our Ford Focus at the dealership to have the water pump repaired and the timing belt replaced. This is first time we've gone to a dealership for any major work.

We decided to do so because the difference between a dealership and a mechanic was minimal. I used the cartalk website to find 5 other mechanics. I called each one up last week and was quoted between $650 and $900 for the repairs. The dealership quoted me $700. I couldn't believe the rate was actually competitive.

I think the reason is due to the fact that there are so many dealerships around. This causes the dealership to actually try and compete for business. After people who are going to come in repairs are already Ford owners, and customer satisfaction probably plays a role.

But anyway because of the rush of cars dropped off this morning and the length of the repair, the Focus won't be ready until tomorrow. I hope nothing else is found to be wrong with the POS. We really need this car to last a few more years trouble free. This doesn't mean we wouldn't kick it to the curb if it started breaking down and costing a lot in repairs. But I'd rather sink $5k into a new used car than into this car.

So moral of the story? Call around, potentially the dealership could be the place to take your care in for repairs. I like the dealership because they have the parts on site and they are used to working solely on Fords (or whatever brand of car), versus a mechanic who has to work on many different brands of cars.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thrifty Tip: Buy Forever Stamps

Now would be a great time to buy some Forever Stamps if you have a chance. The price of a letter is increasing to 42 cents! Up a penny, but this is a nice way to hedge against hassle of having to buy 1 cent stamps again.

February Wrap Up

I tried again the cash budget. I have no idea what I spent where, but I believe I spent $120 on groceries, and $142 on eating out. I still feel as though we could have spent less, but I completely lost track of our cash spending. Defintiely the eating out was higher than expected because 2x we went out in a group and spent way more than we needed to. I am tired of this trying to use cash. I feel a definite loss of control. Do we spend less? Yes/no. I find that we scrimp and buy less healthy food because of my cheapness. But overall I don't think we spend that much less.

As for our net worth, we got rid of our credit card debt by $244. We increased our retirement by $6800 solely due to contributions. Our retirement is at $74k, our cash savings decreased to $11887, and our taxable accounts decreased to $7800. But overall our networth increased by 0.85% = $1848.

Not a terrible month, but mostly we've been contributing to our Roth IRAs $3k out of $10k, $1200 into the 401k, and yet everything goes down. We also are contributing to DH's ESPP the maximum, but I can't figure out how much it is.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How to much to save?

The article I wrote about yesterday discussed the lack of savings in today's retirees. It's only going to get worse because of the decrease in SS and lack of pensions. So what should people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s be saving?

Well let's assume you need to save $1M for retirement. This will give you an annual income of $40k. That's pretty good. Of course these numbers can be adjusted based on your income. Personally I would shoot to replace 100% of your income in retirement rather than the suggested 75%. Mostly because previously people had pensions and employer provided medical insurance in retirement. That is a thing of the past. Those are bonuses that can no longer be counted on.

I'm not even sure SS can be counted. It's possible that for 20-somethings it will be distributed according to need. If you have a savings, you won't get it. Also with Medicare, I'm not sure if we can really count on it paying for 80% and if it won't go down to 50-60% coverage. Hence I would plan on replacing 100% of your income so you can buy supplemental insurance and 20% of your medical bills not covered by insurance.

Now assuming all savings will be done in either a Roth IRA or 401k, it means it's a tax deferred savings vehicle (no taxes paid annually). Also assume that you have $0 (nothing) saved. Let's also assume an 8% return on everything.

So if you are 55 with 10 years left to retirement, you need to save $68k/year (5500/month) for 10 years to have $1M. Ouch. But if you are 45 and have 20 years until retirement, you only have to save $21k/year ($1750/month). That's a bit more managable assuming you are in your peak earning years.

Now if you are 35 and have 30 years until retirement, you only have to save $8500/year ($708/month). That's golden! Basically if you save the maximum for a couple, in a Roth IRA for 30 years you will have $1M tax free for retirement for the DH and DW!

Of course if you are 25 and have 40 years until retirement, then you only have to save $3500/year ($290/month). This means if you are single and start saving the maximum into a Roth IRA for 40 years, you will have $1M for yourself.

Wow, now if you are younger and starting to save, I hope this motivates you. The longer you have until retirement, the smaller the numbers look. The easier it looks to achieve a large nest egg. The more feasible it is to think positively.

But even if you are older, now is the time to start. There is potential to save something for your retirement. And you could perhaps afford a better lifestyle than you expected if you save something rather than depending solely on SS.

Friday, February 29, 2008

No Retirement?

Well apparently many middle class people are not planning on being able to retire. In this article at MSN, people are talking about not saving for retirement. The first couple in their 70s were lucky to inherit $400k from their parents. This helped them get into a retirement community.

However, experts are predicting people can no longer count on substantial inheritances to bail them out. They also cannot count on SS or a pension to replace their income.

People in general have no idea how much they have to save. They expect a miracle. This is the reason why I don't believe we can switch SS over to an individual account. People are depending on it too much. Are we really going to allow our parents/grandparents to eat dog food?

If you need $40k/year to retire you need about $1M saved to generate that income. This $40k is assuming you have a $12k SS and no pension. This will come to about $52k/year (close to the median salary of $48).

But will that really be enough? Can you live on $52k gross? That's the other question being raised, how will retirees manage the rising medical costs? Before it used to be picked up by employer provided insurance. With cuts to pensions and medical plans how will these retirees manage with medical bills? Will these bills replace the costs of raising their kids? I think so.

It's sad that so many people have nothing saved nor any idea how much to save. But it's better to start later than never. It's better to try to fix your situation than sitting there saving nothing.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Smaller Living

MSN just had an article on smaller living. They stated that developers are selling 298 sq ft condos for $150k-$500k. Mostly in urban areas where land is a premium. Amazing huh?

They questioned who would live there? I know tons of people who live in such small spaces either as singles or couples. Personally I've lived in a 300 ft bachelor (studio without kitchen) in Los Angeles. It was cheap at $900 and close to the university. I picked it solely based on it's location.

I think many more younger professionals, broke twenty-somethings, or retirees will chose to live in tiny spaces. It makes for streamlined living. Yes you pay more for things, because you don't stockpile or storage stuff. But then you really simply your life. Often there isn't room for dustcatchers or excess purchases.

During the time I lived in the bachelor, my DH also lived with me and our dog. We found the space unbearably tiny, but livable. We realized that it was more than adequate because of the location. The main problem was lack of parking spot, which in LA, is a necessity.

But we really loved the fact it made us simplify our lives. It made us choose what was important and not shop as much. We cooked simply without an oven and a Foreman grill. I think this way of life will become more common even for retirees.

Do you think you could live like this? Would you?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sucker to invest in 401k?

Recently an article in Money Magazine poses the question about whether it is foolish to invest in a 401k? The article states that some advisors are saying that it will cost you more to invest in a 401k than a regular taxable account. The reason is that when you start drawing on a 401k, it is at regular income tax rates. However in a taxable account, you might only pay 15% to long term capital gains.

The article goes on to explain why not investing in a 401k is a bad idea. That you will end up with less money because the initial investment is less due to taxes. Hence, the amount saved grows slower.

But there is the argument what if tax rates go up and you find yourself in a higher bracket? Right now are the lowest tax brackets in a long time, and it can only go up from here. So what happens if you pay 40% instead of 28% now?

I think these are valid concerns and points. However, by deferring the taxes on your investments in a 401k, you have an opportunity for the money to grow faster. Also you aren't paying taxes twice, just once. In a regular account you will pay taxes as you put it in (25%, and when you have gains 15%), so there is a double taxation. In a 401k, even if the rate is higher in 30 years, you'll only pay it once.

Another more pressing factor is the ease of saving directly from a paycheck. It is a lot easier to save when it's on automatic investment. How many people would actually save money if they had to set up an investment account, direct deposit, etc? If people find saving into a 401k difficult, I can only imagine how much fewer people would save into a taxable account. I would hazard less than 75% would even do it.

So maybe, there is a valid concern to investing in a 401k could cost you more in the long run. However if it means not saving for retirement versus saving, I'd rather gamble on paying higher taxes rather than not saving at all for retirement.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thrifty Tip!

I went to Pepperidge Farm Thrift Store this past weekend. The store is for food which is past the expiration date, or damaged packages. Hence I bought a bunch of stuff which I normally would not buy.

For example the BEST deal in the store was the bread, even the cashier said so. We bought a loaf of pumpernickel for $1.59, while our roomie bought a cinnamon raisin and brown sugar loaves for $1.29/each! That's less than 50% off compared to the normal supermarket in the area ($3.29 and $2.50 respectively). Yes, what a score.

We also purchased sadly 8 packages of cookies. This I preferred not to do but our roomie loves chocolate. But it was 8 packages for $5. Regular price? $3.19/bag! Yes it was slightly past the date, but you can't tell. Fortunately our roomie already finished 2 bags (yes in less than 1 day) and we ate 1 sleeve together of mini mint milanos. I'm done.

And we topped it off with a box of crackers for 99 cents. Fantastic deals to be had. If there is a Pepperidge Farm Thrift store in your area check it out!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Understanding the Fair Tax

I am not a proponent about the fair tax. I am a proponent of the flat tax, but that would likely mean I will pay a lot more in taxes. If there were a fair tax, DH and I would be raking in the dough.

A fair tax system basically occurs where you pay on what you consume. It enables everyone to keep their paychecks, but charges a 23%tax on goods you purchase. Sounds great right? You are sitting thinking if I'm a frugal miser, I'll save a ton. Maybe.

Problem? It will be an unfair tax on the poor. But the poor will get "prebates" to allow them to purchase food and medicine. It will also scale up for family size. Sounding better and better right?

Well wrong. What's wrong? Consider this, a family of four (2 adults, 2 kids) will get a monthly prebate of $537 or $6440/year. But it doesn't account for income. So if you make the median $48k, you get the same as if DH and I make $200k with our 2 children. There is no difference in prebate for people of different incomes but same family size.

Now for those of you who think, well you'll consume more because you make more. Really? Reading this blog, I'm pretty frugal and so are others who blog income non-withstanding. So out of my $200k income, I might consume annually $25k (extrapolating what I spend now) and equivalent to the $48k family. So I will be taxed on 12.5% of my income. But the $48k family will be taxed on 50% of their income if they spend $25k/year. However if they only want to spend 12.5% then have to spend less than $6000/year or $500/month. How realistic is that?

So whose family will come out ahead? Do people who make $200k really spend proportionally more consuming? Or do they spend more $, but a smaller % of their income?

As I've previously calculated someone with 2 kids, making $48k will pay 1.6% in federal income tax (assuming standard deduction and 2 - $1000 child tax credits). Hmm...why would they want to move to a consumption (fair) tax, when they pay literally nothing in federal taxes?

Fair tax supporters, explain to me why someone who pays nothing now should support the fair tax? I don't because it's unfair to the poor and would widen the gap between the rich and poor faster.

But if it were to pass (thank you huckabee), I'd be on the side of the "rich" and getting richer faster because we're savers. DH and I love to save money, we drive our cars for 10 years, and spend less than $500/year on clothes. We also carefully shop for food, and enjoy eating out. But percentage wise it's a smaller portion of our income than others because of our income.

So a fair tax would be awesome for us. Our tax liability would go down substantially. And other people making 6 figure incomes would agree. Suddenly they are able to keep their entire paycheck? And they can still consume at the same level and pay a smaller percentage instead of the current graduated system?

Hence, for real reform we probably need a flat tax. Which will mimic the Alternative Minimum Tax currently in effect, getting rid of deductions and setting a flat tax rate equal for everyone.

But no one likes to hear that it will cost more the fair tax. They like to think they don't consume many goods. But the truth is if we all consume about the same amount. The people with large disposable incomes will be able to save more money and use a smaller percentage of their income for basic life goods.

Carnival of Personal Finance #141

The 141th Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Broke Grad Student. Submitted is my post on "Inadequate savings in your 20s".

Couple of great posts to check out are "Pay off mortgage before retirement" or "Changing rates and Streamline Refinancing." I guess I'm into real estate this week.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Children's Gift Money?

Now I have no kids, but DH and I currently have many friends and family members having children. Now some are close friends and some are acquaintances. However because we have a bit of disposable income, DH lets me give more gifts than perhaps I need. But I like gift giving and it feels good.

I usually give someone something off their registry, however, for closer friends and family, I will often include money for college. I think this is becoming more typical. This is not a lot usually $25 on top of the gift, but it's just the thought that counts right?

But I was DISTURBED, on a message board when someone asked could they take their children's college money and pay off debt? It pissed me off, because their children's 529s were around $3k and mostly funded by gifts from family members and friends. This was not money saved by the parents.

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach that someone would actually ask about taking their child's money and using it for themselves. I understand that debt is bad. I also understand that no food, losing the house is a terrible situation.

However, I asked if this woman was already working a full-time job from her husband or he was working 2 jobs to support the family if she wanted to stay at home? And they have no cable, eating, excesse luxury items in the budget? Because if the situation was not extremely dire, where they were not eating and losing their house and working as hard as possible, I was flabbergasted that someone would ask about taking gift money from their children.

And worse yet, someone suggested taking it to lower the financial need of the children when they apply to college.

I'm sorry but NO! I am one of those givers and I would personally be horrified if I knew my friend/family had taken the money and spent it when I wrote on the check college fund. And they knowingly acknowledged that I had given money for their child's future college. But they decided to spend it and "pay" it back later by supporting the child in college.

How do I know you will support your child in college? What if you can't? What if something comes up? How do I know you'll pay them back?

And worse yet, isn't it like stealing? Stealing from your child, whom some generous person (grandparent, aunt/uncle, godparent) wanted to gift your CHILD not you with $$$?

Maybe because I don't have kids, I'm way off base. And I shouldn't be disturbed that parents would take the college money to pay bills. Please readers help me out here. If you tell me this is common practice, and completely acceptable, I'm reconsidering my gift giving strategy. I'll probably just buy nicer gifts the child will use or need. I won't give money for "college".

And even if you say it's unacceptable to take a child's gift money, I still might change my gift giving strategy after hearing what parents do.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Money Saving Tip?

Don't shop. Don't shop online or in a mall. Don't go into a store. I think it's great that some people can surf the internet and window shop while bored. Here Dog Ate My Finances writes about her recent internet window shopping.

Good for her. But I don't shop. I am not interested at all. I hate it actually, but realize many people love shopping. But my advice to real life friends? Don't bother window shopping or internet shopping if you really want to stop spending. Why? Because it's too much temptation.

It's like baking cookies, cakes, etc while on a diet. Sure you can give it away and see others enjoy it. But how long will you keep testing your willpower? How long will you keep tempting yourself? How long before you take one cookie, or one bite?

It's like sabotaging yourself to fail. You are giving yourself every opportunity to fail instead of succeed. If you want to stop spending money, don't allow yourself the opportunity to spend money.

It's like going to bars every night with an alcoholic. Perhaps there are more productive things they could be doing instead of constantly battling temption. They could be biking, hiking, working out, second job, etc instead of staring at booze. I am not saying deny yourself completely, but if you want to succed at spending less, then don't go to a mall, don't surf online at stores.

This will help to curb your desires. And maybe you'll get to the point where you hate it. Where it no longer gives you pleasure to buy stuff. Where you don't feel this urge to shop.

So my money saving tip? Don't surround yourself with temption, instead surround yourself with tools to succeed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Top tip to survive a bad economy?

The top tip given by most people is to start trimming your budget. Well not me. My top tip to surviving in a bad economy is to keep your job. What? DH and I discussed this the other night, the main thing right now is staying employed. It doesn't matter how lean you live, or how well you budget.

If you have no income because you have no job, then all the budgeting and lean living will not work. You will not be able to pay heat, food, gas, rent/mortgage, etc. So keep your job. And in a downtrodden economy that can be tough. It can also be tough to find another job, hence stay employed.

How to keep your job? Well now is the time to be taking on "crap" responsibilities. Now is the time to volunteer for tasks no one else wants. Now is the time to be pulling more overtime and taking more responsibility at work. Now is the time to be seen as a team player and not dead weight.

It is not the time to be focusing on debt paydown, saving money, etc. So if you are working 2 jobs, make sure it's not at the detriment of slacking at your primary job! This is not the time for companies to feel you aren't giving 110%. You want to be sure that your boss knows how important you find your career. You want to keep your job.

With the economy in a bad way, many jobs are being downsized. So you should also network with former coworkers and bosses, in case you need a job or a reference. This way you'll be able to get word out quickly if you do lose your job. Or if you find yourself given 3 months notice you can start looking sooner.

Also be proactive with keeping up with your skills. Show your employer that you are a person who is trying to learn and be competitive in this environment. Show them why they want to keep you and not the guy sitting next to you. I know this sucks to hear, but you have to keep a job in order to pay the bills and live. Unless you are living off the grid, you will have to pay for electricity, water, food, heat, medical care, etc. This is not the time to get complaicent.

If you are self-employed, now is the time to be finding new clients, networking harder, etc. It is time to perhaps think of more ways to earn income in case your client load lessens, not after you lose your income.

During a bad time in the economy, others suggest cutting back expenses. I say great if you hvae time and energy, but focus on keeping the income coming in. Sure cutting back is good, but if you are laid off or fired, then you can focus on trimming expenses. Now is the time to not be distracted at work. Right now you have to stay later, work harder to keep your job from being outsourced or downsized. You want the guy next to you let go, not you.

Do you have any tips to survive?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Grocery Game

I forgot to tell readers I decided to sign up for the grocery game. It is a trial enrollment to see if I can save some money for 1 month. It costs $1 for unlimited number of stores in your area. I am using CVS, Walgreens, Stop and Shop, and Shaws.

After the one month trial it's $10 for 8 weeks at 1 store, and $5 for 8 weeks for each additional store. So I would probably do Stop and Shop and Shaws for $15/8 weeks about $2/week or $1/store.

Not bad right? Well it depends on how it works. I signed up last week and honestly haven't really found great deals. CVS and Walgreen I can do myself and prefer CVS because I pay so little Out of Pocket (OOP).

But for the other two grocery stores, I am finding the deals are not as plentiful as I would hope. It's possibly because of the stores involved. Or because I just don't buy the stuff on sale.

So for example a stock-up deal is Jolly-Time Popcorn @ 66 cents! It's 71% off, however, I don't buy popcorn really, we eat it maybe 2-3x/year and I have packets from CVS for free. Or GM Cheerios is $1.27/each for 60% off, but we don't eat cereal for breakfast.

Also most of the deals are between 40-50% off. And that's her suggested stockpile price for me! A 50% savings. Sounds good in theory, but honestly I can do better with Costco for many of these things in bulk. I also do better by not eating it. And I keep a price book for my staples, like chicken, steak, seafood, milk, eggs, bread, so I know a good deal on food I need to cook. I try to not buy fruit rollups, pudding, cake mixes, etc. Those are not bought in our house (it may change after kids ok?) but for now, no way.

So I'll see how the rest of the month plays out, but for now I can't see spending any more than the $1. It could do better for other people but not for me, and not for my area.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 they define you?

Forbes just had an article called "What your car says about you to the opposite sex." I had to laugh when I read the article. I found it very funny and interesting. It gives a new perspective on how car makers are researching the demographics of their buyers to better tailor their cars.

I wonder are people really impressed by a fancy car? If I were single and dating, would I look and care? I am pretty sure, that if I were single I'd still be driving my car. My DH would be in a fancy car for sure, after all, he commented what he saves in for my retirement would pay for a car. But I'd keep my car and hope a man would pick me and my corolla. I wouldn't mind a man driving a Porshe if he really did make $400k/year and saved a good portion of it. That would impress the heck out of me, someone who has worked hard, saved, and can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Especially if they started out young.

But of course, you won't know this until much later in the relationship. You'll have no idea if the car is leased or financed. All you'll know is whether the guy is driving a nice car or not. Much like figuring out if they have debt.

So I guess I'd have to go pick another corolla driver. Boring, safe, reliable, and cheap. Because people who are more into cars pick Hondas, those who are cheapskates picker the Toyotas!

Owning my couch

Today I own my couch. I paid off the last $244 owed on it. I decided to pull the trigger. It was time to be free. I don't know that it really feels different. But at least it's owned. Now if only owning your brain was so easy.

Next up? Gotta pay my taxes. We usually owe a little, but in January I always make a rather large payment to the state to get us within the $1k no penalty area. I continued to do this again, so I think we might owe like last year $100 or so.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

140th Carnival of Personal Finance

The Carnival of Personal Finance #140 is up at The Financial Bloggers. This week it's based on Prison Break the tv show. Looks like a great week, check out the posts.

I submitted "Spreading the Gospel". Other great posts are "What price are you paying to have it all...the supermom myth" by the Digerati Life. Fantastic post looking at having it all for women. Also read "buy whatever you want after you save up" by We're in Debt. They ask readers to wait until they save up 3x the cost of someone wants. I wonder if it's worth doing?

Well enjoy the carnival.

Engagement Ring costs?

We had a couple of friends staying with us this weekend. 30 year old single, professional women from the Bay Area. They have good jobs, fun, and did I say single?

Well the topic came up about how much to spend on engagement rings. And how DeBeers has bruted about the 3 month salary rule. That you need to spend 3 months of income to propose. This prompted my DH to laugh and say he got off easy because 3 months of graduate income was peanuts (and yes it was). I believe my ring was maybe $1500, but I picked it out and I couldn't believe he would spend that much! Yep my Mr. Scrimp! To blow $1500 was a ridiculous amout of money about 2 months of income at that time!

But now, these women were saying that they would accept any ring given to them at 30+. But the single 30 year old guys we went out with (we were all friends from college/graduate school), called them on it and said "NO WAY!" They say this policitally correct statement that they don't need a 1 carat diamond solitaire set in platinum now, to look good, but when it came down to it, would they really accept a cheaper ring?

I had to call them on it too. I don't believe any of my single girlfriends would accept a ring as inexpensive as my ring. I certainly would not. And BEFORE you launch into me I'll explain why.

Right now if I were single I would demand any man I marry to be financially responsible. He can have CC debt, but only if he's in the process of paying it off. He can have a car loan, but if he realizes the problem. If he's unwilling to pay off debt and take responsibility and change his ways, no way am I going to be involved with him. It's a deal breaker. I would expect that any man in his 30s be more responsible with his finances.

And I would understand that he can't buy me an expensive ring because he's paying off debt. But if he can't buy me a ring because he's blowing it on everything else, there are bigger problems. And that's the truth. I can understand him saying, "no ring because I have debt, am saving for a house DP." I'd be in heaven, but to tell me I need a 2 week vacation to bahamas? Or a leased BMW?

So I have trouble believing that women in their 30s would accept a very inexpensive engagement ring without good reason. And I have to side with the 30-something men that it's just BS. I will say that in your 20s, you're more flexible and probably more willing to overlook financial irresponsibility. That you are more likely to marry for passion/fun and not examine a person's financial decisions.

But me, Mrs. Save? Well if I couldn't find another Mr. Scrimp, I'd have to find at least a Mr. Save.

Renaming ourselves

Hmmm..apparently I should rename DH and I. He's decide to "christen" us Mr Scrimp and Mrs. Save. Apparently I would have trouble finding a new spouse because my financial habits are extreme.

So I am no longer "living almost large", only in my dreams. I am apparently now Mrs. Save to his Mr. Scrimp. And I am way too thrifty to impress a man, rather I change men into scrimpers. Sigh...

So hello to all, we're Mr Scrimp and Mrs. Save!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Moving up in mortgages?

How do you handle moving up in mortgages? For example where you buy a home, then after a few years (5-7), you sell and move into a larger home with a bigger mortgage. Do you reset your mortgage to a new 15 or 30 year fixed product, or do you just continue with the years left on your current mortgage? Also do you increase the amount borrowed or keep it the same?

I think this question very applicable to people in their 20s. When you are starting out, often you have a lower income, no kids, and little needs. So the house you purchase could be a condo, townhouse, or smaller single family home. Hence after you increase your income and start a family your needs might change.

But should you do this? Or is this expecting too much?

I think that it's a hard to handle saving for retirement, children, and a mortgage in your 20s. Often times, the income isn't matching all your needs. But as you build up your experience and increase your income, you find the ability to comfortably a larger home, children, retirement, etc.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to keep trading in a 30 year mortgage for another 30 year mortgage in your 20s. After all can many people who buy at 22 really afford a single family home? And if you live in an area where you can, was it large enough to fit the family you desire?

Plus if you bought a condo instead, and saved money by buying instead of renting for say 8 years from 22 to 30, perhaps you have significant equity. So is it a bad idea to trade your 22 year mortgage for a new 30 year mortgage to afford the SFH you've been waiting for and saving for by building equity?

This is the new trap of today. Before people like my parents and DH's parents bought one house. They never traded up or moved. But now with jobs in flux, people marrying later or getting divorced, the chances of staying in the same house is small.

So the dynamics of buying one and only one home less the norm, and more the aberration. But does it justify the restarting of a mortgage?

I think it can in some scenarios. Mostly those of people who bought RE in their early 20s. If you wait until your 30s or 40s, I think it makes less sense just because you have less time to finish paying off your mortgage. But in your 20s if you bought something affordable that might not be able to fit your family, then perhaps joining other 30 or 40 somethings in purchasing your final home and restarting your mortgage can make sense.

For us personally, we definitely will have to restart our mortgages. If we had continued on a 30 year fixed, we'd only have 27 years when we bought this current townhouse, and when we buy our next home, 25 years or less. This will be difficult to accomplish, because of prices in our area even if we save up cash for a larger DP and have grown some equity.

But as I write this, I'm also not sure where our incomes will go in the next 10 years so perhaps it's possible. Also we might have the opportunity to move to a lower COLA and that would make our dreams of homeownership a lot more possible. The only thing you can do is make the best decision at the time with regards to your potential income increase, savings, and number of children, etc.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Inadequate savings in your 20s?

I pondered my feelings of inadequate savings while in my 20s. It's hard not to feel this way, because you have people telling you to pay off your mortgage, car loan, student loan, credit cards, etc.

But how do you save money outside of retirement? It's next to impossible for DH and I to save more than the maximum in our retirement accounts. Right now we're treading water, paying for our current bills, retirement, and just regular home ownership expenses.

We're milking our cars and praying they last another 2-3 years. We haven't got the savings in a taxable account to replace them with good newer cars. We could afford cheaper beaters (basically replacement value), but to actually buy nicer cars might be impossible without a loan.

Are we misguided? Should we stop saving for retirement and scale down to just 15%? Then save more in taxable accounts? Or should we look for ways to increase our income?

I think the problem is that in your 20s you have so many pots of money to fund and not enough income to fund them all. You can only pick and chose what is most important. And as your income grows, as ours has, you can start to have more pots.

I believe as we leave our 20s behind, we'll be in a good financial position of fully funding buying newer cars, college, and just growing a taxable account. And by maxing out our retirement options and ESPP, we have established the habit of saving and living well below our means. We are used to saving $35k/year so all extra money can be diverted to buying a large home, newer car, college, daycare.

So my advice to people in their 20s? Stop feeling overwhelemed. Start saving for retirement so you'll get into the groove of not seeing or using the money. That way as your income begins to increase, you'll be able to fund all the pots you desire while knowing you've already established a nice retirement nest egg. And stop feeling inadequate over not being able accomplish everything. Rome wasn't built in one day, and neither will your net worth be established overnight.

So I just have to keep on trudging and reconcile I can't be perfect immediately. I can just strive towards perfection and hope to get somewhere close to it.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bernanke warns of worsening economy

Bernanke warned of a worsening economy on Valentine's day (2/14). He gave a pessimistic outlook for the next year. He signalled to watchers that the Federal Bank would be cutting interest rates in March and April in an effort to combat the US economy falling into a recession.

He and treasury secretary Henry Paulson believe the government needs to intervene to prevent the economy from falling in a rapid recession. That Americans are drowning in the mortgage mess, lack of jobs, and rapid inflation of goods.

Paulson believe the US will not fall into a recession because of the quick stimulus package approved by Congress this week. Where people are being sent refund checks to help stimulate the economy. However he did call for interest rate freezes on ARMs and extending foreclosure periods for homeowners in trouble.

What do I think? While I don't think we're in an official recession (defined as a decrease in gross domestic product) I believe Americans are in trouble. We are being hit by $100/barrel oil, $4/gallon milk, skyrocketing health insurance premiums, and stagnant wages.

Right now the average person like myself is wondering why do things feel tighter than say 2 years ago, but we're making more money? Because we really are not making proportionally the correct amount of money to keep up with skyrocketing food, heating, and transportation costs.

2 years ago my $100/week grocery budget was generous and mostly organic. $100/week barely covers shopping with coupons, less organics, and less fresh fruits/veggies. $100/month used to cover 5 tanks of gas, now it's $150/month for the same 5 tanks of gas. My driving habits haven't changed, we haven't moved, changed cars, etc, it's just that gas went from under $2 to $3.xx. My heating bills used to be $200/month for 150 therms, now it's close to $400/month for 150 therms. The house is the same, the weather the same, but the cost per therm has doubled.

But has my income doubled to keep up with these increases? No. So I am feeling the squeeze. And I'm sure I'm like most other consumers, except that I am fortunate to work in a field with excellent medical insurance premiums. Which while they have increased by 33%, instead of paying $60/month we pay $80/month is low by any standards.

So no, I don't think we're in a recession Mr. Bernanke. But I do think we're in a worse place than we were 2 years ago. And I do think that the average person is feeling the squeeze in places other than just mortgages. And that our salaries are not keeping up with prices of goods we find necessary to purchase.

But what else can we do but keep on plugging away? Pray to hang on to our job. Keep on working hard to avoid the eventual layoff? Plan for the worse, hope for the best.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Revealing your Finances?

When and how long into a relationship do you reveal your financial status? On MSN, this was a huge thread about a woman revealing to her boyfriend of 10 months her $50k of debt. She was turning it around, and he was very supportive. But the question was, when should you reveal your financial life?

I guess from talking with single friends, friends in relationships, married friends, friends about to get married, and divorced friends, the consensus was when you get serious. Meaning this is not a conversation you have on the first date or even second date.

You can investigate their values about money, their values about their future, but there seemed to be an agreement that you do not have to reveal your debt or savings until say 3-6 months into a relationship.

Now this number will vary depending on how quickly you proceed through dating. Are you immediately seeing one person and you never have the exclusive conversation? Or if you are dating a lot of different people, and you need to have the exclusive converatsion that changes the timeframe by a lot. For my all friends, until their have cemented their relationship as exclusive, they definitely don't think total disclosure is necessary. For some this can take awhile, and I agree.

I mean if you are dating someone ever week, but still looking, you aren't in an exclusive relationship. However if you have a standing date and expectation of not looking, then it could be construed as a permenant relationship. At that point, I would say is when the clock starts to tick on becoming open about your finances.

Mostly because you are trusting the person at a deeper level. You've taken the time to get to know the real person, and not the dating persona. Also you've had time to drop hints and observe their financial habits.

I'm surprised that some people would prefer to know on the first date or would reveal such information on the first date. I think of it as sort of revealing how many people you've slept with on the first date or mentioning all the "bad traits" of exs you've had. There's a time and place for a conversation and it can be a turn off if you immediately put it on the table. I mean do you really want to date someone who just talks about the bad things in their past and constantly complains?

But maybe I'm old fashioned. So what is it? Should finances be revealed immediately? Or does it wait till a relationship develops further? Is it only revealed once the couple talks marriage (I had a couple of votes for this)? Or when it's obvious the relationship is serious? Or on the first date?

The poll is going up...and everyone can weigh in.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hallmark Holiday!

I got nothing for my DH and I doubt he got me anything. But happy Valentine's Day to everyone.

I wonder when do you stop buying gifts for valentine's day? Should DH and I be concerned that we don't even have kids and we've already stop the "fires" of passion and gift giving? Or is it an overly commercialized holiday? Some call it a Hallmark holiday.

We never go out to eat either in Valentine's day. The service is bad, food is cold, and reservations need to be had so early it's impossible to get. So we end up usually going out as a pseudo -date either the weekend before or after. It's possible we'll go out this weekend for a "date" but I'm not sure.

Occasionally we'll buy fancy food (scallops or lobster) and make a romantic dinner. Just writing this makes me think maybe I should. But I'm feeling lazy and cheap. So my DH can eat roast chicken instead.

Do you still buy valentine's day gifts for your SO? If you do, and have a cheap idea, please, maybe I'll use it. I could buy into the holiday and celebrate. I might feel less guilty. Although my DH has class and won't be home till almost 10 pm tonight anyway so I guess we'll just go to bed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

$400 Beer!

Okay this is an aside, but I forgot to mention that this weekend I drank the most expensive beer on the planet. I had some of Sam Adams Utopia! I am not a beer enthusiast, but when given an opportunity to drink a $400 bottle of beer for free, heck ya I'm going to take someone up on the offer.

So anyway our neighbor had a free bottle from work, and since they don't drink, they willingly shared it with us. Wow. It packed a punch. Not that DH and I could ever afford something so luxurious, and truly in the upper echelons of indulgent, but WOW!

Guess I know what I'm buying DH one day when we have more money. Also, you have to have an inside track because they make 4000 bottles only, and if you aren't friends with the neighborhood liquor store owner, you're not getting one. They sell out in less than 5 minutes. Maybe next year for DH's graduation...

College Obligations

I asked the question a couple of weeks ago if parents are obligated to pay for college? And if they provide college can they expect a return for their investment? Also I posted a poll over whether parents should pay for college or not.

We feel that college is important and we'll be paying 100% of our children's college needs. This is our opinion, please do not say that it's wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and choice. We feel this way because a college education was provided for us. We did not flunk out or party too much even though our parents contributed to our education. Instead we focused and did well because our parents expected it of us. And their contribution to our education was grade based. We performed adequately enough to go to good graduate programs in our respective fields. I would assume the same would be true for our children. Another idea is we might make them take out some student loans which we will pay off contigent on them not partying and flunking out. This way they understand the seriousness and severity of their actions.

But from a very early age we will instill in our children financial responsibility. Both DH and I have had CC from our teenage years before we even entered high school as a mechanism of financial responsibility. And we've both never paid a fee or interest on a CC. Thus I feel the way we were raised made us more responsible adults financially and emotionally. We were coached early and often about money and responsibility by our parents.

Thus, we hope our children will want to go to college. If they choose to not go, then that is also acceptable. We will not force them into a career that makes them unhappy. After all they have to live with their decisions.

Also we feel that while we provide college, it's important that we save for our retirement so we don't feel that our children need to "pay us back" for our support. I believe that no child asks to be born, therefore as a parent you have an obligation for their clothes, food, shelter, and education until 18. It does not need to be fancy or new, but you are obligated to supply these basics willingly and without expectation of a "Return" in the future.

I do understand that some parents cannot afford college, either through unfortunate circumstances, late realization, or just inability. However, I do feel that parents have a responsibility to help their children go to college by supporting them emotionally, guiding them in finding scholarships/grants/loans, and explaining the fiscal responsibilities that come with going to college. What responsibilities? Well explaining that student loans need to be paid back with interest, and not spent foolishly. Showing them what a CC is, how it's properly used, how finance charges accrue, late fees, and why CC companies are at colleges being given out to students. It's not free money. When I meet students who actually thought CC were free money, I blame the parents. They sent their children into the world completely naive and uninformed.

My kids will be neither. By the time they go to college they'll have paid bills, budgeted, and learned basic investing skills. However, after 1 CC, I think students begin to understand CC. And at that point it's their fault for debt.

Anyway that's how I view college obligations. There is more to college than just funding it. It's also in the preparation to handle college maturely. And so if you can't fund college, you should prepare your child to handle it maturely.