Archive for July, 2007

Pennies and Nickles and Dimes…Oh My!

Forgive the Wizard of Oz title.  I just saw the musical “Wicked” last weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have this piggy bank which actually looks like a pig.  Every so often, my wallet gets so heavy with coins that I have to dump all the coins into the piggy bank.  Recently, my piggy bank became so full that I couldn’t stuff any more coins in.  So, while I was at Office Depot, I saw a bag of coin wrappers so I added that to my cart.

I spent a few hours today wrapping coins and when I was finished, I sat back in amazement.  The coins lay in a pile and as I added them in my mind, the amount was staggering considering they were just masses of coins.

Tomorrow I’m going to take it to the bank and deposit it in my account.   This however, has opened my eyes to the benefits of getting a habit of saving.  It’s really not that hard.  All you have to do is to dump your change at the end of the day into a piggy bank, roll it up, and deposit in a bank every so often.  Sure, of course it saves time to dump it into Coinstar or something simple but then you’d have to pay fees for that and my frugal heart complains every time I think of unnecessary fees.

Bank of America has a Save the Change option for their checking account which automatically rounds up your transactions of the day to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference automatically into a savings account.  However, sometimes it’s inconvenient especially if you’re regularly low on funds because it’s really easy to overdraft with that option.  Besides, it’s really satisfying to see the coins pile up.

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Tracking my Money with my Computer

I do everything on my computer and everything I do usually turns into a series of lists so naturally, I’ve turned to my computer for the important task of tracking my finances. For the last five years, I have tried and tried to come up with a perfect technique of finance tracking for myself. I have tried paper ledgers, Excel spreadsheets, online budgeting/social networking tools, and various computer programs to help me keep track of the way my money flowed in and out. The only things I stayed away from where programs I had to buy because my frugal heart was really pained at the thought of shelling out money when I just knew I could do it in a less expensive way.

Basically, everything was a failure for a number of reasons:

Pure Laziness – I did manage to develop a habit of saving every single receipt that came my way but I would go months before that stack of receipts became sufficently large enough to attract my attention. Then, the task would be so overwhelming that I would procrastinate which made me forget again. Eventually, I would end up with a huge stack of receipts that gave me such a headache that I would just chuck them all out and restart my whole budget.
Forgetfulness – Sometimes, I forced myself to be diligent with my budget and meticulously recorded everything on the receipts and on my bank records. However, cash transactions often were receipt-less and then I would forget to record the amount down so that by the time I got home and sat down, the frustration of not being able to remember even an approximate figure for that transaction would drive me bananas which made me not want to do my budget and therefore I would resort back to procrastination eventually.

Complications – I have a lot of different accounts all over the place which serves me perfectly well. However, it becomes more complicated when I’m trying to keep track of them all in one place. So, either it would be incomplete which was not an optimum solution or way too complicated to manage so I would not want to do it and therefore, (yup! you guessed it) I would procrastinate.

But, I think this time, I’ve figured out a good technique for myself:

GnuCash – this is a computer program that I’ve discovered that I really like. It’s on my computer so I don’t have to be online to use it. It’s easy to use and the format is pretty self-explanatory. It has a lot of categories and a flexibility to adjust the categories to fit your needs. Best of all: it’s free because it’s open-source which also means that it should be free of spyware. Check it out here.

Notecards – part of my notecard PDA that I keep on my purse that goes everywhere with me, it allows me to scribble down random cash transactions so I don’t forget the amounts later.

Persistence – I’m making myself record the previous day’s transactions every morning right after I wake up. By giving it a set time, it should help me to keep it going and stave off the inevitability of procrastination.

I’ll let you know if it works or not. What works for you?

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The Carnival of Personal Finance!

I’ve been an avid reader of The Carnival of Personal Finance for a while.  Every week, it showcases a collection of really good finance articles from across the web.  It always provides me a very satisfying few hours of immersing myself in all the thoughts, tips, advice that other people have on the varied topics of personal finance.

Since I started this blog, I have been wanting to get in on the action so I tentatively submitted one of my articles “10 Tips on Saving Money on a Family Trip“.  Today, I found out that it was submitted which really made my day.

Check it out: 110th Carnival of Personal Finance at Fat Pitch Financials

To get updates on upcoming carnivals: Carnival of Personal Finance

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The Case for Leftovers

I love leftovers, simply love them.  Why?

Well, first, everything is already cooked so after a tiring day, it’s easy to stick it on the stove or nuke it in the microwave for a few minutes and it’s ready to go.

It’s a no-brainer healthy lunch (if you cooked something healthy that is…).  Just put it in a preferably microwave-safe container and stash it somewhere where it won’t be forgotten and when the munchies come on wherever you are, you have something ready to go.  This is great at work or at college because there are often at least one microwave around that’s easy to get to.  And if you don’t have access to a microwave, leftover salad or put some leftover chicken in a tortilla for a quick meal that doesn’t need to be microwaved.

If you have a little time to cook but too brain-dead from a long day to come up with any special recipes, leftovers don’t need lots of thought to make it into something else equally yummy.  Add a few spices, maybe some ground meat, some pepper and you’re good to go with another dish for the family.  If it’s leftover veggies, add some rice and it’s fried rice.  If it’s leftover meat, boil some water, add noodles, and it’s a great pasta dinner.

And since leftovers are just the previous day’s food, it costs little to nothing extra for another meal which drops the cost per person for food much lower.

Just make sure it’s properly refrigerated and put near the front of the fridge so it’s not forgotten.  Yummy leftovers may be great but leftovers that have spoiled are quite disgusting.

What do you think about leftovers?

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Job Catch-22

What is the biggest detriment to my finance now is the fact that I am still on the job-hunt.  Why is this a detriment?

I want to find an entry-level job in the finance field.  Entry-level for a number of reasons, the main ones being lack of any formal education (except for one accounting class) and lack of any experience.  I do possess analytical skills from my previous position as well as my research while in college.  I self-study on my own.  I can tell you what P/E is, the difference between growth and value stocks, the difference between mutual funds and ETFs, and calculate any number of statistics with any number of statistical packages.  I know how to create financial statements, type about 75wpm, and create smashing slideshow presentations.

However, the biggest barrier that I have to overcome is that fact that in order to gain experience, you need to have experience.  Strangely, even for entry-level positions, they desire experience.

Let me give you an example:

I know someone who applied to a position listed as a entry-level human resources assistant position. This person has a Bachelors Degree from a good university in Psychology and previous intern experience as a human resources assistant.  This was all listed on the resume.  She was called in for a interview and after waiting for 2 weeks on tenterhooks, she received an e-mail stating that she did not possess enough experience for this postion.

Now, let me ask you: if this person did not have the experience, why would she have been called in to interview in the first place?  And if this was an entry-level position, why would she need so much experience in the first place?  And lastly, that was an awfully long time to wait when they could have just sent an e-mail the next day stating the same thing.

How do you gain experience?  You get a job.  But, who will hire you if you don’t have experience?  Therein lies the Catch-22.

And the job search goes on.

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10 Easy Frugal Ways to Get Healthy and Stay Healthy

Here are some ideas on how to be healthy on a small budget. Since I am not the type of person to be able to stick to any specific plans or limit myself very well, all these tips are very easy to do and don’t really involve any strict restrictions.

1. Get enough sleep. Not only does this make you less grumpy but while you’re resting your body can repair itself from the damage of the day. The body’s natural rhythm is disrupted when there is too little sleep and sometimes natural processes in your body then aren’t efficient enough in the time given it so you’re body holds on to the ravages of the day.

2. Drink lots of water. It flushes out lots of bad things from your body, hydrates your body so your skin looks young, and can stifle small pangs of hunger so you don’t overeat. If you’re tempted to buy bottled water, tap water (with a filter for taste) is much less expensive and your tax dollars are used to filter and treat it with natural minerals and flouride anyways so you might as well drink it.

3. Eat breakfast. Even if it’s a granola bar or a little yogurt, something is better than nothing. See, you’re body comes out of 8 or so hours of sleep and it hasn’t eaten in that time so it goes into the beginning stages of starvation mode which means it slows your metabolism down in order to hold on to as much nutrients as it can get. This means it’s easier to gain weight.

4. Snack healthy throughout the day. This is the same concept as the “eat breakfast” tip. It keeps your metabolism up throughout the whole day so in actuality, it burns much more calories than if you only ate a few bigger meals instead. It also can help you eat less in general and save you from that late afternoon food coma slump where productivity goes to almost nil. Make sure the snacks are healthy though and don’t contain a lot of fat or sugar or your blood pressure and blood sugar will go crazy.

5. Get a good chair. This doesn’t have to be expensive. For home, get a large exercise ball as a chair. Mine was about $20 at Target. It’s cheap, keeps your spine in alignment, and since your body is constantly moving, it’s burning off small amounts of calories throughout the day without you doing anything beyond what you normally do. At work, see if your workplace offers ergonomic office chairs that support your body. If not, request it from human resources who often handle this type of matter. Maybe you’ll get a new free chair or at least a discount for you to purchase one yourself. It’ll definitely save you chiropractor bills later.

6. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. This costs nothing, can be done quickly, and can destress you quite quickly. Stress ages a person rapidly and causes a host of health problems. Taking a few moments now will add up in the future.

7. Wear sunscreen. Good sunscreen doesn’t have to be expensive. Just make sure it’s at least SPF 30 for good protection. It’s a heck of a lot less expensive than anti-aging cream and prevents aging best. It’ll also save you from the potential of skin cancer.

8. Take a walk. It’s good bonding time with your family if you all walk together and it’ll definitely please your dog to no end. It’s good cardiovascular exercise even if you’re walking slowly and done regularly, it can keep you fit without expensive gym fees. My grandfather stayed healthy until he was 90 years old by going for a walk everyday. Even a 10 minute walk is better than nothing.  Just make sure it’s in a safe area to walk in.

9. Eat colorful meals. This just means that when you look on your plate there are whites and greens and browns and reds and other colors. This allows you to eat a variety of foods (meat, veggies, breads, etc) allowing you to get all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your body needs. Just make sure everything is cooked well and all the fruits and veggies are washed thoroughly.

10. Eat slowly. Your body needs time to process the fact that it’s eaten food and that its full. If you eat too fast, you run the risk of overeating. This also means that after your first serving of food, take a breather for a few minutes to let your body tell you if it’s really still hungry or full. If you’re still hungry after that 5-10 minute break, then by all means, get a little more food. Besides, if you take the time to really enjoy the flavors of your food, meals will become very pleasant times and less expensive foods will still taste just as good if you savor it.

Are there any other suggestions?

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10 Tips on Saving Money on a Family Trip

1. Bring your own food and snacks: this is best if you have a kitchen (or at least a microwave).  However, there are plenty of healthy no-cook foods that you can bring along and put together with minimal fuss and funds.

2. Plan out the trip beforehand: Group places you want to go, then drive there, park somewhere, and walk around to all the sites you want to go to.  Saves money on gas, gives you great exercise, and saves the environment.

3. Stay at a friend’s house:  this saves on paying for hotel/motel; allows for quality bonding time with friends, and there’s no weird check-out times.  Plus, sometimes you can great some great home-cooked food or a knowledgeable tour guide in the bargain.

4.  Pack light: bring only one full-size version of what the whole family uses (ie. toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen) and share.  It’s lighter and everyone really doesn’t need their own small shampoo bottle.

5. Ask a friend or neighbor to watch the pets and water the plants: make sure it’s someone you trust.  This way it saves you from worrying about home and saves a bundle on pet hotels or having to replace dead plants or goldfish once you get home.

6.  Plan out exactly what you are packing before you pack: this makes sure that you don’t forget anything important forcing you to purchase it at some touristy spot or hotel at extremely inflated prices.  Also, it makes sure that you don’t forget something in a hotel room forcing you to repurchase the item when you get back.

7. Put aside a certain amount of money to shop with per day: it’s ok if you go over a little one day as long as you spend less another day.  It also helps to have a upper limit to the total amount of money to spend as well as keeping track of the gifts you buy so you don’t end up buy 5 gifts for one person and none for another.

8.  Research: go to museums that cost little to no money or go to landmarks where there is no admission fee.  Research helps to also know the days the museums are free or when there are special events or festivals that you can attend  so that the trip is still special without spending too much moolah.

9.  Take advantage of your connections: go to AAA to get free maps or guidebooks or even go to the public library for a good selection.  Use the car rental discounts and hotel discounts offered by many alumni or professional associations.   Buy cheaper tickets to theme parks or zoos through your workplace or school.  Even better, if you have a close friend or family member who owns a hotel, feel free to ask nicely for a hookup.  The worst that can happen is they say no and you look like a cheapskate.

10.  Keep focus: when on a family trip, it’s time to destress and enjoy time with family.  This means that you don’t need to cram every single attraction into one time (unless you have 6 months to live…).  Sometimes, it’s worth it just to chill by the pool, watch a movie together, or just sit on the couch of whatever room you’re staying in and have some quality family time.  When else will everyone be in the same place at the same time?  Take advantage of this special time!

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Sorry for the Delay!

Hi everyone, sorry for the lack of posts lately.  I’ve just gotten back from a trip to Palm Springs with my family.  It was a nice time of sun and fun!

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Small Streams of Income

Even though I’m trying to look for a job at the moment, I’m, at the same time, trying to generate small streams of income on the side.

I’ve been trying to get into stock photography as well as other places that display and sell photos such as RedBubble.  I’ve also been looking into opening a small Etsy shop for notecards I design. I know these seem to be at odds with my aspirations to enter the wonderful world of finance but I figure that I need to balance work and play.  Isn’t it better to be paid to play also?

Also, if I can start generating these small (quite tiny in actuality) streams of income, I won’t need to cling to any certain job if I am unhappy and it can supplement my needs when I may need some extra funds.  Besides, it’s fun!

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Stock Regrets

I’ve made some good decisions on stock investing.  CEO is up more than 30% from when I bought it.  DELL is doing surprisingly well.

However, as I’m researching, I find that I missed on some good deals.  I should’ve bought Nintendo when I first started putting in money because the Wii sales actually is lasting a lot longer than I thought.  Instead of investing in a general international index ETF, I should have poured my money in a China ETF or an emerging markets ETF which are doing ridiculously well to the point that I can’t really afford it on my limited funds anymore. I really regret it but really, there’s no point in dwelling on regrets.

Mostly, I find that I shied away from amazing opportunities because I was afraid of the risk, afraid of making a wrong decision, afraid that at any second (as soon as I pour my money in) that the stocks will drop like a rock.   I must learn to trust my instincts more and give my intelligence more credit.

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