Archive for May, 2008

Restarting my budget (once more!)

Ok.  I’m going to try to restart tracking my income and expenses once again.

I’ve tried.  I’ve failed.  I’ve tried again.  And I’ve failed miserably again.

I’ve tried paper solution.  I’ve tried desktop solutions.  I’ve tried mini-notebooks and bags and bags of receipts.

So, now I’m going to try an online solution.  It doesn’t directly connect to my bank accounts which is good for safety but will be more difficult for me to keep track of all my daily expenses.  However, I’ve already decided to cut back on expenses so perhaps that will be more helpful.

I think my biggest problem is that I have a type A personality.  So everything needs to be accounted for.  But daily life comes and takes over and suddenly I find I’ve gone 3 weeks without tracking anything and I have no idea where anything is and I just can’t keep my budget going with 3 missing weeks of data in the middle because all the numbers will come out wrong.

I’m crossing my fingers that I will actually make it this time.  I think the trick is to make it part of my daily routine.  So, it is now officially my homepage until I make a habit of it.  Wish me luck!

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What I did with my stimulus check

Now that everyone’s slowly receiving their stimulus check, we are all trying to decide what to do with it.

What did I personally do with my stimulus check? I decided to split it into practical and very frivolous.

I had 3 criteria for my frivolous purchase:

-It would have to be completely impractical

-It would have to be more expensive than the things I normally buy for myself

-It would have to be something I’ve been wanting for a very long time.

This means that it would be a complete splurge which would make me feel happy and would usually give me a major guilt-trip if I bought it on a normal basis. So, I went ahead and bought a 35mm Holga. It fits all the criteria because I don’t need another camera, especially a retro flawed plastic film camera. It was a little over $100 with film so it was out of my normal single purchase range. And I’ve been lusting after it for well over 2 years now.

The rest of the stimulus check went into an ING online savings subaccount dedicated to saving up for my next year’s auto insurance. Boring but it will be quite a lifesaver when the end of the year comes along.

If you want to see what other people are spending their stimulus checks on, check out this website: You’ll find a range of spending from the very practical and frugal to fancy electronics to new life experiences to just really really stupid stuff (my opinion entirely…). In fact, some people gave away their stimulus checks to the more needy.

How did you spend your stimulus checks or tax refund?

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, a story of salvagers

Salvage day means a lot of people across my small city dumping out large pieces of “trash” out in front of their house. Old furniture, random pieces of wood, lawnmowers, and anything else too large for most people to dispose of.

But they say: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Not 5 minutes after I drag a ripped up screen door to the front of my house, a pick-up truck piled high with other goodies zooms up. A man jumps out, grabs the screen door, rips the torn screen off, throws the frame in the back of his truck, gets back in, and zooms away.

All around the city, vans and pick-up trucks roamed the nearby streets looking for something to spruce up or sell.

It was a good deal for all sides. I got rid of something I didn’t want for the price of time and a little muscle-work. Someone got something they wanted for the price of gas. And the city got everyone to beautify the city just a little bit more. Of course, the city had to pay a bit more to take away the large pieces that the salvagers didn’t bother with. In the long run though, with a prettier cleaner city, housing prices will stay high in my little city, and everyone benefits.

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Are sales really sales? A tale of shoe shopping.

Payless is an incredibly tempting place to browse for someone who adores shoes as much as I do. The prices are great and very occasionally, I can find something that I really love. Payless often has their BOGO sale which is their “Buy one, get one half off” sale.

One time, I went with my sister to shop. She browsed the aisle looking for a pair of plain black flats while I whirled through the aisles pulling down boxes left and right. Eventually, she settled on a pair of shoes while I had found two pairs to my liking that I could wear to work for a total of three pairs of shoes. However, I realized they were having the BOGO sale on and I frantically combed the shelves for another pair of shoes to take advantage of the deal.

Until, suddenly I realized: Why am I trying to find another pair of shoes that I don’t need and that I don’t even like just to take advantage of a 1/2 off deal? Instead of saving money, that would just be spending money that I didn’t need to spend.

In fact, did I really need 2 more pairs of shoes when I could just buy one and get great use out of it?

So, I deliberated, shoved one pair of shoes back on the shelf and bought myself a pair of shoes and my sister a pair of shoes (1/2 off!!). I had a great new pair of shoes, my sister was happy, and I saved a bunch of money. All in all, quite happy.

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Marine Recruitment

On college campuses, military people often set up booths to recruit the students into their programs. My boyfriends was stopped once by a Navy officer who proceeded to give him a long spiel about the benefits of joining the Navy ROTC program which lasted quite a bit of time. My boyfriend being utterly bored but polite, listened to the whole spiel and remembered none of it later. After the Navy officer finally finished, my boyfriend smiled at him and walked away utterly unconvinced. Then a Marine walked over to him and said one sentence, “Now that you’re done with them (indicating the Navy officer), what do you think about joining varsity?” My boyfriend laughed and later related this tale to me.

Why is this relevant?

When you’re relating a message that you want to stick in another person’s mind there are 3 main points:

1. KISS: Keep it Simple Stupid. If it’s simple, people will actually listen and remember what you said.

2. Make it humorous. This again has the tendency to stick in someone’s mind. Even better, it might be so funny that they will tell other people about it potentially widening your audience without any extra effort.

3. Pick up body cues. The Naval officer should have realized he was boring people to death and cut his message short rather than leave a bad impression on his listeners. The Marine recognized the body cues instead and knew which people to target with his spiel.

So keep these points in mind next time you need to convince someone of something no matter how important or banal it is. It just may work in your favor.

What does this have to do with finance? Whether it’s pitching an idea for a new business, helping a friend understand the benefits of living frugally, or even just trying to teach your child what their allowance is for, convincing people is an essential part of life.

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Frugal splurging on clothes

This last Saturday, I went to purchase something for Mother’s day that my mother has been wanting for quite some time.  However, while in the store, I succumbed to really truly pretty clothes and ended up buying quite a bit for myself.  Though I hang my head a bit in shame about how impulsive the purchases are, I do have a few guidelines in purchasing clothes to get the most out of them :

I buy classic pieces that fit well

The clothes I purchase are all in classic shapes that I know will never go out of style.  This allows me to never grow tired of them and to wear them regardless of the prevailing fashion trends. Since they fit well, they always make me look decent which is more than I can say for some of the trends out there.  Also, I dress so that I can go from work to casual with just a few additions or deletions of accessories and makeup so I make sure that the clothes can easily transform with whatever situation I need.

I wear them a lot!

I get a lot of use of the clothes I do end up purchasing.  I even have some clothes that I bought 8 years ago that I still wear on a regular basis (one of the few benefits of reaching my adult height rather early).  This makes the cost per use for each piece of clothing extremely low and actually well-worth it in the long run.

I mix and match

Recently, there has been a fashion movement toward mixing High (expensive brand-name pieces) with Low (…not as expensive pieces).  I grinned to myself since I’ve been doing that all along.  I’ve invested in a few quality pieces of clothing but when mixed with some good finds from thrift stores, I look good but not too matchy matchy and I save a lot of money.  I also tend to buy clothes in neutral colors much to the dismay of my mother who gives me looks of exasperation whenever I show her a new little black <insert piece of clothing> that I bought.  However, because the palette is so neutral, mixed with a few essentials in bright pops of color, I can mix and match to my heart’s content and create multiple outfits with only a few pieces of clothing.  This way, I can look like I have an enormous walk-in closet at home when in reality, all my clothes are stuffed in a few drawers at home.

I take good care of my clothes

Since my clothes need to last through a lot of wear and tear, it’s important to wash, iron, and hang up/fold all my clothes in the correct way.  Oh, and I tend to shy away from anything that needs dry-cleaning since I feel that that’s just a money-sucker.

And if you must buy something super-trendy, don’t worry, take care of it, and someday either the trends will cycle back or you have something fabulously vintage.

If you love clothes and fashion the way I do, this is the best way to indulge a little without blowing a wad of cash with little return.

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The Power of Marketing

I was at Urban Outfitters recently looking for the type of quirky and unique gifts that they usually carry for some upcoming birthdays.  Then, I spotted what was an amazing marketing technique: make people spend money for nothing!

How did they manage to do this?

I’ve always like to look at the “Grow your own <insert noun>” where you stick the little figure in the water and watch it expand like magic!  However, this time, I found a package that said “Grow your own invisible boyfriend”.  Basically, it consisted of cardboard packaging with nothing in it.  And they’re charging $6 for it.

Funny?  Yes.  $6 worth of funny?  No way!

Most of the time, when I’m out shopping for friends, it’s a struggle to balance what I think is a unique fun gift with what I think is way overpriced.  In this case, it wasn’t a struggle at all.  I chuckled a little, put it back on the rack, and headed in the opposite direction.

This reminds me of the children’s story: The Emperor’s New Clothes.  The man was so blinded by what others were saying and advertising about his fabulous new set of “clothes” that he didn’t notice he was parading down the street naked until a little boy managed to point it out.  Sadly, the fact that they were able to actually sell it in the stores for $6 means there are people out there willing to buy it for a good laugh.  I hope someone can point the foolishness of that kind of shopping choices out to them.

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Tax Rebate Confusion

Apparently most of my coworkers were confused about the tax rebate.  They fully expected to receive the complete amount of the rebate and didn’t know it was based on income.  What followed was an hour long group rant about how the government confused everyone and how they were expecting a certain amount which they’re not going to receive.

What a lot of them were saying was that they had already spent the money on new splurges before even receiving the money in the first place.  Since they spent money they didn’t have, that effectively puts them in debt.  Kind of ironic since the money was meant to help the American consumer and instead put them into more debt. Also, this was Bush trying to end his 2nd term on a good note and in the end, it kind of just pissed people off more towards him.

I already knew that it was based on income but I had assumed that since my income is quite low, I would receive the whole rebate.  However, I had no idea that if I received a refund (meaning no net income tax liability), I would only be receiving half the amount.  So, when I saw the amount of money in my bank account on my computer screen, I immediately pulled out my budget and dialed everything down.  Thank goodness I hadn’t splurged as much as I had intended to do.

But hey!  Better to receive less money than expected than to pay money to the IRS.

The take home lesson:  Don’t spend what you don’t have and always leave some flexibility in your budget

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So sorry for the very very long pause in posting

Hello everyone. I know I haven’t posted in who knows how long. I have no excuse beyond just having no time or motivation for anything in my life. But, now, I’ve gotten it all together again, I’ve shaped up, and I’ve decided to go ahead with this blog. However, I’ve decided to go in a direction that’s more comfortable for me. I would like to make this a more personal blog and less of a technical blog. I hope you will all continue to enjoy my postings.

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