Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Randomness: 20 Things I Never Knew About Meat

From the age of 12 till about 21 I was a vegetarian. I'm not anymore, but I take pains to buy a lot of our meat at places like Whole Foods or Giant Eagle Nature's Basket so that I know I am only eating animals that had a reasonably decent life. Now, I am not someone who thinks that eating any animal is wrong. I have no problem with that. It's the factory farming and the electrocuting and all that which gets to me. So I'm voting with my dollars and taking my business someplace where they've treated the animals fairly. Unfortunately this is very expensive ($6/lb chicken breasts, $3/lb wings, etc.) But I feel this is a good use of my money, and we also eat less meat in general.

Once upon a time I was a veritable encyclopedia of disgusting facts about how badly most animals are treated at the average farm. However, since developing iron-deficiency anemia (which is not fun and caused me to sleep all day) I've started eating meat and taking iron supplements. I used to eat meat like it was a medicine - my usual intake before living with my boyfriend was to buy a pot roast, cut it up into chunks with kitchen shears, cook it in a pan, and eat a small bowl of it every day. Sometimes, I would put ranch dressing or egg noodles on it. Aren't you glad you don't have to live with me? Boyfriend mostly does the cooking now in order to prevent me from inflicting that kind of treatment on poor, undeserving cuts of meat.

I think this whole learning-to-eat-meat experience has been instructive in a way. It's interesting to see how much knowledge other people take for granted about the world, when you've been brought up in a life where certain things are common. I remember reading a story a long time ago about late-teenaged orphans from the Sudan who were brought to Minnesota and given an apartment full of food and clothes and a TV, but who had no idea how to operate any of it. The kindly Americans who put them there didn't fully realize that if you didn't grow up in a house with food that came in cans, you wouldn't know how to get it out. Or that you eat soup with a spoon instead of putting it in a cup and drinking it, even though it's a liquid. There's a lot that we take for granted that we learn almost through osmosis as we grow up.

Anyway, here's some of the things that I did not know about meat.

1. Even non-vegetarians will get sick if they eat a pound of ground-beefy tomato sauce on their spaghetti. (This is what I did the first day I began eating meat again, and yes, I was sick.)
2. It is sometimes OK for beef to be rare; it is NOT okay for chicken to be rare.
3. Prime rib isn't ribs.
4. Most people have no idea what part of the cow they are eating. (I frequently ask, out of curiosity.)
5. Canadian bacon isn't bacon.
6. Ham is really salty (at least to my taste.)
7. You shouldn't leave uncooked meat in the refrigerator for several days.
8. If the bacon in the pan looks the way it does in the Denny's commercial, it is already too late.
9. Pepperoni is made from pigs.
10. Fully cooked chicken is supposed to run clear when you cut it, not pink.
11. Marrow melts.
12. Uncooked chicken always smells a little off.
13. Chicken breast is the only white meat on the chicken.
14. You shouldn't try to cook all meat by frying it in a pan.
15. The only fish I like is the salmon my mom made with orange juice and ketchup when I was a kid.
16. I actually still like hot dogs (as long as I know what's in them.)
17. There is no point to buying lean beef.
18. You are going to get crap all over your shirt when making bacon.
19. There is still blood in uncooked meat.
20. Raw chicken wings sometimes have teeny feathers on them. These don't come off just by cooking the wings.

Ooh, getting smacked down by Walter Updegrave

I'm a big fan of Walter Updegrave, who among other things writes the Ask the Expert column at CNNMoney. His advice is usually pretty solid, and is intended to be applicable to a broad audience, including somewhat newbie investors. This is as opposed to people like Robert Kiyosaki, who assumes that everyone wants to spend all their time managing their assets. I particularly enjoyed the recent Ask the Expert piece - the letter reads:

QUESTION: I'm 56 years old and nearly 100% invested in equity mutual funds. I'd like find something to cushion the blow of another stock market decline, but with residential real estate seemingly having run its course and commodities topping out, what alternative do I have? Can you suggest a type of investment that has not recently peaked, and which may offer long-term growth? Real estate in Costa Rica, pipeline limited partnerships...something? - James E. Good, Orlando, Florida

This is the type of person that bugs the crap out of me. They assume that there is always easy money to be made somewhere, if only you know the magic words to say that will open up an investing opportunity. Yes, people have made money in foreign real estate, and whatever the hell a limited partnership is, but he wants it to be as simple as his equity mutual funds are. These exotic investments take a lot more due diligence and knowledge, and without both of those you can lose your shirt. In fact, consider it lost from the second you decide that easy money is yours for the taking, and that a random internet answer guy is going to turn you on to the secret investments of the Rothschilds. (Incidentally, the Rothschilds were involved in one of the least exotic industries of all time - banking. They did not make their money by buying pipeline limited partnerships.)

I applaud Updegrave's patience. His answer to this man is to give him a primer on how you should put together a well-balanced stock and bond portfolio, with some allocation ideas to keep the portfolio afloat among the turbulence of the stock market. I would have said, "Hmm, something to offset the stock market.. How about bonds? Goodnight! I'll be here all week! Try the veal!"

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Money saving tip for the summer

If you have a gas furnace, turn off the pilot light during the summer. My landlord came by a couple weeks ago to look at our air conditioner and he turned ours off for us. Our gas bill dropped about $10. Who knew a little flame ate up so much gas? Well, I guess it is on all the time, but that's about 20% of our warm-weather gas bill. Obviously you'll have to relight it if there's a cold snap, but that isn't terribly difficult in most furnaces.

Frightening me into fattening my emergency fund

OK, I am a bad bad blogger. I only have about $400 in my emergency fund. It was completely drained after our move last year, and then I built it back up, and then took more out to pay down a credit card. I've started to put money back into it (about $70 a month direct deposit) but in general I'm not too worried about emergencies in my life. Boyfriend is a graduate student with a stipend, which even if he stopped showing up to work (as another student did) they would pay him anyway. And I never thought too much about my own job stability, since it is nearly impossible to fire anyone here due to the ridiculous number of hoops you have to jump through to prove incompetence. And since I am not incompetent, I have job security.

Well, I found out yesterday that one of my coworkers' positions is being eliminated. She mainly did our budgets and other business type stuff, and her primary responsibility was to manage the budgets of the laboratory research that was brought in by a doctor who died about a year ago. The trials are all slowly ending and all but two of his lab staff have also been let go. The other doctors on staff thought they would be able to come up with more projects for them, but it just hasn't been happening like they expected. I don't seriously think that anyone else will be eliminated, and my job is paid for by a different study which I alone manage, and which is kind of a cash cow for the department. (Basically I was hired to do this one study, and so the department is financially able to take on a lot of other studies for me to do which aren't funded.)

So this all makes me wonder about the financial health of my department in general. We are not on 'soft' money - ie paid directly from grants - but that is more or less the way the budget seems to be balanced. The cash cow study ends in September 2007. It is kind of comforting to me to know that by that point I am probably going to be moving on to a new job anyway, but now I'm wondering, if that study happens to end early, is my job going to be in jeopardy? What if we don't enroll enough people? It does make me a little worried, and also a little mad since I know that if the doctors (who are extremely well compensated in the six figures, and I doubt the first number is a 1) gave up even 2% of their salary each, they would have been able to keep her on. They would NEVER reduce a doctor's salary or let one go if there was a temporary dip like this.

So I am thinking a little more about beefing up my emergency fund. I don't think that I will be eliminated, but this occurrence does give me a little pause to think about what might happen if the doctors don't bring in new studies to replace the ones that are ending.

What's in My Wallet? (And Purse)

Here's what's in my wallet - the idea comes complimentary of Cap at Stop Buying Crap, who also has a big list of what's in lots of other bloggers' wallets.

I don't have a proper wallet, it's two card pockets with a keyring on the outside. This was very useful in college since I could just grab it and know I had everything. However, nowadays I rarely need both my keys and my wallet at the same time (no dorm to get locked out of) and besides I carry a purse. The keys are now on a Shaun the sheep keyring in my purse.


Ohio driver's license (issued 2/24/06, I am a late bloomer)
University staff ID card (looks identical to student card, used it to get on city bus for free)
CWRU student ID card (used to get student discounts on movies)
Fifth Third Bank debit card
Stockback MasterCard (click here for referral if you are interested)
Voided check (was for setting up direct deposit but ended up not needing it)
Barnes & Noble card with $3.68 (wrote it on the front in permanent marker)
Insurance card
National Marrow Donor Program card
Famous Footwear rewards card
AT&T prepaid phone card from Sam's Club (stopped using once I got a cellphone.. um.. 3 years ago)
Dentist appointment card
Coworker's business card with her cell phone #
Post-it note with coworkers' office phone numbers

I do have two other credit cards, one which is a back-up and one which has my 3.9% for life balance on it, but I don't carry those with me. I also hardly ever carry any cash with me, sometimes a few dollars but none today.

What's in my purse is actually a lot more interesting, as I like to be prepared for anything I can think of, and since I carry my purse with me everywhere it's full of random crap. It is not a big purse and I probably need a new one soon as there is a hole in the corner that I can stick my finger through. I bought it from ebags and you can see a similar one here, although mine is black. But I can't really justify buying one just yet...

Anyway, here is what I have in my purse:

Cell phone
Change (actually just one quarter, I emptied the change into my piggy bank a while ago)
Small clasp mirror (free from when I was about 16)
Business card from place that I had second job a while ago
Old grocery list
Receipt for Solarcaine and water (got sunburned at the baseball game last weekend)
Work ID badge with Donate Life shirt clip (I should probably be wearing this)
Extra ID badge shirt clip that says Transplant and has university logo
Aranesp pen
Welsh Society of Central Ohio pen
Ticket from baseball game (Indians vs Reds)
Keys (Shaun keyring, apartment key, work key, and little scan cards for Petco, Kroger, Tops, and Ben & Jerry's)
Officemax pen
Valcyte pen (tiger print!)
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh pen
Vitamin E lipstick thingy
Ponytail holder
About 15 business cards
Small hairbrush
Flossers in small ziplock
Q-tips in small ziplock
Tide To Go pen
Boyfriend's comb
Poncho in small box
Pad of paper
Tickets for local baseball game we did not go to
Shout wipe
2 wet wipes from Smokey Bones
Mechanical pencil
Collections letter from the Plain Dealer for subscription I did not authorize (still trying to get that one worked out)
Baseball ticket receipt
Radiation dosimeter badge from my lab job in college (where we never actually did get any radioactive material)
Other office keys that I rarely use
Small box with sorority pendant and pledge pin

Now keep in mind that this is in fact a small purse (somewhat larger than a tissue box) and the main pouch has quite a lot of room in it.. most of this stuff is in the secondary pouches. Imagine how much more crap I would cart around with a larger purse. =)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Adjusting your W-4 is awesome!

There's just something about tax paperwork that gets my blood running. Maybe I should have become an accountant. Anyway, a couple weeks ago I used the W-4 withholding calculator and it told me that by the end of the year the federal government will owe me ITS first-born child. I don't really want a large refund, I'd rather have the money now, so I filled out a new W-4 with 3 exemptions instead of 1. Today I checked my online paystub (available 2 days before I get paid at the end of each month) and I am getting a whopping $78 more per month from this!! Yaaaay!

The sad thing is is that that is roughly equivalent to how much more per month I will get when I get my scheduled 3.5% raise in October. Very sad. Hopefully I can bump that percentage up but I kind of doubt it.

Anyway, money! Yaaay!


I accidentally submitted an article last week to the Festival of Frugality when I should have submitted it to the Carnival of Personal Finance. Oops. I emailed the host, FMF at Free Money Finance, as soon as I realized this, but I guess he liked it well enough to include it anyway. I realized that I must have been included, of course, by seeing referrals from the Festival on my Site Meter. =) Thanks for checking out my blog even though I am inept and apparently can't read! Yaay!

Cool articles from the financial world

Here's some great articles that I saw on some other sites and just couldn't resist spreading the word about. First, the official IRS statement about the long distance excise taxes - they're going to try and figure out some kind of easy thing to put on your taxes for individuals. I think that is a terrific idea, especially considering that they are going back more than three years to recover this tax. I have only a vague idea of what I paid for my previous cell phone plan, and I certainly don't have the bills. (But it was nice to see my bill this month lower by a buck or two. Every bit helps.) Thanks to The Financial Ladder for posting it - check out his blog for an article about the tax.

Also highly amusing - I love reading about scams and stupid things people do. I don't know, maybe it makes me seem smarter or something? Here's an article about the worst investing ideas Of All Time. This is a perfect example of why you should have at least half a clue when you go to see a financial advisor, even if the entire purpose of handing over your money to the advisor is so you never have to keep up on your money yourself. You should at least be able to tell whether the advice he is giving you is good, bad, or lines his pockets. Thanks to All Things Financial for posting this article.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The death of a dream... and what to do with the rest of my life

Well the job that I wrote about yesterday, which tempted me to consider leaving my current job, is off the table. I was not qualified enough to meet the minimum qualifications laid out by whoever filled out the job posting. (3 years clinical research experience - I have only been here 1 year.) I filled out the application last night but of course it doesn't tell you that you didn't answer those few questions way at the beginning correctly until you have already attached your cover letter and resume and submitted your application and all that. So yesterday I was pretty depressed and I am still down in the dumps today.

I am really very much a planner at heart, I like to have all my bases covered and think about all possibilities before I do something. So I'd already started thinking about what the new job would be like, whether I would have more communication with my bosses, what my coworkers would be like (and of course how nice it would be to have all the extra money.) I really felt almost happy about my job for the first time in months because I had a window out, and there was the chance that I could get to leave for something better. It feels kind of like somebody died, to lose that chance.

So of course being at work now is just ten times worse. I was very tempted to call in sick but Boyfriend pushed me off to work. I am horribly bored and the coworker in the office next door is talking about how she wants out of our division and to go somewhere else, but she has a business degree and has a lot more options, my skills are very specialized and it may be weeks before another job comes up on the boards. Right now I feel like I have a very narrow window of opportunity because I will only be in this city likely for about another year and a half. Since it can take a couple of months between the job posting and actually starting at the job, and I wouldn't want to be at the new job for less than a year, there is this three or four month window where I can apply for jobs. And who knows if anything will come up. I probably should have started looking a couple months ago.

And as many people my age can relate, I don't even know if this is what I want to be doing with my life. There are a lot of other places I could go, but not if I want to keep doing research. I've been thinking about taking the registered paraplanner test and interning someplace for three months to get the certification to see if I would like working in the financial world. And I can always go back to school and get a degree in some kind of healthcare related field so that I can redirect my career. I'm just afraid of putting too much effort into any one direction and wasting my time.

Look for the simple answer first

What is wrong with this guy?

He calls himself an answer man, but he hasn't got a clue. This girl writes in:

I am a first-time serious thinker of investing in a stock, I haven't a clue on where to begin: With whom or what company? All I know is, I want to invest. I have tried looking info up online but I am more confused that ever. Is there any way you can give me a breakdown on how to begin and what to trust and what not to trust? I am literally like the most clueless person on this; I could really use basic instructions on how to begin.
Tiffany, Murrieta, Calif.

Okay, so for this sort of person, she clearly has decided that she should "invest" in something or other. Somebody probably told her about how you could make way more money in stocks than in a savings account. The problem is that when people say that you should invest in "stocks" or "bonds" or "equities" or what have you, most of the time they don't intend that you should invest in any single stock. If they did, they'd probably have pointed out a few that they like. My heart just goes out to this poor clueless girl. All she needs is a nice mutual fund, maybe something simple like an S&P 500 index fund. But nooooo, Mr. Man gives her an entire page of crap that I didn't understand about her two options: getting a financial advisor to pick stocks for her (expensive and really pointless!) or researching stocks herself. Why on earth did he not just recommend that she look up some mutual funds? Even the complicated statistics of a mutual fund are a lot easier to understand than the vagaries of an individual company, whose health you must monitor to understand how much the stock is worth, what you should pay for it, and whether it is going to go up or not.

He ends the article after a bit on joining an investment club with the line:
And by that point, you maybe ready to become a financial advisor yourself.

Mr. Man, if she WANTED to become a financial advisor, she would probably already know about mutual funds and such. What she actually wants is for you to give her a website that will tell her three stocks to buy that are guaranteed to go up 20% a year forever and send her flowers on her birthday. Unfortunately, such things don't exist. But a mutual fund is the second-best thing, where you can see manager tenure, 10-year return, and relative risk statistics to get an idea of whether it is a good idea or not. And Morningstar does have a fund screener that will do basically that.

I feel for this girl. I really do. Because now she's probably so confused that she's just going to leave her money in the savings account.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Should I give my bosses a chance before I quit in disgust?

I like my job and I like the work I do at it. The problem is that lately, I haven't had any to do. Literally nothing to do all day. On Friday I did about five minutes of work. Thursday, the only work I did was walking some charts back to the records office. Another employee that was hired at the same time as me doesn't have anything to do either. (Actually, she is leaving, and they're not going to replace her position. And unfortunately they aren't going to distribute her salary among us either. Poo.) Most of the problem is that I simply can't get anything done because no one will get back to me. I work on a variety of projects under different people, and some of them are responsive and some are not. So if I need their OK on something, or some directions, it could be a very long time before they get back to me and I can start working on the project again.

Let me give you the best example. When I first started working here last July, two of the doctors had this project that they were very excited about and we had several meetings and I got started right away and did a bunch of work on some patient files. These people are the cases, and since it is a case-control study, I also need to pick out some people to act as controls and review their files. The doctors had originally wanted the tech guy to write some kind of program to automatically generate matches from our database, but that is time consuming and not a priority for him, so he hasn't been working on it at all. Over the course of the next several months, I periodically emailed him or asked him about, and asked the doctors about it, and nothing happened. About two months ago I came up with a way to do it by hand, and emailed everybody and asked them about it, and nothing happened. This is really frustrating because a great many projects are like this, where the entire operation is on hold because somebody cannot talk to me for fifteen minutes. It really makes me feel like I am completely insignificant. I think what the problem is, is that every time one of the people I need to talk to sees me, they think, oh no, here is work coming! Because I always need something from them.

Well, news flash! I am your employee! You are supposed to help me! If I had discretionary power over whatever issue I am going to ask you about, I would have used it months ago!

I'm really getting frustrated by all of this. I do have projects that work by themselves without outside intervention, and I do work with doctors who are very responsive and get back to me immediately. But this underemployment is pissing me off. I could have lots to do, if only they would email me back. And it really undermines their position that they are SO excited about doing LOTS of research when they don't follow through on the baby steps that get research done. I just read The Millionaire Next Door and there is a complete parallel between this and the people who really want to be rich, and make lots of money and could do it, but they just never follow through on doing the paperwork, looking up the figures, etc, all of the actual boring stuff that encompasses it.

My dad has been encouraging me to start looking for other jobs. My dilemna is that I have only been here since July anyway, and they are going to lose another employee shortly. I know that my loyalty in this situation should be to myself, but it does seem like a lot for the department to bear. Adding to the complication, I will probably be moving in about a year, maybe a year and six months, when Boyfriend finishes graduate school. (This is not set in stone, as he may get a PhD, but is highly likely.) I would definitely change jobs then (what a convenient excuse!) but I am wondering if it is even worth it to try and acclimate to a new job here, or try and stick it out with this job.

The other thing I was pondering was that, if my bosses decided they wanted to fire me, it would actually take more time than I have left. There's a complicated multi-step procedure designed to allow the employee to be given the charges against her conduct, and then allowed time to fix those problems. Although I don't seriously think that anything would come of it, I dearly wish I could sit down with my superiors and tell them exactly why I am so frustrated and why I cannot get my job done. I wouldn't want to do that as part of a threat of leaving, since that would just cause bad blood all round, but at the same time I am new and the other employees have simply accepted it, so it might seem like I am the problem child, not them. My dad said that it's not unusual for somebody to spend a year someplace and then move on, and that it's usually the most talented people who move on quickly. Our department definitely isn't making any attempts to retain me and the other coworker (who gets the same treatment from our superiors) and makes me wish I had spent more time asking questions about the culture at the interview, instead of about the research. They all seemed to get along so well..

Is it even worth it to try and salvage things? I don't think anybody would listen to me (even if I could get a meeting) and the culture is just so set in stone.. Adding the complication is the fact that a job with practically the same job description as mine just came up on the job boards and pays at minimum $14,000 more than I make now. And the job title is the same as my supervisor's, so I'd definitely be launching myself upwards in terms of the future jobs I could get... It's very tempting.

Are students more valuable than alums?

This past weekend Boyfriend and I visited Cleveland to catch a ball game, see some friends, and sleep on uncomfortable dorm beds. No, really! CWRU has a summer housing program where you can stay in the nice new apartment-style dorms as a guest. I thought this would be great since it was $40 a night and we'd get to have a kitchen and free internet. Unfortunately, it ended up being $115 instead of $80 because they charged me $15 to activate my temporary ID (no, that isn't a deposit) and $20 for linens (no, I didn't get to keep them.) Which is a ripoff, really. We also tried to park in the brand-new garage, where our temp ID wouldn't open the gate, and when I called the next morning to tell them it wouldn't work, the nice young lady at the desk cheerfully told me that it would be $50 to park. And on Sunday morning when we went to check out at 9:55 (checking out consists of leaving your temp card with them and telling them your name) the girl at the desk told me, "You know, it's not even ten o'clock yet." The other girl in the office, who was the one who checked us in and was very nice, looked mortified.

I'm feeling a bit crotchety over all this. I worked at Housing in my undergraduate years during a summer (when we charged $25 a night, no hidden fees and free parking), and our protocol for checking people out was to take their cards and say thank you, and then continue on with our business. Now I am beginning to think that I should have asked the girl if she wished for me to call the on-call person to come check me out five minutes before the office opened, since it clearly wasn't her job for the next five minutes to take my card from me. I am still quite grumpy.

It just makes me feel like I was treated a lot better when I was a student than when I was an alum. Now I feel like the university views me as a walking cash machine from which it can extract money by bombarding me with fliers and emails and glossy fold-overs. (The best is when they email me about these special package deal vacations which are about 2x the cost of booking through a normal travel agency - presumably so we can spend our vacation in the company of smart people who graduated from our school 20 years before us.) Boyfriend commented that all of these dorm fees are just another way to get money from us to pay for the new dorms, since we've graduated and they can't raise our tuition to get it. Donations to the alumni associations are in general extremely low, partially because CWRU recently decided to "rebrand" itself as Case. For those unfamiliar with the university (which would be everyone, given the blank stares I frequently receive) it was formed by joining Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University back in the early 70s. There are still quite a lot of alumni whose diplomas say Western Reserve, who are in their prime earning (and donating, and will-writing) years. Guess who is pissed off and not donating any more money to the institution that wiped their school off the planet? I recently wrote about the travesties that were done to the liberal arts departments while I was a student there. Pretty soon a liberal arts degree from CWRU won't hold any prestige and the departments will produce nothing but half-baked literati with a bunch of 100 level classes under their belt. Do I feel warm and fuzzy and want to give lots of money to my university? Oh no. Boyfriend was half liberal arts, half hard science, and he is similarly unsympathetic to the university's cries for donations. (Although I seem to get the lion's share of emails and junk mail about it; they mail me something about once a month.)

Their actions are a perfect example of how a university can foul up their revenue for years by alienating their alumni. Students are used to the daily bureaucratic challenges, and don't take it personally, but alumni are likely to stop donating for years if they feel slighted. I wonder who is the greater source of revenue - students or alumni? Students probably bring in more dollars on a straight basis, but alumni are free. You're always making more of them. Undergraduates cost a lot of money, and I doubt they're making a huge profit on them. (Which is why I think my university jacked up the room and board rate.) Alumni are also more sensitive to perceived mismanagement of money - as a student, I believed that my tuition paid for my profs, and the student activity groups, and such things that were beneficial directly to me, but alumni donations go into some vast pool and you can never be sure where your money actually went.

The university also isn't doing any favors by raising tuition rates. Boyfriend and I both have the belief that the university took plenty of money from us over the years through insufficient aid packages, and that our "donations" during our time there were plenty. Aid is even worse now, and I really feel for those students who came to CWRU with higher expectations (and lower budgets.)

Obviously you can tell I feel a wee bit shafted. But I wonder if I am a special case, or maybe this is post-graduation student-debt blues. Does your university hound you for money? Have you ever donated?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hell Yes I Want A Pre-Nup

Lots of people have this fearful notion of what a pre-nup does. That it will stipulate that you can never gain more than ten pounds, that it will assign you to clean the litter box forever. I wonder what these people have been sniffing, and if so, would they send me some too? Do people really become insane when they come within ten feet of a legal document?

Boyfriend and I have talked now and then about what would happen if we broke up. This is not done in a morbid sense, or as part of a fight. This is sort of the pre-nup for the un-nupped. We specifically chose the price range for our apartment so that I would not be forced to break the lease if he were not helping with the rent, and we know whose furniture is whose, and that he would take the cat and I would keep the guinea pigs. Boyfriend would probably get all the hot spices on the spice shelf.

Do we plan these things because we are each secretly plotting to run off with the hot spices? No. The principal reason to have a pre-nup is to protect one another from your future selves who may not love one another anymore. Right now, things are rosy, and we are agreeable towards one another. We share the same bag of toothpick-flosser thingies. But in the future, anything can happen. We'd rather have these informal chats about who gets the big stockpot now, than when we are angry, upset, and bitter towards one another. How are we going to negotiate the little things when we failed to negotiate on the biggest thing of all - our relationship?

And things can only escalate during a divorce where children, real estate, or significant sums of money are involved. Boyfriend and I do not have any of these things, but if we did, we would want to work something out before any of them were acquired. This is a key tenet for successfully using a pre-nup or other type of property-dividing agreement as part of managing the health of your relationship: you need to talk about it BEFORE things get bad, not after, and not under coercion. Most judges won't actually uphold a prenup signed the night before the wedding, as it is generally argued that there is no way the coerced party could back out and save face (as well as not lose thousands of dollars in deposits.) This issue should be addressed before the wedding invitations go out.

A pre-nup's principal purpose is to protect your spouse from the future you who may not love them anymore, by making promises with the present you, who does love them and want what is best for them. The idea is to be like the first letter-writer in this article, working things out before things get hairy, and not the second. (Thanks to Boston Gal's Open Wallet for the Herald link) However, if you were an inconsiderate ass from the beginning.. maybe you just shouldn't get married. Sorry!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Interesting referrals...

I've got Site Meter tracking the ins and outs of my page, and apparently some people have been finding my blog articles through Yahoo and Google searches. Usually the article appears on the sidebar. So far I've had people click through to an article from the searches "tattoo", "case western reserve university" and "dear abby". I wonder if I have managed to give them a bit of a different perspective on each of those... =)

Another interesting thing is that it seems a lot of people visited one of the other Under 30 Honor Roll members' sites before coming to mine. I've recorded some people clicking on my list of Honor Roll sites, but I do hope we're increasing one another's traffic with our little group. I also get a lot of referrals from comments I make on other blogs, and blogs where I appear in their blogroll on their sidebar. Most people come in from, but a lot have come from My Open Wallet lately. Thanks for linking to me! It's interesting to see how the blog networks develop.

I think I am becoming That Lady That The Grocery Clerks Hate

During the summers in college, I usually stayed on campus and rented a room, and cooked for myself. So I would usually pick up the coupons from a Sunday paper if I found one - I wasn't particularly hardcore about it though. I seem to recall eating a whole lot of egg salad and various pasta dishes. Once I graduated, however, it was ON. I got a Sunday-only subscription when we moved, and have been pretty faithfully stocking up ever since. Unfortunately for my budget (but fortunately for our waistlines) we tend to eat a lot of produce, and most of our meals start out as raw meat and vegetables. Can't really get coupons on those. Usually we shop at Giant Eagle because they will double any coupon up to 99 cents and the Kroger only doubles 50 cents and under. (Also, the Kroger is perennially under-staffed, dirty, and doesn't have the specialty nonperishables that we sometimes buy. Bums.)

Every now and then, however, Giant Eagle runs a special event, usually for about a week, where they'll double any $1 coupon, and any coupon from $1 to $2 is worth $2. This would naturally make me very excited as I have a special divider in my coupon book thing for $1-and-up coupons for nonperishables like toothbrushes, shaving cream, and things in cans. When one of these magical events happened, I would bust out the coupons I had saved and buy a bunch of stuff.

For the last few months for some reason, this event has been going on continuously. So my supply of great $1 coupons has dwindled since I got the chance to use most of them already. I'll unfortunately never be one of those people who buys cartloads for $5.47 since we don't eat much box food and I only get one copy of the paper. But there was a fortuitously-timed sale on many items and prices have been lowered on a lot of stuff (apparently Columbus is one of their most competitive markets, and they have been lowering a LOT of prices on random things - like packets of yeast are now half what they were.) So I went to the store with a bunch of coupons and by the time I went to check out, more than half the items had a coupon. So what does Mr. Grocery Clerk Guy do? He examines each and every coupon to make sure that I've actually bought the item. Nevermind that if I didn't buy it, the register won't accept it when he tries to scan it. Also nevermind that since it is a large order, I have already bagged a good number of the items. This takes several minutes as I have to point out in which bag I have placed the offending, coupon-requiring item, or that yes, I did buy two cartons of lemonade like it says there.

The cherry on top though was when he was examining a coupon for Edge shaving stuff. Boyfriend had selected a can of shaving gel, since the coupon said "$1 off any Edge shaving product." However, Mr. Grocery Clerk Guy says, well, it says here "Advance Care" so that's what the coupon is for. Yes, it does say that, but that is a logo for their new product. It clearly says it is for any shaving stuff that Edge makes, not just the Advance Care stuff. The kicker however is that there are two pictures of Edge shaving products right on the coupon.. a tube of Advance Care, and a can identical to what Boyfriend selected.

Mr. Grocery Clerk Guy is not swayed by my impeccable logic. He looks at me as if I am a meddlesome child trying to return a lollipop I have already licked, and says, "well, I guess I can try and scan it..." in this tired voice like he's hoping I'll take pity on him and not make him wave a piece of paper over the scanner. No such luck, Mr. Guy! I want my $2 off!

Naturally it does in fact scan, since I do read my coupons before I try to use them. Sorry, Mr. Guy. You can try your men's-shaving-cream-withholding tricks on some other girl!

Economics of power outages

Last night, about half an hour after I got home and was settling in to enjoy the newly-returned internet service, the power went out. And stayed out for five hours. Why does God not want me to use my computer? Anyway, for fun in the dark we helped look for a neighbor's escaped cat, went to our favorite cheap place to eat (we have a gas stove but it's dangerous to cook in the dark!) and eventually went to Target to get a second flashlight. Of course, by the time we came back from Target the power was on, but it's still a good thing to have.

Boyfriend commented that we should call up the electric company and ask for money off our bill for the trouble, like he did with the cable company (we should get a week comped.) However, the trick is that since we get charged by how much we use, if we don't use anything, then we don't pay anything. So really, the longer the power is out, the lower our bill is anyway. It's not costing the power company anything but our goodwill if they take a long time to restore power. And since they're the cheapest game in town, nobody's going to switch unless they're really pissed off, and in the future they'll still have to wait for them to fix the lines since this company owns all of them.

I think we were still probably better off in our overheated apartment than the guy whose brand new truck got crushed by a giant fallen tree down the street. yuck.

The other thing we noted is that while the radio and the reporting line at the electric company said there were massive outages in the city and many of the suburbs, guess who got fixed first? The most expensive suburbs. Now thinking about this, I think this makes economic sense for the power company. It's a hot night (although it rained so not as hot as it could have been) and people want to use their air conditioners and turn on all their lights. The suburbs around here are full of M/I and Toll Brothers giant-house subdivisions, which must cost a fortune to cool and light, and whatever else faux rich people do in their giant houses. So it's really to the power company's best interest to restore power first to the people who are going to use the most electricity, and who have enough money to vote with their feet if they get angry enough at the current company. In our case, the power was only out on our half of our block of our street, probably due to the downed tree, so we were low priority. I wonder if the time disparity would have been much greater if there were more severe damage out in the suburbs, since they often fix whatever problems are easiest in order to reduce the actual number of people without power.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Starting the race $6,000 ahead

This article is a great example of why I am so very, very glad that I did not take one of the other jobs I applied for (although none were offered - bums!) because all of them paid at least $6,000 less than the job that I have now. Basically it means that since I am in fact very well qualified and have great experience, nobody will again try to hock that kind of starting pay at me. =) Also, it makes it look as though I am worth a lot more, since obviously somebody else was willing to pay that much to get me.

These data confirm that people essentially cannot close the wage gap by working their way up the company hierarchy. While they may work their way up, the people who started above them do, too. They don't catch up. The recession graduates who actually do catch up tend to be the ones who forget about rising up the ladder and, instead, jump ship to other employers.

This is something that really bugs me about my current job. Basically, there's no room for advancement. My supervisor advanced one level, but that was after many years here, and they should really have given her some kind of Director title or something. And in our little group, one of my other coworkers has been here for years and is very experienced, yet has the same title as me. And the pay is commensurate - we get a 3.5% raise every year, and it seems to me that any more would be like squeezing blood from a stone. They'll just tell you there is no room in the budget or whatever, and you go on getting your 3.5%. I highly suspect that my starting pay is a lot higher than this coworker, because she didn't come in with her degree. So they probably started her at peanuts, and now she is still at peanuts, adjusted for inflation. If I stayed here, my actual pay would basically be the same, after inflation, for FOREVER. Right now I'm making good money, but this salary wouldn't support children or a house, and the only way to actually get ahead salary-wise is to leave.

My super awesome The Bomb retirement plan

Right now, I have such a great retirement plan that it is not only sweet but also hot and awesome. Sometimes, I just want to sing about it. I work for a public university, which before a few years ago offered only a choice between two state-level traditional pension plans. They are, however, phenomenally well-funded pension plans. When I arrived, employees contributed (automatically) 8.5% of their pay, and the university kicked in 13% completely for free. (They're now scaling up contributions a bit, so by the end of three years employees will contribute 10% and the university kicks in 14%.) All of this contribution is offset by the fact that we don't actually pay Social Security tax. I'm not sure how they finangled that loophole but there it is. Somehow, I'm not really concerned - at 22, I can expect to get about $40 a month when I retire.

Anyhow, a few years ago the university also began offering what it calls the Alternative Retirement Plan, and what I call the Give Me The Money Retirement Plan. Basically, you just get a regular 403(b) set up with one of eight vendors (I have TIAA-CREF) and they deposit your mandatory contributions and the university's contributions there. You can also add in your own money if you want, which I am doing to the tune of $50 a month pretax, and I opened a Roth which gets $100 a month plus whatever extra money I have. So I am getting a combined $563 a month of my mandatorily-deducted money plus the university contribution, and then on top another $50 pretax and $100 post tax per month. More than $700 and it is only costing me about $130! You see now why this plan is awesome. I almost fear the day that I leave this job because I will never again find such an awesome retirement benefit (although hopefully if the next job pays me more money, I can afford it myself.)

I cannot emphasize enough how Incredibly Lucky I feel that I got this benefit. I had no idea that it was part of the package when I accepted this job - and in fact it hadn't even occurred to me that I should check out what the benefits were. The HR lady said something or other about "our great benefits" but I assumed she was talking about prescription coverage or dental insurance or something. It is hard to estimate how much of an impact getting this benefit will have on my life - but since having to learn about 403(b)s was the impetus to me diving into personal finance in general, probably quite a lot of impact.

I'm predicting that by the end of two years at this job I'll have over $14,000 in there - which will be a really great start to my money goal by 30 that I will write about later.

My rating - what the heck?

Man, I am not sure what happened to my blog rating but it has really taken a dive. A few days ago it was around 2 or so, and now it is 0.4. I emailed the webmasters to see how the rating is calculated, and this is what they said:

It's an automatic rating based on Alexa Ranking and clicks per post. It's
not completely accurate yet... we'll tweak the formula again to make it more useful at some point soon.

I tried to look up the Alexa ranking for my site but since it isn't in the top 100,000 it didn't have any data. Maybe the ranking went down since I posted about five things yesterday which didn't garner many clicks or comments? It's distressing.. I thought I was getting better. =(

You tell 'em, Miss Manners

Advice colums are The Awesome. I don't know why I love them so... maybe because they're the print version of Jerry Springer, allowing you to experience effed-up families and situations from the comfort of your own home. Miss Manners is one of my favorites - she's very no-nonsense, and I love to read her shooting down people who try to use "etiquette" to get their way, embarrass others, or generally just be a pain in the ass. The classics, however, are when she slaps the hand of people who are trying to use traditionally done things to get others to give them money. Like this article (original can be found here):

Dear Miss Manners:

I have finally graduated from college at the age of 28. My family strongly feels that I should send out graduation announcements to the extended family and friends not only because they are proud of me, but for the monetary gifts that might result.

I, however, am rather embarrassed that it took me so long to graduate and do not want to trumpet the fact to my friends and relatives. I also am uncomfortable with sending out the "plea for money" that graduation announcements seem to entail at my age.

Is it wrong for me to strip my parents of their pride in my graduation by not sending out announcements or is this something that I can quietly sweep under the rug as I would like to do? BTW, my education was paid for entirely by myself so I do not "owe" my parents anything in terms of showing appreciation to them for my education.

You would not be stripping your parents of their pride. Nothing is stopping them from writing letters to everyone they know telling them of your graduation. For that matter, nothing is stopping them from sending around fundraising pleas, if that is what they wish to do.

However, Miss Manners congratulates you, first on your graduation and second on your refusal to use it to shake down others. A graduation announcement is innocent enough in itself, but in this case tarnished by the hopes that would be pinned on it.

The same logic applies to people who want to send out registry cards with their wedding invitations. The gifts or money should be an afterthought to why you're really all getting together. And graduation announcements do seem to be nothing more than asking for money, but most people feel obligated to send a little something anytime they get anything graduation-related. I remember when I graduated from college, my parents threw me a party, and the point of the invitation was to get them to come to the party (we specifically only invited people that I knew, which excluded some of my parents' friends that otherwise might have given me gifts.) However, most of the people who couldn't come sent something anyway. The party occurred, embarrasingly, after I had interviewed for my current job but before I had actually gotten it.. so I spent a good deal of the party telling people about the jobs I had interviewed for. And explaining what my majors were (physical anthropology and evolutionary biology), but that was normal for me.

Dear Abby has much the same philosophy about people who try to use what is "proper" to take advantage of others - like those who argue that the bride's (or groom's) family "should" pay for the wedding and reception and everything else that their side does not want to pay for, irregardless of who can afford it and how much money they actually have offered. Bums! I think a lot of those people just don't want to examine their own motivations for what they are asking others to do, and thus hide behind the veil of etiquette, which is supposed to be some kind of law that forces other people to do things for you.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Don't Assume Your Children Are Idiots

This article really pisses me off. Yes, I'm sure that many of these parents just needed a quick five bucks to go get some milk, and returned six dollars. But there are also a lot of parents who routinely raid their kids' stash. I had a friend in middle school whose parents would routinely go through his room and take his money - to the point that we only gave him gift certificates or toys for his birthday, instead of money. (The original idea was that since he and I were big Lego fans, the money was to buy Legos.) My own original reason for wanting a checking account (at age 12) was to deposit my babysitting money so my sister couldn't "borrow" it without asking me out of its special box.

The underlying assumption behind the raiding parents' activities is that their children don't know what is going on with their money, won't notice or don't care, and won't get mad at their parents if they do find out. If your kid has a piggy bank at all, that means they're at least somewhat on the road to learning to manage their money. But if your parents are raiding your piggy bank, then all you learn is that your parents view your savings as money that is going to be theirs, and that makes children into hoarders. It is a basic instinct to protect what you have if you feel threatened. It may also teach children that it's okay to take from others. More importantly, it teaches them that just because you don't have the money doesn't mean you can't still buy what you want. Children are a lot more versatile than adults in many ways, and may not understand that the electricity bill is a "need" for which you have to commandeer their money, especially when they've seen you get hundreds of dollars out of ATMs. God only knows what is going on with the 16% of parents who took the money for frivolous things. (Although one must commend their children on accumulating a sizeable enough stash that it could even make a dent in a new car's price.)

If I had a million dollars, I'd buy you a green dress.

(But not a real green dress, that's cruel.)

Unfortunately for the Barenaked Ladies, you can't actually buy anybody's love, even if you have a million dollars. But you can buy some furniture, or a tree fort with a refrigerator in it.

I'm bored at work so I'm doing a little mental exercise. Here's exactly what I would do with a million dollars (tax free, naturally.)

$150,000 - Pay off my parents' mortgage.
$50,000 - Help my sister buy a house.
$50,000 - Pay off some of my aunt and uncle's mortgage.
$200,000 - Put into retirement money. (This is enough to have almost $3.5 million at age 55 at 9% interest. Normally I use 60 or 65 as a retirement age in calculations but hey, I'd retire earlier if I could. If I continue to put $4,000 a year into a Roth, I'd have $4.1 million.)
$100,000 - Buy my dad an annuity or some income-producing mutual funds. My mom has a pension, but he doesn't have anything really.
$100,000 - Put away to buy an eventual house.
$200,000 - Give away, either in $5,000 chunks to individual people (family, friends, etc) or charity. Help one of my friends from college pay her student loans.
$25,000 - Emergency fund.
$60,000 - Pay off my student loans and Boyfriend's loans.
$15,000 - Put away to buy car in the future.
$50,000 - Dinner out every Friday night until I retire.

Things I would NOT spend money on:
- A house for myself, right now. I know we're going to move in a year or so, and just the moving alone would not be worth it. I hate moving. Plus, I like our apartment.
- A car for myself. It would be nice to have one but I would rarely need it. I'd rather just have enough money to rent one if I felt like it. Boyfriend drives most places we need to go, and it would actually take me more time to drive to work (and park) than it does to walk.
- Actually owning any other large asset even if it is for someone else. My sister is looking to buy a house, but I would not want to buy a house FOR her. I would rather gift her the money and she can get the mortgage and have the house herself. And I would not want to own any investment real estate, sexy as that has been lately. I'd rather just own mutual funds and not think too much about it.
- Furniture, etc. Boyfriend and I own too much crap as it is. I might buy some household stuff, and he might buy computer stuff, but other than the curtains for the bedroom that we forget to buy every time we go to Target, we don't really need anything, and nothing else would fit in our apartment. =)
- A scholarship fund or something like that. I know that education is important, but for most people in the world there are much more immediate needs, like food, which I would rather donate my money towards. And to animal and children's organizations, because they are dependent on us.
- Starting graduate school. I do want to get a master's but since I am probably going to move, I'd rather wait until I am someplace that I will stay for the two years to get the degree.
- Jewelry. I wear the same rings and watch every day. Although I have four sets of earring holes, I don't wear earrings anymore since I have lost so many. I would be horrified to lose nice diamond studs or something, so if I did buy anything it wouldn't be more than $10 a pair. I have worn the same two silver rings on the left hand for years, and I change the gemstone one on the right whenever it gets yucky (about once a year cause I tend to buy them for $7 or so.)

What would change about my life:
- Definitely eating out more! Did I mention I love food? Cause I do.
- I would probably drop to half time at my current job, and find some other part time job that would be more interesting. My current job simply doesn't give me enough to do (as you may have gathered from all the daytime posts) so I would actually get everything I need done in half the hours. I'd probably want to work at the local animal shelter, or get a CFP or RP certification and help low income people with financial problems for free or low cost. Ideally I'd like to work out a situation where I don't have to wake up till 9:30 or 10 each day ;)
- No worrying about the future. Since I wouldn't have to save for the normal big goals like retirement or a first house, in the future I could save more money for my kids' college and contribute to their retirement funds. Not having that monthly expense for retirement savings would free up a lot of money for other goals. Right now my retirement money is automatically accumulated, and I have no control over that, but in the future I'd probably just contribute enough to get any offered match. No matter how rich you are, you shouldn't pass up free money. =)

I think playing this kind of mental game is good for helping you determine my priorities. At this point in my life, I don't need much money, and a little would go a long way to establish my future stability. I would give away somewhat more than half of the money, according to the breakdown above, with $300,000 going to my parents and sister. If my parents were more financially stable that amount might be lower, but I think it is money well spent. And my sister would really appreciate not having to buy a "fixer-upper" or a house out in the boonies (unless that is what she wanted all along.. you can never tell.)

Of course, I don't have a million dollars, and I won't win the lottery since I don't play. But it's nice to think about anyway, and I don't see the harm in thinking about it, unless wishing and waiting for someone (or a large windfall) harms your ability to live in the real world and get things done with the resources you have.

Cheap Money subscription

Check out this link (which was a banner add on for a $10 yearly subscription. The only catch is that they will automatically renew you at the end of the time period at whatever the "low rate" is at that time, unless you call and cancel. Still, it was $20 at my favorite site (and $14 even after the 30% ebates or stockback savings) so it's a good deal, especially if you want a long subscription.

Ah, the power of calling back multiple times...

So I wrote earlier about how a garbage truck took down the cable lines that run from the telephone pole to the outside of my apartment building. I have cable internet at home so this was doubly bad. The lines went down on Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon somebody had finally come round to put them back up. Unfortunately they didn't seem to check that the service was actually working, so my apartment (and everybody else in the complex, it seems) is still without cable. Boyfriend called Time Warner a couple of times and the people really talked down to him and were rude. This was probably not helped by him getting angry at them, and them getting angry at him, and so basically they didn't feel they needed to help him, and told him (on Tuesday) that someone might come out on Friday.

Boyfriend wrote down his account number for me and asked them to call, since at this point he would just get angry at them again. So I called and used my sugary survey-administering voice (a previous college job) and the lady bumped it up to Thursday morning, plus the guy would check with us that the service was working. Boyfriend did get Time Warner to agree to comp the bill for the missed days.. I was thinking of asking for more free time if they couldn't bump up the repair schedule, but I didn't want to push it. The lady was very nice and the entire call took about seven minutes, including navigating all the menus. She put me on hold several times so she might have been checking with a manager or something. Oddly enough, several weeks ago Time Warner sent Boyfriend a package of coupons and things to apologize for some poor service.. apparently there had been problems elsewhere in the city but not in our area, but they sent them to everybody. Now that we are actually having problems, I doubt they will do the same just for us. It seems easier for a company to build up goodwill by sending customers who have had no problems some free stuff, than to try to placate angry customers.

From this experience, it seems the magic words are, "and everybody else in the complex has no cable too." We are all tethered to that little line coming from the telephone pole. Actually, the way we found that nobody else seems to have internet, since we rarely talk to our neighbors, is that when Boyfriend's computer scanned for wireless access points, none were online. But we know from previous experience that at least five of our neighbors also have a wireless router (as do we, to avoid running cables between rooms) so the network silence was a bit odd. I wonder if anybody else has called.. I know our landlord knows about it and he may have called, but I guess the reports of our neighbors wouldn't show up when they pull up our account.

Can't really get worked up over not spending money, but...

So last year, because I am just anal like that, I decided to contribute exactly $377.00 over the course of this year into my flexible spending account. Which I did with the goal of only putting in exactly what I would need. Not that I remember exactly what I calculated, but...

$75 for 3 month prescription x 4 = $300
$16 for dentist appt x 2 = $32
$15 for 1 doctor appt
$30 for something else that I can't remember, maybe new glasses lenses?
= $377.00

Obviously things have not gone quite as planned. My employer changed how we pay for prescriptions, so I am now only paying $54.21 for 3 months. And the last time I went to the dentist, since it was not the first visit and I didn't get x-rays or anything, it was $6.40. (I still kept the receipt and submitted it along with a prescription bill.) Doctor appt is probably still going to cost the same though. And I can't remember what the last $30 was for.

Now I am not sure I'll actually spend all of it on time. I accidentally bought the prescriptions too early (paying for them on Dec. 31st) so I can't get a refund on the first 3 months' worth. I did get new lenses for my glasses. (freaking $107, are you kidding me? My vision insurance only covers basic lenses, a pittance for frames, and the eye exam.) So now I have:

$107 for lenses
$217 for prescriptions
$13 for the dentist
$15 for doctor
= $352

Close enough - I guess I'll just buy some Sudafed or something. Can't really splurge voluntarily on prescription meds. ("Yes, nurse, and I'll have some Vicodin to go...")

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cow and a half!

So I wrote earlier about my little gambling side gig. So far, I have done terribly, and lost all the money that I was given. I felt really bad about that, since I know that the more money I lose, the fewer times they can hand out gigs to other people (and to me!) so I resolved that next time, if I was losing and didn't feel that I would be able to get back up, I would just cash out, because I get zero dollars anyway if I lose the money.

So today I got my third assignment and they sent me $120!! Holy crap! That's a lot of money. Now I am resolved to really not lose it, and be able to send them that back. Although... you have to play through the deposit and the $120 playing money bonus TWELVE times before you can withdraw it.

This means that I have to make bets totaling over $2800 before I can withdraw money. Which is a major way that online casinos suck compared to the real thing, where you can walk in, put your $5 in the slot machine, win $2 million dollars, and walk back out. However, this is the way that the online casinos keep you playing (and statistically therefore losing more of your money.) I guess it is kind of a tradeoff because on average an internet casino will only take about 3-5% of your money given the odds of the games, but a real casino will take more than 30%, usually more. So the odds on an internet casino are actually much fairer.

Now I kind of want to go home and play with my play money. Unfortunately, yesterday around noon, Boyfriend witnessed the garbage truck come to get our dumpster, and drive away with the cable and phone lines coming off the pole. Apparently they didn't notice that the cables got hooked, and pulled the whole lot right out of the building. Thank God that our electrical lines are underground.. but we didn't have internet or TV at home last night and neither did anyone else in our apartment complex. So I don't know if they fixed it yet, but odds are they haven't, and I won't be able to play. (It also means I won't be able to email you if you email me after 4:30.) Yesterday we went out to eat specifically so we could go someplace with internet, so Boyfriend could check his email.

Actually, Boyfriend just called and said that somebody came out and reattached the line, but failed to actually reactivate the signal. So we still have no cable. He called Time Warner and they said, oh, the earliest we can send a technician out is Friday. Where's the one that just left?!

Is this my hobby?

So after a long babble about blog-related things, people commenting, what I had written, Boyfriend looks at me and says, "So, this is your hobby now?" And I suppose he's right. Once I left college, I didn't have many set activities that I did. I sometimes play DDR and I read a lot, but those don't take up nearly the time that a good, consuming hobby should. =)

Like Jane Dough at Boston Gal's Open Wallet, finance has become more than just the chore to complete that most people consider it to be. I really enjoy writing blog posts, and I just keep thinking up new ideas. Before I began blogging, I spent a couple weeks brainstorming up ideas for posts, so if there was a slow news day - or a slow life day - and I didn't have any immediate ideas, I could refer to that list and write about something on there. I also kind of wrote it to prove to myself that I had a lot of ideas and I wouldn't run out after a week. Been more than a week now, and, well, I've actually got seven unpublished posts, not including this one, saved as drafts in my Gmail account. (One I sent in for guest blogger consideration to Five Cent Nickel, so I am holding that until I hear from him.) I try to pace it out so that I am not posting 10 times a day one day, and once the next, so if I have a lot of ideas I just write the post and save it in the drafts.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Slippery bastard... (warning: rant)

About the time I matriculated at my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, they got a new president. This wasn't really news since they had gone through a few in the last several years, for various reasons... The one that I ended up with during my tenure was Dr. Edward Hundert.

Hundert attempted to make the school something it was not - by having equal sex ratios, injecting more liberal arts into the average student's curriculum, and trying to make dramatic changes to the campus. The only problem was that he tried to accomplish this by admitting basically any girl who applied, reworking the general education requirements such that students actually took LESS liberal arts stuff, and building an incredibly expensive dorm project while neglecting to build more classroom space. None of the students liked him, and most of the faculty didn't, and they gave him a no-confidence vote. He left a couple months ago.

Now, let me make it perfectly clear that I dislike this man because he destroyed many of the liberal arts departments. Before he came, students fulfilled their general education requirements by taking a number of courses among the various departments, some of which had to be above the 100 level, or had to be in a sequence. Thus, many of the 200 and 300 level classes were often more than half full of people who weren't even in the major. But it was good, as it fostered a lot of contact between the Hearts and Flowers people and the engineers. (Many of these engineers managed to fully amaze the profs with their projects, which tended to apply complex equations to things that most of the liberal arts people never thought of in numerical terms. Very interesting.) But Hundert's program was that instead of taking whatever they wanted to fulfill the lib arts requirement, they would take one class a semester for two years which was a quick and dirty run through on some liberal arts topics. This might have been a good idea except that he never hired any more professors - he had promised to nearly double the number. So the liberal arts departments got it on both ends: lowered enrollment in higher level classes, since the students didn't have to take them for general ed requirements, and also the liberal arts profs were the ones who had to teach these new classes, so they didn't have time to teach the higher-level classes even if there had been enough people to fill them.

All of this meant that I basically wasted the thousands and thousands of dollars my parents and I spent on my senior year because there was literally nothing left for me to take. Nothing was offered that I hadn't already taken, in my majors. And I had two. That is sad. I took some random crap to fulfill credit hour requirements.

In a way I'm actually kind of glad that Hundert had a fall from grace. There was always a feeling among the students that he was trying to be a big mover and shaker at CWRU only so he could show off his short-term accomplishments, move up to presidency of a bigger and more important university, and leave us to deal with the long-term ramifications of his slapping a coat of paint on the university's issues.

And now... look where this slippery bastard has ended up. Trying to manage MY retirement money?! I don't think so! I voted against him. Damn right he's on sabbatical, cause his own faculty fired him! Take that, Hundert!

Calling all under-30 bloggers!

Join the Under 30 Honor Roll!

Since people under 30 tend to have different goals and challenges than more established people, we're writing about personal finance from a different position. I'd like to create a network of bloggers under 30 to encourage one another and create more of a group identity. What I've got in mind currently is just for Honor Roll members to place links to the other member blogs near where you normally place your blogroll. In the future I think we could develop more group projects, but it's a start!

If you would like to join the Honor Roll, please drop me an email at kira (dot) botkin (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll keep a running list of the members. Also, if you have any ideas as to what this group could aim for in the future, let me know! Thanks!

Money attitude: Cosmopolitan Magazine

I have a sneaking suspicion that most of the people who will read this post, have never subscribed to Cosmo. Oh, you may have flipped through it at the hairdresser, but if you get your 'do from a barber or your mom, then you probably haven't seen inside the cover. I've subscribed for a couple of years, because it's a relatively inexpensive subscription, and as the kind of girl who will never wear one of those bikinis ANYWHERE, it's kind of a cheap thrill.

What's inside the July issue? (Yes, I know it's June.)

Myth of the Month: Women want you to spend lots of money on them.
- This bottom-of-page-58 snippet has a few quotes from women who want someone Sensitive and Creative, instead of somebody who just spends without thought. True, relationships are like most problems, that throwing money at it often doesn't really help, but I can't help wondering if women who might consider forking out $230 for a Louis Vuitton keychain (page 80) might eventually get tired of sandwich picnics in the park and free concerts. I think what they're really trying to say, is that just as having more money than necessary to cover the basics doesn't make you considerably happier, having enough money to take girls out to a $100-a-head restaurant instead of a $20-a-head restaurant won't make you a better date. But, not having enough even for the $20-a-head restaurant would put a crimp in their style.

Cosmo Shopping: 10 Things to Crave Right Now- This feature is in every Cosmo.. basically it's ten items that are very stylish right now (and may be relegated to the Not Hot bin in a few months. Cosmo does seem to attempt to put reasonably priced items in for a particular style that they think is in fashion - in this case, the "nautical-striped shirt" is from The Limited at $29.50, and "skinny white jeans" are from XOXO at $29. However, they also recommend specific items not just for style but because they are from a particular designer - "the white Miu-Miu bag" at $1095, and "the Gucci garden-print halter" at $1195. The halter is reasonably interesting, although I don't see why that particular shirt has to be The One To Get, but the bag isn't anything special and you could get a rather similar white leather bag at ebags for about $100 - probably less if you looked more than the 2 minutes that I devoted.

Don't even get me started on the fashion spreads. Yes, they are just trying to highlight what the latest styles are, and generally the latest styles are straight from the designer and still quite expensive, but the fashion editors also have a tendency to use expensive designer pieces when it doesn't really matter - like a plain belt, solid-colored shorts, or hoop earrings, that are hundreds of dollars from a designer. Anything that doesn't have a price listed is guaranteed to be redunculously expensive.

There was a piece about issues that might come between "you and your man", one of which was if you (the woman) got a raise and "your man" didn't, or had a stagnant career. One thing I find interesting about Cosmo is the way they write about careers - as if their readers are naturally predisposed to conquer the working world by force, and are automatically awesome at whatever they do. I imagine it's supposed to be a little bit of the girl power vibe, but sometimes it comes off as blindly cheerleading. Like how your mom always tells you that you look great - the advice can't really be trusted, given how badly the source wants you to feel good about yourself.

Parting shot - there's a full page ad for Sally Hansen Express Wax, which tells you that spreading hot wax on your body is Fast, Easy, and Fun! Why is it Fun? The "special White Chocolate Recipe is a rich, indulgent treat!" I don't know about you but I am not about to eat a jar of anything labeled "For Face & Body."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I (Usually) Heart Suze Orman

Another exciting Saturday night watching the Suze Orman Show. I never knew my early 20s would be so full of CNBC. Maybe I should have stayed in college a few more years... Anyway. One thing that really stuck out for me on one of the shows tonight was a mother and daughter who were feuding because the daughter wanted more money from her mother. What bugged me, though, was that it turned out that what the daughter most wanted was to take more classes and move out on her own. Apparently she was only taking two courses a semester at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE because she didn't have the money to pay for any more, and her mother wouldn't pay for it. Seriously folks, that would be the one thing her mother SHOULD have been willing to pay for. Screw paying for her cell phone, pay for her classes! And the mother said that she had told her daughter she was willing to give her the same amount as room and board at a state school, which should have been enough to get a place with a roommate. I kind of get the feeling that this is something the mother said a long time ago, in some other context, such that the daughter didn't think the deal was valid anymore, or it seems like she would have jumped on it. I don't think it was unreasonable for the daughter to work enough to pay for her car insurance (as long as she's not being forced to take out an individual policy since that is really expensive for a 19-year-old) and her clothes and what-not, but paying for school, especially such an inexpensive option, should always be an automatic Yes. I just think that's stupid to overlook the importance of taking enough classes, since so many people lose momentum in college and don't finish.. and at two classes a semester she could be 30 before she can graduate. Sheesh.

Suze did say that she should help her daughter out with the tuition and with the apartment, but I think she harped too much on the family's circumstances (father was in an accident and was a quadripalegic for 3 years and then died) rather than taking her normal brass tacks perspective. As with this case, I'm usually not a fan of the personal interview bits, I like the call-ins and emails better since it's a lot more rapid fire and less ooey-gooey.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Review: Career Intensity by David Lorenzo

As previously mentioned, I won this book in a giveaway over at Free Money Finance. I sat down and read it in one go (which may not have been the wisest idea, but there it is.) My initial thoughts:

The book, especially the last half, is very focused on those in some kind of sales or retail management position. So if you work in HR or something where your only "customers" are from inside the company (or if you're in a position where people have no choice but to go through you) a lot of the suggestions about increasing business may not apply.

It is sometimes unclear whether he's trying to talk to people who own their own business, or who work for a large corporation. At any rate, he does seem to try to encourage people who work within a corporation to treat their division as a tiny company under their control - you might not be able to control the whole thing but you can certainly affect what's around you.

Many of the tips in the book are aimed at the sort of people who are frequently heard saying, "huh, I never thought of it that way." It seems to me that there are a great many people who don't bother to think about the reasons behind things - and the author frequently reiterates that you should always know why you're doing things, and to always do things for a reason. I think that's probably the best sort of advice in the book - that you should pay attention to yourself and not just go through the motions. When you're paying attention to your actions, you'll find better ways to do them, and you can find lots of opportunities for advancing yourself that you might have simply waltzed by.

Career Intensity is definitely not a book for those who aren't doing well at their jobs because they want to be doing something else. It's got a "laser-like focus" (as Lorenzo says at least three times) on people who have found something they like and want to make the best of it. But at the same time, it's also not for people whose dream job doesn't involve making money or selling things. If your ideal job is to teach English to new immigrants, or to rescue puppies from abusive owners, then probably this advice is not for you. Maybe I'm just not old and jaded enough to think that saving the world is still a noble job goal, and not just for the young and the retired?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Eat for (practically) free!

I love food. I love it a lot. I especially love it when somebody else makes it, and the love just multiplies when it is very inexpensive. So obviously I buy a lot of stuff from, and I want to hug them every time they send me an email with a 50% off coupon code. If you haven't tried them out, what they sell is gift certificates or 50% off certificates for various restaurants, for less than face value. I.e. a $25 gift certificate is $10 or $12.50. The current promotion code, good through the 18th, is 40795 - good for 50% off your order.

I usually buy one or two each time they send me a good coupon code, so a $25 gift certificate ends up being $5. Boyfriend and I have tried a few new restaurants, and I try to make sure the restaurant isn't expensive to begin with, so we don't end up spending over the certificate limit. Tax and tip are on you. The site probably won't have restaurants you've heard of, so if you like to stick to a set list of your favorite places, it might not be for you. But if you're up for trying new things, it's a pretty cheap date! (Although I would not recommend taking one on a date and specifying what the total bill has to come under.)

EDIT: If you are thinking of using the service and want to use my referral, here it is.

Uuuuuh, probably shouldn't have eaten that...

My distress at the moment comes courtesy of a larger-than-golf-ball sized buckeye (which, if you already know what that is, probably means you can also figure out where I live.) I Love Peanut Butter! But my stomach doesn't like it as much as my mouth.

As has been referenced by many blogs before, there is a strong link between budgeting and dieting. The giant buckeye is a great example of this - a little candy is a good thing, but one that took an entire jar of Jif to make is not. Similarly, getting a few items of new clothing or a new book or something can give you a nice lift and make you feel satisfied with how you spent your money, but coming home with bags and bags just makes you think, damn, now I have to run an extra half mile tonight. Or maybe I am mixing my metaphors. =)

Ever seen the Tanqueray commercial with the guy eating plate after plate of shrimp? Same idea. Everything in moderation. (However, I love shrimp, so I might be that hairy guy at your party someday if you have a giant shrimp bowl. Just letting you know in advance.)

Letting it all hang out

I've always been kind of a TMI-spewing person. (Too Much Information, if you haven't spent any time around 13-year-olds lately.) Especially about my finances, I don't feel ashamed of having what I have - or according to my NetWorthIQ graph, what I don't have. So it's very interesting to see the flurry that this post over at It's Just Money has generated.

Also at Everybody Loves Your Money, he mentions taking down his personal financial information because some friends IRL (In Real Life) found his blog.

I guess my take on whether we should all be so loose-lipped is that I don't mind doing it around people I consider honorable and good. But this kind of disclosure invites scoundrels, really... people who see what you have and want it, or people who have more than you do and want you to be envious as they flaunt it. The consumption system we have now, where you display what wealth you have, or seem to have, by buying expensive things might not be necessary if everybody had a net worth ticker on their lapel. There's just so many things bought to display wealth that go beyond the simple enjoyment of luxury. Can somebody with an Escalade really like driving it that much, compared to a smaller car which also has leather seats, 6 speakers, etc etc? And some designers do make beautiful clothes, but how many people actually thought Burberry plaid was pretty before it was popular?

Economic considerations of getting a tattoo

Full disclosure: I have a tattoo and I am planning on getting a second one.

No, I will not show it to you. (But only for lack of picture-hosting resources.)

Actually, the tattoo is very small and is located on the inside of my right forearm, near the crook of my elbow. It is the Hebrew word 'tzedek' which means basically justice, or doing the right thing.

Has this cost me any jobs? No, because I specifically placed it there with the forethought that I could wear long sleeved items (and I wore a long-sleeved suit jacket over a solid T-shirt to all my interviews last summer) and no one would be the wiser. Since getting my job, I've worn short sleeved shirts all the time, and while the coworkers who work directly with me have noticed and commented, none of my superiors appear to know, and few of the patients I've interacted with have commented on it.

Come to think of it, the most frequent commenters were the people in my swimming class in senior year of college, who, lacking their glasses while we sat poolside for attendance before diving in, would ask me if I had "p. 73" written on my arm.

But I've gotta wonder about people who get extensive tattoos - especially in highly visible (and painful looking) areas like the front of the neck, the face, or forearms. I specifically chose something that I won't be ashamed of when I am older, and that can be covered up, but a tattoo on the front of your neck is specifically meant to be NOT covered up. It seems to me that getting a tattoo like that kind of pigeonholes you into particular types of jobs where you don't have to project a certain image. The woman who did my tattoo had tattoos simply everywhere - all across her upper chest into her neck and shoulders, across the arms, down her legs.. But then again she was a very successful tattoo artist (the earliest available appointment when I called was more than two months away, even for a simple ten minute tattoo) and I seriously doubt with her talent that she'll ever need to work in a job that requires her to cover any of that up. (If you are desirous of a tattoo, the place that I went was Life Long Body Art outside of Cleveland. Kind of looks like a dentist's office from the outside.)

I don't think that having exotic tattoos really says anything about a person (well, I guess a giant flaming skull might give me pause) but having extensive or unusual tattoos usually gives the wrong impression about a person. For one thing, the content can sometimes give away a little too much about a person that you wouldn't want to disclose at a job interview. You may love Daffy Duck, and love him enough to go through the pain of getting him tattooed on your arm, but the recruiter for the law firm is likely to rate your maturity a few points lower if you are covered in cartoon characters. And religious symbols could be similar - maybe they would assume you are a holy roller who will look down on non-Christians if you have ornate crosses or a picture of Jesus' face. Any kind of symbol that the nightly news has pegged as a "gang" tattoo is also going to lose you serious points.

I guess the larger point is that a tattoo may cost a few hundred dollars now, when you are young and foolish, (and possibly drunk, although I wouldn't recommend that when getting a tattoo as it may make your skin more likely to bleed) it may cost you thousands of dollars a year in salary when you can't get the job that you want because no one will take you seriously enough. And if you do manage to get a job in your field, every time you advance up the ladder you will have new supervisors to contend with who may assume things about you based on your chosen markings. The list goes on and on.

Now, I'm still planning on getting that second tattoo. But I thought about it first (unlike the many girls I have seen who are going to have some seriously stretched out tummy tattoos after having children) and decided to place the tattoos somewhere easy to conceal. After all, they are for me to look at, not to display to the world. And I chose tattoos that, when somebody asks me what it means, allows me to give them a little insight into the good and honorable side of my personality, and not my enduring affection for Daffy Duck.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Where there is life, there is hope

Now this is the kind of thing that makes research worth doing. I know that the researchers are probably pulling long hours (although working for Novartis means you don't work for peanuts) and these trials can seem like they will go on for the rest of your life. I don't work with little kids, but I used to have a job working for a research team that was studying the informed consent process, and what they did was they taped the conversation between the doctor and the parents of little kids who had just been diagnosed with leukemia, about whether they would like to participate in a clinical study that was testing different patterns of giving established drugs to see which was the best regimen. Of course, they had to have this conversation basically as soon as they found out that it was leukemia, so oftentimes the parents were crying, or totally overwhelmed, and really shaken.

The drug featured in this study is for AML, which is the worse kind of acute leukemia, and so I'm really happy that there is new treatment for it. About ten percent of the parents on my tapes were told that their children had AML instead of ALL, and to them it seemed like a death sentence because it is so much harder to treat, and the treatment itself is much harsher. And the Ph (or Philadelphia) chromosome they refer to was also a very feared outcome, since it means the leukemia is mutated that much more and will be harder to kill.

That's one way in which clinical research can be a really inspiring field to work in - you are never finished, the treatment can always get better, people can always feel better, and there is always hope.

My Favorite-Ist Retirement Planning Calculator

I have tried a number of the standard retirement calculators on the web, and I say, I think this one is the best because it depresses me the least.

This would be's Retirement Calculator.

It's very simple. All you enter is your age, amount you have, when you want to retire, expected return, and then either how much you want to end up with, or how much per year you can kick in. Then the calculator will show you a giant table showing how much money you'd have every year, and either how much you end up with or how much per year you have to contribute to reach this goal.

The particular reason that I like this calculator is that it allows me to look into the future and try to guess where I'll be in five years or ten years, and exactly how much cash I will have to sock away if I don't get going. While I don't relish the idea of working until I'm exactly 65, it does give me some breathing room if I say I have 43 years to amass money. Yay!

Some of the other retirement calculators are especially bleak, for whatever reason.. I especially dislike the ones that are very 401(k) driven, and make you rely on percentage of salary and company match and all that. Because what you put in is under your control, but what your salary is from year to year, and whether you get a match, usually isn't.

Shock! Horror!

I am a woman who likes to shop! I bet you saw that coming.

Seriously, though, I love shopping. I read catalogs all the time (in fact I have ordered free ones to be sent to me) and I can while away a happy hour on eBay.

The trick, though, is that I dislike spending money. I get a perverse kick out of buying things at the places that I've decided I'm "allowed" to spend money (like Target or the grocery store) but I hate seeing the final total and handing over my debit card. Not enough to make me want to put it back, but still.

But for most everything else in the world (exhibit A, the Improvements or Frontgate catalogs, or really any catalog having to do with crap you don't need in your house but looks really useful) I like looking at it a lot more than actually owning it. Reading the Frontgate catalog lets me daydream about having a house where I could actually create a moveable patio with interlocking plastic tiles in the backyard, or install a trellis with a seat that also stores garden tools. Maybe in the future I'll be worse about buying those things, when I actually have a house, but I just like to window shop for now.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not much stomach for Gambling, I fear

Back in the early days of The Internet, when online casinos were first introduced, I used to go 'round and snap up bonuses, play blackjack, and after meeting the Terms and Conditions I would cash out fifty bucks or so. Granted, I lost all the money 2/3 of the time, but since it was free money I was unperturbed. If you haven't ever been curious, there's about five bajillion different online casinos, and they all had bonuses.

(Full disclosure - Much of this activity took place during high school, when I was in fact not old enough to play on these casinos. So I did what any entrepreneuring minor might do: I lied about my age. I wonder what type of sin it is to lie to a gambler. Do the two cancel each other out?)

Anyway, I have recently signed up with a program that acts as a sort of secret shopper review panel for online casinos. They give you a little bit of money, you go in and play, and if you win some money above the initial amount, you get to keep it. You fill out a survey and presumably they are tallying up these results somewhere.

The interesting thing is that now I hardly have the heart to lose all that money. Even though I'm not actually allowed to keep whatever they've given me, it still makes my stomach drop to lose $20 at a time. And after I've finished losing all the play money, I'm usually sad and down and kind of tired. I just want to curl up and go to sleep, and not think about that lovely money that just went into the coffers of the casino. (Although I guess the casino is probably paying the program more than the amount they gave me... it still goes back into their coffers and not mine or the program's.)

This is kind of related to why I don't pick individual stocks. I would really like to do it, sure, after reading everybody else's very nuanced and well-thought-out posts about this company or that company. But I just don't have the stomach of iron that is required for the rollercoaster ups and downs that accompany many stocks. While I do have a very aggressive investing stance for my retirement money, I'm usually happy when the NAV of a mutual fund goes down since I can buy more shares for the same amount of money. Also, when you buy a mutual fund share, you aren't actually contracting to own 0.0000324 shares of each company, you're buying a stake in the pot itself. So if one company tanks and is pulled from the fund, you individually won't lose anything (unless the NAV goes down a little, but it will recover), but if a single stock you own tanks, well, you now own yourself a fine hunk of nothing.

Somehow watching the NAV of my mutual funds go down is like winning a raffle, but watching the (8.34 shares of the) one stock I own go down is like losing a pet. Maybe in the future when I have enough money to actually buy more than a few shares in one stock, and get some diversification, I might buy some. Earlier today while reading the backlog at Chrees' World, his monkey portfolio perfectly summed up how I feel about my chances of doing well at picking individual stocks. I might as well let monkeys do it.

Eh. By the by, if anybody else who is not as much of a wuss as me wants to take a shot at winning Big Money by playing online casinos with other people's money, send me an email and I'll hook you up. =)