Monday, July 31, 2006

Financial sleuthing

So today I'm doing some legwork to answer two questions. 1, is there any way that I can remain under the $25,000 limit for the retirement savings credit, and 2, if I got a new job, what would I have to make to equal the actual money given to me by this job?

My pre-tax earnings are $2500, here's what I get taken out pre-tax:

$54.81 for health insurance
$50.00 for pre-tax 403(b) contribution
$31.41 for flexible spending account
$225.00 involuntary retirement contribution to 403(b)
$45.80 for parking pass for Boyfriend

$34.36 for Medicare
$126.63 for federal taxes (although it is $1195 for the year, I recently adjusted my W-4)
$56.01 for state taxes
$47.39 for local taxes

I have an after-tax payroll deduction of $31.66 for my gym membership, and I get a taxable benefit of $1.25 per month on the group life insurance (any premium amount that pays for coverage above $50,000 is taxable - we're insured for 2.5x our salary for a non-accidental death, and 5x for an accidental death.)

Question 1.

I think this year I won't be able to take the retirement credit. I'm trying to figure out if I can afford to stick enough in my 403(b) that it will lower my AGI to the point that I can take it. Last year, even though I only had my full-time job for half the year, I also had $7,000 of self-employment income. But I barely made it under the bracket at an AGI of $24,308 (says my tax return online at H&R Block.) This year, I filed a W-9 with DealBarbie because I'm well over $1000 there now, so I'll definitely have to pay taxes on that. (I think it will be as self-employment income.. so that will be a nasty hit. I should probably save some of the money for taxes.) Earlier this year I also made about $900 from a part time temporary job I had. But I'll have been paid for the whole year.. damn. So $30,000 from my regular job, $900 from the part-time, $1400 from DealBarbie, $100 miscellaneous, total of $32,400.. and I think the only non-standard deduction I get is the student loan interest one, and I think that'll be about $700. So how much would it cost me to get below $25k? More than $1,000 per month. I don't think I'm going to swing it. So I might stop my pre-tax 403(b) contributions and put the money in my Roth instead.

Question 2.

So as stated above, I make $30,000 per year. This is pretty good for my position, but I think if I were working for a private company (ie a contract research organization or something similar) I'd probably make more money. Boyfriend and I have been discussing whether I should look into taking a monitor position which would likely involve at least 60% travel, because he's going to be so busy next year with his master's examination studying and classes that I'm not going to see him much anyway. And the high pay these positions command is very enticing. (Like, say, for a down payment?) But I don't know - I'm a homebody and there's a good chance I might not like it much, but on the other hand it would look GREAT on my resume. Anyway.

The issue for me is my retirement contributions. Right now I enjoy a very cushy package because I'm a state employee, and thus instead of paying the 7.5% or whatever towards Social Security, I pay 9% (or it might be 9.5%) directly into my 403(b), and my work contributes 13.31% as well. This works out that I'd have to make an extra 22.31% pre-tax in order to get the equivalent amount of money. So if I did make an extra 22.31% at a new job, I could effectively sock all of it away into a 401(k) and end up with exactly the same take-home pay. So what would that be? A measly $6,693. Somehow I thought it would be a lot more than that. But whatever. So basically, if I get a new job which pays at least $36,000, I can continue to put away at least $700 a month (figure includes my current Roth and voluntary 403(b) contributions) without actually feeling the pinch. Any more than that would just be extra gravy. I think I can probably swing that - assuming that I decide to leave. The positions I've been looking at in other departments at the same place I work now have paid at least $40k. (I've only applied for two, though, and one I didn't meet the minimum qualifications, and one is already considering a current employee. So I'm not worried that I haven't gotten any interviews.) The great thing about simply switching departments is that if I stay here, I still get all the free money - so everything above it is REALLY free money. If I got a $40k job here, that 22.31% would turn into $8,924 - so a $40,000 job with the free retirement money is equivalent to a $49,000 job without the free money. Things to think about...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Oh, and also woot

Dear pennyfoolish,

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And all of that went right into my ING account =) =)

Check out the second Festival of Under 30 Finances!

This week's edition is hosted by College Student Financials. His question was, "What do you feel is more important, the GPA you have when you graduate college, or the first ‘real job’ that you have?” Check out our astute answer to this question here, and then take a gander at our collected wisdom in the articles here. Great work!

I say, Cat, quit costing me money

So on Tuesday we took the cat to the vet for his shots. I had figured this was about $30-40. O, things are never the way you expect, are they?

Trip ended up costing $114 - $39 for the vet consult (ie poking him all over, weighing him, and taking his temperature), $29 for a fecal smear (I probably won't get that done again.. it's to check for intestinal parasites but he doesn't go outside), and $5 to get his ears cleaned out by the vet with some alcohol and a wad of cotton (ok, that was probably worth it cause they were gross.) The rest was actually for the bordetella and rabies shots. The vet did tell us to not feed him so much (she seemed to say that even though he's about 1 pound overweight, he's going to get diabetes any minute) so that might save us some money on food. =)

We also need to start brushing his teeth cause he's getting some bad tartar buildup again - we had to get his teeth cleaned (to the tune of $150) when we first got him. Preventative cat maintenance will hopefully save us some money there.

Well, I guess that's what the backup credit card is for... good thing I just had a $100 offer clear at DealBarbie to cover it. ;)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Evidently My Business Is Not Worth $33 to Fifth Third Bank

So this morning when I got to work, I checked my bank balance to see if my Paypal deposits had come through yet. O, I was surprised to find that I had $0.85 in my account due to $66.00 in overdraft fees.

Naturally, I got furious and called them. The lady on the phone reversed one of the charges but said that it was "not their policy" to reverse more than one if there was no bank error. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she refused to put me through, saying that her supervisor would say exactly the same thing.

Here's the activity on my account:

Date Debit(-) Credit(+) Balance Check Description Action
07/26/2006 $16.68 *** DAILY BALANCE ***
07/26/2006 $66.00 OVERDRAFT FEE
07/26/2006 $117.00 PAYPAL TRANSFER
07/25/2006 ($34.32) *** DAILY BALANCE ***
07/25/2006 $100.00 ING DIRECT WITHDRAWAL
07/25/2006 $90.00 5/3 JEANIE WITHDRAWAL
07/25/2006 $24.91 DEBIT CARD WHOLE FOODS
07/24/2006 $180.59 *** DAILY BALANCE ***

Fifth Third processes transactions in a strange and unorthodox way. For instance, the Whole Foods transaction was deducted from my available balance right after I charged it on 7/23. However, it wasn't processed and put on my online statement until 7/25, where it shows up here. At no point did my available balance drop below zero. But my statement balance did. And since they processed the $100 first, and then bounced the $90 and the $24.91, they charged me two overdraft fees. And the Paypal deposit was probably processed at midnight, just after they processed the withdrawals, because it was showing in my available balance. Just not on the account statement.

I called back and told the person that I did not think it was fair to customers to do it in that way, because that just guaranteed more overdraft fees. The lady claimed that this was because they processed the most important ones first. "What if," she told me, "the largest one were the house payment?" Well, that argument is parading concern for the customer's well-being over their own. I asked her how she knew the largest one was the most important. She told me they didn't have the manpower to go through all of them and determine that.

So I asked her if $33 was more important than my business, and she just repeated the line that it's their policy to give a one-time reversal of one charge unless there was a bank error. Wait, you mean they would refuse to reverse it in the future? Yep, that's right. One reversal and that's it.

I checked the features of my savings account online. Yup, no ability to use it as an overdraft line. I guess the only thing you can use as an overdraft is one of their credit cards. That sounds like a terrific idea! When I run out of money, charge me extra money to a high-rate card! Yaaay!

Looks like the credit union will be getting my business now. I don't really care all that much about having lots of locations, because I have direct deposit and do most things online, but there's a location two buildings over from me at work, which is actually closer than the Fifth Third branch here in the hospital. My coworker said that they're really easy to work with and apparently their employees have a lot more individual power than Fifth Third's telephone ladies. (I generally find that when you give good people power to help others, they tend to use it as often as possible.) They've got online billpay and free debit cards and all that jazz.

I'll need to wait on closing the accounts until my paycheck goes through and I can pay all the bills. So probably next Friday, I'll get to pay the nice people at the Fifth Third branch at my work a nice visit and tell them to close my damn account. First, however, I will have given the nicer people at the credit union a big fat check for the balance of my account.

This was just the last straw with Fifth Third. They failed to give me the employee benefits package on my account, even though I told the person who signed Boyfriend and I up for accounts where we would be working, charged me several times for going under a $200 average balance on my savings account, or making too many transfers (despite that all of the transfers were just between the savings and checking accounts), or for using the PIN pad instead of signing for things. Oh, and that time that they guy at the branch told me that he couldn't withdraw $20 from my account and give it to me in quarters - I should just go out to the ATM, get a $20, and come back in and give it to him.

The lady on the phone wasn't particularly concerned when I said I would be closing my account - probably a lot of people say this, and then realize how annoying it would be. Well, I don't really give a flying crap. I've definitely paid Fifth Third more than this in fees already and it's getting old. Goodbye, you old dog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What Am I Doing With All This Moolah

If you're a regular reader, you might have noticed that I've been posting my Paypal notices from when I get paid by various online companies. This is just the first trickle - because of Paypal's limit of $500 per month withdrawals, at least $1600 of my earnings from other sites like DealBarbie, RockHardCash, and MyHotCash are coming by check.

These first few withdrawals I'm kind of allowing to "disappear" - you know, like when you withdraw $125 from your savings account to deposit somewhere next week, and by next week somehow there is only $100? You know what I mean. I have this tendency a lot, which is why I pay all of my bills the day I get paid, even if they're not due or I haven't even gotten the bill yet. And any little things, like Pinecone checks, get put into savings instead of checking so they don't "disappear" on me. I've accepted that for the next week, money is just going to *poof* disappear, because my mom is coming to visit tomorrow night through next Tuesday, and I know we'll spend a lot of money on various things. I already promised her that I would split her hotel bill with her (because she agreed to stay in an Inn Towne Suites instead of our office, for Boyfriend's sanity) and I want to hit a bunch of museums and what not. I'm trying to keep it on the cheap - I've got a folder at home with coupons (by the way, another 60% sale with coupon code 65096 until the 31st) and coupons and coupons from the ValPak and coupons from the newspaper. You get the idea. So I know that I'm going to probably spend $300 or so while she's here (I already withdrew the $80) and I have accepted this. I am Zen with spending all that money, because my mom is coming all this way to do stuff with me.

Yesterday I put in the request to have my ING account linked to my Paypal account (I have four ING accounts, but only one has any money in it) so that I could withdraw stuff straight to my ING account and not experience too much "disappearance" along the way. For this most recent payment, I withdrew half of it to my regular checking and half to ING, and after that basically everything else I get by Paypal will go to ING. I know that the checks coming next month will pay off my small credit cards, so that's how I've decided to break it up to ensure that everything gets paid. Anything after that, I'll probably throw into my Roth IRA in addition to the $100 a month I put in now.

In many ways, what I am planning to do with this money is similar to planning for a windfall, because this kind of money-making isn't sustainable. There aren't an unlimited number of sites out there, and few sites allow you to do multiple Tickle offers in one week as I did at DealBarbie and RockHardCash (which may have since changed their policies) so I can only do one a week at these places. Basically what I was doing was finding new sites, tearing through all of the high-paying offers in a day or two, and then cashing out and not going back. But I'm not finding so many new sites anymore, and I kind of want to pay off the credit cards before I rack up any more charges from doing stuff. I estimate I've spent about $400 on all the Tickle offers, trial fees, etc etc.

(Now I also have to pay to ship back a bottle of some vitamins, because after I cancelled the free trial they said that only ONE of the bottles they sent me was free, and I had to send back the other one or they would charge me full price. We had already thrown them away, but Boyfriend, being resourceful, made me go out to the dumpster and helped me look for the trashbag they were in. The package was covered in rotting cherries but the bottle is clean and they are getting it back no matter what it smells like.)

I know that most of the time they say to use some of a windfall for fun, but I think I probably already have too much fun in my expenses as it is. What will be more fun for me than spending it recklessly is to use this money to pay down debt and establish a great emergency fund. Yeah!

woot v. 4

Well, I've been posting my receipts anyway, but maybe I'll win something too. =)

Dear pennyfoolish,

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Prizebook LLC is a Verified buyer.


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Note: Here is your July 26th Prizebook Paypal Cashout! Until the end of August, we will be randomly giving away FREE money to users we find on the internet posting testimonials and screenshots about Prizebook! We'll be giving away a total of $5,000 until the end of August! Our support staff will occasionally prowl the internet for postings about Prizebook and reward users accordingly. Referral links do count as well, but please remember that there is NO SPAMMING allowed. If you are caught spamming, you will be banned. Good luck and Congratulations on your payment!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wanna be a mini-blogger?

I'm putting out the call for semi-permanent guest bloggers at If you're 30 or under and you've thought about starting a blog or have some ideas for articles, but aren't ready to start your own blog or just enjoy writing, I'm all ears. Come be a mini-blogger on You can write posts under your own name and get them published for the world to see! No minimum blogging requirement.

A Limericky Festival

Check out the Festival of Frugality over at Money and Values. Obviously she's got WAY more patience and rhyming ability than the rest of us... =)

woot v. 3

I went back and did some more tickle surveys, and cashed out.. I got this today. So I went back and did almost all the rest of the tickle surveys and should be getting antoher $160 soon. Many woots.

Dear pennyfoolish,

Order4Free, Inc. just sent you money with PayPal.

Order4Free, Inc. is a Verified buyer.

Payment Details
Amount: $117.00 USD
Subject: Your Order4Free Reward
Custom Note: Order# 4609

View the details of this transaction online
Thank you for using PayPal!
The PayPal Team

Monday, July 24, 2006

Do you have what it takes to be a registered paraplanner?

Check out the free assessment tests and see how stumped you are. The test took me about 25 minutes and I got a 52%, which I think is pretty good considering I don't have a financial calculator and I have no idea what a lot of the specialized words they used were. You can also take assessments for a couple other specialized certifications.

I've been sort of maybe kind of kicking around the idea of getting the RP certification, and when Boyfriend and I are leaving the city anyway, to try and get an internship somewhere in the destination city to see if I actually like the financial planning world. It's not really as much of a leap as it seems for me - my most useful skills are being able to explain things simply to people, and also just being able to Freaking Figure Something Out, ie when you need something done, I will figure out a way to do it, by hook or by crook. And I am very patient. So I think these are skills that could be useful, but I don't want to invest a whole lot of time in finding out if it's a good fit because it might look strange if I decide I don't like it and go back to my original career in healthcare, having such a big gap between jobs. The RP designation requires 3 months of field experience, while the CFP desigation is a) much harder to get b) much more expensive c) requires three YEARS of field experience before you actually get the designation.

So, I don't know. It's something to think about. And at the very least I would be a resource for family and friends, like a paralegal is for terrible legal advice. =)

Festival of Under 30 Finances coming up on Friday!

Make sure to submit your articles to the second Festival of Under 30 Finances, hosted this week by College Student Financials. Share your wisdom with the young ones. =) Submit your article here, and don't forget to answer this week's question.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Going through credit card withdrawal...

Waaah, I miss my Stockback card... About a week ago I got a call from MBNA because there were some strange charges on the card. Luckily they held them and called me instead of processing them because I had no freaking clue what they were. So they closed down the card, told me to cut mine up, and they're sending me a new one (hopefully by Monday or Tuesday it will be here.) And my online account is also closed since it was attached to the card.

But now I'm kind of going through withdrawal, not having my favorite credit card. The ShopSafe program made it so much easier to do DealBarbie offers and not worry about getting ripped off - I'm to the point where I won't give ANY company that I don't trust my other CC #, even though I've had great experiences with Chase's fraud protection and always been successful in contesting charges. And MBNA shows you pending charges literally seconds after you press submit, so I always know what's been charged and how much I'm going to owe in 2 seconds after I charge it. No waiting around for it to clear, or heavens, waiting for the statement! That's so last century. Plus I have some pesky "payment protector" plan on this card - you know those $10 checks you get for trying out whatever service it is? Well, I must have forgotten to cancel one of them, but since the card had no balance because I used the Stockback one instead, I didn't notice until I started using this one instead. Bums. I want my credit card back!

And of course, this happened at what I considered the worst possible moment: DealBarbie announced a contest. The contest is for $200 for whoever signs up for the most paid-to-signup offers between last Sunday and today. (These are the sites where you get 7 people to sign up and do an offer and they send you a PlayStation, or something like that. So everybody on DealBarbie is signing up under her.) If I had my magical credit-card-number creating machine (ie the ShopSafe program) I could have completed all of those offers in an hour and then just waited for the approvals to roll in. But noooo, since I only had one boring old credit card number, I had to wait for one to clear, then I would cancel it, then I would go on to the next offer. Bums times two!

Tax Breaks For The Underpaid

There are a few nice things about being underpaid - it can be SUCH a hassle to keep up with the maintenance on a vacation home. The docking fees for yachts can be ridiculous sometimes, really. But you also get some nice tax breaks which those with fatter wallets can't claim.

Free Federal Tax Filing
This isn't strictly a tax break, but it will save you some money. If you have an adjusted gross income below $50k a year, you can file your federal taxes for free online through the IRS Free File program. If you go through the IRS site, you can use the nifty services of H&R Block, Turbotax, TaxACT, and many others for free. State taxes aren't free, but it'll be a lot easier to fill them out once you've completed your federal taxes and have that nice, clean PDF to work with.

The Earned Income Tax Credit
This is simply a credit for individuals who have fairly low income, and you're more likely to be eligible if you have dependents. You have to be between 25 and 65 unless you have a child, and you can't use this credit if you're someone else's dependent.

From the IRS EITC page: Earned income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must each be less than:
  • $36,348 ($38,348 married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children;
  • $32,001 ($34,001 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child;
  • $12,120 ($14,120 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children.

  • Tax Year 2006 maximum credit:
  • $4,536 with two or more qualifying children;
  • $2,747 with one qualifying child;
  • $412 with no qualifying children.

  • Investment income must be $2,800 or less for the year.

    Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions (form 8880)
    If your modified adjusted gross income is less than $25,000 ($50,000 married filing jointly) you can actually get up to half of the money that you voluntarily put into retirement accounts (like a 401(k) or 403(b) or 457 or any kind of IRA) back as a tax credit. For singles, this starts at a 50% return if you're under $15k a year, and peters out to 10% between $16,500 and $25,000 for 2006. People filing as head of household get a more generous table. This doesn't count for any money that you didn't voluntarily contribute (such as a required contribution to a pension plan, or money your employer contributed) but it's a nice little break. Just think, contributing to your 401(k) pre-tax brings down your taxable income, so the more you contribute, the more you could get back if it pushes you down into a lower bracket. You must not be someone else's dependent or a full time student to take this credit. For more information, see page 90 of the IRS's booklet on IRAs (Publication 590).

    Education Credits
    The Hope Credit is for the first two years of school; the Lifetime Learning Credit can be used for any year you take any classes for any reason. You can't be someone else's dependent, but if someone else paid the tuition, either one of you can take the credit. These credits are only available in full if your AGI is below $43,000, and are totally gone if your AGI is above $53,000.

    For the Lifetime Learning Credit:
  • Applies to undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses, including instruction to acquire or improve job skills.

  • If you qualify, your credit equals 20% of the first $10,000 of post-secondary tuition and fees you pay during the year, for a maximum credit of $2,000 per tax return.

  • For the Hope Credit:
  • Applies only for the first two years of post-secondary education, such as college or vocational school. It does not apply to graduate and professional-level programs.

  • It can be worth up to $1,500 per eligible student, per year.

  • You're allowed 100% of the first $1,000 of qualified tuition and related fees paid during the tax year, plus 50% of the next $1,000.

  • Each student must be enrolled at least half-time for at least one academic period which began during the year.

  • So if you take a class paid for by your employer that costs $4,000, your credit under the Lifetime Learning Credit is 20% or $800. For more details see Publication 970 or this page at the IRS.

    Deducting Moving Expenses
    This one's available to almost everyone, but if you've got a lower income, the cost of moving could be a pretty hefty percentage of what you make. If you're moving more than 50 miles for a job, you can deduct mileage, the cost of storage, truck rentals, and more. Check out Publication 521 to see what you can deduct.

    Student Loan Interest Deductions
    This deduction is available on loans taken out in 1998 and after. You can deduct up to $2,500 of the interest you paid on your student loans during the year. You can take the full deduction if your AGI is under $50,000, and you lose the deduction entirely above $65,000. Chapter 4 of Publication 970 will tell you all you need to know. Especially in the early years of paying down your student loans, you can pay quite a lot of interest, and this can help lower your taxable income a lot. Maybe then you'll qualify for a bigger rebate on your retirement contributions!

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    The Best Financial Advice My Family Members Gave Me

    Yes, I did actually listen to you guys.

    From my dad: Everybody should have an "oh shit" fund for when something really bad happens. (I think this was a comment on something expensive happening to my sister.) Yes, this is what my emergency fund is titled at ING. I also have a first-response emergency savings of $200 in a savings account at the same bank as my checking account, which is there strictly to transfer money temporarily if I think I am going to overdraw. I don't even include it in my emergency fund tally because it really isn't money that I can spend.

    Also, my dad never let us buy cereal that cost more than $2 a box (we clipped coupons a lot) or anything with a lot of sugar, so I really never got into the habit of buying the expensive sugar $5 a box cereal. Boyfriend and I mostly eat the store brand Cheerios with dried berries, or Mini Wheats. Sometimes I get a $1 box of store brand sugary cereal and put 1/2 a cup in with my Cheerios.

    From my sister (this was when I was in high school, we were out at a mall and I was trying on shoes that were silly looking - I used to own a lot of those): You shouldn't waste your money on that because you're going to wish you still had that $20 when you are in college. I saved up over $1000 for my first year at college before I left, and since then I have never needed my parents to pay for my incidentals (including books.) I have only borrowed money from my parents once - $150 when my paycheck got screwed up and I was not going to make my summer rent. Because of the "oh shit" fund, I didn't even have to ask to borrow the full amount of rent.

    My sister definitely got a LOT more frugal once she was living on her own and it was her money. She has always had roommates and lives in an inexpensive area. She drives a paid-off used car, gets really excited about department store sales, and doesn't have cable or high-speed internet. Right now she is in the process of moving to my parents' city, and basically everything she owns fits in one side of a two-car garage. I don't think all of my stuff would. =)

    From my mom: Can we get a box for this? Don't throw that away, someone will eat it. Take a sandwich with you. Don't buy that, I have granola bars in the car. My mom never likes to waste anything, so we would always take home leftovers, reuse food, and take food from home instead of buying things. This is part of the reason that I was very surprised to find, when I began my job, that the other ladies bought their lunches from the cafeteria every day instead of bringing them - I did that in high school, when it was $1.75, but I made great use of the dining hall in college so I wouldn't need to buy food. (At one job, I had a stash of nonperishables from the dining hall's bag-lunch program in my desk so I wouldn't have to buy anything from the vending machine.) My mom also had the knack of making things that are commonplace for most other kids into a special event - like getting breakfast at Burger King, but only on the way to Sunday school at the synagogue once a week.

    From my grandparents: We didn't like it, but we saved the rest for you so you can eat it. We bought you some Diet Coke because it was on sale. That banana's not rotten, I'll just put it in banana bread. Here, I made you a new hat. If you don't want it, send it to Goodwill. These are my mom's parents, and you can see where she (and therefore I) got it. They would never throw out anything they thought somebody somewhere might use, had an entire pantry full of canned goods bought on discount, and my grandmother would make and mend their clothes. They definitely had the Depression-era mentality, and were extremely frugal about everything (except gifts to us grandkids!) but because of that they were able to help their children finance cars without using high interest loans. They also put three kids through school on one income (although the kids I think paid for grad school on their own.)

    My mom said that she realized that depriving them of stuff as kids allowed my grandma to squirrel away a LOT of money for their retirement. This is part of the reason that I'm so gung ho about my own retirement savings, because just like them I only have myself to depend on. My grandfather worked as a traveling salesman and I doubt he had any kind of pension, so if it weren't for my grandmother's penny pinching habits they might have had a much worse retirement. They moved to a retirement home about five years ago, and my aunt took over managing the rest of their money, but they probably wouldn't be able to live at such a nice one without careful planning. I'm hoping I can do as well as they did - using their financial mindset is probably a good start.

    Dumbing down my resume

    When I made up my resumes during my round of job hunts after graduation, I put every conceivable related skill on most of them. I can do a lot of random things, and I was hoping that if I had some obscure skill that they didn't know that they needed until they saw it, I'd be more likely to get a job.

    Well, I don't know if my skill list had anything to do with my getting this job, but I'm seriously reconsidering this strategy for the next time I go out job hunting. Why? Because I don't freaking WANT to use some of these skills.

    I took a statistics class in college. It was required. I slept through most of it because I had already taken an equivalent course in high school (and my school refused to give me the college credit I was supposed to get for it.) One new skill I did learn from this boring, boring class was the rudimentary use of SPSS, which is a social sciences statistical software package. I put this on my resume.

    Several months ago, when I actually had some work to do, there was talk in the department about getting someone to do statistics. My supervisor brought this to my attention and suggested that if I took some more classes, I could be the statistics guru of the department and do lots of analysis for our studies in-house. I looked into this briefly, but inside I wanted to have a temper tantrum. Why? Because I hated every minute of using SPSS and doing complicated statisics. I'm fine with doing some quick Excel formulas, but I really, really, really don't want to make statistics the main thrust of my job duties. Fortunately, it turned out that what they really wanted was a statisics PhD to run some fairly complicated analyses, and my little bit of knowledge wouldn't cut it. (True to form, they never got around to finding the PhD, and a few months later I was asked if I would like to learn how to do the analyses.. I said okay, with reservations, but they never got around to that either.)

    Now I'm considering leaving statistics off my resume entirely. Yes, it makes me a better candidate, especially in research, where it could potentially enable me to get greater collaborative power with the higher-ups running the studies. But I Really Don't Want To Do It. I wouldn't be applying to any jobs where statistics was part of the main duties of the job. And there's always the second chance of bringing up my limited statistics skills in the interview. Is this career suicide? I don't know. I don't think so. But a life without SPSS sounds pretty good to me.

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    more woot!

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    Short Term Savings Goals, or, How I Plan To Responsibly Blow Some Cash

    As I previously wrote, I am a terrible PF blogger and should be denied dinner for my emergency fund of $400. But I swear, I am going to beef it up! I started with a $75 per month direct deposit (I get paid once a month) and it's on the top of my short term savings goals to-do list.

    Unfortunately on the top of my short term "money goals to accomplish in general" list is a $900 credit card bill. This is on my regular credit card - I also have about $7k at a 3.9% fixed rate on another card. I have put this card into the pile of things in my mind conveniently marked, "don't worry so much about this." It has a minimum of about $112 and I usually pay about $150, so I feel I am okay with it sitting there while I work on the higher APR card. I am somewhat upset about the small bill, and that upset-ness spurs me to action. So before I actually get to my savings goals, that one has to go.

    So first:

    $900 credit card bill on Stockback card paid off


    Get emergency fund up to $1000 - increase monthly contribution to $150


    Reduce emergency fund monthly contribution to $100 - raise big-card payment to $200


    Once emergency fund is at $2000, cut contribution to $50 a month
    Put $100 a month in car/house savings

    That's my general plan, at least. The amounts may change as I am supposed to get a scheduled raise in October. (It's 3.5% annually, and I was going to try and make a case for a bigger raise, but frankly I don't have anything to show for my efforts because I can't get a damn thing done around here.) Now that I've got some money scheduled to come in next month from my various online activities, I'm hoping that I can skip over at least one of those steps (paying off small CC, raising emergency fund) and get right to the others. The Stockback card payments have been something of a drag on our budget - I always seem short by the end of the month and we've been making concerted efforts to save money. (Maybe this is because I am sending $300-350 a month when my budget allows $200?) So by paying that off right away, I could allow some more slack into the budget and not always end up with 8.57 in my account the day before I get paid.

    The thought of paying off that bill and bumping up my emergency fund all at once.. now that would be a feat, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I can do it (including the normal $300 payment from next month's budget.) I'll report my progress on actually receiving the money from my online adventures - at this point things look very promising.

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    I actually did a little happy dance in my chair, yes I did

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    Addicted to working

    I have said, in a perhaps-not-entirely-joking manner, that I am a workaholic. The funny thing is that I don't particularly enjoy being at work, but I feel that I should be doing something productive with my time, all of the time. I get really unhappy when I can't work and get things done quickly and efficiently. I think that a lot of this comes from my activities in college - I worked at least 20 hours a week from the summer after freshman year onward, usually at more than one job at a time. I had one typing job that was very flexible, and so whenever I had some spare time I'd go in there for an hour or two. I used to have a side job writing medical textbook review questions which I did at home in my free time, starting from senior year until last January. So whenever I didn't feel like going to the typing job, I'd stay at home and write flashcards. In between writing flashcards, I was doing my homework and reading. The running joke at our school (which in many programs is extremely demanding) is that if you were sitting around with your friends or going out somewhere, it's not because you were DONE, because you were never done. You were just doing this instead right now, and later you'd get back to the grind. This whole routine instilled a great work ethic in the students, but with me I became almost emotionally attached to efficiency and can get very unhappy when things are done in a stupid or slow way.

    Once I graduated and got my full time job, I continued with the flashcards job, which turned into five or six hours a night. I didn't really mind as it was easy and interesting and paid well, But the program stopped in January and suddenly I didn't have anything to do. So what did I do? I went looking for another job. For about a month, every afternoon, I took an hour and a half trip on two buses out to the suburbs to grade sixth-graders' standardized tests for $12 an hour. This really sucked a whole lot, because I would leave home in the morning at 8 to go to my real job, leave at 4 to get on the bus, get on another bus at 4:45, get off the second one at 5:30, walk a mile to the testing place and eat dinner, work for four hours, and get home by 10:30PM. So I hardly saw Boyfriend at all during that time, and basically went right to bed when I got home since I was so tired. I began to actively loathe going because I felt like I was missing out on my own life. The weather was getting warm and every day when it was sunny, while I stood waiting for the bus I thought about how much I wanted to skip that day and go home and take the guinea pigs outside and eat dinner with my boyfriend. I didn't miss a day, though, and even went back for an extra three days for something else. The job was a temporary project and it ended though, so that was over.

    Then I got hired for a job I'd applied for back in January at one of those test-preparation-classes places to be an evenings and weekends desk clerk. After a few sessions of working there, though, I realized that I was feeling the same way about going there as I had when I bussed all the way out to the suburbs, even though the new place was walking distance from my house and I'd be home earlier. Additionally, I didn't like the place and felt that nobody actually cared whether I was being taught to do what I needed to - I never even was told how to fill out my time sheet. So I left there.

    For a while I read a lot, started knitting again, watched more TV, did whatever I felt like in the evenings. This free time is partially what led me to start blogging - because I have no hobbies. Working is what I did as a hobby in college. Now I'm starting to feel more pinched in my finances - when I had the flashcards job, and the typing job in college, if I wanted more money I simply went out and made more. Now with this filling-stuff-out-online gig, I feel like I actually have something productive to do (and I'll get lots of money to boot!) but I'm falling back into my old habits of doing the side work whenever possible, making it hard to tear me away from it. I actually get kind of depressed when I don't have offers clearing quickly, or have to wait on something.. I want to get things done NOW NOW NOW. Having nothing to do at my real job doesn't help either. As I have said to others, I feel like the inefficiency is eating away at my soul. I really have stopped caring about a lot of things because my hopes of actually getting anything done have been dashed over and over, and no one else seems to give a crap. So doing the DealBarbie things gives me some semblance of having actually done something productive with my day, but I probably get too into it and am unable to step away from it.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    What is all this responsibility FOR, anyway?

    A great post over at Personal Financial Advice about what is the best money advice you can get. I don't normally post just to put up a link, but I think this is a really valid point. I think that failure to internalize this philosophy is part of the reason why so many people cash out their 401(k)s when they switch jobs - when they look at that pile of money, they see new furniture, new clothes, dinners at restaurants, jewelry, whatever - all they can think about is what they can buy right now with that money. But if having freedom is more important than having things, you look at that pile of money and see working part time after 60 instead of full time, or giving college tuition to your grandchildren instead of cheap toys.

    Monday, July 17, 2006

    The unpredictability of Adsense

    I like to check my Adsense totals every other day or so to see how I'm faring. Most bloggers will freely admit that you get basically bupkis from it. Usually I get a cent or two a day, but every now and then (when somebody actually clicks on an ad) I get 50 cents or so. Today somebody clicked on an ad and I got $1.90!! Thank you, mysterious clicking person!

    So you never can tell.

    I click on other bloggers' Adsense ads now and then to give them a bit of support. Depending on what they're written about, sometimes the ads can be very interesting. =)

    Look, there I go in another carnival!

    Check out the 57th Carnival of Personal Finance over at Just Another Money Blog. My post about how to start a blog is included. Yaay!

    How to fill out forms for fun and profit!

    I've been spending a lot of time filling crap out on the internet for money. And since I'm a full disclosure kind of person, I'm going to tell you where I did it and how to do it like me cause it's great! I bet you're sold now. I thought these sites were such a great idea that I've even started my own!

    Anyway. For the basics check out Money Dummy's guide - the importance of clearing cookies, multiple email addresses, etc etc. In general, what I did was to go through different sites, fill out the easiest offers and move on to the next site. I was bemusedly pleased to find out that I won a contest on one site by being the person to make the most money in the previous 72 hours - an accident of timing, but one that got me an extra $15 anyway. Woot.

    My suggestions:

    Have a lot of credit card numbers. I have a Stockback MBNA card, which is really the best kind of card to have for doing these kinds of things since MBNA has a program called ShopSafe which will generate one time use credit card numbers which are only good for a few months and you can set it to have as low as a $1 limit (so if you forget to cancel a trial or something, it'll simply bounce. See if your credit card issuer has a similar program - I know I've seen others but I don't know what issuers have them specifically.

    Definitely use two different browsers - I use Firefox and IE - so that you can clear the cookies repeatedly in one, while still having your email open and what not in the other. (I have a link to download Firefox on the sidebar - it's a neat little beastie.) Make sure to block pop-ups.

    Check DealBarbie's forums - people will often pay you to sign up under them, or swap referrals with you. However, I think for the sites that DealBarbie has listed, where you get money from DealBarbie directly for signing up, you need to sign up with her referral.

    Of course, I think my own is the most wonderful. CashDuck's philosophy is that offers shouldn't cost you more than you get back - I aim for any spendy offers to pay at least twice what you spent, and I have a LOT of freebies. Also, nothing costs more than ten dollars. There's also a cool prizes program where you earn feathers (aka points) in addition to money and can get gift cards and what not for your feathers.Go look at CashDuck! Yay!

    Here's what I think of the other sites:

    DealBarbie: This was where I started. It seems to be the best-run site and certainly has the most offers. Cashout minimum is $20 which you can get pretty easily by filling out a bunch of the $1 surveys. Clearing cookies is key here. Also, check out the forums if you have any questions - they're very active. There are also a lot of $2-3 offers for information on various schools, health insurance, car warranties, home loans, etc.. just make sure not to use your real phone number. But you can definitely make cashout (and much more) simply on the hundreds of free offers.

    MyHotCash, RockHardCash, HoorayMoney, InstaCashVault, PocketCashGPT, MadCash4U: Very similar sites to DealBarbie. There are standard software packages for the sites and once you have done a few you will be able to quickly tell them apart. There are not quite as many offers as DealBarbie but the sites are not as old, so after you complete your first round of offers, check back in a few weeks. I won the $15 on RockHardCash. I recommend RockHardCash, MyHotCash, and MadCash4U.

    InstantProfitz, FusionCash: Similar packages. They are entirely cookie-based - the best way I found to do this without losing my sanity was to do all of my regular web browsing in Firefox, and all of the offers in IE so I could repeatedly clear IE's cookies. There are a decent number of free offers, but I kind of got fed up at the cookie-ness since you have to keep better track of which offers you completed, so I did a couple offers and cashed out. If you have more patience than I, InstantProfitz seems to have higher payouts, but MoneyDummy says they have a worse record of actually delivering the payout for the offer.

    DontCostAnything, AnyGift4Points: These sites are a different software package entirely - they are based on "offers" which is kind of a unit. You need to do one offer before you can start accumulating money. There are fractional offers - generally the more of an "offer" it is, the more likely that it costs money.(Note: if you sign up for one of these, I'll split the bonus I get for a referral with you. Send me an email if you do sign up.) DontCostAnything and AnyGift4Points have systems where you fulfill a certain number of offers and get a certain prize (ie do 3 offers after the first one, get $130.)

    Prizebook: I did 3 tickle offers and the offer on Prizebook, and it's a really beautifully designed site. They credit in dollars and cents. Don't be tempted by all the pretty things you can buy with your prize money, just get it by Paypal and buy it on sale!

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    Does having five pairs of the same pants make me boring or economical?

    I wear basically the same pants to work every day. I have five pairs - two black, two gray, and one green. They are swooshy. Hooray swooshy pants! I really hate shopping for clothes so when I find things that fit welll, I buy a lot. Most of the clothes I own are from Old Navy and were bought in batches when they went on sale. udandi & the craft of money does the same trick with jeans. I wonder if this makes me boring, that I don't really care that much what I wear most of the time. I do have nice clothes and I like to dress up once in a while, but generally I just want to be comfortable with the minimum amount of fuss. So I have all solid-colored clothes (I almost never wear anything with writing on it) and a lot of black. I generally don't like buying clothes, and I've only had my attention turned to the fact that normal people buy clothes on a regular basis by my dad, who told me to go buy some new damn clothes cause I was wearing stuff with holes in it.

    Having all of my clothes look relatively uniform makes it easy for me to put together outfits, and since my clothes aren't particularly dressy or not-dressy, I can wear them both to work and outside of work without looking odd. I wonder though if I am in fact simply boring, that I don't in fact have any particular style, and that is why all my clothes look relatively uniform. You can pretty much guess any day that I go to work what I will be wearing, if you don't specify any colors. Although one of them will probably be black.

    Anybody else tried the wardrobe-economizing idea of having all your clothes look the same?

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    Death by budget

    Or, how to frustrate your plans with over-planning them. I was thinking about how badly I budget today when I was mentally complaining about paying for the magazine subscriptions for this year. Since we got new subscriptions when we moved in last July, all of them are due at the same time. I get most of my magazines from ValueMags (which through Stockback or eBates gives me a 30% rebate) as they always have good prices, and the fat rebate doesn't hurt either. This time however I got a couple subscriptions through NetMagazines (I did the 3-cents-an-issue-or-whatever subscription to Kiplinger's using the awesome code at Free Money Finance), and then used a $5 off code on a couple other magazines. Unfortunately NetMagazines didn't actually sell subscriptions to everything, so I just got Wired and Jane through them.

    Kiplinger's - $4.91
    Wired - $11.99 - $5 = $6.99
    Jane - $10 - 5 = $5

    Then I bought the others through ValueMags:

    Cook's Illustrated x 2 (one for us, one for my dad) - $24.95 - 30% = $34.93
    Popular Science - $15.94 - 30% = $11.16

    I got a subscription last year to Cosmopolitan, because I used to buy it at the supermarket now and again, and thought it would be cheaper just to get the subscription. Unfortunately I am just not vapid enough to read an entire year and still like it, so I didn't renew. I love Jane however, and recommend it to all intelligent women. Cook's Illustrated is rather expensive (it's only six issues a year) but they've got really great recipes, as well as a lot of tips and tricks and reviews that you can only get when people spend all damn day figuring out the molecular structure of pizza dough. So it's worth it to me as part of this whole teaching myself to not be a terrible cook thing.

    Ttotal cost of subscriptions for the year is $63, which for me is a big chunk of money to pay all at once. (Actually I had to pay about $83 up front since I won't get the rebate for a while.) And these were all the best prices I could find, too. I won't even think about how much they would have cost without shopping around. I probably could have gotten some cheaper on eBay but that seems like a hassle.

    So I started thinking, how could I have budgeted for this ahead of time? What if I set up a separate ING account and put in $5 a month all year and used that to pay for it? That seems like a good idea... What about all of the other irregular expenses, like birthday gifts? I already save up some money for Christmas, but maybe I should add up the cost of everybody that I expect to get a small gift (I usually give presents less than $10 for birthdays) and anybody I think might get married (most of my friends are not of the age yet) and what about Mother's and Father's Day? Should I put $3 a month away all year for the inevitable new fan purchase at the beginning of each summer? What about $2 a month for my virus program subscription?

    You see how I can get carried away.

    I know that logically these things are what the "other" category of your budget is supposed to be for, but I'm such an over-planner that I would try to put all of these things in. Which is basically why I don't really budget. I have some idea of how much money is too much to spend on groceries in a month, but since I don't really have many expenses, I generally just try to think if there's anything that I need to pay for that month that's unusual, and subtract it from the general spending pool left over after all the bills have been paid. Because if I tried to plan ahead how all the money would be spent, I would end up with a hundred little envelopes each with $3.47 in them. The non-budget budget seems to be working OK so far, since if I don't have money, I stop spending it. I try to resist the siren call of over-organization and stay loose with my planning in general.

    Friday, July 14, 2006

    The very first Festival of Under 30 Finances!

    Welcome to the first edition of the Festival of Under 30 Finances. Our goal in running this carnival is to bring together the wisdom of personal finance bloggers and use it to help organize the beginnings of our financial lives. I hope you find these articles to be great sources for useful information. The Festival will be run every other Friday, with submissions due the previous Wednesday by midnight. The host of the second edition is College Student Financials; you can submit articles at this site.

    Each edition of the Festival will feature a question for the contributing bloggers, chosen by that week's host. This week our question is:

    What was/is your major in college (if you didn't go, what would you have liked to study?) and what impact does this have on the job you have now?

    The answers:

    Beachgirl's Budget Blog: My major in undergrad was Information Technology. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after graduation, so I went to grad school. My program was Science, Technology, and Public Policy. I was able to get an analyst job with the federal government while working on my Master's, which then allowed me to get my current Consulting/Analyst job with Booz Allen Hamilton. It's helped some, but I wish I had done things a little differently.

    Young Finance Guy: My major in college was Finance. During my job as a financial analyst, finances comes into play 90% of the time. In fact, I would not be considered for my job without a finance or accounting degree.

    Pragmatic Finance: I am majoring in physics with one more year left for my undergraduate degree. I am currently working in a summer research program so it has helped give me some background knowledge and an idea of how the system generally works.

    The Business of Life - My undergrad major is computer science and my graduate major is a MBA. Both degrees play into my current job - I wouldn't be doing half of the things I'm doing if it wasn't for the MBA and I wouldn't be able to do the rest very effectively without the CS degree - so I would say it's worked out well for a first job.

    City Girl's Financial Blog: I majored in Chemistry and this major helped me land the job that I currently have. (Note: she is on the way to medical school!)

    A Penny Saved: My major in college was Computer Science. It has a great impact on my work as I work as a Systems Administrator.

    My Money Path: I was an accounting major in college, and now as a CPA, it has a tremendous impact on my job now. I could not even do what I do without that degree.

    Budgeting Babe: My major in college was Public Relations, with minors in Marketing and Spanish. Since I currently work for a PR firm, my studies were a direct link to my current career. I've been employed with the same firm for 5 years now and am specializing in health care PR. I guess I can consider myself established now!

    College Student Financials: I am currently a double major at UMass Lowell, Management of Information Systems and Marketing. I chose MIS because I have always been interested in computers and I would like to work in the IT field when I graduate. I chose marketing for a second major because I took a few marketing classes my sophomore year and they seemed fairly interesting and easy, along with a double major looking impressive on a resume. When I graduate, I hope to get a job in an IT department of a small to medium sized business. As for it's impact on my current jobs while I am still in school, 3 of my 4 jobs are IT related, one being the IT admin for a department at UMass Lowell, another working for a help desk for a Financial Firm, and the third being an IT tech for a public school system.

    Money and Values: My major was history, and I don't really use it in my job. Maybe very tangentially.

    Penny Foolish: My majors in college were physical anthropology and evolutionary biology, with minors in history and biology. At my job having all this random science knowledge occasionally comes in handy, but it's really having the science base that allows me to absorb a lot more than I might if I were some other major.

    Our articles for this edition:

    Beachgirl's Budget Blog writes a cautionary tale about signing bonuses. Don't go counting your bonus dollars before they hatch!

    Young Finance Guy gives you the positive perspective on adjustable-rate mortages. Those of us getting into our first house soon may want to opt for one of these babies. At the beginnings of our careers, with incomes rising and the potential to move, it may be a smart choice.

    Steve Faber at Debt Free contributes Common Mistakes in Becoming Debt Free. A lot of people leave college with serious debt - here's some pointers on what not to do to keep it from hanging around and growing.

    Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity gives you the lowdown on what to do with a signing bonus. If you've gotten or will get this great perk, you can follow his tips to use it to start your financial life on the right foot. It's a couple of great reasons to not blow the whole thing on beer. (Even if the beer is on sale.)

    Thatedguy at A Penny Saved tells you where to stash the money for your mid-term savings goals. This is a great strategy for saving for your first house or to buy your next car.

    Jason at Pragmatic Financehas some wise words: Forget the Campus Bookstore, Buy Textbooks Online. I did this for most of my college textbooks and saved a bundle.

    Adam Byram at The Business of Life presents Buying a House Is Expensive (But Still Do It). You should be working towards this lofty goal, even if you're young. You'll be glad in ten years that you put that five or ten bucks into your house fund each month.

    Cecilia at City Girl's Financial Blog writes on an important topic: Withholding 101. For those of us with relatively low incomes, you can get a lot of deductions at tax time (student loan interest, retirement savings, etc.) so it's important to fill out your W-4 accurately to avoid a big tax refund.

    Daniel at My Money Path presents Vacation!, a story about how you can go on vacation and not feel guilt over the money. Even when you're low on cash, you can treat yourself with a little planning.

    Nicole the Budgeting Babe discusses how volunteering yourself and experiencing life brings greater rewards than a pile o' cash.

    Mike at College Student Financials ponders the age old question: should you make less money but be happy, or make a lot of money and be miserable?

    Penny Nickel at Money and Values asks: Could you walk (or bike) to more places? Many of us live in big cities without kids to tote around, and we're (hopefully) in good shape. So why are we still driving everywhere?

    My article at Penny Foolish spells out why I think prenup-type agreements should be part of your relationship even if you aren't getting married.

    Thursday, July 13, 2006

    So exciting!!

    Flexo at Consumerism Commentary has an interesting proposal for we young bloggers who are leashed to He's got loads of hosting space and is offering it up to us!! All you have to do is buy the domain, and you've got your own piece of the web. Pretty cool I think. I am going to work on setting something up for the Under 30 Honor Roll - unfortunately and are both taken and it would probably be expensive and complicated to get the name. Any suggestions on what the address for the Under 30 Honor Roll website should be? is a little too complicated, I think.

    I'm very excited about this - I want to put up real forums, and get a spiffy webpage design with all the doodads and geegaws, and have someplace to host this automated blogroll thing we're working on without sponging off Boyfriend's server. I'd also like to use it to let people "guest blog" without having a regular blog. The main page, I'd definitely like to have a combined feed of all the members' pages, and also have archives of full length articles on different topics so that it can be sort of a one stop shop for financial information written by the under 30, for the under 30. =)

    Got denied for no-medical-exam life insurance...

    Wow, do they know something about my future that I don't? I filled out a form on DealBarbie for a life insurance quote (one of those no-medical-exam ones for old people) and even though I did in fact put my real age, and that I have none of their diseases and don't smoke, basejump, or drink and drive.. they told me they could not give me life insurance. This makes me a little nervous...

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Reminder: Contribute to this Friday's Festival of Under 30 Finances!

    Share your wisdom with the world. Contribute an article to the Festival of Under 30 Finances. The first edition will be posted here this Friday. Yay festival!

    PayPerPost Is Bums

    They rejected my first post because my blog isn't 90 days old. Well la dee dah. I don't think they actually checked to look at my blog and decide whether it was worth it, I just got rejected. I am definitely a "once bitten, twice shy" person so unless they improve a whole lot in the next 59 days I might not be back. I know that that was in the terms of service but it still annoys me.

    How to Start A Blog

    I've actually gotten a few emails from people wanting to know how I set up my blog and how to get started. So here's my definitive post on the subject. I certainly hope that it helps bring a lot of new bloggers into the world!

    Things You Need To Blog:

    1. Something To Say (In Fact, Many Many Things To Say)

    This is a crucial point that many people fail to think about. A blog is not a one-time deal. If you want to be successful, you need to come up with interesting things to say on a regular basis. Yes, there are bloggers who only post once every few weeks, but they tend to not have as strong a connection with their readers or with other bloggers. This is what I would heartily recommend to all potential bloggers: Give yourself some pre-blog homework. Come up with a list of at least twenty on-topic ideas that you think you could write at least a few paragraphs about. Yes, you'll have occasional deviations from your stated topic, but you need to be productive enough to write at length over and over, at least every few days. If writing has always been a long and difficult process for you, you may just exhaust yourself trying to write a lot. So you should definitely try it out by coming up with topics, and write several pieces before you ever start the blog.

    2. A Clear Writing Style

    I used to joke that in college I got A's on my papers because they sounded great and profs tired of awful writing were simply grateful. You need to figure out what your writing style is and develop it. Some bloggers are extremely professional and rarely use colloquialisms or idioms. Their writing tends to sound more like a newspaper than a conversation. Some bloggers are friendly and outgoing, spilling the beans on everything in their lives. Some pople (like me) tend to swear and call people bums. You shouldn't try to force a style that doesn't come naturally to you. This will quickly become tiresome to read, and difficult to write. So don't worry too much about aiming for a style in particular - just aim for consistency.

    3. Free Time and a Spellchecker

    I see the demise every day of good blogs done in by the time requirement it takes to blog. This is partially tied to the style of writing you use in your blog - specifically, that bloggers who tend to write long articles also tend to run out of time to write them in. If you can't find the time to keep up with your favorite blogs, you don't have the time to blog, because it is also essential that you keep up as a member of the blogging community that you belong to. This is not to say that if you are busy, you can't blog. Lots of bloggers produce short one-off posts several times through the week with an interesting idea or a neat link they found. That's not a problem. But it takes time simply to think of interesting things to say, unless you become one of those bloggers who merely reposts links. That is not interesting, but it does take significantly less time. It is also essential that you leave enough time in your day to edit the posts. I like to write my posts in Gmail as a saved draft so that I can come back and look at them later. It is also essential that you spellcheck and revise. Many things that seemed funny (or looked as if they were spelled correctly) the first time don't look so great on the second go round, or after you have already used that joke on somebody else. So please, for the sake of all of us, revise anything longer than a paragraph or two. The intervening time may also give you some more ideas as you think more about the topic (since it is impossible to simply leave your topic with the computer and walk away) and the post will become more interesting and have more depth.

    4. Decide How Much You Want To Reveal

    It is standard practice that you shouldn't reveal where you work, and many bloggers are cagey about where they live. Obviously you shouldn't give out your address, but you need to decide what level of scrutiny you're comfortable with into your life. Your financial life is often another story. Bloggers who in real life wouldn't dream of telling someone how much their sweater cost will reveal everything down to the penny on their blog, protected by anonymity. So if you intend to have full financial disclosure, it's smart to go the other way on personal disclosure. Think also about what reaction people you know might have if they find your blog. While you may not agree with your sister's recent purchase of a Maserati on her credit card, you probably shouldn't get too vituperative about it on your blog lest she find it in the future and tattle on you. Not that you can't talk about people you know, but don't use their real names. Remember, using your real name is a choice, but you can't make that choice on the behalf of people who don't even know your blog exists. Most bloggers use pseudonyms for the close people in their life who can't help but make cameos in their blog.

    The technical aspects of blogging:

    1. Pick a host. The most popular are Blogger and TypePad. You'd have to check out the features if you want something specific but both are similar in their general presentation of the blog. The host will provide several different templates with different designs and colors, so you can check out those, but you can play with that later.

    2. Decide on a design. Look at other blogs and pick out some designs that you like. It's kind of a pain in the butt to change to a different template after you've picked one, so make sure that you at least like the format. Colors can be changed but it's harder to switch to a three-column format from a two, or what have you. One thing that I changed over time was the amount of stuff I put in the sidebar. At first I wanted the site to be fairly clean, and not have a lot of stuff over there. But over time I realized that the actual length of the sidebar didn't matter, because the length of the main site increased as I wrote more and longer entries. And I messed around with the width and all that. But generally my own observations of my reading habits of other blogs is that I only notice bad design when I don't much care for the writing. Good writing makes a bad design less noticeable. So I wouldn't sweat too much about this, just pick a template that you like and you can change it later.

    3. What about AdSense?

    Adsense is a neat little tool. Unfortunately you aren't going to make much money off it unless you get a lot of traffic. Some bloggers basically cover their sites in ads, and I think that that is distracting, but I'm not against the practice in general. You will have to evaluate your own opinions on it, but just mind that it won't make you much money anyway. Whatever your position on ads, make sure that your content is interesting enough to make it worth the while - don't run the page just for the ads. (If you're still interested, sign up with my thingy on the right and I'll give you a hug!)

    4. How to edit your blog's front page

    The blog sites generally have a straight HTML template, which is entirely generic - meaning you can't just plug in what you want and it will create it for you. You'll have to get to know your blog template's inner workings somewhat intimately to really edit it up. The Blogger Template Help is pretty comprehensive, and since HTML is a universal language, not one owned by any one company, what works in HTML at Blogger works in HTML elsewhere.

    5. Track your readership

    You definitely need Site Meter. This handy little app is free and will tell you how many people visit your page, where they came from, and much more. Don't focus too much on numbers - even for the best and most interesting blog, it simply takes time for people to notice that you exist, and even more time for readers to evaluate you and decide you merit a spot in their bookmarks or blog rolls. You can also sign up for Google Analytics (whose most useful feature is telling you how many people are returners or first-timers) but that may take some time to get approved. Site Meter is also updated in real time, although I wouldn't recommend spending so much time looking at your traffic reports that you see this for yourself.

    Ways to get readers and increase site traffic

    1. Comment on other blogs.

    No, really. This was one of the pieces of advice given to me as a young blogger, and it has really paid off. You need to be active in the community - and a good way to get people familiar with you (and what you're like) before you start to blog is to comment on other people's blogs using the name that you'll address yourself by when you start your blog. I go by my actual first name, but you can do whatever you like. This doesn't mean that you should post inane comments on every article on pfblogs. Your comments should be well thought out, insightful, interesting to read - in short, everything your blog articles should be. Then, once you have your blog, you can start putting its address in the appropriate box when you comment. You would be surprised how many hits I routinely get on my page from people who clicked through from a comment I made. This is another reason that it's very important to comment often, well, and widely - don't just restrict commenting to the blogs that you routinely read. If you see something comment-able on pfblogs, go for it! The worst that will happen is that the blog owner will click through to see who you are. Commenting is also how you establish yourself as a known personality in the community - so it would also help if you comment on the sort of thing you're likely to write about. People who are interested in the same posts you are, are likely to be interested in your blog.

    2. Get listed on

    This is much easier than you think. You just send an email to the webmaster with your blog's name, its URL,and its feed URL. I was added in under 3 minutes. Who says there's no good people anymore? Getting listed on is a great way to expose your blog to people who probably wouldn't otherwise have found it. Also, if you post regularly, you'll become a familiar face. Becoming a Friend of is not necessary to be listed, but it's both a good thing to support them as they support the community, and it's a good thing for your traffic. Being a Friend means that you get higher billing on the sidebar on the main page, and if you post regularly you'll also end up on those automatically-generated blogrolls that many people have from, which generally shows the 20 blogs who most recently posted on pfblogs - you'll note they all have stars. When I get a click through from a blog I haven't heard of, it's usually from that automated blogroll - free traffic! It's okay to ask to be listed before you have many posts - but I'd have one or two so they can verify you're personal-finance related.

    3. Write interesting headlines and first lines

    This is related to the above point. As you may have noticed, only shows the first fifteen or twenty words in your post. So having an interesting headline and eye-catching first line can definitely grab people's attention and get them to click through to your page. However, this is not to say that you should mislead people about what's actually in the article. Just don't start out the article with a meandering, listless sentence.. because people will assume that the rest of the article is probably that boring.

    4. Write about things that are a little off the beaten path

    If you write an article about your Roth IRA, and you then google "Roth IRA", is your blog going to be in the first 10? No. Because 10 kajillion people have already written about their Roth IRA. Yes, this is a topic that is highly appropriate for your blog, but it isn't in general unique. However, you would be surprised at the number of click-throughs that I get from people searching for various topics related to tattoos, all because of that one post I wrote about tattoos. I don't know how many people stuck around and read more, but it's definitely getting a wider audience. So be aware of the type of words that you use, since your post will definitely get picked up by search engines. Use specifics (like the name of your mutual fund, instead of "my midcap fund") and that will ensure that people searching for that find your page.

    5. Link to other blogs and specific articles

    This is similar to what you will achieve with commenting, but the other way round, since the other blogger will notice traffic coming from your site. You should definitely have a blog roll - a list of blogs that you read and like - on your own blog. It's generally common courtesy that if somebody puts you on theirs, you put them on yours, assuming you know about it. So don't be discouraged if you put a bunch of well-known (and very busy) bloggers on your roll and don't hear back from them, or get a reciprocal listing. But it means that these other bloggers are more likely to read your blog, and much of your traffic and comments will really come from other bloggers, not from anonymous lurkers. It is no accident that the most frequent commenters on blogs are other bloggers - it's all part of the community. Linking to a specific article written by another blogger is also a way to throw in your ideas into the discussion, but in a way that adds something new without restating the argument. Often, lengthy comments on someone else's blog could really be put on your blog with a link back.

    6. Participate in or host carnivals

    Carnivals are a great way to get noticed as a serious blogger. Since one generally submits a long and well-thought-out article, this can be your showpiece. You can submit the same article to more than one carnival, although I wouldn't recommend trying to get the same article into the same carnival more than once, even if it's great. Also, keep your submissions on target with whatever the carnival is about. There's no shame in writing an article on spec for a specific carnival - if it's good, you'll get readers who might not otherwise have linked to you. A good place to start is the Carnival of Personal Finance, one of the biggies. Check out for other carnivals. If you can sign up to host a carnival, that's good too - everyone else will be pointing readers towards you for that day. It can be hard to get a hosting date though as many are arranged months in advance. But hey, by then you'll have a large blog which will attract even more people!

    7. Stop caring about how much traffic you get

    If you try so hard to structure your blog to get maximum readership that you decide what to write and how to act based on what gets eyeballs, your blog is going to become stale. Have faith that what you write is interesting enough to attract readers. Not every reader likes the same style, so you can't cater to them all. Just write however you want, and gradually you will attract readers with your specific style. For example, I don't often read blogs which are fact and news oriented - ie, I don't really care what this company or that company is doing. I prefer to read blogs about people's actual lives. But on the other hand, there are people who could not give less of a crap whether you made your IRA contribution on time. So don't worry about pleasing everybody - just BE interesting and someone will be interested in YOU. And be patient, especially if you're an infrequent blogger. It felt like I had had my blog forever, because I posted so frequently in the early days, and sometimes I got frustrated that nobody was reading me. Then I started to not care, and look where I am today! (Well, in the same place, but nevermind.)

    This post is dedicated to JLP of AllFinancialMatters, who offered me the basics of this advice as a young blogger and gave me my first big traffic boost. Other bloggers - Take a young one under your wing and see if you don't get one of these one day. =)

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    New coupon code

    New 50% coupon code for - 35703

    I bought some certificates a few days ago with a 40% off code, wish I'd waited! My mom is coming in to town in a few weeks and I've got several certificates, so she can just pick where to go from all the certificates and coupons that I've saved up for various places to eat and things to do around town. So hopefully we'll be able to do her visit on the cheap and still see and do a lot of things.

    Do people not watch the Suze Orman show before they come on as guests??

    So Saturday night I got to watch the Suze Orman show. The part that stuck with me the most was her interview with a 24 year old woman who had finished graduate school with a master's in library science (and predictably $110k in debt. Doesn't anybody go to state schools anymore?). After three months at her first job in her field (paying more than I make now) at $31,500 a year, she turned tail and went home, citing debt accumulated from moving and new-apartment costs, etc etc. Boo hoo. Suze scolded her for giving it only three months - because moving to a new place is hard, and nobody likes it much for the first year they are there, so three months isn't enough time to decide whether you like a place or not. The kicker is that this girl moved home and got part time service jobs and is making $1100 a month rent free. So she will save $1000 in rent and utilities by making $1400 less. I don't think she did the math here.

    The girl was pretty whiny, all "you don't underSTAND meeee, waaah." (Well, it was close.) The stated goal of coming on the show was to get Suze to give her a direction and a plan for her life. Unfortunately, this girl didn't seem to like the fact that the plan was for her to get another job in her field and move out, basically going back to what she was doing before. You know why? Cause it's the only damn way to become an adult.

    Another thing I think was a factor in this girl's decision was that she said she had always made friends quickly when she moved to a new place for college and grad school but she wasn't making any when she moved to the new place for her real job. That's pretty much the story I've heard from all of my friends. In college, you're introduced to hundreds of people who are your age, have lots of things in common with you, you probably have mutual friends with them, etc etc. I've also heard that dating outside of college is tough and I believe it - cause every person you meet in college is pre-screened in some way, by your friends, by what classes they signed up for, and just by getting into the same college as you. So it's not surprising that without all these structures, it's hard to get to know people. But that seems to be the principal reason that this girl gave up and went home - because it was hard, she was lonely, the place was unfamiliar, and her debt was stressful.

    I was somewhat amused (and maybe this says something about me) that for a good portion of the interview the girl was looking down and away from the camera as she was scolded. Which makes me wonder if the girl was actually lying when she said that she watched the show all the time. Suze is generally very nice to people that have done their homework and aren't doing the stupid thing, but she can get very snippy with people who have done idiotic things. And I would classify leaving a perfectly good job in your extremely specialized field as an idiotic thing. But I guess that people don't like to acknowledge that what they have done is stupid, so they delude themselves into thinking that their problem is real and they did all the right things, so she'll be nice to them.

    In other news, has anybody else noticed that Pop Tarts seem to be smaller than in our youth??

    Monday, July 10, 2006

    Is $23.75 not much of a profit?

    I've written before about my casino 'secret shopper' evaluation program, where they send me some money to play at a casino and I keep what I win, sending the original amount back. Well, I previously lost all of the money on my first three assignments, and felt badly about this as I lost more than $200 of the program's money. (Of course, the way the program is structured, I also got paid nothing.) This time however, I got sent $60 and managed to get it up to $83.75. I thought this was perfectly respectable and started the cash-out process.

    As part of the survey which I fill out, I tell them how much I won or lost. I submitted my survey this morning and got an email this afternoon from the program manager, saying, "Winning $23.75 for yourself isn't much. You are welcome to continue playing to try and make more for yourself if you want to. The choice is yours though."

    I replied saying that I had done badly on the previous assignments and wanted to not lose this time. (There is no penalty for losing all the money, but the more I lose, the faster the program runs out of money and closes anyway.) And I have referred a lot of people (before I found out that you are not allowed to advertise on craigslist. oops.) So I'm hoping that some of my referrals will have signed up and played, since that will be undoubtedly more profit from this venture than anything I can make with my terrible gambling skills. I guess I'm just risk-averse, and every $5 bet seems more like an opportunity to lose $5 than to win $10. So I'm cool with $23.75.

    Woo carnival!

    The Carnival of Personal Finance, edition 56, is up at The Real Returns. I contributed an article about how much my guinea pigs have cost. (I suspect that it is much cheaper than other kinds of unplanned pregnancy.)

    My favorite post:

    Money and Values writes about whether it's actually worth it to do those hourly wage calculations which invariably tell you that you are worth 10 kajllion dollars an hour. The problem is that when you're on salary, you can't get an extra hour at work. Bums. I used to work exclusively hourly and that really ruled, I think. When I needed more money, I'd just make some more. It was like shaking the money tree.

    How much have I spent on my pets? Part 2 - The cat

    I have got a giant cat. Well, not maybe record-breaking, but he is 14lbs without much fat on him. We named him Fingolfin (a distant relative of Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings) as that was a marked improvement over Shadow, which is what the shelter had called him. (He's black and white.) Right off the bat, kitty cost $55 at the shelter. That's another reason I'm glad I talked Boyfriend into getting an older cat instead of a kitten - kittens were $95. (Public service announcement: If you are going to adopt a cat, go for a two to five year old cat instead of a kitten. They'll already have established personalities, probably be housebroken, definitely spayed, maybe declawed, and they aren't adopted as quickly as kittens. Basically every healthy kitten is going to be adopted, but many older cats have this one shot out on the adoption floor before they get put down.)

    Anyway. Finny was a "special needs" cat because he needed a dental cleaning ($150, since he had to be knocked out and all that) and then of course his booster shots ($30). The vet thought there was something wrong with him since his weight was about 10lbs at the first vet visit, but his intake card at the shelter said 13.5lbs. Two weeks after adoption, he was back up to 13.5 - apparently he just didn't eat the whole time he was there. Another vet visit because Boyfriend and I are nervous kitty parents and he had a cough. ($15.) Startup costs for the cat - litter box, hidey hole, water dish, clumping litter, toys, etc - $50. (We had all this in the trunk before we even went to the shelter. See the obsessive planning?) Eventually we also bought him one of those constantly running water dishes (for $20 online, instead of $40 in store) and it's been pretty much just food and litter ever since. He eats Purina Indoor Cat food, and we use the cheap Target non-clumping litter now. We pretty much haven't bought him any more treats since we first got him, but I've got coupons so we won't actually have to spend any more money on them.

    Non-recurring costs
    Shelter fees - $55
    Startup - $50
    Treats and extra toys - $15
    Dental cleaning - $150
    Booster shots - $30
    Vet visit - $15

    Recurring costs
    Food - $5 a month
    Litter and box liners - $4 a month
    Booster shots - $30 per year

    We got the cat last July, and he's due for his shots soon, so I'll include that in the total.

    Non recurring costs - $315
    Recurring costs for 12 months = $138
    Total cost for cat so far = $453, or $37.75 per month

    Sunday, July 09, 2006

    Checking out PayPerPost

    Yes, I am going to join PayPerPost. Maybe this makes me a media whore, I don't know.

    I think it's a neat idea, and one that has been a long time coming. And frankly, I think that it's good to get it out in the open about paid blog posts, otherwise things could get decidedly murky. Right now I'm going to try this out and I'll let you know if they actually pay out. I also want to see if they are offering reviews of anything financial that I haven't heard about because that could be interesting. We'll see.

    For those of you who live under a spacious and comfortable rock from which you never emerge, PayPerPost ( is a new service where bloggers sign up to review various things for, well, pay. Check it out if you're interested.

    The issue I have with the site so far is that it is woefully sparse. There's no information on payment (which, presumably, is on the minds of all the bloggers who use it) which makes me nervous that they don't actually have a way to pay you yet. And I would be really pissed if there were a minimum for cashout. They're using Paypal which is a pretty cheap way to send money, all things considered. And right now there are only twenty offers available, including this one. So I hope that they come up with some more paying customers soon, and some things on finance.

    Update on the Sharebuilder saga

    Today Sharebuilder sent me another email, asking me to fill out a survey about my customer service experience (see the previous post about how their email didn't credit me properly, etc) - and the link to the survey doesn't work. O boy.

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    I finally won!!!

    OK, I only won $23.75, but still, I won! I wrote earlier about the casino 'secret shopping' type endeavor I was doing for pocket money. The trick with it is that they don't actually pay me, they just give me some money to play with and I get to keep any extra that I win. So I don't get any money unless I stop sucking it up at blackjack. Previously I have already totally lost all the money on three separate assignments (and I was very surprised to see they kept giving me money, cause hell, I'm a loss.) My problem is that many casinos require you to play through your money and your bonus eight times or whatever before you can withdraw it - by which point I, and most others, have already lost all of it. But the place I played today did not give me a bonus (which is good, because otherwise if you try to withdraw, they take the bonus off first) and they didn't have a play through requirement. So I got my $60 up to $83.75 and cashed that sucker out. I don't have a low risk tolerance for gambling for nothin!

    Of course, while they will let any person off the street deposit money, I have to send them a scanned or faxed copy of three forms of ID in order to withdraw it. I'm not fazed though. $23.75 baby!

    Strange ShareBuilder bouncings

    I wrote earlier about how I was offered a complimentary real time trade by ShareBuilder. Unfortunately something in the email didn't work and the trade wasn't credited as it should have been, so I emailed customer support. A nice lady emailed me back to say that they would manually credit it, and could I please forward the email that I got to their customer care email so they could see why the automatic crediting did not work. This I did.

    About 2.37 seconds later I got an automated reply saying that the email I sent (the forward of the email that THEY sent ME) had been assigned a ticket number and a customer service representative would be in touch with me within the next 48 hours. About 4.3 seconds after THAT, I got another automated email which was extremely long and was essentially a frequently asked questions page. I guess it was triggered by some of the words in the original email that I forwarded.

    Catching stock price fever!

    Several months ago I did the Sharebuilder deal where if you make one trade you get $50. So I bought $46 of this company I thought was interesting (ViaCell, they're a cord blood banking company with a huge research arm) and thought I would sit on it for a while. Well, I am both extremely impatient and averse to individual-stock risk. For some reason it upsets me that ViaCell's price went down (it was about $5 when I bought it) even though I know that it is a risky stock, but it doesn't bother me in the least when my risky mutual funds go up and down. In fact, I get excited when they go down because then I can buy more. I wanted to sell the shares but then discovered that while you can use the $4 end of day option to buy, you have to execute a $16 real-time trade to sell - and on what is now less than $35 worth of stock for me, I'd rather just hang on to it and see if it goes up, rather than just get $19.

    Yesterday however I got an email from Sharebuilder offering me a complimentary real-time trade. Yaay! This meant that I could sell the stock and get all $35. But then I looked at the fine print, and discovered that I could hold on to the free trade for a couple months. So that got me thinking about what I could do with it... I think what I might do is to set a limit order for $5, and if it doesn't reach that price before the free trade expires, I'll just sell it with a regular order. I'm really not cut out for this checking and re-checking and keeping up with the company. I find all of this stuff that people do very interesting, and I kind of like researching companies to find good ones to buy, but then you have to continue to stay on top of what the company is up to in order to know when to sell. I know that for long-term strategy, you should just buy good stuff and sit on it, but I would rather buy shares of mutual funds where somebody else will pick the companies that I'm investing in, and swap them around when necessary. I think when I get the money back from the shares, I'll just put it in my Roth. More my speed, really.