Thursday, April 30, 2009

Getting back on track

I've somewhat recovered from the fiasco where I got half a paycheck - unfortunately, a side effect of that was that I went off the nice, stress-free system I had set up for myself to pay all my bills. I had been paying half the bill each paycheck, and generally staying well away from the due date, and I was very happy with this. Also, it meant that every paycheck ended up about the same, and I had the same amount of money to spend. I like planning things out like this - it makes me nervous to not know what's going to be due. So since I was knocked off my plan for a while, I had to wait until I either had enough money saved up or I hit a three-paycheck month (which is new to me, since for the three years previous I got paid once per month.) May for me is a three-paycheck month, so I'm going back on the plan. This makes me feel much better! From the end of May on, I'll be paying half of each bill every two weeks, except for utilities, but I'll be putting $100 aside each paycheck to cover it so it'll come out the same. Yay!

I think that subconsciously I am some kind of obsessive-compulsive, but obviously only about certain things, if you have ever seen my desk. For instance, today my purse strap broke, and I went to Kohl's to look at purses and bought.. the same purse. (Well, the same purse with minor changes that don't affect anything functional, such as it having pebbly leather instead of smooth.) I also honestly considered buying a second for when this one breaks in two years, in case they don't sell it anymore.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Kind of happy to not get Kiplinger's anymore

I got a notice in the mail a few days ago that my subscription to Kiplinger's was soon to come to an end, and did I want to send them some more money? I got a three-year subscription waaaay back when (which frankly seems like a frigging eternity ago, when I first started this blog.) It was pretty much free with a serious coupon code that all the bloggers were using. Since that time I've been glad, over and over, that I only paid $1 per year for it.

Kiplinger's confuses me. Basically it confuses me why anyone would pay for it. It's a split personality magazine - half of it is stock tips, mutual fund analysis, and world-market news, and half of it is personal-finance tips on the order of "Raise your car insurance deductibles to save money!" Generally these tips are things that fifteen minutes actually thinking about it would come up with. I imagine they pay the personal-finance writers a lot less.

I often don't even read the Kiplinger's anymore - it gets shuffled around the dining room in various piles until it gets up to my office, where it goes through some more piles until I dump it in an old-magazines box that eventually gets taken to the volunteers office at my former workplace so that people at the hospital have reading material. (I apologize for this, cancer patients.) But the March issue was the kicker.

They have a big "Save $50 A Day!" blurb on the cover, and the entire cover is devoted to telling you how much money they saved on your bills in various areas. Now, this perked up my ears, but frankly, $50 a day is somewhat less than half of all of the total expenditures of our life, between me and Boyfriend, so I was not sure how they were going to accomplish this. How did they accomplish this? By assuming that you are not able to save money on your own using commonly-accepted techniques, and also that you are the worst shopper in the world and pay through the nose for everything. You must be the person at the supermarket that says, "But these grapes! They are fantastic! I insist in paying a thousand dollars for them!" There is nothing to stop people from spending more than they have to - but there's also nothing to stop you from doing three seconds of Internet research.

And for all the cover-story shenanigans, the piece only gets eight content pages. They devote way more to comparison shopping for cars you can't afford to buy new (or at all.)

Because I have a lot of time on my hands, here's the complete list of all the things you'd have to be stupid enough to do in order to save $50 a day using their tips.

Pay six late fees on your credit card per year
Carry a credit card balance at 13.6% (even *I* don't have a rate that high)
Make an out of network ATM withdrawal every single week
Pay 1.3% fees on your $100k portfolio
Have an eTrade account and never make trades or close the account ($40 inactivity fee per quarter)
Pay a 4.75% load on a $5,000 investment
Using a full-service brokerage for one stock trade per month (but wait, you have an eTrade account too?)
Get free checking (does any bank NOT offer this now, seriously?)
Not use a cash-back credit card (but I thought you were in debt?)
Get fleeced on your life insurance
Bounce a check six times a year
Shop for everything you need, including toilet paper, at Whole Foods
Get a Starbucks coffee every day (although their solution of substituting Dunkin Donuts to save 36 cents a day seems pointless - why not just cut back?)
Rent a car for a week once a year (that isn't for business)
Drive like an asshole with a bunch of crap in your trunk and never inflate your tires properly

I get the feeling that this list wasn't really compiled for anyone for whom $50 a day is most of their spending. They also assume that you eat out at a fancy-ass restaurant three times a month, and go to six major events (concert, sports game, Broadway show) a year, for which you are willing to pay through the NOSE. They also let you know that if you book your Amsterdam vacation last-minute, you'll save 20% off the price ($2,500.)

And then there's a long list of things that cost more to do than you'll get back in savings for years, such as replacing your toilet, or getting a $1,600 clothes washer to save $50 per year on water. Really? Cause my front-loading washer saves me a ton on water, and the set was $1100 including delivery. And that you're buying a digital camera, a laptop, a big flat-screen, designer handbags and shoes and jeans, and men's suits.

The one thing that strikes me as sad is them telling you to cut out the bimonthly night at the movies for a family of four, which they tote up to $168 per year. Yeah, you can get Netflix and save some money, but if you have two kids that are willing to go to the movies with you, especially if they're teenagers, that strikes me as money well spent to do something relatively inexpensive as a family. Even the pre-movie meal would cost more than the tickets.

Anyway. I apologize for the rant. But this is the essential idea of why I hate Kiplinger's. Because people who have enough money to buy into Contrafund, and thus would be interested in a long article about why it's reopening, should have enough damn common sense to figure out that you can save money on a digital camera by looking for a better price, or that generic medications cost less than brand-name. It's just sad if that's what the world is now, that they need Kiplinger's to tell them basic financial skills that teenagers should be able to understand.