Okay, breathe with me. Last month’s heating bill was ~ $44. This month’s heating bill = ~ $66. My jaw literally dropped and I instantly placed a call to my energy company to schedule a free high-bill re-check. Then, I called my husband and broke the news to him. lol. He claimed he wasn’t surprised, but I was honestly was. In retrospect, and if I’m brutally honest, the high heating bill was my fault. My usage of my small space heater was drastically increased (I’m talking about turning it on daily for ~ 12 hrs each day!). Being the argumentative wife I am, I argued with Matt that it must have been the 3 – 5 times we must have run the heater for the house or leaving lights on. In any case, this is a huge wake-up call for me. I cannot do things like run a space heater for 12 hrs daily and not expect my heating bill to bite me in the ass. *sigh*
In other news, if you have been living under a rock, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates further and while this is goodÂ news for borrowers, people with money in savings account (i.e. us) are essentially seeing our savings rates slashed too. Right now, ING Direct’s Current Annual Percentage Yield is 2.75%. I’m not complaining though because it is still better than Wachovia’s saving rates. Now I’m on the topic of finances, I just have to say that we have done rather badly in terms of savings. This wasn’t because we went on a huge spending spree. We had strategic investments i.e. payments to make. For one, I finished making payments on my laptop and we also bought a used car from Matt’s friend (which was a steal). Nevertheless, I’m forging ahead and I clearly won’t make my saving amount of ~$5, 000 for the year (although that goal was set while at my previous job).
The Suntrust account is still 75% paid off and I’m disappointed that I didn’t do more to get this figure up. Nevertheless, my financial goals (going into the new year) will be:
- Keep making “payments” to our ING Direct savings accounts: Again, it bears repeating that everyone needs an emergency fund. Ideally, this should be 3 – 6 mths worth of money that will allow you to ride out the loss of 1 income source, a health issue, a car wreck, etc. We technically don’t even have an emergency fund yet because once I remove the cost of our current liabilities (just 1 credit card), we’re left with not much. These payments will occur monthly and the deposit will be at least $150 each time.
- Pay off Suntrust credit card before April 2009: This is a rather modest goal and definitely eases the pressure. We have enough room to keep making just the minimum payments, but I’ve been reading horror stories about people who saw their lines of credit cut in half & their credit scores plummeting. I definitely want to keep my score (~ 720 in all 3 credit bureaus) looking the way it is. 🙂
- Resume payments to Fidelity ROTH IRA: Since the purchase of my laptop and other big ticket items, I put my payments on hold. I haven’t actually begun investing the current funds in my ROTH IRA because it needs to be at $2,500 or above in order not to incur yearly (not sure if they are monthly) fees for making investments in mutual funds. The only way to get around those pesky fees is to commit to making automatic payments of $200 or more in order to invest in mutual funds.
- Consolidate my retirement accounts: Actually, this is already done because I’ve got my employer’s matches going into a Fidelity retirement account as well as my contributions. Fidelity’s also the holder of my ROTH IRA. The consolidation largely refers to the previous holder of my retirement account. It should be interesting how this all plays out on my taxes filings.
- Figure out investment options with Matt’s retirement account: His rate of return is currently -26% while mine is -1.8%. Now, my low rate of return is largely because Fidelity (for some reason) has about half of my stuff in a money market account. I’m sure when all that’s migrated to actual investments, I’ll see my rateÂ of return get lowers. Now, Matt’s retirement account is managed by Merrill Lynch and while they provide a more hands-on approach, their selection is a little bit limited (not to mention confusing!). I just want to put his funds into an investment “bucket” (so to speak) because they takes the headache out of managing his account. I adjusted his investments to spread the risk so I’m hoping that it will stem the bloodletting. lol.
Enough of the money talk. 🙂 I’m currently jamming to some Alicia Keys. Peace and I’m out!
So, I haven’t said much about savings, retirement planning et cetera. In fact, all that stuff seems trivial in the face of the real depression-style era that is looming ahead of us if things continue as they have in the US lately. The economy is in a free-fall as more people and investor panic and yank their money out of the system. I don’t blame them, but it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. *shudders* Anyhow, I’m not retiring anytime soon so I hope that my investments will stand the test of time. I’m sorely tempted to do the usual trick of investors i.e buying stocks at low prices, but what if they never recover? Well, that was not the sole focus of this post. I was going to talk about our energy usage and brag a little bit even about how two of us are keeping a low energy footprint in our apartment in the face of a hot summer and now, perhaps an unusually cool winter? Here’s a chart I whipped up in Excel:
As you can see, we haven’t even cracked $42 in bill payments yet! Clearly, we’ve shot up during the summer, but not enough to get me worried. My guess for this winter will be that we won’t hit $50, but I anticipate running some standalone heating elements because I’m really anti-cold. 🙂 According to M, reason number 2001 to have more body fat. Here are the actual numbers:
Now, if only other areas of expense resemble our energy costs! In fact, our utilities are the most stable liabilities we have i.e. internet and energy. Food and Gas are the current major money guzzlers and we are working on a means to cook at home more. We are paying the price of eating out and constantly having excuses for not cooking at home. Heck, I can’t count how many items have gone bad because we didn’t cook them in time.
Payday is nigh and I’m already feeling pinched! Here is a quick breakdown of some of the pre-programmed expenses I have:
|HP Laptop Credit Card
|SunTrust Credit Card
|ING Direct Savings
Now, in a sick and twisted way, seeing the expenses laid out gives me courage to keep going on because I know that my aggressive strategy will pay off! For instance, after another such $500 payment to the HP laptop fund, I’ll have an extra $500 to “play” with. We have slowed off on the SunTrust payoff, but I’ve been snowflaking little amounts to it so I fully expect to have a balance of zero by the end of the year. I’ve been making little contributions to a christmas fund so that I’ll be able to get little tokens of appreciation for people. Overall, I don’t think our financial outlook is dire. After I got my laptop, things got thrown off kilter a little bit, but I definitely don’t regret that purchase. In a couple of years, I see myself upgrading the laptop i.e. giving Matt this one and getting the next OS upgrade that Microsoft has to offer. On that sombering note, I’ll sign off and I bid you all a good night!
Not quite literally, but today, I got to hang out with a bunch of dogs from the little Italian greyhound, the rottweiler, the boxer, the bloodhound all the way to the big (think 155lbs!!) Saint Bernard. They were ridiculously cute and I was as happy as a lark today at the lab. It was a bit of a juggle today because I had to take a trip to the Human Resources department and get signed up for a retirement plan. It turned out that contrary to what I had been told by a previous HR representative, I am eligible for the optional retirement plan versus having to stick with the teachers’ retirement plan. I was over the moon because this means I won’t lose my institution’s match of ~ 8% in the event that I don’t stay with them for at least 10 years which is the time it takes to get “vested” with the Teachers’ Retirement plan. I’m currently keeping all my eggs with Fidelity (my Roth and 401(a) plan). I also plan on rolling over my previous funds that are currently with TRS. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I know I’ll be fine i.e. it’ll take some time, but I will become somewhat comfortable with learning about funds and how to make investments. I signed up for one of the Fidelity Freedom Funds for now and the rate of return didn’t look too promising so I’m pretty positive that I’ll be diversifying once I get some more information.
Only in my household is it not strange to remember that my permit expires in about 24 hours and then, I make frantic calls to the husband and my employers to: take me to the State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and excused from work for about 1 hr. Thankfully, we managed to beat the hordes at the DMV and we got out of that place in less than 30 minutes. Score!! The sad part, however, is that I’ll have to rinse and repeat in less than a year all because USCIS has seen it fit to give me a “conditional” LPR status versus the old-days-of-yore 10-year limit on those green cards. I’m not too bothered by it though. Just the thought of needlessly spending $10 again to renew the card makes me a bit … itchy. Renewing my drivers’ permit is the least of my worries. Renewing my permanent resident card is the real hassle although I won’t have to worry about it until next year. Still, who would have thought 2008 is already half over? The USCIS filing fee already leaves a huge rock in my gut (~ $545), but I’ve already started saving towards it. Thank God for ING Direct‘s sub accounts! They actually make it easy for you to save! I have to restrain myself from pouring too much of my paycheck into my savings accounts 🙂 I’m sure I won’t be over-saving (if that is possible) because I’ve committed to contributing $200 to my Roth IRA account. It should not put too much of a dent in my earnings because on my previous salary, I could, in theory, fit in my $200 IRA payment so now that I am earning a little bit more, I can definitely fit in the Roth IRA payments. Saving for retirement (or just for savings sake) is definitely a priority with me as my posts on finances will tell you. However, I recently got M & I signed up for something that’s really confidential. lol. I’m itching to tell you guys about it, butÂ I promised I wouldn’t. No, it’s not something that’ll make me/us super-rich or bestow us with honorary degrees. It is something that I’ve been wanting to participate in (for a long while now) and I was getting to the point of thinking the organization was a total fraud. Well, I’m a believer and I’ll write more about this in a couple of years. lol.
In other news, classes for the students will begin in a little over 3 weeks. I spent the better part of yesterday with my boss who showed me how to skin a dog’s forelimb. He is a veterinary toxicologist by training, but he clearly loves anatomy and he spent the rest of the time showing me the various muscles around the dog’s scapula and the canine equivalent of the human upper arm muscles.Â I actually remember much of what was shown to me yesterday! I really find it interesting although time will tell if it’s just early employment jitters or the real thing. lol. I learned about the dog’s scapula last week i.e. the names of the parts (see on the left). I’m on the humerus now and hopefully, I’ll be done with that bone by this week or the middle of next week.
(Picture is from Guide to the Dissection of the Dog: 4th edition)
It’s definitely a little bit hard to remember all those names, but the good thing with nomenclature is that it tends to be logical and follow patterns whether it be directionality (dorsal vs. ventral) or positionally (above or below, supra or infra). I’ll let you know how that goes in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’ve got a bunch of embalmed dogs to count up. These dogs will serve as the veterinary students’ dissection dogs to work with during the semester. It will be my job to see that they preserve their animals well and try to keep the laboratory clean. I should be getting scrubs this week and also get some T- shirts so that I don’t totally ruin my entire wardrobe. I think it’s safe to say that my favorite pairs of jeans (blue and black) have been ruined. lol. Well, not so much ruined as “they are not for fancy wearing” anymore. 🙂 They’ve got blood on them. Oops!
I’ll start with the good news first: a college pal of mine has an interview at my would-have-been alma mater and I’m so excited for him. I am sure that he will get an acceptance. I just hope he remembers me when he’s receiving the bounty. 😀 Also, it’s been several months that I’ve been running Google Adsense on my pages. I still haven’t received any checks in the mail because the amount of money earned is a long ways from $100 (the minimum amount an account must earn before a check can be cut). Accordingly, if you find the ads relevant or interesting to you/someone you know, feel free to click through to see what that the buzz is about *wink*. "A click a day helps a sistah stay fly." lol.
The bad: certain actions were set in motion. Obviously, I can’t say too much because this is a very public place despite the fact that I call it my personal blog to spew all sorts of crap onto. Nevertheless, I vented to M and he acted as my counselor. There was an overwhelming sense of negativity from a certain person (edit: not M. He read it and told me it sounded like this was about him.) and it was just depressing being in the presence of said person. I understand that I need to clean up my act. Demeaning comments are not really necessary be those comments about me or others. I don’t do well with water cooler talk. Nevertheless, I fell asleep with the word "Patience" on my lips. Now more than ever, I see that it was extremely portentous i.e. my making the word "Patience" my motto and guideline for the year. Now, more than ever, it would be wise to exercise caution and patience in all things that I do. Okay, it wasn’t as melodramatic as it sounds, but I was really upset. I’m excited with the moves we’re making. As far as savings go, a minor setback occurred, but I’m determined to chip in for my sister’s wedding. The traditional wedding is tomorrow and the ‘church’ wedding in sometime in April. I will have to confirm the actual dates. I really hope I can witness the event in, at least, pictures.
In other news, I got serious about setting up my Roth IRA, but the events yesterday prevented me from doing that. However, the person who I was meeting with was super nice about me pulling out of our appointment. That was very reassuring and I intend to make good on, at least, seeing this person. M & I have also received our W-2s (finally, damn!) and we’re pondering whether or not to go the H & R Block route or do the free federal e-file thing which we both qualify for. I’m super leery of putting the wrong things in and ending up owing the IRS money. That’s one of my nightmares. Anyhow, I’ll update y’all on what we decide.
Of late, I’ve been reading a lot of personal finance blogs and I could kick myself for the information that I’m discovering that I wish I’d known before. Nevertheless, it is not too late. I am turning 23 this year and I got started on my first ‘real’ job. My job automatically contributes the maximum amount from my paychecks to a 401(k) which they match at a rate of 9%. This is pretty good. Their benefits are good such that M has dropped his employer’s health plan in favor of mine e.g. they cover 90% vs his employer’s 80% plan). Based on stuff I’m reading, here are several things I’m learning:
- Debt resolution should be #1 on your list. You can do this by paying it down aggressively or “snowflaking” approach popularized by Dave Ramsey i.e. you pay little at a time, taking money from little areas that you might otherwise ignore. In my case, snowflaking will be the best way to go afterall that’s pretty much how I cleared up my Bank of America credit card. Let me see them collect 20.74% APR on a zero balance card. In your face!!
- Building an emergency fund. The idea of an emergency fund is emergencies. It’s said that an emergency fund should be “three to six months worth of basic living expenses”. Without going into too much detail, this will also require me/us to practice some serious snowflaking habits. Now, I started this one out the wrong way. What did I do? I put $100 in a tip jar. Now, this is a special tip jar, but M just showed me a neat way of retrieving money from this jar so I’ve safely retrieved the $100 from this jar, but that’s not what was wrong with my approach. The money was just sitting in my tip-jar when there are no-cost high yield savings accounts that are liquid (i.e. easily accessible assets)! So, I have started an Orange Savings Account with a 4.10% annual percentage yield. All you need to open this account with is: $1.
- I’m also learning that it is a good thing to participate in another type of retirement account (the IRA or individual retirement account) called a Roth IRA. I would go out right now and start one, but the biggest obstacle is committing to the somewhat hefty payments that need to be made monthly. Additionally, I’d like to set up one for both Matt and myself so it will take some number crunching. Last night, M & I couldn’t sleep and we actually sat down (or up cos we were lounging on the bed) and tallied our cost of living. We are going to do some interesting things with that discovery and I’m pumped about being savings, et cetera.
- A key principle to getting rid of debt and not getting stuck in the cycle is not channeling all your funds towards the debt such that when some mini-disaster strikes, you will end up having to resort to dipping into the credit card pool. It’s taking a little while for me to wrap my head around that, but it makes perfect sense. For a while last year, I would throw quite a bit at both cards and by the end of the month, I’d find out that I was essentially going nowhere! However, little chips here and there caused me to wipe out the Bank of America card, some old lingering school fees, etc.
That’s about it for now. I’ve been going nuts tinkering with my WordPress 2.3.2 installation because contrary to my last post’s congratulatory tone, I still am getting the “tinyMCE is undefined” error which causes the toolbar to disappear. I finally hunted down Dean’s FCKEditor plugin for WordPress and I’m typing merrily once again. I hope the WordPress developers fix whatever is causing the TinyMCE toolbar to disappear. I mean, I reuploaded a fresh instance of WordPress 2.3.2 (after deleting old files) and my toolbar showed briefly. Today, I logged in and coudn’t get my toolbar to show. Anyhow, I’m working with the FCKEditor now so I don’t care too much. In more WordPress news, I’ve been discovering some really cool plugins most notably StatPress! It’s like WordPress.com stats on steroids!! l recently transitioned from using the WordPress Reports plugin because it kept “forgetting” that I’d put in my Google account information a zillion times. So, I decided to go with Local Analytics which gives a lot of customization room. Still, I really miss the nice report view that the WordPress reports gave me. I haven’t gotten used to the really complex Google analytics interface and it takes me a while to figure who visited my site, and from where. It’s a confusing mish-mash. That’s why I still have Statcounter running on this site because it condenses the information and presents it in relevant bite-sized and digestible chunks. Hey, I’m easy to please.
Oh and lastly, I finally gave into activating the Share This plugin because it really wiped out several things in one fell swoop: giving you the ability to email/IM/twitter any post you like to your friend/enemy/frenemy as well as posting it to any or all of your accounts on Facebook/MySpace or the next hot social networking site. I didn’t like that the original developer (Alex King) had sold the plugin and that I had to sign up to use the plugin, but it wasn’t that painful and I just hope I don’t get spammed. Besides, the older version of the plugin is still available. He’s pretty involved in the WordPress community and I trust his plugins. Alright, I’m getting tired. It’s red flag day and I’m really twitchy. I wonder how come I am relatively docile up until the day comes. Then, I turn all grumpy and usually, my grumpiness is even what alerts me to the possibility that the red lady’s come a-knocking! I know, weird. I’m pretty regular although not to the exact day. It’s more along the lines of a windows of 7 days. So, stay outta my way for the next 5-7 days. lol