Friday, December 21, 2007

False Hopes

Someone came around the office with envelopes today. For a lovely, fleeting second, I thought, bonus? But it was only the pay stub for the paycheck we'll get while on Christmas break (today is my last day of work until January 2, huzzah!). It's not such a bad deal to have money deposited whilst you're lazing about with friends for nearly two weeks.

Plus, they raised the 401(k) match $500 for next year, so that's not such a bad deal.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Paying for Quality: An Example of How Cheap is Not the Same as Frugal

There is an actual, physical hole in the sole of my shoe. Meaning, when I put my foot down, my actual foot (enstockinged, but still) touches the actual ground. Which is very cold.

My shoes cost $24 and I bought them about three months ago. Perhaps next time I should pay more than $24.

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Doing the End-of-Year Shuffle

So, I got the promotion. Sort of. As I'd been predicting to friends for a few days, it's a sort of halfway solution. It comes with a title change, a 6.25% raise (6.25% of not a lot is not a lot), some new editorial responsibilities, and a little bit less administrative responsibility. The problem, when this was laid out for me, was quite evident: if I'm only offloading a tiny bit of work (the admin stuff I did for my big boss), and getting a bunch of new stuff, effective immediately, doesn't that mean I have more work, total? Yes. Yes, it does.

So I thought about it for a bit and wrote an email to both of my bosses suggesting a solution: transfer one of my (least-liked!) responsibilities from me to a co-worker. I talked to the co-worker in question about it; she seemed amenable. I put that in the email. I mentioned also that I'd consider it a perk of the title change.

And they agreed! So that is a real improvement. I hate doing that task (it involves keeping track of a lot of dates and coordinating communications with a lot of difficult people and filling out boring forms), and will appreciate not having to do it, both in terms of time and in terms of boring. And I did some negotiating! So I'm pretty proud of that, actually.

Next up: picking a gym to join with the money from my raise! (Don't worry, I'll also be bumping up my 401(k) contributions.)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Night Falls in Midtown

So. I'm leaving the company holiday party. I have had a glass of wine and a free dinner. I am wearing a new dress, and newish boots that are beginning to hurt my feet even though I bought arch supports to wear in them on Sunday. I am wearing an old winter coat, but it's made of nice wool, and I wear a costume-jewelry brooch on it, and it doesn't look too shabby. At the party, I have been gossiping with my coworkers; there was a speech by the president of the company heralding the younger generation; I have giggled with my boss and danced to "Hey Ya" (not simultaneously).

One of the guys from the mailroom is tall and broad-shouldered, with a square jaw and lucid eyes and skin like caramel. When he moves, all power and grace, it is hard to imagine that everything in the world is not easy for him.

My closest work-friend is knocking back Brooklyn Lager, grinning a grin he knows is charming, putting his hand on the knee of a woman twenty years older than he is.

Another work-friend is worrying about her assistant, who is being skeeved on rather vigorously by some sort of sales guy. He is very short, also quite skeevy. The assistant does not seem to mind, but the work-friend is worried anyway. Anything could happen, she says. I do not think anything could happen.

I talk with some girls about whether or not we are wasting our youth, about what we have learned and where we will go next.

When I leave, I do it without saying too many goodbyes. I get my not-too-shabby coat from the coat check, and put it on, and go out through the shining hotel lobby, and I like the feeling of the cold in my damp hairline and I want a cigarette badly. I like to smoke cigarettes in this particular mood, which is open and quiet and thoughtful, and I like to smoke cigarettes while walking in pretty shoes. I do not have any cigarettes. So walking down Vanderbilt Avenue, I stop in front of a guy smoking outside a cheesy tourist-trap restaurant. I ask him for a cigarette. I do not have a quarter, or I would give it to him. He gives me the cigarette, and offers me a light. My hand rests on his leather-gloved one while he lights my cigarette off his. He has an accent of some kind. I thank him, wish him a good night, and keep going.

I am standing in front of Grand Central, finishing my cigarette. There is a man whose backpack is sliding down his back, the straps slipping down his arms. He is panhandling. He is doing a bad job of it. He is muttering and looking dejected. He asks me, almost unintelligibly, if I have any change. I do not have any, or I would give it to him. He apologizes, wishes me a happy holiday. I smoke my cigarette. The Public Safety officer walks by in his yellow vest. The man is easy to brush off; he's hunched and muttering; people do not even look at him. The Public Safety officer doesn't either. The people keep going by, all of them going somewhere.

I ask the man what he needs. He needs a ticket to Poughkeepsie. I tell him I will buy him one. We go inside. He asks me to tell them I'm his friend, if they ask—he says they told him he was committing a crime by asking for money inside the station. He says he's only got about a dollar. I think of how long he must have been muttering at passers-by, and how long was spent in the cold. He tells me his girlfriend kicked him out, that he can't call his family because they'd hang up on him. We fight all the time, he says. He has terrible teeth. He punches the buttons on the machine. Cash? If I had cash, I would have given it to him. Debit. He turns around while I enter my PIN. The ticket drops with a little click, the sound of light contact. He thanks me; we shake hands. He asks if I have a boyfriend. I say that I do. He goes to get the train to Poughkeepsie; I go to get the six train home.

When I pop up again aboveground, the cold is a little more biting, and a cab slows down, expecting me to flag him and say Take me away from this squalor. Take me to Eighty-First and Fifth! The handle on the outer door of my building is still missing. I take off my shoes as soon as I get inside.

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In Which Our Heroine Substantially Exceeds Her Gift Budget: A Stream-of-Consciousness Monologue

I love giving people presents. Love it. This is, in fact, one of the reasons I really like earning money--you get to give people bigger presents. I am not one of the PF bloggers who will tell you that I think gift-giving is a stupid, blind-consumerism kind of thing to do. I think gift-giving is a wonderful thing to do.

That said, I'm getting a little excessive at present (so to speak). I'd planned to spend $50 each on my parents, and instead, I have become enamored of the idea of giving them (collectively) a $170 digital picture frame. It's kind of perfect--my mom, in particular, takes a lot of photos, and they're decluttering at present, so I like the space-saving aspect...I've found this Philips digital frame on Amazon at $80 off...it comes with a free memory card that I want to load up with pictures of me & my sister to give them...and I'm kind of rationalizing, but I really want to give them something nice. They gave me life! I'm buying it. I'll use the Prosper ad money to make up the difference between the budget and the actual price.

...The thing is, I know that I'll also want to give them something little each. I already bought my mother a cameo bookmark off Etsy for $10, and I'll want to get my dad something little individually as well.

Oh, actually, here's what I'll do: I'll invite my sister to go in on it with me. If she wants to split the cost, then all is budgetary sweetness and light. If not, I'll use the Prosper money and see if I can reduce spending in some other nook or cranny of my gift budget. Or (more likely) just cashflow the difference.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Substantially Belated December Goals!

It's easy sailing this month--no challenges, really. Um. Except maybe those pesky medical reimbursements that keep slipping my mind.

1. Add $250 to the Freedom Fund, but no more
$250 is cake, especially as all the clothing purchases are finished and neatly squared away and I can use the extra money for savings. Though it looks like I won't even need to use all of it--and I plan to hit this goal on the nose, rather than exceeding it. I'll use the extra money for extra Christmas-y fun with my sister & the friends who'll be in town. Skating and cider and movies! A wee bit of a reward for saving so diligently all year.

2. MEDICAL REIMBURSEMENTS
Seriously, seriously. I have all the forms and bills now, so it's just a matter of doing it. Which I will. This month. Before Christmas.

3. Keep my net worth over $20,000.
For the year-end goals!

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Substantially Belated November Goals Update!

There were goals; here's how they went:

1. Don't dip into my savings for my trip to France.
Check, with $100 to spare!

2. Add $700 to the Freedom Fund
Check! I actually sent $825 over there, including the $100 surplus from my non-spending in France. That's definitely my best month ever, even for a three-paychecker. I'm so close to that year-end $5,500 goal, I can practically smell it.

3. Get reimbursed on the last medical bill & my flex spending
Half a check! Flex yes, medical no. I did discover that I'd lost two bills, and got new copies of them from my doctor, so the stuff is all ready to go.

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Mixed Messages at Work, Aaargh

I've been very much caught up in my Grand Office Drama of late--the latest is an email from my boss (not the one with whom I had the chat last Wednesday--the other one, with whom I work more closely) to the effect that she wants to take me out to lunch a week from today to thank me for my good work this year, and that my other boss (her boss, too) is busy but will meet with us briefly before we go out. That sounds like good news, I think (?), but that last conversation, as y'all know, made me want to pull my hair out.

You know how they (whoever They are) say that mixed messages are a form of emotional manipulation? That the idea is to keep you dangling?

I believe them.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Frugal Food: Lentils with Chorizo

At my supermarket (bless it!), lentils cost $.89 per pound. A pound of lentils is a lot of lentils. That means lentil dishes are super-cheap. They're also really healthy and great comfort food for the winter.

So I made up this delicious, semi-spicy lentil stew with chorizo last weekend, and it's been lunch all week. Delicious.

Ingredients
1 lb lentils ($.89)
1 medium white onion (about $.75)
2 big cans (28 oz, I think) of crushed tomatoes (about $3)
1 bottle wine (optional! mine was a gift, but you can get a perfectly decent bottle for $7. And I used white, because I had it, and it's tasty, but I might go with a red next time)
2 bullion cubes (about $.50--but you might want to go with canned broth if you didn't use wine)
5 links chorizo (or whatever sausage you like) (about $4)

Dice one onion. Sweat it in some olive oil (you could add garlic, too, but we were out) until the onions start getting translucent. Dump in a can of crushed tomatoes. (You could use two cans if you're not using wine--more tasty liquids for the lentils to suck up.) Spice to taste: I used chili powder, cumin, and oregano. And lots of salt and pepper. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Rinse your lentils, pick out any nasty bits, and add them to the pot. Cover, let simmer over low heat. Check on the lentils every forty-five minutes or so. If they've sucked up all the liquid in the pot, give them more. I used a bottle of white wine that was kicking around my fridge, and then moved on to bullion cubes dissolved in water. (If you use wine, cook uncovered for awhile, so you don't retain the alcoholic burn.) You might want to use real broth/stock if you're not using wine, because the flavor's better. When the lentils have been simmering for about two hours, brown your sausage of choice briefly in a skillet (you just want to get some color on it, not cook it all the way through) and toss it in with the lentils. If it's pre-cooked, just slice it and dump it in.

Take your lentils off the heat just before they hit the texture you like. Mine cooked about 3 hours. The result is a delicious, slightly spicy, very filling frugal meal that gets better as it sits in the fridge all week.

We've gotten six lunches out of this so far. And we've still got lentils in the fridge! So let's say we'll get 8 servings out of it--the cost would be less than $2/serving with the wine (I estimated the price at $7, just because I'd be perfectly happy to use a $7 bottle of wine when making this again).

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Just a Thought

I've been saying for awhile now that if my job doesn't change in this year-end shakeup, I'll start looking for something else. I've followed up my talk with my boss, and frankly, wasn't particularly overwhelmed with warm-and-fuzzies about the results. It made me think that perhaps, even if I do get the promotion, this company may not be the place for me for much longer.

Now, I can do this one way: I can look for something else in publishing, where my skills are good and the turnover is high. I'd rather pull out all my fingernails than apply for another editorial assistant job, though, so if I can't find anything in editorial proper, I'd hit up idealist.org & start calling my parents' friends.

Or, I could do it another way, and apply for teaching fellowships. There's the renowned Teach For America, of course, but there's also the New York City Teaching Fellows--less of a resume boost, but you earn a subsidized master's degree in education. Which would be pretty helpful on the resume when I apply for my PhD. And though they're selective programs, especially TFA, I'm pretty confident that I'd be accepted into either. On the downside, though, both programs require a two-year commitment, and that's longer than I wanted to put off grad school.

On the upside, though, I wouldn't be so goddamn bored all day. My work would mean something. I've really enjoyed the tutoring & teaching I've done in my volunteer work. And, oh yeah, fellows in those programs make a teacher's starting salary: in NYC, that's close to $45K. That's way more than I make now.

Just how much am I willing to change my life?

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

November Net Worth

Though I've been low on the posting lately, I did update my net worth on December 1, like the good little PF blogger I am.

It's up, but only because it was a three-paycheck month, which meant extra-big 401(k) contributions and Freedom Fund allocations.

AND, it's over the $20,000 mark! To be specific, my November net worth is $20,776, for an increase of 4.58% from last month. Now the goal is to keep it there: my plan is to spend close to $500 on holiday gifts, so too rough a ride on the stock market could conceivably pull me back below that goal mark. Not a lot I can do about the stock market, though...

You can check out the details on NetWorthIQ.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

White Girl Shops For Groceries in Spanish Harlem

Two men are standing in front of the eggs in my local supermarket. They are talking about how expensive the eggs are. The eggs are, indeed, expensive. I always have this dilemma in front of the eggs in this supermarket: do I buy the cage-free ones, which cost a gazillion dollars, or do I buy the cage-full ones, which in addition to the inhumane treatment of chickens are also guilty of styrofoam packaging? I usually choose the cruel & non-biodegradable eggs. They are nearly two dollars cheaper.

I have in my basket: tuna (on sale: $3.99 for four cans of Bumblebee; I'm stocking up), fresh cranberries (no price visible, but I have a sudden craving for warm, fresh cranberry sauce, and a bag of cranberries can't be more than $2), a box of teabags (Celestial Seasonings, $.20 cheaper than Bigelow) and four cups of yogurt (we are sticking scrupulously to our meal plan this week, and it calls for yogurt).

"If they're like this here," one of the men says, "imagine what it must be like on 86th Street!"

"I've seen it at 86th Street," says the other man, "Unbelievable. But, you know, white people."

"Yeah, white people. White people don't check prices. They're just like, 'I'll have one of those, one of these, yeah, I like this...'"

I look over at them. I'm not sure if they catch me looking. I go and check out.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roth 401(k)?

I just got an email announcing that my company is adding the option of a Roth 401(k) for next year. That's pretty appealing to me, given my low tax bracket--but one does hear finance-types whispering about "tax diversification," so maybe I shouldn't be putting all my eggs in one basket? I also hate the messiness and complication of having lots of little accounts floating around, so it would be even more appealing to me if there were some way of rolling my current 401(k) balance in--but then again, I believe it's the case that your employer can't contribute a match directly to a Roth 401(k), so I guess I'd have to keep the standard one open anyway.

Anyway, more research is clearly needed: I'll post more information about the Roth 401(k) as I find it.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Big Old Spending Mishmash

The dress didn't work out. I tried it on when it arrived yesterday, and it was well-nigh a disaster: cheap, flimsy, and definitely homely. Yuck. I'm going to take it back to Macy's in person (to save the return shipping), and maybe try on another dress I spotted on their website, a black sequiny deal. (I should really do my shopping in person--shipping is expensive and annoying, but when online shopping goes right, and something you really like is delivered to your door and you didn't have to get exhausted and grumpy in a fluorescent-lit dressing room...heaven.) In the meantime, though, I jumped on a sale and bought another silver dress, hoping to salvage the original metallic concept.

I don't imagine Macy's will refund the shipping charge, so that's annoying. And the new dress, even with the sale, is some $20 more than the old one, plus shipping, and it's all a little bit of a mess in my head right now. Aaargh.

This is what I really hate, when my plans get all messy in my head, and I don't know what's going on, and there's stuff floating around on my credit card bill. Aaargh.

I think, though, that if I take the dress in to Macy's on Saturday, and return some stuff I've been meaning to return to Old Navy (note to self: can I just take them into the store? There's one on 34th St., right near Macy's), the credit returned to my Visa should be enough to cover the cost of the new dress without any additional tinkering. Which would be really nice.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

More No-Knead Bread: Very Frugal Food Indeed!

Those who like the kitchen but are scared of intimidating new cooking milestones (like me!) should check out this new no-knead bread recipe from the Times's Dining & Wine section. You can keep the batch of dough in the fridge and pull out bits as needed for baking. How perfect is that for the frugal meal-planner? And it promises a crusty loaf, which is exactly what I like.

It just might be manna from heaven.

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Thanksgiving Postmortem

We had a very frugal Thanksgiving at K's folks' house: a lot of sitting around the fireplace chatting and playing board games, with a little walk-taking, duck-feeding, and zoo-visiting thrown in for good measure. His parents picked up the tab for the zoo tickets, as well as sending us home with money for a cab home from LaGuardia. I even resisted the impulse to counteract the agitation of the airport with a Starbucks chai latte. It was great.

Of course, I proceeded to go out and spend $60 on dinner and drinks as soon as I got back, on Saturday night. I'm not sorry--a much-missed friend was in town, and the restaurant is a good one owned by another friend, and there's something really wonderful about being able to order a bottle of wine and appetizers and dessert and pay for it your own self--but it does mean I won't have a last $25 to kick towards savings this pay period.

Yesterday we returned to frugality: we spent the day at my parents', eating leftovers and vegging in front of their television. I also did a little grocery shopping: I've got a meal plan for the week worked out, and this week should be a quiet one, financially and emotionally both, as I get ready to enter into the project of the holidays.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

K and I are flying out to his parents' in Chicago tomorrow morning (we're coming back Saturday, so you'll probably see my next post Sunday or Monday). It was a last-minute thing and then I went to France, so I confess I'm not super-prepared for this little trip. I have no idea how we're going to get there, or back, or how much money I'll need, or anything. I don't have any money put aside for this specific purpose other than what I've got for the week ahead.

But I think it will be fine anyway.

Dear readers, have very happy Thanksgivings of your own. We've all got a lot for which to be thankful.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Christmas Box

I'm itching to get going on my Christmas boxes. I'll be buying individual gifts for my parents, my sister, K, and a couple of friends, but for most people, I'll be putting together little smorgasbords of Christmasy delight, packed up in cute miniature Chinese-takeout boxes for all of their portable Christmas sweet-eating needs. And I'm hoping to do the whole shebang for $100.

I know I'll be including:


And I'm thinking about adding biscotti (for those who prefer more subtlety in their sweets) and peppermint bark, but I haven't picked recipes yet. Two advantages here: 1) because I want a wide variety, I won't have to make very much of each recipe. At the most, I'll be doubling them, but I won't be doing quadruple batches, which are always unwieldy. 2) There are exactly three new pieces of kitchen equipment I am going to need for all these recipes: a candy thermometer (my mom might have one I can borrow), a chocolate thermometer, and a mini-muffin tin (see previous parenthetical).

I'm headed to Pearl River for miniature Chinese takeout boxes. They're four for a dollar. I'll probably get 32, for $8, and I'll try to pick up some cellophane or tissue paper there too, for under $10. Budget another $25, tops, for new kitchen tools, and I'm left with about a quite-satisfactory $60 ($10-$15 per recipe) for the purchasing of ingredients. I should definitely be able to do it on that. I'll make my own gift tags, or just label the boxes. This project will provide gifts for coworkers, friends, and less-immediate relatives, and if I do do it for $100, the cost will be $3.13 per gift. And I think the gifts are quite satisfactory ones, too, especially if I do a little decoration of the boxes.

The project will officially kick off this Sunday, when I'll be back from Chicago. Hopefully, I'll get to Pearl River then for the boxes, and the fun can begin. (Because it's food, I can't work too far ahead of schedule, but I can certainly begin the making of lists and assembling of ingredients.)

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Dress Dilemma



Checking in on the holiday dress I've picked out at Macy's website (the things I do at work!), I was thrilled to note it had gone on sale: $48! I was less thrilled to note that the gold, the color I really wanted, had sold out in my size. Damn. I suppose I could wait to see if they restock the gold... But less-than-$50 is a great deal on an occasion dress, and it's a limited-time offer for their Thanksgiving sale, so I'm sucking it up and going for the silver. I can still wear vamp-red lipstick and the shoes I was planning on; I'll just have to change up the jewelry a bit. I'll be sure to put it on my credit card: that way, I can return it with a minimum of fuss if it turns out all wrong.

(You're right, S/100/30, the lack of image was really an omission.)

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Mail Call

Checking the mail today on my way home yielded the following: 1 free movie pass good at any AMC or Loews theater, courtesy of the fact that I drink too much Diet Coke; 1 check for $3 from Pinecone Research. As my mother would say, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

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I'm Ba-ack!

So, France was very lovely and kind of appallingly expensive. I feel like there's kind of a disconnect with foreign money. I just changed everything into Euro, and then went around handing out those twenty-Euro bills with a sort of crazed enthusiasm, like, "You mean if I give you this piece of blue paper you will give me a ride on a boat? No way! Here!" I handed them over and nice French people gave me presents!

I still don't really understand the deal with restaurants, where an entree costs 17 Euro, but a formule of an appetizer and an entree (en Francais, entree et plat) costs 12 Euro. I kept sort of gritting my teeth for the bill, and then looking at it like, "oh...is that all?" But a pot of tea for 5 Euro ($7.50!) would have hurt, had I had any attachment at all to the pretty 2 Euro coins. But I didn't, really. So I had a lot of tea.

Yet somehow, on the combination of my visit overlapping with my parents', the convenience of staying in a house with a relatively well-stocked refrigerator, the cheapness and deliciousness of baguettes and tea (when consumed at my sister's house, as opposed to at a lovely Salon de The), the Luna bars I brought along, and K's kind agreement to pick me up at the airport in my parents' Volvo, I managed the thing on $300. My sister, generous hostess that she was, also paid for me to take a cooking class with her (in French, but I managed: the combination of French-from-fifth-grade, Latin-from-high-school, and German-on-the-level-of-a-preadolescent being, evidently, a reasonably effective one). The $100 I had sitting in my checking account for spending, then, is on its way to the Freedom Fund, where it will bump the balance above $5,000.

I brought a bunch of stuff back with me, and honestly, was more constrained in my spending by space than money. If I'd thought I could fit five more jars of jam, you can bet I'd've bought them. As it is, I brought home apricot jam, pistou, olive tapenade, fleur de sel, chamomile blossoms for tea, tea for tea, chocolate, and herbs de provence. Perhaps a few items that I can bear to part with will end up as gifts, but...probably not too many.

Anyway, I'm back at home, back at work, back at work on my finances, and rejuvenated for the final push towards the year-end goals. I'll be catching up on my blogroll over the next couple of days. And I learned a couple of new very frugal, very delicious recipes at that cooking class--I'll put 'em up this week!

Tell me something about your week in the comments!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Blogoversary Trip

A year ago today I started this blog. It's been a fun year.

So y'all peruse my year's worth of archives this week while I'm in Provence, okay? I'm leaving with $280 in cash, $100 more earmarked and accessible, and the expectation that I'll be doing some shopping for Christmas gifts on my credit card (to be paid out of the gift fund). I opted not to schedule a payment to my card for K and my plane tickets to Chicago until I get back, or else I'd have a couple of days with literally $0 in my checking account, and that wigs me right out.

So off I go.

And by the way, I am bringing a camera with me after all—K very sweetly tracked down the missing parts for me.

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An Ad

You may have noticed I'm running an ad for Prosper. Remember my ad policy? I really do think Prosper is a great idea—the grassroots quality of it appeals to me. I know that pf bloggers have had varied experiences acting as lenders on Prosper, and though I don't have any of those posts ready to hand, I encourage you to read them if you're thinking about lending out some of your hard-earned cash. I know, too, that some pf bloggers have borrowed to consolidate debt through Prosper, and I've read mostly positive things from them—again, I encourage you to do your research if you think that's something that might work for you.

Plus, running the ad from now 'til December will cover the cost of the dress I've been eyeballing at Macy's for my parents' annual Christmas party. And that's nice, too.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Another Plane Ticket

So, at the last minute I decided I wanted to to go with K to his family's for Thanksgiving. Not that I had the money for a plane ticket or anything.

We're flying on Thanksgiving, so we actually got a pretty good deal on the ticket: $224 apiece. (Flying on Thanksgiving also means that I can hang out at my parents' Wednesday night, bake a couple of apple pies for their dinner, and get to take part in the pre-Thanksgiving prep, which is actually, I think, my favorite part.) Nevertheless, not an insignificant chunk of money to come up with at a moment's notice.

My dad had offered to buy me this plane ticket too, if I decided to go, but come on, I can't let my dad buy me everything. (That sounds flippant, but I actually do feel pretty strongly about the need to set a few financial boundaries with my parents, because it's easy to accept that kind of help and start counting on it and/or let it set up a not-so-appetizing relationship dynamic.)

I can actually scrape up all the necessary cash from what's currently in my checking account--I'm just going to have to spend a little less in France, and I won't be able to save my clothing allocations from my next couple of paychecks (I need a dress for Christmas parties!). But I think that $400 (about 270 Euro) should cover food & spending money for six days in France, if I'm careful. Any gift shopping I want to do can come out of my gift fund (i.e., go on my credit card to be paid out of my gift fund when I get back). Besides, I get paid the Thursday I'm there, so it's not the end of the world if I need another $50 or something. The only think I think I might really have to give up is a taxi home on the return trip--which isn't the end of the world, just irritating.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Getting Antsy For a Raise

There's been some shuffling around at work, and the end of the year draws near, heralding even more change. I'm still gunning for a promotion, and I'm hoping it comes with a sizable pay bump. I could really do with a sizable pay bump. If I got one, I think the first thing I'd do would be dial up my 401(k) contributions. The second thing would be getting myself a gym membership. I really want a gym membership. If I don't get a substantial raise, I may have to figure out what I can cut in order to get myself a gym membership anyway. Even the same raise I got last spring, though, should cover the cost of a gym membership, and it's important enough to me that I'd be comfortable allocating a raise that way.

But I'm really just jittering around about the promotion. Whether it comes with a little more money or a bunch more money (I'm due for a raise regardless, so it won't come with no more money), I want a more interesting job description. I think I've proved my abilities; my bosses consistently get great feedback on the development work I do with authors. Just today, I got an email from an author (cc-ed to my boss, huzzah!) commending my comments as "right on target."

My strategy so far has been to semi-subtly remind my boss (the big boss, the head of the department) that I'm doing editorial work, and doing a good job of it (easy logical induction: I deserve a real editorial position!). I cc him on every editorial email I send.

The thing is, though, that I passed up the chance to apply for another higher-level job for the promise of the higher-level job that I really want. And if I don't get this promotion, I'm going to feel really dumb for doing it, because I'm confident that I was more qualified than the girl who ended up getting it, and I'm not confident in my ability to do her contracts, check requests, and manuscript prep for her and shut up and smile about it. I'm all but positive that if I don't get this promotion come the end of the year, I'm going to start looking for a new job.

But I'm perfectly happy working here; I just want to work here doing more interesting stuff than I've been doing. And I want a gym membership. And a fatter 401(k). Promote me! Come on!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Honey and Vinegar

I woke up early this morning because K had an early meeting--it was nice having time to wake up slowly--I even got to check my email in bed!

My MetroCard expired on Saturday, so I had to get a new one before I could get on a train. I know the navigation sequence on those buttons like the back of my hand; I barely have to look. Get a new card. Unlimited. 30-day. Credit card. Swipe, ZIP code, enter...and nothing. The machine sat there, "processing payment," for like a minute and a half. I stood and looked at it. The guy next to me was having the same issue. We looked at each other. I watched someone on the third machine on my other side try to pay with a debit card, and watched the machine reject it. Cash seemed to be working just fine.

A train came and went.

I went to chat with the lady in the booth. Explained the situation, asked her if she could let me through. She threw me some attitude, but also made a valid point: the thing took cash, and she had rules to follow. I said I understood.

So, I'm standing at the bank of Metrocard machines, trying to stomach the idea of getting cash (thus making myself late and paying an ATM fee), when she calls me back over to the booth.

"Can you hear me?" she said. I nodded. "People don't usually come up to me all pleasant. Go through that gate."

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

I've Got the Gimmes

So, I'm going to France a week from yesterday. And just recently, I've been hit with two distinct strains of I Want.

I want a new iPod. Mine died some six or eight months ago, and I've been doing without but for a little 1 gig shuffle, which I haven't really been using. But now the thought of an 8-hour flight and a 4-hour train ride without an iPod seems sort of grim. So I'm coveting a new one—the 80-gig Classic for $249, which is an amount of money I definitely do not have. Okay, I do have it—but not for this kind of spending.

What I'm going to do instead of buying a new iPod: Carefully pick some books, and bring my journal, and look at the flights as a chance to catch up on some of that stuff. I'll use my little shuffle to carry around a 1-gig playlist of the core stuff that I'll really want to take with me for the trains and for walking around. That's not a lot of music, but then again, I can pretty happily listen to a core group of ten or fifteen albums for a week.

I want a new digital camera. I lost the dock to mine, and it's sitting there all useless. The idea of not getting to take pictures of my week in France is kind of a bummer.

What I'm going to do instead of buying a new digital camera: Honestly, I think the best thing here is to do without. I'm definitely going to get a new iPod at some point—maybe I'll buy it for myself once I hit my $5,500 savings goal. But K promised to track down the stuff to make my old one work again and teach me how to do it (the dock is no longer manufactured, since my camera was bought all of a year and a half ago), so the only reason to buy a new digital camera would be a sort of Veruca Salt-y I want it nooooow! kind of a deal, and that's just dumb.

So the plan is to substitute and downgrade on the iPod issue, and just do without on the digital camera. Or perhaps my sister has one I can borrow—if so, that's icing on the cake.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Nick of Time

The round-trip plane ticket to Paris I bought yesterday for $575 costs $754 today. Whew! It's a good thing I didn't procrastinate and anxiety-waffle around for one more day. It's not my money, but I still don't like spending too much, and I would have felt really awful if my indecisiveness had cost my parents nearly $200.

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November Goals

It's November, and there are goals, oh yes. Here they are!

1. Don't dip into my savings for my trip to France.
My goal here is to cover spending money for my trip with my birthday money, some freelance income, and general cashflow. I think I can do it, but I'm not totally sure. One smart thing I did: making sure to book my flight out of JFK, which means I can take the subway there instead of a cab. I may be too jetlagged to suffer the long subway ride home on the other end, though.

2. Add $700 to the Freedom Fund
November is a three-paycheck month, and I got paid today. I've already transfered the portion of my paycheck that would usually go to rent, plus a little more, to the Freedom Fund, and my $75 autodraft has been added as well, so I'm $450 of the way there on the first of the month.

3. Get reimbursed on the last medical bill & my flex spending
I hate filing forms! I will do it anyway!

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Dammit, ING

After the Fed's .25% rate cut, ING quietly dropped its interest rate from 4.3% (down from 4.5% before the previous rate cut) to 4.2%. I have no way of knowing how important that sort of thing is to ING's business, but I find it really irritating. Could I rely on them to bump their interest rate up immediately if the Fed were to raise rates, do you think?

I don't have nearly the kind of real understanding of these kinds of systems that I'd like to have. It's all sort of mysterious, but I definitely know that it affects my life in real ways. Just this month, my savings earned over $20 in interest from ING, and I was hoping that for next month I'd start edging in on the $25/month interest mark (effectively, my interest would be making one Freedom Fund payment for me, which would be very cool). But it looks like it'll be a little longer until that happens.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October Net Worth

My October net worth is 19,876, with a net increase of 5.6%. Not bad!

Investment gains were a big help, and the birthday check from my parents makes some difference, but to give myself some credit, I had a great month, and put a whole bunch of money away. We'll have to see what happens in November--it's a three-paycheck month, but I'm also going to France, so...who knows?

And it looks like I'm coasting towards my goal of hitting a $20,000 net worth by the end of 2007. Victory in our time!

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Impromptu Travel & Lightbulb Moments & Blather

I think in less than two weeks I'm going to go visit my sister in Provence, where she's studying for the semester. (I would, in fact, be leaving on my blogoversary, which I somehow find funny, like my blog and I are going on a cruise together to celebrate our relationship.) I haven't actually bought a ticket yet, but they are oddly inexpensive for only-two-weeks-away travel: a round-trip plane ticket to Paris, nonstop, is available for $575. My parents are footing that bill as a birthday present (I find it funny that what I wanted for my birthday was a machine that makes seltzer and a plane ticket to France), and I'll be using their birthday check ($240) for spending money...except I'll probably need some more of it. I guess I'll try to cashflow what I can, and pull from the travel fund what I can't. It's not going to be super-expensive, though: I'm staying on my sister's couch, and really do need a chance to veg out, so I anticipate a lot of reading books in cafes and taking walks and making dinner in my sister's kitchen, and not a whole lot else, though my sister did mention perhaps doing a day trip to Marseilles, which sounds nice.

I've never really taken a budget-conscious vacation before. I lived in Berlin for awhile, but that was living there--it was different, somehow. All of my other travel has been with my family or some kind of group. So this should be new and different. Planning it, even though I'm not actually paying all of the costs myself, definitely gives me a new visceral understanding of how expensive it is to take a vacation--especially an international one (and with the dollar so weak, too!). If my parents weren't helping me out, I'd simply have to skip it--I wouldn't be willing to drain the travel fund entirely, not when I've got my sights set on a big, exciting trip before I start graduate school (whenever that ends up being). It's one of those important kinds of "aha!" moments, when I realize that I'm lucky, because on my own means, this would be a big, big financial deal, and I'm not sure that a little week off where I get to see my sister and hang out--but in France, instead of here--would be worth that big of a financial deal, you know?

I'm a total gibbering idiot about this trip--I've found planning it very difficult and anxiety-producing, but it seems to be almost all set now, and I know I need the week off. Badly. (This whole thing makes the rest of the year at work feel way more manageable: it's week of work, week off, week of Thanksgiving, three weeks of work, Christmas break. Easy.) And I miss my sister. And I've never taken a high-speed train before.

And so that's the way decisions are made when you're spending mostly someone else's money. Which is how this experience becomes one more lightbulb moment about luck and privilege.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

October Goals Update

There were goals for October, and here's how they went.

1. Add $225 to the Freedom Fund
Can it actually be true that I added $350 this month? My ING account history seems to say so, but I find this amount suspiciously large. I guess ING account histories don't lie, though, so: huzzah!

2. Buy one more pair of flats
Check. I ended up hitting a coupon-sale combination and getting a cute, sturdy pair of bronze flats for $33, including shipping.

3. Submit two new medical bills
Uh, whoops. I totally forgot about this. Let's see if I can get it done before the actual end of the month, shall we? I'm betting yes.

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Frugal Food: How to Break Down a Chicken

I hit a frugal food milestone last night: I bought a whole chicken and broke it down, for the first time ever. It's in my fridge, soaking in buttermilk, and tonight, K and I are going to pan-fry that sucker.

Breaking down your chicken yourself is frugal for two reasons: you save money on the chicken meat, and you get something extra: the carcass. From a chicken carcass (or two), you can make delicious homemade stock. I think I'll wait until I have two carcasses, and make a really intense stock for chicken soup. Maybe I'll even save the schmaltz (chicken fat skimmed off the stock) & make matzoh balls! There's nothing better for when the weather starts to change, and if you're making stock from carcasses you've already got sitting in the freezer and some schmaltz you just skimmed off the stock, all you really need is a box of matzoh meal (cheap!), some parsley (cheap!), and an onion (cheap!). I'm looking forward to it.

Anyway, I definitely did an amateurish job on my chicken: the skin doesn't really match the chicken parts, and I think I cut through a joint on one of the drumsticks instead of cleanly dislocating it from the thigh. The breasts are definitely smaller than they should be; I didn't do a great job of cutting them off the ribcage.

But with practice, I'll get better, which means I'll be getting an even better value for my chicken dollar. And I like knowing where my food comes from. Also, of course, the longer a bird stays whole, the fresher it is.

There are a ton of online resources for learning to break down chickens. Alton Brown gives a very helpful demonstration about halfway through this clip, and Chowhound offers this video tutorial. I prefer Alton's method; he teaches you to remove the wishbone instead of just cutting through it.

Happy butchery!

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Locked Out; Locked In

The other day, K and I got locked out of our apartment. We were in no mood to be locked out of our apartment, and it was late. We called a 24-hour locksmith.

They said they'd charge us $55 plus labor, and that they'd have someone at our place in forty-five minutes or so. K, broke, looked dismayed. I said I'd cover it out of my emergency fund.

Then, less than ten minutes later, we got the door open. We called immediately to cancel.

A few minutes later, we got a call. From the "cancellations department." The guy said he wanted to charge us a $55 cancellation fee, but he'd work with us, and bring it down to $35. We certainly had not been told that there would be a cancellation fee; then again, we didn't expect to be canceling. I asked where the locksmith was coming from. It was less than two miles from my apartment. "So, the idea is that he walked ten blocks, and I'm going to pay you $35?" The response? "He's in a van." Ridiculous. But they had dispatched a guy, and I was really relieved to be inside my house. I said I'd give them twenty bucks. "Look, I'm trying to work with you, here," the guy said, before counteroffering: "Twenty-five."

I took it.

Afterwards, I had the overwhelming feeling that I'd just been ripped off, and a fear that I'd given my debit card number to a conman. So far, though, only the one legit(...ish) $25 charge has turned up on my bill. And I suppose they probably had to pay the guy they dispatched something for his time. But presumably, his hourly rate isn't $220 (15 minutes=$55). I could just have refused to give a card number, I guess, but then again, a locksmith to whom you just gave your address is not exactly the guy to piss off.

So, was this fair? What should I have done? Just refused to give my card number at all? I definitely could have done a better negotiation job, but as a chronic negotiation-phobic, I'm a teensy, weensy bit psyched that I didn't just go, "oh...okay."

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pot Lucky

The party went really well--I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I certainly did. And the pot luck idea was really fun--a great chance for people to ooh and aah over each other's cooking. I made a big tray of deviled eggs (with scallions and chili powder), a pot of frijoles (with a smoked ham hock), and frozen margaritas. K made delicious, gooey brownies.

The extra-special benefit here is leftovers. Yesterday, I grabbed three deviled egg halves for breakfast this morning, and brought half of the leftover pepper-onion-cheddar quiche for lunch. Dinner was more deviled eggs and some tortilla chips with spinach-artichoke dip. Today, breakfast was a piece of coffee cake, and lunch will be the rest of the quiche. I also froze individual portions of the leftovers from the big, deliciously crusty macaroni and cheese with broccoli, edamame, and peas: there are five or six foil packets of the stuff in my freezer, and I'll have one for dinner tonight.

Speaking of quiche, I only just figured this out: quiche is seriously frugal food. You buy a frozen pie shell, which I would (I do make pie crust myself, but I've got none of the appropriate tools in my own kitchen--neither food processor nor pastry cutter--and would probably not want to do the whole routine on a Tuesday), here is how you make quiche: you throw leftover whatever in a blind-baked pie shell, you pour milk and eggs on top, you bake, you eat. Voila! C'est marveilleux, non? I'm definitely going to get a couple of frozen pie shells for my freezer. They generally cost less than $4 for a package of two, so it's a very low-cost dish.

In fact, I'm hoping the leftovers from the party will last us all week. I think it's a serious possibility, and that would make me and my very broke boyfriend two very happy campers.

Point is: pot lucks are great! Creativity, cooking, variety, leftovers! I'd almost like to make it a monthly affair (rotating, of course, so the leftovers-bounty and the cleaning-burden are shared).

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Birthday Weekend Update The First

On Friday, my parents took me (and K) out for a great dinner at Sfoglia. I hadn't had a nice dinner out in awhile, and this was an exemplary one, replete with a pre-meal bottle of Prosecco and five desserts for four people. Mmm.

There was another birthday dinner there the same night, a table of well-dressed people not much older than I. My father said he heard one of them congratulate the birthday girl on being 29. I thought for a moment about having enough money, and having friends with enough money, to go out to that kind of a restaurant for my birthday at the age of 29. I let the thought pass. And then yesterday it crossed my mind that more than one of those chic young Turks may have put her dinner (and her dress, too) on her credit card.

Tucked inside the cover of the cookbook they gave me (a great-looking one with a focus on technique, which I'm excited to peruse) was a check for $240 (that's 24, my age as of Saturday, times ten). The obvious thing to do with it is to save it in the Freedom Fund, but I don't want to. I'm really attached to the idea of the "no strings attached" Freedom Fund, the fact that it's all money I earned. Yes, I know that it doesn't matter at all, because spending this $240 just means that I free up other money to save in the Freedom Fund, but still, I find the idea of saving this money in that way kind of distasteful, somehow. So that check isn't going in the Freedom Fund. I think it will be spending money if I end up going to France in November (more on this later), or, if I don't, it will flesh out the Gift Fund for Christmas.

And, okay, the other birthday present is the coolest thing ever. It is a machine that makes seltzer. Now, you have to consider that I drink a ton of seltzer. I grew up drinking it, and I'm just sort of stuck on it. I didn't think I'd want to spend the money on it once I moved out on my own, but...I do. Can't go without it, somehow. So I end up buying 5-10 one-liter bottles (bigger bottles go flat) at my local supermarket for $.75 apiece, or, when I need seltzer but the market is closed, little bottles at the bodega for $1.25 a pop. But no longer! Now I can fill one of their proprietary bottles with cold water and carbonate it myself, and it costs me nothing. It came with two CO2 cartridges, which make 110 liters of seltzer and which you send away to be refilled once they're empty for $20 a pop, plus shipping. That means that exclusive of the machine (because I didn't pay for it), I'll be paying about $.27 per liter once I exhaust my current supply. And there's no schlepping, and it's environmentally friendly! I am in love with my seltzer machine. And if I'd bought it myself, that $130 (which includes four of their bottles and two CO2 cartridges) would have paid for itself slowly but surely in the savings on my seltzer habit.

K is pretty enamored of the machine, too. The joke goes like so: when we break up, he'll have to buy a seltzer machine, and I'll have to buy all the Six Feet Under DVDs.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Pretty Girl Discount

I bought my lunch today, and somehow, an $8 pack of sushi, a $4 half-sandwich, and a can of Diet Coke added up to less than $10. Huh? I looked at the guy behind the register, who'd greeted me in what suddenly seemed like it might have been a somewhat more than friendly fashion, and tried to figure out if he'd made a mistake. But all three items were sitting out on the counter, in plain view. He carefully put all three items in a bag. He smiled at me. He pointed out that chopsticks were behind me. He wished me a good afternoon. I paid my less-than-$10, thanked him, and left. I probably did give him an extra smile.

So I'm going to guess it was the Pretty Girl Discount. And it may be ethically dubious, but I take that when it's offered. At my neighborhood bodega, one particular guy always rounds down to the dollar--"For you, four dollars!"--and throws in one of the sour apple blow pops I like. I do not object.

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My Budget Birthday

For my birthday (I turn 24 tomorrow!), I'm having friends over to my apartment for a potluck. My own contributions are going to be a big pot of cowboy beans and a platter of deviled eggs (not showy, but solid and easy to make in bulk; maybe I'll decide to get fancy if I have time tomorrow--I do have this butternut squash puree in the fridge that would be great for filling homemade ravioli); K is making his (by which I mean Orangette's) brownies, which are justifiably renowned amongst all who've tasted them.

Now, this is actually more expensive for me than it would be to go to a bar, where I might expect to have all my drinks bought for me, but my suspicion is that on balance, it will be cheaper for the collective. We'll all get dinner and drinks (non-cooks will be bringing wine and beer, and I'm going to borrow my parents' mega-blender and make frozen margaritas) for what we might each (except me) have expected to pay for drinks alone. And I think it's a nice opportunity for people to show off their cooking.

I'm going to need to do a thorough cleaning tomorrow (I did one already, but...well, long story), but I'm keeping that very cheap, too. My supplies are basically a couple of rags, a couple of sponges, and a spray bottle apiece of white vinegar-and-water solution and dishwashing-soap-and-water solution. Less toxic than most commercial cleaning supplies, and way cheaper.

Then I'm just going to have to pick up disposable plates and cups (and decide whether to get plastic cutlery--I think our household supply will probably cover it, but you never know). I'll go to the dollar store for that, and hopefully keep the whole purchase under $15. Then to the supermarket: I need probably another $15-$20 for the food supplies for my dishes. Finally, the liquor store and the bodega: I need a cheapie bottle of Triple Sec and a whole bunch of ice. I have $50 set aside for the party, and it shouldn't be a big deal if I go a little bit over. (I also have a sneaky little hope in re leftovers, but let's not go there.)

And then I just have to cross my fingers and pray the whole thing comes off! I'm kind of nervous, actually.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Towards Success: A Few Notes

Over at the always-excellent Get Rich Slowly, J.D. is running a contest for a Nintendo Wii: tell him about your financial success story. This has me thinking about sucess, financial and otherwise, and about the way I've changed as I've focused on getting my financial life in order.

In one sense, any "success" I've had is not particularly compelling. I haven't had all that many obstacles to overcome. I'm a privileged kid who graduated from a great school with no debt because my parents paid my way. And now I live in New York on $32,000. Boo hoo. I can hear the world's tiniest violin playing just for me.

In another sense, though, I'm very cognizant of the ways in which I've changed as I've begun to focus on money and hone my financial skills, and I think the vast majority of changes are for the better. (I do think there's a tendency of my money management style to validate and even, perhaps, feed my soup├žon of control-freakery.) Like most decisions, my decision to focus on money management and getting my financial life in line was a series of slow behavioral changes, a process in which I developed new habits and jettisoned old ones.

For example: taxi-taking. When I started my job, about two months before I started this blog, I took a ton of taxis. I often took taxis to work. Now? The last time I took a cab was Labor Day. It was pouring rain, and K and I were loaded down with a week and a half's worth of groceries and our bags from the bar mitzvah trip. Before that? I don't think I can remember. More and more, I'm allocating my biweekly $30 for taxis elsewhere at the beginning of the pay period, working on the knowledge that I just don't take taxis that frequently anymore. But I barely even noticed the change. (BTW, for the curious: a big part of it, I think, was chilling out with how often I wore high heels. Another big part was reframing the choice: I choose to save $10 and spend 10 minutes.)

More than any one habit, though, I feel like my focus on finance has reminded me that I'm responsible for my own life, for my own behavior and choices. I think a lot of people think of this in the framework of "being responsible for things is a burden," but for me, it's been incredibly freeing. It's great to feel like good choices and hard work will pay off, that I can make my life into what I want it to be. And that's how all this makes me feel.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Sold It: Worth It?

I am stressed out. I am way stressed out: swamped at work, full social calendar, and having a potluck dinner at my apartment for my birthday on Saturday (which necessitates a lot of chores). However, I'm also inspired by Krystal's recent efforts on eBay, and I have these four pairs of shoes I bought from Zappos.com more than a year ago and never returned (returning things is one of my great financial weaknesses; I'm working on it. I really have improved, I swear!). I'd love to a) get rid of them, and b) get money for them.

However, I'm not overly keen on putting in the eBay time, and, more problematically, I don't have a working digital camera (I lost the dock to my Nikon Coolpix in my not-really-at-all-recent move, and haven't yet replaced it). I'm sort of considering just dropping the things off at I Sold It, which sells your stuff on eBay, takes a nearly-50% commission, and send you a check. I find the "does it for you, sends you a check" part appealing; the nearly-50% commission, not so much. But I worry that if I wait until I have the time and equipment to do it myself, I'll never do it.

There's an I Sold It location tantalizingly close to my office. It would be so convenient to just drop these damn shoes off, never see them again, and get a check for $40 or whatever.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

New York on the Cheap: The Crocodile Lounge

I spent two evenings this past week at the Crocodile Lounge. I never return to a bar that fast. And, okay, the fact that I left a bag of tupperwares there did have something to do with it, but not everything, because I didn't have to stay for two beers. But I did. Because seven bucks (including tip) buys you a beer and a personal pizza.

Oh, yes. That's right. With every beer, you get a ticket entitling you to one free personal pizza. Which isn't as bad as you would expect from a free pizza. In fact, it's quite tasty, especially if you eat it right out of the oven, when the pan burns your fingertips and the molten, gushy cheese scalds the roof of your mouth. Delicious. For seven dollars, you get dinner and beer!

Even better, go for Happy Hour (weekdays, 4-6), and get beer for $3, well cocktails for $4. Still with free pizza.

I wouldn't plug the great deal if it weren't such a great bar. It's laid-back and unpretentious and has Skee-Ball in the back room. And the music is great. And, at 14th between 1st & 2nd Avenues, it's close to the excellent and extremely free people-watching in Union Square. Which is how I wound up my Friday evening (well, that, a cigarette, a cute boy, and a $2.99 bag of Trader Joe's chocolate-covered pretzels). I recommend it.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Excess

This weekend, my parents, K and I flew down to Boca Raton to attend my second cousin's bar mitzvah. (A bar mitzvah, or bat mitzvah for girls, is a ceremony held the first time a Jewish boy is called to the Torah, typically at age 13. Like a Catholic confirmation ceremony, it symbolizes an entry into an adult faith. The bar mitzvah is now responsible for his own actions and his own life, spiritual and otherwise.)

A bit of background information: my cousin, mother of the new bar mitzvah, was a department head at a major New York financial concern, accumulated all the money she could handle, and left the company and the city to adopt children and get married (in that order). She bought herself a house in Florida, near her parents, and then bought one for her sister and brother-in-law for good measure. She's a lovely, talented, generous woman. With a ton of money.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised that the bar mitzvah party she threw her oldest son was as elaborate as it was--my other cousin's husband, at brunch the day after, assured us archly that "for Florida, that was tasteful," that he had dropped his son off at a bar mitzvah that had gladiators in real chariots pulled by real horses standing outside the gates--but I have to say, I was surprised. And a little shocked.

There were cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to start, along with a magician and a video karaoke booth for the kids, and then we moved into the "grand ballroom" (note, please, that these amenities are built into the synagogue), where we find a cover band, hired crowd-riling dancers, an emcee, three videographers, two photographers, video screens playing slideshows of family photos, the bar mitzvah boy's name emblazoned hugely in lights, and four-foot rotating centerpieces on every table. Not to speak of the long, dormant buffet and the seared beef and cucumber salad appetizers already laid out at the adults' place settings.

Now, I've been to some big bar and bat mitzvahs. I have. Between the ages of 12 and 14, I probably went to 25, and some of them were big things, and some of them had hired dancers, and some of them had bands and some had centerpieces (though I don't think any of them had centerpieces like these centerpieces), but as I can recall, none of them had all of those things.

Then there was a brunch the next day, smaller, more intimate, but still probably fifty people at my cousin's house. Under her twenty-foot ceilings sprawled a catered buffet spread, hired omelet-makers making omelets to order at her beautiful stainless stove, and a guy in uniform working an espresso machine and a wet bar, giving out his business card for pet parties.

Now, my own bat mitzvah party was at my parents' apartment. We cleared out the furniture, hired a DJ and a fortune teller, and had a catered buffet. Guests took photos with disposable cameras, and my mom and I made an album of the photos afterwards. I had all my relatives, a few friends from my old school, a few friends from my new school, and a few friends from my Hebrew school class. I had a really wonderful time. It wasn't an inexpensive party, but I can't imagine my parents spent as much as many parents at the time did (let alone anything like what was spent on last weekend's extravaganza), and it wasn't as lavish, somehow.

What I like about the way we did my bat mitzvah is that it was somehow suited to the tone of the day. My memories of my bat mitzvah are dominated by the events of the ceremony: being up on the bima, chanting my Torah and Haftorah portions, my rabbi and my parents making speeches about me. Most of all I remember my sister, who was nine, saying the nicest thing about me that anyone has ever said, before or since. The party is a total blur. I don't remember a damn thing. But I like the idea that my family and my friends walked from the synagogue to my parents' house and celebrated with us in our home. It feels intimate, which seems appropriate.

The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is about coming into responsibility for one's life. It's the beginning of agency. For this reason, young people preparing for their ceremonies traditionally do a tzedakah, or social service, project (my cousin was no exception), to demonstrate their commitment to their spiritual and social obligations. To couple such a ceremony with such a lavish party, a thing so unmoored from day-to-day life, seems strange to me, seems like insufficient attention is being paid to the meaning of the ceremony itself--its message about responsibility for oneself and for others.

But, like my cousin's husband reminded me, it's Florida. And the parties are given by the parents, really, and the parents are subject, perhaps more than their children, to an awareness of social norms. That awareness is hard to buck--my own aversion to a party of this magnitude is as much about finding it sort of overwhelming and a bit tacky (both related to my own, different sense of social norms) as it is about the cognitive dissonance between the occasion and its celebration. I don't know if that cognitive dissonance would be as strong for someone who didn't find the party itself outside the realm of their experience.

On the other hand, is it even reasonable for such a party to be within the realm of people's normal experience? Especially thirteen-year-olds' experience? What call is there for this kind of thing? It's not that I'm against luxury. I'm definitely not. But this party does not represent the kind of luxury I like. Maybe if it's your kind of luxury, this feels the way that a nice trip or a great dinner feels to me--something that you give yourself because you can, but wouldn't do every day.

I keep chewing on this thing without coming to a conclusion. I don't know what to make of it. I don't know that I can figure out what to make of it, really, other than concluding that it's not my kind of thing, and that says something about the kind of person I am, but more different than better. The whole thing just kind of blew my mind a bit.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Mom's Money: Gender, the Generation Gap, and Personal Finance

On Sunday night, after returning from the bar mitzvah, I put in some time helping my mom with her identity theft mess. I was pretty shocked to learn that she hadn't yet pulled her credit reports or placed fraud victim alerts on them. She had canceled the compromised card, signed up with a credit monitoring service, and begun wrangling with the companies that had charged the canceled card, so it wasn't an issue of being unwilling to put in the effort--she just didn't know what to do. I directed her to AnnualCreditReport.com, and in helping her verify herself to receive her reports, discovered that she didn't know what bank held her and my dad's second mortgage, or what the monthly payment was. She guessed the highest range the question offered as an option; when I asked my dad, it was within the lowest.

I also told her that she has to be really vigilant about her bills and statements for the next few months (at least), and my dad started in on how she never checks them over. Now, my dad's not exactly a financial paragon himself in many ways, but I never thought my mother was this clueless about her financial life. She's a gifted thrift-store shopper with a M.A. in arts administration, which means she's done half the coursework for a management degree (she did tell me that she almost failed her accounting class, though). But mostly, I just didn't think she was that kind of woman--the kind who can can just say, "Oh, my husband is taking care of it," and that's the end of that. That's certainly not the kind of woman she raised me to be.

I wonder if this is the way she always lived, or if her money-management muscles began to atrophy after marrying my dad. I know she worked a bunch of crappy jobs and lived very cheap when she was a young college dropout living in New York, and I know that she ran all the finances for her art gallery herself. Then again, I also know that the gallery went under. My mom comes from a family with a lot of money and a lot of (serious) problems, and I don't know if she got parental support or not--I could see it making sense either way. So I can't really say if these are skills she let lapse or skills she never developed to begin with.

But either way, it's weird for me because it's just not the kind of person I thought my mom was. I think of my mother as brave and independent and sort of unusual for her time--I think of her dropping out of her Seven Sisters college and moving to New York to go to Factory parties, or of her work bringing new technology into the curricula of the poorest New York City schools, or the way she talked her way into an MA program at an Ivy League school without a BA (she still doesn't have one, but she has two Masters degrees). And it's strange, because this is such a normal (if kind of unfortunate) thing for married women of my mother's generation, this learned helplessness thing, but it's not something I ever associated with my mom. I guess I always assumed she was an equal partner in my parents' finances. And it's not that she doesn't bring skills and attributes to my parents' financial table--because she certainly does (I can vouch for that myself; I've transfered the communications about my medical billing from my dad to my mom, and it's gone much more smoothly)--it's just that I always assumed she was as familiar with the big picture of their finances as my dad. And she's not. And that's weird to me.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Consumerist Cookies?

So, I was in Florida with my parents this weekend for my second cousin's bar mitzvah (more on this to come). We got home, went back to my parents' apartment, and we ordered some Chinese food. And this was my fortune:

Perhaps you have been focusing too much attention on saving.

I am not kidding even a little bit. That's what it said.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

PF Bloggers Give Back

I'm proud to announce the opening of the PF Bloggers Donors Choose Challenge! (Catchy name, huh?) As you may or may not know, Donors Choose is a great charitable organization that connects the needs of teachers and their classrooms directly with donors. HC, at One Big Mortarboard, has selected a number of those needs that relate directly to personal finance, and it's up to us to make sure that these students get the financial education we like to talk about.

I donated $120 today. Anything you can spare will help: $20, $10, even $1. Please check out our challenge!

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

"Mad Money"

J.D. posted yesterday about his experiments in individual stock-picking. His conclusion? He's getting out.

But his description of his experience made me want to try it. Just in that same kind of small-time way, with a small amount of money I could afford to lose--what I've heard Jim Kramer calls "mad money." I just think it would be an interestingly direct way to dip my toes into the stock market. And I think it would be fun.

Right now, though, I don't have $1,000 to lose. Maybe once I get my Freedom Fund all nicely stocked up. Or maybe I could play around with a smaller amount of money. Say, $500. Yeah, I think $500 might be a good place to start.

I still don't have $500 I'm willing to lose, though. This may be something I'll consider adding to next year's financial goals, but the difficulty would be saving for this chunk of money. It might feel kind of futile, given that I'm going to be speculating with it. So it might be better to devote some windfall money to this.

But not until my savings goals are met.

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Pulled My Credit Report...

...from Experian and Equifax (I'll pull TransUnion in six months), via AnnualCreditReport.com, which is the only place to get a truly free credit report.

I have a bunch of "authorized user" accounts on there, which I would rather not have to hash out with my parents--aren't those accounts supposed to be dropping off my bureau report, like, now? I'd like it if they could go ahead and hurry up with that--as it stands, it looks like I have credit limits approaching my annual income, which I certainly do not.

I also have a thirty-days-late from October 2001, on a store card I signed up for when I was in high school and didn't know how to use. I'd love it if that would drop off my report--it's just the one charge, a thirty days late note, and then zero balances all the way up through '06, when I last looked at my credit report, realized I still had that account open, and closed it--but it looks like I'm stuck with it until 2013--seven years from the last time the card reported, not seven years from the last charge. Annoying.

But it is supposed to be seven years, right? Then why does a card (another "uh, sure, I guess I'll sign up for the 20% discount" high school store card) that was closed in '02 seem to be scheduled to be on my report until 2012? And is "inactive" the same as "closed"? Because if it's not, I should close that account, right?

Conclusion: no identity theft (phew!), but the usual low-level financial-jargon confusion.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Identity Theft Hits Close to Home

I got a call from my mother last night: she's had her identity stolen. Over the past ten days or so, thousands of dollars' worth of purchases on the internet and over the phone have been charged to her principal credit card, and someone applied for a second card in her name (the card company in question, Discover, declined the application and notified my mom, so points to them).

It makes me realize that this can happen to anyone. It can happen to me. And most importantly, there is no way to prevent this, really, short of not having bank accounts. You can decline to put yourself in harm's way (by not falling for phishing scams, for example), but you can't close up all the chinks in your identity's armor. The key, it seems to me, is to keep a tight rein on your finances--my mom only found out about this because she was notified of unusual charges, but given that I check all of my accounts through Bank of America's My Portfolio service at least every other day, I'd probably catch it sooner, and so have less damage to undo. And it seems to me that that's the best one can hope to do.

It's a reminder to me, though, and perhaps to you, too, that by opening extra accounts, an identity thief can do damage to your life and credit report by moving your finances outside your sight. I'm going to pull my credit report this week (via Annual Credit Report); I suggest you do the same.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Around the Blogosphere

There have been a few particularly good posts lately, and I thought I'd highlight them:

Define "affordable," from Escape Brooklyn, discusses the state of the New York City housing market in an extremely thorough and insightful way.

Your Major and Your Job, at Young and Broke, traces the author's trajectory from English major to business professional and MBA student.

At My Open Wallet, Madame X writes about an opportunity she missed because of financial cautiousness in I Thought I Couldn't...

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Freedom Fund: $4,050

I got the big insurance reimbursement check in the mail last night, and immediately (this morning) deposited it and set up the transfer over to the Freedom Fund at ING. This brings the balance up to $4,050.

Exclusive of the CD I rolled into the Freedom Fund, this balance represents 13.1% of my gross pay for the year so far, and at least two months' expenses. It represents the freedom to make decisions for myself, unbeholden to anyone. And the best part is that it's all, every penny of it, money that I earned. Even the aforementioned CD was initially funded with savings from my part-time job at college. The Freedom Fund is truly free, in the sense of independent. There are no strings attached.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

October Goals

Here's the plan for October:

1. Add $225 to the Freedom Fund
This is $125 over my autodrafts, and will be a stretch, but I think a stretch would be good.

2. Buy one more pair of flats
I'm looking for a pair of flats that are a) not black and b) a little more solid than the slightly flimsy $24 ones I'm currently rocking. I'm thinking somewhere in the $40-$50 range.

3. Submit two new medical bills
Once these two are submitted and reimbursed, I should have recovered all the money I initially laid out for medical expenses, and will begin endorsing the reimbursement checks over to my parents.

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September Net Worth

My net worth for September is up at NetWorthIQ.

My retirement accounts did pretty well this month, even though I've exhausted the $1,500 employer match, and are now hovering just above $12,000. If I were just to hold on to this $12,000 until age 70, contribute nothing more, and earn a yearly 8% return, I'd have more than $340,000. Not bad.

There's also a large increase in my cash holdings, and frankly, I'm not sure where that comes from. I did get some of my medical reimbursements in, though, so perhaps that makes the difference between a normal and a slightly odd cash increase.

My net worth for this month is $18,813. The overall increase is $884, or 4.93%.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

September Goals Update

So, here's how I did on my September goals:

1. Keep a careful eye on medical reimbursements.
Yep. One check was received and deposited this month. I'm expecting the big one any day now, and once I've got that one, I'm almost all the way reimbursed for the money I laid out.

2. $200 to the Freedom Fund
Check. $225, actually.

3. Discuss a raise.
Done.

4. Set some money aside for fall clothes.
I bought a few new things; still eyeballing a few more. But, check.

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Business Error in Your Favor

I checked my credit card statement today (online), and found a weird discrepancy in which it said I owed less than I thought I did. Turned out there was a peculiar coincidence: an exchange at one clothing site was misprocessed as a return--for exactly the same amount of money as a purchase at another clothing site. Curious, no? The extreme tidiness of the coincidence made it easy to ignore--it was kind of just like getting a sweater and a pair of flats for free, like I'd never paid at all. It was tempting.

But I'd gotten really good customer service around this exchange process--the first dress they'd sent had a defective seam, and they'd sent a new one right away with expedited shipping--that it would absolutely have outraged the conscience to cheat them. It's always easier to make the right call when there's a human face on it, you know? It might have been a little more tempting if it had been the Gap.

I wrote the woman I'd corresponded with about the exchange, telling her to charge my card again.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where Do our Money Personalities Come From?

At times, it just seems like some people are savers and some are spenders. If this is true, I fall pretty squarely in the "saver" camp--at this point in my life. I used to be more freewheeling--like when I was in high school, wielding my dad's credit card with aplomb at bookstores and coffee shops from the Upper East Side to TriBeCa.

But as soon as I was really responsible for myself financially, my attitude changed dramatically. My junior and senior years of college, I lived in an off-campus apartment, and while my parents paid my living expenses, they did so by writing me one check at the beginning of the school year based on a reasonable budget that I'd proposed and we'd discussed. I managed that money for the rest of the school year. I guess if it had ever run out, I could have asked them for money, but I made sure it didn't. I had a job on campus, and I saved every penny I made (it wasn't that much).

My money management skillz were honed even sharper when I got my first job, last September, and began making my own way in the world for real. But there are plenty of people who get their first paycheck and go, "Whee!" and blow it at the nearest boutique. What makes the difference between my reaction and that reaction? I wonder if it's not some personality thing, rather than the oft-repeated platitudes about financial education, because I certainly didn't have much of a financial education. All that meant was that I had to go out and get one.

For me, my desire to manage money wisely is intimately connected to a sense of insecurity, a feeling that I'm on a highwire and I need a safety net, a nervousness about my own ability to succeed. It's also connected to a need to achieve: I get a kick out of setting goals and meeting them, and a thrill from being precociously good at things. There's also a certain cautiousness, a hedging-of-bets, that is not unrelated to the other two: it's a fear of failure.

I'm not saying that there are not very good reasons to save money. Obviously, there are. But are those good reasons my real reasons? I'm not sure they are. I'm not sure it's not all a little less rational than that.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Drink at Home. Duh.

I wanted to have a drink with a friend a couple of nights ago. But I didn't much care where we went, and I didn't want to spend a bunch of money.

So what did we do? We went to the bodega near my house, bought 24-oz. Coronas, cut up some limes, chilled on my couch with our classy, classy beer, and had a chat about King Lear (no, really, we did--and if you have any thoughts about what King Lear is really about, leave 'em in the comments).

And it was awesome. And it so often eludes me, really: wanting to have a drink with a friend does not necessitate a bar, purveyor of markups and facilitator of late-night snacks and taxi rides. A big fat $3 bottle of beer in your own house can be just as much fun. And even if you drink two 24-oz. bottles of beer, that's only $6--about what it would cost for one 12-oz. bottle & tip in a bar. Hard to argue with a 75% savings.

I intend to put this lesson into use more often in future.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

The Dangling Carrot

Had my conversation with my bosses. They say that reviews involving money are done at the end of the calendar year, but took a few minutes to give me a rave. And then the carrot was dangled: they think I'm an "excellent candidate" for an assistant editor position, but they like people to be here 15 months before they take that step. Which would, coincidentally or not so, dovetail nicely with the "reviews involving money are done at the end of the calendar year" thing. So pretty much, the deal is, "We're not giving you a raise right now, but we might give you a bigger raise and a more interesting job in three months if you somehow manage to do what is clearly more than one job for the next three months."

So, gratifying comments, disappointing outcome. I didn't do a good job of making my case--I just sort of let them tell me what's what, thanked them for the compliments, and left. Dammit.

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News

My big medical claim was just processed by my insurance company--it popped up on my online claim center--which means that I can start looking for that big fat check in the mail, and start looking forward to re-beefing up the ol' Freedom Fund.

So that's good news.

Other good news: I decided to buy three pairs of tights, a pair of season must-have buckled ankle boots, and a sweater just as a 30% off coupon for the online retailer in question rolled into my inbox.

...and I have a meeting with both of my bosses in a couple of hours to discuss, I guess, my raise and/or potential promotion. And I am terrified. I'm debating forwarding on to them an email I received today from an author about how great I am, but I think that's too blatantly self-aggrandizing, and I'll let it go.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Being Your Own Advocate at Work: A Beginner's Guide

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a co-worker about the fact that her boss hadn't come through with a raise at her semiannual review. They'd given her a glowing review, and then...nothing. No mention of money at all. She was pissed, and I thought she deserved to be. She scrunched up her face, and looked at me, and said, "So, does this mean I have to ask?"

I said I thought it did, and looked at her with empathetic dismay. It's hard to advocate for yourself in any context, but especially at work, and especially if your job is (as ours are) to do what other people tell you to do. I'd venture to say that it's especially hard for women, who tend to be taught that aggressiveness, demands, and bragging are cardinal sins of personality. But those are just the things that you need to harness to be an effective advocate for yourself in the workplace, it seems.

Much of my empathy for my coworker was due to the fact that I have to ask, as well.

I've just passed the one-year mark here, and finally, yesterday, had to ask if we were going to do a review. My boss looked at me blankly and said, "Of what?" (To be fair, we do peer reviews of books all the time, so she may have been confused.)

"Of...me?" I ventured.

We met today for a pre-review discussion (the real thing will have to include my other boss, who's head of the department, but he's out of town at the moment), and she told me that she's really pleased with my work. I told her one concern was balancing the new editorial work they're giving me with the running of day-to-day operations. She said something about setting accurate timetables and telling people when I won't be able to take things on. I was being a little disingenuous, though, phrasing this as a time-management issue--what I really want is a promotion. I want my little mini-department to create a more genuinely editorial position for me. And eventually I came around to mentioning that--I mentioned all of the other mini-departments that have promoted former assistants (three, at last count), and said that I didn't know if that sort of arrangement was in the works for our department-ette, but if it was, I'd be very interested in occupying such a position. (A little weak on the persuasion and clarity--my technique needs work.)

She said that it wasn't her call to make, but she'd talk to my other boss (who's her boss, too) about it. She didn't seem opposed to the idea, but she reiterated a couple of times that it's not her call. She also advised me a little on what she thought would make an effective argument for this promotion, which I appreciated.

We had a lot of diversions during this meeting, which I think we were using as absorbers of the awkwardness of the rest of the discussion. And we both sort of soft-pedaled the tough stuff. Nevertheless, I think this was a good introductory effort on my part. The first lesson I've learned about advocating for myself in the workplace is this:

Asking is not optional. If I hadn't asked for my review, it might never have happened. If I hadn't mentioned the promotion, it might never have come up. If I don't ask for what I deserve, no one is going to give it to me--they're going to keep giving me increasingly complex projects without ever translating their obvious faith in my judgment into a new title or a salary bump. (Understandable, from a business perspective.) Therefore, I have to ask. I have to. It's not optional.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ours is a Star-Crossed Love, DiorShow Ultimate

I have fallen in love with a mascara. It is DiorShow Ultimate. It is the perfect mascara. I go to Sephora to visit it, to try it on and bat my lashes at myself in the mirrors. It costs $23.

The thing is, I have two perfectly good mascaras--a Rimmel my mother got in a gift bag somewhere, and a better one, from MAC (source of the vast majority of my good makeup). But the DiorShow has them both beat by a mile. It's the holy grail of makeup: you look better without looking like you're wearing makeup at all.

It's just--this is so blatantly something I do not need. At all. Beautiful eyelashes are not a need. No matter what Cosmo tells you. On the other hand, they are a want, and want is a force not to be discounted.

Just when I think I've got myself talked out of this purchase--on grounds of obvious wastefulness, of $23-plus-tax-is-$25-more-for-the-savings-account--want flares up again.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Impatience

Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent has managed to articulate exactly what I feel about my financial goals.

I'm impatient. I'm so impatient. I'm lucky enough not to have any debt, but I positively champ at the bit about meeting my savings goals. There are so many things I want to save for: right now it's the emergency/freedom fund, and then I'll want to focus on the travel fund, and after that there'll be a down payment fund of (it seems to me) colossal proportions to tackle. Sometimes I feel so jealous of people like Wanda who can put away thousands of dollars a month, rather than hundreds (and not very many hundreds, at that), because I feel like those people must not have to endure the waiting that I do, the plodding and continuing to plod, the putting one leaden $25 foot in front of the other.

What do I do to stave off impatience?

I break down my goals into mini-goals. Stuff like my monthly savings goals keeps me focused on where my priorities are and gives me the satisfaction of setting and achieving a goal more immediately, rather than always having to be looking at the big, "final" number at the end of December.

I engage my financial goals on a daily basis. This helps me remember that every choice I make with money contributes to meeting my savings goals. When I feel actively connected to my goals, rather than like I'm just sort of passively waiting for them to occur, I'm less bothered by the background noise of impatience.

Mostly, though, I push harder. The last few days of a pay period are always a contest between me and myself to see if I can squeeze another $25 into my savings account. Frequently, I can. And the more often I win that battle, the closer my goal gets. This drive has already led me to bump up the goal for my Freedom Fund twice this year.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disposable Income

For the first time since last November or December, K has to watch what he's spending. The long-term contract he's been working on has come to an end, and other than a paycheck that he thinks (!) he's owed, he's got no money coming in for the next few weeks. He has another job scheduled to start in two weeks, though, at a pretty fat weekly salary, and is confident in his options for work after that, so he's not panicking, but he is going to have to watch himself more than he usually does for a little bit. He returned the iPhone he bought; there's an extra $400, right there (though he spent about the same amount yesterday on the new pair of glasses he's been needing for months and months and finally had a chance to buy). He means to save money for these sorts of inevitabilities--the couple of weeks one spends between jobs as a freelancer--but for whatever reason (believe me, I wish I knew what it is), he doesn't. He's not going to be delinquent on rent or be unable to feed himself or anything, but he's going to have to make conscious decisions about money for awhile.

This morning, leaving the house, I said, "I'm jealous that you get to sleep late." He responded, "I'm jealous that you get to make money."

I wonder if this will change his future outlook. I'm optimistic that it might, I suppose, but then again, he's had these periods before and not altered his behavior afterwards. He knows my help (budgeting & setting up savings accounts & whatnot) is available if he wants it, though, and I'd be super-thrilled if he'd take me up on it. Otherwise, I'm staying out of it and not getting too pushy.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Victory at the Greenmarket

Brothers and sisters, I have come to tell you that it's true: farmer's markets are a great way to save money. The best part is, they're also a great way to feel tremendously luxurious, to take pleasure in your purchases and in your food and cooking.

On Saturday, after brunch with a friend at a local tea room (!), we walked back to my apartment, picked up K, and set out for the Union Square Greenmarket. O bliss! O joy! It was a beautiful day, and the produce was cheap. We got a big bunch of basil for $1, two Kirby cucumbers for another $1, four ears of sweet corn for another $1, four perfectly ripe organic tomatoes for about $2, three beautiful apples (two Macoun, one Fuji) for $1.50, four white peaches for $3, and the best red onion I've ever tasted for $.75. We also splurged, spending $4 on a pound of heirloom tomatoes (nearly the last of the season) and $8 on a little round of a cheese that can best be described as a sheep's-milk Camembert. The cheesemaker sampled me a bite of the Feta, and I was going to go with that (to put on top of the tomatoes for dinner), but once he sampled me the softer cheese, I was hooked, and went with that one instead.

And then, on our way out, there was a special on raspberries and blackberries: 3 boxes for $5! We split the deal with our friend, and took home two boxes of tiny, iridescently sweet raspberries for $3. Glorious.

Dinner was the heirloom tomatoes with thin slivers of red onion (plus sea salt & balsamic vinegar) and the sheep cheese with half of a baguette we picked up at the adjacent Whole Foods for $1.79. Lunch today is a salad of Kirby cucumbers, tomato, red onion (and we've still only used half of it!), and sweet corn kernels. Dinner tonight will be tomatoes with feta (just the grocery-store kind, which I have a chunk of in my fridge), onions, and basil & the rest of the baguette, and dessert will be white peaches. Lunch tomorrow will be a salad of sweet corn & baby spinach. And then, perhaps, we'll be done with our greenmarket bounty.

All this for about $15 apiece! I'm going to look really seriously at making the greenmarket a Saturday tradition, and trying to eat for at least the first half of the week on the produce I buy. Problem is that I'm not very good with your cold-weather vegetables, your squashes and root veggies. But I think the frugality (not to mention the tastiness and eco-friendliness) they dangle like a carrot in front of me (mmm, carrots!) might just be enough to get me trying.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Perk!

My floor just got a fancy new coffee machine, the kind with the pods and the frothy deliciousness. Previously, there was a coffee machine down on the floor below ours--I've never gotten coffee there, but I'm excited to test-drive this new perk, and see if it will substitute for an afternoon snack sometimes.

Now the things I get free at work are a) books, and b) coffee--if one judged jobs by perks, I'd have one of the best.

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Consolation Prize

So, K bought an iPhone. He's wanted one since...well, since before they were invented. It's his Dream Gadget. And with the price drop, he couldn't resist. He didn't take it out of the box, though, because before he could get his sticky fingers on his new toy, he had to make sure he could get out of his half-up Sprint contract.

Which he couldn't. He argued that an increase in text message prices was a materially adverse change that voided the contract, but the retention specialist with whom he was on the phone for forty minutes held firm, arguing that because his text message package was a separate element and not an integral part of his contracted services, the change didn't void the contract. Now he's trying to decide whether to pay the contract cancellation fee ($200) and gleefully rip open the shrinkwrap, or return the beloved object and settle for the 10% discount on his bill plus bumped-up text messaging package the retention specialist offered.

I know what I'd do—stick with my contract, then buy the phone next summer—but that's because electronics aren't a big priority with me. I use a two-year-old phone the size of a double compact (the fat mirrored kind, with a brush inside) with no bells and whistles but a useless camera function, and it doesn't bother me. And I know how it can be, wanting something only to have it moved slightly out of your reach. And I sort of want him to have it—he'd enjoy it so much, and I'd get to poke around with it...

Still, though, for me personally, frugality would win out—I just couldn't stomach paying that fee, and the discount would serve as a consolation prize.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Open Letter to the Bank of America

Dear Bank of America,

You disappoint me.

I've been a customer since my junior year of college, when US Bank decided that holding a check I needed to pay my rent for ransom for three weeks was a good idea. You've treated me pretty well, Bank of America. You give me free student checking even though I am no longer a student. You have many convenient locations. Most of all, Bank of America, you provide the wonders of an online financial aggregator, where I can see all of my accounts (even the accounts not with you!) in one place. I appreciate that, Bank of America. I really do.

But this $3 ATM fee is bullshit. Excuse my language. That plus the out-of-network ATM's fee means that I would pay close to $5 to access my very own money. Money that I've earned, Bank of America, and placed with you for safekeeping. It hardly seems fair.

So I'm thinking of switching to Washington Mutual. They have a location a block from my apartment, no ATM fees, and a high-yield savings account with instant transfers. Bank of America, this might be it for you and me. Consider changing your behavior. If you don't, I don't think this relationship will last much longer than it takes you to deposit my Keep the Change match.

Love,
English Major

Update: I do know that this is the ATM fee for non-customers to use B of A ATMs (though I did miss it on first reading). I'm still irked, though, because basically this means that B of A has no institutional objection to a $3 fee, and I think it's a harbinger of fees to come for customers. Currently, B of A charges a $2 "foreign ATM" fee, which is what they used to charge non-customers to use their ATMs. Because of the previous parity in the fee structure, I think there's reason for customers to expect an increase as well--I can't actually tell you that there hasn't been one already, since I haven't used an out-of-network ATM lately.

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