Thursday, August 30, 2007

Whoops...forgot to blog (And: August goals update)

Sorry for the unexpected mini-hiatus there, you guys. I've been frantically busy lately--there were four birthday parties in a row, and my parents got home from their vacation, and I'm overwhelmed at work...anyway, I've got lots of stuff stored up to say.

But first? An update on my August goals.

1. Keep a very careful eye on medical reimbursements
I've been okay about this. The first one came through really easily, but the second one got caught somewhere in the works, and I've called twice to follow up. The most recent time, they assured me that it just needed to be keyed in by their claims department. I'm not totally convinced, so this may need another follow-up call. I also have a new set of bills to submit--when all this is paid out, the Freedom Fund ought to be up to its pre-disbursement mark.

2. Make sure my Bank of America CD is not rolled over
Check. All of my non-investment savings are now liquid and in one place: my ING account.

3. Add $150 to the Freedom Fund
Check. I also paid $50 out of the FF for my new laptop charger, so I guess I added $200 gross, but there's a $150 net difference.

4. Stash $175 away for the wedding
Check. Considering that I bought a dress for $62 plus shipping and put away $120 for spending money over that weekend, I allocated about $190 to wedding-related stuff this month. K and I also bought wedding presents last night, for about $60 (we got them a cast iron pan and a set of pretty mixing bowls from their registry at Crate and Barrel). My half of that will come out of my gift fund.


Monday, August 20, 2007

How to Close a CD

I dropped into the bank (I bank at Bank of America) on Friday to ask about making sure my CD doesn't roll over into a new CD (the interest rate is a measly 3.21%). I'd received a notification from my bank that my CD was about to mature, but its instructions on how to proceed had been pretty vague. So I stopped into a branch to check it out.

Apparently, the deal is like so: you have to wait until the CD matures, and then you have a window of seven days to close the CD, or it will roll over automatically. Frankly, one would think that in this Age of Computing Machines and Interwebs you could specify your preference in advance or address the issue online, but apparently not. Or at least not at Bank of America. So I'll have to stop in again between tomorrow and a week from tomorrow to tell them, "I want to close my CD." They'll close it just like a normal bank account and transfer the money into my checking account.

From there, I'll move it to my ING account, where the interest rate is more than a full point higher.


When Luxuries are Worth It

K and I were on our way home from the movies the other night—The Bourne Ultimatum, which hit the international-espionage spot—and he asked if I wanted to stop for a drink. I didn't—I was hungry and wanted to get home to get some late dinner, and not have to eat out. He said he wanted a Scotch. I mentioned that we still had some Scotch at home, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black someone had brought to his birthday party. It's not his favorite kind, though—he likes a single-malt called Dalwhinney. In deference to my desire to go home, he wondered aloud if perhaps we could duck into a good liquor store to see if they had the right stuff.

Lo and behold: two blocks later, we stumbled over a really nice-looking liquor store. K stood in the Scotch section, noting that the price for a 750-mL bottle of the good stuff would cost him $42 plus tax. He looked over at me. I think he thought my frugal self would be a little judgy about the purchase: he sighed and made some mention of being irresponsible with money.

I absolutely didn't think this prospective purchase was an irresponsible one, though, and I told him so: I explained that I feel really strongly that purchases that bring you real pleasure are good ones, and purchases that don't are bad ones. I said I think that buying mediocre food instead of packing your lunch is a bad purchase, but that bottle of Scotch was a good purchase, because of how much enjoyment he'll get out of being able to come home and fix himself a glass of his favorite Scotch. (On another note, of course, I think this purchase may ultimately save him money, since if he wants a glass of Scotch, he doesn't necessarily have to pay a bar's markup to get it, and it's not as if he's going to suddenly stop drinking the stuff because it's pricey in bars.)

The whole point of spending money on non-necessities is pleasure. I'd rather pack lunch for a few days and have the money for something I really want than nickel and dime myself out of the more pleasurable purchase to save myself the tiny bit of time and planning it takes to put together a lunch in advance. More bang for your buck. Isn't that the whole idea?

While we were at the store, I picked up a bottle of the Columbia Winery's Cellarmaster's Riesling for $12. I wanted something different than the Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling I used to drink all the time in Portland (my roommate and I used to pick up a bottle at the Plaid Pantry and split it while sitting out on our little balcony--by the way, it's a good budget bottle, one of Wine Spectator's Best Values), but couldn't bring myself to lay out the $25 for their Eroica, even though I've heard great things about it. I stashed my bottle in the fridge, so one of these late summer/early fall days, I'll be able to come home and spend a pleasurable afternoon with a good bottle of wine.

I'm looking forward to it. I think that's worth the $12.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Wedding Belles

I picked up a dress startlingly cheap, and can wear it with a cute pair of navy peep-toe wedges I already own. The dress is black, but the bride in question wore black to K's sister's wedding back in April, so I figure that's okay with her, and anyway, it has green trim, and I'll be wearing it with blue shoes and a teal-y costume jewelry set (also already in my possession, and please, do not even get me started on how much I love costume jewelry), so it passes my "Appropriate? Check Yes or No" test.

Upon hearing this planned ensemble described, K said, "Very Oklahoma City," and I said, "Are you calling me tacky?" Apparently it was very subtle sarcasm.

Anyway, point is, I spent $95 on a dress, shipping, and, um, also a supremely adorable flouncy print skirt that was on sale from the same website. I honestly do need clothes, though, and will have to confront that issue after the wedding stuff is dealt with. So I think $250 as a total going-to-this-wedding budget will be unnecessary--an extra $100 should do the job just fine. Probably $35 of that will be going for cabs to and from LaGuardia. (Yes, you can theoretically take public transportation between LaGuardia and our apartment, but Lord, is it a lengthy pain in the ass, and our flights are, respectively, leaving very early in the morning and getting in quite late on Sunday night. Plus, we live quite close to the Triborough Bridge, and thus the cab ride to LaGuardia is actually not unreasonably expensive.) The other $65 should cover three days of incidental expenses in Oklahoma City, where there will be wedding events each of the three days and transportation is taken care of.

So I should be able to knock off the entire wedding stash in August, and get back to the E-fund for my first paycheck in September. Given its current depletion for medical stuff, I'm very eager to get back to beefing it up.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stay Down, Lads! Go For the Burn!

Is it callous of me to not particularly mind if there is a correction in stock prices? I've certainly got a long horizon on my investments, and a chance to buy at low prices for awhile and then hold on for forty-odd years seems like a good opportunity, not a doomsday scenario. Presumably, most people close to retirement have conservative enough portfolios that this isn't hitting them particularly hard, so what, exactly, are we worried about? The fortunes of forty-five-year-old hedge fund investors? The idea of a Great Depression redux? Some sort of end-of-American-economic-dominance thing? Is it that we have somehow attached the trajectory of the graph line on the Dow to our sense of our own futures?

Perhaps this is just simple lack of understanding, but I can't quite wrap my head around the downside here for young investors.

(Points if you know where the title comes from.)


The Value of Customer Service

Netflix, in the ongoing war against Blockbuster Total Access, is investing heavily in customer service. They've opened a 24-hour call center outside Portland, OR, where representatives greet customers immediately (no for-this-press-one-for-that-press-two!), have wide latitude in what they can provide to appease or retain a customer, and are evaluated not based on low average call time but on how well they succeed in solving the caller's problem at hand.

I'm a happy Netflix member, so they clearly didn't need to do this to retain my business, but I think this might be something that would compel me to switch if I were a Blockbuster member--Blockbuster has a business-hours-only customer-service line with a phone tree, but conducts most of its customer service via email. Not that I don't feel comfortable with email--I'm a blogger, after all--but I like the immediacy of getting a problem sorted out on the phone. And I have to say, I've had very few problems with Netflix, which I consider an entirely worthwhile monthly entertainment expense (especially since I don't have a TV).


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reimbursement Aftermath

So, part of my recent insurance reimbursement claim was processed, but, mysteriously, not the other part. They were sent together, in the same envelope. Curious. I called up about it today, and was told by a very helpful rep to fax him a copy of my previous claim directly, which I did. I'm also submitting another set of bills today. I'm frankly not sure if the reimbursements will cover my outlay--and there'll be a whole complicated parental thing if they don't, and I don't want to deal with that at all, so I'm just hoping very hard that they do.

I had a recent debacle with my dad and a bill--a very tiny, dinky, stupid bill--where he'd said he'd pay it and then I'd sign over the reimbursement check to him, only he didn't pay it, and they were sending the mail to my parents' apartment, and my parents are on vacation, and--well, you get the idea. I paid them a couple of days after they said they were going to send it (all $100 of it) to collections, but I sent a letter explaining the circumstances, so hopefully my credit won't get dinged. The point is, though, I'd like to separate my finances, even the medical stuff like this, from my parents' as much as possible. I wonder if there's a new system we could set up to minimize their involvement--ideally, of course, I'd find someone who could bill my insurance directly, but the chances of finding such a person in the field I need are slim to none, and so it seems that for the moment there will have to be some parental assistance.

All this just as I start having trouble with the ball of my left foot and being told I should see a podiatrist. On that score, though, I've done a good job--found someone who takes my insurance, so I can just pay the co-pay myself, and not deal with anyone else (except, you know, the medical billing office & insurance company), and called right up and made an appointment. I know y'all think that's remedial life skills, but I'm pretty proud of myself. And looking forward to future medical billing running smoothly.


Monday, August 13, 2007

New Yorkers Talk About Money

From Overheard in New York, a few choice snippets about money in its various facets, including:

--student loans
--budget gift ideas


Friday, August 10, 2007

No News Is Good News

So, all I heard on NPR this morning was about how the stock market has tanked lately, is currently tanking, and will continue to tank in the predictable future. I think it's interesting that I care about this, and that it means something to me--K, toweling off, told me that when people used to talk about "stock market crashes" when he was a kid, he pictured a literal crash, like, someone crashing their car into a machine vital to the success of the national economy and breaking it, and I was thinking about how people talk about things without really having a sense of what they mean sometimes, especially as kids. You know "stock market loses a whole bunch of money" is a thing that people talk about, but you don't really know what that is, or why it matters, or have any stake in it at all. But you talk about it anyway, because it's a thing that people talk about.

It can still be that way as an adult, and I'm not discounting the influence of What People Talk About, but it was interesting this morning to feel like I sort of understood what was going on and why it matters, that it means something to me, it affects my life and my behavior and my plans. I kind of don't want to check the balances on my retirement accounts, but I know that I'll just keep plugging along, investing dutifully through my 401(k) and letting my Roth ride out the storm, which will pass, certainly, by the time I am seventy years old and ready to retire from whatever it is that I've ended up doing with my life.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Public Transportation, I Hate You

So, apparently, the New York City public transit system is not equipped for...rain. Whatever, there was a lot of rain--in fact, there was a big old storm--but something weird happened--because you'd think they'd have these underground electrified tunnels waterproofed, as a colleague mentioned--and the whole MTA was broken this morning. I waited for the 6 train for (what felt like) a hundred million sweaty gross humid years. Then I gave up. Then I waited for the Lexington bus for awhile, and every one that came down the pike was packed to the gills. Hungry and pissed off and exhausted and late for work and still on my very own corner, I went to Dunkin' Donuts and bought a big iced latte and a muffin. Four bucks. Not too bad.

BUT. Two and a half hours (!!!!) of miserable bus-taking later, I get to work and realize that the egg salad sandwich on baguette I packed has spoiled in the heat and non-refrigeration, and now I am hungry and pissed and really not into spending $10 on a midtown lunch place sandwich, especially because I made such nice egg salad, with TJs organic mayonnaise and pieces of delicious new pickle.

MTA, you owe me a sandwich. Also, bite me.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Another Hit to the Emergency Fund

My computer charger crapped out, recently--just sputtered, blinked a few times, and died. I had borrowed my sister's, but now she's back from her summer job, so I had to buy a new one. I brought the off-brand (the same kind I had before, the one that just died--but I've had Apple chargers too and not noticed any quality difference) for $50 (the Apple charger is $80). Instead of taking more money out of the E-fund, I'm going to cashflow it from my next paycheck and call the extra $50 (over my autodrafts) that I was planning to put in the E-fund this month a wash.

This is annoying, but not a big deal--mostly because I've got some money put away.


Friday, August 03, 2007

July Net Worth

Since I had two months' worth of rent sitting in my checking account at the end of June, I predicted that I'd come out flat for July. And I would have, too, if the Dow hadn't taken its little tumble right at the end of the month. Consolation? My 401(k) buy was at a nice low price.

My new net worth is $17,057, with a net change of -1.03%.

Next month may be a very bizarre month for my net worth, depending on whether or not I get my medical reimbursements in by then. Fingers crossed.

I'm still looking at $20,000 as a net worth goal for the year. I think it's doable. It means my net worth needs to increase by about $600/month, which may be a stretch (especially since my 401(k) match maxes out soon--it's dollar-for-dollar up to $1,500), but I think I can get there.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

August Goals

And here's the plan for August:

1. Keep a very careful eye on medical reimbursements
I laid out $2,275. I need to make sure that money comes back to the Freedom Fund.

2. Make sure my Bank of America CD is not rolled over
I want to transfer that money over into my ING account, not have it roll over into another CD with a pathetic interest rate.

3. Add $150 to the Freedom Fund
That's only $50 over my autodrafts, but I need to start setting some money aside for K's brother's wedding in September.

4. Stash $175 away for the wedding.
I'm going to need a dress, probably shoes, and some walking-around money. $250 should cover it. I've got three paychecks coming in between now and then.


Update on July Goals

Remember how there were goals for July?

Here's how they went:
1. Add $250 to the Freedom Fund.
Check. I actually added $325 (including interest).

2. Add an extra $20 to the Travel Fund.
Nope. I just didn't find it compelling—I rediscovered something that's true about me here, which is that I'm not a multitasker. I like to give all of my focus to one project (in this case, building the Freedom Fund), and so while the money was there, I wanted to allocate it elsewhere.

3. Submit the things I need to submit.
Funny I should mention, eh? I submitted my invoices and was paid, and I submitted my flex spending reimbursement form (and got a check yesterday). And as for submitting the controversial medical bills? Well, it didn't happen in July, but it did happen today, so, mission accomplished, albeit two days late.

4. "Eat down" food stores.

5. Buy Feist album.
Check. And it's a great one.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Barriers, Again or: The Emergency Fund, Vindicated

Well, here's a mighty embarrassing situation.

I've let a bunch of medical bills pile up without applying for reimbursement. I've had this luxury because either a) my father has paid them, on the agreement that I'd pass the reimbursement checks over to him, or b) they are addressed to my father with the idea that he will pay them. My father is on vacation, not on the continent, and hard to reach by mail, so he asked me to pay a current bill out of the reimbursement checks for previous bills.

Only there aren't any reimbursement checks for previous bills, because I haven't filed for reimbursement, because I do not know how, and things I don't know how to do wig me out. This is my great weakness in almost all aspects of my life.


I went to a doctor's appointment yesterday (I'm keeping the nature of my ongoing medical issue to myself, but it's nothing urgent), and she was like, "Here's something awkward we need to discuss..." and I was like, "Word," and explained how what was supposed to happen was stalled by my incompetence.

She was awfully nice about it--explained how to file a claim to the best of her ability--but nevertheless, it would be pretty hugely unfair to be like, "hey, I'm just going to leave you waiting around for money that you earned, because I'm weird about stuff I don't know how to do." So, I got to say, "I'll write you a check."

And because I've saved diligently, I can write her a check. I'll need to transfer the money out of my E-fund, but the money's there. Not that it doesn't make me nervous to let it out of my bank account and roam free, because it does, but I guess there's no way around it. And the reimbursement should quickly replenish the stores.

Nevertheless, I'm nervous.