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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.)


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.


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, " 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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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."


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.


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.


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!


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.