Money Forward

This blog is about money and trying to keep my money from flying out the window.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy New Year

Since I'm getting married this weekend and then I'm going on my honeymoon, I won't be posting for a while. But I'm sure I'll have plenty of things to talk about when I return. Happy New Year!

Is there ever good timing?

It seems like everything comes at a bad time. I guess the real reason is we usually only think of things happening in the negative, rather than the positive. The wonderful day is quickly overshadowed by the bad day.

My soon-to-be wife went to the dentist this morning and although usually she has excellent teeth and she never has trouble, today was different. She has a filling that's cracking the tooth and so it has to be replaced. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, except they want to do it after the wedding and honeymoon, which is exactly when she no longer has dental insurance. I wish she could have done it today. Now this adds to the growing list of expenses over the next few weeks... honeymoon food, car rental, one night for the hotel after the wedding, tuition, books, the week of unpaid vacation, and now the dentist. Add that to the smaller paycheck I'll be getting next year and... woohoo.

(Well it can't be all bad.. I just looked behind me out my window and it's snowing! excellent.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Looking at goals differently

After a slight hick-up during the weekend, I've decided that how we look at our goals needs to be changed. My fiance and I have made a list of goals we would like to reach and their time frame. We also said about how much these goals would cost. This was more secondary and so was not really in both of our minds at the same time. Also, to just know about our goals just isn't enough.

This weekend my fiance wanted to buy some clothes that would be nice for after the wedding reception and for the rehearsal dinner. She needed some new black pants anyway. We set a budget. I suggested that she look at some of the cheaper places first, rather than going to the Limited, Ann Taylor, or any of those more expensive places. She agreed. Well she went with her sister who likes to shop and spend money, even though she complains about not having enough and her financial situation is nto that great at the moment. Her sister refused to go into any of the department stores (like Macy's) with her (because they're supposedly cheap and not good enough quality) and since my fiance wanted to shop with her sister, they basically only seriously looked at the more expensive stores. Anyway, things were found that were really expensive. My fiance bought the clothes for many reasons, although she felt bad about it. Her sister added things like how she shouldn't think about money because she needs to look good, and money shouldn't force her to not look good, and basically only the expensive clothes are good enough. That's a slightly twisted version because I can't think of exactly how it was put, but it's the basic idea.

I agree that she should look great (which she will no matter what she wears), and that she needed new clothes. She doesn't even really like the tops she got. And I was basically called cheap by her family and there are questions about whether I can provide and let her get what she wants. Luckily, she is not like her family all that much when it comes to money. But she couldn't fend it all off because she wants to make them happy, and she knows we have some money.

Since this happened, I decided that our goals weren't in our faces enough. Yes, hearing the people upstairs be loud until 2 AM reminds us that we want to buy a house someday, but this is forgotten when you're out shopping. And I want her to be able to stand up and say, "this just doesn't fit in our budget, and I'm sure I can find something else." So from now on we're going to have a spreadsheet showing what we want, their prices, along with expensive necessities (tuition), and the amount we have in savings. We're going to post this somewhere, like on the fridge, to costantly remind us what we are working for. I was also considering putting a sticker on the credit card with some of this information. I'm not sure if that will be ok or not though. It might be worth a try so we'll always be reminded when we spend.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Does you emergency fund really cover you?

As I've said in earlier posts, my company is switching health plans. Today we had a meeting with a representative to go over the plan. Generally I wouldn't go because I've read about the plan already, but there was also free pizza. Who says no to free pizza?

While discussing our coverage, the representative mentioned the maximum amount out-of-pocket amount you will pay for the year. I never really thought about what this means. The idea is that if you have a $4000 maximum out-of-pocket expense, you end up paying $4000 in a year for your health expenses, the insurance company will pay for anything above that.

So why is this important?

Depending on your out-of-pocket maximum and your copays, this can be really important. Depending on your limits, you should have a certain amount in emergency money. This of course also depends on the nuances of your particular insurer and plan.

As a hypothetical (and extreme) example, you have a family plan and your out-of-pocket maximum is $5000. You, your wife (or husband) and two children are on a road trip, and you have a car accident. You all are taken to the emergency room, and 3 of you have to stay overnight. For my plan (and most out there), an overnight stay trumps the emergency room copay. So one person pays the emergency room copay (say $100), and three people have to pay the overnight copay (for this example, $1000 each which is what we were quoted). Each individual is covered separately, so the copay exists for all of them. That means you need to come up with $3100 AND the cost of possibly repairing your car or getting a rental. If you had an out-of-pocket maximum of $2000, you would only pay $2000 and the rest of your medical expenses for the year would be paid by insurance.

As I said, this is an extreme example. It is good to think about though, because your emergency fund needs to cover an emergency. Depending on your family, coverage, and other circumstances, you should try your best to be covered as much as possible for the "worst" case scenario.

My suggestion, have your 3 months worth of pay (or whatever is most comfortable for you), as well as some extra to cover the copay of all of your family members if they had to be admitted into a hospital, or to cover the out-of-pocket maximum (which ever is the least).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas shopping is done, and under budget!

This is the first time I, or my fiance, have ever tried to set a budget for Christmas. We had a somewhat budget last year, but I don't know if we truly followed it. I'm half to blame because I like to buy her nice things, and nice things are often expensive. She also likes to make people happy and will spend to do so.

This year was different because we really had to stick to a budget... we just don't have that much extra money to spend. For that reason we basically decided that we would do $25 to each family member, except for her siblings, which we spent $50 for each family. For each other, we said $100 for my birthday (we said the same for her's in November, and I told her not to get me anything, but she did anyway), and $150 each for Christmas. It wasn't easy, but we both spent to budget or under for each other, and because we decided to not get presents for some family members (mutual agreement), we spent even less. Plus we under spent on the others (without the lack of thought). We also did spend more than out budget for our parents, but it all evened out. We tried to be as creative as possible, and although none of our gifts for each other we think are really great, we put a lot of thought into them, and I actually think I did better this year than last.

Overall, I think we did well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Money Rollercoaster

Whenever I make a deposit into my savings account and see how much money I have, I always get excited. I think I just like to see my amount of spare money increase, especially when I know that I will soon have a lot of expenses, and that I can't really squeeze out much savings. Other the other side, when I see my account being low or having to take money out, even if it's a necessity, I'm always a little sad.

I don't think I'm obsessed with money. It's necessary, and I want more, but I can't live my life obsessing about money. But I think when you add and take away from savings it's a feeling of success or failure. You are happy when it increases because you're moving up, but when you take it out, you feel liek you're going backwards. It's an odd feeling, and I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels this way.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The semester is over!

Finally, my semester ended today. Sent in my take home final and my last project, and now I can somewhat relax. But while relaxing, I've realized I'm getting married in 2 weeks and in 3 weeks I'll be in Hawaii. That's pretty crazy.

Also I've realized I need to find out how we're going to eat in Hawaii. I think that's important. It's funny because we were joking around about how to get as much free food as possible. We are provided a free breakfast every morning, so we figure if we have coolers, use free ice, we can possibly get snacks and other things for the whole day each morning. Maybe even enough for lunch! Will we go through with it? Probably not. Even though I'm paying a few pretty pennies for this hotel, I'd feel awkward stashing away food for later. Then again.. I paid MANY pretty pennies for this hotel.

Any ideas on how to cut food costs with the exception of going to the grocery store? I'm looking for cheap (and fishing off the beach is not cheap, and may not even be allowed, so don't suggest it).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Update on my Citi Card promotion

In an earlier postI was pondering my next moves with my new Citi AmEx card.. whether to keep with it, or do a balance transfer. Golbguru suggested that I call, which I was thinking of doing anyway, to get all of the details cleared out since there was already some confusion when I applied for the card.

I just called and talked with them. There is currently a promotion for the same card offering 5,000 points after your first purchase, which is what she said I would get at first. I said that the promotion I signed up for gave me 10,000 points. She looked it up and I guess there was a problem with the system. They have a note in there, so she said if I only get 5,000 points I should call back and they'll fix it.

Now comes the decision to do a balance transfer or not. Although I could probably get an additional 20,000 points, I was incorrect that I could trade them in for cash. I thought I saw that before, but they do not offer cash for points, just gifts cards and other merchandise. I could get a credit of $100 for 17,000 points, but that is absolutely ridiculous. Even though I said I could use gift cards as the same as cash and just convert over, for this I don't want to. So I've decided that once I pay my bill I am going to do a balance transfer. This will add to the balance transfer that we're getting from my fiance's new AmEx Blue card. But that will take a while to transfer because we have to do it through Capital One which is really slow at cutting a check.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Open Enrollment update

In an earlier post I talked about how I needed to sign up for health insurance, and how to add my soon-to-be wife to it, and how everything would work out.

Anyway, I found out that even though it's for 5 days, the policy is the policy, so I have to fill out the form for myself and submit it. Then I need to fill out another form and bring it in on January 2nd (after the wedding) to show that we're married. I'm taking the day off for obvious reasons, so it's kind of annoying that I have to come in to do that. But it must be done.

I've been told that my fiance will be covered retroactively once we're married. I'm not sure I can accept this. But they insist. So if she isn't then that one day (new years day) she will not be covered, but she should be. It's not that great of a day since a lot is going on with parties and all of that. I'm paranoid sometimes though and I want to make sure it all will be fine.. and I don't trust people which is why I don't accept what they say. Yet they know better than I. Just have to go with it I guess.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Networth Update

I actually updated our networth on the 1st (looking at my financial information for the day before), but I've been a bit lazy on thinking about it. I did get rid of all of our credit card debt which was nice. We added to my 401(k), and our investments did decently. We also added to our savings. Overall we did pretty well. We still have a negative networth, but this month will take care of that. Since we're getting married at the end of the month, our networth will shoot up, but then it will drop in January since I have to pay tuition and for school stuff. Hopefully we get more in gifts than what my tuition is.. but I'm not expecting it.

From January to the beginning of September is looking to be rough. Health care is going to cut into my paycheck a bit more since we'll both be on my insurance until my fiance gets a job. It sucks that they have an individual plan and a family plan, meaning I pay for coverage for a whole family, when there's just two of us. We'll probably switch once she gets a job. Also since she will not be making any money and we'll have to pay for tuition, books, and things, our networth won't grow much, if at all. It may actually go south again. It's better than taking more loans though.

Child support and deadbeat dads

This is an interesting post about the problems with child custody. Interesting because I agree that a lot of the problems in the world are continued for the sole reason of making money. People are greedy, and it causes a lot of crap. The example is the best at showing the problems with the system. It makes sense why dad's in the UK are fighting back.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

To do a balance transfer or not?

I finally got my credit card that was supposed to be used for my free money making experiment. There was some issue because I recenlty moved and so they didn't trust that it was me applying for the card. After sending a copy of my electric bill, it all went through. Although my credit is excellent, my credit limit on the new card (which was received today) is disappointing.

I read through the agreement to make sure everything is order, and it seems to be. It's annoying that they don't mention the promotional offer that I used to sign up for the card and those benefits. Either they're trying to screw me out of a good promotion, or it just isn't their policy to list that stuff with the new card. Anyway they list the balance transfer fee maximum at $250, although with my offer there should be no fee. What I didn't really look at before was the points program. After the first purchase I will get 10,000 free points (equal to $100). But also, for the year, my purchases of gas, groceries, and at the drugstore get 5 points for every dollar. It's a good deal, but considering what I will spend, it wouldn't get to the 20,000 point threshhold to give me $200. I could find another way to do it of course.

Anyway, this is a new Citi AmEx card. I originally planned to do a balance transfer and use the money mostly in an investment account, and some in a banking account. In just a banking account I would make about $150 or so in interest. That's not very much at all. My investment account could do better, but it could also tank. Then again, this was my intentions with this experiment. I did not get the card to gain points.

So, $200 possibly in rewards in a year which would not be taxed, or $150 of TAXED interest. Obviously the points deal looks like the better choice. But then I won't be able to do my experiment. So I can't decide yet what I want to do. I just know I'm going to make my one purchase and get my free $100 for now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Update on the Customer Vote specials

In my post on Sunday I talked about my frustrations with the whole system. Well I guess they got enough complaints to change how they do things. They now are going to only allow the discount to those who vote for that product, and people will be picked at random to decide whether or not they can buy the product. This will save the hassle of server traffic issues, and I think it is probably a better way to go about it. They seem to have also decided to randomly sell additional on-sale units after the actual sale occurs. Maybe I'll get the portable DVD player after all?

This week the deal is a 26" LCD HDTV for $200. I voted for it, but do I really need or want it? I haven't decided.

To check it out, go here.

Open Enrollment time.. possibly?

I'm pretty confused with the open enrollment period at my new job. I've been here now over 2 months and so I did all of my benefits when I came in. Usually open enrollment seems to be in November, but not here. I only just received the forms today, and I'm not fully sure if everything is there.

The main new thing is that they're changing health insurance. It's a small company so we only have one choice. I signed up for that choice when I entered and now they're changing to the provider I had before. It's about the same price so nothing really changes much. It just gets confusing because I was told a few weeks ago that I could put my fiance on all of the forms since we'll be married when the new plan goes into affect (Jan. 1st). But now they want to get a special deal so the new plan goes into affect December 25th. But I won't be married yet, so I can't have my fiance on that insurance for that week, which isn't a big deal because she has her own insurance until January 1st. But I then don't want to have to fill out all new forms days after the new plan goes into affected to change it. Seems like a nuisance.

So I'm still figuring it all out. I'm also thinking about the FSA.. but I don't know if that's the best choice because we're probably going to switch plans once the wife gets a new job in september. I just want this to be as little of a hassle as possible, but I don't think that will happen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Damn you amazon has this thing going on where they have a weekly sale where customers pick what they want at the special price. I can't decide if it's poorly done or not. I got onto the first page that you put a code in and then it goes to a time-out type of page, and then you do it again, and they're sold out. I think if you get to the first page after you say "buy this" they should hold it until you can do the other pages. Terrible way to do things. Now I have to think of something as good for my fiance for Christmas and I'm pretty stuck considering out budget. Oh well.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is buying organic worth it?

This is an interesting article I read today from a doctor. He outlines what makes a food product "organic" and desputes that organic food is actually better for you. He accepts that it is porbably better for the environment, but if you buy it for health reasons, you're wasting your money. he even refers to a study done by Consumer Reports.

I've always tended to think that organic is generally not worth my money and makes little difference to me. I also am a fan of genetically modified foods for various reasons. I majored in Environmental Studies in college and I consider myself an environmentalist, even though some people would say that I'm not. I would (and do) buy organic because I do think it helps the environment and often smaller farmers. My level of buying organic products though is really pretty low because I don't have much extra money. If I can get a similar product that isn't less health, then I will pay the few dollars less for that. I do buy organic when I either find a product I like that is organic so I stick with it, if the food I like only comes as organic, or if when I want something only the organic type is available.

If you believe strongly in supporting smaller farms and protecting the environment (and are against modern methods of genetic modification), then organic can possibly be worth it. For me, maybe someday, but in the back of the mind I really can't wait to be able to have my own garden.