Thursday, October 28, 2010


I don't know who coined the term "free.99", but I love it! "Free.99" refers to something being free, costing zero dollars, no need for exchanging services, goods or currency, just plain 'ol "here it is." Since "6" is one of my favorite numbers, I've devised a list of my favorites that are, you guessed right, FREE!

  1. John Grisham books: Usually, I get these from friends who have purchased them. Otherwise, I'll cop one from the library. John is hot AND a marvelous author, but this chick-a-dee ain't shelling out the dough if she doesn't have to. Sorry John. You understand, right?
  2. Admission to museums and cultural attractions: When planning a vacation, I keep my eyes open for the times and days that museums offer free admission (this worked well for my boyfriend and I on a Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago). If you're visiting Washington, DC, you'll get to enjoy a-ga-gillion of the Smithsonian's museums at no cost. I also sign up for e-newsletters promoting local events, many which are free :)
  3. Information: Considering that I don't pay for internet service, I think it's fair to say that information, via the internet, is free-free-free!!! Newspaper articles, blogs, industry publications, the gamut. Hi five for free knowledge acquisition =)
  4. "Cloudware": Google. I love Google. Free email. Free access to creating documents, spreadsheets (super helpful when it comes to drafting and revising my budget), Power Point presentations. Free Google sites. Free phone number (yes, I use Google Voice). Free photo sharing via Picasa. Free blogging ;) You get the point, eh?
  5. Music: Pandora makes my days at work fly by. My favorite stations are my "Free Masons" station with dance/techno selections and my "Bill Withers" station with the "oldies but goodies." Occasionally, I'm vexed by the limitations of the free version of Pandora's music service (i.e. you are limited with the number of times you can skip a song, you can't repeat a song, you can't make a special request, etc.). Overall, I'm happy with it.
  6. Hugs: Okay, so people don't ordinarily pay for hugs, but I like them. And since this post is about things that I like AND are free, I've included them here. Besides, if I didn't make mention of hugs, you'd wonder why I included this...

What are some of your favorite free things?

Monday, October 25, 2010

7 Days and 1,604.85 Dollars Later...

Last week, I posted "Decisions, decisions, decisions..." to reflect the conundrum du jour: should I use my "extra" paycheck for a trip to Houston or do other stuff with it?

Well, it took me less than a week to blow through more than my "extra" check. Here's how I did it:
  • $717.73 for bills ($689.01 for my car payment and $28.72 to pay off my credit card balance)
  • $255.64 for "other" or miscellaneous expenses (stamps, airfare, brake lights (the DIY replacement of $6.35 is much less than the $29.99 the rotor-replacers wanted to charge...more on them, next), pet food, public transportation fare).
  • $250.10 (on a credit card) for an unexpected car repair.
    • I had my coupon ready to go for my oil change, but after a road test (something that I insisted be done because I've been hearing squeaking while braking), I was informed that my front brake rotors needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, they were worn down to the point that resurfacing them (a cheaper alternative to rotor replacement) was not a feasible alternative.
  • $197.63 for food (sadly, more than half of this was spent on eating out, including this little indulgence).
  • $71.43 for gasoline.
  • $60 for an ATM withdrawal ($49.72 was spent on a day trip to NYC - tolls and food- and state park admission for a "hiking" trip in a part of the Appalachian Mountain range. I spent another $6 as a tip for lunch that I didn't pay for.) Sadly, I can't account for the outstanding $4.28.
  • $39.53 for savings (I wanted to make the amount in my ING Direct account an even number. Lame. I know).
  • $12.79 for a bottle of vino (yes, liquor has it's own category in my spending plan). Don't judge me ;)
All said and done, I will have $34.26 left over from this "extra" check. None of which, I might add, went towards a trip to Houston. I should mention, however, that part of the airfare cost listed in the miscellaneous category includes a membership fee for Spirit Airline's "$9 Fare Club." This service, at approximately $60, will pay for itself over the purchase of two airline tickets (one down, one more to go) as I will receive special fares for being a member ($19 one way ticket to travel 900+ miles, anyone?)

I know this isn't the most impressive record of spending "fun" money, but tell me, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?

I guess I don't have "money to blow".....

From Candy Slice Comedy

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Aren't People Planning?

Have you ever had a financial premonition and were scared poopless? What were the circumstances and how did you deal with it?

I had such a moment when I participated in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at a local church (the first of 13 sessions). There were about 20-30 people in attendance, quite a few couples and only a handful of folks under the age of 30. We were asked to share our names and why we decided to attend. Stories poured forth about middle-aged individuals coming to the sudden realization that they had to find a way to pay for their 17 year old’s college education, prepare for a dignified retirement or dig out of mounds of consumer debt. In those moments, I thought to myself that there is no way that I would want to be in a similar conundrum. What’s more, these folks could have been in better [financial] circumstances if they had done one thing: plan. I recognize that recent market activity has wrecked havoc on retirement accounts, savings and other investments (I hear my family discuss how such activity has impacted their plans). I am not naive to the reality that folks have been losing jobs, either. In fact, my godmother has been through a few temporary employment stints in the past two years and she still hasn’t procured a permanent position.

I contend, however, that the individuals who planned (and executed their plans) fared better than those who did not plan (and execute) at all. Sadly, my observation about the company I was in during this class was that most of them failed to plan, altogether. Further, I find myself frustrated with individuals who find themselves in the "sudden" predicament of having to make a big purchase....and they haven't prepared for it.....and they're still spending money on random things (oh yeah! we just decided to go to Atlantic City this weekend to gamble and go shopping). So this forces me to ponder, how much time do people think they need to prepare for major expenses and how much time do they actually need to prepare for such expenses? Major  expenses = buying a home, paying for college, preparing for retirement, eliminating debt, etc. From my perspective, there are many people who are slacking on the finances, however, I could be overreacting. this dude:

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

I'm a salaried employee who gets paid every two weeks (or "every other week;" pick your preference ;>). As such, there are two months out of the year that I receive an "extra" paycheck. This month is one such month. And here's my [mini-] dilemma. A few months ago, my boyfriend and I discussed going to Houston. He's also a salaried employee and has an "extra" check, so we thought the timing was right for us to plan and pay for a trip. We agreed to spend about $500 for the trip (a nice chunk of change to cover airfare, lodging and a rental car; not enough to cover additional expenses such as airport parking, food and admission for attractions). Although we're traveling from different places, the combined cost (airfare, hotel and rental car) for us to go to Houston (this December, I should add) is around $1000.

Even though I've set aside close to half of this "extra" check to go towards my car payment, I'm tempted to postpone the trip so I can do other things with the funds, like fix that nick in my windshield, or set a couple hundred aside in savings or my Roth, or buy a few clothes for work. I rationalize that going on a trip to Houston AFTER I pay off my car would be a nice reward, a treat for having done something good (marshmallow, anyone?).

On the other hand, the boyfriend and I haven't been anywhere "new" since July, and before that, March. The weather will be nice (especially compared to the "arctic" winter of the Mid-Atlantic) and I'd like to go sooner than later.
What would you do?
Houston for 2010? Or pay bills and save money?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Like My Sweets Cheap

This post is about me being a glutton or a cheapo. Or maybe I'm a gluttonous cheapo. You be the judge...

I am a fan of Dunkin' Donuts Marble Frosted donuts. It doesn't help that there's a DD (this is what I call it in my expense tracker/budget) within 100 steps of my office. There have been a number of days when, right before work, I would make a pit stop to DD for a small hot coffee and one of my chocolate-drizzled-over-vanilla goodies. And on such days, I would spend $0.89 for a doughnut. Recently, I learned that if I purchase later in the day (say, after 3PM), I can get not one, but TWO doughnuts for the delicious price of $1! Now I know I'm spending $0.11 more than originally planned, and it's not like doughnuts are a healthy food choice, but gosh-darn-it, it feels good to know I can spend less (per doughnut) than necessary. Armed with this new information, I am less likely to get my sweet treat earlier in the morning when a premium is placed on the price. Instead, if I "have" to have a doughnut, I'll let the clock tick-tock away before I indulge (if I'm still thinking about something so relatively insignificant, I might as well get it, right?). Some of you may contend that  3PM doughnuts are, well, old. And cruddy, and no good, and stale and blah blah blah. Well, out of the many discounted doughnuts I've consumed, I can say that I've only had one that wasn't up to par. Aside from that, I've been getting my sweet-treats cheaply!

What items do you wait to purchase? 
Are you the person with all of the Halloween candy in the middle of November? Do you "forget" to go holiday shopping until after January 1?
What's worth it to you to wait to spend less?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update: Roth, Car and Wants

To date, I've fretted about Roth contributions, using savings to keep up with $1k+ car payments and a list of wants. Well, here's a brief update:
  • Roth: I have not made any changes to my budget to redirect funds to my Roth account. So far, I'm saying "screw it." I'll be able to satisfy the $5,000 maximum contribution for 2011.
  • Savings for Car Payment: You have likely read that I placed myself in the possible predicament of using my savings to pay my car note because I used a substantial portion of car payment money to pay off my credit card. Well, I haven't moved any money from savings (my ING balance is around $1200) and my credit card still has no balance. As previously reported, my balance for the car note is just north of $8,000.
  • My wants: In the "It's My Budget! Part 3 of 3" post, I listed the following wants and needs: max out my Roth IRA ($3,883.75 remaining); pay for a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday ($500); set aside money for my boyfriend’s birthday ($300), buy new clothes ($250); vehicle window tinting ($200-$250); and repair the crack in my windshield (I’m guessing $100-$200). Well, you already know about the Roth... I'm diligently saving for my girlfriend's birthday celebration in January (approximately $200/month)... I'm quite a bit unsure about what exactly I'm going to do for my boyfriend's birthday; whatever it is, I have to be realistic about it and make sure I plan for it :) Purchasing new clothes doesn't have to be a bulk purchase type of thing. Recently, I went to a discount clothing store and purchased a few items (I spent $37.07). The money came from the $66.80 reimbursement I received from work... I can postpone the window tinting. I'm likely to get it done for a much cheaper price if I looked outside the metro area that I live in... And the crack in my windshield? I got a quote for $114.95 + taxes. Now I just have to find the time to get it fixed!
What are your thoughts? Would you do the same thing if you were in my shoes?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Have You Checked Lately?

Recently, I pulled my credit reports from Experian and Equifax.  Actually, I accessed them from (the website where you access your free credit report yearly; no catchy jingles or efforts to enroll you in a "not free" credit monitoring service here). As far as I can tell, all of the information is correct, which I'm relieved to see, especially considering that some 80% of credit reports contain errors. This time around, I did something that I've never done before: I purchased my credit score. The Fair Credit Reporting Act - the federal law that allows for us to access a free credit report each year - does not make concessions for us to get a free credit SCORE. So, I paid for it. A whopping $7.95. I was a little anxious to see it considering that I recently paid off my credit card balance; I wanted to see how this action would be reflected in my score. At any rate, I pulled the trigger too soon. The credit card account reflected my previous balance of $700+. What I'm a little bummed out about is that my credit score, at least according to Equifax, is "average;" my score is 723. What's more annoying is that I am just TWO points shy of having an "above average" credit score (725 to 759). For those of you wondering, a "high" credit score has a range of 760 to 850.

Nevertheless, I am relieved that I am not shopping for credit in the near future. If you're in the market for a car loan, mortgage, credit card, or any other credit product, it is appropriate for you to pull your credit reports (and purchase your scores) at least 3 to 6 months prior to your application to make sure your credit report is accurate. The purpose of the "lead time" is to allow you to make corrections in the event misinformation is present. Additionally, it may give you a bit more time to pay down your debt (especially on those credit cards). A few things I'd like to share with you about my experience:

Additional information about credit can be found at

  1. You can get an estimate of your credit score for free by using a credit score estimator at, or I've found these to be pretty on point (especially considering that they don't have access to the in-depth information present on credit reports; said information is used in credit scoring algorithms.)
  2. Your credit score is forever changing, so don't get hung up on the minor details. A score is simply a "snapshot" of your creditworthiness at one point. If you're not pleased with your own score, rest assure that a little time and a few well-directed financial actions will give you the results you want.
  3. It's cheaper to purchase your credit score when you're accessing them through (although it is not required that you do so). I've gone to the individual credit reporting agencies (the big ones, anyways: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and (where you can purchase your Equifax & TransUnion reports and scores) where the prices for scores ranged from $9.95 to $15.95 each. The price per score drops if you elect to purchase a bundle, but it's still not cheaper than $7.95.
Going forward, I will remain committed to paying off my credit card balance each month (no finance charges here!) and paying down my car note balance ASAP. When the time is right, we'll see how this conversation goes for my $31,000+ student loan debt!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Little Extra Something...

I got a check, I got a check, I got a check, hey hey hey hey! I received a reimbursement check from my job and I don’t know what to do with it. By no means is it a tremendous amount- it’s a modest $66.80- but I’m still scratching my head as to what I should do with it. Normally, I apply such checks to my credit card balance. But I don’t have a credit card balance (yippee!). I could blow the money on something beauty-related (like this maybe?). Go out to eat. Put it in my savings account. Put it in my Roth or brokerage account. Give it away. Or let it sit in my checking account just for the sake of it.

What do YOU think I should do with my $66.80?