Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Phone Bill Can't Be Right

I am a satisfied customer of AT&T. I don't have a "fancy phone" with internet access and whatnot (at least for now :>). I have a plan with just enough minutes (I have plenty that have "rolled over") and unlimited text messages. The base price for my rate plan is $59.99 ($39.99 for the minutes and $20 for unlimited text messages). I've gotten accustomed to paying just under $70 a month for my phone bill (including taxes, fees, and the occasional usage charge for when I accidentally access the internet<<those data charges suck!) However, I've noticed that my most recent bills have been $71+. 

At first, I thought I was accidentally accessing the internet more often than usual. Turns out, one of the miscellaneous fees has increased. Now you might say, "what the heck is your problem? It's just a couple of dollars." Well, I believe it "all adds up." Besides, I'm irritated that my monthly spending plans reflect a $70 expense for something that turns out to be a little bit more. At the current rate (approx. $71/month), I'm spending $12 to $24 more (per year) on my phone than planned!

Okay, so maybe I'm being a bit dramatic. You know what I did? I changed my billing address to my parents home (heck, I have their address on file for other accounts, so what's the big deal?). My hope is that the local fees for their city/county/state will be lower than the local fees for my city/county/state. I'm crossing my fingers I can go back to paying $69.82/month (or less). I'll keep you posted!

Would you change your billing address on an account if it meant paying lower taxes and/or fees? Why or why not?

P.S. I recently signed up for auto-pay on this account. I guess it took me so long because I have a thing with control and desire to move money when I want to. ..and this auto-pay plan doesn't allow you to set the payment date. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure that I'd have the funds available to cover the expense, as I assign certain expenses to the 1st or 2nd pay period of the month. However, I've been bought... there was a $10 incentive to switch to auto-pay or paperless billing (I did this eons ago). So I'm just waiting on my ten bucks! I'll probably ask you what to spend it on ;)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lesson Learned

In my last post, I was gearing up for part two of my vacation to the Bahamas [to help my girlfriend celebrate her birthday]. Sadly, I didn't go. I left my passport [1: The Passport Story]. Shipping that sucker overnight would've been stupid expensive, not to mention the expense related to changing my flight reservation. To make matters worse, several hours after returning from the airport, I got sick. I don't know if it was something I ate or my distress over missing my girlfriend's birthday manifesting itself, but I was out of commission for 2.5 days. Fortunately, I've recovered, and my vacation is behind me :( 

Although I missed out being a Bahama Mama this past weekend and creating adventure-filled memories, I've managed to find a [financial] bright spot in the midst of it all. The money set aside for the trip went unspent. And once you consider that I was bed-ridden and in no mood to do any online shopping, that money has remained unspent. Previously, I mentioned the temptation to go above and beyond those funds, but considering all of the circumstances, it's safe to say that that's not an issue. 

Here is my question to you: what do I do with the unspent vacation funds?

So far this is what I've come up with: buy a gift for my girlfriend (had I attended the festivities, I would've footed the bill for something- dinner, drinks, souvenir, excursion, etc.), put the money back into savings, use it for another trip (I'll be in a winter wonderland of snowboarding this upcoming weekend), put it towards my car payment, or buy something nice for myself.  

What would YOU do with previously set aside funds that go unspent?

[1] The Passport Story: August 2008, my girlfriend (the same one whose birthday I missed :<) and I drove 8+ hours to Toronto. As we approached the US-Canada border, my friend asked me a very important question: "do you have your passport?" If you guessed my answer being "no", you guessed right. Despite a verbal reminder to pack that sucker, I left it behind and was faced with the possibility of turning around (no fun, if you've ever driven on New York's I-90 [the exits are 15 trillion miles apart from one another...I'm only exaggerating a little bit]). Luckily, we were allowed to pass through without issue. Perhaps I took that lesson for granted; this most recent incident hurt a lot (i.e. not being able to go). Undoubtedly, I consider this a major lesson learned!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vacation Spending

I've been looking for a little inspiration for today's post. I've been on vacation for the past several days, so my routine of writing and posting has been thrown off (sorry about that!) But in the midst of my relaxation, I've uncovered the motivation to share today :)

I had been planning this vacation since October/November 2010. In addition to intently reading Trip Advisor reviews and making reservations, planning has included setting aside money for lodging, food, excursions, and even a few souvenirs. Part one of my vacation has ended, and I've gone over budget by $100 because I failed to include transportation in the expenses; otherwise, I would've been right on target. As I think about part two of my vacation, I wonder how realistic my budget will be. Just as I had done with the first part of my trip, I failed to include transportation costs. I am also left to wonder if I will have the benefit of shopping at a local grocer to make purchases that will help with the food portion of the budget (sandwiches and granola bars for lunch, anyone?) 

Fortunately, I have some cushion in my checking account to cover any expenses that go above my budget for the upcoming part of my trip. I should mention that part of this "cushion" will be spent for food and gas when I return to work next week. Luckily, I have a 4-day work week, a tank full of gas, and a plan to pack lunch [everyday next week]; in other words, I won't sweat part two of the vacation too much. I'll keep you posted =)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Early Graduation from Graduated Payments?

In Tuesday's post, I shared my negative net worth statement with you. It forced me to log on to the Direct Loan Servicing website to see the exact amount I owed (up until then, I referred to it as "$30,000+"). Well, it's $30,504.41 (down from the original $32,300). And that's not the only thing I noticed. For the past two years, I've been paying $229.21 a month for my student loans as part of the graduated repayment plan. This amount fit into my $35,000 yearly gross income at the time I began repayment (exactly 6 months after completing grad, I just had a moment....$35K income AFTER graduate school....:<).

Anywho, the graduated repayment plan allows debtors to pay off their loans in the same amount of time as standard repayment debtors (130 months). Rather than paying the same amount month after month (like the standard repayment plan), the graduated repayment plan allows you to pay a smaller amount for two years, then the amount increases for the next two years, then it increases again for two years, and so on. In fact, here's what my graduated repayment plan looks like:

You'll notice that I'm scheduled to pay an additional $36.76/month beginning February 2011 ($265.97-$229.21 = $36.76).  I've anticipated increasing my student loan payments....once my car note has been paid. Fortunately, the February '11 increase is feasible (by the way, the few bucks extra in my paycheck because of the tax holiday covers the $36.76 and then some). What I've started to think about, however, is if I should hurry into the standard repayment plan (that is, once my car note is paid off). By the way, here's the standard repayment schedule:

I'm thinking that I will "free up" more money to save and invest with the graduated repayment versus the standard repayment. The graduated plan costs $1163.54 more in interest; a "drop in the bucket," relatively speaking, but who wants to throw away money? Then again, my money wouldn't be tied up in a 5.3% loan and I could do more (i.e. earn more) by contributing to my Roth IRA, $10,000 goal and brokerage account.

What would YOU do?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Tradition?

Two of my favorite bloggers, Debt Ninja and J. Money, share monthly net worth updates with their readers. Since I'm down for being a copycat (disclaimer: so long as it's the right cat to copy ;>), I've decided to do the same at the beginning of the month. Here goes:

Here's a summary explanation:

403(b): $100 every pay check.

Emergency Savings: Currently, I'm not contributing to this account. However, I've tapped it a few times in 2010 to pay for major car repairs.

Regular Brokerage Account and Roth IRA: I'm not contributing to these accounts, at the moment. However, I made a random deposit (from my "emergency savings") to beef up the Roth a bit. In hindsight, it was totally a psychological band-aid for the realization that I haven't been maxing it out.

Savings Account: $25 month. I opened this account for overdraft protection, but I haven't had to use it for such in the past year. Yet, I sometimes transfer a few bucks to cover an unanticipated, small expense (like the crap I got around Thanksgiving 2010).

Car Loan: If you've read through my previous posts, you know that I'm a bit obsessed with paying off my car note sooner than later. I opened this account in July/August of 2009 with a $13,500 balance. If I paid what my credit union wants me to pay on a regular basis, I would retire this debt in 2014. However, I have other plans. I set aside $1,055/month to pay off this sucker. With my estimations of a nice tax refund and "extra" paycheck in April, I plan to completely eliminate this debt by May 2011.

Credit Card: Despite setting aside cold-hard-cash for holiday gifts, I still resorted to my credit card to make some purchases. Gas. Food. Clothes. Accessories. And they were all for me. Now I'm staring this junk in the face, wondering how I'm gonna pay it off (one of my goals this year is to avoid incurring interest charges) while staying on track to pay my car note off by May. I'll keep you posted (even though I suspect the funds will come from January's $1,055 car note money :/).

Student Loan: Six years of post secondary school for me = $30,000+ student loans. Currently, I am on a graduated repayment plan (which will adjust in February to a higher amount). I have no intentions of continuing to pay on this plan, as, ultimately, the total interest charges exceed those of the standard repayment amount (i.e. about eleven years of the same payment each month). As soon as financially possible (hopefully May of this year), I can begin paying the standard repayment amount ($360.10) and then some (you know, so I can knock this puppy outta the water!).

I'll also share my yearly net worth updates once per quarter. Heck, I might later change my mind and display the YTD net worth totals with the monthly ones. But seeing as this is my first stab at it for the year, I figured I could spare you the redundancy.

Do you check your net worth? How often do you calculate it? Monthly? Quarterly? Bi-Annually? Yearly? Never? What benefits do you glean from assessing the differences between your assets and liabilities?