Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Case of Emergency...

I had the weirdest dream the other day. I found myself in a makeshift shelter (a community center or school gym). There were at least 60 beds crammed together with people of all ages on their cots. As the dream transitioned, I found myself working as a part of the staff/volunteer group/whatever responsible for coordinating people: directing them to beds, leading group discussions, and shuttling them in from wherever they came from. I don't know where this dream came from, but I don't doubt that it has something to do with the hundreds of families who have been displaced by floods and tornadoes in the South and the Midwest.

In one part of the dream, I distinctly remember a guy, propped up on his elbow, talking about how he came to the shelter. He said that he could afford a room at the Marriott but for so long. He was facing the possibility of running out money and had to find an alternative for his family.

What did I take from this dream? I started to think about my own prepardness in case of emergency, rather, my lack of such prepardness. After a quick Google search, I found, a campaign by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that calls on us to "Prepare. Plan. [and] Stay Informed".

Growing up in South Florida, I've had my experiences with hurricanes and their aftermath. I have memories of boiling water, eating packaged and canned food, and going to the mall and grocery stores (because they had generators and/or restored power before us...we went for the air conditioning). As an adult, however, I have to think about what I would do in case of an emergency. Where would I go? How would I get there (my nearest relatives are four hours [driving] away)? How much money would I need?

This last question really has me scratching my head because I know that I'd have to have such funds available in cash. When the power is out, that ATM machine is not of much help, neither is a check scanner.

Nevertheless, I will do my best to be prepared for -God forbid- an emergency, by combing over the checklists at and taking said recommendations seriously.

Are you prepared for an emergency?
How much cash would you stash in case of one?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Response to J. Money's 5 Favorite Things

J. Money of "Budgets Are Sexy" posted a fun "5 for Friday" on May 13th. I'm a little late, but what the heck, here goes:

1) What’s your favorite credit card? My Capital One. They recently raised my limit (hooray for my credit score). However, I'm still in the market for a rewards card.

2) What’s your favorite financial book? I Will Teach You to be Rich, by Ramit Sethi, because he "keeps it real" and it's targeted to my age group. I'm so annoyed that many personal finance books are directed to middle age folks<<<same reason why I had to cancel my subscription to Money magazine (good thing my sister subscribes to it...she's older anyways :>). I also like Suze Orman's The Road to Wealth because it covers so many topics!

3) What’s your all-time favorite financial company? ING Direct and their new acquisition, Sharebuilder (which I used before the A&M). They make saving and investing, respectively, easy to do. And their websites aren't fussy :)

4) What’s your favorite financial tool? (could be software, investment vehicles, or anything you consider a “tool” really) Google Docs (specifically, the spreadsheets). I use it to track my expenses every day, keep a bird's eye view of my savings and investment account balances, and to track my debt elimination progress. What's best is, even when I'm out of town (and I have internet access) I can keep these things updated.

5) And lastly, what’s your favorite coin? ;) Quarters. I park in a city that only accepts quarters in meters.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No More Posts About My Car Note Until...

I won't write any more posts about my car note until the balance is zero. I got so frustrated the other day when I spent and additional $335.06 on GG. The same old story: I go in for an oil change (with my coupon, of course) and come out with a list of things to fix. "Fortunately", I spent $100 less than what was estimated.

Nevertheless, my many car repairs, and other unplanned expenses, have postponed my payoff date. When I started writing about this issue, I anticipated a payoff date of May 2012, then February 2011, then April 2011, then October 2011, then July 2011, then August 2011. Currently, it's September 28, 2011. We'll see about that. I failed to plan for this car note elimination thing to be a moving target. In the meantime, I will avoid obsessing over the matter. You won't read another post about this darn note until it's paid for!

What a Pleasant Surprise...

I checked my Capital One account this morning to see if my most recent purchase (yet another car repair) was posted. What I saw was that my available credit was different. Way different. Like, $5000 more different. Yup. The folks at Capital One took it upon themselves to increase my credit limit to $7,000 (if only my savings balance could change just as magically....). 

For a nanosecond, I was delighted that my [leveraged] purchasing power increased. What I'm most happy about is that this increased credit limit is helpful for my credit score. I've already decided to spend no more than $2,000/month on the credit card (heck, I've been doing that since I've had the card); so even though I have a higher limit, $2K is stuck in my head. Also, I'm committed to paying off my credit card balance each billing cycle. You already know that- looking at my budget- it is not within my means to charge up to $7K a month (billing cycle), and maintain my commitment. At best, with all of my savings and bills that don't accept credit cards (ex. car insurance, student loan, car note), I could charge just under $1400 (for food, gas, cell phone bill, etc.) and pay it off .

All things being equal, we know that folks who carry a balance under 30% of their available limits fare better than those who carry a balance of 50% or more of their limits (check out the last paragraph of this article). Even if I reverted to my balance carrying ways, this new credit limit increase helps position me in the former group (do the math, $2,000 of $7,000 is just over 28.5%)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I'm getting an oil change right now....
Just got a repair order for a new air filter, fuel induction system service, power steering system fluid and a new tire (darn nail!).
The damage?

You know how this ends.....

Friday, May 6, 2011

Savings vs. Debt....

I've read many articles and posts from my favorite PF bloggers that explore the pros and cons of focusing one's discretionary income on savings versus debt elimination (if you don't believe me, look here). 

Recently, I shared that I went "a little" overboard on my credit card spending in preparation for a trip. I used my "car payment" money to pay the credit card bill, and now I'm looking at postponing my payoff date to September. Unless.....

I use $348.67 from my ING savings account for the car payment this month. This would leave less than $100 in the savings account. I've reasoned that in the event of an emergency, I can use my credit card and pay the balance (in full) with car payment money (like I've done before). Of course, an unexpected expense of such sort would mean that I'd have to postpone my payoff date, anyway. On the other hand, if I don't have any unexpected expenses between now and August, then I'll be done with the note and can stash away hundreds of dollars a month.

What would you do? Nearly deplete your savings to pay of the car note a month earlier or stick to the current circumstances and finish the note in September?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Wonderful Vacation!

Somebody (i.e. me) didn't post for three days. If the picture to the left doesn't make it clear, then hopefully, these words do....I was gearing up for, and later enjoying, a vacation!!!

My dear friend married his college sweetheart on Thursday, April 28th and many guests enjoyed a cruise afterward. The days prior to his wedding were fraught with shopping (What to wear to the wedding!? What to wear on the cruise and for the excursions!?), planning (They want me to pay WHAT for an excursion!? Let me deal directly with the vendor!), and packing (What can I pack in my carry-on (clothes, shoes, toiletries)... What do I have to purchase once I get to Florida (liquor, large sunscreen, liquor)...)

The wedding was beautiful and the ensuing cruise was a blast! I got to spend time with friends, a little more time with my boyfriend, toured Ernest Hemingway's Key West home, parasailed, ate, snorkeled, danced, laughed, ate some more, played cards, snapped a ton of pictures, learned a "fancy" way to play Black Jack, ate again, and napped. My boyfriend ran into an old friend (and his girlfriend) and we shared a few experiences (we're looking forward to hanging out with them).

I hadn't cruised in several years and was anxious to find ways to spend less money where possible. This is how I did it:
  • I read the FAQs like my life depended on it an learned that each person could bring 750mL of wine for embarkation day. Considering that cocktails on board started at $7 (plus 15% tip),  I made sure to take advantage of this opportunity: 1 bottle of pinot grigio and 1 bottle of Arbor Mist (my boyfriend likes fruity drinks) cost less than ten bucks at CVS.
  • Long before the cruise set sail, my boyfriend and I explored the shore excursions we wanted to participate in. We settled on the Ernest Hemingway museum and parasailing in Key West and snorkeling in Cozumel. Had we booked through the cruise, the per person cost would have been $40, $90, and $60, respectively. I decided those amounts were too high and shopped around. I made online reservations for the Key West activities with local vendors ($11/pp for Hemingway's house and $35/pp + tax for parasailing). Once we arrived to Cozumel, we asked three vendors about their prices and settled on one for $45/pp (in hindsight, we probably could have negotiated with them). Nevertheless, instead of paying $380 (for the both of us), we paid $187.24....for the same exact thing!!!
  • I printed coupons. In asking about places to go for our trip, Pancho's Backyard came up. We went to the website and printed out coupons for free lime margaritas. They were DELICIOUS!!!
  • We booked early. As soon as my friend set the date, I booked the cruise (March 2010). Since then, I'd been setting aside $100 each month to pay for the cruise (which was paid for by October 2010) and spending money. A few months, I spent the "cruise spending money" on other (i.e. more immediate) fun things, but at the end of it, I still had $400 left.
  • It wasn't a "way to spend less" but a financially savvy decision nonetheless...My boyfriend has a rewards credit card that earns points for every dollar spent. We each received a card that granted us entry into our stateroom and allowed us to make purchases on board (a few rum punches and mojitos, room service, coffee, and daily gratuities, for instance). Both of our cards were assigned to his card. So the $202 we collectively spent will translate into points that he can use at a later time.
Despite spending a ginormous amount of money on clothes ($700+), the amount of money we spent during the actual vacation was very reasonable. We had an amazing experience and are looking forward to our next trip! Perhaps next time, I can wear what I bought this time around and really keep the numbers in check!

May Net Worth Update

My assets increased by $785.98 and my liabilities decreased by $236.22. Here's the summary explanation:

403(b): (+515.92) In the past few months that I've been doing these net worth updates, I've completely overlooked the contributions of my employer's match. I've noted the increase in my bi-weekly contributions to $125 (thanks payroll tax holiday), but I have not mentioned the $80 extra my job kicks in. Mistakenly, I've attributed the increase in this account to my contributions and market activity only. My bad! In fact, every two weeks, $205 is transferred to this account. Anything above and beyond that amount is due to the performance of the account's investments (between April and May, my investments grew by $105.92).

Emergency Savings: (+1.10) No deposits into this account. Just interest earned.

Regular Brokerage Account and Roth IRA: (+64.04 and +174.45) Recurring deposits of $25 into the regular brokerage account every two weeks and not much going on (save for changes in value of investments) in the Roth. The Roth is kicking a$$!

Savings Account: (+30.47) This increase is a dramatic difference from previous months! And it's all because I'm "keeping the change" ;)

Car Loan: (0) I have yet to make my car payment this month. No worries about any late fees, every time I pay my car note, my credit union advances the payment date because the amount I pay is so high. Nevertheless, the amount that I pay  towards it this month will definitely be more than the required (i.e. minimum) payment, but less than what I initially planned for....all because I went a little crazy (see "credit card" below).

Credit Card: (-837.02) Why, oh, why is my credit card payment so high? I went shopping. And it felt good; largely because it gave me a glimpse of what life will be like once I've eliminated my car payment. I spent as much as a I did because: 1) I was going on vacation (I wanted to have fun and look good doing it) and 2) I knew I'd have the money (i.e. "car payment money") to pay the bill in full and stick to my "no finance charge" goal.

Student Loan: (+45.43) Previously, I've posted the "principal balance" from the "detailed disbursement information" on my account (in which case, the above amount should be $30,096.16, which would make the monthly change for this account +$99.60). However, I decided that the payoff amount (the amount I'd have to pay today to completely eliminate my student loan) would be a more helpful number to track. This being the case, the difference between my balance last month and this month is less than it had been in previous months. I will continue to post the "payoff" amounts in my updates. In the rare event that I play the lottery and the even rarer event that I win, this is the first number that I'd want to be crystal clear on!

Until next time!