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Archive for November, 2006

$518 Credit Card Debt Reduced!

November 22nd, 2006 at 05:21 am

So far this month, I have reduced the total amounts by $244 on CC 1, $135 on CC 2, and $139 on CC 3. That's total of $518 reduction in credit card debt! Now I'm just looking forward to a big bonus . . .

I'm heading out to Chicago (from EWR to MDW). Have an (early) Thanksgiving, everyone!

$5.15!

November 21st, 2006 at 03:27 am

An idea from TinapBeana, it's amazing that the minimum wage hasn't changed! When I was a freshman in college (back in 1998), I got paid $5.15 for doing clerical tasks at admissions office. That was hard enough to pay for expenses and everything else. 8 years have passed, I'm sure a lot of things have gone up in prices (just look at gasoline). I jump to Federal Reserve Bank for a quick calculation, the inflation-adjusted amount should be $6.40.

The state of New Jersey minimum wage is $7.15. What's the minimum wage in your state? How about tipped employees?

300 Million!

November 20th, 2006 at 05:03 am

Hey, I'm back (with greater excitement)! It was a hectic week at work. People tried to pull a fast one on me because I'm new. My co-workers stepped in to pull me out of the corporate swamp. Also, I made changes to next year's benefits selection (I'll blog about that soon).

There is an interesting comparison of 1915, 1967, and 2006 in National Geographic magazine to show some of the ways US life has changed. The US population passed the 300 million mark this year. In 1915, it reached 100 million, in 1967 200 million. Some stats come at no surprise, but a few are intriguing.

US Population
1915: 100 million
1967: 200 million
2006: 300 million

Foreign-born Population in US
1915: 13.5 million mostly from Germany (that's 13.5%!)
1967: 9.7 million mostly from Italy (only 4.85%)
2006: 34.3 million mostly from Mexico (that's 11.43%! Surprise, we actually don't have as many immigrants as before.)

Life Expectancy
1915: 54.5 years
1967: 70.5 years
2006: 77.8 years (No wonder retirement age keeps going up!)

Annual Earnings
1915: $687, $13,284 in 2005 dollars
1967: $5,974, $29,589 in 2005 dollars
2006: $34,926

Women Working
1915: 23%
1967: 41%
2006: 59%

Registered Vehicles
1915: 2.5 million
1967: 98.9 million
2006: 237.2 million (That's 79.07%, pretty much everyone has a car. Too many crazy drivers...)

A Gallon of Regular Gas
1915: $0.25, $5.01 in 2006 dollars
1967: $0.33, $2.00 in 2006 dollars
2006: $3.04 (Surprise, gas price is actually not too bad, especially since it has been coming down to about $2.)

A Gallon of Milk
1915: $0.36, $7.22 in 2006 dollars
1967: $1.03, $6.24 in 2006 dollars
2006: $3.00 (Surprise, I always thought milk price is going up. But it's not as high as before.)

Children per Household
1915: 1.90
1967: 1.41
2006: 0.94 (A lot of only child!)

How Is Your Wealth Doing?

November 13th, 2006 at 06:42 am

There is an article on MSN Money about how broke people in 20s are. On the other hand, people in 20s are innovators and entrepreneurs (think Google). It's true that my peers are burdened with debt, but I think we're also best positioned to become millionaires and create wealth.

It includes some benchmarks for comparison, I selected a few to measure myself. Please comment on my progress and show me how far you have come (my comments are in italic).

Median income $27,726. I'm above the median!

Median value of vehicle(s) $11,000. KBB says it's $7,000, minus the car loan. Yikes, I'm below!

Median credit card debt balance $1,400. OMG, I'm at staggering $27,942!

Median amount of student loans owed $9,200. I seem to owe everyone money, $20,697.


Here are some advices:
Live cheaply as long as you can.

Get health insurance.

Shovel money into your retirement funds.

Take a chance.

Be strategic about debt.

Pay attention to your credit score.


(Read the full article here to see some statistics.)

Update: As Sun mentioned, I'm including other non-debt related info.
401(k) or IRA accounts 31.50%. Cool, I'm part of the group.

Median value of accounts $7,300. My 401k is $1,646, Rollover IRA is $15,621, Roth IRA is $9,208.

10 Financial Urban Legends!

November 10th, 2006 at 02:46 pm

I read an article on MSN Money about urban legends. Quite humorous!

Myth No. 1: You can float a check longer if you write in red ink. The theory is that a bank's equipment can't scan red ink, so it takes longer to process the check.

Myth No. 2: You don't have to pay income tax -- it's illegal. Only foreign income is subject to Uncle Sam's cut, the story runs, and there's a form you can file to exempt yourself. But no one will tell you about it.

Myth No. 3: I'm under 18, so I can't be held accountable for a debt. (Variation: Credit-card debts are wiped out when you turn 19.) Spring-breakers love to use this one to justify running up a cruise or resort-hotel bill on their credit cards.

Myth No. 4: My hotel key card has my credit-card information. The ramification is that you'd better clutch it tightly or a con will decode it and rack up a big bill.

Myth No. 5: Boycotting a few gasoline brands brings gas prices down. Poor Exxon and Mobil. They often show up as the bad guys in a mass e-mail urging Americans to avoid their pumps on a particular day.

Myth No. 6: It's better if you don't sign the back of your credit card. Some well-meaning pigeon decided one day this would protect him from identify theft.

Myth No. 7: You can make a pile of dough by helping a foreigner solve his money problems. "Hello, my name is unpronounceable, and I need to get money out of my country. Will you let me use your bank account?" is the gist of this e-mail plea.

Myth No. 8: You can now opt out of having credit bureaus give your information to anyone who asks. Just call (888) 567-8688 and give them the Social Security numbers of everyone in the household in a single call, says the message. But hurry -- you only have 60 days to take advantage of this ability.

Myth No. 9: You can buy your way out of points on a speeding ticket. If you pay a bit more than your fine actually is, the state will send you a refund check for the difference.

Myth No. 10: Hotel Bibles often have $100 bills tucked into them. Heard the one that Gideons leave $100 bills in their hotel Bibles to reward folks who turn to the Good Book?


(Read the full article to learn why these are myths).

Budget Basics, Part IV!

November 10th, 2006 at 04:29 am

Small purchases can really add up. Don't believe me?

iTune songs = student loan payment
Purchasing 20 songs every month for a year totals $237.60.

Wii = rent
Those $50 video games don't play nice with budgets. One a month, and you're talking $600.

Pizza = groceries
Two $1.50 slices every Friday night for a year totals $156.

Fast food = phone bill
Addicted to Big Macs? At $2.90 once a month, that runs you about $34.80 a year. Now that's a lot of beef!

Nail polish = furniture
A $15 manicure 3 times a month chips $540 away from your budget every year.

Fancy dinner = car insurance
Dining out on the town once a week, at $20 a night, totals $1,040!

Budget Basics, Part III!

November 9th, 2006 at 02:16 am

Extravagant Extras. Do you really need them?

HBO, AT&T, AOL.
Surprise! 58 channels, a dial tone and instant messenger are no longer free. Basic cable can run you $40 a month; the cost of just to have a cell phone is about $40 a month; and internet can range anywhere from $10 (crawling dial-up) to $40 (so-so broadband) a month. Some good advice, get an antenna, rely on your landline and check e-mail at your workplace during your lunch break.

Today's special.
Dining out is a common budget buster. Lunch should always be bagged, especially if you are really trying to save. Dinner out on the town should be reserved for special occasions or a once a week treat. If you must eat out, and have the choice between lunch and dinner, go with lunch. Dinner at a sit down restaurant can run you $15 to $25, almost double what you would normally spend on a light lunch. And as you know, pizza, burgers, and Friday night take-outs do add up.

New set of wheels.
Do you really need a brand new 2007 Jetta? Are heated leather seats, a moon roof, 6-CD changer, rear spoiler and rims really necessary? The average cost of a brand new car is about $20,000. Even if you put $5,000 down, that still leaves you with $13,000 to pay, usually over a 36 to 60 month period, plus interest. That's guaranteeing you at least a $200 to $350 payment a month! And a new car means a bigger bulkier insurance bill, especially if you live in New York/New Jersey area.

Plastic payments.
Credit card debt is an extra that you really want to avoid. It is easy to charge everything, get the bill, see a huge total, and only pay the $20 minimum payment. But interest will follow you! Down the road, a $20 sweater could cost you upwards of $50, depending on how long it takes you to pay off your bill. Solid advice: choose paper of plastic every time.

Name brands.
If you are an "image is everything" kind of thinker, get ready to spend a lot of unnecessary money. Shop for clothes at your favorite stores off season for the best deals (that means "sale"); even better, check out high-quality consignment shops or stores such as Marshall's or TJ Maxx for name brands at half the price. Furniture is another big buck eater. Spruce up a flea market find or hunt for a sofa at Goodwill. Chances are your tastes will change, so why drop hundreds or thousands on trendy finds that you'll only junk when you buy a house? Only buy what you love or need.

Budget Basics, Part II!

November 8th, 2006 at 05:54 am

Bills To Bank On. Why so many?

A roof over your head.
Rent is the big one, but it can be the most flexible. In this part of Jersey, bank on paying a lot more, $1,00 and up, for a lot less space. In the area further from the city, rent may start as low as $800. Keep in mind that a roommate can lighten the load and apartment complexes with extras are more expensive.

Bachelor's degree.
Six months out of college, there will be the ever popular school loan. Sit down and figure out what you're expected to pay every month and see if it is possible to double-up on payments.

Food, glorious food.
Usually $100 to $150 per month is plenty, but keep in mind that meat, medicine, cleaning supplies and beauty products add up quick. Coupons and food store savings cards can help you save.

Getting from point A to B
Transportation by car, bus or subway can really drive the bills home. Settle on a reliable used car that eats up little gas and doesn't require monthly payments. Budget in the cost of insurance, maintenance and gas. If you have to take public transportation, plan ahead and include the cost in your budget.

Insure.
Homeowner insurance is good for renters because it protects your belongings (even clothes and CDs!) from theft, fire and water damage. A basic policy for someone with less than $15,000 worth of belongings can range from $50 to $75 for the year.

Is it cold in here?
Gas, heat, hot water, electricity, sewage and trash are basic utilities, with heat being the expensive in Jersey. Some are covered in the rent, so be sure you know what's included. A place that's only $800 a month could cost you $1,000 or more after utilities. Ask other renters in your building what they average a month and work that into your budget.

Budget Basics, Part I!

November 8th, 2006 at 05:53 am

Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to a group of new college graduates at work. It was interesting to hear the enthusiasm and confusion (about money). While it might be hard to budget all of your money, it does help to monitor spending and put a set amount of it away each month. Why? Because if there is one thing life after graduation will bring, it's bills, bills, and more bills!

Budgeting isn't very glamorous, but that first paycheck . . . it's practically triple the work-study pay at college. When payday rolls around, it's easy to get distracted and go crazy with the spending. The cash that was supposed to be saved for rent, insurance, and those dreaded college loans, can disappear fast. A new car here, a plasma HDTV there and before you know it, the bank is broke!

I'm going to prepare some money guides, based on my little talk for new college graduates. Stay tuned!

October cash flow!

November 6th, 2006 at 03:32 pm

On Sunday evening, I took a little time and tallied up all my incomes and expenses.

Incoming (all figures are after-tax):

$3,668 salary
$800 housing
$110 misc
Total: $4,578


Outgoing:
$488 car payment, gas, tolls, parking
$101 cable, broadband, phone
$45 cell phone
$54 utilities
$2,145 housing
$200 student loan
$180 cash withdrawal
$100 charitable donation
$175 clothing
$174 dining out
$233 groceries
$75 household
$290 car insurance
$73 credit card interest
Total: $4,350


Net:
Differentce: $228 => credit card payment?


With my living arrangement right now, I write checks for $2,145 each month while getting $800 paid back. In short, I spent $1,345 on housing each month. The $290 car insurance is quarterly, so it won't show next month. The $175 clothing shouldn't be there next month :-)

In November, I look forward to cutting back on dining out, clothing, and random cash withdrawal. Good news, no black hole this month!

Generation Y = Generation DEBT!

November 6th, 2006 at 12:44 pm

A few days ago, I read eFIPO's post on "Generation Y Not". It was somewhat shocking and amusing. It's true that the Generation Y (people born in 1972-1981 1978-2000, age 6 to 28) is in deep debt, having less net worth, and facing super-high housing costs. But at the same time, the Generation Y still have the time to make changes. Better yet, the high debt level is met with low interest rate. Moreover, the home ownership for 35-or-below is 43%, higher than 37% of 10 years ago.

I ran into Feed the Pig that intuitively teaches people how to save money. Personally, I think latte factor is not practically. Here are some recommendations I collected from Feed the Pig:

Plan for retirement early: Start saving at 24 will give you an edge over someone starting at 35. Save $4,000 per year and invest in IRA . The amount will grow to $449,000. If you wait until 35 to start, it will only grow to $232,000.

Prioritize goals: Save from various sources, spend it on something your really want, say a high-class honeymoon or a 42" plasma TV. When you have a goal, it's easier to make sacrifice on minor things.

24-hour wait period: Commercials nowadays are well-designed, they persuade you into buying things you often don't need. When you want to buy something you're not sure about, give yourself 24 hours to think over.

Eliminate credit card debt: Enough said. Start from high to low interest rate and pay it back ASAP, even if you need to do overtime or shop at dollar-store.

Buy a house (townhouse, condo): Nothing beats investing in your own residence. Certain markets are over-prices, so wait for the right buyer's market.

Learn to invest: The difference between 6% and 10% return on investing $200 per month can be $500,000 in 35 years.


I'm planning ahead! I'm finalizing my cash flow for October and writing about The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Suze Orman.

Save some here and there!

November 3rd, 2006 at 12:39 pm

Job change and relocation often add more expenses (or sometimes less). Since I started at the new job, I find myself spending more on housing and food. Housing is obviously more in this part of Jersey. I also eat out more.

Well, like yummy saves recommended, I'm putting some efforts to save a few dollars a day:

Save $3.06 (2 x $1.53) on Starbucks coffee
:: I usually drink 2 cups of coffee. Since there is decent free coffee at work, no need to buy!

Save $2 on gym membership
:: Instead of $60/mo on gym membership, I use the free gym (although small, but it has tread mill and free weights I need) at work.


Any tips on effortless ways to save a little here and there?

No excuses not to save!

November 3rd, 2006 at 02:46 am

Sometimes a retirement fund is not enough, you need to save to emergencies and luxuries, too. There is a MSN Money article about 6 (worthless) excuses for not saving money (my thoughts are in italic):

* Excuse 1: I don't make enough. No kidding, I think I'm underpaid. But I also find that the more I make, the more I spend. Someone once said, "it's not how much you make, it's how much you keep".

* Excuse 2: I'll get around to it later. Procrastination. If you can't save now, how can you save in the future [with house, family, kids, aging parents]?

* Excuse 3: I deserve a little luxury in my life. I struggle with this. "Wants" can be strong.

* Excuse 4: Someone else will take care of it. Hahaha, I think I figure out that Social Security won't be around when I retire.

* Excuse 5: I am saving through my 401(k). You know, 6% contribution plus 4.5% matching. Is it enough?

* Excuse 6: This item or service will pay for itself. Oh my gosh, this is definitely a struggle. I tell myself that "I'm not buying, I'm investing in this thing."

GOOD (Get out of debt)!

November 2nd, 2006 at 06:00 am

Tonight I read an article on Newsweek magazine on tips to get out of debt. Some are cookie-cutter lines from personal finance books, while some have practical values (whether you do it or not is another day's discussion):

* Pay it Down: Work overtime, take on a second job and devote that income to paying down debt. Cash in CDs, home equity loans, loans against retirement.

* Cut Spending: Cook at home more often, brown bag it at work and be creative about gifts. If you have the biggest cable package offered, cut back to a lesser plan. Same for cell phones, Internet.

* Track Your Expenses: This is the only way to have a true picture of where your money goes. Once you see where you are, it might be helpful to have a family meeting to decide how you want to spend your hard-earned dollars. A joint effort yields a greater result, so let the kids in on things. Reviewing how you spend your money allows you to set priorities and results in a freedom, putting you in charge.

* Pay Cash: This results in a significant savings, both in terms of what you purchase, but also in not paying interest on your purchases. When you're out of money, you simply stop buying!

* Around the House: Adjust the thermostat by only two degrees. Experts say you can reduce your heating and cooling bills by 5 to 10 percent by simply moving the thermostat two degrees. Also empty your carís trunk & fill the tires. The heavier your vehicle, the harder the engine has to work to push it around town. Correct air pressure in your tires will improve your gas mileage by about 10 percent.

* Check Your Withholdings: Speak to your human resources department at work and confirm that you have the proper number of withholding allowances on your W4. If you routinely get a federal tax refund, you're shorting yourself each month. The average refund for 2005 was well over $2,000.

* Have an Insurance Check-Up: You don't want to be over- or under-insured, but if you haven't compared rates in a while, it's time to do so. Also, inquire about discounts for good driving, security systems, or putting all of your insurance with one carrier.

* Don't Impulse Shop: If you see something you want, don't buy it on the spot. Later, if you still want it and you're sure you can afford it, then go ahead.

* Have a Garage Sale: If you are paying for a storage building, go through those items and get rid of what you can. Then, do the same at home. You'll make money off of the items you don't use anyway, and you'll save the cost of storage.

* Power Pay Your Creditors: Some people find that paying off small bills one at a time gives them a sense of accomplishment. When one bill is paid in full, take the amount you were paying to that creditor and start paying the next largest bill. Keep working your way up the ladder of bills. When you get to the largest bills, you've built up a significant payment and can likely knock off that large debt quickly. Meanwhile, be sure to keep paying at least the minimum on everything.

September cash flow!

November 1st, 2006 at 04:04 pm

Since I started the Money Crunch blog, I learned that one important thing is to manage the cash flow. I spent some time and tracked down my incoming cash and expenses for September. I hope this would give me a more revealing picture of my finances. I welcome your suggestions and comments as well!

Incoming (all figures are after-tax):

$4,200 signing bonus
$5,769 salary and misc
Total: $9,969


Outgoing:
$645 Automobile - car payment, gas, tolls, parking
$2,492 Bills - housing, utilities, cell phone
$560 Cash withdrawal - probably goes to dining out
$171 Clothing
$150 Dining out
$262 Groceries
$141 Household - things to make the place clean and tidy
$402 Leisure
$201 Vacation - plane tickets, hotel to a wedding in Austin, Texas
$900 Misc - black hole
Total: $5,924


The numbers are not typical, since it includes:
* one-time signing bonus (after scary 40% combined federal and NYS tax rates)
* one-time security deposit
* one-time moving charges

I expect income to stabilize around $4,500. Since I get paid bi-weekly, some months have 2, some have 3 paychecks. I expect expense to drop to about $3,500, well, assuming I'll eat out and play less.

My goal is to put $1,000 to $1,600 into savings each month!

I'm going to tally up the income & expenses for month of October (October cash flow), then post it here soon. In the mean time, I'm going to write a bit about financial things. Stay tuned!

First post!

November 1st, 2006 at 03:58 pm

Hello! My name is Jennifer Taylor and this is an adventure in financial challenge.

One day, I was looking at a deal finder web site, I stumbled upon a blog about one's journey toward becoming a millionaire. It was quite interesting. Through a bunch of linking and clicking, I found Saving Advice.

I thought, wouldn't it be nice that I write about my adventure to make (work sucks) and spend (the unstoppable spree at BR) money?

Thanks for visiting and keep me on track!