Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Out of commission

Public Service Announcement - it's a bad idea to ignore symptoms because you're annoyed at medical professionals.  I apparently did too much of that.  I'm off to the hospital for a while, so updates will be on hold for a bit.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Off track

I really got off track in June.  I've justified it to myself in a lot of different ways, and in truth, most of my spending hasn't been frivolous.  There has just been a lot of it all at once.  I think the biggest reason is that I've been fairly focused on getting set up in my new place and getting back to some semblance of normalcy that I stopped focusing on the financial picture.  It hasn't hurt me too much, though I did spend more than I earned in June (more on that later), but if I don't get back on track, I think it will.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Completely unfrugal

Is unfrugal a word?  Non-frugal?

Anyway, I picked a stupidly expensive habit.  I've decided to take up horseback riding.  Preferably, eventually, competitive horseback riding.  It's hard to imagine a more expensive sport.  Financially, I can afford to do this, although it's going to mean sacrifices in other areas.  But after taking two lessons today, I think it's worth it.

One, and maybe most importantly, it makes me happy.  I love being on a horse.  I love animals, and horses give pretty powerful feedback about the bond you establish with them.  I love training animals, working with them, learning how to better communicate with them.  Owning a dog isn't feasible at the moment, but horseback riding gives me that pleasure without the ownership requirements.

Two, it gets me out of the house.  I'm somewhat naturally awkward in social settings that are unfamiliar, so I don't tend to make friends easily.  Outside of work, I don't do much, and this is a good way to prompt me to get out and be around people.  That's important for my mental status, so I don't feel isolated and sink into a cycle of depression.  It's sometimes hard to get the willpower going to actually make the effort to get up and out, but once I do, I usually feel a lot better.

Three, and maybe this is the most important one, it's good exercise for me.  I have a serious problem with exercise - it hurts and I can pretty seriously injure myself with a single wrong step.  Many typical exercises I can't do, and even walking is seriously problematic due to my joints.  With riding, I have basically the same injury risks as anyone else - stepped on, kicked, or bitten by the horse, thrown or falling off the horse - but it's a form of exercise that I can do without feeling like I'm killing myself.  I don't feel like I medically have a need to lose weight, no doctor has ever mentioned it to me, and I don't have any weight related issues.  However, I do have excess pounds on me, both from the pregnancy and from taking medications that caused me to gain weight.  So I'm about 30 lbs heavier than I was in high school, and I want that off.  I've been tracking what I eat, and staying right around 1,200 calories, so food isn't the problem (although I've probably destroyed my metabolism from the days that I don't eat due to pain.)  Any exercise that will help me both burn calories and get into better shape will make me feel better about myself and maybe even help my other medical issues. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Eliminating debts, slowly but surely

I'm down to just under $11,000 in consumer debt now. This debt free thing may come sooner than I expect!

One thing I'm very, very determined to stick with is that I will not incur any new unsecured debt. If I end up getting credit cards at some point in the future, I will pay off the bill every month, without fail.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My spending spree, and why

I've been on the move pretty much constantly for the past 3 years. I've had to deal with leaving my apartment, being in and out of the hospital, then temporary living arrangements for a while. Additionally, I haven't bought new clothes in about 7 years, resulting in 99% of my wardrobe being too small, too large, or worn out. This doesn't come close to conveying the impression I would like to and need to convey at work.

So I made up my mind that my new place represents a fresh start and I'm going to make the most of it. I'm going to stop living out of boxes and actually unpack and organize my stuff. I don't really have a ton of things I need to get rid of, since the majority of my "stuff" disappeared when I went into the hospital (I mean that literally, I have no idea what happened to it,) but I am looking to actively make a home for myself. I'm also replacing my wardrobe a few pieces at a time. I did some research into what is actually needed for a nice, professional wardrobe, and I'm concentrating on buying pieces that fit well, are high quality, and provide me with several different outfits. This is going to be a slow, expensive process, since I have to replace an entire wardrobe, but I think it will make quite a bit of difference in how I'm perceived professionally and personally. Ultimately, I think it's an investment for my future.

In both of these tasks, I'm spending money that isn't exactly necessary, but I think it's valuable. I'm following my basic principles about spending, I'm not buying impulsively, I'm doing my research, and I'm buying quality items at a good value and intending to get several years worth of use from my purchases.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Settling in to the new place

I finally finished moving in this weekend. I'm not yet sleeping very well, due to the new noises in the place, but it's the first time in years I've been sleeping on a real bed, so that's nice. My spending will definitely be drastically up this month, I'll probably have spent between $1200-$1500 to get all the household things I need. But for that, I've gotten a mattress, sheets, comforter, pillows, a desk, monitor, printer, keyboard, mouse, chair, a dock for my laptop, and several shelving items. Given that I work from home quite often, having a workstation set up was necessary, and it's a little hard to get by without bedding. I feel pretty good about the way things are coming together.

Friday, June 13, 2008

An icon falls

I was shocked to hear of Tim Russert's death today. He's been a fixture of Sunday mornings for nearly my entire life. It was heartbreaking to watch the MSNBC news anchors unable to get through their comments without visibly breaking down, some in tears.

No one can replace him. As we move forth in what I truly believe is the most pivotal election in decades, it will be without one of the most iconic figures. I'm saddened to know that he won't witness the outcome of an election he was so excited about.

I'm also truly hoping I won't be saying the same thing about Teddy Kennedy.

I have a lot of posts coming over the next week or so, I've simply been so unsettled with packing and getting ready to move tomorrow that other things have slid by the wayside.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A story of my parents

A post at MightyBargainHunter gave me pause. The post is a discussion of parents holding control over their minor child's finances. I haven't discussed my family history too much on this blog, simply because I've tried hard to move on from that aspect of my life. However, the post sparked some thoughts.

When I was young, I hated to spend my own money. I'd happily spend other people's money, and by and large, my parents would buy me stuff to make up for their other failings. But I can still remember the first purchase I made, a $30 Timex digital waterproof watch, when I was 11, and I agonized over the purchase for weeks. I saved all birthday and Christmas money, as well as any extra money I got from allowances, grandparents, etc. My grandparents on both sides would also regularly purchase savings bonds. All this money went into a savings account, and by the time I was ready to go off to college, it had well over $25,000 in it.

Or, it should have. There wasn't a single cent in it. My parents were never good with their finances, and they took the money without telling me. I might have been more willing to accept their need, had it not gone to finance my father's prostitution fixation.

How differently would life had turned out for me if I had a cushion for when my life turned upside down and I ended up in the hospital? If I had that money now, I could be completely debt free, with a bit to spare.

That being said, if my parents had been the type to not need to raid their child's savings, my medical crisis probably wouldn't have led to the financial crisis as well.

But maybe the most significant thing I think my parents "did" to me is maybe the least tangible. When I get into some sort of trouble, either of my own making, or something that was out of my control, I'm really bad about asking for help. I panic, and usually make decisions that end up making the problem worse. Admitting mistakes, even if they weren't my own, was always a recipe for trouble, and I never really learned how to reach out.

That's not to say that my situation isn't my responsibility, it is. I had a lot of young and stupid moments, as well as some really immature decisions. I'm working on it...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mental block

I met the major goals for this month, and really, my life has gotten back on track. I've taken control of my finances, although from now on out, my expenses will be up since I'll be responsible for rent and groceries again. I have a job, a place to live, and I'm feeling reasonably secure and independent.

Yet...I'm still struggling mentally. One of the ways I tried hard to fight sinking back into depression from the trauma I went through, the chronic pain, and the general isolation was to focus on a checklist of things that I absolutely had to fix in my life. Now that I've corrected most of the disasters, I'm feeling a little lost and unsure of where to go from here. I don't really have any more answers than I did a year ago, and I guess I was sort of hoping that I'd have some sort of revelation once I cleared the major hurdles. But I don't. Without a defined checklist, I'm floundering a bit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

May 2008 Review

My net worth as of May 31st, 2008:



Liquid assets:

Consumer Debt:
Hospital Bills:

That is a 62% increase in my net worth. My assets actually decreased a bit this month, mostly due to an increase in spending. My big discretionary expenses were a large entertainment bill and a larger transportation bill. The entertainment expense was purchasing two tickets to a baseball game, this is an event that I will attend in Sept. There's a chance that my team will make it to the playoffs this year, and I had the opportunity to get front row tickets directly next to the visitor's dugout. It's not cheap, but I'm very excited about it. I'm not sure why the transportation bill was so large. My quarterly medical retainer bill came through, as well as some repayment expenses.

I'm going to try something new and put the spreadsheet I use online for everyone to see. I use it to track and categorize my income and expenses, as well as keeping track of my net worth. Check it out here. I did earn more than I spent for the month.

Monday, June 2, 2008

May Goals review

At the end of each month, I will go through and evaluate the progress I made on the goals I post at the beginning of the month.

For May:

Increase net worth by 15%

I achieved this. I'll post the detailed breakdown further, but I've resolved all my medical debt. This caused my net worth to increase by a whopping 62.39%. I've continued to add no debt, and I'm making slow progress on my consumer debt. Things should certainly begin changing on that front over the next month or two.

Move into a new home
File complaint with landlord-tenant board

I met one of these - well, mostly. I'm still moving "stuff" to the new place, but it's mine. I'm pretty excited about it. I'm putting some money into household items (things like new pillows, for example), since I have an actual bed instead of sleeping on a couch, as I have been for...2.5 years now. I'm going to strive to actually take better care of myself and begin making an actual life for myself instead of constantly living out of boxes. I don't know why I haven't made the effort to file the complaint letter with the landlord tenant board. I'm going to absolutely force myself to do this.

Two of three, and the two major ones...not bad.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Slowly but surely

You'll notice the graphs on the sidebar have been slowly increasing. I've managed to put an extra $2000 into my Vanguard account. By 6/6, I'll be able to split that fund into the growth and income funds I've planned on.

That means I'll have 6 months to come up with another $6,000 to manage to get all my funds bought. That'll be a real stretch to meet it by the end of the year, and 5/1/09 is definitely the more realistic goal. A lot will depend on how my debt payments end up working out. Either way though, I feel that I'm really starting to get a true handle on my finances.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I did my part

This is for all the ER docs and nurses reading this blog (if there are any). When I was in the ER, I behaved well. I tried to be as polite as possible to everyone that came into my room. I only described the pain when asked, made no complaints, and didn't ask for a thing. I apologized profusely when the EEG wouldn't work because my muscles are clenching and twitching too much for an accurate reading. I smiled and said please and thank you whenever I could. I also refused the pills and prescription they gave me on discharge.

My ER experience may have been the one of the more unpleasant things I've ever done, but I've taken the blogs I read to heart, and tried to behave in the way you've requested patients act. It didn't really make any difference to the way I was treated, but at least I can be fairly confident I won't be making a featured appearance in a blog post.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A few updates

Well, this weekend was one of "those" weekends. I managed to land myself in the ER Thursday night, for the first time related to pain. It wasn't quite normal pain though, I started experiencing sharp, excruciating, and unrelenting pain just underneath my ribcage on my left side. I called my doctor after about an hour, and he had me go to the ER thinking it could be a heart or lung issue. I thought it was more in the abdominal area, but I was panicking and scared and went anyway. After an EEG and a contrast CT, they figured out it wasn't my heart or lungs. So I got written off as a drug seeker and parked in between the homeless people passed out from a night of alcohol and left for 6 hours. Not the most fun.

Now I'm still experiencing the pain intermittantly, along with some blood coming from somewhere inside, but I'm not going do anything about it right now. If it's a small tear or something, it will heal on it's own. If it's cancer, I wouldn't get treatment anyway. If I start feeling shocky, then I'll call my doctor. Until then...

So after doing all of that Thursday/Friday, I decided to have some fun over the weekend. I went out to a minor league baseball game, which was a ton of fun - no one goes to single A games, and there's no security, so you can basically hang out with the ballplayers. It's even better when you're on the visitors side. Then I went out to dinner afterwards. I spent some money on that, but I needed something to get my mind off of things. I'm also going to get a haircut next week, which is a fairly major expense, but I only do it every six months.

I move into the new place next weekend, so I'll have to start thinking about how to make the space my own.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I found a place to live

$900 per month includes everything - utilities, cable, internet, rent, and furniture. I'm going to need to buy some household items, things like hangers, but this expense is significantly less than I thought it was going to be a month ago. The important thing is I like the landlord - renting privately means that the relationship I can have with the house owner is fairly significant.

The downside is that it's farther from public transportation than I would like, meaning I'll have a pretty heavy reliance on cabs until I'm able to purchase a car. Given the risk to my physical well-being walking long distances presents, there aren't many other good options.

I'm a little concerned that I made an impetuous decision, but overall, I think it will be a decent situation. It is, at minimum, a plenty doable short-term solution.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More on concierge medicine

As regular readers know, I'm extremely happy with my new doctor and the concierge medicine program. It's worth every penny of the monthly fee ($125). Recently, he referred me to an orthopedist; I have an appointment at the end of the month. I made the appointment, let my doctor know, and he took the initiative to call up the orthopedist to have a lengthy, in-depth discussion about my health concerns and his goals for the appointment. Now I feel as though I can go into the office and spend the time talking about management options instead of having to go through the history.

Similarly, he sends me a copy of my medical records whenever they're updated. He made a point of noting in them that I displayed no drug-seeking behaviour. One of my biggest frustrations was feeling like I had to clear that hurdle with every specialist I saw, and I think having the notation in my chart will be a big help. It was done spontaneously too, I made no special requests.

If I were perfectly healthy, I wouldn't see this as a needed expense. But $125/month is a minor expense if it makes me feel not quite so alone in facing down my condition.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Living on 50%

If things go well, I hope to have a new residence tomorrow. Assuming that it does, my finances will change a lot, since I'll take back on responsibilities for utilities, food, and rent.

In planning for this, my monthly, fixed bills will be just under half of my net salary. This includes rent, utilities (all of them, including internet and home/cell phone bills), and my medical retainer. I can then put away 1/3 into investments/savings, and reserve about 25% of my pay for groceries, transportation, and personal spending.

This is an allocation I feel comfortable living on for a fair amount of time. I hope to maintain this amount as my salary increases, so I'll be able to put a larger portion of my income towards saving over time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why I invest

Someone questioned in the comments why I invest if I still have debt.
That's a fair question, and there are several reasons.

First, I think it's important to have an emergency fund set aside before
focusing on debt. Unplanned events happen in everyone's life and having
money that's fairly easily accessible means that you don't end up going
further in debt when they do occur. I'm probably a bit more paranoid
than most about this issue, given the experiences I've had so far, but I
have 3 months of living expenses set aside. I invest 75% of this money
in order to get a pretty good rate of return without significant risk.

Second, my debt is not increasing. It's in the hands of collection
agencies, and due to the laws in my state, they're not allowed to tack
on additional fees and interest. I have legal representation in order
to handle this in the way that will minimize the impact on my future
financial outlook. Thus, while I will eventually pay everything I owe,
it's actually not advisable for me to pay it off monthly or
immediately. I'm putting aside a fairly significant amount of money and
using that to get a decent return so that as agreements are made, I can
pay off a specific creditor and be done with it.

Finally, when the money is put in an account that I don't have immediate
access to, I'm really unlikely to spend it. Transferring the money adds
additional time for thought and reflection about any purchase I intend
to make. Anytime I have the opportunity to put money into an account
and let it passively increase, I try to take it. Even if I only put it
in an index fund in the short term, I'm comfortable with that level of
risk, and the upside is a lot more than letting it sit in my checking

So for most people, after setting aside at least $1,000 in an emergency
fund, paying off high-interest debt makes much more sense than investing.

As a side note, my using the term "consumer" debt is a bit misleading.
About 80% of this debt was never credit card debt to begin with. About
$20,000 of it was a direct result of my ending up in the hospital.
Secured loans defaulted, bills went unpaid, etc. - my parents refused to
come up (not that I would have wanted them to) and no one else had any
authority to handle my finances. Moreover, no one was really too
concerned about those, as my chances of survival at the time were small
- bills tend to take a back seat to that. So most of this debt never
had interest.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I have a confession to make

This probably won't come as a surprise to those who can read between the lines of my blog. I'm not particularly frugal. I have no real intentions of saving hard for retirement - the odds that I make it to 59 1/2 (and can withdraw from an IRA account without penalties) are miniscule. Instead, my time horizons are much shorter - the next 10-20 years. I don't want to be tied to a specific job, living paycheck to paycheck, but I also intend to work as long as I can. I've taken my year and a half off from the job market, and honestly, I'm happier working, even if individual days are sometimes rough.

There are, however, a few guidelines I'm using in my money management that I think are important.

  1. I spend intelligently. I just spent nearly $1400 on electronics (a new laptop and a new cell phone). That's a lot of money. But I thought seriously about both purchases and they're ones that will last me a long time and add significantly to my quality of life. I keep track of every penny I spend, so that I'm able to identify the areas where spending is not contributing to the enjoyment of my life, and make changes in those areas.
  2. I don't live paycheck to paycheck. That is one of the most stressful things I've done, not knowing whether I was going to make payments for all my expenses. Now, I plan for recurring expenses in advance and reserve that money the month before it'll be needed.
  3. I keep an emergency fund. For the unexpected expenses, I know that they won't wipe me out financially. I have very few obligations at the moment (I'll have rent, utilities, groceries, and medical bills) and I'm only responsible for myself. So I have 10% of my gross annual income set aside. This would cover 3 months of no external income whatsoever, comfortably, 4 months if I really stretched. As my expenses grow, or as I acquire more points of failure (for example, a car that might need repairs), I'll increase the amount in the funds. This came first and was absolutely my highest priority.
  4. I don't buy on impulse. I readily admit, I have expensive tastes, and I would much rather pay a premium for quality. But I heavily research purchases and give them a lot of thought. When I do make a decision to buy something, I feel good about it and can enjoy what it contributes to my life, as opposed to regretting it and feeling locked into a purchase.
  5. I don't go into debt for purchases. If I can't afford it now, I wait. Moreover, I don't throw every penny I have towards a purchase. My set-aside funds don't get touched, my bills and obligations, including automatic savings, come first.
  6. I set goals, both short-term and long-term, and I work towards those. I want to get out of debt. I want to buy a car. I want to get out of the rental market and own my own home. I work towards these diligently and I don't lose sight of them just because a shiny new object comes out. In other words, I spend money now to make my life better, but I also put money away towards my future.

So on balance, I earn more than my monthly obligations. Once those obligations are satisfied, I split the balance between long-term goals and short-term ones. Does this fit the traditional definition of frugal? No, not really. I would reconsider my position if my life circumstances were different. But for me, I think I've started on the road to a good balance between now and later.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Entertainment on a budget

April was a really rough month for me. I had a lot of mental ups and downs (a bit more downs than ups). I did have one really fun moment. I'm a big baseball girl. I don't root for the local team, but my team comes to town occasionally. I'm working on getting a team hat signed (17 out of 25 on the active roster - 3 position players, 2 of whom are starters, and 5 pitchers, 3 starters). I actually skipped going to the game, but spent about 7 hours hanging out, getting autographs, pictures, talking to ball players, and watching batting practice. Best part - it was free.

I was amazed at how genuinely nice and fun some of the players are. These are people who are making millions of dollars per year, who are all over TV, and yet they still manage to keep their head on straight. Not all of them, of course, but a significant number of them are. I spent the day bouncing off the walls.

No chance I would try something like this with the New York teams or the Red Sox, but that's the benefit of rooting for a small market team.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Lenovo R61 thoughts

My new computer arrived a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't be more pleased. The 2.4 GHz processor and 3 GB of RAM allow me to run Vista without a hitch, and the discrete graphics card means that I can play the one computer game I still play regularly (Civ 4). In fact, I can turn the graphics all the way up and play on the largest map setting with no difficulties at all. I'm plenty happy with the weight as well.

My only complaint, and it's a small one, is the lack of a horizontally aligned USB port. I have a USB EV-DO network card provided by my company, and when it's plugged in, I can't have my laptop flat on the desk.

Financially, this could not have been a better decision. I was expecting to pay about $4,000 to replace my laptop and buy a desktop + all the peripherals. But given that the laptop can do everything I need without a hitch, I don't feel any need to buy a desktop, plus the laptop only cost me a bit over $900. Eventually, I'll probably buy a docking station and the peripherals anyway, just to make life a bit more convenient when using the computer at home, but I'll still come in significantly under half of what I had planned. Essentially, I'll have spent just over half of my tax refund on this purchase. Given that I used the rest of it, along with my tax stimulus check for long-term savings, I feel very comfortable with this purchase. I fully expect this computer to take me through several years.

Friday, May 2, 2008

April 2008 review

My net worth as of April 30st, 2008:


Liquid assets: $3,748.40
Investments: $3,078.84
Total: $6,827.24

Consumer Debt: $23,003.00
Hospital Bills: $26,875.90
Total: $49,878.90

My assets have increased by 43% since last month. My investments were the big increase, with an increase of over 1400%. My debts decreased by nearly 13%. I still have a long way to go on them, obviously, but things continue to move in the right direction. Overall, my net worth increased by nearly 18%. When I do move, it will be hard to maintain that level of increase, but I am going to work on keeping my expenses lower than my income.

Monthly income and expenses:


Interest: $1.45
Internet income: $88
Other income: $1,567
Salary: $2,333.66
Total: $3,970.11


Charity: $20
Clothing: $41.34
Debt Repayment: $59.00
Dining: $27.69
Entertainment: $129.79
Gifts: $21.15
Household: $1344.66
Medical: $177.26
Misc.: $25.90
Transportation: $87.00
Utilities: $54.00
Total: $1987.79

Overall Total: $1,982.32

I spent quite a bit this month. Purchases of a cell phone and a computer contributed for the bulk of the expenses. I came very close to covering my entertainment bill with my internet income, and I think that will be a goal every month. I definitely met and exceeded the goal of earning at least $25 extra every month. My tax refund came in, which made a big different in my income, although I still spent less than I earned if you exclude that. I expect my discretionary expenses to decrease next month.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Goals

My goals for May:

  1. Increase net worth by 15%
  1. Move into a new home
  2. File complaint with landlord-tenant board

My goals for this month are mostly designed to stabilize my situation. With a steady increase in my net worth and getting my living situation straightened out, I'll put myself well on a path to achieving my bigger, long-term goals.

April goals review

At the end of each month, I will go through and evaluate the progress I made on the goals I post at the beginning of the month.

For April:

Re-fund emergency account ($1,000 total)
Open an account at
Vanguard with $3,000 invested in an "income" class index fund

I managed both of these. Well, mostly - my index fund is a balanced income fund. I'll be investing $100 a month into the Vanguard account automatically and hopefully more than that. Once it hits $6,000, I'll divide it into two.

Right now, I feel as though my finances are in shape for any sort of emergency. Obviously, I hope not to have a situation like that, but if something were to come up, I would be able to survive it. I'm not going to touch this $4,000 unless it's imperative.

Contact all hospitals and doctors with outstanding medical bills to
determine progress
Reduce consumer debt to under $20,000

These two are still a bit up in the air. The medical bills are actually down to just one hospital, but that's half of it. I have to submit a form (I submitted it once, they lost it,) but I can't really do that without a good idea of my expenses.

I'm still waiting on some creditors to get back to me with respect to the consumer debt, but I think this goal is met.

Move into new home
File complaint with landlord-tenant board to recover security deposit and any associated damages

I haven't done either of these. No real excuse beyond not finding the right place that will also take the chance on me. I'm going to call about the form today.

So...all in all, the month looks pretty bad. 2 goals just missed entirely, 2 on hold, and 2 met. But, the 2 that I met were, in my mind, the most important two. I'll take some comfort in that, and chalk April up to being one of those months.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Investing and planning

I received my tax refund on Friday. Together with my paycheck, I used that to start my account at Vanguard (VFINX). My initial plan had been to invest my first $3,000 into an "income" class fund. This is classified as a large blend fund, however, and I think I'm comfortable with that.

Once I have $6,000 in that fund, I will split it into a growth fund (VIGRX?) and an income fund (VIVAX). This will allow me to keep $3,000 in a relatively low-risk account for a financial catastrophe while using the bulk of my money to try to obtain a better rate of return. Eventually, I would also like to add in a small/midcap blend fund (VEXMX?) and an international fund (VGTSX?). Thus, I need $9,000 more to set up my portfolio the way I would like it. If I really stretched, I might be able to manage that by the end of the year. More likely, I'd like to have all 4 funds purchased by May 1, 2009.

Meanwhile, I am adding $50/paycheck to this fund. Additionally, at the end of every month, I plan to transfer additional "leftover" money (hopefully at least $400) to the fund. I'm expecting this to become the primary location for my mid- and long-term savings. If I can average $500/month, I'll be on track to seriously consider purchasing property of my own by the time I'm 30. Being debt free and a homeowner at 30 is a nice dream!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Feeling better about work

Turns out, what happened at work had very little to do with me. One of my co-workers was fired on Tuesday and a couple of the contractors had created major problems for the company while working remotely. In fact, today I'm scheduled to go out to lunch with my boss to discuss my new role and responsibilities within the company. So that's working out better.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I haven't written anything this past week, mostly because I'm not really sure where to begin. It's been a rough week. I haven't been sleeping well or eating much at all (I tend to forget to eat when I'm feeling down or depressed.) I'm having a lot of trouble finding an apartment because of my past financial status. I have two potential options I'm hoping to see this weekend/early next week, but it's been hard to get excited about the idea. Work has gotten rough - I received a notice that they need me to be in 4 days a week, which for most people probably seems like a major improvement, but for me is fairly difficult. It's not being in the office that's a problem, but walking the half a dozen blocks to get there. I'm not sure I'll physically be able to keep that up for very long. Hopefully, they'll let me drop back down to 2 days a week in a month or so. If not, I may have to look at taking disability, which would be a major financial catastrophe.

On the brighter side, it's still possible for me to meet all of my goals for the month. It's going to take some work, but even through this depression, I haven't gotten completely off track. I have spent about $200-$250 that wasn't required or necessarily wise, but I'm not going to beat myself up for that now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The mind is an interesting object

I've been extremely moody and irritable the past week, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Yesterday, I figured out why. I was in the car (a passenger, luckily) and was hit by a panic attack just from driving through the area where I was raped, a year ago today. It's startling to realize just how much I block out the experience in my day to day life, but it comes on suddenly sometimes, like when seeing the area or going through a pelvic exam.

Well, at least I'm not panicking about my taxes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lending Club

A few people have inquired about the status of my Lending Club referrals. I received an email a few days ago saying that the referral program is on hold, they're not accepting any new lenders, and existing lenders can't fund any new loans. They're exploring promissory notes for lenders at the moment, so we'll see where it goes. If it all goes under, I'm not too upset, I only put $50 of my own money there. If it comes back better than ever, that will be icing on the cake.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Six Word Memoir meme

I feel like one of the cool kids in high school (is anyone surprised that I never actually was?) WhiteCoat just tagged me to participate in a meme.

1. Write your own six word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to the
original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the
4. Tag at least five more blogs with links.
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to
So let's see. My memoir -

Falling down, getting up, trying again.

Literally and figuratively, that pretty much sums up my adult life. Sooner or later, I might get my ankles fixed and can stop the literal falling down. The figurative...well, whether the fleeing my abusive parents, or the health problems and resulting depression, the rape, the pregnancy...sometimes it's felt like one thing after another. But I haven't quite stopped going yet.

So I'm tagging...
Beach Girl
Evil Lunch Lady

and...I'd tag two more people if I had more friends :) Feel free to comment and I'll go ahead and tag you too.

Upcoming income plans

I have quite a bit of "additional" income (i.e., not salary) that I'm expecting over the next couple of months.

  1. Tax Refunds and Stimulus rebate - ~$2000

  2. Refund and damages from ex-landlord - $650-$7,175*

  3. Cashout from FusionCash (referral link) - $28

  4. Referral Bonuses - ? I've had 4 requests for ING referrals, and a couple for Lending Club. Every bit of extra income helps.

*I don't expect to come anywhere close to the high end of this. However, my landlord violated the law in several ways, most egregiously by turning the heat off and leaving for over a week. I had no contact number and the upstairs portion of the place was locked, so I was unable to do anything about it myself. The temperatures dropped well below freezing during that week. Any liquids I had sitting in the apartment literally froze. I think I have a fairly solid complaint against her, and do expect to get some money back. I initially sent a compromise letter offering to not file the complaint in exchange for return of my mail and my security deposit, but she never responded, so I do intend to take advantage of the legal remedies available.

So what are my plans for the money? I'm going to first fully fund my emergency fund ($1,000) and then work on my second level safety net, an index fund at Vanguard ($3,000.) This will give me the security to know that I can handle both unexpected emergencies and that I have 2 months living expenses put away should there be a major disruption in my income.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Get Rich Slowly with referrals

JD at Get Rich Slowly posted allowing people to leave a comment with the referrals they have available. I've had 10 people request referrals to ING so far, 4 of whom have signed up. That's $25 for each of them, and $10/sign up for me, so I've added an extra $40 to my savings account.

JD has leveraged his blog and other internet endeavours into a full-time job. I've made a grand total of $0.00 off this blog itself, but I have made about $80 off of various referrals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

laptop purchase

I researched several laptops online. My requirements were that it be fairly light (I'm physically small, so a few pounds is significant to me,) from a reputable manufacturer with good build quality, and customizable enough so that I could ensure it will last for a few years.

I researched models from Lenovo, Dell, Sony, HP, and Apple. I also looked at ASUS and Toshiba, but didn't see any models that fit my needs. I ended up with models ranging from $1,000 to $1,700 and between 3-6 lbs in weight. All had at least a Core Duo 2.4 GHz processor (T8300) and 3 GB of RAM (since I'm not going with the x64 bit version of Vista, I chose to use 3 GB of RAM instead of 4.) Operating systems ranged from Vista Home Premium to Vista business and OSX Leopard. I have an XP disc if I decide to downgrade. Some systems offered discrete graphics cards, some offered faster (7200 RPM) hard drives. Other than that, I tried to configure the models similarly.

The Sony SZ, Dell M1330, and Apple Macbook series were nice, but a bit on the high end of the price range. So my final cut was to 6 models, 1 Dell (1420, 6 lbs, $1,193,) 1 HP (dv2700t, 5.5 lbs, $1300,) 1 Sony (CR series, 5.5 lbs, $1,230,) and 3 Lenovos (x61, 3 lbs, $1,348, T61p, 5.1 lbs, $1,196, and R61, 5.5 lbs, $1,023.)

Looking online, I found coupon codes for the Lenovo laptops, offering 10%-15% off. Given that the Dell looked the worst, and the Sony and HP looked roughly identical to the T61p series, I decided to limit my choices to the 3 Lenovos. I ruled out the T61p pretty quickly - although it had a slightly better graphics card (NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M instead of the Quadro NVS 140M,) the price difference after discounts was about $300 - too much for the simple upgrade.

The final decision was between two pretty different options. The x61 had no optical drive, no discrete graphics card, and was about $400 more after discounts were applied, but was a much lighter computer.

Ultimately, I decided on the R61. It will allow me to play the few computer games I enjoy and should last a long time. It's heavier, but I'm attempting to work from home as much as possible, so I hope to minimize the impact of the weight. Mostly, however, once discounts and sales were applied, it was under $1000. I couldn't find anything near that price point with similar specs. I maybe would have preferred to delay the purchase for another week or two, but Lenovo's special promotions ended today, promotions that knocked about $500 off the final price. Hopefully I'll be able to put up my impressions of the unit soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Carnival of Money Stories

I'm a bit late with posting this. My post, How to climb up from the bottom or 6 months in review, was accepted into the Carnival of Money Stories. There were several other good posts included as well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A roundup of the past few days

I've decided to stop doing the weekly expense/income reports. They're a bit of a hassle, and seem to be depressing me more than encouraging me. I think a monthly review will be a bit more appropriate - still often enough to keep me on track but less of a time sink.

That all being said, the start of April has been a rough time.

I went out 2nd and ended up spending more on entertainment than I meant to. I really had more fun than I've had in a long, long time, but I made some poor financial decisions. Maybe a $150 mistake.

Then I learned at least one of my tax refunds (2005 state taxes) was intercepted. It appears to be due to a 2005 auto accident. The entire situation is based on a completely false statement my parents made, so there are some legal fights appearing on the horizon.

If that weren't enough, my laptop finally died. I've had it for about 5 years, so it's not overly surprising. The DC jack broke on the motherboard about 2 years ago. I bought a dock for it, since that was cheaper than repairing the DC jack, and I couldn't find anyone to do it. But now the dock connector has broken on the motherboard as well (not surprising, given that the dock wasn't really meant to be used portably.) So now the laptop doesn't recognize the AC adapter at all. I could get the DC jack repaired for $150 or so. However, I'm still looking at a laptop with a 1.5 GHz Centrino M processor, 512 MB of RAM, and a battery that gets less than 10 minutes. It's old, slow, and I've begun noticing significant obstacles to my productivity. Upgrading the RAM and replacing the battery might give me a usable laptop, but I'd be spending way more than it's worth to milk another year, max, out of it. I absolutely require a laptop for my job - if I don't have one, I don't get paid. So I went ahead and bought a new one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How I grew my money 36% in 30 days!

Okay, so maybe 36% growth is a bit misleading. It's only the portion that I've invested that has grown that much, and I didn't have much to invest. But I did turn $150 into $205.08 (as of this moment) without any effort on my part. For a first-time investor, this is hugely exciting. Who needs to go shopping when you can invest??

I currently have 3 investment vehicles.

1. RPSIX, T. Rowe Price. This is the "Spectrum Income" index fund offered by TRP. It is a 4-star Morningstar rated multisector bond fund. It invests in domestic bonds (63.7%), foreign bonds (16.6%), domestic stock (15.1%), cash (4.4%) and convertibles (0.2%). This fund is primarily used as a safer investment vehicle since it primarily invests in bonds, which are historically and inherently less risky than stocks. It has a 0.70% expense ratio, and has returned 8.04% since inception (1 year 4.66%, 3 year 5.85%, 5 years 7.44%, 10 years 6.16%.) Its low price over the past year is $11.88/share, while its high is $12.39. I bought 4.17 shares @ $11.99.

2. PRSGX, T. Rowe Price. This is the "Spectrum Growth" index fund offered by TRP. It is a 4-star Morningstar rated large blend domestic stock fund. It invests in domestic stock (71.17%), foreign stock (25.6%), cash (2.9%) and convertibles (0.4%). This fund is geared primarily towards long-term capital growth as opposed to short-term income and thus carries more volatility. It has a 0.81% expense ratio, and has returned 10.09% since inception (1 year -4.30%, 3 years 8.22%, 5 years 15.02%, 10 years 5.71%.) Its 1 year low was $18.08, while its high was $23.43. I bought 2.765 shares @ $18.08.

3. LendingClub. This is a peer-to-peer lending website that I tried out more as a lark than anything. I put $50 on the site. I have since lent $25 to 4 different borrowers. All 4 were looking to consolidate debt. I focused on those with lower debt-to-income ratios and no recent deliquencies. I also considered the length of tenure at their current job and avoided people listing self-employed or had exceedingly high self-reported incomes ($10,000/month as a consultant made me uncomfortable, for example.) One of my loans is at 9.76% interest, the other 3 are at 14.18% interest (LC automatically assigns interest rates based on how they grade a borrower, which takes into account FICO scores, amount of the requested loan, etc.) These loans will pay back over 36 months. This is obviously the riskiest investment vehicle, but the one with the highest expected rate of return.

So how have I gotten a 73% increase on my investments?

The vast majority of it came via referral bonuses from Lending Club. I signed up via a referral link and received a free $25 (no restrictions!) to begin investing. Someone else signed up via my referral link, giving both of us $25 in our accounts. I put in $50.95 (the $.95 was actually money debited from my funding account to verify my ownership.) Thus, I doubled my investment on here already with absolutely no work.

Then, one of my borrowers made their first monthly payment today. $0.60 went to principle, $.20 went to interest, and $0.01 went to Lending Club as their fee. This money was automatically deposited into my account, leaving me with $1.74 in the account and $99.40 funding loans, for a total of $101.14. That is a 98.5% ROI for this month for Lending Club.

My index funds have gone up by $.02/share and $.63/share, respectively, since I bought them. That's a 0.16% ROI for the income fund and 7.72% ROI for the growth fund. Now, that's only $3.94 in actual dollars, but I've only held these funds for a couple of weeks.

So what have I learned from this month?

The first is to start investing sooner rather than later. Ultimately, I would prefer to have my investments at Vanguard instead of T. Rowe Price. I like their expense ratios and fund managers better. Vanguard, however, requires $3,000/fund, a lump sum I simply don't have right now. T. Rowe Price allows me to invest in funds for $50/month (as an automatic transfer.) Given the extremely low interest rates for even high-yield savings accounts, I'm getting a head start buying funds. Additionally, they're essentially on sale due to the downturn in the economy. If I needed this money immediately or in the short term, I wouldn't invest it, as the economy could continue to look bleak for a while. However, I have a long-term horizon for my investments, so I want to buy as many shares during the low points.

Second, I did my homework and thought about my asset allocation. My Lending Club investment is mostly a lark - the referral program is excellent, I have a pretty decent chance of a good ROI, and some people have really been helped by peer-to-peer lending. Ultimately, I would love to have around $800 lent out, as the monthly payments would allow me to fund a new loan every month. I would spread this out over 32 different loans, which minimizes the impact of any individual borrower defaulting. It could become a pretty good passive investment vehicle, but I'm not going to rely on it for money to feed myself. Investing in bonds provides me with a reasonably safe investment (as far as investments go.) I'll get a better ROI than putting it simply in a savings account, and I can put 2 months of expenses in this fund and have it work for me. Finally, I chose a growth index fund for long-term capital building. I won't put any money into this account that I would starve without, because there is always risk. I balance a good expected ROI with the safety inherent to index funds. Because they track an entire market (or segment of a market) instead of a single corporation, I am much more diversified than if I tried to pick individual stocks.

Overall, I chose index funds for the bulk of my investments for two reasons. First, I simply don't know enough about the stock market to feel confident in picking individual stocks. Most investors can't beat the S&P, particularly once trading fees are factored in, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to research stocks that heavily. Second, I invest for the long term. I don't intend to attempt market timing, so I don't need or want an active method of investing. Index funds, for me, provide both a better return on investment and less risk.

Are there reasons not to follow my path? Sure, lots. The biggest one would be your ability to tolerate risk, both financially and emotionally. I don't invest money that would cripple me if I lost it. I pay bills first, keep an emergency fund in a savings account with no risk, and then and only then do I invest. Moreover, I'm not bothered by market fluctuations. There will be days where my investments will be in the red. This won't panic me - the stock market has historically resulted in increases of capital and has outpaced inflation. My investments will be used for major purchases several years down the road (like a house) or hopefully never (my safety net fund.) Bad weeks or even bad months don't affect my investment strategy.

April Goals

My goals for April:


  1. Re-fund emergency account ($1,000 total)
  2. Open an account at Vanguard with $3,000 invested in an "income" class index fund


  1. Contact all hospitals and doctors with outstanding medical bills to determine progress
  2. Reduce consumer debt to under $20,000


  1. Move into new home
  2. File complaint with landlord-tenant board to recover security deposit and any associated damages

March Goals - Review

At the end of each month, I will go through and evaluate the progress I made on the goals I post at the beginning of the month.

For March:

Get full physical and lab work done
Arrange to see specialist for my ankles

I did get my physical and labs done. Some of my blood work wasn't pretty, but that's not surprising. I also have begun the process of seeing a specialist for my ankles, but actually getting the appointment may take some time.

Have at least $3,500 in savings for move
Finish taxes

I completed both of these goals. I expect several thousand dollars back from my taxes. I also have saved just over $4000 in preparation for my move. I currently have an application in for a townhouse, and I am waiting to hear back on that.

Finalize debt amounts and payment plans for medical bills
working with debt agency regarding consumer debt

I met both of these goals as well, for the most part. I am still waiting to hear back from several people involved with the outstanding medical bills. I remain concerned that information has been sent to my old address, where my ex-landlord is illegally keeping my mail. I've begun work on eliminating my consumer debt and have retained a law firm to help me with the paperwork and appropriate steps to take (since all accounts are in collections at this point.) This will be a long process, but I am making progress.

March 2008 Review

My net worth as of March 31st, 2008:


Liquid assets: $4,579.65
Investments: $202.77
Total: $4,782.42

Consumer Debt: $23,003.00
Hospital Bills: $34,042.90
Total: $57,045.90

My assets have increased by 109% since last month. Both my liquid assets and my investments more than doubled, so I think that's a clear sign of progress. My liabilities also decreased - consumer debt was down 7.8% and my hospital debt decreased by 15.7%, for an overall decrease of 12.7%. That resulted in my net worth increasing by over 17% this month. I expect for those trends to continue through April.

Monthly income and expenses:


Bonus: $581.87
Interest: $2.39
Internet income: $25.70
Salary: $2,333.66
Total: $2,943.62


Debt Repayment: $99.00
Dining: $2.00
Entertainment: $39.99
Gifts: $58.36
Investment: $100.00
Medical: $28.81
Misc.: $128.88
Transportation: $73.00
Utilities: $24.00
Total: $554.04

Overall Total: $2,389.58

A pretty good month. Obviously not having rent or grocery expenses allowed me to save quite a bit. About 18% of my spending was discretionary this month. I spent $58.36 on a jacket that also counted as a political contribution. I needed the jacket, and I felt the money went for a good cause as well. The entertainment charge was for a fantasy baseball league, which will provide me with entertainment through September. I also spent $2.00 on sodas at work. The misc. category charges stemmed from costs associated with filing my taxes. For the second month in a row, I have spent less than I earned.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why I love concierge medicine

I had my physical done on Thursday, and came away with some new medications to try. Today, my doctor called with my lab results, even though there was nothing surprising on them. Then we discussed some additional thoughts I had on medications, and he offered to send me a new prescription. Maybe the most interesting thing, however, was that he expressed concern over how quickly my ankles have deteriorated recently and had done some research on the best specialist for me to see. The specialist he found is the foot/ankle consultant for the local NFL and MLB teams and a pioneer of new technologies and research in his area. I've never had a doctor be quite so conscientious about following up and following through.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Week 9 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.





Not too bad, all things considered. $15.00 went to transportation for my doctor's visit and work. $46.93 went to take care of my taxes (filing expenses and getting additional documents.) The remaining $28.81 went to medical expenses. Next week, being the first of the month, won't look nearly as good, since monthly expenses will come due.

Also, I received a $25 lending club referral bonus that went straight to funding a new loan. I have $100 invested over there now, and my first payments should start coming in next week.

Friday, March 28, 2008

How to climb up from the bottom or 6 months in review

6 months ago, I was at absolute rock bottom. I had no place to call my own, and the only roof over my head was at the mercy of a friend. I was pregnant, but I had to keep it hidden, and had no plans for what to do with my due date only four months away. I had no job, and consequently, not a single dime. I was in massive amounts of debt, but too scared to even take a look at my situation to figure out just how bad it was. I felt like I didn't even officially exist - no copy of my social security card or birth certificate, no photo ID or bank account.

I was seriously contemplating suicide; I had a plan and had even bought everything I would need to carry it out.

Now? I know that if I had to pick up and start all over, I'm in a position where I could do so. I can and will survive. I started by rectifying the paperwork problem. I went down and got my social security card. I had to have an attorney request my birth certificate, but I eventually got that. With that, I was able to take out a bank account. From there, I went and applied for jobs. I started with mostly administrative type positions - all those really require is a basic knowledge of computers. I was lucky with the job I found, but really, the primary consideration was getting some income. I house-sat for a month to save up a bit of money before moving into a basement apartment. This situation was ultimately untenable, but it was certainly better than nothing to start off.

That gave me the basics - food and shelter. Then I began evaluating the longer-term considerations. I made an adoption plan. Even though it ultimately turned out in ways I couldn't predict, I felt comforted knowing that there was a plan in place and that my child would have the best outcome I could give her. I pulled my credit reports to figure out how much I was in debt and started researching my options there. Ultimately, I hired a law firm to offer me some assistance. I started saving - having money stored away in an emergency fund made a lot of difference in my stress level.

Now I know that I'll never have to end up here. I'm making enough money to rent a place of my own, a place with a reputable management company and in a good neighborhood. I'm saving up enough money so that if I lost my job, I would have 2-3 months of living expenses put away, enough time to find a new job or obtain disability payments. I'm eliminating my old debt and not taking on any new debt for a while, and no unsecured debt at all.

I dug myself into a pretty deep hole. I was able to climb out of it, and now I'm working on filling it in so that I never end up there again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Overall Financial Plans

You save for short-term goals and invest for long-term ones. It's a statement I read in a book review (but I can't seem to remember the actual book, otherwise I'd probably buy it) that has stuck with me.

Once I move and begin paying rent again, I'm going to have to pay quite a bit of attention to how I handle my money. I'm starting to think about how I want to allocate it as I begin to build up reserves and invesments while simultaneously paying down debt. These aren't necessarily goals in the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) sense. Instead, I'm trying to plan out an overall set of intentions for how to save and invest.

In order of priority:

1. Emergency Fund - $1,000. This will be my cash reserves in a high-interest savings account. I plan to keep this fund as a safety net for unplanned emergencies.

2. "Income" Investments - $3,000. This will be my second level safety net. This amount would enable me to get through 2 months of absolutely no income at all without much alteration. That would be enough time for me to find another job or obtain disability if there was a major disruption in my work status. I plan to keep this amount in an income or value index fund. I don't plan to need this, so I'll tolerate fluctuations in the value to get a better overall rate of return. I'll likely continue to invest a small amount ($50) in this fund per month after the initial investment.

3. "Growth" Investments - $?. Here's where I plan to keep the majority of my savings. This will be invested in a growth index fund. I intend to leave this in here for long-term purchases, such as a house, and as my general "building my net worth" account. Because I intend to keep this investment as a long-term solution, I can tolerate larger fluctuations in value for a greater expected rate of return. I'll need $3,000 to capitalize this fund with Vanguard initially, and then will continue to put as much as possible into this fund, but at least $100/month.

4. Savings. I'll use this account for my shorter term purchases that I need to save for, and things that may blur the line between needs and wants. I'll put $100 per month into a separate, high interest savings account and withdraw it as necessary to make purchases. Things such as furniture, a new computer, a new wardrobe, a new car, etc. will fall into this category.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

2007 Taxes

I've finished up my 2007 taxes and put them in the mail today. I only began working in November, and I had very little income during that time. Between that and being single, my taxes should have been a quick, simple process. Unfortunately, because I had a child that died, they were much more complicated. I had to attach a copy of the certificate of live birth and subsequent death to the taxes, so I wasn't able to e-file. But between that and filing as head of household, my refund will be fairly significant this year. I'm expecting about $2,000 from federal/state refunds and another $600 from my stimulus check.

I expect my 2008 taxes to be fairly simple. I'll be filing as single, with (hopefully) only one W-2 to report. My liability or refund amount should be fairly small.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance

My post on Spending Control was accepted into this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted at Million Dollar Journey. There were a lot of good posts this week that I found interesting and relevant to me.

  • I've Paid For This Twice Already - How Small a Transaction Before Plastic Seems Absurd? Personally, I would use my debit card for absolutely everything if possible. There are two scenarios when it is difficult. First, I sometimes have to take cabs (and will continue to have to do so until I move again) and cab drivers are extremely reluctant to take them, though some will. Second, the cafe at my office only takes cash (a good incentive to take my lunch, I suppose) so if I want lunch, I have to pay cash. Sometimes this is enough of a motivation for me to just skip it entirely.
  • Millionaire Mommy Next Door - Is the Perfect Financial Storm Brewing? I'm not really ready to make a call on whether the economy is going to be terrible for a while or for a long while - I think there will be a big shakeup in November of this year and the results of the election will have a large impact (not a total one, the economy doesn't respond all that quickly, but I do think it will shape the direction and length of the current state.) However, there is a point made in this article. Millionaire Mommy says that she isn't a buy and hold investor and so is playing defense. Personally, I am - I'd like to keep some "cash" on hand in an emergency savings fund, but given current interest rates, I'd prefer to put anything more than 2 months living expenses into something where I can look forward to better return rates over the long haul. I'm planning on building up my portfolio as much as possible while the downturn is occurring with an eye towards a few years down the road.
  • Money Under 30 - Asset Allocation for Investors Under Thirty. I'm just starting to explore what I want to do with the money I save, so I'm enjoying reading all posts on allocation right now. Currently, I'm investing 50-50 in a "growth" fund and an "income" fund, with nothing held in bonds/ETFs. As I get more savings to do a lump sum investment at a place like Vanguard, I'll likely adjust this allocation to better reflect a long term strategy for my age (23.)
  • The Honest Dollar - 11 Ways to Trigger an IRS Audit. I just finished up my taxes this year. They're fairly simple, but I did have one "flag" that was listed - I'll be claming the earned income credit (EIC.) I do have all the required documentation and I'm pretty clearly eligible, so I'm not worried.

One of the many reasons I like participating in carnivals is that they truly do make me think. I've gotten inspiration for two posts, one on my taxes from this year and one on my long term plans for my money. Look for those in the next few days.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Week 7 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.








This looks like a big week for expenses, but there were some annual things that came due. $49.95 was spent on things related to my taxes (filing expenses, obtaining documents.) $24.00 went to utilities, renewing my telephone number for another 13 months. The remaining amount was discretionary. $58.36 was a combination political donation/clothing purchase. I needed a lightweight outer layer, which I bought from a political candidate. $39.99 was entertainment - I signed up for a fantasy baseball league which will run through the end of September. I think this is fairly good value for my dollar. There's also a possibility of winning $200, though I'm looking at it as a sunk cost and not counting on getting any monetary benefit.

Essentially, I spent about 17% of my bonus. The rest of it is going towards reducing debt and savings.

Next week, I'll be going to the doctor's office, so I'll have various additional transportation and medical expenses. I don't expect any other significant spending next week.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good financial news

My consumer debt is down to just a touch over $23,000. One practice offered to zero out my balance and one of the hospitals believes they can get it through my insurance, so some of that debt is gone as well. My net worth should get a boost with those updates.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spending control

I've found that blogging about my finances has really encouraged me to think about what I spend. It hasn't necessarily stopped me from spending money, in fact, this week (as you'll see,) I spent nearly $90 that wasn't required. But it wasn't idle spending or impulse purchases - I knew that I would be accountable twice over, once to myself when I entered the information in Quicken and once to the world at large when I did my weekly listing of expenses. I thought about the value to myself, not in monetary terms, but in personal satisfaction, and decided that they were worthy expenditures.

There are some people who simply don't have any money for discretionary purchases. But for the vast majority of us, we get into trouble because we spend money on things that don't truly matter to our lives. Happiness is worth spending money on, and sometimes I think personal finance bloggers forget this. However, if we don't stop to evaluate the happiness that will result from our spending, we keep buying more and more things that are meaningless and worthless.

I take away two lessons from the past 3 months.

First, tracking my expenses is fundamentally important. I track them both in Quicken and on my blog. In Quicken, I keep track of every single cent I have coming in or going out, and I do so daily. If I'm at the computer, where most of my expenses occur, I enter them immediately afterwards. If I'm not, I enter them that day. Some people find this tedious and painful - that pain should be telling you something. If you're feeling uncomfortable about your expenditures, you have to get control of them, because finances, more than anything else, cannot simply be ignored and wished away. I did it for nearly two years, and I truly hit rock bottom - no money in my pocket, no credit, no chance to obtain credit, no income, no savings, NOTHING. I went from being 21 years old with a $50k+/year job to nothing - a bit of discomfort felt while seeing expenses in black and white is worth not having to go through that. I use my blog to keep myself honest. If I have to post a weekly report, I can't just lie to myself and "forget" to keep track of my expenses.

Second, I've found that I can replace an urge to spend. Sometimes I go play with my financial outlook in Quicken. Quicken 2008, at least, has a home screen with a calendar showing expected available cash for every day. I've got my paycheck set up as expected income, so I can see my available cash growing and look forward to my net worth increasing. I don't like seeing it drop, so that's an incentive to not spend. If that's not enough, sometimes playing with my money can help. I set up an investment account. My personality is such that I'm not too worried about blips and dips in the stock market, so buying into index funds is similar to "shopping" for me - I'm purchasing something, but it's something that helps my future. Plus, it's fun to watch my investments. If you're the type who panics at the slightest drop in value, this probably isn't for you, but seeing an investment gain money for the first time ever sent a definite thrill through me.

I'll never cut out discretionary spending entirely for my life, and honestly, I'll never want to do so. But I want money to make my life better, and I'm thinking more about how to make that happen.

Monday, March 17, 2008

When reading blogs makes you feel bad...

I sometimes enjoy going through and reading nurses' blogs. But they always make me wonder how the nurses I've had felt about me. I try to be a good patient when I'm in the hospital. But after I gave birth, I felt like I was requesting something to drink every hour. And the big one - at one point, I lost control of my bladder on the bed. Actually, that's not entirely correct, I didn't have any control, and didn't notice it for a little while. But I felt insanely guilty and couldn't stop apologizing. Blogs have really enabled me to "walk a mile" though, and I hope it makes me a better patient (and person.)


Days like this are difficult. The pain is nearly blinding in it's intensity. These are the days that I try to avoid drinking much, so that I don't need to go to the bathroom...when I finally do need to go, I put it off as long as is humanly possible because it hurts so much to get up and walk the few feet to get there.

The idea of going to the ER for pain meds amuses me, in a dark sort of way. I'd much rather sit in a comfortable chair at home, trying not to scream from the pain, than sit in an uncomfortable chair in the ER trying not to scream from the pain, all for a few pills. I'm not sure any pills could touch this pain anyway, though I wouldn't mind something that could just knock me unconscious for a while. I'm sure my doctor would be happy to prescribe more medications, but the mere thought of the effort it would take to actually go into the office sends spasms through my body.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Week 6 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.







Pretty good week! I got paid and my bonus came through this week. My salary will increase by about $250/month. I'm going to take $100 of that and invest it in a mutual (index) fund. I know dollar cost averaging isn't the way to go in order to maximize profits, but I simply don't have the $3,000 lump sum to open up a Vanguard fund at the moment. I'll have a post on this once the account is verified. For my expenses, $2 went to dining, $13 to transportation, and $14.95 to a credit monitoring service - now that I'm actively watching my credit reports and trying to fix them, I need this service.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bouncing off the walls

The past few weeks have been really stressful. Between the pain flareups and the corresponding drug mess, moving, being ill, and being busy at work, I've felt overwhelmed at times. Today in fact, I got a ton of stuff dumped on my plate and was a bit stretched.

However, the night got a lot better. One of the documents that came across my desk was a document from the #2 guy in my company. He made a point of sending me a note of praise for the work I did and CC'ed it to my boss. Then, I had my "performance review" as a spur of the moment phone call. Turns out it wasn't a performance review at all, but the president of my company calling to tell me that my boss and co-workers had spoken very highly of me, and he informed me that I'm getting a cash bonus (2% of my salary) and a 15% raise. Not too bad for 4 months on the job! He said I should see the raise on Friday's paycheck.

Plus, I'll be able to negotiate my salary upwards as I continue to take on more responsibilities within the company and continue to get promotions, but for right now, I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

$45,000 worth of letters

I spent $2.05 on stamps, and $45,000 hangs in the balance because of it.

First, I sent a letter to my ex-landlord. This was my written notice of vacating the premises. The place I was renting violated the city code in a good two dozen different ways, the most notable of which was not keeping the apartment at 68 degrees or warmer at all times. I didn't even need a fridge in the place, anything left out would usually freeze and then stay frozen. But the final straw was when I showered before bed and woke up in the middle of the night with ice coating my hair. That was a terrifying experience. So that letter, and a subsequent complaint to the appropriate authorities could result in around $5,000 in refunds, damages, etc. What I asked for in the letter, however, was merely the return of my security deposit ($650) and the mail that she's holding hostage. If I don't have it by the 14th, then I'll file the complaint and take her to court.

Then I sent off letters and forms to the 5 different places wanting money for my daughter's treatment - two hospitals, two doctor bills (one for each hospital), and the emergency helicopter transport. Those added up to over $40,000. Now all I can do is wait on their replies.

Week 5 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.





Even though I'm negative on the week, this was a pretty good week. The income came from interest from my online savings account ($1.97) and from online sources ($27.20). I'm going to endeavour to make an additional $25/month on top of my salary, so I'm off to a good start. None of my expenses were particularly discretionary. $45 went to transportation this week. $99 went to debt. $15 went to the MVA to get my photo ID, and $2.05 went to stamps. Next week, I'll get paid, and I'm not expecting any major expenses (transportation, medical, maybe a little on dining.) I'm also hoping that sometime this month I'll receive a raise and possibly a bonus.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Drug reactions

I've been taking my new prescriptions for a couple of weeks now. I'm not sure any of them are working out very well. I actually stopped taking Lyrica entirely - every time I take it, I get the hiccups for 5 or 6 hours, plus vomiting for 12 or so. Pretty bad side effects for a completely ineffective drug. The oxycontin does take the edge off the day to day pain (my Guitar Hero skills have improved on it!) but does very little, if anything, for the "breakthrough" pain. It hasn't had many side effects though, mostly just a little bit of itching. The trazadone...this one is weird. I'm supposed to be taking it for sleep, but it doesn't help me get to sleep. In fact, since I've been taking it, I've slept a lot worse. I get really, really sleepy, but can't actually descend all the way down into sleep, so I lie awake for several hours in a haze.

I'm going to try to get back into the doctor's office next week, so we'll see what his thoughts are.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Free money

I just received $25.00 free. I signed up with Revolution Money Exchange, a site that seems similar to PayPal, via a referral, and they credited my account with $25, no strings attached. If you'd like a referral (you receive $25, I get $10), send me an email from the account you want to sign up with and I'll send you a link.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Grand Rounds carnival

I was included in this week's Grand Rounds, hosted at chronicbabe. My post, "I'm not looking for drugs...really!" made it in.

I thought there were some good posts included this week. My favourites were about prescribing benzos and a post about couples dealing with one person's chronic pain.

My start with Lending Club

I took a chance and got started with Lending Club* last week. It's a peer-to-peer lending site similar to Prosper. I signed up and received a $25 bonus in my account and deposited $50 (money that I had acquired through various additional income sources) for a total of $75.95 (the $0.95 was a verification withdrawal.) This will allow me to fund 3 separate loans to experiment. I'm not investing any money that I can't afford to lose at this point, because it's risky, but I think this could be a good way to diversify investments, particularly before I'm able to invest in the stock market.

The process was quite simple. I signed up, verified my identity, and waited for the verification withdrawal from my bank account. A day later, I was able to deposit funds and received my $25 bonus. I manually chose the loans I wanted to fund (you have to deposit $500+ to create an automatic portfolio) and funded each with the minimum of $25. LendingClub allows you to view FICO scores, debt-to-income ratio, history of deliquencies, and number of credit lines to aid in making the decisions.

Currently, I have one loan that is actually funded, and 2 more in processing. One is a "B" rated loan, giving a 9.76% interest rate, and the other two are "E" rated, giving 14.18% interest rates.

All in all, giving out the money was a very easy and painless process. I expect my first payment to start coming in on April 1st. If this works out, I'll look at putting a total of $825 on the site over time, allowing me to reinvest the monthly payments into a new loan, making the entire thing self-sustaining.

*This is an affiliate link. If you sign up via that link, you'll get the $25 bonus, and $10 is deposited into my account.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

March Goals

My goals for March:


  1. Get full physical and lab work done
  2. Arrange to see specialist for my ankles


  1. Have at least $3,500 in savings for move
  2. Finish taxes


  1. Finalize debt amounts and payment plans for medical bills
  2. Begin working with debt agency regarding consumer debt

Week 4 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.








I did well with my spending for this week. $51.84 went to medical expenses (prescriptions) and $30 went to transportation. $2 went to dining, my only discretionary expense this week.

Next week will be a bit up in the air, depending on how my apartment search goes. However, transportation and application fees should be my only major expense.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

February 2008 review

My net worth as of Feb. 29th, 2008:



Liquid assets: $2,210.02

Investments: $75.95

Total: $2,285.97


Consumer Debt: $24,946.00

Hospital Bills: $40,391.31

Total: $65,337.31

My liquid assets increased by 68%, and my overall assets increased by 73%. My liabilities didn't change, however, I have made progress to negotiate debt reduction and payment plans regarding both my hospital bills and my consumer debt. I expect these to begin decreasing sharply over the next 2 months. Thus, my overall networth increased 1.5%

Monthly Income and Expenses:


Uncategorized: $3.56

Interest: $1.92

Salary: $3100.11

Total: $3105.59


Bank Charge: $4.00
Dining: $97.42
Entertainment: $35.00
Gifts: $10.00
Health & Fitness: $30.00
Household: $23.44
Medical: $1,157.43
Rent: $650.00
Transportation: $126.00
TO Lending Club: $50.95
Total: $2,184.24

Overall total: $889.43

I spent less than I earned this month, which is what I was aiming for. About 9% of my spending this month was purely discretionary. Over 50% was medical, that category should be drastically reduced next month. I'm not unhappy with the way the month went.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Financial Politics

Many sites have begun to discuss the 2008 election. Many of the posts I've read on financial sites seem to have a flawed understanding of the two major issues that will directly impact households and consumers - tax cuts and bailouts.

McCain's position on the Bush tax cuts is pretty simple - make them permanent (they're set to expire in 2010.) The two Democrats are inclined to let the income tax cut on those making over $200,000 per year expire. Obama offers a tax credit for working families, for homeowners, and an increase in childcare credits. The merits of the respective positions can be debated, but to argue that the Democrats want to increase taxes on the majority of middle class Americans is false.

"Bailout" is a fairly loaded word. Opponents argue that the government should stay out of things like the subprime mortgage scandal because market forces will correct for the problem. An analogy might be the easiest way I have to explain the two major problems I have with this argument.

Take a company that makes "milk." Now, this substance isn't actually milk, it's a combination of toxins that will probably make you sick. But they label it as milk and sell it for half the cost of true milk. An awful lot of people are going to start buying this. Market forces can't account for this decision making, as the people buying the "milk" aren't making a true cost-benefit calculation, since they don't know the true cost. Market forces tell us that companies will live and die on the strength and cost of their product, but the model falls apart when deception is introduced. So now we have a whole bunch of really sick people who drank the "milk." As word starts to get out and people are able to see through the deception, the "milk" company goes under, because no one wants to buy a product that will make them sick. Market forces have corrected, the price of true milk goes back to normal, and harmony is restored. Except for those sick people. Those people go back to not having any milk and are now sick to boot. Market forces have prevented new people from getting sick from the "milk," but have nothing to offer those already affected.

This is certainly a trivial analogy, but it is at least illustrative. One can go further with how market forces might over correct (for instance, consumers stop buying milk en masse, resulting in collapse of legitimate industries and skyrocketing price of milk, meaning only the wealthiest can have milk, etc.) None of this is to suggest that government regulation and assistance doesn't sometimes go too far, or is inefficient, or without it's own problems. But I see posts like this one from NCN and it strikes me that while personal responsibility is certainly something to be emphasized, sometimes it isn't enough.

February Goals - review

At the end of each month, I will go through and evaluate the progress I made on the goals I post at the beginning of the month.

For February:

Find a new doctor to help with pain
I met this goal. I found a doctor that I am pleased with and who will act as a case manager for all the specialists I will see. I expect this to be a long lasting relationship.

Save $1000 in an emergency savings fund in a high interest savings account
Save $1000 towards the purchase of a car in a high interest savings account
I met one of these goals and struck the other. I am no longer saving for a car; instead, I am saving to move to a nicer apartment that will eliminate the short term need for a car. I did fully fund an emergency savings fund that I am keeping at ING.
Submit all paperwork to hospitals and doctors to reduce bills and work out a payment plan
I just need to drop this paperwork in the mail.

Overall, I think this was a successful month in terms of achieving my goals. I am making financial progress and keeping things under control.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A pleasant phone call with a doctor

I started my new prescriptions on Monday night. Throughout the night and all day Tuesday, I was plagued with hiccups and couldn't keep anything down. I called my doctor on Tuesday afternoon, and it was the first time I can remember that I was immediately able to speak with the doctor instead of leaving a message. He seemed genuinely pleased that I was calling him to discuss something that had come up.

So yet again, I'm pleased with the way this has gone so far.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance

My post on reviewing my debt and planning how to get out of it was included in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance. Some of my favourite posts talked about savings during your 20s and a post about additional income streams (I'm thinking about doing a small amount of peer to peer lending at some point.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

The verdict on my new concierge doctor

I had my first medical appointment with the concierge doctor today. I have to say, I'm feeling very good about that expense. When I walked in, it was immediately clear that he remembered me, remembered our discussion, and had spent time before my appointment doing research on my condition. That impressed me a lot - not only did I see him for an hour, but he took his own time to make sure that the hour we had would be productive. He repeatedly emphasized that the treatment program would be *our* decisions, not just him passing down judgments from on high. I walked out feeling like he truly is interested in making a difference in my life, which is a great feeling to have.

He performed a physical exam (though not the annual physical covered by the program, we'll do that in a few weeks) and blood/urine labs. He sent me home with trazodone for sleep, lyrica and oxycontin for pain, and a handful of free samples of rozeram (a sleeping pill) to evaluate and use as needed. This isn't expected to be the final solution, but hopefully it will make for a good starting point. We also agreed to focus specifically on my jaws and ankles at the moment, as those are the two joints that are most affecting my quality of life (my jaws severely limit what and when I can eat, my ankles cause a lot of pretty bad falls.) He's going to look into what specialists I should see for those.

I don't think concierge medicine necessarily makes sense for everyone, but I think this was the right decision for me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pain Scales

WhiteCoat Rants has a post discussing the 1-10 scale that doctors use to gauge a patient's pain. He discusses the different ways that doctors attempt to convey level 10 pain. Personally, I've found that patients need to be proactive as well in communicating what they mean with a specific number. Chronic pain is different from acute pain and individuals experience pain differently, so patients and doctors don't need to add miscommunication to the mix when treating pain. I tend to describe pain in terms of how it affects my daily life.

0 - no pain
1 - small, ignorable pain
2 - pain noticable when aggravated
3 - pain only noticable when I'm paying attention to it
4 - noticable pain, but I forget about it when I concentrate
5 - I fight to focus through the pain, but win
6 - I fight to focus through the pain, but begin to lose
7 - pain is the major focus, but I can accomplish things with effort
8 - Accomplishing basic tasks becomes difficult (i.e., going to the bathroom)
9 - unable to perform basic tasks without major problems
10 - unable to do anything, entirely consumed by pain

Many of the commenters referred to a "10" pain as being labor/childbirth without anesthesia...I had back labor with no medication whatsoever, and it would be a real choice for me to decide whether to undergo that again or to suffer my current level of pain. Chronic and acute pains are very different.

I haven't been below a 4 in over a decade, but my goal in seeing doctors is to have 4 be my day-to-day average.

Week 3 income/expense review

Every week, I'll be posting my expenses and income for review and analysis.





I didn't get paid this week, and brought in no extra income. The vast majority of my expenses this week came from a $375 payment for my enrollment in a concierge medicine service; this will be a quarterly expense. $22.00 went to transportation and the remaining $10 was a donation to a political candidate. I'm going to focus on trying to save as much as possible between now and my planned move date of April 15th, so my goal for next week is to spend no more than $20 on all categories except transportation and medical.

A change in circumstances

I posted a while ago about the lack of heat in my basement apartment. The good thing about the apartment was that it's $650 a month. The bad part is...everything else. It's cold, which is really having a negative affect on my health, and it's cold even when the heat is on. It's full of other people's stuff. I have no privacy, which stirs up my anxiety. I have no true kitchen, just a refridgerator and microwave, so I can't do much about reducing my grocery or dining expenses. Going anywhere, even just to work, takes 2 hours one way.

So the plan is for me to move back in with friends for a couple of months and then move into an apartment. I found a really nice apartment complex...the rent is nearly twice as much, which I'm not looking forward to, but it's better in every other way. This will be a major expense and will certainly increase my monthly expenses (increase in rent, utilities, and insurance, though I'll be able to decrease dining, transportation, and grocery expenses.) Because I'm moving much closer to a metro stop, my commute will be significantly reduced (to about 30 minutes, max) and so I'm going to postpone buying a car. For the next couple of months, since I'll be living with friends, I'll be able to put the money I would have used on rent and groceries towards saving up for the move. I'll also be getting some increases to my income - a raise, possibly a bonus, and the tax rebate check. All of these should help to blunt the financial impact.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Doctor shopping, of sorts

Yesterday I had an "interview" meeting with a new doctor. This doctor is affiliated with the concierge medicine trend. Essentially, I would pay $1500 annually, and, in turn, I see a doctor who is limited to 600 patients (down from the 2,800 he had before) with 24 hour, 7 day a week accessibility. Plus, he would manage my care across all specialists, which, when you have a chronic disease, is something incredibly valuable. They also include a detailed physical, full lab work, etc., but I'm not placing a priority on that.

I arrived around 1:45 pm for a 2 pm appointment and was immediately taken from the public waiting room to a private waiting room. The doctor came in right on time (a first!) and we spoke for about 45 minutes. I really liked him, surprisingly enough. He's not inclined recommend homeopathic medicine, he understands that patients don't particularly want to feel like a freak show, to be paraded around for everyone's interest, and is interested in establishing a long term relationship with a two way street of communication.

Long story short, I think I'm going to sign up. It's an expense I didn't particularly want, but one that I think will make a huge difference in the quality of my life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Additional income sources

Every personal finance blog out there says the same thing - spend less than you earn. The two ways to do that are to reduce expenses and increase income. I'm attempting to do both. The reviews of my spending that I post here are helping me to identify areas where I can cut back, and I already watch several (groceries, entertainment expenses, etc.) I'm also attempting to increase my income. My upcoming promotion should help that. Additionally, here are some other thoughts I have.

The mint contest - if I could win, that would provide $5000 directly towards paying off my debt.

FusionCash - I try to complete offers from here every so often. The link is a referral link, for every person that signs up, I receive $1 when they confirm their email address, $2 when they complete an offer, and $5 when they cash out. I've gotten a $25 check from them once already.

ING referrals - If anyone is looking to open a high interest, online only savings or checking account with at least $250, contact me and I'll send you a link. The offer gives you a $25 bonus in your account, and I get $10 for each referral. I signed up through a referral link for my emergency savings fund.

I'm always trying to increase my income, even if just by a little bit per month. Every little bit helps.

Some good job-related news

I've been working at my job since the middle of November. Our annual performance reviews are coming up, and due to the way my company handles the bonus/raise system, they wanted to go ahead and get me on the schedule, even though I've only been there a few months.

While I'd normally be a little worried by the prospect of a performance review, this time around I'm pretty confident. I sent an email to my boss mentioning that I'd like to learn more about a different job within the company. We had a meeting, and I'll be getting a promotion and moving down that career path. It should bring along additional responsibilities and additional compensation, plus it will provide me with some good skills to add to my resume.