Tuesday, March 31, 2009

End of No Eat Out Month

WARNING: Do not read this blog post if you haven't eaten. It will make you hungry.

I picked the month of March to not eat out unless someone else was paying for the meal. During the month I kept a food diary so all the doubters could see that I could do it. I'm not going to bore you with the day to day of what meals I ate every day so here's a list of some of the things I cooked:

- Shrimp & Corn Chowder
- Ribs
- Chicken Breast with Broccoli and Brown Rice
- Ravioli with Peas & Shallots
- Steak and vegetables
- Spicy Shrimp and Angel Hair Pasta
- Vegetable Stir Fry
- Pizza Bagels (I LOVE pizza bagels when it's a New York bagel)
- Loaded Baked Potato (broccoli, cheese and bacon bits)
- Pork Chops (thanks Kristina for the recipe)

I definitely flexed my cooking muscle...LOL. But I honestly think I didn't save any money. I really think eating in is just as expensive as eating out. As you can see from my food diary I did eat well this month. I think I actually gained weight in the process. And as much as I ate I still have a lot of food in my freezer and cabinets. So I'm going to keep the food challenge going. I will go out to eat but I'm going to limit myself to no more than 10 times this month and that will include if I buy lunch. Anyone want to join me for this next food challenge.

Next up: Not charging anything on my credit cards for the month of April.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March Freebies

I have to say March was a very good month for me. I think it helped that it was my birthday month. Everybody offers birthday specials and you can really take advantage of some sweet deals.

1. Free Meals & Drinks
I want to thank all my friends that took me out for various birthday lunches, dinners and drinks. I also want to thank y'all for supporting my "no eating out" month challenge. Some might say I was being cheap but those that know me knows the challenge was about pushing myself to cook and comparing the financials of paying to eat out vs paying to cook...but I'll blog about that tomorrow.

2. Free Lip Gloss
Sephora has a deal for Beauty insiders that they can redeem up to 14 days after their birthday. This month it was a set of 3 lip glosses.

3. Free Game Play
I LOVE Dave & Busters. I have a registered Power Card so D&B sent me an email for $10 worth of free game play. I'm addicted to the Super Trivia game and Deal or No Deal.

4. Free Eye Brow Wax
I am 29 years old and had never had my eyebrows waxed. I had been thinking about it because every time I go to beauty events the makeup artists always comment that I should get my brows cleaned up even though I explain I use my brow hairs to cover some scars I have. So I was surfing around on Bliss Spa website and came across the Free Brow Event. I was able to get a $30 painless eye brow wax for FREE!!! SO I think I'm addicted now. I know people normally pay about $8-10 for a eye brow wax at the nail salon but once you have had a Bliss Signature Brow wax you will never want to let anyone else do it. They use a painless low heat wax that doesn't require the use of a strip to rip it off.

5. Free Workouts
I took some classes at New York Sports Club and Crunch. Right now there are some great deals and everyone is willing to let you try them out for free. As much as I love my Wii it's not enough. So I'm going to join a gym, more to come on that later.

Do you know of any other freebies that you can get, and not just for your birthday? I'm all about FREE!!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Cleaning Your Wallet

Discover card did a personal finance series in partnership with Real Simple magazine. So through the course of the year I will be highlighting some of the lessons shared in the series.

Today's topic: Spring Cleaning Your Wallet

The less you carry the easier it is to keep your wallet clean. It's also less to worry about getting lost or stolen. Empty the contents out on the table and try sticking to this wallet diet (that Discover suggests):
- Driver's License/Photo ID
- Primary Credit Card
- ATM Card
- Health Insurance Card
- Prescription Card
- Cash
One thing I would add to this list (because I live in NY), my Metro Card.

I actually have a wallet that I carry every day and I have a wallet that I keep at home. The wallet I keep at home has all my other credit cards, store charge cards, and membership/rewards cards. I also have a separate case for my business cards. They got dirty when I kept them in my every day wallet so it's worth it to carry something extra to maintain professionalism. I don't carry photos in my wallet. I guess if I had kids maybe I would. But then again I would just whip out my phone cause I'm sure I would have some photos stored in my phone.

Does your wallet need a diet? What would you add/remove from the list Discover suggested?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We All Get A Raise

One week from today we will all be getting a raise.

The centerpiece of the Economic Recovery Plan is President Obama’s “Making Work Pay” income tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and $800 for couples in 2009 and 2010. The money will be delivered through paychecks as a reduction in Social Security withholdings, and is intended to bolster consumer spending by giving a small lift to household pocketbooks. So in your next paycheck look to find about $8 to $16 additional dollars. Officials hope you will spend it and not save it.

I know $8 or even $16 does not sound like a lot so in support of President Obama trying to do something to stimulate this economy listed below is my list of 10 things I could spend (not save) $16 on.

1. With gas at about $1.75 in my area I could buy 1/2 to 3/4 of a tank of gas

2. Get a pedicure/manicure

3. Buy lunch 2 days out of the week

4. Go to the movies

5. Rent about 3 DVD's from Blockbuster

6. Take a cab home from work

7. Buy a book

8. Buy the newspaper every day for a week

9. Buy a bottle of wine

10. Buy a tall chai tea latte from Starbucks, 5 days a week

Notice everything I listed in my list of 10 in some small way does stimulate the economy. I'm sure a newspaper would love if I would buy a newspaper every day. Or the movie industry would thank me if I went to the movies. Maybe one less bookstore would have to close if I bought another book.

Don't get me wrong. I know that $16 doesn't go as far as it used it. But I just think, at least for myself, saving the $16 won't be more beneficial to me than spending it.

What could or will you do with the extra money?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Doctor's Orders

I have been going to a chiropractor for over a year. I have scoliosis so I will probably need to have adjustments for the rest of my life. I don't mind that. I always feel good after an adjustment.

Every 2 months my doctor re-evaluates my progress. She gave a surprising recommendation on my last re-evaluation. "You might want to consider taking up yoga." I was surprised that a medical doctor would recommend an alternative therapy. I agree with her that I have a very hard time relaxing and maybe Yoga is the way to go.

I'm a little skeptical because I took a yoga class back in college and the teacher wanted me to "feel the space between my toes." Um...yeah...no...to feel the space between my toes I'd have to touch my toes physical, not in my mind. And there were some days I would fall asleep in the yoga class, not because it was so relaxing but because it was so boring. So outside of this class my only other experience with Yoga is my Wii fit.

So for the next two weeks I'll be researching gyms. I'm leaning towards joining Crunch. I was a member of Crunch when I lived in Atlanta. I went to the New York Sports Club that one of my girlfriends attends this weekend. I took an Urban Rebounding and then an Abdominals class.

Why Crunch? They are the only gym that offers AntiGravity Yoga which is highly recommended for people like myself with back/neck issues.

Are any of you in to Yoga? Are you a member of a gym or a yoga studio? What exercise regimen works for you?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis

A few weeks ago Time magazine did a great story on the 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis. I actually missed this story because the main cover story was on faith so I didn't notice that they had done this story until someone else asked me about it. I'm not going to pontificate because the story speaks for itself. It's actually nice to know who we should possibly blame BUT I suggest you check out #5. That one might surprise you ;)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Movie Maven

I talk about finances so much I'm sure y'all are probably sick of it. So it's Friday and I decided it's time for a lighter topic. Movies. Everyone knows I'm a movieaholic yet lately I haven't talked about any of the recent movies I have seen. So here's my brief summary/review of recent flicks I have seen in theaters or on DVD.

1. Watchmen
I wasn't familiar with the graphic novel before seeing this movie. I was a little apprehensive about the over 2 hour running time. But I actually liked this movie a lot. I liked the back stories of the characters. I liked the overall premise/point of the story. I thought the cinematography was great. Overall this is a movie I would recommend to someone whether they are familiar with the graphic novel or not.

2. Madea Goes To Jail
I'm all for supporting black films, especially Tyler Perry, BUT I'm tired of the same old story lines. And the movie is only about 1 hour and 50 minutes but after the first hour I was tired. The movie was not as funny as I expected, wanted and in some ways needed it to be. But given the economic climate our expectations for laughter are higher. And as I pointed out to my sister Tyler is obsessed with weddings. I won't give the story away but this one you can wait for DVD to watch.

3. He's Just Not That Into You
I LOVED the book so of course I LOVED the movie. I can't wait for it to come out on DVD because I want a copy of it. If you haven't read the book, you should, but it's not necessary in order to enjoy the movie. If you have seen the movie and still haven't read the book, read it. You will identify with the movie because you will see yourself and people you know portrayed in the movie. I think there is something everyone, men and women, can take away from the movie.

4. W
George W. Bush is an idiot, we knew that, the movie just showed it. If you were somehow oblivious to the last 8 years it's worth it to see. But no need to make it #1 on your Netflix queue.

5. Vicky Christina Barcelona
I'm not usually a fan of Woody Allen films but he has a couple that I really do like and this one can be added to that short list. It's worth the rental.

6. The Secret
I just finished reading the book so I wanted to see the movie. The movie is really a summary of the book so for me it served to reinforce what I had read. I would recommend reading the book before watching the movie.

7. Flash of Genius
This was a typical David and Goliath story and it was based on a true story. In this case the inventor of the intermittent windshield wipers going up against the big bad car industry. This was an okay movie. Again, worth watching but not a must see, don't miss.

8. Changeling
The first time I saw this movie it was around Christmas on the internet and I wasn't really feeling it. This is also a movie based on a true story. When I watched it a second time I still wasn't moved by it. This, like Flash of Genius, is about someone sticking to their convictions. And there is something to be said about that but there are so many movies with that premise that I'm not strongly recommending this movie but if it comes up on your Netflix list you won't be disappointed.

9. Defiance
Someone at work recommended this movie. And yet again it's a movie based on a true story. And also a David vs Goliath story line. One thing I have to commend Jewish people for doing is getting their story out. They do not let anyone forget about the Holocaust. There are still people like Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that thinks that Holocaust didn't happen but we all know he only believes what is in his best interest.

Have you seen any good movies lately? Any flicks worth watching/renting?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Manage Your Money, Manage Your Life - Part 1

Discover card did a personal finance series in partnership with Real Simple magazine. So through the course of the year I will be highlighting some of the lessons shared in the series.

Today's topic: Organizing Your Everyday

The first suggestion for managing your money is getting organized. They suggest saving and organizing your receipts for one area of your life and when you get a grip on that expanding to more categories. The categories they suggest as a breakdown are:
- ATM/Banking
- Business
- Education
- Entertainment
- Grocery
- Home Improvement
- Personal
- Tolls/Gas
- Other (category that you choose)

For me I would start with the Entertainment category, meaning dinners eaten out or ordered in. Because I honestly don't know how much I spend on that but I know it's my biggest expense. I think most people would probably need to start with the ATM category. I think people would probably be surprised at how many trips they make to the ATM machine in a month.

I also think my biggest problem is that I'm not sure how long to hold on to certain receipts. Discover came up with an excellent tipsheet that breaks down what receipts to keep and how long to keep them.

What works for you when it comes to organizing receipts?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Credit Card Laws

This week on the Suze Orman show she talked about the new credit card laws BUT they don't go in to effect until July 2010. So Suze says (and I agree) it's a case of too little, too late.

1. No more Universal Default
Currently if you are late on one card the other cards can raise your rate. They will no longer be allowed to do this.

2. End to raising interest rate increases for no reason
Credit card companies will no longer be able to raise your rate for the heck of it. You will have to be over 30 days late for them to be able to raise your interest rate.

3. No more double-cycle billing
Say you charge a $1,000. You get the bill and you pay 900. The next month all you owe is $100 but the credit card company still charges you the interest rate on the full amount of what you originally charged. So they are charging you interest on the $1,000 and not just the $100 you owe. That is a double-cycle billing and will no longer be allowed.

4. Payments will apply to higher interest rate balances first
Let's say you have a $1,000 on your credit card that are purchases with an APR of 15%. But you also have a balance transfer on your card of $1,000 with an APR of 3%. Right now when you make your monthly payment the money goes towards the part of your balance that has the lower APR. So the interest on your higher APR balance is still growing and doesn't decrease until you pay the lower APR balance first. That is going to change. The payments you make will be applied to the higher interest rate balance first.

I'm glad these much needed changes are coming in 2010 but why can't they be enacted sooner. I'm sure the credit card companies are boo-hooing that they need time to update their computer billing systems in order to properly bill customers. But in this age of technology they shouldn't need over a year to update their systems. Congress should force them to do it in the next 3-6 months. This year is already off to a terrible start. Citigroup is probably going to fold so credit card relief of this kind needs to be implemented immediately not in 2010...as Suze said by then it may be too little, too late. I don't even want to IMAGINE what the state of the economy might be by then.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Next Bailout: Student Loans

There is a Facebook group, Cancel Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy. In fact, a few of you have already joined the group. The basic premise to the group is that if the government really wants the economy to be stimulated forgiving student loan debt would have an IMMEDIATE stimulating effect on the economy.

I'm torn on the issue and part of the reason is that I agree with Michelle Singletary, Color of Money personal finance columnist for the Washington Post. She wrote a column a few weeks ago about people whining about the fact that they were financial responsible and because of that they weren't eligible for any of the government financial bailout programs. I get how everyone thinks that because so many companies, banks and people are getting helped by the government that we should all get help. BUT I agree with Michelle that people that aren't getting bailouts should be HAPPY they aren't in a position where they need a bailout.

So because of this I'm torn on if the government should wipe the slate clean on my student loan debt. Of course I would love the additional money BUT I only pay $176.50 a month on my student loans. And the interest rate is 3%. The debt is really not a burden for me. My credit card debt is a much bigger problem.

The founder of this facebook group says people would be more inclined to spend the money they now put towards student loans. He also says it would be more successful than the 2 stimulus checks we received in the last 4 years. Most people either saved their stimulus check money or put it towards a credit card debt. So for me, if the government was to forgive my student loan debt I would do just that. Put $76.50 a month more in to my savings or Roth IRA and $100 a month more towards a credit card bill.

But on the flip side I get how some people, particularly people with advanced degrees, who pay a hell of a lot more a month in student loan repayments might be more inclined to spend. I can only imagine how much a month a lawyer, doctor, MBA, PHD, etc. pay a month for their student loans. So let's say a person is paying $1000 a month in student loans and their student loan debt was forgiven. Even if they put half in to savings that would still leave $500 that they would probably be more willing to spend and thus stimulate the economy.

If you go to the group or check out a blog post on the idea on U.S. News & World Report you can see the various comments and they go both ways.

Would I like some economic relief? Absolutely. Do I necessarily think the way to do that is to forgive my student loan debt? I'm not sure. I'm the type of person that believes you should pay what you agree to pay. When I signed on the dotted line on my student loans I knew what I was getting myself in to and if I'm going to be a financially responsible person it is my duty to pay it back, as I agreed too. But I don't know because I could be one of the people Michelle Singletary scolded in her column. I don't like that my hard earned money is bailing other folks out but we live in a democracy and things aren't always fair.

What do y'all think? If your student loan debt was forgiven what would you do with the additional funds? For those that joined the group on Facebook, why did you join?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tax Time

By now you should have received your W-2 form so it's time to start prepping for tax filing. Most people expect to get a refund so the sooner you file the quicker you will get your refund. Here are two things to think about:

1. Standard Deductions Increases
The basic standard deduction for joint filers for the 2009 tax year will be $11,400, up from $10,900 for 2008. For singles, the amount for 2009 will be $5,700, up from $5,450.

2. Writing Off Your Loses
Beyond my 401K I'm not really an investor. But for those who do actually participate actively in the stock market. Investors are allowed to offset capital gains and losses, with no limit. If your losses exceed your gains, you can deduct as much as $3,000 of net losses ($1,500 if married and filing separately) each year. Additional losses get carried over into future years. So while most people are taking a loss, some will be able to get a write off for their loss several years in to the future.

To all my tax expert friends or those in the know, what other things should people be considering in prepping their 2008 taxes?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Live On Less

On Wednesday it was announced that the Miami Herald will cut 175 employees. This announcement is pretty common these days BUT it gets worse. The remaining full-time employees earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year will have their pay reduced 5%. For employees earning more than $50,000, the pay cut will be 10%. And it doesn't end there. Employees will also lose one week of pay this year through an unpaid furlough program. So what makes this layoff announcement unique is that everyone is financially impacted whether they are losing their job or not. This announcement made me think could I live off of 5% or 10% less than what I make right now?

The one week "forced" vacation (because it's unpaid) I could handle. I would actually take the week to have a staycation and relax. I would use my corporate ID to go to some of the museums that I can go to for free but can never seem to find the time to go. I would read some books and watch some movies. Truly relax and give my body and mind a restart.

But to have to live on 5% or 10% less in salary I would have to take some immediate actions. First thing I would do is go to my apartment management office and see if they could reduce my rent. If they couldn't I would break my lease and move home to NJ. I'm so lucky to be able to go home if I ever have to. Next, because I'm a Diva (the female hustler kind of diva) I would be planning out what I have to do to make up for the loss of income. How many classes would I have to teach. How much stuff would I have to sell on ebay, craigslist and amazon? Are there any additional expenses that I could cut? I would probably resort to Suze Orman's plan of only paying the minimum on credit cards. I guess I say all that to say that I would find a way. By no means am I saying it would be easy but clearly, in that position, you have no choice but to either sink or swim.

My heart goes out to everyone at the Miami Herald; both those who are being laid off and those who are still employed. I would hope that they have been pre-planning for this situation because it has been known for months that the paper was not doing well. So they have had at least 6 months to pre-plan.

Does anyone smell a challenge? WELL when I heard what was happening I thought about putting myself to the challenge. For one paycheck deducting 5% or 10% of my gross biweekly salary and putting it in to my savings account and seeing how I "survived" off less. What do y'all think? Anyone up for the challenge? Could you live off of 5% or 10% less than what you make right now?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Kids Need To Know About Money

How did you learn what you know about money? For most of us it was the hard way by running up credit card debt or bouncing a check. Which makes me ask two questions:
1. Why don't our parents talk to us and teach us about being fiscally responsible?
2. Why in the 12+ years of schooling do we NEVER take a class on personal finance?

No offense to my Mom but all I was ever taught about money was that we didn't have it. So when you go in to the grocery store, don't ask for anything. So how did I learn what I know? By trial and error. In 1996 I was working at a law firm after school. It was one of the administrative assistants that told me I should sign up for a savings account at the local credit union, so I did. I had my Mom take me one Saturday and from then on I would deposit most of my earnings instead of just cashing my check from the bank my law firm used. Shortly after opening my savings account I got my first credit card. It was Macy's and my limit was $100. When I got the card the only thing my Mom said was whatever you charge you have to pay for plus interest. Right before leaving for college I opened a checking account making sure it was with a bank that had branches in both NC and NJ. I signed up for my account online and somehow I did it wrong so I ended up having to call customer service. And there ends my education on personal finance.

No one taught me about savings, how a bank works and how to manage my checking, the basics of the stock market, credit cards or even how to calculate how much rent you really can afford. Those are basic things that I think everyone should know long before they graduate college and venture out in to the world on their own. I don't want my kids to have to learn from their mistakes or from their friends or from the internet, TV or books. There are some great books out for parents like "Raising Money Smart Kids." You can get a summary of what you should be teaching your kids at every age in this MSN article.

Ultimately you teach your kids what you know. My Mom's knowledge of personal finance was limited to what she knew. I remember one day she asked me if I had a 401K. She said she doesn't know what it is but listening to the news it sounds like something I should have.

I love my Mom but I don't want to be like my Mom. I don't want to have to work in to my later years because I didn't save, didn't have an IRA, 401K or any kind of retirement plans. So the greatest lesson she could teach me is to be an example of what not to do and how not to be when it comes to personal finance.

But it's funny how the world works. For my 29th birthday my Mom bought me an electronic money bank. It counts the money as you put it in to the bank. She said every day I should save any change I have in my wallet. Funny thing is I first learned that from Suze Orman and I have already been doing that for over a year.

How did you learn about money? What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier? Should there be a required course in school on personal finance? At what age do you start teaching your kids about money?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HOA Crisis

There is another crisis going on related to the housing meltdown. It's the implosion of HOA's (Homeowners Associations).

For those that don't own homes, a homeowner's association is a group of homeowner's in a community that agree to a covenant and pay monthly dues to support the community. Fees from the HOA may cover landscaping, security, electricity for communal spaces, etc. In New York City that would be similar to the monthly required maintenance fee.

When a home goes in to foreclosure not only is the family that lives in that home affected but the community as well. The first thing people stop doing when they know they are going in to foreclosure is paying their HOA fees. And I can't blame them. In the large scheme of things that fee is minimal and not as important as the mortgage. But currently my community in Atlanta is about 30% short on expected dues and it's largely due to foreclosures. I didn't think this would directly impact me...until it did.

In 2007 there was a drought in the greater Atlanta area and as a result my front lawn died. Over time the grass and bushes were not replaced so now there is nothing but red Georgia clay in front of my home that is blowing all over my driveway. So I went to the HOA with my complaint because I always pay my HOA fees, every month, on time and I have never been late. I asked why am I paying for landscaping when clearly nothing has been done to my landscaping in years. I get this boo hoo story about how they aren't able to deal with the landscaping issue of my property because 1 - they can't get a quorum at monthly homeowner's meetings to vote on the matter and 2 - because people aren't paying their HOA fees, they don't have the money to fix my property.

My first instinct was can I sue my HOA for neglect and not abiding by the covenant? If I'm paying they should STOP servicing the homes that aren't and take care of the people who are. But luckily my home is a tax write off. So I'm thinking of taking the path of less resistance. Getting the landscaping fixed by my personal property manager and writing it off on my taxes next year as a home improvement.

Is anyone else feeling the pinch in services with their HOA's? Anyone have any solutions?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Goals and Challenges

I know some of y'all are saying to yourself why is she always setting some goal for herself or trying another challenge? And why does she have multiple goals/challenges going on at the same time, how does she keep track?

To most people it would probably get overwhelming but it is one of my strongest character traits. I ALWAYS have to be doing something which is why I have a very hard time relaxing. I can't just watch a movie. I have to watch a movie, be on the computer, talking on IM, folding laundry, etc., etc. I've always been the type to try and cram as much in to my day as humanly/physically possible.

But specifically about all the goals and challenges...I love to challenge myself and every day I want to improve. I always have to be striving towards something. There's just this feeling that I get as I get closer and closer to my goal. And I can't even describe the feeling of when I actually achieve a goal. Problem is I probably don't take the time to savor the achievement enough before setting up another obstacle/hurdle for myself.

For example, this year I set a goal to read at least 30 books. And every time I finish a book and add it to my list I'm ready to start reading another one. I should probably take a break. Maybe reflect on what I read before jumping right in to the next book. But I'm just so driven to meet that goal because I didn't meet it last year and I don't take too kindly to failure even small ones. I probably take the small failures harder because they should have been easier to achieve and for whatever reason I didn't achieve it.

Also I don't set up goals/challenges just for the sake of having a goal/challenge. Each thing I do is intended to benefit me in some way. Forcing myself to read 30 books in a year might sound like torture to some but to me it's actually forcing me to relax and focus. When I'm reading a book I cannot do 10 other things. I can't read and watch tv, listen to music, sort laundry, wash dishes, etc. I literally have to take the time to sit down, focus and read a book. So while I'm reading I'm also forcing myself to stop and relax because as y'all know I'm like the Energizer bunny and I'll keep going until I physically drop.

Do you set up goals and challenges for yourself? How much effort do you put in to achieving them? Do they give you a mental or emotional high?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Read The Fine Print

I'm usually very good about reading the fine print before I accept an offer...Especially if it is a credit card balance transfer offer. But no matter how on top of it I think I am, I'm not perfect. And I made a costly mistake...$944.25 to be exact.

December 2007 I bought my Mom new windows for her house. The offer was if I used my Home Depot credit card it would be no payment, no interest for 12 months. So I was thinking, great...I have a year to pay this off. But what I missed was that even thought I didn't have to pay any interest, interest was accruing. And if I didn't pay the full balance of by the end of the offer all the accrued interest would be added to my account.

I literally had $2,500 left to pay and WHAM! They added the $944.25 to my account. So I went from having $2,500 left to pay off to $3,444.25 to pay off. I was pissed, but I couldn't be mad because it was my fault. I IMMEDIATELY balance transferred the remaining balance to one of my major credit cards. I haven't closed the Home Depot account but I can promise you that I won't be using it unless there is some dire emergency at my house in Atlanta, my apt in NYC or at my Mom's house.

So please, don't get caught like me. Read the fine print and know what you are agreeing too when you sign on the dotted line.

Friday, March 06, 2009

25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You

So I finally gave in and did my own version of "25 Random Things About Me". But I hope this 25 things virus (yes it's a virus in the sense that it's viral and EVERYONE has caught on to it) finally comes to an end.

Time.com wrote a funny story about "25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You" as a result of people posting their 25 Random Things About Me. Just think about all the things you learned and didn't know or in some cases didn't want to know. I was almost tempted to do a "25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You" like the writer of this piece did, but then I didn't want to offend anyone.

If you find this whole 25 things craze funny here are two more pieces written about it:
- New York Times
- Salon.com

What did you learn about your friends that you didn't know before? Any examples of things you wish you hadn't found out?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Suze's New Credit Card Strategy

Now y'all know how much I LOVE Suze Orman. BUT she just confused the heck out of me. So ironically on my birthday Suze posted a new credit card strategy.

You can check the link to read the whole thing but the first section of her posting summarizes it:

"If you have an unpaid credit card balance and not much saved up in emergency savings I need you to listen up. My advice has changed. I want you to only pay the minimum due on your credit card balance and instead make it your top priority to build as much of an emergency cash fund as you can."

WHAT!?!??! For years Suze has been telling me to focus on reducing my credit card debt and now she has completely switched gears. I get that you have to change with the times, situations and circumstances but to go from paying more than the minimum to JUST the minimum. My brain is just refusing to accept. I understand her reasoning, to focus on the emergency savings but I just can't bring myself to pay only the minimum. When I think about how long it would take me to pay off my credit cards if I only paid the minimum my ears start burning and my head starts throbbing.

So for me this just goes to show as much as I LOVE Suze and value her advise and wisdom there will be times, like this, that I just don't agree. I am so close to being credit card debt free that I just can't reverse course and pay only the minimum.

She also says, "My new advice is solely for those of you who do not have an emergency savings account, or too small of an account." I am one of those people. The issues I had in 2008 with keeping a viable tenant in my house in Atlanta drained my savings. I'm no where close to having eight months of living expenses (also her new standard for what you should have in emergency savings). But as crazy as it sounds I'm still more concerned with the credit card debt than with the emergency savings. My logic is if I was to lose my job I wouldn't be as worried about the bills being paid if I had less bills to pay...i.e. why I focus on the credit cards.

Is anyone feeling me or do you agree with Suze?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Price of a Stamp

Do you even know how much a stamp costs? Sounds like a funny question but most people don't. (It's 42-cents) So it's also no surprise that most people don't care that the price of a stamp is going up 2-cents in May. So for those of you who do care, stock up on those Forever Stamps now.

I actually have a strong memory tied to stamps and the post office. My grandmother used to make such a HUGE deal about her weekly trip to the post office. She had to make sure she looked good. And it was very important to have the mail organized. She made it seem like a very special, important duty to put the stamp on the envelope. So when I was allowed to do it I felt like a big girl. Does anyone remember when stamps were 25-cents?

No one has suffered more from the advent of the internet than the post office. Most people I know don't send mail. They pay all or most of their bills online. But the USPS has a plan to deal with the changing times. The post office has been cutting costs, reducing work hours, and has asked Congress to ease requirements for advance funds for retiree benefits and to allow mail to be delivered five days a week instead of six.

I think the last part is a really smart idea. Do we really need to have mail delivered 6 days a week? If the proposal clears, mail would be delivered on Monday, Wednesday-Saturday. We already don't get mail on Sundays and supposedly Tuesday is the slowest mail day of the week.

So what do you think about mail being delivered one less day a week...or the price of a stamp going up? When was the last time you went to the post office? How often do you use stamps, if ever?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Joys of Staycations

I had a good, long (but not long enough) staycation after Christmas. And I noticed a lot of other people did the staycation thing as well. If I wasn't in D.C. for the inauguration festivities this would have been another long staycation weekend for me.

Whoever invented the staycation were they cheap or were they smart? Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to travel and I have some great travel plans already for 2009 but after my late December/early January staycation I really appreciate the time at home or in the city that I live in to do what I want, when I want and just to relax and enjoy with no pressure to do anything or deadlines to meet. I also like the savings. There is really no place like home.

But if I had to do my last staycation all over again (or if I had another one coming up) I would do the following:
- read a book
- watch movies
- hit a spa for a nice massage
- do a touristy thing (i.e. go to the top of the Rock, go to the Empire State building, etc.)
- depending on the weather I would go to the park
- go ice skating (last time I tried to go it was too warm)
- go to bed late and sleep in

Oh how my staycation seems so long ago and I'm already ready for another one. Just listing all the things I would do makes me want to jump in to bed and put the covers over my head. But it doesn't look like I'll be able to do another staycation until March (I hope). When you go on staycation, what do you do?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Eating Myself Out of House and Home

It's a special month. It's my birthday month. The month of March can't start/happen without my birthday on the first day of the month. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!

As I said on Friday this is "no eating out" month. I'm not going to spend money at restaurants unless it is other folks taking me out to eat. So by default I have also designated this "eat myself out of house and home" month.

I know you are like what the hell is "eat myself out of house and home month." Well in preparation for no eating out month I looked through my cabinets, refrigerator and freezer to see what I needed to stock up on so I would have plenty of food at home and I discovered I ALREADY have plenty of food at home.

My freezer is so full of food I can't fit much more. I have chicken, beef, steaks, fish, ham and plenty of frozen vegetables. And my cupboards are over stocked as well. I have spaghetti and spaghetti sause, taco dinner kit, cream of mushroom soup for stews, yellow rice and white rice. So it only makes sense to utilize what I have at home. I needed to get a few of the basics (egg, milk, bread, cheese). But I think I need to give this month another name....Cooking with Tiff month. I can't eat out so I have no choice but to cook in order to eat.

One of my biggest supporters, Poppa K, sent me a bunch of recipes, seasonings and sauces in preparation for all the cooking I'm going to need to do. He said he was going to try and help me to do this challenge but he, like others, doesn't 100% believe I can go a month without going out to eat. He cited my crazy schedule and how much I tend to eat as being two big barriers to this challenge. But then he said he has seen me in action and anything I really set my mind to do I can accomplish.

Have you ever looked in your cabinets, refrigerator and fridge and decided to not go grocery shopping until you ate more of what was in your home? How much do you think you would save if you cooked at home more versus going out to eat? Any suggestions of recipes I should try with some of the ingredients I have at home?