Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are You Middle Class?

A friend on Facebook posted this article about the shrinking middle class. I'm sure you've heard the issue being discussed, but I liked this article because it listed benchmarks...how do you know if you're middle class? This article gives six criteria. Here's how I measure up:

*Home Ownership-nope. And I sometimes wonder if I can actually achieve this as a singleton, given where I live.

*Automobile Ownership-yes! I am still paying off my car, but I do have one, and it will be paid off in less then a year.

*College Education for the kids-N/A. I don't have kids.

*Retirement Security-Sorta. If I teach long enough, I get a pension. And after the car is paid off, I'm going to open a Roth IRA (I think. Or a 403b. Or something.)

*Health Care Coverage-yes! I am very thankful for this one, as I know many people who don't have it.

*Family Vacation-yes! I just got back from Bryce Canyon with my fam, and I've gone camping and visited Portland this summer. I've got this one covered.

I was surprised how many I met...though if I were attempting to support a family on just my income, I'd certainly have some different answers. I also like that at the end of the article it says that in order to have all that, you have to work hard and budget. A middle class lifestyle isn't an entitlement, it is something to work for. Though there are circumstances that make middle class status harder to obtain, it is possible for many with work and realistic expectations.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Top Referrers for August

I have my doubts about referrers being a word.

Anyway, this is the first month I tracked stats on where people come from to view my blog. Below are the top four blogs that send readers my way. (There was an everyone else tie for fifth, so we'll leave it at these four.)

1. Shaking the Money Tree
2. The Grass is Greener
3. TeacHer Finance
4. High Class Low Income-who is new to the LBC!

I'm a big fan of all of these blogs...check them out! And thanks to these lovely lady bloggers for sending readers my way!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just Kidding!

The other day I posted about losing my iPod...well I had asked my mom to double check her car, since she picked me up from the airport. She said she didn't see it, so I assumed it was gone. BUT, my mom just texted me this morning telling me she found it! YES! I am excited to get it back and to save $150 next month! That's more money that can go towards my car loan. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hurray for Vision Insurance

On Monday I went to Lens Crafters for my annual checkup/new lenses. Last year right after I got my new frames my purse was stolen. Luckily, I kept my old ones as a backup, so I made do with those until my insurance covered something again. Fortunately my vision is pretty good-I only use the glasses for driving at night, baseball games, and church (I sit in the balcony). So, my old prescription was fine and I waited it out.

Anyway, Monday I got my eye exam and new lenses in my old frames out the door for $40. My old DKNY case also broke (the frames are three years old), so the nice guy at Lens Crafters gave me a new case, free of charge. The lenses alone would have been $190 without insurance, plus whatever the exam would have cost. So, while I spent $40, today I am thankful for insurance. And for the fact that I picked out some cute durable frames back in the day, since they now have to last for four years.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here's why I'm lame.

So, I flew home from Portland with only two hours of sleep...I had an earlyish flight and we were out super late the night before. One of those, so late it's now early kind of nights. Anyway, I had my iPod shuffle in my sweatshirt pocket while on the plane. Then once I landed in Long Beach, I took off my sweatshirt and draped it over my purse while waiting at the baggage terminal. And, if you haven't guessed it yet, my iPod is now gone. LAME. I am blaming it on my lack of sleep, normally I'm really careful.

So, I am now planning on getting an iPod nano in September. I have a $60 rebate coming in from my cell phone (any day now), so I will have to spend about $90. I had thought about buying a new laptop and getting the iPod free in the past, but I think I'd rather wait until next summer when my car is paid off to make that big of a purchase. If I get an iPod then, I can sell it to pay for part of the laptop.

I'm excited to get a new iPod, though I wish I hadn't lost my other one...grrr!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The cost of optimism...

...is apparently $19.95 per month. I got a discount though. It would have been more, but I used the promotional code. This bout of optimism is scheduled to last for three months, though it's possible to extend it. Luckily I already took the long questionnaire required to be an optimist. And wrote about myself in chipper, humorous ways. And uploaded six flattering-but-not-enough-to-disappoint-when-someone-meets-me-in-real-life photos.

Yes, if you haven't figured it out, I rejoined Eharmony. Because despite the astonishing number of bad dates I've been on (seriously. You have no idea.), I still somehow believe that it is possible to meet a nice normal guy, whom I can build a relationship with. And I am even more optimistic in believing that perhaps he too is loitering on the internet.

I tend to go into the whole online dating thing with a "well, why not?' sort of attitude. You never know, and believe me, I've gotten my money's worth in entertaining stories. And free dinners. (Being a girl is good.)

So, someone remind me to cancel on November 22nd, or else they bill me for three more months at full price. And here's to adventures in dating!

Adventures in Cooking at Home-Crockpot Quiche

I got this recipe from my friend Kari, who calls it Spinach Spoon Bread. I changed the name to Crockpot Quiche because I think it more accurately describes it. Also, I forgot to put the salt in it, because I always forget salt. And, it calls for a stick of butter...anyone have a suggestion on how to lighten that up a little? I'd like to make it a little healthier (though it is delicious!) Here's the recipe:

Spinach Spoon Bread

1 package (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1 package (5 1/2 oz) cornbread mix
6 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 tsp seasoned salt

1. Lightly grease slow cooker insert; preheat on high
2. Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix well. Pour batter into slow cooker. Cook covered with lid slightly ajar to allow excess moisture to escape, on High 1 3/4 to 2 hours or on Low 3 to 4 hours or until edges are golden and knife inserted in center of bread comes out clean.
3. Serve bread spooned from slow cooker. Or, loosen edges and bottom of bread with knife and ivert onto plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Portland in Pictures

And in some words. Who are we kidding? This isn't everything we did, but I pared it down as not to bore you too much. :)

We started at Pearl Bakery, where Shelley treated me
to a delicious turkey, avocado, and cream cheese sandwich
 a vanilla latte,and a vanilla cream cheese brioche. YUM.
Design in my vanilla latte.

We went to Klickitat Street, the home of Ramona Quimby!

Nearby at Grant Park there are statues of Ramona, Ribsy, and Henry Huggins. I am a huge Beverly Cleary fan, so I was way into this!

The next morning we went to Voodoo Donuts...
where apparently the magic is in the hole.
Bucket o' donuts
This is the best donut I've ever had...bacon maple bar, I love you.
Then we drove to the Oregon coast...
...and stopped at the Tilamook Cheese Factory...
...which is free....
...except that you HAVE to get some ice cream!
We had a picnic in Washington Square Park,
where I stopped to smell the roses.
We got our food from Elephant's deli and our wine from the grocery store.

Our last free activity was hiking Multnomah Falls.
It was beautiful!
Happy Hiker

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Portland Spending Recap

I'm back from my trip to Portland, and I had an awesome week! Shelley and I had so much fun in the city. We ate A LOT. And it was all delicious. I'm going to do my spending recap first and then post some pictures tomorrow, along with some budget friendly suggestions for anyone traveling to the Portland area.

I budgeted $300 to spend while on my trip. I knew this was high, but I didn't want to risk going over, so I figured I'd allow some wiggle room. I ended up spending $190 throughout the week, which was awesome! I was actually able to use $70 from my trip money to pick up a black skirt from Express (on my to buy list), along with a sweater from Gap. There's no sales tax in Oregon and since it's up to 10% where I live, I saved about ten bucks by buying those items in OR. I'll use the remaining $40 for my trip next weekend to visit my sister in Utah. That trip was not planned when I did my original budgeting for this month, so I'm glad I have a little more money to put toward it.

Overall I feel good about my spending...I definitely let myself have fun and eat well. I spent more than I would have while eating out at home, but since I stayed at Shelley's, I also ate some breakfasts and snacks at her house. My only spending regret is the late night post-bar food I ordered...I honestly wasn't hungry, didn't really like what I picked, and wasted some money there. Oh well, I can blame my slightly impaired judgment on lack of sleep. Not any other bar-related reason. Right? Right. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Closing some Amazon listings

The other day I went to my Amazon seller account to adjust prices to make sure mine were competitive. I actually ended up closing about eight listings because it just wasn't worth it to me to sell a book for 99 cents. I actually end up losing money by the time I ship it and Amazon takes their commission. So, I gathered up the items that won't sell and took them to "Out of the Closet" my local thrift store, which raises money for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. It's nice to have that stuff out of my closet and into theirs. :)

This leaves me with only three Amazon listings, which is kind of a nice feeling. I also sold some items on Ebay this week, bringing in a little money and once again, reducing clutter in my house. My original goal for the year was to make $100 selling items on Amazon and Ebay. I have already earned over $150, so I feel good about that goal. Now I just have to work on those No Drive Days and I'll be in business!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

So, what's the new plan?

Now that my credit cards are paid off (ah, let me just bask in that phrase for a while...okay, done), I have been pondering my budget. In some ways, not a lot changes. I am still putting $100 per month in my savings and still using my envelope system for eating out. But I am going to allow myself to clothes shop (within a budget, of course) and need to figure out my plan for paying off my car payment early.

So, here's the new goal:  I want to have my car paid off one year early, in June of 2011.

I used a debt payoff calculator, and figured out that if I can come up with flat rates of $2500 in the next ten months (summer school, tax returns, and yearbook stipend should cover this), and pay an extra $150 per month, I can meet my goal. (It's like paying $400 extra dollars per month, but some of the funds will come in big chunks, so it made sense to divide it this way). I think this should be do-able. My biggest concern is that I do have some furlough days this school year, which means I will lose some of my paycheck money in various months. But, with careful budgeting and creativity I think I can make it happen.

I am excited to have a plan and the thought of owning my car outright and not having to pay A LOT of money for my car each month!

Monday, August 16, 2010

I'm off to Portland!

Yes, tomorrow morning I am leaving to visit my good friend Shelley in Portland, Oregon! I am so excited! We have quite the week of activities planned (mostly eating actually), and I have missed her so much since she moved six months ago. Hurrah!

I have a few scheduled posts this week, and then I will be back Saturday. You can look forward to a spending update (part of my accountability in keeping myself within my budget...fingers crossed on that one) as well as pictures galore!

Try not to miss me too much. ;)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Teacher Freebies at Staples

This morning I went to my local Staples for their Teacher Appreciation event. The first 100 people got goodies-a notebook with paper, a pencil pouch, and a few other things inside. I have to say the loot was not as good this year as in past years. But, they had donuts and juice, as well as coupons for a free smoothie from Robek's across the street. So after some shopping my friend Juliet and I sipped smoothies and chatted for an hour or so. Lovely.

As far as the shopping, I wasn't too impressed with the sales. I had hoped to find some deals on supplies to put in the English department goodie bags I make (I am fine with bribing the teachers into liking me with candy and pencils), but I think I can hit up Target or the Dollar Tree and find some things there. I did, however, buy a new set of Mr. Sketch markers.
Remember these from elementary school? Or Dane Cook's standup routine about them?

I have a set at work that I've used for charting over the last five years. They need replacing, and this set has more colors than my old one. Clearly I am a teacher, because I am rambling on about my new markers. But I love them. Actual cost=$7.67. Value=Priceless.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Movie Review: In Debt We Trust

Described as a look at the American love affair with credit cards, I found this one more tongue-in-cheek than Maxed Out. I liked it. Though I will say the narration did seem a little low budget.

Once again, the film touched on the lobbyists and power that the credit card companies have with Congress. Like I said before, I do advocate personal responsibility, but it does seem that our representatives are more influenced by big companies protecting their own interests instead of the needs of average Americans. (Duh). That's sort of depressing.

It opens with a church revival for debt. The minister talks about how, "It's hard to serve both the Master and Master card." Touche, sir.

It also features the same 1950's segment with Mr. Money that Maxed Out used. Which is pretty irresistible, including the dated line, "Do girls need to learn about this too?" Sigh.

On the college topic, they profiled a Freshman orientation where the college runs a series of seminars and fairs for students and their parents on not abusing credit cards or taking on excessive debt. It seems like more schools should do this! However, right outside the seminar were a bunch of credit card companies giving out cards to kids...um, hello! Talk about mixed messages!

Also, both of these documentaries are on Netflix streaming, so I watched them on my Wii at no extra cost. :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Giveaway Opportunity...

Saving Cents in the City is having a giveaway on her blog. You can win $60 to CSN stores, an online vendor that sells all sorts of things. I actually won the same giveaway from Me in Millions about a month ago...head on over the Saving Cents to check out what you can do to enter! I';m hoping lightening strikes twice and I win again...this time I would get a mattress pad (super exciting, I know). Last time I got a great pair of black flats, which came out to almost exactly $60. Good luck!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Movie Review: Maxed Out

Featuring Dave Ramsey, a bunch of average Americans, and Robin Leach, Maxed Out is a great documentary about the debt mentality in our society. I wouldn't say that I learned a whole lot that I didn't know, but it's definitely a good reminder of why I don't want to be in debt and how most people get trapped in it. It includes people who take their situation lightly all the way to those who committed suicide because of their debt. They also talk how in the past you had to "earn credit," but now anyone can get a card...they talk about the surge in college students getting credit cards as an example of this trend. It definitely puts blame on the credit card companies and the government instead of the consumers. Which is valid to a degree, but I also think people do need to take responsibility for their actions. It's interesting that the film came out in 2006...sort of ahead of it's time considering how the debt crisis exploded in America. I think this issue is more and more on people's minds, which is one of the few upsides to the economic crisis.

Here are some "fun" facts from the film:
*In the US, citizens receive a total of four billion credit card offers a year. Banks alone have offered three trillion dollars in credit.
*The average American household has more than $9,000 in credit card debt and spends more than $1,300 per year in interest payments.
*In 1972 a couple who both worked full time, 40 hours per week was denied a credit card. Now, a college Freshman can get a dozen cards easily.
*Your FICO score has nothing to do with your income and 90% of the reports have errors on them. Also, Suze Orman has a deal with FICO's parent company...which might explain why she puts so much importance on that score.
*In 2006 more Americans went bankrupt than got divorced, graduated from college, or got cancer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Do you Ebay?

Today I logged on to Ebay to list a few items that I'd like to get rid of-a solar lantern, a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, a Dodgers Beach Towel I got as a giveaway at the game, and some hair gel that I have no idea why or when I bought (it's the fancy brand so it's worth reselling). I don't know if any of them will sell, but if not I am just going to goodwill them. I figure it's worth a try to list them. :)

Then, since I was already on the site I decided to see if they had my beloved Stila eyeshadow in Kitten (best color ever). I am almost out and since it's my go to swipe over my eyes when I don't feel like putting a lot of effort in color, I definitely wanted to replace it. Stila eyeshadows retail for $18, so I was stoked when someone was selling my shade for $7.99, with free shipping. Score! I snatched it up and it's on it's way.

I also decided to check out the OPI nail polish selection on Ebay. Those bottles retail for $9. The polish is way nicer than the cheaper brands, and doesn't chip as easily...but that's still a lot of money for a bottle of nail polish. I had some colors in mind, but when I searched those they were all MORE expensive than they retail for...weird. Maybe some people don't have Sephora nearby and people are hoping they'll buy them for the convenience factor? But, when I checked out the used selection I found someone selling 120 bottles for $20 plus $15 shipping. It's from a salon, and the listing said some are new, some are used. I am thinking that if I win the lot, I can go through and choose the ones I want to keep and make listings for groups of the ones I want to get rid of. This way I'll earn some of my money back (hopefully) and get some new polish. I never run out of nail polish anyway...I always end up throwing them away before I can use it all, so I don't really mind them being used. This one is a gamble, but I'm crossing my fingers it works out the way I want it to.

Do you buy stuff off of Ebay? Any good bargains or horror stories?

Friday, August 6, 2010


I have a distinct feeling that I am going to enjoy this post more than most of you. It's stuff I bought and how much I saved. But I am enjoying the thrill of clothes shopping, so even if I am the only one who reads this one, I'm fine with it. :)

I did my shopping at Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, and the Banana Republic Outlet. I could have gone crazy at the BR outlet...they were having a sale on top of the outlet discounts. And those clothes are so beautiful, I wish I could live there. I would seriously move in.

I set out with a list of items in mind to purchase, which I detailed in another post. I bought most of the items on that list, including new black sandals to replace my old ones...this was a necessity, as my old ones were worn down to the point of being uncomfortable. So, the outlet price for black leather flip-flops was originally $29.99, but I got them for $14.99.
Hello, lover.
I also got a white cardigan, which I won't bother posting a picture of. My black cardigan is from BR, and I love it, so I snatched up another item from my list. Outlet price: $44.99, I got it on sale for $31.49. I also bought these two items from BR:
Originally $39.99, I got it for $23.99
I can't wait to wear this one! Originally $54.99, I got it for $31.49

Another item on my list was a new white tank top. I wear mine under all sorts of items, and I knew it was getting dingy. I didn't realize just how dingy though, until I bought a duplicate one at Nordstrom Rack
I'll let you figure out which is the new, not disgusting one.

I also picked up a pinkish-purple tank top in the same style, since they were $12 each or two for $16. Last, I went to Marshall's and got a Steve Madden belt for $12.99 (I need a black belt for this dress I already own, so this too was on my list) and a heather gray cardigan that is super light and comfy and cute for $14.99.

After tax, I've spent a total of $161.82. I have a little more leftover for the month (I allotted more since I had extra summer school money and I am in celebration mode), which I will probably spend on nail polish. 

Here's where it gets back to personal finance, instead of a web fashion show (if anyone is still actually reading): It felt so good to know that I was shopping within my means, instead of just blindly spending and worrying about the consequences. I am out of credit card debt and I knew exactly how much money I had to spend on clothes this month. I feel like I got a good mix of necessities and fun items, but never even thinking about plunking down the credit card to pay for them may have been the best part. I have zero remorse about this spending, and it's such a difference from how I used to shop. I think my year off from shopping was really good in that way. It broke me of my bad habits (let's hope for good!) and made me think of it in a different way.

So hurray for paying down debt and hurray for new clothes! :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Operation Keep the Change

Over at If I Were a Wealthy Girl, Broke by Choice started her own "Keep the Change" program. Basically, she decided to put all the leftover cash from her envelope system into a jar at the end of each month. She used a plastic bottle, sealed the top, busted out the Sharpies and made her own container. She then threw out the challenge to the rest of us PF bloggers to do the same.

I rarely have leftover cash at the end of the month-I use it for eating out and shopping, so I tend to spend all of it. BUT, I decided to start pulling all of the change out from my wallet and keep it separate from my cash. Then, if something costs $9.76 I just record it as $10 and put the change in the fund. This makes the math on my tracking sheet easier and will hopefully help me save a little more money. Rather than a bottle I decided to class it up and use my giant martini glass.

Unfortunately, since I need quarters to do laundry, this will get raided. So even when it's full, it probably won't be that much money. But, I am thinking I can fill this up and then maybe find another bigger container and go from there? Maybe all my change for six months or something like that?

My other dilemma is that I don't actually know what I'll use this money for. Since it's leftover from eating out and shopping, it doesn't make much sense to put it toward either of those things. Maybe just for a rainy day? Any suggestions? What do you do with your change?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Today's the day...

This morning I got up and checked that my direct deposit went in first thing. Like, before I even got in the shower. It had.

Which means...


Dude. I'm so stoked to have that done with. I made the payment right away, fist pumping my way into the bathroom to take a shower. The only consumer debt I have is my car, which I am hoping to pay off one year early.

It feels so good to be out of credit card debt. It took me one year to pay off just over $5,000. I have such a feeling of accomplishment and am so excited to be able to clothes shop again. You have no idea. But, it also feels good to plan a shopping budget and to know that a new dress or pair of shoes won't bring me into debt, causing guilt and stress.

My next post will be about shopping. Probably with pictures and vivid details about browsing the racks of the outlets, Marshall's, and Nordstrom Rack. :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Suck it, Credit Card Companies!

I just cancelled both my Capital One and my Target Visa cards today. Their combined credit limit was $7,500. That's keeping me out of trouble and giving me less accounts to keep track of. I've had the Capital One the longest, since 2002. I got it when I was 20, a junior in college. Honestly, I used it a ton over the years, loading it up and paying it off over and over again. (Well, it probably didn't have a zero balance too often actually. So more loading it up then paying it off.) It feels good to close the account, and close that chapter of having credit card debt in my life. Farewell, Capital One. And good riddance.

The Target card I got because I thought it was pretty. I kid you not. I was so lame financially. I also got Target coupons for using it, but really it was never worth it. I regretted opening it right away, and this one never had a huge balance on it. I didn't use it super often. Although I will say they were much more persistent in keeping me...she really tried to talk me into it, but I resisted. :)

I asked both companies to send a letter confirming that the accounts are closed. It feels good to have that taken care of!

So, the only card I have open now is my Credit Union visa card. I know some would say I should cancel that one as soon as I pay it off this week, but I do like having one credit card around for a dire emergency. Yes, that's what my emergency fund is for...but you never know and having the card makes me feel more secure. I have broken myself of using the card regularly, so I feel good about having it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Technology Question

So today I was talking on the phone with the bf about technology. He's sort of an electronics junkie...he likes to buy himself new toys. But, he justifies explains he tries things out and then resells them on Amazon, so he doesn't actually spend that much. He says he often gets pretty close to what he paid by doing this.

His finances are none of my business (not yet anyway), but it led to us talking about how I want a new ipod (all I have is a shuffle and I'd love one that can hold more of my music), but that I am going to wait until my laptop dies and then hope that Apple is offering their free ipod deal.

He pointed out that they only offer that at back-to-school time (now) and said, "Why don't you sell your laptop now and use that money towards a new computer and the free ipod?"

At first I scoffed. My plan is to run my current laptop into the ground and then get a new one only when I have to. This seems reasonable to me in that it's not running out and buying something new when what I have is functioning. But, he made a valid point that if I do that, I'll get no money for my laptop and will have no guarantee that I'll get the ipod thrown in.


He said I can probably get $400-$500 for my laptop online (I'll have to do more research on that), which I could put toward a new computer. I am still leaning way towards my original plan. But, he makes a valid point. And I could use my summer school money in September to buy a laptop debt free. Or I can use that money to pay two extra payments on my car. So I'm going for gazelle-like intensity toward my debt and praying that my laptop makes it to next summer.

But, what do you think of this point? Is it better to sell my laptop while it still works or run it into the ground, knowing I got all the use out of it that I could?