Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Much to Save for Retirement?

I am lucky enough to have a pension as a teacher, which I pay into each month. I also have a 403(b) that I put about $220/month into right now. I am starting a Roth IRA, which I plan to max out each year, as long as I can. (Though the Roth may end up going toward a home down payment).

Here's my question: How much do I need to save for retirement? I know there are calculators, but since I will have a pension I have a hard time figuring out how much extra I should save. Anyone know a good calculator that can account for this? Or a formula? A rule of thumb? Your two cents?

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Quickie Trip to San Francisco

Last week, Freddie (I'm tired of typing BF) and I went to San Francisco to cheer for the Dodgers at AT&T Park. We drove up Monday and came home Wednesday, so it was quick.

Here's some of the frugal things we did to keep the trip cheap:
*Stayed with a friend on Monday night
*Brought some snacks for the car to save money on overpriced gas station snacks
*Took advantage of happy hour in Santa Cruz and San Jose to save money on meals. Thanks Yelp app!
*Hung out at Fisherman's Wharf, which was free. There was also an old WWII submarine and boat that we saw the outside of and read about for free.
*Stayed in a really crappy hotel. :/
*Walked to Fisherman's Wharf and to AT&T Park. 20+ blocks to each.
*Stopped at Walgreens to buy snacks and drinks for the baseball game

There were some not so frugal moments as well, but why focus on that? Here are some pictures of our quick trip!
We loved Santa Cruz! We both said we could see ourselves living there someday.

We spent $6 to ride on the sky bucket. Totally worth it!

Admiring Alcatraz from a distance. We've both already done the tour,
so we passed on spending the money to do it again.

Photo spot in Fisherman's Wharf

This was outside the Wax Museum, so we got a free look.

This is my tough face.

This was a splurge, because I LOVE crab.

Sold out crowd at AT&T Park. 

Enjoying the game with my cousins Greg, Anna, and Patrick.

Cheering for the away team. Go Dodgers!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011 Goals Check In

Now that I've made my goal of making $500 extra dollars on Amazon, I thought it would be a good time to check in with my other goals for 2011. I shortened them, because sometimes I am too damn wordy for my own good.

2011 Goals

1. Pay off my car! CHECK!

2. Increase amount I am contributing to my retirement accounts to 10% of my income. Pending. I am opening my Roth IRA in August, and with the $500/month I am putting there, plus my 403(b) contributions, I am over 10%.

3. Increase the amount I pay toward my student loans by $100 per month as soon as my car is paid off. Pending. August is officially the first month I do not have a car payment, so we'll see if this is the plan I go with.

4. Finish and PASS National Boards. Pending. I finished them, but won't know if I passed until November/December.

5. Get a raise via salary points by the end of this school year. CHECK! It went into effect on my April paycheck. :)

6. Start a travel fund-Changed! I decided to take advantage of the great interest rate on my Summer Saver account and do one big savings account. But some of that money could certainly be used for travel.

7. Car mileage goal that I forgot to keep track of. VOID.

Overall, I think I'm in a good place. Making progress and I think I'll be able to have most of this done come December. :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mission Accomplished!

I made a goal this year to make $500 by selling items on Amazon/Ebay/Craigslist, etc. I am happy to say that I have already surpassed that goal!

The big jump was when I sold my TV, DVD player, and hutch when BF moved in. I also sold my beer pong table for $40 to a friend who hosts lots of parties. Other than that it's been books, DVDs, and CDs on Amazon, as well as some smaller Ebay items.

As of now, my total is $544.89, but I still plan to keep selling things when I can, including an old Guess purse I currently have listed on Ebay.

It feels good to have a goal checked off and to know that I am simplifying my life by getting rid of clutter, as well as making extra money.

See you when I get back from Alaska!

I leave for Alaska tonight, but I have some scheduled posts while I'm gone. Look forward to a post on how I frugalized my trip to an expensive state! :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shopping Rampage

Nautical, soft t-shirt. Perfect for summer,
Dodger games, and for when I go out on my
yacht. $7.99 from Ross.
This weekend I got bit by the shopping bug. It has been months since I've gone shopping, and I let myself go for it this weekend. But, the budget is still balanced since I brought in some extra money this month and was under in my gas budget. Since I rarely shop, I am going to extend the thrill by posting some pictures of my purchases. AKA clothes porn for those of you on shopping bans. Not pictured is a plain white t-shirt that I think will be really cute with a pair of jeans and my Toms, but makes for a boring picture. And speaking of pictures, the formatting is all jacked up. Whatever.

Cute shirt for work. $12.99 from Marshalls.

I finally got a pair of Toms! I was tempted to get the
super cute pink ones, but I went for the more versatile gray.
Price: $44, but if you're familiar with Toms you know
that also bought a pair of shoes for a kid in a 3rd World country.
New Kennth Cole Reaction sunglasses. $12.99 at Marshalls.
My apartment is very bright, which is why I wear them in
my living room.
Hello, Lover. This is my new black purse.
I heart it. It was originally an $80 purse,
but I got it for $33 at Ross. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My New Savings Account

No, it's not a Roth IRA, but that is coming in September. It's not an ING account. It's this:

Isn't it lovely. BF brought it when he moved in. Now, it looks like just a jar. But, it has the funnest component. (Yes, I said funnest. It's summer, leave me alone.) When you put the change in the top, it shows you how much you have in the jar.
Why can't I remember how to rotate a picture?

Yes, I am a dork. But I think it's so cool! It wasn't set correctly when he moved in because BF had unscrewed the top and taken out change. But I reset it, put all the change back in, and told him that I wanted to fill it all up and then we can do "something cool" with it. (That cool thing is TBD.)

This is also a nice addition because after work BF comes home, empties his pockets, and I literally find change all over the house. EVERYWHERE. Which would annoy me, but now it's fun because I get to go put it in the jar and see the total rise. I contribute as well, but it's mostly his change. As you can see, we're already at over thirteen bucks after only a few weeks. It's fun to see the total as we go.

Do you have a change jar? What do you save it for?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Is Any Improvement Worth Celebrating?

I know many of you read HS's blog "Our Debt Blog." For those of you who don't, it is often a hotbed of controversy in the PF blogging world. HS is incredibly honest in chronicling his struggle with debt, and truthfully, he's frustrated me a time or two with his spending habits and choices. But, recently he has put his nose back to the grindstone and gotten serious about his debt payoff.

The comments on his blog are hard to read. The responses range from support, tough love, advice, and irate attacks.

Earlier this week he posted about his weekend spending, explaining that he was proud he was able to keep it to around $100. Which for him is a big improvement! I clicked to leave a comment telling him "great job" and noticed that once again, people had jumped on and attacked him...
(despite the quotes, I am paraphrasing these)

"My entertainment budget is $100 for a whole month!"
"Why did you buy that soda at the register? That's a waste of $3."
"You were too tired to fix dinner on Sunday?"
"If I spent as much as you I would shoot my dog in the face" (Okay, not really. But it gets a little heated over there.)

I couldn't believe it. I understand that every person handles their money differently, but that's exactly why we should be supportive. I think HS makes some mistakes, but I also think you could have looked at my budget while I paid off credit card debt and been really critical. I still got my hair done every other month, spending $100 each time. I still ate out and socialized, spending about $250 per month on that. I took some small vacations.

But I still paid off my debt. This is where it gets tricky. I made enough money that I was able to pay off debt and leave those expenses in my budget. I sacrificed other things and made good choices, but I didn't have to cut back everything and made quite a bit of progress in 22 months. For someone who makes less, their debt payoff budget would have to be more strict.

I think people want to see austerity. Especially in the case of someone who has gone wild before, it's easy to point out all the things they're NOT doing that they could. But the thing is, HS makes good money. His improvements and his cutting back may not look like someone else's. My budget doesn't look like someone else's. We all have different incomes and different situations.

I guess I tend to think we should be here to applaud the improvements, encourage each other when we're feeling frustrated, celebrate the accomplishments, and make constructive suggestions when appropriate. It's not a contest, it's a community.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Pays to be Nice

Especially when I am nice to my grandma.

On Sunday my cousin, mom, grandma and I all went out to lunch together. Cousin and I initiated it and we drove up together to pick up my grandma. We went to Mimi's for lunch and my grandma treated, as she always does. During lunch we were talking and my grandma mentioned that she had a lot of papers that she needed organized in her desk-bills and statements, all sorts of stuff. My cousin said that she likes organizing things, and I said that I did too. We offered to help her out after lunch. She said no for a bit, but then took us up on it.

My grandma is actually very neat and orderly, but she had been sticking all her paperwork in a drawer and not filing it...we've all been guilty of that before, right? Since her eyesight isn't what it once was, going through everything would have been a huge chore. So, Karen and I set to work and spent about two hours getting things in perfect order.

As I organized I found a check from her life insurance company. After some, "For heaven's sakes!" from my grandma, she said, "Well, since I wouldn't have known that was here if you hadn't found it, I'll take it to the bank and mail you each half of it." We said she didn't have to, but today when I got home from my trip I had a thank you card and a check for $75 from my grandma. It was so nice of her! I decided that I am going to use it to buy a pair of Tom's shoes, which I've been wanting for a few months now. I'll take what's left on my trip to Alaska to visit my sister next week.

So, you should be nice. It feels good and sometimes it pays...literally.


I'm back from a quick trip to SF with the BF. I'll post about that tomorrow, with pictures! :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Making the Most of Gift Cards

Yesterday I used two gift cards in places I would have normally spent money. I saved about ten bucks, which brings me way more joy than ten bucks probably should.

As in, "Jess, did you just win the lottery?"
"No, but I cheaped out and saved ten bucks using gift cards!!!!!!!!"

First, I went to Target to buy razor blades. Razor blades are the bane of my existence. I hate buying them because they're so expensive, and it hurts to buy the big pack for twenty plus dollars, so I feel like I always need them. Anyway, I had two $2 off coupons, so I picked up a four pack of Venus razor refills and a new razor that comes with two refills. After coupons and tax I spent $20.56. But, when you bought two Venus items you got a free $5 Target gift card with purchase. First I was going to get Vitamin Water and some other goodies for myself, but then I decided to see if I could be practical with my gift card. So, I decided to browse the baby section and pick out a gift for a friend who's pregnant. I'll be throwing her shower in September, and I'll definitely get her something else, but for now I got a super cute hooded towel on clearance for just under $5. This will save me money later when I'm shopping for her gift!

Then, last night we had book club at Starbucks. One of my students gave me a $15 Starbucks card at the end of the year, so I was able to get a delicious iced caramel macchiato last night for free. :) Usually I use gift cards the second I get them, so it's nice that I was able to hold off and still have my Starbucks card three weeks later.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spending My Swagbucks!

This week most of my Amazon gift cards posted from Swagbucks, so I went online and placed two orders. First, I ordered my carry-on luggage that I will use for my trips to Alaska and Chicago this summer. (And for a three day San Francisco trip to go to a Giants/Dodgers game next week). I chose purple to make it easy to spot and because it's pretty. It arrived today, in plenty of time for all my travels. I was glad to get this for free, especially since being able to carry-on my bag instead of check it will save me a hundred bucks or so just this season. Here is a stock photo of my pretty new luggage:

Both bags were $40, but FREE for me since I used my Swagbucks!
I also ordered shampoo and conditioner by Enjoy. Basically this is a fancy pants, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner that I love. I like how it smells, how my hair feels, and that it doesn't leave any build up in my hair. The damage for both of them was $30. Which is a lot for shampoo and conditioner, but after switching to cheaper brands I really still missed my Enjoy products. So I splurged...oh, but wait...they were FREE thanks to Swagbucks. :) 

It's nice to have Swagbucks for things like this. No, it's not as exciting as buying a Kindle or an iPod (which I almost had enough for, actually), but the little things make me happy and it makes me even happier that it didn't come out of my budget!

Monday, July 11, 2011

20 A Day...Week Two

This summer I have a goal to do 20 minutes of activity every day. Which frankly, I'm not doing, however it is making me do a little more than I normally would. So, without further ado, here is last weeks activity:

Sunday July 3rd: Off day, though I did some leisurely swimming in the pool for a few minutes.
Monday, July 4th: Wii Fit with my mom for about 20 minutes
Tuesday, July 5th: 30 minutes of bike riding round trip to happy hour. Where I didn't have beer, so that was good.
Wednesday, July 6th: 60 minute Spin class at the kicked my butt!
Thursday, July 7th: 30 minute beach walk
Friday, July 8th: Off day
Saturday, July 9th: Off day

Anyone else in?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Craigslist Tips

Since BF is moving in this week, I went ahead and got rid of my ancient TV, my DVD player, and my large TV hutch. He has a much better TV than I do and a Play Station that can play DVDs. My TV hutch wouldn't fit his TV, so I went ahead and got rid of it.

I listed it on Craigslist early last week with very little luck. I asked for $120 for all three, without listing a separate price for each. My ad had a picture and information about the items. No dice.

Then, inspired by my BFs ad for his dining room table, I attempted to be funny in my ad. I joked about how my TV was huge, but not the screen-it was a giant, heavy TV. I also mentioned the DVD player could hold two discs, so if you're lazy you don't have to get off the couch for hours at a time. I gave a separate price for each item and offered all three for $100 (a $20 discount). I made a few other jokes and posted it.

I got three responses in 24 hours. I think the humor made the ad stand out among a million others for similar items. I replied to all three, but only one answered my call/responded. Luckily, he came and bought all three the following morning. :)

So, I added $100 to my extra funds sidebar, which was a huge boost! I've also been selling DVDs and more books on Amazon in the last few weeks, so I'm now really close to my $500 goal!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Taking Care of Business and Past Mistakes

Today I did the following:

*Called my doctor about a medication question
*Went online and changed my dental office to one in Long Beach (effective August 1st). This way I can make an appointment for before school starts for my cleaning and to ask about a couple other concerns.
*Called my school to ask about a pay stub question-I thought I might be missing pay, but I wasn't.
*Called district office to make sure they received my cancellation of deduction form for my AFLAC. They did, but it takes a month to process, so that's why they still sent the payment to AFLAC for July.
*Called AFLAC about refund of $144 taken from paycheck after AFLAC was cancelled. She told me they automatically refund me, but if I haven't gotten anything by mid-August to give them a call.

And last, and biggest, I got a hold of the California Student Aid Commission to ask about my APLE loan forgiveness payments. Okay, this is leftover from my days of being less responsible and is something I put off dealing with. Grab a cup of coffee, this part is going to get lengthy.

Because I teach in a low-income school, I am able to get up to $11,000 forgiven on my student loans. The breakdown is $2,000 the first year and $3,000 for the three years after that. I got my payments for the first two years ($5,000), but not years three or four. I have to send in a form stating that I worked there, signed by my principal, and they put the money on my student loan. Sounds simple, right?

Well, inevitably they find something wrong with the form and it gets sent back to me. During year three, this happened three or four times and I don't remember, but I may have given up. Which is RIDICULOUS because it was $3,000. But this was in my less wise days. I know I did the form year four and got it right. They never mailed it back. So, I waited patiently because the payment usually takes until the next Spring (which would have been April 2010) to post. I didn't see anything, so last summer I called the toll-free number.

First, I didn't even get through. The student aid commission is so busy that when you call you usually get  a message saying no one is available and you can't leave a message. This happened a few times. Then, I actually got through once and I was on hold for at least 40 minutes, and then I had to hang up.  :/ Again, I think I quit trying after that. Which is LAME on my part.

So, today I decided to take action and make it happen. I called, got the rejection message, but I kept trying. On the fourth try I got to be put on hold. Hallelujah! I actually only waited 15 minutes and got through to a very nice woman. She explained that I was withdrawn from the program because they didn't get my forms for year three. (Damn!) That funding is gone, so she said I need to submit forms for years four and five, as well as a verification that I did work at my school during year three (no breaks in service allowed) AND a letter of appeal to be reinstated, explaining my situation. She said I should send it certified mail, and to the attention of the person in charge of appeals.

Following this? I barely do. So, I wrote the letter today. I will print out the forms tonight at BF's house (I don't have a printer), and fill them out. I also need to write a letter/form that my principal will sign saying I worked during the 2007 school year. Tomorrow I will drop off the forms for my principal to sign (the secretary says she comes in and out) and then I'll go pick them up and mail them once she fills them out.

I asked how long I should wait before I called again to check the status of my appeal. The woman said to wait 6-8 weeks from when I mail the letter. So, the week of August 22nd I will give them a call. Basically right when I get back from Chicago. Which will be hard because I'm back to work and they close between 12 and 1 for lunch. But, even if I have to step out of a meeting or sit there on hold during one, I'm going to explain to my principal and just do it!

I know this is my own mistake, so I may not get the money. But, I reallyreallyreallyreally hope I would be potentially $6,000 paid on my student loan! I am kicking myself for not taking care of this when I should, but all I can do is try to take care of it now. Even if they will only give me one year of pay, I would be happy with that.

Anyway, the moral of the story: Even when it's really annoying and a big hassle to deal with an organization, if they are giving you money do it anyway.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

You should... your sunscreen at Big Lots. I got an Aveeno spray for $4 and an Aveeno Faces suncscreen for $5. Can't beat that!

...take classes if you belong to a gym. I went to a Spin class today and it reminded me that I do not work out as hard on my own. But a class pushes me to keep going even when I don't feel like it. the Fresh & Easy clearance section.

...check out travel books from the library instead of buying them. better at listing things on Craigslist than I am. I listed my TV, DVD player, and hutch...and I've gotten zero responses so far...any advice?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Am I Qualified to Give Advice?

CMC (a reference to CMC Music Factory, I hope) at Twenty-Two Months commented on my car payoff post, saying that she's in the place I was 22 months ago and asked if I had any advice for her. I was going to respond in the comments, but then I realized that I never double check comments AND that this could be a blog topic.

It's funny, I would so NOT have been the person to come to for financial advice two years ago. Like, at all. And there are still areas where I have a lot to learn (does anyone really get how the stock market works. Like, really get it?). But, I guess paying off over $20,000 of debt in 22 months qualifies me to give a little bit of advice. Also, this post is a link-a-palooza, hopefully I chose helpful links! So here are my top five pearls of wisdom.

1. Make a budget: This is definitely the most important thing! I had to figure out where I was spending my money and get a plan for it. One thing I do that works really well for me is to have a budget line as "cushion." This is where any unexpected/forgotten/I don't know what category it fits into expenses go. It's also where I take overages from if I go over in a given category. Sometimes there's extra at the end of the month, which I put toward my debt.

2. Track your spending: A budget is useless if you don't keep track of how much you spend in the different categories. For me, I use a blank journal and keep it all written down by hand. It just works for me, even though I am very computer-savvy...I like my "little black book" as I call it.

3. Take advantage of freebies: I was on a shopping ban, which really made a difference in how much debt I paid off and also in my mentality about buying clothes. I highly recommend a clothes-shopping ban if you have credit card debt. BUT, I did occasionally miss shopping. That's where the freebies came in. Victoria's Secret has free underwear coupons if you can get on their list. I would go in an take my time picking out which color/design I wanted. I would savor that "shopping" experience. I also look for coupons for Sephora and Bath & Body Works, since they have freebies quite often. Yes, you have to have the willpower to not shop in the rest of the mall, but it was nice to have something in mind when I went with friends or to feel like I got to shop. The Freebie Blogger has a lot of junk, but it's a great place to find coupons like the ones I talked about a few days ago. Also, Swagbucks can earn free gift cards to all sorts of places!

4. No payment is too small: If I had a leftover two bucks in one of my budget categories, I would make a car payment. If I sold a book on Amazon for a profit of that same amount, I'd put it toward my car. Those small things really do add up, and it got to where I'd get a rush from making ANY payment on my debt, even a small one.

5. Allow some luxuries: If you go too extreme you'll give up or be miserable. This is not an excuse to keep all your luxuries, but choose what's important for you. I gave up pedicures, clothes shopping, and buying books (library for me). But, I still get my hair cut and colored every other month. I also have a budget for eating/drinking out that is larger than some would allow. But, I planned for it and found ways to make progress while allowing for my luxuries.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

20 a Day...

No, this is not about dollars. It's about activity. As a teacher, I get the summer off. This summer, I really have time off because there's no Summer School due to budget cuts. I'll go back in August for some extra pay, but I still have a LOT of spare time.

So, one of my goals is to make sure I am doing something active for 20 minutes everyday. A walk on the beach, a bike ride, the long as I am up and intentionally moving, it counts.

This is not a high goal, but it's a start for me. And since I don't have my normal excuses of being busy and exhausted from work, I really want to do it. I know I will have off days. In fact, I had three this week. And that's okay. But I want to do as many as possible.

So, each Sunday I will do a post about the prior week, giving you an update. Here's week 1!

Sunday 6/26: Gym (30 min cardio, 75 crunches). Rode bike to friend's house (20 minutes round trip)
Monday 6/27: Hydrobikes (Groupon deal, 1 hour...this kicked my butt! See picture below). Walked to dinner (30 minutes each way)
Tuesday 6/28: Biked to post office (15 minutes each way), walked to Rite-Aid (to get ice there's that; 10 minutes each way)
Wednesday 6/29: Off Day-gave blood and had headache.
Thursday 6/30: Off Day
Friday 7/1: Off Day
Saturday 7/2: Gym (30 min cardio, 20 crunches)

Anyone want to join me on my 20 minutes a day challenge?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Oh Happy Day!

So, I updated my sidebars. Spent $20 on gas. Earned another $12 by selling books on Amazon. Oh, and one more....

I PAID OFF MY CAR LOAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OMG. Yes, my friends, I got up at 7:00 when BF left for work to see if my direct deposit had gone in. It had. I immediately paid off my car in full ($588 and change). Then I just stared at the balance of $0.00 for a while. It's so pretty.

I started getting serious about paying off my credit card debt 22 months ago. Then I started reading PF blogs and realized that it was more than just paying off my credit card; some things needed to change for me. Then I took Financial Peace University. And as of today I have paid off both my credit cards ($5,011) and my car loan (which was at $15,751.78 when I started on this journey 22 months ago.)

This marks a change in course for me, as I have more decisions to make now. But for today, I'm just going to enjoy that zero balance. I think I'll go get a good car wash to celebrate. And I will think about the freedom in my budget that this accomplishment means.

It's a happy day.