Thursday, April 30, 2009
I know I'm not supposed to give MJ, or any cat for that matter, milk. But for the past week or so, that's all he'll consume. I've recently cut the milk with 1 part kitten milk replacer. I'm hoping it's better than nothing.
I've always heard that animals stop eating when they lose all will to live. Perhaps this is MJ's time.
I brought home my free El Pollo Loco chicken the other night. I put the food on the living room table and went to the kitchen to put some milk and food out for MJ. I was sadly thinking this routine may end soon.
As I was cleaning out his bowl, I heard some rustling in the living room. When I checked it out, MJ had his face in the styrofoam box gnawing on my chicken!! Since I wasn't going to eat the chicken he's already thoroughly licked and chewed, I removed the skin, cut the chicken into tiny bits and put it into his bowl. He licked his bowl clean that night.
As it turns out, MJ is just a crotchety old cat who's tired of eating cat food. I'm imagining he's thinking, "I've been a good companion to you for the past 15 years. I don't have too much longer to live. I think I've earned the right to eat whatever I want before I go. Don't be greedy. Give me the good stuff."
If MJ wants El Pollo Loco chicken and that's what he'll eat, that's what I'll give him. I know some pet lovers and vets who read this post are already cringing. But near the end of my life, I think I'd want to eat food that may not be necessarily good for me, but that I want to eat. How about you?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I'm not particularly interested in any music album right now. None of the artists really grab my attention. (The decision would be so much easier if I was a tweenager swooning over Joe Jonas. *Sigh*) I also hate buying an entire album since more often than not, I'll only like 30% of the songs and the rest I'll be indifferent. I prefer buying my music one song at a time on iTunes. It may not be cost effective, but atleast I'm limiting my purchase to music I actually like.
And movie DVDs? Hmmm... I can't think of any movies I'd really like to own. I recall reading how this one guy used to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars buying DVDs. I wonder how often this guy watched the purchased DVDs? I bet not often.
I think the real problem here is not that I have nothing to buy. After all, most DVDs are priced under $25. I think the real problem is that I'm afraid to spend the $25; I'm afraid that I'm not going to maximize the utility and enjoyment out of this $25. If the gift was $25 in cash, I wouldn't be having this pointless internal debate - I'd put it in my savings account, put it in my Roth or buy Treasury Bonds with it.
I just can't believe I'm spending so much time over something so trivial. More worrisome is that perhaps I have become so miserly that I can't enjoy spending "found money" on something uselessly entertaining. That's a bad sign.
I'm just going to suck it up and spend it once and for all. For the past few weeks, I've been slowly watching a short-lived dramedy from 2004 called Wonderfalls on YouTube. It's a quirky and cute story based in Niagara Falls about a slacker Gen Y gal who is over-educated, under-employed and has a juvenile fear of personal relationships. Her life takes a positive, yet wacky, turn when inanimate objects with animal faces start talking to her and giving her vague orders to do things. (Oh. And the character's love interest is really cute. I can see that I'm already going down the path of cougardom.)
I'm feeling a bit guilty for watching something that may or may not be authorized. I'll atone by buying the DVD of the series' one and only season. And lucky me - it's right within my price range.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The urge to purchase is so strong that I sometimes I forget I have absolutely no need for the product. Do you remember the Banjo Minnow lures? I've never fished (nor do I ever have the desire to do so), yet the commercials were so mesmerizing that I wanted to buy it! (Rest assured, I exercised self-control and I never did.)
I guess I love the infomercials because they prey upon my desire to believe their questionable (read: bogus) pseudo-scientific claims.
Here's a classic example from the Caruso Molecular Hairsetter system informercial. (This was my first "As Seen On TV" purchase in the early 90's.)
Host: "Why is this the only hair styling system that actually conditions as it curls?"
Hack: "Because this is the only system that uses molecules of 100% steam! And steam is very therapeutic and soothing. It doesn’t dry out or split or break the hair like hot rollers or curling iron will. I like to think of it like giving your hair a facial treatment!"
[Shtinkykat rolling her eyes.] I can't believe I actually enjoy listening to this nonsensical drivel.
Despite the hyperboles and overt cheesiness of the commercials, I've been quite happy with all of my infomercial purchases. For example:
- The Caruso hair styler did do a pretty good job about curling my Cousin It hair;
- My love for OxiClean dates back to when Billy Mays was still hawking it on TV;
- Although the Safety Edge Can Opener is a hit-or-miss depending upon the can, the Safety Jar Opener is a definite winner; and
- I still pack my clothes in a Space Bag Travel Genie whenever I travel.
But I do know that a lot of the infomercial stuff are junk too. Like the Kinoki footpads and all other non-FDA approved dietary supplements, and ahem, male enhancement products. (Not that I have any use for male enhancement products, mind you.)
Now that I'm more responsible with my money, I'm hoping that I'm immune to the infomercial Jedi mind trick. Eh! Who am I kidding? I'd be happy if I'm just a wee bit more discriminating when I purchase these things in the future. To that end, I found a great resource at the CBS affiliate station KFVS's Does It Work Wednesday site.
Based upon KFVS's tests and reviews, I don't think I'll ever buy the Smooth Away (darn!), but I may consider buying the Ped Egg.
Although not an infomercial product per se, the Pledge Fabric Sweeper commercial also intrigued me since I own a black cat who sheds copiously. KFVS gave the product a solid "B" for its ability to pick up pet hair, so I'm definitely going to try it out.
Check out the site. I'm sure I'm not the ONLY person who's been intrigued by some of these infomercial claims!
Monday, April 27, 2009
And of course, I've also learned a lot from Schoolhouse Rock parodies like Robot Chicken's Homonym Song and the Simpsons' Amendment-To-Be Song too.
I've come to the realization that I have been horribly bad at money management because Schoolhouse Rock didn't have any songs about money during my childhood. Schoolhouse Rock corrected this major oversight in the mid-90s. But by the time these songs first aired, I was too busy in law school and didn't pay attention. If only I'd watched them while I was still in school!
In order so that others aren't similarly deprived, I've compiled the Schoolhouse Rock Money songs in this post. These newer Schoolhouse Rock songs don't hold a candle to the stuff I grew up on, and I doubt any of these would become classics. But maybe I'm just biased.
Nevertheless, they're still a lot of fun and hope you enjoy!
Dollars and Sense - 1994
Shtinky Commentary: Boooo... I thought Becky Sue would exercise some restraint and save before she bought her guitar and amps. But alas, these were the days when easy credit was still available. How is she, a country farm girl, going to pay for all that equipment? Does she plan to win American Idol? Oh well... if all else fails, repo and bankruptcy make for a good country-western song, no?
$7.50 Once-A-Week - 1995
Shtinky Commentary: Hey, this kid understands the concept of budgeting, price comparison shopping and delayed gratification. Becky Sue can learn a thing or two from this kid.
Where The Money Goes - 1995
Shtinky Commentary: "If not for all these bills and taxes, our income would suffice." Did this dad attend the recent tea parties? He later redeems himself by teaching his son that controlling expenses is an integral way to save. He also tells his son to get a part-time job to pay for what he wants. Good going, dad!
Tax Man Max - 1995
Shtinky Commentary: A "must-watch" for tax cheaters.
Walkin' On Wall Street - 1996
Shtinky Commentary: Ummm... I couldn't really pay attention to this one because my mind kept drifting. I kept imagining a parody with the pigeon explaining subprime loans, mortgage backed securities and credit default swaps while flying and crapping on taxpayers below.
This For That - 1996
Shtinky Commentary: A song about how the bartering system evolved into the modern monetary system. Much more fun than Paul Grignon's scary animation, Money As Debt.
Tyrannosaurus Debt - 1996
Shtinky Commentary: $1 Trillion debt? That's all we had in 1996? Look at our current debt clock, if you dare. And for some reason, I kept thinking of the punchline to a joke where former President George W. Bush asks, "How many zeroes are there in a Brazilian?"
The Check's In The Mail - 1996
Shtinky Commentary: Writing checks as the preferred method of paying bills? How quaint! Ahhh... the good ol' days where criminals actually had to do REAL work like stealing checks out of people's mail boxes and washing off the ink rather than just phishing at their computer.
Friday, April 24, 2009
One of the ways I cut down on this expense, but still enjoy some blooms, is by buying potted plants instead. During Christmas 2007, I debated whether to buy a paper-white bulb or an amaryllis bulb. When I learned that a paper-white bulb only blooms once but an amaryllis bulb can re-bloom with proper care, my decision was easy - - I purchased the amaryllis bulb.
When you buy a bulb from a nursery or a store, the care is relatively idiot-proof. I just planted the bulb, watered, put the pot by a sunny window-sill and it bloomed. The flower continued to bloom for the next month or so.
- After the flower wilted, I cut off the stem and kept the pot in a sunny area. I watered and fertilized the plant regularly for the following 5 to 6 months to allow the leaves to grow. (This was necesary to allow the leaves to replenish the food storage in the bulb.);
- When the leaves began to yellow (around August), I stopped watering the plant. When the leaves turned completely yellow, I cut the leaves a couple inches above the bulb and removed the bulb from the soil;
- I cleaned the bulb and kept it in my fridge (50 to 60 degrees) for the following 6-8 weeks. (Who knew that amaryllis bulbs needed to "hybernate" in order to re-bloom?);
- In November, I re-potted the bulb, hoping for a bloom by New Year's.
Despite my best efforts, no bloom in January. Nor in February. Or March. In early April, a stalk finally sprouted and revealed 4 adorable flower buds. Hurray!
But disaster struck a couple of weeks ago -- I came home to discover the pot on the ground with the soil and the bulb spilled. I was mortified when I discovered the cracked stem. I twist-tied the stem together and prayed for the best.
I was upset. It was too reminiscent of my investments. I diligently fed and nurtured both. But due to circumstances out of my control, both my investments and my amaryllis crashed and cracked. The plant was so close to blooming and it's life may have been cut short.
But finally this week, my amaryllis bloomed. Hallelujah! All of my efforts weren't for naught!
It's clear, though, that the recent crash had a negative impact on my flower. The color isn't as vibrant and the bloom isn't as big. But who cares? It survived and it's stubbornly trying to grow, just like my 401k. I'm now hoping that the remaining buds are healthy enough to bloom as well. (*Fingers crossed*)
I feel a certain kinship and I have a sweet-spot for my amaryllis, since it's just like me - we're both a couple of late bloomers who need a lot of sleep and enjoy good food. And we've both demonstrated we can also roll with the punches!
And dare I say, we look smashing in red? *^_^*
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I collected money from my co-workers, purchased the cards, the cookies and wrapped the boxes in a cute cellophane wrapper. Split three ways, the three of us contributed about $10 each.
We presented the cookies to the first admin assistant who verbally thanked us. The second admin assistant didn’t come in until a couple of hours later so we left the cookies and card on her desk.
When the second admin assistant came in, I heard her say, “What’s this? Oh NOOOO!! Fatty food! I can’t eat THIS!” I heard the first admin assistant agreeing. The second admin assistant later sent an insincere thank-you email. When I walked by the first admin assistant’s desk later in the day, she said, “Oh, I’m trying not to touch the cookies.”
Okaaaay. Fine. I realize the cookies weren’t expensive and I (we) didn’t put much thought into it other than that I LOVE the cookies. And I also didn’t realize that either of these ladies was on a diet. After all, the first admin assistant is frequently eating local Mexican take-out. (Here's a diet tip: Cut out the daily breakfast burrito.) The second admin assistant previously brought supermarket brownies and day-old discount donuts to work, so how was I supposed to know?
These gals are certainly entitled to their opinions. After all, I too have received chintzy gifts and wondered, "WTF?" But I always kept my petty thoughts to myself.
These are one of those moments where I just wanted to say, “Today is a bogus day where we have to thank you for doing a job that you're paid to do. If you don’t like the gifts, you gals should complain about it outside of our earshot. Better yet, you should’ve complained about how cheap we were on Twitter or on your blog.”
I don't know about you, but my $10 would've been better spent elsewhere. I swear. Sometimes I prefer the company of my cat versus my fellow human beings.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
And before you rag on me about my comment about divorced men, keep in mind that the same thing can be said about older, unattached women like me and I don't necessarily disagree. Case in point, read Joe's comment as to why some older men date age-inappropriate younger women.
Anyhow, what is a cougar, you ask? Well, the primary definition would be:
In the 80's, it included:
But I'm talking about:
For you young'uns:
And if you want "cougar" described in modern terms, Urban Dictionary provides "colorful" definitions.
According to Digital City:
The cougar's diet consists of two main staples: fine food and younger men. After having lived a little longer and being pretty prosperous, they have the money to spend on the finer things in life.
For this reason, you'll find these ladies dining at hip and/or high-end establishments where they can brandish their American Express cards while paying for caviar and lobster. Of course, she'll often be accompanied by an attractive younger man.
Hmmmm.... okay. I've definitely lived a little longer. But I'm definitely not "pretty prosperous". After all, I have shloads of debt and I definitely don't have money to blow right now.
Digital City also claims:
Once the predator has caught her prey, she will treat him to many of the finer things that she herself has been enjoying.
Hmmmm... I can barely afford the finer things in life for myself now, much less my "prey".
I guess this gives me new motivation to become financially responsible and independent. I'm not seeking financial security for myself. Oh, no. It's so I can find validation of my self-worth through a cougar-prey! Yes, yes. That will be my new goal in life - - to become a financially responsible cougar.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Update: I've been told that all I-Series bonds rate will re-set at 5/1/09, not on a 6-month rolling-basis from the date of purchase. There seems to be contradictory opinions about this and I don't know the answer since I'm new in the savings bond game. But I'll find out 5/1/09 and I'll write an updated post as to whether all of my savings bonds have re-set or not.
Since last October, I’ve been purchasing $25 worth of I-Series Savings Bonds every month. Depending upon when I buy the bonds, each bond carries different interest rates with different re-set dates.
Since I’ve only recently started purchasing I-bonds, it hasn’t been difficult to keep track of the interest I’ve been accruing. However, now that it's been over 6 months since my first purchase, most of my I-bonds will start re-setting.
After nearly over-working my math-challenged brain, I’ve determined that:
- The $25 I-bond that I purchased in October 2008 accrued 4.83% interest until 3/31/09. It started accruing 4.92% APR on 4/1/09 and will continue to do so until 9/30/09. It will accrue 0% for the following 6 months starting 10/1/09.
- The I-bonds I purchased between 11/1/08 and 4/30/09 (total $150 over 6 months) are currently accruing 5.64% interest for the first 6 months from the first day of the month I purchased them. The interest rate on the bond purchased in November ’08 will re-set to 0% on 5/1/09 for 6 months. The savings bond I purchased in December ’08 will start accruing 0% on 6/1/09, so on and so forth.
Confused? It confused the heck out of me too! I'm the type of person who can only comprehend math problems visually and not conceptually, so I decided to create a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of the past interest rates as well as to "predict" what the future interest rates will be.
Although the fixed rate for 5/1/09 hasn't been announced yet, based upon the most recent March CPI data announced, it looks like savings bonds purchased between 5/1/09-10/31/09 will accrue 0% interest. (Bummer.) In that case, I’m better off putting my money into an online savings account.
In the alternative, I can just buy the bonds I intend to purchase between 5/1/09-10/31/09 (i.e., $25/month x 6 months = $150 total) on or before 4/30/09.
If I do this, I can accrue 5.64% interest until 10/31/09 and accrue 0% 6 months thereafter. That will give me a net interest rate of 2.75%, which is much higher than what I’m currently getting in any of my savings accounts. If I take into account the fact that the interest on the I-Bond won’t be taxed by the state, I’ve estimated the net effective interest rate will be around 3.00% for the next 12 months. (Note: I haven’t taken into account the 3 month penalty for selling the I-Bonds prior to the 5-year holding period since I don’t intend to cash them out before then. After all, the I-Bonds are an important part of my long-term savings strategy.)
The risk I take in buying the I-Bonds rather than putting the $150 into my savings is that if the current deflationary economy continues, my I-Bonds will continue to accrue 0%. But what the heck, it’s only $150 and it's not like I'm wasting it, right? And besides, if hyper-inflation occurs in the future, these puppies will have a n-i-i-c-e interest rates then. :-D
Monday, April 20, 2009
I have quite of bit of airline miles, hotel points, and American Express Membership Rewards points accumulated. I’ve heard the rule of thumb that each mile/point is worth approximately 1 cent. So if you have 100 miles or 100 points, it’s worth about a buck. But is that true?
I haven’t previously taken stock of how many miles and points I have, but I figured it’ll be fun trying to figure out what they’re approximately worth. As I’ve mentioned previously, I want to travel to Hong Kong-Macau-Tokyo with my sister for my big 4-O. I’ve valuated my points and mileage based upon my dream itinerary. With fluctuating currencies/fares/rates, this is admittedly a very unscientific calculation. But as the sage Cookie Monster sang, it’s good enough for me:
- Marriott Rewards Points: 44,107 points
- Hilton HHonors Points: 77,589 points
- American Airlines Aadvantage Miles: 130,058 miles
- American Express Membership Rewards Points: 41,151 points
- United Mileage Plus: 4,835 miles
So there you have it: My frequent flyer miles and hotel points are worth about $3,490. On the high-end, it’s worth $10,644. I am paying a yearly fee for the privilege of accruing AA miles (via my Citibank Mastercard) and American Express Membership Rewards points. But based upon what I've calculated above, looks like it's well worth it. I’m feeling richer already! :-D
Friday, April 17, 2009
Anyhoo, here's a classic quip from Sheldon re: the custom of gift-giving.
"You bought me a present? Why would you do such a thing? I know you think you're being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven't given me a gift -- You've given me an obligation. The essence of the custom is that I now have to go out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as that represented by the gift you've given me. ... Oh, I brought this on myself by being such an endearing and important part of your life."I have to admit, I kind'a agree with Sheldon on this issue, except the last sentence. (I wonder if this is why I can never seem to accept gifts graciously? Hmmm...) Coincidentally, I'll be purchasing a "reciprocating gift" for a friend this weekend. Oh, and probably something for the admin staff next week. (Admin Assistant's day is 4/22!)
Hope you all have a great weekend. :-D
Thursday, April 16, 2009
But my blog has also evolved into an outlet where I air my thoughts, experiences and opinions (sometimes relating to PF matters only tangentially). It hasn’t all been pretty -- I’ve posted petty, elitist or mean-spirited rants that I can’t express in real-life to others. After all, what’s the purpose of a diary if you’re going to sugarcoat things?
Although many of my posts are personal in nature, I made the conscious choice to open my blog to the public because: (a) I write anonymously, (b) I don’t expect to have a wide-audience and (c) I enjoy receiving feedback (positive and negative) from my readers.
Consequently, I’ve been able to develop great relationships (albeit virtual) with people I would’ve otherwise never encountered. I’m grateful for all of the comments I’ve received. Even those that are critical have provided thoughtful, relevant, and civil opinions.
But a recent case decided by the California Appellate Court may change how and what I write in my blog in the future. The California Appellate Court recently held that a person who posts an article on the internet (e.g. blog or Myspace) does not have the right to state a cause of action for invasion of privacy when the post is republished. (Click here to read the opinion.)
In this case, a UC Berkeley student wrote a rather mean-spirited “ode” about her hometown and its residents in her Myspace journal. The student only identified herself by her first name and a picture. Six days later, the student removed the “ode” from her online journal. Before she took the “ode” down, the local high school principal submitted it to the local paper. The paper re-published the “ode” and attributed the authorship to the student, using her full name. (Note: Whatever point the editor wanted to make, couldn’t she have done it without identifying the author, especially since the offensive post was deleted? Or was the editor seeking retribution? Hmmm….)
The lunatic fringe of the student's hometown reacted violently by issuing death threats and shooting a gun at her family home. As a result, the student’s parents had to close their 20 year-old family business and move the heck out of Dodge. (Note: I wonder if the editor of the paper is proud of herself? And hasn’t this, ironically, lent credence to what the student wrote about the residents of the community? Hmmmm….)
I’m a firm believer that people need to accept the consequences for their actions and their words. But no one deserves to be threatened, physically or verbally, solely for their opinions, no matter how offensive. If the expressed opinion is libelous or slanderous, people should seek legal recourse.
I know of at least one blogger who shut down his blog after people tried to “out” him. (For what and to what end, I don’t know.) I know of other bloggers who’ve experienced something similar for expressing unpopular opinions about gift-giving etiquette or writing about her actions that some have deemed “morally reprehensible” (i.e., taking advantage of couponing rule loopholes). Seriously.
I guess what this means is that anything I write in this blog will be filtered and self-censored from hereon forward. Although it’s probably too late, I’m considering deleting prior posts that may be too revealing or potentially “offensive”.
But before I do, I just have to let out one dig: To all you nut-jobs who have nothing better to do than to “out” and seek retribution against an author for an “offensive” post, there is a better option -- You can stop reading the “offensive” blog and encourage others to do the same. There’s nothing worse to a blogger than having no audience.
So there. Bleh. [Note to self: Work on my filter…]
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
And this leads me to my soapbox rant:
There is something wrong with our tax system, which allows people of means to manipulate their tax obligations through their claimed capital gains and capital losses. It's one thing to practice legally recognized tax avoidance (like selling stocks within a Roth IRA) and another to engage in tax evasion.
[Disclaimer: For obvious reasons, I am not going to go into specifics. Furthermore, I have no knowledge of anyone actually engaging in the conduct described below. This is just a general rant and is not directed at anyone in particular. Any resemblance of facts and circumstances to an actual person is pure coincidence. But if my rant hits home, I'm talkin' to YOU.]
Frankly, it's wrong of you to claim capital losses when in fact you haven't suffered any. And guess, what? Your reliance on a tax preparer really doesn't excuse you for claiming a loss that you haven't realized. You may have legal recourse against the tax preparer, but the bottomline is, it's your signature at the bottom of the tax form. YOU'RE responsible.
It's also wrong for you to out-and-out lie about your cost basis so that you can get a tax refund. And, no, ignorance of your true cost basis is never a defense. And besides, you're not ignorant -- your act is intentional. It's the difference of being stupid vs. a liar, and I know you're not stupid.
It's amusing (*NOT*) how you find burglary, shoplifting and any other forms of theft morally repugnant, yet have absolutely no problem evading taxes. Here's a newsflash: when you lie about your capital gains (or losses), you ARE indeed stealing from other taxpayers. If you owe it, pay it -- it's your obligation as a citizen.
And this whole argument by you and other like-minded people, that paying higher taxes is unpatriotic, is completely mind-boggling. You further justify your actions by claiming: (a) that the government is wasting taxpayer money, (b) you already pay enough tax and (c) rich people have other tax loopholes unavailable to the hoi poloi. Even assuming these arguments have any merit, which they do not, it's no excuse for lying on your tax return.
It is utterly hypocritical for you to accept the benefits of governement protection and programs, yet shirk paying your fair share of taxes. I understand that you don't like paying taxes. Neither do I. But guess what? To paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, you pay for the privilege of living in a civilized society by paying taxes. (Justice Holmes' actual quote can be read here.) By evading taxes, YOU are unpatriotic, my friend.
And when you get audited (which I doubt you will), I won't be lending you a sympathetic ear but I'll try not to say, "I told you so."
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I currently have a $9,367 (net) credit card balance with BofA at a promotional 0% APR until 10/28/09. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America is raising the interest rates on credit card customers who carry a balance.
Et tu, Brute? Do I have to write another Dear John letter?
I called the customer service rep over the weekend and learned that the increased credit card rates affect only contract rates, not promotional rates. I was verbally assured that promotional rates will be honored unless I breach the terms first (i.e., I make a late payment). The customer service rep even offered additional 0% balance transfers, should I have the need to do so.
No, thanks. It's always good to remember than when you're stuck in debt, credit card companies won't help you out. They're more like the second cow in the pastoral scene below that's been making the viral email rounds:
Come hell or high-water, I'm paying off my credit card debt before October 28th!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Yesterday at noon, I decided to treat myself to a nice (gluttonous) Easter brunch by picking up some ready-made food at the gourmet market, Bristol Farms. I ordered honey glazed ham, wild mushroom risotto, scalloped potatoes, spring veggie sauté, duck pâté and an easter egg cake.
Since it was a beautiful day, I decided to walk to the store. As I approached the parking lot, I noticed a homeless man sitting underneath a tree, looking down. I hesitated -- "Should I give him some money? No, he might use it to buy drugs. Besides, he hasn't asked and he doesn't have a sign asking for money." I decided to ignore him and go on with my day.
After I purchased my brunch, it gnawed on me that it's Easter. "Should I go back into the store to pick up something to eat for the man? Nah. Just go home and enjoy your gourmet meal."
As I kept walking, it still bothered me. "It's Easter, for cryin' out loud!" I was now in front of McDonald's. "Oh, what the heck. I'll get him a burger, fries and a bottle of water."
But by the time I got back to the area where I first spotted him, he was gone. I guess he was just resting a bit before he moved on. I also noticed there were several police cars patrolling the area and perhaps that spooked him.
I returned home and ate the quarter-pounder with cheese and fries that I intended to give to the homeless man instead of my Easter brunch. Re-enacting the whole scenario in my mind, I can't help but to feel that I've failed -- On a day where Christians celebrate Christ's resurrection after he made the ultimate sacrifice, I couldn't spare an ounce of benevolence to a fellow human being when given the opportunity.
Should I have offered him some money? Should I have asked him if he wanted something to eat? Was I being cheap by getting him food from McDonald's rather than from Bristol Farms?
Although I'm ashamed of what took place (or didn't), I'm still not sure how I should deal with homeless people in my neighborhood. I'm conflicted.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
And for some Easter fun, check out hideous, weird and creepy lamb Easter Cakes at Cake Wrecks.
My personal fave:
Yes, it's supposed to be an Easter bunny.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Although I strive to live a simpler and more frugal life, my spendthrift way is just lurking right below the surface. I have this nagging doubt that I haven't changed organically or internally at all. I can't help but to think that I'm only reacting to external factors, such as an impending layoff and my debts.
But something happened yesterday that made me think that perhaps I have changed. A SHOE EMERGENCY!! [Cue dramatic music.]
It happened near the end of the work day. I was walking, walking, walking until I heard a big crack and my left leg wobbled. Thank goodness (?) I have short legs and a low center of gravity since I would've otherwise done a face-plant.
Anyhow, the old Shtinky would've taken this as a true emergency. I would've left work early, headed to Nordstrom or Macy's to buy a replacement pair of shoes. $350 for a pair? Wow, that's expensive, but I have the credit-limit available! No problem!
And don't think the thought didn't cross my mind. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit I seriously PONDERED whether this qualified as an "emergency" thus allowing me to tap my emergency fund. After all, I AM at work and I shouldn't be walking around barefoot in the office, right?
Wrong. I sucked it up and taped up my heel. Can you see the clear tape around the left shoe in the picture?
Perhaps it wasn't really safe for me to walk around in the taped-up shoe, but how dangerous is it for me to walk from the office to my car to my apartment? Not much.
I'm proud to say, I've decided not to replace the shoe. I have several other similar style shoe in the same color. I'm seeing this as a good sign that I've changed my spendthrift ways. :-D
Okay, enough with patting myself on the back; I'm moving on to a rant.
I swear, I will never buy Jessica Simpson shoes ever again. It's not expensive but it's not cheap either. A shoe should last more than a couple of years, don't you think? I mean my Stuart Weitzman shoes have lasted me over 7 years! (It needs serious polishing, though. Heh heh.)
I guess this is a lesson learned: Buy good shoes, especially if you intend to wear them for a long time.
P.S. Hope you're all having a wonderful Passover and Good Friday. And have a wonderful Easter!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Late Fee #1: State Bar MCLE Compliance Fee $75
This one really ticks me off. I paid my state bar dues ($410!) timely via the state bar website. Anyhow, had I paid via US Mail, I would've also included the MCLE compliance card where I affirm that I've complied with the continuing education requirements of the bar. But because I paid via their website, I needed to go to another section to click the button that affirms my compliance. Well... I forgot to do the second part. In my defense, I really have to say, the state bar website format sucks. The interface is so user unfriendly and cumbersome. Feh! Like THAT defense will hold up. So here I am, going back to their suck-y website to pay the
Late Fee #2: Late Rent $30
D'OH! I'm such a Homer Simpson. I wrote my check out on 4/1/09. I was going to go to the rental office on the weekend (4/4 or 4/5) to pay. And I promptly forgot until I was served with a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit yesterday. I immediately ran to the rental office to give them my first check for $1,275 and I had to shamefully write out another check for $30. As I was chatting with the rental office gal, she told me, "Don't worry. This month we had a LOT of delinquencies." I guess this is a sign that many of my fellow neighbors are suffering financial distress in this economy. Not good at all.
Sigh... there goes my savings for this month. All because of my boneheadedness.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Before I start on my mea culpa, I don’t regret at all how I dealt with the man at the bar. Quite frankly, I don’t know whether he’s unemployed - - it’s just my conjecture. (And, if you recall, I was oblivious until my friend suggested the possibility that he could be unemployed.) Perhaps maybe he’s uber-wealthy and was turned off by my questions about his occupation. Who knows? (And in this economic crisis, has an innocuous question like, “So, what do you do?” really become a Pandora’s Box?)
With respect to asking for his business card, I stress that I’m just not comfortable giving out private information to someone I’ve just met in a bar. (After all, I’ve seen too many news stories about women who get attacked by men they’ve met in bars.) As flawed as my thought process may be, I felt asking for a business card was a better alternative than to trade personal numbers. For whatever reason, he didn’t give me his business card and told me to, “Forget it.” I wasn’t about to jump out of my seat and give him my home number in response. C'est la vie.
With respect to why I’m reluctant to get involved with someone who is unemployed, I guess it’s because I project my own narrow biases and point of view upon others, which I realize is also flawed thinking. Regardless, I think it’s worthy to share where I’m coming from:
I was laid off from my first job out of law school some time in late-1998 or early-1999. My ex-boss (who was otherwise a scumbag jerk) spared my feelings and called it a “lay-off” although I knew I was actually getting fired. I was devastated, embarrassed and humiliated, but I smiled and thanked him and everyone in the office, before I packed my belongings in a cardboard box. I wasn’t about to let anyone see me break a sweat (or tear).
When I got home, I curled up in a ball and cried like a baby for days. I waited a couple of days before I told my boyfriend. I couldn’t even tell my parents or my sister for weeks. I was scared out of my wits. I was saddled with $100,000+ in student loans with virtually zero savings. I didn’t have a husband who supported me and I didn’t have rich parents to bail me out.
Eating out or buying wine or beer was unthinkable, since I lived on credit card cash advances and was only a breath away from being evicted. And, yes, I did go stir-crazy during this period since all of my energy was expended in trying to find a new job. (Hence, this is why I thought it was irresponsible for an unemployed person to go out for a drink. But I also see that not all unemployed people are in the same dire straits that I was in, and deserve to go out here and there.)
Although most people thought I was dealing with my unemployment well, I was an emotional wreck. I was able to maintain an upbeat façade in short spurts, but my boyfriend took the brunt of my mood swings during the remainder of the time, which ultimately led to our break-up. I was in no emotional state during my unemployment to try to build any new relationships, platonic or otherwise. It is therefore unfathomable to me why an unemployed person, who could be very emotionally vulnerable, would try to forge a new relationship that is not career-related.
I realize that people are different, and some deal with unemployment much better than I did (or ever could). But I’m still leery and suspicious that someone who is unemployed would be in the right frame of mind to start a new personal relationship. After all, there are studies that show that the mental health of unemployed men are worse than that of unemployed women.
I don’t know for sure, but I doubt I’ll be seeking new personal relationships while I'm laid off. I don’t think I have the ability or capacity to be a good companion to anyone under those circumstances. Only time will tell.
I met a handsome guy at the bar and we started up a conversation. The conversation flowed easily and we seemed to have a lot in common. We both love ethnic food, we graduated from the same college, we both think the ShamWow! guy's recent arrest was hilarious, etc. etc.
[UPDATE: I retract my comment that ShamWow! guy's arrest is hilarious. At the time, I only knew the partial details of his arrest and am now horrified after seeing photos of the aftermath of his altercation. I now realize that any kind of violence is not funny, even if it involves a snake-oil salesman.]
I noticed the guy was nursing the same beer (at a wine bar?) while I was onto my second wine. I knew that I would be slurring my words if I didn't get some food in me, so I ordered a fruit/cheese/charcuterie platter and offered some to the guy.
I asked him, "So, what do you do?" He responded, "I do consulting."
"Like what? Six sigma?"
Suddenly the guy clammed up.
After the guy finished his beer, he asked for my phone number. It's my policy not to give out my phone number to random guys I meet at bars. I responded, "If you give me your business card, I'll give you mine." To which he responded, "Forget it," and walked out.
I thought to myself, "Wow, that was abrupt." I finished my wine and my cheese/meat platter. (It covered all 4 food groups, so it was a healthy dinner. Ha ha.)
Anyhow, I talked to my friend about this experience and she said, "Sounds like the guy's unemployed and you just rubbed it in."
Yikes! I rewound the entire evening in my mind and I knew my friend was right. I felt really bad about being so clueless.
But on the other hand, if he's unemployed, what the heck is he doing at a wine bar?? When I was unemployed, I avoided all activities that required me to spend discretionary money, especially alcohol. And secondly, what the heck is he doing asking for a chick's phone numbers if he's unemployed?
My friend asked, "Would it have been different had he 'fessed up that he's unemployed?"
And the answer, would be "yes" and "no". I wouldn't have given him my phone number, but I think I may have been able to help him network. I atleast could've commiserated with him, since I too could be unemployed in the near future.
My friend pushed, "But would you have dated him?"
I punted. I said, "I think his priorities should be to find a job first before trying to get laid. Secondly, he's demonstrated bad judgment by going out to a bar while unemployed. So, no."
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
To those who are unfamiliar, Pinecone Research is a subsidiary of the AC Nielsen Company and are one of the most reputable paid survey companies. They pay $3 for each completed survey which takes approximately 15-20 minutes. Since November, I've earned about $21. So, okay. It's not the most efficient way to make money but it is easy snowflaking money.
Jonathan from My Money Blog cautions:
1) These guys are very strict. Whatever info you sign up with, you must always keep it up to date and follow it exactly. For example, if your profile says you’re 35 and in a later survey you state that you’re 46, you may mysteriously stop getting any new surveys. It’s best just to be honest.
2) Fill the surveys out as soon as you get them. I think this is why I was kicked out. For some reason they stopped e-mailing me survey alerts (multiple e-mails to Ms. Scott trying to fix this went unanswered). By the time I got the notices in the mail, the survey had expired. If you miss enough surveys, they boot you. I’m still a bit grouchy over this…
If you're interested, please leave a comment with your email address.
Please note that only one person per household may register. Multiple registrations will void all.
It's not that I'm fashion conscious or I want to maintain a sense of business decorum. I'm just plain lazy. I also hate wearing separates, especially button-down shirts. (It must be residual trauma from being forced to wear the ugly Catholic school uniform my entire youth.) It's also much easier to slip on a dress after a shower and to slip it off when I come home. It's also fewer materials I need to wash.
Speaking of washing, a co-worker, who regularly dresses in jeans and casual shirts recently commented, "Your drycleaning bill must be through the roof!"
I replied, "Actually, I rarely dryclean. I wear my dresses about 2-3 times and then I handwash them in the tub."
My co-worker grimaced and said, "Ewwww. You don't wash your clothes after every wear??"
"No, why? Am I malodorous?"
"No, but it's just so unsanitary!", my co-worker exclaimed.
That got me really paranoid. Am I really unsanitary by not washing my clothes after ever wear? Am I just engaging in the extended college-ritual of wearing anything that passes the "sniff" test?
I thought carefully how and why I developed my current clothes-washing habit:
- I'm lazy;
- I don't have a washer-dryer in my apartment unit. I need to walk 2 flights of stairs plus an additional 50 ft (one-way) to the laundry room. Hence, I try to minimize the amount of laundry I do with the washing machine/dryer;
- I don't think washing after every wear is necessary, especially if I'm just wearing it to the office and I'm not sweating in it;
- Washing after every wear would "wear-out" the materials more quickly;
- It's cheaper to handwash vs. machine wash/dryclean;
- It's probably more environmentally friendly to handwash vs. machine wash/dryclean;
- I use less energy by hanging my clothes to air-dry.
Have I sacrificed clean living in the name of frugality (and laziness)? How often should I be washing my work clothes without being disgusting? Now I'm concerned!
Monday, April 6, 2009
For those of you who are new to this blog, I've summarized my dysfunctional relationship with Chase below. For those who are already familiar, skip down to #7:
- A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Chase offered me a 5.99% APR balance transfer that was supposed to be good until I paid off the balance. *SCORE!!* I transferred over $13,000 to my Chase card and I paid the minimum balance (2% of balance) every month religiously and on time as part of my debt snowball plan.
- Chase purportedly advised me back in November '08 of the following change in terms of the credit card.
- Oblivious to the unilateral change in terms, I didn't discover the $10 service charge and the 250% increase in my minimum payment until January 2009. I transferred my balance to Bank of America's 0% offer.
- Because I knew Chase is a bloodsucking bank, I sent an additional $30 to cover any interest charges accrued.
- Again, completely oblivious to the other change in terms, I discovered on February 5 that Chase will continue to charge me $10/month, regardless of whether I carried a balance or not. Chase tried to blackmail me to do a balance transfer to 7.99% APR to avoid the $10/month service charge. I told them to go pound sand and closed my account.
- Chase closed my account and sent me a $20 refund and billed an additional $13.76, rather than issuing me a $6.24 refund. (Greedy and incompetent!)
- I sent Chase a $15.00 payment and demanded a refund after the February billing month closed. Chase refunded me $21.24 in March as a "Fin Chrg Refund".
Woo hoo! I thought I got my service charge back because I'm so special. But turns out that Chase only agreed to refund $4.4 million of these bogus "service charges" in response to NY AG Cuomo's investigation and several class action lawsuits.
Which begs the question: Should I opt out of the class action lawsuit?
I do believe that Chase breached the spirit of the original balance transfer agreement and engaged in the classic "bait-and-switch" tactic, which could be fraud in the inducement. I therefore believe Chase should be penalized for their actions.
But did I suffer any damages from Chase's actions? No matter how I look at it, the answer is decidedly, "No." As a matter of fact, Chase may have actually improved my situation.
Had Chase honored its original balance transfer offer, I would not have paid off my car loan until July 2009 and my credit card balance until July 2010. (See, my originial snowball plan.) But when Chase started charging me bogus fees, I vowed to speed up my debt repayment plan. Consequently, I paid off my car loan 5 months early and I'm on track to paying off my credit card balance in October 2009 (i.e., 9 months early).
So in summary, Chase's breach cost me:
$358.17 in balance transfer fee to BofA + unquantifiable damages for reduction in credit limit of $18,500.
But Chase's breach saved me:
$48.13 in car loan interest + $639.15 in credit card interest (assuming I'll pay off my credit card in October '09)
All in all, looks like I came out ahead in this whole Chase debacle and hurray for me. But what if I didn't have the ability to transfer out my balance and close my account? I would've been in a world of hurt, or at the very least, I would've ended up with a higher APR, which Chase would have probably increased steadily.
As a matter of principle, I've decided to opt out of the class action since I haven't been damaged by Chase's actions. Let the people who've actually suffered from Chase's fraud/breach of contract collect on any settlement money that Chase will likely pay.
On a related note, I received an offer from Chase to open a checking account this past weekend. If I made 5 ATM purchases with the Chase ATM card, they would give me $100. Bah! Keep your stinkin' money, Chase. I hate you and will no longer do business with you - - yes, even if YOU paid me!
Friday, April 3, 2009
According to their website:
Locks of Love is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 18 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. We meet a unique need for children by using donated hair to create the highest quality hair prosthetics. Most of the children helped by Locks of Love have lost their hair due to a medical condition called alopecia areata, which has no known cause or cure. The prostheses we provide help to restore their self-esteem and their confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.
When donated hairs are unusable (e.g., less than 10 inches long or gray hair), Locks of Love sells the bundled hair to offset manufacturing costs.
This is my 4th time donating hair. I don't know whether my hair was ever made into a hairpiece for children or sold, though. :-(
I just hope it wasn't made into those creepy, real-life looking dolls. Maybe I watched too many Twilight Zone episodes in my youth, but real looking dolls (including mannequins) give me the creeps.
Speaking of creepy dolls, did you know there's a haunted doll in Japan whose hair continuously grows? Eeeew.
Oops, sorry for seriously diverging from the topic of charitable giving. Have a great weekend folks!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The first quarter of 2009 is over already?? This year is just FLYING by!
As I'm writing this, I think about the phrase: "March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb." Actually, it seemed more like March came in like a lamb-to-slaughter, but went out roaring like a bull (or atleast a lion cub).
Although I'm eternally optimistic about the stock market bottoming out soon(notwithstanding my bet), I'm having deja vu from last year. I recall around this time last year, we were all patting ourselves in the back after the Bear Stearns debacle was averted. The market just kept going up and up, before Armageddon hit in October. Hopefully we won't see a repeat of last year in 2009.
Anyhow, here's a summary of my PF in March:
|Starting Debt (6/31/08)||Last Month||This Month||Difference|
Nothing really new on the debt-front since I'm on auto-pilot with my debt snowball plan. (Speaking of which, I probably should update my snowball chart.) But I do want to point out that although my credit card debt indicates my balance is $11,818.08, it's actually really $9,367.00 since I've arbitraged $2,451.08 into one of my "high-yield" savings account. So I guess technically, my total debt amount is $110,607.58.
I got a really nice bonus this year and I've put some of it into my savings. I guess those who are really motivated, math-oriented and bored can pretty much guess how much I got from my bonus by reverse-engineering. Oh, and by the way, the above figure also includes interest I accrued plus additional amounts I've put in in addition to my bonus. :-D
MY NET WORTH
|LAST MONTH||THIS MONTH||DIFFERENCE|
If this chart was a rollercoaster, I'd be hurling chunks. Actually, I think I've been tossing my cookies since October because of the stock market! I'd like to feel happy about this nice rebound, but like all rollercoasters, I know that the slow ride up just means a turbulent downhill is awaiting me in the near future.
But in the meantime, I'll revel in this nice upswing.
The breakdown of my net worth can be seen here.