Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, New Look

I sometimes wonder whether I have some kind of attention deficit disorder since I can never seem to maintain interest in any new hobby I adopt. But I've managed to keep this blog alive for over a year with the support and encouragement of fellow PF bloggers. For that, I thank you all!

Anyhow, I decided to reward myself by retiring the goofy looking kitty that I drew up on MS paint and by getting a professional banner. I now know there are some things that should be left to the pros, like art, Botox, sushi, lobotomy...

The logo was created by Aric C. Harris from Tiki Isn't the kitty adorable? Kind of reminds me of the coolest cat of them all, Jeannie. :-D

Anyhow, Aric managed to squeeze in time for my little logo right before his wife gave birth to their first baby. (Congratulations, Aric!) He also designed the Cake Wrecks website and logo. The guy has mad skillz.

Hope you all have a happy and safe New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My PF Year in Review

I really don't set up goals every year since (if history is any indication) I tend not to achieve them. Ha ha. But I do set up some personal targets that I haven't posted and I was wondering how I did.

Let's start with the bad news:

1. FICO score of 760 - FAIL
I'm a bit bummed by this one. Strike that - - I'm pretty P.O.'d. But one of the comments on this post made me laugh: "Dear Author ! I apologise, but, in my opinion, you are not right. I am assured." You're absolutely right, Anonymous commenter. I'm daggum not right in the head. That's nothing new.

But going back to my FICO score, another Anon writer chastised me for being brainwashed by Suze Orman, et al. for being overly concerned about my FICO score. It's not that I'm obsessed with my score, but I do kind of see it as a report card or progress report on how I handle my credit. Although I think the scoring system is a bit bogus and arbitrary, I don't think it's irrelevant. After all, I do hope to be able to buy my first home in the next 2 to 4 years. I will continue to monitor my score.

2. Exercise Regularly and Maintain Ideal Weight - FAIL
You may wonder why I put this category in a PF blog. I do so because I believe that future health costs are one of the biggest threats to my financial security in retirement.

funny pictures of cats with captions

In January I was 110 lbs. Now? I'm a 120 lbs. I've been trying to squeeze myself into my skinny jeans for a couple of weeks and it's been painful. I think I can hear my jeans scream when I squat in them. Or maybe I'm just hearing the seams rip. Ugh. Worse yet, I lead such a sedentary life, my coronary and pulmonary health is probably not great. This is something I need to improve in baby steps.

3. EF Balance of $10,300 by 12/31/09 - FAIL but with good reason
As it stands right now, my EF balance is $8,472, or, -$1,828. The reason why I'm short, though, is because I used $2,219 of my EF to pay off my car early. There's been a bit of debate about whether an EF should be tapped to pay for a car, but I feel I made the right decision. This car is the first car I paid for myself and owned outright. It makes me feel great.

4. Investment Account of $10,900 by 12/31/09 - FAIL but also with good reason
In June, I sold 8 shares of my company stock to ensure that I would have enough money to pay off my credit card debt when the 0% promotional rate ended in October. Had I not sold the 8 shares, my investment account would be worth $14,000 today. :-(

Wanna know what really sucks about this? I sold the stock for $250.80/share in June. Do you want to know what it's trading at right now? $399.68/share. Doh! I guess this is why money you need to spend should never be in an investment account because you may be forced to sell at an inopportune time. *Sigh*

Anyhoo, onto the good news!

1. Reduce Debt to $103,282 - SUCCESS
I paid off my car loan and my credit card this year. I also accelerated the process by using some of my EF and selling off some stocks. My current debt load is $96,750.57. It's still a lot, but it feels for the first time, manageable.

2. Contribute $16,000+ to 401k - SUCCESS
I know I should be max-ing out my 401k contributions but I just do it the lazy way where I just instruct my employer to divert a certain % of my pre-tax income to my 401k. I really shouldn't take credit for this since, after all, it didn't involve any will-power or inertia to do this. But I'll take credit anyways. :-D

3. Buy $300 Worth of I-Bonds - SUCCESS
I decided to create a savings bond ladder in late 2008. My goal was to invest $25/month or $300/year and I managed to invest $350.

I guess I could also pat myself on the back re: my net worth. But I'm not sure whether it's something I could really take credit for. After all, last year's sudden drop in my net worth wasn't my fault. This year's rebound certainly wasn't my doing either.

Anyhow, I feel better about my financial situation now than I did on 12/31/08. And that's what counts.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Friend On A Financial Path to Disaster

I have a mature friend who is turning 60 next year who frustrates me since she seems to be on the path to financial destruction. I've kept my mouth shut since I'm no paragon of financial responsibility. But it's been hard.

fail owned pwned pictures

Here's her story:

This all started a couple of years ago. My friend (let's call her "Tina") and I often discussed our financial problems caused by our high debt loads. Tina is a spendthrift and she often quickly racks up $40,000 in credit card debts. Her solution often meant refinancing her modest home she got in her divorce about eleven years ago. In her divorce, she took on the existing mortgage from her ex that was worth about $72,000. In 2002, she refinanced her home for $136,750 and took out a second mortgage worth $20,000. In 2003, she refinanced her home yet again for $141,750. Because this was a easy solution and she didn't make any lifestyle changes, she often got herself right back into horrendous credit card debt.

Around that time, Tina broke up with her longtime boyfriend and literally went on the prowl. She met another mature man similar in age at a bar (let's call him "Bubba"). Bubba is an American who spent the past 25 years in another country south of the equator. Over the past 20 years, he worked as a developer/general contractor, got married, got divorced, had children in this foreign country. Of course, during this time, he never paid a cent of U.S. taxes while living abroad. (I'll get to this later.)

Everything about Bubba rang alarms in my head. First off, he lied to Tina about still being in a relationship when they first hooked up. Once things got hot and steamy, Bubba confessed and broke it off with his live-in girlfriend. Tina forgave him saying, "He was in a bad relationship and I helped him see the light."

Tina and Bubba courted long-distance for a few months, after which Bubba announced he was moving back to the U.S. My second alarm went off. I told Tina that she probably shouldn't let Bubba move in with her immediately. She brushed off my concerns and said, "We're older and we don't have much time left where we're both able-bodied and healthy. I want to spend as much time with him as possible. He's moving in." I also questioned how he could just pick up and leave his kids? "The kids are all adults." Tina didn't think it was strange that Bubba would be so willing to move back to the U.S. since, (a) he's an American and (b) he has family living here.

Once Bubba moved to the U.S., Tina started involving Bubba in everything she did. Girl's night out? Bubba tagged along. Lunch with former co-workers during the work week? Bubba was invited. Bubba had all the time in the world, since he was unemployed. But to give Bubba some credit, at least he does the cooking for Tina. He also helped doing some remodeling work in the yard.

A few months ago, Bubba got a job working at CVS. But I've now learned that he's no longer working there due to back problems. I also learned that Tina not only gave Bubba free shelter, but she also added him to her workplace health insurance as a "domestic partner." (Who knew in California, unmarried Seniors qualify as a "domestic partners"?) He underwent couple of expensive surgeries (ear drum repair and hernia) and he needs another one for his herniated disc.

Tina claimed to me that Bubba was financially secure. But she apparently confessed to others (who are less critical of Bubba) that he had deep financial problems in the foreign country due to bad real estate deals. I suspect this was probably the reason why he was so eager to move back to the U.S.

The bottom line - - Bubba contributes nothing financially to Tina's household.

During the past couple of years, Tina's spending went out of control. She bought a new SUV that she's financed on an 8-year term. She also decided to construct an addition to her home for which Bubba was supposed to be the general contractor. But since he's unlicensed in the U.S., Tina ended up hiring a GC. She also refinanced her home yet again to pay for the remodeling work. I don't know what she refinanced her home for, but she admitted she'll be paying her mortgage until she's in her 90's. (Keep in mind that her original mortgage amount was $72,000. By 2003, her mortgage more than doubled to $162k. I suspect that she's probably up to about $185,000 now. Her home is currently worth about $293,000.)

Additionally, I'm not sure how much Tina's 401k took a beating last year, but I'm quite certain that she did not have a conservative asset allocation. About a couple of years ago, she claimed her 401k was worth $250,000. Assuming it's probably near $250,000 today, I don't think she has enough saved to support both herself and Bubba in retirement. Even while working, she can't support herself and Bubba since she's (again) racked up credit card debts.

Did I also mention Tina has an adult daughter living at home who is also not working? God knows when the daughter will move out in this recession.

Oh yeah. Remember how Bubba never paid a cent of U.S, taxes during the past 25+ years while living abroad? I doubt he qualifies for Social Security or Medicare.

Everyone seems happy for Tina that she's found the "love of her life" in Bubba. I'm not suggesting that she dump Bubba since he seems to make her happy. But I can't help wonder whether she's seeing into the future what I'm seeing. And it ain't pretty.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Early Christmas!

I'm off visiting my folks this week. Happy belated Winter Solstice and Merry early Christmas, y'all!

According to the Star Wars Weather Forecaster, I'll be encountering Endor-like weather at my destination.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Penny-wise, Pound-foolishness Strikes Again

I was meeting a friend for drinks in La Jolla couple of weeks ago. I didn't plan to spend more than an hour drinking, so I decided to park on the street rather than pay $10 for parking. I'm sure you've already guessed, I overstayed by about a couple of hours.

When I got back to my car, I was relieved that I hadn't been ticketed. *SCORE!*

But... Over the weekend, I just got in the mail couple of tickets totaling $80. *OUCH*

Stupid, stupid, stupid. I hate paying for the "privilege" of parking, but I hate paying for parking tickets even more. Especially when they're 800% more expensive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pinecone Looking For New Members

Apparently, I'm a member in good standing with Pinecone Research and they have given me the opportunity to recommend membership to a friend or relative to join the panel!

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. It's not the most efficient way to make money, but it IS easy snowflaking money.

Click on the logo to go the registration site.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Worst and Best Gifts Ever

The First Lady told Oprah recently that her most treasured gift was a dollhouse. This made me wonder, what are my worst and best gift ever received?

After much thought, here they are:

My ex gave me an expensive make-up set by Shiseido. I was thrilled until he said, "I thought I'd give you something you need."

Ahem..... Enough with the negativity! I want this post to be more about what makes a great gift, if not THE best gift.

And my BEST GIFT EVER is....

....a sock monkey!

Here's the boring backstory. Back in the '90s, Intel had a commercial that featured a sock monkey surfing the 'net in search of other playmates (and a soul mate).

I don't know why, but I was fascinated with this commercial because I'd never seen a "sock monkey" before. I really loved the fact that the sock monkey is quite ugly yet cute - - like a pug, an Ewok or a hairless cat. Anyhow, I casually mentioned to my sister how I loved this commercial. The following Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised when my sister presented me with a sock monkey kit. Although I liked sock monkeys, the kit remained untouched for months mainly because I can't sew. My mom, who worried that my sister would take offense, took it upon herself to make the sock monkey. The sock monkey has been my constant companion at work for the past 9 years.

At the time, I really didn't think much of this gift since it probably cost less than $20. But after nearly a decade, I'm starting to realize it's true value. My sock monkey is one-of-a-kind, and not because it's hand-made. It's special because it's proof that someone cared enough to listen to my useless drivel and remembered what I liked. It's priceless because every cut and every stitch was made with love. And the resulting product makes me smile everyday at work. Yeah, it's definitely the best gift ever.

If Your Boss Asks You To Cover Up His Affairs, Start Looking For a New Job

I'm pretty sick and tired of the whole sordid Tiger Woods scandal, but it did bring up an interesting discussion I had with a friend yesterday. She is pretty sure that Tiger's affairs were organized, scheduled, coordinated and kept under wraps by one or some of his aides. She would know, since she had to do something similar for her ex-boss.

Many moons ago, my friend was an admin assistant for a lecherous man who paid her quite well. "The Boss" was a rainmaker who often wined and dined clients and potential clients to generate business. As part of her duties, my friend was required to make travel arrangements, set restaurant reservations, purchase gifts, etc. Initially, my friend didn't suspect much. But she did think it was odd that when she was first hired, she was told that "The Wife" was a needy, pill of a woman and she needed to be kept at bay during work hours.

When The Wife called and The Boss was out, my friend would tell her stuff like, "The Boss is in a meeting/golfing/dining with a client." My friend thought the excuses were all true. But to make a long story short, my friend eventually realized that some of The Boss' "client meetings" were just rendezvouz with skanky women. My friend didn't like that she was complicit in helping The Boss with his extramarital affairs, but she justified it as her job.

Predictably, The Wife also eventually found out about the multiple affairs. The Boss begged her for forgiveness and agreed to go to marital counseling. In the process, The Boss apparently told The Wife that my friend was the one who facilitated The Boss' affairs. The Wife demanded that my friend be fired and The Boss agreed. My friend was an at-will employee and was terminated after a couple of negative performance reviews. (Apparently, The Boss was savvy enough to use his own personal funds and not the company funds for his trysts. The Boss purportedly got a slap on the wrist but is still a "star" at the company.)

I don't blame my friend for what she did at her job. Some may say she deserved to get fired for doing something she knew was immoral. But how many of us really have the courage of our convictions to immediately quit a job when our boss asks us to do something immoral, if not illegal? Had she not, she probably would've been fired rather quickly for insubordination.

But I do blame my friend for staying at her job as long as she did, not because she was doing something immoral, but because she should've known she would've eventually been fired anyways. It happened to John Edwards' top aide and I'm sure some heads will roll at Camp Tiger.

I'm not sure there's a lesson to learned here but I know I'll immediately look for a new job the moment my job description includes "extramarital affair coordinator."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Are You Sure FICO isn't spelled FYCO?

I think the acronym for FICO should be changed to FYCO, because it sure seems to be sending a clear message that it doesn't think much about me.

(Before I go on my tirade, I bought my FYCO score on with a 30% off coupon, promotion code: SURVEY30. If any of you are looking to get your scores, hope this code works for you as well.)

After my self-congratulatory post last Friday about paying off my cc debt, I admit I was feeling mighty smug that my FYCO score would be darn awesome. (After all, my CreditKarma score is 801!) But instead, I got a cold splash of reality last Friday when I learned my new FYCO score is:

The last time I got my FYCO score in May, it was 723.

Granted, the last FYCO score was based on Equifax's data and this credit score is based on TransUnion's data. But the data is pretty consistent between the two. You could also argue that the difference between 719 and 723 is de minimis, but here are several reasons why I think this whole FYCO scoring system is bogus:

1.) Paying Off My Huge Revolving Credit Card Debt Did Bupkis
One of the negative issues in May was that I was using too much (i.e., 18%) of my available credit limit. I didn't disagree with this negative mark since I had over $11k+ in credit card debt at the time. But as you know, I paid that debt off in October and am now only using 2% of my available credit limit.

Considering the fact that FYCO claims "usage ratio" plays a big factor in its secretive scoring formula, paying off a huge cc debt didn't do me much good. Do you want to know what FYCO is nit-picking about now?

I allegedly have too many accounts (11) with balances. First off, 6 of the 11 accounts are my student loans. The remaining 5 accounts only have balances between $26 to $1,613, which I already paid off in full this month.

In case you were wondering why I have 5 accounts with balances, it's because I'm splitting my cc usage over multiple cards so that I don't get dinged with "inactive" penalties like fees, reduced credit limit or outright cancellation by the cc companies.

Bottomline - - If I don't use my cards, I get penalized with fees and reduced limits by the cc companies, but if I use my cards responsibly, FYCO beats me up for it. Lovely!

2.) FYCO's Infernal (and Eternal) Scarlett Letter
I was always under the belief that a bad credit rating doesn't stick around forever. I believed that negative information (such as late payments) would fall off 7 years from the date the payment was late. Boy was I wrong! Apparently, FYCO still takes that information into consideration. For example:

TransUnion's data on one of my account indicates:

Seven year payment history

30 days late 0 times
60 days late 0 times
90+ days late 0 times

But guess what? It also says:

Worst Delinquency

90 days past due
The Worst Delinquency reports the worst missed payment status that has been documented on this account. Your FICO® score evaluates how recently that missed payment occurred and in general, the more recent, the more impact it has on your score. However, the fact that it occurred is still predictive of future payment risk and could be considered by your FICO® score.

I guess my late payment history WILL haunt me forever and ever. It reminds me of this tasteless joke:
This Scottish farmer walks into the neighborhood pub, and orders a whiskey.

"Ye see that fence over there?" he says to the bartender. "Ah built it with me own two hands! Dug up the holes with me shovel, chopped doon the trees for the posts by me ownself, laid every last rail! But do they call me 'McGregor the Fence-Builder?' No..."

He gulps down the whiskey and orders another. "Ye see that pier on the loch?" He continues, "Ah built it me ownself, too. Swam oot into the loch to lay the foondations, laid doon every single board! But do they call me 'McGregor the Pier-Builder?' No."

"But ye #$&! just ONE lousy sheep ..."

3.) FYCO Simulator is a Joke
Here's a joke: FYCO's simulator claims I can dramatically improve my score to 779 to 819 if I pay off 90% to 100% of my credit card balances! Uhhhhh... Yeah, sure.

Considering that my elimination of $11k in cc debt didn't do me much good, I doubt paying off my current credit card balances of <$2,000 in full every month will dramatically increase my score by about 60 to 100 points. Yeeeahhhhh....

And here's another sick joke: Back in May, FYCO's simulator predicted my score would increase to 723-763 if I paid off my $11k+ credit card debt within 6 months. Ummmm.... it's been 6 months and I paid off that debt. But my FYCO score did a backslide instead. What gives?

I am now pretty discouraged that I will forever have to live with a "below average" credit score. Perhaps I should rename this blog to "Hester Prynne's PF Blog"...

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Credit Card Pay Off Odyssey

After I paid off my credit card debt in October, one commenter asked whether I had any tips on paying off my $30k+ credit card debt. I think everybody’s circumstances are unique, so I’m not sure whether my experience will be useful to anyone. But here’s a recap of my experience:

funny pictures of dogs with captions

1. Created A Budget and Monitored My Spending

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I’m not going to elaborate why or how I created a budget since the PF blogosphere is replete with articles about the beauty of the budget.

My only advice is, don’t try to “wing it.” I tried and was short on funds every month. I now know that I need to know how much I could afford to spend every month AND also be vigilant about my spending. Just paying attention to one or the other never worked.

2. Liquidated My Assets to Pay-Down Debt Immediately
I discovered, during the course of creating my budget, that my monthly expenses exceeded my monthly income. Quelle fromage! (Or was it quelle horreur?) Anyhow, I knew that I needed to pay down my debts significantly to bring it under control.

I initially looked around my apartment to see if I had stuff to sell on eBay or Craig’s List. But I was mortified to discover that I only had cr&p. Serious cr&p. (Makes me wonder - - how could I have been $30k+ in cc debt and have nothing to show for it?)

But… despite my irresponsible spending, I fortunately did some things right. I regularly contributed money into my Roth IRA and I participated in my company’s ESOP program. This allowed me to liquidate $17,000 of my assets (i.e., $1,400 out of my savings, $6,300 of my after-tax contributions to my Roth IRA and $9,300 of company stock) to immediately pay-down my debts.

This was one of the scariest things I did, since it wiped me out financially and emotionally. But…. it did cut my credit card debt by half.

3. Increased My Take-Home Pay
I didn’t say I increased my income since I failed at those attempts. I asked my boss for a merit raise and I got laughed at. I tried getting a second job, but dropped out after a miserable month. (I now know I’m the world’s worst telemarketer.)

Instead of increasing my income, I decided to increase my cashflow. I increased my take-home pay by temporarily halting all contributions to savings, including my 401k. After setting aside some of the increased take-home pay for taxes, I dedicated the rest to paying down debt.

I probably did this for about 5 to 7 months until my monthly expenses finally were less than my take-home pay. At that point, I resumed my regular 401k contributions.

4. Confessed to My Friends and Family
One of the reasons why I kept falling off the financial wagon was because I tried to create the façade of being financially successful. Whenever my budget wouldn't allow me to go out (e.g. shopping, taking vacations and eating out) with my friends and family, I made excuses. I eventually got burnt out by all the lies.

I finally confessed to my friends and family about my crushing debt. Many were surprised, but supportive. They considered my new-found frugality “responsible” vs. “miserly.” I also discovered that other people were buried with debt too. I’d like to think that I inspired some of my friends to change their spend thrifty ways.

5. Snowballed My Debts
I just discovered that outside of the PF blogosphere, most people will suppress a smirk when I say, “You should try snowballing. It's great!”

Ahem. I know there’s a big debate as to which method of debt repayment is the best - - Pay off the debt with the highest interest first or pay off the debt with the lowest balance?

Dave Ramsey says you should pay off your smallest debt first because it will give you momentum and motivation to tackle your remaining debts. Feh. I say you should do this because once your first debt is tackled, it gives you some “breathing room.” When you eliminate one debt, you have the option to ease up on the stringent budget you initially set up for yourself.

Yeah, yeah. I know my budget shouldn’t change since I’m supposed to apply my extinguished debt payments into the next debt. But I think rewarding myself with a little bit after each extinguished debt will keep me motivated to soldier on.

For example, now that I’ve freed up my car loan and credit card payments, I technically have $1,558 that I could apply towards my private student loans. But I’ve decided to reward myself $80/month out of that sum with a monthly massage.

I know, I know – this will extend my pay off date. But do you know by how much? Only 2 months. Feh. I’ll enjoy my monthly massages, thank you very much.

6. I Arbitraged My Credit Card Debt
It’s a long story, but I thought I had a long time to pay off my credit card debt because Chase promised me a 5.99% APR for the life-of-the-loan. But, like many other credit card companies, Chase reneged and did all sorts of nasty things. Out of necessity and frustration, I transferred my credit card debt to a 0% APR card that was good for 8 months. I paid a 3% transfer fee for the favor, but it was worth the cost.

I paid the minimum due amount each month and “paid” additional amounts into my high interest bearing savings account. In order to ensure that I would have enough funds to pay off the credit card before the 0% promotional rate expired, I sold some company stock again. When the promotional rate expired, I withdrew the extra money from my savings account and paid off the balance.


There’s no two ways about it when paying off debt. You gotta suck it up, make sacrifices and pay, pay, pay. It’s always the hardest when you first start. But the initial hardship eventually wears off and you get used to your new budget and financially responsible lifestyle.

By the way, it took me over 4 years to pay off $30,000 in credit card debt. It's easy to get discouraged every time you come across a set-back, but you just have to keep plowing forward.

I can almost see the end of my debt payment odyssey, but it won’t be any time soon (ETA 4 years). I know that I still have a long ways to go and the hardest challenges may still lie ahead. But I know I’ll fight like hell before I let myself fall back to where I was when I started this odyssey.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do I Need to Give Gifts to All of My "Assistants"?

Blogger Dog Ate My Finance's recent post about gift giving at the office reminded me that I probably need to get gifts for the admin staff.

song chart memes

Here's the conundrum I face and I'd appreciate your opinion. I work in a VERY small regional office and my employer laid off all admin staff in our office last year. Our office now shares one temp to do clerical stuff like make copies, scanning, filing, mailing, etc. The more technical stuff is spread amongst 6 different people in our home office. Some do more work than others, just based upon what they were assigned to do.

Do I need to get a gift for the temp + all 6 admin staff members? If so, should they all get the same thing? Should the few people who do more stuff for me get more? Or do you think I should just send one big gift basket for the admin staff in the home office to share? What do you think is the appropriate dollar figure for these gifts?

Thanks for your input!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spoiled by American Retailers

As an American consumer, I am spoiled by the "good will" price guarantees of retailers. I recently bought a gold hoop earring from Jewelry TV for $79.99. Less than 2 weeks later, I discovered that the earrings were being sold for $59.99. Jewelry TV promptly gave me a refund for $20 after I whined.

do you has a receipt?

I've now come to expect retailers to give me refunds if the price of the merchandise goes down within a reasonable amount of time after purchase, which is usually 30 days. But how about 40 days? 45 days?

As I previously reported, I bought a Michael Kors trenchcoat at Nordstrom for $148. I just learned from my sister that my trenchcoat has been discounted to $98. Ouch.

It's been about 46 days since I bought the jacket. I was considering going back to Nordstrom to see whether I could get the $50 difference reimbursed. But it made me wonder -- why do I think I'm entitled to such a refund? I can't think of any other business transaction in which the other party would ever consider reimbursing me for the difference in a subsequent price drop. A car dealer wouldn't. I can't cry for a refund in a stock purchase that goes south. And there are certainly many homeowners who're wishing they could un-do their sales transactions during the bubble.

I've decided not to ask for the refund on my jacket. I'm pretty sure that Nordstrom would've given me a refund, or atleast a store credit, considering how service oriented they are. But the fact of the matter is, I was willing to pay full, retail price since I rarely find clothes in my size in the "sales" racks. The $50, in my mind, was a premium I paid to ensure I would have a jacket that fits.

Would you seek a refund in this situation?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nobody Should Ever Wish On Their Deathbead That They Spent More Time At Work

A short while back, J. Money posted a cute story about an American Businessman's enlightenment about the balance between work and personal life.

An Anonymous commenter posted: "It seems like the old myth that no one on their death bed ever wished they'd spent more time at the office. The sad truth is that millions have reached the end of their life, locked away in some Dickensian nursing home, thinking to themselves - 'Hum, I really wish I would have tried harder to make something of myself.'"

Interesting, since I've come to the opposite conclusion, especially from my dealings with my dad.

My dad's an "old-school" man, stuck in the custom and culture of the old country. He was never active in my life, other than to provide (i.e. pay for) shelter, food, education and other necessities. When I was an infant, he rarely (if ever) changed my diapers or fed me. When I was a child, he never played with me or took interest in my personal life. I doubt he was ever able to name any of my teachers or my friends. He delegated my entire upbringing to my mom.

Anyhow, my dad was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment several years ago and my parents are emotionally, if not geographically, estranged from each other. Notwithstanding the emotional alienation, my mother still performs basic caregiving functions for my dad such as preparing meals, laundering and cleaning. As a result, mother is suffering from caretaker fatigue and resents my father.

I get stressed and depressed when my dad is around too. My dad claims he is starving for conversation. Yet I have nothing to say to him and he has nothing to say to me, other than to badmouth my mother. Because of his memory impairment, he can't converse about any current events. Even if I blather about nonsense to kill the awkward silence, he doesn't respond with anything meaningful to move the conversation further.

Truth be told, I don't really like spending much time with my dad. I have nothing in common with this man and never did. And since he didn't make any effort to spend any meaningful time with me during my youth, we really can't reminisce about the past either.

Don't get me wrong - - I am grateful to my dad. He gave me life and he supported me. That's why I've resigned myself to care for him when neither he nor my mom can care for himself. I hate to admit this, but he is a burden that I am not wholeheartedly eager to take on.

My father will likely die with no one, not even his daughter, truly missing him. (I am grateful that he is oblivious to this fact.) His monetary support has bought my gratitude, but not my affection or love. I think in the end, I don't think anyone ever thinks about whether they should've spent more time in the office. But I think some may wish they invested more time and effort in their relationships, since no one wants to die unloved.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

November 2009 Progress Report

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. I spent Thanksgiving with my family and it was a bit stressful. My dad's dementia and memory loss is clearly getting worse. But I had great meals and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. My net worth is up this month too so I guess I really can't complain about my November this year. :-D


Starting Debt (6/08)

Last MonthThis MonthDIFFERENCE
Private SL$49,528.99$43,926.89$43,557.31$(369.58)
Fed'l SL$55,852.68$53,828.16$53,717.32$(110.84)
Car Loan

November was a ho-hum month in terms of debt reduction. With my cc paid off, I could've started snowballing my remaining debt, but I decided to take a break. So I guess November was a spendy month. Either way, my debt's still down and I consider that a "win."





The savings that is reflected here is my "emergency fund" that I am not supposed to touch unless there is an absolute true emergency. I try to save about $100/month or so into my EF.


I have an additional $5,000.00 or so set aside for "earmarked" spending for such things as car maintenance, Christmas, etc. I don't report my earmarks since it's not a true measure of savings because I intend to spend it. I also hate seeing my numbers go down.

But since someone once asked about the specifics, I'll report it this month. My accounting is a bit insane and some of my categories may not make much sense. (Oh, who am I kidding? It's ginormously crazy.) But here goes:

Survey Snowflake1$82.00
Mom and Dad (emergency, gifts, etc.)$525.00
Car Fund (registration, maintenance)
Christmas Fund$833.00
2009 Tax$204.00
Insurance and COLA$942.00
Extra Paycheck2$976.00
CD Ladder3

1 -- I am snowflaking the money I get from completing online surveys. Once I hit $100, I think I will start converting these funds into either my EF or other investments like I-Bonds.
2 -- 2 months out of the year, I receive 3 paychecks. I deposit the 3rd paycheck into my savings and distribute 1/6 to myself every month to pay bills. I eventually hope to be able to bank my entire 3rd paycheck without having to spend it.
3 -- My CD Ladder and Roth funds are not "spending items" per se. I created these earmarks to see if I can get into the habit of saving for these items regularly. I was hoping to have $1,000 each in these funds, but as you can see, I'm way short.



I guess the market was really good in November. The big spike in my numbers appear to be because of my 401k. It's incredible to think that my networth was -$21,975.91 just a year ago. In just one year, my net worth increased by $69,334.18! But... I realize that this number is exaggerated because of the market crash last year. My 401k is still down -7.18% from 12/31/08. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to start focusing on my debt reduction again.

The breakdown and the history of my net worth can be seen here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Annoying Expense

No, I'm not talking about car repairs or Swiffer refills. I'm talking about having to replace my "fat" (not phat) jeans. My one and only pair of jeans that fit me, has given up its ghost. I now need to replace it.

About a couple of years ago, I was invited to an old college friend's wedding. He happens to be a childhood buddy of my ex, so I knew the ex would be at the wedding. I dreaded seeing my ex, not because we had a horrible break-up, but because I had gained 25 lbs since our break-up.

Now mind you, I'm not fat. I'm relatively slender, compared to the average American woman. I was also extremely skinny while I was dating my ex during college (approx. 95 lbs).

Although I didn't have any residual feelings for my ex, my vanity couldn't allow him to see me 25 lbs heavier. I started exercising regularly and went on a strict diet. I managed to bring my weight down by 15 lbs. I was pretty happy being 105 lbs and I thought I looked pretty good! I was pretty certain that I could maintain this weight and got rid of a lot of my "fat" clothes.

As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men. Now that the wedding has come and gone, I lost motivation to keep exercising. (See the "exercise jar" on the right sidebar?) I've also started "emotional eating". And guess what? I'm back to my pre-wedding weight. **Sigh**

I guess I could try to squeeze myself into my "skinny" jeans. But I'm afraid of creating an unsightly muffin top. Or worse yet, a cracked muffin top.

I guess I have 2 options: (1) buy a replacement "fat" jeans, or, (2) lose weight.

I'm just not sure which route to take...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I better watch out, I better not cry, I better not pout cuz I'm telling you why - - my crazy family's coming to town. :-D

Have a Happy Thanksgiving y'all!

funny pictures

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Short-Term, "Free Spending" Days Are Coming To An End...

I started my debt snowball plan some time in July or August last year. At the time, my car loan had a balance of $8,500.50 and my credit card had a balance of $12,943.59. I paid off my car loan in February and I paid off my credit card debt in October.

I have to admit, it was a freakin' struggle to pay off $21,444.09 + interest in a little over a year! During that time, I had to deal with my jealousy /inferiority demon when I was with my financially better-off friends. I didn't have any money to spend to go out with my friends since my food + entertainment budget was $8.70/day. This budget was driving me nuts since I'm a total junk food junkie and I love eating out. But there was no other way I could afford paying $788/month in car payments and $265/month in cc payments in addition to $865/month in student loan payments.

I know the debt snowball plan required me to immediately roll my now extinguished car and cc payments into my next smallest debt, which is my private student loans (current balance ~ $44,700). But I needed to take a breather. I gave myself until the end of the year to spend $1,053/month however I saw fit.

I'm not proud, but I truly did spend every penny of the extra $1,053/month since October. What did I spend it on?

1.) Side trips to Washington D.C. and Chicago. (Note: I took the trip in September but I had to pay the piper, i.e. my cc, in October.)

2.) Eating out whenever I felt like it.(Which was almost always.) I normally don't dine out at chi-chi restaurants. I heart my local ethnic hole-in-the wall eateries. But I do like to splurge on a meal every so often. One of my most memorable meals in the past couple of months (other than the dine-n-dash restaurant) was at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill in Chicago. Since Frontera doesn't take reservations, my sister and I waited nearly 3 hours to get a table. We had hibiscus martinis and shared a Tostada de Atun y Erizo at the bar. The tostada was absolutely mind blowing! But by the time we got sat, we were tired and exhausted. I ordered a watermelon agua fresca, pork tamale, goat enchilada and flan. The food was excellent, as you would expect. But I think I would've enjoyed the meal more had I not had to stand around for 3 hours, elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, waiting for a table.

Is any meal worth a 3 hour wait? No. Next time, I'll dine at Topolobampo, the sister restaurant next door that does take reservations.

3.) White Gold (14kt) and Yellow Gold (10 kt) Hoop Earrings for about $80/each. I bought white/yellow gold plated earrings at Macy's last year for about $20/each. I love those earrings but unfortunately, the plating on the earrings either discolored or flaked off. I decided to replace them with something more substantial. I'm happy I did (despite the fact that the metal in the yellow gold earring is excessively malleable).

4.) Casual lounge wear: My mother often bemoans the fact that I dress like a hobo at home. (Being able to dress like a hobo without recrimination should be one of the benefits of being single!) My "fanciest" lounge wears date back to 2003. (Ha ha.) I didn't go too crazy with this purchase, though, since I got a couple of track suits from Old Navy.

5.) Michael Kors black trench coat: I totally splurged on this one at Nordies - - $148. But it's totally worth it because it's soooo cute. (And we all know that "cuteness" justifies any expense. Not!) I'll probably wear it over the next decade, so I'm not going to kick myself for this.

6.) New PJs, bras, panties and other misc. clothing

7.) Snuggie! ($19.99 at Costco.) Laugh all you want. I suffered a really bad case of the flu and bronchitis this year. While I was congested, I had to sleep upright and my blankets always fell off my shoulders. I thought to myself, I could really use a Snuggie. Although I bought it after I recovered from the flu, I still love my Snuggie.


I'm sure there were more stuff I bought or consumed that belonged in the "want" and not "need" category. But these were the highlights.

I enjoyed the past couple of months of hedonistic spending. But it's now time to tighten the belt. I re-did my budget and I'm going to start paying $1,478/month towards my private student loans in January. That means I have to go back to living on a budget in December. *Sigh*. But at least I'm going to treat myself to a monthly massage ($59 + $20 tip) from now on. :-D

I am so going on a spending binge once this frickin' private student loan is paid off! (I'm estimating 30 months or so.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Segregated My Emergency Cash and Credit Card

My recent "almost" dine-n-dash experience made me wonder whether I need to keep an emergency credit card and a stash of cash outside of my wallet.

Which brings me to the topic of what's IN my wallet?

$92 in cash...

ATM cards, 7 credit cards, Driver's License, Telephone Card, Costco card, Supermarket Club/Store Club cards, Library Cards, Gift Cards (McD's and Coffee Bean).

Wow. I didn't realize my wallet has more plastic than a Playboy centerfold! :-P

With respect to my cash, I'm trying to take the advice of the late Dr. Randy Pausch, who gave one of the most inspirational lectures at Carnegie Mellon University. In his book, The Last Lecture, Dr. Pausch advised his kids to carry $200 in cash. It's enough to cover most emergencies and not enough to devastate financially if lost or stolen. I generally set aside $20 to use, and hide the remainder. I try to keep different denominations of cash (since it doesn't help to have a Benjamin when you need to tip someone) and I'm slowly working my way up to the $200 figure.

I've been pretty good about not spending my cash, since I purchase most of my stuff with a rewards credit card. But in the past, I used to origami my cash as a deterrent to spending. Ha ha.

Looking at all of my credit cards, it's no wonder I was so up to my eyeballs in credit card debt until only a couple of months ago. (I thankfully no longer carry a balance from month-to-month.) Most of my credit cards are "dormant." I try to use each of my Mastercards at least once a month to pay for stuff like my cell phone, cable and insurance bills. My department store cards may get used once or twice a year. (But I don't really care about my department store cards since I have such a low limit on those cards anyways.)

I've decided it's probably a good idea to keep my emergency stash of cash and credit card away from my wallet. I've put $70 of emergency cash and one "dormant" cc into a small coin purse. I've also included my most recently expired driver's license, just in case. It's expired but it's better than nothing when you don't have your wallet, right?

Monday, November 23, 2009

I (Kind'a) Dine 'N' Dashed Last Night

I never really understood the term "food porn" until yesterday evening. After watching a marathon of Top Chef on Bravo, my tastebuds were so worked up, I craved something different and unusual. I decided to be adventurous and drove 20+ miles (one-way), to dine at Los Arcos, an authentic Mexican restaurant near the Mexican border.

Okay, okay. So Mexican food in Southern California isn't quite exotic, but it was an interesting experience. For starters, I noticed that this restaurant catered primarily to well-to-do Mexican expats. (In recent years, many of the social elites from Tijuana have relocated to Chula Vista, to escape the gang violence plaguing most of Mexico.) As if to reinforce their elite status, the male patrons all had arm-candy trophy wives and girlfriends who looked like Sofia Vergara (from ABC comedy, Modern Family).

Since this was a spur-of-the-moment thing, I didn't bother to invite anyone to join me. I started my meal with a mango margarita and a to-die-for shrimp ceviche tostada. For my entree, I ordered Puerto Nuevo-style lobsters. Unlike Maine lobsters, Puerto Nuevo-style langostas are Pacific spiney lobsters that have no claws. The lobsters are pan-fried in lard and served with drawn butter, rice and beans and homemade tortillas.

Although I was really fully, I couldn't leave without trying one of my favorite desserts -- Pastel de Tres Leches.

The food and service was excellent at Los Arcos. As I reached into my purse to grab my wallet, I made the most horrific discovery. I forgot my wallet at home. *CRAAAAAAP!!*

I asked to speak to the owner/manager. I sheepishly told Cesar, the owner, that I forgot my wallet at home. I asked if I could write him a check as collateral while I went home to retrieve my wallet. Cesar told me he trusted me and that he would wait for me to get my wallet.

Although I couldn't believe how trusting Cesar was, I was immensely grateful. I drove home feverishly, found my wallet and returned to the restaurant. Cesar looked relieved to see me since it took over 40 minutes to get my wallet and back. (I don't think he realized how far I lived from the restaurant.) My total bill came out to a little over $62. I left a $40 tip (~65%) as a sign of gratitude.

I guess this is my first (and hopefully last) dine-and-dash experience. I am so relieved that the restaurant didn't call the cops on me. This is one thing I can truly be grateful for this Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Itty Bitty *censored* Committee Sticker Shock

I have a confession - - I currently wear ratty, daily-wear plain bras I bought from Costco several years ago. In other words, I haven't gone bra shopping in ages.

To those who wonder how I can be wearing bras that are so old, let me just say, my itty bitty titty committee don't need much support.

(Compare and contrast visual: To my right is Vegas Showgirl, Shannon O'Keefe from the defunct Harrah's Show, Skintight.)

In fact, I don't even wear bras during the weekends. (Humming Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" as I type this...)

And since my dating life is either non-existent or disastrous, I've stopped buying fancy-shmancy lacy bras to entice men. You know the ones I'm talking about:

$55 - $214/bra? Are you kidding me? I wouldn't pay that kind of price unless I knew I was hooking up with:

Jon Hamm of Mad Men


Matt Bomer of White Collar. Meeeeeowwwwww!

I prefer my bras plain and seamless.

And when I need to fill out my blouse, I also need my boulder-holders to be sturdy enough to support silicone inserts that look like raw chicken breasts. (In case you didn't know, these stuffers are pretty darn heavy.)

Anyhoo, I went back to Costco and was disappointed that the Maidenform 3-packs I used to buy now only come 2-in-a-pack. If that wasn't bad enough, they've stopped selling A-cups. The smallest size offered is now a 34-B. Where's the love for mosquito-bite girls, Costco?

Dejected, I decided to shop at Macy's One-Day Sale last week where they had a Buy-2-Get-2-Free Deal on Warner and Maidenform bras. I also had a 20% off coupon. *Score!* I mentally calculated that I could get four (4) bras for about $34.80 = $20/bra x 2 x 80% x 1.0875 (tax).

But b-o-o-o-y, was I off on the price. Regularly priced bras now cost $31??? Are you freakin' kidding me? Anyhoo, my four bras cost me $53.94 = $31/bar x 2 x 80% x 1.0875 (tax), or $13.49/bra.

I realize I could get cheaper bras from Wal-mart or even Target, but I hate shopping for underwear there. I have to dig through disorganized racks only to discover they don't have my size. I'm also afraid to come face-to-face with back-boobs that are bigger than most breasts:

Credit (or Dis-credit?): People of Walmart

No thanks. I'll pay a premium for better service and neater displays.

My itty-bitty-titty-committee wants to know: How often do you replace your bras? And how much do you spend?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

United Did Right By Me

I recently emailed United Airlines to complain about an overcharge for an in-flight meal I didn't purchase. What I didn't mention in my prior post was that I also complained about the malfunctioning sound system on my flight. (I had to watch Julie & Julia in Español.)

I'm actually surprised that I got a response from United's customer service department.

What's interesting is that United appeared more concerned about the malfunctioning sound system than the overcharge. United's customer service rep started off his email with:
"We realize that any type of malfunction can impact your perception of our overall operation. Please know that we place a great deal of emphasis on proper maintenance of all equipment in our cabins. In fact, our maintenance division has recently completed an audit of each fleet type and taken inventory of problems. Based on that we have established a program to check the cabins of each aircraft every 400 to 1,000 flight hours. We will be identifying and repairing seats, carpets, galley equipment, lights and audio and video equipment. In addition, another maintenance team is concentrating on cleaning methods, audio and video functionality and improved cabin condition monitoring. Still, your disappointment with your flight is understandable, and I will give your constructive feedback to our maintenance and onboard management because we are committed to providing you a positive in-flight experience."

As a good will gesture, United gave me a $100 travel voucher for future travel. The customer service rep also indicated that United will be issuing me a check for $9 to reimburse me for the overcharge. Hurray!

I cautioned that we should all check our receipts at the time of purchase. But it always helps to voice our complaints. If the company values your business, they will do you right. Even if it's an airline.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Always, Always Check Your Receipt

I've been on a business trip to the Big Easy for the past couple of days. I ate a huge Po-Boy sandwich for lunch, so I wasn't hungry before my return flight. But, of course, the moment I boarded the plane, my stomach started to rumble. Because airline food look less appetizing than the plastic food displays at family restaurants in Japan, I never order them.

But last night, I decided to buy an Antipasto meal ($7) on my United flight. (How bad could salami, cheese and breadsticks be?) Since United no longer accepts cash for in-cabin purchases, I used my credit card to purchase the item. The cabin was dark and I was tired, so I grabbed the receipt and scarfed down the "meal."

When I got off the plane, I finally looked at my receipt. And there it was -- I also got charged for a Thai Chicken Wrap ($9) that I didn't purchase. Although I was ticked off with United about this overcharge, I was more p.o.'d with myself for not checking my receipt while I was on board.

When I got home (after midnight, FYI), I fired up my computer and emailed a complaint to United. Surely if they took an inventory of their food supply for that flight, they must find that they overcharged me, right? I demanded a refund.

I know airlines are nickel-and-diming its passengers for an extra buck, but I hope they're not trying to make an extra buck by stealing. We'll see if United does me right on this. I got an automated response that they will respond within 5 business days. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Greedy Daughter Post -- Cont'd

In my prior post, I wrote, "I told my sister that ... if she [buys a rental property and rents to our parents], SHE will have to be the one to take care of our parents when there's an emergency. I should not be looked upon to care for my parents, especially if I'm not getting any money from parents." Some of you thought this was callous and cold, but also gave me the benefit of the doubt. So I guess some background information is in order.

My sister gets transferred around the country quite frequently by her employer. And by the nature of the work she does, she rarely gets to live in big cities. She often has to live in the ex-burbs (i.e., the sticks) where the closest airport may be about a 30 to 50 mile drive away. Over the past 10 years, she's lived in Maryland, Washington, Alabama and Texas. She is now moving to Arizona. I, on the other hand, have stayed put in San Diego for the past 9 years.

My sister has a strong personality and, in my opinion, is often not very empathetic. In some ways, she may just be more honest and upfront about airing her frustrations about our parents to their face than I. (I just rant and rave about them on my blog behind their backs. So perhaps I'm just two-faced.) My mom once confided in me that she often finds being alone with my sister a bit "unpleasant."

My parents have really never had any real emergencies in the past that required any significant assistance from my sister or me. But I know that my parents are now at an age where emergencies will arise, whether it's health related or financial. I also know that I'll probably be the one that gets the first call for assistance. Will I ever tell my parents to take a hike if they pay rent to my sister? Of course not.

I guess I made the comment to put my sister on notice that she can't use distance or inconvenience as an excuse to lay the lion's share of my parent's care on me. I especially feel this is true if her mortgage is going to be subsidized by our parents.

But some of the comments I received were enlightening. It never occurred to me that the landlord-renter relationship may not be as easy as I think it is. This would especially be true if my parents defaulted on their rent. (After all, they almost stiffed me in the past during financially tough times.) I guess I could also see friction arising if there are any disagreements about maintenance and upkeep of the property.

Bottomline is, family is family and fighting over money is really self-defeating and pointless.

Upon further reflection, I guess this was just a tangential rant about a more deep-seated fear of mine - - when and how much will I have to care for my parents in their old age?