Saturday, January 31, 2009

Go Cardinals!

Eh. It's not that I really care. I'm only rooting for the Cardinals since I've been to Arizona (Phoenix, Tucson, Sedona and Grand Canyon) but I've never been to Pittsburgh. (One day I will visit the Steel City and eat a Primanti Brothers sandwich, though!)

And I gotta root for the underdogs. I mean, Arizona's Senator John McCain lost the Presidential election, and so far, most prognosticators from Madden NFL '09 and manatees (yes, you read right, manatees), have picked the Steelers to win the Big Game.

But the most important reason why I'm rooting for the Cardinals is due to the Super Bowl Indicator.

Here’s how it works: If the team that wins has roots reaching back to the original National Football League, the stock market will have a good year. But if the victor was ever a member of the rival American Football League, expect the Dow to get sacked.


If either team has an edge, though, it would be the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals are the oldest professional football franchise in the history of the game. They were originally founded in 1898 as the Chicago Cardinals and joined the American Professional Football Association in 1920. Two years later, the APFA morphed into the National Football League, with the Cardinals as a charter member.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, didn’t join the NFL until 1933.
Of course, the Giants winning last year didn't help the stock market at all. (But I think that's because Eli Manning dissed the Chargers to play for the Giants. Total bad juju!)

Anyhow, I digress. GOOOOOOO CARDINALS!!!!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Would You Omit Good Information From Your Resumé ?

A co-worker and I were discussing our job prospects after we get laid off from our current employer. We discussed one local major employer who is still hiring, but at very entry level positions in our industry. My co-worker felt that the job would be "beneath" him and dismissed it as an option. I indicated that as a "bridge" job, I would definitely consider it since I can get good health care and retirement benefits.

My co-worker suggested that when I'm applying for these entry-level jobs, I omit some of my education and experience in my resumé. He indicated, "Who cares that you don't list your J.D. on your resumé for a job like that?"

You hear about people getting in trouble for "padding" their resumé, but I've never heard of employers getting upset over a "de-padded" resumé.

That being said, I personally feel uncomfortable de-padding my resumé since I think the employer is entitled to know whether I consider the employment as a "bridge" job versus a career. In addition, in this day and age of LinkedIn and other employment verification sources, the prospective employer will find out and this may affect my credibility.

On the other hand, if I'm desperate, I may change my mind. I may do so just to get my foot in the door.

What is your opinion of this?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Have A New Frenemy

I first heard the word "frenemy" in the movie, Mean Girls. (Lindsay Lohan’s 2nd best movie after The Parent Trap, IMHO.) And today, I just discovered that I have a frenemy in BofA.

As you know, I gave Chase the heave-ho earlier this month when it increased my minimum monthly payments from 2% to 5% of the balance and started charging me a $10/month service charge. [Chase reminds me of my passive-aggressive ex-boyfriend who was too wimpy to dump me, but instead made my life so miserable that I had to leave. Come to think of it, that’s MY break-up M.O. too! I guess what goes around, comes around, eh?]

Anyhow, as a result, I transferred my cc balance of $11,938.91 to BofA, who offered me a 0% APR until October. They of course charged me a hefty 3% transfer fee of $358.17, but at least they were upfront about it. And truth be told, I also actually like BofA, since that's where I keep my primary checking account and they provide a good, reliable service. Plus, they also gave me a couple of free vinyl check covers. (If you haven't noticed, it doesn't take much to make me happy.)

I finally got my BofA credit card bill and was a bit taken aback. The transferred amount and the transfer fee were correct. But unlike the standard minimum monthly payment that most credit card companies require (i.e., 2% of the balance), BofA is only requiring 1%. Hmmmm…. Why could that be?

Theory #1: Could it be that BofA isn’t interested in collecting my money?
Naaaah. That would mean hell froze over.

Theory #2: Could it be that BofA is being charitable?
Nyet. That would mean that pigs are flying.

Theory #3: Could it be that BofA is trying to "run out the clock" on the 0% offer?
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!!

Et tu, BofA?

Chase couldn’t wait to chase me out (no pun intended). In contrast, BofA is eager to keep me from paying the balance off in full by October. With "friends" like this, who needs enemies?

Boy... If I wasn’t motivated enough to get rid of my credit card by October, I sure am now!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Paying Myself Insurance Installment Fees

J. Money at Budgets Are $exy wrote an amusing article about how much he pays for auto insurance, which got me thinking about mine.

J wrote that "a co-worker also told [him] that some companies will knock off a few dollars if you pay the entire price up front too! Never came across that... but ... [he's] a big fan of breaking them into monthly payments than paying a huge chunk anyways."

I too was a big fan of monthly installments since that was the only way I could afford my insurance. Heh heh.

The only problem with monthly installments is that my insurance carrier that shall remain nameless (but rhymes with "Ball State"), charges me $3.50/installment for the pleasure. (So I guess J's buddy was right, in a way, about getting a discount for paying the premium all at once.)

Starting this year, I've decided to suck it up, use some of my earmarked savings and just pay the doggone insurance premiums at once. (Actually, I charged it onto my credit card so I can earn cashback rewards. When it comes due, I'll pay it in full out of my earmarked savings.)

I'll then pay myself back from the money I've budgeted every month to pay for insurance. In essence, I'm now paying myself $3.50/installment x 2 (for auto and renter's insurance) per month.

Hot diggity, folks! That's $7.00/month that I'm now paying myself that I used to pay others! I'm suddenly having thoughts of world domination! I'm on my way to becoming a loan shark! Bwaaahahahaha!!!

OK, back to reality. But to give you some perspective, if I put that $7 service fee into my savings every month at 3.5% APR, I'll have nearly $4,000 by the time I turn 65. I'm just imagining what a fabulous retirement dinner that $4,000 will buy me. Bwaaaahahahaha!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Year of the Ox Not Historically A Good Stock Market Year

It was Lunar New Year yesterday and we've officially welcomed the Year of the Ox. I'm not superstitious so I usually don't follow astrology or horoscopes. But according to my favorite stock picking show, Fast Money, the Year of the Ox historically isn't a good year for the stock market.

According to the show, here are the average performance of the S&P 500 in the respective Chinese Zodiac years:


S&P 500 Avg. Performance

























The good news is 2010 will be Year of the Tiger. If historical averages hold true, bull market, here it comes! :-D

Monday, January 26, 2009

Interesting Weekend of Confessing Financial Sins

As a 30-something, spinster cat-lady, my weekends are not what you call exciting. I can't say that my weekend was action-packed, but it certainly was interesting since I engaged in a couple of discussions that could be considered the PF equivalent of the Catholic confession -- stating our sins, stewing in our remorse, and laying out our penance.

Confession #1
It started Friday morning when my BFF called me to complain that she was trying to refinance her 2nd mortgage but was quoted a 7.75% APR. (Her 2nd mortgage is currently in its 5th out of 10 year and is at 7.4% APR.) She was hoping to roll her consumer debts (car loans and credit card debts) into her 2nd mortgage and was disappointed that the lender would not give her a better deal. The lender, however, suggested an adjustable rate 2nd mortgage at around 4.95%. My friend said, "Since you're so smart with money, what do you think I should do?"

I paused to collect my thoughts and I told her, "Listen, a smart woman doesn't get herself into $12,000 of credit card debt like I have. That being said, this is what I think about your situation..."

My advice was that if she can afford the monthly payments of her current 2nd mortgage and her consumer debts, she shouldn't refi, since her total interest payments will more than double. Even if she took the additional tax deductions on the consumer debts into consideration, she would still pay twice as much interest on the refi'd 2nd mortgage.

However, I advised my BFF that if she's looking to reduce her monthly payments because (and only because) she can't afford her current monthly obligations, then she should refinance into a fixed rate 2nd mortgage. But, I cautioned, this only makes sense, if: (1) she pays double the minimum payments on the refinanced 2nd mortgage, (2) the refi'd 2nd mortgage does not have a prepayment penalty and (3) she does not incur any new debts.

After mulling things over, my BFF and her DH concluded that they are not going to refi the 2nd mortgage and that they're going to continue to pay down their debts as they have been. She said that she was looking to refi the 2nd mortgage so that they can reduce their monthly payments to give themselves some "breathing room". But when she saw how much that would increase their interest payments, she no longer wanted to do so.

She said, "We got ourselves into this mess. We're going to dig ourselves out the old fashioned way by tightening our belts. We're not going to take the p*ssy way out."

I couldn't have been more proud of my BFF. She and I entered into a pact that we're NOT going to incur any new debts and we're going to "race" our debt down.

Lately, people have been saying that the "Keeping Up With the Joneses" mentality got people into debt. But I'm starting to think the same mentality may actually motivate people to accelerate their debt payments.

Confession #2
Later that evening, I told my big sis about how I was thinking about speeding up my car pay off date. She replied, "Oh, that's wonderful! Then you can throw the $788/month car payments towards your student loans."

I guess I paused a little too long because my sister asked, "Right? You don't have any other debt, right?" Long pause and hesitation.

As I previously reported, my family is in the dark regarding my $12,000 credit card debt.

I finally spilled my guts. Actually, it was more of a trickle than a big deluge.

"No, I'm going to roll my car payments into my credit card debt." Which, of course, led her to ask, "Well, with that kind of money, I'm sure you'll pay it off in full the following month!" Another long pause and a sigh of resignation. "No. I've got several months before I can pay off my cc."

My sister quickly calculated that I owed more than $10k. Then came the shame-inducing questions. "How did this happen? How could you let this happen?"

I really didn't feel like explaining to her how I got into this mess. I just said, "Because I was stupid and careless. But don't worry. It's currently at 0% until October and I'm racking my brain to figure out ways to pay it off."

My sister didn't pursue the issue any further but she did sign off in the condescending way only a big sis can -- "Well, you better."

Glad I got that monkey off my back!

Confession #3
As I previously reported, I went to a jewelry party hosted by my friend this past Saturday. My friend told me that the jewerly sales rep is going through a divorce and I suspect that this woman's standard of living will dramatically drop after the divorce. Mostly out of sympathy, I ended up spending $82.00 on a black onyx necklace and a hematite bead earring. I spent $32 above my budget but, heck, I figure I drank enough wine and ate plenty of food at the party to make up for it. :-P

Friday, January 23, 2009

I'm Going to Yet Another "Party"

Have your friends and neighbors started supplementing their income by selling cosmetics or jewelry? I’m noticing that I’m getting more invitations to attend jewelry parties, cookware parties, cosmetic parties lately. (Thank heavens I haven’t been invited to a Botox party yet. The first person to invite me will get plumper lips, compliments of my fist.)

Anyhow, I’m going to attend yet another jewelry party this weekend.

My rule of thumb with these things are: 1.) I will attend once very 6 months per person extending the invitation and 2.) I will usually purchase something moderately priced (i.e., $25-$50), unless I absolutely hate the offered merchandise. (Note: If the fundraising is for my friends or co-worker’s children’s school or education, I’ll usually purchase more frequently.)

I will admit that my motives are not completely altruistic – I attend these things for networking opportunities. But I also do this partly out of fear that my friends will be upset with me unless I purchase something.

Sure, they all say, “Please don’t feel obligated to buy anything.” But do they really mean it? On the flip side, am I entitled to feel resentful for being put in an awkward position of having to buy something I don’t necessarily need or want?

How do you deal with these types of invitations?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Don't Want to Be a PF Biggest Loser

Debt is analogous to weight: It’s quick and easy to pack on, but is excruciatingly slow and difficult to eliminate. Additionally, with temptation abound, sliding from healthy habits is way too easy.

I recently read this article on AOL about the 3rd season Biggest Loser champ, Erik Chopin, who lost 214 lbs only to gain back half of it once the show ended.

Why am I not surprised? I’ve only watched a couple episodes but I recall thinking that the participants' transformations were so unrealistic that they were destined to fail once the show is over. Looks like I was right.

Thusly, I’ve concluded that I don’t want to be the PF equivalent of the “Biggest Loser”. So how can I avoid becoming a PF Biggest Loser?

1. Be Motivated For the Right Reasons
The AOL article states:
Weighing in close to 300 pounds, Chopin says once he stopped getting attention from the show, he fell into depression and stopped exercising.
I suspect Mr. Chopin initially wanted to improve his health, but sometime during filiming, the emotional highs of being a TV celebrity replaced (or surpassed) that motivation. Once that celebrity faded, he lost his way.

In my case, I only seem to be motivated by anger or disappointment rather than an innate desire to improve myself. For example, I wasn’t motivated to improve my pathetic financial state until American Express rejected me for a credit card. And I’ve only recently become motivated to speed up my credit card payments when Chase unilaterally changed the terms of my debt repayment.

A fickle or passing emotion is never a good foundation upon which to establish healthy habits, financial or otherwise. I need to learn to do the right thing for my own sake.

2. Debt Elimination and Weight Loss Are Long Term
On the Oprah Show, Mr. Chopin says, "When you're going on that kind of a journey [on The Biggest Loser], there's a finish line... Beyond the finish line, I'd heard from so many people maintenance is the hardest thing. [I used to think], 'Try losing 200 pounds.' But maintenance really is a lifetime."

Similarly, I think many people implement an unrealistically Spartan and stringent debt elimination regimen that probably can't be sustained for the long term (think Dave Ramsey's "gazelle intensity"). It's easy to slide back to old (bad) habits when you feel deprived during the process.

That's why I think it's more important to develop realistic and moderate plans that can be incorporated into your normal lifestyle. I know I lack "gazelle intensity" but that's okay. I'd rather have a slow, steady plan that I know I'm capable of accomplishing than one that may cause me to regress.

3. Life Happens - Be Prepared to Deal with It
At some point, things happen that are out of our control, causing us to spend/eat more than we planned. Often times, binges come about due to lack of planning and preparation.

A while back, a commenter to one of my posts made the following remark:

“$12,500 in credit card debt is not [Shtinkykat’s] problem nor is the car loan. The problem is [her] $100k student loans. … And btw stop 'saving' and start paying off that … debt. Your savings is pointless if you continue to have a large debt.”

I’ve continued to struggle with whether to stop saving and to dedicate all of my paycheck minus monthly expenses towards eliminating debt.

The commenter definitely makes a good point. For instance, in 2006, I stopped contributing to my 401k while I struggled to get my monthly expenses below my monthly income. As I previously stated, this was the smartest move I made, since I stopped contributing at the height of the stock market bubble. Secondly, I also recognize that paying off debts provide guaranteed returns, as opposed to the stock market, where I have to take risks to get some returns.

But we all know emergencies don't come about neatly one at a time. When you don't have a security net or an emergency fund, it's easy to get right back into debt.

Now that my monthly expenses are within my monthly income, I’ve started contributing to my 401k again and I’ve been putting a little bit of money aside into my savings every month. I may not be eliminating my debt as quickly as the folks on Biggest Loser shed their weight, but I'm not regaining my debt either since I have the fund to pay off most emergencies.

4. Have An Ongoing Support Network
I suspect the biggest problem for the folks on the Biggest Loser after the show ends is that their support group of professional fitness trainers and dieticians disappear. It's important to have an ongoing network of people who will support, encourage and provide guidance and useful tips.

Normally, that support group should be the family. For example, Ambercouric from Becoming Debt Free in 2009 dealt with her husband's pay cut by asking her entire family (including kids) to provide input as to what gets cut from the family budget. By getting her family involved, this becomes a group effort and the entire family is in it together.

For me, the PF blogging community has been my support group. I haven't been able to confess my debts to any of my friends or family members so I air my frustrations and jubilations on my blog. And for that, thank you all. You've been great. With your help, hopefully, I won't be a PF Biggest Loser!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why I Changed My Mind About Going to the Opera

I previously wrote how I wasn't planning to go to the opera this season since tickets were too expensive. I was resigned to satisfy my opera cravings by either borrowing DVDs from the library or watching Lego performances on YouTube. (I was too cheap to even attend the Metropolitan Opera performances at the movie theater.)

(Act 1, Part 1 of Tosca as performed by Legos here.)

But I got a telemarketing call from the San Diego Opera at work yesterday and I got suckered into buying a ticket to see Tosca.

Just kidding. I did buy a ticket, but I didn't get suckered into it.

What concerned me was that the company offered to sell orchestra level seats at a discount. This type of discounting is unheard of with single performance tickets, so alarms immediately rang in my head.

I asked the caller, "Exactly how cr&ppy are your sales this season?" He seemed taken aback and a bit offended by my question. (In hindsight, I guess I could have been more tactful.) He only offered that the ticket sales are slower than what they were a couple of years ago.

I was quite sad, but not surprised, to hear this since several opera companies (including the legendary Metropolitan Opera) are facing financial crises of their own.

I told him that due to my own financial constraints, I won't be able to afford the orchestra seats even at the steeply discounted price, but that I was willing to buy a ticket in the $50 price range.

That gave me the option to buy a $35 nosebleed seat or a $65 slightly less nosebleeding seat. I opted for the $65 ticket.

You might think this was an unnecessary purchase that I can't afford - - and you'd be right. But I'm a true believer in supporting the local art and music community in good times and in bad. In an economic crisis, art and music institutions are usually the first to get their funding cut by government, private donations and other private endowments. With this credit crisis, ticket sales are clearly adversely affected as well.

In yesterday's post, I questioned the prudence of haggling with a business that I know is hurting. Now, I am struggling with whether attending an opera is truly a frivolous activity that I should cut out of my life.

I've decided that if I'm not going to go further into debt to attend the local symphony and opera, I'm going to continue to do so. This is really the only way I can show my support to artists and musicians who have dedicated their lives to provide culture, education and beautiful entertainment to the public. The alternative is to drive these folks out of business, which would leave a horrible legacy for our future.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Would You Nickel and Dime a Business in Trouble?

I just saved tons of money on my newspaper subscription yesterday. And I'm not feeling too great.

I got my credit card statement from the Los Angelest Times that showed they charged a mint for my subscription between 12/15/08-02/09/09. I did my usual routine of calling and asking to cancel my subscription because "it's too expensive", which is true. They then transferred me to a "subscription services specialist" who offered me a better deal.

My new deal gives me a 65% discount off my current subscription price which will be good until 01/20/2010. Much better... for me.

It's no secret that major newspaper companies around the country are in financial trouble. Although I don't live in L.A., my newspaper of choice is the Times. (I can't stand reading the local paper that masquerades as a newspaper.)

I realize that my subscription alone won't make or break the LA Times. But with their readership and ad revenues down, this type of haggling can't help. And if other subscribers collectively negotiated their rates, isn't it a bit like helping ourselves only to drive a newspaper out of business?

Drats. No Change in My FICO Score

I got my FICO score based upon Equifax's credit report last Friday.

Good news is my FICO scored remained the same since last October. The bad news is it hasn't improved. I was hoping that by reducing my debt by $4,200+ since October, my FICO score would have improved by a point or two. But then again, my credit union ran my credit report last November, which may have affected my score as well.

The biggest cause of my mediocre credit score is past late payments and delinquencies. I anticipate that those items will fall off in 2010. I guess I can only continue to pay my bills timely and bide my time.

Here's what FICO's website had to say about my score:

Key Factors Affecting Your FICO® Score

1. You have a serious delinquency (60 days past due or greater) or a derogatory description on your credit report

The presence of a serious delinquency or a derogatory description is a powerful predictor of future payment risk – people with previous late payments are much more likely to pay late in the future. However, as these items age and fall off of your credit report, their impact on your FICO® score will gradually decrease. Most late payments stay on your report for no more than seven years.

2. You have multiple accounts showing missed payments or derogatory descriptions.
Your FICO® score takes into account missed and late payments in a few ways. These include the number of late payments, how late they were and how recently they occurred. Your score was hurt because your credit report shows multiple accounts with missed payments or derogatory descriptions.

What to do about this: If the late payments on your credit report are valid, you should focus on continually paying all your bills on time. This will demonstrate a good payment history and these late payments will have less of a negative impact on your score as time passes.

Higher FICO® Scores Save You Money on Loans

Check out how people with higher FICO® scores qualify for lower monthly payments on a $300,000, 30 year fixed-rate mortgage:

Rates accurate as of November 1, 2008

FICO® score APR Monthly payment
See today's rates for other types of loans and loan amounts
760-850 6.303% $1,858
700-759 6.525% $1,901
660-699 6.809% $1,958
620-659 7.619% $2,122
580-619 9.451% $2,512
500-579 10.310% $2,702

Friday, January 16, 2009

Covering My December Short-Fall

I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to make up the $98.27 shortfall in my December budget without tapping my EF.

Good News #1:
As I previously reported, I bought TurboTax from Costco in mid-December so that I can estimate my tax bill and start saving ASAP, if needed, for April. As luck would have it, Costco issued a $10 off coupon AFTER my purchase.

I was sufficiently miffed that I went to Costco yesterday to see if they will refund me $10. No dice.

But the kind customer service representative said, “Just buy another TurboTax with the coupon and return it using your original receipt.” Brilliant!

So now I'm now only short $88. Now where can I find $88 in the next 10 days?

Good News #2
As readers of this blog know, I gave Chase the boot and transferred my credit card balance to Bank of America's 0% offer.

My monthly budget to pay my credit card is $265. I paid Chase $30 immediately to cover the interest that accrued to date. With this, hopefully, Chase is out of my life for good.

The best news is that BofA's bills won't come due until 2/15. I'll use part of the remaining $235 of my January Chase budget to pay for the $88 shortfall immediately. I'll now have some extra time to come up with the extra $88 to cover December's shortfall.

The bad news, though, is with the 3% transfer fee, I've incurred an additional $358.17 on to my credit card debt. Blech.

But not to worry folks! I've got a plan to eliminate my credit card bills before the 0% offer expires in October.

Funny Pictures

Stay tuned... I'll unveil my plan on Friday the 13th in February!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reinstating My Envelope System

I just tallied up my December spending and… HOLY [bleeping] CANOLI! My total expenditure in December was $3,153.91! (Note: This was not totally due to my personal spending. A lot of this included business expenses for which I’ve mostly been reimbursed.)

I thought I had everything accounted for, but I obviously didn’t, since I’m short $98.27 in what I’ve set aside to pay for my December expenses.

For most of last year, I kept track of my spending using a modified envelope budgeting system which worked extremely well. But I got really cocky and fell off the wagon in November. {Sigh} This is what I get for my hubris. I guess it’s time to reinstate my modified envelope system again.

EnvelopeThe basic concept of the envelope system is to keep a pre-established amount of cash in an envelope to pay a certain category of expense for that month. Once the cash is spent, there is no more money available for that expense item until the following month. (Dave Ramsey is one of many advocates of the envelope method. His method can be found here.)

I normally pay for irregular expenses (i.e., monthly expenses that differ month-to-month, like groceries, food, gas, toiletries, incidentals) with my credit card. So I tailored the envelope system to suit my needs – my envelopes don’t hold cash, but receipts.

I have a monthly budget of $500 to pay for irregular expenses. When gas was $4.50/gallon last summer, I set aside $130 of my budget to pay for gas. I also set aside $100 as a "cushion". If I had any of my "cushion" money left over at the end of the month, I earmarked it in my savings to pay for other future expenses. That left me with $270/month (or, $8.70/day) for groceries, food, toiletries and incidentals.

On one side of the envelope, I keep a day-to-day tally of my expenditures. On the other side, I keep a day-to-day tally of my "accrued" budget. For example, on the 5th day of the month, I would write down the accrued budget amount on one side of the envelope: e.g., $43.50 = $8.70 x 5. If I flipped the envelope and saw that I’d already spent $50, I'd immediately know I was $6.50 over-budget.

This method worked well for me since it kept all of my receipts in one location and it also made me aware of how much I was spending.

In hindsight, it was extremely stupid of me to fall out of the envelope system during the holiday season. Now I know I can’t manage without it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Men In Black Were Right - Weekly World News Was the Only Reliable News Source

They predicted this back in 2005...

All kidding aside, I don't think the Great Depression, Pt. Deux will be upon us. This excellent article in Kiplinger makes very good points why things are different now than they were in the 1930's including:

  1. There were no safetyguards like the FDIC and Social Security back then;
  2. The Federal Reserve contracted the money supply after the market crash back then. Now it is pulling out all stops to get credit flowing;
  3. No Smoot-Hawley tariffs this time around;
  4. People own more stocks now (e.g. 401k) than in the 1930's, etc. etc.
But then again, there's always the contrarian view...

At this point, I guess I can only worry about what I can control, which is my personal finances - reduce debt, increase savings and blog about my efforts. :-D

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tragedy Leading to Weekend of Reflection

This past Saturday, I attended a memorial service for a young man (age 34) who committed suicide over New Year’s weekend. I was merely an acquaintance of this young man (i.e., friend of a friend), but the news greatly saddened me.

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to make sense out of this seemingly senseless act by a handsome, witty young man that seemingly had everything going for him.

Nothing still makes sense, but here are a couple things that I hope to have learned from this tragedy.

Seek Help for Depression
During the service, the father of the young man explained that the decedent suffered from clinical depression, which runs in the family. The decedent didn’t seek help but chose rather to self-medicate with alcohol. The father implored everyone to seek help if they are depressed since it won’t just go away.

This struck a chord since my family has a history of depression and suicide. My family never discusses this issue since this is considered a "disgrace" within my culture.

According to WebMD, major depression affects about 14 million American adults or about 6.7% of the population 18 or older in any given year.

Untreated clinical depression is a serious problem.
Untreated depression increases the chance of risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol addiction. It also can ruin relationships, cause problems at work, make it difficult to overcome serious illnesses, and even result in suicide.

Clinical depression, also known as major depression, is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. Clinical depression affects the way you eat and sleep. It affects the way you feel about yourself and those around you. It even affects your thoughts.

People who are depressed cannot simply "pull themselves together" and be cured.
I've personally witnessed the devastation suffered by survivors of suicide. I would never want to put my loved ones through such an ordeal. I hope and pray that should I ever suffer from major depression, that I would have the strength and courage to seek help. There is no shame in seeking treatment for depression.

Take Care of Your Loved Ones After Your Death
The young man was engaged to be married this summer. The home that he shared with his fiance was only in his name, and the fiance is currently pondering where she will live next.

I don't know whether the young man's estate will be distributed via probate or via intestate laws. But this demonstrates the importance of estate planning at any stage of your life.

Every estate plan should include:
  1. a will (a written document that says who gets what and names guardians for minors);
  2. signed durable power of attorney (which names a person who can make financial decisions for you when you are unable);
  3. a health care proxy (which names the person who will make medical decisions for you in the event of your incapacitation), and
  4. a written living will (which sets forth how much medical intervention you want to receive).
Additionally, as Miss M wisely points out, it would behoove all of us to create a financial inventory which would help if someone needs to handle your finances for you (e.g., your attorney-in-fact vis a vis a durable power of attorney).

None of this will alleviate the survivors' pain associated with the death of a loved one, but it will ensure that the deceased's assets are protected for the benefit of the survivors.

Do Not Be Isolated
Many people attended the young man's memorial service. I wondered how many of these people did this young man reach out to and vice versa?

Just as a better quality of life may lead to more social interaction, a more developed social network probably promotes better quality of life. Therefore, interventions that target social interaction should be part of the support for people suffering from depression or other illnesses.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My New Exercise and Veggie "Swear Jar"

Back in August 2008, I wrote down my health goals, since staying healthy is one of the most important ways to protect one's wealth.

Let's see how I've fared since then:

1. Maintain An Appropriate Weight
Back in August, I was 105 lbs and I'm now (*gasp*) 110 lbs. (My weight normally fluctuates between 105 lbs and 120 lbs.) The ideal weight range for someone my height is 97.9 – 132.3 lbs.

My BMI went from 19.8 to 20.8. The normal BMI range is between 18.5 to 25.

So far so good. But...

D'oh!!! I went from a pear shape to an avocado shape with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.77 (was 0.74). BlueCross' website says:

Even though your hips are easily larger than your waist, your risk is higher than a pear's (but lower than an apple's). Unlike fat on your hips, which tends to just sit there, the fat you carry around your middle or on your upper torso is easily converted into energy whenever your body runs short. That process raises cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. It also causes insulin resistance, a common prelude to diabetes. After menopause, women are much likelier to gain weight around their middles and on their upper torsos.

I could be wrong, but I think this is telling me I'm getting a bit pudgy around the center.

2. Get Immunized and Tested
This is a success, thanks to my health insurance and wonderful FSA plan. I saw my primary physician, gynecologist, dentist and optometrist last year for a check up. I also got my yearly flu shot.

(I still haven't been tested for my cholesterol level and I still don’t know when I got my last tetanus/diphtheria shots, though. Big woop.)

3. Eat Fewer Salty Snack Foods and More Fruits and Vegetables
Still needs significant improvement.

Ever since I cut out beer from my regular budget, I haven't had the need to eat as many salty snacks.

But I still don't eat as many fruit and veggies as I should. My only regular consumption of fruits and veggies is my daily 1/2 grapefruit and 1 cup V8. That's pretty bad, huh?

4. Exercise
Stil a complete and total failure. I get ZERO exercise. I can't get motivated to even walk around the block.


In order to motivate me to eat more veggies and get some exercise, I've decided to start a "swear jar".

My initial goal is to:

  1. Eat at least 2 extra servings of fruit and vegetables (in addition to my grapefruit and V-8) daily, AND

  2. Walk at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week (minimum).

For every day that I don't satisfy my goal, I'll throw in a dollar into my "Swear Jar". Unlike the Budweiser commercial, I won't use it to buy beer, though. The Swear Jar money will go towards paying down my stupid credit card debt.

I see this as a win-win situation. If I satisfy my goal, I've improved my health. If I don't satisfy my goal, I'll pay off my credit card sooner.

Based on past experience, I'll bet that my credit card balance will go down faster than my waist size. Several years back, I started a Swear Jar for Lent. After 3 days of putting quarters into the jar, I eventually just stuck $40 in there and kept track of my utterances on paper to make sure I didn't exceed 160 swear words. How much do you want to bet that I'll be scraping together $22 to cover the rest of the month?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My “Dear John Letter” to Chase

Dear Chase:

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about leaving you in the near future. (June 2010, to be exact.)

But I've changed my mind. I'm leaving you -- now.

Things have been rough for you lately and it appears you don’t trust me anymore. (In fact, I hear you don’t trust anyone anymore. But that’s besides the point.)

You've probably always been concerned that I would one day leave you in a lurch. But please know that I would’ve only left you after I’ve lived up to my end of the bargain. But you wouldn’t know that based upon my spotty record, would you?

That’s why I forgive you for unilaterally altering our long standing deal. You agreed to keep the APR on my credit card at 5.99% until my balance is paid off. In exchange, I promised to make at least my minimum monthly payments on time, which I have religiously done so.

Nevertheless, starting this month, you’ve decided to charge me a $10/month service fee (subject to a much higher interest rate) and you increased my minimum payment from 2% to 5% of the balance. You may not have breached the terms of our original deal, but you’ve certainly violated the spirit.

When I asked for leniency, you said that you’ll reinstate the original arrangement of no monthly charges and 2% minimum payments, but at 7.99% APR.

I don’t blame you for doing this, Chase. You warned me that you were going to do this back in November via a Change in Term Notice that you surreptitiously slipped in my bill. It looked like other junk you’ve given me in the past, so I didn’t bother to read what you had to say. That's my fault.

And you’ve also been upfront about how I was expected to serve you at your convenience and on your terms. You’ve always made it clear that I never mattered.

Anyone with decent self-esteem would have told you to take a hike, but I was desperate when we started our relationship. When other people kicked me to the curb, you took a risk and gave me a chance with nothing other than my promise. At the time, I thought you were a benevolent prince. I now realize you were merely an enabler.

But the bottom line is, it’s not your fault that I was weak. You didn’t force me to take your money. I did that myself.

You probably don’t care, but I’m leaving you for BofA. (Kind’a like the way Holly Madison left Hugh Hefner for Criss Angel. ***Shudder***) BofA has been whispering sweet-nothings in my ear for a while and I now feel foolish for sticking by you all this time.

I know BofA is no better than you -- BoA’s already made demands (in the form of a hefty 3% transfer fee with no maximum cap) before BoA will accept me. My only consolation is that BofA won’t charge me interest for the next 10 months (or, until BofA changes its mind). But that’s okay -- I don’t intend to stay with BofA that much longer anyways.

I should’ve known you would do this to me. After all, as former Vice President Al Gore eloquently said, "A zebra doesn’t change its spots.".

I’ve come to accept the fact that our relationship was one of convenience, and not one of mutual respect.

I wish you the best. The next time you see me, I’ll no longer be a kept woman. As God is my witness, I’ll never allow myself to be beholden to someone like you ever again.

Good bye.

Yours truly,

Just Changed My Future Asset Allocation in My 401k

My 401k is out of allocation due to 2008's market turmoil. Based upon my targets, my 401k should have 80% equity/stock funds, 15% bond fund and 5% Treasury fund.

Instead, it currently looks like:

John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard funds, believes investors should rebalance their portfolios on a regular schedule by selling a portion of whatever has gone up the most or buying some of whatever has gone down.

So I've changed my future allocation (as set forth below), in hopes that my 401k will be closer to my target allocations by year end 2009.

Investment Fund (Classification)Current %Target%New %
DODFX (Int'l Multi-Cap Value)16.07%20%24%
DODGX (US Large-Cap Value)17.35%20%15%
BTIIX (S&P500 Index)




NBGEX (Small-Cap Blend)



PTRAX (Intermediate Term Bond)



MLTXX (US Treasury Fund)




The biggest loser in 2008 was DODFX,the international fund, with a -47.76% return. Since that's the only decent international fund in my 401k choices, I'm sticking with it and, as a matter of fact, increasing my future allocation.

I'm also somewhat reassured that Morningstar is still giving its vote of confidence to this fund:

Nearly all foreign markets have posted hefty losses this year, and the damage has been severe across the sector and market-cap spectra. That's why every category of overseas-equity offering has lost more than one third of its value for the year to date through Dec. 18, with foreign large-cap funds dropping more than 40%, foreign small/mid-cap offerings shedding approximately half their value, and emerging-markets funds plunging more than 50%.
The Team at Dodge & Cox International Stock There's no denying the fact that the Dodge & Cox team, our 2006 winner, has disappointed in 2008's terrible conditions. A number of the team's picks in the financials sector have cratered, and Dodge & Cox International is mired in the foreign large-value category's bottom quartile with a 48% loss. Posting an oversized loss in a major sell-off really stings. But we continue to believe in the team and its fund. The team is exceptionally deep, seasoned, and skilled, and it has produced impressive overall results here. The fact that the team employs a sound value discipline that has also delivered superior long-term results at Dodge & Cox Stock (NASDAQ:DODGX) bolsters our confidence in the future here, as does this fund's low expense ratio.

Although Morningstar is also continuing to give its vote of confidence to DODGX (US large cap value fund) as well, I have other viable alternatives for large-cap US funds. Therefore, I'm reducing my DODGX allocation and increasing my allocation of BTIIX, the S&P500 index fund. My total allocation for large-cap US funds will remain at 40% overall.

How the stock market will behave in 2009 is anyone's guess. All I can do is keep contributing, rebalance my portfolio, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Charity - Heifer.Org

For my first charity donation of 2009, I decided to go global and donated a flock of chicks ($20) to a needy family somewhere in the world through is a Better Business Bureau accredited charity organization. Every gift to represents a gift to its total mission of purchasing and transporting food and income-producing animals, as well as providing intensive training in animal husbandry; environmentally sound, sustainable farming; community development and global education.

From's website:

Flock of Chicks: A Good Choice
A flock of chicks can help families from Cameroon to the Caribbean add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets.

The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.

Heifer helps many hungry families with a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell.

Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much. And chickens help control insects and fertilize gardens.

In Tanzania, Omari and Kulwa were struggling to raise a family on just 50 cents a day. With the training and chicks they received from Heifer, egg sales have boosted their daily income to $2, so they can now buy food and still pay school fees. Now, through passing on the gift, all of the children in their village are going to school.

To think that $20 can help a needy family on an ongoing basis is quite amazing. also has other gifts you can donate in different price ranges:

  • Llama - $20 share

  • Goat - $10 share

  • Heifer - $50 share

  • Honeybees - $30 share


On a completely separate but similar topic, the U.S. Marine Corps recently purchased 50 cows for 50 Iraqi widows in the farm belt around Falouja. "The cow purchase is seen as a small step toward re-establishing Iraq's one-thriving dairy industry, as well as a way to help women and children. The early sign is that the program is working. Widows, many with no other income, have a marketable item to sell, as well as milk for their children."

Giving the gift of self-sustenance, independence and self-reliance is an important step towards world peace and prosperity.'s mission as well as the Marine Corps' recent gift are living proof of the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. "

Monday, January 5, 2009

Suze Orman Free e-Book Download Thursday

Suze Orman will be launching her new book, Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan, on The Oprah Winfrey Show on January 8, 2009 (Thursday). The show will offer a free e-book download in English and Spanish on for one week, culminating in a live webcast on Thursday, January 15, 2009, at 9 p.m. EST/6p.m. PST.

(A free e-book and BCS championship game all on the same day? Looks like Thursday will be a red-letter day!)

I already have Suze's book, The Road to Wealth, which provides a comprehensive (if somewhat very broad and basic) overview on a lot of topics ranging from managing debt (Chapter 1), home ownership (Chapter 3) and stocks, mutual funds, bonds and bond funds (Chapters 7-9).

I'm not sure what more she can add in her 2009 Action Plan that haven't been covered in her prior books already. But I think her Saturday TV program gave us a preview of the theme of her new book: the need to confront our financial demons to vanquish them (or, in her terms, "Face It To Erase It").

She cautioned that the next financial crisis will come from credit card companies that will slash the credit limits of anyone who carries a balance and is only making minimum monthly payments. Because these people will owe in excess of their newly reduced limits, the credit companies will automatically trigger a provision that will allow them to increase their interest rates to 25%-30%.

This isn't really ground-breaking news. But you better believe if I can get her new book for free, I'm gonna download it!

Speaking of Suze, I love Stephen Colbert's spoof on Suze and the US government's $700 billion bailout program:

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Final 2008 Net Worth and Progress Report

2008 was a horrendous year for the world economy and for many people, but knock on wood, it hasn't been all bad news for me. My most notable good news from 2008 include:

  • I didn't get laid off (yet);

  • I started my PF blog with the goal to keep myself financially accountable;

  • I haven't incurred any new debt in 2008 (ahem, hopefully);

  • I eliminated $8,447.24 (or, 6.56%) of my total debt since June 31, 2008 (Woo hoo!);

  • I finally owe less in my student loans now than when I graduated in 1998;

  • I started making small monthly charitable donations, which makes me feel a bit like Santa throughout the year; and

  • If you disregard my 401k and IRA investments, my net worth increased by $1,968.16 since July 31, 2008.

I couldn't have done this without the support and encouragement of my PF blogging friends. Thank you all!

Starting Debt (6/31/08)Last MonthThis MonthDifference
PRIVATE SL$49,528.99$47,955.77$47,616.51$(339.26)
Fed'l SL$55,852.68$55,230.18$55,110.34$(119.84)
Car Loan$9,779.33$6,225.59$5,464.33$(761.26)

I may not be paying off my debt as quickly as I possibly could. For example, I could save less in my 401k, get a roommate and eliminate extras like cable service.

But I know myself - that kind of austere lifestyle will only drive me batty. I'm a stubborn tortoise in my debt elimination race. I have a debt reduction plan and I'm sticking by it, dammit.

I haven't yet developed the self-discipline to apply extra money left over in my monthly budget towards my debts (as advocated by fellow blogger MoneyBeagle). This is definitely something I can must work on in 2009. :-D



My monthly goal is to save $200/month in my EF. I fell short of this goal in December due to "unexpected" expenses and holiday spending. But atleast it didn't go down, right? Positive is still good, in my book.

Fellow PF Blogger MoneyBeagle is continuously encouraging me to use "found" money to pay down my debt. (For example, he advocates paying down debt with whatever savings I realize from decreasing gas prices. Click on the link above for his awesome article.)

Since my EF is still a bit underfunded, I think I'll split the difference of what I'll do with my "found" or "underbudget" money in 2009: 1/2 will go to my EF and 1/2 will go towards my debt.



He-e-e-ey, looky here - it went up. (Finally!) What a great way to end 2008. (For the purpose of this comment, let's just disregard the carnage from the preceding months, shall we?)

I don't know what 2009 will hold, but I'm gonna keep doing what I've been doing and keep my fingers crossed. I will:

  1. Continue to contribute to my 401k

  2. Continue to pay down my debt

  3. Not incur additional debt

  4. Continue to add to my EF and Savings Bonds

  5. Contribute to my Roth IRA (only if I can).

The breakdown of my net worth can be seen here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

I am sooo tired from cleaning my apartment all day yesterday. Yes, I realize I only live in a 1 BR, but let's just say I'm not a domestic diva who normally keeps her home spic-span clean. There was a LOT to do.

Anyhow, I washed away the grime of 2008 to welcome 2009. Happy New Year everyone!