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 EspaƱol.)

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?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

So Am I A Greedy Daughter?

Whenever there were salacious news stories about inheritance fights between kids of the rich-and-famous, my family always laughed, "It's a good thing we don't have any money." (Remember the inheritance fight between Anna Nicole and J. Howard Marshall, III, after the Cryptkeeper kicked the bucket?)

And my parents being broke is a wonderful thing, since they could never try to control me by threatening to write me out of their will. Anyhow, I just learned I'm apparently one of those greedy children who try to wrest their parent's money with their grubby little paws.

Here's the story: My sister bought a modest home about four years ago. Last year, right when the economy was cratering, her employer transferred her to another state. She had the option to rent her house out, but she really didn't want to be an absentee landlord. She luckily sold her home and broke even. My sister has yet again been transferred (three times in five years) and this time, she'll be living in the same city where our parents live.

My sister sulked that with her constant transfers, she could never buy real estate and own it to profitability without being a long distance, absentee landlord. She hatched the idea that perhaps if she buys a house, she can rent it to my parents once she is transferred again.

I told my sister that she has a great plan, but if she and parents follow through with this, 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. My sister and my mom were aghast when I made this comment.

I know this sounds cold, but I think equity and fairness demands this outcome. Why should my sister expect an immediate transfer of wealth from my parents with no strings attached? Or am I just being a bratty, greedy daughter?

Monday, November 2, 2009

October '09 Progress Report

Hope you all had a great Halloween! I went to Knott's Scary Farm this year and had a blast. There's nothing like spending 12 hours at an amusement park to remind myself how old and out-of-shape I am. (My legs and butt are still so sore.)

Good news is that my Progress Report this October isn't as scary looking as it was last year.

funny pictures of cats with captions


Starting Debt (6/31/08)

Last MonthThis MonthDIFFERENCE
Private SL$49,528.99$44,306.73$43,926.89$(379.84)
Fed'l SL$55,852.68$53,961.10$53,828.16$(132.94)
Credit Card$13,610.75$11,086.08$0.00$(11,086.08)

Woo hoo!! My total debt is now below six-digits! To those who are new to this blog, I didn't pay off $11,086.08 in credit card debt in just one month. This was an ordeal that spanned years.

My credit card pay-off finally picked up momentum in March when I arbitraged my credit card debt with a 0% interest rate offer. Ever since then, I paid the minimum towards my credit card and pretended to pay additional amounts into my savings account. When the 0% offer expired, I used the "savings" to pay off my credit card debt.

Although I should be snowballing my remaining debt, I've decided to take a couple of months off before I get back into the grind.





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 need to start replenishing my earmarks as well as continue saving into my EF. Ugh.



Rats. I added an additional $1,612 last month into my 401k and my net worth only increased by $886. Must mean that the market went down again. I have to admit, it's a lot less stressful when I don't pay attention to market movements. It's a bummer to see a flat lined net worth at the end of the month, though.

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