Thursday, July 31, 2008

July Month-End

Just as I have tasks in my accounting position regarding month-end posting, that is one of the tasks I will be doing in my blog as well. It is the end of July and I started off this month with a few goals. How did I do? (I will be posting my August goals at the end of the week.)

1.) Save at least $100 in my E-Fund. Goal met! (I actually contributed $200 and would have put in more, but I realized with the move to the new apartment on August 9th, I will need a cushion for some of the moving costs.)
2.) Save at least $200 towards a Roth IRA. Goal met! (I will be setting up automatic bi-weekly savings transfers from my checking account to my ING account since I am now receiving full paychecks.)
3.) Follow preliminary July budget. Goal met! (This went very well! I was surprised that I was under budget in a few categories, adding up to a nice amount even with my surpassed savings contributions. However, my parents were in town for 5 days and they definitely compensated me with meals out and some purchases.)
4.) Work out 3x per week. 1/2 success. (I worked out at the small gym in my complex 3 times last week and have worked out twice this week, so I only half made this goal. My motivation for working out is MUCH better when I have classes to attend!)

Regarding #3, I feel stuck in terms of how to reconcile my budget. For example, I know that in August I will have to purchase more contact lenses (~$150 for a 6-month supply) and I would like to get my eyebrows waxed and get a pedicure (~$50 together inc. tip) which I budget for every other month but included it in July's budget. How do you rollover what you did not spend? I like to leave a bit of a cushion in my checking account for random purchases that might take me over budget. What if I calculate the total under-budget amount, perhaps cut it in half & put that towards savings? What do you suggest? How do you reconcile your budget at the end of the month?

Monday, July 28, 2008

On Working Out

Last week I started to get back into a workout routine at the gym in my apartment complex. As long as I can remember, and even during the past 4 years at college, I took classes. They were always hip hop dance classes or cardio kickboxing. Currently, I am not a member of a gym and thus am not taking classes. My work has 2 on-site (very small) gyms and the complex I currently live in has a small one, too. Last week I went to the gym in my apartment complex and worked out 3 times on the treadmill. I went tonight too, and forgot how much I do enjoy a short-but-sweet work out. I am not really a fan of running, as I enjoy high-energy classes much more. With the move to the new apartment looming in 2 weeks, I will not have an on-site gym anymore. What do I do now? The idea of going to the gym after work at work doesn't really appeal to me, since I spend 8 hours a day in the office anyway and neither of the gyms in the building have windows. I have been toying with the idea of joining a gym, but I know that in the world of personal finance that is a rather expensive endeavor! The 24-Hour Fitness near my new apartment does offer classes that I would definitely take - but is it worth the cost? I do have 2 work-out DVDs (pilates & cardio kickboxing) that I do occasionally, but they are only 30 minutes each and can get very repetitive... I am starting to lean towards joining a gym, but I will first do a one-week trial of the classes to see if I like them. 24-Hour Fitness offers a free trial-week for either the facilities or the classes, which I think is neat! (Though of course it's a pretty big sales ploy, too.)

What do you do to workout? If you are a member of a gym, did you get a discount or a special deal, and do you actually go enough to make it worth it?

Weekends = Food & Relaxing!

It's the end of another weekend. What did I do and how much did I spend?

Dining Out - $32.69 ($1 for a cupcake split with a friend at a local bakery where we ended up getting 2 for the price of 1 since they were about to close for the day; $24 at California Pizza Kitchen with my good friend who just returned from a one month study abroad trip to Italy; $7.69 for an Acai bowl at brunch on Saturday...mmm!)
Groceries - $25.64 (for some dinner on Friday & tonight - I made some roasted asparagus and it was amazing!)
Household - $11.24 (at Target for some shaver refills and hangers)

As you can tell, I love food. I love to eat, try new restaurants and types of food and slowly I am learning to cook! Today, Sunday, was a no-spend day which was nice. I slept in, watched "The Office" and half of season 2 of "Bones" with my roommate plus I did some batch cooking and budgeting. It was all very relaxing, though I wish I had gone to the gym. Maybe tomorrow!

How was your weekend and weekend spending?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gas + MPG

It's nice to see the price of gas dropping slightly. A week and a half ago, I picked up gas for $4.49/gallon at Shell. I used my $20 monthly Shell gift card from work, so it only cost me $31.71. This weekend I picked up gas at Shell again - but for $4.39/gallon!

I have also been trying an experiment relating to mpg. In Southern California where I live, the average speed on the highway is around 70-80 mph. I have read a few articles and heard people say that to get the ideal/best gas mileage, you need to drive 60-65 mph. Basically that means I need to stay in the right-hand most lane or else I will cause someone to have a case of serious road rage. My Honda Civic had been averaging around 27 mpg for the past few months, but that was when I was doing all city driving and driving 70+ mph on the highway. Since my commute to work takes me 15 miles each way on I-5, I used that for my experiment for my last 2 tanks of gas:

At 65 mph, 11.4 gal tank @ 355.8 miles driven = 31 mpg
At 60 mph, 11.4 gal tank @ 363.4 miles driven = 32 mpg

More than anything else, I am excited that my mpg has increased by 4-5 mpg! It's nice to know that I am getting the most mileage out of my car, especially with gas prices the way they are. Do you do anything like this? How do you deal with the high price of gas?

Weekend Spending!

I had a really fun weekend. My roommates were both out of town, so I hung out with a few good friends, went to my company's summer picnic at a mini amusement park/bar at one of the local beaches all day on Saturday and saw The Dark Knight in IMAX! Here's a breakdown of my spending:

Gas, $50.39 (the price is dipping a bit, at $4.39/gallon instead of OVER $4.50!)
Groceries, $40.06 (most of this went to a bottle of alcohol I purchased for my roommates)
Dining out, $10.20
The Dark Knight in IMAX, $17 ($15 for the ticket + $2 Fandango surcharge) - Totally worth it!

I would have actually spent more had I gone to Costco - but I decided to save that trip until next weekend. (I need to replenish my contact lenses and they are not exactly cheap, even with insurance!)

Another fun thing I did this weekend was making a really delicious cold pasta salad with shrimp, dill, chopped pickles, and homemade dressing - and I have enough for 2 lunches this week! The recipe comes from one of my friend's parents and it's great, plus it's really easy. I am still slowly getting the hang of this cooking thing and am having fun trying out recipes I find online or at various food blogs. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Parents in Town + On Moving

Sorry for the long time without a post - my parents came down for a business conference from Saturday until last night, so I have been very busy spending all my time with them! I won't see my Dad again until Thanksgiving but my Mom might come down before then to help me set up my new apartment. It was so great to see them again (even if it was only 2 weeks after I was home for my wisdom teeth surgery!) and of course that meant I ate all my meals with them and my Mom decided to buy me some shirts, so I did not spend any money from Saturday until today! Of course that makes me (and my budget!) very happy.

Two friends and I have been on the hunt for a new apartment. We have pretty much decided on a 3-bed/2.5 bath place that puts me 10 miles closer to my work - however, it is also at the top of my price range. But water is included and so are the HOA fees (our rental is a condo) plus all utilities will be split 3 ways, which definitely makes them cheaper. The security deposit is more than one month's rent which will be hard to include into my budget, but I will make it work. (Have you ever asked a landlord for an extension on the security deposit, such as paying it over 2 months instead of all-at-once-plus-1st-month's-rent?) We still need to go through the lease and talk about other issues with the landlord, so that will most likely occur next week. Ourmove-in date looks like it will be August 9th (instead of August 1st) and my current lease is up August 10th so that works out MUCH better than expected! In the end, however, I think my $800/month in rent will be worth it due to my new and fun roommates, the location and the size - at 1,900 square feet!

Side note: I have started paying attention to "price per ounce" at the grocery store since the cost of food is increasing. Also, I have no problem buying generic brands whenever/wherever I can. However, I have not been able to get into the habit of clipping coupons, since most of the time I cannot find staples or things on my pre-made list in the booklets.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Different Perspectives

I know that everyone has a different opinion when it comes to things, and especially when it comes to personal finance. Tonight I went out to dinner with some friends to catch up, as we have now all been gainfully employed for a month! One of my girlfriends showed up first and somehow the conversation moved towards bank accounts. (I think it was due to the fact we get excited whenever there is a payday, like today!) I was mentioning to her that I was looking to open a new checking account and getting rid of my out-of-state account, plus my debit card still has not arrived.

She started complaining about WaMu after I named it as one of my options. She stated that she's had horrible customer service, she had issues opening the account, etc. When I briefly flitted over my other idea of an online-only checking account, my friend just about flipped her lid. Basically, she told me that she would never, ever want to open any sort of account where she could not go in and speak to someone, especially for a checking account. She said she thinks it is unsafe.

What I really wanted to ask her was if she had done her research on the topic, especially since I certainly have. I just let her have her rant, but found it funny that she had so many complaints about her current brick & mortar as well as online checking accounts! I have no problem if she would rather use a b&m than an online account, as to each their own. Part of me also wanted to offer a bit of pf advice - especially since I love learning about and now I even blog about it! - but I kept my mouth shut and told her that she had some good points. I just hope that she at least has a savings account with WaMu! :)

Do you have friends that you wish you could help out, but sometimes realize it's not your place to say anything? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Groceries & Cooking

One thing that I am: a foodie.
One thing that I am not: a cook.

And I never have been. I've always made simple meals, nothing extravagant. I really don't know HOW to cook! But slowly, I am making attempts. In college, my favorite recipe came from the back of a Campbell's soup can (a takes-5-minutes-to-prepare-and-45-min-in-the-oven "chicken bake"). It was usually fairly bland, since I knew (and know) nothing about spices...

However, I aboslutely LOVE food! I am a constant snacker and I just love to eat. Especially when it comes to any/all ethnic foods* - I am the happiest person on the planet.Having already traveled to many countries at my ripe age of 22, I cannot get enough of foreign foods. (This is why I should live in New York City!) It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to just dine out every night at all the ethnic restaurants that my city has - but of course, that would ruin my budget and I would deem myself unworthy of being a pf blogger! But yes, as you can tell, food is one of my weaknesses.

Recently, I have been making potatoes au gratin (from a box) with some edamame and a pork chop, just fried in a skillet. I like meals that are easy to put together, don't take too long to cook and (usually) cover all the food groups, or at least contain some protein/veggie/starch. Today, I needed to go grocery shopping, as I was out of almost everything in the fridge. So, I went to the nearby Henry's (a health/natural food store located in Southern California - they have AMAZING fresh and cheap produce!) and Ralph's. I had picked out a few recipes that did not seem too difficult from CheapHealthyGood as well as from Since I am attempting to cook more, and make enough for leftovers (esp. for lunch at work), I am starting out with a grocery budget of $150 per month. Today, between the 2 stores, I spent $43.52. Not bad in my book! I purchased a bunch of spices (very cheap in bulk!), an assortment of canned goods (chickpeas, green beans, corn, water chestnuts, etc), some chicken breasts & thighs, spaghetti and produce (green grapes, asparagus, romaine lettuce, kale and broccoli) plus some deli meats. I created a list from a few recipes I am planning to try and I stuck to it very well! (A list certainly helps when going to the grocery store, though it is annoying when I just seem to wander aimlessly and want to buy it all! Self-control is key. I am getting better.)

Anyway. Tonight I made my first dish - but realized I forgot to write down 2 ingredients. Thus, my attempt at a Green Bean Casserole was nothing to write home about. There was no bacon in it nor french fried onions on top to give it that extra crunchiness. It was more a thick slop of cheddar cheese soup mixed with lots of green beans and water chestnuts, lol. But, there are leftovers! Which means lunch at work tomorrow! Next recipe/attempt: either a chicken provencal or butter chickpea curry. I think the chicken dish is a bit safer of an option...

Do you have any simple yet hearty meals that you make? Any suggestions for a freshly-starting-out cook?

*Thai and Indian are by far and wide my favorites - pad see eew and mutter paneer, respectively. :)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Price Protectr"

One of my friends* sent me an e-mail letting me know about a website called PriceProtectr since they know I am interested in anything pf-related. I decided to check it out, and it looks really neat!

Basically, many stores offer what they call "price protection policies" which you may or may not know about. (I didn't.) Here's the deal: If you purchased an item at one of the stores listed on the website here, and the price dropped within a specific price protection period, you are eligible for money back! (10-15 days seems the norm, some are longer such as 30 days.) However, you yourself need to monitor the price to see if it changes, but that is what this site is for - you go to the website of the store you purchased the item from (some only support in-store purchases) and find the link to the item you bought on the website. Then, if there is a change in the item's price, PriceProtectr will e-mail you! There are over 100 very common stores which use this policy, including Costco and Target, and you can also write a review based on the experience. This is the link on how to use the site, step-by-step.

I will have to try to remember about it when I buy items from these stores to see if I can ever get a refund. Let me know if it ever works for you by sending me an e-mail to themoneymaus [at] gmail [dot] com. I've already entered a few items today that I picked up at Target - I'll be posting if it works!

(*No, this is not a pay-per-post or any sort of advertisement! I am just a fellow pf blogger trying to help out others!)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Like Bacon, I am also Canadian and American! I was born in Toronto and lived there until I was 10 years old. Then my family moved to the Seattle area, and I have lived on the West Coast ever since - now I'm in Southern California. I love and appreciate having been raised in Canada, and of course I love the United States too - especially since now I've lived here for over 12 years! Happy birthday, Canada & the USA!

Today I met up with some of my co-workers at a large park/beach here in town. We played whiffle ball, badminton, frisbee and others played volleyball as well. There was SO much food since one of my co-workers is Vietnamese and almost ALL her extended family and all her friends showed up. We had everything from papaya salad to papay to chicken skewers and all the snacks you could think of! I had a great time getting to know them - and definitely got a bit of a burn in the process (mostly my back/shoulders) - but it was a blast! Now my roommates and I are off to watch 4 different fireworks shows from the hill on which our alma mater sits. Be safe & have fun! :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July Goals

July will be my first FULL month of work. I received my first paycheck for 1 full week when I returned from getting my wisdom teeth out on Monday - I am using that paycheck as a "buffer" for this month, since my next paycheck will also only be 1 week's worth. We are currently apartment-hunting and have found 2 potential options with the move most likely occurring at the end of July/beginning of August. There will certainly have some expenses coming along with that as well!

So for July, I will not be doing a post about a budget since this is certainly not a "typical" month in terms of solid pay with 2 full weeks per paycheck and I am still in the midst of creating my official budget in Excel. However, I have decided that I would like to do goals!

1.) E-Fund: Save at least $100 towards my emergency savings; year-end goal of $2,500
2.) Roth IRA Savings Fund: Save $200 towards my Roth IRA; year-end goal of $3,000 (lump-sum for minimum initial investment at Vanguard)
3.) Budgeting: Loosely follow my preliminary budget & figure out official budget for August!
4.) Work Out: Try to work out at least 3x per week using my pilates & kickboxing DVDs (cheaper than joining a gym!)

Nothing too fancy to start out with. I am going to spend July following my spending habits and see where they lead me in terms of a budget. Good luck with your goals!

Update: I updated the sidebars and added a new one as well! I had $2,500 in my normal checking account that I certainly did not need sitting around, so I sent it to my ING account. I split it in half, putting $1,250 into my E-fund and the other $1,250 to start off my savings subaccount to open a Vanguard Roth IRA. Yay!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

On Taxes

When I filled out my W-4 in mid-June when I was hired, I followed the instructions given. Therefore, I gave myself 2 Federal allowances and 1 State allowance since my filing status is Single. I had used a paycheck calculator to get an idea of what my net pay would be. However, I had only been putting 1 allowance for each income tax on there, so I was nicely surprised when I received my first paycheck and the net pay was about $100 more than expected!

I did a bit of research regarding how a person should fill out their W-4 if filing as Single. Basically, I found out this: if you claim your Federal allowances as 0, you will get a large refund which means you had more taxes withheld during the year. If you claim 1, you will get a small refund. If you claim 2, you will either break even or owe a small amount. I called my Dad and asked him what he would suggest, and he said he pretty much never breaks even and said either 2 or 1 is fine.

Would you rather get a refund or owe a little bit to the IRS? How do you file your taxes?

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