April Goals – Check In Time

Alright, these were the goals I made for April, let’s see how I did!

1. File taxes on time.   Success!  And I corrected a mistake and actually got money back this time!

2. Appeal city property assessment.Filed the paperwork and waiting to hear on my appeal court date.

3. File for property tax credit #1  Completed and tax credit #1 is in place!

4. File for property tax credit #2  Filed and waiting to hear back

5. Refinance mortgage? (Maybe a May/June goal depending on area home sales)  Appraisal came back too low…am waiting to see if I can finangle a deal with my parents.

6. Set up automatic transfer of $50 from each paycheck into my Emergency Fund. Total fail.  Am feeling very paycheck-to-paycheck right now, so this goal may be put on hold until after all my big May bills get paid (car and home insurance, primarily – almost $2000!)

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What does it mean to “feel broke”?

Lately I’ve been feeling stressed out, and largely because I keep going over personal finance projections. When friends or family ask why I’m so stressed out, I’ve caught myself saying it’s because I feel broke.  Now this commonly used phrase probably means a lot of things to different people, but here’s what it means to me:

…a relatively depleted emergency fund that means any appliance breaking or other disaster could put me in credit card debt

…an uncertain tax situation, so I don’t know how much I will owe in July

…an uncertain mortgage refinance, so I can’t guarantee a lower monthly payment and much less interest overall

…an uncertain roommate situation, so I don’t know what extra income I can budget for the rest of the year

…and finally, no chance of increasing my income, because I am still in graduate school and not allowed any outside employment.

When I look at all of these factors causing me to feel stressed and to feel broke, the common denominator is uncertainty.  Not being able to plan ahead is driving me crazy because I can’t let myself spend any unnecessary money now, in case I might truly need it later.  

In the weeks and months ahead, I need to take significant steps forward in resolving these uncertainties by 1) calling my tax office frequently to confirm my appeals, 2) talking with my current roommate about the upcoming school year, and 3) resolving my refinance with my parents and mortgage lender.  Hopefully I will be blogging some happy news soon!


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April Goals (better late than never!)

I’ve had these goals taped to my desk since the end of March, but by putting them out here on the interwebs, I hope I will force myself to be more accountable.

1. File taxes on time.

2. Appeal city property assessment.

3. File for property tax credit #1

4. File for property tax credit #2

5. Refinance mortgage? (Maybe a May/June goal depending on area home sales)

6. Set up automatic transfer of $50 from each paycheck into my Emergency Fund

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Missed Opportunities

Ugh.  Although I haven’t been posting much, I still read a lot of blogs pretty regularly.  I’ve been feeling incredibly frustrated with myself and with my personal finances, so I’ve been embarrassed to blog.  I’m not sure how to get myself into it regularly, other than by just sitting down at least once a week and going for it.  So this is a slight update on what’s been going on and why I’ve been feeling so frustrated.

I have just learned than my inexperience and my naivety has cost me a lot of money.  I felt like such a responsible person, saving up and purchasing a home during graduate school!  However, over the past 3 years I have paid the city I live in approximately $15,000 in excess of what I needed to.  And I have no way to get it back.  That is a HUGE mistake!!  I thought I was buying my house close to the bottom of the market, but my city still has really high property taxes and had assessed my house at an unrealistically high value, resulting in yet even higher taxes (like $10,000 a year high!)  I was supposed to have received paperwork from the city at closing regarding several different methods of reducing my property taxes, but they never mailed the correct information, and it took years before I read about it on my own.  I’ve just finished the three different applications to get these credits instated for my tax bill I’ll receive in July 2012, but it kills me thinking that I could have have all of that money in my pocket had I just known!!

In other disappointing news, I’ve been trying to refinance my mortgage because rates have dropped even lower (I would have been saving over $300 more a month and would have paid off refinancing costs in less than 2 years)….but it all just fell through when the appraisal came back unrealistically low.  Now, I know that most homeowners feel their property is worth more than it is in reality, but this appraisal was ridiculously low – $50,000 less than what the city just assessed my house for, and significantly lower than the most recent comparable sales in the neighborhood (for which my house has an extra bedroom and bathroom, making it MORE valuable, not less).  So things are stalled until we either appeal the appraisal, wait for a few more houses in neighborhood to close sales, or give up.  I was counting so badly on this refinance…I had big plans for using that extra $300 a month to fill up my Emergency Fund, which I almost depleted in Fall 2011 for unexpected necessary repairs to the house.  I just feel like I’m so far behind where I wanted to be with my finances.

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The Costs of Dating

One of the reasons I have been slacking on the blogging scene has been my personal life…I’ve finally pulled myself out of a rather toxic relationship and needed some time to regroup.  I’ve felt much happier ever since.

After a solid amount of single-me-time, I felt ready to dip back into the dating pool.  It’s been an interesting adventure so far, and has intersected with personal finance in a surprisingly large number of ways:

1.) Gettin’ Presentable

Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, with no make-up, I look about 16 years old, despite the fact that I’m in my mid-twenties.  Since I’m mostly interested in men my age and older, I find I have to look my age in order to attract someone NOT of the pedophile variety…and that means nicer clothes and makeup, all of which cost money and take time!

2.) Dates Themselves

The last few men I’ve dated have had some very traditional ideas about dating – they wanted to plan the dates, pick me up, and pay.  I didn’t know how to react to this!  I’m a little uncomfortable letting a date pay – I want to carry my weight and I don’t like the feeling of “owing” anyone.  This means that one way or another, I’ll try and even things out – either by planning and paying for another date, going dutch on a date, or by getting my date a little something extra, like a bottle of wine or liquor I know he’ll enjoy.  And since I’m a grad student, most of the men I’ve been dating have a considerably higher income, and therefore prefer going to places that are more expensive than I can normally afford on my own.  Plus dating simply gets me out of the house and doing more activities than I do on an every day basis, and those activities have costs that can add up in a hurry!  I think it’s easier to keep costs down in a relationship than in the getting-to-know-you dating world.

3.) Dreamin’ Too Soon

I have a tendency to over-visualize my future…I enjoy imagining all the possibilities, and sometimes that takes me down an unfortunate spending route.  For example, I’ve started taking different fitness classes, including spinning and yoga, and imagine myself becoming a regular…so I bought more specialized clothing and equipment.  At least with fitness I am pretty committed, so the purchases have been greatly used!  But dating is a whole different story…I see a fairly formal, gorgeous, dress at a store and envision that if I just had that dress I’d somehow get myself all polished and go out to dates at the theater or out to the more glamorous restaurants for tapas.  If I give in to the fantasies of the life I’d live if only I just bought that item, what usually happens it just sits in my closet, tags still on, waiting for that opportunity to come to light.

4.) Nesting Instincts

When I start to care about someone, I have this odd urge to cook for them.  And while cooking at home is frequently advocated on PF blogs as a cheaper alternative to dining out, I’m not talking about taco nights here…I’m talking full-on gourmet meals with obscure ingredients.  I absolutely LOVE cooking, especially from various ethnic/foreign cuisines, and the less common ingredients can get rather pricey rather quickly.

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Preparing for Disaster

I live on the East Coast, and man, what a week it’s been!  Earthquake, hurricane, and tornadoes!!  Like most of the people in my city, I spent time preparing to protect both myself and my property this week.  That got me thinking – how often do we all take the time to prepare for unexpected financial disasters?

I set up a separate account with ING to serve as my Emergency Fund before I bought my house, and that’s been the extent of my financial emergency preparedness.  Unfortunately, I’ve had a series of unfortunate and unexpected home repairs that I will have to get taken care of in the next few weeks, and they will probably end up wiping out my E-fund (you’d think that on an almost-brand-new house, major appliances and essential components of the house would last more than 5 years…).  While I’m glad that I have the E-fund to be able to pay off these impending bills without having to go into debt, the thought of emptying that bank account just tears me up!  What else can I do in the future to better prepare for these sort of financial emergencies?  I’ve previously had a home warranty, but it was rather costly and I still had to pay a lot of money out of pocket for repairs.  Any suggestions?

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Timing the Market

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post regarding the down grading of the US debt.

…I think I made the right decision!  While most of news articles regarding the effects of the US debt downgrading on the US stock market focused on people pulling OUT their money, I was putting money IN to my IRA, in the form of an index mutual fund.  I’ve got a LONG way to go before retirement, so my long-term strategy is to acquire as many shares of as diversified funds as I can and hope for a nice return 30 years from now.  So while I don’t tend to try to “time the market” like investors who are looking to make profits in the short-term, I usually try to time my IRA contributions to days when the market is down, so that I can pick up more shares.   Well it seemed to work out well, as in the rebound that occurred today, I made over $300!  Woo hoo!  While I do expect the market to continue to rollercoaster, I feel that today’s gains justify my timing approach – buy low in order to acquire a greater number of shares, and over time profits will come.

I feel for all of the people who are trying to retire right now…I’ve seen a huge chunk of my parents’ retirement savings disappear with the market downturns.  Not an easy situation.  But I am learning some valuable lessons from all of this, and the biggest one is asset allocation: The closer you get to retirement, the greater the percentage of your retirement account should be held in bonds, cash, money markets…the less volatile options, in other words!  So many people close to retirement age have kept most of their money in stocks and the craziness of the market has led to huge losses for them lately.  Planning for retirement sure is a lot harder than I thought!  Say you allocate more money into bonds as you get closer to retirement, but find yourself healthy with another 20-30 years life expectancy?  You will still need money invested for growth in that case, it seems….I’m not sure what the best option for someone in that situation is!


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How will you react to the down grading?

If you haven’t yet heard (but being PF nerds like me, I suspect you have), the S&P has downgraded the rating of our (U.S.A) government’s debt.  This seems to be causing a general nationwide freak out, but it has me wishing I had more cash to invest right now.  This big dip is bad for people like my parents, who are thinking about retirement, but I’m trying to see it instead as an opportunity.  I’m still quite young, so I’m more concerned with buying as many shares as I can snatch up!  The way I see it, I’ve got at least another 30 years of investing before retirement, and given that the long-term trend of the stock market is upwards, I should be buying up my index stock now while the prices are low – my dollar buys more shares now than it will in a few years when the market is back up.  I had originally planned on putting in my maximum$5000 to my Roth IRA over the rest of 2011, but with the big drop now, I might just have to put in the rest now!

How are you reacting to this current financial flop in the USA?

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It seems my resolve to blog has not held strong…it’s been a roller coaster summer of emotions and I really haven’t dealt with it very well.  Personal finance has tied in to many of the recent situations that are currently gnawing at my gut and keeping me awake too many nights.  When I feel a little less emotional about it all, I hope to blog about it.  For now…I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on my favorite blogs!

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Review of Crest Whitening Strips

* This is not a sponsored post *

Although I still have debt (mortgage and personal loans), I am not willing to put every single extra penny I can towards paying off that debt.  While many bloggers that I admire and respect do so, I have realized that I do want to maintain a certain level of lifestyle while I pay off my debt. ….my parents both made huge sacrifices to pay off their education debt early in their lives (living with family until marriage, extreme frugality….think no bed, no extras at all), they impressed upon me that they gave up a lot of experiences that they want me to have while I am young.  And while a “hygiene” product like whitening strips is a lot more superficial than  say taking a once in a life time back packing trip…..it’s what I want to do (and can afford) at the moment.

I love my (home-brewed) coffee and (cheap) wine…but they do not love my teeth!  After miserable high school years spent in braces, I want my teeth to look their best…I know that when I put effort into making a good appearance, I have a lot more confidence and that leads to a ripple effect of good things…the power of positivity!  I have previously tried the original version of whitestrips, but they fell off my teeth so easily and didn’t seem to have much of an effect.  I just started the advanced seal professional effects strips, 1 set for 30 mins a day.  The seal is SO MUCH BETTER!!  They stick on with minimal effort and I can actually talk with them on!  WOo hoo!!  I’ll check in at the end of the month with an update on whether or not they actually whitened. (and since I never posted this on time…results are IN and the effect was noticeable and lasting!  I received lots of comments from relatives who hadn’t seen me in a while)

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