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Archive for December, 2008

Unjustifiable dream vacation - do you have one?

December 31st, 2008 at 07:59 am

Something fun to think about, but just not reasonable to actually do it.

For me, it is going back to Bariloche to ski in the summer. And to stay in this villa.
just look through the gallery, it is great - I love patagonian architecture.

Bariloche is my favorite town.
Beautiful alpine town with great atmosphere unique nature-inspired architecture and GORGEOUS nature all around.
The food in local restaurants is delicious - the best Italian food I had (and I live in NY) and asado, and all those chocolate shops and cafes.
We were there during their spring, and would love to also experience it in winter! I think it would be like a winter wonderland.

Now the unreasonable parts of it:
expense - when we went for our honeymoon over a year ago it cost us 11K for 30 days in Argentina, and we did not stay in places like that - we got private rooms in hostels.
Airfare is also much more of a consideration when going for a short time. 2k at least. OK for a 30 day trip, but not a 7 day one.

But the biggest impediment is that this place is simply too big for 2 people. If I had a huge family than it would be perfect for a reunion. But with friends - I won't find enough people willing to fly to Bariloche at the same time and share such a big expense.

So spending close to 10k for one week is just not something I would do or could enjoy. But I still think of coming back to Bariloche again. It is a romantic dream left from my honeymoon.

Smashed window for Christmas

December 24th, 2008 at 05:39 pm

Another vandalism to our car - this morning we found car window was smashed.

Not even bothered to report it to police - it would take us another 4 hour to make them show up.

So DH missed second day of work in a row due to car problems.

Well, he could not drive on a highway at 80mph with ice flying with no window.
Mechanic will have window shipped to him today - but it will take hours. It is Christmas eve.

So, another day wasted and another $120 because of some human garbage that this this is fun.
I saw another window smashed on a block few weeks ago. And 0 guarantee it won't happen again tomorrow.

Car trouble and holiday getaway plans.

December 22nd, 2008 at 01:16 am

Our car did not start today. Again. This time we are sure none of the lights were on. The battery is brand new (less than a week old).

So it is either the alternator again (replaced one year ago) or some kind of electrical problem. We don't even know a good mechanic. The one we use replaced 3 things that did not need to be replaced before he found a problem last time. But there is no reason to believe the next one would be any better.

On the bright side, we have plans for a 4 day getaway on both Christmas and a New Year's weekend.
We will be staying in our friend's house in Catskills. Half an hour from the slopes (as opposed to 3 hrs from NYC).

They won't be there, as they are visiting family. It is a lovely house, we stayed there many times.
This is better than a hotel. Prices for hotels are very high during these holidays, than there is a cost of eating every meal out.
In the house there is a kitchen we are comfortable and familiar with, and a gourmet supermarket nearby.

I am so looking forward to skiing! And it is so much easier when it is only 1/2 hour away.

We had lunch with these friends today, I was very happy to treat them. They are really generous. They gave us keys from their manhattan apartment years ago and now a weekend house, and we are welcome to stay anytime.

Now I just hope our car does not die on us!!!

Not financial - 52 week project

December 19th, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Another project I want to do this year:

I have a tiny camera and I will carry it with me everywhere in my purse and take one picture a day.

Even if it is routine, mundane... like a way home from work or a street I've seen 1000 times, or breakfast.

I think one can see things differently through the lens and it will be like a record of what our life was like - what we see on a daily basis. I will select a fixed number of photos (I think 4 on regular week and 8 on vacation/getaway week) and have an album page for each week. (maybe post them on the blog every week too).

I hope I will have the discipline to see this through.

I will start today so that I can prepare the album before the next New Year's Eve.

Dividend time - $440

December 18th, 2008 at 08:15 pm

Considering how much value the funds lost this year, it is a drop in the bucket.

But dividends are still pleasant.
If the stock market goes up and my value is to increase $800 in one day - that does not have much effect on my mood since I know it will be down tomorrow again and that gain is not "real" (though loss does feel real).

But something that increases the number of shares I have(I elect to reinvest) feels more real.

Where does the money really go? True cost of living!

December 17th, 2008 at 03:59 am

After being shocked at how much I spent on clothing in 08, I decided that in 2009 I won't be surprised by how much money I spend on anything. I can still spend on things that matter to me, but I will be totally aware of my choices and their cost.

So I made a very detailed list and will keep meticulous track of it - recording everything I spend each day. If done daily it won't take more than 5 min. And I will satisfy my curiosity at how much different aspects or our life cost. As it turns out, just estimating is not very accurate.

So here are my 2009 spending categories:

electric bill
gas bill
cable bill

eating out 2 of us
eating out with friends
lunches and breakfasts at work

fruits and berries
all other food
household supplies (bounty, bulbs, etc.)
hygene (toothpaste, shaving, shampoo, etc.)
cleaning supplies
dry cleaning

furniture, decor
house other (linens, utensils, etc.)

grooming (haircuts, nails,
make-up, skincare)

weekend getaways
entertainment - all other


pet food/litter, supplies

car insurance
car maintenance
car repairs

savings retirement
savings non-retirement

I will keep 2 columns "current month" and "year to date".

I view this as a kind of personal finance experiment.

And I think really knowing how much I am spending will help me in cutting down.

The difference between a New Year's RESOLUTION and a PLAN

December 9th, 2008 at 10:44 pm

How often do we set ambitious goals come Jan. 1?

How often do we fulfill most of them?

Where are we going wrong?

I think I found few problems with my previous approach to resolutions.

1. Defining goals that are not completely up to me.
I think it is intimidating to put down goals such as "get published". What if you fail?
I think a better goal to set is "submit x articles for publication". So that you just have to worry about doing your part.

2. Accountability. I am a procrastinator at heart, so it is oh so easy to get to December with nothing but good intentions.

So I break down my goals month by month -- every yearly goal broken down into steps.
Print out the "month" sheet and put it on the refrigerator.

Get graded. Post a reward for 80% compliance(nobody is perfect and life happens). Email the list to friends.

So here I am posting mine for JAN. (oh, nothing wrong with getting a head start, if possible, to make it easier later).

Goals for the year:
Visit new country (done every year)
Max out ROTH (done every year)
Save $400 monthly outside retirement accounts
Have 20 ski days this season (18 days last season)
Finish Chinese language courses
Try new sport
Learn 12 New dishes (1 per month)
Loose 20 lb
Eat healthier
(very stereotypical, I know)

Every month I check of the monthly list and write down what progress has been made on each goal.

I wish I had more committed friends!

December 8th, 2008 at 04:41 am

I would love to stay in a nice slopeside condo at Stratton mountain for a long weekend. However, these things are very pricey. At $600 a night, we are not doing it alone. It is just way too much to pay $1800 for lodging, than lift tickets, than food, gas... for only 3 days.

However, the condo sleeps 6, so for $200 a night for DH and me it would be ok. I have many friends that ski, however for them to be available for a specific date, to be committed to that date, to have the money and a day off. ... it is very difficult to coordinate.

It is like herding cats!!!

Found money

December 7th, 2008 at 01:50 am

Found $20 on the Subway yesterday. There was no one looking for it so I did not know what to do. I stood there for few min holding it visibly... If there was a reasonable chance of finding the owner I would not keep it. As there wasn't, I kept it, but it did not feel so good. I still wonder if I did an unethical thing. Should I have given it to the MTA guy?

Retailers are slashing prices. I called Ralph Lauren customer service and got a $70 adjustment for something I ordered a week ago. They did not adjust the price but promised to refund the difference after the order goes through. Don't know why they have to do it that way. I'll have to keep it in mind and follow up.

I also saw a waffle maker I recently bought selling for $30 less at Costco. So I bought that one and will return the other one to the store. Luckily I did not open it yet.

So it is $120 less for outgo.

Annoying things "financial experts" say

December 4th, 2008 at 05:11 pm

I am curious to listen to personal finance programs for several reasons - such as getting the glimpse into the life of others, who live very differently, in other parts of the country.
I also want to get motivated to save more. And I want to learn something new.

I find that I disagree with some things that are repeated over and over. And it is starting to annoy me.

The absolute "no debt" approach advocated by Dave Ramsey makes no sense to me.

Our only debt is a very manageable student loan.

He would not care that it is at 2% fixed interest. I do. We would have paid it off last year if it was at higher interest. But with official inflation at 4%, and real inflation even higher (I do include food as part of inflation because we do eat, and we eat every day) and my interest at 2% (even less if you consider partial tax deduction) the value of that debt is decreasing every year and it makes sense to pay the minimum. I would rather save 6% by putting that money toward a down payment or other needs.

"Pay the lowest balance first."
If something horrible happened to us and we had to go into cc debt, we would certainly pay the one with the highest interest first! Because it costs more to keep.
I would not care about getting "encouraged" by seeing a smaller number of balances. It is the amount that matters. If you have a limited amount of money, you have to do the most damage control that you can with it.

"Don't carry credit cards, credit cards are evil, you are playing with the devil, etc....."
They are a method of payment. That is it. If you don't spend more money than you have they only reward you. There is not much they can do to you if you pay your balance in full every month.

"Spend cash only because spending cash hurts more. You would not buy some items if you had to withdraw the cash and part with it there."
The only way that would apply to me is if I had to pay a fee to withdraw that cash.
When I buy something that is $300 I evaluate it in terms of that number. How does that number relate to the number that is currently representing my bank account, to the numbers that make up in my planned expenses.
It is $300 no matter how I would pay for it. It will have the same impact on my finances no matter how I pay for it. I evaluate that impact by that number - not by a method of payment.

"cut up or freeze your credit cards"
Really, I find it hard to comprehend that adults can't control themselves to the point they have to put their ccs in the freezer or cut them not to spend money they don't have. That is a behavior of a child.

"It is recommended that you spend no more than 25% of your income on your housing expenses."

Recommended for whom? Would your percentage be the same if you have to pay daycare for 3 kids and worry about their college as opposed to a childless couple?
What are the assumptions made? Do they know how many years you keep your cars, or if you have health issues, or how much your commute is costing you? Only you can really know these things. You can't expect the bank to tell you what you can really afford. It is up to you to figure it out.

Markets are also different. Housing prices are different. And percentages get skewed at different income level.

If you take home 3K monthly maybe you should not have 1.5k mortgage and have 1.5K left for everything else - it will be living to close to the edge.
If you bring home 10K monthly and your mortgage and taxes total 5K, it is conceivable that what you have left over can cover all other living expenses, even with your housing being 50% of your take-home.
There is not one number best for all.

It feels like these things are made up for people who cannot think for themselves.