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Archive for January, 2008

January 08 report

I’ve been good about keeping track of my money.. so I’m feeling proud just ’cause of that.

Spendng $$$: I budgeted $1958.16 per month, but only spent $1,651.62 (fixed: $1,134.75, variable: $516.87, and irregular: $0). My unofficial goal is to keep my monthly spending lower than 1 paycheck’s net amount, which I have done this month. So I’m pretty happy about that. I can’t get careless, though, because I have alot of upcoming expenses (car, insurance, memberships, etc.). Cash flow will be lower in February.

Saving $$$: I saved*** a total of $1,000 ($500 Roth, $500 MMF). That’s only 4% of my annual goal of $26,000 in savings. Of course, I made that goal with bonuses/raises/gift money/tax refunds in mind, but it’s still a little disconcerting to find the year 1/12 OVER but I’ve only made 4/100 of my goal.

For February, I resolve to kick things up a notch! There’s the $500 Roth contribution, then $1,100 to MMF. This will bring me to $2,600, or 10% of my goal. Much better.

I’ve already made my appointment for my monthly massage.. but maybe I can postpone it to March. (It hurts to even type this). Your thoughts?

***I define “saved” as money that has been deposited into accounts OUTSIDE of my regular savings account or checking account. In this case, my saving vehicles are my retirement portfolio & money market fund. I still have money leftover from paying all the bills in the savings account, but that money is earmarked for very short-term expenses or to serve as cash cushion. So I don’t consider it saved money at all.

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Thank God for small blessings

One of the best feelings in life has got to be when you’re just drifting off to sleep (or s-l-o-w-l-y awaking)… that in-between moment when you are conscious enough to enjoy the feeling of a luxurious sleep but still sleepy enough to, well, luxuriate* in your sleepiness.

Come to think of it, it’s no small thing at all.

*Is that even a word? Should I be ashamed that I’m not sure if I just made up a word after graduating from a pricey liberal arts school?

**Miss Noodle has kindly informed me that luxuriate is, indeed, a bona fide word. Oh validation, have you ever tasted so sweet.

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Death by cupcake

I spoke too soon…

So, it appears I would NOT be under budget for food after all.

Tonight after work I went to my local grocery store and bought vanilla, chocolate bars, cupcake liners, flour, baking soda, and confectioner’s sugar for a grand total of $16. So I went over budget by around $15.

I made cupcakes.

That’s RIGHT! Finally, I’m ready to graduate from Betty Crocker cake mix and see what a cupcake from scratch taste like. I’ve had a fascination with cupcakes for a long time.. they are so delicious, with generous frosting-to-cake ratio, small enough that I never feel bad about eating 2 (or 3.. or 4), and just so darn cute.

Then I found this website: cupcakeblog.com. I decided to try my hand at the Devil’s Food Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find unsweetened cocoa powder at the store, and I was too lazy to drive in search of that ingredient, so I just bought some bars of bittersweet chocolate, melted it in a water bath, mixed it to the best of my ability (I don’t have an electric mixer either), and convinced myself that some chocolate chunks in the batter will only add to the chocolate-y goodness.

It came out okay… a little too crispy around the edges and not quite fluffy enough (hand-beating couldn’t get up the speed to get enough air in the batter.. but I tried!). But the frosting was AMAZING. A little too runny, but I chilled it in the fridge for a bit to thicken it up. I could not stop licking the frosting off my fingers.

For my first cupcake-baking attempt, I give myself an A for effort. Probably a B(+?) for execution.

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What’s your food budget?

Wow. Thanks to everyone for the TJ’s suggestions.. more stuff to check out on the next grocery run! 🙂

January isn’t over yet, but I’ve bought all the groceries I’ll buy for this month – not to mention that next weekend will be February, so I don’t expect to buy any more food until Saturday or Sunday.

With a revised food budget of $220 ($110 each for Dining Out & Groceries), I spent $218.55 ($124.17 groceries, 94.38 dining out)… barely squeaking by. I’ve increased my budget $20… my original budget of $200 felt a little tight for me.

I’m curious – so I’m posing a question to all the 20-something female bloggers (my demographic!) out there: what’s your overall food budget (groceries + dining out)? It’d be helpful if you can also list your area of residence to provide context – food would be much more expensive in NYC than in the Mid-West.

Update: I’m still on the Clothing Hiatus… even though I saw some really cute things on sale at J. Crew. One month (almost) done… 5 more to go.

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One word (or two): Trader Joe’s.

Seriously. That store’s frozen foods section is a God-send for me. The products are so tasty and easy to make (and dare I say, as healthy as frozen foods can get) that it’s not worth for me to go out to restaurants unless I’m looking for ambiance or really really amazing food.

In short, Trader Joe’s has made it possible for me to have quick, delicious meals. Let me introduce you to two products that totally make my day (or dinner):

Vegetable Melange with Seasoned Butter Sauce: It is amazing. Just add a couple tablespoons of water in a pan and heat up the veggies. The carrots, peas, cauliflowers and corn all heat up to perfection – the buttered sauce coating every tiny piece of veggie. I get it for $2.29/bag at my local TJ’s.

Teriyaki Chicken: Already cooked. All you have to do is to throw the chicken pieces in the microwave, warm up the sauce, then drizzle it on. I go the extra (but totally worthwhile) step of saute-ing the chicken in a pan and then put the sauce in so that the chicken is nicely browned and the sauce thickens and really coats the meat. $5 for a bag, and very bit as good as your local take-out.

Yummmmmmm.

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Protected: Life, I have imagined

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$150 in my pocket!

I just called my car insurance company and got my 6-month premium lowered from almost $850 to a little over $700. My monthly payments will be almost $25 cheaper.

That $25 will probably be (more than) eaten up by rent increases when my lease is up in the summer. Oh well.

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Something amazing happened

I went through the ENTIRE WEEK of January 14th to January 20th without spending ONE penny on dining out.

What’s more, I’m actually pretty happy with the lack of restaurant-fare.

For some, it might not sound much of an accomplishment, but then there’s me.

In the past, it would’ve been so easy to just get Chinese takeout on a Friday night and head to Chili’s for a Saturday meal. Sunday lunches might be spent at Chipotle or In-n-Out. It’s not as if I deprived myself much this week – my grocery bags were full of Haagen Dazs ice cream (3 tubs) and yummy frozen foods from Trader Joe’s.

But still. I made it one week without eating out. I’m going to try to go another week without eating out… we’ll see how that goes.

Update: It is now Thursday, Jan 24, and I still have yet to spend one penny on outside food. But enough is enough! I’m getting some juicy In-N-Out burgers and delicious milkshake this weekend.

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Buying, eventually

Even though I fully intend on owning a home -free & clear- by the time I retire, it’s becoming increasingly clear that home ownership in the next 3-5 years isn’t necessarily compatible with my future goals/plans. Unless the housing market drops 20% and I can suddenly buy condos for under $250,000, that is.

I ran an analysis on New York Time’s Rent or Buy calculator:

Assumptions:

–> Monthly Rent: $1,100 (that’s actually almost $350+ more than what I’m paying now. But I can get a one bedroom apartment for $1,100 in the area where I want to buy, whereas right now I have a roommate).
–> Home Price: $300,000 (If I buy, I’ll probably buy a one-bedroom apartment. If I buy a 2-bed/2-bath, the price will probably be around $450,000+ in a good area).
–> Down Payment: 15%, or $45,000
–> Mortgage Rate: 6.25%
–> Annual Property Tax: 2.25% to account for HOA fees.
–> Annual home appreciation: 5%. That seems like a reasonable assumption.. no?
–> Annual rent increase: 7% (a little on the high side).

Under these assumptions, buying is better than rent after 10 years. Is that.. good? I was looking for more of the 7-8 year range. If I buy a 2 bedroom ($450,000) and still put down 15%, buying will be better than renting after 20 years. That’s practically a kid.

The reasons why it wouldn’t make sense for me to buy would be: I want to travel. I might go back to graduate school. I want to preserve liquidity at this point in my life. Even though I love my area and it’s close to my parents, I don’t know if I want the commitment of home ownership right now. I don’t want to become house poor.

From an opportunity cost perspective, home ownership probably would not be the right move for me, given the assumptions listed above. There’s really no rush, right? I’m only 23. Even if I wait 10 years to buy, I’ll still ONLY be 33… which, at that point, 30s will be the new 20s.

I am still concentrating on building a cash (is king) reserve for short-to-medium term goals in my money market fund. Buying in 2 years (when the real estate market is supposed to “bottom out”) may be a good investment if prices heat up again, but I’m of the view that a primary home is not an “investment” – certainly not in the way that a well-diversified portfolio or rental property is.

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History in the making

So this is a very volatile time in the markets right now – my investment portfolio tells me that. In just a short several years, I’ve seen the tech boom (and bust), the run-up of hedge funds then private equity, the age of mega leveraged buyouts, the real estate explosion, and now… the fallout.

At first I was under the impression that these cycles of boom-then-bust are something confined to the 1990s… yeah, how generation-centric of me, right? 😉 Then I read A Random Walk Down Wall Street. There it is: booms & busts are NOTHING new. Sure, the vehicles may change, but the fundamentals don’t.

Hegel said: “We learn from history that men learn nothing from history.”

Buffett said: ““Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

If you are (a) supremely confident of your ability to pick the next Google or that you have a broker who does OR (b) if you are taking all your money out because you’re certain that the market will crash & burn – just think about those two sayings.

As for me? I have some bonds and a whole lot of stocks, and I’m sitting pretty on my (small but growing) pile. I’m in it for the long haul, baby.

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