Archive for the ‘Spending’ Category

So it turns out that some waiters are trained to aim the check at the man – I never knew that!

Curiously, I received a comment from a reader who said that in her experience as a waitress, men tend to be better tippers. Another waitress commented that while the men tends to pay, she hasn’t noticed any difference between men and women tippers. According to the couple of surveys that I could find, men are definitely better tippers (see Hitched Mag and 2002 HCareers Survey).

Boyfriend and I are fairly close in terms of tipping (around 18%-20% for lunch and dinner). However, I think that my range of tipping is wider than his. For example, if I have received absolutely fantastic service, I would be more likely to tip 25% than he is. On the other hand, if the service is dismal, I have no problem tipping 10%, whereas boyfriend might feel that’s a little bit low.

Another interesting difference I’ve noticed is that boyfriend tip for take-out pick-up, whereas I usually don’t. Boyfriend also puts his change into those tip jars at Starbucks or Coffee Bean. I hold on to my change (they come in handy when I need coins for meter parking). So, I guess in the grander scheme of things, boyfriend is probably the better tipper by a slim margin.

Even so, I’m not quite convinced that our difference can be attributed to gender – boyfriend has a sibling who works in the service industry, so that aspect is probably more influential on his tipping practice than his gender.

I would like input from readers (especially those of you who has worked as waiters / waitresses) – have you noticed that either men or women tend to be better tippers? Why do you think that is?


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The Man Gets The Check?

When boyfriend and I go out to dinner, we usually split the check. Other times, one of us would pick up the whole tab.

I’ve noticed something interesting – when we ask for the check, sometimes the waiter/waitress would place the check towards boyfriend, clearly in his direction or by his arms (on the flip side, I’ve never received a check that was clearly in my direction – it’d be in the middle of the table).

Is the waiter subconsciously nodding to the traditional man-paying-for-dinner practice? Or maybe boyfriend always sits towards outside of the table.

I’m not offended, just found it curious.

Has anyone experienced something similar?

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One of the greatest joys of making money, I’ve decided, is that it enables me to outsource those pesky chores that I’ve never gotten around doing (and frankly don’t do a great job of).

1. I don’t like doing laundry. When I lived in my previous apartment, I either took laundry home or used a fluff ‘n fold service at $1.50 a pound. Now that laundry is included in my rent and the machines are steps away from my apartment, I don’t mind this chore so much.

So, as my dislike for doing laundry has decreased, so has my willingness to pay someone else to do it for me. I don’t use that service anymore.

2. When I moved out of my previous apartment, my roommate and I hired a cleaning company to give the place a good scrub-down. It cost $200 between the two of us, but if we did it ourselves, we’d be lucky if we could’ve gotten it half as clean in twice the time.

The funny thing is that when I was younger, Mom went over the apartment with a toothbrush (seriously – I still remember trying to clean the bathroom sinks!). But now, whenever she needs to get her rental place ready for a tenant, she hires a service.

3. Car wash. Because I’ve only lived in apartments in my post-college life, I don’t have a good place to wash my car. And apartment-living might be a convenient scapegoat, because even if I had a house I don’t think I’d wash my car that much more frequently. So today I dropped it off at a hand-car-wash place near my work.

And for $20 (including $5 tip), my car was returned to me at 5PM squeaky clean. I can see my reflection off the hood. The interior was vacuumed. The windows were spotless.

What hated chores do you love to outsource?

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When I was preparing for my test, I’d frequently go to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks, or Borders to study.

Often I would be too distracted to study at home. The libraries around my apartment would close at in the early evenings… that’s way too early considering I usually got my studying in between 9PM and 11PM.

At $3-$6 a sitting (I’d usually get a drink, sometimes I’d splurge for a sandwich), these study sessions aren’t cheap. I went out to study at least once or twice a week. Assuming an average expenditure of $10-$20 a week, I was spending $50-$80 a month on coffee drinks alone!

I don’t know how I got into studying at coffee shops – it’s a habit that started in high school when I first started cramming for statistics at a Starbucks.

Mentally tallying up all the coffee money I’ve spent in the name of studying…. wow, must’ve been in the hundreds.

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1. Foundations – I haven’t had much luck with drugstore foundations, so for the past several years I’ve been sticking to more expensive brands. My first department-store foundation was Clinique’s Clarifying Makeup for the princely sum of $16, first purchased when I was a sophomore in high school. Currently, my favorite is Korres Ginger and Vitamin foundation ($28 at Sephora). It provides light to medium coverage and does a good job of smoothing out skin tones and concealing minor blemishes.

2. Mechanics – I found a mechanic that I think is pretty good, and I’ve been going to him for the past two years. Even though I’m sure I can cobble together some cheaper oil changes or routine check-ups, it just makes me feel better to have someone I know. Besides, I try not to feel too bad about repair charges. My car is old – it’s going to need repairs. Even if I spend $1,000-$2,000 a year on repairs, that’s still far cheaper than the cost of a new car.

3. Education-related items – Like mother, like daughter. I paid 1/2 of my test prep classes (almost $1,000). Mom paid for the other 1/2 of test prep as a graduation present. I also took my test twice at $250 per sitting. $500 seems like a lot of money to spend on anything else, but for my test I didn’t even blink. It’s almost as if my brain doesn’t register the “pain” that comes with spending, if the spending is in the name of education or self-development. Even if I sometimes define “education” very broadly, to include, say, tango and salsa classes (hey, they’re good for me, right?).

4. Location – I don’t live in the best neighborhoods, but I’m a little bit of a scaredy-cat and steered clear of places that looks uncomfortable or gives me a weird vibe during my apartment hunt. People walk their dogs and couples run with strollers on my street, that makes me feel like I picked a good spot. Safety is number one, so I don’t apologize for this.

5. Hotels – During college, I stayed at hostels for $15 a night in Europe. I’m several years removed from that experience now, and I don’t think I can ever go back. I like a nice King-sized bed, a convenient location, and responsive customer service. To accomodate both my inflated taste and my budget, I turn to Hotwire.com. I’ve booked the Westin, the Hilton, and the Omni through the website, all for 40%-50% off the listed price on the hotel’s website. Win – win.

What are your 5 things?

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June gloom is not only confined to coastal climate. Right now, I’m feeling under the weather when it comes to my personal finances.

May and June were pretty bad in terms of spending. In addition to my own spending on fun things, unexpected expenses just seem to crop up (hello $60 parking ticket and $90 medical bill), not to mention double rent for a month will kill your budget.
Normally, I’m really good at letting the sunk costs be sunken. I don’t ruminate over it. I see the charge, groan inwardly, then I pay the fine or the fee and I move on.
I don’t know why this month things have been weighing on me more heavily. I just feel discouraged.
Well, July is a brand-new month. Which means I’m going try to get back on track by:

  • Putting in $3,000 into 401K
  • Limiting restaurant meals to 3x a week. That’s it!
  • Giving up expensive ($25+ per person) meals. (I had a $80 dinner at a Michelin-star-rated restaurant in June. But it was worth it. Oops.).
  • Eliminating spending on clothes or shoes.

I, however, will keep have some personal pampering and fun by:

  • Taking dance classes for $60.
  • Getting a massage for $110.

Has anyone ever felt the “June gloom” of personal finance?

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Or, all the money that went to College Board / ETS and GMAC over the years.

As a veteran standardized-test-taker who have recently (and happily) said goodbye to standardized tests, I’ve decided to take reader S’s suggestion and tally up all the money that went into this little 1-person enterprise of standardized test-taking.

The numbers will be an approximation (to the best of my memory + googling) for the tests I took in high school.

  • 10th grade: PSAT:
    Cost to take: $10-$14 (?)
  • 10th-12th grade: Advanced Placement Tests (5 total)
    Cost to take: $135 each = $675 total
  • 11th grade: SAT I (taken twice – I might be showing my age, but when I took it the full score was 1600, not 2400)
    Cost to take: $25 each = $50 total
    Cost to send top score to colleges (12 colleges) = $8 each = $96 total
    Test-Prep: $0 – my high-school counselor somehow got me into a class that a prep organization was doing as a pro-bono project.
  • 11th grade: SAT II (3 tests, each taken twice)
    Cost to take: $25 each = $150 total
    Cost to send 3 top scores to schools: $8 each = $18 total
    Test Prep: $500-$1,000? I was sent to tutoring every day after school for a couple of months.
  • Post-college: GMAT (taken twice)
    Cost to take: $250 each = $500 total
    Test Prep: ~$1,800 – this includes a formal 9 week prep class and a couple of additional workshops.

Adding up all the numbers… comes to out to around $4,000. Just on testing and test-prep alone.

There are some people who are innately good at standardized tests. They study for two weeks and get a 99.999th percentile on the first try. They are the ones who get 780s on GMATs and 176s on LSATs. (Yes, I know people like them. I try not to hate too much. 😉 ).

Then there are people who really struggle with standardized testing in general – they may be very smart individuals who are just not good at these types of tests.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle – I usually score better than median on the diagnostic just as a benefit of the education I have received to date (and as an avid reader my verbal skills tends to rank fairly high off the bat), but I definitely need to study over a consistent period of time to get a good score.

That’s where test preparation (and the financial resources it required) has helped me a great deal.

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I finally got a hair cut this past weekend. It came out to be around $55 with tip, is very reasonable. My stylist, “Holly”, gave me some nice long layers and a saucy flip (though unfortunately only achievable through a professional blow-dry).

She was really chatty and friendly, and somehow the conversation turned to finances and the recession. I asked her about the business model of hair salons – apparently, some stylists work on commissions and receive clients through the salon, others are solely renters who pay the salon a weekly rent and recruit their own clients.

Holly said that she used to work as an assistant stylist in a very upscale salon in a very upscale part of town – where a week’s rent for a salon space is $800! Of course, the cut and treatments at that salon can range from $300 and upwards. On the good days, Holly said, her boss (the main stylist) would net $1,200. A DAY.

Of course, when the recession hit, bookings fell. They noticed that the clients are spacing out their appointments more and more. Instead of coming back for a trim or a new ‘do every 2 months, clients might be waiting until the 4th or 5th month mark. I also imagine that many people would bypass the more expensive treatments like hair color and perms and settle for a simple cut and blow-dry. All of this cut into their profits.

That’s why Holly decided to move to her current salon, which operates on a lower price point (think $50 per cut instead of $400+) and is located in a less swanky area. Her per-cut take is much lower, but the increased sales volume makes up for it.

Another real-life example of market pricing. Love it!

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My finances have fallen by the wayside.

The Good: *cricket chirps* I am not living above my means (just, er, very close to it). I also finally set up automatic payments to my student loan.

The Bad: Between all the costs for the apartment and the copious amounts of shopping and dining I’ve been doing, my emergency cash fund has been growing… rather slowly. For most of April and all of May I haven’t been able to save much at all.

The Ugly: Too ugly for words. Only numbers can tell the story.

Double rent for June: ~$1,700 (later I expect ~$300 back, but still!)
GMAT registration: $250
Hotel reservation for parents: $200+
Memorial weekend massage & shopping: $350
Dining out: I don’t want to look!

Conclusion: I’ve been a rather bad PF blogger, haven’t I?

The exciting news is that I will have access to a 401(k) come July. I am debating if I should aim to contribute the full $15,500 the 401(k) for 2009 – that’d be $2,583 a month, a very significant chunk of my paycheck. I probably won’t be able to save for anything else for the rest of the year.

However, given that I expect to return to school in the next few years, it behooves me to save as much as I can in an employer-sponsored retirement vehicle while I can. One year of maxed out 401(k) is $15,000+ in contributions… that can make a ton of difference later on in my life.

Maxing out the 401(k) in 6 months = a lot of money! But maybe this enforced savings is just what I’ll need to whip my finances back into shape.

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The world may be scared of swine H1N1 flu, but I’ve been struck down by a heady case of want-to-spend-money-itis.

Sounds serious? It is!

Here are my symptoms:

1. Eating out with increasing frequency (lunches, dinners, brunches).
2. Shopping on a weeknight. My haul included a silk blouse and a pair of Cole Haans. In my defense, they were on sale.
3. Paying double rent for a couple of weeks in June due to my upcoming apartment move.
4. Being overly influenced by Apartmenttherapy (planning to buy furniture from Craigslist or flea markets, but that still costs money!)
5. Booking a massage for CB and I for Memorial Day weekend ($$).
6. Planning a vacation to Vegas and the Grand Canyon ($$$).
7. Trying to hold back from purchases I want to make, all in the $100+ range.

My partner in crime enabler(!), Revanche, insists on showing me pictures of cute dresses that should NOT be in my budget right now.

Basically, I’m spending a lot of money. Despite the pf blogsophere’s general insistence to the contrary, spending that money does make me happy. Good food and a gorgeous new apartment and new dresses and vacations make me happy.

The problem is, my wallet just can’t sustain such prolonged periods of happiness!

I blame this illness on the summer.

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