Tuesday, February 27, 2007
One account closes, another...
well, you get the idea.

I've transferred the remaining balance (almost entirely bonuses) out of my ING account. I was holding onto it for reasons that really didn't make any sense in the long run. I still think it's an easy introduction to the world of online savings, but I know I can do better. I'd like to say that I'm taking the money and immediately putting it into Emigrant, but instead, I'm using it to pay off the plane ticket for my trip next month. Since I haven't left town since Thanksgiving, I'm counting this as a worthy expense.

I'm also shifting my emergency fund to E-Trade next month. I found out about the signup bonus over at BankDeals, and that tipped me. It has beneficiary service, although not quite as smooth a signup as the CSR promised, and local branches if I really have an issue that needs personal resolution. So now all my online accounts will be earning 5.05%.

I get a much lower rate on my "overdraft fund," the credit union savings account available for immediate transfers to my checking account or credit card. I don't fret about that because I only hold $300-$500 there, and I figure the peace of mind from having instant access to extra cash is worth a few pennies in foregone interest.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007
Disorganization Dinged Me But Good.
1) Sometime during the course of this weekend, I lost my work ID badge. It may well be in my house, but I've moved around all the papers that clutter my entryway. I still can't find it anywhere.

I was able to get a temporary replacement without a problem, but I only have until the end of the month before I need a permanent replacement. And that requires a new employment eligibility form, with the standard two pieces of ID. Again, seemingly not a problem, but one of the ID types must be a birth certificate, social security card, or passport, and all of those are locked in my safe. The key to which was lost months ago.

Did I call to replace the key before this? No.

So in order for me to get a replacement key from the safe company in time to get a new badge, I'll have to pay for expedited shipping. $25 for being disorganized.

2) I was so flustered yesterday with all my work projects that I never properly thanked Lazy Man for hosting the Festival of Frugality. I particularly noted Elizabeth's glee over cheap chocolate and David's pledge to buy used for a year. And of course, there was my own post on Saturday's $30 Oscarfest.

3) And finally, I forgot to remind people to enter my movie quote quiz. The prize is a post on the topic of your choosing (I don't have tons of publishers sending me review copies of books or free software, so I give what I can). Technically, the contest was over on Monday, but since Michael and Ellen are tied with 3 and since I didn't post any reminders, I'm giving it one more day. There are 20 quotes. Good luck!

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Losing Power Is No Fun.
Especially when you haven't prepared as well as you should have.

On Sunday afternoon, I was gearing up for a few errands when a sudden flurry of snow began. Then the lights started surging on and off. Finally, everything shut down. I checked outside to discover that it seemed to be a very concentrated power outage (about a block on each side of me was out, but I could see powered buildings just across the nearest major intersection).

This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but:

a) Sunday was the tail end of one of the longest cold snaps in a decade, and my heat is electric, not gas.
b) My regular phone is on a cable-VOIP system, and requires electricity.
c) My cell phone hadn't been recharged the night before.

I had enough juice in my cell phone to report the outage to the power company and leave a message with a nearby friend. During a break in the snow, I headed over to the still-lit store across the street for a few non-perishable things (mini cans of pineapple juice and [non-tainted] peanut butter). I figured with the bread, bananas, and water bottles I already had in the house, I'd get by for awhile. I also picked up some more matches and batteries.

When I got home, I used the rapidly fading light to find the candles in my kitchen. My flashlight, however, was nowhere to be found. So I read for awhile by candlelight, hoping that the snow (which had returned in force by this point) would subside so that I could head out to my car and use the car charger to replenish my cell phone. Before that happened, however, my friend showed up to rescue me. As she hadn't been able to call me back, she got worried and decided to check in on me. So I grabbed a few things, and she drove me back to her place. I spent a pretty pleasant night on her guest bed, and awoke in the morning to a message on my (now recharged) phone that said power had been restored.

All told, it was a minor inconvenience.

But for next time, I'll make sure to have:

A battery powered cell phone charger. The Energi to Go is the only model I know of that's commonly available.

A lantern flashlight.
I'm thinking something like this Coleman.

More non-perishable food. My stock of water bottles is good, but it might be good to keep some individually wrapped energy bars around the house, as I keep my bread in the fridge and wouldn't want to have to open the latter to get the former.

I think my stock of matches and candles is more than adequate for now, but I'll revisit that later.

Sometimes, it's worth paying the money upfront for the peace of mind later.


Thursday, February 15, 2007
George Washington University Raises Tuition to $39,000.
The school already has the dubious distinction of being the most expensive college in America.

And it is about to raise tuition again for the 2007-2008 school year.

This will push the total cost of attendance to $54,000 a year, including room, board, fees, and personal allowances. GW does provide financial aid, but the average need-based package was less than $32,000 for 2006-2007. Assuming the need-based aid package increases dollar-for-dollar with the tuition increase, that's still a shortfall of $20,000 every year before merit aid is accounted for.

The school does promise to hold tuition steady for an enrolled student for five years, and the need-based package is also guaranteed not to fall. However, $80,000 out of pocket strikes me as a lot for a school that ISN'T the best-ranked by most measures.

Does anyone have any insight into the value of GW for the price? I did apply there for undergrad, and was offered a half-tuition package, but it was still far too expensive even then.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007
AMC Theatres Oscarfest for $30
For the record, this is NOT an affiliate link. I just think this is interesting.

AMC Theatres is offering a Best Picture "showcase" on February 24, the day before the awards show. 78 theaters across the country will participate in the event. All five nominees will be shown over the course of 12 hours, including short breaks and a dinner break.

The $30 ticket includes:

  • Showings of Babel, The Queen, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Little Miss Sunshine, in that order. I think this makes sense, as LMS has been out on DVD for awhile and more audience members would have seen it, allowing them to head home "early".
  • Free large popcorn and drink, with "unlimited refills all day." I imagine that anyone trying to refill more than five times would find it's not REALLY unlimited, but still, not too shabby.
  • A "collectible pass." Unless it's a Wonka golden ticket, I'm unimpressed.

Assuming the average ticket price is $6.50 (and many major markets pay closer to $10), seeing just four of these films would cost $26. Getting one drink and popcorn could easily push it to $30; getting a snack at all four could end up at $42. So I think this is not that bad a deal.

Obviously, this is not an ideal solution for everyone. An audience member will need:
  • time to take advantage of the promotion. A lot of people can't give up an entire Saturday (or even 9 hours of one) to watch movies. For parents with small children, this is pretty much right out, unless the kids visit relatives for the weekend.
  • endurance. It's a long time to be sitting in a seat, even with the breaks.
  • extra funds for dinner. The 45-minute dinner break makes it unlikely that patrons will be eating anywhere other than the mall/retail area in which the theater is located. Plenty of people budget for dinner when going out to the movies, of course, but it is an additional expense.

For those of us out there who enjoy the Oscars and haven't had a chance to see many of the nominees, however, this might be a good chance to catch up with other film fans. Check the link above to see if this is in your area.


Monday, February 12, 2007
From business to pleasure.
First off, I would like to thank mapgirl and Golbguru for highlighting my post about financing a child's college education. It actually pushed me to submit to this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, something I rarely do. 2million chose, appropriately enough, a Carnival theme. (I'm picking up my king cake in a week, so I'm all over this.)

Other than the highlighted posts, I noticed:

Ask Uncle Bill's Thinking outside the box. This is a pretty clever tactic to get around admissions requirements.

DDL from Make Your Nut's an idea to save money by patronizing crappy movie theaters. I'm not sure I could deal with this kind of disruption. I patronize my local second-run movie theater to save money instead.

And speaking of lists and bloggers, Michael has asked all bloggers to give him a list of their top 5 movies. I'm bad at doing precisely what I'm told, however. (If only because asking me to pick a top 5 is well-nigh impossible. Top 2? Okay. Top 15? Maybe. But in between those, the differentials don't mean much.) Instead, I'm going to take a similar meme I did elsewhere last year and repurpose it for this.

I'll give out twenty quotes from twenty of my favorite movies. Whichever blogger identifies the most movies by February 19 wins! I'll then write a post on a topic of his or her choice. (I reserve the right to ask for alternate topics if the initial request would require either more knowledge on the subject, or more provision of personal details, than I am able/willing to offer.) I'm putting all of you on the honor system; don't look at the comments before replying!

1) As the producer, I can fire anybody I want, and I am f****** fired!

2) Is that related to a Corolla?...Like the car?

3) Death is... whimsical, today.

4) You should be very glad I'm not 12. I was a very straightforward child. I used to spit.

5) The French have said au revoir to the franc, the Germans have said auf wiedersehen to the mark, and the Portuguese have said... whatever to their thing.

6) Some think he imagines us. Others that he sleeps, and we are his dreams...

7) F*** you, quality of mercy.

8) You know Steve, you're not very hard to figure, only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say. Most of the time. The other times... the other times, you're just a stinker.

9) The man who folded this tube of Crest is looking for someone meticulous, refined. Anal. ... What?

10) Double negative? You mean you have photographs?!

11) Am I getting worse? Am I improving? I don't know. When I was younger, I was healthier, but I was, uh, whacked with insecurity, you know? Now I'm older and my problems are deeper, but I'm more equipped to handle them.

12) I took a course in art last winter. I learnt the difference between a fine oil painting, and a mechanical thing, like a photograph. The photograph shows only the reality. The painting shows not only the reality, but the dream behind it.

13)I warn you, madam - I know the entire Geneva Convention by heart! / Oh, how nice! You must recite it for me some evening; I play the harpsichord.

14) But I don't want to believe in something or not believe in it because I might feel bad. I want to believe in it or not believe in it because I think it's true or not.

15) I could put... I could put... strychnine in the guacamole.

16) I never did like the idea of sitting on newspaper. I did it once, and all the headlines came off on my white pants. On the level! It actually happened. Nobody bought a paper that day. They just followed me around over town and read the news on the seat of my pants.

17) Everybody's sin is nobody's sin, and everybody's crime is no crime at all.

18) PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN. Coffee is for closers.

19) What do you do for exercise? / I pace.

20) With music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it's not noise, it's a perfect harmony!

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Friday, February 09, 2007
When credit union protocols go wild!
I ran a bit late this morning, and didn't pack a lunch. This being a few days before my next direct deposit (DD is transmitted on Mondays), I was reluctant to swipe my debit card for a meal because I would start bumping up against my personal "buffer level" in my checking account.

But then I remembered I had a couple of survey payment checks in my wallet. So I went down to my credit union's shared branch to cash them out. I filled out the "deposit" and "returned to you" sections with $10 each, and made my way through the line.

When I got to the counter, I was greeted with a sign that said "ALL checks now being held." So I had to redo my slip.

The teller then proceeded to deposit $10 in my account, only to withdraw $10 one moment later. As I saw when I logged in this afternoon, these transactions processed immediately. However, the network COULD have held the balance for the weekend, if they'd wanted to. And then my available balance would have dropped by $10 even though the funds were right there.

I'm really not sure what purpose this serves. At amounts over $100, I'm fine with a short hold, but for $10! It's almost enough to make me go across town and deposit the checks at my own branch.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Free Meds!
I called in a refill on my recurring prescription yesterday, and was told that I could pick it up that evening. So I timed my trip to the pharmacy between the lagging edge of rush hour traffic and the expected onset of snow.

Once I arrived, the pharmacy was on reduced staffing for the evening. The assistant pharmacist immediately found my prescription, but then did a double-take.

"I can't charge you for this."


She displayed the label, which clearly stated that I owed $0.00. (I assume someone during the afternoon shift made a mistake.)

"I can't even scan it to ring up a price."

So she handed the bag to me, and I went on my merry way.

I'm planning on using any extra funds from my flex spending account for a replacement pair of sunglasses, so this means that, barring accidents, I have $20 more to spend on them. Whee.

Monday, February 05, 2007
Counterpoint: Why you SHOULD Help Pay for Your Child's Education
Recently, Trent argued that parents should consider not contributing to their child's post-secondary education. While there are a couple of fair points in his argument, for the most part I feel it ignores several key issues that come with paying for one's education.

Parents can't check a box saying "I will not contribute to my child's education." Any student hoping to receive financial aid of ANY stripe, including loans, will have to fill out the FAFSA (and at certain schools, the PROFILE). Both of these forms require parents to report their assets and income to arrive at the Expected Family Contribution (unless the student has served in the military). Even if the parent doesn't plan on giving the child a dime, any aid package the student receives will assume that financially able parents will contribute some portion of their income and assets toward the education. This can leave an "independent" student on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars even at lower-cost state schools.

Students who still try to finance their own education face drawbacks. Generally speaking, outside scholarships reduce the school's own grant/scholarship provisions dollar-for-dollar, BEFORE reducing the loan part of the package. Is it possible to earn enough in outside scholarships to cover nearly all college costs? Yes. Do you know many students who have done so? That's what I thought.

Students who try to work their way through school also face difficulties. Any student eligible for need-based financial aid who works at non-work study jobs starts losing 50 cents of every after-tax dollar in aid once other income exceeds $2,490.

What this adds up to is several "independent" students on the hook for lots and lots of debt.

Some parents may argue that this is just how it is, and their children need to experience the pain of paying for all their education to value it.

Most students do not need to cover the entire cost of their education to be invested in the experience. When I went to Small Liberal Arts U. for my undergraduate education, I covered a good portion of my college costs from scholarships, work-study, and my own loan applications. However, my parents still chipped in for a PLUS-type loan that was the equivalent of nearly one year's tuition, along with covering some semester billing shortfalls. Did the fact that one-quarter of my college costs didn't come out of my own theoretical pocket reduce my investment in my education? Not at all. I don't mean to brag, but this is relevant: Having some portion of my costs covered by my parents allowed me to work fewer hours, which left me more time to study and get involved in many extracurriculars. Because of this, I ended up being listed in Who's Who Among Students. I suppose I might have still have managed to do so even with more hours at a job, but I doubt it.

In contrast, while I'm immensely proud of getting a master's degree from Big 10 U., the fact that I paid for all of it out of my own savings, work-study, and lots of loans doesn't make the accomplishment any more meaningful to me. I spent a lot more time being worried about money than being proud that I was paying my own way.

Students who graduate with a lot of debt find it hard to move ahead to the hallmarks of adulthood. If a student graduates with $20,000 in student loan debt and finds a job earning approximately the average liberal arts salary of $35,000, current Stafford loan rates and terms (6.8%, 10-year repayment) make for a monthly payment of $230.16 over a monthly salary of $2,917, which is almost exactly the 8% hallmark of "burdensome debt". That kind of payment can cut into building an emergency fund, not to mention retirement savings or home downpayment savings. This might forestall children having a firm financial footing when their parents enter retirement and might need extra assistance.

These arguments can be debated back and forth. However, it really comes down to one issue:

If parents value education, they need to conform their actions to their words. I don't think anyone advocating that parents provide assistance to their children would say that mediocre students should be pushed into college if they don't want to be there. But parents who expect solid academic performance and understanding out of their children during the primary and secondary school years tend to produce children who will achieve the same way in college. And those expectations are more effective when the parents provide at least some financial show of support, such as 529 savings.

Not every set of parents will be able to afford to send their child to college without risking their own retirement. Not every child will desire to attend college. But those families have alternatives (simplified financial aid needs tests, trade school/apprenticeship tracks). For families with suitably secure parents and suitably motivated children, however, I can't find many compelling reasons for the parents to withhold the aid that society expects them to provide.


January/February Net Worth

I report on the second of every month for the transactions of the prior month (plus loan payments on the first).

Personal Items

The KBB value of my car actually rose slightly(?), but I chose to leave it at the same valuation because I'm pretty sure I need to replace my struts.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

Overall, my cash balances were almost identical between the two months, but the allocations to each category were quite different. Paying off credit cards and sending funds to long-term savings drove down both my checking and bank savings, while improving my online savings account balances. (I also received a boost from using up all my ING referrals; I'll be closing that account when the balance is fully available.)


The raise I already received in December was augmented by a cost-of-living adjustment increase for my most recent pay period. The salary increase passed through to both my contribution and my employer match. My mutual fund was recently rolled from one fund to another, ostensibly better-performing one, which explains some of the bump-up.

Loan Balances

I continue to make my scheduled payments on my loans. I sent an additional $200 to my Perkins loan (which is much larger than the usual payment) via the lender's "e-check" feature. I incurred a $1 service charge, but I figured it was worth it to avoid disrupting my normal ACH transfers to that loan.

Other Debt

I managed to get both cards to a zero balance for a short time. My secondary card is currently holding the balance for some theater tickets for which I'll be partially reimbursed by my friends. I continue to pay off my statement balances in full.

I started tracking my net worth in March of last year. I don't display it because I had to refine some of my reporting, but even after "corrections" I believe that I've improved my net worth by around $20K in one year. I know that's peanuts to some people, but I'm quite pleased.

The Month Ahead

I filed my taxes yesterday, so I expect my refunds (which are smaller than last year; W-4 adjustments DO work) to hit their respective accounts before my next monthly statement. I trust that will offset the plane ticket I plan on purchasing.