Thursday, May 08, 2008
April Net Worth (+33.5%) and Trip Spending Roundup

Better late than never, I suppose. This would have come out earlier had work not sent me on a SUPERSPECIAL assignment...that turned out to be completely pointless. For an additional commute of 2 hours, I did testing that required 1 hour. Oh well, at least they covered my cab fare.


Net Worth

Cash and Cash Equivalent

My savings accounts continue to increase despite ever-lower interest payments. Steady saving means a lot.

The slightly higher checking balance was due to one fewer calendar day more than anything else. Of course, much of my spending went to...the trip.

For the record:

  • $104 on toiletries and accessories. Yes, I already had a dress, but the bra I wanted to wear didn't go with the neckline and the shoes I had have always been cut too low in the vamp. If I was going to be standing on a ship, even in port, I wanted comfy shoes. Add in some shopping for TSA-approved health and beauty products and there you are.
  • $12 on food. The rehearsal dinner and wedding were covered for all guests, and my aunts and uncles picked up the tab for some of the other meals. I really only needed to cover dinner at the airport.
  • $140 on lodging. This was less than half the cost of the room, even with the wedding crowd price break, but my aunt wouldn't accept more, because we'd been booked into a suite and I took the pullout while she got the king-size bed. Of course, by doing that, I got to be in another room and away from her amazingly loud snoring, so I think I made out pretty well.
  • $58 on transportation. My uncle only had me pay for the gas and tolls for the rental van; I was chaffeuring people all weekend and was able to return it to the airport for my aunt and uncle (who were going on the week-long cruise). I also needed a cab ride when I got back into Dulles.
  • $22 on gifts. I picked up some souvenirs for some friends who will get a nice surprise come Christmas. And I got my aunt a giant mug for her shipboard beverage needs.
  • $27 on incidentals. My aunt asked me to run some last minute errands for her as we were leaving, and I also covered her baggage fee and tip at the airport since she had not yet gotten cash. This is part of the reason that she covered some of my meals on the trip.

This came up to a grand total of: $363. In my trip account, I had a balance of: $456. So that's pretty good. I ended up realizing that I could cash flow $63 of it and just pulled out $300 for my expenses.


Finally a month of good returns! I'm quite pleased by this. And I'm glad I didn't lock in by withdrawing my mutual fund at the lower value. Whether I'll still feel that way in two months is an open question.

Loan Balances

Just two months to go and my credit union loan (tier 1) is all PAID OFF. Whee.

Other Debt

This looks like a big jump, but that's entirely accounted for by the fact that I bought a plane ticket to visit my dad for my birthday in a few months. I need a real vacation (Christmas was spent taking care of my dying grandfather, and my last proper break before that was a long weekend visiting my grandparents LAST MARCH). So I looked around, saw where gas prices were going, and realized that locking in a lower fare now is almost guaranteed to be cheaper than paying for gas and lodging there and back. I'm pulling $150 out of my trip fund, and $180 from the overdraft fund to cover it. I'll just contribute the amount I'd normally put in the trip fund back to the overdraft fund until I'm back at my usual threshold. It won't take more than two or three pay periods, and it is SO, SO needed.

The Month Ahead

I already had an outing to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which mapgirl described better than I could. Yay for local lamb and local honey, and yay for spending time with good friends without spending too much money.

Next week, however, will be different. I just found out that my aunt made reservations at a highly regarded (and expensive) restaurant. I'm meant to take this as an advance birthday present, but I'm still going to pull out a fair bit of cash to cover the tip.

On the more frugal side, free Shakespeare is coming up! I'm looking forward to it.

And I'll be working so damn much this month I probably won't get out much more than that.

Then come June, my expenses shift. Rent goes up, loan payments go down. I'll still have more wiggle room after all is said and done, but it will be a good time to evaluate how far I've come.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008
March Net Worth (+7.9%) and 2008 Financial Goals Update

Net Worth

Cash and Cash Equivalent

Between a few more days of expenditures and a delightful winery tour, I spent a little more than in February.


Eh. I'm buying on sale. I have many years left. I refuse to worry about minor downticks.

I am trying to decide if I'm going to take my mutual fund out earlier than planned (I haven't contributed anything to it for years, and was going to send it to the condo fund when ready to buy; I'm trying to decide if I'd be worse off risking further downturns in the market or paying capital gains without the mortgage interest deduction to offset it).

Loan Balances

I didn't make the same progress as in February, but I'm spending much less on interest payments. So yay.

Other Debt

Still paying every two weeks. Still keeping my balances low. That said, Chase finally increased my credit limit, so I'll have room to put a few more recurring bills on my card and still stay under my personal "10 percent of limit" threshold. Hopefully this will mean faster rewards.

The Month Ahead

My cousin's wedding is near the end of the month, but I should be able to cover everything out of my trip fund. (I already paid for my dress and plane ticket.) Since I exclude my trip fund from my net worth (if I tell myself those funds aren't fungible, then I have to use them for fun), this should pass by with nothing but good memories.

2008 Goals Update

My goals were as follows:

1. Reach a positive net worth. Since I'm 48% of the way there already, I think I can safely say that I'm on track. Windfalls are helpful.

2. Continue to pursue homeownership. I've talked to a realtor and we agree that early winter 2009 seems like a reasonable time to start looking. With that in mind, I set up a 10-month lease (for the same monthly rate as a 12!) to end next April 1. If I feel confident next February, then I can give notice or go month-to-month. If I feel less confident, I can renew at a longer term.

I do still need to call my friend's fiance back, as he's a mortgage broker and can give me a sense of my options. I will do that next week. So I'll rate this a pass.

3. Push my emergency fund up to 3 months' worth of expenses. I've recalculated my base expenses given my rent increase and my lower insurance premiums. At my current contribution levels, I should definitely manage this by December, and possibly by November.

On track for three out of three. Not too shabby.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I stayed home sick today.
Since I went back to bed and slept until nearly noon, I think that was the right call.

On the brighter side, here are some good financial things that have happened to me lately.

1) I convinced my leasing office to give me a ten-month lease at the same monthly rate as the year-long one (still a bump from my current rate, but not out of line). This will give me more flexibility next year if I decide I'm ready to condo-shop.

2) I had some gift cards and gifts from Christmas that I STILL hadn't used or returned, so I went out the other weekend, merrily spending OPM, and came home with a cute aqua twinset and a desperately needed filing cabinet.

3) I found out that I AM actually eligible for USAA, and switched my car insurance. I'll be saving about $120 over six months! I also switched my renter's insurance (even though the rates were pretty much a wash) because I like bundling bills as much as possible. I'm not sure if I'll use their banking, as I am very fond of my credit union, but it's nice to have the option.

There are a few minor annoyances I'm facing, but these things helped take away much of the sting.

And staying home and getting some rest (and baking some TJ's banana bread) make things seem better for tomorrow.

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Monday, March 03, 2008
February Net Worth (+38.2%)

(Before I get to the explanation, I should explain that I have been Websensed at work. I can't visit any Blogger or Typepad blogs, including my own, and even some independently hosted sites are blocked as "personal sites." And I've been so busy that coming home after work and blogging has just not been my priority. I had to get caught up on The Wire before Sunday's finale, after all. Hee. At any rate, I can read RSS feeds, but by and large I cannot comment on their related entries. So I'm not ignoring anyone.)

It's fairly easy to get a double digit kick to one's net worth if one can throw five grand at one's debt. I still managed to make improvements outside of that, however.

Personal Property

KBB dropped the value of my car again. And it was also time for my "forced adjustment" to my computer's valuation. Still, my personal property becomes an ever smaller piece of my net worth picture.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

After having three pay periods in January, I expected my checking balance to be smaller. I shifted a lot of money from my overdraft account to my efund, as well as making regular contributions. And I sent a small piece of my tax refund to my condo fund.


I guess I contributed more than I lost in my retirement plan. So yay. The mutual fund could (and did, under prior management) perform much worse.

Loan Balances

As I said, $5K at my credit union loan made for a big hit, but my regular payments took a bite as well.

Other Debt

Thanks to my new "pay every two weeks" plan, I'm keeping my balances fairly low while still charging enough to earn some nice rewards. All of the charges here were accrued AFTER the statement date closed; I already paid off my balances-due-in-March in full.

The Month Ahead

Lots of family birthdays this month, but for most of them, a card will suffice. I've already bought a small gift for one of the others.

And since I'm going to be crazy busy at work, I'll have fewer opportunities to go out and spend. So things should be fairly smooth. We'll see.


Monday, February 11, 2008
Emigrant to HC: You're stuck with me, baby.
So, I've had a long (and fairly fruitful) relationship with EmigrantDirect, the bank holding my condo fund. While never the leader of the pack in rates, they remained reasonably competitive for a long time. More importantly, they covered my other needs for online savings: good beneficiary service, a clean and usable interface, the ability to use BOTH direct deposit and ACH for transactions, and prompt issuance of statements.

But in the wide-spread rate cuts of the past few months, they've slipped precipitously, down to 3.6%. So I thought I'd take a look at other options. I started, as you do, with BankDeals' weekly summary. Surely I could find something comparable?

I found 31 banks offering rates better than Emigrant. That seems like a lot.

* OneUnited - 5.15% (min $1K)($50 bonus)
* Countrywide - 4.75% (min $10K)
* EverBank - 4.51% ($1.5K min), 3mo promo
* Corus Bank - 4.32% MMA (min $10K)
* Washington Mutual - 4.25% (requires checking)
* Grand Yield Direct - 4.25% (min $2.5K)
* WTDirect - 4.15% ($10K min)
* Zions Bank - 4.08% MMA, outside of Utah, (min $1K)
* UmbrellaBank - 4.02% MMA (min $1K)
* Capital One - 4.00% (Savings) (min $10K)
* Citibank - 4.00%, requires checking account and bill pay usage
* BankUnited - 4.00% (min $5K)
* Heartland Bank Direct - 3.80%, ($500 min)
* Doral Bank Direct - 3.75% (min $1K)
* FirstFedDirect - 3.75% (min $1K) (closed to CA residents)
* E-LOAN - 3.75% ($5K min), account review
* CapitalOne/Costco - 3.70% MMA (min $5K, Costco members only, $50 deal for exec. members)

But as you can see, a lot of these offers were eliminated on their face because I refuse to accept more than $200 as a minimum threshold (I'm going to take most of this money OUT eventually), and because I refuse to set up another checking account.

I was left with:

* Century Bank Direct - 4.54% (min $100)--No ACH transfer system.
* Provident Direct - 4.50%--No ACH transfer system.
* GCF Bank - 4.47% (min $100), 3-mo promo--Only a promo rate, and no ACH transfer system.
* ETrade Bank - 4.40%, post ($25 bonus)--Great, but I already hold an account with them. I believe in Murphy's Law, so I don't like having all of my savings in one place.
* Alliant Credit Union - 4.35% (min $100)--I don't appear to meet eligibility requirements.
* Flagstar - 4.25% MMA--Hard credit pull and rapid rate drops.
* Savings Square - 4.25%--No direct deposit, just ACH.
* iGobanking - 4.20%--Reportedly a very slow opening process.
* ShoreBank - 4.15% ($25 bonus)--Potential hard credit pull, and NO beneficiary designation (a total dealbreaker).
* AmTrustDirect - 4.10% (e-Savings)--Hard credit pull.
* M&T Bank - 4.05%--No ACH transfer system and a hard credit pull.
* AmboyDirect - 4.00% post ($25 bonus)--No information on direct deposit.
* UFB Direct - 4.00%--No free ACH transfers, potential hard credit pull.
* FNBO Direct - 3.85%--For that differential, is it even worth it?

I'd consider iGobanking if the opening were better, AmTrustDirect if it didn't have a hard credit pull (why should you ding my credit score if I'm loaning YOU money?!?), and AmboyDirect if I could do direct deposit. But none of these seem like a perfect substitute that would merit risking three or four days of lost interest.

If you have experience with any of the three, or have an account somewhere that I should consider, let me know. Otherwise, I guess I'm staying with ED.


Friday, February 08, 2008
When $5,000 shows up in your mailbox.
It was a bit of a surprise when I opened the envelope last night, although it would be impossible to pretend that I didn't know a check was coming. Before my grandfather passed away, he explicitly expressed an intention for his four grandchildren to receive the funds left in his checking account. (That and all other assets were included in his trust, so my uncle and my father could perform transactions on his behalf.) Still, I knew some of the money had to go to funeral expenses, and I was expecting less than this.

And of course, it's all somewhat fraught, because it reminds me how readily he donated money during his lifetime.

I still want to do something worthwhile with the money. So I'm sending all of it towards the first tier of my credit union loan, which should allow me to eliminate that debt by the end of June, 15 months ahead of schedule. Why?

It will make the biggest impact on my cash flow. This loan is the single largest fixed expense I have after rent. Even though I'll be paying more on the second tier of the loan when the first one is paid off, I'll still free up about $150 a month for savings or other loan payments. (Or, given that I'll probably sign another lease to start in June, increased rent.)

It will eliminate my highest-rate debt. The loan was made at a quite reasonable 5.9% APR, but there's a gap between that and 5% on my Perkins loan, and a still greater gap between that and my 2.75% rate for my Direct loan. And of course, tier 2 of the credit union loan is at zero percent. (Long story.)

It will improve my debt-to-income ratio for when I purchase a condo. As I said, $150 a month will no longer be earmarked toward paying off debt, which will make the lenders (not to mention ME) more confident about my ability to manage a mortgage and the other attendant costs. Eliminating my Perkins loan entirely would lower my monthly obligations by less than $50 a month, which is far less impactful.

I could contribute this to the condo fund directly, of course. Boosting my downpayment would be nice, and I'll be saving still more to that end after paying off this loan. But lowering my monthly debt payments is probably more important as a first-time buyer.

And finally, it will give me more "outs" in an emergency. My emergency fund is based on continuing to make all my loan payments at present levels. However, should said emergency last longer than a few months, I have fewer options for this loan than I do with others. Borrowers can request that federal student loans be granted a deferral or forbearance. My tier 2 loan could presumably be dropped back to present payment levels in a real emergency. With this one, however, it's "make your payment every month."

Now, in a worst-case scenario, I could initiate a balance transfer from my credit card for the much smaller outstanding loan and give myself more time to get back on my feet. I have no intention of actually doing this, mind you. But it gives me comfort to know that I now have the option.

I think my grandfather would be glad to know that I used this money for something meaningful. And I think it will take a lot of worries away from me.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008
January Net Worth (+8.6%)

So basically the story is: Less liquid assets, BOO! More liquid assets, YAY!

Personal Property

KBB dropped the value of my car a tiny bit.

Cash and Cash Equivalent

I benefited from three pay periods and getting my locality pay adjustment in the last pay period of the month.

My online savings accounts benefited from shifting over the excess in my overdraft fund and from the extra $200 contribution I made to my condo fund (apportioned from the "extra" pay period).

I decided to wait to boost my savings allotment (I shoot to have my overall short-term savings be 10% of my gross or higher) until the first pay period in February to give me some breathing room, but I still think this was a healthy increase.


Eh. I guess it could have been worse?

Loan Balances

Beyond the usual payments, I also made an extra $200 principal payment to my Perkins. This is at a slightly lower rate of interest than my credit union loan, but it hastens the payoff date by a significant amount.

Other Debt

This doesn't really tell the story at all. I charged a lot, paid some of it off with holiday funds, charged some more for clothes and a trip to Philly, paid almost all of it off with my extra paycheck, then charged some more for my prescription sunglasses (which will be their own entry very soon), and was left awaiting reimbursement. If not for that, my new charges would have been paid almost to zero, well before the new statement date.

I think I've decided that I'll start making a payment twice a month, once mid-statement and once after the statement closes (excluding reimbursement payments, which I'll just send over when I get them). This should help keep me on track and keep my balance below 10% of my credit limit. I'm already earning some decent cash rewards.

The Month Ahead

I've already gotten through a big birthday bash weekend (and stayed largely under my spending target). I'll be attending a play, but since I already paid for both tickets (half-price!), my dinner will largely come out of being reimbursed by my friend.

My tax refund should hit the appropriate accounts within a week or two, which will boost my savings.

With my pay raise, I finally feel like I have breathing room to deal with all my flexible expenses. I still have to plan for certain purchases (I think I should get one more pair of shoes sometime in the near future), but I'm not stressed. And that's a good thing.

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