7.24.2012

I Don't Even Have a Backpack

I need to vent guys. I’m feeling scared, overwhelmed, stressed, nervous, and every adjective in the dictionary that is synonymous to these words. As I was texting Kaylan this morning, I attempted to feebly express my feelings about my impending departure from my familiar 9-5 world (or shall I say 7-4?) and re-entering the academic world by texting the words, “I don’t even have a backpack.”

via lululemon.com - Wouldn't a Lulu backpack be cool? Might be impractical, but it's nice.
Just rereading those 6 words over and over again signifies everything that I am feeling right now. What is possibly the most important item and most representative item that classifies a student as a student, is something that I don’t even possess yet! Who knew a backpack could give me such anxiety? This makes me feel really unprepared.

As I’m freaking out about the homework that was assigned for the intensive five-day orientation, the homework assigned for the first day of classes for all of my classes, leaving the BF to begin our long-distance adventure, turning back the hands of time back-to-the-future style and moving back in with my parents, returning to my hometown that I thought I’d never return to…I am realizing that I am in no way, shape, or form to begin my new endeavor and journey.


Why? 
Because I don’t even have a backpack!

It feels like just yesterday when I was making the decision to even attend school this year. Remember when I got rejected from my first choice and was going to retake the LSAT? Remember when I just took the LSAT? Remember when I just sent in my applications? Time flies. 
I still get shocked when I see that the year is 2012. Can we all just get a pause button?
I’m also very grateful to be able to have this outlet and to have friends and readers (YOU!) come along this journey with me. I get so many awesome comments and words of encouragement that it really makes my day and gives me the confidence that I can achieve my goals. So thank you for being here for me :) Example:
I love you Cait!

I think the key here is that I need to make my own pause button. I’m telling myself (after allowing myself to freak out at times)
that it’s okay if I’m not ready to go back to school. It’s been three years since I’ve stepped foot into a graded class, but I shouldn’t be intimidated. If anything, I have 17 years of solid experience in education (K-12 and college, duh!) and I shouldn’t fear it.
I have a tendency to fear anything new, especially after becoming comfortable in a routine. I think sometimes I have too much time to think. I’m an over thinker, and I think that’s my biggest flaw. My dentist even says that I ask too many questions and do too much research. I think the problem with that is I need to always have control of my situations. I notice that I get very antsy, stressed, and nervous when I don’t have full control or when I do not have all the answers right away.

What was the point of this post again?

Oh yeah, I am realizing that I need to calm the F down! I think law school will be filled with people that have similar personalities to mine. There will be go-getters, hard workers, type A personalities, and overachievers. People are probably freaking out just like me because they have no control right now and we all have no clue what's in store for us.
The best advice that I’ve gotten from a handful of people have been to just relax, and enjoy what’s left of my life before school begins. This brings back memories of the week before my LSAT class commenced last July. Except back then, the end was in sight (December 2011) and I knew that the torture would stop after a brutal 4-5 hours of testing. I need to remind myself that there will be an end to this madness (May 2015, can you come any sooner?).
I’ve tried reading law school prep books, reading blogs about law school, talking to people in law school, talking to practicing attorneys as well as non-practicing attorneys, enrolling in an online law school prep class, and I just feel overwhelmed by it all.
Over these next 2 weeks, I’m going to put all of that down (except for my homework) and focus on my last week of working, enjoy my last vacation with the BF and family, and fully enjoy my last weekend here in San Diego. I also might play some PS3, finish the Fifty Shades of Grey series, go to turbo kickboxing class, and do everything I love. Oh, and I might also look into a good backpack.
I’m giving myself a pause button.

via lululemon.com. Maybe this one would be more practical?
So, you knew this question was coming...what are your favorite backpack brands? Any suggestions?

7.23.2012

Financial Mistakes to Avoid During College

Happy Monday! Today I am guest posting over at Aloysa's blog, My Broken Coin, about my My Top 10 Worst Shopping Mistakes. Check it out and show some love :) It was definitely a fun post to write.

Today I have a guest post by my buddy Sean over at One Smart Dollar. This post totally ties into my last post on stressing about student loans, and I thought it was a great supplement to those looking to go back to school or just starting college. His objective is to teach about personal finance based on both personal knowledge and experience.

College was easily one of the best times of my life. It was a time that I really became my own person and I found out who I really was. Some people (my parents) might say that I had a little too much fun, but in the end I received a degree from a top business school, I made some great friends and I met my wife.

In the past, I have talked about how there are plenty of high paying jobs available for those who decide not to go to college. On the other end, I believe that I have endless opportunities available to me now that I do have my degree.

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Most incoming freshman are around 18 years old and it’s the first time being out on their own away from their parents. Most have never had to go grocery shopping, pay bills or even finish their homework without being told to do so. College is a time that most will make their first big financial mistakes. Luckily these mistakes can be avoided if you follow a few simple steps.

Financial Mistakes to Avoid During College

Not Applying for Financial Aid or Scholarships

If your family does not have the money set aside for your college tuition, you will need to make sure you stay up to date on all the requirements and deadlines for financial aid. Here in Colorado the deadline for application is June 30 for the upcoming school year. There are several different options available to you when looking for aid. 

·         Federal Loans – Generally have the lowest interest rate, currently as low as 3.4 percent for a direct subsidized loan.
·         Private Loans – Another option but almost always has a high interest rate compared to federal loans.
·         Grants – Grants are a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid unless you withdraw from your classes.

Scholarships are widely overlooked by a lot of college students because they feel they are only for students with top grades. Scholarships are actually available to almost any student no matter what your grades are, what income level your family is or what race you are. One of the most informative websites for college scholarships is FastWeb.com.

Failing to Set Up a Budget

I will be the first to admit that setting up a budget was not something I did in college.  It also caused me to be quite broke most of the time. Most students either do not work or work part time due to class schedules. Because of this, income flow is going to be very slow. Having a proper budget will force you to stay on track of your spending and let you know when going out with your friends is not an option.

Not Understanding the Reality of Credit Card Use

Heading off to college not only means the first time on your own but also the first time most will have a credit card. Unless properly educated, that first college student credit card can end up causing a lot of damage. Some will use their credit card as a way to get around their limited budget, however, this will just leave you or your parents further into debt.

Make sure you use this opportunity to build your credit by using your credit card sparingly. This will not only give you a head start on being able to obtain lower rates on future financing, but it will allow you to get into a routine of staying within your means.

Jumping into a Major Too Quickly

Many college students will end up changing their major at least once during their 4+ years of school. While this isn’t the end of the world, it can end up costing you a lot of extra money. If you make the choice to switch majors then there is a good chance some of the classes you have taken will no longer be required for graduation. This is money that could have been used elsewhere.

Not Planning Ahead Before You Study Abroad

There is only one big regret I have from my time in college and that was not taking advantage of the study abroad program that was offered. While traveling has always been a passion of mine, I could never get myself to want to leave for an entire semester.

Too many times students choose their program for the wrong reason. They either pick it based on the location or it’s just the right cost. Just because it might be a cheaper program, doesn’t mean it’s the right program for you. Talk to your advisor and make sure the classes that you will be taking are approved for your major and will transfer. If they won’t then that particular program might not be the best fit for you.

College is supposed to be one of the best times of your life. If you follow these simple steps, you will not only enjoy yourself but you will also start your professional carrier on the right foot.

What financial mistakes did you make in college that you wish you could have prevented?

7.22.2012

Lifestyle Carnival #12: Fifty Shades of Grey Edition

Welcome to the ninth edition of the Lifestyle Carnival! Submit to the next edition using this carnival submission form.

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I enjoy a good book, and without even planning to fully commit to reading 50 Shades of Grey, I have far surpassed 700 pages within a few hours. I haven't been this engrossed in a fictional book for about a year now, since I forgot how much I truly enjoy reading. I have to read such dry material for work (contracts) and then there was studying for the LSAT (even drier material), that I lost my passion for reading this past year or so.


The book centers around a 21-year-old women who gets involved in an S&M relationship with a billionaire (multi-billionaire?). Let's just say that it's pretty engrossing and not for the faint of heart. Btw, I don't regularly read books like this, but one of my friends let me borrow her book because my mom wanted to read it. What started as a few pages turned into a really long book session. It's apparently taken the world by storm (kind of like Twilight, but for grown-ups). 


I'm not going to get into the book too much, but if you are reading it or have read it, feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments! I like discussing books :) and this one certainly poses lots of questions for discussion. 


Btw, was anyone else thinking that Matt Bomer could totally play the part of Christian Grey? He could totally channel the wholesome rich billionaire type who has a dark secret.


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I could also see Jensen Ackles in that role. Right!?? He can play uptight/filled with angst Christian so well.

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As for Anastasia...not sure. I am picturing someone like Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars.



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Does anyone else like to predict which actors and actresses they'd enjoy playing a certain role?



I'm obviously a huge fan of reading about personal finance, and possibly even how personal finance affects your lifestyle, but every now and then it's fun to inject some reading into your system purely for entertainment purposes or even educational purposes that are not related to spending, saving, investing, and whatnot. I personally enjoy reading about fashion, travel, recipes, interior design, parenting, health and fitness. 


I would really love to see more lifestyle posts submitted to the lifestyle carnival, but here are some great lifestyle reads for you to peruse on this lovely Sunday morning (or whenever you're reading this).


I would like to highlight some of my favorite submissions in no particular order:
Steven Zussino
 @ Grocery Alerts writes How to turn a $23 dollar pork leg into 45 meals - Meat is one of the most expensive items we buy at the grocery store. I have no skill nor do I know how to butcher a whole leg of pork but within 30 minutes the whole leg was cut up into roasts, pork cutlets and pork stew. We managed to create 45 servings approx. for $22 and 30 minutes of work.

Everything Finance @ Everything Finance Blog writes When Women Make More than Their Husbands - I make more money than my husband. And according to 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, I’m not alone. Almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives are out-earning their husbands.But what happens to the dynamics in a marriage when a wife makes more money than her husband?

Paul Vachon @ The Frugal Toad writes Family Finances - Tips for Avoiding Conflict - Discussing the family finances causes more arguments between couples - 3 per month on average - than any other topic. So what causes most arguments about finances? The majority of couples state that misunderstandings between needs versus wants are at the root of most disagreements.

Miss T. @ Prairie Eco Thrifter writes Six Ways to Reuse Your Plastic Grocery Bags - If you hate waste, then these bags probably drive you nuts. Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do with plastic grocery bags to give them a second life.

Onto the rest of the carnival!

TRAVEL


Jeremy @ Modest Money writes How Airline Credit Cards Cost You More - If you are going to be using a credit card to make purchases, it'ss a no-brainer that you'll want to earn some kind of reward in return. For many people, the obvious choice is an airline miles credit card. Unfortunately that credit card choice may actually be costing them more money to use.

Steve Zussino @ Canadian Personal Finance writes Why Kickstarter is overrated as an investment - Have you heard of Kickstarter? Kickstarter is a crowd funding website for creative projects. I wanted to share some thoughts why it is a poor investment.

HEALTH

Matt @ Living in Financial Excellence writes Budget & Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products - Did you know that the average household (spends) between $1,800 and $3,600 a year on cleaning products? Try these green products which are free from bleach, phosphates and ammonia. Get rid of those toxic cleaners and start fresh with these easy on your budget and better for the environment products.

WEALTH AND RETIREMENT


Kurt Fischer @ Money Counselor writes Credit Card Debt Trends - Based on statistics recently released by the Federal Reserve, Americans paid off a bit of their massive credit card debt during the recession. And credit card issuers have slashed borrowing limits.

PB @ Economically Humble writes My Lesson Learned: Get Speaker Consulting Details (and fee) In Writing - This post discusses the lessons I learned by not requesting a formal speaker contract when working with a non-profit that I regularly contract with. I explain what I learned and provide questions every speaker should ask in addition to links to simple and detailed speaker contracts. The post will publish on Jul 21, 2012 @ 2:03AM MST.

Echo @ Boomer & Echo writes 35 Ways To Save Money - We all know there are plenty of ways to save money, but some things are so obvious you can classify them as common sense rather than smart spending.

MR @ Money Reasons writes Progress On Financial Independence - Still Swimming to Shore - This is the third update on my progress toward financial independence. Hopefully in five years I'll break through the financial independence threshold!

MMD @ My Money Design writes How to Read and Evaluate Basic Stock Metrics - Have you ever looked at a stock online and wondered what all the metrics represent? Which ones are good and what is their significance? This exercise walks through a stock page on CNN Money and explains the importance of each of the metrics to you.

Little House @ Little House in the Valley writes When It's Time to Assist the Parents - It’s not easy for parents to ask for help, and it’s not easy for kids to accept the possibility of a role-reversal. I know this first-hand because I’ve been confronted with an ever-looming possibility that I might need to step in and offer some assistance very soon. Yet, knowing my own parents, I have to do it graciously or else be chided for interfering in a matter I “don’t understand.”

Peter @ Bible Money Matters writes Our Wealth Can Put Us at a Disadvantage - While we are very blessed to not have to worry about the necessities of life like food, clothing and shelter, there are times when our wealth can put us at a disadvantage.

Young @ Young And Thrifty writes How To Get Your Employer to Pay For School - The decision on whether or not to go back to school to upgrade your skills (whether you are talking about a graduate degree, a diploma, or a certificate program of some kind) often hinges on the financial viability of it.

Teacher Man @ My University Money writes The GPA Crush of First Year - Most people are pretty familiar with the infamous “Freshman 15”. The universal idea is that when you move away from home and/or are off of a set schedule for the first time in your life, you might make some decisions that aren’t in your best long-term interests. However, while the solution to putting on some weight is pretty straightforward, other long-term problems created in your freshmen year can be much more complex and difficult to solve.

Katie @ The Discount Coder Blog writes 10 ways to cut your small business running costs - Starting your own business can be an expensive venture, but there are ways to control your outgoings without jepordising productivity. This informative post looks at a few of the ways you can save.

Robert @ Entrepreneurship & Life writes How to Improve Work Life Balance - Learning how to improve work life balance is essential to maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle. Below, you will find a thoughtful approach to maintaining this balance.

GOOD EATS

Penny Thots @ Penny Thots writes Pesto: The Elegant Sauce - There’s nothing lighter, spicier — and incidentally, more elegantly frugal — than a plate of pasta with vivid green garlicky-with-cheese-and-nuts pesto sauce.


What are your favorites? Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend!

7.20.2012

Dealing with Financial Stress and Grad Student Loans

I wrote a post for Sean over at One Smart Dollar that is live today regarding Graduate Student Loans and the options you have when going to graduate school (in the United States). It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my personal finances and I wanted to write a more in-depth post today that supplements the guest post since I am beginning my journey with the whole student loan debt thing.

In the guest post, I talked about the different types of Federal student loans that are available to me (as well as every graduate student). I’ll be taking out Federal loans only so that I will be able to consolidate and possibly qualify for government programs if new regulations are added. You just never know. Plus, with private loans, the interest rates are variable.


Stressing About Grad Student Loans and Law School Tuition

I've always known how much law school would cost me, but it never really hit me until I was applying for the loans 2 weeks ago. I’ll be taking out the maximum amount for Federal Direct (unsubsidized, grad students aren’t qualified for subsidized loans as of 7/1/2012) and only what I need from the Grad PLUS loan (totaling $48k for this year). It sucks stressing about it so much right now because I am going from zero debt to massive amounts of debt in one fell swoop.

Just as a disclaimer, I know what I want to do with my J.D. and I’m not blindly going into law school just because I have nothing else to do. I’ve fully researched this and the cost-benefit analysis as well as what I want to do with the degree when I graduate as well as the future. I’ve talked to many, many people about this decision and have heard all the pros and cons. 

I looked at employment statistics at my school, became a TLS addict (a forum for people going to law school), I’ve calculated the costs, how much I’ll have to pay back monthly, how much I have to be making and how much interest will be added based on a 10/15/30-year repayment plan, and even the budget I want to live off of during school. Plus, this has been a dream of mine and why would I let anything or anyone’s opinions hold me back from a dream? A lot of people do not research everything fully before heading to grad school, but I have, and I am glad to have a place to share my thoughts and experiences in hopes of helping someone else in my shoes.

I am doing everything I can to keep my debt low. I am taking out as little as possible, using my savings sporadically to cover more costs, and I will also be working part-time to cover living expenses. By the end of the first semester, I’ll be applying to scholarships. I want to do everything I can to minimize the amount of debt I take on. I have a budget that I will share with you in another post that shows my bare-bones living expenses. Tuition is the biggest money sucker at $43,000 a year! =(

Where I Stand Financially

I have about:
$33,000 in cash savings in a high-yield savings account (0.80% is not really high-yield, pfffft!)
$7,000 in my 401k
$6,000 in my roth IRAs, and
$1,500 in stocks.

I stopped my roth contributions at which I was contributing $300/mo, stopped my stock contributions at which I was contributing about $160/mo, and I will continue the 5% 401k contributions until I see just how much work I can handle while going to school full-time. I want to keep everything in my retirement/investment accounts as well as my cash savings for emergencies.

I kind of feel stupid for stopping the stocks because I buy my company stocks at a discount. Out of all of my investments, I have earned the most with those stocks! I didn’t have time to think about it yesterday but I just changed my contribution amount to 0%. Now when I tried to undo that, I realized that I couldn’t do it again until the next contribution period, which is January 1st of next year! :( The last one was July 1st, so I should have thought about this sooner.

I plan to pay the interest on the loans during school with some of my savings and also *hopefully* stay under budget so I can give back some of the loan money that I won’t be using. I also don’t want to use my cash savings to pay for tuition because I want to have an emergency fund. Some people may disagree with that, but I’ll feel better knowing that I have cash to pay for the interest as well as any emergencies that pop up.

Plus, I feel emotionally attached to that $33k in savings. It signifies the sacrifices I’ve made in these past two years, and I don’t want to let it all go in just 1.5 semesters.

Check out this chart I found from AskHeatherJarvis.com:


Isn’t crazy that tuition just keeps rising and rising? The cost of tuition surpasses the cost of inflation by almost three times….THREE TIMES THE AMOUNT!!! That’s insanity. Perhaps I’ve been so ignorant of student loan debt in our country, but now that I’m part of the majority of people that have this debt on their backs, I’m fully aware of it now.

Then pops up the new ICR-A program for student loans…

On Twitter, I saw this tweet about the new option for student loan borrowers called the ICR-A program, formerly known as President Obama’s Pay As You Earn Initiative. Your annual payments are capped at 10% of discretionary income and the remaining loan balance is forgiven after 20 years of qualifying payments. You have to have gotten your first student loan on or after 10/1/2007 and another student loan on or after 10/1/2011.

This is different from the IBR program though, but after discussing it with the BF, it’s funny how my position changed. At first I was thinking, “oh cool, a way to get your loans forgiven” but then I was calculating how old I’d be 20 years from now and I’ll be 44 years old. Will I still qualify for the program by then? By getting into this program, I would basically be predicting that I wouldn’t be making enough to pay off my loans. That’s why these programs are geared towards people who work in non-profits, Americorps, or other low-paying jobs.

Other cons would be maintaining the paperwork of showing financial hardship and having to stay on top of your loan officer all the time, otherwise your monthly payment goes back to what it would be without the program (same as IBR). If you went 20 years of making payments and your loan is forgiven, you’d also be responsible for paying a hefty tax on that amount.

Stressing about everything financial

There are a ton of things that I’m stressing over right now financially such as my dental bill, urgent care bill, possible root canal bill, money for school books, vet bill, optometrist bill, and then there’s tuition looming above my head as always. All of these large expenses are coming now because I wanted to optimize my health insurance benefits before I cut my hours down to 10 hours a week. 

Since I’ll be going from full-time to EOC exempt, I will not have benefits after my last day of full-time work (July 27th). I wanted to get my free exams that I’m entitled to (and that I’ve paid insurance for), but as with anything, there’s always more problems or more appointments that need to be paid for.

I think the most sensible thing is to plan ahead (as with everything) and know what I’m dealing with. I’ve already calculated everything and went over the numbers, details, and discussed things with the BF and parents. Everything is good to go, but I can’t help but keep stressing about the mountain of debt I’ll be under.

I plan to go with the $48k of loans this year, and see just how much I can reduce that next year - hopefully with the help of scholarship money, taking on more hours for work, and maybe a little help from both sets of parents.

The BF has been great through it all and just tells me to focus on school, relax, and don’t think about money too much because we will work on a plan together. I can’t really do anything right now about repayment options since I’m just beginning grad school and beginning the student loan journey, but it’s nice to know that we’re on the same page. I need to focus on the charges that can be controlled right now, and I think I’ll be fine.

Can anyone else with student loan debt share how you deal with stress over finances? 

I’m new to student loan debt (I’ve only had consumer debt, which was so small in comparison to this), so any tips would be appreciated! 

7.18.2012

Simple Financial Lessons - Breaking Bad Style

I just watched the Season 5 premiere of one of my most favorite shows, ever, Breaking Bad. From what I garner on twitter, many of us are fans of this amazing show (and trust me, I watch(ed) a ton of shows). I first discovered this show through Netflix, and thought that I would just watch the first episode. I found that I couldn't stop pressing "next episode" until I bought and completed the 4th season.

This show teaches us so many lessons about life, planning ahead and planning for the future, as well as covering ourselves in all situations but being smart and thoughtful about our next moves with the unplanned cards we are dealt in life. It's a well-executed, suspenseful, exciting, and surprisingly heart-wrenching show that I'm sure you'll enjoy.

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Without spoiling the show too much for those who haven't seen it (and if you haven't, you need to sign up for a free one-month trial of Netflix to watch it...I promise you'll finish it within a month), I thought I could at least share some awesome financial lessons Breaking Bad teaches us. I'm going to try to keep it vague but there will be some hints as to what happens in this show. If you hate spoilers of any kind, feel free to skip this post.

Disclaimer: None of this relates directly to science teachers, cooking/selling meth, drug wars, money laundering or crooked lawyers but these are great financial lessons nonetheless. :)

1. Account for all expenses in every single type of situation
I love how Walt covers all of his bases when he plans out his next move. He includes his family and their future as well as his before he calculates how much he needs. I loved when he did the math in his head to account for the new baby, college, retirement, medical expenses, inflation, and all those other expenses when he was planning on how much meth he needed to sell.

2. Money isn't everything
We have seen Walt and Jesse end up with so much money they didn't know what to do with, and even during these times, they were unhappy. Money is certainly not the #1 factor in Walt's life, as he puts his family first.

3. Emergencies can happen at any time so be prepared
Walt started off selling meth when he found out he couldn't pay his medical bills, and that's how he got himself in this position. I'm sure no one can predict when a major life event would happen and we all have other things to save for, but it's always good to have an emergency fund.

4. Get health insurance
I just paid for my crown and it was $460. That was after my insurance covered 60% of it. I can't imagine paying for medical bills without insurance. No wonder Walt does the things he does.

5. Every lie comes with a price
Every single white lie that Walt came up with led to another, even larger lie that created more financial turmoil for him. He ended up involving his wife, son, brother-in-law and sister-in-law in his financial mess.

6. Include your wife/husband in your financial decisions
When Walt or Skylar lied to the other about a financial decision, the other would always find out and they would get into an argument. Just keep your spouse involved and you can make these decisions together.

7. Stay frugal even when you're rich
There's no need to buy expensive things just because you own a business and you are rolling in dough. Walt didn't feel the need to drive a fancy car or change his clothes just because he had money.

8. Be the most valuable at your job
Jesse is one of my favorite characters because of his loyalty to Walt, but he also mastered his job, as did Walt. They were both irreplaceable and thus, this kept them both successful. Skylar and Hank are also prime examples of being the best at their jobs, even though they weren't in super high positions or anything - Skylar as a bookkeeper and Hank as a DEA officer.


What financial lessons or regular life lessons have you learned from Breaking Bad? I freaking love this show!

7.16.2012

10 Ways to Deal With Vacation Withdrawals

I was going to write a really long post today about saving money on a multi-family vacation, since I just got back from a 4-day trip with my siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and extended family of family. However, I just didn't feel like it! Now that I'm back at work for two more weeks, I just want to take time to recoup and lay out my feelings right now before I start getting overwhelmed again. Writing everything down here makes me feel better and more on top of things.

We stayed at The Westin and there wasn't a moment of free time. We went swimming almost everyday, boogie boarding at our beach BBQ, spent 15 hours at California Adventure and Disneyland, and drank every night. No one got any sleep...Exhibit A - my cousin passed out in the hotel lobby after a night of drinking by the pool. He was woken up by the front desk person around 4am asking if he needed a cab to go home. He told them his room was actually on the 5th floor haha!

Some pics if you're interested...



It was so much fun but I'm truly exhausted from all of the traveling I've been doing and lack of sleep. My vacations have been a whirlwind of craziness and I've been more active being on vacation compared to just working. I missed my routine and I missed going to the gym, but it was fun getting away and forgetting about priorities, real work, finances, the upcoming move, and the beginning of law school. Since coming back to work today, I've been having trouble staying focused. I'm blaming this on vacation withdrawalsI need to get back on track so here are a few things I'm doing to keep busy and to get my mind going again.
  1. Plan to plan - After being away for almost 3 weeks, my mind is all over the place. My to-do lists at work feel outdated. I feel out of the loop with everything - work, blog, twitter, school. I have lots of catching up to do so I'm planning to buy a planner for school, writing down ideas for blog posts, and going through a checklist before school begins. Or you can even start planning for your next vacay! =)

  2. Review your finances - While I've been away, I've been spending money. Not a big surprise since I've been planning to spend money, but I needed to review some recent transactions. I'm continuing on where I left off last week with my law school student budget and spreadsheets too (future post on that coming soon!). I also have a few medical bills that just came in and I need to take care of those - August is going to hurt. When my finances are in order (when I know where exactly my money is and what it's doing every single day), I feel much better and more on top of things.

  3. Reassess your routine - I woke up late today but I still made it to work 30 minutes later. It didn't matter too much, but I'm only giving myself a free pass today. Tomorrow, I'll have to come bright and early like I normally do at 6:30ish or 6:45ish. I pulled my calf muscle on the last day of the trip while swimming so I've been icing it since I got back last night. I wanted to get back to the gym today but I had to skip since I didn't want to tear any calf muscles further.

  4. Mentally prepare yourself - It's hard getting out of that vacation routine, so I totally understand where you're coming from. There's a lot of things that remind me of not having a set schedule and not being confined to my desk all day. Psych yourself up or do whatever it is that gets you back into that focused mood whether it's listening to music, updating your calendar, or making your favorite snack.

  5. Give yourself breaks - Along with #4, it's important to give yourself breaks. My body is still on vacation mode and it's funny how I'm so physically drained that my mind wants to shut off too. I'm normally a very productive and upbeat person, but today I'm just groggy and out of it. I'm taking a little more breaks than I normally do (like how I'm blogging at 2pm...I never do that!) and I'm perfectly okay with that.

  6. Look at pictures - Ever since I got home yesterday afternoon, I've been replaying a lot of moments in my head. I get really happy just thinking about all the memories I've made and the money and time that was well-spent with family and friends these past few weeks. Looking at pictures and videos that I took make me really happy and keep me sane.

  7. Talk to others - I've been complaining a bit to the BF about how much I miss my sister, brother, and cousins. It's actually helped a lot because he reminds me that I'll see them soon (I know, I'm such a sap). I've also been texting a lot of my family members just to make it feel like we're still on vacation. We all miss each other so why not talk to each other about it? Lol.

  8. Focus on your health - I'm not sure about you guys, but when I'm on top of my health, I feel awesome. Going to the gym and maintaining a good diet is one thing, but actually taking care of your health and doing the maintenance for your body is another. I have my next dentist appointment scheduled to get my permanent crown and I also am researching optometrists for my annual eye exam.

  9. Make lists - I'm a huge fan of lists. I only use my phone to make lists of groceries or for short notes, but for longer lists like for work, school, blog, life - I love writing them down on paper. I'm even writing a list on dealing with vacation withdrawals, so obviously writing lists is going to be on this list. Wow, I said list way too many times in this paragraph. Sorry!

  10. Stay busy - If it's not obvious yet, the key is to stay busy! We all need vacations to recharge and get away, but getting back on track is important so that you can work your butt off again to save for the next vacay.
What are your go-to techniques to fight those vacation withdrawals?

7.11.2012

How to Save Money at the Fair or Amusement Park

Since it’s summer, I thought this post would be appropriate. Whether you are heading to the water park, Disneyland, amusement park, fair, or other fun place where they sell really expensive stuff and overpriced admission tickets, then this post was written for and is dedicated to YOU!

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Last week, we went to the fair and to the Safari Park. We’re going to Disneyland and California Adventure on Friday so I wanted to share my tips as well as keep this as a reminder for future reference.

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PLAN AHEAD! Bet you didn’t see that one coming huh? I am obviously a huge planner.

Tickets:

If you walk right up to the front gate of any amusement park, the price is at sticker price. Sometimes they have discounts like if you are in the military, but most of the time the deeper discounted rates are not available.
For the fair, we bought our tickets at Albertson’s. The prices were cheaper of course! I also saw some package deals that included admission tickets as well as a parking pass and ride tickets at Costco (but they were sold out already once we wanted to buy ‘em).
If you’re going with a huge group, I’m sure that there is always an opportunity to get a group discount.
The internet is your friend. Be careful to find only legit sites that sell tickets, or mention deals. If you have to, check out Craigslist, but again be careful.
Check with friends and family! My co-worker’s friend works at a radio station so they always get free tickets, and my other co-worker’s daughter works at Pepsi so they have extra tickets to hand out sometimes. It doesn’t hurt to ask right?
We actually got our Safari Park tickets for free (a savings of over $100 total) since we mentioned it to the BF’s mom. She went there recently with her friends, so she had free guest tickets. She also had a free parking pass!

Parking:

They usually get you with parking. Scope out the parking situation beforehand, if possible. I’d say $10 for all day parking is usually “cheap” but in some cases I have seen $25/per day or if parking fill ups, the neighboring lots will usually be much more expensive. If needed, you can also park in nearby neighborhoods for free.

Clothes:

I’m not sure about you, but I always bring extra clothes with me. If you don’t feel like carrying an extra pair, bring some in your car. You never know when you’ll want to change out of your walking shoes into flip-flops or vice versa.
You never know if you dressed inappropriately for the weather and suddenly want to buy a tank top instead of dying in the heat with that t-shirt you wore (true story, this happened last Saturday and I almost bought a $22 tank top with a Safari Park logo on it).
You might get wet if you ride on some wet rides or you might get caught in a torrential downpour of rain. Just bring some extra clothes so you don’t feel like splurging at the gift shops if you come across that situation.
While you’re at it, bring some sunscreen, an umbrella, sunglasses, and whatever else you might need. Everything is always much more expensive inside these amusement parks.

Food:

I know most amusement parks and fairs I’ve been to actually allow outside food and water. Even if they aren’t allowed, I’m that person that always tries to bring some in (except at airports, I know the rules and I don’t bring bottled water).
We’ve saved a ton of money just by bringing our own water, candy, granola bars, and other snacks to munch on.
The only place that I don’t mind spending on food is at the fair. They have a lot of really good food vendors and this year they even had a bunch of food trucks there. Unless you are going somewhere for the food, most food at these places are overpriced. Slurpees at the Safari Park were $10! Burgers (crappy ones) were $10. It’s ridiculous.
You can also research and look for coupons before you get there, and try to find anything that will save you on food. In addition, if you buy a big lunch, try saving your leftovers and eating the rest later when you get hungry again after riding all those rides.

Memories:

Bring your own camera! Or use your camera phone. There are a ton of people that try to take professional photos of you and then add a little kitschy frame around it. These usually end up costing a lot vs. if you just printed out your own photos yourself.

Souvenirs:

Just like regular shopping, remember to think twice before buying souvenirs. Actually, think long and hard and ask yourself if you really, really need it. Could you buy it somewhere else? A lot of Disneyland souvenirs can be purchased elsewhere.
If it’s something that cannot be duplicated or replaced, like one of those cartoon artwork pictures of yourself…then maybe it is worth it!


Do you have any other tricks or tips for saving money at an amusement park? 

7.09.2012

How to Stay Financially Sane While on Vacation

I apologize for not posting in awhile, but like any other blogger, I don't like hearing apologies for being absent! I've only been gone for a week, I'm sure most of you didn't notice anyway right? :) This post will be a mixture of a life update as well as a regular post. Hope everyone has been enjoying their summer!

I got back from Columbus, Ohio last Tuesday night after 2 loooong flights (both delayed as usual). My sister's volleyball team placed #37 out of 50 teams in the National league! They also placed 1st in their bracket. My sis plays outside hitter and she got so many kills! She also played the whole entire time. So proud!!!

My sister came back with me while my mom flew back home, and with my sister here, we've been playing tourists all over San Diego! Last Wednesday we went to the San Diego fair where we rode rides and ate fair food. On Thursday, I took her to my favorite outdoor mall. On Friday, I went to Turbo Kick and we went to my favorite Italian restaurant. On Saturday, we went to the SD Safari Park and yesterday we went to the beach and then went swimming afterwards.

Some pics!

Our vacation is still not over since we will be meeting up with my brother and cousins in Anaheim on Thursday and we'll be going to Disneyland and the beach again. Is there such thing as having too long of a vacation?! I'll be going in to work tomorrow and Wednesday just to check up on things, but I'm off again on Thursday and Friday before I go back to working full-time for another 2 weeks. When I was in Ohio, my mom paid for mostly everything, so it was more stress-free than being here in San Diego.

Not being at work requires a lot of spending, and I've been having trouble balancing my spending with fun. It sucks saying no to my sister sometimes, but I have to do it often since she wants a TON of stuff (she's 12). She's always asking for candy, food, souvenirs, clothes, and everything else money can buy. She wanted to go to Sea World too but I had to cross that off the list.

Here's how I've been staying financially sane while on vacation (in no particular order):

  1. Keep all receipts - I've been royally failing at this but it's really important to keep receipts. I usually rely on checking my accounts online and remembering where and when I spent X amount, however it's really difficult when you are going everywhere and the names of the stores are unrecognizable on your statement. For instance, I thought that there were fraudulent charges on my acct because I didn't know that WAP Thorntree was from one of the restaurants at the Safari Park.

  2. Review transactions everyday - This ties in with #1. When you're on vacation, you'll most likely be spending a lot each day. It's good to check in and make sure that the transactions are all correct. Once a few days pass, the transactions all blur together and you'll forget where and when you bought ice cream. The days might even blur together and you won't remember where you went each day. Vacations are awesome.

  3. Plan out your schedule - Without a plan in tow, you'll feel scatter-brained. You don't want to plan as you go (unless that's the type of vacay you're on), but I feel more safe with my money when there is a plan. My sister and I wrote out the activities we wanted to do and made a tentative schedule for each day. We planned some rest days too, which is nice. You can always change your schedule, but that's much easier than just going with the flow.

  4. Keep a budget - Whether you are keeping a budget for each day or for the entire trip, a budget will definitely keep you financially sane! You don't need to make it complex or even detailed. After we created our plan/schedule, I budgeted accordingly and made some revisions to the list. Make sure to give yourself some extra cushion too, since you might want to add in more activities last minute.

  5. Check on to-do lists - Even though I've been on vacation for 2 weeks now, I didn't want to escape reality completely. I would be coming back to a ton of work and stress if I didn't at least maintain some sanity with a to-do list. This doesn't have to be a crazy to-do list, but it should list items that are high priority in your life. For me, it was applying for my loan for school and requesting a transcript from my college for the law school.

  6. Keep track of due dates - Bills still have to be paid even though you are on vacation, so make sure to set automatic payments or go online and make the payments. I made all of my credit card payments before I left. While at the hotel, I paid for my cell phone bill and I've been checking on other bills online.

  7. It's okay to stay frugal - I've been staying true to my budget and saying "no" whenever possible - to myself and my sister! You can still eat at the cheaper restaurants, order the cheaper meals, and avoid other spending traps. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you have to say yes to everything or change the way you spend.

  8. Don't lose focus! - Don't lose track of your saving goals. I sent $1,000 to savings last week right when I got paid, because I knew that a lot of spending would be taking place. I felt better about it, but it also helped me to stay on track with my goals.
What tips do you have to stay financially sane while on vacation? Do you have any vacations coming up?

7.04.2012

You Can Save a Lot of Money Buying Clothes You Don’t Need, If You Do It Right


John Preston loves geeky financial concepts like clothing inventory control and used them to help families make wise financial decisions on his blog My Family Finances.  You can follow his latest writing by subscribing to his blog feed. He is also a weekly contributor for US News & World Reports’ My Money blog.

It’s been said that a man will pay twice as much for something he needs and a woman will pay half as much for something she doesn’t. It’s not true, though; sometimes the woman does need it, she just doesn’t need it yet.

It doesn’t matter if your closet is stocked, when there’s a good deal, it’s wise to buy because clothing doesn’t last forever. Someday, you are going to use it – the 5th or 6th spare bathing suit. By taking advantage of the low price now, you are saving money over the long term.

A woman’s ability to understand that shopping plus time equals lower costs is a concept lost on my fellow men. It’s a large reason why we males are often the big spenders on gift shopping and other categories, except one area: clothing.

How is it that men are the superior apparel shoppers when women have the option of buying shirts on clearance for $5? The last deal I got was $20 and only because they mislabeled the shirt XXL instead of medium. How can this be if women are renowned deal shoppers?

Women Need Classes on Inventory Management


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As I pointed out earlier, the idea of buying today at a lower cost to save over a future budget is a valid way to save money. So what goes wrong with women and clothing?

When a company buys something today to use or sell later, it’s known as buying inventory. There are all kinds of advantages to inventory. You can lock in a large quantity at lower prices, take advantage of buying in bulk and ensure that you have an uninterrupted supply of product. This is really what women do when they go clothes shopping and buy in advance; they are expanding inventory. There is some danger to this strategy, though.

Inventory is an Investment


There is nothing more dangerous to your clothing budget than too much inventory. Think about this: when you hold inventory, you are making an investment. You hope that by holding more clothing now, you’ll save money over the long-run. This means that the size of your inventory determines how much you tie up your money, and for how long.

Let’s say you spend $10,000 on a big shopping trip and now have enough clothing to last 10 years. You may have saved a lot, but it’ll take ten years for you to have received full benefit on your $10,000. Plus, what if you keep shopping regularly, and each year you add two years of inventory? If inventory is always growing, you are simply tying up more of your money and not letting yourself experience the benefit of all the deals you’ve found.

Inventory is an investment, but you’ll never get the value of it if it’s only growing.

Holding Inventory is Risky


You see, holding inventory has its risks. If you hold onto it for too long, it can become obsolete, it can spoil, it can get destroyed and it’s more likely to get misplaced. Let me translate these into personal wardrobe experiences.

Obsolete: It’s a new style every season in the fashion world. So if clothing is obsolete every three months, why do you have a seven-year inventory of clothing? You won’t get value if you are shopping to keep up with the style changes.

Plan on having children? My sense of self-preservation tells me to stop here.

Spoil: Ok, this one isn’t all that common for clothing. However, if you have part of your wardrobe sitting in a box in the basement or attic, it does run the risk of molding from moisture or heat. Wool risks being eaten by moths. Clothing does require a minimal amount of care and that care takes up space. For some, it’s a lot of space and that’s a cost in itself.

Destroyed: It might not be a likely event, but what if there was a flood or fire? A 20 year hoard of clothing isn’t just large. It’s a pain and expensive to replace in the event of catastrophe.

Misplaced: Where’s your favorite shirt and will you ever find it in the sea of all that clothing? The more you have, the harder it is to keep track of things. Disorganization keeps you from getting value in your clothing inventory. It also is harder to monitor siblings and young adult children who are raiding your closet to improve their own fashion inventory.

Managing your clothing inventory is essential to taking advantage of the deals you’ve been shopping.

Know When You Have Too Much Inventory


If you want to make sure you aren’t letting your closet grow out of control, here are some things to do that will help you recognize when you might be hoarding clothing instead of investing.

1.       Are you running out of space? It could be that you just didn’t have enough space to begin with. Fine. However, if you have a healthy level of clothing in your closet at one point, but now are starting to invade ‘his’ side of the closet. You are probably hoarding more than investing.
2.      What’s the oldest section of your closet? Granted, you may always run across a 15-year old top every now and then, but what’s the overall life span, and does is seem like the span is growing from year to year?
3.       Are you always finding lost clothing? I’m happy that you located the pants that have been missing for two years, but regularly finding your clothes is a sign that you are beyond the size of inventory that you can handle.

Of course, it should be noted that many shoppers buy clothes to satisfy a psychological urge and those problems need to be addressed. No sale can justify it and no amount of inventory control will fix it. However, shopping for sales can lower your total clothing costs, but you need to understand how to use this type of shopping if you actually want to cash in on the savings.

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Shopping can be good; it is purchasing that can be unhealthy or imprudent.

Do you think that you are shopping just to expand your "inventory?" Do you consider the items you buy "investments?"

7.02.2012

Why Do We Enable People to Spend Money While Shopping?

I got a text from my mom a few weeks ago, right before she came to visit for my brother's volleyball tournament in Anaheim. She told me that she was reading my blog, and she was wondering if she was a shopaholic. Ha! 

She was saying that she needed to stop buying unnecessary things and start thinking through purchases before buying them. She loves to shop for clothes and is constantly looking for great deals (hmmm, I wonder how I became a shopaholic?), and she said that she wanted to go on a six-month no spend challenge.

As a PF blogger and recovering shopaholic (and also an awesome daughter), you'd think that I'd be super supportive of her decision right? Perhaps I'd be her financial coach if she had the urge to buy something and I'd tell her to put that item back because she has committed to a no-spend challenge. That's what I was thinking too, but that idea didn't go as planned.

The day that she and my brother flew in to San Diego, we ended up having dinner at CPK at the mall and we ended up browsing around. She bought some stuff at Victoria Secret because she claimed she needed those things. Who was I to tell her that she didn't need them? She loves what she purchased, and they came out with new colors. Totally needed them.

After my brother's tournament that weekend, we went to South Coast Plaza (a really nice and upscale mall in SoCal) just to kill time because we had about five hours before their flight was scheduled to leave. We went into a ton of different stores and we ended up in Zara. 

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This was her first time in the store and I knew she was looking forward to going here for awhile now. She ended up finding a beautiful crochet sleeveless top for $40. Quite the steal for such a dainty yet intricate item. She sighed and put it back on the rack and we dutifully walked out empty-handed. 

As we window shopped through a couple of other stores, she couldn't get her mind off of that crochet top. To add fuel to the fire, I kept on raving about how much I loved the top and I even mentioned how versatile it was by offering suggestions of different outfits she could make with it. In addition, I told her that I could borrow it so it was actually only $20 since we'd both get to wear it ($40 divided by 2....get it? Yeah, awesome). Also, maybe my sister might want to wear it. It was perfect for summer and cheaper than the other similar tops we saw at Zara. Makes total sense right?? So persuasive.

So what did she end up doing after all of my enabling? She promptly turned around and marched into Zara to grab the second to last crochet top in the store since she couldn't take it anymore. She had to have it, and she didn't hesitate to pay for it at the register. She was happy. I was happy too. I now get to borrow this super cute top!

Yet, I knew she was supposed to be on a no-spend challenge. 

Why was I so quick to enable her?

The thing is...this type of behavior happens a lot. If I'm not the person enabling someone to buy something, one of my friends that I am shopping with is enabling me to buy something. We end up justifying purchases together and we rationalize cost per wear as well as versatility. I know a lot of us on twitter enable each other to buy items as well, even though we are PF bloggers (apparently we are human too, I guess).

I'm guilty of being an enabler. I am not really sure why I do it.
  • Is it because I just like shopping in general and I feel like I am shopping myself and living vicariously through that person? 
  • Is it because I genuinely realize that my mom or friend would be a million times happier if this particular item was purchased?
  • Is it because I get caught up in the moment of that "shopping high" and I can't back down?
  • Am I indirectly trying to sabotage them because I want them to just spend money because I can't?
Well actually, that last option sounds kind of mean, but I don't doubt that it happens sometimes, unknowingly. If everyone was more open with their finances, I think it would be easier to stop enabling friends and family to spend, spend, spend. Since I know that my mom could afford that top and I knew it wouldn't burn a hole in her wallet, I pushed for it. I think it was because I really wanted it too. I knew that I could borrow it from her (since I'm moving back to the bay area) and I loved that idea.

However, I am not sure why I enable my friends so much. I do voice my opinions when I absolutely hate something, but for the most part, I'll offer an alternative item if I don't like the one they are considering or end up really liking the item they are considering and the enabling begins. I admit, I'll usually be more of an enabler if we are shopping together in person, usually at the mall. If we are online or they are sending me text messages, I find that I'm not as quick to enable. I'll usually question them and ask them if they really need it or what do they need it for. The mall must be a magical place (kidding...sorta).

If I knew my mom couldn't afford that top, maybe I wouldn't have been such a huge enabler. Part of me feels guilty that I made her fail at her no-spend challenge. She could always try again right? As for my friends, I should probably ask them more questions and help them think through the purchase rationally (without justifying the purchase). It would be nice to get a more realistic explanation of why they are buying something and if there is a specific purpose before enabling them.

I need to start thinking before I start enabling. I know I hate it when I'm shopping with friends and I get coerced into thinking something is just "sooo cute" and that it would be unbearable to live without it. This is why I enjoy shopping with my boyfriend (who is totally NOT an enabler) or just going by myself. I end up rationalizing that I do not want to spend money and I will almost always put something back after thinking about a potential purchase.

Do you enable people to spend money? Why do you think we enable?
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