Wednesday, September 3, 2008

August Spending Analysis

First, a quick administrative note: they have blocked blogger functions at work, and so my blogging will now occur a little bit less frequently. I'm hoping to find the energy to continue blogging after work, maybe by emailing myself some posts. Also, while I can still read all of your posts, I am unfortunately no longer able to comment, so I'll try to remember to do that from home, too.

On to business!

August spending was a under a little bit more control compared to July's total of $4,203, which included a reunion trip to Vegas.

MONEY EARNED: $5574 (after FSA, health insurance, gym membership, taxes, etc. This is what is direct-deposited into my savings account each month)

Note: This is about $1400 more than what I earned in July for three reasons:
1) My promotion raise became effective Aug 1!
2) I maxed out my 401k at the end of July, thus no more 401k deductions
3) I maxed out my Social Security at the end of July, thus no more SS deductions



BREAKDOWN: (Last month's total in parenthesis)

Beauty: $86 ($124)- A mani/pedi combo, another manicure, and a bottle of a new perfume

Cash: $300-
ATM withdrawals for items not listed below and to pay for lunches

Cashback Bonuses: $30- 5% back from Discover Card on gas and hotel spending, and a $10 Discover giftcard for spending $100 at a participating mall

Charity: $50- Colleague's Multiple Sclerosis bike event

Clothing: $197- Mini shopping spree at Banana Republic less the money I was refunded for my price adjustment, some new flip-flops, and a belt.

Dining out: $238 ($165)- Includes a promotion-celebration at Bertucci's, the bachelorette party meal, and the dinner out I bought for B's family to thank them for having me at their lake house ($130 for five people at a nice Italian restaurant- I thought that the bill would be twice as much, and was prepared to pay for it). The rest of my restaurant dinners were company/client-expensed.

Drugstore/household: $15 ($120)

Entertainment: $38 ($84)- BOGO Discover promotion for Wall-E tickets, and a magazine subscription renewal

Furniture: $0 ($420)

Gas: $58- To help B pay for gas on our road trips

Gifts: $53 ($141)- Gift for the wedding I will attend in San Francisco later this month

Groceries: $171 ($61)- Mostly comprised of my trip to COSTCO! This food will last me months (although I will have to restock the diet cokes soon!)

Poker/Gambling: $20- Includes a $100 poker game with my colleagues, a $5 game I lost to B's mom (was worth the $5 to not suffer the consequences of beating her, haha), and a $26 game for B's cousin's 26th birthday. I love that his family likes to play poker, but I wish I had a better poker face. Offsetting these losses is the $111 I won at the Saratoga Race Track on a $2 trifecta bet!

Rent + Utilities: $1513 ($1507)- $1375 rent, half of $165 for cable and $112 for electricity ($13 more than last month's electric bill)

Taxis: $137 Includes the $5-$6 taxi to get to work in the morning. This is discretionary, but I choose to save 30 precious sleeping minutes by spending $5-6/day to get to work by 6:30 a.m. (not to mention that it's too dark to walk safely in the winter). The additional taxis are used to get to/from B's place when I'm in a hurry- to get there by subway requires a transfer and takes at least 35 minutes, a taxi costs $12 and takes less than 10 minutes. It's always a tough call, especially if I'm carrying heavy bags or if it's late at night and I'm tired.

Travel/Lodging: $188 ($1025)- Includes $175 for flights to Richmond for the wedding I'm in this October, although $70 of it was credit from a flight refund. Also includes a shared hotel expense for my friend's bachelorette party in D.C. My train tickets were purchased via rewards from my Amtrak Mastercard.

Wedding related: $29 ($108)- Shared cost of the bridal shower gift for the bride who's wedding I'm in. This category is exclusively for costs related to that wedding (except for travel), which is why the gift I purchased for the other wedding is not in this category.

All of the money left over is now earning some fatty interest in my new HSBC account along with the bonus I just deposited. September will be a bit expensive with the hotel and rental car for my trip to San Francisco, but maybe I can reign in some of the other cost categories (or maybe play less poker! :P ).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Inexpensive weekend ahead

*Hopefully* an inexpensive weekend ahead. I'm going up to B's lake house in the Adirondacks, and to save money by avoiding having to stop for dinner, I made a pasta and veggie mix to take on the road with us, along with a fruit salad. Ok, I bought the fruit salad, but it was only $3 and is a delicious combo of mango, melon, grapes, strawberries, and pineapple.

B and I usually take turns paying for gas when he drives us upstate, since it's at least a tank to get up there and back (yeah, I'm looking at a 4-5 hour drive tonight). Through September, Discover Card is offering 5% back on all gas and hotel purchases if you sign up for their free "Get More" program, so that will help with the gas. I am bringing two bottles of wine as a contribution and gift for B's aunt who owns the lake house, and I expect food costs to be minimal, as we cook most of our own meals and the "adults" usually pick up the grocery tab.

Unless it's raining and we hit up a shopping mall or bowling alley, I expect this weekend to be pretty low-cost. No expensive NYC bars to entertain me, just nature :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Price Adjustments

I got a $95 price adjustment today on the dresses I bought at Banana Republic two weeks ago!! A price adjustment allows you to adjust what you pay for an item if the price is reduced within 14 days of purchase. (The number of days may vary by retailer)

Note this fine print on the back of most major retailers' receipts:

"A one-time price adjustment is available when receipt is presented within 14 days of purchase"

In my situation, I went shopping two weeks ago and bought a few fall dresses on sale at Banana Republic. Today, I stopped by my local BR and noticed that two of the dresses I bought had been reduced in price yet again. I took my receipt to the register, where an associate scanned it and informed me that the total price of the items was now $95 less than what I paid for them two weeks ago, and she credited that amount back to my BR card. The whole transaction took less then three minutes.

I love price adjustments because I don't have to worry about something going on sale right after I buy it- if it goes on sale within two weeks, I can get the benefit of the sale price anyway. The key is to remember to take your receipt back to the store within the designated time frame. Because most major retailers (Gap, Ann Taylor, BR, among many others) have price adjustment policies, it's relatively easy for me to visit the stores frequently enough to remember to check for price adjustments on items I've recently bought. These stores also tend to slash prices frequently in order to make room for changing inventory, so chances are within two weeks, your seasonal item will be on sale and you will be eligible for some kind of refund. You don't have to take the actual items with you, just the receipts.

Happy shopping! (And price adjusting!)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend Spending

Despite shopping being the main act of the weekend, I managed to reel in the spending.

Friday: $48

Date night! I hadn't seen the BF in a few days because of our mutually busy schedules, so Friday night was eagerly anticipated. I even went to the gym in the morning so that I would be freed up after work! The market was so slow that I got to leave around 4:45, a beautiful exception from the usual 5-6pm exit.

We had salivated over the thought of Italian food all week (and as a reward for my stellar gym performance- the weight loss tally has reached 5 pounds!) and had our eye on a particular place famous for its lasagna. As a last minute money-saving decision, we decided that rather than pay $40+ for a bottle of marked-up wine at the restaurant, why not pick up a bottle from the liquor store down the street and just order the food as take-out? We do enjoy the ambiance and experience of eating out, but for our lazy Friday night, this fit the bill perfectly. We ordered a caprese salad, the famous lasagna (worth the hype!), and some gnocchi for $40 total including a small tip to the hostess. We saved about $8 by not having to tip a waitress, and the wine we purchased was a delicious malbec for only $8, so all in it was a relatively thrifty way of having a delicious meal. And the leftovers tasted great on Saturday night!

As for the rest of our date night, we watched some Office re-runs, played Scrabble, and went to bed early so that B could leave at 8am for a bachelor party in Philly. I know, we're so exciting.

Saturday: $24

Since B was in Philly, I took the opportunity to have half-priced Indian food with a friend from college, as B hates Indian. When a restaurant offers the menu at half-price for lunch every day, what is the incentive of ever going there for dinner? Total cost for 2: $19.20 for an appetizer, two entrees, rice, and naan!

After lunch I strolled up 5th avenue to do some shopping but luckily I didn't find anything that I loved, or what I loved wasn't available in my size (online shopping, anyone?). After my strike-out shopping experience, I went to the gym and then got some Pinkberry frozen yogurt-ish stuff on the way home as a reward ($5). I also rented two movies, but I pre-paid for a bunch of them earlier this year so that I could rent them at a discount, so I essentially rented the two movies for the price of one. Lastly, I purchased some english muffins and a yogurt to eat for breakfast, as my apartment is devoid of all breakfast foods, and that drives me NUTS when I wake up starving.

Dinner was comprised of leftovers from Friday, along with some fresh pasta I bought in Seattle a few months ago (sweet potato papardelle!), including an attempt at making the suggested sauce (a garlic, walnut, cream cheese mixture that ended up as a big blob). Since B was out of town, and I have been out of town almost every weekend this summer, I relished the opportunity to turn down all invitations to go out and just lie in bed watching movies.

Sunday: $61

First purchase of the day, a $4 sausage from a street-vendor to fuel up before another shopping trip with a friend from work. I was a little surprised at how 'expensive' it was, ha. I met my friend at a salon to have our nails done first: manicure was $8, and then I decided to splurge on a back rub for $10 because my shoulders and upper back have been super tense, and I can't even pay my BF to rub my shoulders for me :( So I will pay someone else to do it!! I love how the ladies at the nail salons give the perfect back rub, but if you go to a massage parlor, they try to get deep into the tissue and it ends up hurting, not what I like at all.

I purchased two shirts on sale at Club Monaco for $42, one for me and one for the BF since he has given me a little bit of leeway in overhauling his wardrobe. He's supposed to pay me weekly installments of $30 so that I can be his personal shopper, but I haven't received any cash in a few months... hmm....

For dinner I had a bowl of soup, compliments of the supply I purchased at Costco a few weeks ago. Healthy and free.

Hope you all had a great weekend.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Overdraft Fees SUCK! (but USAA rocks!!)

As I'm sure most of you PF fanatics are diligent about account bookkeeping, I, too, consider myself to be organized when it comes to my accounts. I make sure that I have sufficient funds when writing checks (especially that hefty rent check at the end of each month), transfer money if necessary before paying credit card bills, etc. My checking account is linked to my smaller savings account for overdraft protection, but what happens when you overdraft your savings account? By accident, of course!

I recently opened an HSBC account to get a higher savings rate for my anticipated bonus, and I decided to make a "small" transfer of $750 to make sure that everything worked correctly and that I had it linked to the right USAA account. I intended to make the small deduction from my checking account, since that's where my bonus would be directly deposited. This morning, I got an email notice that "the transfer failed due to insufficient funds..." HUH? Impossible! Investigation ensued.

As background info, my relevant accounts at USAA are arranged as such:
Checking: $2k
Savings 1: $500 (for overdraft from checking, has low interest rate)
Savings 2: $20k (a higher interest rate because of the higher balance)

"Savings 1" only exists as an overdraft account, which is why I keep the balance so low. I checked all debits and transfers to this account after receiving the rejected transfer email, and sure enough, they had tried to transfer the $750 from this account, hence the rejection. Also in this account was a big red $29 overdraft fee >:( I quickly transferred another $500 into this account for when they re-attempt the transfer.

So how did this happen? Well, it's my fault, of course. Computers don't make mistakes, right? When I set up my external transfer account, I copied and pasted the account and routing numbers directly from my checking account info page. However, the way the page is set up is that it lists the checking account number, followed by the overdraft account number linked to the account. In my haste, I accidentally copied the overdraft account number!! Sigh.

What makes me mad is that this is exactly what I was trying to avoid! I set up the smaller transfer so that when I made the big one, I would be sure that it was coming from the right account and not overdraw my smaller ones by accident. What I should have done was select a test amount that was smaller than the lowest balance of any of my accounts. I just didn't think that transferring from my smallest savings account was even an option, since the only two accounts I thought I had set up for transferring were my checking and larger savings accounts.

Fellow blogger J Money recently had a situation in which he was able to kiss enough USAA butt for them reverse his overdraft fee- I have every intention of calling them when their offices open this morning and pleading my case, I hope I have the same luck. Will keep you updated!

Update: Whoo hoo! I called USAA and they refunded me the overdraft fee as a one-time courtesy, since I do in fact have enough funds in my other accounts to cover the transfer. As it was my own dumb mistake, I was prepared to just take the hit, but it's nice when your bank is actually serviced by human beings (unlike Jet Blue... GRRR! Still mad at you, Jet Blue! Take some customer service notes from USAA!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

$100 poorer

I participated in a poker game with a group of colleagues last night and lost $100 :( I'm a little bit torn about whether I "just" lost $100, or if I should have put another $100 on the line to buy more chips, thus enabling me to potentially win the whole tournament.

I love to play poker, so I eagerly jumped into this game; plus, as the only girl on my team at work, I think it's important to participate in "guy's night" when possible (i.e. I can play poker with them, but I probably wouldn't enjoy going to football games with them). Silly office politics, but anyway... I lobbied for a $50 buy-in, but then the last person to arrive to the game bullied everyone into putting down $100, with an opportunity to buy back in at 9pm for another $100 and a fresh stack of chips.

When 9pm rolled around I had a pretty healthy stack, having won a few decent pots, so I decided to minimize my potential loss by not buying back in. The problem is that everyone else at the table bought in again, so then they had even bigger stacks of chips than I did, which put me at a disadvantage. A few hands later and I was out all together :( I wonder, if I had put the other $100 on the line, could I have taken them down? I find solace in the fact that the player who argued for $100 buy-ins did not even place, so he would have been better off keeping his mouth shut!

I wonder if I can write this off as a networking event/ business expense... :P Just kidding!

But my wallet is sadly $100 lighter :(

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fatter Paycheck, Part 1!

My August 15 paycheck was the first to reflect my new salary, whoo hoo! I definitely appreciated its fatness, although it still has some room to go once my bonus hits next week, after which I will no longer be paying Social Security tax or making 401k contributions. The remainder of my 401k will be paid for out of my bonus in a lump-sum.

Having been promoted from 3rd Year Analyst to Associate, I recently got a handsome 20% raise! For those of you following along, that takes my salary from $80k to $100k. To any potential haters out there with income envy, let me clarify that my compensation is commensurate with my hours and the stressful daily demands of my career. I like the mental challenge of what I do, but the people are difficult, and there is a LOT of pressure to perform. I easily work a minimum of 12 hours a day, and often longer if you include the hours I spend at client dinners. So be sure to ask yourself, do you want a six-figure salary at the expense of working longer hours? Or would you rather work fewer hours and make less money? It's a critical question.

On days that I don't have a client dinner or event, I usually hit the gym, eat a small dinner, and go straight to bed. I don't have much time for myself, but I am lucky in that I don't have to work weekends, which is common for young professionals in the finance industry. As such, I enjoy my weekends to the max, and I have a lot of friends in the city, so I am ok with my salary vs. work hours trade-off. I will probably re-evaluate in a few years, but for now I am tempted to stay in the industry, because the pay-off for all of the torture I endured my first three years (and continue to endure) is right around the corner. As you can see from my 20% raise, the salary (and bonus) curve is VERY steep, and I'm just at the bottom of the ascent, so if I were to drop out now and work somewhere less demanding, I would be forfeiting some major dough. That's what gets me through the very tough days- a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and it keeps getting closer.

That said, let's take a close look at my paycheck:

Biweekly pay before taxes: $4,167

Federal Income Tax: $722
Social Security Tax: $246
Medicare Tax: $58
NY State Income Tax: $227
New York City Income Tax: $133
Fitness Exchange: $19 (corporate-sponsored fitness program, deducted from my paycheck)

Less, pre-tax:
FSA Contributions: $37
Medical/Dental Plan: $38
Vision: $4
401k: $125

I did some rounding here, so after all deductions, my bi-weekly paycheck ends up being about $2550. At the end of this month, I expect it to be around $325 greater without SS and 401k deductions (not exactly sure how much, since the 401k is deducted pre-tax and so my taxable income will go up a little bit). My previous post-deduction income was just around $4k/month, and while I sometimes spend about that much after everything is said and done (see last month's breakdown here) hopefully the extra money coming in will be able to go straight to savings. July was an exceptionally expensive month for a few reasons, so check back in a week and a half for August's analysis.