2009: A Review and Thanks!

Things I’ve Learned in 2009

1. Dogs truly are man’s best friend

2. Relationships are only as good as the honesty that you bring to them

3. When faced with a challenge, I tend to swim – not sink

4. Spin your wheels in mud long enough and eventually you’ll break free and go faster than you ever thought possible

5. Somehow, beyond all belief and reason, things always seem to work out

6. Swagbucks is quite possibly the best invention ever as far as I’m concerned

7. How you spend your money says more about you than the things that you say

8. Roth IRAs are awesome – and so are index funds

9. Just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I HAVE to do something

10. My career, my life, my future isn’t set – it is up to me and I can choose to do whatever I want – and change my mind at any time

11. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money – your car, your sanity, and your health are includedd in this list

12. Once you find your motivation, you can do anything. The hardest part is finding the thing that drives you every day.

13. Sometimes, the things that make the greatest difference, take little to no effort at all

14. I don’t want to be defined by money, I just want to be confident about my financial situation

15. I love photography – a lot

16. I cried at every engagement story that I read about in 2009 – with no exceptions

17. Family should always come before money. No one ever regrets the time they spent with family, only the time they didn’t.

18. Sometimes, the things that seem so horrible in the moment, will lead to the greatest blessings of your life

19. I have a “monetary clock” that is set to go off the 20th every month.

20. I want more from one lifetime than I could possible accomplish, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try!

My best friend: Jack!

Also, just as a recap, these are the Top 10 most read articles on my blog in 2010:

10. How My Dad Has Survived

9. Debt Free in 2010?

8. “You fall in love with those you spend time with”

7. Apartment Therapy Week 3

6. Eureka! My 2010 Challenge!

5. Swagbucks – And why I LOVE it

4. Something I’m Not Proud Of

3. Gazelle Like Intensity

2. 100% Down For A House

1. You Shouldn’t Buy A House If…

Jack is comfortable in any situation - I could learn a thing or two from him!

My Top Referrers in 2009:

1. Saving for Later

2. Jessie’s Money

3. TeacHer Finance

4. Chronicles of Debt

5. Give Me Back My Five Bucks

6. The Lost Goat

7. Carrie On The Cheap

8. Punch Debt in the Face

9. Frugal Dreamer

10. Northern Living Allowance

I want to thank all my readers, both the loyal and the casual, for helping me along in 2009. You’ve given me inspiration, food for thought, and a desire to keep pushing myself. I wish you all the best in 2010 and hope that you continue with me in the journey of the New Year!

Pre-Paid Debit Cards: A Possible Solution to Overspending?

Before I started my debt recovery process, and even a few months after, I had a big problem. Actually a huge problem.

I was horrible at keeping track of how much money I had spent.

As I mentioned in this post, for the 7 months before I got “really” serious about finances I had accumulated $836 in overdraft fees. I just couldn’t keep my money straight or know where it was going.

I ran across Pre-Paid Debit Cards recently, and thought they may be a decent solution. So let me just give you a run down of how these cards work. It is pretty simple, you can choose your own debit card (I personally love the Breast Cancer card because my mom had breast cancer, and they are donating a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research). You then put your own money on it (if you do this online, it is free). Then you use the card like you would a debit card from the bank. You are given a PIN, so you can use to it get cash. And you can also do Visa signature purchases. Essentially anything that a “normal” debit card does.

The benefit though is that you don’t have overdraft fees. You can only spend how much money you have. So remember the scenario above where I had $836 in overdraft fees in 7 months? Yeah, that wouldn’t have happened if I had been using a pre-paid debit card.

Now, there are a few draw backs compared to conventional debit cards. And of course, these “draw backs” are because you can’t get something for nothing, right?

These babies aren’t free. And that might be a deterant for some straight off the bat. But let me go through the basic fees associated with pre-paid debit cards.

For instance, to issue the card there is a $9.95 fee. This is a one-time fee, so that is understandable.

Also there are two different account levels. You can “Pay As You Go” which means you pay for each transaction that you make. A PIN-based transaction costs $2.00 per transaction; a Signature based transaction is $1.00 per transaction.

The better deal (I think) is the “Fee Advantage” program where you pay $9.95/month for unlimited PIN and Signature transactions.

So essentially you’ll pay a $9.95/month fee to ensure unlimited transactions and to make sure that you don’t go overdraft. Sure you’re paying $9.95/month – but if you go overdraft on your checking account just once on a normal card you’re paying $25-35 for that one overdraft. And if you’re like me it usually isn’t one overdraft it is SEVERAL. (*ahem* …$836… *sigh*)

Obviously, a pre-paid debit card isn’t for everyone. But, if you have a limited budget for spending and want to make sure that you don’t go over, then this should definitely be a possibility. If I had used a card like this for my transactions a few years ago, sure, I would have spent $10/month – HOWEVER – I also wouldn’t have gone overdraft and gotten so many fees.

In addition, it may be a way to curb certain spending habits. For instance, if your weakness is buying clothes then you might consider putting your clothes budget for the month onto a pre-paid debit card. Then you’ll be sure not to overspend. Or perhaps if (like me) buying food every month is your weakness, you can put your monthly food budget on the card. In essence, you can make a pre-paid debit card be a lot like an envelope system backed with the security of Visa.

I think at this point in my finances, having a pre-paid debit card isn’t exactly what I need to keep me on financial track anymore. However, when I first started this blog and was spending money like I didn’t have a care in the world, well, a pre-paid debit card would have saved me A LOT of money. It would have been a good way to begin budgeting myself and my money.

My Life – Ramblings

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen my post this seemingly random statement:

i am afraid that my “dream job” may not be what i have always thought it would be – a bit scary to think about!5:14 PM Dec 24th from web

Since I haven’t been at work for a while and I’ve been single now for a while I’ve started to think about my life. When you strip away the job and any random relationship I may find myself in at that given point in time – I don’t feel like I’m left with much.

My good friends are all thousands of miles away. We still keep in touch, but it is so much harder when you can’t hang out with them regularly.

When I first moved to the midwest I was insistent that I didn’t turn down ANY social activity. It was a fun time, went to the movies with people, to bars, to dinner, to comedy clubs, to “girl’s night” parties, to a weekend trip to St. Louis. After about 6 months though things got complicated. People thought I was dating them because I was going out with them, friends I hung out with became co-workers and suddenly we didn’t want to work and play together. As I started removing myself from situations that had the potential to be toxic for me, I realized that I had no situations left.

It isn’t a secret that friendships are hard to make as you become older (link goes to Fabulously Broke’s post on the matter). There is less to force you to bond together. But it seems even more difficult for me because (as a scientist maybe?) I have a lot of social issues. I have a horrid time at small talk. I have two modes: completely silly and ridiculous OR let’s have a very serious, in depth conversation. Which is fine for the blogging/internet world (one post fun! the next post serious).

However, this seems to leave me with very few friends in real life. Because who wants to go from joking around and having “your mom” punch lines to talking about personal finance or politics or religion? There tends to be some sort of middle ground for most people – the land where random small talk and how is your day kind of conversations exist – and well,  I am apparently functionally incapable of existing here. (I don’t even know what people would talk about here, lol, sports? pets? I don’t know!)

ANYWAY, my problems with making good friends aside, I DO have some. I have three that live in San Diego and one in Connecticut.

I was checking out jobs on Christmas Eve, because I always like to know what positions are available in my field, and I found a position in Connecticut. 12 miles from my good friend there Okturn DelMoniq.

The job isn’t at all what I thought I wanted, but at the same time, it was EXACTLY what I want.

It is an industry job (lots of money, prob starts at $80-100k). It is a research position (what I want). It requires me to be independent, but also work with a group of experts towards solving problems that I would define (and I already have 1 defined which will go over REALLY well in the interview). It would require me to still publish and go to conferences (SCORE!). It would involve me becoming intimate with other people’s research to know what they would need in the future (mental growth!). And it is a job where no two days would be the same. AND it is near one of my best friends in the entire world. Granted, he won’t be there forever. Also, it is 2 hours from New York, which means I’d get a lot of weekend explorations!

I had thought for the longest time that I wanted to be a professor. But the last year has completely shaken my confidence that it is something I want to do. It is a lot of responsibility for not a lot of pay to teach and do research. And I’m not convinced I will do well without some sort of research goal in front of me.

With this position I can get paid for a 9-5 job to do research AND still get to teach in the evenings at a community college or teach training courses for the instrument I would be working on. The best of both the research and teaching parts of being a professor.

Of course there are some downfalls. There isn’t an option of tenure, so my job could always be in danger. I’d need a larger E-fund. However, as long as I kept teaching I should be able to maintain decent skills to pay the bills if I did get fired/laid off.

Vacation time wouldn’t be as sweet. One of the nice things about being in academia is that you can take off a month and no one cares as long as things get done. I would be subject to 2-3 weeks vacation and no being able to take half days and the like. Which sucks. But you know what? If I love the job I don’t really care that much.

So I’m going to apply for the job. I don’t have as much as experience (2 years vs 5 years) as they’re asking for, but I have more than enough drive and ambition to learn to make up for it. I may not get the job, but that’s okay. And if I do – I could be leaving the midwest and my position there. And I’m VERY okay with that. I need to get two papers published here and get out the door. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to mentally last here without some sort of intervention.

All of these thoughts have also lead me to realize something that I thought I never would: I want a family.

I know, random transition from a career to a family.

But I realized I don’t want a job that consumes my life anymore. I want a job I enjoy and love, but isn’t my everything. There is no room for that mentality in the academic positions I would want – they want your soul. I want a husband some day. I want children. I want to come home to more than a dog and a couple of cats. I want to build a life and memories and experiences. There is more to life than my career – it just took me 29 years to figure that out.

I know these are all just random thoughts, but they’re pretty profound to me. What I thought I’ve always wanted – isn’t making me happy – because I don’t think I actually wanted it as much as I tried to convince myself that I did.

My Budget 2010

Here is what my current budget for 2010 looks like:

I’ve color-coded the entire thing so that you can see which account each expense will come from. I use BofA to pay bills (no ATMs in my state) and ING for regular expenses (because there are no overdraft fees).

In total I have 5 different accounts that I regularly use.

Account #1 – Bofa: Bill paying account (color coded pink in my budget). I put in here the MAXIMUM I need to pay for each bills. So if water ranges from $25-40, I put in $40 every month. If the cell phone ranges from $50-65, I put in $65. I also cancelled my cable TV, found cheaper internet and lowered changes on my cell phone to save me some money here. After all my bills go through I transfer the remaining money onto my credit card.

Account #2 – ING Checking: Every-day expenses (color-coded purple in budget). Food. Gas. Ect. Not however for gifts, clothes and entertainment. This account only pays for the things that I NEED every month. Toilet paper. Grocery shopping. Gas to get to work. Oil changes. This year I am setting up automatic deposits into this account from my Account #3 of $161/week (I was just doing a weird system of three irregular times per month). So the money I’m not spending that week is earning me interest. Also, it helps keep me balanced to have a constant stream of money every week – I never feel poor this way!

Account #3 – ING Savings: Emergency fund. (color coded green in the budget) Since I have reached my $1,200 Emergency Fund goal, I’ve lowered my contribution in 2010 to $33/month. I couldn’t bring myself to stop saving at all. If I have an expense and it goes below $1,000 – I’ll bump up my contributions to $100/month until it is back above the $1,000 threshold.

Account #4 – ING Savings: Yearly savings (color coded green in the budget) I added up all the expenses that I have reoccurring every year: car registration, membership dues, haircuts (I only get this done twice a year, if that!), christmas, vacations, ect. Then totaled them and divided by 12. Last year, I paid $140/month to this account. This year I’ve upped my Christmas savings and my car savings to rebalance my saving vs spending. I save this in a separate ING savings account. Then I have an excel sheet that I use to keep track of when I spend for this account. Here is what it looks like, not very pretty, but it gets the job done. You can see that I already have money from the Car Fund going away from expenses that I incurred in December (to pay back my E-fund).

Please click to make a little bigger

Account #5 – Chase Checking: My fun fund. This pays for all the things that make life nice, but aren’t a necessity. Gifts, clothes, entertainment, ect. There is no regular allotment of money into this account from my steady income sources. I fund this account with my “extra” money. So from tutoring in real life, tutoring online, doing surveys, selling my possessions. On a bad month only $25-50 gets put into this account. On a good month upwards of $400 can find its way into here. Since these are optional expenses in my life since I have debt, they aren’t given dedicated money. I have to EARN my fun!

So there you have it! My budget for the first part of 2010!

This will change in June when I may or may not be teaching at the community college – and probably not teaching as much.

Things I Wish I Had Known As A Graduate Student

I got a lovely email the other day from Life As A Purse, a new personal finance blogger who just wanted to thank me for my blog. It was VERY sweet. =)  (she claims she read like every post over the course of two days, boy do I feel sorry for her if this is true! j/k!)

She is applying for graduate school and wants to get her financial life in order before she goes, which is SO GREAT!

It got me thinking about graduate school and the things that I didn’t know/didn’t WANT to think about while I was there. For me, graduate school is where I got in trouble. I left undergrad with $0 in student loans, $0 in car debt and only about $1,500 in credit card debt. All my debt I acquired in graduate school.

Here are some of the things that I wish I had realized while I was in graduate school:

1) Don’t inflate your lifestyle

This was a big thing for me. I went straight from making about $300/month tutoring  in undergrad to making $1,800/month as a Teaching Assistant in graduate school. For me, this was like making $3,000/month! Or at least, that’s how I SPENT money.

I initially stayed in the same apartment that I had as an undergrad (I didn’t move cities, just changed schools). However, instead of waiting for the less nice, cheaper apartments to move into after my first year or two – I moved into the more expensive nicer apartments. Rather than paying $800/month to share a 2-bedroom apartment I chose to pay $1300/month to share a 2-bedroom apartment in a nicer complex a few months sooner.

2) Learn How To Cook

I was exceptionally blessed in undergrad that I didn’t have to pay for room, board, tuition, books, fees, ect – my entire 4 years of undergrad. So I ate 99% of my meals in the cafeteria because it was free. I didn’t learn to cook, because I didn’t need to. All my meals were prepared for me.

So when I went to graduate school, I ate every meal out because that is what I was used to in undergrad. Sometimes I would cook meals at home, but VERY, VERY rarely. So rarely that I would always have to buy the basics of butter and milk and olive oil, ect. Making it just as expensive as eating out. Which would discourage me all the more.

If I had made my lunch every day or ate dinner at home every night, I would have saved SO much money. Instead I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner out every meal for 5 years – I was outspending my food budget by between $2-300 each month.

3) You can’t afford to not be honest when you date

I had a boyfriend while I was in graduate school for 4.5 years. We started dating when I was in my senior year of college and he was just starting in his job. We were both 20/21 and dirt poor. However, I went to graduate school and started making some cash (not a lot) while he continued to get raises at work.

When we started dating we split meals and things of this nature 50%. However, after 3 years when he was making 3-times my salary and I was starting to feel the pinch of the debt I was creating each month, I couldn’t afford to pay for everything 50% anymore. Mainly because as he got more money he wanted to spend more money, and I couldn’t keep up.

We would have some conversations about this, but we were never on the same page. So instead of ending the relationship or putting my foot down –  I put down the credit card. I should have been more assertive, but instead I got around $5,000 more debt because I wanted to keep up with his lifestyle inflation.

4) Student loan debt is better than credit card debt

I don’t want to advertise that you SHOULD get debt. You shouldn’t if at all possible (see #5). However, as a student, especially if you’re not in the sciences, you may have to take on debt load to get your education. If you have done your budget and can’t figure out how you’ll be able to pay for it, please remember that a SUBSIDIZED student loan is better than an unsubsidized student loan which is FAR FAR FAR better than credit card debt. I would much rather be on this blog telling you that I have $35,000 worth of student loan debt than $16,000 in credit card debt. In the long run it would have saved me money.

5) Do whatever you can to avoid debt

All that I said in #4 considered, if I had known how much my debt was REALLY going to cost me, I would have tried harder to stay within my budget, eaten out less often, not gone so crazy with gifts for other people, lived in a cheaper apartment, taken on more tutoring jobs, not bought such an expensive car, whatever I could have done to stay out of debt. However, I DIDN’T realize the cost. So I spent freely.

My dear friend TMcImmy was able to get paid just as much as I was in graduate school, yet he managed to not get any debt AND to save for an Emergency fund. I should have used him as a model rather than make fun of him for being a monetary stick in the mud. 😉

6) Don’t spend like you’ll have more money tomorrow

One of the most common things you’ll hear in graduate school is: “Well, someday I’ll make more money”

We all fell prey to this. This idea that “someday” we’d have more money to pay for the things that we wanted today.

And sure, I “technically” get paid more now than I did in graduate school. But I’m here to tell you this: Because of the DEBT I accumulated in graduate school – and subsequently the FEES that I’m paying now to pay off that debt – I now bring home LESS money each month now than I did in graduate school.

DON’T count on tomorrow to pay for today, all you’re doing to PROLONGING the period of time that you’ll be poor.

Do yourself a favor and just accept another 5 years of Ramen if that is what it takes. Because then you WILL make more money someday – and you’ll be able to enjoy that money rather than watch it go towards paying for years on the debt you accumulated because you didn’t want to accept that you were poor.

These are the things I can think of now. For those of you who went to graduate school or are in graduate school, what advice do you have for Life As A Purse? What recommendations do you have for her to stay afloat financially in graduate school?

This article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance!

Christmas Day At My House

I should note before I begin that, since my mom passed away in 2000, we haven’t celebrated Christmas like this. However, this is how I remember it and these are some of the traditions that I hope to pass on to my kids.

Two Weeks Earlier

We lived near a huge forest. So my step-dad would get us (my mom, my brother, my step-brother, my step-sister and me) a permit to cut down a live tree. We’d wonder around the forest for hours with hot chocolate in thermos’ trying to find the “perfect tree”. The only rule was that it had to be shorter than my step-sister (who is 5′ even). We always found a SLIGHTLY larger one, but no one cared about the rules at that point. =)

We’d get home that evening, turn on some Christmas music, and we’d all start decorating the tree. Mom would typically make some grilled cheese sandwiches or something else equally warm and yummy. We’d each put our own ornaments on the tree, which my step dad would buy the day after Christmas the year before from Hallmark. So each ornament would remind us of the years past (My stepdad still sends me ornaments to this day – this years was a beautiful breast cancer ballerina!).

After we were done with the tree we’d cuddle up on the couch in blankets with hot chocolate and watch Cool Runnings. For some reason my step-dad loved this movie and thought it the epitome of a Christmas movie. =)

Christmas Eve

Ours didn't look this nice, but we decorated brown paper bags for putting our wrapping paper in

Since as kids my brother and I were so very anxious for Christmas, we just wanted to do SOMETHING Christmas-y the day of Christmas Eve. One year my mom had a BRILLIANT idea. We were to decorate our Christmas wrapping paper bags.

She’d get us the brown paper bags from the grocery store. Then we’d pull out the construction paper, glue, crayons, markers, ect – and Christmas bag creations were born. There would be scenes from Santa, the manger, whatever… each year was different. And if we got through ours too fast and then get “antsy” for Christmas presents again, we’d just have to make my mom or my step-dad a bag.

Around 7pm we’d go to a Christmas Eve service. These services lasted about an hour and a half. The music was always fantastically beautiful. My favorite was always “Mary Did You Know?” – it was also my mom’s, they played it at her funeral.

After the service we’d drive around through the rich neighborhood known for their Christmas lights. We’d get home at around 9:15-ish. We had a rule that we could open up ONE present on Christmas Eve. My mom made sure we didn’t choose to big or too little (she had a habit of wrapping batteries that went with presents to give us more underneath the tree). I always chose one that I couldn’t figure out what it was just from a simple shake or assessing the size of the box.

Our new treasures in tow, we sat down around the TV and watching the Griswald’s Christmas Vacation. Every year we did this, I own the movie now so that I can continue this tradition even though I’m not doing most any of the others anymore.

After the movie we’d all go to bed – with visions of sugarplums and barbies and nintendos dancing in our heads…

(Oh yes, and we left out whatever cookies mom thought Santa would like best – ie whatever cookies SHE wanted most)

Christmas Day

Around 6AM I would wake up. Excited. IT WAS CHRISTMAS MORNING!!!

I’d run out to the living room to see what Santa had left me. Santa always left his presents unwrapped near the tree. It was always the most expensive gift that we got. One year an easy bake over, another year the Barbie dream house, another year a game boy, another year a bike. You get the idea.

Then I would go to my brother’s room to wake him up (He NEVER beat me to Christmas morning, that I can remember). We’d then go and pull stuff out of our stockings. These contained candy, pencils and pens, chapstick, fun socks, little $1 hand held games – and we loved pulling it out of our stocking like each was the greatest thing ever. OMG I LOVE this PEN!

Two things would occur at this junction. If It was late enough in the morning, mom and step-dad would come out while we were opening out stocking and watch us finish. If it was too early (as was the case most Christmases), then my brother and I would skillfully put everything back into the stocking and crawl back into bed and sleep for a few more hours. Then around 7 or 8am we’d go wake up my mom and tell her it was time to start Christmas morning!

She’d watch us pull out all of our stocking stuffers yet again, giving the same enthusiasm that we had the first time. And she’s watch us squee and glee all over our big Santa gifts.

Then it was time for breakfast. My mom would make scrabbled eggs and toast while we were forced to shower and get out of our pajamas.

After we were done scarfing down our food we’d then go into the living room and pass out the presents. Each person would have a pile of their gifts in front of them.

The youngest person would then start, reading who the present was from, then opening it, oooing and awwing and showing it to everyone – and of course putting the wrapping paper in our decorated wrapping papers bags for easy clean up after the event. We’d go around in a circle each person one at a time opening their gift. Sometimes opening two if it was obvious they had a lot more than another to make it so that we all had one gift to open on the last round.

When the presents were done we’d clean up the living room, and we’d do our Christmas present-stash photos. We’d take a picture of ourselves will all the loot we’d gotten. I still LOVE these photos to this day.

Then we’d play with our toys and usually watch another Christmas movie.

Then my mom would start to prepare our Christmas dinner. Mashed potatoes (my favorite), usually a ham or a roast, and of course the fancy Christmas ware that you only get to use once a year.

Here is a picture of my family on Christmas day a long time ago. From the picture it was before my diagnosed with cancer, from the age of me and my brother I’d say it was 1992-1994. I’m the only one in this picture still alive. How scary is that only 15 years later? (And yes, my hair is crimped AND I’m wearing a choker. I was at the HEIGHT of fashion. 😉 )

That was our holiday!

I loved it.

And I miss it.

Holidays make me want a family of my own so that I can start traditions like these again.

Christmas: A Final Tally

Since I’ve gotten all of my Christmas presents shipped and out the door I thought I’d give a final tally on how much I spent this year on Christmas:

  • Airfare – $121 (reimbursed $120 of the $241 airfare by my dad)
  • Doggy daycare – $220
  • Christmas present for my grandma$6 Pea Coat purchased in March
  • Christmas present for grandma #2$0 – purchased with Swagbucks through Amazon.com
  • Christmas present for my stepdad $15 – shirt from the Indy 500 and an invitation to join me next year (I get 2 free tickets) – purchased in May – small Harley gift I found in the apartment that I picked up 2 years ago on road trip (original price unknown)
  • Christmas present for my dad$86 -bought impromptu gift from my sis and I, all other gifts purchased with Swagbucks through Amazon.com
  • Christmas present for my sister$0 – all gifts purchased with Swagbucks through Amazon.com
  • Christmas presents for labmates$0 – decided that this year I would not buy/make cookies for lab
  • Christmas presents for students$7 – decided to give my students the cookies on the last day of class instead
  • Christmas present for Jack$3 – Cute little turtle toy I couldn’t resist – he played with it for about 3 hours straight after I gave it to him
  • Christmas present shipping$27

My goal was to pay nothing for Christmas out of pocket. However I made that goal before I decided to visit my dad for Christmas. It you subtract the cost of that, I only paid $144 for Christmas presents this year (I had $140 available in my Christmas “envelope”, so only $4 over what was available to me).

Including travel related expenses, I spent $485 on Christmas. (I’ll need to keep this in mind next year! A $500 budget INCLUDING travel – right now I only have $180 budgeted for 2010 Christmas.)

I also feel fairly good about the gifts that I got everyone. The pea coat for my grandma is absolutely gorgeous, I got such a steal on that. My stepdad will love the Indy 500 stuff I sent him.

My dad and sister will appreciate their gifts. With the exception of the extremely splurge-tastic decision to get my dad a picture frame, I didn’t go as extravagant on them as I have in years past, but the majority of their “present” from me was just be the fact that I’m there to celebrate with them – which I didn’t get to do last year.

I was very tempted being here with my aunt and cousins for Christmas to buy them stuff. But I decided not to. I feel cheap, but I didn’t want to spend money on them considering I only see them maybe every 2-3 years and we don’t talk in between visits. I did talk to my aunt about my saving money goals, because she’s really good with money, so I hope she’ll understand. I guess I just figure if I wouldn’t buy something and mail it to them, why would I buy something for them since I’m here? It is a little confusing to me, I’m not sure what the correct “protocol” is for such things.

How did you do? Were you under budget? Over budget? What do you think you’ll do differently next year?

Need a last minute gift? Or want a holiday giggle?

If you’re heading into Christmas and not sure what to get someone on your list, let me make a recommendation:

Straight No Chaser

This band is local to where I’m from and has recently been making quite a resurgance on the internet the past year, and have been touring and got themselves a record deal. Even heard an interview with them on NPR when I was in Chicago in October. They have a fantastic Christmas album that is available at Target. I picked it up for myself to listen to while driving from Phoenix to Valencia, CA two days ago and listened to it 5 times in a row.

If you haven’t heard of Straight No Chaser, here are some YouTube clips to get you in the spirit. They are an acapela group with a fun, light hearted twist. I can’t wait to hear what they do with a non-holiday tune. Should be fun!

12 Days of Christmas (the song that went internet viral and got these guys back together after 10 years after they last performed!)

Christmas Can-Can (this one is just hilarious, there is also an animated version!)

345 Days of Not Eating Out in 2010 (The Rules)

Image Courtesy of Debt Ninja

I got so many great comments from all of you readers when I first posted my personal challenge for myself in 2010 of not eating out for 345 in the new year.

So I wanted to give it some thought and then lay out the “ground rules” for my 2010 Challenge. We’ll do this in a question/answer format. =D

Q: Sometimes, I forget my lunch at home. And by sometimes, I mean a lot. What if I use up my 20 days? Will I have to starve? (From Investing Newbie)

A: In short, no. I live 1 mile from my apartment. So there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to go home in the middle of the day to pick up lunch if I forget to pack mine. I also plan on keeping an “emergency” stash of some microwavable meals of last resort in my desk for when I do forget my lunch and don’t have time to run home. Think: Cup O’Noodles or those Thai meals where you just add hot water. Not appetizing, but better than spending one of my 20 on lunch just because I’m lazy!

Q: What about meeting people out for dinner/lunch/brunch to be social? Will you alienate friends by not eating out? (from me in millions)

A: Unfortunately for me, no. My lab does go out for brunch about 1-2 times per year. But since this number is so small, it can easily fit within my twenty days. The main way that my friends “hang out” is by doing what we call “drinking time”. Which is that we all go to the bar and share a couple of pitchers. I stopped doing this every time because it was starting to be every week. Not I just go for people’s birthdays and to celebrate major achievements like graduation or getting a new job. I should mention that drinking at bars or bowling alleys has NOT been cut out because I see this as a form of entertainment. However, ordering a meal at the bar IS out of the question.

Q: Just out of curiousity, will you count coffee/tea/other beverages in this goal? (from pyschsarah)

This is a question that I have struggled with the most. As I noted before, beer I will allow as an entertainment/social expense (also because I only drink at a bar MAYBE every other month). However, getting a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks is one of my greatest weaknesses. I will sometimes get them in the morning for breakfast. Sometimes in the evenings when I prepare my lectures I find Starbucks a great place to put my thoughts together (and of course I need to order a drink). So this is the compromise I made with myself:

  • If I’m getting the Chai as a MEAL SUBSTITUTE (ie drive through in the morning) this is NOT allowed.
  • If I’m going to catch up with a friend over coffee/tea this IS allowed as an entertainment expense (paid for through my entertainment budget NOT my food budget).
  • If I am going to prepare for my lecture this is ALSO ALLOWED.

Q: If someone takes you out for lunch/dinner does it count? (from Girl Makes Cents)

A: This depends. If it is FAMILY taking me out for dinner than I do not count it (in two years of living in the midwest, NONE of my family has visited).

However, if it is a date or friends taking me out, then this counts. I have to draw this line because I could easily imagine a situation where I could give someone cash to take me out to eat. This is a way of “not breaking the rules” but still getting to eat out. Dates or friends I will try to do cook overs at each other’s places, otherwise it counts towards me 20 days.

So those are the questions you’ve asked me, here are a few more I asked myself:

Q: What about eating out on days where you’re flying?

A: This was also a hard one for me. I hate the idea of giving myself a “free pass” on days I have to travel because I CAN take food on planes. So this is what I decided: On the flight TO the destination eating in the airport counts. I should be able to pack a PB&J sandwich and some chips to eat on the plane if I get hungry. And a few snacks just in case. However, on the way BACK eating at the airport doesn’t count since I may be coming from a place where it wasn’t as easy to make myself a meal.

Q: What about when you’re away from home on a trip for work or pleasure?

A: These days count. All of them. It is just as easy to pick up food at a grocery store as it is to get fast food while not at home. If I’m at a conference that provides food, this food DOESN’T count – just food that I purchase that isn’t included in the registration cost of the conference.

Q: If you slip and eat lunch is the day lost and you might as well eat out for dinner?

A: Unfortunately, yes, the day is lost. However in the spirit of the Challenge I will make every effort to not let one meal cause me to slip for the next just because it doesn’t “count” towards my day total.

I think these were the majority of the questions that I had. I’m so excited about starting this in 2010. The challenge is so exciting for me! I’ve also noticed myself eating my “last meals” at a number of places I know that I won’t get to eat at a lot (at all) next year. Quite an interesting feeling knowing that such a significant change is approaching.

I look forward to sharing this journey with each of you, and hope that as many of you can join me as possible with your own 2010 Challenge!

Do you have any further questions for me?

Also, as some of you have noticed, I have a link on the front page of my blog for the Challenge. I will keep an updated list of the rules and the posts that I make regarding this challenge so that it will be easy to follow how this Challenge goes for me over time.