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Monday, September 25, 2006  

Why you don't have to stick to your budget all the time

Budgeting is a daunting task to so many people because they feel that every penny must be accounted for and that they're a failure if they don't meet all of their goals. First of all never forget that figuring out where your money goes is a fluid process, you will need to adjust your budget as you figure it out more realistically.

But the fluidity that must exist with budgeting is not what I wanted to write about today, I sat down to write about how I stick to my budget - most of the time - and that most of the time is good enough. I have started using cash to limit my food spending. Because I love reading real numbers on other blogs I'll tell you that my food budget is $60 per week. This includes going out on weekends and everything that accompanies that like cab fare. I spent the vast majority of that number on weekends.

Last week thursday rolled around and all my coworkers decided to go out for sushi. I felt like having a social lunch, and more than that was absolutely desperate to get out of the office that day. I only had $7 cash left- not enough for this lunch out. But I did it anyway. I am lucky that I'm in a position where that extra money on lunch is not going to make or break me. So I went over my lunch budget for the week. It's not a huge deal and it doesn't blow my whole month. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch and didn't feel bad about it. The point of a budget is be aware of these little extravagances and make them the exception rather than the norm. You are not a failure if your budget doesn't work out all of the time. Work towards all of the time, but most of the time is definitely good enough.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006  

I got a raise!

Here to share some financial good news- I just had my one year review and I got a pretty nice raise - a little more than %15 above above my previous salary! And even better they told me it starts last week so that it my pay will increase from my one-year anniversary exactly.

How did I get such a fat raise? Well first of all I do an awesome job! Actually I should write a post about my advice for all of you at your first jobs out of school — since I've been here a year I'm at least sort of qualified to give advice, right?
But I have something more specific that I did that all of you can do: I asked for my review. When I realized a year was coming up I figured out the exact date I had started then emailed the higher-ups about a week before reminding them that my one year was coming up and asking for a review. I think a lot of people just sit back and wait for the boss to approach them but this is not a good move. After all, why would your company be eager to pony up more money? I casually asked a co-worker who started on the same date I did if her review was the same day as mine- she said no one had mentioned a review to her. And now a week later I know she is still sitting back waiting for them to say something while I'm enjoying my higher paycheck.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006  

My Three Favorite Low-Cost Lunches

I have already written about how I use my Laptop Lunchboxto help me save money on lunch, but even more important is what I put in that lunchbox. Here are three really cheap, easy lunches that I like to bring (note that all these lunches are vegan as well):

  • Burritos: This one is my favorite, I bring it all the time. It's super easy to make and REALLY cheap! I figured out I can make myself a huge filling burrito for well under a dollar. I just put rice, beans and salsa in a whole wheat wrap/tortilla when I'm feeling lazy. If you were not as feeling as lazy as me you could throw in some veggies as well, maybe get a variety bag of frozen vegetables at the grocery store or add corn. Because this is my lazy meal I usually just bring a big burrito and nothing else. Afer all, most anything that can go with a burrito can go in a burrito!

  • PBJ: An oldie but a goodie. Buy yourself big ol' jars of peanut butter and jelly and you can feast like a queen on cheap PBJs. I usually eat an apple (purchased as a bag of apples for cost-effectiveness) and baby carrots with my PBJ. I actually have never compared if baby or regular carrots are cheaper but you can get a big trader joe's brand of baby carrots very inexpensively. PBB (peanut butter & banana) is another one of my low-cost lunch favorites.

  • Pasta: If I am going to be really good I'll make a big batch of pasta on Sunday then bring it all week. I only get whole wheat (no comparison to white pasta health-wise) and fettuccine is my favorite variety. I actually love pasta with just seasoning and olive oil, but if you find that bland you could buy a generic brand pasta sauce or make your own using tomato paste. I make this recipe for whole-wheat spaghetti with asparagus a lot, minus the parmesan. I usually like to bring a salad as well when I eat pasta for lunch.

Saturday, September 09, 2006  

Advice for college grads: Your first career choice doesn't have to be perfect

I have a short piece of advice for all of you who are about to graduate or just graduated college: just pick something!

I see so many recent college grads who are simply paralyzed by all of the choices ahead of them. They don't know what they want to do for a living, they don't know how to get into certain fields, they're afraid of starting the long journey to corporate drone at age 21. The thing is most people don't know exactly what they want to do for their careers, and the great news is most people also end up having several careers over their lives. The first job that you take is not a prison sentence that you will never be able to escape. But too many people don't know what to do so they end up not doing anything at all. I totally understand this, the process of interviewing is difficult and scary especially when you have that feeling of "why would anyone want to hire ME for this job over anyone else?".

This is why you just have to close your eyes and dive in. Pick any career that you're interested in and apply and interview until you find a an entry-level job in that field. Notice I said any career that you're interested in. Starbucks is not a career, but if you did want to make that yours should be applying at the corporate offices not the coffee shop. It's ok to pick something that you aren't sure you want to do for the rest of your life, or aren't sure that you want to do at all. The best way to find out is to try it out and see what you enjoy. Unlike college where it costs you more every time you switch majors in the real world you actually get paid for every job you take!

Another problem that I see is people feeling like their chosen career path isn't good enough for whatever reason. Maybe people in college or high school expected "more" of you than the lowly non-profit salary. Maybe you're afraid people will think it's silly that you want to pursue a career in theatre. Maybe you're afraid people will think you're "selling out". Who cares? You're the one that will have to show up every day. Pick something that you like, not something that others are expecting you to do.

Friday, September 08, 2006  

5th edition of the Festival of Under 30 Finances

Today the 5th 5th edition of the Festival of Under 30 Finances went up. My highlights:

  • The Million Dollar Savings Club Kick Off!: I thought this post was interesting but I can't help but wonder if the money could maybe be better off in oh I don't know a savings accounts of some kind? Maybe I'm not understanding the million dollar savings club?

  • Personal Finance Blogs: This post definitely made me think about my own position as a "saver". But I think the reason I am was proven quite well when it got the end of the post and found that I had no idea what the investment acronyms he used stood for. With age (hopefully!) comes knowledge and many young people like myself are still figuring out the complexities of the investment game.

New Look!

It certainly took me a few hours but I finally have a new look up at Then Things! It isn't perfect by a long shot but I'm glad to have something other than a generic template. I tried to create something that is clean, simple, and easy to read. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for how the style or format of this site could be improved! I have also given some thought to the direction of this blog. I want it to be more personal, reflect my own life more. There are already a million personal finance blogs with how-to guides or (yawn) links to the latest cnn money article. I would like to write about my own life and decisions through the lens of my finances.

Thursday, September 07, 2006  

Reminder: Check up on your cable bill

I would say that our cable/internet bill is by far our biggest "luxury" expense. We we are on a sneaky promotion from The Evil Corporate Communications Giant that involved our internet and cable getting slowly less and less discounted over the course of a year. Well that year is finally up and our bill this month ballooned to $125 so I called the cable company. First I asked if there was any promotions that she could offer me for my television service and she said that I couldn't receive a promo because I was already under one- one that is saving me a whopping $6 per month! Yeah, some promotion. So I decided to downgrade my cable - I had no idea what I would actually be getting, I just chose the cheapest digital cable package that was offered. (I have to admit I am totally addicted to the guide feature of digital cable. Watching the "preview" channel slooowly scroll by seems like medieval torture to me now.) We came home to find that two of our favorite channels were gone- Discovery Health for me and G4 for him but we can deal, we should watch less TV anyway.
I then talked to the internet division of the The Evil Corporate Communications Giant and had better luck- she said that she could give me the promotional rate of $20 for the next 4 months! This brings our internet to a very reasonable $20 per month. So this is a reminder to all my readers to call your friendly local Evil Corporate Communications Giant, listen to some lovely hold music and lower you bill.

Monday, September 04, 2006  

How do you decide if a really big purchase is worth it?

One of my friends is earning a master's degree in Accra, Ghana for the next 9 months so I have a very rare opportunity to have a free guide and place to stay in an exotic locale I wouldn't normally travel to. So right now I'm in the initial stages of trying to figure out if this is an expense I want to make or not. Currently I know next to nothing about west Africa so I'm going to have to read up more to see if it's a place that I am truly interested in going. The plane ticket alone will be around $1500. Right now I'm finding out if my friend would be available to travel around at any point during her stay, I figure if I'm spending so much money to go I want to see some of the other surrounding countries as well. Ghana has never been on my list of places I am dying to go, but that's because I don't know much about it and I feel that this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. What would you do? What factors would help you decide?

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