Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Labor Day weekend!

Yes, I know- technically I’m a day early.

However, since we’re going on a trip up to wine country this weekend, I’m a bit psyched! Yes, were going for a family wedding, but we figured out the perfect gift for the newlyweds (see my post: Gifting Rules). The same thing they gave us for our wedding! Yes, we were both registered at Crate and Barrel, so we got them the same cutting board they got us! So now I don’t feel guilty about buying them a lower cost gift- at all!

We’re staying with the in-laws and have lots of hiking and beach time planned. I haven’t seen the family since the wedding, so it’s going to be a great weekend of catching up and sharing photos. I’m sooo excited to get away for a weekend!

Whether you’re going to spend this weekend with family, with your TV watching NASCAR, or putting away your white shoes- I hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Planning for living on less than two incomes (even if you’re already there)

Well, we’ve been down an income since we moved in February, and so I thought the book “How to raise a family on less than two incomes” by Denise Topolnick might be something to check out.

A surprisingly comprehensive yet easy-to-read guide for people thinking about spending less time at the office and more time in the home. However, it wasn’t quite as helpful for me as I hoped it would be. We’ve already checked for the lowest insurance rates and the chapters about children didn’t apply.

It's a book I'd like to revist in about five years. However, it is something I’d recommend to little Kailey’s mom, one of my good friends, who just gave birth last week. Congrats on safe and healthy delivery!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Home (page) improvements

I’ve been tweaking all the ads and gizmos on my blog home page and I wanted to point out a feature that I really like that has saved me time.

I’ve been reading a lot of money blogs lately. While I’m fairly good at remembering recent blogs on topics I like, I have a hard time remember just who it was that wrote the blog about that book I wanted to get from the library. Trying to Google for that blog specifically about that book generally yields too many results.

So, to remedy this problem, I’ve customized two Google searches on the left hand side of my page. The top one searches just my So Cal Savvy blog and the second one searches all my favorite PF blogs. That way if I wanted to search for “budget” I'm not going to get the rental car company.

It’s a simple tool, but I’ve already found it helpful! If you would like to be added to my search bar (or you would like to know how to do this for your own peace of mind) leave a comment and I'll check out your site.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gifting rules

I’m very excited about visiting my in-laws this weekend to go to a family wedding! No, really, I am. The issue that is hanging me up is trying to determine how much we should spend on the wedding present.

Generally, we spend about $50, but we spend more if it’s a close friend. These aren’t close friends, and there is an additional complication: we know how much they spent on our wedding present three weeks ago.

We know that they spent $30, and are in roughly the same situation as us (one income due to a recent move). So, to them, it probably wouldn’t seem odd if we spend about $30 on their wedding present.

The problem really is- that I feel kinda badly about this.
Like I have insider information and I’m acting on it.

My hubby says that it’s only fair to spend the same amount they spent on us given that we’re in similar financial situations. We’re financial equals- so gifts should be given using a tit-for-tat strategy. He has no problem with this, it’s his side of the family, and I’ve only met these people once before.

Why am I feeling so uncomfortable about this?
What is your rule for wedding gifts?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gold Medal Blog

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at that famous bird’s nest in Beijing as we’ve attempted to watch all the Olympics by setting our DVR to record them all.

Yes, I said record them all. I have mastered the art of 4x fast forwarding through water polo (sorry- but on TV you can’t see much of what’s really going on) to get to the good stuff!

While some parts have paid off (Phelps races, watching a sorority sister’s efforts, all the great human interest stories…), we’re just now watching Wednesday evening’s events last night. So we’ve been avoiding the news networks so that some of the surprise remains intact for those events scheduled for the tail end of those two weeks.

Which is why I’m glad Broke Grad Student didn’t spill all the beans on the Carnival of Personal Finance that he just hosted (although we hadn't yet seen the 4x100 relay- grrrrr...). With his Olympic theme, he included my "Feathering the Nest" blog, which was very exciting!

To enjoy this round of fighting against our financial enemies please visit: here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


As an ongoing pursuit of what the word wealth means to people I looked up it’s etymology. While there are more recent inclinations to associate the word wealth with money and fortunes, the origins of the word is actually linked to health and well-being.

In fact, wealth was once an analogy for health.

Which made me think (cliché-ly): isn’t our greatest wealth our health?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where does it go?

One of the things that is emphasized in Chris Farrell’s Right on the Money! is the idea of knowing where your money is going and seeing if this matches what you’d actually like to be spending your money on. In other words, does where you put your money match your values?

To see if I’m on track here’s my Mint breakdown:
32% on Home
20% on Travel
10% on Shopping
8% on Healthcare (the vast majority of this is reimbursed by the hubby’s workplace)
7% on Savings and Investments
5% on Bills and Utilities
5% on Food and Dining
5% on Autos
less than 2% on everything else

While I look at these numbers every month, there is something about having these numbers in percentages that makes it apparent that we’re fairly on track with our spending, but still have room to improve.

Home- We’re living in a great apartment in a great downtown location. It’s the time in our lives when we can do this (don’t have kids, don’t need a lawn). I feel fine about spending this amount on our home.

Travel- We’re both very close to our families, and it is unacceptable to not see them often. We would be very sad people if we didn’t spend the money to spend time with our families and friends. We also make sure to have some vacation time for just us on some of these types of trips.

Shopping- Of course this could be lower. About half of this category was spent on clothing that was wedding related- so this is a category that will go down in our future spending. Almost the rest was spent at Target getting all the things you need from big box stores.

Savings and Investments- I wish this were bigger. Now that we won’t have the wedding expenses, I’m intending to put the difference into savings. Also, once I get a job this will get bigger!

Bills, Food, and Autos- All things you have to spend money on, and are unlikely areas to cut back on without making large lifestyle changes.

How does your values and your spending line up?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Point of View

I’m finishing up a couple of books on personal finance right now, and they all are ending the same way: talking about retirement. It's the last phase of one's financial life and they all talk about how to calculate how much money you’ll need, insurance needs, and about living out your dream retirement.

Which got me thinking: if I was older and wealthy enough to retire, what would I want it to look like?

After much thinking and long lists (happy family life, friends to visit, totally insured, morgage-less home, travel- just to name a few), I realized what I want most is to live somewhere beautiful and have an amazing view.

So I compiled a set of photos I’ve taken these last few years of locations that represent wealth for me (above). Some are waves crashing on foreign beaches while others are of a shack in the hills of Santa Cruz. All are slices of nature captured and mine forever on film.

In my mind these places are gorgeous! If I’m ever affluent enough to live somewhere so remarkable when I retire I know that I will certainly be: wealthy.

What does wealth look like to you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Feathering the Nest

This past weekend my Mom and I returned all my duplicate wedding presents; used the gift card money to buy the stuff I really wanted but didn’t get. However, it seems that in my zeal to complete the bed of my dreams, I spent more than the amount on my gift card.

See I really love downy duvets- so cuddly, so soft, and so warm. This was great when I was in NorCal and the nights actually made frost on the lawn, but in LA that doesn’t often happen. While I think it’s tolerable and worth the coziness factor, my husband doesn’t.

So I found the lightest weight down insert and bought it even though it was over the gift card amount. While I was fully aware of this at the time of purchase, I’m still holding on to my receipt in case this guilt gets any worse (or it’s too hot for the hubby’s comfort).

What my husband doesn’t understand is why I didn’t get cash back for these returned gifts. I explained that since I didn’t have receipts (these were wedding presents) that it was store policy to give back store credit on a gift card.

He looked exasperated and said, “But then you have to spend that money back at that store!”

I’m thinking- well duh. Why would they give you back your money so that you could spend it elsewhere?

While this was the only store I overspent my gift card it made me think: how often do I spend under a gift card amount?

Normally, it makes sense to me to spend the whole gift card and maybe a couple dollars over. That way I come away from a store with two sweaters, three t-shirts, and a pair of flats all for only $6.29 of my own money! While I’m a fairly prudent purchaser and probably would have made those purchases without the gift card, this made me think: do I spend more when the money is in the form of a gift card?

The answer for me is probably yes. It’s always easier for me to spend someone else’s money than my own. How about you? Do you spend more money or in a less sensible manner with gift cards?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Giving it away

I’ve finally unpacked all the wedding gifts! Most of the items we registered for were to replace old items (most were my parent’s items that they registered for their wedding registry 30+ years ago) that we already had. So once I finished unpacking all the gifts I loaded all the old items into those boxes.

However, I didn’t stop there.

I was on some kind of cleaning high and I went for my closet, my dresser, and most of the cabinets in the apartment. I was a mad cleaning woman!

If it was ill-fitting- it was gone.
If it made me feel like a shulmp-a-dinka- it was gone.
If I had not worn it during the last season- it was gone.
I washed everything and put them too in the ever growing pile on my futon (see photo above).

I recently found a blog about how selling items can be a temporary source of income (ChristianPF); however, I’d like to point out how much financial good you can do by donating.

3. Cleaning out your space (cabinets, closets, whatever) allows you the ability to see everything you have.
I re-discovered some great shirts and found matches to what I thought were single socks! By making things less packed and less cluttered I can spend less time getting ready in the morning with less frustration. That’s worth a lot of peace of mind!

2. It’s an easy project that can be done with the whole family.
This isn’t something that I just decided to do one day; it’s something I’ve been doing at least twice a year since I was a child. My parent’s always encouraged me to give what I wasn’t using to the poor. Back then, we would go as a family to drop everything off at Goodwill. Now Salvation Army will come to my apartment and pick everything up for free! To schedule a pick-up of your donations go here.

1. You make not get your wallet padded with cash, but you will get your heart padded with tenderness.
I may have gotten $10-$20 for my clothes and mismatched dishware and flatware if I sold it. Yes, this would have been money I could invest for myself; however, the value that Goodwill will get from these items is at least that high. Giving usable items away to a charity is worth a tax write off to you, but it’s worth countless (unavailable) dollars to a poor family.
Everyone knows that this economy is not doing any favors for our poorest families, and it’s sucking those above the poverty line down into it (listen to Marketplace Money’s food bank story on 7/18/08).
Donating these items is not only kind; it’s the morally responsible thing to do in these times.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thrifty Lovin’

I’ve shared a lot about saving money on your wedding (see Going to the Chapel of Thrifty Love blog) and sharing your wedding photos for free (see Free Photo Sharing blog). So it only seemed fitting to show some wedding photos!

Photo 1- the apparel
A: Don’t shoes from JC Penny’s look good?
B: Engagement ring and manicure
C: Beading and ruching details on my train (an off-the-rack dress, I might add)
D: The hubby’s boutonnière
E: The ring exchange
F: Walking away after the ceremony
G: Dress bustled
H: Earrings made by a vendor on Etsy for only $11
I: The wedding rings

Photo 2- the details (can you tell our colors were pink and brown?)
A: All the ladies bouquets (mine- roses, the girls’- lisianthus)
B: Reception table centerpiece (we made those vases)
C: Family photos displayed in a hutch
D: Our cake (yes- that’s buttercream- yumm!)
E: Programs that were also fans (needed in CA heat)
F: Invitation I made on VistaPrint
G: The buckets lined the ceremony aisle and then were moved to the cocktail tables as centerpieces
H: The mothers’ carried a single orchid
I: Table numbers I made to hang on the chairs by a ribbon (I didn’t want another thing on the tables- just food and flowers)
J: Tablescape
K: My bouquet and our toasting goblets (my parent’s from their wedding)
L: Strawberry and edible flower salad
M: Great wine (bought through a friend who is in a wine club)
N: The fortune bouquet: this bouquet is actually five small bouquets in one. I tossed it and five ladies each got one bouquet with a fortune on their ribbon!
O: Bubbles for the kids (bought on clearance, made labels from leftover mailing labels)
P: Our monogram (which my Dad made)!

Photo 3- The venue
A: Hubby waiting to get married
B: Sign to the outdoor chapel
C: Me waiting to get married
D: Waterfall near ceremony site
E: The outdoor chapel
F: Pond near cocktail area
G: The other side of the pond was the reception site
H: Everyone enjoying lunch on the lawn
I: Kids playing on the lawn

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Free Photo Sharing

I’m being inundated with digital photos from relatives!

I’ve got literately thousands of photos from our wedding. Guess what? The few people who didn’t take their own photos- want mine. Or they want my Uncle’s shot of my grandma. Or they just want to browse them all once, but never print them out (I love photos and I’ll never understand people would don’t print out their digitals).

So, my simple and cheap way of making these all available for free is Picasa Web Albums. Picasa is a free photo editing software available through Google. After editing the photos I hold my favorites in the photo tray. Once I’m done, I upload them to the internet (so simple, huh?). I recommend selecting the following: slowest upload, largest size (because you want people to be able to enlarge them if they so desire) and unlisted (do want some perv looking at photos of your children?).

After you’ve made your album you have the option of emailing the link to the people who want to see the photos. In turn they can download the photos and do as they wish with them. I’m freed from burning CDs and making hundreds of copies of individual photos which would have to be mailed.


Photo A: Go to and select even more
Photo B: Under the Communication header select Picasa
Photo C: To upload your photos to the internet, click the web album button
Photo D: Select your desired settings and you're done!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


This round of Money Stories’ Carnival was hosted by Broke Grad Student and I was accepted into their back to school edition! Go check it out here.

Stand out articles to read include:
A success story on Poorer Than You
9 Biggest Money Mistakes made by Art of the Coupon
When being extremely frugal- isn’t. By Erica.
Because I don’t like Ralph’s I enjoyed Sound Money Matters rip on them
An excellent shopping experience with My Daily dollar
A paradigm switch for Trees Full of Money

Happy reading!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Frugal Furniture

Here’s our dining room table and chairs!!!

Yes, part of planning on saving money is making sure you don’t indulge in unnecessary purchases. Being an HGTV nut, I’m always plotting different furniture arrangements and storage solutions for our apartment. However, I’ve been a very good girl about holding off on a big purchase: a dining room table and chairs. We hadn’t had one for the six months we’ve been here. This was fine, it being just the two of us, we were perfectly happy to sit on the floor and eat at our coffee table in front of the TV.

I knew there was the possibility of a table in our future, but we kind of had to wait for someone to die.

Morbid- yes, I know.

However, one of my friend’s parents was caring for a dog of their infirmed neighbor. It was pretty apparent that the neighbor wasn’t going to pull through, and her children were going to sell the house. Since my friend’s parents had helped out so much, they asked them to take whatever furniture they wanted. Since they already have a house full of furniture, they took the dining room set for us!!!

I don’t mind one bit, that this is a hand-me-down and here’s why:
3. It’s actually rather cool.
I drool every time I pass West Elm’s window, and this table has those clean retro lines that I adore.

2. It’s easy to update.
I only remove four screws and staple on some extraordinary new fabric and these chairs will go from frumpy to fabulous.

3. They are quality, well made pieces.
It has three leaves and a protection pad so we could seat four or 10 around the table comfortably for years to come. It also came with six chairs, so I can have a nice group of friends over and have everything match! Of course, being real wood, they were quite the haul from our basement parking garage to our fourth floor pad. However, these pieces will last probably beyond our needs- you can’t say that about those plywood Ikea pieces!

Friday, August 8, 2008

What does afford really mean?

I entitled yesterday’s entry “the other Broke Grad Student” in reference to Broke Grad Student’s blog. However, within minutes of posting an anonymous person commented:

“I'm so broke I can't even afford grad school.”

While this obviously is a serious and sad comment, it made me wonder:
When I was applying for grad school three years ago- could I really afford it?

Financial picture: I had an emergency fund and ROTH was partly funded (10% of my income always). I graduated without getting into any graduate schools that year, so I took a year off. During this time I moved north, worked the morning shift at a cafe making coffee drinks, and worked for free as a research assistant to a big name Psychology researcher at a local research institution. I worked hard, retook the GRE’s, got a great recommendation from this big wig and suddenly I was in at many graduate schools.

So could I really afford to go to graduate school?
Financially- not really.
I’ll be paying off these loans well into the next decade. I didn’t have the 16k I would spend on my graduate education saved in an account; I ended up borrowing that in interest-free loans from the government. I worked through my MA getting scholarships, grants, and stipends (euphemism for working lots of hours and getting paid very little) to pay the basics.

Professionally- I couldn’t afford not to go onto graduate school. If you actually want a Psychology-related job that pays well with some stability, then you’re going to have to get an advanced degree. An MA was all I needed to be able to teach Psychology at the local state college. While our move disrupted my career there, I’m still working hard to get colleges locally to notice me. It may take another year or so, but I’m confident something will come up.
Note: Academics tend to relocate to where jobs are, not relocate and then find jobs like I’m doing. (As if the thesis wasn’t masochistic enough, I’m adding this on myself….)

While I agree, there are plenty of people who would not be well-off enough to take this leap, I do wonder: if your career and happiness depends on it, can you afford not to go to graduate school?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

the other Broke Grad Student

Yes, it's that time of year. The leaves and the mercury is falling- somewhere. It may still be 80 degrees here, but colleges are gearing up for that new freshman class that will be coming in the next couple weeks.

So, here is my list of five personal finance tips for the new college student:

5. Pretend free credit card offers have syphilis
You wouldn’t sleep with the party skank that routinely visits the free clinic, and you shouldn’t give your finances a venereal disease either.
If you do not already have a credit card and want one, go to and find yourself the best no annual-fee, low APR (if you carry a balance, which you shouldn’t, but in case it ever was to happen…) credit card that gives you some cash-back rewards. If you already have one, check out its terms and make sure it’s up to these standards.
People who give you a free credit card and a water bottle aren’t giving out the quality credit cards; they’re giving out the skanky ones who are easy on the eyes, but not on the wallet.

4. Make sure your banking institutions have a branch local to your college.
If not, you’ll be racking up fees to use other banks' ATMs. Open a new account at a local bank or see if there is a place that won’t charge you to use their ATM (for instance my campus had a national credit union ATM which I could use for free).

3. Keep your financial information secure from your roommates.
If you get lucky like me, you’ll have an ex-stripper with a convicted felon boyfriend as your first roommate. For me, it was only logically that I would protect my financial information with passwords on my computer, a mini-safe for extra cash and my wallet when I was out partying, not bringing my SS card, and having my physical statements go to my parent’s house (since I could view mine online).
Or you could be like my husband and have great pals as roommates. However, one of these pals was quite the belligerent drunk, and actually stole and used the third roommate’s credit card. Due to privacy laws, my husband had no knowledge of this occurrence until after that same pal stole his computer. What a pal.

2. Start contributing to your ROTH IRA now.
Why plan for retirement now? It's called compound interest- invest a little now and because you have years to invest the money it will grow much larger than if you wait 10 years to start investing. Never heard of this? See this Get Rich Slowly blog about the topic and this use the calculator at Young Money.
Even if it’s only a couple hundred bucks, like I did, doing this early in my undergraduate career inspired me to try and put more in the next year. While you maybe only earning $6.75 at the bookstore, putting 10% of your paycheck into a long term account will help keep you money conscious for years to come.

1. Organize your personal finances before you go off to college.
If you’re anything like me, all you may have is a savings and checking account at the local credit union and may see this step as worthless. However, realize in the next few years your monetary situation will drastically change. You need to have already started your good money habits before you’re making a lot of dough and are tempted to spend it.

What are your tips for the freshman class?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I spent this morning reviewing my financial picture for this month. Here it is so far:

Month Assets Liabilities Net Worth
Aug 08 $15,658 $16,727 ($1,069)
Jul 08 $15,480 $16,754 ($1,274)
May 08 $15,632 $16,870 ($1,238)

So basically my NetWorth is essentially flat-lining.
Yes, while I realize that this would conceptually happen if one does not have a job. However, it still sucks seeing it (like not having a job doesn’t already suck enough).

However, with our recent wedding we received some cash wedding gifts that we are putting in a MMA for a down payment on a house some day. In July we had only .1% of our goal in there and now we have 1%- we moved two whole decimal places! That’s serious money!

My other accounts inched up also:
My emergency fund: 18.3% to 18.4%
My new car fund: 23.8% to 23.9%
New Roth IRA fund: 40% to 50.1% (can you tell where my stimulus package went?)

Note: To keep my spouse’s privacy, I’m not counting in his NetWorth. All I’ll say is that thankfully, it is much better than mine (but then again he doesn’t have a M.A. to pay off…and he has a real job…)! The only information I’m revealing about our financial picture is our down payment on a house account.

Note2: Haha, I just saw the graph on my blog, doesn't it exaggerate the $200 increase I made? Wow, the scale of that is way off... maybe it's a sign- only up and away from here on out!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Only in LA

It’s not unusual to find spelt or flax seed oil in our cupboards. You won’t find anything with trans-fats, but you will find lots of fruits and vegetables.

Yes, I’m a health nut.

While catching up on what happened in our area while we were gone on our honeymoon, I came across this article: L.A. OKs moratorium on fast-food restaurants

I also found lots of backlash on this issue about crazy Californians and their zeal for healthy ideas. (“Can we just get it over with and kick California out of the union?” “Typical liberal nanny-state garbage.” Comments courtesy of allfinancialmatters blog on the same subject.)

While I’m not sure how well this idea will work, one thing that I’m sure about is that if this moratorium does go into effect, then reasonable options and upgrades will need to be offered and supported by individuals and the government.

Residents of these communities have very limited options for where to get food, as they normally only have fast-food outlets or liquor marts to choose from. The chances of them coming across a ripe piece of fruit are slim-to-none.

Large food corporations consider these low-income areas to be the cash cow to market non-perishable food-like substances to. Unfortunately, healthy foods tend to be marketed only to the upper-class neighborhoods. As if only the rich can afford food that actually came off a plant, rather than being created in a plant.

So if this idea has any chance we need to see some creative ideas on how to get large food corporations to change the type of food that they sell. My fear is that instead they will sell wholesome-appearing food. Take for example the fruit smoothie from Taco Bell- It’s not food worthy if it’s not made with any fruit. Some odd food labeling loophole allows them to market it as a fruit smoothie because it has a piece of sugared fruit on the top. Unfortunately, fast food chains when they do offer healthy choices, don’t even try to make them appealing (ever seen the lettuce at Wendy’s? It’s not green).

I’m hoping this creates the availability for more local business to step up and fullfill the need. Hopefully, framers markets and community gardens can get more support. Maybe the local store can stock some of the produce from these places. Perhaps community centers could offer healthy cooking classes for free. There are a lot of good things that could come from this that would help the local economy and reduce health care costs.

I get that we’re trying to instate change, and that it has to start somewhere. However, I’m hoping that there are some very creative people who will work with corporations AND local businesses to make this a good change for the area, and not just another half-hearted attempt.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stirred, not shaken

I’m back!

Well actually,
it’s more like (picture Eeyore gloomily saying) "I’m back."

Yup, I woke up this morning not to the sounds of waves crashing on a Jamaican beach, but to the sounds of the morning commuters catching their bus. No beach butler will hand me a martini today. No all-inclusive meal plan- I’m making spaghetti for dinner.

Honeymoon over. Back to reality.

Coming home meant more than just coming back to our apartment; see we were a tad apprehensive to see if our newly acquired wedding presents had been thrown on the floor by the earthquake.

We made a point not to get any news while we were on our honeymoon, but we wanted to see what the weather would be like when we came home. Instead all the papers read, “LA still experiencing aftershocks.”

Aftershocks of what, we thought? A small 5.4 earthquake out of out of Chino Hills it turns out.

However, given the news coverage that we were receiving about it two days later in a foreign country- you’d think half of LA fell into the ocean.

We consider ourselves lucky, as there is really little one can do to protect oneself from such an event. However, the way this trembling earth was shown on TV was blown way out of proportion! It turns out we weren’t the only ones to feel that way: check out Stein’s Los Angeles Times article. By the way, if you’d like to see how often we experience earthquakes go to the government site that tracks them.

Coming into our place (as my new husband carried me across the threshold) it was easy to see that we had experienced little damage. Some books had come off our non-tethered bookcases (note to self: need to put those on wall anchors…), but beyond that some doors had opened or closed themselves. So- really no damage to our place or our wallets.