Thursday, January 29, 2009

Financial Nugget 9

This one may require you to chew on it a little. I am so resisting the urge to write a dissertation on what I think the quote means.

Advertisers constantly invent cures to which there is no disease.
~Author Unknown

How apropos with the big game coming up this Sunday;-) We all know that the commercials are just as exciting (if not more) than the game itself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

10 Reasons Why I Love Mint!

Whew hew! I finally get to deliver on my promise to post about my new love affair with Mint, an online financial management tool. Although I have only been a user for a couple of weeks, I have discovered so many great features. Here are 10 reasons why I absolutely love this tool:
  1. Cost - It's free!

  2. Comprehensive - I can manage all of my accounts in one place, real time. No more logging into several accounts.

  3. Ease of Use - Mint does all of the bookkeeping! The program does a really good job at classifying the income and expenses. If they get it wrong, not only can you correct it, but you can tell Mint how to classify transactions to/from that payee/payor going forward.

  4. Flexibility - Unlike other free online financial management tools, Mint allows you the capability of splitting transactions. For example, let's say you spent $100 at Wal-Mart, $60 on groceries, $25 on home supplies and $15 on prescriptions. You can split the transactions up into the appropriate categories!

  5. Usefulness of Information - Mint provides wonderful up to the minute analytics of your financial picture. Each week a financial summary is sent to your inbox. Not only is the info useful but it's also very easy to read.

  6. Communication - Mint has an awesome system that alerts you of unusual activity, low balances, upcoming bills and even rate increases on your credit card (click here for my personal story).

  7. Savings Tips - Apparently Mint uses some highly sophisticated search algorithm that searches through thousands of offers to find the best deals on everything from bank accounts to credit cards, to service providers for phones, internet, cable and more. As if this is not enough, Mint makes suggestions based on your individual spending pattern so the tips are unique to your situation.

  8. Visual Appearance - Yes, Mint's website is easy on the eyes. It is not laced with advertisements or annoying pop-ups. Navigating the website could not be easier.

  9. Accessibility - You can logon to Mint anytime, anywhere, from any computer. All you need is the e-mail address you registered with and your password.

  10. Security - Mint provides bank level data security, which has been validated by industry leaders VeriSign and TRUSTe (btw...this feature may not mean much to the masses but as a former IT auditor, I threw it in kind of as an ode to a career that I'm happy to have left;-).
Okay, I gave you 10 reasons but trust me, this is not an all inclusive list. I sincerely urge you to give Mint a try. If you are already using Mint, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vacation Request

Help!! I have a dilemma, a good dilemma, but a dilemma nonetheless. This is the first year that I have included a "vacation" line item in my budget. Honestly, I am a little "discouraged" about the budgeted amount, which is only $1,200 (i.e. $100 a month). I say "only $1,200" because it my brief search, there does not seem to be much that I can do with that amount. Unfortunately I have no idea how much I paid for vacations in the past because (1) I really didn't take formal vacations and (2) when a trip of some sort came up and I wanted to go, I did ... no planning and no budgeting.

So my dear blog friends, can you please give me some suggestions. I have a passport that has absolutely no stamps on it yet;-). So that I won't lead you on a wild goose chase, here are a few things to note:
  • No trips to Disney World, Disney Land, any other amusement park, or the Bahamas
  • I prefer to fly or cruise rather than drive because driving takes up a lot of vacation time
  • Good food is very important to me. I would travel for good food;-)
  • I'm pretty open to most things

Sooo...any suggestions, websites, vacation tips or other resources that you can share will be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Financial Organization

Now that I have achieved phase I of my financial goals, I am evaluating my organization method to see if it still makes sense. Here's what I have today:

Operating Account (Checking Account 1)
This account is grand central station. This is where all income gets deposited and all mandatory monthly expenses are paid. Mandatory expenses primarily include giving, savings and housing related costs. Everything happens electronically, income is direct deposited and expenses are paid via online bill pay. I do not use a debit card for this account and I only write checks if absolutely necessary. Although the remaining balance in this account rarely changes from month to month, it's still balanced each month.

Discretionary Account (Checking Account 2)
This account receives a weekly transfer from the Operating Account for
categories that are funded with cash. As I continued to define a financial prescription that worked for me, I noticed that I had a tendency to overspend in certain categories. Once they were identified, I set up a second checking account so that I could isolate those funds and therefore "force" myself to spend within my budget. Several years later the struggle still continues if I don't use this account- remember that budget buster last month - hmph! This account is not balanced and there are no checks. I only have a debit card.

Irregular/Non-monthly Expenses (Checking Account 3)
For expenses that are not paid monthly (i.e. car insurance, security alarm, pest control, etc), I calculate what the monthly amount would be and then deposit it into the
non-monthly account. This account is not balanced each month. I pay all expenses via online bill pay.

Long Term Savings (Brokerage Account)
I consider my e-fund to be fully funded and I do not intend on making any additional deposits to it other than the interest it accrues monthly. Unless there is a true emergency (extended loss of income, WW III, etc), the money will just sit there in perpetuity. This account is not balanced each month. I have check writing privileges but again, I have no use for them barring a real emergency.

*****Investments: Roth IRA & other non-retirement investments. Currently the investments are 100% in mutual funds. I do have plans to
diversify beyond paper assets.

Short Term Savings (Savings Account)
This account is where I save for whatever is on the docket. Since my car is 11 years old, I am saving for my next car purchase - which I will pay for in cash. I also put my vacation money in this account as well. Sometime in the future, I'd like to have my backyard landscaped so when I begin to plan for this, I'll save it here as well. Whatsoever my little heart desires, I will save for it until I have the cash available.

Credit Card (Citibank)
I only have one credit card and I primarily use it for online shopping and travel. The card is paid in full each month. While I am
disappointed with Citi for how they jacked my rate up 66% (7.59% point increase), I'm not sure that I want to apply for a new credit card.

In summary, I only balance the operating account. While I may not balance the other accounts in the traditional manner, I do monitor them online. Now that I am a registered user with Mint, I can manage them all in one place real time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Credit Crunch Strikes

Here is a message that I received from Mint (I will post about my new love affair with Mint later).

Hi there,
The interest rate on your XXXXX credit card has increased by 7.59%. As of January 14, your old rate of 11.4% is now 18.99%. You may want to investigate ... Here is their number: 1-800-XXX-XXXX.

The Mint Team

Can you believe it, a whopping 7.59 percentage point increase. For goodness sake that is a 66% rate increase! Are they crazy? Is it me or has the Fed continued to lower the rates, which technically should have translated to a lower rate for borrowers. I thought the bailout money (and my credit card is with a recipient of those funds) was supposed to help liquidity in the credit markets. How are you helping liquidity when you're making money more expensive to borrowers? How are you increasing liquidity when you're putting the squeeze on credit card holders?

Oh well, my rant is partially in vain, but not really. It is the principle of the matter. Thankfully I saw the need to get out of credit card debt a few years ago so I'm not financially impacted by the rate increase. However, I loathe the idea that the credit card companies are universally raising their rates when the Fed is cutting them some slack AND giving them my hard earned dollars. For the record, I have never been late on a payment and I do use the card but I pay it off each month. As the old saying goes, something in the milk ain't clean!

Oh and guess what, the trifling bank has yet to send me any notification of the increase. Had I not registered with
Mint, I would not have known, at least not this soon.

Ah crap, I don't know why I'm trying to be all discreet, the offender is Citibank. There, I said it. Has your rate increased on your credit cards?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Financial Nugget 8

In the spirit of tax season I hope you find a little humor in this week's nugget:

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
~From a Washington Post word contest

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bailout Joke

Last week the porn industry had the audacity to ask Congress for a $5 billion bailout! Think I'm kidding...check out this story. The entire "bailout" was a joke from the beginning, another twisted chess move in the game of corporate abuse and greed. Seriously, who gets to run a business in the ground and then get a $350 billion bonus from the taxpayers - with no accountability might I add. There has been no real accountability from the financial institutions who received this money and Congress has no idea how the money is being used, none. Oh and one more thing, President Bush is in the process of asking Congress for the remaining $350 billion. Yeah, since the financial institutions have done such a fine job with the first distribution, let's give them the remaining. Are you kidding me?! Dreadful, just dreadful.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Financial Nuggets - 7

Hey everyone! This has been my first full week back at work since 12/19 so it's been a wee bit challenging getting back into the swing of normalcy. As we continue to fine tune our 2009 and beyond goals, let's be sure to keep this week's nugget in mind.

A goal properly set is halfway reached.
~Zig Ziglar

Enjoy your day!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mayo-less Tuna Salad and Sweet Potato Surprise

Okay so this post doesn't have much to do with finances but I promised when I started this blog that we would chat about money sprinkled here and there with flavors of other topics. So here goes, let's chat about food today.

Did I ever tell you how much I love food? I mean, I really like food ... like I really enjoy good food! I also enjoy cooking but I get bored with it very quickly. I'm always trying new recipes (although I rarely follow one exactly). Since I love food I'm always challenging myself to cook healthier meals and lighten up some of the old faves that we love here in the South.

Mayo-less Tuna Salad:
One day after a pretty grueling gym workout my menu plan called for a tuna sandwich. Wanting the tuna with the creaminess of the mayo but without the guilt I decided that I'd try the tuna using a little mustard and relish. Uhm -yeah - that didn't work. After a little more thinking, I grabbed some hummus I had in the fridge and put a tablespoon or so in it and it was fabulous! If you've never tried substituting hummus for mayo in your tuna, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Sweet Potato Surprise:
Me love sweet potatoes! It's nothing for me to make some homemade sweet potato fries and have them on hand to grab and go. Last Friday I started thinking of how I could make a flourless, eggless, sugarless sweet potato cookie, croquette, latke, or whatever, just something natural and delicious. My mind started percolating and I began to imagine how to accomplish this. Last night I put all of my thoughts together and came out with a pretty nice sweet potato surprise. Unfortunately I did not measure anything but I used the following ingredients:
  • 1 and 1/2 mashed sweet potatoes ( i baked first then mashed them w/a fork)
  • approx 1/2 mashed banana (used for sweetness)
  • approx 1/2 cups of oats (used Quaker oats 1 minute quick cooking oats)
  • raisins, walnuts & pumpkin spice

I mixed all of the above ingredients together. I then took a measuring spoon (tbs) and scooped out little balls and placed them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. I put the balls in the fridge for a few hours - to harden up a bit. Afterwards, I sprayed a nonstick skillet with Pam and put the balls in the pan, flattening them with my fingers into a little cookie shape. I also baked a few of them using the same technique (I preferred the skillet method best). After a few minutes on each side in the skillet, I removed them with a spatula and viola - I had a wonderful sweet potato surprise! It was so nice having a guiltless, all natural, healthy snack! If you're used to eating sweet potatoes with lots of sugar, you can top the "cookies" with some Agave Nectar, which is an all natural sweetener derived from the Agave Cactus plant. You can even eat the mixture in it's "cookie dough" form ... I did and enjoyed it like I was eating cookie dough.

I plan on playing with this concept even more. Another variation could include using peanut butter rather than sweet potatoes and making peanut butter balls. I wouldn't suggest "cooking" the peanut butter mixture but they would make great balls or squares after they've been refrigerated. Honestly there are many different ways and I plan on exploring several more. After all, a recipe is nothing more than a list of suggestions;-).

Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Financial Nuggets - 6

Happy New Year everyone! As we begin this new year with new energy and motivation to create, modify, or maintain pre-established goals, I thought the following quote was very timely.

There are plenty of ways to get ahead. The first is so basic I'm almost embarrassed to say it: spend less than you earn.
~Paul Clitheroe