Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Where should you open your IRA account? April 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 9:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

This blog post is more of a survey for my readers and a reminder (to open/fund their IRA) than advice.  But I hope everyone who comments has some great insight!

Here’s the deal.  I’ve been obsessed with personal finance since I graduated college in 2006.  I opened a Roth IRA in 2007 and have fully funded it every year.  My fiance and I have also been together since 2007, and he’s read all of my posts about IRAs (Opening an IRA:  No excuses, Should Everyone Contribute to a Roth IRA? and even How often should I contribute to my Roth IRA?).  But he never opened one.  And until we were engaged, I thought “well, that’s none of my concern” and barely nagged him about it.  But now that we’re in this for the long haul, I realized I need to amp up my nagging and get him to open and fund an IRA before the April 15th deadline for 2013 (yes, that’s right, you can fund last year’s IRA up until this year’s Tax Day).  As a note, for 2013 and 2014, the contribution limits for IRAs is $5,500 (or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older).

I thought he had all the information he needed.  But he came back with one more question:

Where should I open my IRA?

It’s a valid question.  There are lots of companies out there.  Most banks, credit unions, and discount brokerages offer an IRA.  But they all have different fee structures and funding options.  Some will waive fees if you set up automatic contributions.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually have the answer for what company to go with.  I opened my IRA at Fidelity mostly because it was a company I had seen my parents using in the past, and it was a well-recognized name.  It later worked out that my new (current) job runs their 401(k) through Fidelity, which proved to be convenient for a number of reasons:  only one login to remember, and I could analyze my entire portfolio in one place.

I put out a quick tweet to seek advice for where to open an IRA.  From DQYDJ, I heard Fidelity, Scottrade, T. Rowe Price, and Tradeking.  Jeff Rose seconded the advice for Scottrade. (Then Scottrade chimed in with a link to an incentive to open an IRA with them).  My (real life!) friend Brian says he has his IRA with USAA, holding Vanguard funds (I agree with the Vanguard funds, I’ve heard really good things about their low-cost index funds).  Then the Debt Free Guys said they like their Schwab account.

So, I don’t know if that helps at all.  Unfortunately, my best advice is to shop around at different companies and see what sort of fees they have, what kind of funds they offer and what (if any) minimum investment requirements there are!  Some funds have very high minimum requirements, though the minimums may be waived if you sign up to auto-contribute to your account.

Lastly, check out the comments as they (hopefully) come in.  I’m always looking to friends for advice, and this is no exception!  Tell me what companies you like (and don’t like) for retirement accounts!  And share your insight for what else to look for in a company!

 

What I’m giving up for Lent: Making Excuses March 7, 2014

Filed under: Fitness,Food — Stephanie @ 10:22 pm
Tags: , , ,

That’s right.  I’m going to try my hardest to not make any more excuses when it comes to working out.  In fact, making excuses will be one of the things I’m giving up for Lent.

My excuses the past month or so were mostly that I was working longer hours at work, and since I usually hit the gym after work, there wasn’t much time to get to the gym before it closed.  Also, I’ve been sick a lot, which is something I’ve dealt with before as a barrier to working out.  My third excuse this past month has been that it’s CRAZY COLD out and there had been lots of snow on the sidewalks, so I’m not super keen on running outside.

But like I said…NO MORE EXCUSES!

This week was actually a pretty good workout week (3 times at the gym!), even though it’s been awhile since I’ve done much running.  I have been skiing a few weekends this year, which is a really good workout, but I’ve barely been running.  I came across this post recently from Shut up and Run about how quickly runners can lose their fitness, and it made my poor performance at December’s Winter Classic 5k (after not really working out much leading up to it) and my measly mileage during this week’s workouts make a lot more sense.  I didn’t have much stamina to keep up a run for a full 5k any of the times I ran this week.  Which is sad for me, since I worked so hard to get to that point.

So, now I’m back.  I know I’ve had this problem in the past.  And then I say, THIS IS IT, I PROMISE I’M BACK.  And then I disappear again (from the gym and from blogging).  Let’s see if I can keep with it.

One thing that helped me keep on top of fitness things was joining in challenges.  There were some a long time ago at work, and then some a little more recently through Lose It, and then the most recent challenge I joined in on was the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge back in 2012.  So, it’s been awhile, and I have plenty of reasons to join in a challenge once again:

  • It gives me an added incentive to working out.  If I can earn points and maybe even prizes, then why not work out and eat right?
  • There’s a community aspect in challenges, where you can support and encourage (and compete against) others!  Share ideas, advice, and encouragement!
  • I want to ramp up my training so that I can PR in my upcoming 5k, and plan ahead to longer races.
  • I want to be in tip-top shape for this year’s Walk for Hunger (my third time!)
  • I’m getting married soon, and even though I’m not in the Bridezilla “must lose 30 pounds and tone every muscle” zone, I’d like to have decent looking arms in my sleeveless dress

These all sound like good reasons to me.  So, since I found the Holiday challenge to be very motivating, I’m joining in again for Run To The Finish‘s Spring Bootie Buster Challenge.  It’s similar to the challenge I joined in 2012, and includes lots of things that should help me get back on track and off the couch.  Emails with suggested workouts, motivation, and food ideas.  Some friendly competition.  Goals for exercising, eating fruits and veggies, and drinking plenty of water.  A good facebook/twitter community to join with others.

Spring Bootie Buster Challenge 2014

Spring Bootie Buster Challenge 2014

I also like that there are different competition levels, so you can join as a relative newbie to working out, or be one of those super extreme workout fanatics.  You’ll be put into different groups, so that you wont feel overwhelmed by the marathon runners if you’re more into yoga and a quick jog.  Fun fact, last time I was in this challenge, Amanda (the woman running the challenge) emailed me to see if I’d be interested in dropping down into a lower intensity group.  Which I could have taken as an insult, but chose to take it as an honest view of my capabilities.  So I gladly took her offer to drop me down into the less intense group.  It was a smart choice, and I was then competing against people in my actual fitness level peer group.

I actually signed up for this right away, since I was on the email list from the last time I did one of these challenges.  So I managed to sign up for only $10.  It seemed like a no-brainer to pay $10 for some motivation to get myself off the couch (and have a little skin in the game).  The price has since gone up to $17, which is not too much money.  I keep convincing myself it’s money well spent if it gets me doing some healthy things!

Disclosure that is not really a disclosure:  I’ve complained in the past with friends about when people post something on their blog or twitter and don’t disclose that they’re a) getting paid b) getting free stuff or c) otherwise somehow getting something out of it.  So here’s my story:  apparently if people sign up for the challenge and mention that I referred them, I get the chance to win a few prizes.  Which is nice, but I’m not hanging my hopes and dreams on winning referral prizes.  Just wanted to leave that all in the open for you.  I mostly wanted to share this challenge because it seems like a good idea and came about at the perfect time for me.

Will I win any prizes?  I don’t know.  Will I start doing better things for my body?  I think so.  The three goals (exercise, fruits/veggies, water) are all things I very much want to keep up with.  So hopefully this gets me going back in the right direction.  No more excuses!

What about you?  Have you figured out what keeps you motivated to work out and eat healthy?  Do you need the extra motivation that a challenge provides, or have you been able to keep going on sheer willpower and awesomeness?  Do you have a workout schedule all set up, or do you just wing it?

 

Women’s Money Week 2014: Kids and Work March 6, 2014

It took getting prompts from the Women’s Money Week list to get me back to blogging.  Sorry for my absence, I thought I had run out of things to say (it turns out I still have plenty to talk about).

Women’s Money Week is an annual week leading up to International Women’s Day.  The goal of Women’s Money Week is to discuss personal finance related topics that may especially be of interest to women.  But don’t worry if you don’t identify as a woman!  This week has some pretty good topics.  Check the list of topics here.

Monday’s topic was Kids and Work.   (and yes, I know it’s Thursday…you know I’m not the speediest blogger around) Let’s dive in.

I feel like this is something that has been on my mind recently.  I’m getting married soon, and I’m pretty sure that within, oh, an hour of us officially tying the knot, nosy folks will be asking, “so, when are you having children?” (and probably also, “when are you buying a house?”).  Part of it is just people seeing you go through one big life change and assuming that the other big life changes will follow soon after.  I get it.

The part I don’t get is why it actually matters to them.  Granted, I can be as nosy as them sometimes and hope for my friends to start having kids.  Babies are pretty  darn cute, and visiting with friends’ children can be fun in small doses.

My fiance and I both want kids eventually.  But we have no real idea when we should start having kids.  We’re both 29, so we’re probably at the age where we should start seriously considering the whole “having kids” thing.  But one thing we also need to consider is the whole “kids and work” issue.  Will one of us stay home while the other works full-time?  Will we both work and then send the children to daycare?  If one of us stays home, who should it be?  How will taking these breaks impact our career?  We’ll have to crunch some numbers for how much childcare costs vs. salary, and consider the tax brackets we’re in with one vs. two incomes, and childcare tax credits vs. dependent care FSAs.  And this is only considering the direct work/money questions.  You’d think as a person obsessed with personal finance and planning ahead, I’d have a better idea about all this.  But…not so much.

I know there are plenty of other expenses to consider, including everything the baby needs (food, clothing, shelter, DIAPERS) and then there are the future costs of college and everything else beyond the initial baby stage.  I know Save Spend Splurge has a listing of all her baby-related expenses so far, as does J.Money.

At any rate, I suppose this post is not fully focused on the Kids and Work issue…. so can I be a little more introspective here for a moment?  I see so many friends posting facebook updates about their children.  Some friends are stay at home parents, others are juggling full-time work and children.  It all seems so overwhelming, like my friends all have magical doing-it-all-and-doing-it-perfectly powers.  I suppose that’s the power of facebook, I’ll only see the good moments in their likely hectic lives.  But it does make me worry.  Will I be a good mother?  I hope so.  Will I be enough of a mature adult by the time kids come around?  Do I have to be?

I’ve heard two different sides of the “when to have kids” idea.  Either “you’ll know when you know” you’re ready, or “you’re never ready, but you have kids anyway”.  I’m not sure which camp we’ll end up in.

What about you?  Have you figured out the Kids and Work thing?  What did you end up doing?  If you don’t have kids (but you want to have them), do you have a plan?  Or are you as clueless as I am?

(Interested in seeing some more perspectives on this topic?  I really enjoyed eemusings post on the subject (we have a lot of the same concerns).  Also check out the other posts on this topic here)

 

2013 Fitness Wrap Up January 18, 2014

Filed under: Fitness — Stephanie @ 3:23 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I already wrote a review of how things went for me moneywise in 2013.  So, just like last year, I’m going to review my year in fitness.  And think about what 2014 will bring in fitness.

I set out some fitness goals for last year.  Let’s see how I did:

Goal 1:  Keep working toward running an entire 5k.  And once I hit that goal, it will help me reach my stretch goal of coming in at the top half of finishers.

Achievement:  Of the five 5ks I entered this year, I fully ran 4 of them!  The only one that I walked part of was the Tory Row 5k, which was on a VERY hot day, and my body just couldn’t handle the weather.  I’m still a far cry from the top half of finishers, but I’ve managed to attain a few new Personal Records (as noted in my Steph on Fitness page)

Follow-on goal for 2014:  Keep improving my speed/stamina for my 5ks.  More personal records!  Keep training!  Get a sub-30-minute race time for a 5k (was so very close at the Turkey Trot, with a time of 30:02!)

Goal 2:  Enter some more 5ks.

Achievement:  As mentioned above, I ran in 5 5ks last year.

Follow-on goal for 2014:  Sign up for more 5ks!  And sign up for a 10k!  I’ve heard really good things about the Tufts Health Plan 10k for Women, though I’d have to take the day off to do it (Columbus Day, not a holiday at my job).  Anyone have some favorite 5ks or 10ks in the Boston area?

Goal 3:  Keep going to the gym, including surviving this month’s UXF Ripped program that I won through a raffle at the gym.

Achievement:  I survived most of the UXF class (reviewed here) and also tried out Barre exercises.

Follow-on goal for 2014:  Keep going to the gym (duh).  Add more outdoor runs and longer runs to my training.  And maybe track down a training plan that I will actually stick to.

Goal 4:  Lose a few more pounds of fat/gain a few more pounds of muscle (basically, keep training!)

Achievement (and also the 2014 follow-on):  I was pretty close to my goal weight, and, when I’m really trying (i.e. practicing mindful eating, exercising regularly, tracking everything on LoseIt) I can get down to my goal weight.  But at my last physical, my doctor told me that she’s very happy with the weight I’m currently at, so I’m just going to maintain healthy habits and just try to sustain this weight

Goal 5:  Sign up for the Walk for Hunger again this year, and raise even more money!  And complete the entire walk even faster than last year!

Achieved:  Completed the Walk For Hunger in just over 5 hours.  Not that much faster than in 2012.  But I raised over $2000!

Follow-on goal for 2014:  Sign up for the Walk for Hunger yet again this year (can’t wait until February to sign up!).   Thinking that, since I raised over $1000 my first year, and over $2000 my second year, can I raise over $3000 this year?

Other than working on all these goals, I’ve been getting more involved in the health and fitness community on twitter.  I usually participate in tweetchats hosted by HealthYourWay (follow @HealthyWayMag and #HealthyWayMag) and Runchat (follow @TheRunChat and  #Runchat), where I meet new people interested in health and fitness, and learn and share ideas about warmups, workouts, and food (and other helpful hints!).  It’s become a pretty great community!  I also like checking in with my fellow personal finance bloggers with the hashtag #pfworkout.  And trying to keep up with #plankaday (information on that here)

A related goal to this twitter fitness stuff is finally meeting up with some of the local tweeters I’ve met online.  Let’s hang out, maybe we can go for a run together!

What have been your 2013 health and fitness achievements?  What do you have planned for 2014?

 

Looking back at 2013: Blogging about Money January 8, 2014

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:45 pm
Tags: , ,

Happy New Year!  I had some big things happen this past year, and I’m looking forward to some even bigger things this year!

I’ve been posting my yearly changes in assets and debts for the past few years now.  You can check out my money reviews for 2012, 2011, and 2010.  How much did my assets and debts change this past year?  Check it out:

Assets:

  • Liquid assets (checking and savings accounts):  +$25,825
  • Retirement (401(k), Roth IRA, Rollover IRA):  +$36,845
  • Car (edmunds.com private sale value): -$2,916 (I’ve been including this in networth for the past 5 years.  Recently lowered the “condition” I’m considering it, since it’s been beat up a bit over the years).

Debts:

  • Student Loans: Reduced  payoff balance by $3,989 (I wasn’t aggressive with my payoff like I thought I would be)
  • Credit cards: I pay them off every month, but if I want to be exact, I have $185 less to pay off as of the same time last year.

Change in net worth since last year:  +$63,558. Looking good.

This is probably the last year I can easily do these comparisons, since I’m getting married this year!  Some of that cash in savings will be put to good use, but not too much!  Plus, we’ll probably be taking the approach of “yours, mine, ours” with money, so tracking everything will be a little more difficult.

WordPress put together a review of my blogging for 2013.  Turns out I only published 22 posts.  I guess no one can accuse me of posting too often!  My blogging this year covered a few different topics.  There was, of course, personal finance.  And as with last year, I had a decent share of posts about fitness.  I also threw in a few general updates about things happening in my life.

I started the Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup series, but it sort of fizzled out after just one post on retirement plans.  I promise to get that back up and running in 2014, and definitely want to hear what you’d like me to write about.

I reviewed Helaine Olen’s book, Pound Foolish about the dark side of the Personal Finance industry.

I also wondered if my Roth IRA conversion was a bad idea, and took another look at health insurance options.

I’ll post separately a wrap up and review of my fitness posts and activities for 2013.

In the meantime, let me know:  How did your 2013 end up?  Are you excited for everything happening in 2014?

 

Ways that we’re saving money on our wedding December 8, 2013

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:16 pm
Tags:

Before I start. Yes. This is another wedding post. I’m trying not to include TOO many of these. But some people were curious, so I’m sharing a bit about our decisions.

Also? As with any blog about weddings, please don’t let this make you feel bad about your decisions. I (and many others I’ve spoken with) tend to struggle with the constant comparison to every other wedding blog post. Being not something enough. Not fancy enough, or low-key enough. Not eccentric enough, or not traditional enough. Too big, too little. You get the idea. I’m just sharing some of the approaches we’ve taken to cut down on costs so we’re not finding ourselves spending those crazy amounts every website reports.  Do not take my commentary as an attack on your decisions.  Everyone has different priorities, I’m just sharing mine!

So, what are some ways we’ve been able to cut costs so far?

-The Wedding Dress: I wrote a long time ago about a few decisions I’d made on wedding spending.  One was on the dress.  I had no desire to spend thousands of dollars on a dress I would wear for just one day.  I also didn’t feel I needed a “boutique” experience.  So, even though I’d read some not-so-fantastic reviews about David’s Bridal, I went there anyway.  Some reviews don’t like the quality of the dresses, or the general environment at the store.  Granted, when I was there, my “consultant” wasn’t always attentive, and I felt crowded in and a bit of an afterthought (at least at the store I went to in MA.  The one in NJ had a much nicer feel to it).  I tried on a few dresses, and quickly learned that long dresses were NOT for me.  I felt silly in them, like I was a girl playing dress up.  So that already cut some costs down.  I found a really cute, less formal dress for around $250.  I might have to spend a little bit on alterations, but as of right now, it fits pretty well, and is sitting in my closet and ready for my wedding day.

Bottom line:  Short, informal, and mass-produced dresses really cut down on costs.

-The Guest List:  A wedding cost tends to scale with the number of guests.  You’re going to have to feed them all, fit them all in a building (or outside, but they still probably need things like chairs or tables), and likely keep them happy with a little bit of booze.  This can all add up quickly.  When my fiance and I sat down to make up a guest list, we made the longest list we could thing of, i.e. who is every last person we would invite that we know of?  We wanted to make sure we wouldn’t forget someone and down the line realize we left them off the list.  Then we pared down the list (it’s still a work in progress) but are limiting the list to relatives we actually know and then lots of friends.  I know this is not always a possibility for everyone.  Third cousins and great aunts and family friends and business associates may end up on your guest list, either out of guilt or obligation.  I’m still struggling with who makes the “cut”, so this is still a work in progress.  But we’re looking at a guest list of 80-120 people total.

Bottom line:  Take a look at that guest list.  Also, sometimes your ceremony or reception location might have an occupancy limit.  So consider that as well.  Which leads me to…

-The Reception Location (and with it, the date/time and the food):  Early on in the book A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration (by Meg Keene), there is a suggestion for wedding venues:  Is there a restaurant you love that you could accommodate a wedding reception?  This got me thinking about a local restaurant that would be perfect for us.  It’s laid back, has good food, and not very expensive.  This isn’t an option for everyone, but we were able to negotiate a noon-4pm time block on a Saturday (before their dinner rush) at the restaurant.  We get the place to ourselves, and lots of really good food and drinks to go with it.  The per-person price (for food) will not be very high, since they don’t serve very expensive food to begin with.  There’s still some negotiation to do on drinks (full open bar or just beer + wine + signature drinks or some other option), because we do want to let our friends and family have a few drinks!  But limiting the drink menu rather than having an open bar might help cut costs.  Don’t worry, after the wedding, I’ll share where we had our reception.  But for now, that’s our little secret :)

Bottom line:  Consider local restaurants or other non-typical locations for ceremony/reception.  Try times other than Saturday evening.

These are just some of the ways that we’ve tried to keep costs reasonable.  We’ve had to come to the realization that  the wedding will cost some money.  There’s no way around it, at least for the things we had in mind (i.e. celebrating with our close family and friends).

What are some ways that you’ve found to cut costs for your wedding?  Are there any non-negotiables?

 

Open enrollment returns November 17, 2013

You would think I’d pay attention to deadlines.  But I’m not the best at that.  So that may explain why I finally picked my 2014 benefits at around 10pm before my midnight deadline a few Fridays ago.

I went through this whole ordeal last year.  I also reviewed a bunch of the jargon related to health insurance plans. The  available options changed this year, so I needed to take another look.

I still had a similar question: Would I rather pay more up front (in premiums) so that I get cheaper coverage immediately than pay less but then have to pay most out of pocket?

I had 3 options this year.  They eliminated the option I went with last year (the Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO)), so I was left with the Point of Service (POS) plan and two “high deductible” options with HSAs.  Last year, I picked the option that allowed me to not think about things as much, i.e. the EPO.  Basically, if I was sick, or needed to see a specialist, I looked up a doctor in the network, and the price of the visit was just a copay.  No need to shop around for the doctor or facility that would be the cheapest.

With the High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP), or as they’re often called, Consumer Driven Health Plans, the idea is to put the spending decisions in the hands of the consumer.  The idea scared me last year, as I mentioned above, because I didn’t have a good way of knowing how much any doctor visit would cost.  For both of the plans, the coverage is a bit different.  Instead of paying a set amount per doctor visit/surgery/etc., the process can be a bit more involved.  You’re encouraged to shop around (which is often not possible if, say, there’s an emergency), and prices can be a bit confusing.  Many websites have started offering cost estimators, like the one at FairHealthConsumer.org, or through your insurer’s website.  There’s another collection of lookup options from this article in the LA Times or this article in the Wall Street Journal.  The insurance usually negotiates a discount, but then you are left responsible for some (if you’ve met the deductible) or all of the remaining cost (if you haven’t met the deductible yet).

The assumptions I’m making about my medical needs for next year:  hopefully don’t need many visits, and definitely not enough to meet the high deductible ($1500 for one, $2000 for the other).

All the plans have an out of pocket maximum, so the range between the “total expenses” for me (premium + out of pocket maximum) is $4-5k.  That’s the total amount of money that would be gone (granted much of it paid with pre-tax dollars).  Hopefully, it wont come to that, but it’s good to know that I wont go into debt forever if something bad were to happen to me (medically speaking).

I went with the plan with the lowest premium.  Then I set my HSA contribution to the difference between the lowest premium and the highest premium, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about having to spend the money on medical expenses.  This plan also includes a $750 contribution from my employer into my HSA.  So, I might use all this, or more of it, or less, but any money I don’t use can be kept in my HSA from year to year.

Another thing to consider:  Once my fiance and I get married, we can (and should) reevaluate our benefit elections.  It’s considered one of the many “qualifying life changes” that allows for us to modify our benefit elections.  It might be cheaper for one of us to join the other person’s plan.  We’ll see how the first half of the year goes, and see which of the plans works for us.  Knowing that I can change my health plan does help me feel a little less worried about my insurance choice.

So, which plans are you looking at?  A co-pay based system?  A high deductible plan with an HSA?  Has all this insurance stuff been confusing?  Are you one of the people in the individual market trying to navigate the options through the Affordable Care Act?  What questions did you ask yourself (or HR) to figure out what plan was best for you?  Let’s talk health insurance!

 

 
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