Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

End of September, time to recap September 28, 2013

I promise I’m still here.  I’ve got a few updates.

Fitness:

Last Sunday was the Tavern to Tavern 5k.  I ran it last year, but it was a different route this year.  I wasn’t sure I was ready, because I’d been traveling, then sick, so I wasn’t fully in tip-top training.

Major upside of this race:  I have a new personal record for my 5k time!  I’ve got a pace just over 10-minute miles.  Next goal, get the pace under 10-minute miles!

Downside of the race:  I’ve become a bit of a road race connoisseur (read: snob).  I was disappointed they didn’t have a water stop (I found out afterward that the person in charge of the water stop got stuck in traffic).  Also, there were no signs saying how far we were (1 mile, 2 mile, etc.)  Luckily, I did have a general idea of where I was based on the voice-over on my iPod (it has Nike+ and reports approximately how far I’ve gone).  Another weird thing, they had blocked out an area across the street from the Tavern for the race, but then didn’t use it for the post-run party, and instead had a crowded, long line leading into the Tavern.  It seemed like a waste of blocked off space!  Lastly, and most importantly, there wasn’t quite enough police coverage.  I understand that local residents HATE when road races get in the way of Sunday morning traffic.  But there were plenty of intersections along the route where cars were just going right ahead and nearly running over runners.  SCARY!

Wedding:

In case you missed my last post, I’m engaged!  I’m trying to not let the whole planning process stress me out.  The good news is I have some stuff nailed down.  I’ve got the date blocked off, the ceremony and reception locations reserved, the wedding dress (I still need to get it altered), I’ve asked my bridesmaids to be my bridesmaids (and they’ve picked out dresses), and I have a vague guest list made.  The next steps near term are to make a few phone calls with some local photographers, and actually get serious about our guest list.  And then we can meet with the manager of the reception location to nail down our food and drink options.  Yes, this wedding seems to actually be taking shape.  Still in the works long-term will include finding a florist (or identify alternative options for getting flowers), and calling hotels to get them to put aside a block of rooms.  But I’m not worrying about these just yet.  Anything else I should think about? (Besides our registry and our honeymoon, both of which I’m not even close to planning out yet)

Careers:

My sorority (yes, I was in a sorority) at MIT hosted a “career night” where local alums were invited to come chat with current students about resumes, interviews, job fairs, etc.  They had a panel where alums could give more advice.  I was proud to be able to share the gospel of personal finance to the ladies there:  Save your money.  Take advantage of the 401(k) plans and matches at your new jobs.  Spend less than you earn.  You know, the usual.  But it got me thinking, I’d love it if my sorority hosted another event focused solely on personal finance.  I think I’ll ping the alumni relations chair and suggest it.

Random blogger meetup:

Leslie is in town for the Massachusetts Indie Comics Expo.  And Deena already lives in Boston.  So it’s a perfect chance for the 3 of us to meet up!  My expectations for tonight is that I will find out that Leslie’s last name is Freslie.  Stay tuned.

Well, that’s the latest from me.  Up ahead will be Birthday Fondue (just like last year, and the 4 years before that) and I’ll try to get back on the blogging train with more posts for the Graduates Guide to Being a Grownup series.

So, what have you been up to?  Have you become a road race snob like me?  Have any new running or fitness accomplishments to share?  Any advice for my wedding planning (what am I not thinking of that I should be)?  Had any opportunities to spread the word on personal finance to unsuspecting friends?

 

Major life event update August 25, 2013

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 2:39 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I haven’t posted in a while.  But I’m sure you’re used to that by now.

I wasn’t quite sure how to tell you guys this exciting news:

This happened:

Engaged!

Yep, we’re engaged!  Very happy :)

You may have already heard through twitter.  Or if you’re a friend in real life.  I guess it’s been about a month since we got engaged.  Sorry it took me so long to tell you guys!

Yes, I’ve started planning.  And trying to keep costs down!  I know how quickly wedding expenses can build up, so I’ll try to be careful!  We’ve already got a few things figured out (ceremony location, reception location, wedding date), but there’s plenty of things we still need to deal with (guest list? flowers? music? honeymoon?)

I know there will be some up and downs.  And lots of opinions.  But come our wedding day, it’s going to be AWESOME.

The one book keeping me sane right now is A Practical Wedding, written by Meg Keene, the woman behind apractialwedding.com.  I first heard about the book/website from Revanche (A Gai Shan Life)  awhile back.  And so right after I got engaged, I bought myself a copy of the book.  And apparently the book is so good that my good friend Sarah (of Sarah and Michael fame) also ordered me a copy! (I thanked her for it and returned the extra copy)  She said it really helped keep things in perspective for her.

So, I’ll probably be blogging a bit about my wedding planning.  And my attempts to keep costs under control without making things look cheap or tacky!

What are your favorite wedding planning books/blogs/websites?  What advice did you hear a lot?  And what advice did you actually take?

 

Reading Books: Pound Foolish August 4, 2013

I think I first heard about Helaine Olen and her book, Pound Foolish:  Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, from Marketplace (or maybe Marketplace Money).  I’m always listening to those shows, either on the radio or through their podcasts.  I also caught her interview (pt 1, 2, and 3) on The Daily Show, where she went into quite a bit of detail about the topics in her book.

The idea of taking on the personal finance industry and exposing the not-so-pretty realities definitely appealed to me.  I get sick of all the sneaky fees and “sponsored” financial products.  So I was interested to hear what she had to say about the personal finance movement.

The author takes on quite a few topics, from personal finance “personalities” to the “flip this house” mentality.  A common theme throughout the book is that the industry is just that, an industry, and so the focus of many advisers, authors, and companies is, in reality, to make money for themselves.  While they may also be helping us save money, they’re not ready to do it for free, out of the kindness  of their hearts.

The start of the book reviews the beginning of the personal finance movement.  Olen talks about the sometimes wrong/changing talking points that come from personalities like Suze Orman and David Bach.  She also emphasizes the point that all the frugality in the world can’t make up for stagnating wages and increasing medical costs and housing prices.

She goes into great detail about how screwy the whole retirement plan is now with 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.  A move from pensions to individual retirement accounts mostly means a much more uncertain future.  So much money can end up going to fees for managed funds and portfolios.  Fees cut into EVERYTHING.  Individual investors are left to fend for themselves, and they end up falling for expensive funds or buying investment products they don’t need.  Yes, sometimes we can find no load, low fee funds for our retirement accounts.  But it’s not always the case.   This chapter led me to want to learn more about Teresa Ghilarducci, one of the main opponents to the current 401k system.  She believes that leaving all the retirement planning to the individual was flawed and leaves most people woefully unprepared for retirement. (see one of her recent articles).  I also learned about a Brightscope, a website that helps you see how your employer’s retirement plan stacks up.

Olen discusses many more topics in her book, including the focus on stock picking (and CNBC stock market obsession, Jim Cramer, etc.).  She also talks about the recent push to specifically help women control their finances, noting that while there are plenty of women who are lost when it comes to managing their money, there are just as many men in the same boat.  But that women are at a disadvantage mainly because “[w]omen have less money than men for most of their lives for a basic reason:  they earn less and live longer.”  There are other reasons, of course, and Olen goes into much more detail on the many misconceptions about Women and Money.  And while she is fine with young people learning the basics of personal finance, she is not so comfortable with the way that kids learn about it:  through branded experiences and sponsored programs by the big banks, all trying to get in on their lives early.

There’s plenty more to read, and Olen has pages upon pages of references and notes to back up her information.

Reading this book was a bit depressing, because it reminded me of quite a few of the harsh realities of personal finance.  She doesn’t quite present any “answers” to all these problems, though she does list a few suggestions on her website as to what should be done.

I did still enjoy reading  her book, since I did find myself agreeing with most of her points.  It’s a lot easier to read a book that you agree with!  It’s a serious read, but got me thinking a bit more about what I’m doing with my money and to be a little more skeptical of all the big money personalities and financial companies.  And to watch out for fees!

Have you read Pound Foolish?  What did you think of it?  Did you agree or disagree with certain points?  And aren’t you glad that I give away my advice completely for free? :D

 

Updates and Link Love (powered by snacks, naps, and tired legs) July 13, 2013

Filed under: Boston,Food,Travel — Stephanie @ 10:11 am
Tags: , , ,

Inspired by many of you (especially NZ Muse, with her link loves powered by assorted things)

These past few weekends were awesome.  So I’m going to share about them.  And stay tuned to the end for some links to blog posts by other bloggers that I really enjoyed this week.

2 weekends ago, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit.  They haven’t visited in ages, so we packed the weekend with lots of food and fun!

Food:  Instead of taking them to the tourist traps (we considered them, but too pricey/overrated!), we took them to some of our favorite local restaurants.  I’ll share the list with you, but don’t all go there, or there will never be any room for me! :)

Tenoch Mexican, Delicious Mexican food (especially, in my opinion, their tortas and horchata)
Boston Burger Company (epic burgers with all sorts of awesome)
Trident Booksellers and Cafe (both times I’ve been there, I’ve gotten their Lemon Ricotta French Toast.  Also, they have Poutine!)
Flatbreads (you can’t go wrong with their salads, pizza, and beer (though we forgot to leave room for their desserts!))

Fun:  Friday was museum day:  Isabella Stewart Gardner museum AND the Museum of Fine Arts Boston!  We managed to get discounted prices by getting passes from the local library.  Quite a few of the libraries around here offer passes for free or discounted tickets to the area’s top tourist locations.  Definitely a deal.  Other discounts to try:  Your employer, AAA, or other memberships (especially teacher’s unions).  Walking throughout both museums definitely tired us out!

Saturday, we amped up our walking by touring Boston on foot.  Parked in Kenmore square, then walked down Commonwealth, Newbury, and Boylston all the way to Boston Public Garden, then through to Boston Common, where we started walking on the Freedom Trail.  We didn’t take an official tour, but followed the red brick/painted line all the way to Faneuil Hall and the Union Oyster House.  At that point, we decided it was time to head home.  But instead of taking the T back to Kenmore, we walked ALL THE WAY BACK!  This time crossing past City Hall, then going back through the Common and Garden, then taking the tree-lined (i.e. shaded) walkway on Commonwealth all the way back.

Yes, we tired ourselves out.

The following week included the 4th of July in Boston(we watched the awesome fireworks from Storrow Drive), then a drive up to Vermont for some relaxing.  Well, not JUST relaxing.  We also went for an early morning hike up (and down) Mt. Abraham (total time: 3hrs 36 minutes, which included a few stops along the way to enjoy the view), and then headed to the Farmer’s Market to walk around and enjoy some tasty food.  The rest of that weekend was really just lots of reading books and napping.  YES.

Speaking of books, I just finished reading Helaine Olen‘s book, Pound Foolish, about the dark side of the personal finance industry.  I’ll try to write up a review of that soon.  And I’m most of the way through Paddy Hirsch‘s Man vs. Markets.  I’ll review that as well once I’m done.

Oh, and if all that walking and hiking wasn’t enough, I’ve ramped back up my running.  So that might also cause some tired legs.  Though I have started wearing the ProCompression socks I got recently.  I’d heard good stuff about them, and compression gear in general, so I figured I’d buy a pair to try them out.  I tend to wear them after runs/to bed.  (and I wore them on the 4th of July, because the pair I got was so darn patriotic!) A few friends on twitter had asked what I thought of them, so here’s my short review:  it feels good to wear them after a run.  I don’t know if they’re actually helping with faster recovery as most compression gear is supposed to do.  But they do make my legs feel better.  (p.s. I bought them on sale, and apparently all their stuff is on sale for 40% off+ free shipping until August 4th using the coupon code JULY)

And now for the link love I promised.  Just two today, but I did read a lot of good stuff this week:

Krystal of Give Me Back My Five Bucks wrote about the latest idea discussed this week regarding paying for college.  The proposal:  Instead of taking out loans, you pay a percentage of your salary for the next 20-25 years after college.  Krystal touched on quite a few of the points I was thinking of, and the commenters have also made some really excellent points as well.  Check out her post!

I happened across a post from someone I hadn’t been following before, but I really liked it (and will now follow her :P) She wrote about how she’s gotten sick of the health and fitness “ambassador” programs.  If you’re unfamiliar with these programs, they’re basically blogging/social media networks that, at their core, are just groups of people interested in health and fitness.  But many of these programs connect with brands, and then the bloggers are given free stuff in exchange for tweeting/facebooking/blogging about the brands or products.  And so Carly wrote about how she wont be involved in any of this branded speech from now on.  I agree with her on many points.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love free stuff as much as the next person, and will review things that I like (and even some stuff that I’ve even gotten for free!), but I want to be open and honest and not have to conform to a brand’s marketing plan.  I tweet about brands I genuinely love, and review books I’ve read and products I’ve tried.  I have reviewed things in the past that I’ve experienced for free, but have always disclosed it, and I hope you never would think I’m trying to market anything to you.  I like sharing my opinions on things, so hopefully you enjoy reading them and know that they’re completely honest!  Please let me know if you ever think I’m not keeping up with this standard!

Well, that’s over 1000 words in one not-so-short update.  I guess I had a lot to say.  Maybe I should try to update more often, eh?

So, have you recently been a tourist in your own town?  Do you only check out the sites when tourists are visiting?  Have you tried any of the restaurants I mentioned?  Do you have another favorite restaurant to add to the list?

Read any good books lately?  Found any awesome links you’d like to share?

What do you think of Krystal and Carly’s posts?  Agree or disagree with their stance?

Don’t worry, more blog posts coming soon, including more of the Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup series, some book reviews, and plenty more.  I’m still blogging!

 

A Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup: Retirement Plans June 30, 2013

This is the first in my “Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup” series.  I’m hoping to give some introductions as well as in-depth information to help newly minted graduates (and really, anyone who has questions) .

As a reminder/disclosure, I am NOT a financial advisor.  Nor am I an investing expert.  I’m just someone who has been there, done that, and (thinks I) know what I’m doing.

Retirement Plans.  They’re a big topic.  A confusing, frustrating, and sometimes depressing topic.

The basic idea is this:  You work for a while.  Then eventually you retire.  You want enough money to keep you going until you, erm, don’t need money anymore.  So you need to put money away now for WAY in the future, but you don’t really know how much, since expenses and prices will be different when you’re older, and you don’t know how long you’ll need money for.

See, I told you it’s a tough topic.

But here’s what you need to know about retirement plans.

Most of the ones that you get on your own or through work are ways to put away money now so that you’ll have money later.  The main benefit of most of these accounts (over a basic savings or investment account) relates to taxes.  Either you contribute money to your accounts with dollars that haven’t been taxed yet (like Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s) and then get taxed on the money you take out later, or you contribute money that has already been taxed (like Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s) and then get to take your money out tax-free when you retire.  For both of these, that means that you’re not paying taxes on the gains in your account EVERY YEAR at tax time.

Some additional benefits can include contributions to your account from your employer (often correlated to how much you contribute).

There are usually quite a few options for what to put into these accounts.  They might be mutual funds, individual stocks, bonds, or even just cash savings.  Basically, you’re saving and investing within an account, just as you would with regular saving and investing accounts.

There is a limit to how much you can contribute per year to different kinds of accounts.  There are income-related limits for some of the IRAs.  And there are maximums allowed for many accounts, though there are catch-up amounts allowed if you’re closer to retirement age (over 50 years old).

Most of these accounts will not let you take out the money until you’ve hit retirement age.  If you do, you may be required to pay penalties or additional taxes.  It’s NOT recommended in most cases to take the money out, though there are some exceptions (depending on account, the reason you are withdrawing)

I’ll go into more detail about the different retirement plans available (in the U.S.) in future posts.  This is just to get you started thinking about saving for your retirement.

For now, you can check out my past posts on IRAs and 401(k)s.  Once I finish the next posts, I’ll link to them below.

Short version:

Retirement plans are accounts you save and invest money in.

A main benefit over regular savings accounts or investment accounts is that you can save on taxes either when you contribute or when you withdraw your money (after you retire).

There are some limits to how much you can contribute each year.  There are maximum contribution limits as well as (in some cases) income limits.

The earlier you start saving, the (likely) better off you’ll be, thanks to compounding interest, or gains on top of reinvested gains.

Your balance can go up or down.  If you’re invested in pretty much any stock, bond, or other tradeable asset, there is risk involved.

This money is meant for your retirement, so there are penalties associated with early withdrawal.

Okay, how’s this so far?  What questions do you have (about retirement or any other post-graduate topics)?  Did I cover everything?  Miss something?  Let me know what you’d like to see in the next Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup!

 

A Graduate’s Guide to Being A Grownup June 8, 2013

I was chatting with an old friend yesterday at one of the events at MIT’s Tech Reunions and she asked me how I got into all this personal finance stuff.  Well, as my blog’s sub-heading reads: “I got a degree, I got a job, now what?”  That’s really how it started.  I graduated (with a hefty pile of student loans), and started a job, and realized I had a lot to learn about this “being a grownup” stuff.  How should I attack the student debt?  What do I do with all these retirement plan options? WHAT DO I DO?!?!

So, that’s how it all started.

Well, this same friend told me that when she went through orientation on her first day of work, she also started having all these questions.  With new college hires getting training in the same class as experienced professionals, the topics discussed (401ks, health plans, etc.) were all things that the “grown ups” already knew about.  It felt awkward and confusing to try to learn when the “grown ups” were asking higher level questions about the benefits that the newbies didn’t even know about yet.  She wished there was a separate class just for the recent college grads so they could get into the basics and not feel intimidated.

She also wished there was a guidebook to life after college.

Well, here’s the thing.  There are TONS of books, blogs, websites, articles, etc. to guide you through your transition to being a grownup.  A lot of the personal finance blogs I’ve read over the years touch on these topics.  I consider my blog to be all about this, too.  After all, my blog is called Graduated Learning:  Life after College.  (Is it because I’m learning after graduation?  Or because I’m gradually learning new things?  MIND BLOWN!)  While I’ve touched on quite a few of these topics in the past, I figured I might as well kick off a new series to my blog.

That’s right.  Here it is.

A Graduate’s Guide to Being a Grownup.

I have a few specific topics in mind.  I’ll share what I know/learn, and invite comments on each post so others can share their thoughts, or ask more questions.  On this post, I invite you to comment with your own thoughts and ideas:

What do you wish had been explained to you when you graduated?  What did no one tell you on your first day of work that would have been helpful?  Are you a new graduate who has a million questions?  What resources have you found useful in your transition to the real world? (p.s. I’ve also heard really good things about Jenny Blake’s blog and book, Life After College)

If you’re a recent grad, or even a not-so-recent grad, I want to hear your questions!  We’ll get this figured out!

Commencement 2006

 

Was my Traditional to Roth IRA conversion a mistake? May 17, 2013

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:28 pm
Tags: , ,

Remember last year when I went through all the reasons I was going to convert my rollover IRA (from an old 401(k)) into my Roth IRA?  I had plenty of good reasons.  It wasn’t going to be that much money either way.  I wanted to have all my money in one place so I could buy funds with higher initial investments.  And of course…THE FISCAL CLIFF.  No one knew exactly what was going to happen on January 1, 2013.  I definitely didn’t.  But in retrospect, I should have known that congress would just kick the can down the road.

So on December 31, 2012 (seriously, I’m a bit of a procrastinator), I went ahead and converted my IRA to my Roth IRA.

Then, a few months ago, I sat down to fill out my taxes online, and I entered in all my numbers.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew I was going to have to pay taxes on the conversion amount.  But I hadn’t predicted how this added “income” due to conversion was going to impact eligibility for certain tax deductions.  Not that I should complain!  But apparently there’s a strict cut off for eligibility of the Student Loan Interest Deduction.  And with my conversion, I’m over the threshold.   There is a range where your increased income decreases the deduction.  But over the threshold, you’re out of luck.

I did check to make sure my conversion wasn’t going to put me into a new tax bracket.  I knew there was no danger in that happening.  But I hadn’t considered the Student Loan threshold (or any other tax deduction/credit cutoffs).

It’s not the biggest issue.  But in looking back, I probably could have planned out a little better how much of my IRA to convert so that I wasn’t over the limit.  In the end, it wasn’t a lot of money that I could have gotten back with the student loan deduction, but it would have been nice.  I’ve never really been the type of person to base financial decisions on tax liabilities…I figured that’s a problem the super wealthy have to deal with!

What tax and money decisions did you make leading up to the end of 2012?  Did you make any mistakes with your money decisions?  Are you already over it?

 

 
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