Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

This snow makes me want to move! February 25, 2015

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:18 pm
Tags: ,

I can’t believe we’re finally in a week where no major snow storms are predicted for our area.  You’d think after growing up in Buffalo, and then living in Boston for most of my adult life, I’d be used to all this snow.  NOPE.

I know I should count my blessings.  There are many people living in Boston who have been hit much harder by these storms.  Our public transit system is still not back to normal and may not be for days or weeks!

But it does get me thinking about wanting to move.

I actually don’t mean moving to Florida or California or Hawaii.  I just mean moving to our own house.

I love our current apartment.  The landlords are great, with adorable kids, and they’ve been really accommodating during this storm.  During the first Blizzard (Juno) they even helped me dig out my car, then moved my car into their driveway (where they’ve been letting us keep one of our cars overnight since the snow emergency went in place February 2nd) and that day they even invited me up for some tasty soup and a movie!  They’re good people.

And I love our location:  close enough to public transit and good restaurants but also pretty close to the highway so we can hop on the highway easily for our daily commutes or a trip up to Vermont.

But one of the issues that has made me a little bit crazy is the winter parking situation.  I’ve been dreaming of a place with a garage.  And even with a driveway, as long as we got a snowblower.  I know this makes me sound spoiled, but one of the things that makes me stress out beyond having to shovel out my car after a storm is worrying about if there will still be a spot available when I come back from work or the grocery store or visiting a friend.  There’s plenty of argument around whether or not space savers should be used (and in many cities, they’re technically illegal).  With a parking ban which was in effect for 3 weeks (which means we couldn’t actually park on the street in front of our house, or on the odd side of the side streets), there’s mathematically not enough space for every car that needs to park.  So any time I left, I worried I’ll come back and have nowhere to park my car.

Phew.  See, it’s this tiny issue that makes me go from calm and collected to raving mad.  Again, I realize how lucky I am otherwise (at least I have a car that I need to park!), but it just stresses me out!

So.  I’d love to buy a house somewhere, in part, so I can have a garage.  It’s not the only reason, of course.  After we got married, we’ve been thinking more about those “next steps” (having kids, buying a house, etc. etc.)  So, we’ve started scanning Zillow for potential houses.  Of course, within this search is trying to figure out WHERE to move to.  Like I said, we like our current location for convenience to all sorts of things.  But buying a house much closer to work (~20 miles from our current location) would be convenient, especially if we’re thinking ahead to kids (preschool, school, etc.).  But moving away from our current area means moving away from most of our friends, including quite a few who are car-less.  I have faith they’d manage the public transit or Zipcar option, but I worry we’d see a lot less of them.  Then again, they say when you have kids, you don’t see much of friends anyway, so maybe that’s where we’re headed?

Beyond location, my husband and I have to start thinking about what we want in a house.  We know we want a back yard (and of course, that coveted garage!) but how many rooms?  What style?  A move-in-ready house or one that requires lots of work and upgrades?

I think our next steps, if we decide we want to start seriously considering buying a house, is to get pre-approved for a mortgage.  We’ve both been saving up money for ages for a down payment, so hopefully we’ll have enough to buy something when we do start looking!

How has the winter storm impacted you?

p.s. special thanks to Anne and Alison for their tweets that got me started on this blog post!

 

Reviewing 2014: Looking ahead to 2015 January 4, 2015

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance,Travel — Stephanie @ 1:56 pm
Tags: ,

Happy New Year!

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent on the blog since September. Partially because after my post about our honeymoon, I realized I felt weird talking about all the places we went in Ireland on our honeymoon. If I ever feel un-weird about it in the future, I’ll try to post more about it. Sorry for that.

The other reason you haven’t seen a lot of me is because I felt like I’d run out of things to talk about. This blog started out as a way for me to research, share, and get help on all the big personal finance choices that happen early on in our adult lives. Well, I got through most of that, and had started talking more about fitness. But I feel like I know what I like doing for fitness, so I ran out of things to talk about there.

So, where does that leave things?

I still did some pretty great things this year. I even blogged about a few of them!
The big one, of course, was getting married! It was such a blast, and I’m so happy how everything went (and, you know, the whole “being married” part is pretty excellent).

Other side thoughts:
First trip to Europe under my belt
Finally got my (now) husband to sign up for a Roth IRA (and got advice from all of you on the best place to open a Roth)
Walked all 20 miles of the Walk for Hunger and raised over $3000 ($3,318.87 to be exact!)

Other things I did this year? A lot of them are related to the “married finances” thing.
-We opened up a joint checking account. Most of our accounts are still separate, but it’s a first step to figuring out shared finances
-We moved my husband onto my car insurance to lower our rates, and reviewed our coverage levels to make sure we had the right amount.
-We also moved my husband onto my health insurance plan, which also helps save money and make the whole insurance things just a tiny bit easier to manage
-We started checking out (term) life insurance to try to figure out how much we needed and how much it would cost us.
-We signed up for a legal plan through my work (for ~$100) that gives us free use of some local lawyers so we can draw up legal documents like Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies (more stuff you don’t want to have to think about, but you have to think about).  It seemed like a more economical choice to use my company’s legal plan than paying a local lawyer for these documents.

Looking ahead to 2015, I hope to get back into blogging.  There are some more things on my to do list when it comes to money and health/fitness.  And so hopefully I will remain a part of this blogging community.  I’m much more active on twitter, so feel free to join me in discussions over there.  And let me know what you’d like to hear about from me.

How do you get over the slump of “I have nothing left to write about”?  How was your 2014?  What do you hope to hear from me in 2015?

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

 

Our Honeymoon to Ireland: Intro September 13, 2014

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 10:00 am
Tags: , ,

Ireland Double Rainbow

Well, after our awesome wedding, we had to follow it up with an awesome honeymoon, right?

My (now) husband and I haven’t really been on many vacations in awhile.  We’ll take long weekend trips to visit family or up to Vermont or other nearby places.  But we tend not to jet off for a week on vacation.  We’ve gone on plenty of mini-vacations in the forms of traveling to friends’ weddings.  In fact, the last wedding we went to was in Florida, so we added a few days on to the end of the trip and went to Disney World (his first time!).  It was actually going to be cheaper to get a Disney hotel room and park tickets than trying to fly home the Sunday after the wedding, so I combined the “we’re going to be in Florida anyway” idea with the “I swear it’s cheaper just to go to Disney World instead of flying straight home” idea.  I think it worked out :)

Anyway, as I was saying, we haven’t gone on any really long vacations in years.  In fact, our last international trip was to Nicaragua, back in 2007!  Most flying we’ve done was for friends weddings or for work.

Here was one problem we had.  Neither of us had ever been to Ireland.  I’d never actually been to Europe!  So, we were a bit lost as to how exactly to plan a trip to a completely new place.  The honeymoon planning ended up being an additional stressor for me on top of the wedding, since even though I knew what country we were going to, I didn’t know how to pick where to go or what to do.

Here’s the two things that worked for us.

-We bought a vacation package.  There’s tons of them out there, and sometimes you can find really amazing deals.  I saw a few posted on Groupon, and I started getting mailers from lots of different companies with their different travel packages.  Granted, trying to decide on these was again a bit confusing.  We finally settled on going with an Aer Lingus vacation package after hearing good things about Aer Lingus from a friend’s sister living in Ireland. (Two notes:  I don’t know if they’re actually really great, we only had this one experience with them, but it was pretty good.  Another note, as usual, I would tell you if I’m promoting a product or brand on behalf of that product or brand.  Don’t worry, I’m not promoting Aer Lingus.  I just wanted to let you know what we did!)  Anyway, we ended up going with the Emerald B&B Package (Dublin).  This included airfare, a car rental (which we upgraded to automatic, neither of us drive manual and weren’t planning on learning AND driving on the left side of the road!), a hotel room for the first night, and vouchers for B&Bs for the rest of the nights.  We picked this package for a few reasons:  1.  It was still available for the time we were planning on traveling (we procrastinated on booking our vacation by a bit) 2. We liked the idea of being on our own schedule (driving ourselves) rather than on being on a tour group’s schedule 3.  We liked the idea of staying at B&Bs rather than at hotels.  It seemed like we’d get a more authentic experience (which maybe sounds corny or naive or ignorant, but hey, that was our thought process).

-We checked out some guide books.  Having been dreaming of going to Ireland for at least a decade, I’ve gotten a few guide books over the years.  But some of those were a bit outdated.  So, I asked friends for newer book recommendations.  The one we liked using on our trip was Frommer’s EasyGuide to Ireland 2014.  For the purpose of planning our trip, we liked “The Best of Ireland in 1 Week” section that we found in Frommer’s Ireland 2011 (starting on page 92).  It gave a nice layout of what to try to hit while you’re in Ireland so you can see the main things and still make it to what you want.

Besides going on what the guidebooks said, we asked friends who a had been to Ireland for advice and suggestions.  We also considered the fact that we’d like to get a mix of historical things (castles/museums/cathedrals) and nature (natural parks and hikes).  We booked our B&Bs based on where we approximately thought we wanted to go.

I plan on blogging about each day of our trip in more detail.  Stay tuned, but check out our schedule below:

Day 1:  Dublin
Day 2:  Dublin to Kilkenny
Day 3:  Kilkenny to Kinsale
Day 4:  Kinsale to Killarney
Day 5: Kilarney with a brief trip to Kenmare
Day 6:  Kilarney to Doolin
Day 7:  Doolin to Galway by way of The Burren
Day 8:  Galway to Dublin to Boston

Check back soon!

 

Wedding: Accomplished! July 24, 2014

Filed under: Boston,Food — Stephanie @ 11:01 pm
Tags: , ,

We did it!  We got married!

Kiss!(photo credit: my new mother-in-law)

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you may have seen how stressed out and panicked I was getting the closer we got to the wedding day.  I was waking up to stomach aches EVERY morning for months.  It was making me literally sick!  I had so many worries!  Would everyone have fun?  Would everything look right?  Will guests be offended if I don’t make this the most personalized unique magical affair ever?

Well, the good news is, our wedding was AWESOME.  All that worrying for nothing :)

 

The Chapel!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

 

The ceremony was beautiful.  We got married at the MIT Chapel (where my parents were married back in the day!).  That place is really cool inside (see above picture).  My older sister sang all of the music (she’s an amazing singer) and I only cried a tiny bit during the ceremony, when she hit the high note of a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer.

 Bowling!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

 

The reception was at Sacco’s Bowl Haven and Flatbread Company (AKA Flatbread Somerville).  Yes.  Our wedding had candlepin bowling and flatbread pizzas.  Remember when I took my sister and brother-in-law to a bunch of our favorite local restaurants?  Well, Flatbreads is definitely one of our favorites, so when we inquired about hosting our reception there, and they said yes, we were overjoyed!

Besides the pizza and salads, we also had lots of delicious appetizers for the guests, and they could enjoy all of the tasty beers and cocktails that Flatbread offers.  And instead of a champagne toast (because, really, who needs a champagne toast?) we had a Bantam Cider toast!  Everyone got a champagne flute of Wunderkind to toast to us after my new brother-in-law gave a fun toast to us!

I loved how everyone at the reception interacted and met each other.  Our different friends from all different times in our life, our own extended families, all got to dance and bowl with each other!  So much fun!

 

The Cake!(Photo credit: Michael Cirelli Photography www.cirelliworks.com)

We cut the cake, but decided not shove it into each other’s faces.  It was still insanely delicious!  (in case you were wondering, it was carrot cake from Modern Pastry in Boston.  Also, we bought way too much.  We still have that entire 8″ diameter top piece sitting in our freezer!  And had most of the 8″ diameter remaining underneath that we had to eat post-wedding, too).

The whole time, we got so many compliments from friends.  We were told this was the most fun/best/awesomest wedding ever.  I’d like to think so :)

After the reception was over, we headed back to the hotel to regroup, before we and a smaller group of guests went on a bar crawl.  Do you know how fun it is to go on a bar crawl in a wedding dress with your new husband?  It’s awesome.  Everyone congratulates you.  And you look super amazing.  We left the hotel bar, then  made stops at The Asgard, The Field, The People’s Republik, and ended the night at Dumpling House near Harvard Square.

It was a long day (setting my alarm before 6am, then my body deciding that 4:50am was a good time to wake up) but it was definitely one of the most fun and happy days of my life.  It was great to have all my family and friends there to share in our day, and I got to marry a pretty awesome guy.

So, what did I miss?  Any questions for this newly married lady?

For more photos, check out our photographer’s blog!

 

For those of you curious, here’s a list of the vendors we used to make our wedding a success.  We could have gone super DIY for this wedding, but I think all of these people were worth it!

Hair and Makeup:  My usual hairdresser from Mario’s Salon plus her two sisters (let me know if you want contact info for them)
Ceremony location:  MIT Chapel (must be MIT affiliate to use their chapel for weddings)
Transportation:  Shuttles from the MIT Parking office (for fellow MIT folks, they were the Saferide/Tech Shuttle buses!)
Reception (food and location):  Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven (AKA Flatbread Somerville)
Photographer:  Michael Cirelli Photography
DJ:  Chad Priest
Flowers:  Central Square Florist
Cake:  Modern Pastry
Invitations:  Digital rights to use Genevieve Santos“Clink” illustration and VistaPrint

 

 

Walk for Hunger: Nutrition is Important April 27, 2014

Filed under: Boston,Fitness,Food — Stephanie @ 5:11 pm
Tags: , , ,

The opposite of hungry isn't full, it's healthy

This is my third year doing the Walk for Hunger.  The first year, I raised over $1000.  The next year, I raised over $2000.  This year?  I’d love to hit $3000.

I know it’s an ambitious goal.  But I figure, as long as I keep getting donations (both small and large) I can hit this goal!

As of this posting, I have raised $2721.87.  With special thanks to everyone who donated, especially JoeTaxpayer for his Feed The People matching challenge: $500 when I raised $1000:  complete!  And another $500 when I hit $2000!  Also completed!

Wait.  If you’re new to the blog, you might be asking “What is the Walk for Hunger?”  GREAT QUESTION!

The Walk for Hunger is an annual fundraising event from Project Bread.  It’s a 20-mile walk beginning and ending in the Boston Common, weaving through Boston, Brookline, Newton, Watertown, and Cambridge before heading across the Harvard Bridge back to Boston.  The money raised from the Walk for Hunger goes on to fund many initiatives that feed the hungry with healthy and nutritious food!

This is a really important topic to me.  Besides personal finance, some other topics I care a lot about are STEM Education and Fitness.  When it comes to education, good nutrition is incredibly important.  Without enough good food, children’s brain development is hindered, they can’t concentrate on their schoolwork, and they are set up for all sorts of future problems.

And an important part of being physically fit is having the right nutrition!  You can’t stay in shape, maintain your muscle mass, or really be healthy if you don’t have the proper fuel!

So, how can you help?

There are lots of options!

*You can donate on my fundraising page (click the Donate To Stephanie link on that page) Thanks in advance for your support!

(you can also search for other people to donate to, or donate to the walk in general)

*You can sign up to walk!  It’s not too late!

*You can sign up to volunteer!  They need lots of people to help out along the 20-mile walk route!

*You can help spread the word about the Walk for Hunger!  Facebook, twitter, in-person!  This is an important issue we should be talking about!

If you have any questions about the Walk for Hunger, or want to share any fundraising ideas or your own insights on food insecurity and feeding our hungry neighbors, please leave a comment!

THANK YOU!

[Edit:  THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT!  This year, I raised $3,318.87!  AMAZING!]

Every $ Every Mile Makes a Difference

 

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?

 

 
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