Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

A Happier Perspective on Our Current Finances December 30, 2018

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:33 pm

As always, Penny has written another amazing post that I was so grateful to read. I highly recommend you read it, but to summarize, she came to the realization that her finances were good enough that she doesn’t need to worry all the time about an extra expense. She realized this all when she splurged on some fancy chocolate at the grocery store.

This was an excellent post to read after I shared my own thoughts on our current financial state in my most recent blog post. Like Penny, we are not officially FI (Financially Independent), but we’re doing well with good salaries and lots of savings. However, my post took on a more negative tone, focusing on what I might be doing wrong rather than what I’m doing right. I felt bad for not being on a real aggressive FIRE path, since these days every article I see seems to be about FIRE.

I also had a similar epiphany to Penny the other day. I shared it in a tweet:

I had started doing some Christmas shopping and hadn’t been really paying attention to what I’d been spending. I usually have a budget in my head for spending on my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, and my nephew (though it’s just a ballpark figure). But when it came to spending on my husband and kids, I just kept adding things to my cart (both online and in stores). Granted, part of it was me getting lured in by the sales (I’ve written before about my inability to resist Kohl’s sales). And I couldn’t help but grab small gifts for my daughter at the dollar store (she loves stickers!) So I had not thought about how much I was spending, I was more focused on what things I wanted to get for people. And this “not paying attention” happens and is feasible when you’re fortunate enough to have this kind of wiggle room in your budget. Yes, our expenses are still huge (mortgage and childcare) but since we’ve been saving aggressively for at least a decade, and we have good jobs, if we spend some savings once in a while, we’re going to still be okay.

I came to another realization the other day: our aggressive saving (and keeping expenses low) for a decade is what enabled us to feel comfortable right now. We’re like the FIRE folks, except instead of early retirement, our saving habits allowed us to be okay with the huge childcare expenses we’re dealing with early on.  Childcare is temporary, and we know we can get back to a higher savings rate after they start school.

Have you ever read something that helped you gain a better perspective on your life?  I’m so glad there are folks out there writing such insightful posts so I can think about things in a different way.

 

Money: 2012 Year in Review January 9, 2013

Filed under: General Blogging,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:28 pm
Tags: , , ,

Happy New Year!  It’s 2013! I’ve been posting my yearly changes in assets and debts for the past few years now.  One thing I noticed this time around is that the changes in my liquid assets and my student loans are just about the same as they were last time around. How much did my assets and debts change this past year?  Check it out:

Assets:

  • Retirement (401(k), Roth IRA, Rollover IRA):  +$28,369
  • Car (edmunds.com private sale value): -$938 (I know there’s a lot of debate over including cars in net worth calculations.  I initially included it to make myself feel better about my auto loan, to balance out the ugly dip in my net worth).

Debts:

  • Credit cards: I pay them off every month, but if I want to be exact, I have $713 less to pay off as of the same time last year.

Change in net worth since last year:  +$55,194. Booya!

It turns out, I didn’t post very often.  Only 26 posts!  And quite a few of them talked about fitness.  That became quite a focus for me this year.  (More on that in a separate post).  Though I definitely thought about money and fitness together!

Looking back at my old personal finance related posts….remember the Approved Card from Suze Orman?  I wasn’t a fan.

I shared my story about getting into and (partially) out of student debt.

I confessed that I have a strange relationship with shopping, especially when it comes to Kohls.

I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff, and keep thinking about the big picture.

My nagging tendency was in full force when I told you that there were NO EXCUSES when it comes to opening an IRA.

I tackled the yearly concern of Benefits Open Enrollment.

I converted my traditional IRA into my Roth IRA.  Which also means that the networth numbers will be lowered in the next few months when I have to pay taxes on the converted amount.  Shhhhh.  Don’t worry, I have the money saved to pay the taxes, but we’ll recalculate things later.

And, even though this is more in the fitness than the personal finance category, I’m really glad I did the Walk For Hunger last year.  I look forward to doing it again in 2013!

I mused on twitter that I might try to pay off my entire student loan balance by the end of the year.  Not sure yet if I’ll actually do it, but I do have a plan in mind.  The cool part about that tweet?  The amazing, personal finance queen Gail Vaz-Oxlade replied to my tweet asking how I would do it!  So that might become a 2013 personal finance goal.

Happy New Year! How was your 2012?  What were your big events (positive or negative) for 2012?  What are your big plans for 2013!  Please share your own blog posts (if you have them) in the comments, I want to make sure I read all of your year-end wrap ups and your 2013 goals!

 

Black Friday Ads are Stressing Me Out November 22, 2012

Here’s the thing.  I’ve NEVER gone to a Black Friday sale.  Our family tradition for the past many years has been to drop by a local shop owned by a friend of ours and shop around.  But that’s pretty much it.  No staying up all night.  No camping out in a long line.  No shoving down old ladies.  We don’t roll like that.

Even as an avid NPR listener, and a pro at fast-forwarding through commercials on TV, I still managed to hear and see plenty of ads.  I get emails and mailers from stores I shop at.  And I can’t fast forward through every ad on TV. There’s lots of yelling about the crazy deals that we’d be foolish to pass up on.

So it starts getting me a little stressed out.  I think this happens for two reasons.  Part of it is I’m not quite sure what I’m getting for everyone yet.  A few family members have wishlists set up, so that will help.  But I guess I’m starting to worry that I won’t know what to get for everyone!  And second, the ads make me worry that I’m missing out on the best sales of the season.

But!  I don’t think I’m going to let these ads get to me.  I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff.  So that means that if I only get a 30% off deal instead of a 50% off deal at Kohls, I’m not going to starve.  I’ve already “missed out” on a 30% deal at one of the stores I plan to shop at, but I have a feeling there will be a few more sales there before Christmas.  Plus, the “door busters” and other items that people get really excited about, i.e. electronics are not really anywhere on my shopping list.  If there was a specific big-ticket item I was looking for, and it was actually a really good deal, I might consider it.  But I don’t think I’d put in too big of an effort.  Maybe wait until the craziness slowed down.

So, as I said before, I’m not going to go to any of these wild Black Friday sales.  I’m just going to enjoy Friday with my family and do some window shopping at local small businesses.

What about you?  I know that Andrea is So Over Black Friday.  Sandy is also Anti-Black Friday.  And J$ knows of at least 7 things he’d rather do than go to Black Friday.

Anyone planning on picking up some specific deals tomorrow?  Camping out at a store?  Waiting until a reasonable hour and then strolling into the stores?  Just hoping to do some shopping online instead?  Getting ready for Cyber Monday?

No matter your plan, I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Kohl’s is my Kryptonite June 23, 2012

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 5:44 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve mentioned before my strange relationship with Kohl’s.  For those of you who haven’t heard of the store, it’s basically a department store, with clothes, shoes, accessories, and housewares.  And they are REALLY good at getting you into the store, and at using psychology to get you to buy.

I was made painfully aware of this fact today.

I knew I wanted to add a few new tops or maybe a light jacket or two to my wardrobe.  I’d noticed I’ve been wearing the same 5 or so tops to work every week.  I mean, I wash them in between.  But I wanted to spice things up a little.  So, Kohl’s knew just how to make sure I showed up and spent my money!

Method 1:  Have a time-sensitive sale

Kohl’s has sales all the time.  (And many people have asserted that they actually mark up prices before discounting them again.)  But one of the really effective sales they have (in my opinion) is their Night Owl/Early Bird sales.  On some weekends, the sales get REALLY big for only a few hours.  The Night Owl sale lasts up until store closing on Friday night, and the Early Bird sale last until 1pm Saturday morning.  Not the earliest of early birds.  But still, for a weekend, you have to get up at a reasonable hour to get there.

I finally arrived around 10am or so and strolled around the store.  I grabbed tons of stuff, brought them to the dressing room, and realized none of it looked good on me.  So I went on a few more rounds, and found a few cute tops, plus a bunch of REALLY inexpensive wardrobe staples (i.e. camisoles and v-neck t-shirts).   I knew that this is probably the lowest price I was going to see on these items in a long time, so I ended up stocking up and probably taking more than I should have.  My reasoning?  Buy them now at this price!  Quick!  Before the prices go back up!

Then, because of the mindset, I rushed to other parts of the store to see what other items I could grab up at their lowest prices.  I picked up a new purse.  Why?  It was on sale.  For only a few hours.  Yeah, I know how crazy it sounds.  But I assured myself that if I didn’t like it, I could just return it later.  (Yeah right)  Might as well buy it now at a really low price, just in case.  CRAZY TALK.

Then, oh, don’t I need sneakers to wear on the weekends when I’m not wearing my running shoes?  Of course I do!  Why not grab a pair of Keds?  Okay, if all else fails, I can return it.  And it’s on sale.  QUICK.  THERE’S NO TIME!  Sane part of my brain says:  “What about just going to Payless?  You don’t need anything fancy.  Just something that doesn’t make you look like you’re in the middle of a 5k. ”  I assure the sane part of my brain that I’ll check out Payless afterward.  But that for now, I might as well buy them.  SALE!!!!! (I do go to Payless later.  I spot a pair for only $14.99.  Do I buy them and return the Keds? Nope.  Because I’m CRAZY.  Or maybe lazy.)

So yeah.  Sales can get you.  You think you’re getting a deal.  And when you realize that you only have a few hours to take advantage of that deal, you just run like a crazy person snatching up everything…JUST IN CASE!

Method 2:  Send out occasional additional discounts at varying amounts

Well, the first problem was that they got me to sign up for their charge card a few years ago.  So now I get discount coupons mailed to me on a pretty regular basis.  Sometimes it’s for 15% off, sometimes 20%, and sometimes it’s the ever elusive 30%.  As I’ve mentioned before, seeing that 30% off coupon, then thinking about things I “need” (but really, I just want) makes it hard to avoid shopping.  “I’ll just take a look around…”

Knowing that this is the rare 30%, and knowing I can use it on top of the Early Bird sales, I’m pretty much done for.  Plus, seeing a price at the store, I don’t actually take the time to calculate how much less it will actually be.  I just see a price and think “hey, that’s a decent price, and it’ll be even better after 30% off”.  Or, even worse, “it’s a little pricey, but it will be cheaper after 30% off!  Yeah, that’s a bad mindset to have.

Method 3:  Offer a reward that requires customers to come back again

Kohl’s also has a gimmick where they give you a $10 voucher for every $50 you spend.  This both conditions you to spend more (“If I spend a few more dollars, I get 10 more dollars!”) and ensures that you’ll come back to spend that “free money”.  And in my case, I also thought of the “extra” $10 as a consolation prize for spending too much.

I know.  I’m not good at this game.  But I’ve learned a few things about myself.  I’m not good at avoiding these types of marketing techniques.  And apparently, I like boatneck shirts with cap sleeves.  And shades of blue and purple.

What stores or sale techniques trick you into spending?  Do you shake your head and laugh at my inability to break free from Kohl’s clutches?  Or sympathize with my unhealthy relationship with a store?

 

No-Spend November: Week 4 Recap November 30, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 11:15 pm
Tags: , ,

I figured I’d wait until the end of the month, since there’s a little more than 4 weeks in the month.  So, here we go:

Tuesday Nov 22:  I gave in and got soup at the work cafeteria.  $2.55

Wednesday Nov 23:  Driving home to NJ for Thanksgiving.  Some traffic made me decide to take a detour and look for a pit stop.  Found a random tiny diner to use the facilities, then felt bad for just using their place for the bathroom, so I bought a $2.25 burger.  Not worth the cost, but oh well.  Was on the road for quite a few more hours (boo traffic) so I guess it was good that I ate something.  Also, tolls (tallied up on my Fast Lane) for that trip:  $9.90

Thursday Nov 24:  Thanksgiving!  The only thing I spent was time with my family 🙂

Friday Nov 25:  My mom gave me an early Christmas gift:  a visit to her local hair salon so I could get highlights to blend away the gray hairs!  The hairdresser was pretty surprised at how much gray hair I had.  But I think she did a good job camouflaging it!  So, that was “free” as a kind gift from my mom.  I think she knew I wouldn’t do it otherwise!

The family tradition is going to a local shop run by a high school friend’s aunt.  That’s the only place we went, so we avoided the insane Black Friday shoppers.

Later that night, I drove with my younger sister to my older sister’s house to hang out with her and her husband.  On the way back to my parents’ house, noticed my gas tank was getting low.  Fuel up costs:  $33.86

Saturday Nov 26:  The thing about coming home is that we get a little spoiled.  Fun things included:  Going to the movies! We saw Arthur Christmas.  It was super cute, and really funny!  The kind of movie that I probably could only have seen with my family 🙂

Afterwards, we went to a local Mexican restaurant that we love.

My parents were awesome enough to pay for the movie and dinner.  Hooray them!  Thanks 🙂

Sunday Nov 27:  Didn’t want to leave!  Love being with my family.  Stopped partway home to grab a coffee and a small fries from McDonald’s to keep me awake and keep my stomach from growling.  $2.12.  Total cost of tolls for drive back to Boston:  $14.30 (I took the Tappan Zee Bridge both directions, they only charge going South/East)

Monday Nov 28:  Brought my lunch.  But I got tempted by all the Cyber Monday sales.

I had won a gift certificate from Cuddl Duds by entering their “Quote of the Day” contest.  (You can still submit your quotes for a chance to win!), and I also knew they were having a Cyber Monday sale of 30% off…I figured it was my best chance to get a good deal!  I went for the top and the leggings from the Activewear Lightweight clothing.  After discount and gift certificate, $9.80

Then, I was on the Kohl’s website, and realized that there was a slightly different selection of Cuddl Duds for sale.  There was some overlap between sites.  So, that made me decide I’d get the Activewear stuff directly from Cuddl Duds, but then I caved seeing the insane sales plus extra 20% off (making most other options cheaper than buying direct) plus free shipping, so I went for the ActiveLayer Top, then the Climatesmart Top and Pants.  I went a little nuts.  My logic was, hey, it’s cheaper on the Kohl’s website, but I have the gift certificate on the Cuddl Duds website, and only some things are available on each site….

My brain went crazy.  At least I got some good deals.  And if I regret these decisions, I can always return it (though, who am I kidding, I probably wont).  Total expense on Kohls.com:  $47.98

Oops.  Why did I buy all this?  My reasoning is that they’re good for outdoor activities, so between skiing, winter walks, and shoveling, I’ll get good use out of them.

Tuesday Nov 29:  Brought my lunch.  But then realized I needed shampoo/conditioner for my now color-treated hair.  Not sure how much it matters, but I wanted to make sure my highlights lasted!  And while I was at CVS I saw a coupon for $1.50 off any deodorant, so I picked up a new one while there.  I guess I cheaped out on the hair care, because I only spent $5.81 at the store.

Wednesday, Nov 30:  Last day.  I brought lunch.  But because of all the driving I did this month (i.e. a round trip between Boston and central New Jersey) I had to fill up the gas tank again.  $33.99.

This final “week”:  $162.56.

What a month!  I didn’t do as well as I hoped.  I caved a few times when it came to dining out or buying lunches.  And I spent more on gas than usual due to the extra driving.  Expenses I didn’t include throughout was rent, utilities, transfers to savings/retirement accounts, student loan payments, and my gym.  Why?  Well, most of those transactions are automatic, so they just happen on the days they’re scheduled for.  Yeah, my gym membership is charged every month.  $27/month.

So, total amount of money I consciously spent this month?  $438.05.  Not exactly no-spend, eh?  Some of these expenses were unavoidable (I need gas to drive to work!), some were splurges (going out to dinner, buying myself a new wardrobe of Cuddl Duds).  I’m planning on continuing to bring lunch to work as much as possible (though tomorrow we’re going out for a colleague’s retirement party…but Friday, I promise I’ll bring lunch!).  I know next month will be expensive, with more retirement parties, holiday parties, and Christmas gifts.  I haven’t started shopping for gifts yet, and I’ll try to not be too extravagant, but I do tend to spend a lot on other people for Christmas.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

So what do you think of my no-spend November?  Impressed at how little I spent?  Disappointed at how much I spent?  Or was that the exact amount you predicted I’d spend?

 

No-Spend November: Week 2 Recap November 15, 2011

Filed under: Boston,Food,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:49 pm
Tags: ,

So, week 2 of No-Spend November.  I haven’t given up just yet!

Tuesday Nov 8:  Went to a 401(k) presentation sponsored by the young-employee network at work during lunch…and lunch was provided!  I think I already knew most of the stuff they talked about, but it’s always good to get a refresher on retirement investments!

Wednesday Nov 9:  Brought my lunch.  But then on the way home from the gym that night I filled up my car tires (for free) but didn’t have a tire gauge to confirm my tires weren’t overfilled (which I did discover they were, had to let them out quite a bit), so I bought a tire gauge and some valve caps to replace ones that had fallen off.  $4.55

Thursday Nov 10:  Stayed home sick again, so I didn’t need to pack or buy a lunch.  No spend!

Friday Nov 11:  Brought my lunch.  Went out with some friends from work for drinks/dinner.  Beer, burger, fries (plus tax and tip):  $15.55

Saturday Nov 12:  Wanted to use up the $20 in Kohls cash that was expiring.  Bought these shoes (in brown).  With the sale, the Kohls cash, and a coupon, I paid an extra $3.79.  (and when I got home, I put TWO pairs of old shoes in the donate pile!)  Then went to the grocery store so I could buy yogurt for the banana bread recipe I wanted to make.  Saw English Muffins buy 1 get 2 free, so I let the deal seeker part of me win out. $6.58

Went out for dinner at Tu Y Yo (SO DELICIOUS!) with another couple.  Boyfriend paid for our half of the meal (it was his turn to pay, we trade off who pays).

Sun Nov 13:  Went to church.  Intended to put some money in the collection plate, but I didn’t have any cash on me, so I gave a measly 60 cents.

Mon Nov 14:  Brought leftovers to work.  So, no-spend!

So, this past week, I spent a total of $31.07.  (check my math?)  Not too bad.  I’m realizing that this No Spend plan is really more of me training myself to bring my lunch and think twice about purchases.

 

What’s the opposite of a no-spend weekend? October 23, 2011

Filed under: Boston,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 5:06 pm

I think you could call this weekend a spendy weekend.  I tend not to go shopping to often, so when I do, things get a little crazy.  I already knew ahead of time that I was going to go shopping.  So, let’s review my weekend travels and see where the I made my wallet cry.

Saturday:

Library:  Always a good, free, way to start the weekend.  Went to pick up the copy of Shortchanged:  Why women have less wealth and what can be done about it I reserved.  I’m planning on participating in Deena Dollar’s PF Blogger Book Club!  I don’t have too much time to read it, but I’ll try to get through it as far as I can.

Kohls:  They know me too well.  Hey Steph, you haven’t shopped here in a while.  Want a 30% coupon on a weekend where we’re also having epic sales?  Here you go.  Come by.  So yep, I spent a few hours there trying on bras (whoops, sorry, TMI?) because I haven’t done that in ages.  Total Damage:  7 bras, $120 (yeah, I dunno, I got carried away, that’s a lot of bras, maybe I’ll return a few?)

Target:  Next up, my other shopping nemesis, Target.  Hey Steph, you need all these random things for your house, don’t you?  And these cute clothes?  But I had a gift card from a friend and we did actually need a few things.  So, I bought a few kitchen gadgets we needed (meat thermometer, turkey baster, etc.) and a few random kitchen things that were on the clearance shelf (Damn You Clearance Shelf!), but also saw a cute sweater on sale for $15 (check it out in red)  Total damage:  An extra $5.62 over the gift card amount.  So $55.62 total spent at Target.

The rest of the day I managed to stay home and avoid any more shopping.  But I had more plans for Sunday:

Church:  A nice place to regain my sanity and then follow it up with coffee and donuts (Dunkin Donuts brought back their pumpkin spice donuts for the fall!) with some friends, including an adorable 2-year old 🙂

The Mall!
Apple Store:  I saw a line formed outside the store, which worried me.  But it turns out that was for the new iPhone.  If you were getting anything else, you could walk right in.  Though when I walked in, it mostly looked like chaos in there.  I didn’t know how to buy something.  There are no cash registers!  But I caught the attention of a “Genius” and told him I just want to buy an iPod.  Cool part was, they’d give me a 10% discount if I traded in my old (dead) iPod.  Better discount that I could get through my employer!  Also, did you know that they do the whole transaction on souped-up iPhones?  Hence the lack of cash registers.  It was pretty neat.  Total damage for my pretty new blue iPod nano (with discounts but also tax):  $142.47

H&M:  I always stop in that store.  I know I can find cheap (okay, both in price and in quality) items there.  I was specifically looking for a new belt, since that’s where I bought belts in the past.  But all the belts were ridiculous (what was I expecting), but then I got distracted by some simple elastic headbands.  Total Damage:  5 headbands, $8.39

LOFT:  Last store!  I had gotten a coupon for $15 off any purchase for any time during my birthday month.  Since October was drawing to a close, I figured I might as well take advantage of it (yes, I realize they do this to get you in the store).  I took forever looking for something and I settled on this top (in “Passion Red)  With the coupon and sales going on, I only paid another $5.  Though, I just noticed that there were two price tags on my shirt for some reason, so I was undercharged…(do I go back?  call? your thoughts, please!).  So total cost to me:  $5, though it might actually be $12 if I go back and tell them they undercharged me by $7.

That’s it.  Done with my spending.  I don’t plan on buying stuff for a while.  The key is to stay out of stores!  And ignore sales.  But I’m not good at staying out of stores when they alert me to those sales.

So, a spendy weekend.  With a few free activities thrown in.  And by the way, I’m already loving my new iPod.  So glad I bought it. 🙂

So, how did you fare this weekend?  Any big purchases?  Or are you doing well at keeping up with your no-spend goals?  Do you hate when I do these shopping recaps?  Do I ask too many questions?  And would you drive back to the mall to pay $7?

 

Do you chase credit card rewards? June 12, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:45 pm
Tags: ,

I got my first credit card after I graduated college.  Applied for some that my bank offered, and got two, a Visa and an American Express.  I only applied for cards with cashback or other rewards that could be translated into money back.  Later I applied for the Chase Freedom credit card when I got an offer that came with a  $100 bonus.  I think I also signed up again to get a $50 bonus, but soon cancelled that account when I realized how stupid it was to have two identical credit cards.

I also have signed up for store credit cards.  I know, those are the ones that personal finance people tell you to stay away from.  You’re usually tempted at the checkout by the inciting 15% off your purchases.  Which only benefits you if you pay off the credit card.  Otherwise, those few dollars you saved are erased by the ridiculous interest rates that most store cards have.  My store cards that I have (for the top 3 stores I shop at) all have interest rates above 20%.  Of course, if you pay the cards off every month, the cards do tend to have decent benefits (sales, extra coupons, or “cashback” in the form of coupons off future purchases based on how much you’ve spent).

I’ve never signed up for a train or airlines card; I don’t stick to one airline, and don’t fly very often (except apparently this year).

I read a lot of articles on Free Money Finance explaining how to take advantage of the different rewards programs that credit card companies offer.  FMF is very adamant about using cashback cards to your advantage.  Some cards give higher rewards than others, and some will reward certain categories of expenses.  I don’t think I come out with as much rewards money as FMF does…I don’t spend nearly as much.

My theory on the matter is that your technique to maximize rewards shouldn’t be too insane.  What do I do?

*Most of my day-to-day transactions are put on my credit card.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m all about the points.  I guess I feel a little more free to spend money if I’m getting 1% off…not really the best mental game to be playing.  I do spend cash when I go out to eat with friends if it makes the paying of the bill easier.  And most cabs don’t take credit.  But I just don’t like keeping a lot of cash on me.  Plus using credit makes keeping track of my expenses a lot easier.

*When I shop at stores I have store cards for (Kohl’s, Gap, and LOFT), I’ll use them.  You are sometimes required to use those cards to get discounts, plus I can earn future spending money or added benefits by using my cards.

*I use my Chase Freedom card almost exclusively (except for at those stores I mentioned above).  It has rewards that are simple to understand, and tend to have bonus categories that I actually use.

*Every once in a while, I’ll get an offer from my bank telling me I’ll get bonus points for using their card for specific purchases.  If those categories aren’t currently the bonus categories on the Chase Freedom card, I’ll go ahead and use those cards to take advantage of the bonus points.  But those offers only come every once in a while (when I haven’t used my card in a while!)

*I recently had to buy a bunch of plane tickets for the two weddings I’m attending this year, as well as for a family reunion.  I’ve found that if you go through your credit card’s shopping site/rewards site, you can earn additional “points”.  For my Chase Freedom card, I went through their Ultimate Rewards program.   It’s like following an affiliate link; they know you came from their site, and then will reward you with additional points, either a flat amount or a certain percentage of your purchase.  So when I discovered that going directly through JetBlue‘s website or through a flight search site (like Travelocity) would cost me the same, I chose to go through Travelocity through the Ultimate Rewards site, and will be getting additional cashback for doing so.  Easy Peasy.

There are similar programs if you have a card that is part of the WorldPoints program.  You can shop through their WorldPointsMall.  If you have a Bank of America credit card, you can shop through their Add It Up program.

To be honest, since I don’t buy a lot of things online, I’ve only ever used these sites for buying plane tickets.  And maybe once when I ordered flowers for my mom.

As a note, I’m not getting paid or any other benefits for reviewing this.  Just going over what I do.

So, how intense is your credit card rewards optimization?  Do you juggle lots of cards, each for a specific purchase, to maximize your rewards returns?  Do you find any of this worth the time and effort?  Do you use other card types?

 

Dealing with Saver’s Fatigue May 31, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 11:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

Saver’s Fatigue?  Yeah, I made it up.  But basically, I’m getting sick of saving money.

I started automating my savings, transferring money monthly from my checking account to my savings account, back since at least 2007.  Possibly earlier than that.  My bank doesn’t provide my records beyond 2009.  And those were the days when savings accounts were making decent interest.  Do you remember when ING Direct had ridiculously good interest rates?  Man, those were the days.

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I’m really glad I’ve been stashing away money in my savings account these past 4 or 5 years.  I’ve been building up a pretty big emergency fund, and I don’t even miss the money.

Knowing I have money stashed away gives me peace of mind.  And it’s fun logging in and seeing it go up, even if most of the increase in my balance is from my auto-transfers and not from interest earned.

But now what?  I’ve got goals, sure.  But they’re big goals.  Buy a house.  Get married.  Have a few kids.  And I’m going to need money for all of those.  The only time I’ve taken money out of my savings account was when I decided to pay off my car loan 3 years early.  But what am I supposed to do in the meantime?  Just keep up with saving until I eventually have enough for each of these big events?  That’s frustrating and not rewarding at all in the short-term.

I know there are other things I can do with my money.  I could pay off my loans faster.  Maybe that’s a good idea, since I’m paying more in interest than I’m earning in interest.  The mathematical/logical part of me knows I should take a huge chunk of my savings and apply it to my loans.  The emotional part of me just feels safer having more money around, even if it’s costing me something.

I could also put my money into investments with higher returns.  I’m about halfway through “Get A Financial Life” (will have a review on that book soon!), and I now have started considering other ways to earn interest/dividends/etc. on the money I put into savings.  Will have to think on that more.

I have a lot of options for earning more, if I’m willing to take the risk.

But what about spending?

I realized the other day that having savings for non-emergencies is still a valid use of money.  I was getting anxious buying plane tickets and booking hotel rooms for my friends’ weddings.  But then I realized that I’m not going to end up on the streets just for going to their weddings.  My savings provides a cushion for the times when I’m going to spend a little extra.

It’s like AS Green said on her blog post:  “if you are being smart financially (paying off debt, saving for retirement, having an emergency fund) then you should also enjoy your hard earned money.”  She was also referring to Debt Ninja‘s post, where he asserted that “it’s important to enjoy our money”.  I’m not saying you should go buy fancy stuff all the time, or go on 10 vacations a year.  But the whole point of getting on a good financial track was so I wouldn’t have to worry about my future.

So.  I’m going to keep on saving.  I might actually create more “sub accounts” in my ING Direct account so I can assign goals or budgets to different pools of money.  But I’m going to spend a little, too.  I’m going to remind myself that I’m going to have to spend money sometimes.  And I’m going to enjoy that bright blue KitchenAid Stand Mixer I bought for myself when it was on extreme sale 🙂

So, what are you doing with your money?  Do you have specific goals in mind for that money?  And how do you fight off Saver’s Fatigue?

 

 
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