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!

 

 

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)

 

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!

 

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?

 

 
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