Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

10 months later November 30, 2016

Filed under: baby,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:42 pm
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It’s been 10 months since I gave birth to our daughter (I actually started writing this post at 9 months, to be all cute with the 9-months in, 9-months out thing…but then got too busy to finish!).  A lot has gone on since then.  As I mentioned the last time I posted (months ago) I went back after my 12-week maternity leave.  I was lucky enough to have a boss that is giving me a flexible work schedule which comes in handy when the baby doesn’t want to cooperate in the morning, or when my husband goes on a business trip and I have to cover drop off and pickup at daycare, and also to allow for my pumping sessions at work.  Hopefully once I stop breastfeeding (or at least stop pumping at work), I’ll have a little bit more time.  But again, SO grateful for my flexible schedule.  I know that not everyone has this sort of set up.

The baby, in a word, is AWESOME.  She’s babbling a lot, waving bye-bye to anyone and anything (which seems cruel when saying bye bye to her food right before she eats it).  She’s even been doing some walking!  I’m impressed with her developmental progress.  She’s still not huge (she was born pretty small) but I’m already sentimental for her tinier days!  She’s wearing mostly 6 and 9 month clothes, and can still fit into a few 3-month onesies if she needs to.  But she’s growing, and she’s STRONG!

Other updates for our life:  We bought a house!  You’ll recall, I finally got serious about buying a house at the beginning of last year.  We met our realtor in August 2015. I just checked the date, and we actually closed on our new house exactly one year later, in August 2016.  I should probably post more on our homebuying experience in a separate post, but it was quite the adventure.  Getting outbid on a lot of houses, going to countless open houses, and really trying to figure out what we wanted and needed in a house.  We’re happy with what we finally bought!

I’ve been pretty much NOT exercising since I stopped early on in the pregnancy.  Going back to work meant I wasn’t going on a lot of daytime walks anymore, and I haven’t done much running.  But I have gone on a few jogs with my husband in our new neighborhood, and I actually ran (or okay, jogged) a Turkey Trot/5k last week (the huge Feaster Five).  I didn’t even walk any of it (unless you count the almost-walk I did going up a hill).  I hope to get back into running again, but will really need to find ways to carve out that time.  How do you find the time for exercise?  The lucky(?) thing is that I haven’t “needed” the exercise to lose my pregnancy weight.  It turns out breastfeeding can be an excellent calorie burner.  I’m actually below my pre-pregnancy weight, and have been trying to figure out healthy ways to maintain a healthy weight (perhaps a bit more exercise and a lot more healthy food)?

Well, this is enough of an update for the time being.  Baby’s great, we bought a house and moved, and I’m trying to get back to running.  How have you all been?

 

 

 

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

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:18 pm
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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
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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
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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
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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!