Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

Fighting lifestyle inflation June 20, 2010

Filed under: Careers,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 12:02 pm
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So I forgot to mention something back when it happened.  I got a raise!  Yeah, it somehow slipped my mind.  But I’m not just bragging about it.  I’ve got a personal finance lesson in here!

Remember when I modified my 401(k) contributions?  I upped my contribution by 1%.  A week or two later, I found out about my raise, and then a few more weeks later, my raise kicked in.  I noticed that, even though I increased my contribution, my take home pay went up with my raise.  I did a little math and figured out the difference between my newest paycheck amount and my old paycheck amount.  Since I get paid every other week, I set my ING Direct Savings account to remove that amount from my regular checking account every other week.  That way, I wouldn’t see the money in my checking account, so I’d be less inclined to spend it.  Plus, I’ve directed this money towards my “Down Payment Fund“, so that is an added bonus.  Only tens of thousands more, and I can afford a down payment! 😛

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been thinking of doing something else with money besides putting it into savings.  So, perhaps, I might redirect the “extra” money from my paycheck towards paying off my loans.  Or upping my 401(k) yet again.  Still figuring that stuff out, but I’ll update with another post soon about what I’ve figured out (or at least what I’m doing so far).

 

Gas gas gas! October 1, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:35 pm
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Today I did something that I’ve never done before.  It may come as a surprise…but today I pumped my own gas.  For the first time.  Ever.

Yes.  It’s true.  Now, I’m not a spoiled or lazy limo rider or something like that.  I got my license in New Jersey, one of the few states where you can’t pump your own gas.  And I rarely drove in high school anyways.  Take four years living in dorms in Cambridge, and two years taking public transportation, and you have a girl who didn’t really need a car.  And whenever I did need gas (borrowing my boyfriend’s car on occasion), the nearby station had full serve (and the cheapest gas in the area), so I didn’t have to pump my gas there, either.

And so today came…I was halfway through my drive to work when I noticed “the light” go on.  You know, the warning light that says that you only have a gallon or two left in your tank.  By the time I got to work, the needle on the gas gauge was nearing the zero line.  I hopped online briefly and took a look at GasBuddy to see what the prices were for gas in the area.  And since the nearest gas station to work was a little pricey, I bought a few gallons to make sure I got home, and rode the rest of the way home feeling a lot safer knowing I wasn’t running on fumes.

The funny/sad part is, I probably could have made it home…or at least known if I could make it home, had I read a little further into my owners manual.  When looking at the manual to see what gas level the warning light signified, I saw something about other information besides speed, miles, etc. on my dashboard.  I figured that was only an option for the “fancier” version of my car.  But nope, it turns out my car has all sorts of information!  While one meter shows the odometer and a few “trip” odometers, the other meter shows, among other things, the time, the outside temperature, instantaneous mpg, average mpg, and, the one that would have helped me out:  miles left on the tank.  Yep, they have an estimate for how much farther I could have gone.  But I didn’t try that out until after I’d gotten some gas.  Well, I guess now I know for future reference.

The mpg information is pretty cool, too.  The instantaneous mpg value fluctuates quite a bit, which makes sense (based on your speed, incline, gear, etc.).  The coolest moment was when I saw the reading go up to 99 mpg.  Yep.  It was pretty cool.  It was only on there for a moment, but I was kind of excited about that.  And I’m glad to report that my average mpg is above 30.  I don’t remember exactly what it’s at, but it’s pretty good.

So, there you have it.  I’ve finally pumped gas.  It’s really not hard at all!  I’ll keep you posted about the gas mileage I’m getting!

 

Loan payments getting real September 30, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 10:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I came home on Monday to see a few important-looking pieces of mail on my kitchen table.  And they both had to do with my new car.  One was the official paperwork from my car insurance.  I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure I understand everything relating to my car insurance.  It’s possible that I didn’t get a good deal, or that I got the wrong sort of coverage.  I’ve decided that reading through the information can wait until this weekend, when I can actually work through it to make sure I understand what’s covered and if I got all the correct discounts and everything.

The other piece of mail came from the credit union that I got my car loan from (through AAA).  I think this piece of mail really made the payments hit home.  I received my “Loan Payment Book”.  It’s basically a booklet with tear out pages with the amount due that I’ll send in every month.  I’m pretty sure that I can do this online (not 100% certain), but hopefully that’s the case, as I’m not really keen on paying for postage every month, and risk not paying on time.  I realized that there are two different ways to look at this booklet.  I can either look at it and feel overwhelmed:  look at all these payments that I’ve got due each month.  I’m going to be paying for this car (with interest) until almost the end of 2013.  Or I can look at it as an easy thing to accomplish:  I’ve only got to pay this amount 60 times, and then I own the car free and clear.  Granted, either way I look at it, I’m hoping I can pay this off sooner, which will lower the total amount I’ll end up paying.  But it’s definitely a visual plan that will help me to see progress towards owning my car.

So, we’ll see.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I hope to pay down all my debts a lot faster than the banks would like me to.  But this does make me realize that I should actually have a plan for paying off my debts.  I know plenty of people talk about debt snowballing, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a link from another blog to this before, but there’s a pretty simple site to help you figure out just how long it will take to pay everything off.  Now, instead of telling myself (and you all) that I’m going to pay “extra” every month, I can actually look and see what amount I should pay.  Sounds like this could actually provide results.

One can only hope!

 

Giving Mint a try September 29, 2008

So all those people in the personal finance blogosphere have been talking about Mint for a while.  I figured I already was using enough different ways to track my money:  I use walletproof to track my expenses pretty closely, and watch My Portfolio from Bank of America, and follow my networth on NetworthIQ.  I’ve tracked my 401(k) and other retirement accounts on Google Finance.  So, you could say I enjoy tracking my money.  I think I like it in part to see what sort of progress I’m making towards paying off debts and growing my net worth.  I also find that tracking my expenses keeps me on top of my spending.  And I think I’ve found that I use different sites since none of them quite fit all my needs.  I like walletproof because it’s simple and helps me to monitor my spending; manual data entry makes me aware of what I’m spending, but I might still forget to enter some of my expenses.  My Portfolio tracks rather nicely most of my assets and liabilities, but sometimes it’s hard to categorize every transaction.  NetworthIQ requires manual data entry, but I do that once a month.  This means I’ve got a static number that can be compared each month, as opposed to the dynamic values found in the automatically updated amounts in My Portfolio.

I had actually created an account with Mint in November of 2007, but I got nervous about security, so I didn’t enter any of my account information into the site.  Then, a few weeks ago, I figured I should go ahead and give it a try.  Actually, just today, I came across a post helping to debunk some Mint myths.

The one weird part I’ve noticed is that it only imported some of my recent account transactions, but also imported a few that are a lot older.  I’m also looking forward to when they have a more in-depth analysis of investments and retirement portfolios.  And I’ve also found some of the categories to be odd or missing, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to add extra categories.  For example, I want to label my T-pass purchases as Transportation, but the closest I can label it is Travel.  It’s not a really big deal, but I’d like to have more accurate descriptions of my transactions.  I do like the analysis features, as well as the automatic data retrieval.  I do find it odd that, when you are able to compare your expenses to big cities, Boston isn’t listed.  But that’s a minor issue.  At any rate, I think I’ll add it to my list of financial tools.

One thing that I think comes up a lot with these sites, besides security concerns, is the inability to import some of your accounts.  Of my friends that use Mint or My Portfolio, a few (including a blogger or two) aren’t able to add accounts/debts from smaller organizations.  I’m sure that both companies are working on including more, but in the meantime, you’ll have to enter the numbers manually every month for My Portfolio (and I’m not sure if there’s an option like that for Mint).

On a related note, has anyone else had issues with My Portfolio, specifically with updating imported ING accounts?  I’ve found that it wants me to re-enter my login information, but when I do, it still doesn’t work.

How do you keep track of your money (or lack thereof)?  I know Penny was asking the same thing a while back (and heard from quite a few people!)  But I’m curious as well!  And I’d love to hear if anyone has that My Portfolio/ING thing figured out.

 

I finally have my car! September 16, 2008

It all started when I got a new job.  Remember that?  Those were good times.  I knew I was going to have to buy a car for the job offer I accepted, but I figured I could work my way through that slowly and surely.

Then I started narrowing down my choices.  I knew I wanted a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic.  So I went to a few different dealerships to see what kind of deals I could get.

This is where it gets tricky.  When I originally put down my deposit (on August 23rd) they told me that I’d have to wait a bit for the car to get here.  They didn’t have any meeting my specifications (not too fancy, not too basic), as Corollas are in high demand due to the recent rise in gas prices (though they’re going down…but that’s another story).  They told me that the car should be in NYC by around the 28th, at which point they’d have the VIN for me (so I could finalize my insurance and everything).  They also said that after it hit New York City, my car would take about a week to get to Boston.  And I was okay with that.

The 28th rolls around.  No VIN, I don’t think it had even reached NYC.  A week passes.  By then, the car should be in Boston.  No such luck.  Basically, I kept calling.  Friends suggested I call and threaten to go elsewhere (or not just threaten, but actually go elsewhere), or demand extra perks for having to wait so long.  On September 9th I called a few more times.  By then, the car was supposedly in New York City, but they still didn’t have the VIN.  I was pretty angry, because I was then told that they had originally told me that the car would be here by mid-month…which is NOT what they had originally said.  I called and spoke to the manager.  I started out trying to be really demanding, but he somehow had a way of calming me down (that’s why he’s the manager).  But I believe talking to him helped, because they knew I was serious about my car…maybe. And that maybe they’d give me a bit of money off of the car, or give me a few free oil changes or something.  He suggested that he could get me a rental car for the interim.  His main excuse was that the transit from wherever the cars came from was delayed by all the hurricanes.  I wasn’t so sure about this.  By the 11th, I was assured that my car would be in Boston by the 12th-15th…which calmed me down a bit.  I finally knew the end of the debacle was in sight.  By then, I figured it was worth it to just wait instead of see if I could get a car through another dealer more quickly (and I didn’t want to go through the whole hassle again).

The afternoon of Friday the 12th, I get a phone call.  My car was here!  FINALLY!  Of course by that time, it was too late to finish up the financing before the weekend…but I figured that I could go in on Monday to get the loan finished up at AAA.  I plan with the dealership to come in on Saturday to do all the paperwork.  I get a call Saturday morning…the dealer informs me that they don’t have the seal yet.  I really have no clue what that is.  I agree to wait until Monday, when they should have the seal, because at this point, I’m figuring I can’t do anything until I have the check for the dealer.  That, and I felt pretty lazy.

Monday, I head out to the dealership after work.  I’ve called the insurance company (since I finally got the VIN) and had my insurance selected and the information sent to AAA for finishing up the paperwork.  I sign all sorts of forms, and have the necessary forms faxed to AAA.  They try to sell me all sorts of different “packages”, including Lojack and assorted teflon coatings and things for the car.  He even said that I could extend the warranty to 8 years for almost $2000 extra.  I am almost certain I don’t want that, but call home quickly to confirm.  It was funny, because the guy said “I wouldn’t let my brother buy a car without this package” in response to the warranty and lojack.  He rattled off a statistic that a Carolla is the 3rd most likely car to get stolen.  I head home after all the paperwork and wait.

Today, I went to work as usual, but took a few hours off to get this car thing all settled out.  I’ll admit, it’s pretty convenient that I am allowed to modify my time at work, which allows me to use some time for appointments and the like, and just make up the time within a few weeks.  Anyway, I get out to AAA, and sign all sorts of papers, and then drive over to the dealership with a hefty check.  When I show up, my dealer seems a bit worried that they wont get everything done by the end of today (since it took me a bit longer than expected to get to the dealership).  I cringed, but hoped for the best.  I drive back to my place (I borrowed my boyfriend’s car) and try to get some work done.  Within the hour, I get a call from my dealer saying that everything should be done by 5pm.  I get out, take the T to the dealership, and sign a few more papers, and drive off.

As I’m driving away, I’m freaking out a little bit.  It’s like a new toy…it’s exciting!  And I’m having trouble coming to grips with buying a new car.  But the funny part is, it’s the biggest purchase I’ve ever made, and I am not regretting it.  Which is really weird for me…I’m always second guessing my decisions, and looking back and wondering if I did the right thing.  But in this case, perhaps I know that, at this point, it’s pretty much too late, I’m in it for the long haul.  And I’ve wanted/needed a car, and this fits my needs.  So I’m happy.  It’s a big step, a “grownup” step, and a pretty large addition to my debts.  But I think I’m going to be okay.  It’s a weird feeling.

Whew.  So, yes, I probably should have stopped waiting sooner, and demanded more.  But I think they’re willing to give me a free oil change or two.  And I’ll be happy to finally have a car of my own.  I’m excited to see how many miles per gallon I can eke out.

Have any of you had experiences like these?  What “grownup” steps are you taking?

 

Sharing Assets, Sharing Debts April 28, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

My boyfriend and I were joking about getting married the other day, and he joked that he’d want a prenup, as I’m bringing more debt to the playing field than he is. That got me to thinking…would I want to share my debts and assets? I don’t know if it’s just me, but I kind of want to be responsible for my debts, and keep my money to myself. I don’t want whoever my future husband is to have to shoulder my student loan debts. But I guess, I also sort of selfishly want to keep my money to myself, too. I read in plenty of personal finance blogs about how couples share everything, moneywise.  I think I wouldn’t mind having a joint bank account with my guy, where shared costs like housing, utilities, food, dining out, etc. would get paid from, and we’d put a certain amount in that account every month to cover those expenses.  I know my parents share their money, and I admire that in them.  Maybe this just proves that I’m not ready to get married any time soon.  Don’t worry, I’m not expecting it (in case he’s reading this…we’ve only been together a year)!

So, you single folk, dating folk, married folk…when it comes to money, what situation do you prefer, or assume you’ll do when you get into a long term relationship?

 

How often should I contribute to my Roth IRA? January 4, 2008

I came across an article that said that you could easily fund your IRA at $10.64 per day (assuming you include all year plus up to the following year’s tax day) up to the new limit of $5000 a year. The idea of the article was that it really isn’t that much money per day to fully fund an IRA (ooh, that rhymes!). But it got me thinking… how often should you actually be buying funds in your Roth (or any other account, for that matter)? I currently transfer money and purchase into a mutual fund through my Roth IRA once a month. Is that too often? Not often enough? I figured that having more purchases would help me in terms of dollar cost averaging. Though, if you see the criticisms on wikipedia, it doesn’t seem like a necessity, and may actually hurt you. They say that it’s more of a marketing gimmick, so that you’ll be more willing to spend the same amount of money with less of a fear of losing money.

All this being said, I don’t mind this so-called gimmick. I hate losing money! It makes me feel more comfortable investing in retirement accounts, knowing that I’m doing something positive for my future, instead of using that money for other things (either necessary purchases, more fun purchases, or paying off student loans). So, I wont buy too often, because it seems like after a while it’s a bit useless to buy so often. So, for now, I think I’ll stick to adding every month. I could try adding all my money to the core money market account and eventually purchase funds.

I guess there are a lot of options. I think I’ve discovered that I’m not good with change when it comes to money matters. I should change my monthly amount towards the IRA to reflect the new limits, but I haven’t. I would end up just adding some in at the end of the year, like I did this past year (because I started funding it later in the year and wasn’t quite sure what I was doing yet). And I need to purchase funds with all that end of the year money that just ended up in my core account.

I think I’ll stick with the monthly contributions, so I can feel safer about investing. And I think I like having money more accessible in a checking or savings account longer than having it in a Roth IRA (though I know you can withdraw the contributions without penalty). I just need to up my contributions to the new monthly amount, and purchase funds with the money in the core account.

This is a much longer post than I originally intended to write, but hopefully you all will have some input or ideas of your own!

[Edit:  For 2008, the contribution limits are $5,000 for most people, $6,000 if you’re 50 years old or older.  You still have time to max out your 2007 IRA to the $4,000 max ($5,000 over 50) until Tax Day, April 15, 2008]

[Edit on 1/24/09:  For 2009, limits remain the same]

 

 
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