Graduated Learning: Life after College

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

Slacking on tracking April 5, 2009

Filed under: Fitness,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 6:37 pm
Tags: , , ,

One of the best ways to get a real idea of where your money is going is to track every expense.  Most financial gurus (and personal finance bloggers) will tell you that.  And that’s what I’ve been doing since August of 2007.  Or at least, I’ve been trying to track everything since then.  I’ve mentioned before that I have quite a few ways I keep track of my money.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been slacking off when it comes to keeping track of the things that I usually track.  With walletproof, I’ve only been actively adding my dining out expenses (including my lunch spending in the cafeteria).  There are repeated expenses and income that I’ve allowed to continue on the site, but I haven’t readjusted them to coincide with the correct days.  And I mentioned before that I started using a program called NutriSum, where you track your weight, eating habits, and exercise.  At the beginning, I was logging my progress every day.  Now I log the information when I remember to, and sometimes go back days to fill in the missing numbers.

So what does this mean?  I think for me, tracking everything gave me a sense of control; I knew where everything went, and I could watch as I reached my budgeted limit for the different spending categories.  But now that I have an idea of where things are going (especially with the help of my other tracking websites like Mint), and can set my limits there.  I think I have only been tracking dining expenses because I use credit cards or online bill pay for most purchases, which makes everything easy to track online.  The only thing I spend cash on (usually) is food at the cafeteria.  Going to those websites every once in a while to confirm that I am staying within my limits (and as a bonus, I can monitor any suspicious activity with any of my accounts) seems to get the job done.

I never have been a big spender.  I do occasionally have a spendy month when I buy something that’s long-term (updated wardrobe, new glasses, computer, car) or for birthdays and Christmas (I like buying things for my family).  But those occasional purchases are budgeted in, and wont happen too often.

As for the health tracking, I think that it got me started on healthier habits, and made me aware of what I should be doing.  I’ve now started eating breakfast every day (mmmm oatmeal!), been drinking more water, and avoiding snacks after dinner.  I’m not as good with the whole grains and fruits/veggies goal, but I do remain aware of what I’m putting on my plate, both as I go through the grocery store, and when I pick my meals at the cafeteria.  And I’ve been trying to stick to my exercise regimen (2-3 times per week to start), though I sometimes do 2 instead of 3 days.  But I know what I need to do, and can remind myself that I am working towards a healthier life.

Do you track every penny?  Should I be?


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.


A trip to the Wrentham Outlets August 3, 2008

So, I may have lived in Boston for almost 6 years, but I have to say, I’ve never been to the Wrentham Outlets.  I’ve been to outlets before, ages ago, but I hadn’t been to the ones that are south of Boston.  Well, I knew that I needed a wardrobe update; my friend Melissa offered to help me with a mini “What Not to Wear” trip.  Except I had to spend my own money.  And I only bought clothes at 2 stores.  And she didn’t make me throw all my old clothes away.  But other than that, it was like the show!  (okay, so maybe it really wasn’t much like the show at all).

I’ve known for a while that my wardrobe needed some improvement.  And now that I’m earning a steady paycheck (I got my first paycheck this week!), I feel a little more comfortable spending money.  Most months, I don’t buy any new clothes/jewelery, and most expenses go towards food, rent, transportation, and the like.  So, I tend not to spend money on extra things for myself, except for dinner out with friends or something like that.  And I also really have an aversion to getting rid of things (what if it fits? what if I need it? I paid for it, I can’t get rid of it!) so, I have a closet full of plenty of free tshirts from dorm events and clothes I’ve had since middle school.  And that’s really not the kind of clothes a 20-something should be wearing on a day to day basis.  Really, I’m just too cheap and lazy to buy new clothes for myself.  And I think I’m so afraid to make any purchase without another person’s opinion.

And so we drove out to the Wrentham Outlets.  So that was a bit of a trek, which meant using up a bit of a tank of gas.  Which is of course counter to saving money.  But I think overall, I managed to buy a lot more for the money I spent.  Overall I spent about $300.  Yeah, that’s a lot.  I spent $200 at Gap on 10 pieces of clothing (khaki slacks, jean skirt, tops), and then another $100 at Ann Taylor Loft for two sweaters and 3 pieces of jewelry.  I guess that means I got things that were an average of $20 apiece.  Could have done better (maybe gone to cheaper stores, but could end up with less quality pieces), could have done worse.  But I think that these are all key pieces for my improved wardrobe.  They’re all relatively solid, basic pieces that can be dressed up a bit with accessories.  My next step is likely to look to see where I can find some cheap but good accessories to pump up the outfits I’ll have.  That and sort out my closet, eliminating (and donating) the clothes that I really should stop wearing.

I’ve come to grips with the fact that I spent quite a bit of money.  But this is because I rarely actually go shopping, and it’s all clothes that I need for work and life as a more mature and put-together looking woman.  I guess the last time I went on a big spending spree for clothes was about a year ago.  Well, looking at my walletproof history, it looks like I’ve spent ~$80 on clothes in a few different months.  But most months in between I spend nothing.  So that’s my justification.  Whether that’s the right thing to be doing, I’m not sure.

How have you all been doing on your budgets?  I know wellheeled was working on cutting out clothing purchases.  And what do you think?  Am I justified in buying all these new clothes?  Or am I a crazy spender like the rest of Americans?