Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Wrote a Check for $10,000

Yesterday I wrote a check for $10,000 and dated it 5/20/2008. That's less than two months away. It will stay in my checkbook until then.

My heart almost leaped out of my chest as I wrote that check. It wasn't fear racing through me though, it was excitement. Odd that I should be excited -and not fearful- about writing a huge check for an amount that is not currently in my accounts. Yes, that's right, I don't have all that money right now and I'm not sure where it will come from. I just know I'm ready to jump.

This check is for my favorite charity- a place I have worked with and supported for about ten years. Ten years, ten thousand, it just seemed appropriate.

Many years ago, right after I got married, my husband told me about a cousin who was having some medical problems. This cousin was a young guy who didn't have insurance when he had to go in for treatment and now had some hefty medical bills. I had an intense urge to give him all the money we had just received as wedding gifts to help him wipe out those bills. But I never said anything. My husband and I were pretty broke at the time- right out of college- with college loans, tiny paychecks, no furniture, and a car that was dying. I took the practical route and used the money to live on.

I think about that time often. I don't have strong regrets but I do wonder what would have happened if we'd given the money away instead of using it. I think it would have felt really good.

Really good. Like the feeling I had last night when I wrote my check. This time I'm giving it away for sure. Just waiting for the rest of the money to arrive...!

I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top 10 Ways I Make Money

Last month I wrote about the top 10 things I do to save money. This month I thought I'd make a different top 10 list and address the flip side of the personal finance coin.

So here are the top 10 things I do to make money:

1. Regular full-time job. This is currently my biggest source of income. I love my job but eventually I would like to make enough money from other sources to make this a much smaller percentage of my income. In the meantime however, I did get a hefty raise in November and I have plans to negotiate another raise soon.

2. Roommates who pay me rent. They get to live in my great little house for a fantastic price, and I get to have most of my mortgage paid by others. Win-win.

3. Second job This hourly job fell into my lap when a friend asked for some help with his business venture. The hourly rate is more than my full-time job but I only work about 30 hours a month. I am going to continue doing this job because I am actually learning some handy new skills and maintaining networking connections with people who I might want to do serious business with in the next few years.

4. Rental property I purchased a small 3br single family investment house a year and a half ago and have been learning how to keep it rented. This has been a tricky source of income because occupancy is never guaranteed. If I were to do this over, I would have negotiated a lower purchase price and better terms... and maybe bought in a neighborhood half a mile north of this one. However, despite the less-than-ideal conditions, my conservative side did insist on buying a house that I could afford even if it stayed vacant indefinitely. So far, I've been putting all the income from this house back into the property (either for maintenance or in a fund for emergencies/ improvements). According to my tax calculations, which take into account depreciation, I've had a loss on this property which has resulted in a nice tax refund. I also live in an area that escaped the housing bubble so property values are continuing to hold steady and even creep up a little. In the long term, if I can keep it rented, this house will be a steady little investment.

5. Business About a year ago I began to explore a side business. Getting this off the ground has been slow going... but fun. I have learned a lot. I am starting to pay more attention to appropriate marketing strategies for this business which provides products I have created for a very small and specific niche. So far I have broken-even on this venture and expect that I will be heading into profit territory soon. Once again, my expenses here helped to boost my tax refund.

6. Consulting Once in a while I do some freelance consulting. I am still of two minds about how much time I want to spend on this kind of activity. I would ultimately like to put less emphasis on sources of income that require a specified amount of time/personal energy to generate revenue.

7. Financial investments This includes any interest earned on my savings accounts and dividends and capital gains on stocks and funds. Last year I spent a few months trying my hand at more active stock trading but decided it wasn't interesting or lucrative enough for me to devote that much time to it. Now I stick to a more easily managed portfolio of funds that I don't have to think about more than a couple of times a year. This portfolio is still pretty small but one of my goals this year is to really pump it up.

8. Online activities My income from the internet is very small but I have decided that as long as the source/activity is interesting enough, then every penny coming in counts! These activities include such things as participating in cash rebate programs such as Inbox Dollars and Mypoints and having some advertisements on my blog. Some of these activities don't require much effort at all (but also don't generate much income).

9. Multi-level marketing This is brand new and still a... twinkle in my eye! In the next couple of months I am going to get involved with a company that two of my friends have had some success with and see how it goes. It doesn't require any money to start up so I figured I've got nothing to lose except for a few hours and I can help my friend out in the process.

10. ..... I tried. I couldn't come up with #10! I don't sell items on eBay or hold yard sales (I don't have enough stuff to get rid of and the stuff I do get rid of I freecycle). I don't babysit or mow lawns or shovel sidewalks. I guess you could read about the money that seems to find its way into my life without my necessarily doing much for it in Found Money.

That's my list. Perhaps a next step would be to make a nifty pie-chart and compare how much of my income comes from the different sources.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rolling In It

We're only half way through the month but I am declaring March the best month of the year! Well, so far anyway; I don't want to rule out the possibility that things could get even better. I've had more money coming my way this month than I could have possibly imagined.

Here's how it breaks down:

  • Federal tax refund: $1800
  • State tax refund: $300 (anticipated, not yet deposited)
  • Side-business income: $1900
  • Refund from mortgage company for an escrow overage: $350

Total: $4350

This has made the following possible:
  • Pay off all my credit cards (including the business card)- check out the progress bars on the right!
  • Give about $400 away to people/causes that I support

Other good stuff:
  • I discovered that I could still open a Roth IRA for 2007 and deposit money into it. I did. I transferred the full $4K for '07 and another $2500 for '08 from my ING account.
  • Looks like my monthly escrow payments are going down by $40 each month.
  • One of my roommates will be moving out and I am planning on moving into her room and renting out my larger gorgeous room for an extra $100/month. This will bring my housing expenses down to $265/month. Throw in the $40 reduction from above and we're looking at a monthly outlay of $225. Wow.
At the end of the month I'll tell you more about how I've gone over budget in some areas... but it's all still good! Yay! This is my version of march madness and I love it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

February 2008 Blog Statistics

Statistics from my second month of blogging:

Age of the blog: 57 days

From February 1st to 29th

Number of Posts: 12 (pretty lame, sorry)
Number of visitors: 1539 (yesss! blasted past a thousand!)
Pageviews: 2262
Average pages/visit: 1.47 (this is dropping, we were at 1.82 last month)
Bounce rate: 79.08% (yikes! lots of tire kickers... that's ok, I still love you)
New visitors: 64.46% (nice, over 35% of visitors came back, last month was 25%)
Subscribers (that I know how to track): 24 (this has fluctuated quite a bit over the month, people come and go)

Most visited page (other than home): 382 page views What Can I Buy on a $200 per Month Grocery Budget?

Highest single-day traffic: 130 visits on February 12th mostly to What Can I Buy on a $200 per Month Grocery Budget? (almost identical to last month..., obviously many are interested in other people's shopping habits)

Top Traffic Sources (thank you!!)
Lazy Man and Money
Frugal Hacks
The Financial Blogger

Organic search: 124

Blog expenses: $0
Blog income: $6.32 The Inbox Dollars referrals are still giving me a little kick back and now I have a few Adsense Google ads on the site. Hope they're not too annoying.

  • I began experimenting with advertising on the site. It's slow going for now. When I manage to make a penny a day I am pretty thrilled. Don't ask me what a fool I make of myself when someone actually clicks on an ad. :blush:
Thank you all for reading!

Monday, March 3, 2008

February 2008 Budget Update

I started using a couple of weeks ago. (Confession: I discovered it by clicking on one of the Google ads on my own site which is apparently a huge no-no).

What an incredibly easy way to track my daily spending. The categorizing features on this free site are outstanding! It did take a little tweaking to get some of my expenses in the right categories but it learned quickly! The major drawback is that it doesn't let you create your own categories. Hopefully the folks at Mint will get that sorted out soon. In the meantime I am pretty comfortable with the choices they do offer. My favorite part? The clickable pie-chart under the "spending trends" tab. :swoon: Who knew spending could look so beautiful?

I highly recommend you give this site at least a trial run. It's totally free to use.

Now, on to the real reason why I have this blog: accountability. Here's how I did with my budget this month:

Earned Income after taxes and withholdings
Job 1: $1530
Job 2: $512
Total income: $2042

Housing/utilities/internet: $365
Transportation (gas): $72 for gas
Groceries and Supplies: $175
  • Grocery stores: $68 (wha....?!)
  • Restaurants: $86 (I only drink water and I eat cheaply... this figure shows I ate out a lot last month!)
  • Entertainment: $21 (rental movie marathon)
Transfer to "Save to Spend" account: $100 (also took money out from this account to pay for filter and oil change, and quarterly water bill)
Student loans: $87
Other debt: $725
Gym: $45

Repay myself for car purchase: $400

Total expenses: $1969

Good News: Well within budget in every category.

Bad News: Apparently I haven't learned any lessons from my January Spending. I am still eating bad-for-you food products that come out of a box and not out of the earth. @#$&!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

March Madness on Free Money Finance

Oh man, how come so many people write so well?! I'm starting to get an inferiority complex here.

Hurry on over to FMF to read and vote for the latest and the greatest posts from the past few months. I submitted my Minimum Wage post and would love to get your vote! (In fact, I would really really really love it. Thank you!)

Some of my favorite picks from Round 1:

  • Saving Money by NOT Changing your Own Oil - Many people believe they are saving money by changing their automobile's oil themselves. Are they really? Others believe they can only be sure the job's done right if they do it themselves. What's the truth? Let's find out...
(Yay! Someone's giving me a financial reason to avoid learning how to do that!)

  • Your First Million Dollars - To plan to be rich, it takes just that . . . planning. Becoming rich is hard work that requires a great deal of self discipline, basic money management skills, goal setting, focus and diligence. This post breaks down in very simple terms how to build wealth in an easy to follow step-by-step process.
(The charts here got me all excited. Compound interest rocks.. specially after you hit a million dollars!)

  • A little-too-late advice on building wealth - Well, we're all stupid. Some of us stupider than others, but mama always told me stupid is as stupid does. If you can read this list and you haven't messed up all of these points already, you may find a way to destupidify.
(When I can admit I'm being stupid, I will happily take advice to destupidify. I have much to learn.)

  • Personal Finance Is Like Learning to Ride a Bike- There are a lot of extended analogies in personal finance writing - budgeting is like dieting, money management is like football, debt reduction is like a snowball rolling down the hill - but I haven't seen one comparing personal finance to learning to ride a bike. Both personal finance and bike-riding are intimidating to newbies, but everyone can learn how by starting with the basics. This article draws parallels between basic biking skills and basic personal finance principles, hopefully making personal finance more accessible to everyone.
(Outstanding post! Analogies are great and this is one of the best I've come across.)

Help me get to the next round dear readers! And be sure to visit all the other great bloggers I haven't mentioned here.

I Need $2000: Update

A few weeks ago I talked about needing (or wanting) $2000 for a trip abroad this summer. I had decided that I wouldn't compromise my savings goals and I wouldn't overdraw from my emergency fund and certainly not put it on credit. I outlined ways that I could gather together the money from miscellaneous sources and found that I could only come up with $1600. Now, $1600 is pretty good but I was still short $400. At that point I decided to leave it up to the Universe to deliver.

And boy, did it deliver!

I did my taxes this weekend and it turns out I am getting a sizable refund this year- to the tune of $2200 (and that's not including the economic stimulus rebate). Last year I owed $1500 so this time I wasn't counting on much of a refund. Thank goodness for rental property depreciation and itemized deductions!

One might argue that this isn't really the Universe's doing, it's just me not being fully aware of my financial situation. That's ok. As long as it's a pleasant surprise to me, I will accept it as a gift and rejoice. Yay!