Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pre Move-In

I've been running around to Home Depot and Lowe's lately, buying little odds and ends. It's funny, walking around this empty apartment, not quite knowing what to do with myself! I couldn't do too much before having the floor done. But now it is done (and I did indeed make a tidy profit by taking the credit at closing and having it done myself). And in any case, despite the fact that I've already spent hundreds of dollars at these home stores, I don't have that much to do. A little caulking, some paint touch ups, a towel ring... and a new door knob! This is what I love about tackling little household projects-- changing a regular door knob to one with a lock is the easiest thing in the world! But I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't decided to try doing it myself. I was originally going to call a locksmith, but now I'm so glad I didn't.
Other things I've bought: a welcome mat and an extra phone, since I now have 4 jacks instead of one, whoo hoo!
But back to the DIY question... I ended up deciding not to hire cleaners. I debated this for a while-- I called a couple of places, and for under $150, I could have had people come in with their own equipment and clean the whole place. But in the meantime, I'd been buying some cleaning supplies and doing some minor cleaning in some rooms, and it started to seem like the only reason I really needed the cleaning people to come would be that I lacked a vacuum. Then my aunt got involved and said she knew a cleaning lady who wanted work, and though it didn't sound like this lady would be able to bring her own equipment, I was worried that my aunt would be insulted if I didn't take her recommendation-- that is the only downside to having family connections to these kinds of things! But when I told my aunt I needed a vacuum, and started discussing where I could buy the one I wanted (after looking at the ratings on Consumer Reports), my uncle chimed in: "A vacuum? That's all you need? I'll give you a vacuum!" It turned out that he had found a nearly-new vacuum with a HEPA filter and all its attachments and manuals etc., and since he didn't really need it for himself, it's now mine.
I think there must be a Vacuum Fairy who is looking out for me, as this is my 2nd free vacuum! The one I have in storage was a free gift from a friend too, and nothing was wrong with it except that the cord didn't retract. I later broke one of its wheels, which concerned me a bit since I now have this gorgeous, newly polished floor that I don't want to scratch. I was thinking of ways to attach some kind of slider thing where the wheel used to be, but now I won't have to worry about that!
So now I'm all set. I definitely have no excuse for not doing the cleaning myself. It would have been kind of nice not to have to deal with it, but in some ways, I like having these things to keep me occupied! And I've saved about $150 on cleaning and $400 or so by not having to buy a new vacuum. Tomorrow is cleaning day, and Saturday I move in!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fragrance District

On a tip from a commenter, I recently made a pilgrimage to Manhattan's Fragrance district, in the vicinity of 28th St. and Broadway. I didn't find the perfume I was looking for (it's now on the top of my Christmas list), but it was an interesting trip nonetheless. I must have gone into about 12 stores, all right next to each other, all selling more or less the same things. One wall is the perfume counter, with all the usual brands you see in department stores. Then the other wall might be watches or electronics. All these stores are almost exactly the same, and it made me wonder how they all survive! There didn't seem to be any significant differences in price-- and if there were, wouldn't the neighboring stores all have a price war anyway? Other than that, if all the stores have the same merchandise, why would someone choose to buy in one rather than another?
It's not like there isn't a precedent for this kind of thing-- I think many businesses used to cluster themselves this way in most large cities. There is still a jewelry district in New York and a fashion district of sorts. Until recently there was a toy district, but I think most of that is now defunct. Many years ago there used to be a bookstore district-- now that makes more sense to me, as the merchandise on offer is much more likely to vary among the sellers, each of whom might have a different specialty, so the stores can feed each other business rather than really being competitors.
For certain things, it's kind of an appealing concept. If you know you need to buy a certain item, it's nice to think you can go to, say, the coat district, and look at a gazillion coats until you find the one you want, rather than having to go to more spread-out department stores where you have to wade past other merchandise to find the coat section, where the selection will be limited.
I wonder if you can get a map of New York that shows all its old merchandise districts...

Holiday Shopping

It was interesting to read all the news reports about Black Friday that seemed to contradict what I experienced and saw during the past weekend. But WalMart reported poor sales... I came back to NYC wanting to do an experiment: are high-end, expensive luxury goods stores crowded and doing well? Are lower-end stores like WalMart struggling? I haven't had time to visit any Madison Avenue boutiques yet, but does anyone else have any anecdotal evidence??

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Rich and the Richer

Front page news in the NY Times today: "Very Rich are Leaving the Merely Rich Behind." Some highly-paid professionals, such as doctors and professors, find that they can make even more money by becoming consultants to Wall Street. The sub-headings in the article are "Turning to Philanthropy," "Trying Not to Live Ostentatiously," and "Linking Security to Income." There are some interesting contradictions in the article-- the doctor they profile dreamed of doing research and winning a Nobel Prize. At 35, in 1996, he was making $150,000. His wife made even more, so the family was by no means facing hardship.  But he decided that the chances of making a contribution to science were too slim and decided he wanted to make more money instead-- but one of his justifications for what he is doing is that he wants his children to be able to pursue careers they have "a hunger for" instead of just doing what pays the bills. Oh well, I guess everyone wants more for their kids than they do for themselves.
The other person profiled, an economics professor who now works for a private equity firm, really hits something: speaking of his Park Ave. apartment, he says "On an absolute scale it is lavish... But on a relative scale, relative to my peers, it is small."
That is the big question, isn't it? How do we define who our peers are? Globally, within America, within our neighborhoods, within our educational and social affiliations? I think we all tend to see our peers as the people around us who have a little more than we do-- I know I am guilty of this. If I compare myself to other people I went to school with, or other New Yorkers, I feel like I'm somehow behind. I can also pat myself on the back for living a somewhat comparatively frugal life. But if I decide to define my peers differently, I can find plenty of them in comparison to whom I am living like a queen. Billions of them, in fact.
I think a little "absolute" thinking is a good idea sometimes. But I guess "Very Poor are Leaving the Even-More-Abjectly-Poor Behind" wouldn't make as good a headline.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Home for the Holidays

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I'm home visiting family, and happily, I haven't had to spend a dime in cash since getting off the Amtrak train. I haven't had to spend much money here at all, actually, until today: I decided to brave the local mall. But you know what? It was no big deal. Is it just me, or does that post-Thanksgiving shopping rush become more and more of a non-event each year? On Black Friday, I drove past the mall and the parking lot was not particularly full. Today, again, it was no busier than an average weekend, I thought. I suppose the internet is to thank for that.
So as usual, I set out to begin my holiday shopping all gung-ho, thinking I'd get a big chunk of it done... but I can't say I did. Here's what I bought:
Some cologne for my mother to give to my father
Some underwear for myself, on sale at least!
A $90-after-rebate TV/DVD player combo that my sister and I will give to my mother. This was a happy thing, as I paid for part of my share with a $25 Best Buy gift card that someone gave me last Christmas. And $90 is a small price to pay for a TV... and an even smaller price to pay to keep your parents from bickering over what movie to watch during the bizarre periods when they actually live together.
The only other thing I bought at the mall was a yummy lunch at Legal Sea Foods, one of my favorite outside-of-NYC treats.
The most desirable but outrageously expensive thing I spotted while shopping were the kids clothes at the Lucky Brand jeans store. They have the cutest little t-shirts and things that I thought would be adorable on my niece and nephew, but $98 for a toddler-size sweatshirt? Sorry, I don't think so!
As for the rest of my shopping? Well, I'll be cutting this short so I can go click around on Amazon! And then there's always the free book pile at work!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Stock Market

I've been kind of ignoring the performance of my investments for the last few months, for a few reasons. First, I cashed out a good chunk of them to free up cash for my condo. Then, the market was so stagnant for a while that it just seemed really boring! Also, during these months that I've been living without internet access at home, I haven't been able to download updated share prices into Quicken, so it just hasn't been as easy to check things on a daily basis. Yes, I can still look at my balances from work, but I just don't bother to do it as often.
But I did just now, and the good news is that my E*Trade accounts are doing quite well! My Roth IRA account has been on a nice steady climb since August, pretty much tracking the S&P 500. My regular investment portfolio is following a similar path. Unfortunately, I sold off some of my real winners, so now I'm a little behind the S&P, where I used to tend to be a bit ahead. Oh well! Someday soon I'll take a look at whether I need to make some changes to my portfolio. I can't look at my 401k account in quite the same way, but they claim my year to date personal rate of return is 9.8%, so I guess I'm happy! But that is another account that I should re-examine soon to see if I want to pick some new funds. I think it's a good idea not to fiddle around too much with buying and selling funds in a portfolio, but you need a periodic check to make sure things are working, and if they're not, make changes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Test

Test

Carnival of Personal Finance

Head on over to Everybody Loves Your Money, where Hazzard will make you an offer you can't refuse! I love the used car salesman theme of this week's carnival.

Movie: L'Enfant

I love renting French movies. In fact they are almost all I ever rent. Someone will probably complain that I am subsidizing the film industry of a bunch of rude, chain-smoking, cheese-eating Socialist surrender monkeys, but hey, they make good movies.
The one I watched last night was particularly relevant to money. L'Enfant is about a young couple living in a bleak, industrial city. The girl has just had a baby, and her petty thief boyfriend decides to sell it, which sets off a whole chain of events around him trying to get the baby back.
The boyfriend, Bruno, is one of these characters who is somehow likeable despite being pretty despicable. Everything he does involves hustling for money-- he begs for change, he steals things and sells them, and even sublets the girlfriend's apartment while she is in the hospital giving birth. Everything has a dollar value attached to it and he is constantly on the lookout to make a buck. Or a Euro, in this case. The only thing he won't do to make money is work.
When he has money, it's immediately spent-- beer, food, a little gambling, a new leather jacket, a game of pinball and then it's gone, but Bruno never seems worried about money. He knows there will always be some little opportunity to make more.
Ultimately the movie isn't just about money, of course-- it's more about being an adult and growing up enough to take responsibility for things. I don't want to give away the rest of the movie, so see it for yourself! I definitely recommend it.

Countdown to the Move

I've been contemplating my upcoming move into my new condo, hopefully to occur about a week after Thanksgiving. Even though I did buy some fall clothes, I've been freezing my ass off lately, and though less ass can sometimes be a good thing, this is not my chosen way of achieving it. So I'm really looking forward to seeing all my clothes, but then I started to think about how I'd packed. At the time, I thought it was very clever to use all my winter sweater as padding in among a lot of framed photos and breakable knick-knacks... but those are the last things I'll want to unpack. So to get at my sweaters, I'll have to open a lot of boxes that otherwise could have just been put aside for awhile. Oh well. It's better than continuing to buy things that I don't really need, just because the ones I already have are inaccessible.
Speaking of which, another thing I can’t remember is why I thought it would be a good idea to put my toolkit in storage. Of course I should have realized I would need my tape measure, level, paint scrapers, utility blade, screwdriver, etc. while doing some pre-move-in tasks! I already gave in a few weeks ago and bought a cheapo level and tape measure to use during the walkthroughs, but I'm probably going to be spending a fair amount on odds and ends at Home Depot or Lowe's. But maybe it won't be all that much... I keep marvelling at this aspect of buying a brand-new place-- there are things to do, but some of them are more a matter of taste than necessity, and even accounting for those, the list is still fairly brief! Just coordinating the floor guys has been enough for me-- I don't know how I had ever contemplated buying a place that would have needed a whole new kitchen. And it was a studio, no less! Imagine trying to live in a one-room apartment while you renovate the kitchen about 10 feet away from where you sleep!
Here I basically just need to decorate-- some paint, some shelves, maybe a different towel bar... no big deal. And no big bucks! I had hoped to squeeze in some painting before the floors were done but with everything else that is going on, that just isn't going to happen. So as with everything else, getting this place settled will take longer than I'd hoped, but that is okay.




Monday, November 20, 2006

On the Radio

Just as an aside here, when I wrote that post title, I immediately thought of Donna Summer. Then I had a moment when I wasn't sure if the song was by Donna Summer, so I googled it and read the lyrics. Good songs look really stupid when you google the lyrics:

on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh now, now
All those whoa oh yeah yeahs just begin to seem ridiculous after a while! And don't even get me started about cakes left out in the rain...

Anyway, this post is not about Donna Summer, it's about a show I caught part of on NPR this weekend, called Marketplace Money. I don't always make a point of listening to it, but whenever I do, it's always quite interesting. People call in to discuss their money issues, and they do interviews with authors, etc. This weekend they were talking about a book called Shopportunity, which I think I want to read now.
Here's how the book is described on Amazon:
Today's shopping culture is turning the shopper into a zombie—and the thrill of the hunt into the robotic management of inventory. We are in danger of losing a resonant personal ritual, replaced by the boring habitual. For millions of us, the sizzle of a daily shopping experience has devolved into a relentless acquisition of the okay, available, and cheap. Why are we willing to pay $3.50 for a latte at Starbucks, but bristle at a 10-cent increase in the price of toothpaste? Why do we drive miles out of our way to buy a bag of 100 razor blades for 50 cents less than at our local store, and then spend $3.99 on a tub of pretzels that we don't need? We're wasting our time and money at the cost of our patience and good will.

In Shopportunity!—a manifesto-cum-exposé—marketing expert Kate Newlin looks behind the aisles of our best-known retailers to reveal that the dopamine rush of getting a good deal is confusing shoppers' wants with their needs. Packed with perceptive reporting, Shopportunity! provides an insider's view of how marketers create a brand and the overwhelming power of retailers to interfere with the transformational joys that great brands bring to our daily lives. It is time for shoppers to revolutionize their shopping experience and take the power away from retailers.

One generation of marketers has hooked three generations on the addiction of price promotion, and it has wreaked havoc on our waistlines, credit ratings, and life experience. From Wal-Mart to Macy's, Ralph Lauren, Whole Foods, and the Home Shopping Network, Newlin reveals what the world's leading retailers really know about us, and what it takes to kick the addiction to getting the best deal possible. Culminating in a Shopper's Bill of Rights, Shopportunity! will liberate shoppers—as well as the manufacturers and retailers who serve them—from the tyranny of the cheap.


Sounds like an interesting thing to read before diving into furnishing my new home, not to mention my Christmas shopping!

Friday, November 17, 2006

That Ownership Feeling

It's funny, I've barely spent any time yet at my new condo but it's still so comforting to know that it's there. The first time I was there by myself, I just walked around kind of smiling, opening and shutting doors, turning water on and off... I've already bought a couple of things at Home Depot that I know I'll need, and it was weirdly satisfying to leave that little bag there in a kitchen cabinet: MY stuff in MY HOME! Since all my other stuff is scattered in some warehouse upstate and the homes of various relatives...
I really need to get my act together for actually moving in. I've been incredibly busy at work so it's hard to coordinate getting the floor guys to come and then figuring out when I can move in-- it's going to have to be after the holiday, since I'll be away. And I'll have to do some heavy-duty post-construction cleaning before the move-in... I'm thinking of paying to have it done for me, actually, but either way, it's going to take time. But even if I can't move in yet, it's so nice to have the keys and be able to visit. Finally, I'm back to having a space to be in that doesn't belong to someone else, even if I have to sit on the floor!
Some of you have asked for photos... I'll try to post more later, if I can manage not to have too many identifying details in there! But in the meantime, here's one I kind of like... I actually took it during one of the walkthroughs on a nice sunny day...


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rule #15: All and Nothing

I'm not sure this is even a rule per se-- it's more about a certain personality trait I think some people have that helps save money, and it might not be a rule you could follow otherwise. But it's worth trying!

  • Be interested in everything.
  • Let yourself think about nothing.
Go ahead, say it-- huh? Is she on some kind of Zen trip? What does this have to do with money, and why does it matter?
I started to think about this rule during a trip to Coney Island on the last gorgeous weekend of summer. From the minute the subway train went above ground, I was glued to the window. There are so many interesting things to look at from an elevated train-- you see interesting architectural details on buildings, and brick walls painted with advertisements from bygone days. You can see teams playing sports when you pass school fields. You can see the changing ethnic mix of each neighborhood you go through. You can see new buildings sprouting up where there were none before and watch their progress. I'm sure not everyone finds this interesting, but I do.
Then at the beach, as the afternoon went by and the already sparse post-Labor Day crowds started to thin out even more, I was looking around at the little clusters of people. Some were chatting with friends, but like me, a lot of people were there by themselves, reading or listening to music, sometimes taking a dip in the water... But what people were most often doing was just sitting and looking out at the waves, watching the sailboats, motor boats, tankers and cruise ships passing by. It's one of the reasons I love the beach. I can't think of any place that seems to allow so many people to feel completely relaxed and at peace just doing nothing.
What I am getting at is that sometimes we spend a lot of money just because we're bored. We need stimulation-- books, movies, video games, sudoku, hundreds of channels of TV, nightclubs, exercise classes, new clothes, new cars, new homes. So much of what we spend money on involves entertainment, going out with friends, and change just for the sake of change. Look at all those people waiting in line for the Playstation 3! And yet there is so much around us that is free to enjoy. Do you ever just sit and think? Do you ever just take a walk to see what's on a street where you've never been? I'm not saying that is the only thing anyone should ever do, but did you ever stop to think about what you do to stave off boredom, and how much money it costs you? Approach life with a mind that is open to the little details, and also relaxed enough to sometimes just peacefully think of nothing. After all, "nothing is free." How true that is, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

About that new job...

I think I have decided what to do. But it's funny, I woke up this morning and for a minute, I thought my dilemma had been solved. Why? Because I had a dream about it!
In the dream, I was in my office and picked up some papers out of the fax machine. I saw that they were for my boss' boss, who I'll call Zelda, but glanced through them anyway, figuring they couldn't be confidential. But I noticed a page that had names of employees and short descriptions of their job duties-- and that below some of the descriptions there was a line that basically said that person was going to be laid off soon! I found my own listing, which read something like this:

Madame X
Director of Something or Other
Vague supervisory responsibilities and general knowledge, but doesn't really do much. Attends meetings, and when she speaks out, it's always a doozie!
This position is to be eliminated in the next round of layoffs.
So of course I got all freaked out, and thought, whoa, I was almost going to walk away from that new job possibility because I thought things were going so well here, but now maybe I should go after it! I decided to bring "Zelda" her fax and confront her about it, but first I wanted to go to the ladies' room to compose myself. I stomped down the hall and threw the door open, but realized I had actually walked right into Zelda's office! She smiled and said it was ok, so I went in and showed her the fax.
"I'm sorry," I said. "Of course I would not normally read anything addressed to you [yeah, right!], but this was in the fax machine and I couldn't help seeing that it referred to a coming round of layoffs, and that I seem to be on the list." Sheepish smile from Zelda. "I've been very happy here and I thought you were all happy with me, so I really can't understand this. Is this just a proposal from someone who doesn't really know all the people involved, or am I really going to lose my job? To be honest with you, I just got a call from someone at another company trying to hire me away and though it was a very difficult decision, I was about to tell them I wasn't interested, but I would really like you to just be straight with me about this, so I'll know if I should pursue this other job." Zelda said something evasive, and then asked who it was who had contacted me, and kind of narrowed her eyes in a competitive-looking way when I told her. I asked her again to tell me where I stood... and then, I WOKE UP!

So the dream did not really answer anything, but I really don't think I'm going to get laid off here... and I don't think it's the right time for me to move on yet. It's tempting, but the more I think about it, I just don't think I want to start climbing a different, more treacherous corporate ladder right now. There will be other opportunities, and someday it will probably be time to move on, but right now, I think I am going to stay put.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Closure on Closing

It's done. And it went pretty well, I think! I went into the closing feeling a little bit down. I felt like the seller had been dishonest about the taxes and I was worried about the higher costs. I was ready for there to be an argument over escrowing money to insure the remaining small details are completed. But it all worked out-- the seller's attorneys were actually very flexible and very nice, and the higher tax amount turned out to have been a huge mistake, and the seller's attorney even got on the phone with my bank's attorney asking them to refund me the extra amount they were holding in escrow. (The problem was that they were charging me the taxes for the whole building, not just my unit.)

Weird stuff-- there were two very young attorneys there-- the one from the bank seemed kind of clueless, and knowing how much more money than me she probably makes was kind of irritating. The guy who was there from the title company was also young, and an attorney. My lawyer had told me it was customary to tip the title closer $75 in cash. At first I didn't realize he would actually be a lawyer, and once I knew this the tip seemed odd. Why does he get tipped and not the other lawyers?

Meanwhile, I signed a gazillion papers, wrote two small additional personal checks, received a small check for a year's worth of interest on my deposit, shook a lot of hands, got a set of keys and a bottle of champagne and the place is MINE! Or as mine as it can be when the bank owns 80% of it.

As I write this, I'm in my office, and planning to take the subway back to Brooklyn and visit my new home as its owner for the very first time... pretty cool!

To all of you who have been patiently following this saga for the past year, and leaving so many helpful, inspiring, and comforting comments, thank you so much! It was great having you along for the ride. Now you can follow my adventures as I decorate! I'm already fearing that it will take me about a year to buy a couch...

Closing: Morning Of

Here's a few quick things I jotted this morning and didn't have time to post...

Just went to bank and got a certified check. Thought I remembered this being more of a hassle last time. Had to have 2 forms of ID. Momentary alarm when I needed the address as well as the name of payee, but called lawyer and got info.
Walked out feeling a little sad that savings account now only has $20k in it instead of $70k. Sniff.
Seeing that I had $20k, wanted to transfer some to my higher-interest Etrade account, and almost did it before the closing but then hesitated, thinking it was probably a bad idea to do it before I was 100% sure the closing was all done and there were no last minute errors.
Keep thinking it is amazing how much money you have to pour into closing costs with a new condo. Maybe a lot of people just add that amount to their mortgage rather than paying it cash? Have I been too cavalier about absorbing these costs, just because I had enough cash to do it? Does homebuying somehow put you into this zombie state where you just keep writing checks, numbly and without caring? Is it just my own coping mechanism-- I have to let these things just slide past and take them calmly to keep from giving myself an ulcer? Am I supressing all my real emotions about it while maybe I actually AM getting an ulcer?
I also had to take out some cash for a $75 tip for the title closer-- weird, never heard of that before. Why is that done? What exactly does a title closer do anyway? Does any kid grow up thinking they want to be a title closer someday? How do you get that job?

I feel weirdly relaxed. I'm about to own my own home, me, solo, for the first time. I have a list of calls to make, address changes to submit, moving details to arrange. Perhaps I am just so relaxed about it now because I am out of my last sublet and living in my cousin's place, rent-free, so there is no longer the extreme pressure to make things happen by a deadline. Of course I want things to happen fast and I don't want to keep imposing on my cousin, but the world won't end if something takes an extra day. But there shouldn't be too many more extra days now.

Help! They're after me!

As if I didn't have enough going on right now, I got a call yesterday from someone I used to work with, just out of the blue. After some catching up about life, kids, etc., came what I knew must be coming: "So, we've got a job here that I'd love to talk to you about..."
Of course this is how I've gotten my last few jobs. It's flattering and kind of exciting, but this time, it's also really awkward. I am happy where I am and felt like I could settle in here for longer than I've ever stayed at one company... but I know they don't pay all that well and I could probably make more by jumping elsewhere. But it's that quality of life issue too-- do I want to have to work a lot harder for the money?
What also makes things awkward is that this is a very small industry and the person who called me knows my current boss quite well and suggested that it would be appropriate for him to tell her that he was talking to me. While this might ideally lead to a panicked rush to give me a another raise to keep me from going anywhere, I might also come off looking like a rat for even taking the conversation that far, as I did get a sort-of promotion a few months ago-- basically a good raise and a title change but no real difference in responsibility, though the door was left open for me to get involved in new projects might interest me, if I can figure out what they might be! So it seems like a weird time to leave, when I could be on the cusp of some good things. Also, my vanity is such that I would like to stay in one job and get promoted more often, rather than looking like someone who always jumps to other companies to get ahead.
So based on a brief phone call, I think the new job could be a good fit in some ways and a chance to slightly change my direction, but not necessarily the job of my dreams. I am not sure what the job of my dreams would be anyway. We left it that I would think about it for a day or so to see if I want to take things further.
What would you do???

Monday, November 13, 2006

Closing: Day Before

Knocking on wood here!

This morning, my lawyer sent the final numbers through. It's complicated, as a lot is being deducted from the proceeds of the mortgage. Then various taxes and title search/insurance charges are lumped together to be paid to the title company, also out of the proceeds of the mortage. I had to do a lot of addition and subtraction to be sure everything matched up to what I thought it should be, but in the end, I'm left having to get one certified check for almost $50,000 as soon as the bank opens tomorrow. Yowza. Au revoir, cash!
This is all more or less what I was expecting. The numbers don't totally match my original Good Faith Estimate but the total is in line, and in fact I thought it was actually much better... but then realized (oops) that was because of the credit I'm getting for the floor. But after adjusting for that I realized things were a little higher but still fairly close to what I'd bargained for, so no more cash panic.
I added and re-added things several times to make sure there were no errors. I noticed the property tax escrow seemed high-- I thought it was supposed to be for 4 months, but it seemed like the amount would be for a much longer time period that that. So did they get the taxes wrong? I was always nervous about a clause in the contract that basically lets the seller off the hook, saying they make no representation as to the taxes, and also that the broker can pretty much tell you all manner of lies and that they are not responsible.
I called my lawyer again... turns out the taxes were indeed wrong, and are more than I was told. They are still not too bad though-- of course it is a bit of a blow, especially since my mortgage rate is higher than I originally thought I'd get when I first found this place a year ago, but I got a decent raise this year so it's something I can absorb. Not happily, though. I would like to know how I could have checked that myself beforehand, but it's difficult with new construction-- Property Shark shows estimated taxes, but Property Shark doesn't even know my condo exists yet, so that is no help at all.

I just finished what I think will really be the final walkthrough. It was ok-- still a few things left undone, but nothing too major. A few are things I could handle myself, but I don't want to and don't think I should have to, but the developer has already agreed to do them, and my lawyer is going to push to keep money in escrow to make sure. But the neat thing about having all these walkthroughs is that every time I'm there it feels more and more like MY HOME. And if all goes well tomorrow, it really will be. Well, mine and CitiBank's, but close enough.

Costs of a Long-Distance Relationship

The latest issue of Women's Health magazine has an article about long-distance relationships featuring this interesting statistic:

$278: Average total amount long-distance couples spend a month to keep love alive

That is quite a lot of money. For the last couple of years, I have been "seeing" someone long-distance myself, and I suspect my average monthly spending might be even higher, but you know what? I have no idea how much I've spent. Yes, despite my totally anal approach to keeping financial records, I do NOT have a Quicken category called "LDR," "Sweetie-pie," "Too-Infrequent Nookie," or anything like that.
Of course it's something my honey and I have joked about-- I've spent a lot of money on travel, telephone calls, gifts, etc., and there are times when I've grumbled to myself about how much it was costing me. (We've both spent a lot of money, but I've spent more, because I make a lot more.) At one point the relationship even made me consider leaving New York, which was part of the reason I didn't buy an apartment sooner. If you add in the amount of extra money I'm probably paying because I missed the lowest interest rates and found the place I'm buying when prices hit their highest, then my long-distance costs would truly be huge. But I can't quite bring myself to try to add up the number. It just seems wrong. You have to draw a line somewhere and love is something you just can't put a price tag on.
And yet the financial aspect of this relationship can't be ignored. As with any long-distance relationship, or any relationship at all, you wonder where it's going to go and if it has a future. As discussed the other day, financial compatibility is something to consider carefully in any relationship, and in a long-distance relationship, there can be even more at stake. To be perfectly honest, lately I think I've been starting to get to the point where the honeymoon is over and I wonder if my relationship will ever really work out. But I keep having to check myself: am I considering all the various reasons it might not work out? Or am I just being cheap!?!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reasons to Leave a Job

Today I was in the bathroom at my office and realized I have a serious problem. There is a lady who always seems to floss her teeth after lunch, right there at the sink in our not-that-large bathroom. It's great that she has such good dental hygiene but it really grosses me out to see other people flossing their teeth. To get to the toilet stall I have to walk way too close to her while she's doing it and I can hear that horrible flick flick sound and I shudder to think that I'll get hit by some flying piece of microscopic tooth junk. In the scale of traumas one might have to deal with in life, of course this is fairly insignificant, but when you think about the weird little annoyances that make you like or not like a job, and how the small issues can bother you more and more over time, I found myself wondering if one day, upon seeing this poor lady yanking away on her dental floss, I would just suddenly flip out, screaming "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE" and resign on the spot! Ok, it was kind of an idle fantasy-- it's much more likely that I will just start using a different bathroom at certain hours of the day. But we all have these fantasies, don't we? That we'll one day tell someone to take our job and shove it, or otherwise spectacularly detach ourselves from our main source of income.
Here are some of the top reasons to leave a job, according to salary.com. None of them involve dental floss.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Results


How do you think today's election results will affect your personal finances?
Positively
Negatively
Not at all
No opinion/ can't tell yet
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Closing: Another "final" walkthrough

Last night, things were looking good. Most of the painting is done, they've moved the errant phone jack, and all of my windows have glass. A few small things remain, but nothing significant enough to prevent closing. So is closing today? No, now the seller's lawyer has some error in their paperwork and closing can't happen for a few more days.
Sigh. Maybe I should stop posting about this until it's done and over with, 100%!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dollar Coins

Why is it that the USA can't quite get with the program when it comes to dollar coins? Other countries have embraced the equivalent of $1 and even $2 coins-- why can't we? How often do you ever use one? Would you recognize a counterfeit one?If I didn't sometimes have to buy stamps, I doubt I'd ever see a dollar coin.
I was thinking about it because I had to buy stamps yesterday. This is a rarity, as I pay almost all my bills online and rarely send anyone a paper letter any more, but this time, I happened to need a stamp. The machine that takes credit cards had a long line. The humans at the counter had a long line. So I had to use the stamp machine. But I only had a couple of dollar bills, and twenties. If I only bought one booklet of stamps, I'd have a pound of dollar coins weighing me down, so I bought two booklets, thereby only getting $4.40 back in coins.
So then of course I wanted to dump the dollar coins right away, but I kept wondering how. I guess it was a little paranoid of me, but I really thought no one would want to take them! I always think they look fake, so I thought they would be regarded with a lot of suspicion... but I used 3 of them to buy lunch, without any problem, and later used the last one in a dollar store, appropriately enough, again without anyone batting an eye.
So here are a few fun facts about the "Golden Dollar," which replaced the Susan B. Anthony dollar. It features Sacajawea, famous for helping Lewis & Clark make their way across the country. It's not actually made of gold-- it's mostly copper, or technically a copper alloy known as manganese brass. (It's more copper than the penny, which is just copper-plated zinc.) It weighs 8.1 grams, is 26.5mm in diameter and 2mm thick. It was introduced into circulation on Jan. 27, 2000. Only about 5 million Golden Dollars were produced in 2005, compared to 7.7 billion pennies, and 3 billion quarters. I guess you could say they're not exactly catching on.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Closing: Last Minute Negotiations

Here's an interesting dilemma. Remember my DIY vs. PAY rule? This time the question is not exactly whether to do it myself or pay someone else. It's whether to wait a week for the condo sponsor to do it, thereby delaying my closing further, OR accept a credit at closing to deal with having the work done on my own. (DIN vs. ATB: Do It Now vs. Avoid the Bullsh*t)
They're painting and installing the window and doing most of what I have asked for them to do. But the floor needs to be refinished in spots due to some damage during the construction. The floor guys the sponsor uses won't be able to do it right away... so should I just hire my own person who can do it right after I close?
Part of the reason I ended up deciding to buy this condo was that it would all be new and I wouldn't have to deal with having work done. The idea of renovating kind of appeals to me, but it's a total pain in the neck, especially for a woman living alone. But on the other hand, a credit of a few thousand dollars is very attractive to me! So I called in the family construction network again, to see what it would cost me to get this work done. Turns out that my connections-- and an all-cash payment-- will get me a price of WAY less than the credit I'm being offered, even when you factor in the cost of owning the place for a few days while it's unavailable to me to actually live in. So I think I'm going to take the money and run!

Money in Relationships

Thanks to everyone for the supportive comments on the last post about my Mom. A couple of people brought up the issue of looking out for irresponsible financial tendencies before marriage, and let me just say, I'm all for it! I am also all for a very open approach to money between couples, and a lot of independence.
It's funny, my parents are quite old-fashioned. They seem to believe in (sort of) sticking together despite their incompatibilities. My dad resents her overspending, but he seems to want to bear the burden of being the breadwinner and money-manager in the traditional husbandy way. My mom also wanted to play the traditional wife's role of being a homemaker and mother rather than having a career. She wanted someone to take care of her and support her in doing that, and was happy to put the finances in someone else's hands as long as she had money to spend on the things she thought she needed.
[I did feel guilty that the post made it sound like my mother is personally greedy, which is not entirely the case. She did spend a lot of money on furniture and creating a beautiful new home for herself when she got her own apartment, but other than that, a lot of her spending is on gifts for people, and food for when her friends come over, just because she feels stingy doing things any other way.]

I don't remember ever feeling like someone else would take care of me in that way. As early as I can remember, I think I always had a sense of wanting to take care of myself. I sometimes had anxieties about how I would do that, but I never really just wanted to put it all in someone else's hands and just not worry about it. Even when I was in a serious, long-term, co-habiting relationship throughout most of my 20s, I kept a lot of independence. Perhaps that was as close as I've come to being supported by someone other than my parents, because my partner was a bit older and made more money than I did at the time, but I always paid a fair share of all the expenses, never less than 40%. And though we bought an apartment together, sharing those costs 50/50, we never had a joint checking account.

Relationships are complicated enough as it is... money just adds one more layer. I believe couples should be completely open with each other about their financial status, habits and goals-- and if that reveals some large discrepancies, it's something to deal with very seriously before going further in the relationship. I also think each person should maintain at least some financial independence rather than lumping everything together in joint accounts, but that is the kind of thing that works differently for each couple's situation, depending on marital status, etc. Please post comments about how you and your loved one make it work!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mom Gets Bailed Out Again

I was talking to my mom today, and at one point she said, "Oh, I have some news that you'll be relieved to hear... my debt is all paid off!"
This was of course a relief. As I wrote some months ago, my parents have undergone a strange kind of informal separation over the last couple of years. My mom got a chunk of money to set herself up in her own apartment, plus a monthly stipend from my dad. She then proceeded to spend every penny and run up over $50,000 in credit card debt in less than a year. When I found out about it, I begged her to fess up and have my dad pay the bill, rather than running up even more interest charges. Eventually she did-- of course my father went ballistic but he somehow managed to come up with the money.
My mother then swore she had learned her lesson and was going to be better about controlling her spending. But she never managed to get much work because she was too caught up in babysitting for her grandchildren. She started to get in debt again, decided she had to cut her expenses, and moved away to live with her mom, giving away most of her belongings to family, and putting the rest in storage. At this point she was already in debt again. Then she got an apartment near her mother and of course had to buy some stuff for that, even though it came furnished, so there was another cash drain. Against my advice, she even started collecting her Social Security payments too early to get the maximum, just because she was desperate for cash. Then she came back to help my sister with her kids again, spending part of time staying with my sister, and part of the time staying with my father. This has now turned into about a 4 month stay, so far, all while her apartment has been sitting empty for longer than she even lived in it! And the debt total was up to over $12,000. Again, everyone who knew about it was telling her she had to confront it, and that my father would only think it was even worse if the interest kept building up. So she finally told him, he went ballistic again, and paid the bill again.
The whole thing just makes me feel ill, whether the bills are paid or not. My mother has no grasp on reality when it comes to personal finance. My father is (understandably) so paranoid about money that he keeps all his financial information hidden from everyone. (And just to be clear here, he is not a rich man-- he worked, and still works part-time though retired, for a salary that I'm sure never broke six figures, and his only other money came from selling my grandparents' house after they died, which was split with several siblings.) So when he pays off my mother's debts like this, it just makes things worse in a way: my mother thinks he has loads of money and is just being stingy, and it reinforces her delusion that someone else will always save the day and that she doesn't have to take any responsibility for it. She herself admits that she just "goes crazy"-- in that same phone conversation, she was telling me about all the stuff she had bought my sister's kids for Halloween: two costumes each plus assorted accessories, decorative items, pumpkins, Halloween themed napkins, plates, and god only knows what else, plus what was probably enough candy to feed an army.
I just don't know what to do about my mother. There isn't much I can do, and in some ways, it is between her and my father to work out. But at some point, I'll end up having to take care of her. Perhaps it is just selfish, given everything my mother has done to take care of me, but I can't help dreading what could happen, and thinking that my carefully planned-for financial future could be affected by someone who acts as though money grows on trees.

Closing: "Final" Walkthrough

Crap. That was the shortest final walkthrough ever. They have NOT done the work, any of it, though they have at least bought the paint colors I requested and a window is there to be installed, and the leak seems to have stopped. I called my lawyer on my cell phone and we're postponing the closing. I also called the crew chief who had said all this would be done and let off a blistering tirade. At this point, I care less about having the work done quickly-- I just want a straight answer on when it's being done so I can plan accordingly, not some "yesyesyes" garbage that it will be done today if that isn't true. Now I have to cancel the start-up orders for gas and electric... fortunately had not called to set up phone service yet. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to line the utilities up in advance anyway-- I've always been paranoid about jinxing things by counting ones chickens before they're hatched! I just feel exhausted, pissed off, I have PMS... I should just tell them to cancel the painting, because this stupid condo will need padded walls by the time I move in!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Closing: More Funds Availability Panic

Last week my lawyer sent me an estimated recap of all the monies that would be due at closing. It all seemed in line with everything I was expecting based on my mortgage broker's Good Faith Estimate. But then, less than 48 hours before the closing, my lawyer called, saying that he'd gotten a statement of funds due to the seller and that there was an extra $3500 mortgage tax credit something-or-other on there that he had forgotten about! That suddenly took me from thinking "yes, I have a good cushion in my bank account to cover the closing costs" to "oh sh*t, that might be cutting it too close unless I can write more of this than I thought as personal checks. I'm going to have to do another emergency wire transfer!"
Last night I went over and over my numbers, trying to figure out if I'd have enough money in the right account. Today, I left messages for my lawyer and mortgage broker. While the situation was still unsure, I didn't want to delay, so I faxed off another wire transfer request to E*Trade bank. If they receive it before noon, it happens same day, and sure enough, 2 hours later the money was in my Chase account. Of course this is another $35 in fees, which is totally annoying, but I figured it was worth it for the piece of mind. Though I did get a little more annoyed when my lawyer called me back a little while later and said it had all been a misunderstanding and that the $3500 was already accounted for in the original closing cost estimate. Anyway. Closing is tomorrow, final walkthrough tonight, I don't yet have my instructions for the certified checks I have to get at the bank, I'm nervous, excited, happy, nervous... gah!

Cheap Way to Prevent Identity Theft

Here's a neat looking gadget: a hand-held shredder!


Works just like scissors, and costs under $20. I haven't actually tried one, so I can't say for sure how well it works, but it seems like the perfect thing for someone who only occasionally needs to shred a few pieces of paper and doesn't want to waste electricity or take up space with a bulky shredder.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Net Worth Update

October's close brings my net worth to about $305,000. This is the last month where I'm reporting a net worth with no home equity factored in. Actually, that is slightly not true, as I include the 10% deposit already paid on my condo. But next month (knock on wood that nothing goes wrong now!) I will have a mortgage and home equity to account for, and some closing costs will have taken a bite out of my cash on hand.
I was pretty close to my budget for food, which was a nice change. I spent about $225 on clothes, but other than that, I didn't spend much money and my retirement and investment portfolios are up a bit after several months of stagnation. The delay in my closing has actually been sort of a good thing, as I've saved a little money by living in relatively cheap sublets for the last few months... of course it would have been even cheaper if I'd been able to stay in my old studio, but at least it's been less than I'll be paying out each month for my mortgage and condo charges. Those will kick in for November and December but I'll still hoping I can keep my net worth above $300,000 for the end of the year and beat the goal I set for myself! Onwards and upwards!

Posting Frequency

Just wanted to say that I haven't been posting as much as I otherwise might over the past couple of months because I haven't had internet access at home, and it's hard for me to find enough time during the work day to comment on all the interesting news items I've heard about on the radio in the morning, or read in the day's paper. But soon I should be back up to speed!
But it made me wonder, how much time do people spend doing non-work stuff during work hours? How much do you estimate you get paid for time you spend on personal stuff such as blogging, web-surfing, emailing friends, etc?
I am paid a flat salary and I've always thought I work enough hours beyond what I am officially paid for that it probably all comes out in the wash, so I don't feel guilty about taking a few minutes off to post something. (Even if it is still technically against the company's computer-use policy!) But I'd prefer to do more of it at home.


What percentage of work time do you spend on personal matters?
0-10%
11-20%
21-30%
30-50%
More than 50%
I get paid to do nothing but goof off.
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