Archive for February, 2007

Procastinating: Throwing Away Money

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Now that I’ve run the figures for our taxes, I need to actually file them. I can’t believe I didn’t do this two weeks ago! For every day that we don’t have the refund, we’re losing potential interest gains. tick tick.

This weeks goal: file taxes. I’m keeping this week simple. Once I manage that task, I’ll list another one that I need to take care of.

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Environmental Ethics: Corporate Culture

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

While I don’t classify myself as a major environmentalist, I get upset at the over consumption of materials I see every day. It seems that environmental issues have been constantly popping up on my radar and I’m starting to get moved enough to act. My new job in a corporate office brings up an endless number of issues and I wonder what environmental ethics exist in corporate culture.

One of the corporate values that have been communicated through actions is the importance of looking good. This includes physical appearance of staff, neatness of the building, and the visual presentation of materials. Everything circulated within and from the office must have a certain polished appearance.

Right now, I’m stuffing 10 page, full-color, glossy newsletters into crisp, white corporate-labeled envelopes. These newsletters are not getting all dressed up to be sent out to customers; these are internal newsletters written for managers and directors. We’ve printed more than 2,000 copies that will get thumbed through and, maybe, filed away for later reference. The envelopes we’re stuffing them will go directly in the trash upon arrival. Why are we putting them in envelopes?

It seems that the thrifty and environmentally conscious thing to do would be to skip the envelop and just put labels on the newsletter. Or, if envelopes must be used, get some recycled ones and skip on the company letter head. Also, did we really need to publish a full-color newsletter on glossy paper — none of which is recycled? Where is that line where environmental and financial concerns are balanced with the need to add visual pizzazz?

Our office also has a behemoth color printer that is always running. No job is too small or too large for this printer and it is the first choice copier. We also have a great black and white printer that sits motionless next to the color monster. I’ve attended meetings where every piece of paper is color printed, just to throw it out when I get back to my desk. Black and white copies would have gotten the job done just as well and conserved toner and pricier paper.

Finally, my biggest complaint is that we don’t have a recycling program. We have recycling bins in the copy room, but I’ve learned that they just get tossed out with the trash. That color copier produces pounds of waste every day that doesn’t belong in the trash. I’ve recently contacted the local county to explore some business solutions for recycling, and hope to get something started. However, I’ve been warned that it will be a difficult challenge since the office manager has expressed her opposition against recycling (I’m guessing she thinks it’ll make more work for her).

I’m wondering if there is anything I can do to change the “looking good” culture. I know that there is a deeply held belief that the corporate office must be dripping with class, but what about appearing environmentally considerate too? I will start with my department and see what I can do to change some of their habits and go from there. Hopefully, we’ll drop the color staff meeting agendas and lose the envelops for the next outgoing newsletter.

I’m Looking Good Today

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

I’ve received three direct compliments and multiple friendly greetings this morning, all because I finally fit in at work. I decided that I’d been putting shopping

off for too long and dragged myself to the mall on Saturday. I went with a very clear plan of action and didn’t leave until I’d reached my goals. And now, at work, I’m seeing the clear benefits of all the effort – more respect and friendliness from coworkers.

My shopping plan of action:

  1. Take Inventory: Make a list of all the clothes that are suitable for work, and put marks next to the tops that work only under a jacket.
  2. Make a List: After reviewing inventory, make note of what is needed. I realized that I mostly only needed tops, some new hosiery, and some jewelry pieces to help tie outfits together.
  3. Look Good, Get Comfortable: The most important part of clothes shopping is looking good and being comfortable. I put on a button-up top, a comfortable pair of nice jeans, and slip on shoes.
  4. Take Breaks: I had a good breakfast before heading out, but still needed to stop for lunch after a couple of stores.
  5. Pick Now, Buy Later: Try on clothes, decide what you want, and hold it for later. This way, you won’t be carrying bags around in the next store and can compare items at another store.

My shopping hit a snag when I failed to follow the last step: pick now, buy later. After spending hours in one store trying on what felt like their entire inventory, I walked to the counter with my selections. I had a $50 store gift card and a $50 generic gift card to use. Since I was focused on finding things I liked, I didn’t bother checking the price tags. I was pretty shocked when the four blouses cost $250 (I charged what was left after using up the gift cards).

Also, on the way out of the store, I stopped at the makeup counter and bought a few more items from my list of needed items.

Tired, but still needing a few more items, I checked out another store and found several tops on sale that would fit in at work. They weren’t as nice as the $80 tops, but they were good enough for work and were $20 each on sale. I picked up the hosiery and jewelry I needed and then headed back to the more expensive store to return to pricey tops.

I would have been fine with the more expensive purchase had I not just scored some tops that would serve the same purpose for much less. However, the return didn’t go as I expected thanks to the fact that I used multiple payment methods. I failed to realize that a partial return would be an equally distributed partial credit on each payment method (store gift card, generic gift card, credit). I’d shopped there to get rid of the $50 gift card and I ended up with $43 store credit (the total return was about $220).

After much discussion with the clerk and then customer service, who suggested too many hoop jumps to get the results I wanted, I gave up. What I should have done was return everything and then use the store credit/store gift card to buy the one top I wanted to keep. Instead, I went to the make up counter, returned the makeup I’d purchased, and then repurchased it with the store credit. It was an odd transaction, “you want to return these items, but then buy them again?”, but it did what I needed — use up the store credit.

Shopping Trip Results: 1 bra, 2 pairs of hose, 2 necklaces, 3 makeup items, 5 blouses. The total was $221.63. However, thanks to a variety of gift cards, I only spent $64.31 out of pocket. Not bad for everything I got.

The best part is that I now fit in with the conservative, corporate dress policy and people are being much friendlier. Of course, part of me wants to flip them off every time they walk by, but I’m pretty sure that would be a waste of the $65 dollars and 7 hours at the mall.

Get a Free Education: Professional Development Potential

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

WSJ Image: Personal Journal 02.15.2007While my boss in on vacation, I get to read her daily copy of the Wall Street Journal. Today, I found an interesting article, Yale on $0 a Day (login required), and started thinking this might be the ticket to furthering my education.

The article talks about colleges like Yale and MIT that are putting their course syllabi, lectures, and and sample tests online. For someone with enough self motivation, it could be the perfect solution to getting the skills and knowledge needed for career advancement.

Obviously, you won’t be getting an actual degree from you ad-hoc home-study course, but you can apply the information to your career and use it to make a difference at work. For example, I’ve found the following courses and MIT’s OpenCourseWare site and will see if they could make a postive contribution to my career.

  • Communicating with Data: Communicating With Data has a distinctive structure and content, combining fundamental quantitative techniques of using data to make informed management decisions with illustrations of how real decision makers, even highly trained professionals, fall prey to errors and biases in their understanding. We present the fundamental concepts underlying the quantitative techniques as a way of thinking, not just a way of calculating, in order to enhance decision-making skills. Rather than survey all of the techniques of management science, we stress those fundamental concepts and tools that we believe are most important for the practical analysis of management decisions, presenting the material as much as possible in the context of realistic business situations from a variety of settings. Exercises and examples drawn from marketing, finance, operations management, strategy, and other management functions.
  • Applied Statistics: This course is an introduction to applied statistics and data analysis. Topics include collecting and exploring data, basic inference, simple and multiple linear regression, analysis of variance, nonparametric methods, and statistical computing. It is not a course in mathematical statistics, but provides a balance between statistical theory and application. Prerequisites are calculus, probability, and linear algebra.
  • Communications for Managers: Writing and speaking skills necessary for a career in management. Students polish communication strategies and methods through discussion of principles, examples, and cases. Several written and oral assignments, most based on material from other subjects and from career development activities. Restricted to first-year Sloan School of Management graduate students.

Budget Recap – January 2007

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

01.2007 budget

January held some difficult challenges to overcome. The biggest was being $500 short in income due to overspending in December (no, not because of gifts). However, as I said I would, I had faith that we’d make it through the month meeting the majority of our goals. Instead of making month-specific goals, we decided to take a running start at our Goals for 2007.

Savings: Increased Savings to $700/month
We followed through with the goal to increase our direct savings contribution from $300 a month to $700 a month. This is a very difficult stretch for January, but I’m glad we made it happen.

Debt: Pay Down Debt
We put more than $600 toward the credit card debt this month. Most of the payments were all minimum payments except our highest interest rate card which received an additional $300.

Cell Phone: Too High
Our cell phones continue to cost us more than $100 a month – too much. I’m hoping to get this resolved before May.

Food: Almost Within Budget
We actually stayed within our dining out budget for the majority of the month. However, we failed to factor in the trip to Oklahoma and the meals that we’d be eating out while there. Overall, $220 on eating out is a good number for us. We also cut groceries down a lot this month to help make up for the shortage we started with. Our pantry left us with plenty of good meals and February will show a spike in grocery purchases.

Personal Funds
The partner continued to pass on taking out the personal funds we both agreed we would get each month. This makes me uncomfortable and we made up for it in February by taking out twice as much as usual for him.

Additional Income
The 2007 plan includes increasing ebay sales and other income streams. January was not a good candidate for this and we’re trying to pick up the slack in February.

Overall, January went much better than expected. We’re still having to catch up on some things in February, but I think things are looking up.

Taxes Trepidation Terminated

Monday, February 12th, 2007

2007 federal

Sunday morning, after sleeping in too late, I obsessed over getting our taxes completed. The partner and I have been having lots of little talks about money and upcoming spending and needed to know if our tax fears were valid.

Within an hour of starting, I had completed both our state and federal taxes. However, in my zeal of following step-by-step instructions and filling out forms (I’ve got a thing for forms), I forgot to address the “what if” scenario with the partner. While I’d already figured out that any tax owed would come directly from savings, we hadn’t discussed the situation. However, what would we do with a refund? And, what difference, if any, would the amount of the refund make in deciding what to do with it?

So, after calculating our refunds, I asked the partner those exact questions. I didn’t reveal the numbers the forms already had because I wanted to pretend we were starting this conversation at the right time – before there was a real dollar amount to consider.

The partner responded that I probably wanted to put it all toward debt with a slight sneer to his voice. It seems that I’ve been pushing that debt reduction button pretty hard in his eyes, or maybe it was just throwing $5,000 at it the other month that still makes him a little uncomfortable.

He then threw out his standard argument of wanting to see the numerical comparison of putting it toward debt and, based on the monthly interest reduction, how long it would take to save up that amount. Tired of that argument, and feeling a little unsure of making those calculations, I just argued for a more immediate answer.

Next, he wanted to make some logical comparison of owing taxes versus getting a refund. What would we do if we owed taxes? Put it on credit or pull it from savings? Credit! No way, it’d come from savings. Since the credit card tax payment wasn’t an option that reasoning method was rejected as well.

Finally, we both agreed that we wanted to put it all into savings. Basically, the house needs to happen this year and it won’t happen without more cash. Also, if we put it toward debt, it would not reduce our payments enough to allow us to save up that amount by summer.

Now, I just need to decide if I’m going to file electronically or on paper – the paper form is already filled out, would just need to drop it in the mail.

2007 state

Frugal Necessities: Pantyhose

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Dressing for work is costing too much – mostly in terms of time and frustration of knowing I don’t quite “fit in”. While I know I need to go shopping and have reviewed some great comment on the subject, I’m still struggling every morning getting dressed for work.

This morning was no exception. I had planned on wearing a certain outfit that I figured would be suitable for lunch with a coworker. The outfit included a skirt and the dreaded pantyhose (required by office policy).

I bought a pair a couple weeks ago and wore them once. Today, I pulled them on and they’ve already got a run in them – argh!. I know I paid close to $5 for that pair and just one wearing isn’t enough for my frugal expectations.

When I google “frugal pantyhose” I get lots of uses for panty hose – everything except wearing them to work. I’m not looking to store onions or buff my shoes; I want to follow dresscode policy for less than $5/day.

The only suggestions I know are about clear nail polish and careful washing. Handwashing obviously wasn’t enough in this case and an entire bottle of nail polish couldn’t have rescued the panty hose.

So, instead of staying all bent out of shape about the hose, I decided to wear the warm boots all day instead of just to and from the office and snuck in a pair of 50-inch long socks, nice, thick, unprofessional, thigh high socks (thank goodness for long skirts).

However, I need to know what to do about pantyhose. Do I just buy the super cheap brand and pull out a new pair each time or is there a brand or method that will get me a few good wearing out of each pair?

Personal Carnival #5

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Welcome to my Personal Carnival is where I round up the various carnivals about personal finances and figure out how often the personal is prominent. Due to the overwhelming amount of time required to read through all the articles, I’ll post a weekly tally and highlight any articles that personally interest me.

Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance No. 2: 13 personal articles out of 45 posted (29%)

Tired but Happy hosted the Second Carnival of Ethics, Values and Personal Finance last week. I enjoyed the following articles:

  1. Get Up Off My Ads – Why Advertising Sucks: Good opinion piece on ads that I actually agree with in many ways. Of course, I also agree with pulling in some passive income from ads too. I’m still working on figuring out the balance that will work for me.

  2. What Class are You?: Paula at QueerCents touches on a topic that has interested me since first discussing it in a family studies class – class and our misperceptions of it. Her article seems to focuses on the professional side of class, but I really enjoyed thinking about the social side in terms of authority and power.
  3. Prelude to a Job: A post from yours truly where I start to reconsider taking a new position.

Carnival of Personal Finance #86: 26 personal articles out of 74 posted (35%).

The Simple Dollar hosted the 84th Carnival of Personal Finance

. I clicked through all 74 links and found 26 articles including the personal side of personal finance.The ones I liked best were:

  1. Making the Financial Sacrifice to Get What You Want: David at my two dollars laid out what he and his partner accomplished in order to live where they want. Considering my recent relocation woes, this is timely and poignant.

    After reading the carnival submission, I browsed to another article, How Sprint got me to stay with them instead of switching

    , that also relates to our current situation. We’re currently throwing away $100 a month on cell phones. Time to start playing carrier against carried (Cingular vs. Sprint in our case).
  2. Stop Comparing Your Finances with Others: Five Financial Ratios to Keep You on Track: Good ratios that I’ve considered before but need to think about more often to help me us keep on track.
  3. Be Honest with Yourself Darn, I liked this article but it is posted in more than one carnival, tsk tsk.

Carnival of Debt Reduction #73: 3 personal articles out of 21 posted (14%).

Journey to Financial Freedom posts the 73rd Carnival of Debt Reduction. There were some good posts, but nothing that I wanted to focus on.

Festival of Frugality #60: 26 personal articles out of 26 posted.

Frugal for Life hosted a pictographic version of the 60th Festival of Frugality, interesting composition.

  1. Be Frugal but Don’t be an Idiot: Some good advice for pointing out how bring frugal shouldn’t be criminal or unethical.

Overall, the personal side of personal finances is getting a little less talk time in the weekly carnivals this week. The Festival of Frugality seems to be the one exception with the highest personal percentage and an overall increase from last week. Of course, frugality is a little more broad than personal finance and it is the one area where I consistently enjoy reading tips, suggestions, and less personal content.

On a final note, I noticed that Flexo is jumping on the keeping personal finances personal bandwagon, in his recent post. I’m glad to see more people pushing this platform and thank the many readers and comments who’ve been spreading the word.

Musings on Buying a Home in 2007

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Now that 2007 is underway, it is time to start considering relocating later this year. However, while our savings is a little more than last year, we’re still feeling the housing market crunch.

I’ve been scanning properties for months, well for more than a year now, and there are still limited, if any, properties that we can consider. It looks like the housing market is forcing us to use the trade-up home purchase model that I really don’t want to do.

I may have mentioned that I have moved multiple times in my life (at least 30) and that the daughter has also moved at least as often as her age. This means that we’re both tired of moving, tired of transitions, and tired of knowing that our location is temporary. We do not want a trade-up house, a temporary house, or anything short of where we honestly feel we can live for the next 20 years at least.

Thanks to the Maryland housing market, this means that we either have to wait another year (my least favorite option) or move into something that we’re going to have to make do with (also my least favorite option). It is so frustrating.

Hopefully spring will bring an influx of properties and we’ll be able to find something that makes us smile. Hopefully I’ll also stop watching properties selling for twice what we can afford — silly me for doing that in the first place. And who knows, maybe a pile of cash will just fall into our laps and we’ll be able to buy our dream property.

Money Making Action: In Progress

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

My freelance journey begins. I’ve picked-up my first ever paying sewing job and I’m excited, despite my initial reluctance.

I’m glad I kept the appointment because what sounded like a couple little sewing projects is really a blank-slate house in need of some serious adornment. This will be an ongoing, substantial project that will make up for the fact that I’m not charging enough. Seeing the future money potential, I compromised on my one pet peeve because it was good customer service to do so. While I didn’t want to start with a small task, I knew that it’d boost the cllient’s confidence in my work if I did.

I know that this small initial job will help build my confidence for the additional work that she’ll be giving me and will hopefully lead to some additional referrals. This job has already given me one referral because I mentioned it during lunch with a coworker and she started telling me all about the new house they are buying and how it’ll need a lot of decoration help.

I’m glad I got over my fear that was trying to talk me out of taking the job and that I’ve finally put some action into all my money thoughts.