Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Want a Raise? Got These Traits?

I recently came across this Hot Jobs article about How to Get a Raise. They stressed the importance of these impressive personality traits (I’ve summarized their explanations):

1. An Owner’s Mentality – Show what you did for the company instead of listing reasons you want a raise.
2. Forward-Thinking – Work on the key goals your company has set for the future.
3. Visibility – Wall-flowers will be overlooked.
4. Charisma – You need to be able to persuade others to follow through on your plans.
5. Tough Skin – Be open for criticism so your boss knows he/she can be open with you during your reviews.
6. Empathy for the Boss – Make your boss’s job easier and getting a raise will be easier…this also means not whining when salaries are truly frozen. Simply ask to be remembered when raises are a possibility again.

I think this list is spot on. In my company, #1 (Owner’s Mentality) is the most important.  If you improve my company's product in some way, save them major money, or make them major money, you will get a raise. 
The owner of my company barely knows who I am, but everybody I work for directly seems to convince him to approve my raise every time (except during this oh-so-wonderful salary freeze).

MikeS also brought up the point that his manager looks to promote employees that consistently do more than their job requires. By doing that, an employee shows that they can perform at the next level.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

What do you think? What can help get a raise at your job?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Need Money? Have an Extra Bedroom?

A year after my husband and I bought our 3 bedroom home, a friend needed a place to stay for a little while. Our guest bedroom was open and our friend was living in an overpriced hotel. When he offered to pay $350 and half of the utilities per month, we happily agreed. Since our mortgage payments are only $740, it was a win-win for everybody.

Three months later, our friend moved on. We thought we’d love having complete privacy again, but we missed the money more. After a 20 minute discussion, we decided to list our spare bedroom on Craigslist.

I knew nothing about actually renting out the room, so I looked up ideas online. I listed the room in detail with pictures of the spaces that were being rented out - room, bathroom, laundry area, and kitchen. I asked questions on the phone about pets and smoking habits. When they showed up for our scheduled meetings, they filled out their job and housing history and signed off on background checks.

I’ll be honest, I knew exactly who I wanted to live with by the time they walked back to their car, but I did a background check and verified their employment anyway. We signed a lease the next weekend.

He was the perfect renter. He paid on time, cleaned up after himself, and stayed over at his girl friend’s house more often than he was ever around ours. He stayed for a little more than a year. Dude, if you’re reading this, we miss you.

We quickly relisted the room since we were so happy with the set up, but we didn’t get as much response. When we finally found someone we were okay with, he ended up being completely immature and flippant. He even ordered a different cable service for his room since he didn’t like the one we paid for...without telling us. Needless to say, it didn’t work out and he moved out in less than 5 months.

At that point, we decided that our stress-free life was worth more than $500 a month.

So, yes, renting out a spare room can be very helpful fiscally. Just be careful to properly weigh the costs and benefits of the situation for yourself.

If my husband and I ever need some extra money again, this would be our first choice. Even though our last roommate was a putz, we never had any real issues. We just didn’t need the money as much as we craved a place to ourselves again.

Do you need any extra money? Would the rental rate in your area be worth more than your complete privacy? As always, it’s a personal decision, but it’s good to know all of your options, right?

Guest Post at Sweating the Big Stuff - How Much Do You Need for Retirement?

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to Daniel over at Sweating the Big Stuff for inviting me to guest post!

Feel free to take a look at the article, How Much Do You Need for Retirement?, to see my take on retirement needs.

Thanks again Daniel!

Monday, March 29, 2010

ID Theft...How Easy It Is

Take a look at this Washington Post article on ID Theft and tell me it doesn’t make you a little paranoid.

I wasn’t surprised that identity theft happens to 11.1 million victims a year for a total of $54 billion. I wasn’t surprised that 55% of identity theft victims will never know how it happened. I wasn’t even that surprised that 18-24 year olds were hit the hardest since they take the longest to catch on (132 days on average) and share much more about themselves online than we old folks do.

I was surprised how easy it is to find out who someone is so you can steal their identity.

According to this article, most people can be tracked down by simply knowing their sex, zip code, and date of birth. That’s creepy. Especially since all of you know my sex, my general location, and my general age…hmmm. I will now be skipping any Happy Birthday posts I had in mind. :-)

Please keep yourself safe. At the very least, take a look at your accounts and credit reports on a regular basis. You are entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three main bureaus – Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. I use the official site: Since all three companies list the similar information, space out your reports every four months in order to maximize the number of times you can check on your status.

How about you?  Ever had your identity stolen?  If so, what did you have to do to get everything straightened out?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ultimate Money Blog is Giving Away $100

In case you haven't seen this, Mrs. Money at Ultimate Money Blog is giving away $100.  It isn't hard to sign up, so I thought I'd pass this along.  Feel free to check it out.  :-)

Trying to Avoid Making Eyes Bleed

Okay, let's get this straight, I'm not good with design.  But, I do know that it is a bad idea to make your readers' eyes hurt.  This is what I've come up with for the background that will hopefully solve that problem.  I know it's not possible to make everybody happy, but I'm hoping for a solid 99%.  :-)

What do you think?  Is this readable and less headache inducing?

Weekly Favorites and Gratitude!

In case you didn’t know, I was an avid blog reader and commenter way before I started BFS. I actually read and comment on about 15-20 blogs daily. My blog roll is an actual list of blogs I enjoy regularly.

Since I wouldn’t have started my own blog without the ones that drew me in, I’m posting my own personal list of weekly favorites as my way of saying thanks.

I’m also participating in the Enemy of Debt Challenge.  I don’t think I was his target audience, but it’s been fun!

Thank you to these bloggers and all of my other favorites! You teach me something new every day!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Poker Night

When my husband and I were in college, we started a poker club. As the President, I found locations to play and organized tournaments. As the Treasurer (irony kicks booty), my husband used the dues to buy refreshments and supplies like decks of cards and poker chips. The tournaments were tons of fun and legal too since gift cards were used as prizes.

That was a ton of fun. Then we graduated, everybody moved away, and poker night faded into the past.

After a few years, we were able to revive the tradition. I called a few friends we knew who enjoyed Texas Hold ‘Em and set up our poker table in the dining room. We still had our own chips and cards from college (not the club sets), so getting ready was easy. We also supplied a few bags of chips and soda, so we were good to go.

We played nickel poker with a max bet of a quarter and 3 raises, so our pots were limited and allowed for a lot of playing time in an evening. Everybody would buy-in for $5 and re-buy once or twice max. We usually started with Texas Hold ‘Em and moved on to general stuff (dealer would name a game). Everybody had lots of fun with a minimal amount of financial pain.

If you might be interested in having your own poker night, here's a little list of what I'd get together:

1.  Cards ($1-$3) - Make sure they aren't marked or too worn.  No, your friends will probably not try to cheat, but it's hard to pretend you don't see a grease stain on an ace...

2.  Poker chips ($10 for a good set on Ebay) - It is way easier than making sure everybody has a good mix of change.

3.  Stable table - I was cleaning sticky poker chips for an hour because I didn't follow this advice.

4.  Group of 6 or less - It’s easier to talk and have fun if everybody doesn’t spread out.

5.  Potluck snacks - If everybody pitches in, it ends up costing less than $5 a person for food.

That's it!  After the initial card and chip investment, we spend $5 - $15 a night for the both of us (food and cruddy hands) and every once in a while, we actually get paid to play.  :-)

What do you think?  Have you had poker nights?  How did they turn out?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

BFS is in Carnival Of Money Stories #46!

BFS is in Carnival of Money Stories #46!  You can check out my article, What Would We Do if We Lose a Job, and the other winners at M is for Money.  Woot again!

From here on out, I'll be combining the blog carnival "wins" as an end-of-week post since they seem to alert me at different times, but hey, that's a good problem to have!

How We Chose to Buy Our Home

After coming across yet another blog about renting versus buying, I decided to explain how we chose to buy our home.

First of all, I was extremely frustrated that our rent was increased by 5-10% at the end of every lease. We were clean, quiet, and paid early every month. I was always able to cut down on the increase, but I could never stop it completely.

Secondly, having to ask permission to change absolutely everything meant we never changed anything at all. Our apartments didn’t feel like homes…they felt like temporary bases. We did everything that we do now in a house, but now I’m surrounded by the colors we picked out and art that we finally allowed ourselves to buy since we felt stable.

Thirdly, the financial numbers worked in our favor in our area. No, it isn’t wise to buy a house that you cannot easily afford. That means that we would probably never allow ourselves to buy a home if we lived in the high cost areas along the coasts. Luckily, Houston has inexpensive homes in good locations. After looking around for a couple of months, we found our house – the perfect starter home for us. This is how the numbers looked:

Rent was costing us $8760 a year and was increasing 5-10% a year.

Our home was going to cost us $24,000 up front (20% down and closing costs) and cost an additional $15,000 a year including taxes, insurance, and maintenance for 11 years. After the end of 2017, we’d only need about $4500 a year for taxes, insurance, and maintenance, and we were budgeting for that to increase 3% each year (our taxes have actually decreased since 2007, but these are the numbers we used).

That meant that with a 5% increase every year on rent and a 3% increase every year on property taxes, we would be breaking even with home ownership in less than 20 years plus we would own a home outright in about 11 years. In less than 20 years of renting, we would have paid just as much and have no physical thing to show for it. That alone would have convinced me to buy in our area.

Lastly, by putting 20% down on a foreclosure that was already heavily discounted since it was on the market for more than a year, we had instant equity. This didn’t effect our decision much, but it was nice to know that we could have taken out a home equity loan if necessary. I like having lots of options when it comes to finances.

Over the past 3 years, our taxes have decreased but our equity has increased. We are still on track to pay off the mortgage by the end of 2017…maybe earlier if I get my way. We’ve spent less than $300 a year on home maintenance since it was built very well and barely lived in at all before we snatched it up. To be honest, we have spent almost $3000 on new floors downstairs and paint, but that was a choice and makes us very happy.

No, home ownership is not for everybody. It’s not even a good financial choice in many areas. I also know that I don’t enjoy having to fix my own problems. Yet, I wouldn’t change a thing.

How about you?  Is your market nice to homeowners?  Do you enjoy renting?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BFS is in Money Hackers Blog Carnival #109

BFS is in Money Hackers Blog Carnival #109!  You can check out my article, Ready for Retirement? Lots of People Aren't, and the other winners at  Woot!

Balancing Your Budget with Online Tools

The following is a guest post by Kevin Fleming. Kevin runs CreditShout, a personal finance blog dedicated to educating people on how to manage their finances and reviewing cash back credit cards.

Tracking finances, budgeting funds, and paying bills is one of the most important jobs you have. With one lost bill or skipped payment, your credit rating can suffer inordinately, so properly budgeting your finances is absolutely essential.

Many people shrink away from financial planning because it seems difficult—and face it, no one really likes the idea of spending hours working out a budget in a ledger book, surrounded by receipts from transactions you can’t even remember.

The solution to the issue may be a free online program, which allows you to monitor your debt, manage your credit cards, and track your spending habits over time. Here are some of the best budgeting tools you’ll find on the internet and how they can help you take care of your finances week by week.

Mvelopes – Mvelopes is an intuitive and award-winning online money managing envelope, and it comes with a free trial. While some online solutions are difficult to use and understand, Mvelopes uses the old-fashioned “envelope” method of saving and budgeting out your money. Most of the payments that you need to make—including payments to credit card debts—can be made automatically through the program as well, resulting in less work on your part to manage your finances. The feature can also help you avoid accidentally making late payments to your credit cards, which could trigger a late charge and a ding on your credit score. Mvelopes can help you use your credit cards wisely in a lot of ways. It even has a credit card spending tracker that sets money from your other spending envelopes aside, allowing you to pay off credit purchases in full every month. Remember, Mvelopes is only free for a limited trial, so if you plan not to continue using it, cancel your membership.

Wesabe – Wesabe has been online longer than many other online budget tools, and still touts itself as the best money management tool and financial issues community online. In fact, Wesabe is particularly attractive, as it touts a user-friendly interface and interactive forums that allow you to get finance tips from people just like you. You can add your credit union, credit cards, and bank accounts to Wesabe for easier money management, and you can tag and track your credit card purchases, along with your other spending, to see where your money is going Wesabe also allows you to check your credit card balances from multiple cards all in one place, facilitating debt repayment.

YNAB – Just like everyone else, you need a budget. YNAB (“You Need a Budget”) is a fantastic tool that uses four unique steps to help you take control of your earnings. It helps you to stop living from one paycheck to the next, to save money for a “rainy day,” and to adjust according to your under- and overspending. You can tailor repayment plans to target and eliminate your credit card debt right within the budgeting tool. The software also contains functions to track credit card payments, calculate debt payoff, and transfer money between accounts. While a one-time purchase of the software costs about $60, you can try it out for free for seven days and decide if you actually like it.

Mint – Like Wesabe, Mint has been a leading money management tool available free to online users since the mid-2000s. It has become so popular that it eclipsed, and ultimately took over, the Quicken budget tool many had become accustomed to using. Mint is extremely easy to use thanks to pages that are short on text and heavy on graphics, allowing for simple debt repayment to get you back to financial stability. If you’re interested in changing credit card companies, tracking credit card interest, comparing your spending habits with others in a similar financial situation, or getting to the bottom of your spending habits, Mint is probably the right tool for you. Best of all, Mint is completely free for users.

Using Online Budgeting Tools

The best way to use these online budgeting tools is to set up a budget and stick to it. Ideally, your budget should involve making aggressive debt payments to get out of credit card debt. While credit cards can be a great tool to earn rewards for spending (with the exception of some horrible store rewards cards like the best buy credit card ), the interest you pay can end up costing you hundreds- if not thousands- of dollars over the course of a year and quickly drain your pocket book.

Set up a plan to get out of debt and use the online budgeting tool of your choice to make that dream a reality. Once you've paid off that last debt payment, make a commitment to use your budget in order to pay off your cards in full each month. Track your credit card spending so you can find problem areas and always make sure you have the cash on hand to pay off your bill in full each month when the credit card statement arrives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

BFS has a Guest Post about ING at

Kevin at was kind enough to let me guest post today with ING Direct is my Budgeting Buddy.  His site has a bunch of great bank reviews and suggestions.  Take a look when you can, thanks!

A Closer Look at Social Security

As I’ve commented elsewhere, I do not include social security in our retirement plan in case it won’t be around for us in 40 years. That is not to say that I’m okay with being robbed my whole life, but I like to plan conservatively.

Keeping that in mind, I was intrigued when one of my regular readers, MikeS (thanks again), sent me a blog suggestion to look into social security – specifically the survivor benefits and disability. I never really thought of those aspects, so here we go…

From what I found at the Social Security site, if you have worked and contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years, the following people may be eligible to receive your survivor benefits:
  • A widow or widower -- full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60
  • A disabled widow or widower -- as early as age 50
  • A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased's child who is under age 16 or disabled, and receiving Social Security benefits
  • Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.
  • Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.
  • Dependent parents age 62 or older

I also found that you are eligible for disability if you have paid into Social Security for a certain number of years, become disabled, and are unable to work for a year or more because of that disability. Those payments will continue until you are able to work again. Here’s how they determine if you qualify:

You earn a single credit for making $1120 or more every quarter of the year that is subject to Social Security taxes. This means that you can earn a maximum of four credits a year by making at least $1120 every three months. Here’s the table that shows how many credits you need to have accumulated in order to qualify based on age.

Your spouse, divorced spouse, and children may also qualify to receive up to 50% of your disability payments if they meet some strict criteria (you can look at this page and click on which person you want to check).

My Thoughts:

As most things that were set up with red tape, the benefits seem to be confusing enough to make me hope I never have to use them at all. You can use their benefit calculators to help you figure out exact amounts, but my eyes glazed over 20 minutes into my research. That usually doesn’t happen to me when it comes to money, but this system is inherently confusing.

Quick survivor benefits summary:  Your spouse and dependents might be eligible to receive your Social Security benefits if you contributed for at least 10 years.

Quick disability summary:  If you have contributed to Social Security for the amount of quarters (credits) they deem proper, you may or may not be approved when you become disabled to receive less than half of what you make now.

My very quick judgment:  Social Security research has left me with a slight headache and a need for chocolate.

I hope I don’t become disabled without private insurance (which I have) or I might have to jump through hoops and be denied cruddy coverage anyway. I also hope I don’t die until my husband is well taken care of financially since those benefits seem hinky too.

Do you have private disability insurance in case you aren’t eligible for Social Security disability? I’d look into it if you don’t…

Monday, March 22, 2010

BFS is in Carnival Of Personal Finance #249!

Thanks to Kyle at Amateur Asset Locater, Budgeting in the Fun Stuff was chosen for the Carnival Of Personal Finance #249 with Determining Our Allowances!

BFS was placed in the "Nun" category, which is as close to that as I'll ever come.  Thanks Kyle!

That is a LOT of White. :-)

Well, the winner of the poll was WHITE by 2 votes!  Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote!

I had no idea how white that white could be.  I do believe that this will be an 2 week experiment, but maybe it will grow on me.  I see Ochre in our future (it looks better than it sounds).

I truly do appreciate all of my readers and everyone who voted.  Thanks again!

Do Your Kids Receive an Allowance?

I have slowly come to the realization that many of my readers have kids *gasp*. :-)

In order to include more aspects of financial life, I hope to start including a few more blogs on children.  Feel free to send me ideas to look into or guest posts if you feel like exposing yourself (sorry, couldn't help myself).

I remember a few failed attempts by my parents to pay me an allowance for doing certain chores. Yes, these attempts failed miserably since I hate chores and have indeed hired a housekeeper now that I’m all grown-up. :-) I made my money through Christmas, birthdays, and babysitting and hoarded it like a squirrel until I bought a tenor sax for middle school band for $525…then I started from scratch again.

BUT, my little sister was able to pull off an allowance of $10 a week regularly from age 10 and into her early teens. She was almost as much of a tight-wad as I was, but I do know she bought a few books and some candy now and again since we usually we shared our hidden stashes for variety. I still have my hollowed out candy book.

Do your kids get an allowance? If so, what do your kids buy? Also, do you have a family system like Trent over at The Simple Dollar?  Are they required to save a certain amount?

Friday, March 19, 2010

BFS has Bought a Domain Name!

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff will be switching from a blogspot url to  With any luck, this transition will be complete no later than Monday and nobody will ever notice a difference.  I wanted my own domain name, so I coughed up $10 for the year.  Hope this works!

Fit in a Fun Friday - State Parks

All state parks have something that makes them special.  Brazos Bend has alligators and the very cool George Observatory.

Brazos Bend consists of 5000 acres of swamp and forest.  Trails take advantage of the many different lakes spread throughout.  This was definitely not my first visit during the day, but I still got excited when I saw an alligator, a rabbit, a few deer, and a billion birds.

I didn't know that I would enjoy star-gazing until last weekend, but my friends took me to the George Observatory and we had a blast!  I actually got to see Saturn, which was very cool.  I also saw the Greater Orion Nebula, cluster M79, and took a closer look at Mars.  I liked seeing Saturn and the gas clouds the best.

I visited with two of my adult friends, but there were a ton of kids having a great time too.  I loved hearing everybody's reaction to the wildlife during the day and the sky at night!

The entrance fee to the park was $5 for an adult and the fee to use the smaller observatories was $2.  The large observatory was sold out but would have only cost $5.  We brought our own snacks, water was free, and we spent about $10 on gas.  I took digital pictures as my souvenir, so that was free as well.

Overall, it was a truly great day for less than $10 a person!

Here's the link to Texas Parks and Wildlife.  You can do a quick search online to find a park near you.

Have you visited any state parks?  If so, what did it have to make it special?  If not, do you think it's something you or your children would enjoy for some frugal fun?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff has Joined the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge

As the title said, BFS has joined the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge!  My current ranking is 8,531,858* and the goal is to be in the top 200,000...needless to say, we have a ways to go.  Go Yakezie group marketing!

For anybody who's lost, top Alexa rankings can really help out a blog.  Yakezie members help promote each other in order to get as many visitors as possible!  Whoo-hoo cooperation!


I'm borrowing the current group list from Sweating the Big Stuff until I get added to the membership emails, so thanks Daniel!

Personal Finance Journey
151 Days Off
Out of Debt Again
Narrow Bridge
Cool to be Frugal
Personal Finance Ninja
Saving Money Today
Rainy-Day Saver
Canadian Finance Blog
Free From Broke
Beating Broke
My Journey to Millions
Eliminate The Muda!
Engineer Your Finances
Well-Heeled Blog
Money Funk
Wealth Pilgrim
Credit Card Chaser
Early Retirement Extreme
Ultimate Money Blog
Financial Samurai

*Updated 3/25/10 after buying my own domain name...first ranking was based on blogspot data.

Charity Work - Does it Count?

I’ve read a bunch of blogs that bring up tithing. I’ve read others that simply put a strong emphasis on monetary donations. I’ve even been judged since we donate so little actual money every year. That is true. We don’t tithe and we don’t donate much money (<$200 a year in cash), but we do contribute to society through charity work.

My husband and I are foster parents for Pughearts: Houston Pug Rescue (although we have taken a break while he completes graduate school). I volunteer regularly at the Houston SPCA. Hubby will occasionally officiate basketball games for free if there is a school in need.

In short, we donate time. This allows us to help without slowing down our progress towards our personal financial goals like early retirement. Plus, it is way more fun to me than writing a check!

What do you think? Is donating money better than donating time? Do you like one over the other? What charities are you involved in either way?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pro Athletes that Wasted it All

I saw this article on Yahoo that made me cringe - people making more than I will ever see in my life and throwing it all away. It makes my stomach hurt.

Here’s a quick run down on how much each of these pro athlete have tossed away:
  • Evander Holyfield - $250 million earned and he is now flat broke.
  • Lenny Dykstra – he is currently $30 million in debt.
  • Latrell Sprewell - $96 million earned and he is now broke.
  • John Daly – he gambled away $50 to $60 million dollars.
  • Jack Clark – earnings and debt were not listed, but he’s bankrupt after buying luxury cars.
  • Mike Tyson – he filed bankruptcy after wasting $350 million to $400 millions dollars.
Does anybody else feel my pain? I could live very happily on 1%- 5% of what these people tossed away like used diapers. Ugh.

Okay, I’m depressed…let’s talk about what we would have done with that kind of money instead. :-)

If we had $250 million, my husband and I would plan out the house of our dreams and pay for it in cash. It wouldn’t be too big since mansions intimidate me, but it would definitely have a big game room. We’d also pay off our cars and sell our current home. I might hire a driving service once in a while since I hate driving, but I don’t think I’d buy a big, expensive car. We’d also have a weekly maid service instead of biweekly and I’d never have to groom the dogs again. My husband would probably pay to have a Curling stadium built for the Houston Curling Club and be in every weekly league. Yes, they’d still have to pay dues for the ice, but probably half of what they pay now - that would be used to cover the utilities. We’d take some vacations and I’d still want to volunteer with dogs and for Meals on Wheels. I’d also still blog.

Hmmm…that would still leave us with about $250 million since all that could be done with the INTEREST ALONE. Argh!!!

What about you? What would you do with $250 million? Do you also want to slap these people upside the head?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do You Have Unclaimed Cash with the IRS from 2006?

According to this article on Yahoo, the IRS is currently holding $1.3 billion in unclaimed refunds from 2006.

Apparently, 1.4 million people didn’t file their 2006 tax returns even though they were owed money. Even if they didn’t owe the IRS, didn’t they think the IRS might owe them? And this seems to happen every year.

Anyway, if you didn’t file in 2006, I’d check it out by April 15…that’s when the 3 year window closes and the money gets to stay with the IRS. The article suggests downloading a 2006 Form 1040 (or 2007 or 2008) from this site if you think some of this money may be yours.

Sadly, I know this money isn’t ours since we have filed returns since 2001…maybe one of my lucky readers forgot to file one of those years?

I understand if you too are wondering why someone would blow that off, but hey, maybe they were really busy that year…

Sorry for the overall's a combination of frustration with laziness and jealousy since I'm not getting to pry some of my money back.  :-)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whoo-hoo, BIFS made the Twenty Something Finances Carnival too!

Please feel free to take a look at this week's Twenty Something Finances Carnival, Toby Edition.  Budgeting in the Fun Stuff made the list with General Steps to Financial Stability.  Thanks Keith!

The Carnival of Money Stories XLV - BIFS on the List!

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff made the Carnival list with How We Chose to Budget in the Fun Stuff.  Yay!

Check out the rest of the Carnival if you have a seems thorough to say the least!

Ready for Retirement? Lots of People Aren't.

MikeS was kind enough to bring this CNN Money article to my attention last week (thanks again, MikeS). In short, 1153 workers and retirees were surveyed and 43% of them had less than $10,000 saved up for retirement - not including their house or pension.

When I started reading, I was ready to be frustrated that so many have so little for their own retirement. By the end of the article, I still felt that way but not because of these survey results. Call me whatever, but a home and a pension count towards retirement, right?

Then I saw this little poll on the side of an article I was reading on Yahoo…it whacked me in the face pretty hard since almost 10,000 people had responded with how much they contribute to a retirement account:
  • 31% are saving 1-6%
  • 18% are saving 7-10%
  • 8% are saving 11-15%
  • 8% are saving more than 15%
  • AND 34% aren’t contributing to a retirement account at all
About a third of the respondents aren’t contributing to a retirement account at all!!! I understand that not everybody has access to a 401k or an equivalent, but I interpret this to mean that they aren’t contributing to any kind of IRA or retirement savings account either…that’s just insane to me.

Are you saving for retirement?

As I've posted before, our main financial goal is early retirement, so we are really dedicated (aka gazelle-intense…lol…that always makes me laugh and look around for predators).

Even if people don't want to leave their jobs, I do hope that most people over the age of 30 will start funding their own retirement. I would hate to know that I’d have to work until I die even if I wanted to…the difference between having choices and not having choices is gigantic to me.

What’s your take on all this? What did you think about the article?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Poll! Please Vote on Your Background Choice!

A poll has been added to the right of the screen.  What color background would you prefer for Budgeting in the Fun Stuff?

Currently it's obviously black with white writing.  I also have the options of white with black writing, blue (like denim or medium blue) with white writing, and ochre (like a light ivy green) with black writing.

The poll ends next Sunday (March 21st) at 11:59 PM CST.  The background will be set to the winning choice by Monday evening and left in place for at least a couple of weeks to see how it goes over with everyone.

What's your vote?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Venting about Craigslist Flaggers and Spammers

Thanks to crazy flaggers, it took me two weeks to sell a brand new TV wall mount for $40. It would have usually only taken a day or two. My post was simple and to the point and got flagged off 6 different times in less than an hour. I even asked in subsequent posts to be emailed if there were any problems with my post so I could change it…nope, they just kept flagging it off as quickly as possible. I think it was because my wall mount was new and listed at $50 and everybody else was selling them for $75 or more.

Pure stubbornness kept me reposting until someone called. Hey you, flaggers, you can kiss my a…well, you know!!!

Now I’m having trouble with spammers. I have a couple of things listed right now and have to sift through con-artists and spammers in my email every evening to see if anyone was actually interested. I am reaching the end of my patience. Sadly, Craigslist is the only place I know of that will let me post for free or get someone local to pick up my stuff. These things are too heavy, bulky, and fragile to ship.

Anybody have any ideas? Is there a site that you use besides Ebay or Craigslist?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Potlucks

Potlucks are my favorite group activity – they’re fun and CHEAP!

Hubby and I got involved with a board gaming group that meets up once a month at different homes for board gaming and FOOD. We hosted a few and I’ve fell in love with the whole thing. Here’s how we break it down:

The host provides the main dish and sends E-vites to all the members of the group with the info and main dish idea. All the members that plan to come RSVP and post their idea for a side dish that they’ll bring unless they have no idea. This usually eliminates duplicate dishes. When the day of the party arrives, all the host has to do is make gaming room in their house and clear a space for everybody’s food. Easy, fun, and so yummy!

Here’s a quick example from a potluck we hosted a couple of months ago.

We provided chili, rice, and iced tea. Our friends brought the rest of the fixings (shredded cheese, fritos, cups, ice, dessert, and random appetizers). Everybody had a great time and we gamed until 2am. It cost us about $15 and our guests spent anywhere from $3 to $10 on their contributions. We all had a great time and nobody paid an arm and a leg for the evening.

What about you? Do you enjoy potlucks or do you have alternate ideas?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Guest Post at Studenomics – How to Buy a Car

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to MD over at Studenomics for inviting me to guest post!

Feel free to take a look at “How to Buy a Car – What You Need to Know so You Don’t Get Ripped Off” to see my take on the car buying experience.

I have been working with finance managers for car dealerships for about 5 years, so this is experience talking.  Please feel free to contact me with specific questions since one blog post is not enough to fit everything in that I have learned.  :-)

Thanks again to MD!

Diminishing Inheritance Returns?

One of my much-appreciated commenters, MikeS, emailed me this CNN article, "Stop Squandering My Inheritance!" 

Quick summary: If you want to preserve your inheritance, shower your elderly parents with time and attention.

Really?!  Parents actually appreciate being talked to?  Say it ain't so!

Okay, I'm dropping the sarcasm stick, but I did find this article extremely amusing for the following reasons:

1.  If you don't want to feel like a gold digger, then don't be one!  It's your parents' money.  Period.  Back off.  Unless their sanity is actually in question, buzz off bucko!  Save for your own retirement and treat an inheritance like I'd treat social would be nice but mostly unexpected.

2.  I can't believe actual money was spent on a study to prove that parents rather leave money for loved ones than kids that ignore them...does anybody see a break through here?

3.  If you do have actual worries, I think you should approach your parents respectfully.  They may tell you to suck it up and buzz off, but that is their perogative.

4.  Visiting and talking to your parents JUST because they are about to die seems very wrong.

I hope my parents have tons of fun with their money.  My only wishes are that they stay healthy for as long as possible, die late in life, and leave enough money to follow through on their final wishes.  They raised three very intelligent, willful, and stubborn children.  We will be fine.  :-)

What do you think?  Did you see this article in a different light?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Would We Do If We Lose a Job?

I responded to a very interesting post at Darwin's Finance last month. Darwin was thinking about which expenses were unnecessary and could easily be cut in an emergency. I quickly listed off what my husband and I talked about, but I've changed my mind a little over the last few weeks. Here was my original list but I've crossed out the two things that would only be cut if we were in dire need:
  • Gas $40 – No more driving to work.
  • Mortgage Overpayment $160 – We would only pay the $740 due instead of the $900 we’ve been paying.
  • Massage Envy Membership $49 – My husband loves it but agrees it would go first.
  • Vacation Account $250 – That’s how much we put in a month to take a couple of annual vacations.
  • Eating out $100 – We’ve only eat out a couple of times a week now and would cut that out. Last year it was 4-6 times a week, but we started cooking mainly at home in 2010.
  • Entertainment Expenses $50 – We don’t go to the movies or participate in many paid activities, so that’s as much as we could cut. We’d still hang with friends, have potlucks, and board game though.
  • “Fun” Money Allowance $150 – We each get $75 to just spend every month.
  • Biweekly Maid Service $90 – I love Jacquie and would invite her over for dinner, but we would have to cut this cost.
  • Newspaper subscription $6.50 – We pay $19.50 for 13 weeks of the Houston Chronicle…I use the coupons but we don’t need them. I’ll buy more from Angel Food Ministries.
  • Groceries $100 – We could cut back to $300 or less a month if we needed to.
That’s all we could cut and still be happy. That adds up to $995.50 and includes cutting back on our extra mortgage principal payments.
If we were about to starve, I’d stop contributing up to matching in my 401k and stop maxing out our Roth IRA to save $575 a month.

We could probably get rid of cable, internet, and our cell phones for a total of $160 a month…but it would be hard to get a job without the internet and a cell phone and I don’t want to live with my husband if he doesn’t have cable.

I realized we would need the internet and cell phones more than ever since job hunting would be freaking hard without them. I also came to the conclusion that we need cable or Netflix or we'd go nuts.

Finally, I decided we wouldn't let go of our housekeeper, Jacquie, unless we really were close to losing everything. We are one of her few remaining jobs due to this absolutely wonderful economy...I'd literally be taking food from her mouth. I just couldn't do that unless we were in real trouble. So Jacquie, if you ever read this, thank you so much!

I loved Darwin's idea for this post! It helped me prioritize even more than I usually do. What would/could you cut? What would be really hard to give up?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Venting - Lohan Sues Etrade for $100 Million, What?!

Okay, I don't usually read celebrity crud, but there was this article on my homepage staring me in the face. 

Lindsay Lohan is suing Etrade for a really funny commercial (the Milkaholic Baby one) because they used her first name!  Not just suing, but suing for $100 Million Dollars!!!  She thinks that Lindsay is in the same category as Oprah, Cher, and Madonna.  Yeah right!  And she thinks her pain and suffering for this commercial is worth $100 Million.  My head is going to explode.

Wow, just wow.  I like that Superbowl commercial and I never once thought it had anything to do with her. 

I wasn't a fan before and now I will actively avoid whatever she's associated with...what does she do now, movies or music?

What are we Saving For?

Hubby and I have one life goal – to be happy. That led us to our main financial goal – early retirement.

We are not those people who define themselves through their career. We don’t think retirement would be boring. We have no problem thinking of ways to fill in our spare time.

A happy retirement to us is when we can do what we want with our day without worrying if we can afford it. Luckily, the things we want are cheap, so this is attainable.

Hubby wants to watch tv, board game, video game, participate in Curling, continue being a sports official, vacation, and play Magic: The Gathering till the wee hours of the morning.

I want to hang out with friends even more, have more potlucks, have more movie nights, take a few vacations a year, volunteer even more with dogs, deliver food for Meals on Wheels, and get involved in a couple of hiking groups.

And these are just the ideas we can spout off in a few minutes…talk with us for an hour or two and you’d be amazed what we could come up with to fill those “lonely” days...ahhhh...

To get back to it, hubby will be eligible for his full pension at age 52, so that is our target retirement year. Based on our current and planned savings and our current and planned expenses, we have a very realistic chance at reaching this goal.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to fit in as much as we can of our fun stuff and try to enjoy our jobs as much as possible. You never know what life is going to throw you, right? Might as well live like there’s no tomorrow and save like there will be many...

What are your goals? Do they keep you motivated in the mean-time?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Determining Our "Allowances"

As a few of my last posts mentioned, my husband and I get $75 each every month for “fun” money and $100 to use jointly for date nights or other shared entertainment expenses.  Coming up with this system actually took us a few years. 

The idea of an “allowance” was a turn off in our early twenties.  We thought we were frugal enough that we would just naturally choose not to spend much.  That lasted for a while until I realized that I wouldn’t allow myself to buy anything and I resented my husband’s big purchases.  I’d buy gifts for others, but I kept putting off everything I really wanted (like a pair of discounted Crocs for $30 or even a new pair of $15 jeans).  Then I’d see hubby spend $100 on Magic: The Gathering and feel like the world was ending. 

I think I was somewhere between a nag and an outright b…well, you know.  That’s when my husband insisted on a new system and I whole-heartedly agreed.

We decided that we’d get allotted “fun” money and I’d stop critiquing those purchases.  We chose a total of $250 a month since it would work based on our current spending and that $100 of it should be put aside since we go out together frequently and didn’t want to handle a silly “who’s paying” situation. 

Since then, I’ve developed a healthy addiction to Shirt Woot and a slightly annoying addiction to ABC Distributing…I never knew how much I craved cheap junk…seriously, I have to watch myself.  I still don’t come anywhere near my $75 limit, but I don’t freak out anymore when I decide to splurge a bit (like my $35 work Crocs or my $11-$16 funny shirts).

My hubby saves up for a few months, spends it all, and starts over.  It seems to keep him happy although I know he wishes he had more than $75 to work with…maybe after one of us gets a raise. 

I try much harder to accept his 60,000 MtG card collection and I’m even supportive of his new obsession with Curling. 

All I can say is allowances aren’t just for kids anymore…which is ironic since I never had one then either.  :-)

What system do you use?  How do you successfully budget in the fun?  LOL...shameless plug...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Pets, My Favorite Luxury Expense

I might hear about this from both sides (pro-pet and anti-pet people), but I consider our pet expenses “fun” money.

Pets, specifically our two adopted dogs, are a necessary “luxury” expense for me. I don’t need them for any medical reasons – in fact, I believe they have turned me into a Claritin addict. We aren’t depressed without them. They aren’t making us any money at all and cost a pretty penny.

BUT, I love being able to come home and watch our dogs do silly things or have them on the couch with keeping me company and the other keeping my feet warm. Most recently, watching them play has made me laugh until my side hurt. But, they are definitely an extra expense for us and are budgeted as such.

Our 12 year old dachshund mutt was a rescue from the Houston SPCA - $75 up front (years ago) plus a $45 vet visit 4 years ago. We also had her teeth cleaned for $150.

Our 7 year old Pug was adopted from PugHearts: Houston Pug Rescue - $200 up front (last year) plus a few vet visits in the last year. He had bad teeth, a removeable tumor, and some kind of strange allergy problem. This all cost about $750 and I’ve only had him a year. Yes, I’d get him again anyway, but I’m really glad we budgeted for crud like this.

For both dogs, flea preventative is about $150 a year, heartworm preventative is about $80 a year, shots are about $50 a year, a vet visit is a minimum of $65, and food is about $400 a year (Blue Buffalo since the Pug may have food allergies…we’ll see if this helps in the next month).

There are cheaper options (like feeding them Nutro Max instead), but this gives you an idea. We have spent about $3000 in 5 years and we’re lucky compared to other pet owners I have talked to.

In short, if you want a dog, I would aim for at least $1000 a year per dog. I believe they are totally worth it. I will probably always own at least one or two dogs at any given time. All I can say is, “Yay for discretionary spending!”

Do you have pets? Do you think they’re worth it?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let's Get Controversial - Paying for College for Kids

I’ve decided to use this week to get through some of the controversial issues I see on other blogs. I’m simply going to post my opinions and see what you think.

Today's topic:  Fronting College Costs

My hubby and I don’t have kids, but we remember college.  I had some help from my parents and my husband was covered 100%.

I can’t think of anything concrete to base an opinion on.  I had a higher GPA than my husband, but I don’t know if money had anything to do with that.  My parents are retired and my husband’s are not, but I’m not sure if his college expenses are what held them back.  In short, I’m not sure what is best for your situation, but here’s my opinion.

I’d save for retirement before I’d save for my kid’s college expenses.  My kid can get scholarships, grants, a job, or loans.  There is none of that for retired people.  I rather not have to depend on others to provide for me in my old age, so I believe in retirement first.

What if you are good for retirement?  Well, that’s trickier.  I remember how mature and how selfish I was as a teenager.  Yes, I could handle money, but I was sooo manipulative.  I don’t believe my grades would have been worse if my parents had covered me, but I might have gotten into more trouble.  What are your kids like?  Do you think they will see your help as the miracle it is and earn their keep?  Or do you think they will party the nights away since it’s not their money?

If I was a parent and knew I could help, I’d make them this deal.  I have X amount to contribute.  If I see them working their butts off to get all the scholarships and grants as possible, I’ll help them cover the rest if I can.  If they continue to work their butts off, I’ll continue trying to help.  If at any point they decide to take advantage (like fail a class or two or become alcoholics), I’ll pull the plug.

The best idea I’ve heard of was from a lady that left a comment on a blog I read last year.  Her parents agreed to pay for the housing expenses of all 3 of their kids, but the kids had to cover everything else.  This motivated her and her siblings to get as much “free” money as possible and work summers to cover the rest.  That seemed really helpful and fair.

What do you think?  To pay or not to pay, that is the question.  Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  :-)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Let's Get Controversial - Credit Cards

I’ve decided to use this week to get through some of the controversial issues I see on other blogs.  I’m simply going to post my opinions and see what you think.

Today’s topic:  Credit Cards *cue scary music*

Let’s just rip off the Band-Aid, I love using credit cards for as much as possible, getting my rewards, and paying them off a few days after I receive my emailed statements.  It makes my super-anal budgeting system so much easier.  I like getting cash back rewards.  Oh, and I hate debit cards, but that’s my own fault.  I’m old school…I actually keep up with every single checking account debit and credit in a check book.  Writing down hundreds of tiny charges does not sound like fun to me.

I got my first card when I was 18.  I’ve never been in credit card debt.  I’ve never received a fee or any interest charges.  If you are addicted to spending or cannot control yourself with a credit card, PLEASE DON’T USE THEM.  Otherwise, why the heck not?!

We have a Discover More card, a Discover Open Road card, and a World Points MasterCard.  We use the Discover More card for everything possible except car expenses, the Discover Open Road card for car stuff like gas, and the MasterCard for anybody that doesn’t accept Discover.  These are the rewards we received in 2009:

Discover More = $263.26 cash back for $21,570 spent (1.22%)
Discover Open Road = $59.18 cash back for $1895 spent (3.12%)
Mastercard = $105.95 cash back for $10,595 spent (1%)
So in all, I earned $428.39 with purchases of $34,060 for a return of 1.26%.

Rewards will not make us rich, but I was going to make all of these purchases anyway.  For example, $8500 of our MasterCard total was for graduate school expenses…I love the fact we got anything back from that!  Yes, there are higher paying rewards cards - check out this Free Money Finance post and comments or the countless other posts online – but I like Discover.  No hard and fast reason, but I’m pretty loyal until a company ticks me off or I can really clean up by moving on.

I also love being able to purchase discount gift cards using Discover cash back.  Do you know how many of our friends and family are Starbucks addicts?  Tons!  Do you know how many of them have birthdays?  All of them!  I love being able to get a $50 Starbucks gift card for $45…I turn around and use it to buy two $25 gift cards and that’s two adults that will be super happy not to receive socks.  No, I’ve never actually gifted socks before, but you get the point.

Ok, what do you think?  Do you use credit cards?  Why or why not?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hundred Goals' Blog Carnival #1

Quick FYI, Steven over at Hundred Goals is being kind enough to host a Blog Carnival to introduce new bloggers and give us a chance to show you what we have to offer. 

Please take a look and/or pass this on...we new bloggers are looking for some great readers - don't be afraid to participate.  Thanks!

Let's Get Controversial - Joint Accounts in Marriage

I’ve decided to use this week to get through some of the controversial issues I see on other blogs. I’m simply going to post my opinions and see what you think.

Today’s topic:  Joint Finances in Marriage

My husband and I have joint finances…joint bank accounts, checking accounts, and both our names are on the mortgage.  My husband insisted this was the only way to go a couple of years before we actually got married.  Honestly, I didn’t care.  I wanted to be able to see all of our money.  I wanted to talk about our money.  I wanted to set joint goals.  BUT, I couldn’t care less about joint accounts.  Obviously, he cared, I didn’t, so we did it.

Looking back, it is SOOO much easier this way.  So, yes honey, you were right.  :-)

We both knew that I’m more detail-oriented (aka anal) when it comes to money.  Almost immediately after getting married, we just settled into the flow we have now.  I manage our budget, bank accounts, checking accounts, my 401k, and our only Roth IRA (for now).  I hate dealing with stocks, so he manages our Scottrade account and will be managing our second Roth IRA as well.  We talk about all these things all the time since we love talking money and goals…it’s our thing… :-)

As a side note, I doubt I will blog much about stocks…sorry people, the research involved bores me.  If you really push me, I will get my husband to do a guest blog post.

So, we didn’t have a come-to-Jesus meeting or anything…our financial responsibilities were pretty easy to figure out.

Here are my questions for the non-joint account married people:
How do you handle your retirement goals?  Is it still going to be mutual money when you both retire?  Do you currently split the bills and plan to in your old age as well?  What happens if one person just doesn’t save, does the other one have to save for both retirements? 

Thanks in advance for any answers.  I’m sincerely curious and not judging at all.

For those of you who have joint finances, how is that working out?

For those of you who don’t have to deal with this right now, what are your future plans in this area?

Monday, March 1, 2010

February 2010 Net Worth

We calculate our net worth as listed below.  We don't include the value of our possessions, we round down to the nearest hundred for assets, and we round up to the nearest hundred for liabilities.

1. Cash - $23,000
2. Stocks - $11,900
3. Retirement - $32,100
4. Home - $130,000
5. Cars - $17,000

1. Home - $73,900
2. Car - $12,000

Total Net Worth = $128,100
Increase/Decrease = Up $3400 from last month

I base the value of our home on two things: comparables selling in our neighborhood and the estimated appraisal by Chase Home Value Estimator.  I will always estimate low.

I base the value of our cars on Kelley Blue Book's Private Party Value of our vehicles in "Good" condition truncated down to the nearest $1000.  For example, if my car is valued at $4600, I'd calculate that as $4000.

Please feel free to visit the archive to see our past net worths.

Let's Get Controversial - Hiring Help

I’ve decided to use this week to get through some of the controversial issues I see on other blogs. I’m simply going to post my opinions and see what you think.

Today’s Topic:  Outsourcing / Hiring Help

The comments to this post at Get Rich Slowly were the proverbial “straw” that motivated me to start this blog.

If you haven’t read the post or don’t have time, it boils down this; a 26 year old that sold a company for a million dollars felt a little lost in her “early retirement”.  She wasn’t as happy as she thought she’d be until she discovered outsourcing.  She hired a personal assistant, a housekeeper, a personal chef, and two foreign virtual assistants so she could do fun stuff and start a new business.

As you can guess, people went nuts for a variety of reasons.  I honed in on all the commenters that had a freaking cow about having a housekeeper or a personal chef.  As someone who happily has a housekeeper, a lawn service, and a CPA, I was offended.  Then I was curious.

Why not hire a housekeeper? 

I got a response that blew my mind; by not doing my own housework, I’m not taking responsibility for my home.  What?!

Take it from me; it would be more irresponsible to depend on my husband or me to keep the house up to standards (well, maybe low standards…).  Sorry, house, I love you, but I hate cleaning.  Sorry, yard, you’re cool and all, but I’m never going to weed you.

As the name of my blog states, I have no problem budgeting in the fun stuff.  This includes budgeting in for the not fun stuff.  I choose to spend as much time possible on the things that I time, hanging out with friends, and blogging.  :-)

Okay, now that I’ve vented, what say you?  Why do you outsource?  Why don’t you?