Archive for April, 2008
After years of working for the same company I am becoming more and more disillusioned and disappointed by my current position. I have considered leaving on more occasions than I can count, but after careful analysis I always decide to stay.
For the last couple of years I have been plagued by health issues that require a flexible work schedule. On a weekly basis I visit with at least two health practitioners, sometimes more. Chronic pain also makes it difficult to stick to a weekly work schedule. Some days I am able to fight the pain and go into the office, on other days my only option is to work from home.
Despite its faults my current job provides the flexibility I need. Finding a new, more challenging job would certainly be more enjoyable and rewarding, but I doubt I could find a position with as much flexibility, so for the time being I am staying put. I have no idea how long I will stay, but as of today I have no plans to leave. Of course, if my health improves I will certainly reconsider my options.
Many people work at jobs they dislike for similar reasons. A co-worker of mine dislikes her job, but admits that she can leave it at the office at the end of the day. With a small child at home she doesn’t want a job that requires her to work long, stress filled hours. Although her job isn’t particularly rewarding, it provides the greatest benefit to her, uninterrupted time with her family after hours.
I don’t hate my job. I just don’t particularly enjoy it. But most importantly, at the end of the day, I am clear about why I have not found a new job. I know that under different circumstances I would move on to a new position. I also know that given my current circumstances I am lucky and grateful to have a job that provides the thing I need most. At this time flexibility trumps all of my other desires.
The 150th Carnival of Personal Finance is up over at Lazy Man and Money. I submitted Saving Pennies… Wasting Dollars, a post about how I unknowingly paid $60 in fees for a cell phone subscription service I never signed up for. The moral of the story: read all of your bills carefully, especially online versions of your bills.
My favorite article was 20 Ways to Earn More and Spend Less: Steps to Becoming a Frugal Capitalist by Digerati Life. I enjoyed this article so much I mentioned it in a post a few weeks back.
As I’ve mentioned before I am a bit of an anti-clutter fanatic. When we first moved into our house my husband joked about the chotchke law I enacted. Initially, I allowed no more than three chotchkes to cover the shelves and table tops in each room of our home. If an extra chotchke was added, an older one had to be taken away. Of course, the law has been broken many times, but in general the goal is to keep each room as clear of unnecessary clutter as possible.
As I type this I realize it sound a bit neurotic, but the truth is I cannot concentrate with a lot of stuff lying around. In fact, when I was a kid I would clean my room before I studied for a big exam or wrote a term paper, and to this day I cannot get my thoughts in order until I clean the room I’m in.
Over time I’ve found that this somewhat neurotic tendency seems to save us quite a bit of money. Living simply, in and of itself, helps us save significantly. When I was growing up my next door neighbor collected Elvis memorabilia. She spent a significant portion of her paychecks on posters and figurines, which not only cost a lot of money, but required a lot of maintenance and cleaning. Obviously, keeping our shelves and table tops free of knick-knacks keeps more money in our pocket. Not collecting saves us a ton of money.
Keeping an organized home also allows us to keep track of the things we own. For example, an orderly pantry allows us to keep track of the staples in our diet. As soon as we run low on rice or pasta I can start tracking grocery store circulars for sales on these items. Simply being aware of what we have on hand allows us to prepare for our next purchase. If coupons arrive in the newspaper I’ll be sure to clip them. 99% of the time I’m able to purchase the needed item at a discounted price. This organization also cuts down on our need for emergency trips to the store. How often have you come home to make spaghetti and realized you were all out of pasta? If you make an emergency trip to the store you are bound to pay full price for that item. If you know well in advance that you will soon be in need of pasta you can wait for a sale.
Keeping our home organized has also taught me a lot about our spending habits. Although my stuff has always been neat and orderly there has from time to time been a lot of it. As an English major I have purchased my fair share of books. Over the last few years as I began to purge our home of unused items I found hundreds of books littering our bookshelves. Most had been read only once, some had never been read at all. As I went through my shelves I counted thousands of dollars worth of books. As I pulled each book off the shelf I realized how silly it was to spend $20 – $30 on a book I never planned to read again. As I lugged books off to the library, and sold them on eBay, I vowed to change my book-buying habits. Although, I still purchase a lot of books, I now only buy them used or swap them whenever possible. Most of the time I don’t keep them on hand after I read them. Unless I really love the book I’ll sell, donate, or swap it.
I found the same problem as I cleaned out my closets. Dresses that had been worn only once, and sweaters that had only been worn a handful of times. As I looked through my drawers I realized that I wear some items over and over again and others almost never at all. I piled up the unworn and unwanted items for donation and decided to alter my shopping habits. I drastically cut back on the number of new clothes that I purchase each year. The items I do purchase must make it into the favorite rotation. For the most part this means I purchase more practical items, clothing that can be worn over and over again. I think long and hard about each purchase, and if I think the item will end up in the back of the closet I put it back on the rack and walk out of the store.
As time goes on, the more organized our home becomes, the less we seem to spend. Simply agreeing to cut down on the amount of clutter we bring into our home saves us the most money, but organization as a whole helps us save even more.
As the prices of every day consumer goods rise it seems the typical consumer is spending less and less money for furniture and clothing. The earnings forecasts so far this year, (for the majority of retail stores), has been continually gloomy. After all, if we need to spend more to feed ourselves, we’ll have to find a way to cloth ourselves for less money.
Interestingly, while sales for typical retailers like department, furniture, and clothing stores is falling, sales for consignment stores and discount retailers is rising. Over the past year retail sales in this sector have risen by 2.2 billion. Sales grew from $28.1 billion in February of ’08 from $25.9 billion in February of ’07. In fact, second-hand stores are known for withstanding economic downturns.
The trend for second-hand stores seems to be two-fold. First, consumers want to find a bargain. Consignment stores often sell brand new items, (with the tags still on), for 50 – 75% less than typical department stores. Second, consignment stores are now viewed as eco-friendly. Why purchase something new at full price, when you can purchase something that serves the purpose just as well, but is slightly used?
Second-hand shops and discount retailers are known for riding out economic downturns, but I find it interesting that consumers typically return to paying full price at department stores once the downturn is over.
A bright pink bridesmaid dress has been sitting in the back of my closet since April of 2006. It’s never been worn. I purchased it for a wedding that never took place. I’ve tried to get rid of it on a number of occasions. I shipped it to a place called Glamour Closet in California, which used to pay 50% for any bridesmaid dress that sold. Unfortunately, shortly after the dress arrived, the store owner changed her business model, and within a month the dress was shipped right back to me.
Years ago I tried to sell it on eBay. When it failed to sell I planned on giving it away at a prom fair, but somehow I kept missing the dates. Every time I clean out my closet I stare at this dress and wonder how I can make good use of it, but somehow after all of the other clutter and unwanted items are discarded that poor bridesmaid dress remains. I have the best intentions to give it away and then somehow I never actually get rid of it.
Lately rather than getting rid of it, I’ve been thinking about making something out of it. I’ve moved it out of the closet and onto my dining room table where I’ll be forced to do something with it. My two-year-old niece loves to play dress up. I think I might be able to make some fancy little skirts or tutus out of it.
If anyone has any ideas of what to do with an unwanted bridesmaid dress please leave me a comment. I either need to make something out of this dress or finally get rid of it.
Today I received an automated email that my cell phone bill was available for viewing. I know this is going to sound rather odd, but I almost never look at the phone bill. Our phone bill is usually over 15 pages long. It contains all of the calls and text messages we’ve made and received over the month. Some months we make more calls then others, so each month the total we owe is entirely unique.
Today the bill seemed rather large so I decided to take a peak at it. Sure enough, at the bottom of the 15 page bill I found an unexplained charge for $9.99. I called AT&T and a very cordial and polite representative told me my our cell phone had been set up for a subscription service. Neither my husband or I remember signing up for the service, but nonetheless it cost $9.99 a month. I asked that the service be cancelled and the charges refunded. A few minutes later the representative let me know that our bill will be refunded by $19.98. (Charges for the last two months.) I thanked her and hung up the phone.
I decided to look through the last six months of bills and found that the subscription service had been established back in November, so we have been paying an extra $9.99 a month for a service that we didn’t know we had and don’t want. I called back AT&T to ask for credit for the last six months, but the representative told me they can’t credit charges on bills that are more than two months old.
The moral to this story is clear: read your bills before you pay them. Okay, lesson learned. But as I was thinking through the issue I found it rather comical that on one hand I am typing the ISBNs of my books into an online database in an effort to recoup lost costs, while I’m simultaneously paying for a service that I do not use. Sometimes I find myself trying to save pennies when I am in fact wasting dollars.
I cleaned out the last of my bookshelves this week and purged a bunch of books that I haven’t read in ages. In the past I’ve sold books on eBay, but my last few book sales didn’t bring in much money. A number of the books sold for less than $2. This time around I didn’t want to go through the hassle of packaging and shipping to a zillion different buyers. I wanted to find a buyer and ship all of my books off to one location.
I’ve done this a couple times before using both Cash4Books and BlueRectangle. This time around I used BookScouter.com to find the book buying site providing the most money. With BookScouter you simply type in the ISBN number of the book you want to sell and click ‘Search for the Best Prices.’ The system scans 20+ book buying sites and provides the price each site is willing to pay for the ISBN you entered.
After entering a whole bunch of ISBN numbers into BookScouter.com I ultimately settled on selling my books to TextBooks.com. TextBooks.com wanted more of my books then any other vendor and they offered more money for most of the books I had to offer. I only wish I had known about BookScouter.com before I sold books the last time. On average the books I sold to TextBooks.com priced between $2 – $5, plus they provided a prepaid shipping label.
I also decided to keep a few books and post them on PaperBackSwap.com. I know a lot of people rave about these new book swapping sites. So far, I haven’t seen any books I want to swap for, but I figure it can’t hurt to list them and see what happens.
I really enjoyed 20 Ways To Earn More and Spend Less: Steps To Becoming A Frugal Capitalist over at Digerati Life. This was a follow-up from Digerati’s post from the previous day: Spend Less Than You Earn Or Earn More Than You Spend? I couldn’t stop laughing as I read the first post. The frugal behaviors described me perfectly, the capitalist behaviors described my husband.
I’ve never taken the time to specifically think about the differences between these two types of behaviors, but the Digerati Life does a great job of detailing the differences and providing examples of both. While I’m busy avoiding temptations, clipping coupons, and making lists, my husband invests in himself, is working towards a second career, (not just a second job), and is constantly on the lookout for money making opportunities. We do share behaviors from both camps, I research our investments, and he postpones purchases, but our basic mindsets reside in opposite camps. He focuses on earning more money while I focus on making the most of the money we earn.
Entertainment.com is offering another sale on the 2008 Entertainment book. Right now all books are on sale for $15 plus free shipping. Ebates offers an additional $6 in cash back savings on all Entertainment Book purchases. Simply search Ebates for the words Entertainment Book to find the coupon offer. If you have an Ebates account you’ll pay $15 up front, and receive $6 back, resulting in a net price of $9.
My last two posts focused on the financial assistance parents are often asked to provide for their adult children. This weekend Michelle Singletary looked at the flip side of this issue suggesting that adult children should provide financial assistance to their parents.
Singletary, a writer for the Washington Post, notes that she often receives emails “from retired seniors who are having to tap into their savings to help grown children who are in trouble. Grandparents are helping pay the expenses of grandchildren. And these are not children who parents have abandoned them… These are children being raised in a middle-class, two-parent, two-income households.”
She asks, “In their senior years, shouldn’t it be their adult children sending them money?” She suggests that the younger generation is so selfishly focused on their own needs and desires that they allow their parents to fund their skyrocketing desires without realizing that those handouts may be diminishing the wealth of their own parents.
Singletary was raised by her grandmother, and in college she sent home money to help pay her grandmother’s property taxes and groceries. As she ages, (if the need arises), she expects her children to do the same for her. In fact, she jokes that her three children are Plan B for retirement. Plan A is to fund her retirement account, save religiously, and pay off her mortgage before she retires. Plan B is to have her children take care of her needs. Of course, in order to do this, adult children must learn how to handle their finances. Singletary urges parents to teach their children how to handle money and to teach them early.
Providing financial assistance to parents is an interesting financial planning topic. Time and time again we hear financial advisors say you can obtain a loan for a car, a house, or college, but you cannot obtain a loan for retirement. Yet we constantly read stories like those Singletary mentions above. Stories in which retired parents are footing the bills of their adult children. If parents are continually shelling out financial assistance for their children, it’s not so difficult to envision a time when they will not be able to support their own basic needs.
With the savings rate in negative territory it’s clear that many individuals are not thinking about saving money for the future. Clearly, adult children who are asking for money, will not have the financial standing to support their aging parents. This is another example of the importance of teaching children about money. Rather than looking for handouts from their parents, perhaps children should be looking at ways to support the parents who so dutifully raised and cared for them.
If you want to check out this week’s Color of Money article, Pay Your Dues When Your Parents Age, click here.