Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September Round Up

This has been a rough month at Distilled Rose Personal Finance. I started my third job, so I haven't been as active on the blog as I would like. 

The most popular articles this month were:

A big thank you to this months top commenters:

Thanks to these blogs/sites for sending me so many referrals:

And the most searched for terms that brought people here were:

"is wamu safe now"
"is wamu safe"
"how safe is wamu now"

I guess I know what was on a lot of peoples minds this month!

So a big thanks to my 931 visitors and 46 subscribers! Tomorrow I will have my Net Worth update. For now though, I pose a question to you:

What do you most enjoy reading about on Distilled Rose? Do you like reading about finance news, opinions, being frugal, my personal journey getting out of debt.... what do I post about that makes you happy?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bye Bye Wachovia, and the Bailout is Rejected

Image by rednuht

Today has been a pretty crazy day in the financial world. Citi bought Wachovia today, therefore rescuing it from a messy failure. Wachovia was the next big bank on the watch list, so that will probably make things a little easier for them. 
The stock markets have tanked today after it was announced that the house rejected the $700 Billion Bailout plan. I have to say, I'm a bit relieved that it was rejected, mostly because yes... it is A solution, but I don't think it is the RIGHT solution. 
So basically, the financial sky is falling. Hang on to your hats because it is going to be a bumpy ride. 
Here is what I'm doing. Nothing. I'm sticking to reducing my debt and building my savings. I'm keeping my money where it is. I don't have any money in the stock market because it's not my kind of thing. I feel like it's too volatile. I have my trusty ING Direct accounts, and the rest of my money is in Bank of America, which appears to be one of the more stable banks right now. 
What should you do? Well, if you have a WaMu or a Wachovia account, don't worry. You should have a pretty seamless transition to either Citi or Chase. If you have money in the stock market you need to talk to a financial advisor right now to figure out if you are invested in the right stocks. Consider making adjustments to your portfolio. 
My biggest piece of advice, though, is to tighten your belt a little if you can and to try and save a little more and spend a little less while we all ride this out. 
They will be putting the bailout back on the table soon, I believe. Hopefully they will have come up with a solution that helps people more than institutions, but we'll see. 

On a side note, it's my wonderful husband's birthday today. 

Happy birthday, Andrew. You are my heart. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Atlanta Gas "Crisis"

Image by Cindy47452

As far as I know, this has been going on in other places in the country too. 

Right now, Atlanta is out of gas. There are a few gas stations here and there that have some, and then it runs out while people are lined up. 

This is a very frustrating situation for everyone because you have to drive around looking for gas, and then you have to wait in line. 

Last week, we had a day where I had no gas, but he had some, so that day we took the gas can out, found gas, put it in the can, took it to my car, put it in my car, then I went and filled up the car. 

Today, I was almost out, he has no gas in his car and very little in his scooter. So, we went and did the same thing again. We drove part way across town to a gas station, got in line, waited for twenty minutes, and the station ran out while we were there. 

So we then went, on fumes of course, a few more miles until we found another station, waited in line again, and filled up my car all the way and the gas can too. So we have a gallon for his scooter and he'll just keep his car parked for now. 

So here are my issues:

- We wasted probably a gallon of gas getting the gas

- I had to fill my car up all the way, which is very expensive and makes my car heavy

- There are hundreds of people in the city idling their cars while they wait for gas, which is bad for the environment. 

- Supply is completely unreliable and there is no apparent system for distribution

- We are way too dependent on gas

It's this last one that drives me nuts. When I had my scooter, I got around on a gallon of gas every two weeks. Now with me car, I am dependent on filling up with gas every week or two. My gas consumption has increased tenfold. I wish so much that I was ready to get back on a scooter again, or that I was at least financially capable of purchasing one. 

I also wish that SUV's didn't exist. I know that is harsh, and they have their uses, but I bet that most of the people that are driving them really don't need to, and they waste so much fuel with their size. I look forward to the day when there is some kind of regulation about new cars being required to get a certain mpg. I know that I will always drive small cars. 

What are your thoughts? Does this situation drive you nuts, too? 

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Friday, September 26, 2008

CashCrate Comes Through - My First Check

A while ago I told you about CashCrate, an online survey site that allows you to make some money by filling out offers and referring new members. 

I put in about 40 minutes to an hour at the end of August with this program, and today I received my check for the work I did. I now have in my hand a check from Kingside Media for $13.39. 
This means that I got paid about $15 an hour for my work from them, and I did this during some downtime I had. So, I'm definitely sticking with it and I highly recommend that if you want to make a little extra passive income, you sign up too!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

WaMu Seized by the FDIC - JP Morgan Steps In

It was announced just a short while ago that the FDIC has seized Washington Mutual's deposits and that JP Morgan is buying it. 
This is the 13th bank to fail this year, a sure sign that the US is in pretty deep financial trouble. 
Everyone saw that Washington Mutual was in trouble, but I think we all hoped that it would ride it out. I, for one, didn't think it would actually fold. 
So if you are a Washington Mutual customer, don't worry, your money is FDIC insured if you have less than $100,000. You'll be notified probably by mail about what happens next and everything should keep working in the meantime. 
The biggest sign that WaMu was in trouble for me was the rapid hike in Savings Account Interest Rates. This occurred because WaMu was trying to attract as much business as it could to get enough money to keep going. So keep an eye out for similar behavior from other banks. I doubt this will be the last failure we see this year, but I really hope nothing bigger goes under. 

So what is your take on this? Could this have been avoided? Will it happen again? Should we be scared?

I know that I'm going to be keeping a very close eye on the economy and on announcements from other banks right now. I hope all of you WaMu customers have a smooth and easy transition over to JP Morgan. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And Another One...

One of the golden rules of Personal Finance is to spend less than you earn. Because of all the various and sundry things that happened to my finances in the last year, I decided to get a second job to help me get out of debt faster. I also needed to make more money because my minimum payments were higher than what I was earning, due to having to add in a car payment. 

I started my second job in July, working as a sales associate in a store. I was working there Saturdays and Sundays, but had to cut back to just Saturdays because I wasn't getting to see my husband enough. 
So that left me with a very very small secondary income and when an opportunity came by to interview for another part time job, I took it. I ended up getting the job and so tomorrow I will be working from 9pm-3pm at the new job and then from 3:30pm - 9:30pm at my regular job.

My schedule is my regular job Monday - Friday with additional morning hours (6 each day) at my new job on Thursdays and Friday's, and then Saturdays at the store. 

I now have three jobs. I know that it'll be financially worth it, but this is going to be really really hard. Please excuse me while I pass out. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

101 Top Personal Finance Tips - Part 4

Image by Kiki99

Welcome to Part 4 of my Top Personal Finance Tips Series. The other installments can be found at the bottom of this post. To get all of them delivered to your feed reader or inbox, don't forget to subscribe to my RSS feed!

16. Get Health Insurance

Health Insurance can end up saving you buckets of money. For example, I have insurance and after being involved in a pretty nasty accident, I paid $200 of co-pays. I was in the hospital for about four to five hours after being brought in my ambulance and they billed my insurance company over $12,000. If I hadn't had that insurance, I would probably have been responsible for almost all of that. Insurance is a great safety net. 

17. Go Vegetarian

Meat is pricey, and at times unhealthy. Beans are fantastic and inexpensive protein supplements and you can get a lot of iron from greens. Another personal favorite of mine is to use Seitan as a meat substitute. It absorbs marinades wonderfully and is a great substitute in anything, but particularly in things like fajitas. Seitan is just wheat gluten mixed with water or vegetable stock and then boiled and seasoned. It's incredibly cheap. 

18. Snack From Scratch

There are many "convenience" foods that you can make from scratch and often it takes very little time. Popcorn is  fantastic example. Instead of buying microwave packs, just buy the raw popcorn kernels. Put a teaspoon of oil in a pan, add a handful or two of kernels, cover the pan and cook over a low heat. Shake the pan regularly. When you can count to three between pops, they are done. 

19. Ask For a Rent Reduction

If you are a renter, check in with your landlord or property manager to see if your rent can be lowered at all. If you tell them you are considering moving because the rent is too expensive, they may choose to lower it rather than losing you as tenant. 

20. Air Dry Your Dishes

Small as it may seem, opening up the dishwasher right after the rinse cycle and letting the dishes air dry will save energy and money. Even if you don't have the dishes on a dry cycle, them having that time to dry where the little knob is still turning does take some energy. Because your dishes will be warm, they will also dry quite quickly. In the winter, this will also inject a much needed dose of heat into the house.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Reader Mailbag #1

Image by LarimdaME

I'm starting a new section here at Distilled Rose. Every Monday I will be answering any questions that I have received. Please feel free to ask questions either in the comments here or in my trusty contact form in the right sidebar. 

Don't forget to sign up to my RSS Feed to get updates all the time with no fuss!

Question #1

Matt asks : What is the best savings account if I have around $1k?

The answer to this question really will depend on how much access you would like to have to your money. If this is a savings that you don't need to get at any time soon, then I would recommend going with a CD. 

A Certificate of Deposit will hold your money for a certain term, usually at a higher interest than a standard savings account. If you choose to remove your money before your term is up, you do forgo penalties... usually something like three months of interest. 
Right now one of the best CD rates can be found at Washington Mutual. However, there is some concern right now over whether that bank is in trouble. It is not likely that it would effect your money if it failed, but if you are concerned about it, then check out CD's over at ING Direct, Countrywide or E*Trade

If you want access to your money, I would recommend storing it online in a High Yield Savings Account. I can't say enough good things about ING Direct. They have great products, great service, secure accounts, the ability to have sub-accounts, no fees, and a great referral program. You really can't go wrong with them. 

Question #2

Joe asks: What is the best free way to manage a budget?

Honestly, and I know that I am in the minority here, I use Text Edit (Notepad for you non-Mac people). I have a list of the bills that need to be paid, how much extra I need to make per month, and all of the balances on my various debts. At the start of the month I put an asterisk by each minimum payment which I remove as I make the payments. 
On my phone I keep a note of how much extra money I have, and I edit that as money comes in or goes out. 

I know that a lot of people prefer programs to track everything, but I believe in simplicity. Whatever works for you, though, is what is important. Managing your money is a personal thing and as long as you are aware of what you have and keep track of things, the format doesn't really matter. 

So, please do feel free to post questions in the comments below for next Monday's round up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Blogosphere Link Love

I subscribe to about 50 other Blogs right now. My Google Reader is never empty, and this week I'm sharing with you a few articles from three of my favorite blogs.

Queercents, a fantastic blog, tells us what happens to credit card debt if a bank fails. This is an incredibly pertinent question especially after the IndyMac failure and the rumors about Washington Mutual being in trouble.

By the way, a lot of people looking for information about Washington Mutual have stopped by here over the past few days. Here is my take on it from a few weeks ago.

20's Money talks about why your twenties are the most financially important years of your life.

Frugal Babe has an article about how being frugal has helped her reach her goals. Her blog is truly an inspiration for me with regards to getting a grip on my finances.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thank Goodness for My Emergency Fund

Image by Grant Matthews

I woke up this morning to head to a meeting and was pulling out of our parking lot when my husband called to let me know that as I pulled out he noticed my tire was flat. He was right, the tire was completely flat, so I cancelled my meeting and he put my donut on for me. 

Off I went to the nearest tire place and they told me that the tire had simply worn out, as had one of my other tires. 
I needed to get both replaced, so we picked out ones with a good warranty, and I swiped by American Express for $209. Normally, this would have me sweating and flipping out, but I was cool as a cucumber because I knew that in my trusty ING Savings Accounts was enough money to cover it. 

I got home and emptied my Auto Fund and then pulled the remaining balance out of my Emergency Fund. When that clears I will pay off the money that I charged to my credit card. Granted I just took a $200 hit to my Networth, but I was able to handle it without going further into debt and without getting stressed. 

So, if you don't have an emergency fund yet, start one! Even putting by $20 a month is a start. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Prosper Lending Update

Back in March, I got a Prosper loan to consolidate some debt. I managed to get a really good interest rate and I believe it's saved me a fair bit of money, as well as made me feel better about where my interest is going. 

If you don't know about getting loans from Prosper, check out my borrowing guide here

When I got my loan, I reinvested $100 in April and then added another $125 to my account since then, so I now have $225 invested in Prosper. 

I have that money split across 5 loans. Two of them are Credit Grade A, one is a B and the other two are C's. I've been lucky enough to have had no late payments (except one that was 3 days late), and no defaults so far. 

So how much money am I making? 

Well, my average interest rate is nearly 18% on these loans. I am very selective about who I invest in and I tend to find loans that close at a higher interest rate from people with a good proven credit history. 

Of the $225 invested, I have already had $31.43 that has been paid back, which I then went ahead and reinvested again. I've received $10.97 in interest alone in four months, which is pretty good for a relatively small investment of money. I'm currently making about $0.11 a day with Prosper. 

Why do I invest in Prosper?

I love the fact that I am helping other people deal with their financial struggles by investing this money. I would rather invest in people than in big companies. I know that Prosper is unsecured, but that is why I am keeping a very diverse portfolio and why I am incredibly selective about who I loan money to. I intend to keep reinvesting in Prosper, but it is unlikely that I will put any other money into it until my debt has been paid off and my savings goals have been reached. 

The downside of lending with Prosper is that you can't pull your money out of you need to. Therefore, it's not a good place to keep, say, your emergency fund. 

What do I look for in a listing?

I look for effort and information. I like to see people really put time into their listing. I like to know personal details. If you are consolidating your debt, I want to know how much of it is on what credit card and what the interest rates are. I want to see your budget and I want to hear your story. I want to hear your goals and what efforts you are making to put this money to go to good use. I will almost never invest in someone with previous delinquencies and in the event that I do it has to be because they have explained where they came from and what happened. 
I hate spammy titles telling me to look at the listing. I like it to be simple and straightforward. I hate typos and grammatical errors.
Basically, I want to be able to get to know them and trust them, and have faith that they won't let me down. 

You can get a sign up bonus for joining Prosper by following this link.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Life Lessons Learned from Kickball

Image by Bunch of Pants

I am so sore today from playing my first ever game of Kickball. It was tuesday and my company had a random day off due to rules about actors actually needing rest. Because I have 11 consecutive days of work coming up, I took the day off too and myself and 7 of my coworkers went to play Kickball in the park. None of us are very sporty so it was a lot of fun, though we did get competitive in the end. 
Upon reflecting on it today, there are some things that a game of Kickball can teach you. 

1. You Can Have Fun Without Spending Money

8 grown adults were able to go out and be completely entertained for several hours with a ball and a field for free. No money was spent except in gas to get there, and one person rode a bike and spent nothing. 

2. If You Want Something Better, You Should Ask For It

When we got to the park, the ball field had a man and his son doing batting practice on, so we started playing on a slope, which meant we were pitching downhill and first base was an uphill run. After a couple of innings, I went over and asked very nicely if the man would mind trading spaces, since he was just throwing balls to his son. He agreed and we got to move to a nice flat field, simply because we asked. 

3. Good Friends Will Support You

Not only did we all cheer each other on a lot during our game, but there were a few times when Daniel might not have made a catch that Doug was right there behind him as a safety net. Keeping each other pumped up and excited made the game more fun, and people letting me know if I made a good kick made me feel so much better even if that kick was caught and I was out. It was the support of my friends that made it so awesome. 

4. Teamwork Goes a Long Way

A ball can bounce out of one persons hands and another teammate can be right there to catch it before it hits the ground. Life can be like that. 

5. Winning Isn't Everything

Today at work all of the Kickball players were sore and tired, but we were all laughing and raving about the game and what a good time we had... and almost no one mentioned which team won. It was the game, not the win. 

6. Memories are Free

I was on the winning team, we were in extra innings, and we were tired. Finally the bases were loaded, bottom of the twelfth (I think), and I ran home from third and scored the winning run. From there we all started screaming and I ran into my teammates arms and he swung me round and both teams came over and we were laughing and jumping up and down with excitement (mostly because the game was over and we could stop being out of breath). It was like a scene from a movie and it's a memory that I will have for the rest of my life. 
It's moments like that, memories like that, that will stay with me.... and there is no price-tag on that. It was blissfully free and will last a lifetime. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

We Interrupt This Program to Bring You... Ninja Cat!

There is a lot going on in the financial world today with the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy and Bank of America buying Merrill Lynch. I have decided, however, that I'm going to bow out of it for a day and bring you something that made me laugh so hard that I couldn't breathe. 

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, tomorrow I will bring you Personal Finance, but today I bring you Ninja Cat!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Debt Snowball Progress #2

It's been just over a month since I could report progress on My Debt Snowball

A few weeks ago I reordered my Snowball based on paying off the smallest debts first rather than leaving the ones that aren't interest bearing for last. Due to this restructure and working very hard at my second job (and some extra work at my first), I was able to write a check yesterday for Step 2 in my Snowball and pay off my Medical Bills!

My Debt Snowball now looks like this:

1. Banana Republic Card - PAID ($20 Minimum to Medical)

2. Medical Bills - PAID (106.40 Minimum to AmEx)

3. American Express - Minimum $126.40

4. Car - Minimum $200

5. Prosper - Minimum $101.01

6. Bank of America - Minimum $101

7. Student Loan - No Minimum

Thanks to the sale of my company and my second job, I'm making really great progress. I had predicted that I would be able to pay off my next debt by mid-September and I was right! Now the next calculations show that I should have my American Express card paid off by the first week in November if not sooner. With the Debt Snowball, whenever you pay off a debt you transfer that minimum payment to the next one. My minimum payment on my American Express card is only $20, but adding in the minimum payments from the paid off debt allows me to pay a bigger chunk of that debt down every month. I also throw everything I can at the debt that is at the top of my Snowball.

Here is how my 2008 Financial Goals are going:

Get My Networth to -$28000 - Currently at -$30,102

Get my Prosper Loan down to less than $2000 - Currently at $2508

Pay off my Banana Republic Card - DONE

Pay off my American Express - Currently at $610.22

Get Emergency Fund to $1000 - Currently at $339.94

I still think that with three and a half months to go I'm on track for everything but my Emergency Fund. I normally put 5% of my regular salary into that fund, as well as any ING Direct bonuses. When (and if) my raise comes through I will be adding more to it, since I am giving my savings account a raise too... but it still might not be enough to make it. 

Writing that check to pay off my medical bills, though, was one of the best feelings. I am so happy right now!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday Handy Tip - Skip Laundry Detergent

When you wash your clothes they retain some of the laundry detergent that you use. Every so often, try skipping laundry detergent. Your clothes or linens will still be clean, and they will also be free of built up residue. Doing this on the first load every other week can be a good way to save money on detergent.
If you wash a load of towels regularly, or your sheets, try just putting in detergent every other load.

Check out these other Saturday Handy Tips:

Salad Dressing Hack
Freeze Leftover Wine
Get a Notebook

Friday, September 12, 2008

PaperBack Swap for Frugal Book Readers

Image by Steve Wilhelm

I love to read, even though I don't have much time for it. Since I'm on such a strict budget right now I tend to not have the money for it either. I also have a lot of books on my bookshelves and don't really want to add more until I have cleared some space. 

I've heard about PaperBack Swap before but I never really paid much attention to it until a week or so ago when I decided that I wanted to start reading and reviewing Personal Finance books for this blog. 

PaperBack Swap is a site that allows you to list books that you own and send them to people that want them, earning you credits which you can then spend on getting other people to send you books that you would like. 

When you join the site, you list all of the books you don't mind swapping. When you list your first 10, you get 2 credits. Then you can pick books that you want sent to you. There is an excellent selection of books.... nearly 2.5 million available. 

I listed 16 books from my bookshelf and then picked two Personal Finance books that I decided I wanted. Soon after, I received a notice that one of the books I had listed had been requested. I went an mailed that book a couple of days ago. I have already received one of the books I requested. 

Every time you send someone a book and they mark it as read, you receive another credit that you can then spend at the site. 

I really like this system because it allows you to get rid of books and then to get ones that you want with minimal expense. Because you get two free credits after you list your first ten, you start out ahead already. 

They say to allow a month to receive your books, but I got my first one in about four business days. 

So if you are looking to get rid of some books or trade for new ones, I highly recommend checking it out. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Knowing When to Change Your Financial Plan

Image by Kelly Sims

Every so often you have to take a step back and realize when something is not working. 

My husband and I moved into our dream apartment back in March. It's a gorgeous 1800sqft loft with tons of space, huge ceilings, big windows and a wonderful garden tub. 
The down side is that this loft is really really expensive. I thought that I would be able to handle it, but then I had my accident. Because our finances are separate, this put way too much financial strain on me. 

We love this apartment, and we planned to live here until March and then buy a house. The Atlanta housing market is great for buyers right now, and we wanted to buy our first home in the Spring. 
However, things change and now we are looking at breaking our lease and putting off buying a house until the Fall. 

So today we are going to go and look at apartments in a suburb of Atlanta in a complex that a friend of mine lives in. They would cost us about $400 a month less in rent and probably save us $100-200 a month on utilities. That will allow us to pay off our joint credit card and to start saving a down payment for a house.

Making this decision is very hard because we really do love our loft. We've both always wanted to live in a great artistic space, but we know that a lot of our financial stress comes from living here. 

Normally, I hate change. I would happily have things stay the same and not rock the boat... but I recognize when the plan is not working and when it's time to make a change. 

So be careful of your financial plan. Every so often try to take a step back and really look and it to make sure that it is still working for you. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Free Samples to Save You Money

Image by Chai65

I've had my tush saved by free samples several times. I've run out of toothpaste, cat food, cleaning wipes and many other things and raided my sample stash for something that will tide myself (or my cat) over. 
I greatly enjoy trying new products before I buy them, which is another benefit to being an avid sampler. 

One of the best sites that I have found for finding samples is Absurdly Cool  which is a freebie and sample automated aggregator. It searches the internet for free trials and samples and collects them all in one neat place. A lot of these come from places like WalMart, and usually take six weeks to arrive. 

Another great way to try new things is to join BzzAgent where you sign up to join marketing campaigns for products and you get sent trial products and then write about them. You often get coupons too, which you can keep or pass out to friends or family.

Stores will often give out free samples. Sephora is a great example of this. They have drawers filled with bath and beauty samples and just asking a sales person if they have anything new that you can try will often yield up a variety of small packets. 

Although these samples are usually small and good for just a few uses, you may find that you can get a months worth of shampoo. Sample sizes are also great travel sizes. 

Remember that these little trials of things can be great filler between buying new items if you run out or if you just want to spend a little less at the grocery store next time!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

101 Top Personal Finance Tips - Part 3

Image by Kiki99

Welcome to Part Three of my series of Top Personal Finance Tips. To make sure you get the next ones, just subscribe to my RSS Feed!

For Tips 1-10, check out the following articles:

11. Try Thrift Store Shopping

Instead of hitting up the mall, try going to a thrift store. Check out one in a good part of town or an upscale neighborhood for more designer cast off clothes. A recent trip to a thrift store and a consignment store got me a wool skirt, a silk camisole and a wool sweater for $24 total. They are great places to get classic outfit staples. 

12. Buy Generic

Often there is little difference between the product in generic packaging as is in name brand packaging. If you are very picky about food and the idea of buying generic doesn't appeal to you, try buying your garbage bags, toilet paper, plastic wrap and other non-food products generic instead. This will save you pennies that will add up to dollars over time.

13. Purge Every Six Months

Regularly clean out books that you have read or clothes that you no longer wear every six months or so. List books and DVD's on Half.com or Amazon.com. For clothing, at the start of six months turn all of your clothes hangers the wrong way round. As you wear and wash them, put them back in the closet the right way. At the end of six months, any clothes that have been in season that are still turned around should be packed up and taken to a consignment store. Try sorting through other knick-knacks and have a yard sale or post some things on eBay. 

14. Half Fill Your Gas Tank

Gas weighs 6lb per gallon and 50lb reduces your miles per gallon by 1%, so only fill your car up half way to reduce the weight of your car. This may only add an extra mile per gallon or so to your car, but every little helps!

15. Trade Movie Theaters for Netflix

Two people heading to the movie theatre once a week will set you back $18 a week even if you don't buy any snacks. Netflix has a one-movie-at-a-time deal for $8.99 a month which includes shipping and they will give you a two week free trial. It you do that once a week instead of going to the theater it will save you $63.01 every month. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Safe is WaMu Right Now?

Image by thetruthabout

Washington Mutual have been getting a lot of press recently as the bank seems to be struggling. Today they announced that their CEO, Kerry Killinger has been replaced. They also keep pushing their CD rates higher and higher, with a recent one advertised at 5%. Acts such as these seem desperate, but they are definitely trying not to go under. The shake up in management might be a good image boost and an injection of energy and fresh ideas. The CD rates will hopefully attract more deposits to help WaMu cover the failing mortgages that got them in trouble in the first place.

So the big question on customers minds is : Should I keep my money in Washington Mutual?

The answer to that would be, yes for now.
If you have less than $100,000 you have little risk right now. Washington Mutual is FDIC insured so if they do fail, your money is covered. It's a good time to take advantage of their CD rates, since they have the best available right now.

Something else to consider is that if the bank fails, not only will it be bad for the economy but it could have a devastating impact on Washington Mutuals employees. To cover their losses, it is likely that WaMu will shut all of their branches and have to let many employees go in the event that the bank fails.

With the failing of IndyMac and several other banks, concern for banks that are struggling is valid, but at this point, panic is not. I'll be very interested to see if Washington Mutual can ride this out, and I hope that they do.

If you'd like to read more from me, I welcome you to subscribe to my RSS Feed.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Unveiling My New Design!

Thanks to my amazingly talented husband, I now have a much more elegant and updated design. I've been craving something more personalized and the banner still isn't finished, but I am incredibly happy with the results.
I felt like the previous template didn't reflect my own personal style and I was very excited to head downstairs this morning to see Andrew working on it for me. I would love to hear some feedback, so please do comment away!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday Handy Tip : Clean Your Air Conditioning Filter

We use our air conditioning a lot during the warmer months. Our loft gets a lot of sun and warms up quite quickly, and we have a cat so the air conditioning filter gets clogged very easily. Cleaning it off regularly helps my air conditioning run better and extends the life of the filter.

How to Clean It

The filter collects dust and hair and other debris so the first thing to do is to take it outside and bang it against something so that most of the dirt falls off. Next, get some regular tape (or a lint roller) and use the sticky side to pull more hair and dust off of the filter. This will unclog a lot of it. You can even run your finger along it if there is a lot of pet dander on there and lift it off.

This should extend the life of your filter by a week if you take a couple of minutes to clean it off weekly or bi-weekly, depending on how often you run your air conditioning.

Check out these other handy tips:

Get a Piggy Bank
Photocopy Your Wallet
Overcome Writers Block

Friday, September 5, 2008

Introducing Regator : A New Site Worth Checking Out

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a launch party last night for Regator, a new site dedicated to aggregating the best of the Blogosphere. I had a blast at the party and decided that I'd take a step back from finance today and tell you about this site because it really is a great tool. 

The way I understand it, people nominate blogs to Regator ( yes, you can nominate your own), they are screened and either accepted or not. If they are accepted, their RSS feed gets added to Regator. The content can be voted on by users to move it up to the front page, similar to Digg but no numbers are shown, and the posts are automatically included, not individually submitted. 
I got a chance to chat with one of the co-founders, Scott, and he told me that they reject 52% of submitted blogs because their emphasis is on quality content. They like the idea of giving smaller unknown blogs with great content a place to shine. The intent is that blogs with really stellar content will be acknowledged for their content and writing.

My Opinion

I think that Regator is a great concept and you can tell that the people running it really believe in what they are doing. I think that right now, there are a lot of big name blogs on the front page, so they have a way to go to hit their mark, but it is certainly a good place to go and look for new reading material that you otherwise might not find. 
I like the fact that you can't see how many votes something has, because then you can't really see exactly how popular it is, you just know that it's popular.

Regator is definitely worth checking out and playing around with. They are still very new and there are a few blog categories that are under-represented, but it looks like they are growing rapidly so I am sure that it is only a matter of time.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Is Fourteen Bank Accounts Too Many?

Photo by thinkpanama

Today I sat and wondered where all my money is located. I knew that I had a few bank accounts, but I'd never sat down and figured it all out. The staggering answer was that I currently have 14 open accounts.

American Accounts

Bank of America - 4

Foreign Accounts

Barclays - 1
Abbey National - 1

Online Accounts

E-Trade - 1
ING - 6
Barclays Savings - 1

In fairness, the six ING accounts are targeted savings accounts, and the Bank of America accounts have justifiable reasons. But honestly, that is a lot of different accounts. Of these, I check the Bank of America and ING accounts regularly. The rest sit there. I have absolutely no idea what is in the Abbey National account and I think I have 21p in the Barclays Saving. 

The big question is, why haven't I closed these yet? I know that I could probably get rid of at least two without a problem. 

How many bank accounts do you have? What is an acceptable number? Does anyone have more than me?

As a minor side note, you can now get to my blog through the URL http://distilledrose.net. Much simpler, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

101 Top Personal Finance Tips - Part 2

Image by Kiki99

Welcome to Part 2 of my series: 101 Top Personal Finance Tips. To make sure that you get them all be sure to subscribe to my RSS Feed!

The series so far:

6. Pare Down Your Phone Service

Do you have a landline and a cell phone? Do you really need both? Try cutting off your landline and just using your cell. Also, are you using all of the bells and whistles that come with your phone service? Are you paying for roadside assistance that you get from somewhere else also, or do you pay for text messages you aren't using? See if you can cut at least $5 off your monthly bill.

7. Cancel unnecessary subscriptions

Getting rid of movie subscriptions, newspapers, magazines that you don't read, and other monthly subscriptions can really help you cut down on cash leaks. Really evaluate if what you get out of a subscription is worth it. Try cutting it off for three months and see if you miss it. Take into account not just your reading pleasure, but other benefits of the subscription like coupons that you regularly use.

8. Share a cell phone plan

If you have friends on the same network as you, try starting a family plan and combining your bills. Often it costs as little as $10 to add an extra line. This could mean that instead of having two $60 phone bills, you split one $70 bill. It might be a little extra trouble in the beginning, but it can save a lot of money over the long run.

9. Make your credit card payments early

Most credit card companies charge you interest over an average daily balance. Some even compound interest on a daily basis. The earlier you make a payment, the lower the balance that you are being charged for. So instead of making your payment when it is due, try making it as soon as you have the money for it. You can even pay parts of it over a couple of weeks. It may not make a huge difference, but every little helps.

10. No more bottled water

Bottled water, though handy, is really a horrible concept and is incredibly wasteful. Not only are all of those bottles bad for the environment, but nine times out of ten the water quality is no different from tap water. 
I do have a Pur Water Tank to filter tap water which was a good compromise and made my husband happy. The initial expense pays for itself quite quickly. With a good dishwasher-safe travel bottle, you can save a bundle and go a little greener.

Be sure to check back for the next tips in my series!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Huge Financial Step Forward

I'm so excited right now. It's not because I'm in the middle of my first day off in two months (though that is quite quite lovely) and it's not because of the buckets of coffee I'm drinking.
I'm excited because for the first time in what is probably years, my Net Worth has actually increased. 

That's an $800 increase in my previous Net Worth and a good step towards my goal of getting my Net Worth down to -$28,000 by the end of the year. 

It seems working two jobs and being completely frugal has started to pay off. I am so proud of myself right now!

Savings Progress

I'm diligently working on getting all my ING Savings accounts filled up. I have some pretty hefty goals but here is how I'm doing. The number in parenthesis is what I last recorded it at.

Emergency Fund - 10.3% (8.7%)

Thailand Fund - 0.8% (0.8%)

Medical Fund - 2.5% (1.2%)

Auto Fund - 0.5% (0.3%)

Down Payment Fund - 0.08% (0.07%)

I've started doing something a little different here. Instead of splitting 5% of my second job income between the five accounts, I'm putting it all into one. I'll be focusing on my Medical Fund first. This is with the intent of Snowballing my savings just like I Snowball my debt. I still have the other accounts making a tiny bit of interest, but I feel like I'll make more progress this way. The other plan is that when I fully fund one account, the interest that gains will also go into my next step account. The only problem is that this means I'm putting off saving for a down payment and I'm not sure how wise this is. I may reallocate later when I've got more money in all of the accounts. 

As far as my Debt Snowball goes, no progress yet. I'm working on my Medical bills and my American Express right now. And I hope to have my Medical bills paid off by the end of the month and another chunk taken out of my American Express.

But yay me for getting over a giant hurdle and to have things finally heading in the right direction.